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10. The Relationship Between Spirituality and Sexual Morality (1 Cor. 6:12-20)

Introduction

The previous owners of our church building did not believe in orthodox Christianity. As I heard the story, interest and attendance were lagging, so they decided to ask various members of their congregation to share about their occupations. One Sunday, an exotic dancer was scheduled to share about her work. Since we live nearby, I happened to drive by the church building as that meeting took place. The place was very crowded, though I didn’t know why at the time. Now, I call it their version of a “body life” meeting. The dancer’s body brought the place to life, or so it seems.

It never ceases to amaze me how some who profess to know and serve God can be so lax (or even worse) when it comes to sexual morality. One of the common characteristics of a cult is a distortion (in one way or another) of sexual morality. For some, it is the denial of any sexual pleasure, while for others it is the indulgence in all sorts of sexual encounters. David Koresh and his following of Branch Davidians, for example, were known to have a very bizarre system of sexual behavior.

Mr. Koresh and his followers might have felt very comfortable in the Corinthian church. You will recall that in 1 Corinthians 5, Paul rebuked the church for failing to discipline a man who was living with his father’s wife. The Corinthian pagans were shocked by such conduct, and yet many in the church became proud over their handling of this matter. Paul instructed the church to put this man out of their assembly, thus placing him within Satan’s extended reach (to destroy his physical body), and also disassociating the church from this wayward saint and his willful sin.

It is not strange that Paul deals with immorality in 1 Corinthians 6, since he introduced the subject in chapter 5. The question is, “Why did Paul interject the matter of Christians taking fellow-believers to court in 6:1-11?” It almost appears as though the first 11 verses of chapter 6 are out of place. I don’t think so. Some time ago a friend of mine spoke to a group of socialites in New York, engaging in conversation with a particular young intellectual. My friend said to him, “Your problem is that you don’t know the difference between legality and morality. Some sins are not crimes. And some crimes are not sins.”

The Corinthians appear to have the same problem. They appear to equate morality with legality. For many of them, whatever is legal is moral. This appears to be the reason Paul returns to the subject of immorality after introducing the Corinthian lawsuits. The Corinthians are becoming too wise for Paul and for the apostolic preaching of the cross of Christ. They are submitting themselves to other teachers, whose message and methods are far more prestigious and popular in their secular culture. If the Corinthian Christians are living according to human judgment, then why not take their disputes before unsaved judges, who judge only according to human wisdom? If they are to accept the legal opinions of Corinthian judges regarding disputes among believers, why not also accept the legal definition of morality? Why not let legality determine morality? If one can accomplish such a gigantic logical leap, then a Christian can do virtually anything any pagan Corinthian can do. Among the things they can do is visit a cult prostitute.

But I am not willing to let the Corinthians off quite this easily. While they are in error about the relationship between legality and morality, they also make a very grave mistake concerning the relationship between spirituality and morality. The teaching of the Bible is entirely consistent on this relationship. True spirituality results in morality, in godliness. True spirituality turns one away from immorality. Paul has just said as much:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

The Corinthians no longer see it this way, which is the reason they become proud of conduct which shocks even pagans (see 1 Corinthians 5:1-2). They have twisted spirituality to such a degree that their version of spirituality is the basis for immorality, rather than the basis for holiness.

The immorality Paul deals with in our text is sexual immorality. Specifically, Paul addresses sexual immorality with a prostitute. It seems this particular form of immorality is widely accepted as normal and moral, as well as legal. We should remember that prostitution in Corinth is a “religious act of worship.” Corinth takes pride in the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, which has 1,000 cult prostitutes. In the name of religion, men can indulge their fleshly appetites. The Greeks have a proverb about the city of Corinth, which tells us much of its moral decay: “It is not every man who can afford a journey to Corinth.”58 Those who are worldly wise use the verb “to corinthianize” to describe an act of immorality. “Corinthian girl” was a synonym for a prostitute.59 For a Corinthian saint, concluding that whatever is legal is also moral leaves him a great deal of latitude. There isn’t much he can’t do under this definition of morality.

