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Pursuing the Profitable in 2023

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Scripture Readings

1 Corinthians 6:12–20 NIV84
12 “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
1 Corinthians 10:23–33 NIV84
23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. 24 Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. 25 Eat anything sold in the meat market without raising questions of conscience, 26 for, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it.” 27 If some unbeliever invites you to a meal and you want to go, eat whatever is put before you without raising questions of conscience. 28 But if anyone says to you, “This has been offered in sacrifice,” then do not eat it, both for the sake of the man who told you and for conscience’ sake— 29 the other man’s conscience, I mean, not yours. For why should my freedom be judged by another’s conscience? 30 If I take part in the meal with thankfulness, why am I denounced because of something I thank God for? 31 So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. 32 Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God— 33 even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved.

Introduction

Today is the start of a new year. And a privilege and joy it is to start the New Year on the Lord’s Day, meeting together as the Lord’s people, to worship our God together.
There is always this sense of anticipation when the new year comes. In one sense, this is merely the next day of God’s unfolding purposes, and so it is hardly unique. But in our minds, it certainly has an impact, and leads us to consider things from the perspective of a new starting point. Today is the first day of 2023, rather than the next day in 2022. There is a newness about it.
We can look forward to this new year ahead in anticipation.
Because it is a New Year, it is an opportune time to consider ourselves, and to think about how we may grow and mature (spiritually speaking) in the year ahead. While there is nothing wrong with setting some practical life-goals in terms of personal advancements in work, or in studies, or acheivements that we hope to aim for in the year ahead, for the Christian, that must be a far second priority.
As Christians, our greatest hope and aim is to press on towards Christ-likeness, and to mature in our faith. As Christians, we must realise that nothing in our lives is more important than our walk and relationship with our Saviour, and the extent to which we are pleasing Christ in our every-day life. It is absolutely the most important aspect of our lives.
Let me then ask, have you put any thought into your goals, your dreams, your aspirations for spiritual growth and development in the year ahead? If not, I would encourage you to do that, and to commit your plans to the Lord, and to pursue these goals of pleasing your Lord and Saviour.
For this morning, I would like to encourage you in your growth in Christ-likeness through these two portions of Scripture in 1 Corinthians.
My encouragement from these verses is for us as Christians to focus our attention on pursuing that which is profitable in this year ahead.
Romans 3:23 tells us…
Romans 3:23 NASB95
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 5:8 says that.....
Romans 5:8 NASB95
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
The appropriate response for us, and the means of receiving and applying that truth to ourselves personally is outlined in Romans 10:9-10 which says....
Romans 10:9–10 NASB95
9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
When we have understood these truths by God’s grace, and when we have professed faith and trust in Christ alone for our salvation, it means that life is new. Something is very different for us. We don’t live life as anyone else in the world.
2 Corinthians 5:17 NASB95
17 Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.
But the question that we need to ask ourselves, and particularly as we stand at the start of this new year is, Where Does This Lead? What are the implications of this for our lives as professing believers?
Because God has graciously opened our eyes to His purposes, His glory, His worthiness of our praise, the spiritual battle being waged in this world, the final consummation of the age etc… Because God has given us something of an understanding of the significance of these events, we live with a different goal in life. We have a mission in life. Our mission and goal is please God in everything.
Life is no longer about me and my desires. Rather, it is about God and His desires for me in this world.
With that in mind, one of the questions that we should be asking ourselves as Christians is, how Do I Please the Lord in Daily Living? In other words, do I give some thought at times to what I am doing, to what I am avoiding, to the way I’m living, and ask myself how, or at least to what extent, it pleases the Lord.
A question along similar lines is, where shall I draw the line on questionable activities? Very often, the questionable activities are not necessarily outright immoral activities. The question then becomes the kind of time, the kind of attention that we give these activities.
My encouragement to each of us today is to use this as an opportunity to re-evaluate how we are living, how much time we are spending on various activities, and then to seek to enter into this year with a view to seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. To prioritize that which is of greatest importance, that which is of eternal value, that for which we will never be ashamed.
Some Scriptures that could serve as prayers for us as we think about these things today…
Lamentations 3:40 NASB95
40 Let us examine and probe our ways, And let us return to the Lord.
Psalm 139:23 NASB95
23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
Psalm 26:2 NASB95
2 Examine me, O Lord, and try me; Test my mind and my heart.
2 Corinthians 13:5 NASB95
5 Test yourselves to see if you are in the faith; examine yourselves! Or do you not recognize this about yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you—unless indeed you fail the test?
May this be a time of humble reflection, and a time of asking the Lord to empower us and strengthen us to desire Him more than all else as we head into this new year.

