Now please take a copy of the Scriptures in your hands and turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 6, verses 12 to 20. If you’re using one of the church Bibles, you’ll find that on page 955. While you’re turning there, let me urge you if you are able to take a moment after the service to greet our brothers and sisters who have been received into membership. We are a family united by the grace of God and by the Spirit of Jesus Christ into one. And let me ask you please, if you would, to come and greet these dear ones who have taken vows before you and welcome them and assure them of your prayers and your love. And then secondly, before we turn to consider the passage, let me ask you to pray for me. I am battling a cold and I hope my voice will make it through the sermon. You may be hoping that it doesn’t! If I get a little squeaky, that is not excitement; that is just a medical reality! But do please pray for me.
Now 1 Corinthians chapter 6:12-20. You will remember where Paul has been so far in the first four chapters of 1 Corinthians. He’s been talking about the believers' overweening pride there and how that had led to really deep division, factionalism, dividing the congregations at Corinth. And then he spoke about one very specific and egregious case of open and scandalous sexual immorality and how that ought to have led to loving, church discipline. And then, we looked at chapter 6:1-11 where the believers were suing one another in the public courts bringing the Gospel into open disrepute and how, verses 9 through 11, standing behind that was what we call Gospel amnesia. They had forgotten how having been brought into union with Jesus Christ by faith, they had a new identity that ought to have changed their behavior inside out and top to bottom.
Well, today we return to the problem of sexual immorality and to another slightly different issue that continued to plague the Corinthians. If you look at verse 16 you can see it. Members of the Corinthian church were visiting prostitutes in the city. Paul says, "He who is joined to a prostitute becomes one flesh with her." Now it was part of the religion of this great pagan city to visit the temple of Aphrodite and there to engage in sexual immorality with the temple prostitutes who work there. But it is shocking, nevertheless isn't it, no matter how common it was in the culture, it is shocking to discover that members of the church at Corinth were engaged in this kind of behavior.
Distortion of the Truth
And if you look at verses 12 and 13 for a moment, you will see that the misbehavior at Corinth actually has deep theological and philosophical foundations in their thinking. Paul quotes two slogans that were in use in the Corinthian churches that seem to justify their sexual sin. “All things are lawful for me" they said, first of all. It sounds almost Pauline, doesn't it? It sounds almost like something Paul would say. Paul, after all, has insisted in various places in the Scriptures that the ceremonial commandments of the Jewish law no longer apply in the new covenant age and do not bind the consciences of Gentile Christians. But the Corinthians were distorting Paul’s point to mean that now that they follow Jesus, nothing was out of bounds. Now that they’re forgiven, nothing was out of bounds. All things, including it seems, even sex with prostitutes, were lawful for them. But Paul points out, doesn’t he, in verse 12, that not everything is helpful and even, maybe enslaving. “All things are lawful for me,” they said, “but not all things are helpful.” “All things are lawful for me,” the Corinthians said, “but I will not be enslaved by anything.” This claim that everything is lawful, that I’m free to live as I please, that really falls apart when the consequences of our choices come home to roost. Their sexual misconduct, it turns out, was neither helpful nor freeing at all. It was enslaving.
Corinthian View of Body
And then secondly, they had a kind of proverb that they used. Do you see it in verse 13? “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” That is to say, hunger is a bodily appetite and so when you’re hungry, eat. “In the same way, sex is merely a bodily appetite, really of no consequence or importance. So when the appetite is aroused, go have sex. It really doesn’t matter.” That was their thinking. It was common in the culture of the day. A good deal of ancient Greek philosophy conceived of the body as a kind of prison within which the soul was held captive and so they would minimize the importance or the significance of the body. And a little paradoxically, that led in two different directions depending on the school of thought to which you belonged. Some sought freedom from the prison of the body through asceticism. That is to say, they denied the body and they embraced all manner of hardships for the body, afflictions for the body, in the hopes that the harsher the treatment of the body, the freer the soul or the spirit would be.
But others, and this was the Corinthians' particular problem, others said, "Well if the body doesn't matter, what really matters is the interior, spiritual life. If the body doesn't matter, well then our physical appetites could not be less important. What matters is the inner, spiritual life, and so the appetites and the needs of the flesh are indifferent and irrelevant. So who cares? Indulge, by all means! When you're hungry – eat. When your sexual appetites are awakened – indulge. It just doesn't matter."
Christian View of Body
And in verses 12 to 20, the apostle Paul is going to deal with that mistake really very thoroughly. He’s going to offer five principles about the Christian view of the body that will change their whole perspective and outlook. The Puritan theologian, William Perkins, famously said that, “Theology is the science of living blessedly forever.” Theology is the science of living blessedly forever. That is to say, doctrine, theology, is essentially and inevitably practical and it leads to a happy and a holy life. In the passage before us, the apostle Paul is bringing us into a kind of master class in theology-shaping life. He touches on five foundational Christian doctrines and he shows us how grasping them will change how we think about the body.
