Read the passage here.
Today, we pick up our study of 1 Corinthians with chapter 6:12-20. If you’ve been following along, it may seem fairly obvious that our passage today continues a similar theme that we’ve been looking at for the past couple of weeks, specifically beginning at chapter 5. But in case it’s not that obvious, I thought it would be worthwhile to do a quick review, which I hope will help us situate our passage today.
Firstly, by way of setting the state, chapter 4 wraps up the first part of the letter wherein one of Paul’s major concerns is establishing his apostolic authority, specifically as messenger of the true gospel of Jesus Christ. At the end of this section (i.e. chapter 4), Paul essentially reminds the Corinthians that they need to pay attention to his teaching because they have become so arrogant, that they do not pay attention to the word of God.
This leads us to our series of passages beginning at chapter 5. In chapter 5, Paul picks up this notion of the Corinthians’ arrogance, noting that they have become so arrogant, that they don’t even recognize (or do anything about) sinfulness in their community. Or to put it another way, in their arrogance, they don’t recognize how their view of sin and holiness has been affected by the world around them (and in them). And instead of listening to Paul, and accepting his apostolic authority, the Corinthians, in their pride, continue in their sin.
Last week, we looked at 6:1-11, in which Paul accuses the Corinthians of choosing the ways of the world instead of seeking the way of the kingdom in settling disputes between one another. Of course, there is also something in this about the nature of kingdom community. But Paul’s essential criticism is that the kind of justice the Corinthians are seeking says something about the hope they actually cling to.
And today’s passage, I would argue, wraps up this series of three examples. That is, though the Corinthians are proud and arrogant (says Paul), these three situations demonstrate that they have nothing to be proud of. Or, put another way, these three situations demonstrate why they need correction, why they need Paul’s guidance and teaching, and why they need to examine themselves, repent, and seek the true gospel of Christ.
So let’s take a look at our verses for today.
12 “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. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 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! 16 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.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.1 Corinthians 6: 12-20
Now before we dig a little deeper into what Paul is saying, we should make note that, like the previous two passages we looked at, Paul is here addressing a particular issue of sin. It is again an issue of sexual immorality, though different than what we looked at in chapter 5. Here, it seems evident that some members of the congregation are frequenting prostitutes. And again, Paul is saying in no uncertain terms that this is sin. And we may think that this does not need to be said, since it is so clear. But it does need to be said precisely because the Corinthians don’t recognize the sinfulness. Or, perhaps we could say that the Corinthians simply don’t see it as a big deal. So Paul wants to counter this error. However, like the other instances Paul has been talking about, he again goes deeper than this to examine the thought process of the Corinthians, correcting them in an effort to lead them into true life.
So we can consider Paul’s argument in three parts. Paul begins in verse 12, saying:
12 “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.1 Corinthians 6: 12
Here, Paul is quoting one of the Corinthians’ favourite sayings – presumably, sayings that they use to justify their behaviour. Now it’s worth noting that only the NIV includes the phrase, “you say…” Which is simply to point out that it’s not definitive where the saying originated. That is, is “I have the right to do anything,” something that is being said among the Corinthians, is it something that is pervasive in the greater culture, or is it even something that Paul has said (and the Corinthians have taken out of context)?
And it’s worth noting that, even if Paul wasn’t the source of this saying, he has said similar (or related) things in the NT documents. In Galatians 5:1, for example, Paul tells us that, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free…” And by that (the Galatians passage), Paul is talking about not being bound by the Law.
However, Paul’s point here in 1 Corinthians is clear. That is, just because we have freedom in Christ, that doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want. More important than what we can do is what we should do.
Now what Paul means by his second retort, “I will not be mastered by anything,” isn’t entirely clear. But I suspect it has something to do with sinful choices, wrong choices, leading us down a path we were not meant to go. But once we start down that road, it’s hard to get off it. Our earlier wrong choices, become masters of our destiny. Or something like that.
Paul then moves onto another of the Corinthians’ sayings. From v. 13, we read:
13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 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! 16 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.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.1 Corinthians 6: 13-17
One of the things that we know about the Corinthians is that they seem to have developed a belief about spirituality that the physical body doesn’t matter, and that only the spirit does. If you recall our previous discussions about Gnosticism, then this will sound awfully familiar. Indeed, there are not a few contemporary spiritualities that have a similar perspective – that only the spiritual, or esoteric, or ecstatic, or mystical matter. Or to look at it from the other end, the mundane things of life and the world don’t matter.