The Structure of our Text

The structure of our text may be viewed from at least two vantage points. In verses 12-14, Paul focuses on a statement of the Corinthians’ doctrinal basis for their immorality. This is either a false or distorted premise held by the Corinthians, which Paul proceeds to correct. Verses 15-20 deal with the problem of immorality from the perspective of the ignorance of the Corinthians—what they don’t know (or choose to forget). Thus, three times in these verses we find, “Did you not know…?” Paul turns their attention to what they should know and its implications for sexual morality.

There is yet another way of understanding the structure of our text. Verses 12-20 give the biblical basis for sexual morality, and specifically why sexual immorality is wrong for the believer. Verse 12 explains why sexual immorality is wrong for the Christian: it is an obstacle to one’s spiritual growth. Verses 13-20 demonstrate that immorality is an offense against God:

Verses 13-14

Sexual immorality is an offense against God

Verses 15-17

Sexual immorality is an offense against the Lord Jesus Christ

Verses 18-20

Sexual immorality is an offense against the Holy Spirit

I believe we will discover that Paul’s curriculum in dealing with sex is not what we would find being taught in the public schools. However, it is what every Christian must know, and what we should proclaim to our children and practice in the sexually indulgent world of our time.

Sexual Immorality—Sinning Against One’s Self60
(6:12)

All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything (NASB).

“Everything is permissible, for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything (NIV).

“I am free to do anything,” you say. Yes, but not everything is for my good (New English Bible).

“For me there are no forbidden things”; maybe, but not everything does good (New Jerusalem Bible).

In interpreting verses 12-14, we must first determine whether the statements Paul gives are his own theology, misunderstood and misapplied, or the twisted theology of the Corinthians. As indicated by the quotation marks employed in the NIV and by the other translations I have cited, many take the foundational statements of these verses to be the theology of the wayward Corinthians. This is the way I choose to understand them as well, even though there may be a measure of truth in them. That the Corinthians’ theology is a distortion of Paul’s should not be surprising.

The premise on which the Corinthians seem to base their immorality is that whatever is legal is also moral. All things, they claim, are lawful for them, which seems to mean in practice that they are free to do anything that is not against the law. It may well be that the Corinthians attempt to justify their theology on the basis of Paul’s teaching—teaching such as this:

14 For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. 15 What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (Romans 6:14-15).

It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery (Galatians 5:1).

Paul’s dealing with the problem of immorality here is brief. He could argue with the premise, “All things are lawful…,” but he does not. Paul’s brevity should be understood in the light of several facts. First, Paul spent considerable time in Corinth. He does not need to teach the Corinthians as much as to remind them of what he has taught them already. Second, Paul is planning to return to Corinth, where he can deal with these problems face to face. Third, since this is a letter, Paul does not have unlimited space in which to write, so he goes to the very heart of the issues, confident of what he has taught and what he will teach when he returns.

Without debating the issue of what things are permissible (although surely not all things are permissible—there are many prohibitions in the New Testament, as well as in the Old), Paul points them to a higher standard. Whatever that list of “permissible” things may be, not all permissible things are advisable. If one is buying a house, it is not enough to know that a certain list of homes is for sale (these are all possible purchases). Certain houses are a wise investment, and others will prove to be a waste of money. A Christian must therefore determine his conduct on some higher, more selective standard. The standard is clearly stated by Paul: “Not all things are profitable” (verse 12). But how does one know what conduct is profitable or unprofitable? Paul clarifies the matter by his second statement: “I will not be mastered by anything” (verse 12).

Paul’s teaching in our text is but an abbreviated version of what he has taught in Romans 6. The Christian dare not feel free to “live in sin,” because he or she has “died to sin” when joined by faith to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Dying to sin is symbolized in Christian baptism. By going under the water, we proclaim in a symbolic way that we died in Christ, and were buried. By coming forth from the water, we proclaim that we have been raised from the dead, in Christ, now enabled to live an entirely new life. To continue to live in sin is to deny everything we believed when we were saved, and everything we symbolically proclaim when we were baptized.