1. Avoid That Which Is Not Beneficial (v. 12)

In 1 Corinthians 6:12 we read:
1 Corinthians 6:12 NIV84
12 “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything.
Just prior to saying this, Paul reminded the believers in 1 Corinthians 6:11 that the Christian life is a new life. He is writing with a particular concern about immorality among Christians. This immorality was rampant in Corinth. It was part of the culture. Indulgence in all kinds of immoral behaviour. This was very often associated with the idol worship of that day.
But Paul is telling the Corinthian believers that they are to distinguish themselves because of their new identity in Jesus Christ. In verse 11 he wrote…
1 Corinthians 6:11 NASB95
11 Such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.
Notice the two marks that he says are true of the Christian.
Firstly, “Such were some of you...” In other words, this was a former identity. It is that which belongs in the past tense. It is not appropriate to carry that which belonged to a former manner of life, and bring it into the present life and identity of the Christian.
That leads to the second marker of the Christian: “but you were washed, set apart, justified etc.” Something utterly radical and profound has happened to the Christian. We certainly don’t always feel this. But that lack of feeling doesn’t deny the reality if we are truly born again. Notice the words that Paul uses to describe the Christian…
You were washed.... you were sanctified.... you have been made clean. All of the filth of your sin that made you unpresentable and utterly defiled before God has been washed away. As God views you, He does so as one cleansed by the blood of Christ. You’re pure, and clean. That’s the reality of the Christian.
He says that you’ve been justified… you’ve been declared by the ultimate judge of the universe to be not guilty!! The verdict has been handed down!! And this is all in the name of Christ, through the work done by Him on the cross.
These are the glorious truths that mark the Christian… every single one of us who have acknowledged and confessed our sin before Him, trusted in His righteousness to cleanse us, and are thus submitting to him as Lord. These things are true of us. It truly is profound.
And it is liberating.
Now, notice what he goes on to say. “All things are lawful...” The words of Paul here are clearly a slogan that was being used by the Corinthian believers. Very probably they were seeking to celebrate their so-called “freedom” in Christ, but were using this freedom as a justification for sin, or that which was really not profitable.
One commentator writes:
1 Corinthians a. Permission (6:12–14)

Freethinking Corinthians were of the opinion that they could do whatever they pleased. Their application of the motto all things are permissible to me exceeded the limits of acceptable Christian behavior. Instead of living as forgiven, holy, and righteous believers, they indulged in sexual and social sins. Instead of submitting to the rule of Jesus Christ, they condoned sin in the name of the freedom granted them in Christ. Instead of serving the Lord and their neighbor in genuine Christian love (Matt. 22:37–40), they served themselves.

Remember, there was a great deal of immorality that formed part of ordinary life in Corinth. Already in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul has confronted immorality in the church itself, saying that they ought to have expelled the immoral brother, whereas they were actually celebrating their tolerance and freedom.
So, here we have the Corinthian church seeking to over-emphasize freedom, but not understanding and comprehending these glorious realities in Christ, and the true and perfect freedom that it brings.
Notice how Paul then deals with this. He repeats their mantra, “All things are lawful...” and doesn’t counter it directly. Rather, he argues with a counter-statement.... he says, "All things are not profitable.” Or, all things are not beneficial.
That which is profitable “helps along.” That which is profitable is that which aids me in my growth as a Christian. That which is profitable is that which enables me to press on towards Christ-likeness, so that I may put God on display through my life and conduct.
The Corinthians were missing the point of freedom in Christ, and pressing it to mean that they were utterly free to do anything that they pleased. But that is none other than total selfishness and self-centeredness, which is rebellion against God. This is the root of rebellion - selfishness.
Their thinking in this way would lead them to do things and to conduct themselves in ways that would not be helpful and profitable.
And so, Paul confronts them, and says to these Christians that although they have great freedom in Christ, they must consider if what they are doing is truly profitable. In other words, is there are long-term benefit towards personal advancement and growth in Christ-likeness and godliness that comes about as a result of their actions and conduct?
We need to keep in the back of our minds at this point the fact that the two greatest commandments are,
Luke 10:27 (NASB95)
27 ...“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.”
It is simply impossible to carry out those commands when there is an undue emphasis on self. While there is a freedom in Christ, it is not a freedom to do as one pleases, and how one pleases. Rather, it is a freedom to serve and honour God, to love God and please Him more fully, without the overwhelming power of sin disabling us from living as we’re designed to live. E.g. - Train is free on the tracks...
With that in mind, just applying this to ourselves practically, we need to ask if what we’re doing and practicing is helping us to love Christ more. Are my actions aiding and deepening my love for Christ?
The things that I as a Christian have the “freedom” to do, are they helpful and profitable in terms of my walk with the Lord Jesus Christ.
My purpose here is not to start developing a set of rules, a set of dos and donts to live by. We do not live by a set of rules.
But we do need to look at our lives, and ask ourselves in practical terms, is what I’m doing in life profitable to me. We need to take stock of the places we go to, the people that we interact with, the activities that we engage in, and the programs that we watch, and ask ourselves if they are actually helpful in terms of pressing us forward in our lives.
The point is, am I evaluating my life and what I do carefully, and being conscious of how it’s impacting me.
And the encouragement is, let’s be honest with ourselves in terms of the impact that things are having as we seek to determine if they are truly a help, or rather if they’re a hinderance to me.

