THE CONTEXT: Paul is writing this letter in response to a report from Chloe's people about problems in the Corinthian church (1:11). In this letter, he provides apostolic guidance for dealing with those problems. One of the problems with which Paul will deal in chapter 8 is whether it is permissible for Christians to eat meat from animals sacrificed to pagan idols? We see a brief allusion to that issue in our text (6:13a). That, however, is hardly the primary issue for our text. In verse 13a, Paul mentions food and the stomach only as a way of introducing the issue of fornication (Greek: porneia-sexual immorality) and the body. In chapter 5, Paul dealt at length with the issue of sexual immorality (porneia). He talked about a man-a member of the Christian community-who was living with the wife of his father, a sin that would be unacceptable even in the pagan community-a sin that was tainting the reputation of the church among the people of the city. Paul was concerned, not only for this act of public immorality, but also for the response of the church, which was to ignore the problem. He counseled that the church should remove this man from their fellowship (5:2). He said that they should "Purge out the old yeast, that you may be a new lump, even as you are unleavened" (5:7)-by which he meant that the church should be pure, free from immorality, just as the Passover bread was pure, free from leaven. He further counseled that they should not associate "with anyone who is called a brother who is a sexual sinner, or covetous, or an idolater, or a slanderer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner. Don't even eat with such a person. For what have I to do with also judging those who are outside? Don't you judge those who are within? But those who are outside, God judges. 'Put away the wicked man from among yourselves'" (5:11-13). In other words, on Judgment Day, God will judge those who are outside the church. In the meantime, the church must pass judgment on those inside the church, driving flagrant, unrepentant sinners from its midst.
Paul then moved in 6:1-11to a subject that appears, at first glance, to be completely unrelated to the issue of sexual immorality that he addressed in chapter 5 and will continue to address in 6:12-20. In other words, he appears to break the continuity of his concern about sexual immorality in 5:1-13 and 6:12-20 by inserting a section that has nothing to do with sexual immorality-a section in which he expresses a concern about lawsuits among believers. However, the section about lawsuits is not the intrusion that it seems at first glance to be. In 5:12-13, Paul established the principle that, while the community at large must judge those outside the church, the church must judge those inside its fellowship. However, in Corinth, the Christian community has been turning to those outside the church (civil courts) to judge disputes between members of the church. In other words, they have been inviting those outside the church to judge those inside the church (6:1-6). This public airing of the church's dirty laundry damages the church's reputation in the minds of unbelievers-making it much more difficult for the church to win new people to Christ. Paul asks, "Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to decide between one believer and another?" (6:5). He calls Christians to resolve their disputes internally, and says that it would be better for them to suffer wrong that to invite those outside the church to judge their internal affairs (6:7). So while 6:1-11 addresses an issue other than sexual immorality, it is an extension of the concern of 5:12-13 that members of the church should judge disputes and immorality within their fellowship-and that they should not invite unbelievers to do this for them.
1 CORINTHIANS 6:12. LAWFUL, BUT NOT EXPEDIENT
12"All things are lawful for me," but not all things are expedient (Greek: symphero). "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be brought under the power (exousiazo) of anything.
"All things are lawful for me" (v. 12a). Scholars tend to believe that this phrase has become a slogan for Corinthian Christians-a slogan that they have been using to excuse their immoral behavior.
When Paul uses the word "lawful," he is alluding to Jewish law-Torah law. Jewish people lived under Jewish law as revealed in the Torah. Jesus made it clear that he had not come to abolish the law or prophets, but had come to fulfill them (5:17)-had come to bring people into compliance with the will of God.
Jesus, while often seeming not to observe the law as meticulously as some (Matthew 12:1-6, 10-13; 15:1-9), was less concerned about rote observance than with bringing people into harmony with God's will for their lives. He intended to move his disciples from rote observance of the law to adherence to the spirit of the law-adherence to the principles that fostered the giving of the law in the first place. That constitutes adherence to the law on a much higher level.
Perhaps a fitting metaphor would be a visit to a high school orchestra by a concert violinist. The students would be learning rules about music. While they might follow the rules, their music might nevertheless be amateurish. The concert violinist, on the other hand, would have long since internalized the rules and would thus be free to be guided by the spirit of the music instead of the rules that govern it. Her mature understanding would allow her to flow with the music and to render it beautifully. Observing her, the students would learn more about music than rules could ever teach.
While the church was, at first, composed only of Jews, it soon embraced Gentiles as well. The question was whether the church should require its members, even Gentile Christians, to observe Jewish law as a condition for membership. That was a matter of great concern in the early chapters of the book of Acts, and was addressed most dramatically in Peter's vision as reported in Acts 10-a vision that led Peter to embrace Gentiles and to acknowledge that they had received the Holy Spirit and were fit candidates for baptism (Acts 10:34-48).
Paul was the great missionary to the Gentiles, so he had a special concern for them. He succeeded in persuading the Council at Jerusalem to determine that Gentile Christians should not be required to be circumcised, but would be asked only to "abstain from things sacrificed to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality" (Greek: porneia) (Acts 15:29).
Paul emphasized that we have been justified, not by our adherence to the law (which no one other than Jesus has ever observed perfectly anyway), but "by (God's) grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus; whom God set forth to be an atoning sacrifice, through faith in his blood" (Romans 3:23-25a).