As Christians, we have been freed from our bondage to sin so that we may now serve God in righteousness (see Romans 7:1-6). We are therefore to put away the old sinful practices that once enslaved us and to live a life of righteousness, through the power of God which is in us. Our aim as unbelievers was to indulge our own fleshly lusts, and in doing so, we were actually enslaved to sin and to Satan (see also Ephesians 2:1-3). Now, having been freed from our bondage to sin, we must not return to our former lifestyle. Any practices which enable the flesh to gain mastery over us must be avoided, even if they are not forbidden by Scripture. The writer to the Hebrews (could it be Paul?) says much the same thing:

1 Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance, and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1-2).

To a marathon runner, everything which is not a “wing” is a “weight.” One of our church members is running in a marathon race this very day. There is nothing wrong with a laptop computer, but I guarantee that Al Angell is not carrying a laptop with him. He may carry one when he travels on an airplane, but he does not carry one in a marathon race because it doesn’t enhance his ability to win the race.

Paul further explains the statement, “not all things are profitable,” with the additional statement, “I will not be mastered by anything.” Paul’s words address a matter about which our Lord taught:

20 “But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. 22 “The lamp of the body is the eye; if therefore your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. 23 “But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If therefore the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness! 24 “No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon. 25 “For this reason I say to you, do not be anxious for your life, as to what you shall eat, or what you shall drink; nor for your body, as to what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body than clothing? 26 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they?” (Matthew 6:20-26, emphasis mine).

According to our Lord, one must choose between the “treasures” of this life and the “treasures” of the next. To treasure the things of this life is to have a “bad eye,” and thus to fail to see things clearly. (You will remember that the Corinthians are not thinking too clearly.) Then, changing images, Jesus warns that one can serve only one master, not two. If God is our Master, then we dare not seek to serve another. But the “other master” is not a person, but things, the things of this life—eating, drinking, bodily needs. If we are preoccupied with such things, we cannot focus on our one Master, and on His coming kingdom.

In the light of our Lord’s teaching, Paul’s words are applied to a very practical application—sexual immorality. The Corinthians think of a brief visit to the prostitute as a casual thing, something with no long-term commitments (like an “affair”). How can such a casual relationship hurt? Paul’s response reveals a very different perspective of sexual immorality. Does the male ego look upon such a liaison as a conquest? Not so! Immorality is a moral surrender which leads to bondage. It is not the man who masters the woman, but the prostitute (and the sin she promotes) which masters the man.

Think about Samson in the Old Testament for a moment. Who better than he illustrates the mastery of the prostitute over the man? Samson was the strongest man on the earth at that time. He could easily snap the bonds placed around him. He could kill a thousand men with the jawbone of a donkey (Judges 15:14-16). But Samson was not in control; it was the woman of his life. And so, not once, but several times, he gives in to the seductions of a woman. Samson was in bondage. He was mastered. This is so for all who choose this path (see Proverbs 7:6-27).

A very popular word today used even in Christian circles is the psychological word, “addiction.” Virtually every malady known to man is described as an “addiction.” Men and women, under the bondage of sexual immorality are said to have a “sexual addiction.” Alcoholism is spoken of as an addiction, one for which the individual under bondage is hardly seen to be responsible (after all, it was genetically predestined). Food is an addiction. And now, co-dependency is an addiction. Where will these addictions end? I think I know. They end with a new Master, Jesus Christ. We can serve but one master. When that Master is our Lord Jesus Christ, all other “masters” must be set aside.

Paul refuses to engage in any practice which will prove to be “addictive,” any practice which will come to master him, rather than facilitating him in his service of the Master. The application of the principle Paul sets down is very important. This is where error and false teaching can arise. If certain practices really are permissible, then these are liberties, which the Christian might enjoy, but need not enjoy. Paul spends more time discussing this in chapters 8-10. Some practices have no grip on some Christians, but they become the source of bondage to others. We should never practice those liberties which might enslave us. We should not practice those liberties which might encourage a weaker brother to follow our example, and thus become enslaved through his weakness.

But what about those things God has intended for our enjoyment? Is it wrong for the Christian to enjoy fishing, or golfing, or watching the Dallas Cowboys on TV? Some would go too far and tell us that if we are enjoying life, something is wrong, such as those to whom Paul refers in 1 Timothy 4:

1 But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, 2 by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, 3 men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods, which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth. 4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5).

