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“Body Life”

1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Bob DeGray
May 14, 2006

Key Sentence

When someone loans you something valuable, you’ve gotta take care of it.


I. Your body is for the Lord (1 Cor. 6:12-14)
II. You are to be united with the Lord (1 Cor 6:15-17)
III. You are not your own (1 Cor 6:18-20)


       There have been many times in my life I’ve borrowed something valuable from someone, and I’ve usually tried to take good care of it. For example I took Bob and Suzanne Achgill’s cell phone with me to Russia last month, and I tried to use it the way they would use it. For myself I don’t keep a phone in a case, but the Achgill’s had theirs in a plastic dust cover, so I kept it there. And when I borrow someone’s car, I try to pay extra attention to driving carefully and safely. Of course I don’t always succeed. When I started my company, CodeCalc, I took the family to Chicago to demo the software. With the software, computers and vacation stuff we couldn’t quite fit in a mini-van, so I borrowed a car carrier. It was a big sheet steel carrier, and we filled it up with books and camping stuff. When we got to Chicago we went immediately to the downtown convention center to set up our booth. Only I was just a bit too intent on getting there, and I didn’t process the sign that said the parking garage height was seven feet six inches - as was the concrete entry door. With the car top carrier, the mini-van was just about eight feet - and I never slowed down. Boom. The carrier was scraped right off the roof, down the back of the car and ended up on the ground, with a large dent right across the front. It was still usable, but I felt terrible about returning it so damaged.

        I think we all have the sense that when someone loans you something valuable, you ought to take care of it. And I think Paul, in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, has the same sense, specifically that when God loans you something valuable, you need to take good care of it, because it is not yours, but his. Now it may be surprising, but the something Paul is talking about that is on loan from God is your body. You call it your body, and you probably think of it as really yours, if nothing else is. But Paul teaches that it no longer belongs to you, but rather to God. So let’s think and talk about the body, recognizing that when someone loans you something valuable, you’ve gotta take care of it.

I. Your body is for the Lord (1 Cor. 6:12-14)

        We’ll start by noticing that your body is not intended for you, but for the Lord. 1 Cor. 6:12-14 "Everything is permissible for me"--but not everything is beneficial. "Everything is permissible for me"--but I will not be mastered by anything. 13"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. 14By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

        "Everything is permissible for me" is found both here and in 1 Corinthians 10:23. It looks like a catch-phrase used by the Corinthians to justify their conduct, possibly one they derived from Paul’s teaching. We can certainly imagine him saying something like this in order to combat Jewish legalism, or Greek religious thinking.

        But even if he basically agreed, Paul would feel the need to balance this with wisdom: ‘not everything is beneficial.’ There are many things in the Christian life which may be permissible, but aren’t helpful. One such area for me is science fiction. There is nothing really wrong with most science fiction, but nothing really beneficial about it either, so I try to limit voracious consumption. Paul sharpens this by saying ‘Everything is permissible for me’--but I will not be mastered by anything.’ This is a play on words, which might be translated “all things are allowed to me but I won’t allow anything to get control of me.” Paul saw himself as the bond-servant of Christ, and he couldn’t stand the thought of anything else being his master. Jesus himself said, ‘you can’t serve two masters’, and there is a real danger that you can I can fall into the bondage of things that we do to assert our freedom in Christ.

        Verse 13: “‘Food for the stomach and the stomach for food" looks like another Corinthian catch phrase, perhaps one intended to justify all kinds of bodily indulgence and immorality: “If God gave us stomachs to enjoy food, why shouldn’t we enjoy all the pleasures of his world.” Even the phrase ‘God will destroy them both’ may be part of their argument: they were among those who said the body was unimportant, that all that mattered was the spiritual - the body was going to be destroyed so what you did with it meanwhile didn’t affect anything. This kind of thought was rampant in Greek culture: competing philosophies said either the body is meaningless, deny it everything, or the body is unimportant, go ahead and indulge it.

