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The Danger of Too Much Liberty

by Stephen Davey Scripture Reference: 1 Corinthians 10; 11:1

The privileges and blessings we enjoy as followers of Christ should never be taken for granted or taken advantage of. Our conduct should always be guided by God’s Word, edifying and not offensive, and directed toward the goal of bringing glory to God.


The medical community consistently encourages people to eat healthy, drink plenty of water, and get regular exercise. Those are good practices. But at the same time, too much of them can have negative effects. Exercise can lead to injury; too much water can result in hyponatremia, which is potentially fatal. My doctor tells me I stay indoors too much and do not get enough sunlight, which produces Vitamin D; but if I get too much sun, skin cancer becomes a threat. The truth is, you can get too much of a good thing.

The apostle Paul has been warning the Corinthian church that even though they have found freedom in Christ, that freedom comes with responsibility. Unrestrained liberty can be dangerous to ourselves and others. In our last study, Paul explained several areas where he sacrificed personal rights—his personal freedom—for the sake of the gospel.

Now as we sail into 1 Corinthians 10, Paul raises another concern: that excessive or un- controlled liberty can, in fact, lead to sin.

He begins with an illustration of the Israelites, who misused their freedom and newfound liberty from Egypt. Paul writes that the Israelites “all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them and the Rock was Christ” (verses 3-4).

In the desert they enjoyed God’s miraculous provision of manna and water. Here Paul calls both of them “spiritual” because they were supernaturally supplied—they came from Christ.[1] They also pointed to Christ, who would be the Bread of Life and the fountain of everlasting water.

As Israel traveled from Egypt to the promised land, they enjoyed amazing blessings and wonderful freedom. But Paul writes in verse 5, “Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.”

Paul then states that Israel’s experiences “took place as examples for us” (verse 6)—and that’s true to this day for the believer. Those who have been freed from the bondage of sin through faith in Christ need this warning. What, exactly, do the experiences of Israel teach us today?

  • Not to desire evil, as they did (verse 6).
  • Not to worship anything or anyone besides God (verse 7).
  • Not to get tangled up in sexual immorality (verse 8).
  • Not to test the Lord but to trust the Lord (verse 9).
  • Not to complain when we do not get what we want (verse 10).[2]

Here’s the overall warning, beloved. The Israelites thought that because of God’s blessings, they were free to do anything. It is almost as if they had too much of a good thing.

Paul is warning the Corinthians of being in danger of taking God’s blessings for granted and taking advantage of their freedom in Christ. They are heading toward the same sins as ancient Israel. And in case anybody in the church thought they were too strong to fail, Paul writes here in verse 12, “Let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.” No believer is too big to fall. The moment we start thinking we have everything under control spiritually, that we are too strong to give in to temptation, we are heading for a spiritual collision. But Paul follows this warning with a wonderful promise in verse 13:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

We might fail, but we do not need to fall! God is not going to give us more than we can bear; in fact, He will provide “the way of escape.” Now escape does not mean freedom from temptation but the power to endure temptation. Beloved, the devil—that old lion who roams around seeking someone to devour—is going to chase you all the way home to heaven. There is never a day when you will not need to be dependent on the power of Christ.

In verse 14 Paul tells the Corinthians to “flee from idolatry.” They are in danger of actually participating in idolatry. How? Well, it is not simply by eating meat sacrificed to idols. As Paul has said, and will say again, idols are not gods. So, eating meat that has been offered to them, whether it is bought in the marketplace or offered at a meal in an unbeliever’s home, is permissible as long as it does not offend or create a stumbling block for others.

But this does not mean a Christian is free to eat sacrificial meat in a pagan temple as part of idolatrous worship. And that is what some in the Corinthian church have been doing. They have taken their freedom too far.

Paul explains in verses 16-17 that the Lord’s Supper—eating the bread and drinking the cup—is a special connection between us and the Lord.

In the same manner, eating sacrificial meat in a pagan temple was too much of a connection between the Christian and paganism. Paul reminds the Corinthians here that behind the worship of idols, who are not real, is a very real, dark kingdom of demons. And he writes in verse 20, “I do not want you to be participants with demons.”

Paul continues, “You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (verse 21). So, here’s Paul’s advice: Do not hang around the edges of sin; run from it. Flee idolatry!

Paul then reassures the Corinthian believers of their liberty to make decisions in questionable areas of life. But he reminds them not to take their freedom too far. He writes, “All things are lawful, but not all things are helpful” (verse 23). He adds in verse 24, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” Listen, beloved, your liberty is not just about you!

Even though the Corinthians could eat meat offered to idols, Paul gives an interesting illustration here. What if an unbeliever invites you over and serves you meat that he has purchased from a temple? Paul answers in verse 27, “Eat whatever is set before you without raising any question.” Enjoy that filet mignon or that sirloin steak.

However, Paul writes in the next verse that if someone in that home points out that the meat has been offered to idols, “do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you.” In other words, someone in that home considers the idols to whom the meat was offered to be real. So, in that case, the believer should abstain rather than potentially discredit his testimony as a follower of the only true and living God.

Now for today, Paul delivers a principle in verses 31-33 that answers a thousand questions about our liberty and freedom in Christ:

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.

So here are some timeless questions we should ask ourselves:

  • Do my choices advance the gospel or hinder it?
  • Does my behavior raise questions about my testimony for Christ?
  • Could my liberty lead another believer into temptation?
  • Is my Christian freedom helpful to other believers?

These are questions Paul asked himself, as he limited his own personal freedom. Paul could tell us all, as he does here in verse 1 of chapter 11, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” Let us also live our lives in such a way that we could say the same thing to each other: “Imitate our commitment to Christ, and let us follow Him together.”

[1] Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Corinthians, 2016 edition (Sonic Light, 2016), 117.

[2] The specific incidents listed here are recorded in the following passages: Exodus 32:4-6; Numbers 25:1-9; 21:4-9; cf. 16:1-50.

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