Well Good Morning! It would be great if you could turn back to that passage in 1 Corinthians 6. As we read it earlier on in the service I'm sure we all saw some pretty personal and challenging things there – so we need to pray that God will help us not only understand his Word this morning, but have receptive hearts to what he wants to say. So let me pray for us:
Father God, I thank you that you are a good God who always wants the best for us, never the worst. And so we do pray that you would help us to hear what you have to say to us this morning and know how it is your best for us – the story of the best possible life you long for us to live. Amen.
Let me tell you a story… It's the story of a penguin called Harry. Harry the Penguin lived in the Antarctic, which might not sound like a brilliant place to live to you, but for Harry the penguin it was the best place possible!
- It may have been cold, but it was beautiful!
- There were plenty of fish in the sea!
- It was great being part of the penguin community, huddling together on those cold winter nights!
- And it was safe – no lumbering seals or walrus were going to gobble them up there.
But Harry was fascinated by the icebergs that bobbed around on the edges of Antarctica. They looked like fun! So one day he put his foot on a passing iceberg – but he didn't want to leave the comfort and safety of Antarctica so he kept one foot on the solid land. Now penguins aren't well known for being the most flexible of creatures and they don't tend to have the longest of legs. But Harry was an exceptional penguin – so as the iceberg started to move away from the land he kept extending his extremely stretchy little legs as far as they would go… until he could go no further and had to make the choice. He was committed now so he jumped on his iceberg and drifted off to be eaten as a snack by a sea lion or a shark. And I want to say to you this morning: 'Don't be like Harry the penguin!'
Now you might not have been expecting to hear that message in church when you set out to come here earlier this morning. But – as we dive back into this series we've been doing in the book of 1 Corinthians this term – we find that the Apostle Paul wants to say that to us too! 'Don't be like Harry the penguin!' As sometimes we can live with our feet planted on two different grounds:
- With one foot on the safe and firm ground of the Kingdom of God – where we find forgiveness, a new life with Jesus as the King of the Kingdom, and eternal safety with him.
- But with another foot stepping out into a life that ignores what Jesus says – so that over time we drift further and further away from Him.
And when we do that we're just like the Corinthians. As what we've been seeing over the last few weeks is that they had one foot in God's kingdom – but they've also got one foot stubbornly planted on a life that is living in open disobedience to King Jesus.
- 1 Corinthians 5.1: There's incest in the church – And they're proud of it!
- 1 Corinthians 6.8: They're ripping one another off – And they didn't see any problems with that either!
That's why Paul writes and says here in 1 Corinthians 6.9:
"…do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?"
And like a loving Father seeing one of his children about to do something exceedingly dangerous – like pull a pan of boiling water off the hob or take a sharp knife off a work surface – Paul shouts two loving warnings to the Corinthians. Here's the first one:
1. "Do Not Be Deceived!" (v.9-11)
Let's back up for a moment and run through the whole of verse 9 – Paul says:
"…do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God."
So Paul is looking to the future – to the time when God's perfect Kingdom will be fully established and Christians will get to inherit and enjoy it. What will that kingdom be like? The future Kingdom is all the good King Jesus did in his life – but at 100%... all the time… everywhere. That future is bright – knowing God face to face and enjoying all the perfect blessings and riches that implies. And Paul says: 'Don't you know – the future is so bright that sin has no place there. So those who pursue sin will not inherit the Kingdom of God!'
Now I need to make it really clear that when Paul talks about the "unrighteous" here in verse 9 – or "wrongdoers" as the little footnote in our Bibles offers us as an alternative translation – he isn't talking about anyone who does something wrong. We are all tempted to sin and we all stumble in many ways – but the focus here is on the unashamed going after what we know God isn't for.
We all have desires affected by sin, but the issue here isn't 'do you ever sin?' – but 'when you do… do you bring it to Jesus and confess it, and ask for his forgiveness?' like we did at the start of this service. Or do you hold on to your sin? Do you live with it and in it so that sins like those mentioned in verses 9-10 become a way of life for you? I wonder: Is there an area of sin which you've ring-fenced from King Jesus? Is there something that you know is wrong, but you just will not let Jesus deal with it? Well Paul says: 'Don't be deceived – those who pursue sin have no place in God's Kingdom… but you do!' Do you see that in verse 11?
"And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God."
How wonderful is that? It's not that sinners like you and me are too far gone to enter the kingdom of God. Astonishingly we are exactly the kind people who can enter! If… we turn to Jesus. If we turn to Jesus and confess our sin rather than hold onto it – then the Holy Spirit takes hold of us, and works such a deep change in us that we come out as new people.
- The Holy Spirit "washes" us. Our entire moral track record is wiped clean by forgiveness. Cleansing us of all our guilt.
- And the Holy Spirit "sanctifies" us, which basically means that we are "set apart" to belong to God and live for him.
- And the Holy Spirit "justifies" us, making us right with God – so that his judgement no longer hangs over us.