And that, as we'll see, will have far-reaching implications in all sorts of directions, not just with regard to the specific problem at Corinth of sexual immorality. For example, many of us struggle with body image problems. We are told, sometimes overtly but more often subtly, that the body must conform to stereotypes of beauty set by the big screen or by glossy magazines or by fashion houses. We’re told that to be happy, to fit in, to be valuable, you must look a certain way. The idolatry of the body has never been more powerful or prevalent than it is today. And it leaves in its wake a great deal of shame and insecurity, of self-loathing and self-reproach. Well, Paul is going to show us in this passage how the Gospel provides a completely different vision of the human body. And he'll do that not by dumbing down his message or by offering a psychological analysis instead. He will do it, rather, by pressing home the implications of five cardinal Christian truths.
Let me simply list them for you and then we'll pray and read the passage together and consider them as we go. Here are five truths in verses 13 to 20 that I want you to be on the lookout for as we read the passage together. First, Paul urges, as most basic of all, the centrality and foundational importance of the glory of God. The body, he says, is for the Lord. The glory of God; that's number one. Then secondly, he speaks about the bodily resurrection. Then thirdly, the great doctrine of the believer's union with Christ. Then fourthly, the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ. And then finally, he drives home the redemption Christ has accomplished at the cross. It is a virtual summary of basic Christianity, isn't it? It is Practical Christianity 101. Get these five truths and press them down into your thinking, into your heart, and you will not likely be swept away by the world's wonky ideas about the body ever again. Well, that said, let's prepare to read the Scriptures together. Shall we? Will you bow your heads with me as we pray?
O Lord, there is really no way one man can take a passage of Scripture like this one and speak in such a way to be sure that he addresses every need of every heart in a room, in a gathering like this. But we remember how the Lord Jesus could take five loaves and two fishes and multiply them so that the whole multitude was fed and there were twelve baskets left over. And so we pray, that by the mighty working of the Holy Spirit You would take the ministry of the Word and so multiply it that it speaks to the hearts and precisely to the needs of each of us since You know our hearts and You know our needs perfectly. For we ask it in Jesus’ name, amen.
1 Corinthians chapter 6 at verse 12. This is the Word of Almighty God:
“’All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’ —and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 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! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
It’s hard to remember how we ever managed to get along without our smartphones, isn’t it? Getting from Point A to Point B without Google Maps – it’s almost inconceivable now. Back when I was pastoring in central London, however, that was really before smartphones like that hit the scene. And so I had to navigate using the landmarks. And so my office was close to St. Paul’s Cathedral, so the dome of St. Paul’s was an important landmark. If you know London, at the Gherkin Building was another important landmark. Or Liverpool Street Station. And if I could see those and others like them, I could find my way even from unfamiliar streets through the maze of the square mile of the city back to where I needed to be. You sort of glimpse the landmarks through the buildings here and there and you can find your way.
As we look over this passage and these five doctrines that Paul mentions, he really does not elaborate much on them at all. He merely mentions them. It’s as though we glimpse them merely through the buildings. But seeing them, it’s as though he were saying, “Simply seeing them, glimpsing them, ought to be enough to help us navigate our way through the whole issue of the body and its use and its proper dignity.”
The Body is For the Lord
And the first of the great landmarks that Paul wants to help us navigate by, the first of the truths that he mentions, you will see there in verse 13 where Paul quotes the Corinthian slogan, “‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’ — and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." They were minimizing the importance of bodily appetites. "If the body wants food, give it food. If the body wants sex, well give it sex. It really doesn't matter!" Well, Paul says if that's how we live, we will discover, probably to our shock and chagrin one day, that God will destroy both the body and its appetites.
But then he offers the true perspective. Here’s the first doctrinal principle that reshapes how we think of the body. Our bodies, he says, are “for the Lord.” For the glory of God. You see that there in verse 13. Now some of us have a hard time really believing that. We think Christianity is intellectual or abstractly spiritual, but Paul insists how we use our hands and our eyes and our mouths matters. God gave us bodies with which to give Him glory. We exist embodied for the glory of the Lord. We are, with our bodies, to present ourselves, our whole selves, “our bodies as living sacrifices holy and acceptable to God” – Romans 12 and verse 1. Your body, your body in all its frailty and its weakness, its inadequacy, all its imperfections, your body, believer in Jesus Christ, is for Him. It is designed to honor Him and please Him and exalt Him and give Him glory. When the world demands that our bodies conform to a stereotype of beauty, isn’t it liberating to remember that the correct use of your body is the honor of God, not the satisfaction and the approval of our peers? When our culture says that our sexual appetites must be met and to do anything else is oppressive, even self-harming, it’s actually the path to freedom to realize that our appetites do not have ultimate claim upon what we do with our bodies. Jesus Christ does. You have a body in order to glorify Him.