        But Paul isn’t buying either argument. He says ‘the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.’ This is the first use of the word body, ‘soma’ in this section. It’s not the same word as ‘flesh’ which Paul uses for the sinful nature. When he uses this word it can be neutral or even positive. He uses it very normally to say that Abraham’s body was worn out when he gave birth to Isaac. He uses it negatively at times, as the place where sin reigns. He uses it often to speak of the corporate body, the church as the body of Christ. And here he uses it to mean your body: the one you’re sitting in. He says ‘your body was not meant to be used for sinful purposes, but to be dedicated to the Lord’: he created, he redeemed it, for his purposes. Even more amazingly the Lord is meant for the body - which can only mean, as we’ll see, that he intended such an intimate relationship with us that he himself would inhabit our mortal bodies.

        You see, contrary to Greek and Roman thought and the convictions of the early church, the body is not inherently evil. God created bodies, he created us to live in bodies. and he said ‘very good’. We are, as C.S. Lewis put it, hybrid creatures of flesh and spirit. In the words of Os Guinness ‘our bodies grow tired and wear out; sweat, bleed and vomit; grow pot-bellied and run out of breath. It is our bodies,” Guinness says, “which are instruments, either for evil or for good. Obedience or disobedience are expressed in our bodies. God does not address us as purely minds, emotions or wills, but as people with bodies.”

        Furthermore God intends us to inhabit bodies for eternity. Look at 14: “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” If even Jesus, God incarnate, God in the flesh, received his body back at the resurrection, then surely we, who were designed with bodies, will do so as well. The resurrection is a bodily resurrection; you and I will have bodies for eternity: transformed bodies, better bodies, but still bodies - we will not be disembodied spirits, at least not forever.

        But the main point of this first section is that the body we inhabit is meant for the Lord, for his purposes, for his use. Have you bought in to that attitude? Do you consider that body to be his? One implication is that you should take decent care of it. ‘Not everything is beneficial; I will not be mastered by anything.’ Well how about food, or sloth, or smoking, or drinking? If someone loaned you a car, you’d be careful to use the right oil and fuel and keep the right pressure in the tires, so the car would continue working for you and for the real owner. I don’t want to sound like nag, but how’s your weight? How’s your diet? Are you getting any exercise? Are you stuck in that cycle of making food more important than it ought to be, then hating yourself for it? Are you stuck in my cycle, where supposed busyness causes me to try to survive on less and less sleep, resulting in tiredness, ineffectiveness and a frayed temper? We all have ways we could tune this instrument we’ve been loaned.

II. You are to be united with the Lord (1 Cor 6:15-17)

        Paul is pretty clear that we are to consider ourselves, in our bodies, as united to the Lord rather than the things of this world. Verses 15 to 17: 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! 16Do 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." 17But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.

        For the fourth time in this chapter Paul appeals to what his readers know: ‘do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?’. ‘members’ is the ordinary word for parts of the body, ‘your bodies are limbs and organs of Christ himself.’ Paul is going to develop this particular use of the word very completely in chapter 12 of this letter and elsewhere: Christians are, the church is, the body of Christ. 1 Corinthians 12:27 “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.” Romans 12:4-5 “Each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.” But the point here is that believers are united to Christ in the closest fashion: we are ‘in Christ’. And it’s appalling and unthinkable that Christ would use his limbs to unite himself with a prostitute, or to practice any kind of sexual sin. This is one of Paul’s main arguments against any kind of acted out sin: if your body belongs to Jesus to the point that you are his limb, his organ, does it honor him to have that limb used in an immoral way? Of course not. Paul says ‘me genoito’ - may it never be - one of his favorite phrases. It’s unthinkable - and it should be unthinkable to us.

        Paul continues to develop this argument in 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." The word unites literally means ‘glued together’ and Paul likens this to the result of marriage in which ‘the two will become one flesh’. This is a strong argument against sexual immorality. God intended from the beginning that marriage be the place where sexual intimacy was expressed and where a man and a woman became one, glued together. In fact, when the Greeks translated the marriage command in Genesis they used this word: a man will leave his father and mother, get glued together with his wife, and the two will become one flesh. Think of how much damage you can cause trying to take apart something glued together.