2. Avoid That Which Enslaves (v. 12)

Once again, Paul quotes in verse 12 the saying that they were using.... “All things are lawful for me....” He’s agreeing that there is indeed a wonderful freedom to be found in Christ. And there is. It is true. However, there is another limitation that must be brought to bare in this circumstance.
There is wonderful freedom in Christ, but as a Christian, I am not to be mastered by anything. In other words, if there is something that is enslaving me, I need to be truly set free from that bondage.
The New Covenant that God promised had bound up within it the idea of freedom. The Israelites often saw that as political or nationalistic freedom. But the Gospel is so much more than that. The freedom that the Gospel brings is a freedom that is holistic, and primarily, most fundamentally, it is a freedom from sin. It is a freedom from anything that prevents the true and whole-hearted worship and service of God.
Isaiah 58:6 NASB95
6 “Is this not the fast which I choose, To loosen the bonds of wickedness, To undo the bands of the yoke, And to let the oppressed go free And break every yoke?
What greater oppression and bondage is there to that which hinders and prevents the true worship of God.
When Jesus taught his disciples, he told them…
John 8:36 NASB95
36 “So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed.
In the book of Ephesians, Paul brings this out in terms of that which controls a person.
Ephesians 5:18 NASB95
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit,
Wine is the context, but the Biblical picture is that anything that enslaves us is in fact wrong. There should be nothing that so dominates our thoughts, our affections, our desires, our hopes etc. than God Himself. He should truly be ultimate in our lives.
What are some practical applications of this?
Money is lawful … but I will not be under its power. Some people live their lives believing that if they just had a little bit more, then they would be happy. Sadly, that little bit more is just never quite enough. To have money is absolutely okay. We cannot live without it. Poverty is not something to strive for.
The point is that we are to be content in terms of what God has entrusted to our care. If we have the ability and the means to have more, and it will not jeapordise our relationship with God and our loving service of our families and others, then by all means do that. Nonetheless, be content.
Hebrews 13:5 NASB95
5 Make sure that your character is free from the love of money, being content with what you have; for He Himself has said, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you,”
Further to this, Recreation is lawful … but not to be our master. We do not live to enjoy and pursue recreational activities. Is recreation good? I believe it is. It is certainly very helpful to reduce stress, and to promote relationships very often. It can actually be a truly good thing!!
But when recreation becomes the focal point of life, and our lives are so bound up in our recreational activities, that we scarcely have time for anyone else, let alone God, then we need to ask ourselves if we haven’t become slaves to recreation.
I want to add to this that screens and devices have made this danger of bondage to recreation so much more a reality, particularly for our younger generations, but even for older generations. On-demand streaming of videos and music, with more content being added daily than we’re actually able to consume, means that this is a very real challenge.
I was telling our children during this past week that when I was young, there was only one episode a week of your favorite program. Once you had watched that one episode, you had to wait another full week until you could watch the next. They could hardly believe that such terrible circumstances existed.
Let me ask, do you consider how much screen time you have… and think about how much beneift it is to you. Young people and old. Is this a potential area of slavery.
Political power is lawful … but not to rule us.
Our work that we do day-to-day is lawful (at least it should be) but even that can sometimes become something that master us, and it has a power over us that doesn’t allow us to even escape it, or to spend time with our family that we need to. We become neglectful of the responsibilities that God has given us.... perhaps worship at church… perhaps even the rest that God gives us for our good and benefit.
Here’s the call of God - Let nothing become your master. Christ is master and Lord, and if our highest priority and joy and delight is not in serving Him and living for Him and His glory, then we are allowing something to take His place on the throne as we worship.

