“When in Corinth, Don’t Do as the Corinthians Do” (A Bible Study of 1 Corinthians 6:12-20)

      I’d like to start off with a quick story. Somewhere out west, a woman was driving her new Buick into town. It was a clear day, and there weren’t that many people on the road. She was just sort of coasting. And it was your basic highway, two lanes in each direction. So at some point, she spots a cardboard box that had blown itself onto the road. And as she approached it, she was arguing with herself, ‘Should I go around it? Should I just drive over it?’, but at the last second she reasoned with herself and said, ‘You know, if I hit it, and it gets stuck under the car, I might cause some damage.’ So she cut the wheel, and swerved around the box. And for whatever reason, she looked back at it through the rear-view mirror as she passed it. And that’s when she spotted a small toddler, 3, maybe 4 years old, crawl out of the box and start crossing the road. Naturally, she pulled over the car, now sobbing tears, and she leapt out of the car, picked up the child, and drove the kid into town to try and get help. 

  Now, you hear a story like that, and it feels like you just got hit in the gut, doesn’t it? It feels that way, because we’re the ones driving that car. We’re the ones making those choices, and we’re the ones that could have, just as easily, made different choices. I might not have swerved. Would you? Say it’s not a box, but a pile of leaves, or a small puddle (or what looks like a puddle). We think about what we would have done, and if we might have made different choices, and then we think about the guilt that we might have to live with over making what, at the time, seems like such a trivial choice.

    When we come to this passage in 1 Corinthians, it sounds as if Paul is addressing a group of people that don’t seem to be struggling with guilt at all. We hear a short story and our stomach turns, yet the people attending the church at Corinth had sinners worshiping alongside them, and they did nothing. They had men that were committing immoral sexual acts that Paul charged were, “such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 5:1). And they did nothing. They had men who were defrauding one another (1 Corinthians 6:8), and they did nothing. And Paul writes these people, and wonders why he would even have to ask, ‘Why aren’t you doing something?’ 

    Well, it would seem as though the Corinthian church wasn’t doing anything about these things, because they had a very misguided understanding of what it means to be Christian. They had to be taught all over again what Paul meant when he said that we are “not under law but under grace” (Romans 6:14). They had to be reminded that we are new creatures that should have new desires. And they had to be shown that liberty has a context. So to remind them of that, Paul builds this argument that continues to build in this passage, adding layer upon layer of spiritual depth, all the while, showing us that these deep spiritual truths have a very real impact on our lives even here and now. He shows us that our bodies, while flesh, are serving God right now as we breathe, and will continue to serve Him forever.

    1 Corinthians 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.  

    Paul uses this same argument later on in 1 Corinthians 10 when he says, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify (1 Corinthians 10:23). It would seem as though the people at Corinth were using this phrase as a nice pithy way of suppressing truth in unrighteousness. The phrase, ‘all things are lawful for me’ must have sounded a lot like the way the phrase ‘judge not’ sounds to us today. It was their ‘get out of jail free’ card, or at least their ‘get out of having make apologies for doing the things you know to be wrong’ card. But how does Paul respond? He refutes that statement four times in three different ways. Well, maybe he doesn’t refute it per se, but he most certainly demonstrates that it doesn’t hold the power that they think it does. And he’s trying to drive the point home, that to ask ‘what is lawful for me’ is the wrong question to ask in the first place. Because, according to Paul, something that may be lawful can still be unprofitable. Something that’s lawful can still lack compassion. And something that’s lawful can still enslave you, and leave you in bondage.

    So how does Paul respond? He responds by saying, “Not all things are profitable”, “Not all things edify”, “I will not be mastered by anything”. So if you’re going to do something, those are the questions you need to ask yourself. Will this be profitable? (Will it bear fruit?) Will this edify? (Is this a loving act that will help somebody?) And, will this act lead me down a path that I won’t be able to control? Be it immediately, or eventually, will I be the one obeying the desire, with no self-control, rather than it being the other way around? Paul says, “Whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through Him to God the Father” (Colossians 3:17). Think to yourself, ‘Can I honestly say that what I am about to do, I do in the name of the Lord Jesus?’ If not, then you shouldn’t be doing it. 

