Paul has been writing to this church in Corinth, a church which he founded when he went to Corinth and preached God’s word in the power of God’s Spirit; and people in Corinth heard and believed and a little church was formed. However, since Paul left Corinth, various problems arose in the church and Paul is now addressing them in his letter.
First of all, there was the problem of divisions in the church. The congregation had divided into different groups, and the people were exalting themselves against one another, boasting about this preacher and that preacher; and boasting about themselves as well. And so Paul appealed to them to agree with one another; and to boast, not in themselves, but in the Lord Jesus Christ.
Then there was the problem of the man who was sleeping with his step-mother. Now, that was bad enough — and Paul wrote that now even the pagans would do such a thing — but what made it worse was the fact that the church had done nothing about it, but was tolerating this great sin in their midst. And so Paul wrote to tell them that they needed to exercise church discipline and remove this man from their fellowship in order to preserve the purity of the church and also in order to cause the man to repent of his sin. And believers in every age need to exercise church discipline in order to preserve the purity of the church, because sin can easily spread through the church and ruin it.
And then last week we read how the believers in Corinth were taking one another to court. Whenever disputes arose among them, instead of sorting it out themselves, they were taking each other to the public courts. ‘Dare you do such a thing!’ Paul was saying to them. Of course, they shouldn’t be having these disputes; and they needed to learn that it’s better to suffer loss than to let these disputes arise. However, whenever a dispute did arise among them, Paul wanted to know why they didn’t appoint one of their own members to settle the matter. Wasn’t there someone who could judge between them so that they didn’t need to rely on unbelieving judges for help in these matters? And so, I explained how in the Presbyterian Church we have our own courts to help our members sort out any differences and disputes which might arise.
So, that’s where we’ve got to in this letter. In today’s passage Paul addresses another problem in the church in Corinth: and it’s the problem of sexuality immorality. It was a problem back then, in the first century AD; and it’s still a problem today, isn’t it? I was listening to a recording of a sermon on this passage by another preacher who spoke about the epidemic of sexual immorality in society and how what we watch on TV is infected by it; and what we watch in the cinema is infected by it; and the music we listen to is infected by it; and what goes on in society is infected by it. There’s an epidemic of immorality, this preacher said. Well, he preached that sermon in 1997. I wonder how he would describe things today, because if things were bad in 1997, they’re undoubtedly far, far worse 20 years later in 2017. That preacher spoke about magazines for sale on the top shelf of the newsagent and the temptation they hold out to us. So, what would he say about the internet and how pornography is now easily available to anyone with a smart phone? And what would he say about all the allegations concerning sexual harassment in Hollywood? If there was an epidemic twenty years ago, it’s far worse today.
Well, there’s a problem today; and there was a problem in Paul’s day. And the problem was right inside the church, because here’s Paul writing about believers who were visiting prostitutes. And so, in these verses, Paul addresses this problem. And he addresses this problem by making at least five different points which we’ll look at now in turn.
And the first point he makes is to clarify the nature of Christian freedom. In verse 12 he seems to be quoting a slogan or a catchphrase which some of the believers in Corinth were using to justify what they were doing. Some of them were saying:
Everything is permissible for me.
In other words, I can do what I like. And isn’t that what people say today: I can do what I like. So long as I don’t hurt anyone, I can do what I like. That’s what people say today; and it’s what people were saying in Paul’s day. In fact, it’s what believers were saying in Paul’s day: Everything is permissible for me. I can do what I like.
