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The Divine Hermeneutic

Expediency
Steven Deaton


The Greek word (sumphero) translated "expedient" (KJV) is defined as: "to bring together...bear together...to help, be profitable, be expedient" (Thayer); "to bring together...advantage, profitable, expedient (not merely 'convenient')..." (Vine).  Sumphero is used by the Lord.  He said,

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable [sumphero] for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable [sumphero] for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell (Matthew 5:29, 30).

Thus, "expedient" has an inherent meaning of "profitable," helpful, beneficial.  It is strange then, that "expedients" in the church have had such devastating effects.   Many practices introduced and organizations formed based on expediency have caused a number of divisions, great heartache and bitterness.  Expediency was used as the reason to kill Christ (John 11:50).  This shows the danger in justifying our action because it is "expedient."  Hence, we need a proper understanding of Bible expediency.

The Holy Spirit defines expediency.  Paul wrote, "All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any" (1 Corinthians 6:12, KJV).  The context is a discussion of sexual immorality (6:13-20).  The "all things are lawful" is in light of the Old Covenant and its regulation of foods (6:13).  Under the New Covenant, it matters not what one eats — all things are lawful (cf. 1 Timothy 4:1-5; Acts 10:9-16).  This freedom in Christ does not extend to sexual immorality.  It is against a Christian's body (1 Corinthians 6:18).  That is, it is not beneficial, even if it was lawful, but it is not (Galatians 5:19-21).  Therefore, Paul said, "Flee sexual immorality."

With reference to dealings with others, Paul wrote, "All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not" (1 Corinthians 10:23, KJV).  In the context he has forbidden eating in an idol's temple (10:14-22).  In 10:23-33, he addresses eating meat in the home.  It matters not if the meat was sacrificed to an idol.  A Christian need not investigate the history of the meat, but if he is informed that the meat was sacrificed to an idol, he must refrain (10:28).

Two important points are established out of these passages.  First, something must be lawful in order for it to be expedient.  Sexual immorality cannot be expedient because it is not lawful to begin with (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).  Second, an expedient must also be beneficial, it must edify.  If it causes offense (makes a person sin), it is sinful (1 Corinthians 10:31-32).  Eating meat sacrificed to an idol does not affect the nature of the meat or its nutritional value.  However, eating it may cause the idolater to doubt your convictions about one true God.  It may also cause a weak brother to eat with offense.

Another important point to make is that an expedient cannot be a commandment.  In other words, when a thing is commanded there is no option.  Baptism is a requirement, not an expedient (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).  Partaking of the Lord's Supper on the first day of the week is a commandment, not a convenience (Matthew 26:26-28; Acts 20:7). [See elsewhere in this Website for the binding nature of approved apostolic examples].  Expedients are optional, not mandatory.  This is why it is wrong to press them to the harm of the cause of Christ.

Expedients also cannot change the nature of a commandment; they can only help facilitate the accomplishment of it.  Noah did not have the option of using oak or pine (Genesis 6:14).  It might have been more convenient to obtain these woods because they were nearby, but such action would have changed the nature of God's command to get gopherwood.  Similarly, when David moved the ark, he chose an "expedient" method, the ox cart, but altered the nature of God's command of transport (2 Samuel 6:6-7).  He sinned.

Modern Application

The following chart is given to easily see the nature of expediency in relation to God's commands.  Below the chart is a short discussion of each issue.

Commandment

Expedient

Addition / Alteration

Baptism
Mk. 16:16

Immersion in a Lake, River, Baptistery

Sprinkle, Pour

Partake of The Lord's Supper: Fruit of the Vine & Unleavened Bread
Matt. 26:26-28

Trays, Cups, Basket

Coffee, Cake, Cola, Doughnuts

Partake of The Lord's Supper On Sunday
Acts 20:7

Sunday Morning, Afternoon or Evening, Before or After Preaching, Singing

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday

Sing
Col. 3:16; Eph. 5:19

Song Books, Memory, Number of Songs, Order Sung

Play a Piano, Guitar, or OrganHum, Clap, Whistle

Preach The Gospel
Mk. 16:15; Matt. 28:19-20

Publicly, Privately, Morning, Noon, Night

Missionary Society, Sponsoring Church

Baptism

Baptism is a command of God (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).  The mode of baptism is immersion in water (Acts 8:36-38).  We know immersion is the mode because the Bible tells us we are "buried" with Christ in baptism (Romans 6:3-4; Colossians 2:11-12).  A burial is accomplished by completely covering the one buried.  It is not done by throwing a little dirt on the person's body.  Just as Christ was totally encased in the tomb, so must a man be totally encased in water.  Therefore, sprinkling and pouring are not valid modes of baptism; they are not expedients.

Partake of the Lord's Supper:
Fruit of the Vine & Unleavened Bread

When Jesus gave the command to remember His sacrifice, He gave two elements: the unleavened bread to remember His body (Matthew 26:17, 26); the fruit of the vine to remember His blood (Matthew 26:27-29; 1 Corinthians 10:16).  Trays, cups, baskets may help fulfill the Lord's command.  Coffee, cake, cola and doughnuts violate the command.  They are not lawful, therefore they are not expedient.

Partake of the Lord's Supper on the First Day of The Week

Under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, the apostles and saints of the first century assembled on the first day of the week to observe the Lord's supper (Acts 20:7).  The time and place were a matter of expediency.  Other days of the week are not a matter of expediency, but a violation of biblical authority.

Sing

In the New Testament, musical worship is done by "speaking," "teaching," and "admonishing" one another (Colossians 3:16; Ephesians 5:19).  Song books are expedients that help us obey the command.  A piano, guitar or organ do not support "singing."  The use of these instruments facilitate playing.  Therefore, they are not expedient.

Preach The Gospel

Jesus commanded the apostles to go and preach the gospel (Mark 16:15; Matthew 28:19-20).  We understand this to be the duty, to one degree or another, of every Christian (cf. 2 Timothy 2:2).  Carrying out this command may be done in public or private, in the morning or evening.  The command is still obeyed.  Each church in the New Testament did its own work, whether sounding out the word themselves or sending support directly to a preacher (1 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Philippians 4:15-17).  However, adding a Missionary Society is not expedient because it is not lawful.  The same is true concerning a sponsoring church.  It lacks Bible authority, either in precept, example or necessary implication, and is therefore unlawful.

Help The Needy Saints

The Bible teaches churches to care for saints in need (Acts 2:44-45; 4:32-37; 11:27-30).  When to do this, where to send help, and the amount to send is a matter of judgment, a matter of expediency.  Establishing a benevolent institution, whether it is an orphan home or convalescent home, is beyond the authority given by God.  These are not expedients, but additions to God's word.

Conclusion

Expediency is a necessary part of our work in the Lord.  It must be lawful and beneficial.  When it violates either of these, it is sinful.  We must exercise great care in justifying our actions based on expediency lest, in our zeal, we dishonor God while trying to honor Him.

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