This emphasis on grace could easily be misinterpreted, and that appears to be what has happened with these Corinthian Christians. They have determined that, since God's grace is sufficient to cover their sins, they need not be concerned about sin.
Paul addressed this issue directly in his letter to the Roman church, saying, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? May it never be! We who died to sin, how could we live in it any longer? Or don't you know that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were buried therefore with him through baptism to death, that just like Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we also might walk in newness of life.... Thus consider yourselves also to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:1-4, 11).
In this letter to the Corinthians, Paul quotes the slogan that these Corinthian Christians have been using to excuse their immoral behavior-"All things are lawful for me"-and uses that as a springboard to refute their application of it. He will quote this slogan again in 10:23 for the same purpose.
"but not all things are expedient" (symphero) (v. 12b). This word, symphero has been variously translated-expedient, profitable, good, beneficial. I prefer beneficial (NRSV). Expedience too often smacks of compromised principles, as in the phrase politically expedient.
Paul is saying that, while Christ has lifted the strictures of Jewish law, he did not intend to excuse sinful behavior-behavior destructive both to the sinner and to the church. An example close at hand is the man who is living with his father's wife (5:1). Even the pagan community has been shocked at his behavior (5:1), which has also endangered his soul (5:5).
"'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be brought under the power (exousiazo) of anything" (v. 12c). Paul quoted their slogan in 12a to set up his response, "but not all things are expedient" (12b). Now he quotes it again to set up his response, "but I will not be exousiazo by anything." The word exousiazo has the sense here of "brought under the power of" or "brought under the authority of."
Elsewhere, Paul speaks of people being slaves to impurity-slaves to iniquity-slaves of sin (Romans 6:19-20). Now in this letter to the Corinthians, he says that he will not use his freedom from the law in such a way that he ends up as a slave to sin-under the authority of Satan. It is important to recognize that misusing freedom can result in slavery-the loss of freedom.
1 CORINTHIANS 6:13-14. THE BODY IS NOT MEANT FOR SEXUAL IMMORALITY
13"Food is for the belly, and the belly for food," but God will bring to nothing both it and them. But the body is not for sexual immorality (Greek: porneia), but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. 14Now God raised up the Lord, and will also raise us up by his power.
"Food is for the belly and the belly for food" (v. 13a). This, apparently, is a slogan used by some Corinthian Christians to discount the significance of Jewish food laws.
As noted above, Paul will soon deal with the issue of food sacrificed to idols (chapter 8). Is it permissible for Christians to eat mean that has been sacrificed to idols? A slogan such as "food is for the belly and the belly for food" could be used to discount the significance of food sacrificed to idols.
When Paul addresses the issue of food sacrificed to idols, he will say that "no idol is anything in the world" (8:4), so it is permissible to eat food sacrificed to idols. However, he will add the caveat that believers must be sensitive to the way that others might interpret-or misinterpret-their actions. If someone might be injured spiritually by seeing a Christian eat meat sacrificed to idols, then the Christian ought not to eat such meat (8:13).
"but God will bring to nothing both it and them" (v. 13b). This seems to be another part of the Corinthians' justification for doing as they please with regard to food. In their view, both food and stomach are temporary, and God will, in the end, destroy both. That being the case, it makes no difference whether they observe Jewish food laws-and it makes no difference whether they eat meat sacrificed to idols. Neither food nor stomach is important in the grand scheme of things. At least that is what they want to believe.
Paul quotes these Corinthian slogans to set up the point that he wants to make (13c).
"But the body is not for sexual immorality (porneia), but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body"(v. 13c). The stomach is not inconsequential, because it is part of the body, which is ultimately consequential. At the end of time, God will resurrect our bodies (15:12ff; Romans 8:13, 23). Therefore, we are not to "let sin reign in (our) mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts" (Romans 6:12). We are instead "to present (our) bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is (our) spiritual service" (Romans 12:1).
Given this view of the human body, it is obvious that God has made our bodies for high purposes rather than low-for the Lord rather than for fornication (porneia). To take something sacred, such as the body, and use it for low purposes, such as fornication, profanes that which is holy. It would be like profaning the Jerusalem temple by slaying a pig on its altar.
"Now God raised up the Lord, and will also raise us up by his power" (v. 14). Their Greek culture made it difficult for Corinthian Christians to appreciate fully the doctrine of the resurrection. Greek philosophy taught dualism, which divides the human into body (seen as evil) and soul (seen as good). We will see that view reflected again in chapter 15, where some people were claiming that there is no resurrection of the dead (15:12)-a view that took root in Corinth, at least in part, because of the dualistic setting.
Paul needs to remind these Corinthian Christians over and over again that Christ was resurrected from the dead, and God will also resurrect us. That is the central belief of the Christian faith. Therefore, we must not discount the importance of our bodies.
1 CORINTHIANS 6:15-17. YOUR BODIES ARE MEMBERS OF CHRIST
15Don't you know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16Or don't you know that he who is joined to a prostitute (Greek: porne) is one body? For, "The two," says he, "will become one flesh." 17But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit.
