Today we come to the last of the issues Paul wants to raise with the Corinthians in his letter to them. Next week, in chapter 7, Paul turns to the issues they had previously written to him about, as we see in 7 verse 1. In the last few chapters we've looked over Paul's shoulder as he wrote to scold the Corinthians for their pride and their self-centred attitude. They have been thinking and speaking and acting proudly in relation to church leaders, chapter 4. They have taken a disgracefully lax and damaging approach to church discipline in chapter 5. They have been engaging in petty lawsuits with one another, cheating and slandering one another, bringing the gospel into disrepute in public, and contradicting its transforming power within the church community. That was the first half of chapter 6.
Overall, we're seeing a pattern emerge. The Christians in Corinth are acting inconsistently with the new nature that they have in Christ. They claim to be followers of Jesus, but that's not how they're behaving. So look at v9. Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? God can't tolerate sinful people in his new kingdom. V11: And that is what some of you were. But you were washed [the filth of your sin was washed away], you were sanctified [rebranded as God's people, set apart for him], you were justified [declared innocent before God] in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. And they haven't been washed clean just so they can go back to playing in the dirt.
Today, in the second half of chapter 6, we see that theme stamped onto one more area of stubborn sinfulness in the Corinthians: the use of their bodies. What we're going to see, and this is our big idea, that Being united with Jesus includes our bodies.
1 – What you do with your body matters
12"Everything is permissible for me"—but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13"Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." 17But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18Flee from sexual immorality.
We read in chapter 5 that a member of the church was sleeping with his father's wife, which the church seemed to think he was free to do. Now in chapter 6 we find that there are members of the church in Corinth who are visiting prostitutes. This probably isn't at brothels or on dark street corners, but rather at pagan temples, like the temple of Aphrodite. So-called sacred prostitution was part of the ritual of the temple cults, like a red light district in Vatican City. Some of the Corinthian Christians are still involved with all of that, and the church doesn't seem to see it as a problem.
But how could they justify that? Well, Paul quotes back to them the sorts of things they've been saying. "Everything is permissible for me." And we probably need to move the quotation marks for the second saying: "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food but God will destroy them both." Maybe these were Corinthian slogans, or perhaps sayings of Jesus, or the apostles, that had been twisted and overextended. After all, it was Paul who said, "… there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." Everything is permissible for me! It's the slogan they've all got on their t-shirts and their colourful little wristbands. Jesus has set us free. Grace has won over law, so now if it feels right, do it.
'Hang on a minute,' says Paul. That's not what gospel freedom is. Our freedom in the gospel doesn't make every idea a good idea. Not everything is beneficial, for ourselves or for others. In fact, some things can take hold over us. Some things can become idols that control us. We can even become enslaved to the need to express our freedom. Put another way, we can become enslaved to fulfilling and receiving our rights. The whole issue of rights is going to be a big theme of the next few chapters.
They would also say that sex is just a bodily function. Just as food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, so sex is for the body and the body is for sex. If you get hungry, you eat. If you get thirsty, you drink. If you get an itch you scratch it. If you get an urge, you go to the temple, find a prostitute and have sex. They would say that what we put in our stomachs to satisfy our appetites doesn't matter because that's all just part of this age. God's going to destroy all that. It's the soul that's immortal. So what we do with our bodies to satisfy our sexual appetites doesn't matter either, because that's all just part of this age too. God's going to destroy all that. It's the soul that's immortal. But the Corinthians are wrong both ways, v13. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And the body is not just part of this age, as the Greeks in particular believed. God raised Jesus, v14, and he will raise us too, physically, in our bodies. That's the first of two reasons why what we do with our bodies matters.
What we do with our bodies matters because of the resurrection.
Jesus' resurrection was just the first step. All of God's people will be raised on the last day, when Jesus returns. Jesus' resurrection was like that first spring daffodil or the first migrating bird to arrive. All of the others are coming. Jesus' body and our bodies are eternal. They will be different: there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain... or marriage or sex for that matter. But somehow we will be raised, physically, in our bodies, to live in a new creation. The eternal nature of our bodies should affect what we do with them now. And that counts doubly in the area of sex. That's down to the second reason why what we do with our bodies matters.
