1 Corinthians 6:12-20
March 18, 2018
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 16:15 in the audio file.
Or, Glorify God with Your Heart and Parts
Self-indulgent pride knows no boundaries. Self-indulgent Christian pride knows some boundaries, but those boundaries are usually hand-selected. We know better than to say, “If it feels good, do it.” We prefer to try, “If if feels good, and there isn’t a verse against it, don’t let the legalists judge you for it.”
Once we see what Paul is really saying to the Corinthians in chapter 6 we may be surprised. And once we see what Paul is really saying we may say, “Ow.” Our situation is so different from that in the first-century Roman Empire, yet among us sin is still ruining our righteousness like a rusty nail through a flip-flop into the arch of your foot.
The Corinthian Christians were tolerating a man in such gross sin that even the pagans of that day couldn’t stomach (chapter 5). The Corinthian Christians were seeking a version of social justice from unjust judges against their fellow believers (first part of chapter 6). The Corinthian Christians were justifying their self-indulgence with a gospel mantra (middle of chapter 6): “all things are lawful.”
That’s where we finished last Lord’s Day. Paul clarified some limits to Christian liberties, namely, that just because you could do it doesn’t mean you should do it, either because it isn’t helpful to a fellow believer or because it makes one helpless as a slave to the “thing,” whatever the thing may be. Liberty is great! And liberty in Christ is freedom from the burden of the law as well as freedom from sin, not freedom to sin.
Then Paul clarified categories about the Christian’s relationship with bodily appetites, and in doing so moved toward his target in the paragraph. It seems that at least some of the Corinthians Christians were saying that sex is like food: all good, all the time, and of no consequence in the future kingdom. But Paul says the body is “for the Lord and the Lord for the body.” Food may be digested and expelled, but the body has everlasting purposes. It’s not a perishable commodity.
In verses 15-20 Paul asks three more times, “Do you not know?” He’s already used this rhetorical device multiple times in the letter, each time expecting that they are not living in light of the truth they’ve been taught. The church had an application problem.
Application problems, of course, get touchy. Some will complain against certain doctrines, but many more will complain when you step on their toes. It’s one thing to say, “Be like Jesus.” It’s another thing to say, “Be like Jesus, and do you think Jesus would get His hair cut like that?” Or, “Do you think Jesus would watch that TV show?” Paul is stomping around in rhetorical snow-shoes. The Christians in Corinth really should have acted better, and we really will find application, too.
Paul asks two questions in verse 15 that he knows the answer to before he asks.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Here is one of the great gospel truths: the believer’s union with Christ. When a man believes, he is supernaturally put “in Christ” and also Christ is “in him.” The union is a spiritual union, and yet it affects the physical life as well.
Christians are members of Christ. The word refers to body parts, to “limbs and organs” (Revised English Bible), and sometimes specifically to reproductive parts. Our bodies are members, meaning that it is not just my thoughts or my will or my heart. There is a lot more that Paul will say about Christians being members of Christ’s body in chapter 12 related to our responsibilities to serve the rest of the body. Here it is about our responsibilities to purity. Keep your hand out of the cookie jar, and the garbage disposal. That’s not where it belongs.
Since it’s true that our bodies are members of Christ, Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Whoa. What?
We do not know if use of prostitution was a regular occurrence in the church or not. I’ve read different arguments that claim it was and that it wasn’t. There was a “famous account of 1,000 prostitutes in the temple of Aphrodite” but it “refers to the Corinth destroyed in 146 B.C.” (Ciampa), which would be similar to us assuming what was typical in 1818 is typical today. The man in chapter 5 had a name. The “one of you” at the start of chapter 6 seems like a common enough problem. But in verse 12 through the end of the chapter there isn’t any identification of persons, but emphasis on the principle.
The principle is: since your body is a member of Christ, then any sexual sin involves Christ. That is like hooking up Jesus with a ho.
That Paul goes to this extreme probably means that he didn’t have to imagine the arguments. It also means it doesn’t matter what arguments were being made, either that it was okay based on their “culture” or that it was okay based on dualism or that it was okay based on liberty. It wasn’t okay, no way. Never! or “God forbid!” (KJV). It is unclean, unrighteous.
Paul hammers the principle deeper with the next question.
Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? It is the seventh time he’s used the “do you not know” formula in the letter, and the fifth time in this chapter alone, perhaps a sign of approaching exasperation. This question takes the realities of membership and connection and intensifies them with the implications of intimacy and oneness. Sex is one plus one equals one, (which only works with male and female parts) and it works that way because God created it that way. There is a “joining,” a bonding together. It’s nothing to be flippant about; it’s not just for “fun”; there is no “casual” sex.
For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” Paul quotes the Greek translation of Genesis 2:24. In the story in Genesis 2, verse 24 is a principle not a plot point. God made Eve from Adam and for Adam, Adam composed poetry for Eve when he met her, and Moses summarizes their condition at the end of the chapter. But again, verse 24 is an everlasting principle that applies beyond Adam and Eve. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” Adam and Eve didn’t have parents, but their relationship became the pattern for all the generations getting married afterward.