I'm sure it hasn't escaped your notice that the World Cup started on Thursday. So if ever there was time for a football related illustration it's now! Whether there is a World Cup or not, every summer sees players transferred from one football club to another… for ridiculous sums of money. Last summer it was Neymar for £200 million. Who knows who it will be this year? But folks, when we turn to Christ, it's like we get a change of teams – from the "unrighteous" to the righteous. We've been transferred into the Kingdom of God for the most ridiculous price… the cost of his own Son dying on a cross so that you and I could be forgiven and made new in him. And so we're no longer playing for the Kingdom of Me – just seeking to satisfy our desires – we play for him… we live for him now.
And that's what had happened to the Corinthians. But some of them hadn't fully comprehended the enormity of the miracle God had done in their lives and kept falling back into their old sinful habits – they kept scoring own goals if you like – because they had been deceived into thinking that because they'd been forgiven and made new by God, it didn't matter how they lived … not least in the area of sex. And so Paul says – secondly:
2. "Flee Sexual Immorality!" (v.12-20)
I've been going to a physio class for a problem with my right hip recently. And the first time I went it was just me and about seven other folks 15 or 20 years older than me. We had to do a warm up that wouldn't break our delicate malfunctioning bodies so we were instructed to walk round the room gently lifting our knee and swinging our arms as we went. But the physio insisted that we couldn't have a proper warm up without some warm up music – so on went the Boogie Box and out came the Pussycat Dolls. I'm sure you're aware of the works of the Pussycat Dolls – But just in case you're not, just imagine me and all these old people marching around the room to:
"I know you like me… I know you do…
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was hot like me? …
Don't cha wish your girlfriend was fun like me? …
Don't cha… Don't cha…"
It was one of the weirdest experiences I've ever had – but no one else seemed to bat an eyelid. Because sexual messages are everywhere these days – on billboards, TV, the internet, you name it.
And if you think it was any different back in the Corinthians' day you would be seriously mistaken. The town was known throughout the ancient world for their free and easy attitude to sexual activity – mainly because at the back of the town stood the great temple of Aphrodite – with something like a 1,000 temple prostitutes. And every evening these prostitutes would come down off the hill and into the town to offer the inhabitants sexual release. Maybe you noticed back in verses 9-10 that those in the Corinthian Church had been very sexually active – satisfying whatever sexual desires they had. And the whole culture around them encouraged them to keep on pursuing those desires. As a result the Corinthians had all sorts of wrong ideas about sex. Can you see what they said about sex in verse 12?
"All things are lawful for me…"
That's what they were saying in Corinth. Isn't that the kind of thing that people say in our day too? 'As long as you're not harming anyone you have the right to do anything.' But Paul says: 'The question isn't so much am I hurting anyone – but is this doing good… is it beneficial and helpful for others? Not just now… but in the longer term?' For all the talk about free-sex in our culture, there is always a cost – and we all know people who have been hurt and wounded massively in this area. But still the Corinthians comeback:
"All things are lawful for me…"
'I have the right to do anything'. But Paul says 'Your proclaimed freedom is actually slavery – You are being mastered by your desires.' I mean do you find yourself in a position where you feel you cannot say 'no'? To your partner? To the internet? Do you feel under pressure to condone or celebrate what Jesus challenges? Well that's not freedom, is it?
Now you might say to me: 'This is the problem with you Christians, you're so negative about sex.' But the Bible is clear that sex is a good thing. But it is also clear that sex is only good in marriage. Sex is like fire – it's only good when it's put in its rightful place. Fire is great on top of candles, or in my oven or my wood burner – but up the curtains or on the sofa or my trousers – no way! And sex is like that – God has placed it in the safe confines of a committed, life-long union between one man and one woman – because God doesn't want to kill our joy, he only wants to protect it.
Now it might be that you aren't entirely convinced by that. Well the Corinthians certainly weren't! As in verse 13 they say: 'Oh come on! Sex is just a bodily appetite. So if you're hungry have a sandwich, and if you're horny have a sexual experience. It doesn't really matter what we do with our bodies because they're only going to be destroyed when our souls go to heaven.' So Paul says: 'But… your body is not your body – it's his body.' And he gives us five key beliefs we need to have about our bodies and why it matters what we do with them… so that we don't shipwreck our lives on the rocks of sexual immorality.
i) Your Body was Made for the Lord
"The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." (v.13)
You were made for the Lord – body and soul. You are not just a highly evolved animal – who happens to have all kinds of physical desires. No, you were made for him in his image – and he is for you! He is the only one who can satisfy you fully.
ii) Your Body will be Raised with Him
"And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power." (v.14)
When Jesus rose from the dead… what was raised? Just his soul? No! His body was raised! God is not going to destroy the body. He raised Jesus' body and he will raise and transform ours too… so that we will have glorious bodies for all eternity.
iii.) Your Body is Joined to Him
"Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!" (v.15)
Look at your body… it is part of Christ. You are united with Him! These are Christ's hands. These are Christ's eyes. And all the other bits are his too! So why would you take Him into sexual union somewhere he doesn't belong?
iv.) Your Body is Home for Him
"Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" (v.19)
When the Temple of God was first finished in the Old Testament – the fire of God filled the temple. And that's now you! The God of burning purity lives in you through his Holy Spirit!
v.) Your Body was Bought by Him
"You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (v.20)
A friend of mine's mum has this really weird habit. She goes to the dump to dump rubbish – that's not weird, that's actually a pretty normal thing to do. But the people who work at the dump fish out all kinds of bits and bobs that folks have thrown away and try to sell them – and every time my friend's mum visits, she cannot resist buying something. It drives my mate nuts – he tries to plead with her: 'Mum you are buying rubbish! You are literally buying something that someone else thought was so worthless that they threw it away. And you are buying it.'
