“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. 1 Corinthians 10:23-24
I love the implications of these verses; the reckless love of grace and freedom; the declaration that we don’t need to live in fear of accidentally or unwittingly offending God. (The context here is of eating meat sacrificed to idols).
But it’s not just a free for all. Paul does say that we should be living to seek the good of others, not ourselves. And a few verses later he speaks of doing everything we do for the glory of God and to bring salvation to others (v.31-33). So Paul isn’t saying anything goes, live in degradation, it doesn’t matter. He is saying that as believers we have freedom to experience life and its joys and to do so with a freedom from fear.
But as I sit here considering these words from the perspective of Lent, I am struck with another truth from my own life:
I tend to lean heavy on the “everything is permissible” and light on the determination of what’s beneficial.
What I mean is this – I don’t say “no” to myself very often. I’m not talking about in areas of sin and depravity. I’m not saying I go around following after every craving, lust, or desire that pops into my head. But as a general rule in my life I do whatever I want.
If I want a snack I eat one. If I feel like going to sleep, I do. If I want to turn the t.v. on, it’s on before I think about it. If I want to go online and waste my time doing frivolous things, I do that too. If I want to take my family out for dinner, we go. And on and on. I do the things, by and large, that I wish to do.
All permissible things – all good things. What I am realizing though is that I have a life of extravagant luxury because I have the freedom, for the most part, to do what I wish. And I’m grateful. I appreciate the freedom of my life. But it comes with a tendency to forget that sometimes I should say no. Not because the “thing” is wrong, but because it’s just not what’s best for me, or for those around me. This is true love: sacrificing for another. (John 15:13)
And this isn’t just true of me. I’m not the only one who leans heavy on the permissible. It’s true of most people I know. Our lives are structured to accommodate our whims. It’s one of the perks of living in one of the wealthiest parts of the world.
But then along comes Lent. Where we remove from ourselves one of the yeses. We practice saying “no” to ourselves for a short while. And why? Because it reminds us that our live is to be a life of love. And to love Jesus’ way is to serve one another and the Father. And serving the other often means saying no to myself. Serving the Father often means following what’s beneficial when what we want at the moment is what’s permissible.
When we observe Lent by giving something up we are putting ourselves in a place to remember that Jesus loved us enough to give up, not just something, but everything for a time. He sacrificed all. Yet I struggle to sacrifice something small for a short while!
It’s not a legalism for me. It’s not a requirement. It’s an opportunity to say no to myself, in a world where I constantly say yes. It’s a reminder that loving often means serving, which can lead to sacrificing for the other. This is the true way of Jesus.
So right now, especially in the morning hours, I miss my coffee and I question my sanity for removing it from my life for these forty days. But it reminds me, every time I smell it from a far, or crave it and the happiness it brings me, that I have given up nothing in comparison to Jesus.
And so when I think of it and want it I stop and I thank Him. I’ve been doing that so much more lately that I am seeing how the permissible, for this season, is not the beneficial. Saying no has been so much more beneficial to my journey.
Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus:
Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.