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Reflections on the call to live by the Word of God

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Friday, September 08, 2006

Bought With a Price—So Glorify God!

1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Preached Sunday morning, September 3, 2006
Lexington Church of Christ, Milton Stanley

In our study of 1 Corinthians we’ve entered the section of “body sins” among the Corinthian Christians. Two weeks ago we saw the problem with a man in the church committing adultery and incest—and the even bigger problem of the church approving of his actions. The church didn’t appreciate that they were a body with a need to keep evil out like a cancer. Last week we saw the issue of Christians cheating and suing one another. The Corinthians were fighting themselves, and a body which does that is sick, perhaps mortally ill. In this section, the Apostle Paul looks again at sexual sins among the Corinthians and relates it to the entire body of Christ at Corinth.

It should come as no surprise that Christians living in first-century Corinth had given in to sexual sins. In fact, first century Corinth was perhaps one of the few ancient cities to be as over-sexualized as Western civilization today. Corinth was a port city, with all the vices that go along with such a place. What’s more, the city was known the world over for its temple to Aphrodite, the goddess of fertility. In Aphrodite’s temple, sexual relations with temple prostitutes was considered worship. In the Greek world, the term “Corinthian girl” was slang for a prostitute, and to “Corinthianize” meant to commit sexual sin. The reason these issues were a problem for the Corinthians is that, like Christians today, the Corinthian Christians too often took their cues not from the Word but from the world.

Each church to whom Paul wrote had its own kinds of problems. The Galatians understood the need for holy living but tried to reintroduce the old law as bondage on Christians. The Corinthians understood freedom in Christ but thought that freedom gave them a license to sin. In this case Paul had a difficult task: teaching the Corinthians to turn away from sin without setting up a new dependance on the law. And the way the Apostle solved this problem sheds light on how we ought to live as Christians today. Let’s begin by looking first at the problem.

Quite simply, the Corinthian Christians had an overly permissive attitude toward sexual immorality. In verses 12 and 13, Paul seems to be quoting their excuses for committing these sins: “All things are lawful for me,” and “Food for the belly, and the belly for food.” By extension, the Corinthians are associating sexual appetite with the natural appetite for food. Just as we feed one appetite, they seem to be reasoning, we ought to satisfy the other. It’s only a physical thing. In visiting a prostitute, so the reasoning goes, one is simply feeding an appetite for sexual fulfillment.

Isn’t it amazing how easily Christians find reasons to sin, to live like the world around us? Today Christians still try to justify sexual sins such as watching sexually charged movies and viewing outright pornography. But as Jesus reminded us, even these transgressions of the mind are still sins in the eyes of God (Mt. 5:28).

So as soon as Paul begins quoting his opponents, he responds to their reasoning: “All things are lawful for me . . . but not all things are helpful.” “Food for the belly, and the belly for food. . .and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not for fornication, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Paul urges these sinners to “Flee from immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18). Yet he never comes out and quotes one of the many passages in the Old Testament forbidding immorality. Why not?

Paul, being a learned Jew of his day, found answers to questions about proper sexual behavior in the book of Leviticus. In fact, several passages in 1 Corinthians 6 echo similar topics and phrases in Leviticus 18 [1]. Keeping one’s body pure is part of living a holy life unto the Lord. But how can Christians have holiness without the rules of the old law? It’s tempting for Christians simply to go back to keeping the old law—in fact Christians have shown time and time again a desire to simply be told how to behave. We’d rather suck on the milk of spiritual infancy than eat the meat of maturity. But we need to grow up and accept the responsibility that comes with mature discipleship. Paul wants the Christians to maintain their freedom, but he also wants them to understand that freedom is not the same as doing as we please.

The Corinthians remind me of little children who discover the freedom adults have. This past year Carolyn and the boys and I had the privilege for the first time in our lives of moving into a brand new house. When we closed on the house it was pristine—the inside was clean and white and empty. Although our boys were too old to ask such things, I still remember the kind of questions five-year-olds ask: “Is this our house?” Yes. “Can we do anything we want to with it?” Well, yes, I suppose we can. “How about having mud ball fights in the kitchen!” Now let’s keep in mind, we have the freedom to have a mud ball fight in our house. But we would be fools to do such a thing. In fact, you might even say we would be sinning against our house to abuse and despise such a wonderful gift from God. It was a similar situation with the Corinthians. In mistaking freedom for doing as they please, they sinned against their own bodies. They needed not only to change their behavior, but to change the attitudes that got them into such a bad position.

