1 Corinthians 6:12-20
March 11, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 13:30 in the audio file.
Or, Glorify God with Your Heart and Parts
One of the most frustrating things about learning to preach is that you usually don’t get to preach consecutively, that is, your opportunities only come every so often rather than the very next week. That’s frustrating if you have the calling to preach and actually have something to say from your study. It’s also frustrating if you just bombed a sermon and don’t get a chance to try again any time soon.
Preaching regularly doesn’t always mean that you do better. Every-Sunday preachers can still get into a slump. But it’s a great joy to take a good whack at the roots of sin and then get to do it again seven days later. And here we are.
Remember that this time of our service is the consecration part. This is the time when the Word goes to work on us, to lay open our thoughts and intentions, to pull back our necks and go for the throat (Hebrews 4:12-13). We are being dedicated to divine purposes, as individual members and together as members of Christ’s body. The pastor’s work is to pay close attention to himself and to the flock that Christ died for in order to see every man made more and more complete in Christ (Acts 20:28; Colossians 1:28). Is it possible to be made more complete in Christ and never have to give up something you love? Is it possible to be made more complete in Christ and never need to change your mind? Is it possible to be made more complete in Christ without someone saying something to you that a part of you doesn’t want to hear?
The apostle Paul wrote to the saints in Corinth about a garbage truck full of their rotten compromises with unrighteousness. And don’t forget who he started with. The worst offenders were the preachers. It wasn’t Paul and Apollos and Peter, but there were preachers using worldly rhetoric to win a bigger crowd for sake of their own name. One of those tactics might have been going a little soft on sin. Preaching the word of the cross is harsh (on pride). The behaviors that Paul starts to confront in chapter 5 grew in the soil of self-seeking leaders.
I spent a lot of time giving grief to my own kind in the first four chapters of this letter. I do think that pastors and preachers bear a great responsibility for their failures. Some of them will be saved, but just barely, and their work will are burned up (1 Corinthians 3:14-15). And when they are doing their job, it doesn’t tickle the ears.
At the start of chapter 6 Paul addressed how some of the believers were taking other brothers before unrighteous judges. Then he described some of the unrighteous in verses 9-11, the kind of worldly people that shouldn’t be relied on to arbitrate disputes between Christians and the kind of worldly people that shouldn’t be imitated by the Christians. Why pay so much attention to those who have no future? As for us, we will inherit the kingdom of heaven.
In that list are men who sin with money, men who sin with their mouths, men who sin by their failure to be masculine, men who sin with other men, men who sin with women. Four of the ten are sins related to sex, considered either as gender or as practice. The man in chapter 5 was guilty of sexual immorality, the unrighteous are regularly guilty of sexual immorality, and even in the church there is ongoing sexual immorality defended in a multitude of ways. Starting in 1 Corinthians 6:12 and going through the end of chapter 7 the apostle has a lot to say about sex sins.
There is no such thing as safe sin when it comes to sex.
That’s part of the reason why pastors must talk about it. Is this not one of the battle lines in our culture? Are we not being catechized by our entertainers and educators? They used to push toleration, then it was approval, now it is applause that they insist on. There have always been edges of deviant behavior, but there used to be more agreement on what was deviant. Now we’re expected to agree that deviance is the norm.
This is also why reference to particular haircuts and piercings and clothing and mannerisms is in the bull’s-eye of sanctification questions. Are we loving the ways of the unrighteous, inside or out? Are we conscious of the ways we’re behaving like the unrighteous? Are we wearing Team Seed of the Serpent’s uniform because it looks so cool?
They know what they’re doing, and typically better than Team Seed of the Woman. They have a strategy. Google what unbelievers say about their styles. See what kinds of identifying symbols they claim.
We who are “safe” from the battle, either because we’re not near the front lines or because we don’t want to be near the front lines, start fretting about legalism. What about our Christian freedom? What about our liberty in Christ?
I am against legalism. I am preaching through Galatians for my Sunday evening epistle, and if Galatians is anything it is a glorious blast against the monster of legalism. Legalism tends toward the ugliest self-righteous pride. The pretentious meter is off the scale with legalism.
But, the wrong use of liberty tends toward the ugliest self-indulgent pride. The foolishness meter is off the scale with liberty abused.
So we have a ways to go to avoid both gutters. There is a lot about sexual purity, or not, in the upcoming parts of 1 Corinthians. If talking about haircuts as related to effeminacy made you mad, wait until we talk about dating as related to sexual immorality. And if you’re good with both of those, wait until we talk about food offered to the GMO gods.
In the last part of chapter 6 Paul confronts immorality under the cover of liberty and/or dualism. We’re going to be in this final paragraph of the chapter for today and the next couple Sundays leading up to Easter.
There are no such things as quotation marks in the original text. There are ways to identify quotes, and they are usually introduced with some sort of formula: “each one of you says” (1:12) or “when one says” (3:4). No such phrasing is found in verses 12 and 13, though the ESV marks off a couple comments as if Paul is quoting what he’s hearing coming out of Corinth in order to reply to it.
These quotes or slogans may or may not have come from Paul himself and his previous teaching. He includes himself in the statement, “to me,” and he doesn’t confront or criticize the statements. He does clarify them.
In verse 12 the same motto is mentioned twice and there are two related clarifications. The catchphrase is about Christian liberty. “All things are lawful for me.” To be “lawful” doesn’t mean that the law says you can or must, but rather that the law doesn’t say you can’t. So the HCSB, “Everything is permissible for me.” Paul will quote this twice again in 10:23 related to what food they eat.