3. Avoid that Which Does Not Edify (10:23)

1 Corinthians 10:23 NIV84
23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive.
Again, Paul is going to the claim of the Corinthian believers that all things are lawful for them. Since they have this freedom, they are free to live in a particular way, or do certain things, and no one should place restrictions on them because they are free. Free in Christ.
But is this always the right position? We’ve already seen that it most certainly isn’t the right position at all times. Under the first two points, we saw that engaging in certain things, although they may truly be lawful, are not always beneficial to us in terms of spiritual well-being. Certainly they are not always glorifying to God.
But under this third point, Paul is concerned with the impact that our “lawful” conduct has on those around us. The context makes this very clear.
Paul is addressing a particular concern regarding the eating of meat that was sacrificed to idols. In that day, there was extensive worship of false gods, and part of that worship involved the sacrifice of animals to these gods. The question for Christians became, do we have the freedom to eat this meat, or do we not have the freedom to eat this meat.
Look down at verse 25 to see the context more clearly…
1 Corinthians 10:25 NASB95
25 Eat anything that is sold in the meat market without asking questions for conscience’ sake;
There is the freedom that belongs to the Christian. That which is sold in the meat market, if it was to do with conscience alone, was not a problem or concern.
However, Paul is raising this question to tell the Corinthian believers that it is utterly unacceptable to merely consider their own interests in this scenario.
instead, the question here is not merely one of personal conscience, but rather, that which would bring edification of another.
1 Corinthians 10:23 NIV84
23 “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive.
Or, in the NASB....
1 Corinthians 10:23 NASB95
23 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.
The word “edify” here is always a word used to convey an action performed for the benefit of another. In other words, it has nothing to do with personal edification. Rather, Paul is speaking about whether or not the action being conducted would edify other Christians, those around them.
1 Corinthians 8:1 NASB95
1 Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies.
Romans 14:19 NASB95
19 So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another.
This is precisely what Paul has in mind here. His concern with the Corinthian believers is that they would use their freedom to do something that would ultimately cause a stumbling block and a hinderance to other Christians. They would conduct themselves in a way that would fail to consider others and their needs and interests.
Notice the words of Paul in verse 24...
1 Corinthians 10:24 NASB95
24 Let no one seek his own good, but that of his neighbor.
This is the life theme of the Christian. Certainly, it is a central part of the life of the Christian - to seriously consider the needs and interests of others, rather than looking only to personal interests.
Romans 15:2 NASB95
2 Each of us is to please his neighbor for his good, to his edification.
Philippians 2:4 NASB95
4 do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others.
These commands for the Christian flow out of the command given by Jesus himself in Matthew 22:39
Matthew 22:39 NASB95
39 “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’
This is the call of Paul in the context of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Paul is concerned that the Corinthian believers will look at their own interests, and will continue to do that which would prove to be destructive to others.
The Christian is never called to merely consider self-interest. They are to actively seek to do good to those around them. They are to actively seek to build up and to do that which would be of benefit to those around them. This is the fulfilment of the Law...
Romans 13:10 NASB95
10 Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
As we head into this year, and we consider what it means for us as a church to “pursue the profitable,” it will do us little good to think merely about ourselves and what we do personally, and how that may impact us personally. Yes, this is important, but it is not the end of the story. We have a responsibility to one another as a church body.
And so, in terms of us pursuing the profitable in 2023, we need to ask ourselves if what we are doing is building up others in the family of God. Are we giving careful thought to how our actions and our words and our deeds are impacting those around us?
And we need to do that in terms of thinking about what we’re currently doing. Is what we are doing, how we are doing those things, perhaps being destructive? Are our actions breaking down, rather than building up? Are we using our freedom in Christ perhaps to bring a stumbling block to others around us? If this is the case, then we are called to leave these things out of our lives.

Conclusion

The Threefold Test of All We Do and Say in This New Year can be outlined as follows:
1. Does it help me along in my Christian life?
2. Will it allow me to remain free or will it become my master?
3. Does it build up others?
Two quotes that may be helpful to consider:
1. John Wesley: “Whatever cools my affection towards Christ is of the world”
2. J. Wilbur Chapman: “Anything that dims my vision of Christ, or takes away my taste for Bible study, or cramps my prayer life, or makes Christian work more difficult is wrong for me”
As you enter into 2023, may I encourage you to prayerfully consider your life before God. May we all think carefully through our current habits and practices, and ask ourselves if that which we are doing is profitable and helpful - both to myself personally, and to those around me.
And may God give us the grace, and grant us the heart’s desire, to carefully and joyfully seek that which is profitable in the year ahead.
May 2023 be a year of great growth and progress in our faith as we look to Christ.
Basic Outline Source: Campbell, R. F. (1988–). Preach for a year (pp. 15–16). Kregel Publications.
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