What we do with our bodies matters because of the power of sex.
15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." 17But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
Sex is never just physical. In fact, sex is designed to have a spiritual element. In Genesis we see the husband and wife are united together through sex. The two become one flesh. In some way they become one new unit. It's the divine mathematics of marriage: 1+1=1. In the Old Testament we often see sinful Israel portrayed as an unfaithful wife. In the New Testament we see that marriage is a picture of Jesus' relationship with his church. Sex is never just physical.
And the Corinthians knew that. Why else were the prostitutes at the temple? They were already treating sex as a spiritual act. Our culture does the same thing. Every newspaper and magazine tells us that true fulfilment will be ours if we can just have more sex, or better sex. Sex is an idol – a god that will save us. We already know that sex is never just physical. We know it too, from television. How many times in a soap opera or a drama does a cheating partner succeed with the defence 'it was just physical; it didn't mean anything' … 'Oh, what a relief – it was just physical! Why didn't you just say so?' That's not the way it goes. Sex is never just physical.
God's new people are united to Christ and given a new nature, and, even now in this life, are being prepared to spend eternity with him in the perfect, sinless new creation. God's people are the body of Christ on earth and each one an individual member of it. How can members of the body of Christ, who are united to Christ, be united at the same time to prostitutes? Or to someone of the same sex? Or to a relative? Or to a good-looking housewife from next door? Or anyone else who isn't their own spouse? What you do with your body matters.
How does Paul apply this? V18: Flee from sexual immorality.
In chapter 5 Paul instructed the Corinthians not to associate with a brother who was unrepentant in sexual immorality. In chapter 6 he reminded them that the wicked, including the sexually immoral, will not inherit the kingdom of God. People who refuse to repent of sin will disqualify themselves from eternal life. The stakes couldn't be higher.So flee from sexual immorality.
Paul doesn't say 'resist it'. He doesn't say 'draw some boundaries and make sure you don't cross them'. We can't negotiate with sin. Sin is like a black hole or a rampaging tornado that pulls everything into itself. We can't come to a tornado and say 'I'll get this close and no closer'. We need to turn and flee or we'll get pulled in too, perhaps even literally running away, like Joseph running out of the house, leaving Potiphar's wife holding his cloak. Sin has a powerful pull. Either you flee or you get pulled in, bit by little bit.
So are you engaged in a sexual relationship or in flirting that you need to stop? Have you allowed a friendship to develop into inappropriate intimacy? Do you let your imagination run into romantic or sexual fantasies? Do you read inappropriate books or magazines or watch unhelpful films? Have you allowed pornography to get a hold on you? It's absolutely worth repeating that the forgiveness Jesus won for us at the cross covers any and every sin, including any sexual sin, and including any involvement in prostitution. We saw that in v11. You were washed, sanctified, justified. But we need to flee from sexual sin. So how can we do that?
Avoid being alone with that person you're inappropriately attracted to. Leave the office party before the alcohol starts to affect your colleagues. Stop buying those books or magazines that fuel your imagination. Choose carefully what you watch on TV or at the cinema. Keep your computer in a public space in the house. Think radically and consider getting rid of a TV or a computer or a smart phone with web access. Maybe that all sounds a bit legalistic. It's not. It's just pragmatic. If you lived in Tornado Alley, you wouldn't think it was legalistic to check the weather forecast every day. You wouldn't think it was legalistic to go to the basement when the tornado warning comes. It could be deadly to do anything else.
You know what struggles you have with sexual sin. Think about it. What are the triggers? How can you avoid those triggers? Jesus said it's better to cut off your own hand or gouge out your own eye if they cause you to sin, rather than have your whole body go to hell. Maybe getting rid of a TV or computer isn't all that radical after all. The most important thing to do if you are convicted of your need to change in the area of sexual sin is to tell someone. We always want a comfortable private solution to sin, but the bible tells us to get it out in the open by confessing it to one another. Tell someone today. What you do with your body matters, so flee from sexual immorality.
2 – Your body belongs to God
18Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.