False teachers speak not from the leading of the Spirit but from the deceptive doctrines of the evil one, communicated through his demonic activity (compare this with 2 Corinthians 11:13-15). They seek to prohibit Christians from enjoying the things God has given us to enjoy. All too often, those thus deprived of the pleasures which come from God, become the ones who overreact by casting themselves into fleshly indulgence.

The solution to the problem of being mastered by the flesh is not the avoidance of all pleasures in the flesh:

20 If you have died with Christ to the elementary principles of the world, why, as if you were living in the world, do you submit yourself to decrees, such as, 21 “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch!” 22 (which all refer to things destined to perish with the using)—in accordance with the commandments and teachings of men? 23 These are matters which have, to be sure, the appearance of wisdom in self-made religion and self-abasement and severe treatment of the body, but are of no value against fleshly indulgence (Colossians 2:20-23).

The solution is to avoid those fleshly pleasures God identifies as sin, and those we know to be enslaving (“addictive” for us), and to gratefully enjoy the blessings of God with thanksgiving, seeing life’s pleasures as a gift from God:

4 For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude; 5 for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:4-5).

17 Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. 18 Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, 19 storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed (1 Timothy 6:17-19).

16 Do not be deceived, my beloved brethren. 17 Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow (James 1:16-17).

Sexual Immorality—An Offense Against God
(6:13-14)

13 Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food; but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.

One must decide where the Corinthian’s theological position ends and Paul’s commentary begins. I am inclined to understand these verses in this way:

The Corinthian’s Position:

 

Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food

but God will do away with both of them.

Paul’s Correction:

 

Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body.

14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.

The Corinthian position is not hard to grasp. It is a completely “this worldly” view of life leading to a lifestyle of sexual morality. Remember, this passage is about sexual morality, not about food.61 The logic is simple, even though it is erroneous. The purpose of food is to fill the stomach, to meet its physical needs. The nature of the stomach is that it requires food; its purpose is to process food. Food and the stomach are physical entities, and thus they will perish. But God will do away with them. Our Lord taught that it is not food which defiles a man, and thus all foods are clean (see Mark 7:18-19). One is thus free to eat of any food, knowing that food and the stomach are made for each other. Beyond this, food and the stomach have no eternal function because God will do away with them, so one may eat what he likes without guilt.

The unspoken inference is that the Corinthians apply the very same logic to the body and its sexual design and appetites to sexual liaisons with prostitutes. “After all,” I hear more often than I wish to say, “I’m only human.” “God made me a sexual being,” the Corinthians reason. “He made me to need sex. So when I have sex with a prostitute, it is simply meeting my physical needs, just as I eat when I am hungry. And what difference does it make what I do in this body anyway, since God is going to do away with it?”

I differ with a number of biblical scholars, who do not include the statement about God doing away with food and the stomach as being the creed of the Corinthians. I think it is very much their theology. Paul corrects this error in verse 14 by confidently claiming that God will raise up our bodies from the dead, just as He raised our Lord from the dead. But this is precisely the problem—some of the Corinthians do not believe in the resurrection of the dead, which is why Paul devotes chapter 15 to this subject.62 You will see that the resurrection of the dead is a problem area in a number of other churches as well (see Acts 17:32; 2 Thessalonians 2:2; 2 Timothy 2:18). Denying the resurrection of the dead is a denial of the “day of the Lord,” a day of judgment on sinners. To deny a coming future judgment is the foundation for advocating a sinful lifestyle now (see 2 Peter 3). Paul waits until chapter 15 to defend the doctrine of the resurrection. But for the moment, he declares it with confidence as the basis for sexual morality in this life, contrary to the theory and practice of some of the Corinthians.

