How many of you are 1990s children and grew up in this area listening to Kube93? Remember the song by ‘Salt N Pepa’ that is titled ‘Let’s Talk About Sex’? I’m dating myself a little bit but that is exactly what we are going to do this morning.
Jimmy Mallory did a sermon two weeks ago about sexual immorality defiling the church at Corinth which is 1 Corinthians 5. One specific incident involved a man who was sleeping with his father’s wife which I asked Jimmy about further after the message that most scholars agree that this was probably a woman who was the man’s stepmother. Pastor Brent Rood spoke last week about lawsuits against believers from other believers and how people should try and resolve disputes inside the church rather than through secular courts. Now, Paul comes back around to the sexual immorality issue in chapter 6:12-20.
Background on Corinth:
Corinth being the capital city of the Roman province of Achaia was a port city. It was on a narrow strip of land that connected Peloponnesus with the Greek mainland. There were ports all around. The ancient city was built on a trapezium shaped terrace at the foot of a large rocky hill known as the acrocorinth. The hill rose 1886 feet above sea level.
Obviously being a port city with many shipping ports around, lots and lots of different kinds of people would come through. People having been out at sea for awhile would come into one of the ports near Corinth.
Now, here is the relevant part to what we are talking about today. There was a big temple in Corinth dedicated to the goddess Aphrodite. Corinth was renowned in the area for their worship of Aphrodite, the goddess of beauty and love. At the top of the almost 2,000 foot hill was a temple dedicated to the worship of Aphrodite. This was a temple with a lot of money. Sea captains and other crew were notorious for coming into Corinth and blowing their money at this temple. Historians will note that wealthy Greeks would purchase slaves and donate these slaves to the temple as a religious offering. An estimated 1000 prostitutes would be working out of this temple including women and young boys. It wouldn’t just be sea captains and crew members climbing the steps on that hill but married men in that culture as well.
Given that this was the culture in ancient Corinth, this was the context that Paul was writing too and challenging.
Verse 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.
Paul more than likely is quoting people within the Corinth congregation saying, ‘I have a right to do anything’. However, not everything may be beneficial to the Christian and their faith in God. Paul is big on Christian liberty however Christian liberty does not mean I should do whatever I want. Sound kind of familiar to Paul’s other writings? (Should I sin so that grace may increase?). The last part of the verse touches on a familiar teaching of Paul’s. He consistently exhorts people to self-control all throughout his epistles and here he gives a warning that anything (even things that are good) can become masters to us where we are not fully in control and are serving something that we have fashioned as an idol in our lives. We would be at the service of a thing in our lives rather than being in control and rejoicing in the thing or gift that God has given us.
Verse 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.
Here the Corinthians were getting clever. They are trying to justify their sexual immorality by making an analogy with food. Food is physical and eating and digestion are biological. Normal. There is nothing really special about eating. We need food for our bodies and it is great when we get to eat food that tastes good. The Corinthians were trying to make a similarity here with sexuality. Sex, many of them argued, is just a physical, biological act that feels good. Eating food feels good so what is the big deal about us sleeping around? There may have also been a philosophical dualism here rooted in Gnosticism. Remember that Gnosticism, an early rival of Christianity, believed as one of its core tenants that material reality is evil. Spirit is the element that is pure. The Corinthians, by believing this, could make a connection between eating and sex. Both are physical acts and therefore are rooted in evil materialism that God would destroy so what is the big deal about partaking?
Paul counters by introducing the idea that our physical material bodies, though they will fade away and be destroyed, belong to the Lord and are for the Lord. He rejects the notion that what we do with our bodies is unimportant.
Verse 14: By His power God raised the Lord from the dead, and He will raise us also. Paul goes for the big argument in illustrating God’s care for the body. God physically rose Christ from the grave. Paul says we will be raised so he fully embraces the idea that God has a high regard for the body. Since God has a high regard for the body, there is a sacredness and spiritual component to the physical act of sex.
