With the Days of Unleavened Bread right around the corner, it seems a good time to bring out this short story. During the Days of Unleavened Bread many years ago when I was pastoring congregations in Missouri, I had a trip out of town for a ministerial visit that saw me leaving rather hastily and not taking anything to eat with me, though the trip would end up keeping me out until far past dinner time. So, that night I eventually visited the drive-thru of a popular fast food joint to grab some cornflour (and unleavened) “hard shell” tacos. (I won’t mention the name of the place, but it rhymed with Spock Hotel…) I used the drive-thru because I didn’t want to lose any time on the road.
Well, it wasn’t long before I realized that eating “hard shell” tacos and driving my van didn’t mix well at all, unleavened or not. How I managed to do that without making a total mess or killing any of my fellow highway travelers is beyond me. Those crunchy tacos may have provided a quick meal and been completely “legal” during the Days of Unleavened Bread, but it was readily apparent that they were a bad idea.
At that moment of realization, a scripture leaped to mind: “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful…”—found at the beginning of both 1 Corinthians 6:12 and 1 Corinthians 10:23.
Now, some get all bent out of shape and fall into the error Peter describes in 2 Peter 3:15–17 concerning these verses, as if Paul truly thought that the law was done away and there is nothing unlawful anymore. That’s just plain hogwash. The context within that book, itself, makes it clear that Paul understood that some things were unlawful (e.g., consider his disfellowshipping of the fellow in 1 Corinthians 5 for a relationship condemned in Leviticus 20:11, or his description of hearing things which “it is not lawful for a man to utter” in 2 Corinthians 12:2). He was addressing the licentious attitude of the Corinthians and their abuse of proper Christian freedom. [For example, the Corinthians were certainly free not to stone the fellow discussed in 1 Corinthians 5—the penalty prescribed in Leviticus 20:11 for such a sin—but they were to “put away from yourselves the evil person” as Paul says at the end of the chapter, which is what the law gives in numerous places to be the ultimate result of stoning (e.g., Deuteronomy 17:6–7).]
Having said that, we tend to allow the willingness of others to abuse these scriptures in 1 Corinthians 6:12 & 10:23 to distract us from what Paul is saying. So, what is he saying? He is saying that there are times when the fact that something is lawful for you is really irrelevant because it is not helpful, it does not edify, or it represents a danger of bringing you under the power of another (as opposed to being the slave of Christ, alone). And there, eating perfectly “legal” and tasty crunchy tacos while trying to (A) stay in my lane on the highway, (B) keep my eyes on the road, and (C) not coat my pants or the upholstery of my van in taco meat, it was clear that, although they may have been lawful, they sure weren’t helpful!
When we focus too much on simply what we are allowed or not allowed to do, we can often miss the boat on a lot of more important issues, such as whether we should or should not do something. Paul understood this—and more, he lived it. Again, speaking to the Corinthians, he tells them of the time he spent with them, completely supporting himself financially, even though he should have received their tithes and offerings to which he had a lawful right (1 Corinthians 9:6–11).
Why did he not exercise this right? “Nevertheless,” he writes, “we have not used this right, but endure all things lest we hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12). He felt that it was too important at that time to win the Corinthians and strengthen them for God than to risk putting a stumbling block in their way. There were “bigger fish to fry,” so to speak. He saw the opportunity to help these confused people in their groping for God as being of more value than exercising his lawful right to collect their tithes and offerings in support of his work there. He saw that it was lawful for him to receive their financial support, but he also saw that it would not be helpful.
So, while I don’t plan to do it again, I am thankful for my crunchy-taco highway adventure. (Of course, some of you are thinking, “How uncoordinated can he be? I eat crunchy tacos from Spock Hotel while driving my car all the time!” To which, I must ask: How do you do it? Do you drive with your feet? If you offer a correspondence course, I would be glad to apply…)
Have a wonderful Feast of Unleavened Bread—and drive safely!