"Don't you know that your bodies are members of Christ?" (v. 15a). With this verse, Paul hits Greek dualism head-on. The body is not simply a temporary and inferior entity with which we are forced to live until our spirit is liberated at death. Our bodies (not just our spirits or souls) "are members of Christ," so we are part of Christ's body. Our bodies, then, are holy, set apart for a sacred purpose, even as Christ is holy, set apart for a sacred purpose.
"Shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them members of a prostitute? (porne) May it never be!" (v. 15b). Note the similarity in the Greek word for fornication (porneia) and the word for prostitute (porne). That is a play on words that is impossible to convey in an English translation.
The moral climate of Corinth would encourage fornication. The temple of Aphrodite was famous for its prostitutes-although this might have been, in part, a slander perpetrated by a rival city. Nevertheless, temple prostitutes were certainly present. Also, Corinth was a major port city, so it stands to reason that there were many prostitutes available to service the sexual needs of sailors and other transients.
Because our bodies are members of Christ-and therefore holy-it follows that it would be wrong to use our bodies for unholy purposes. Because our bodies are members of Christ, it would be wrong to profane our bodies-and, by extension, Christ's body-by linking our bodies to a prostitute.
"Or don't you know that he who is joined to a prostitute is one body? For, 'The two,' says he, 'will become one flesh'" (v. 16). In the last part of this verse, Paul alludes to Genesis 2:24, which says, "Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother, and will join with his wife, and they will be one flesh." Jesus also alluded to this Genesis verse, saying, "So that they are no more two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, don't let man tear apart" (Matthew 19:6).
Paul then uses the verse from Genesis to show that sexual union is neither casual nor fleeting. In the sexual union, the uniting of the flesh brings about a unity of personhood-the two become one-not just for the moment but for life.
"But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him" (v. 17). Just as a man and woman become one flesh through sexual union, so also the Christian becomes one spirit with the Lord.
Paul's shift to the word "spirit" in this verse doesn't mean that he has moved beyond his concern for the body. He has already established that our "bodies are members of Christ" (v. 15a). Now he notes that we are also "one spirit" with Christ. We are a holy people, created by God for God's purposes. It would therefore be completely out of character for us to behave in unholy ways, such as bonding with prostitutes through sexual union.
1 CORINTHIANS 6:18-20. FLEE SEXUAL IMMORALITY!
18Flee (Greek: pheugete-from pheugo) sexual immorality! "Every sin that a man does is outside the body," but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19Or don't you know that your body is a temple (naos) of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God's.
"Flee (pheugete-from pheugo) sexual immorality" (v. 18a). The word pheugo is usually translated "shun" or "flee" or "escape." Paul is telling Christian men to run the other way when prostitutes approach-or when a friend suggests that they visit prostitutes.
Paul will later apply the same counsel to idols-"Flee (pheugo) from idolatry" (10:14).
I served two years as an Army chaplain in Vietnam. In Saigon and in cities that I visited on R&R, prostitutes would stand in doorways of business establishments along city streets. They were aggressive, not only calling out to passing soldiers but even reaching out to grab a soldier's sleeve. I can imagine that young men in Corinth-and in other port cities-would be subject to the same kinds of propositioning. To Christians faced with temptations such as these, Paul says, "Flee! Run away! Remove yourselves from places where temptations flourish!"
"Every sin that a man does is outside the body" (v. 18b). This may be another slogan that Corinthian Christians are prone to quote. If so, Paul quotes it as a way of setting up the counsel that he will give in verse 18c.
If this is not a Corinthian slogan, Paul is simply saying that no other sin contaminates the body in the same way that fornication does.
"but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body" (v. 18c). Given that the Christian's body is a member of Christ and therefore holy (v. 15), a Christian man who consorts with prostitutes (or other women to whom he is not married) profanes the holy sanctuary that God intends his body to be. This is a sin against the body, just as profaning the Jerusalem temple would be a sin against the temple.
"Or don't you know that your body is a temple (naos) of the Holy Spirit which is in you" (v. 19a). Paul draws on the image of the Jerusalem temple when he tells the Corinthian Christians that their bodies are the temple (naos) of the Holy Spirit. There is another Greek word for temple, heiron, that encompasses the whole of the temple facility (which would include the Court of the Gentiles), but the word naos points to the inner sanctuary, the Holy of Holies, God's dwelling place.
Paul uses similar language in chapter 3, where he speaks of the church as the temple of God (3:16). Scholars tend to agree that, in that chapter, Paul is talking about the church-the community of faith-as the temple of God. The primary justification for that interpretation is that "you" in 3:16 is consistently plural, while "temple" is singular.
Scholars also tend to agree that, in 6:19, Paul is talking about the individual as the temple of God. We should note that "you" in 6:19 verse is also consistently plural and "temple" is singular, so there is no difference between 3:16 and 6:19 in that regard. However, the context (the issue of consorting with prostitutes) makes it clear that in 6:19 Paul is saying that individual Christians are the temple of the Holy Spirit.
"which you have from God?" (v. 19b). The Holy Spirit (mentioned in 19a) is a gift from God-a treasure that God entrusts to each Christian.
