Our Body, God's Temple
Topic: Pauline Epistles Passage: 1 Corinthians 6:12–20
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “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. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 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! 16 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.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, who you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Years ago in the early days of television, one of the most popular of the daytime programs was “Art Linkletter’s House Party.” The highlight of every show was when the host would interview a small group of schoolchildren between the ages of five and ten. These segments were completely unscripted and unrehearsed and, as you might imagine, the children would generally make some pretty hilarious statements. Over twenty-seven years, Linkletter accumulated enough humorous anecdotes to write a best-selling book entitled, Kids Say the Darndest Things.
I feel reasonably sure that every kindergarten or grade school teacher has her own portfolio of similar anecdotes that she is willing to share. What makes these remarks so comical is that they are all born out of the innocence and immaturity of childhood.
While childish comments and behaviors can be delightful when working with children, they are not at all humorous when one is ministering with adults. In fact, when it came to dealing with the spiritually immature Christians in Corinth, the Apostle Paul found his experience with them to at times have been exasperating.
Although he had led many of those believers to faith in Christ, had helped plant the church in that city, and had labored among them for a year-and-a-half, the tone of his letters seldom veiled his frustration at their inability to live up to their newfound identity in Christ. The Christians there not only said, but did the “darndest things,” and Paul was not the least bit amused.
Their tolerant attitude toward those who were guilty of blatant sin drew harsh words of rebuke in chapter 5. These believers had refused to pass judgment on a case of “sexual immorality” because of their proud and arrogant spirit. Consequently, they were unable to see that sin left unjudged affected the entire church. We find that same attitude bleeding over into chapter 6, where the apostle continues to rebuke the Corinthian believers for their lack of discernment, this time in the matter of settling their grievances without having to take one another to court before unbelievers. As we noted last week, the primary reason for such immature behaviors was their failure to live up to their new identity in Christ. Repeatedly, throughout this chapter, Paul asks them, “Do you not know?”...the implication being that they should have known better.
Moving into the second half of this chapter, although the emphasis of Paul’s criticism changes, it continues unabated. The nine verses we read a few moments ago address an issue that was not only prevalent in 1st-century Corinth, but one that is just as widespread today.
As we learn from the early chapters of this letter, the Greeks were heavily immersed in their pursuit and attainment of worldly wisdom. There was available to them a smorgasbord of thought, differing primarily on the value one placed on “mind versus matter.” Stoics, for example, placed greater emphasis on the immaterial, believing that the mind was eternal and should be cultivated to seek the highest degree of virtue. To them the body was something of a prison house that would one day be discarded. Epicureans, on the other hand, did not believe in an afterlife and, therefore, placed great emphasis on the body, believing that man should strive to obtain as much pleasure in the “here and now” as possible.
Although we no longer refer to them as “Stoicism” and “Epicureanism,” both schools of thought remain with us today. Up against these two philosophies, Paul presented a third option. To him the body was to be neither disposed of nor deified. It did, however, have a significant role in God’s plan for man. Paul will more fully develop that thought in chapter 15 of this letter, but we are given a preview of that here in chapter 6.
Notice, if you will, that the word “body” appears no fewer than eight times in these nine verses. The emphasis is that our bodies are important to God. And as if there were any doubt of that, an exclamation point is placed at the very end of this passage. Because our bodies are important to the Lord, it is therefore incumbent upon us to use them in a manner that brings the greatest degree of honor and glory to Him.
A key principle that can be extracted from this passage is that God intends for His people to invest their bodies for His glory by choosing what they will allow into their lives and what they will choose to avoid. In making those decisions, there are a number of questions that can and should be asked. Paul’s argument begins in verses 12 and 14, where he explains...
The choice confronting the Christian (verses 12-14)
The quotation marks found in verses 12 and 13 are important in understanding the sense of Paul’s argument. Earlier versions did not have them, but I believe the translators of the English Standard Version, as well as some other versions, have gotten it right.