Verse 15: Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ Himself? Shall I take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! He Furthers his argument here that there is a spiritual component to the act of sex and takes it even further. We are all a part of the body of Christ with different talents, gifts and abilities. Being that we are intrinsically linked to Christ, if we commit sexual immorality, we are joining Christ to a prostitute. Extremely strong analogy from Paul. The Greek for ‘never’ is also very strong. This word could also be translated: may it never be so.
Verse 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.’
Paul continues to build on his strong prohibition against immorality. He rhetorically argues against uniting Christ with a prostitute and now references the very beginning of humanity and the Scriptures in Genesis 2:24 where Adam and Eve are joined together as one flesh. Obviously here, Paul is using this as a warning. One does not to be joined together with a prostitute where they would become one flesh. So the flow of his argument is we join Christ’s body to that of a prostitute and then we ourselves become ‘one flesh’ with a prostitute.
Verse 17: But whoever is united with the Lord is one with Him in spirit.
If we are believers and thereby following Christ, it should make sexual immorality unthinkable because, as Paul is saying here, we are aligned with God’s spirit and we are one with God. That fact should change our thinking and philosophy about sexuality. Also, Gnostics again would have believed that the material world is evil and spiritual world is pure. Look at what Paul is doing again in this flow of the argument. He is saying what we do physically is linked to our spirituality in an inseparable way and that we can be one with God’s spirit which he Corinth crowd would have heard as, ‘oh, I don’t need to escape this material world to obtain a spiritual purity. I can have that right now through Jesus and His Spirit.
Verse 18: Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.
Flee! Runaway from. Be honest with yourself about temptation and do not go near. Paul references other sins here. If you kill somebody, that is outside of your body. If you steal from somebody, that is outside your body. Sexuality is the most intimate thing we can do with another person. Therefore, Paul is highlighting and exhorting against sexual immorality because of the seriousness of the sin.
Verse 19-20: 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; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
According to Israel, God’s Spirit dwelt in a physical temple. The holy of holies. This is where the high priests could go to hear from God. Post cross and post resurrection, at Pentecost and like a mighty wind, the Spirit descended upon all believers in Jesus. Anyone who claims Jesus as Lord has the Holy Spirit within them. Our bodies are temples for God’s Spirit. A radical idea here and one that helps us to really take seriously the boundaries that God has laid in regard to sexuality.
Transition: Of course, it is not easy to think and behave sexually the way that God in Scripture asks us too. Most of us have strong sexual desires and that is the way God made us. In a society that is post-Sigmund Freud, philosophies in society regarding how to think about sexuality are incredibly numerous and diverse.
In a lot of messages I have heard on sexual immorality around the church in general usually involve a lament about how our culture is turning into Sodom and Gomorrah. A speaker will talk about a time in the past where people upheld Christian virtues about sex and there wasn’t this rampant hook-up culture and glorification of casual sex or sex outside of marriage. It is safe to say that a time like this never existed. People have been having sex out of wedlock, committing adultery or other sexual sins since the fall. We heard messages during the Ecclesiastes series that we did here at Seed revolving around ‘there is nothing new under the sun’ and the ‘folly of believing in the good ole days.’ No such thing. We have not been different from the Corinth church really.
What has changed in our culture is perhaps people’s outward thinking about sexual mores. Since the sexual revolution, people are more open and honest about having different views then the (what we will say) traditional viewpoints of sexuality that came from Scripture, the Puritans and other religious groups. So it is not like the activity has changed but cultural attitudes toward the activity have. Many people, especially in our culture, have the ‘no judgment’ attitude toward sexuality.
I ran across an article in Time Magazine which described the changing mores of society beginning with the sexual revolution in 1964 or thereabouts: ‘…a nation awash in sex: in its pop music and on the Broadway stage, in the literature of writers like Norman Mailer and Henry Miller, and the look- but-don’t-touch boudoir of the Playboy Club, which had opened four years earlier. ‘Greeks who have grown up with the memory of Aphrodite can only gape at the American goddess, silken and semi nude, in a million advertisements,’ the magazine declared. But of greatest concern was the ‘revolution of (social) mores’ the article described, which meant that sexual morality, once fixed and overbearing, was now ‘private and relative’- a matter of individual interpretation. Sex was no longer a source of consternation but a cause for celebration; its presence not what made a person morally suspect, it rather its absence…’. And therefore no judgment upon people’s choice in lifestyles. People became more open and honest regarding things they did in private that they used to be more hush-hush about.
