When I look at the passage James has read in our hearing this morning, there are two things that stand out to me as obvious from the start. One is that this text is concerned with the practical matter of sexual morality. There are principles here, perhaps, that apply to other aspects of our behavior and the use of our bodies, but the main point that Paul is making is that we who belong to Christ are to flee from sexual immorality. If you will notice in verse 18 it is a statement that says that there are some problems and dangers in life which are not enough to avoid, but which are to be actively battled in the sense even of running from them. Their challenge is such that Paul's answer is that "we are to flee from" immoral sexual behavior in our lives.
On the other hand, I notice in this passage Paul's repeated emphasis on our bodies. He doesn't battle the problem of sexual immorality by saying "You may catch a disease" or "you may be made ashamed" or "you may end up having a child that was not planned and you are not prepared to take care of." He doesn't do those things. He simply puts the emphasis on our bodies and the dignity and the value that we ought to have in our bodies as human beings. If the "flee from sexual immorality" is the negative part of this statement in verse 18, then the positive is the statement in verse 20 "so glorify God in your body."
There is a thought here that clearly is much needed in our world today. We are bombarded with the challenge to our thinking about our honor and our dignity as human beings in entertainment, in music, in writing and pictures, so much by the internet, in common language where we work or where we go to school in just the emphasis on this part of our humanity that we find in our society. We much need, then, the sense of self-respect that Paul emphasizes here in this paragraph. We are going to dwell on that thought this morning as we study the Lord's word.
There are a couple of matters that might help to set the whole paragraph in context for us. Both of these are very important points. First, this passage is written to the church of God at Corinth. Think of the place where these people live. You know, sometimes we are tempted to think that if something like this is so much accepted in our society and if it is so much a practice of the culture in which we live, then the battle is hopeless and there is nothing we can do about it. We are going to do what we feel like doing, and people are going to do what they want to do. But remember, this passage is written to people who lived in the city that had the reputation of being one of the most immoral in the ancient world. Corinth was on the land bridge that separated the northern part of the Greek peninsula from the southern part, and it was located between two harbors that people used to travel from east to west or west to east. That meant that commercially and socially this place was a hub of activity, and it was a prime spot for immorality to be spread among the people. That is what happened. It came to be that if you wanted to say that someone was practicing these forms of immorality, you would just say that they were "Corinthianizing."
It is not enough even to say that these people were doing these things in spite of the religious influences around them. At Corinth they were even doing them because of the religious influence around them. You see, the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and sex, was located at Corinth. There some 1500 feet on a rocky hill above the city sat that temple, and at that temple at one time there were as many as 1000 so-called sacred prostitutes with whom people committed immorality in the name of, or in the practice of, their religion. Paul is writing to people who live in the shadow of that temple of Aphrodite. They are the ones to whom he is saying "remember who you are and what your body is about as a Christian and respect yourself."
The second thing that needs to be emphasized to put this in context is that our paragraph is in the immediate shadow of a statement of Paul that shows that forgiveness and transformation are possible where problems in this area have existed. Christians are not merely in the practice of shaming people or calling people names who have had a problem with sexual immorality. Paul says in I Corinthians 6, verses 9-11, something that is extremely important to have in our minds as we study through what we will read this morning. He says, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?" He is talking about people who practice unrighteousness. "Do not be deceived," he says. And then notice that the first four or five things that he mentions have to do with matters of sexual morality. "Do not be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality (the ESV says that this term applies to those who are both active and passive partners in that practice), nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." And he says, "Such were some of you. But you were washed; you were sanctified; you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the spirit of our God." Just as greed or being an ugly talker can be forgiven and that person can be transformed, so can one who has struggled with these matters of morality that Paul is discussing in this passage. It can be done despite the culture, and it can be done despite past problems. It must be done if we are to inherit the kingdom.
Now, with that in mind, I want to call your attention to five principles that Paul calls to people's minds regarding the body - to say that we should respect ourselves, to say that we ought to recognize the dignity of the human body, and that that should be the Christian's true motive for the practice of sexual morality in his life. It is not enough to say you might get in trouble, you might catch a disease, you might do this or that. That is not the Christian approach. The Christian says, "It is because of my body and what God made it to be."
