By Chris Wright

When my wife Liz and I were teenagers, growing up in Belfast, Northern Ireland in a Presbyterian church, the closing verses of today’s text were often used in the teaching we were given about how Christians ought to live.  

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you … You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:19-20; RSV). 

And so, we were told, don’t do things that harm your own body –  don’t smoke, or get drunk, or use drugs, or guzzle far too much food, don’t be a lazy slob…. No, your body belongs to Christ and the Holy Spirit, so don’t abuse it in harmful ways – and above all, of course, we were taught, don’t use your body to have sex with your boyfriend or girlfriend, until you give your body wholly to one person alone in the bond of marriage.  

It was good teaching, wholesome biblical for our own good, and by God’s grace it held us steady and saw us through six years of friendship at school and university in the “liberated” 1960s, and a year of engagement before we got married. It’s what the Bible taught us way back then, and it’s what the Bible still teaches us all today, if we are prepared to listen. 

As we’ve seen over these past two Sundays, Paul is dealing with the problem of sexual immorality that was going on in the church in Corinth.  Meaning, predominantly, male heterosexual behavior – men having sex with women, either outside marriage, or before marriage. Here at the end of chapter 6, Paul reaches the climax of his teaching on this matter, and he focuses on how Christians ought to think about our bodies;  rightly and wrongly. Let’s look at both, starting first of all with,  

  1. Paul’s Body Language– negative. And then we’ll come to his more positive points later.  

So,  what was going on in Corinth?  

  1. a) sexual immorality:  three reasons why it was happening among Christians in Corinth.  

 First of all, it seems that they had got hold of  

  1. i) A distorted view of Christian freedom (v. 12). 

Look at verse 12. Paul is quoting what some of them were saying, and had written to him in some earlier letter.  “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say – but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’– but I will not be mastered by anything.”

But where did they get that idea from?   Well, possibly from Paul himself! You see, Paul preached a lot about Christian freedom. Through faith in Christ, we are free! Free from the tyranny of sin and death; free from slavery to the law, or the flesh. Probably he had taught the Corinthians what he had earlier written to the Christians in Galatia: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery (Gal. 5:1).

But then the believers in Corinth had distorted that to mean they could do whatever they liked. They forgot what Paul went on to say in the same place, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh” (Gal. 5:13).  

So yes, we are given freedom in Christ, but that is not a license to just do as we please. Some things are not beneficial (to say the least), and some things we might start out choosing freely, can quickly become dominating habits and addictions.  

Then Paul goes on to another reason for the sexual immorality in Corinth. They not only had a distorted view of what Christian freedom means, they also had, secondly, 

ii) A distorted view of the body (v. 13). 

 Once again, Paul quotes what the people in Corinth were saying – a kind of proverb: Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food—and God will destroy both one and the other(v. 13).  

What they meant was: sex is just a bodily appetite like food. Your body needs food, that’s why you get hungry. And your body needs sex, that’s why you have strong desires. But it doesn’t matter; food is perishable, the body is perishable, were all going to die – so what you do with your body doesn’t matter anyway. You can have sex just as casually as you can enjoy a good meal. It’s no big deal. It’s not really a moral issue at all, because sex is nothing more than a bodily function, a physical appetite. Just do it:  eat when you feel hungry, have sex when you feel sexy. It’s all the same.  

Except it’s not. For our bodies are far, far more than just disposable food bags. And sexual intimacy between your body and the body of another person is far far more than just filling your belly with a burger and fries.  

So, then, a distorted view of Christian freedom, a distorted view of the body; and then, here’s a third reason why sexual immorality was happening in Corinth. It seems that some of them had,  

 iii) A distorted view of marriage (7:1-5).  

Once again,  Paul quotes what they were saying, at the beginning of chapter 7It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (7:1).  

Do notice the quotation marks, since almost certainly that that’s what some of them were saying, not what Paul teaches. There were some super-spiritual Christians who thought all sex was sinful and so Christians shouldn’t get married at all, and if a married couple became Christians, they should abstain from sex.  

But that just meant that some Christian men, if they heard this kind of teaching and thought they couldn’t have sex with their wives, or their Christian wives wouldn’t let them touch them any more, felt they needed to go and get their sex somewhere else – with prostitutes or slave women (as was culturally common), possibly even with the acceptance of their wives!   

Paul warned Timothy about that kind of distorted super-spiritual teaching,  

Such teachings come through hypocritical liars . They forbid people to marry and order them to abstain from certain foods, which God created to be received with thanksgiving . For everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving,  (1 Tim. 4:2-5).   

