Christian Sexuality (1 Cor 6:12-7)

by on Jun.11, 2017, under Sermon

If you’ve missed the first 3 messages in this series on 1 Corinthians, let me catch you up. The Apostle Paul received some disturbing reports from Corinth about things going on there. The church was shattered into competing groups, claiming allegiance to different Christian leaders. Paul’s response was that such a situation ought not to occur, since the church is united as the body of Christ, and its leaders are servants in the name of Christ. The unity of the church is vital to its existence.

But it is not a unity at all costs. In chapter 5, Paul addressed a particularly heinous case of sexual sin within the congregation. The Corinthian church were not only failing to rebuke the transgressor, they were proud at such an exercise of ‘freedom’ (5:2). Paul instructed them to deal firmly with this man, and not to associate with sexually immoral people who claim to be followers of Christ. They must exercise discernment. All are welcome to join the body of Christ, to be united to him, but it must be a genuine unity based on repentance, faith, and obedience.

You see, who you are united to matters. That is a theme that will come up repeatedly in today’s passage as well, as the Apostle teases out how being united to Christ’s spiritual body, the church, impacts what believers do with their physical bodies. Let’s dive in.

“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. (1 Cor 6:12-17)

It seems that there were two schools of thought concerning the physical body in Corinth. The first were arguing that the body is unimportant, that it is only the spiritual things that matter. These were probably the same people who were proud of the ‘freedom’ being exercised by the incestuous man of chapter 5. Their catch cry was, ‘Everything is permissible for me.’ They also argued, ‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food,’ by which they meant that just as the body craves food, so it craves sex, and both appetites ought to be fed.

But in Paul’s eyes, your body is of eternal significance. God raised Jesus bodily from the grave, and he will do the same for you and me, for an eternal bodily existence. He will return to this topic in chapter 15, but for now he wants the Corinthians to know that their bodies are united to Christ, and so what they do with their bodies is important, because who you are united to matters.

He continues:

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 Cor 6:18–20)

We often hear Paul misquoted at this point. Non-Christians will speak of their body as a ‘temple’, by which they mean they ought to live healthily, eat well, exercise and so on. All these things are good, but they miss the point Paul is driving at. He does not simply say the body is a temple, but that it is ‘a temple of the Holy Spirit’. The temple was famously the place where God dwelt with his people, Israel, and where they met with him. It was also erected to honour Yahweh, so that all the nations would know that he is LORD.

Friends, what we do with our bodies matters. If we are united to Christ, the Holy Spirit lives in us and our bodies ought to be places fit for us to meet with him there. This extends to our sexuality, both what we do with our bodies and the way we let our physical desires control our thought lives. It encompasses what we watch, how we interact with members of the opposite sex, whether we are married or not.

If you are not consciously comfortable with the Holy Spirit’s presence in the midst of what you are thinking, doing, or saying, particularly when it comes to your sexuality, then you are probably in a place of immorality. And the Apostle’s command is simple: Flee! Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

Brothers and sisters in Christ, what we do with our bodies matters. And it matters not just to us, but to the entire church.

There is an ancient Jewish story:

A group of people were travelling in a boat. One of them took a drill and began to drill a hole beneath himself. His companions said to him: “Why are you doing this?” Replied the man: “What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own place?” Said they to him: “But you will flood the boat for us all!” (Quoted in Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 4:6).

It has become clear over the last decade and more that a festering mass of sexual immorality within the church has resulted in destroyed lives and destroyed Christian witness. Perhaps you are thinking that your particular sin – flirting with a coworker, sexual fantasies, cohabitation, pornography, or engaging a prostitute – perhaps you think those things are not really hurting anyone. They may be private. But the truth is that, if you are a Christian, you are united with Christ; and if that is the case you cannot also be united with these things without damaging the entire body of Christ. Your sin affects me and mine affects you.

Perhaps the best way we have to understand this is through the God-given analogy of marriage. In Ephesian 5, Paul says that the relationship between Christ and church is like that between husband and wife. The two are united as one. But what happens when either the husband or the wife unites with someone else? Relationships and trust are broken. Who you are united to matters.

So if sexuality can have such a huge impact on our relationship with Christ and his church, perhaps it is better to avoid sexual relationships altogether? Certainly some in Corinth seem to have thought so. Against those who were saying ‘everything is permissible,’ these people were claiming that it was good not to marry, and so to avoid even the chance of sexual immorality. So they wrote to Paul, asking him his opinion. Here is Paul’s response:

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Cor 7:1-7)

Paul does not say that sex and sexuality is bad; rather he says that its proper place is in the context of marriage, where it is a God-given means of unity, rather than disunity. Being united in marriage Paul says that the husband and wife ‘belong’ to each other. What does this mean?
Husband and wife are not only permitted but encouraged to enjoy one another. There may be seasons within a marriage where husband and wife agree to abstain from sexual interaction, especially in order to devote themselves to prayer. In other words, they may choose to forgo the unity of the flesh granted to husband and wife in order to pursue the unity of the Spirit. But Paul is clear that this is only for a time, lest continued abstinence lead to temptation and, ultimately, the kind of sexual immorality that he has already warned them to flee from.