        I’ve long taught couples that a one flesh relationship is more than physical: it is physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, a commitment of all of one person to all of another. The two are united; glued together; that’s the goal and the purpose of marriage. Paul turns this underlying assumption in two directions: toward sexual immorality and toward Christ. Clearly sexual immorality brings abuse and shame on God’s design for marriage. Os Guinness explains: “This is the ideal that underlies all the Christian sexual ethics in Scripture. This is what is behind every prohibition in this area. Why is adultery wrong? Why are homosexual practices wrong? Why is a pre-marital relationship wrong? Simply because there is no true oneness and therefore there should be no one-flesh either. This is precisely what Paul is arguing here; the true problem is intimacy without intention and communion without commitment.”

        So to unite with another person in a sexually immoral way is to defame God’s intention for marriage; to unite with Christ in a spiritually intimate way is to fulfill the picture God created in marriage. Verse 17: “But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” Paul uses the same word for uniting: glued together. Those who have believed in Christ are glued together with him in an intimate relationship that is spiritual, and yet can be pictured as physical: we are one flesh; we are limbs and organs of his body. And we are one flesh in that Jesus and Paul and the book of Revelation all picture the bond between Christ and his church as the relationship between a bridegroom and a bride: Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. The unity of marriage points to the unity of Christ with his bride and his body.

        So, like Paul, I want to encourage you to ‘be what you are’ - be united to Christ; be his limbs; your whole self, including your physical body should be at his disposal, and your thoughts, actions, emotions and spirit should, as much as possible, take their cues and directions from him: he’s the head of the body, you’re the limb - you do what he says. This is a clear call to obey him, in his challenging abstract commands like ‘love God, love your neighbor, love one another, love your enemies’.

        It’s also a call to obey him in his challenging concrete commands: ‘if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him.’ or ‘give to the one who asks you’. Just as the limb obeys the commands of the central nervous system, your body should obey the commands of the one who is central to your life. Again, he is the bridegroom; the church is the bride; a bride is supposed to be in submission to the bridegroom, though we see this as a reality in the church far less often than we would want. But you and I should at least do our part to be in submission to Christ. Take for example his repeated command ‘do not worry’. How are you doing with that one? The bridegroom says to the bride “do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' ‘Do not worry about tomorrow’ ‘do not worry about what to say or how to say it.’ ‘do not worry about your life’. True submission is seen in a peaceful response to this command ‘do not worry’.

III. You are not your own (1 Cor 6:18-20)

        So Paul says ‘your body is for the Lord and the Lord is for your body’. ‘Don’t be united to the things of this world, but be intimately united’ with Christ.’ The high point of this thought process is this: ‘you are not your own’. Verses 18 to 20: Flee sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19Do 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; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

        Flee from sexual immorality. Paul gives the command as a present imperative, a habitual action: ‘make it your habit to flee’. The temptation to immorality cannot be dealt except by habitual avoidance. Paul goes on to suggest that this sin is unique: other sins may have destructive impacts on the body, but this distorts and destroys the very purpose for which the body has been created. Bob Deffinbaugh, on the web site gives a great illustration: “How is sexual sin uniquely a sin against the body, while other sins are just sins we commit in the body? Let me seek to illustrate this by using the analogy of a fine automobile. If I owned a magnificent Rolls Royce, there are many ways I could sin in that car. I could, for example, exceed the speed limit. I would be sinning in the car, but not sinning against it. If I were to rob a bank and use the Rolls for a getaway car, I would once again be sinning in the car. But if I needed a load of cow manure for our flower garden, and I opened the doors and shoveled that manure into the car to transport it from the barnyard to my home, that, my friend, would be sinning against the Rolls Royce.”