Fast forward to our society and it is almost a rite-of-passage for older teens and college students to participate in hookup culture. Pornography is more assessable than ever on the worldwide web. People can easily have sexual experiences by themselves with a computer screen in our day and age.
In thinking about the way our society approaches sexuality and how we actively think about sexuality, I thought of the book ‘Bowling Alone’ by Robert Putnam. Putnam is a political scientist and dabbles in sociology and he teaches at Harvard. In this book, he talks about how in American society we have come increasingly disconnected from family, friends, neighbors and even our democratic structures. Yes, he wrote this in 2000. He talks about how lonely, isolated and alienated many people feel.
Why do I bring this up when discussing sexuality? Because sex is the most intimate thing that you can do with another person. A lot of people today are participating in a hook-up culture where there is no relationship. It is a one-night stand or sexuality that is outside of even loving or being committed to someone in any way. With pornography being so easily viewed, a lot of people are opting to have sexual experiences alone in front of their computers and outside of any relationship.
When we look outside of America to Japan, there is something troubling going on in relationships within their culture. One of the saddest articles I have ever read was from ‘The Guardian’ in October 2013. Japan has a very low birth rate these days. The article was about an increasing amount of young people who felt like relationships were not worth it. Too troubling. They can’t be bothered. So young people in Japan are expressing their sexuality with virtual reality girlfriends or anime porn. Disconnected, alienated from meaningful commitments or human love.
Why do I bring all this up? Because across our world, many people do not know how to think about sex. When I say that, it is almost like a joke right? Post-Freud in our society, anything can become an innuendo. Who wants to philosophize about sex? Most want to indulge in sex.
It is safe to say that our world’s relationship to sexuality is messed up. The church is not immune. We are a part of his world and influenced by the world. Sexuality is all around us everywhere. How do we flee immorality as Paul asked us too? How do we think in a godly way about sexuality as Paul lays out in this passage rhetorically?
The Apostle Paul is giving us a way to think about sex in this passage and exhorting us to behave in a godly way.
Thesis: Paul mentions the importance of remembering that sex, as God created it with the first two human beings (Adam and Eve), is about oneness in a marriage relationship. He upholds that our bodies are temples that belong to God and we are not our own. Therefore, we need to flee any sexual immorality that tempts us.
We struggle to apply this teaching because like the Corinthians, we forget about the sacredness of sex. We can be influenced by the world in thinking that sex is just biological. That it is just a good feeling caused by neurochemicals which flood many areas of our brain during sex. However, the Christian view of sex is so much more than that. If our bodies are temples that belong to God and then we get married, bodies that become one with our spouse during that physical expression, how do we hold this in our hearts and minds while navigating a world where there is sex all around and not only that but ungodly expressions of sexuality? As Jimmy mentioned in his sermon a couple weeks back, Christians risk becoming antiquated or old fashioned or laughably out of date regarding our views of sex. This is inevitable.
Those of you who are single, it is especially difficult. These days, when we are dating, people just assume that you are sleeping with the person you are dating and you really want to, let’s be honest. 95% of people, per a USA Today survey, have pre-marital sex. Obviously a vast majority. The message from our culture is that if you are not married, you should have sex. Why not? You don’t know when you are going to meet your spouse so why not engage with something that feels good and can connect you to someone else?
Adultery is generally more looked down upon in our culture but there is an increasing acceptance of it. There are couples that talk about open marriages and I ran across an article in Vox this week that’s premise was being more understanding about leaders (especially politicians) who are unfaithful because they are away from home a lot. Staying sexually monogamous is viewed by some in our culture as being unrealistic.
With our culture going this way, how should we as the church think about sexuality? Is God a cosmic killjoy? Keeping us from pleasure and happiness telling us ‘don’t do it!’ ‘Don’t do it!’? We really struggle with fleeing immorality as Paul asks us too and we think these thoughts in our minds. We want to feel good. Why would God deny us that?