And I want to say that that is exactly what Jesus has done for us. Despite all of our failure, despite all of our sexual sin, despite all of the dirtiness and uncleanness – despite the fact that actually we are worthless… he went to the cross and gave His precious body to pay the price to buy ours back to God. And therefore your body is not your body. It is his body – because he paid for it. He bought it at a price. So let's finish with the application at the beginning of verse 18:
"Flee! Flee from sexual immorality."
This teaching that our bodies matter – that they belong to the Lord – that he paid for them in love – leads to radical action. It causes us to run.
I once went on a holiday camp as a teenager – and on that camp in my adolescent arrogance I got chased by a bull. I thought the farmer was lying when the sign said: 'Beware of the Bull.' But as I got half-way across his field… I found out he was not! And I tell you as the bull charged one of the things I did not try to do was stop and negotiate. No! I fled! I ran as fast as my little legs could carry me! You see, there are no gains to be had by stopping in the danger zone – you just run and you don't look back. The problem is that so many of us shipwreck our lives by stopping and trying to negotiate with temptation.
So one classic question that often gets asked is: 'How far can we go physically before marriage?' But Paul is saying the question should more be: 'How far can we run from sexual sin?' Because sexual intercourse and the many intimacies leading up to it all belong to the territory of marriage. So don't flirt with sin! Flee from it!
And if you are already married let me say this: I don't think anyone wakes up one day and says, 'You know what, I think I'm going to have an affair with someone at work.' I think that happens very rarely. This is more how it works: someone at your work who you've been getting to know smiles at you and you smile back, and there's a little flutter in you that goes: 'Oh, that was nice.' That's the moment you flee – that's it! Right there! As soon as you begin to feel the very first moment of: 'Oh, something is happening here.' That's the moment you run. Because a smile quickly turns into a text or a series of texts, which then turns into a coffee or two or three, which turns into a lunch and then a dinner and then a night in his or her bed.
We're kidding ourselves if we don't think that could happen – sexual desire is such a powerful thing. And I would plead with you – for the love of your husband or wife, for the love of your children, for the love of Jesus – would you flee sexual immorality? Run from it... not into it!
So if you are struggling with pornography – as many do – then find a way to flee. Perhaps that means you need to not have internet access in your flat. 'But I can't cope without internet access.' Don't negotiate with sin and get run over. Do you not see? 'But I couldn't cope without a smart phone.' Seriously? If it's a problem, we need to take radical action and get as far away from sin as possible!
And as we do, we don't flee going, 'Oh, this is miserable. My life is ruined.' No! As we flee we are liberated – we are freed to honour God with our body – and become everything we were ever made to be. You will not be disappointed. In eternity you will not look back and say: 'Oh, I'm really gutted I didn't have more sexual experiences… or have any sex at all.' No. You will be so glad you waited, resisted – and that you ran to Jesus.
So why not make today a flag in the sand kind of day. What if today was the day when you said: 'From this day forward – because my body is his body – I'm going to try to trust him and live for him. Holy Spirit, please help me.' And maybe as you do that you need to talk to someone.
- Maybe there's someone here who you trust, to whom you could say: 'Please would you help me, please would you pray with me.'
- Or maybe you need a conversation with me or one of the staff team during the week.
I don't know what you have to flee from, but you do need to flee. It may be very hard, but it must be done. For your good and the glory of Christ.
And folks, we are all going to fail in this area again. But failure isn't fatal… as forgiveness is forever. So when you fail make sure that you are quick to look up and see Jesus smiling face saying:
- 'My precious child, let me help you.'
- And you'll say: 'I'm so sorry; how could I have done this again?'
- And he'll say: 'This is why I died… so that by my Spirit you could be washed, sanctified and justified... Let me get you cleaned up and on your feet again.'
I'm so glad of the mercy of Christ. I hope you are too. So:
"Don't be deceived… Flee sexual immorality… Glorify God with your body."
Father God, please help us to do that. And forgive us for all the times that we have failed – even in the past week, or days perhaps. We thank you for those wonderful words that reassure us that we can be washed each day in the blood of Christ. We thank you that there is forgiveness and a fresh start for each one of us. But we all feel the pull to compromise – whether in our actions or in our thinking – so we pray that you would help us to honour you with our bodies and our minds. And to believe that your ways are always the best for us. We pray in Jesus' name. Amen.