COLUMN: Creating Christian freedom

Published 9:40 am Monday, January 22, 2024

Whatever you think this will be about, I encourage you to read on. Because this probably won’t land wherever you think it will land. 

Back in my childhood and teenage days, no Bible verse was nearly as popular to us as John 11:35. That verse was well-known as the shortest verse in the Bible. 

So that would get you through any time when someone asked you to quote a verse, any verse, from the Bible. It would get you through if someone asked you what verse was your favorite. Two words: “Jesus wept.” 

So as fairly straight-laced college kids of the early eighties, our version of “Jesus wept” had grown up a little in its humor at the college Baptist Student Union. In 1 Corinthians 16:20, the apostle Paul instructed the believers at Corinth to “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” 

I don’t know why we thought it was so funny. I guess we were a little dorky. But we did. Incidentally, I’m not sure that feeble pickup line ever worked for anyone, at any time, but we sure got a lot of laughs out of it. But that verse is found in the same letter as this week’s scripture, 1 Corinthians 6: 12-20. 

One thing that I am sure of today is that in our spiritual immaturity, we college students were paying attention to the wrong chapters in this masterpiece of a letter Paul wrote. 

In just a few years, my twenty-eight year old self or my thirty-eight year old self would realize the power found here when he said, “All things are permitted for me, but not all things are beneficial.”

He’s right. You and I have a range of things we could do that we shouldn’t. We can say most anything we want to, but we know as adults we shouldn’t. We should exercise restraint over what we say. Because all things are permitted for us, but not all things are beneficial.

The Corinthians needed to hear what the apostle had to say about choices and personal freedoms. You and I probably do, all the same. 

Either like generations of young students headed off to college they didn’t understand the early Christian teachings or the Corinthians did understand but were selectively ignoring this kind of wisdom. They were misinterpreting messages to suit their needs. 

Instead, they seem to have built their lives around their wants. As we read this scripture, Paul is at first quoting things he was hearing someone at Corinth say, and then providing a counterpoint. He does talk about food. Your doctor would back up everything the apostle is saying here. I don’t want to hear that and you may not, either.

Next, he launches a lengthy diatribe on inappropriate sexual conduct. For those who lazily try to label me a liberal, they might be surprised. I can be pretty conservative, actually, on matters like this. However, let’s not miss the larger point the apostle was making. 

Like Jesus before him, Paul was concerned with people. But he was perhaps even more concerned for gathered believers who we now comfortably refer to as the church. He wanted there to be a place for all people within the church. 

God has fashioned each of us, you and me, for a life of faithfulness and service. The brand of freedom Paul espouses here is personal freedom. We can only have and preserve that freedom when we master those things that might addict or distract us. 

The nuanced message here is that he wasn’t so much pointing his finger in judgment, though so many who read his words will. Instead, he was pleading with humans to not turn themselves over to the control of things that would prevent them from living fully as God’s faithful creations. 

The beginning of Christian freedom is found in living lives that resemble Jesus Christ’s own teachings and model. In every way. That means some of us are just as addicted to our prejudices and opinions as the sexually active “sinners” we may like to point our fingers at. That means some of us are just as controlled by our biases and blind spots are the substance addicted sinners we love to judge. 

Neither Paul nor God were trying to play the role of the cosmic party-poopers. They’re not trying to kill anyone’s joy or say no one should have any fun. Quite the opposite, they actually try to free us up to be what God made us to be.

Dr. Charles Qualls is senior pastor at Franklin Baptist Church. Contact him at 757-562-5135.