Paul would have included marriage, and sex within marriage, among those “good things” created by God.   

And in these first verses of chapter 7, Paul paints a beautiful picture of the symphony of marriage (“symphony is Paul’s own word in Greek), in which husband and wife both have equal authority over each other’s bodies (it’s the only place Paul actually uses the word for authority in relation to marriage, and it is equal and reciprocal). And says they should normally give themselves wholly to one another in sexual love and intimacy.  That’s what God intended marriage for – his beautiful gift – and if people were distorting and despising marriage itself, then it’s no wonder that there was sexual immorality outside marriage going on.  

So  – a distorted view of Christian freedom, a distorted view of the body, and a distorted view of marriage.  Can you see how subtle and powerful the temptation to sexual immorality was in Corinth – and for reasons that are still around us today in our culture – and even among Christians.  

Your old-fashioned rules about sex are all repressive and legalistic. You’re insulting and infringing my personal freedom.”  

It’s my body! And what I do with my own body is up to me, and doesn’t affect my spiritual life.”  

“Marriageis far too demanding, too restricting; I need to keep my options open.”   

“Anyway we really really  love each other, and surely that makes it alright.”   

But it’s not alright. Not according to Paul.  Not according to God’s word. 

So we need to move on from why sexual immorality was happening in Corinth,  to see three reasons Paul gives us why it should not happen at all among Christians.  

 So, we’ve seen three reasons why sexual immorality was happening in Corinth. Now let’s look at 

  1. b) sexual immorality:  three reasons why it should not happen at all among Christians 

.. reasons that are as valid today as they were in 1st Century Corinth, which, remember, was culturally just as loose and immoral as 21st century London. Here’s the first,  

For a Christian, sexual immorality 

  1. i) It violates your union with Christ (vs. 15-17). 

and this is the most important, in view of the space Paul gives it.  

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit (6:15-17) 

 Take a look at the beginning and ending of the words on the screen – verses 15-17. 

Paul uses a very powerful metaphor for how we are united to Christ.  Our bodies are parts in his body. And we are united with him in one spirit, just like a husband and wife are bonded together in one flesh.  We are bonded, welded, glued…  into Christ in our whole persons – body and spirit. So if you take your body and give it in sex to somebody you’re not married to, you’re taking Christ with you. Think what Christ is having to endure, as part of his body, through your body, is acting in sinful disobedience to his word. The grief, the pain, the wrench, the violating of the relationship that Christ died to achieve, to bring you into union with himself.  Think about that.  

 Secondly,  

  1. ii) It violates your own body (v. 18). 

It may be that the first part of verse 18 is another quote from what they were saying,  

All [other] sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body” (v. 18).  

Some might have been saying that sex was just a bodily thing, and sin was a spiritual thing, so what you do with your body doesn’t really count as sin at all, once you’d got your soul saved. But Paul says –  No, your body is really you, and if you use it in a wrong and sinful way, you are doing harm to your own self. Sexual immorality is a form of self-harm – which is also quite counter-cultural, since the assumption these days is that to not have sex is repressive and harmful.  And yet there is plenty of research that shows the long-term damaging personal and psychological effects of casual sex, sex outside the loving commitment and protective boundaries of marriage.  

And then also, sexual immorality not only violates your union with Christ, and violates your own body, thirdly, 

iii) It violates the Holy Spirit within you (v. 19).  

Paul adds another powerful image in verse 19. 

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? ”(v. 19). 

 When we become Christians, the Holy Spirit takes up residence within us – making our bodies into his temple, his holy place, his sacred space – the place that should belong exclusively to him alone, to be used for his service and glory. Think about that when you use your body for anything that is not holy as He is.  

So then, the Bible’s teaching is very clear on this. If you get involved in a sexual relationship, having sex in a way that is not, as God intended, in marriage, then you are hurting the Lord Jesus Christ, you’re hurting yourself as well as somebody else, and you’re hurting the Holy Spirit.  This is serious. This is God’s word. 

But what about pornography?  Somebody might ask. Surely there’s no harm in that. It’s only me and myself. I’m not going to a prostitute or just sleeping around. So, it isn’t “real”. I think Paul would say, as he does in verse 9, “Don’t be deceived.” God sees and knows what goes on in our imagination as much as our physical acts. And our imaginations have powerful control of our lives, in ways that can be addictive and enslaving – as pornography undoubtedly is. And didn’t Jesus explicitly say that lust in the eyes is already the sin of adultery in the heart?  – a standard by which every one of us, us men at least, including myself, know that we are sinners in constant need of forgiveness and cleansing.   

