I sometimes tell the following story to illustrate the marriage between responsibility and freedom.
Liberty went to a dance alone, hoping to meet someone, hoping to fall in love. No one caught her eye, and yet everyone was attracted to her. She couldn’t move anywhere without someone asking her to dance or offering to get her some punch. Annoyed at the fact she wasn’t attracted to anyone, she almost gave up and went home. Then she spotted a young man confidently leaning against the jukebox. He made his way to where she was and asked if he could have this dance.
For the first time that evening, she was bashful and shy. But she extended her hand and began an adventure that could only have been created in the mind and heart of God. They danced slow songs and fast songs, drank punch and ate cake, laughed and cried together. They were the only ones left on the dance floor. Whatever became of Liberty and the young man she danced with named Responsibility? Soon they married and spent the rest of their days dancing harmoniously through life.
The freedom that God has given believers isn’t in contradiction with responsibility. Rather, when rightly understood, the two compliment each other. They flow together hand in glove like a well-choreographed dance. As in the story, everyone seems to be attracted to liberty, and many are quick to throw certain ideas and actions under her banner. The sad reality is that freedom may be the most misunderstood idea that believers celebrate because with the sacred gift of freedom comes the weight of responsibility.
As Paul wrote of freedom in Christ in 1 Corinthians 10, his recurring theme involves doing what is best for others. Of course, this flies in the face of an “anything goes as long as it is permissible” attitude.
Eugene Peterson boldly paraphrases 1 Corinthians 10:23-24 this way in “The Message”:
“Looking at it one way, you could say, “Anything goes. Because of God’s immense generosity and grace, we don’t have to dissect and scrutinize every action to see if it will pass muster.” But the point is not just to get by. We want to live well, but our foremost efforts should be to help others live well.”
Paul seemed to filter any freedom discussion through a singular focus of serving. He stated twice in verse 23 that “all things are lawful.” He also made the same statement in 1 Corinthians 6:12, where he addressed the issue of Christian freedom. Paul was teaching that mature believers learn to balance freedom and responsibility. Just because all things are lawful doesn’t mean all things should be done. In other words, just because you could doesn’t mean you should.
“All things are lawful” was a Corinthian slogan when it came to the issue of rights. For the Corinthians, this term meant the right to act in freedom as they saw fit or any way that felt natural. However, Paul turned that idea on its head and saw it as the right to become a servant to all so that others can be built up. It’s your choice whether or not you’re willing to put others ahead of your rights. Paul added a “but” to the Corinthian slogan: “‘All things are lawful,’ but not all things build up.” The phrase “build up” is also used when describing the construction of a building, such as a house or temple. Paul’s metaphorical use of this term applies to the spiritual growth of believers.
In 1 Corinthians 10:24, Paul shared that building up is for the good of one’s neighbor. This is the same subject, attitude and very similar wording that Paul used in Romans 14 and 15. In addition, Paul championed this idea in Philippians 2:3-4: “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humilty count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Paul repeated this law of love throughout his letters because serving the interests of others goes against our nature. Thus, 1 Corinthians 10:24 is really his interpretation of freedom. He knew the Corinthians spoke much about it but didn’t really understand it. Responsible freedom is prompted and governed by love, and the result is to focus on helping and building up others.
Brent Crowe serves as vice president of Student Leadership University. Read more from his book “Chasing Elephants” at www.NavPress.com