That is because the statement, “All things are lawful for me,” appears to be a reflection of how the Corinthians viewed their newfound freedom in Christ. It may have even been a common saying among the Christians there. Paul had brought to them “the Gospel of grace” without apology, but these young believers—as young believers are sometimes prone to do—had taken God’s grace to an unwarranted extreme bordering on license. You may recall that this same apostle in writing to the Romans had to offer this word of clarification: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound?” And he quickly answered, saying, “By no means!” (Romans 6:1-2).
Here Paul responds to the Corinthians’ statement by offering a strong contrast: “But not all things are helpful.” “You are right to a point, my fellow believers,” he could have said, “but not totally.” Earlier he had cautioned the churches in Galatia, saying, “Do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh” (Galatians 5:13). Now he is issuing that same word of warning to the Corinthians. As counterintuitive as it may seem, freedom without boundaries can lead to bondage.
The same construction is repeated in the second part of the verse. The Corinthians repeat, “All things are lawful for me,” to which Paul this time replies, “But I will not be dominated by anything.” In other words, “freedom in Christ” means just that: “freedom...in Christ.” It is not license to do whatever our natural instincts dictate for us to do. As with the Corinthians, we too need this reminder...each and every day.
Every action contemplated by the Christian should be tested by two questions: “Is it beneficial?” and “Will it overpower and enslave me and so have detrimental effect on the church and my testimony for Christ?” As we were reminded in last week’s passage, even a little sin has a toxic effect not only upon me, but upon my brothers and sisters in Christ. Paul will have a great deal more to say about our interrelationship with our fellow church members when we get to chapter 12. But for now the warning is clear.
Beginning with verse 13, the writer quits speaking in generalities and cuts to the chase. Where exactly the expression, “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” originates is not known; and how the next phrase, “and God will destroy both one and the other” fits with it is a matter of debate. It may have been an analogical comparison suggesting that what sexual immorality is to sex, gluttony is to eating. Neither sex nor eating are sinful, but sexual immorality and gluttony are...and both have devastating consequences. Just because we have certain natural appetites and desires given to us by God doesn’t mean that we are to satisfy them in any way and at any time that we please.
Paul’s next statements confirm this. “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” And that is because, as verse 14 adds, “God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” Thus, both the Stoics and the Epicureans were wrong. The body does serve a sovereign purpose beyond this present life. Just as Jesus Christ was raised from the grave, so too will He raise everyone who has repented of their sins and committed themselves to Him. This is the glorious promise that Paul will explain in a lengthy chapter near the end of this letter. It is a topic that not only provides us with great hope for the future, but motivates us to live Godly in Christ Jesus in the present (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:58).
Therefore, the choice confronting the Christian is whether I am going to listen to my body and yield to its cravings, or if am I going to listen to and obey the Lord.
Beginning with verse 15 and taking us through the rest of chapter 6, Paul asks three questions of the Corinthian believers, each beginning with his familiar phrase, “Do you not know?” They each lead to an immediate challenge. We first see...
The command to live faithfully (verse 15)...
The mention of the body’s connection with “sexual sin” throughout this section is glaring and obvious. While all sin is serious, sexual sin is frequently signaled out in Scripture as especially odious to the Lord. That is because, as verse 15 expresses it, our “bodies are members of Christ.” When Paul asks, “Do you not know” he does so rhetorically. Of course, they knew, and this is where his rebuke gets intensely personal. Very pointedly, as if to induce shame of their part, he asks, “Shall I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute.” Repeatedly through the words of the Old Testament prophets, the Lord rebuked His people for their spiritual adultery in violating the covenant pledge they had made with Him at Mount Sinai (cf. Exodus 19:8, 24:7). No one can live in fidelity with the Lord when he gives himself over to another. That is why Paul answers his own question at the end of this verse with a resounding “Never!” (“μη γενοιτο”), or as some earlier versions more pointedly read, “God forbid.”
Although there is a wide-range of applications which can be drawn from this passage, the specific situation in Corinth at the time appears to have been engaging in sexual acts with pagan temple prostitutes, something that was a carryover from their pre-Christian days. We cannot be certain how widespread this kind of behavior was, but even a single act on the part of a Christian would have drawn apostolic condemnation. We shouldn’t at all be surprised that contemporary American culture is not the first to abuse their bodies through illicit sexual activity. Every new generation that comes along seems to think that it is the first to discover sex, and that the generations which have preceded it could in no way understand what it has found out. What an immature presumption!