Now, where would they have got such an idea as that? Well, they might have got that idea from the gospel. You see, the gospel does make us free. There’s a chapter in our church’s Confession on Christian liberty, or Christian freedom. And it makes the point that Christ has purchased our freedom so that we’re now free from the guilt of our sin and we’re free from the condemning wrath of God and the curse of God’s law. So, before we believed, we stood before God as guilty sinners who were liable to his wrath and curse for our sins. But since Christ has paid for our sins in full and has satisfied the justice of God by his death on the cross in our place, we’ve been freed from all of that. We’ve also been freed from this present evil age so that we now belong to the age to come. And we’ve been freed from Satan’s tyranny and from the power of sin. Sin and Satan used to rule over us; and they bossed us about and made us do their will. But now, Christ has set us free from the power of sin and Satan and we have the Holy Spirit to help us to do what’s right. We’re also free from the evil of afflictions so that while we may still suffer in this life, nevertheless God is able to work together all things for our good. We’ve also been freed from slavish and fearful obedience: once we may have tried to obey God out of fear and dread for what he might do to us if we disobey; but now — now that we’ve have been pardoned for our sins and adopted into his family — we try to obey him out of childlike love. In other words, we obey him because he’s our loving heavenly Father and we love him and want to please him. And then, we’re also free from the rules and regulations which people try to impose on us. You know, people will say that in order to be a real Christian, or in order to please God, you should do this or that or the other, things which God has never commanded us to do. And if God has not commanded it, then we’re free not to do those things.
So, the gospel makes us free in many ways. However, does that mean we’re free to do whatever we like? That’s the crucial question. And it seems that some of the believers in Corinth thought so; and they thought they were free to visit prostitutes and to indulge in sexuality immorality. And you’ll find believers today who think the same thing. They say: ‘I’m under grace, not law. And so, I don’t need to worry about keeping God’s law, because I’m no longer under the law.’
Well, what does Paul say in verse 12? Well, he repeats their slogan back to them, but then he adds a crucial clause. Everything is permissible, but we must ensure that what we do is beneficial; and by ‘beneficial’ Paul is referring to whatever is good: good and beneficial to me and good and beneficial to the people around me. So, he’s agreeing with the Corinthians, but he’s adding this one important addition: it’s not that we’re free to do whatever we want, but we’re free to do good. You can do whatever you like so long as you’re doing good. You’re free to do that.
And then Paul repeats their slogan again, and adds another crucial clause. Everything is permissible, but we must ensure that we’re not enslaved or mastered by anything. Those people who like to think they’re free to do whatever they like, and they’re free to indulge their every desire and inclination, don’t realise that they’re slaves; they’re slaves to their desires and inclinations and to their physical passions.
Well, the Lord Jesus didn’t purchase our freedom so that we might become slaves to sin. He purchased our freedom so that we might be freed from the power of sin and so that we might live good and upright lives, loving and serving the people around us. He set us free so that, as those who have freed from sinful passions, we will live good and upright lives.
So, that’s Paul’s first point. His second one concerns the resurrection. And we’re looking now at verses 13 and 14. And once again, it seems that Paul was quoting a slogan or catchphrase which some of the believers in Corinth were using to justify what they were doing. Some of them were saying:
Food for the stomach and the stomach for food.
Now, the NIV ends the quotation there, but it’s likely that what the believers in Corinth were saying was this:
Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, but God will destroy them both.
So, they were saying two things. Firstly, they were saying that the stomach and food go together; they’re a perfect match for one another. God made me with a stomach that wants to be filled with food; and God has made food to fill my stomach. They go together perfectly and it’s perfectly natural for me to fill my belly with food. Well, people can say the same thing about the body and sex: The body is for sexual immorality and sexual immortality is for the body. You know, they go together; they’re a perfect match for one another.
And so, you’ve heard people say: This is the way I’ve been made. I’m been made with a body that craves sex; and sex is able to satisfy the cravings of my body. So, it’s perfect natural for me to indulge in sexual immorality, because that’s the way I’ve been made and that’s what the body is for.
That’s the first thing. The second thing they were saying was: What does it matter what I eat, because in the end my stomach and my food will be destroyed? And what does it matter what I do with my body, because in the end, my body will be destroyed?
Do you know what’s another way of putting what they were saying? You can put it this way: Let’s eat and drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. We may as well enjoy ourselves and indulge ourselves, because life is short.