Then the second great doctrine that Paul highlights for us is the bodily resurrection. You see that in verse 14. “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” Our bodies have a destiny, not just our souls. The Christian hope is concrete and physical and solid and embodied. I don’t suppose many of us think about that terribly often. The God who raised Jesus, bodily from the tomb on the third day, did so that He might be the firstborn from among the dead that where He is, we might be also. That one day, the God who raised Him would raise us also. “What we will be, does not yet appear. But we know that we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” – 1 John chapter 3 verse 2. One day, our bodies will be the mirror of the resurrection glory of the risen Christ who reigns. The body is not a prison, a mere shell to house the soul. The body has a dignity and a glory given to it by God. Your body, if you are a Christian, your body is destined for eternity. And so Paul wants us to ask ourselves how we ought to think about our bodies here and now. If God purposes so to dignify them with an eternal future, beautifying and glorifying them one day until they mirror the glory of Jesus Himself, can we neglect our bodies or abuse our bodies? Can we indulge them or pervert them? No, Paul says. The body, your body, matters to God and it ought to matter to us too.
Union with Jesus
The glory of God. The resurrection of the body. Then thirdly, verses 15 to 18, Paul highlights the great central doctrine of the believer’s union with Jesus Christ. Look at verse 15 first. “Do you not know” he asks, “that your bodies are members of Christ?” Let that sink in for a moment. Your bodies are members. Not just your soul; not just your mind. Your body is united to Christ. And that has huge implications. For example, just one example, Shorter Catechism question 37 finds enormous comfort in this truth when it discusses the benefits believers receive from Christ at death. Listen to this. I say this, "The souls of believers are, at their death, made perfect in holiness and do immediately pass into glory, and their bodies, being still united to Christ, to rest in the grave until the resurrection."
You hear that phrase? That’s Paul’s point here precisely, isn’t it? Your body, being still united to Christ. Think about that. Your loved ones who have trusted in Christ and gone ahead of you into glory, their bodies resting in their graves today are still united to Christ. It is a permanent, sacred union, indissoluble, mysterious, and because of that union with Jesus, since He rose bodily from the tomb so will all who are united to Him when He returns at the last day.
And look at the way Paul traces out the implications of that for the specific problem the Corinthians were battling in verses 15 to 18. Look there with me please. Verses 15 to 18 – “Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” Whatever our society tells us, there is no such thing as “casual sex,” is there? The quotation from Genesis 2:24, “The two shall become one flesh,” provides the warrant for sexual expression in Paul’s thinking. It establishes the union of Adam and Eve in the garden as the template and the blueprint for us all, reminding us that sex is designed by God to forge the most profound bond between one man and one woman for life within the covenant of marriage. Sexual union within marriage, Paul is teaching us, is the closest earthly parallel to the union believers have with Jesus Christ through faith.
He even uses the same verb in verse 17 to describe our connection to Christ that he uses in verse 16 to describe the illicit connection some Corinthians had with prostitutes. He talks about being “joined,” or as one commentator translates it, “glued together.” How can a Christian who is glued to Christ, joined to Him, body and soul, glibly join himself to a prostitute? How can a Christian join himself to a non-Christian? How can two Christians treat sexual union as a night’s disposable entertainment when it has the sacred symbolism and meaning? If you’re a Christian, you take Jesus with you into your sex life. Sexual sin is profoundly dishonoring to Jesus.
But look at verse 18 again please. You will see that it is also especially defiling to us. Verse 18, “Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Sexual sin involves our whole selves, Paul is teaching us. It involves our bodies as well as our minds and our hearts and our souls. And so as one scholar puts it, because sex is uniquely body-joining, when we abuse it, it is also uniquely body-defiling. We are united to Christ. Our bodies are united to Christ. And what we do with them matters profoundly.
Our Bodies as the Dwelling Place of the Holy Spirit
The glory of God. The resurrection of the body. Union with Christ. Then fourthly, our bodies, Paul teaches us, as the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. The great doctrine of the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ. Look at verse 19, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?" Now back in chapter 3 at verse 16, Paul spoke to the whole church as the temple in which God dwells by His Spirit. The whole church, the Corinthians together, First Presbyterian Church together, is the temple of the Holy Spirit. But here, he uses the same metaphor to speak to each of us individually. And he says that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Not just our heart or our soul; our body. The Spirit of Christ inhabits you, all of you – your body as well as your other faculties when you become a Christian. And that makes our bodies, as it were, sacred spaces.
