12.All things are lawful for me. Interpreters labor hard to make out the connection of these things, (345) as they appear to be somewhat foreign to the Apostle’s design. For my own part, without mentioning the different interpretations, I shall state what, in my opinion, is the most satisfactory. It is probable, that the Corinthians even up to that time retained much of their former licentiousness, and had still a savor of the morals of their city. Now when vices stalk abroad with impunity, (346) custom is regarded as law, and then afterwards vain pretexts are sought for by way of excuse; an instance of which we have in their resorting to the pretext of Christian liberty, so as to make almost everything allowable for themselves to do. They reveled in excess of luxury. With this there was, as usual, much pride mixed up. As it was an outward thing, they did not think that there was any sin involved in it: nay more, it appears from Paul’s words that they abused liberty so much as to extend it even to fornication. Now therefore, most appropriately, after having spoken of their vices, he discusses those base pretexts by which they flattered themselves in outward sins.
It is, indeed, certain, that he treats here of outward things, which God has left to the free choice of believers, but by making use of a term expressive of universality, he either indirectly reproves their unbridled licentiousness, or extols God’s boundless liberality, which is the best directress to us of moderation. For it is a token of excessive licentiousness, when persons do not, of their own accord, restrict themselves, and set bounds to themselves, amidst such manifold abundance. And in the first place, he limits liberty (347) by two exceptions; and secondly, he warns them, that it does not by any means extend to fornication. These words, All things are lawful for me, must be understood as spoken in name of the Corinthians, κατ ᾿ ἀνθυποφορὰν, (by anticipation,) as though he had said, I am aware of the reply which you are accustomed to make, when desirous to avoid reproof for outward vices. You pretend that all things are lawful for you, without any reserve or limitation.
But all things are not expedient Here we have the first exception, by which he restricts the use of liberty — that they must not abandon themselves to licentiousness, because respect must be had to edification. (348) The meaning is, “It is not enough that this or that is allowed us, to be made use of indiscriminately; for we must consider what is profitable to our brethren, whose edification it becomes us to study. For as he will afterwards point out at greater length, (1 Corinthians 10:23,) and as he has already shown in Romans 14:13, etc., every one has liberty inwardly (349) in the sight of God on this condition, that all must restrict the use of their liberty with a view to mutual edification.
I will not be brought under the power of anything Here we have a second restriction — that we are constituted lords of all things, in such a way, that we ought not to bring ourselves under bondage to anything; as those do who cannot control their appetites. For I understand the word τινος (any) to be in the neuter gender, and I take it as referring, not to persons, but to things, so that the meaning is this: “We are lords of all things; only we must not abuse that lordship in such a way as to drag out a most miserable bondage, being, through intemperance and inordinate lusts, under subjection to outward things, which ought to be under subjection to us.” And certainly, the excessive moroseness of those who grudge to yield up anything for the sake of their brethren, has this effect, that they unadvisedly put halters of necessity around their own necks.