Thank God Almighty we are freer at last!

1 Corinthians 6:12. “’Everything is permissible for me’—but not everything is beneficial. ‘Everything is permissible for me’—but I will not be mastered by anything.”

Paul is arguing against a popular saying in Corinth at the time that many within the church seem to have taken as gospel truth (pun intended). He does not deny the saying contains some truth, but he argues that it goes against the very heart of the gospel. Paul agrees that because Christ has fulfilled the law, “everything is permissible” for us as individuals. In Galatians Paul likens the law to a harsh taskmaster or tutor who led us to Christ, but now no longer has authority over us. “Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a tutor.” (Galatians 3:24-25) Many Corinthian Christians were taking this newfound liberty too far though – even having sex with temple prostitutes!

Think about it: if every individual had total freedom to do whatever he/she wanted, then no one would have any freedom. For example, if I believe that I have complete freedom to swing my arms as hard as I want and in whatever direction I want, then your freedom to come within arm’s length of me without get hit in the face would be denied. If you felt that you had the freedom to take anything I owned without asking, then my freedom to own property would be negated. Anarchy sounds great on paper, but in practice, it brings more bondage rather than freedom.

Rather than “everything” being about “me” and my freedom, Paul shows us a new principle to live by. No longer are we bound by the law and its rigid rules; now we are free to limit our freedom for the benefit of others. Notice Paul does not say “not everything is beneficial for me.” Paul repeats this verse (6:12) almost verbatim in 10:23 and clarifies whose benefit should be considered. “Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.” (10:24) In other words, as Christians we should think of others before we do something. If it benefits me, but hurts others, then I should avoid causing them harm. For example, because I am free in Christ, I have the freedom to drink alcohol in moderation. However, if my friend is an alcoholic, it would be harmful to him if I asked him to go to the bar with me and have a few beers. Therefore I should limit my freedom to drink for the benefit my alcoholic friend so that he can stay sober. I am certainly free to drink alcohol, but my friend and I are freer if I choose to limit my freedom for the benefit of my friend.

In the past I have given my translation or paraphrase to help you understand what the author intended, but this time I will borrow heavily from Anthony C. Thiselton’s paraphrase in the NIGTC because it best shows the wordplay Paul intended in this verse. My additions are in italics. 

I have “liberty to do all things,” but not all things are helpful or beneficial. I have “liberty to do all things,” but I will not let anything take liberties with me.

The last phrase is powerful. Rather than getting carried away with our individual liberty and rights, Paul is urging us to think of others to be truly free. Absolute freedom without any regard for others leads to my liberty taking liberties with me. Liberty would become my taskmaster, governing all of my actions to the exclusion of others. In order to be freer, we should limit our freedom so that others can be free. As Paul says in 10:33, “For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.”

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Love covers a multitude of sin

Love covers a multitude of sins.

This saying is not as well known as other sayings that I have covered in previous blogs, but it seems to come up regularly in sermons with no context and without much explanation. In honor of Valentine’s Day, I hope to give you a better understanding of what it really means to love until it hurts.

The saying in question is taken from 1 Peter 4:8. “Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.” (NASB) Peter starts by saying “above all” – not as if everything he said beforehand was meaningless, but because in the midst of the heavy persecution that this particular community was facing, it was imperative that the entire community “keep loving one another earnestly” (ESV) in order to survive. Peter previously commanded “love one another deeply from the heart” (NIV) in 1:22, using the same phrase in the original language but adding “from the heart” to further clarify what he means. This love is agape in the Greek and prior to Jesus was only thought to be unconditional love shown by God to humans. When Jesus said, “A new command I give you: Love (agape) one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another,” (John 13:34) He shattered the paradigm that only God could love like this. Not only would God show his agape love toward us by dying for us, but He would give us the ability to agape love each other.

The word translated previously in other versions as fervent, earnest, and deeply can be literally translated “strained” or “stretched.” Howard Marshall comments in his book 1 Peter “this love will be stretched to the limit by the demands made on it. Let us remind ourselves that Christian love means caring for other people in their needs and that such care will be accompanied by a growing affection for them. Many people are prepared to care for others; they are less ready to have affection for them and to demonstrate it. It requires love at full stretch to do this.” (p. 143) In other words, if we are to truly love one another, we have to love them even when the relationship becomes strained – even when it stretches us to the breaking point. Think of Jesus when He stretched out His arms to die for you.

