This verse was first said by Paul in 1 Cor 6:12; and is really repeated for added emphasis in a similar theme of freedom, although the direct context of 1 Cor 6:12 is of sexual immorality, but for 1 Cor 10:23, this verse is really talking about food, and the point that Paul was trying to make, in layman’s terms, is probably something like: You can eat anything you want (upon the death of Jesus, no food is considered unclean) – everything is permissible; but you may cause people to stumble (not beneficial). Romans 14:15 says, if your brother is distressed because of what you eat, you are no longer acting in love. Do not by eating destroy your brother for whom Christ died.
In those days Corinth was a very corrupted city, and likewise the church. I don’t want to talk about sexual immorality, so I will skip 1 Cor 6:12 and go first into 1 Cor 10:23, but using the theme of freedom rather than the context of food. The context of food is a good analogy but cannot be very well applied in modern times. Theologically speaking, the theme of freedom that you can gather from this verse works even without the direct context of food.
Freedom (or free will) is a very important concept in today’s modern society. Slavery is condemned, laws are debated, parental guidance rebelled against. In christianity, commandments are equally challenged. To argue their case for freedom, many turn to John 8:32 – Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free – and they say: Hey, now that the truth has set us free, we are free to do anything we want. So, we can sin, too, can’t we?
We can do everything, because of freedom. We can do anything. We can sin. It is so easy. But if we value God’s words, if we value our duties as disciples, we ought to steer clear from sin. Discipleship comes at a cost. If we want to follow Jesus, we ought to deny ourselves and pick up our cross daily and follow him. The idea of our will versus God’s will can be seen from many instances in the Bible – one example would be the rich young man whom Jesus told, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
But not everything is beneficial. ‘but’ is a condition to the declaration that everything is permissible. Beneficial, or in other translations, edifying, does not refer to ourselves – it should not be out of our own benefit or to edify ourselves that we do things, but the things that we do ought to benefit and edify the Church. Most things we do tend not to edify the church.
As Romans 14:15 says, while there is nothing wrong in eating anything, regardless of where the food came from, you will not benefit your brother and may even cause him to stumble. If so, then we ought not to eat. Even if we have the right to do something, we need to consider if it is beneficial and constructive to others or not.
There’s also the idea of doing what’s good versus doing what’s right. A lot of times in a stroke of charity, or in order to feed our conscience, we have a tendency to do certain things for others that may not be beneficial to them in the long run. Some times doing a good deed is the easy way out compared to doing the right deed.
- Discipleship comes at a cost. Our freedom doesn’t give us the license to sin.
- Be conscious about not causing others to stumble.
- Everything that we do ought to benefit or edify the Church and our brothers and sisters in Christ..