The first principle that stands out here is Paul's statement at the end of verse 13 that "the body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body." The first principle is that we are made in God's image, that he made us for fellowship with himself, that we find our true meaning and our satisfaction in a right relationship with the God in whose image we are made. It is pretty obvious in reading this passage that some of the things that were being said at Corinth that were giving Christians at Corinth a problem. Some of these things appear to be almost slogans that some of the people were using to justify their immorality. For example, "all things are lawful for me." I am free to do whatever I want. Or, "food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food." In other words, sexuality is just as much a normal part of live as eating or drinking and each person should do whatever pleases him physically at the time. Those slogans are kin to some of the phrases that we hear like "everybody does it," or "it is just a natural part of human life." Paul says in this passage, "It may be true that all things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful." Not everything is good for you, in other words. Even if it were the truth that God had no other limitations, which of course, he does, we would have to face the fact that just because you could do something would not make it expedient or helpful or good for you.
Then notice that Paul says at the end of verse 12, "I'll not be enslaved by anything." I will not be brought under the control of any practice or habit that will rule over me. I will accept responsibility for controlling myself by good judgment. When I become someone who cannot control myself, can I not see that I am in that fact a slave? That is what Paul is saying in this passage. "I don't want to be enslaved to something." And he makes the point as he unfolds this that these things that God will eventually destroy should not become the main things in our lives, that occupy our attention, and that cause us to be ruled by those very matters. He says "the body is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord." In other words, it is designed for fellowship with him and for service to him.
On the other hand, the Lord is for the body. He will bless it and save it. He will give us what we need, and we will not find our satisfaction and fulfillment in rebellion against him. It is an amazing fact how much of the time people get involved in sexual immorality believing they will find satisfaction and fulfillment and soon find themselves feeling so empty that they go from one partner to another partner to another partner. Satisfaction is not found in rejection of the Lord who made us. That is the first thing that Paul says, "The body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body."
Secondly, it is interesting that Paul emphasizes in this discussion about sexual immorality the fact that the Lord will raise up the body. The body is used in this passage as a synonym for us, our whole being, our whole person. Paul says that "God raised the Lord (of course, the Lord Jesus) and he will also raise us up by his power." The resurrection of Jesus is said here to indicate God's interest in our bodies and that just as Jesus was raised up as the first fruits, as we find out over in chapter 15 of this letter, our bodies will be raised up. God has an interest in our bodies. What we do in our bodies matters to him: something that he is going to be interested enough to raise up; something that he wants so much to raise up from the clutches of death that he has given his own son in order to do it, that should not be misused in the practice of immorality in our lives. Paul made the point in II Cor. 5, verse 10, that what we have done in our bodies will be a factor even in judgment. He said, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil." The second matter, then, that gives a sense of dignity to us in the use of our bodies is our conviction as Christians that God will keep his promise and will one day raise us up and glorify our bodies. We do not want to have dissipated ourselves, then, in immorality while we have been here.
The third principle that gives a sense of dignity and encouragement and conviction to us is the fact that our bodies are members of Christ. This is a point that surely every Christian recognizes. That we as individual Christians are members of the body of Christ is something which is taught in several contexts in the New Testament. One implication of that is stressed here. If I am a member of the body of Christ, then what I do with my body I am doing with a member of the Lord's body. In Romans 6, the apostle Paul uses this principle to try to encourage godly living. In verse 12 he says, "Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey their passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life and your members to God as instruments for righteousness." My members are the members of my body. My members are members are Christ, he is saying. And so he makes the point, "Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot, a prostitute?", recognizing the principle that the two will become one flesh, that in some ways in the practice of sexuality, two become one, not only physically but emotionally and in every other way. Paul says, "Who then would want to take a member of the body of Christ and join them to one of the temple prostitutes at the temple of Aphrodite?" Who would want to give self to something like that? Do we not realize, do we not understand that our lives have been elevated from the lowest common level to the highest level? In verse 17 Paul says, "He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him." He is talking about something deeper than bodily contact here. We are talking about loyalty. We are talking about commitment to the Lord, faith in the Lord, membership in his body. Paul is saying because of that, we shouldn't use our bodies in sexual immorality.
