All things are lawful [that is, morally legitimate, permissible], but not all things are beneficial or advantageous. All things are lawful, but not all things are constructive [to character] and edifying [to spiritual life]. Let no one seek [only] his own good, but [also] that of the other person.
(1 Corinthians 10:23-24, AMP)
I love this Scriptural passage for a number of reasons, especially when discussing our thoughts on what a Christian sex education looks like. But first, a little context…
When the apostle Paul wrote this passage, he was addressing early Christian believers in the Corinthian church about – wait for it – eating meat offered to idols.
You might be thinking, “Wait, what? What’s the big deal about that?”
Well, it caused a number of big-deal problems (you can see this excellent article from GotQuestions.org for a deeper dive on this topic):
- Causing divisions within the church. Some Christians, particularly those from a Jewish background, considered eating meat offered to idols as something inherently sinful in itself, like participating in actual idol-worship, which is definitely against God’s commandments. Other Christians, who tended to be from a Gentile or non-Jewish background, couldn’t see anything wrong with eating the meat since they hadn’t been the ones offering the meat to idols in the first place.
- Causing “weaker brothers” to sin. In 1 Corinthians 8:4-13, Paul introduces an interesting philosophical concept: What may be “sin” for one believer may not actually be sin for another. In other words, if a Christian believes that eating meat offered to idols is sinful, then he should definitely not eat it. Paul calls this kind of Christian a “weaker brother” in that his conscience cannot allow him to eat that meat, even though Paul says specifically that it’s OK, morally, for him to eat that meat. Paul obviously wasn’t bothered by it in the least! Nevertheless, Paul says, for issues such as these, we should respect our “weaker brothers” and refrain from doing activities in their presence that they consider to be sinful, otherwise we may be teaching them to ignore their consciences and intentionally commit acts that they believe are sinning against God.
- Causing individual testimonies to be compromised. In 1 Corinthians 10:25-32, Paul warns the early church that they need to evaluate other people’s reactions if they start eating meat offered to idols. For example, if they were at a non-church gathering with plenty of non-Christian acquaintances and one of them says, “Hey, guess what? That food over there was offered to [____} god or goddess,” then, Paul says, the Christian shouldn’t eat it. Even though the Christian may know that it makes no difference whether they eat that food or not, the non-Christian acquaintance watching may incorrectly assume that idolatry is no big deal to the Christian God. In this, we see a clear instance that God is pleased when we limit our own individual freedoms and liberties for the sake of others.
- Causing an eventual compromise with worldly viewpoints. Interestingly, the apostle John has quite scathing remarks to say of eating meat sacrificed to idols when addressing the church in Thyatira (Revelation 2:20). As the GotQuestions.org article explains, this seems to be a different scenario from what Paul was describing for the church in Corinth. The context here is that these Christians have gone all the way into full-out idolatry, actively attending these festivals that worshipped other gods and participating themselves in the idol worship.
How ‘Lawful Vs. Beneficial’ Affects Sex Ed
Beyond the basics of our faith, then, Paul’s comments about how “all things are lawful” to the Christian suggests that Christians have remarkable freedom and latitude to decide for themselves how to live their lives.
Of course, this also applies to the realm of sex education and how we train up our children to navigate the complex, lovely world of man-woman relationships, choices in apparel, and the kinds of media and social interactions we participate in on a daily basis!
The question then becomes, though … what is beneficial?
This struck me recently when I became a parent and my children responded very differently to movies that I had loved as a child. I won’t name the particular movie, though you’ll probably know what it was if you read close enough! It’s something cartoonish and considered a “classic” in many circles.
However, my daughter was emotionally sensitive, and she became extremely distressed as the movie continued. At one point, intense drama ensued where the heroine was being attacked and shouted at by angry, cruel stepsisters (hint hint!).
For some reason, I never remembered these movie moments as being particularly traumatic (maybe just the passing distance of adulthood?), but upon seeing my child’s reaction, I began realizing that this was probably the wrong time to have shown the movie to her. She was already 4 years old, and I had been seeing this particular movie at that age. And yet, what had been “fine” with me was probably not beneficial for her … at least, not at this moment in her life.
(See this blog post for more thoughts about when to begin a Christian sex education.)
All too often, I think we Christians sometimes make the mistake of two extremes:
- Thinking that everything is “lawful” – meaning morally permissible and legitimate (which is true) – but then failing to think through whether that thing is beneficial, advantageous, and edifying to everyone involved … especially to people other than themselves.
This is the extreme that I tend to learn toward, like with my daughter. Recently I’ve been challenged to think through some new, popular book series that were gifted to my now 9-year-old daughter by a well-meaning relative. When previewing the books, I was struck by how worldly the perspectives and characters were.
For example, two sisters start discussing whether their dad is having an affair with another woman. A mom says she considers her daughter to be her “bestest mistake ever” (as her pregnancy had been unplanned). Siblings work hard to smuggle skimpy clothing purchases past their parents, knowing that the parents would never approve, as they plan to wear them to a party once they’re out of the house.
Of course, these examples are meant to be funny, but I find them more sad than anything else. Is this really the kind of behavior and mindset that we want our children to have? If not, then why are they even in a book meant for children to read?
I don’t mean that we should ban these books, or that we should wrongly assume that we can hold every morally questionable object away from our children indefinitely. But I do believe that if such thoughts and worldviews are to be brought to our children, the parents should definitely be there to talk through all these issues and expose the (often incorrect) assumptions behind them.
- Thinking that everyone needs to agree to their definition of what is “beneficial, advantageous, and edifying” without considering that everything is lawful to the Christian, and that they’re not to limit their fellow Christians’ freedoms and rights.
When we think of overbearing “religious” people, this is probably the other extreme we’re thinking of. These are people who may judge you if you’re wearing something they don’t approve of, meet your future spouse in less-than-optimal circumstances, come from the “wrong” Christian denomination, etc.
Ultimately, I think we can steer clear of these extremes when we remember that we’re to seek the good of others as well as our own good. Our own sex education for our children may look very different from even the fellow Christian family’s sex education down the road, and that’s OK! As long as our consciences are clear, we can all take comfort in following the Holy Spirit as He leads us into all truth (John 16:13).
After all, we’re not answering to people or even fellow Christians for their approval in our various parental duties and responsibilities. Each one of us will ultimately answer to the Lord.
(That thought can be exhilarating … and terrifying at the same time!)