That’s what Paul wants to help the Corinthians do—not only to behave themselves in their actions, but more importantly to have changed hearts. That’s what God wants, too. We can change our behavior and still be insincere, still have hearts turned away from God. But when our hearts are inclined toward God, then our behavior follows. Paul, then, is not only urging the Corinthians to give up sinful behavior, but sinful thinking as well. Let’s look at how he does that.

He begins in verse 14 by reminding Christians that we will one day be raised up with Christ at the Resurrection. Isn’t that an amazing approach? Here the Corinthian Christians are living in sexual sin, and Paul doesn’t threaten them with hell but rather reminds them of heaven. Even to these erring Christians, Paul offers hope. He’ll have more to say on the Resurrection in chapter 15, but right now he simply reminds them of the joyful gift of heaven that God has in store for Christians.

Then in verse 15 Paul reminds the Corinthian church that they are members of Christ. And as he’s already told them, Jesus Christ is himself our righteousness (1 Cor. 1:30). What place does sexual sin have in Christ’s body? None at all! Visiting a prostitute is totally incompatible with life in Christ.

Paul also reminds the Corinthians of what is really at stake in sexual intimacy. It’s much more than simply meeting a need of the body. Sexual union between a man and a woman is unique among human interactions. As we read in Gen. 2:24, “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” In harlotry, a man becomes one flesh with a prostitute. Yet Christians are one body in Christ. So what will it be? Christ or sin? Paul urges the Corinthians to “flee fornication.” That’s more than simply avoiding it—that’s staying totally away from any temptation toward it.

Finally, the Apostle tells the Corinthians one more, grand truth: the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Now the full import of what Paul is saying here is lost in most twentieth and twenty-first century English translations. He doesn’t say “your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.” He says, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” Why would he phrase his statement that way, as if there is only one body? Quite simply, Paul has shifted here from talking about bodies to talking about the body, the church. In chapter 12 he will talk about the Christ’s body, the church, having many members. But here Paul simply reminds Christians that the church—that is the assembly of saints, not the building—is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In the body of Christ there is no sense of “my body, my choice.” Individual Christian are members of Christ, and as such we have given up any claims on our own bodies. This applies, by the way, not only to issues like sexual immorality but to abortion and a host of other issues. What each individual Christian does with his or her body affects the whole body of the church. And of course, if sexual sin pollutes the whole church, how much more does it harm the Christian committing the sin? Every individual Christian is part of something larger than ourselves. We are members of the body of Christ. There is no such thing as a “private” sin. Whether we’re talking about adultery, fornication, lust, or pornography, the sins we commit in private weaken and pollute the whole body of Christ. In even our most secret sins we harm our fellow Christians and bring dishonor to Christ.

Despite the warnings against sexual transgression, this section ends on a positive note. Let’s look at verse 20 where it says, “you were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body.” The church was bought with a very high price. All of us have sinned and fall short of God’s glory (Rom 3:23), and we deserve death for our sin (Rom. 6:23). Jesus, on the other hand, never sinned and so never deserved to die (Heb. 4:15). Yet he allowed himself to be killed on the cross to pay the price for our sin (1 Jn. 2:2). In believing in Christ, repenting of our sins, and being baptized into Christ, Christians have been washed, sanctified, and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the power of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:11). Therefore our calling is not to weaken the body, but to glorify God in our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20).

Glorifying God—that’s the highest purpose for the Lord’s church, and that’s where this passage takes us. Rather than simply ordering the Corinthians to stop misbehaving, Paul has reminded the Corinthians of their highest purpose, to give him glory in everything we do. It’s a reminder to us as well.


1. Mark Gravrock, “Why Won’t Paul Just Say No? Purity and Sex in 1 Corinthians 6,” Word & World, 16.4 (F 1996): 444-55.

(c) Copyright 2006, A. Milton Stanley


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mat 23:1 Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples,

Mat 23:2 Saying, The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat:

Mat 23:3 All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not.

---- Ain't nothin wrong with the law buddy =)

7:32 AM  
Blogger Milton Stanley said...

Got 'at right.

10:58 AM  

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