In Greek the apostle really did say “all.” And, in English as well as Greek, he doesn’t really mean “all,” he means “all in a particular context.” For example, jealousy and strife are not lawful (3:3), destroying God’s temple is not lawful (3:17), incest is not lawful (5:1), petty disputes and going before unrighteous judges is not lawful (6:1), and none of the sins listed in 6:9-10 are lawful.
All things are lawful is in reference to things not explicitly banned by a Bible verse. But, while this is true, not all things are helpful. We want to ask, “helpful for what?” And “helpful to whom?” Paul doesn’t answer those explicitly, but helpful for righteous living and helpful for righteous community seem appropriate. There is a way to behave under the cover of freedom that hurts, even damages, character and relationships. It stunts growth, personally and interpersonally. Ask: “If everyone did what you’re doing, what would happen?”
This is not the only problem with liberty. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. The original has a play on words, “I have the power to do all things, but I will not be overpowered by anything.” Not only are certain attitudes and actions not helpful, they may make one helpless.
Which comes first, the decision or the slavery? Is it that I decide certain things because I am a slave, or that I am a slave because I decide certain things? It is circular, and Paul is saying that Christians better be careful about the decisions they make. By the end of this section he’ll say that we are not our own, we are under new management, and that is real and it ought to be orienting.
But how many believers become slaves to their foolishness?! “You can’t show me a verse, so therefore, there is nothing wrong with my dressing like the unrighteous or watching along with the unrighteous or talking or dressing like the unrighteous. I am saved by faith alone. Back off Mr. Mt. Sinai.” It is possible to become a slave to contrarianism, or a slave to the expression of liberty rather than enjoy liberty to express righteousness.
I really do understand the reaction, and I really do understand the danger. All sorts of unrighteous attitudes and accoutrements have been adopted by professing Christians because they don’t want the burden of being connected to other Christians. They are enslaved to individualism, to being different (like a bunch of other people). They are enslaved to not looking like a dork, to being “cool.” They are enslaved to a sinful attitude toward others while technically not sinning in the “thing” itself.
Beloved, don’t use Christian liberty as a cover for unrighteousness or as a cover to double-down on foolishness. As I said earlier, self-righteous pride is ugly, so is self-indulgent pride. The former is artificial and inflated, the latter is boneheaded and immature. Paul is beginning his case against the Corinthians who apparently were using Christian liberty as a justification for using prostitutes. If Christians can go that far, which seems extreme, how many other foolish things can Christians attempt to justify on their walk out to the edge?
Verse 13 begins with another possible slogan among the Corinthians, though this one is more difficult to determine the quote’s closing. Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” As in, God gave us physical appetites, He gave means to satisfy those appetites, and He gave a digestive system to process it. I believe the quotation ends after the next phrase: And God will destroy both one and the other, emphasizing not only that we have biological desires but that this is a temporary system because of God. If God gave us appetites that are natural, they must be good, right? If God is going to destroy that part of the system, then it must not be that important, right?
But this is the second worst kind of dualism. (The worst kind of dualism is self-righteous, the person who says “I only do spiritual things, see how important I am?”) The kind of dualism here is the self-indulgent.
It is true to say that God made and gave the stomach, and God made and gave food, but it is not true to say that all physical appetites have the same consequences. God made and gave all of the trees of the garden to Adam and Eve to take for food, but he did not make an orchard of women for Adam to take as wives for sex. For sake of filling the earth, that would have made things faster, but God gave Adam one woman in the covenant of marriage.
Likewise it is true to say that food is consumed and no more, and that in another sense we won’t be as dependent on our bellies when in our glorified bodies, but we will still be in bodies. And when it comes to bodies, The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. The sun is not meant for darkness, but for light, and light for the sun.
“In the bodily obedience of the Christian…the lordship of Christ finds visible expression, and only when this visible expression takes personal shape in us does the whole thing become credible as Gospel message.” (Käsemann, quoted by Thiselton)
You’ve heard it said that theology comes out your fingertips, when you are texting, when you are typing a web address into your browser, when you are styling your hair and pulling clothes off the rack at the store, when you are prepping food and passing it around the table, when you are holding hands with that boy (or girl) or whatever other parts you may be touching.
Not only that, but God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. This is resurrection sanctification, and Paul will return to it in chapter 15. What we do now in our bodies will not be completely undone in the resurrection.
Three questions finish the rest of the chapter and we’ll pick up with those next week. Three times Paul asks, “Do you not know?” (verses 15, 16, and 19).
These are wheels down issues. We are not going to successfully engage, let alone properly enrage, the culture if we leave all these discussions to them. Is there such a thing as worldliness? Is it possible to be conformed to the world? What does it mean to be countercultural?
Is it possible to be a self-righteous, judgmental fathead? Absolutely. Is it possible to be a self-indulgent, offended fool? Absolutely. Are spiritually immature Christians still Christians? Yes, by definition. Are spiritually immature Christians going to grow by justifying their immaturity? No, be definition. Does the Lord care about what we do in our bodies?
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Romans 12:1-2)
May He help us to discern His will, what is good and acceptable and perfect in what we wear, in what we eat, in how we find a spouse and treat those of the opposite sex. May we use our freedom as those who seek to please God in our bodies. When we have a whole church of believers committed to being living sacrifices like this, watch out. More people will be mad outside the church than inside. That will be our opportunity to testify that we are not our own, we were bought with a price.
Because of God, being free does not mean being able to do whatever we want, it means being free to do whatever we want to bless others. We are free to lay down our lust for acceptance and esteem. We are free to honor the authorities God gave us, even when they’re not looking. We are not free to be fools, but we are free to do so much obvious good that even fools struggle to criticize us. That is liberty and edification for all.
For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor. (1 Peter 2:15–17, ESV)