What Harm Does This Sin Do Me?

In 1 Corinthians chapter 10, the Corinthians had focused on their own “rights” and “knowledge” and only asked one question: “What’s the harm to me?” Paul taught that instead of only asking that question, they needed to also ask, “What good can this be for me?”

Just because something is permitted does not mean it is beneficial. The Corinthians did not seek the helpful things or the things that would edify. Essentially, instead of wanting to go forward with Jesus as much as they could, the Corinthians wanted to know how much they could get away with and still be Christians. That’s the wrong approach!

As the Corinthian Christians asked the question “What’s the harm to me,” they did not consider how their actions harmed others.

Paul rejected the philosophy that Christians are free from any and all restrictions because our sins are forgiven and we live under God’s grace. This is the attitude that “everything is allowed.” But Paul now said the standard for every Christian should be “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of others (1 Corinthians 10:24).” This was an expansion of the theme in 1 Corinthians 9, saying that even his (Paul’s) “rights” were not as important as the spiritual good of other people.

What harm is it to me is not as important as how does my doing it harm others.

Paul wrote earlier that he is not under the law of Moses, but he continues to live under the law of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:21). That “law” is captured in Christ’s words affirming the greatest commandments: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27).

In chapter 10, Paul applies that law of love to the issue of knowingly eating meat that has been offered to idols.

Considering 1 Corinthians 10:24 in its biblical context, Barnes maintained that “Let no man seek his own” should be properly interpreted in the matter under discussion, though the direction assumes the form of a general principle. Originally it meant: Let no man, regarding the question about partaking of the meat offered in sacrifice to idols, consult his own pleasure, happiness, or convenience; but let him, as the leading rule on the subject, ask what will be for the welfare of others. Let him not gratify his own taste and inclinations, regardless of their feelings, comfort, and salvation; but let him in these things have a primary reference to their welfare.” He may dispense with these things without danger or injury; He cannot indulge in them without endangering the happiness or purity of others. His duty, therefore, requires him to abstain. 1  

Christian Attitudes Towards Other People

1 Corinthians 10:24 has a very important principle for Christians. God did not save them merely for their own benefit. God wants to use their lives in order to help other people.

Therefore, Christians should not be selfish. They must not care too much about their own desires. They must not allow their own emotions to rule their lives.

It is much more important for Christians to think about other people and about how they can bring God’s good news to other people. They must think about how they can help other people to trust God. They must think about how, like Christ, they too can show God’s kindness to other people (John 13:1-17; 1 Corinthians 11:1; 1 Corinthians 9:19-23).

God has made his people free from the evil forces that formerly controlled their lives. The purpose of that freedom is not so that they can satisfy their desires. God has made them free so that they can serve Him. They couldn’t serve Him while the evil forces still controlled them. Nobody can serve two masters (Matthew 6:24).

When Christians think about other people, they should not feel such a strong desire to please themselves. They will not want to follow their own plans for their lives. Instead, they will ask God to guide and direct them. They will desire to do God’s work. So, they will serve other people with the strength that God gives them.

And as God’s servants, God sends them to do His work for the benefit of other people.

Applying 1 Corinthians 10:24

Many have raised 1 Corinthians 10:24 beyond Paul’s original context of public display of the eating of food sacrificed to idols, to apply it to Christian orientation toward the good of others. The principle is that committed Christians should be more interested in the good of the other person than in their rights.

The well-being of other believers should be the priority of a committed believer. Exercise of liberty is of secondary importance. Placing the good of another person above our own indicates God’s touch upon our lives. 2

This application of 1 Corinthians is endorsed by other biblical passages such as:

Jeremiah 45:5 – “But you, are you seeking great things for yourself? Do not seek them; for behold, I am going to bring disaster on all flesh,” declares the Lord, “but I will give your life to you as booty in all the places where you may go.” (NASB)

Philippians 2:3, 4 – Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. (NASB)

What Paul prescribes, relates to the effect of our conduct upon others

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In conclusion, consider what the Daily Bread email message sent on 6/18/2008 and 5/12/2023 says,

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1 Corinthians 10:24 – Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (NIV)

Don’t be greedy and selfish.  Think of others first and give someone else first choice.  Of the three great gifts (faith, hope and love), love is the greatest (1 Corinthians 13:13) and a characteristic of love, described in the “love chapter,” in 1 Corinthians chapter 13, is that it is not self-seeking. 

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  1. Albrert Barnes, Notes on the First Epistle to the Corinthians Explanatory and Practical, (Edinburgh; London: Gall & Inglis, 1850) vs. 10:24
  2. Richisson, Verse-by-Verse (14 Vols), (Bellingham WA, Faithlife Publishing, 1995-2011) (Richisson, Vol.1, Vs. 10:23-24)

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