“All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor. …So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. —1 Corinthians 10:34–24, 31 (ESV)
In this passage, the Apostle Paul distinguishes between what is permissible and what is helpful. Some within or around his Corinthian audience had a more libertarian outlook on their daily life—as long as something is not plainly forbidden, go for it, they reasoned! But Paul cautions: just because something is ‘lawful’ does not mean it is ‘helpful’.
The specific situation in Corinth involved meat sacrificed to idols. In the Roman world, one could get meat that came from the local temple—meat sacrificed to idols. The question for the Christian was, is it okay to partake? Paul makes the point that there is nothing inherently wrong with the meat—that idols are ‘nothing’. So if an unbeliever invites you to their table to eat, eat. But if someone raises an objection due to their conscience, Paul says, “Don’t eat it.” Why? Because even though it is ‘lawful’, it is not ‘helpful’. It does not build up your neighbor. As Paul says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” It is in this context that Paul also says, “whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.”
As you live out the Christian life, consider not only what is ‘lawful’ but what builds up your neighbor, others around you. For their good, and for God’s glory, this may mean laying aside some freedom to partake in an activity that, strictly speaking, is not forbidden. This is also a lesson we can pass on to the young people in our life when we hear the retort, “But I didn’t know it was wrong,” or “there is no rule against it.” Point them to the principle that we not only do what is lawful but what is helpful, what builds others up.