“Everything is permissible for me”. Have this and similar portions of scripture in 1 Corinthians ever had you scratching your head as they have me? My new Holman Christian Standard Bible has the foregoing in quotation marks, so I had to check out the footnote to see what that meant. This is the note: “The words in quotation marks are most likely slogans used by some Corinthian Christians. Paul evaluates and corrects these slogans.” I was so glad to see that. Now that I look, I see this notation in some of my other Bibles as well–how did I miss it? The passage I’m talking about is 1 Corinthians 6:12-18, and if you click on the link, it’ll take you right there.
Paul is talking in this passage primarily about sex. For reasons I’ll go into later in this post, some of the Corinthian Christians had gotten the idea that it didn’t matter what they did with their physical bodies, particularly regarding sex. This may seem strange to modern Christians, who generally feel that it does matter what we do with our bodies.
Not that we’re not subject to temptation; not that some of us don’t fall prey to temptation–but if we do, we at least know we’re engaging in behavior that God has forbidden us to partake of. The Corinthians lived in a city rife with every sort of sexual expression and “freedom” we see today, even in Hollywood’s wildest imagination. “Free Love” was not only tolerated–it was an integral part of temple worship of Aphrodite and the other local gods and goddesses. If you weren’t a “girl gone wild” or a “wild and crazy guy” in Corinth, you were a weirdo. Add that to the whole “the physical world is irredeemably evil by its very nature” shtick, and you can maybe understand a little better how the church fell into this trap.
“Everything is permissible for me.” Paul skips the useless: “Oh no it isn’t” and gets right to the point. Illicit sexual relations are not helpful when one is on a journey toward Christian maturity. If we engage in sin, if we surrender our bodies as obedient slaves to sin, we become, once again, slaves to sin. (Romans 6:16)
“Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods.” This is not intended as a proof text for those who would like to show that we won’t eat in Heaven. Paul is not, in any way, talking about food and the stomach, and neither did the Corinthians understand him in that way. To put it less delicately, “The body desires sex, and that’s what sex is for–to satisfy the body’s desire.” Following the Corinthians’ metaphor, Paul says, “But God will do away with both of them,” that is: God will do away with both the body’s sexual desire and also with the act of sex. This is consistent with Jesus’ answer to the Saducees that “In Heaven, they neither marry nor are given in marriage.” (Matthew 22:30). Paul goes on to say that, yes, our physical bodies belong to the Lord, and the Lord cares what we do with our bodies. We are not meant for sexual immorality.
The Corinthians were victims of Platonic philosophy, which we still feel the effects of today. They believed the material world to be evil and only the spiritual world good. Because they saw the material world as evil, they believed it impossible not to sin in their bodies. They saw such sin as a matter of no consequence and resistance to physical sin as not only futile, but also pointless. Paul comes up with what might seem to be a random pronouncement in verse 14: “God raised the Lord up and will also raise us up by His power.” Well, yes . . . but how does this statement belong in the stream of thought we’re following here?
The Corinthians had fallen under the misconception (occasioned by their Platonic tendencies) that their inherently evil physical bodies would not be resurrected–that their bodies would end up in some sort of cosmic compost pile–and therefore it didn’t matter how they dishonored their bodies. The implication here is that in the same way Jesus’ physical body was raised (it was changed, renewed and improved, but also raised as the self-same body and reunited with His self-same spirit) we also will be raised from the dead.
Earlier in this letter, Paul made mention that the church is the body of Christ. Now he asks, “Should I take the members of Christ (Paul’s body) and join them, make them one with, make them members of a prostitute? Never!” The mention of union with the prostitute is not, of course, the only sort of sexual sin Paul would forgo involving the members of Christ with. It is a representative sexual sin meant to indicate all sexual sins.
We tend to think of the “one body” clause of Genesis 2:24 as a reference to the holy state of matrimony only. Paul here applies it to any sexual union between two people. In light of this revelation, there can be no such thing as “casual” or “meaningless” sex. Whether we intend it or desire it or not, sex joins the participants, making them one flesh.
We are one spirit with the Lord–a far more intimate union than even physical sex can produce. To then take our body, which is now also His body, as we are one spirit, and dishonor it by engaging in sexual immorality is not okay. It’s unthinkable.
The Corinthians said, “Every sin a person can commit is outside the body.” Did this saying mean that they believed that sin–real sin–had nothing to do with the body, but was rather a spiritual attitude? Certainly a spiritual attitude can be sinful–as Jesus referenced when He spoke of lusting after a woman in the heart as being, in fact, adultery, and hatred as being equivalent to murder. Does that then mean that the same acts committed in the physical world are not sins at all? Ridiculous. Yet that is what was postulated by the Corinthian church (and later by the Gnostic Christians).
This philosophy taught, in effect, that it mattered not what one did with one’s body. The body was nothing in the world but slimy, nasty garbage to be disposed of once one had achieved the higher spiritual plane. There’s a whiff of garbage in the air from this silly doctrine all right, but I don’t think it’s physical garbage. Paul counters that, even if the Corinthians were right, sexual immorality is a sin against one’s own body, committed by one’s spirit. One might have spiritual sin without physical sin. It is possible to lust without having physical sex (look at the explosion of Internet porn) or to hate without committing physical murder. Physical sin, however, does not come without the corresponding spiritual version of itself.
Paul elevates the physical body’s position in this verse, explaining that our bodies are indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God–that our bodies are in fact God’s sanctuary. This makes our bodies sacred, not to be used in the service of sin of any kind. Our bodies don’t belong to us . . . they are God’s property. How dare we defile God’s sanctuary by using His sanctuary (our body) as a tool to commit sin and to serve our own fleshly lusts?
Jesus owns us; body, soul, spirit–all three. He’s not going to be satisfied with just our spirits. He paid for the whole package when He shed His blood. He didn’t create us as spirit beings only. He made Adam’s body first and then breathed into it a spirit. Our spirits have never existed independent of our bodies. While we’re in this life, we use our bodies to proclaim to the world the true picture of what God is like (to glorify Him). This is a far cry from the idea that the actions of our bodies are irrelevant to our spiritual lives in God. If we are not to use our bodies to serve God in this life, what are we to use? Can we, with our spirits only, declare God’s goodness and love to our generation? Certainly not! Therefore, glorify God in your bodies.
God’s Joy and Love to You,