    Let’s look briefly at Galatians 5. In this letter to the Galatians, Paul is writing to men who are dealing with the exact opposite problem. The men in Galatia were facing some who believed that Christians needed to be inducted into the old covenant along with the Jews. And listen to what Paul tells them in chapter 5. And pay attention to the warning, and the distinction being made:

    Galatians 5:13-26

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another. But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law. Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another.

    So it’s pretty clear from this passage that when Paul affirms that “all things are lawful”, he’s not saying that sin has ceased to be sin. No, in fact, he blatantly says that people who practice the deeds of the flesh will be prevented from entering into the kingdom of God. That’s the warning, see? But, he also says that those of us who are led by the Spirit are not under the law. Or rather, we’re no longer under the judgment of the law. That’s because Christ already fulfilled the law, including its judgment. It was kept completely, every jot and tittle. There’s nothing I can add to that, and there’s nothing I can take away. For me, it’s done. And not only has the law been fulfilled, but through Christ’s crucifixion, my sins, past and present, and future have all been paid in full. My sin doesn’t cease to be sin, but it’s paid for. It is accomplished. And we also know, from what we just read, that being in Christ will produce a change. And we see that the desires of our hearts will be led by the Holy Spirit to practice (not perfectly, but as habit) the deeds of the Spirit. And there’s the distinction he’s making, that there are those who live in their flesh, and those who live by the Spirit of God.

    And now that Paul has shunned the claim that we have the right to live in any manner we chose, here Paul begins to build his argument, that we are called to a much higher purpose than just fulfilling our selfish desires. He continues in verse 13 & 14:

    1 Corinthians 6:13 & 14

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

    Once again, Paul is throwing the Corinthians words back at them. Most commentators speculate, from the context, that this was another saying that the Corinthians would turn to in order to justify their behavior. It’s as if they’re responding to criticism the way many Atheists do today when they try to convince us that we’re all just animals. ‘We don’t have to worry about moral accountability because, if God does exist, He created us to be predators that prey upon one another. It’s ‘survival of the fittest’, right? The strong eat the weak’. The Corinthians are saying the same thing. ‘God created us this way, and He gave us these desires, So how can our behavior be sinful?’ ‘It’s no different than me eating food. I’m just satisfying a natural hunger that God gave me.’

    It’s also possible, here, that the Corinthians may have been twisting Paul’s words in the first place. Notice, Paul doesn’t contradict either of these sayings, he affirms them both. He’s agreeing. Yes, all things are lawful. Yes, food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food. Paul talks many times about the freedom we have in Christ, and he talks many times about eating food sacrificed to idols as not being a sinful act in itself. These sayings may have come from Paul directly. But the Corinthians don’t fully understand them. They almost sound a lot like Job’s friends, if you’ve read through Job lately. Job was having a pretty rough go of it, and Job’s three pals came to console him. And they say a lot of things that sound good, and have an element of truth to them, but when misapplied, the way that they are, they cause more confusion than anything. 

    But now, Paul starts to really test their understanding by showing the Corinthians just how little they truly know about what the body is for, and for what purpose God created it. Paul says that both the stomach and food will both be done away with. Paul is trying to remind them that God never created our bodies for the purpose of satisfying our own bodily cravings and lusts. God has always had a greater purpose for our bodies. It’s the same thing that Paul tells the Romans when he says, “for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Romans 14:17). And the way that he moves into the next part of that verse shows us how he’s weaving this thread through the whole passage. ‘The stomach will be done away with… yet the body’. Paul is trying to get us to realize that our bodies, although corrupted, although diseased, although requiring food (for now), will be remade, and glorified, and will become everlasting vessels. Everlasting image bearers of God. The body is for the Lord. God did not create us to be purely spiritual creatures. God created Adam from clay. He created us with a body; He’ll remake us with a body. We were never meant to be separated from our bodies. 

    Paul goes even further by stating this amazing truth, “and the Lord is for the body.” That’s not to say that God is our servant, but rather our provider. Jesus responded to Satan by saying, “It is written, ‘MAN SHALL NOT LIVE ON BREAD ALONE, BUT ON EVERY WORD THAT PROCEEDS OUT OF THE MOUTH OF GOD’” (Matthew 4:4). God upholds all of His creation. He’s responsible for every leaf on every tree. He’s responsible for every flap of a bird’s wings, and He’s responsible for every beat of our hearts, and every breath in our lungs. And as Paul has just told us,.. soon, we won’t even need bread. We’ll have Christ, the Living Bread. 