Paul exposes the error that God will simply do away with fleshly things like the body, with no future or eternal consequences. In addition, Paul sets down a very different standard regarding our physical body and its appetites. In Paul’s words, the “body is not for immorality;” the body is “for the Lord,” and “the Lord is for the body.” God did not create the body with its sexual capabilities and drives to satisfy these desires indiscriminately. God made man’s physical body for His purposes, ultimately to bring glory to Himself. This is Paul’s bottom line in verse 20: “Therefore glorify God in your body.” We are not to use our bodies to serve ourselves, but to serve God. The sexual dimension of our makeup is to be exercised only within the bonds of marriage. In our marital relationship, including the sexual union which is holy within marriage (see Hebrews 13:4), we are to symbolically represent the union of Christ and His church. Sex has a holy function, which is to be carried out only in the context of marriage.

Paul has yet another thing to say, something which some find difficult to understand. Paul writes that “the Lord is for the body.” We cannot live without eating, but most of us don’t need to worry about death by starvation. There is an important lesson here which we see throughout the Bible. Life does not really come from food. Life comes from God, from knowing Him and from obeying His commandments. When our Lord was tempted for 40 days and nights in the wilderness, He did not eat for that period of time. One of Satan’s temptations was for our Lord to make stones into bread. It is as though Satan were saying, “If you are the Messiah, then you must live to fulfill your mission. You cannot let yourself starve out here in the wilderness, so create bread from these stones, even if it means disobeying God.” Our Lord’s answer, rooted in the theology of the eighth chapter of Deuteronomy and in the experience of Israel in the wilderness, was that “man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

God is the ultimate source of life, not bread. God preserved the Israelites in the wilderness with bread from heaven. Jesus told the Jews who wanted mere physical bread that He was the bread of God, come down from heaven to give them life. He was “the bread of life” (John 6:32-35). He was the “water” which would give the woman at the well everlasting life (John 4:13-14). When His disciples urged Jesus to eat, Jesus responded that His food was to do with will of the Father, who sent Him (John 4:31-34). Our life is but a vapor, and the life which we experience moment by moment comes from God. Our bodies need God more than they need food. He is the source of life, both physical and eternal (see John 1:1-5).

No wonder Paul can live out his life in a way that does not indulge his bodily desires, but denies them (see 1 Corinthians 9:24-27). No wonder he lives so dangerously and suffers physically in his ministry (see 1 Corinthians 4:9-13). No wonder he can say that to live (rejected and persecuted) is Christ, and to die is gain (Philippians 1:21). No wonder the false teachers cater to the desires of the flesh, while Jesus and His apostles call upon men to take up their cross, and to crucify the flesh and its desires.

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:12-13).

12 So then, brethren, we are under obligation, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh—13 for if you are living according to the flesh, you must die; but if by the Spirit you are putting to death the deeds of the body, you will live (Romans 8:12-13).

Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry (Colossians 3:5).

Sexual Immorality—An Offense Against our Lord
(6:15-17)

15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

Sexual immorality is an offense against God, from whom, through whom, and for whom are all things (including our bodies—Romans 11:36). Sexual immorality is also a sin against the Lord Jesus Christ. The Corinthians err in thinking too little of their spiritual union with Christ and in taking too lightly their sexual union with prostitutes.

Paul’s argument in verses 15-17 rests on the incompatibility of two unions: (a) the Corinthians’ union with Christ, and (b) their union through sexual intercourse with a prostitute. Note Paul’s words later in 1 Corinthians where he refers to the union of the believer with Jesus Christ by saving faith:

12 For even as the body is one and yet has many members, and all the members of the body, though they are many, are one body, so also is Christ. 13 For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. 14 For the body is not one member, but many… 18 But now God has placed the members, each one of them, in the body, just as He desired. 19 And if they were all one member, where would the body be? 20 But now there are many members, but one body… 27 Now you are Christ’s body, and individually members of it (1 Corinthians 12:12-14, 18-20, 27).

When we trust in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of our sins and for eternal life, we are united with Christ. But there is another union, which is incompatible with our union with Christ—the union of a man with a prostitute. This “union” is referred to in verse 16. Paul buttresses his argument by citing Genesis 2:24, a text to which our Lord also refers (Matthew 19:5; Mark 10:8). Paul refers to this same text in Ephesians 5:31, there in relationship to the holy union of a man with his wife. To have sex with someone—even a prostitute—is no casual matter, Paul reminds us. To have sex with a prostitute is to become one with her. How can one who has been joined with Christ now join with a harlot? Only by “taking away the members of Christ” to do so (verse 15).