Resisting sexual sin has never been easy. And Satan knows it, which is why it is one of his most used tools in tempting the lives of otherwise strong Christians and bringing them to spiritual shipwreck. If the church has learned anything about this subject in recent years, it is that we know that we cannot fight this battle alone. If you are struggling with sinful passion that seems to be spinning out of control, stop trying to fight it alone. Yes, it can be shameful and embarrassing to seek help—and Satan knows that as well. Christians are commanded to live faithfully, but they are not commanded to do so alone.
Paul’s second question comes out of verses 16 through 18, where we learn...
The consequence of disobedience (verses 16-18)
Let’s read those verses again:
“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.”
In continuing to argue his case, Paul reverts back to Genesis 2:24, in order to show that the sexual act (which is what “one flesh” refers to) was ordained by God in order to consummate the marriage between a man and his wife and as an expression of their love for and fidelity with one another. Every sexual act outside of that divinely-imposed boundary is an abomination before the Lord. As mentioned, the immediate setting of this passage places it within the context of the many temple prostitutes who were so easily accessible in ancient Corinth. But there is far wider application than just that.
Certainly our culture has made sexual expression much more available and acceptable than in previous generations. And if we cannot experience it in the real world, we can escape into our make-believe world of “sexual fantasy.” Sin is born in the heart and mind long before it finds physical expression. That is true of every sin, but especially sexual sin. And the results are both damaging and damning.
Let’s not forget what Paul said back in verse 13, “The body is not meant for sexual immorality.” “Sexual immorality” serves but one purpose, and that is the gratification of bodily desires. Instead, Paul adds, the body is “for the Lord, and (what’s more) the Lord for the body.” This is surprising to many who think that God Himself must be a Stoic, and that He is only concerned with our spirits or our souls, and that our bodies are of no account to Him. Nothing could be further from the truth.
So, in verse 17, he emphatically adds, “He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” By bringing the “body” and the “spirit” together in this discussion, Paul is letting us know in a not-so-veiled way that, that while all sin is worthy of the condemnation of an infinitely holy God, sexual sin is different from every other kind of sin.
He explains it this way in verse 18: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” That is because sex is more than a physical act. Even secular counselors readily admit that there are emotional, psychological, and spiritual aspects to the sexual experience. In truth, there is no such thing as “casual sex.”
Therefore, every Christian—not just these Corinthian Christians—is commanded to “Flee from sexual immorality.” Run from it...as fast and as far as you can! We are reminded how Joseph resisted the seductive flirtations of Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39:7-12, by responding, “How...can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” How many of us have that kind of character and courage that leads us to react in the same way toady?
Ultimately, sexual sin—by which we mean any sexual activity outside the realm of marital commitment—is forbidden by the solemn decree of God and commanded in the Scriptures. That is because it involves the entire person who belongs to God by virtue of creation, and for the Christian by virtue of redemption.
But that’s not all. And that brings us to Paul’s third question found in verses 19 and 20. It is here that he gives us...
The conclusion of the matter (verses 19-20)
These verses intrigued me when I first became a Christian, and more forty-five years later they continue to intrigue me. They begin with Paul’s familiar introduction:
“Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, who you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
The very thought of God designating any of us to be a “temple” in which He dwells and manifests His presence is almost too much to imagine. But that is what Scripture declares. And He can do that because He has purchased us—“redeemed us,” to use biblical language—by buying us at an infinitely high cost, the innocent blood of His precious Son, our Lord Jesus Christ.
The imagery of the “temple” is so prominent throughout Scripture because it represents the place the Lord sanctifies His name and dwells among His people. We first saw it with the Tabernacle in the wilderness. Then we saw it in the Temple that Solomon built. From there, because of the sin of God’s people, the glory departed (cf. Ezekiel 10:18) and did not return until Jesus Christ walked this earth as the living Temple of God. Now with Him having ascended on high, He has given us His Spirit...not to come upon us and depart as in Old Testament times, but to reside with us and dwell within us.
