Paul, like a doctor examining a patient, put his finger on the Corinthian sore spot — sexual immorality — in order to determine and demonstrate to the patient that there was indeed a problem that needed to be treated. He began with the age-old idea that people are free to do whatever they want, that their moral freedom was a God-given right. The popular saying of the day was, “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12).
Clearly, Paul does not mean that Christians are free to rape, murder and pillage to their hearts’ content as long as they “acknowledge” Christ. Not at all! Nor are Christians free to lie, gossip and slander because they have received the forgiveness of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t work like that.
The popular understanding of Paul’s day, the understanding that Paul was arguing against, was that fornication (sex outside of marriage) was okay because of the Greek belief that there was a strict separation of body and spirit. This isn’t something that people normally think much about. It is, rather, an assumption or presupposition that people have. A presupposition works in the background to approve certain kinds of decisions and disapprove others. It is a kind of prejudice, and most people are not aware of their own prejudices. But in fact, everyone has all kinds of prejudices, and not all of them are bad or wrong. For instance, Christians have a prejudice toward God. We call it love 1 corinthians 15 58 kjv.
The Greeks had a prejudice about the human body. They believed that all of its activities and functions were evil and corrupt. And that the human spirit was above the fray and was, therefore, divine and perfect. Salvation for the Greeks (and those who believed and thought like the Greeks) was a matter of the spirit and did not involve the so-called corruptions of the body.
The Greeks produced two schools of thought on this matter. The Gnostics sought to disengage themselves as much as possible from bodily functions and focused on the purity of the mind. They fasted, deprived themselves of sleep and became ascetics. They retreated from the body into the thoughts of the mind in the hope that they could dissociate themselves from the evil and corruption of the body. In Galatia, Paul was speaking against such Gnostics.
The other Greek school of thought was Libertine. The Libertines also thought that the body was evil and corrupt, but they thought that bodily activity had no connection with the purity of the spirit. So, it didn’t matter what a person did in the body because the gulf between mind and body was unbridgeable. They believed that the activities of the body could not effect the spirit. Thus, they didn’t fast, they partied. In Corinth, Paul was speaking to Libertines.
Christianity through the centuries has generated a great deal of confusion about this matter because, for the most part, Christian theologians have remained captive to Greek modes or categories of thought. For the most part, intelligence and intellectual endeavors in the West have always been defined by Greek categories. Even today our world is dominated by this kind of thinking. It’s a kind of mentality that tends to compartmentalize various aspects of life, and is reflected in the fundamental dualism of mind and body. Most of our philosophical disagreements boil down to some version of Platonism verses some version of Aristotelianism. Modern thinking of this kind tends to analyze things by setting up opposing categories, like mind/body, conservative/liberal, right/left, Republican/Democratic, etc.
Such thinking often creates a false dichotomy that overlooks the central issues. I’m not suggesting that all dichotomies are false. They are not. All I am saying is that the categories of analysis determine the acceptability of a solution. The way a question or issue is approached determines its resolution. You may have heard it this way. “To get the right answer, you have to ask the right questions.” Most Christian theology suffers from the same problem. It sets up false dichotomies, asks the wrong questions, and fails to adequately reveal or “get at” the essential message of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
What do I mean? I mean to ask, what does Paul mean? Paul teaches that Christianity is neither Gnostic nor Libertine because, according to Paul in this section, Christianity opposes the very categories of Greek analysis. This is the issue that Paul was trying to get at in this letter to the Corinthians. And this is the issue that many people find confusing. Remember that Paul’s letter to the Galatians preceded this letter to the Corinthians. And in all likelihood, the Corinthian leaders were aware of Paul’s letter to the Galatians. However, the Corinthians tended to be Libertines rather than ascetic Gnostics. So, they took Paul’s argument about freedom in Christ in a way that was never intended when he wrote to the Galatians.
Their argument, which really was Paul’s argument to the Galatians, was that “All things are lawful for me” (1 Corinthians 6:12). Yes, argued Paul, that is true enough, but it doesn’t mean that “all things are helpful” (1 Corinthians 6:12). The KJV translates the word as “expedient.” Not all things are expedient. Things that are expedient provide a means to an end, but not necessarily a principled or ethical means. Expediency usually suggests getting something done without regard for principle, morality or ethics. It is the sentiment of the Nike® motto, “Just Do It!”
Paul did not mean to say to the Galatians that it was okay for them to do whatever they wanted. They were not free to burn, murder and pillage. Like everyone else in this God-created world they were still bound by the Ten Commandments. What Paul meant was that apart from Christ the Ten Commandments provided only a death sentence. But in Christ — and this is the crucial point, only in Christ — was obedience to the Ten Commandments even possible.
It is possible, not because we can do it, but because Jesus Christ has already done it for Himself and will bring all of His people into willing compliance by the power and presence of His Holy Spirit. Paul was saying that sin does not keep God’s people from salvation, but that God’s grace is greater than sin. However, that does not mean that we are free to sin. Rather, like everyone else we will suffer the worldly consequences of sin, but not the eternal consequences. “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything” (1 Corinthians 6:12).