‘Belonging’ to one another also means that husbands and wives have a special responsibility to care for and protect each other. I listen to what my wife says about the things I say and do, the people I spend time with, and even the way I look, because I belong to her. And I know that if she does ask me to change something, it is because she is caring for me.

Earlier, Paul wrote, ‘You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body’ (6:19-20). In the same way, husband, wife, you are not your own, you belong to each other; therefore honour one another with your bodies.

Marriage is the one kind of sexual unity that can occur without destroying our union with Christ. Who you are united to matters, and in marriage we see illustrated the unity between Christ and his church.

Paul goes on:

Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Cor 7:8–16)

Here Paul addresses the issues of marriage, remarriage, and divorce. To those who are not married, he says that remaining unmarried is the best option, for reasons that he will outline in the second half of this chapter. But getting married is far preferable to sexual immorality, which shatters union with Christ. And once united in marriage, this union is not lightly severed. Even for those who are married to non-Christians, the best course is to remain married; but Paul is clear that once again it is the union with Christ that must remain pre-eminent. Far better to endure separation and divorce from an unbelieving spouse than to follow them in their unbelief and so be separated from Christ.

It is clear that the Apostle’s primary concern is that the Corinthians remain united to Christ.

Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you — although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to. (1 Cor 7:17–24)

The New King James Version highlights the word repetition in verse 20: ‘Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.’ Brothers and sisters in Christ, your calling is to be united to Christ. As you face decisions about your circumstances, make sure that you are remaining in that calling. If you are considering marriage make sure your partner is not going to undermine your calling. Don’t buy a new house or take a new job if they are going to move you away from your calling. You are responsible to God to remain in the calling to which God has called you.

Why is Paul so cautious about marriage? Why does he speak of it as second-best? He outlines his reasons in the final part of this chapter:

Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs — how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world — how he can please his wife — and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world — how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin — this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better.

A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is — and I think that I too have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor 7:25–40)

Marriage is a tremendous, honourable, God-given blessing. But it is not without its costs. As a husband and father, I must love, lead, protect, provide and pray for my family. This is the most important ministry I exercise, and it is my joy and privilege to do so. But it also means that there are other ministry opportunities that are impossible, or a least significantly more difficult, for me. Would Paul have been able to engage in his missionary work if he had had to support a wife a family at the same time?

So, if you are considering marriage, make sure you count the cost before taking the plunge. And if you are single, whether it is by your own choice or not, take advantage of the freedom that you have to serve the Lord.

In summary, Paul wants us to know that Christian unity is essential, but who you are united to matters. And because you are united with Christ, what you do with your body is important, so honour God with your body and flee from sexual immorality. Marriage is the only context in which sexual union does not jeopardise union with Christ. It is a wonderful and honourable calling, but it is not the most important calling. So in whatever situation God has called you to, honour him there.

To close, then, I want to address two groups of people. The first group are those who have never united themselves to Christ. Jesus is like a suitor who has proposed, not down on one knee with a ring in his hand, but arms spread wide with nails through his hands. He died so that you might live. Who you are united to matters, and he invites you into eternal union with himself. You can accept him today by ‘forsaking all others’ and trusting him in repentance and faith. If you would like to know more, grab me, or an elder, or a Christian friend after the service – we would love to talk more with you about this.

The second group I want to talk to is those currently stuck in sexual sin. Whatever form this takes – whether it is sex outside of marriage, pornography, illicit sexual fantasies, or anything else – there are few things you need to know. Firstly, there is no sin so great it cannot be cleansed and forgiven by the blood of Jesus, if only you will confess your sins and repent. I know how daunting it can seem, how trapped you can feel, but Christ is more than able to rescue you. The Apostle John wrote, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). Secondly, be warned that, ‘if you fail to [repent], you will be sinning against the LORD; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out’ (Num 32:23). You may feel that you have it ‘under control’, that it is not impacting anyone else, but like the man drilling the hole under his seat in the boat we are all affected, and Christ will not allow you to continue in your sin indefinitely. Finally, know that you are not alone. We are the body of Christ, and we are here to help each other, to bear each other’s burdens. And you will need help. Because, as Paul points out, ‘All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body’ (6:18). So if the Holy Spirit is convicting you of any of these things this morning, I urge you to act today, choose to glorify God with your body, and ask a Christian you trust to keep you accountable to that.

Let’s pray:

Father in heaven, we praise you for your tremendous grace in calling us to be united to your Son. We thank you for his sacrifice to make that possible, and for the work of your Holy Spirit dwelling within us. Give us the further grace to live in a manner consistent with that calling.

Lord, give us a right view of our bodies. Convict us of those areas of our lives where what we are doing with our bodies is not honouring to you, and so jeopardising our union with Christ. I particularly pray for those feeling trapped in habitual sexual sin. Please grant them deliverance so that they, too, can glorify you with their bodies.

For those currently wrestling with questions of marriage, remarriage, and divorce, I pray that you would grant wisdom and discernment. Help us all to remember the primacy of our calling as Christians, and to consider our marital status in that light. For those of us who are married, I pray that we would honour you in and through our marriages.

Father, we are the body of Christ; help us to uphold and not destroy the unity that this brings.



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