“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial.
1 Corinthians 6:12 (NIV)
When you’re a child growing up in the United States you learn the phrase “the land of the free.” Without a doubt, I am free to do whatever I want (within the law), to go where I want to go, and to be or become what I desire. A a child I was taught the positive aspects of this freedom: I can succeed at whatever I focus my heart and mind towards. I can become a doctor, a fire fighter, an astronaut, or President of the United States.
As I continued in my life journey I became aware that freedom has a corollary truth. I am also free to be a jerk, an addict, an idiot, a bully, a cheat, or a cad. I am just as free to be a drain on society as I am to be a productive member of it.
In today’s chapter, Paul addresses how the believers in ancient Corinth should conduct themselves with regard to sexuality. He quotes a phrase that some within the Corinthian congregation were repeating: “I have the right to do anything.” Presumably, some believers were making regular trips to the local Temple of Aphrodite to have sex with one of the priestess prostitutes and then showing up for worship to claim that there was nothing wrong with their behavior and claiming their “right” to behave as they wanted because Jesus’ unlimited grace and forgiveness was essentially a spiritual “get out of jail free” card.
Paul goes on to explain that as followers of Jesus there is a greater spiritual truth at work here. Sex isn’t just a recreational physical act. When people have sex there are layers of spiritual, emotional, and relational connection that shouldn’t be ignored. Many, if not most, of the “priestess” prostitutes were slaves who had been “given” to the temple cult and forced into the service of prostitution. This was not just a simple case of “freedom” to do what one wanted. There were issues of spiritual health and social justice involved, and a person who claims to follow Jesus can’t ignore them.
“I have a right to do anything,” one might say, but so did Jesus. Jesus had the right not to come to live among us, yet He yielded this right in order to become one of us that He might be One with us. Jesus claimed He had the right to call down an army of angels to rescue Him from dying on the cross. Once again, He yielded that right for my benefit. His example was to yield His rights for the spiritual and relational good of all. He sacrificed His rights to bring about Life and goodness. As a follower of Jesus, I’m called to follow this example. Jesus said any who would follow after Him must, “deny themselves and take up their own cross.” This means yielding my freedom to “do whatever I want” for the spiritual, emotional, and relational health of myself, others, and the good of all.
Along this life journey I’ve learned (the hard way in many cases, I might add) that as a follower of Jesus I am called to embrace freedom to do what I ought, not do what I want.