There are two parts to marriage: a covenant and then consummation. There are verbal vows made before God and witnesses in public, then there is physical union in private. With both of these in place a new family unit is created.
In 1 Corinthians 6 Paul acknowledges that there is a perversion with permanent consequences that happens without the promises between a husband and wife. Though they didn’t make vows, they do still share a oneness of flesh that can’t be undone, even though it can be forgiven. Intercourse is a union meant to be permanent.
But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. This is not a sexual or sensual joining, but it is a real joining. It reminds us that we are members of Christ, so whoever we are being one with we are making one with Christ. If it is anyone other than our spouse, we are joining Christ with unrighteousness. If it is our spouse, we are with Christ in righteousness. This oneness with Christ doesn’t prohibit sex, it requires us to be righteous with our hearts and parts. That can’t happen by definition with a prostitute, or your girlfriend/boyfriend with whom you’re sexually active.
The command is well known: Flee sexual immorality. There are some sins that we must fight. Every type of porneia we must flee, which in the immediate context includes incest, adultery, homosexuality, and prostitution. By application it includes fornication and pornography. There are some sins that we abstain from, there are other sins that we avoid. I can abstain from smoking outside a bar, but I avoid a pit of rattlesnakes. Don’t even go near it. Keep away from there.
I don’t think that Moses wrote Genesis 39 for the sake of providing a story about purity. In context in Genesis, the illustration might be more about how doing the right thing might get you thrown in prison unjustly. But there’s also no doubt that we can see Joseph’s example of running away from sexual immorality.
Joseph kept refusing the advances of Potiphar’s wife. He told her directly that it would be a great wickedness, a sin not only against his master/her husband but a sin against God. She kept speaking to Joseph “day after day,” but “he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her” (Genesis 39:10). Even if he could have, he wouldn’t have kept texting her, or studying together, or trying to be nice to her since it might hurt her feelings if he didn’t.
She kept coming on to him, and one day she arranged for the house to be empty. He had work to do so he was there, but when she grabbed him, he “fled and got out of the house” (verse 12). The Greek word for “fled” (a form of φεύγω) in the LXX is the same as the command in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “Flee!”
Solomon warned his son about the “forbidden woman,” “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8). The “simple” and the “young man lacking sense” is the one “passing along the street near her corner, taking the road to her house” (Proverbs 7:6-8). So he urges wisdom, “Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths” (7:25). You can’t just say it’s “bad,” you have to escape.
Solomon is urging wisdom, and in this case, wisdom follows commandments. He says, “keep my words, and treasure up my commandments with you, keep my commandments and live; keep my teaching as the apple of your eye; bind them on your fingers; write then on the tablet of your heart” (7:1-3). He says again, “and now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth” (7:24).
Where does this application end? Flee sexual immorality.
What about the movies you watch? What about the television shows you watch? What about the music videos you watch? What about the apps you have on your phone? What about the websites you visit, either for their content or their ads? What about the games you play? What about the conversations you have with your friends? What about your imagination?
One of the biggest questions that young people throw at their parents and pastors is, “how can I know the will of God?” Paul answers that in his first letter to the Thessalonians.
This is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter; because the Lord is [the] avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-7)
While Paul is concerned about righteous purity between one another, and while we ought to take pains not to use someone or defraud, the “primary concern is how [sexual immorality] violates one’s relation to Christ” (Thiselton).
Parents, how are you encouraging your kids to holy dating? How are you urging them to sanctification in their relationships with the opposite sex? What expectations have you embraced from those who don’t know God, who let their passions run wild, who aren’t concerned at all with impurity? Where have you gotten your standards from? Just not doing it like you did? Not having your kids feel awkward or left out? Shouldn’t it be more than that?
This is an issue of apps, this is an issue of what you wear and the attention you’re trying to attract, this is an issue of what events you attend, this is an issue of who your friends are and what you talk about when you’re having a sleep-over. It is an issue of your heart and your parts.
The church is not full of Christians defending use of prostitution itself, but any sexual immorality is like joining Christ to a prostitute. We’ll see next Lord’s day in the rest of verse 18 why sexual immorality is such a devastating sin, and then see what we are supposed to think about our bodies in verses 19-20, we are owned by Christ.
A believer is not supposed to just “be himself,” he is supposed to be “in Christ.” We do not know what is best “for ourselves,” not on our own. We are told what is best for us in union with Christ.
In our culture there are Snares. Every. Step. The world is sexually charged, and the church is too often prostituting herself, driven by the passions of the flesh.
Do you desire God’s blessing? Then you must desire sexual morality, which is, sex in the covenant of marriage.
You are chosen by the Father to be blameless. You are united to the Son to be blameless. You are indwelt by the Spirit to be blameless. You have received God’s Word so that you may know about your salvation and about God’s purposes and about God’s blessing. May your love for Christ be so abundant that you can’t imagine settling for anything less than undiluted and bursting righteousness.
And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:9–11, ESV)