For most of us, something we receive as a gift has special meaning, because it reflects the love of the person who gave it. That is especially true if the gift is something that we especially wanted or needed. Each time we see or use it, it reminds us of the one who gave it to us-and of the love and thoughtfulness that inspired the gift.
What could be a more wonderful gift than the gift of God's Spirit dwelling within us-God's presence always with us? What could be more wonderful than knowing that God is available to us to guide and direct our ways-to help us in ways that we could never help ourselves? What could be a more wonderful gift than having God transform that which seems mundane-our bodies-into a holy temple? What could be more wonderful than knowing that the God who created the heavens and the earth considers us precious-beloved children?
"You are not your own, for you were bought with a price" (v. 19c - 20a). The way the verses divide between verse 19 and 20 is unfortunate. These two pieces belong together and should be treated together.
The language in these verses originated in slave markets, where people would buy slaves for a price. Those slaves would then come under obligation to obey their new masters. In this verse, however, Paul is not referring to the kind of involuntary servitude represented by those slave markets, but to the voluntary servitude that the Christian assumed when becoming a Christian.
Paul doesn't specify what he means when he says, "bought with a price," but that should be obvious to anyone familiar with the Gospel. The verb "bought" is aorist, which points to a past action that has been completed. In a Christian context, "bought with a price" alludes to Jesus' redemptive work on the cross.
The idea behind "bought with a price" is that of substitutionary atonement- a concept that pervades both Old and New Testaments. Atonement has to do with making amends for sins or repairing the spiritual damage caused by sins. It also has to do with restoring relationships that were broken by sin.
The idea behind substitutionary atonement is that our sin creates a conflict for God. On the one hand, God is repulsed by our sin, but on the other hand, he loves us. On the one hand, he cannot bring himself to invite us into full fellowship while we are tainted with sin, but on the other hand, he cannot bring himself to dismiss us totally.
So, in keeping with his holiness (which demands that we be punished) and his love (which demands that we be reconciled), God devised a process by which he can make us holy once again so that he might receive us into full fellowship. This process is known as substitutionary atonement-"substitutionary" meaning that God will accept a substitute to absorb the punishment for our sins and "atonement" meaning that we can be restored to full fellowship with God.
Christians have often spoken of atonement as "at-one-ment," to convey the idea that atonement has to do with becoming one with God. This is in keeping with the Latin word, adunamentum, which has to do with establishing unity and is the Latin word behind our English word, atonement (Encarta).
In the Old Testament, atonement took the form of animal sacrifices. God required Israelites to sacrifice animals in a sacred ritual to atone (make amends) for their sins (Exodus 30:10; Leviticus 1:4; 4:20-21, etc.). The idea was that people deserved to die for their sins, but God permitted them to sacrifice animals in their place. The death of the animals satisfied God's need for justice, which in turn made it possible for him to forgive the people's sins.
The idea of substitutionary atonement is also prevalent in the New Testament, and is the rationale behind the death of Jesus:
Substitutionary atonement not only satisfies God's needs for both justice and mercy, but it also dramatizes the dreadful nature of our sin and its consequences. It helps us to understand that our sins are not just minor mistakes for which a passing apology is all that is needed. It helps us to understand that "the wages of sin is death" and that we are in desperate need of "the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23).
"therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's" (v. 20b). Paul now comes to his conclusion. He has established that:
THEREFORE, we must glorify God in our bodies. That has all sorts of implications for current day Christians. It suggests that we should dress modestly instead of provocatively. It suggests that we should care for the health of our bodies as carefully as we would maintain a temple.
But the most obvious implication of Paul's "therefore" is that we should glorify God in our bodies by avoiding illicit sex.
This is a word that is especially needed in our 21st century world. Our world constantly tells us that we have a right to engage in whatever sexual activity that appeals to us, but Paul says otherwise. He implies that a Christian who engages in illicit sex dishonors God, and says that we need to glorify God with our bodies. That is a hard sell in our pagan environment, but we are under obligation to proclaim it.
As of October 2006, there were three times as many professional tanning parlors in the U.S. as there were Starbucks. Each year, an estimated 2.3 million teenagers enter those parlors, which has helped indoor tanning become a $5 billion-a-year industry. On their own, these numbers may not seem surprising or even noteworthy. But they become dangerous when placed in the light of a recent medical discovery. Since 1975, the occurrence of melanoma-the most lethal form of skin cancer-has doubled in the United States among women ages 15-29. The World Health Organization is also taking notice. It estimates that 60,000 people die each year around the world because of excessive UV exposure, and urges youths under the age of 18 to avoid indoor tanning.
But many experts fear that teenagers will not change their behavior, even in the light of such dangerous consequences. In a Time magazine article from last August, two 16-year-old girls were interviewed. One girl said, "All the girls who are really tanned all through the year-they're the popular girls. Guys are always complimenting girls on their tans." Another girl who visits a tanning parlor several times a week acknowledged that she is willing to risk her health for short-term rewards. Her rationale, "It may make my skin wrinkle a little bit earlier, but I'm going to look good while I can."1
Short-term pleasure leads to long-term disaster. Nowhere is this truer than in the area of sexual immorality. For a few minutes of pleasure, countless men and women will throw their lives away. Just think for a moment about the potential consequences of sexual sin: loss of fellowship with God, divorce, disease, pregnancy, guilt, estrangement from family and friends, psychological and financial loss, damage to one's reputation, and countless others. Indeed, there is no sin in this life with such brutal consequences. This reality ought to keep us from sexual sin. Yet, if we are honest, most of us assume that we will be the exception to these consequences. Honestly, we believe that these things will never happen to us. So we go on our own merry way, sinning. Therefore, the apostle Paul uses another approach in helping us overcome sexual immorality. He uses a positive affirmation: "Your body is God's body." In 1 Cor 6:12-20, Paul provides two ways that we can honor God with our bodies.
