The word of the day is “lawful.” In today’s reading of 1 Corinthians 10:23-28, St. Paul answers the question of eating meat once sacrificed to idols. The apostle writes, “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful” (vs. 23). “All things are lawful…”? Yes. “For freedom, Christ has set us free” (Romans 13:9 CSB). He has liberated us from the accusations, guilt, condemnation, and futile works of earning righteousness. We are free of its control.
And No. The baptized have one overarching and all-encompassing commandment. The Orthodox Study Bible comments, “Christians are obligated to obey only one law: the law of Christ, the law of love” (OSB fn. 1 Cor. 10:23-24). As the apostle says in Romans, “The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery,’ ‘You shall not murder,’ ‘You shall not steal,’ ‘You shall not bear false witness,’ ‘You shall not covet,’ and if there is any other commandment, all are summed upon this saying, namely, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’’ (Romans 13:9-10).
All Things Lawful Are Not Helpful
But how shall we treat them if we are freed from the Law to love our neighbor? St. Paul writes, “not all things are helpful.” And again, “not all things edify” (vs. 23). The Greek word translated as “helpful” is derived from the thought of “bringing together for gain.” Thus, St. Paul says we should do what works for the neighbor’s good. (Strong’s #4851, 239).
Likewise, the word “edify” literally means “to build a house” and is used metaphorically to mean “building up” one’s neighbor spiritually (Strong’s #3618, 176). Thus, St. Paul teaches that we should do what promotes the neighbors’ spiritual growth and welfare.
In short, we learn from the apostle that we are to do for our neighbors whatever works out for their advantage. But what does that mean? We must be careful that we do not reconstruct another set of rules that would dictate what we should do. We should realize that if we formulate guidelines that pre-determine whether we should do this and do that, we add new laws to enslave ourselves.
Spiritual Discernment Direct by a Spiritual Guide
Rather than return to the spiritual bondage of rules and edicts, we need spiritual discernment. Spiritual insight would guide and motivate us to help and edify our neighbors. But such judgment is the gift of the Spirit. How shall we receive the wisdom of the Spirit? When we set aside rules to rely on the Spirit, we can be easily deceived. Looking back, we find things did not work out for our neighbors’ good or edification.
To avoid self-deception, Bishop Kallistos Ware recommends that we find a spiritual guide. This counselor would lead us on the most beneficial path for our souls. He states, “One who climbs a mountain for the first time needs to follow a known route, and he needs to have with him, as companion and guide, someone who has been up before and is familiar with the way. To serve as such a companion and guide is precisely the role of the ‘Abba’ or spiritual father… a ‘Geron’ or ‘Starets,’ which means elder” (Ware).
It takes prayer and intentionality to find the spiritual direction that growing in the wisdom of the Spirit requires. The parish priest fills this role for many, especially in the Holy Mystery of Confession. Then too, in the absence of a formal spiritual guide, Bishop Ware counsels: 1. Turn to Holy Scripture; 2. Study the church fathers (especially the Philokalia); 3. Go on a pilgrimage to holy places; 4. Learn from spiritual communities (e.g., monasteries.) But whatever you do, every step of the way, pray to the Holy Spirit to move you to treat everyone you meet with the love of Christ.
Ware, Kallistos. “The Spiritual Father in Orthodox Christianity.” Orthodox Christian Education Center. http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/spiritualfather.asp