    That’s where Paul takes us next. In verse 14, he continues, “Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power” (1 Corinthians 6:14). I hope you’re starting to pick up a little on what Paul is doing here. Notice where he starts his argument, with the stomach, then the body, then our resurrected and everlasting bodies. And then from here, Paul starts to expand on our union, not only with Christ, but with every member of the Trinity. There’s this wonderful circle that Paul makes, starting right here with God, the Father, who not only demonstrates His power by raising us up in the resurrection as He has Christ, but also by demonstrating His glory through faithfulness. From Abraham to David, and even to Paul; God has kept, and will keep every one of His promises to us. And that should bring us a great deal of joy and peace. Those are, after all, fruits of the Spirit; as we read earlier.

    Paul continues by showing us how our bodies fit into the even bigger picture. Not just being a member of one body, but being members of Christ, Himself.

    1 Corinthians 6:15-17

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 prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

    It’s no accident that Paul brings up prostitution here. The city of Corinth had a pretty bad reputation as it was. Within the city were many different temples that were built for worshiping a number of pagan gods. One of those gods was Aphrodite, the goddess of love. Yet, as you might imagine, when the people of Corinth used the term love, they didn’t use it the way that we use it. The temple of Aphrodite was famous for having numerous prostitutes both in and around the temple. It was very common practice in that city to lie with prostitutes; it was even legal, and accepted by many. That’s a tremendous amount of temptation in such a confined area. Paul knows that, and he’s warning the Corinthians not to fall back into that sin, because he knows that sexual sin is one of those sins that takes hold of you, and won’t let go of you willingly. 

    But how does he make that case? Does he say sin and immorality is wrong? Does he say that it will corrupt your life, or that it will enslave you? Well, yes, but not here. Instead, here, Paul appeals to one of the most profound truths in scripture, that being, that we are of one body with Jesus Christ. We aren’t separated by anything when it comes to Christ. As Paul says, when we’re joined to Christ, we are, in fact, one spirit with Him. The same Spirit that flows through Christ flows through us. And because of that, there is an eternal presence that we have with the Lord that will never end. When we look at the prayer that Jesus made in the garden of Gethsemane, we see just that.

    John 17:20-24

    “I do not ask on behalf of these alone, but for those also who believe in Me through their word; that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me. The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one; I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You have loved Me. Father, I desire that they also, whom You have given Me, be with Me where I am, so that they may see My glory which You have given Me, for You loved Me before the foundation of the world.”

    And there are two important things that we should see here. First, is that we have complete unity with God. The veil is torn now. There is no separation between God and His people. Christ says, “that they may all be one”, “that they also may be in Us, even as You”, “Father, are in Me and I in You”. Jesus says it over and over in that passage, and always in a slightly different way. He wants us to see just how complete and intricate this unity is between both ourselves, and with God, not to mention within the Godhead Itself. Second, we see the purpose for this unity. “So that the world may believe that You sent Me” (John 17:21). It’s so that God’s name will be proclaimed, and so that He will receive the glory that He’s due. And everything that we do in both body and in spirit that isn’t sin glorifies God. 

    Still, everything that we do in both body and spirit that is not done in faith is sin, and dishonors God’s name, and brings shame upon ourselves. So, feeling the need to address it again, Paul stresses the importance of keeping ourselves set apart from sin; especially within the body of Christ and, as Paul then states, especially from the sin that we commit against ourselves.

    1 Corinthians 6:18

    Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.

    It’s no difficult thing to understand why Paul would want us to flee from immorality. The word comes from the Greek word “porneia” which means ‘fornication’ or ‘sexual immorality’. We may not live in Corinth, we may not have legal prostitution on every corner, but we’re close. When the role models for our young women are the Kim Kardashian and the Katy Perry’s of the world,.. and when young men are looking up to Kanye West and Justin Bieber, I think it’s safe to say that we are dealing with exactly what the city of Corinth was dealing with. We just call it something else. 