Then the fourth principle which is here is found in verse 18. He says that every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. I suppose there are some physical ways in which that is the case. Other sins like drunkenness, for example, may involve taking substances that are outside the body and using them in involvement in sinful activity. This, though, is a matter in which the body itself is used as an instrument in the wrong doing. And in that way, the person sins against his own body. Maybe there is something deeper than that, though. Maybe he is also saying that a person who engages in this kind of immorality, this particular kind of immorality, so sins against his own being and his own person and so sins against his own personality, that he ends up then having difficulty relating to another human being and forming relationships that are filled with honor and dignity, and last. When one has so used another human being that he is only seeking his own gratification and his own satisfaction, that kind of attitude toward another human being so injures us that we will end up having difficulty with relationships that God wants us to have.
The fifth principle which is here, if you notice, in verses 19 and 20, is so crucially important to a Christian. "Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit," he says. You are not your own. You have been bought with a price. It was a common matter of understanding that when someone profaned the temple of God in the Old Testament then that person was subject to the worst of fates. This passage is saying that the Christian should understand his own body as the temple of God and that just as we would respect the physical temple, we should respect the spiritual temple of God now. We shouldn't profane it or desecrate it or cause it to be involved in things that are immoral and improper and not right.
When it says "you were bought with a price," it is referring to a practice that was common knowledge to the people who received this letter. If someone were a slave, for example, he might be able to save enough money to pay the price of his freedom. He would take what he had saved up and would then pay the price into the temple of some particular deity that some of the people superstitiously worshiped. He would then be regarded as belonging to that deity, but he would be free with regard to all other men. Paul has taken that kind of a picture and applied it to the living God here. The one thing that we know most as Christians is that we have been bought with a price. The body and the blood of the Son of God have been paid for us as a ransom. We have remembered that this morning. And having been bought with a price, we are not our own and we ought to be engaged in what would glorify the God who lives in us through his Spirit and the God who gave his son up for us on the cross. We ought to use our bodies, Paul says actually, as living sacrifices to him, according to Romans 12, verse 1.
Now there are the five principles that give to a Christian a sense of dignity and of self respect that make him unwilling to live on the level of an animal who simply acts on instincts. These five principles - 1) the body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body; 2)our bodies will be raised up; 3) our bodies are members of the body of Christ; 4) our bodies involve our very selves - we don 't want to sin against ourselves; and 5) our bodies are temples which belong to the Lord. All of those are matters of faith. Each one of them causes us to stop and reflect on who we are and how that should then affect our choices in everyday life. Paul is saying to us in this passage that we who are Christians live on a higher level than people who know nothing of God and who merely are concerned with their desires and appetites. Let us also flee sexual immorality. Don't dilly dally with it. Don't look at it on your internet service. Don't pursue it. Don't let it be a thought that would even enter into the possibilities in your choices in life.
Now simply reflecting on this and considering how it may affect our thoughts and our social contacts and all of that makes us stand back and see that the Bible approach is not to say "sexuality is awful and it is wrong." No. God made it and he created a place and a relationship in which it can be fulfilled with honor. But the abuse of that is a danger to the individual, a threat in judgment and a terrible tragedy for a society. These people who were at Corinth, even though they lived in an environment which was tough, an environment which was ungodly in so many ways, had had the privilege of hearing the wonderful gospel of Jesus. They had heard the news that the Son of God had brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. These people, according to Acts 18, believed what they heard, and they obeyed it by being baptized into Christ. And even if they had had difficult backgrounds, they were washed, they were sanctified, and they were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus. That can be possible for any of us. Today if you need to place your faith in Christ to the point of changing your mind about how life is to be lived, in being baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, please do it. If you are someone who has being seeing problems in your life and you need the prayers and support of your brothers and sisters in Christ, act on that good intention today. And if you are trying to live in the light in a world where there is darkness, we want to encourage you that it can be done. Respect yourself and the meaning of your body as a human being. If we can help you today, won't you come while we stand and sing?