Is that how you think about your body? A sacred space? God Himself inhabiting us. Doesn't that change how we behave, what we do with our bodies? Now while that is profoundly challenging to me – I think about what I eat; I think about all of our bodily appetites and whether I indulge them or abuse them or distort them. I think about the proneness of our bodies to get hooked. It's profoundly challenging. It's also deeply encouraging, isn't it? For Paul to call us, as the Corinthians were called, to live a new life – were he to do that without any other resources but our own, we would be in big trouble. Were we to engage in the conflict with the old life, with besetting sin in our own energy and strength, we would be in big trouble. There would be none of us with any hope of making progress in the Christian life. But it is not so that we are left to our own resources. Rather, the Spirit of Jesus Christ dwells in us to give strength to us, not just in our minds and hearts but even in our bodies, which are so often the instruments of sin and disobedience that they might instead increasingly become the instruments the Lord uses to bring Him glory. He dwells in you, in your body, so that there is hope for you that you will not be, as we said last time, you will not be tomorrow and next week and in the days to come who you are today or who you were yesterday. He is at work in you to will and to do for His good pleasure. So yes, sometimes the battle is fierce and often we stumble and fall, but because He dwells in us there is hope for us and He is at work to change us for His glory.
Redemption Accomplished by Christ
So there’s the glory of God, the resurrection of the body, union with Christ, the indwelling of the Spirit, and then finally he mentions the redemption Christ accomplished at the cross. Verses 19 and 20, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So honor God, glorify God with your body." Perhaps the defining idea of our generation of personal autonomy. We've taken the idea of the autonomous self to an entirely new level, haven't we? So now we are told a person can self-identify across lines of gender and sexuality without regard even to their anatomy. A person today is who they determine themselves to be. We invent ourselves in contemporary thought. But that is not how Christians think of themselves. We are not our own. We don't belong to ourselves. We are not free to invent ourselves or define ourselves or identify ourselves however we please, however it may feel right to us. Rather, we belong to Jesus Christ! He has purchased us.
The imagery comes from the slave markets of the ancient world. And Paul is saying that while we may boast in our freedom, the truth is we are slaves to the very things we think demonstrate our liberty. Sexual sin, in particular, enslaves. It debases and dehumanizes. It objectifies other people and strips them of their dignity. But we who are by nature slaves to sin, when we became Christians, were brought into a different kind of slavery. Jesus purchased us with His own blood at the cross. And under His rule, we find true freedom. “My yoke is easy,” He said, “and My burden is light.” We have been brought into His household and we now live under His mastery. We are not at liberty, you see, to live as we please. We are not at liberty to use our bodies as if they were ours to do with as we choose. Christ gave up His liberty, was shackled and beaten and crucified. He paid a terrible price for you. The wrath of God fell upon Him for you. All the guilt of your sin, all the guilt of your sexual sin was paid for in full by Him, for you. And so now, believer in Jesus, you belong to Him – body and soul, through and through. You are His. Therefore, Paul says, “glorify God with your body.” You are His, who gave us His body to redeem you and buy you back and make you His. Glorify God with your body.
You Have Been Bought at a Price
Let me close with this. I once heard Tim Keller tell the story of a young woman who came to him after church one day quite shaken. She suddenly realized, as she listened to him preaching the Gospel, that if salvation is a free gift based entirely on what Jesus did for her, then there is nothing He could not ask of her. If there was some contribution she could make of her own to her own salvation, like paying taxes to the government; you know, she’s paid her dues – there’s a limit to what can be expected of her. She’s done her part already. If there was some contribution she could make to her own salvation, she would have paid God off, paid her dues; now He would have to leave her alone. There would be a limit to what He could ask. But if it was all grace, all gift, all paid for in full by Christ in her place at the cross, suddenly it struck her, well then there’s no limit to what He could ask of her. She is not her own. She had been bought at a price, you see.
Isn't that Paul's point. You don't belong to you, you who believe in Christ. You are His. He's in charge now. Paul is calling us to bend our knee to the lordship of Christ, believing that under His rule we find true liberty and true freedom. You are His, so, therefore, glorify God with your body. Let's pray together.
Our Father, we do confess to You that our bodies are often the instruments of our disobedience, the sphere of our rebellion. We do not realize or somehow the one foot, the distance between our heads and our hearts, that truth doesn't seem to ever really travel. We may confess it, but we often struggle to embrace it and live in its light. That we are not our own but have been bought at a price. Would You help us to preach the Gospel to ourselves, such that we might gladly surrender all to Him who gave His all for us? For we ask this in Jesus' name, amen.
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