1. Refuse to be mastered by your body (6:12). In this opening verse, Paul shares a principle that governs this entire passage. He argues that he and the Corinthians have certain freedom in Christ, but these are to be used for our good and God's glory. Paul writes, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I2 will not be mastered by anything." In this verse, Paul seems to be adapting and qualifying ("but") a saying for his own purposes.3 Twice Paul writes, "All things are lawful for me."4 There is a sense in which this is true. God's world is to be enjoyed. Everything created by God is good, including sex.5 Yet, sex outside of marriage is not profitable and can lead to being mastered. Paul wants the Corinthian Christians to feel free to enjoy God's world. But he does not want them to press their freedom so far that they do damage to themselves. Immorality breaks marriages, shatters homes, brings agonies of guilt, and damages usefulness beyond repair. We are free, but sin still has serious consequences. We must constantly ask ourselves questions about what is expedient. Will what I am planning help my health? My emotional state? My spiritual sensitivity? My understanding of God and His Word? Will it damage someone else? Will it damage another person's conscience? Will it affect the church's testimony?
Freedom does not mean the absence of constraints or moral absolutes. Suppose a skydiver at 10,000 feet announces to the rest of the group, "I'm not using a parachute this time. I want freedom!" The fact is that a skydiver is constrained by a greater law-the law of gravity. But when the skydiver chooses the "constraint" of the parachute, he is free to enjoy the exhilaration. God's moral laws act the same way: they restrain, but
they are absolutely necessary to enjoy the exhilaration of real freedom.6
[God wants to be glorified in your body and He wants the best for you, so He urges you to refuse to be mastered by your body. For your body is God's body.]
2. Refuse to dishonor God with your body (6:13-20). In these eight verses, Paul argues that sexual immorality is an offense against God the Father (6:13-14), the Lord Jesus Christ (6:15-17), and the Holy Spirit (6:18-20). In 6:13-14, Paul argues that sexual immorality is an offense against God the Father. He launches into this discussion by explaining the two ways to a man's heart: food and sex. He writes, "Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power." This passage is not about food; it is about sexual immorality. Nevertheless, Paul contrasts the two to emphasize how God values the human body. Unfortunately, many Corinthians did not believe in the resurrection of the physical body, so Paul devoted an entire chapter to this doctrine in 1 Corinthians 15. Here, he simply insists that food and the stomach are temporal, but the physical body is eternal. Paul states that our bodies are designed for the Lord. We can no longer talk about "my body." Your body is God's body. And God will one day raise your earthly body. This means what we do in our bodies in this life matters greatly to God.
In the following verses we will be especially reminded that the sexual revolution was not invented in the 21st century. Believers in this first-century church in Corinth also had to struggle with how to be faithful to God in a totally permissive society. In 6:15-20, Paul will use the rhetorical question, "Do you not know" three times. He is going to urge you and me to live out what we know. In 6:15-17, Paul will explain that sexual immorality is an offense against Jesus Christ. Paul writes, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!" Three times in this one verse, Paul uses the word "members." He reminds us that the moment we believed in Jesus Christ we were grafted into His body. We are now members of Christ. Hence, it is unthinkable to Paul that we would ever be sexually immoral. Since we are members with Christ, we take Christ with us wherever we go and whatever we do.
You may be saying to yourself, "Paul is talking about paying a prostitute for sexual favors. That's disgusting. I would never do that. There's no love involved-just lust. But there's no way you can compare that to the relationship I have with my boyfriend or girlfriend." Fair observation, but I don't think it releases you. Even though there is undoubtedly a moral distinction between a one-night stand with a street-walker and a passionate interlude with a steady date, sin is still sin. I don't think anyone would want to argue that since armed robbery is worse than shoplifting, petty theft is OK. Yes, it is true that Paul is addressing the specific issue of prostitution in 6:15-16, but the theme of the whole passage is clearly broader. The Greek word for "immorality" (porneia) deals with all kinds of sexual immorality.7
In 6:16-17, Paul continues his argument and writes, "Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, 'THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.'"8 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him." The word "joins" or "unites" (NIV) is used in each of these verses. The Greek word was used for gluing. An immoral man glues himself to an immoral woman. A believer, on the other hand, should glue himself to the Lord. Why do you think the word "glue" is used of sexual relationships? After all, aren't many sex acts purely physical, without any real personal involvement? No. Paul says it is impossible to have a physical-only sexual relationship. There is no such thing as casual sex, inconsequential sex, or recreational sex. The sexual act is such an intimate act that it involves and affects the whole person. And he quotes the Old Testament to prove his point. In Gen 2:24, God says of the sexual act, "the two will become one flesh or one personality." We dare not dismiss sex as inconsequential. Your body is God's body. When you have a sexual relationship with someone who is not your spouse, you glue yourself to another instead of God.
