Corinth was a sick city, corrupt even by Roman standards, so sex–saturated that Aristaphanes the Greek poet made up a verb to describe it, “to corinthianize,” was to engage in lewd, licentious conduct.
It’s against that setting that Paul writes:
“Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”—but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 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 he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:12-20).
Paul starts where the Corinthians were by quoting two of their stock clichés. First, they were saying, “Everything is permissible for me (1 Corinthians 6:12),” by which they meant that sex is good and anything goes.
Not exactly, Paul responds. Sex is good! God created sex and sexuality, not Madonna, Lady Gaga or Scarlett Johansson. (Would that we could get that one back from the world!) But it doesn’t follow that all sex is good. Sex is like fire: it must be contained or it becomes a terribly destructive force.) Our sexuality must be contained or it will master and eventually destroy us. As for me, Paul says, “I will not be overpowered by anything.”
The Corinthians had another motto: “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food (6:13),” by which they meant that nature demands satisfaction. The implied comparison is that a man’s sexual appetite is like any hunger. Feel a Mac–attack? Binge. Feel a sexual urge? Merge.
Once again Paul agrees with the basic premise: food is made for the stomach and the stomach is made for food, but it’s faulty reasoning to argue that the body is made for fornication. That’s what a logic professor would call a “categorical error”—comparing apples and oranges. The stomach is one thing; bodies are another. God designed the stomach for food and satisfaction. A man can satisfy that hunger with impunity. But our bodies are more than their hungers, an idea that Paul elaborates by insisting that our bodies have a unique purpose which we may forfeit through sexual immorality.
The Lord is for the body
First of all, Paul writes, the Lord is for our bodies. That would have been a staggering thought in Paul’s day. Back then, most people believed that only the mind mattered, or more precisely, the things on which you put your mind. The body was base and either you got it in line (Stoicism) or you gave up and went for all the gusto (Epicureanism). Monk or a drunk; it was all the same: the body was bad. Paul disagreed: bodies are good. God is for our bodies.
That thought appeals to me as I get older and fewer of my body parts work and those that do work don’t work very well. I once thought I’d never grow old. Perpetual youth, like hope, sprang eternal in my breast. I jogged, lifted weights, tried to eat right and stayed more or less in shape, but time caught up with me. Saint Francis was right: “Brother Ass” is exactly the right name for my body—often stubborn and always absurd. Yet, Paul insists, no matter what shape it’s in, God loves my old body! That’s something to write home about!
The body is for the Lord
Paul then inverts the argument and insists that the body is for the Lord. God not only loves our bodies, but he has a purpose for them: the members of our bodies are the actual members of Christ! (6:15)—the means by which we make visible our invisible Lord! We are “little Christs,” made to manifest to the world around us the grace and beauty of our Lord’s character.
Furthermore, our bodies are designed to manifest God forever: “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (6:14). When our bodies are redeemed and perfected, they’ll display his character to all the universe and throughout all eternity. God has determined to invest our bodies with endless significance.
That’s why Paul calls on the Corinthians to “flee from sexual immorality—All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (vs. 18).
Interpreters struggle with this verse because it clearly states that sexual indulgence is unique in its effect upon us. Yet other sins do affect our bodies. Drunkenness, drug abuse and even gluttony can turn it into an ugly caricature of what God intended it to be. So what does Paul mean when he states flatly that other sins are “outside the body,” but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body?
The answer is given in verse 19: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you… (1 Corinthians 6:19). Human beings are different from other created beings in that our bodies are designed to be containers for God. Our members are his members by which he manifests himself in the world. That is our greatness.
So what should we do? Don’t take chances! If you happen to be in a woman’s apartment and you find yourself becoming aroused, take a hike. If you’re in your automobile and desire awakens start the engine and drive away. If you’re reading a magazine and come across something sexually stimulating toss it away. If you’re watching a movie and it begins to arouse you, get up and walk out. If you’re watching television and it turns toward the prurient, change the channel. If you’re in a hotel room and you’re drawn to the porno flicks ask the desk to block them or as a godly friend of mine did, leave your room and sleep in your truck. It’s better to lose a night’s sleep than lose something far more valuable.
Sex is nothing to play with. It is a subtle, powerful force, and the havoc it wreaks is ample reason to fear it and run from it —like Joseph who gave the empty sleeve to Pharaoh’s attractive, seductive wife.
A piece of work
Paul closes with this remarkable conclusion: “you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).”
Our bodies don’t belong to us; they belong to God. They are his by right of creation and the cross. The only reasonable response we can make is to give them to him so he can do make something worthwhile out of them.
God’s work is always good. He makes us what we’re intended to be. He imparts beauty of character and strength of will. There is about that person a subtle fragrance of grace and truth, a gentle wisdom that is pure and peaceable, reasonable, full of mercy and goodness. He has integrity: what you see is what you get. There is no hypocrisy. Wherever that man goes others sense that they have been in the presence of a rugged righteousness, hard to put into words, but one that leaves them longing for something more. That is our greatness.
Paul writes, “Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” for all tiume. (Romans 6:12,13). Why sell out for anything less when vast and eternal glory awaits us.