That’s what people say today; and it’s what people were saying in Paul’s day. And how did Paul respond? He responded by reminding his readers of the resurrection. The Bible teaches that, when we die, the souls of believers are made perfect and will pass into glory, while their bodies — which are still united to Christ — rest in their graves until the day when Christ returns; because when Christ returns, their bodies will be raised from their graves and reunited with their souls so that they will be with the Lord in body and in soul for ever and for ever. That’s what we believe. In fact, the bodies of unbelievers will also be raised when the Lord returns, although they will be raised to suffer eternal punishment away from the presence of the Lord.
What does this tell us? Well, some people like to think the body is unimportant. They think it’s unimportant and will one day be cast off and discarded. And so, they can do what they like with it now. But that’s not what the Bible says. And so, Paul reminds his readers that just as God raised the body of the Lord Jesus from the dead, he will one day raise our bodies too. The body is not destined to be destroyed, but to go on living for ever and for ever. So, the body is not unimportant to God; it’s vitally important to him; and the reason the Lord Jesus died and was raised, was so that our bodies might be raised as well. And while we go on living in the world, waiting for the resurrection of our bodies, we shouldn’t use our bodies for sexual immorality or for any other kind of wickedness; we should use our bodies to serve and to honour the Lord. Our body — which will one day be raised and brought into God’s glorious presence — is not to be used for immorality, but for God’s glory and honour.
So, that’s Paul’s second point. His third concerns our union with Christ. And now we’re looking at verses 15 to 17 where Paul asks his readers: Do you now know? Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?
And then, in verse 17, he adds:
But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
So, we believe that the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and unites us with Christ through faith. So, we hear the preaching of the gospel; and the preacher calls us to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved from the coming wrath. And the Holy Spirit works through the preaching of the gospel to create faith in our hearts; and through that faith, we’re united to Christ the Saviour, or we cling hold of him. And by being united to Christ like this, by clinging to him through faith, we receive from him all the benefits of his life and death and resurrection, including the assurance of sins forgiven and the hope of the resurrection.
So, we’re united with Christ by faith. And while we sometimes refer to this as a spiritual union, we mustn’t misunderstand and think it’s got nothing to do with our physical bodies. It’s a spiritual union because it’s a union which is created by the Holy Spirit; but it encompasses the whole of our being: body and soul. That’s what Paul is telling us here:
Don’t you know that your bodies are members of Christ?
Our bodies are united to Christ and becomes members of Christ, so that our bodies belong to him just as your members — your limbs — belong to you. We belong to him by means of this inseparable union which the Holy Spirit creates.
Well, since you’re united through faith to Christ, since you’re inseparably joined with Christ, how can you possibly even contemplate becoming entangled in such a sinful relationship as the one which Paul refers to here? How can you even contemplate taking your body — which belongs to Christ — and giving it away to a prostitute?
And perhaps someone would say in their defence that a relationship with a prostitute is nothing. A one-night stand is nothing. It’s nothing, because it doesn’t mean anything. But, says Paul in verse 16, don’t you know that he who unites himself with such a person is one with her body? As the Scripture says:
The two will become one flesh.
So, when two people sleep together like this, they’re wedded together. They might not be married, but they’re wedded together by the act of sexual intercourse. So, if you’re a believer, united with Christ through faith, joined inseparably to Christ by the Holy Spirit, how can you do such a thing as this and unite your body which is united to Christ to someone who does not know or love the Lord, but who lives a sinful and shameful life? And, of course, this applies not only to relationships with prostitutes, but it applies to relationships with anyone who does not know or love the Saviour. Young people: when considering who you should marry, and who you should become one flesh with, how can you possibly consider uniting your body which is united with Christ to someone who does not know him or love him? How can you even contemplate becoming one flesh with someone who does not love your Saviour? Instead we should make sure that the person we marry and the person we become one flesh with is someone who also loves the Lord and who wants to live for him.