It is this stretched out love that “covers a multitude of sins.” Peter says earlier that Jesus’ death took away our sins (2:24, 3:18) so he is not saying that if we love each other that we somehow negate Jesus’ accomplishment on the cross. Think of it this way: if you have a stain on the carpet, you can cover it with a rug or furniture or find a good stain remover that will cover it with bleach and make it less noticeable, but that stain is still there. That is what we should do as we agape love each other. We know that we are all guilty of a multitude of sins, but we cover up the sins of others in our own eyes and love them anyway. We do as Paul says love does in 1 Corinthians 13:5, keeping “no record of wrongs.” In other words, we don’t write out lists and expect an apology for each wrong committed against us before we start loving that person again. 

But God does what we cannot. When we accept Him as our Lord and Savior, He brings the steam cleaner with him. The stain of a multitude of sins in our hearts is washed away by the blood of Christ who died in our place. What once could only be covered by love is now washed away. On Valentine’s Day, many think of romantic love or their lack of it, but perhaps this blog will challenge you to think of that one person who stretches you the most. Love them anyway. Heed what Jesus said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love (agape) one another.”

Money is a root to all kinds of evil

Money is the root of all evil. 

This saying is obviously derived from I Timothy 6:10 (“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”), but there are several flaws in it. The most obvious flaw is the missing phrase at the beginning; it is not money that is intrinsically evil, but “the love of money.” If money was evil, then one would have to become poor and use some type of barter system in order to practice Christianity. Greed, however, is most certainly evil because it focuses on material things and ignores eternal matters. Jesus warned, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” (Luke 12:15)

Another flaw in this saying is the exclusivity of evil that it claims. The love of money is at the root of many kinds of evils, but it is not THE root – or the one and only root – of evil. Many evils are rooted in other vices including lust, hatred, selfish ambition, and drunkenness (Galatians 5:19-21). So why do some translations say “the root” rather than “a root”? Short answer: because in the original language, it can be translated either way since the article was left out. Usually the absence of an article means the indefinite article (“a” or “an”) should be used, but sometimes the article is omitted because it is implied by its context.

My translation of I Timothy 6:10 is as follows. “The love of money is a root of many different types of evil.” Notice the difference. It is not THE root of ALL evil, but A root of MANY kinds of evil. The love of money can lead to many different kinds of evil such as hoarding, withholding from someone in need, lying, robbery, prostitution, gambling, and sometimes murder. To be clear, though, the love of money is not responsible for ALL evil. For example, if a married man has an affair with another woman, how could the love of money be traced back as the root of his problem? If anything, he is risking losing more than half his money from divorce and lawyer fees if he is caught!

NERD ALERT: I have tried to avoid this situation so far, but I feel that the complexity of this verse warrants a more technical explanation. Please avert your eyes if big college words make you nauseous or give you the overwhelming urge to give someone an atomic wedgie.

Although the Greek word in question is usually translated “all,” most translations interpret it as “all kinds of” because of the context. The previous verse states “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” Since Paul uses “many” rather than “all” in verse nine, it is reasonable to conclude that he intended the ambiguous term in verse ten to agree with his premise in verse nine. In other words, “all sorts of evil” makes more sense in context than “all evil.”

We now return to common vernacular. (Whoops, I did it again! Please, let me empty my pockets before you give me a swirly! My pocket protector wasn’t made to defy gravity.)

My intention in writing this blog is not to lessen the significance of greed, but to allow the Bible to be understood for the truth within it. Greed is a sin, but so are hatred, divisiveness, and selfish ambition. Don’t let a common saying blur the truth of Scripture: the love of money can root its way into our hearts and cause us to commit all kinds of evil, but our love of self is just as dangerous if it is not equal to our love of others. So what is the root cause of most of the sin your life? In other words, who or what do you love more than God? Is it money? Sex? Entertainment? Yourself? Allow God to pull out the roots rather than just working at the surface.