And what do you mean, “It isn’t real”?  It may just be images on a screen to you, but those women are real, and those men who make billions from the pornography industry are real. Perhaps you agree that “Black Lives Matter”, that black bodies matter? And are you enraged at slavery and sex-trafficking? Well then think about the fact that much pornography is explicitly racist, abusive, and enslaving, and is one of the biggest exploiters of sex-trafficked women and children. Is that not “real” enough for any Christian conscience to say, “NO – not for my eyes, not for eyes that belong to Christ.”  

Well, this has been a hard word to bring, and to preach first of all to myself as a sinner in need of grace. But sisters and brothers, it is the word of the Lord.  And the question is, who are you going to trust? Who are you going to listen to? The foolish wisdom of the culture around us that leaves its trail of broken lives and fractured relationships and damaged bodies?  Or the wisdom of the Lord and the clear teaching of scripture? That’s the choice you have to make when God speaks through his word.  

We need to pause for prayer before we turn, very briefly, to a more positive word.   PRAYER 

Let’s turn now to   

  1. Paul’s body language – positive. 

 I am very struck by what Paul says about the human body. He uses the word body eight times in nine verses, in a richly challenging and theological way. Now of course, his main point is “flee sexual immorality” (v. 18). But in saying thatPaul gives us some quite astonishing positive truths, which were counter-cultural then and still are today.   

Here are four remarkable statements that should help us avoid two extremes:  on the one hand, the cultural idolatry of the body that is all around us, – even ironically in the “body positivity” movement;   and on the other hand a false Christian denial or contempt for the body as of no importance at all – which is being reinforced these days by the kind of disembodied, online, virtual life we’ve got used to.  

  1. a) Our bodies are for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (vs. 13-14).  

Paul quotes the saying that food is meant for the stomach and the stomach is meant for food and both are destined to perish anyway, but then he mimics it and trumps it with a wonderful surpassing statement: the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body,and both are destined for resurrection! God has already raised Jesus from death to resurrection life, and, as Paul says elsewhere, “God will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body” (Phil. 3:21).  

So my body is for him and he is for me, me in my body, in all my bodily life on this earth, and then forever in my resurrection body in the new creation! Isn’t that wonderful?! 

  1. b) Our bodies are “members of Christ” (v. 15). 

It’s a bold metaphor. –“Members” means like limbs and organs. We are Christ’s “body parts. ” Our bodily life on earth is making real the presence of Christ. Wherever we go, whatever we do in our bodies we are, in some way, doing it all with Christ and to Christ. That should make us think very carefully about our physical lives, actions, behavior. Our bodily life is in some mysterious way participating in Christ himself. My body is part of Christ on earth. Again, an amazing thought! 

  1. c) Our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (v.19). 

Paul has said this about the whole church (3:16). Now he says it about the individual believer. If you walked into a pagan temple in Corinth, the whole interior was dominated by the statue of the god or goddess whose temple it was. That image was an awesome presence that shaped the whole feel and power of the place. In the same way, says Paul, our bodily life is to be dominated and characterized and shaped by the indwelling Holy Spirit. It’s not just, as he said earlier, that we have the mind of Christ, but that our whole bodies are inhabited by the Holy Spirit.   

  1. d) Our bodies aren’t really “our own”(vs 19-20). They belong to the Lord.

Back in verse 18 Paul says that you can sin against “your own body” (v. 18), but then Paul subverts that by insisting, “But actually, your body is not “your own”,  

You are not your own; you were bought at a price” (vs. 19-20).   

We don’t belong to ourselves, but to the Lord and Master who paid the price of the cross for us, so even our bodies belong to him.   When a slave was bought in the market at Corinth, there was a transference of ownership to the one who paid the price for him. That slave no longer belonged to his old master, nor did he just belong to himself. No, he now belonged to a new master who had paid the price –  and so do we, bought with the precious blood of Christ.  

No wonder Paul comes to his climax, 

 “Therefore glorify God in your body! (v. 20 NRSV) 

Where else should we do it!  

And the wonderful thing about this is that it is for every .. body!  Not just for fit and strong bodiesor tall and handsome bodiesor slim and beautiful bodies. Bodies come in all shapes and sizes, and God knows all about frail and wasted bodies, about ageing, when some bits stop working. God knows about crippling injuries and disabilities, about bodily ailments and pain.  

But in whatever condition, our bodies can bring glory to the God who gave them, the God who made us in his own image. 

So, whatever body God has given youglorify God in it today.  

The Rev. Dr. Chris Wright is the international ministries director of the Langham Partnership.