At least some of the Corinthians hold the view that what one does in the body has no relationship to what one is and does in the spirit. Paul directly contradicts this error. The one who joins himself to Christ becomes one in spirit with Christ (verse 17). The one who joins himself to a harlot becomes one flesh with her. Paul insists that one cannot be one in spirit with the Savior and one in the flesh with a harlot. Thus, what is done spiritually does directly relate to what is done in the body. We dare not think of ourselves as spiritual when what we are doing in our bodies is immoral:

1 If then you have been raised up with Christ, keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. 3 For you have died and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ, who is our life, is revealed, then you also will be revealed with Him in glory. 5 Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. 6 For it is on account of these things that the wrath of God will come, 7 and in them you also once walked, when you were living in them (Colossians 3:1-7).

Sexual Immorality—A Sin Against the Holy Spirit
(6:18-20)

18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

We have just seen that Paul links our spiritual identity in Christ with our conduct in our physical bodies. The spirit and the body are inseparably linked in orthodox Christian doctrine and teaching. Paul establishes yet another link between the spiritual and the physical in verses 18-20. Body and Spirit are directly related to each other because the Christian’s body and God’s Spirit are inseparably linked at the time of our salvation. The union of the Christian and the Person of Christ occurs at the time of salvation, and it is brought about by the Holy Spirit: “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit” (1 Corinthians 12:13).

The Spirit not only accomplishes the union of the new believer with Christ, the Spirit actually indwells the Christian from the moment of his salvation. According to Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 12:19, our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Before, in chapter 3, Paul indicated that the Holy Spirit indwells the church, the corporate body of Christ:

16 Do you not know that you are a temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? 17 If any man destroys the temple of God, God will destroy him, for the temple of God is holy, and that is what you are (1 Corinthians 3:16-17; see also Ephesians 2:19-22).

Now, Paul speaks of the individual believer as the temple of the Holy Spirit. Both, of course, are true without any contradiction. To use one’s body as an instrument of sin by having a sexual union with a prostitute is a most despicable sin. It is a uniquely defiling and wretched sin, as Paul indicates by the words of verse 18: “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.”

How is sexual sin uniquely a sin against the body, while other sins are just sins we commit in the body? Let me seek to illustrate this by using the analogy of a fine automobile. If I owned a magnificent Rolls Royce, there are many ways I could sin in that car. I could, for example, exceed the speed limit. I would be sinning in the car, but not sinning against it. If I were to rob a bank and use the Rolls for a getaway car, I would once again be sinning in the car. But if I needed a load of cow manure for our flower garden, and I opened the doors and shoveled that manure into the car to transport it from the barnyard to my home, that, my friend, would be sinning against the Rolls Royce.

Our bodies have been created by God (see Psalm 139). They have been created as the temple of the Holy Spirit, and as instruments by which we can serve and glorify God. Our bodies are not our own, but a stewardship entrusted to us by God, so that we might serve and glorify Him. Since the Christian has died to sin in Christ, and has been raised in Christ to newness of life, we dare not use our bodies as instruments of unrighteousness, but we must use them as instruments of righteousness:

12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, 13 and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God (Romans 6:12-13).

In the words of our text, each of us must “therefore glorify God in our body” (verse 20).

Consequently, sexual immorality is not an option. Sexual immorality is a sin of the highest order. If we are to live in a manner consistent with our calling, we must “flee immorality” (verse 18). Paul not only means we are to avoid immorality, we are to flee from it. We are to avoid it like we would a deadly snake. We are not to see how close to sin we can get; rather we are to see how far away from sin we can stay. Sexual immorality is sin, and it should be avoided with zeal.

Conclusion

Some may wish to restrict the application of Paul’s teaching in our text just to the prohibition of sex with a prostitute. I do not think we dare narrow the application in such a way. After all, it is Paul who applies an Old Testament text on oxen to meeting the needs of those who preach (see 1 Corinthians 9:4-14)! I believe Paul addresses sexual immorality with a prostitute because this is a very common sin in Corinth, even among the saints, and it is a sin the church does not take seriously enough. Paul takes the most “casual” sin (in the minds of the Corinthians) and shows it to be utterly sinful; how much more are any other sexual sins condemned? Just because one is saved and spiritually alive is no reason to take our actions in the flesh lightly.

