How can we glorify God? Let’s focus our attention on 1 Cor 6:12–14.
12 “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.
To understand these verses we need to read them backward—taking the last words first. In the latter half of verse 13 Paul says–
13 …The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord…
The body is for the Lord! You and I have a body for only one reason. Your body has been given to you to serve only one purpose: to be an instrument for glorifying Christ. The way you use your body and the way you take care of your body should communicate that the glory of Christ is your aim.
Then he continues in v13 that not only is the body for the Lord, “the Lord (is) for the body.” Have you ever noticed that phrase before? I never did. It’s a phrase that is bristling with fantastic implications. The Lord is for the body. That is, Christ is not indifferent to the body. He cares about it. He puts a premium on how we make use of it.
Listen to what Paul says in v19 —
19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?…
He makes our bodies the temple where the Holy Spirit dwells, that’s in v19. Let that sink in for a moment. Jesus is “for the body”—He’s not against our bodies, He’s not indifferent to our bodies. Not just our hearts, not just our minds, but Jesus cares about what you do with your bodies.
Finally Paul says (in verse 14), “God raised the Lord and he will raise us.” In other words the body will never lose its importance. It may decay for a season in the grave. But it will be raised and restored. God gave Jesus a resurrection body and God will give each of us who are in Christ a resurrection body. The resurrection is God’s final declaration that he is FOR the body.
What are we to make, then, of the first part of verse 13?
13 “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both…
This sounds like a view that is exactly the opposite of the one we just described. It sounds like an argument that says: the body is just going to decay in the ground anyway; so it has no real moral significance; it’s just here to process food for a while and then it’s gone.
I think that is exactly what it did mean in the mouth of some of the Corinthians. It was probably a slogan among the Corinthian church leaders: “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food!”—pass the potato chips. I bet they used this slogan for sex and drink as well. Sex for the body and the body for sex. Drink for the body and the body for drink. That’s probably why Paul switches from food to sexual immorality in the second part of verse 13, where he says, “the body is not for immorality”.
Some of the Corinthians had a view of the body that made what they did with it morally indifferent. In 1 Cor 5:2 they actually boasted about an act of incest in the church. In 1 Cor 11:21 some of them even got drunk at the Lord’s Supper. These accounts sound so ludicrous when you read about it. How did they end up doing these things? It’s because they reasoned: the body and food and drink and sex are going to be destroyed in the end. When they die, their bodies remain in the grave and their spirits leave their bodies, and therefore, only the spirit or soul matters. Who cares about what you eat, or what you drink, or who you have sex with? The body doesn’t matter. You can eat and drink and have sex any way you like because the body is morally irrelevant.
Paul opposed this view with all his might. To counter their thinking, he gave them a new and radically different slogan–not “food for the body, the body for food, but instead, “The body is for the Lord and the Lord is for the body.” The body is not just going to be destroyed; it is going to be raised. The body is not morally indifferent. It is for the glory of God.
So what you have in verses 13 and 14 is a Corinthian slogan used to justify immorality and drunkenness and overeating, and then we read part of Paul’s response to it in v13. Not food for the stomach and the stomach for food, but the body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body. Continuing to read in reverse, then we see that Paul’s response to the Corinthian slogan also includes v12.
12 “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.
This is what it says in the ESV —
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated/enslaved by anything.
It may well be that the words, “All things are lawful for me or everything is permissible for me,” come from Paul’s own teaching because he does not deny what the Corinthians are saying–food for the stomach, the stomach for food. He agrees with the slogan. You are free to eat whatever you want in Christ. But when Paul says, food for the stomach and the stomach for food, it means something completely different coming from his lips than it does when the Corinthians say the same thing.
How is it different when Paul says, food for the stomach, the stomach for food, compared to the Corinthians saying the same thing? Paul answers in verse 12 with two guidelines which explain the difference. In v12, the two guidelines are 1) the law of love and 2) the law of liberty.
First, he says, alright, all things are permitted in one sense, we should not live under external legal constraints. Christian life is not a list of do’s and don’ts. BUT NOT ALL THINGS ARE HELPFUL. In other words, don’t ask, “What do I HAVE to do?” What can I get away with? Instead ask, “What is HELPFUL to do?”
I call this the law of love because it’s love that wants to be helpful to others. Paul makes the connection between helpfulness and love in a round about way. In 1 Cor 10:23-24, you will notice that being helpful is explained as building others up —
1 Cor 10 – 23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.
There are only two ways to live life. One paradigm is doing what is good for me, what feels good, what is comfortable, what is easier. Or, the second paradigm, doing what is helpful, what is constructive, what builds up another person, not my good, but the good of others. Put another way, the first option is a view of Christian life as personal and private, ME-centered vs. a view of Christian life that is community-oriented, or other-centered.
1 Cor 8:1 – …Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.
So if love is what builds up and if building up is what Paul means by being helpful, then the point of 6:12 (when it says, “not all things are helpful”) is that we should let our lives be guided by the law of love.
Surely this is the “law” Paul had in mind in Gal 6:2 when he said —
2 Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.
How do you fulfill the law of Christ? By carrying each other’s burdens. The law of love. In 1 Cor 9:21-23, we read,
1 Cor 9
21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.
Paul’s aim was always, how can I save as many people as I can? That law of love guided his life. We are not under the law as a mere external constraint. We are under grace which provides an internal constraint to love, to be helpful and to build others up in faith. The law of love is the first guiding principle.