The last three verses bring tremendous encouragement about the resources God has given us to live a life of sexual purity. It starts with two warnings in 6:18: "Flee immorality. Every other9 sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body."10 Verse 18 offers the first command of our passage: "Flee immorality." It is a present imperative and should be translated, "Keep on fleeing" or "Make it your habit to flee!" The Bible's advice for avoiding sexual immorality is simple: stay as far away as possible from the persons and places and things likely to get you in trouble. Real men and women run! They don't stand in and fight.
How can we go about guarding ourselves from temptation? The following commitments will definitely help keep us pure.
Watch television and movies selectively. It is nearly impossible to watch anything on network or cable TV without being bombarded by sexual content or images. Last year (2006), Time magazine reported a 96 percent increase in TV scenes with sexual content from 1998 to 2005, according to a survey of programming from a broad sampling of shows. When you go back and see the reruns of "Cheers," "Seinfeld, and "Friends," you can see the steady increase in overt and covert sexual material. Now zero in on "Desperate Housewives," and you wonder how much more gratuitous can it get. And we tend to anesthetize ourselves to it.11 Thus, if you are going to watch TV, do so with a purpose. Do not just aimlessly channel surf. When you go to a theater, make sure you've read the reviews on the movie you are going to see. When you go out of town on business trips, it is wise to watch TV blocking out the adult movies in the hotel room.
Monitor your Internet use. Internet pornography is the most insidious sin of our day. Every man, woman, and child is vulnerable to Internet pornography. The Justice Department estimates that 9 of 10 children between the ages of 8 and 16 have been exposed to pornography online. Software Company Symantec found that 47 percent of school-age children receive pornographic spam on a daily basis. And representatives from the pornography industry told Congress' COPA (Child Online Protection Act) Commission that as much as 20 to 30 percent of the traffic to some pornographic websites is children.12 We must always be on guard! Wise parents do not allow their children to have their own computer in their room. It is also appropriate to have your computer in a visible part of your house. Additionally, it is wise to put a moral filter on all computers through www.xxx.church and www.covenanteyes.com.
Find an accountability partner. It is nearly impossible to stay pure without having an accountability partner. Every Christian needs a godly person of the same sex to ask the hard questions. One such question is, "Are you feeling attracted to anyone at work, church, or anywhere else?" The goal must be to answer this question honestly. It is better to feel a twinge of embarrassment than to find yourself in an emotional or physical affair. If your accountability partner knows who you are attracted to, he or she can help keep you away from that person at church. Your accountability partner may also help by encouraging you to change jobs or change offices to flee a person who has a grip on you. Note: In accountability relationships, it is wise to occasionally ask, "Have you just lied to me?" It is so easy to justify immoral behavior in our own minds or just flat-out lie to save face.
In 6:18, Paul is putting sexual sin in a category all its own. All the sins in the world are put in one column and sexual sin is put in another. All sins are outside the body except sexual infidelity, which alone is a sin against one's own body. While immorality is not necessarily the worst sin,13 sexual sin is unique in its character. Like a malignant cancer to the body, immorality internally destroys the soul like no other sin. Therefore, we must flee from it. If we allow ourselves to succumb to immorality, we will be guilty of destroying our own body and the bodies of other partners. We must purge ourselves from the sins that do bodily damage.
Paul closes our passage in 6:19-20 with the crux of his argument: "Or do you not know14 that your body is a temple15 of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought16 with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." There are three important points in these last two verses. First, we are a temple of God. In 1 Cor 3:16-17, the local church is called the "temple." Here, the same Greek word (naos) is used of the individual Christian. The term used in both passages for "temple" is not the word for a pagan temple, or even for the Jewish temple structure and grounds; rather, it refers to the Holy of Holies, the most sacred place for the people of God in the Old Testament. Paul is saying that God Himself is resident within us. Your body is His mailing address and P.O. Box. He dwells in YOU!
You would probably never consider committing an act of sexual immorality in a church sanctuary, right? But the fact is, as disgusting as that would be, it would be no worse for a Christian than committing the same sin anywhere else. A church building is never called a Holy of Holies, but the believer's body is. What a difference it would make if we lived with this realization. If the body is a house for the Holy Spirit it should only be used for the very best purposes. We should not allow anything or anyone to spoil it or misuse it. We should keep it in good condition. The Christian is to have a certain "pride" in his or her body. It is a sacred house, a dwelling place for God. To glorify God is to acknowledge God, to bring Him honor, to get others to see how glorious He is.17
The best place for sex education is the home. The second best place for sex education is the church. Sex education in the church might begin by seeking to cultivate a deep awareness of the indwelling presence of God.18 This is a far greater motivator than the scare tactics that Christians have used down throughout time. The best motivation is to encourage Christians to seek a greater good-God's glory.
The second word of good news is in the middle of 6:19: We have been given the Holy Spirit as a gift.19 We have received Him, and He lives inside of us, ready to help us in our battle against sin. One of the words for Holy Spirit in the New Testament is parakaleo, which means "counselor" or "helper." We have been given a divine resource in the battle against the flesh and against sexual sin. We don't have to be in bondage, because we have the power of the Spirit of God within us to supernaturally help us resist temptation. It is possible to live a life of sexual purity, especially as we rely on the Holy Spirit who gives us strength to abstain from our fleshly lusts.