We should be greatly informed by the way Paul engages in “sex education.” The term, “sex education” is highly charged with emotion on the part of some Christians, and rightly so. I simply point out to you what Paul’s curriculum consists of in 1 Corinthians. Paul does not describe in intimate detail the nature and practice of immorality. To do so might become a temptation for us. Paul does not seek to prevent sexual immorality among Christians by frightening them with the physical adverse consequences, like pregnancy, AIDS, and other sexually transmitted diseases. Paul, as always, goes back to the gospel. Paul’s argument for sexual morality is rooted in sound doctrine, specifically the doctrines which pertain to salvation. The gospel is the basis for sexual (and every other kind of) morality.

Note also that Paul could very quickly deal with the Corinthians’ immorality by simply referring to the rules. Not only is sexual immorality forbidden by the Old Testament law, it is forbidden by our Lord and by the Jerusalem Council. In Acts 15, sexual immorality was one of the four things specifically forbidden to the Gentiles (see “fornication” in Acts 15:19-21, 28-29). Immorality was “against the rules,” but Paul wants the Corinthians not just to keep the rules, but to consciously serve God by doing that which is consistent with our calling, with the gospel, and with sound doctrine. It is necessary to keep the rules, but let us do so for the right reasons. Here, Paul gives us the reasons for sexual purity.

The problem of sexual immorality in the Corinthian church is due, in part, to the fact that such conduct is not considered sinful or illegal by the pagan Corinthian culture. The Corinthians seem to live more in conformity to the standards of their culture than to the standard set by Christ. If a certain practice is legal, some Corinthian Christians seem to think it is moral. The Bible has a much higher set of standards than this. If something is illegal, it is almost always immoral for the Christian (except for those few times when the law forbade what God commands—e.g. Acts 5:29). When the laws of the land allow certain forms of conduct, we must ask ourselves if that practice is permitted in the Scriptures. For example, the law may allow immorality, but the Bible forbids it. Then there are those things which both the law and the Bible allow. These “liberties” may or may not be advisable for the Christian. The use of any Christian liberty should be subject to the following questions:

(1) Does this practice contribute to my own spiritual growth and maturity?

(2) Does this practice contribute to the growth and maturity of fellow-believers?

(3) Does this practice further the gospel?

(4) Does this practice glorify God?

Liberties are those things which the Bible says I am free to do. If any matter is really a liberty, it is something I am as free not to do as I am free to do. I should be free not to do anything which is a liberty. If I am not free, it is not really a liberty. If I am not free, then in Paul’s words, I am “mastered by” it. Let’s assume that eating popcorn is a Christian liberty. If I cannot control my appetite for popcorn so as not to eat it, then I am in bondage to popcorn. I know of people who say something like this: “Oh, I can quit ______ing any time I want. I’ve done it a hundred times.” Whatever we can’t stop doing is probably something which masters us. Paul’s commitment is not to let his body master him, but to become the master of his body:

24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 And everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I buffet my body and make it my slave, lest possibly, after I have preached to others, I myself should be disqualified (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).

Our text has something very definitive to say on the subject of abortion. One of the classic arguments of the pro-abortion movement is that “the woman’s body is her own private possession,” so that no one (not even government) can tell her what to do with her body. Of course, the pro-abortion movement views the unborn child as merely a part of the woman’s body. Thus, the woman is free to do whatever she wishes with that unborn child, including killing it. Paul’s words deny the very premise on upon which the pro-abortion position is based:

19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).

The woman’s body is not her own, not to mention the child she carries within. She is not free to use her body as she chooses. The Christian should realize that the body is not to be employed for self-gratification (most often, immorality is the cause of an unwanted pregnancy), but for the glory of God. Paul’s words in our text will certainly be judged “foolish” by those who wish to live in sin.

