Can you explain “expediency”?


Could you help me understand "expedients"? I have heard the term used for explaining why churches use money for certain things like a building or songbooks. Could you expand on this in light of what the work of the church is, what the collection is for, etc.?


The Apostle Paul wrote, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful; all things are lawful for me, but not all things edify" (I Corinthians 10:23). In the King James Version, the word that is translated here as "helpful" was translated as "expediency." The Greek word, sumphero, refers to actions that are ultimately for good, though they may not appear to be good at the present time. As an example in Matthew 5:29-30 Jesus stated, "If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell." "More profitable" in these two verses is the Greek word sumphero. Though Jesus is not literally advocating the removal of an eye or limb, the point is that a limitation in this life that allows us to enter heaven is far preferable to full freedom in this life and hell awaiting us in the next.

Hence, Jesus stated it is more profitable for a man to become celibate for the kingdom's sake than to insist on full sexual freedom (Matthew 19:10). This fully punctures the common argument made by divorce people who justify their remarriages by stating "God wouldn't want me to be unhappy." It is better to take on a limitation of no sexual relations than to commit adultery and lose your right to heaven.

Similarly, Jesus did not look forward to His death on the cross, but He argued that it was for a greater good. "Nevertheless I tell you the truth. It is to your advantage that I go away; for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I depart, I will send Him to you." (John 16:7). Caiaphas unknowingly made a similar prophecy when he said, "You know nothing at all, nor do you consider that it is expedient for us that one man should die for the people, and not that the whole nation should perish" (John 11:50).

The writer of Hebrews used this word in reference to discipline. "Furthermore, we have had human fathers who corrected us, and we paid them respect. Shall we not much more readily be in subjection to the Father of spirits and live? For they indeed for a few days chastened us as seemed best to them, but He for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness. Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it" (Hebrews 12:9-11). No one enjoys discipline at the moment it is received, but we understand that it leads to a greater good.

Paul understood this view of life demanded by expedience. "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (I Corinthians 6:12). By this statement, Paul is not stating that he can do anything that he pleased. Just prior to this statement, in I Corinthians 6:9-11, Paul listed several sins that would keep a person out of the kingdom of heaven. Paul was expecting his list of sins to be met with the argument, "There is no law against ..." and so, he temporarily grants the argument credence to show why it will not work. In I Corinthians 6:13 the argument is present that God made our desires, so it cannot be a sin to satisfy those desires.

Let us assume for the moment that everything is lawful. You and I must admit that every action is not to our best interest. Food is lawful, as Paul argued in I Timothy 4:4-5, but this does not mean that I can eat anything without harm. Would anyone care for a toadstool and poison-ivy leaf salad? Nor could I indulge in as much food as I wanted to consume; such would be gluttony as well as unhealthy for my body. If my appetite becomes my goal, I will soon discover that instead of exercising a liberty, I have placed myself under an exacting taskmaster (II Peter 2:19). We cannot use personal liberty to justify fleshly living (Galatians 5:13). And we must not forget that God has declared that consuming some foods is sinful (Acts 15:28-29).

In I Corinthians 6, Paul then applies the same argument to sexual desires. Can sex be indiscriminately indulged without harm? Solomon argued against it. "Whoever commits adultery with a woman lacks understanding; He who does so destroys his own soul. Wounds and dishonor he will get, And his reproach will not be wiped away" (Proverbs 6:32-33). Can I indulge in it at any time or with anyone? A woman's husband would disagree (Proverbs 6:34-35). Paul continues in I Corinthians 6:15-16 to prove that sex binds the participants. Hence, sex outside of marriage causes harm to the individuals involved (I Corinthians 6:18) and it harms their relationship with God (I Corinthians 6:19-20).

Instead of proving that all things are lawful, Paul chops a poor argument to pieces with the hard logic of God's Holy Word.

Even when an action is lawful, it might not be the proper action to take in every circumstance. "Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense, either to the Jews or to the Greeks or to the church of God, just as I also please all men in all things, not seeking my own profit, but the profit of many, that they may be saved" (I Corinthians 10:31-33). Paul was willing to take on limitations if those limitations furthered the acceptance of the gospel message. "Let no one seek his own, but each one the other's well -being" (I Corinthians 10:24). Or as he stated earlier, "For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some" (I Corinthians 9:19-22). What a sharp contrast to modern day men who demand that their "rights" must be upheld!

In this last passage, I Corinthians 9:21, we see another important point, "not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ." Expediencies do not place us outside of God's laws. Actions must first be lawful, then we may choose to restrict our lawful choices for the greater good -- this is expedience.

  • We have authority to assemble as a church (Hebrews 10:25). The use of a meeting house is an expedience in fulfilling the command to assemble.
  • We have authority in the church to teach (Ephesians 4:11). Dividing up into Bible classes is an expedience in fulfilling the command to teach.
  • Giving is authorized in I Corinthians 16:1-2. Using collection baskets to gather the funds during worship is an expedience.
  • Baptism is commanded in Acts 2:38. Having a baptistery to have ready water available is an expedience.
  • Singing is commanded in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. Using songbooks is an expedience.

In each case, we could argue that there are many ways to fulfill the commands given. Such is true, but every possible method of fulfillment is not necessarily the best method to use in a given place or time. A rapidly growing church might find a meeting house too restrictive to growth. A stable group might find renting too much of a drain on the budget. Each group purposely restricts its options for the greater good.

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