“All things are lawful for me,” a popular saying of the day Paul is holding up for derision, sounds on the surface like it can be easily dismissed as a bit of narcissistic anarchism – but in fact it is a commonly-repeated statement, in this or as any other age. (It may, in fact, be a corruption of something Paul once said himself, perhaps amidst the controversy over Jewish dietary laws, which his opponents are now hurling back at him.) The ideals of freedom at the basis of our present-day society are among our greatest strengths. Yet they can also be a terrible weakness, especially when they degenerate into bumper-sticker slogans that include the words “The right to ______” (fill in the blank). Certain members of the Corinthian church, intoxicated by a sense of individual entitlement, have been brashly proclaiming that they can flout longstanding and time-honored ethical principles, particularly regarding sexual behavior. To them Paul issues a wake-up call, introducing a higher standard: “Yes, but is it beneficial?” What, in other words, does it do to advance God’s purposes? Paul also refutes the notion of a “victimless crime,” when it comes to what is today euphemistically referred to as “the sex trade.” Yes, there are victims of this trade – and the victims are not only those sex workers who are forced into selling, but also those customers who are buying.
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