        Paul nails down this idea magnificently in the last two verses, verses so strong they almost overshadow the rest: “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; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” “Do you not know’ that the Holy Spirit lives inside you, just as God’s presence once dwelt in the temple. The phrase is singular: each believer is a temple in which God dwells.

        Just as it’s abhorrent to think of one of the limbs of Christ being involved in immorality, so it is equally horrible - the Biblical word would be an abomination - for sin to desecrate God’s temple. The Old Testament testifies to this truth. But notice also the underlying truth that all believers have the Holy Spirit. One of the gifts of salvation, along with forgiveness and redemption and adoption and eternal life, is the indwelling of the Holy Spirit as comforter, guard and guide for the believer.

        So, bottom line, you are not your own; you were bought at a price. The verb is aorist: a single decisive action in the past. Paul mentions neither the occasion nor the price, but he’s clearly referring to the sacrifice of Christ which purchased sinners. The imagery is of redemption, buying freedom for a slave. In fact there was a specific procedure call ‘sacral manumission’ in which a slave who had been given the price of his freedom would pay it to the temple treasury of a god, and then be purchased by the deity. Technically he became the slave of the god, but as far as men were concerned he was free. Our redemption is not exactly like this, but we can see that when Christ paid the price of our sin, we were set free from it’s tyranny, but made slaves of the god: of God in Christ. He bought you - he bought your body. It is not your own - it is united to Christ it is his limb, his organ to do with as he desires.

        And is it any surprise that Paul ends the thought with a resounding ‘be what you are’? ‘Therefore honor God with your body. The prime motive in the life of the Christian is not to accomplish our own goals, to take our own actions, but to do those things which bring honor and glory to Him. The imperative here is structured in such a way as to emphasize the urgency of the command: ‘do it so speedily that it’s already done. Let there be no delay.’ Now what exactly does it look like to ‘honor God with your body’? We’ve already said that it looks like being consciously a slave, taking our commands from and offering our submission to the one with whom we have been united. Paul gives us other guidance elsewhere. Romans 6:12 “Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its lusts.” This is exactly what Paul has said here. Romans 12:1 “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God.” Offer your bodies. Everything you do in every day is an action that either honors God or dishonors him, is either an offering to him or a desecration of his temple.

        Don’t overlook the practical nature of this section’s guidance. Paul says ‘there are a lot of things I’m free to do, but not everything is beneficial.’ There are times when we have to look at our lives and evaluate what we’re doing, and say ‘As one owned by God, as his bond servant, is this beneficial to the cause?’ This is a test of our daily schedule, our weekly calendar, and even of our friendships and hobbies, our pre-occupations and worries. But his second restriction is an even better guideline: I will not be enslaved to anything. Ask yourself: Am I a slave to stuff? Is the pursuit of material gain and material security controlling my life? Am I a slave to sex? Have I walked outside of God’s gracious plan by indulging sexual sin?

        Am I a slave to sloth? Am I that slave who always has an excuse not to do the things the master wants me to do? Am I a slave to society or culture? Do I take hold of culture’s answers with both hands but pay no attention to the answers given in God’s word? Am I a slave? Good diagnostic question.

        And the practical use of this text certainly doesn’t end there. The simple command to flee immorality is easily applied to all kinds of sin. Paul says to Timothy ‘flee the evil desires of youth’. There are times when the only decent response to temptation is to get away from it - in the body. Sexual temptation is best addressed by running away, as Joseph did from Potiphar’s wife. In fact addictions of any kind have to be addressed by putting distance between you and the source of temptation. If you are an alcoholic the last job you want is to be a bartender. And any of the slaveries just mentioned can be addressed by running away. To honor God with your body, flee those things that are not beneficial, that tempt you and enslave you.

         Why? It couldn’t be any clearer than it is: You are not your own; you were bought at a price. If you belonged to you, you could do whatever you liked with yourself. But you don’t: even your body belongs to God, who paid the price in Jesus to purchase it. So when someone loans you something valuable, you’ve gotta take care of it. Therefore honor God with your body.