The Holy Spirit
That’s Paul’s third point. His fourth is that we’re temples of the Holy Spirit. So, I’m looking at verses 18 and 19 now. Back in chapter 3 the Apostle Paul referred to the church as the temple of the Holy Spirit. The church is the temple of the Holy Spirit because the Holy Spirit dwells in the church: when we meet together for worship, God the Holy Spirit is present with us, working in us. So, the whole church is the temple of the Holy Spirit. However, in chapter 6, Paul is making a slightly different point: here he’s teaching us that the Holy Spirit dwells in each one of us individually. The Holy Spirit came into our lives and enabled us to repent and to believe the good news. And from that time on, he has dwelt in us individually; and he works in each one of us individually to renew us in God’s image so that we become more and more obedient to the Lord; and each one of us receives his help to stand firm in the faith and to resist temptation. The Holy Spirit resides in each believer.
Well, since that is true, we should be careful what we do with our bodies, which are temples of the Holy Spirit. All other sins which we commit are outside the body, says Paul. But when we sin sexually, we’re sinning against our body which is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Since that’s the case, we should be careful about what we do with our bodies and where we go and what kind of people we mix with, because we do not want to grieve the Holy Spirit who lives in us and who is there when we do those things and go to those places and mix with those people.
That’s Paul’s fourth point. His fifth point is found in verses 19 and 20 where he says you are not your own. Isn’t that what people say today? They say: It’s my body. I can do what I like. But, says Paul to the believers in Corinth — and he’s saying it to us as well — it’s not your body. You’re not your own.
What does he mean? Well, you were bought at a price, he tells them. The image Paul has in mind is taken from the Roman world’s slave trade. One Roman would agree to buy another man’s slave at a certain price; and once the price was paid, the slave was handed over from one master to another. And it’s a wonderfully fitting picture for what happens to Christians: Once we were enslaved to sin and to Satan; they ruled over us as our masters and they said to us: ‘Do this’ and we did it; and they said to us: ‘Do that’ and we did it. They bossed us around and made us sin in countless different ways. But by his death on the cross, the Lord Jesus Christ paid the price to free us from sin and Satan. We no longer belong to them; we now belong to the Saviour. He’s our Master and we’re his servants and he calls us to listen to him and to obey his commands. Once sin and Satan were our masters and we listened to them; but now we’re to listen to our new Master, the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let me finish by pointing out two other things which the Apostle said. First of all, from verse 18:
Flee from sexual immorality.
Paul might well be thinking of Joseph in the Old Testament. Potiphar’s wife wanted to sleep with him. And what did he do? Do you remember? When she caught hold of him and invited him to come to bed with her, he left his cloak and he ran out of the house. He fled from her!
That’s what every believer is to do in the face of temptation. Since we’ve been set free from sin and shame to live good lives; since our bodies will one day be raised to glory; since our bodies are united with Christ; since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit; since we belong to Christ who has purchased us at the cost of his own blood, you should flee from immorality. Flee from that person who is tempting you; flee from those TV programmes and those movies which lead you into temptation; flee from those books and pictures which provoke sinful desires; flee from your computer when you’re tempted to surf over to the wrong kind of website. As one preacher said: we’re not to pray about it, asking God to help us to resist the temptation. That sounds very pious, doesn’t it? ‘I must pray about this.’ Well, there are many occasions when prayer is the right thing to do; however on other occasions, the right thing to do is not to pray, but to get up and run away. So, flee from immorality.
Secondly, since we’ve been set free from sin and shame to live good lives; since our bodies will one day be raised to glory; since our bodies are united with Christ; since our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit; since we belong to Christ who has purchased us at the cost of his own blood, you should honour God with your body. That’s in verse 20. So, do not use your body for sinful and shameful purposes. Do not take your body — which the Lord gave you and which he has redeemed — and use it for sin. No, use your body for good; use it to bring glory and honour to his name. That’s what you’re to do with your body while you go on living on the earth and while you wait for the Saviour to come again to raise your body to glory. You’re to flee from sexual immorality; and you’re to honour God with your body.