There's some debate over exactly what Paul means in v18. In some way sexual sin is worse than other sin because sexual sin is sin against your own body. The word for body here isn't just for flesh and bone but for the whole person, body, mind, soul. It seems that sexual sin is worse because it corrupts the union of our bodies with Jesus. Whatever the precise meaning, we're a long way now from the attitude that says, "If it feels good, do it". Paul goes on:
Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. What do we know about the temple? The temple is the place where God dwells in unapproachable holiness, separated off in the deadly Holy of Holies at the centre. But now that we've been washed and sanctified, God, by his Spirit, dwells in you. When God punished Jesus in your place at the cross, that wasn't just a standalone transaction. God didn't post you a ticket to heaven with a note saying "See you when you get here... good luck between now and then."
God the Holy Spirit came to dwell in you as the down-payment, the guarantee of eternal life. He came to dwell in you to prepare you in the rest of your life to be with God in eternity. He came to put the old self to death, little by little, sin by sin, habit by habit. Any activity that would be out of place in the temple is also out of place in the body of a Christian. The Spirit came to help you put on the new nature, like a brand new suit. He came to make you fruitful, bearing fruit like love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Paul goes on: You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Your body was bought at a price in order to host the Holy Spirit. If you're a Christian, God bought you. He paid for you. He paid the price of the death of his own son to buy us out of slavery to sin and death. We belong to him now. He owns us. He owns our whole being, including our physical bodies and what we do with them.
In Exodus, God freed the Israelites from Egypt so that they would be his people. They were freed out of slavery to Pharaoh and brought into service of God. God said to them, "You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation."
When I was a teenager we had a golden retriever called Tess. Occasionally, and probably less often than my dad would have liked, I took my turn to take her for a walk in the forest near our house. Occasionally, and definitely more often than any of us would have liked, she would find some unholy muddy mess, some dead animal rotting on the ground or something, and for reasons that will forever be unknown to me, she would roll in it and emerge from the undergrowth with huge dark stinking smears on her golden coat. Now, I didn't care what anyone else's dogs rolled in in that forest. I didn't care what any other animal did in that forest. But Tess belonged to us. She lived in our house. She slept on our carpets. She played in our living room. She wasn't her own; she was bought. She was owned, sanctified, rebranded. So it was entirely inappropriate for her to return from a walk smelling of death… a point that was expressed to her on each occasion with the garden hose and a period of quarantine.
Your body belongs to God, therefore, v20, honour God with your body. This is the flip-side of the first point. Paul told the Corinthians to run away from sin: flee from sexual immorality. Now he tells them what they are to run towards: honour God with your body. Don't ask how close to sin you can draw the line. Ask how best you can honour God. In Romans 12 Paul says "…in view of God's mercy [at the cross] … offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy [set apart] and pleasing to God…"
So if there are places you wouldn't go or films you wouldn't watch or things you wouldn't do in the company of your mother or your spouse or your trusted friend, how much more should the indwelling presence of God the Holy Spirit motivate us not only to flee from sin but also to seek to honour God? Next week as we get into chapter 7 we're going to see some of what it looks like to honour God with our bodies, the bodies that belong to him, seeking to bring glory to him by behaving in the way he desires. We'll see that sex within marriage is good. We'll see that singleness is good. We'll see that we should seek in various circumstances to be self-controlled, devoted, faithful and content. Some aspects of that chapter may be difficult for us to hear. We will need to remember the last words of this chapter. You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.
We've seen that Being united with Jesus includes our bodies. What we do with our bodies matters… because of the resurrection to come and because of the power of sex, so let's flee from sexual immorality. And our bodies belong to God… we were bought at a price for God to dwell in us by his Spirit, so let's honour and glorify God with our bodies.
'Captured by a Better Vision: Living Porn-Free' by Tim Chester
'The Next Story: Life and Faith after the Digital Explosion' by Tim Challies
'God, Marriage, and Family: Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation' by Andreas Kostenberger
'Married for God: Making your Marriage the Best it Can Be' by Christopher Ash
'Addictions: A Banquet in the Grave' by Ed Welch
'A Celebration of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God's Gift of Sexual Intimacy', by Douglas Rosenau