      We need to be on guard with our whole body. Our eyes, mouths, ears and as we live even our stomachs, and especially our thoughts. There are so many ways for sin to enter into the human heart. While we go out to sow the seed of the gospel, the Enemy goes out and sows a seed of corruption. He has an almost limitless supply of it, and he can sow it anywhere, on anyone, at any time. But then Paul talks about that one sin, the sin of sexual immorality, that sin that we sow within ourselves, and then can only be satisfied within ourselves. It’s not like drunkenness which needs alcohol, or gluttony which needs food, or addiction which needs any number of substances to satisfy it. It’s a desire that is both created and satisfied within our hearts, and it destroys people. It destroys families. And it destroys homes. We need to be on guard.

    Ambrose Bierce was a well-known author and atheist; a contemporary of Mark Twain. He fought in the Civil War and soon after began his career as a writer. He wrote mostly about his experiences in battle. Some of you may have even read one of his famous stories titled, “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge”. But his most famous work was a book titled, “The Devil’s Dictionary”. And in this collected work, Bierce defines a number of words from a very cynical slant. He defined words such as “Liberty, n. One of imagination’s most precious possessions”, and “Lawyer, n. One skilled in circumvention of the law.” But while most of these definitions are somewhat humorous, since they contain but an element of truth; one of the saddest entries in the book actually reflects one of the most biblical truths.

    Immorality, n.

    A toy which people cry for, 

    And on their knees apply for,

    Dispute, contend and lie for,

             And if allowed

             Would be right proud

      Eternally to die for.

                                Ambrose Bierce (as Father Gassalasca Jape, S.J.) – The Devil’s Dictionary

    That is a very sad truth. One which we see everyday.  And with that in mind, Paul concludes this passage by revealing that our bodies are being used for a truly remarkable end, and have a purpose that demands a response of absolute humility from a Christian. 

        1 Corinthians 6:19 & 20

    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? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. 

    Your body, the one you’re in right now, is the dwelling place of the very Spirit of God. That is both an amazing and terrifying thing. It’s amazing to know that what Jesus prayed has come true, and God resides within me. It’s terrifying because I know that’s not something I deserve, and it’s a responsibility that I’m not suited for. Here and now, I am still a sinner. I am weak, and I am flawed. I make a lot of mistakes. And I do all of this within the temple of God. All of us do. One commentary puts it this way, “Every act of fornication, adultery, or any other sin is committed by the believer in the sanctuary, the Most Holy Place, where God dwells. In the Old Testament, the high priest only went in there once a year, and only after extensive cleansing, lest he be killed.” Take a second and just think about that. God was very particular about how His temple was built, how it was maintained, and even how it was to be approached. But what do we know about that temple? We know that Jesus destroyed that temple, and in three days raised it up again in every single one of us. In a similar way to how our Lord Jesus gave up His heavenly dwelling to come down and reside with us so that He might save sinners, the Holy Spirit has left His own temple, where He was worshiped and revered and held in awe and majesty, where practically everything was covered in gold, and where the tablets that contained the law of God lay at His feet. And now He indwells, and is present with us in our skin and bones, hands and heart, and He will never leave us, ever.

    While preaching on these very verses, Charles Spurgeon said this:

    “Brethren and sisters, it is no slight thing to be holy. A man must not say, “I have faith,” and then fall into the sins of an unbeliever; for, after all, our outer life is the test of our inner life; and if the outer life be not purified, rest assured the heart is not changed. That faith which does not bring forth the fruit of holiness is the faith of devils. The devils believe and tremble. Let us never be content with a faith which can live in hell, but rise to that which will save us – the faith of God’s elect, which purifies the soul, casting down the power of evil, and setting up the throne of Jesus Christ, the throne of holiness within the spirit.”

– C.H. Spurgeon

    Our bodies matter. Our lives matter. God has a purpose for us, one which He’s carrying out even now. The price that God paid for us was the life of His Son Jesus Christ. There is no higher price that has ever been paid for anything, and He paid it for what you see in the mirror every morning. 

    Look back for a second. Why does Paul have to ask the Corinthians three times, “Do you not know”? He asks because these are truths which we have a tendency to forget. We forget that God has bought us. We forget that Christ died for us. We forget that the Holy Spirit is within us. And when we forget these things, it’s easy to see our bodies as just a collection of skin and bones. But we’re not. We are the fine workmanship of God. We are the beloved body of Christ. And we are the temple of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, as Paul says,.. “glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20)

Amen!

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