During this series on 1 Corinthians, Brent has mentioned that he is picking on liberal license a lot because usually he rails on legalistic conservatism. I thought today I would rail on both because what is better than making everybody mad, right? The thinking on both sides regarding sexuality strays from Biblical teaching.
On one side, we have how the conservative legalists treat sexual immorality and those who fail to flee it. How sexual immorality is treated here is somewhat like a weapon to induce shame and guilt on people with no inclusion of the gospel. The church, not Seed, but the Evangelical church in general has often been very bad on this point. I became a Christian as a teenager and I remember the abstinence until marriage talks that I would hear from different speakers. Often these teachers, who meant well, would talk about if one had sex before they were married then they were ‘damaged goods’? The implication being that one’s marriage would not be top-notch or might be horribly effected because a partner was not a virgin when they entered the marriage relationship. So people have felt perpetually ashamed and carry around guilt and all of this could very negatively affect a marriage with a person viewing themselves as dirty or damaged goods. That, of course, is a lie. There is no gospel there. There is no grace. And many times, those of us who are hardcore in the camp of repeatedly pointing out how others are not fleeing sexual immorality are not exactly feeling immorality ourselves, right? Jesus said in the sermon on the mount that if someone lusts after a person that is not their spouse, they have committed adultery in their hearts. That makes everyone guilty. We are all in need of grace.
Now, having picked on the conservative side, let’s come over to the liberal side. Many on the liberal side like to fashion themselves as ‘non-judgmental’ toward people’s sexual activities. Live and let live is an attitude that people have. Rules or boundaries seem to constraining but here is the thing….everybody has boundaries. We could find the most liberal person in Seattle and they would believe that something is sexually immoral according to their own view of morality related to sex. For instance, hopefully they would view an adult having sex with a child as being evil. I hope we all do. That is a boundary for sexuality. People who think polygamy is a bad idea, well, that is a boundary. These days, we hear a lot of reporting on college campuses about defining ‘consent’ and many people argue if someone is completely drunk, they cannot give consent and if a person slept with them in that state, it would be rape. That is a boundary. That is a moral. So we all have boundaries. It is just a matter of where we draw the line.
This brings us back around to Paul. The apostle asks us to have a sacred view of sexuality as Christians. He references Genesis 2:24 in this passage. The two, in marriage, shall become one flesh. The two are one. Their bodies belong to one another in marriage. Paul says that a sexual sin committed is one that rattles us because it is a sin against our own body. Not only that, it is akin to joining the body of Christ with a prostitute. Again, this is extreme language. Why is Paul, in God’s inspired Word, so hardcore about this?
Think about your identity as a child of God, a person God loves. You are absolutely unique in DNA, personality, things you like to do, etc from any other person that has ever existed. Your spouse has the same status. They are also unique and different in all those ways. When you two come together, in marriage, what you have is original from every other couple. Your way of being physically intimate and expressing that love, however you like to do that and don’t tell me, is original and special compared to any other couple. For those of you who are single, when you get married in the future, you will have something uniquely special as well.
Why does Paul charge us to flee sexual immorality? Because the goal is to protect that special thing that you have with your husband or wife or if you are single, what you will have someday. This involves Christians thinking deeper about sex than the average person in the culture and recognizing the spiritual aspect of it.
We as Christians are not hedonists seeking to maximize our own pleasure for ourselves. Our bodies belong to God as Paul writes here. We are not our own. However, if we are within that marriage relationship that God created for sexual expression, enjoy. Remember that the grace of Jesus can cover over any past sin. There is no guilt, no shame and so, those of us with pasts, we can move forward ideally having great marriages and a close knit relationship as we embrace the gospel of Jesus.
The world can be a crazy place. Horrible things are in the news headlines all the time. Work can be stressful. Dealing with other people, not so easy. The ideal for marriage and for physical love is that this is a sanctuary for you and your spouse away from the madness that is the world. Knowing this should spur us on, with God’s help to protecting the exclusivity of our relationship and being vigilant about that.