Our text reminds me that it is only the Christian who values sex highly enough. The unbelieving world likes to look down on the Christian, as though we have no appreciation for sex, as though we think sex is evil, or at least unspiritual. The truth is that only a Christian can appreciate the true value of sex. In the Bible, the sexual union is a part of the marriage relationship, and this relationship portrays or symbolizes the union of Christ and His church. If sex is a kind of symbol, and what it symbolizes is the ultimate value—the ultimate good—then sex is a most benevolent gift and privilege. It is a great blessing.

The Christian sanctifies sex by restricting it to the sanctity of the marriage bed (Hebrews 13:4) and only to one’s spouse. Those who degrade sex make it common. The word “profane” and the word “common” are nearly synonymous in the Bible. Those who restrict sexual intimacy to their marriage partner value it most highly. Those who indiscriminately engage in sex make it common and profane.

Let me illustrate. My wife has a set of special dishes. These dishes are more expensive and more beautiful than our other dishes. The special dishes are saved for special occasions. They are not used as often as our “everyday” dishes. Nobody gets upset if an everyday dish is dropped and broken. But there is a little more consternation if a special dish is broken. That which is most precious is used with greater discrimination than that which is common or profane.

I have a fairly large collection of tools. Most of my tools I am willing to loan out to others. Some are restricted to a much smaller group. My micrometers, for example, are not generally available for borrowers. This is because they are delicate, precise, and expensive tools. I do not want these tools abused, and so I restrict their use. On the other hand, I’ll loan a crescent wrench to virtually anyone. What is most valued is most restricted; that which is least valued is commonly available. God values sex, and so should we, which is why it is restrictive for the Christian. A prostitute makes sex profane, common.

A book in our library is entitled, Need, the New Religion.63 In the self-indulgent society in which we live, need has become a compelling reason for our actions. If we think we “need” something, then it is only reasonable that this need be met. The vast majority of the advertising before us on television and in other forms of the media, seeks to convince us that we have a need, and that their product is the answer to this need. What every man and woman needs is the forgiveness of sins and the assurance of eternal life, through faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. There is no higher need. And the only fulfillment of this “need” is salvation. God calls on us to acknowledge that Jesus Christ is His only begotten Son. We must admit that we are sinners, in need of forgiveness and justification by God’s grace alone. All other needs pale into insignificance in comparison to this need. Let us look to Christ to satisfy this need, and every other need as well. Jesus Christ is all we really need. And having Him by faith, we shall turn away from sexual immorality.

Is it possible that you have already fallen, that you are already guilty of sexual immorality? There is forgiveness through the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross of Calvary. The good news is that those who have made themselves sexually “unclean” can be cleansed completely. This can be seen in the forgiveness granted the woman at the well in John 4, or in the forgiveness of the woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8). It can also be seen in the saints at Corinth:

9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you; but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God (1 Corinthians 6:9-11).

Therefore if any man is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).

Perhaps Paul’s words can best be summed up by Paul, as he writes to the Philippians:

17 Brethren, join in following my example, and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us. 18 For many walk, of whom I often told you, and now tell you even weeping, that they are enemies of the cross of Christ, 19 whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things. 20 For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; 21 who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to subject all things to Himself (Philippians 3:19-21).


58 William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 3.

59 D. H. Madvig, “Corinth,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed., Geoffrey W. Bromiley, General Editor (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), vol I, p. 773.

60 See also Romans 6:15-23, esp. v. 16; 2 Peter 2:19; John 8:34.

61 Having made this distinction, one must also recognize that “eating,” “drinking,” and “being merry (e.g. immorality),” are often inter-related, as Paul will point out elsewhere, such as in 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 and Titus 1:10-16. Notice also that the reverse is true. Asceticism denies foods and sex (1 Timothy 4:1-5). Peter, in his second epistle, also indicates that fleshly indulgence encompasses foods and immorality (see 2 Peter chapter 2).

62 See 1 Corinthians 15:12, where the denial of the resurrection by some Corinthians is clearly indicated by Paul.

63 Tony Walter, Need, The New Religion, (Downers Grove, Illinois: Intervarsity Press, 1985).

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