Finally, we have been bought with a price, and we're not our own. Paul's image does not picture a slave being sold to a god and being set free, but being transferred by sale from one owner to another. Formerly, we were slaves of sin, now we are slaves to God (Rom 6:16-23; 7:6).20 Your body is God's body. So we have no right to pervert or misuse our bodies sexually, because they don't belong to us to do with what we will. We're not the masters of our bodies anymore. Your body is God's body. Verse 20 teaches that we have been purchased by God at tremendous cost, the blood of Jesus Christ shed on the cross for us. And that blood has cleansed us from sin. In light of this great purchase price, Paul commands us to glorify God through sexual purity, out of gratitude for what Jesus did. This means to show God off, to make Him look good.
So we have the privilege of living lives that honor God physically, emotionally, relationally-in every possible way. Being sexually pure does affect our relationships with each other, but ultimately it's about the Lord. He is the only one to whom we owe adoration and ultimate obedience. This is an amazing reality-God can be glorified in the choices we make in expressing our sexuality. The Lord is honored when we resist sexual temptation. And He is also glorified when we express our sexuality in beautifully appropriate ways, in the marriage relationship. The call in this passage is to renounce dishonoring God with our bodies, and to rejoice in and to embrace what we're called to, in glorifying God with our physical bodies. And God is committed to working in us to make us sexually pure, consistent, integrated, whole people.
But you may say, "Keith, this is an impossible expectation. We live in a sexually saturated society. Lower the bar. Give me something realistic to shoot for." My flesh might like to, but the Bible will not permit this. Instead, the Bible exhorts us to strive for perfection.
One of the greatest examples of a man of purity and conviction is former NBA player A.C. Green. At 6'9" 224 pounds, Green is the epitome of strength and stamina. He holds the NBA record for consecutive games played. He is an "iron man." More importantly, Green was an iron man in his sexual purity. He married at the age of 38 as a virgin. In the fast and loose world of the NBA, where gorgeous young women are a constant temptation, that's a remarkable record.
During his rookie year with the Los Angeles Lakers, A.C.'s teammates said he'd never be able to keep his vow to save sex for marriage. "We're going to give you six weeks," they told A.C., according to a Sports Illustrated article. "You'll see this girl come into the Forum. You'll start getting your paychecks." A.C. has seen plenty of girls and paychecks-and remained abstinent all along. "Abstinence before marriage is something I very much believe in," A.C. says. "Responsibility is the main issue, being responsible for the decisions that you make, realizing that every decision has a consequence." Green said, "I made the decision as a teenager to be abstinent. I wanted to take control of my future. It wasn't a popular decision then, just like it can be an unpopular decision now. It doesn't always make me more friends. But the friends I have are true friends. True to themselves and true to me. We know each other's goals and dreams and we encourage each other to achieve them. It isn't easy. But every single day I say 'yes' to abstinence, it becomes that much easier. If you make a decision, and you practice it, that practice turns into a habit and the habit becomes a lifestyle."
Today, Green has his own ministry that teaches abstinence in the public schools.21 If A.C. Green can be sexually pure living life as an NBA player, by God's grace, we can remain pure.
Now there's a final issue we must touch upon. It comes in the form of a question: What should I do if I have already blown it? I'm sure many of you wish you had heard this truth earlier, or perhaps even more did hear it and wish you had obeyed it. A message like this can bring painful memories to the surface and perhaps a great deal of guilt along with it. Young man, young woman, if you've already lost your virginity; engaged person, if you've already been intimate with your future partner; married person, if you've already committed adultery; men, if you are in bondage to pornography; women, if you are living a fantasy sex life through soap operas or romance novels, let me suggest three important things you can do.22
1. Confess the sin; God is able and willing to forgive you. The first and most important one to confess to is God Himself. Sin against God is so much greater than the sin against anyone else that the other victims pale into insignificance. The question of confession to others besides God is a difficult one. However, I do believe it may be wise to write a letter to those people you have been sexually immoral with and state 1) I have sinned against God. 2) I have sinned against you. 3) Will you please forgive me? After writing such a letter, sever all ties with this person. This may bring the closure that you need.
2. Purpose in your heart to quit now. Some people are tempted to say, "I'm already guilty. I've blown it. What difference does it make now? One more act of fornication isn't going to make me any worse." Don't kid yourself. Sexual sin is cumulative in its damaging effects, much like carbon monoxide. Carbon monoxide stays in a person's system for a long time, with the result that a non-lethal dose can sometimes kill because of the accumulation of poison in the system. A second act of immorality is not a freebee-it compounds the sin of the first one, spreads the cancer a little further, and eats away at a little more of one's personality and spirit. The only way to deal with such sin is immediately, radically, permanently, and in complete dependence upon God. Covenant with God that you will never let it happen again. Ask Him to give you strength. Become accountable to someone.
In recent years there has been a movement among Christian young adults called "secondary virginity." It's been a way to encourage those who have already sinned sexually at a young age to establish a new marker and commit to abstinence from now until marriage. Some in the liberal press have made fun of this effort, but I applaud the young people who have committed to starting over.