So the saying, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both,” seems to have the sense of, the body is used only for these basic functions, but it doesn’t matter because in the end, the physical body will be done away with. That is, anything to do with the body doesn’t matter. Therefore, as in this instance, engaging in relations with a prostitute (or indeed, other types of immorality) doesn’t matter, because it’s only done with the body.
And Paul’s response to this is simply that the Corinthians are wrong. And more to the point, the Corinthians are wrong because their theology is faulty. In particular, Paul says,
14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.1 Corinthians 6:14
And this is in direct response to the Corinthians’ belief that everything physical will be destroyed (and that, therefore, only the spirit matters). More than that, however, the resurrection (first of Jesus, and then of all believers) points to the truth that the body has an eschatological purpose. Put it another way, in the end, we will not be disembodied spirits but embodied persons. Put yet another way, bodies matter.
Now there’s a lot to say here about what it means to be human, but I want to carry on with Paul’s argument (i.e. vv. 15-17). And in essence, Paul says, bodies matter. And they matter inherently. But as believers, as Christians, they also matter because we are not our own. We are not our own – and therefore our bodies are not our own – because through faith we are united with Christ.
Now in the final verses of this passage, Paul shifts from responding to what the Corinthians are saying or thinking and makes explicit his own position, the principle that believers should “Flee from sexual immorality.” He says,
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.1 Corinthians 6: 18-20
Now by identifying sexual immorality as a sin against one’s own body, Paul connects his maxim with the previous principle – that is, what one does to the body matters. And he has already said that the body is for the Lord, that bodies are members of Christ himself. Here, he goes further and says that their bodies (our bodies) are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Now I don’t want to get into the possibilities of what exactly Paul means here. It’s worth remembering that earlier in this same letter (ch. 3), Paul has said that the church together (as a whole) is the temple of the Holy Spirit (indeed, this is a frequent biblical motif). Here, Paul is saying that each individual person’s body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.
To a certain extent, this is purely metaphorical. Paul is not saying that each physical body is a container for the Holy Spirit, or something like that. Rather, it seems that he is saying something about the wholeness of the human person, and that the Holy Spirit is with (and in) each person.
But likely, Paul is using this type of language precisely in contrast to the Corinthians’ understanding (and theology) of what it means to be spiritual. This is a large concern for the Corinthians (and one of the things for which they judged Paul lacking). The Corinthians have particular ideas about what “being spiritual” looks like, and Paul is saying spirituality is here, in the flesh, in you and me (of course, inasmuch as we heed the Holy Spirit).
Because the Holy Spirit has been given to you, continues Paul, which means that He has been “given” to all of you, including your physical bodies, live in such a way that honours God, the Holy Spirit in you.
Now it’s this final phrase upon which I want to reflect as we close for today. Paul says, “…you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.”
And I want to reflect upon it because it is different from how we often think and talk about sin and holiness. Or at least it’s different from how Christians stereotypically, how Christians as caricatures, talk about sin and holiness.
And that is (perhaps in only my opinion and experience) that sin and holiness is all about consequences and reward. We want to avoid sin because we want to avoid consequences. And we want to pursue holiness so that we can reap the rewards. Or so people think we say.
But what Paul is talking about is a different perspective. What Paul is talking about is avoiding sin, pursuing holiness because we are redeemed. What Paul is talking about is living into that redemption; taking hold of the life for which Christ died for us. What Paul is talking about is living the life that we were meant for.
And in order to do that, in the context of what we’re talking about today, we need to honour God with all of ourselves. And this isn’t a philosophical endeavour; it’s not a hypothetical question. It’s about how we actually live, how we actually inhabit this in-between. We need to honour God in this place, in this time, in whatever situation that we find ourselves.
Now just as a final, final thought, we opened our message today talking about how today’s passage is the final of three examples that Paul uses to demonstrate that the Corinthians are not nearly as wise, spiritual, or advanced as they think – that is, that they need to continue to listen to the authority of Paul.
For us, that means being obedient to the authority of scripture. It means reading it frequently, studying it deeply, and allowing the word of God to work its way into our lives.
And it also means continuing to examine ourselves, in the light of scripture, and by the guidance of the Holy Spirit. May we never become so proud and arrogant as the Corinthians that we think that we have already arrived. In humility and expectation, may we continue to seek the fullness of life that we can only find in Him.