Here in verse 19, we are told that God has taken up His residence within everyone for whom Christ died and called to Himself. He has purchased us for Himself at an infinitely high cost, so that today we are that “temple”—the “inner sanctuary” (“ναοs”), the “holy of holies,” if you will. Every Christian is that place where His Spirit dwells. It is, therefore, incumbent upon each and every one who has turned from their sin and joined themselves to Him in faith to “glorify God.” We do that, in large measure, by how we use these bodies.
As with the earlier part of this chapter, which addressed the matter of settling disputes among believers, separating oneself from sexual immorality requires recognizing our identity in Jesus Christ and our testimony upon the world of which we are no longer a part.
“Sexual immorality” in the life of a professing Christian is a glaring mark of spiritual immaturity...and quite possibly a sign that person may not be a Christian at all. Regarding the sacred use of our bodies, we cannot help but notice the subtlety with which Paul interweaves all three members of the Trinity into his appeal.
For starters, Paul mentioned in verse 14 that believers will one day be “raise(d) up by his power.” Therefore we need to live in light of the resurrecting work of God the Father. It is He who created these bodies, and it is He who will one day resurrect them in glory. In light of the fact that our bodies have such a wonderful origin and an even more wonderful future, how can we use them for evil purposes?
In addition we need to live in light of the redeeming work of God the Son. From verses 15 through 18 we understand that Christians are not just “members” of a church—as important as that is—but they are “members of Christ.” He has “bought (us) with a price” and, therefore, our bodies belong to Him...not to be used for our purposes, but for His.
And then we need to live in the light of the residing work of God the Spirit. God the Father created our bodies, God the Son redeemed them and made us “members” of His Body, and (according to verses 19 and 20) God the Spirit indwells our bodies and makes them the very “temple” of God.
The cooperative work of the Triune God on our behalf is what has established our identity as “saints.” And because we are “members” of His Body, we are enabled to separate ourselves from immoral behaviors.
Again it all comes down to our identity...not just who we are, but even more importantly whose we are. Imagine the impact that Christians would have on others if we were all to commit—by the grace of God—to refuse to be mastered by anything but the Lord and to refuse to dishonor Him with our bodies. Remember, His testimony is at stake in us.
I mentioned earlier that sin is born in the heart and played out in the mind long before it manifests itself in a physical act. Therefore, allow me to conclude with three suggestions that hopefully will deter us from creating a seed-bed of sexually immoral thoughts and behavior. And I am not just speaking to men, but to our sisters as well.
- First, watch television and movies selectively. It is nearly impossible to view any form of media without being bombarded by sexual content or images. If you must watch TV, do so purposefully. Don’t just channel surf. If you must go to the movies, make sure in advance that you know the rating of the film you are about to watch. And when you go out of town on business trips, it is wise to block out adult content in the hotel room. None of us are as strong as we imagine ourselves to be.
- Second, monitor your Internet use carefully. Decades ago pornography was restricted to magazines that were sold under counter and dirty movies shown in rat and roach-infested theatres. Today anyone with a computer can access it in the privacy of their home. What’s more, the content is far more perverse than it has ever been. We must always be on guard, taking every necessary step to avoid this time-wasting, mind-numbing, and soul-damning invasion into our lives...even if that means canceling your Internet service! If that is impractical and you are struggling in this area, investing in a “moral filter” would be a wise move.
- And third, find an accountability partner. It is nearly impossible to stay pure without having someone in your life with whom you are morally accountable. Everyone “who desire(s) to live a godly life in Christ Jesus” (cf. 2 Timothy 3:12) needs a trusted fellow-believer of the same sex who is willing to ask the hard questions and occasionally press hard into your life. If you find yourself easily yielding to sexual temptation, then don’t for a minute imagine that you are able to overcome it alone. You will probably only seek to justify yourself when you are found out...and you will be found out! The Lord never meant for us to live out the Christian life by ourselves. We need one another.
As those who are committed to following Jesus Christ, we must repeatedly remind ourselves that we belong to Another. We are the purchased possession of God, paid for—in full—by the sacrificial blood of His Son. Therefore, let us “glorify God” together.