Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 29, 1956

Law And Expediency

Wm. E. Wallace, Akron, Ohio

Paul uses the distributed term and the universal proposition in the statement "All things are lawful for me" in I Corinthians 6:12, 10:23. This proposition is used twice in his first letter to the Corinthian Church. The statement must be understood as being relative to the category of activity to which he refers. A universal proposition is one in which the predicate is affirmed (or denied) of all of the subject matter. The subject in this proposition is "things." It is certainly obvious that Paul is using the proposition in I Cor. 6:12 relative to a limited category. Paul could not be asserting that fornication is lawful for him but not expedient to him. "All things" is a distributed term, i.e. one that leaves nothing of the subject category out. It is all inclusive. But the plural noun, "things," is to be understood in view of the category of things of which Paul is speaking. It is likely that he is quoting a slogan in use in that day and making a proper application of it. In I Cor. 6:12 Paul introduces the thought abruptly. In I Cor. 10:23 he submits the proposition in line with his teaching concerning the eating of meats. In 6:13 Paul said "Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them." The eating of meats has no bearing on the life hereafter, both meat and stomach shall be destroyed. Then Paul declares "Now the body is not for fornication but for the Lord." While meat is for the belly, fornication is not for the body. Paul is emphatically denying that there is any parallel between Christian liberty in the eating of meats to satisfy the hunger drive and indulgence in fornication to satisfy the sexual desires. The fact that Paul connects the "slogan" in verse 12 with meats in verse 13, and then again with meats in 10:23 proves that the proposition refers only to the realm of eating of meats. It seems that some of the Corinthians had used principles regarding the eating of meats to support the ridiculous conclusion that sexual conduct had no moral implications. So we have a case of "Christian Liberty versus Moral License."

Now moving to 10:23 we see Paul writing in regard to two factors: (1) The law of liberty as it pertains to the eating of meats (Cf. Mark 7:18-19, Acts 10:9-18, Romans 14:17-23). (2) The scruples and confusion in the Corinthian church concerning buying and eating of meat that had some religious significance to the pagans by way of dedication to idols. So Paul again states the proposition, "All things are lawful for me". The permissive law of Christian liberty allows the eating of all meats. However, Paul said "but all things are not expedient . . . but all things edify not." The word "expedient" is a translation of the Greek sumphero. It is translated elsewhere "profitable", "better", "good", and "profit". Thayer defines the word as it is used in this passage, "to help, be profitable." So for a thing to be expedient relative to a law, it must be helpful or profitable in the application or performance of that law. Webster defines expedient as being that which is "apt and suitable to the end in view . . . advantageous." Anything expedient to a law must be in harmony with the nature of the law, with its "critical dicta." An illustration: The law of Christ calls for men to be baptized. Baptism is immersion. To sprinkle a person and call it baptism would not be expedient to the law because it violates its nature. To heat the water before immersion, would be an expedient to the baptismal service.

Paul is teaching in I Cor. 10 that the law of Christ allows the Corinthians to buy meat from the market, and to eat what is set before them without the necessity of investigation as to the religious import of the meat to the heathen. But he instructs that when the host at a feast informs the Christian that the meat is sacrificed to idols, and the feast is actually a religious service, then the Christian is not to eat, for eating meat under those circumstances is not expedient or edifying — not helpful to the law of liberty, nor to the heathen who is in need of conversion. We see from this that many things can be condemned on one of two counts, relative to expediency. The "Herald of Truth", for an example, supposing it is in harmony with law, is condemned by the principle that demands a withdrawal of that which is not essential to the welfare of the church! The "Herald of Truth" should be sacrificed because of what it has done to the brotherhood. But of course, the "Herald of Truth" is primarily condemned because that type of congregational cooperation is not lawful.

You see then, I am sure, how the permissive law of liberty concerning eating of meats is the .basis upon which Paul was working when he stated all things are not expedient. So we have a principle before us: Before anything taught or done among churches of Christ can be expedient, it must be in harmony with a law, allowed by a law, and advantageous to the requirements of the law. We must have before us law before we can speak of expediency.