3. If not guilty yourself, be willing to forgive others who are. "But you don't understand, Pastor, my wife's infidelity was a breach of faith so traumatic I will never be able to forgive." "My husband's addiction to pornography has been so degrading I will never be able to trust him again." I have just one question for you: "How much has God forgiven you?" Was this sin in the life of your husband, wife, child, closest friend, any worse than the cumulative sins you have committed? And has God forgiven you?23 You may not think you can forgive, but the Lord can change your heart. Forgiveness is not just a feeling; it is a decision to do what God does for you every day!
Sexual allurement is extremely enticing and powerful. It promises nothing but pleasure and satisfaction. But it rarely delivers what it promises. It claims to be real living but is actually the way to death. I want us to take a few moments this morning and individually do business with God. No one knows your heart but you and God. If you need to confess something to God, if you need to flee, or if you need to forgive, now is the time to make a commitment to do exactly that.
First Corinthians stands as a masterful example of a leader addressing a divided congregation and honestly critiquing the views of each side.
Prior to this passage, Paul repeatedly attempts to move people away from an attitude of "It's all about me" to a focus on the one who calls and saves them. He opens the letter with twenty references to God or Christ in the first ten verses. He frequently reminds them of the source of their lives (1:28-31; 3:6-7, 11, 16, 21-23; 4:7) as he addresses a host of competing positions.
Various factions in the congregation label others as wise or foolish, weak or strong; fight over who was the best pastor before the current one; bring lawsuits against one another; argue over sexual morality, whether it's better to be married or single, what makes a healthy marriage, what constitutes grounds for divorce, what are appropriate dietary practices; what is the correct understanding of resurrection and the afterlife; and on and on. When conflict becomes that pervasive, no conflict management plans have any hope of succeeding unless the people involved can move beyond self-absorption, step back, and see a bigger picture of a higher calling. Paul seeks to accomplish that.
This commentary will focus on two central elements of this passage.
"'All things are lawful for me,' but not all things are beneficial. 'All things are lawful for me,' but I will not be dominated by anything" (6:12-13). Paul seems to be correcting a misinterpretation or over-application of one of his core ideas (see also Galatians 5:1, Romans 8:1-2). Teachers and preachers often find themselves in the dismaying position of hearing a key point applied in ways they never imagined. This particular idea, that Christ has set us free, lies near the center of the gospel. But Paul begins to clarify its limits.
Christ does not set us free so that we can do whatever we want to do; Christ sets us free so that we can do whatever God wants us to do. Paul's message does not proclaim individual or communal license. For example, Paul argues that over-indulgence in food represents a misunderstanding of who we are as people of God (verse 13a).
This is an alien concept in an American culture where over a third of adults are obese and we have the Food Network. It's not that eating things we like is bad (all things are lawful). However, eating things we like without regard to larger considerations can be harmful to our individual health and harmful to the health of society (not all things are beneficial). A third of the US adult population is obese, and almost a billion people on the planet live in constant hunger (see websites for Bread for the World or US Department of State, Office of Global Food Security). This is as much as anything else a spiritual problem, individually and communally.
Paul notes one trap of focusing too much on our own freedom. What we start to do freely (because we want to, like to, or just because we can) can become our master. As the Eagles' song goes, "these things that are pleasing you hurt you somehow" (from "Desperado"). I can, freely, ignore a healthy diet, not exercise, start smoking, get drunk daily, take cocaine, buy on credit until I'm drastically in debt, and be mean to family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.
Soon, what I chose freely -- any one of them -- can dominate my life. I will no longer be free. The cosmos does not actually revolve around me. God, by grace, can set us free from those dominations, but even though the power to be free will is immediate, the way back to health will still be long and hard. Paul cautions us to choose our paths carefully lest the things we freely choose become our undoing or become an imposition on our neighbors and, collectively, foster suffering or oppression.
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body" (6:19-20). Again, Paul's words here have both individual and communal implications. In the original Greek, the pronouns in this verse are plural. Since he's addressing a community his words should be understood both as addressing individuals (each of you in this community) and the entire group (all of you together).
So, it is appropriate to understand this personally -- "my body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within me" -- and communally -- "this body of people, part of the body of Christ, is a temple of the Holy Spirit within us." What I do (or don't do) in my body matters. What we do (or don't do) as a body of believers' matters.
This takes us back to Paul's over-arching purpose in this letter, to focus our attention on the fact that our lives originate in Christ (we were bought with a price) and that we live not for our own sakes but for the sake of God's purposes. My individual body is not mine. It is God's creation to be used for God's purposes. The body of Christ -- congregationally, denominationally, and across the globe -- is not ours. It is God's creation to be used for God's purposes.
The fights, the desires, the pettiness, the selfishness that can consume us are all diversions from, perversions of that for which we were created. We were bought with a price, to glorify God in our bodies. This remains true for both individuals and groups. Paul calls the people back to the fundamental reality of their lives -- it's not "my" life and it's not "my" church. Only when an individual or a congregation gets that can they be free. And, if they get it, the freedom is glorious for each individual, for the congregation, and for God.