1 Corinthians 6:12-20
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her?For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him.
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
One of the questions that readers of 1 Corinthians always ask is, “How could these people have gotten so messed up?” If you just list out all the major controversies they seem to be having, it’s quite astounding. They are splitting off into factions, taking each other to court, worshiping idols, getting drunk at church, denying the physical resurrection, and sleeping around in ways that make the Gentiles blush. This is more than ordinary church problems. What in the world is going on?
There are a few places in 1 Corinthians where we can see that they weren’t falling into these problems by accident. It seems that many of them were happening completely on purpose, and this was because they had a very strange theological position which led to such behavior. To be specific, they had a confused eschatology. This is, in my opinion, how they could come to such outrageous conclusions about ethical matters. They seem to have believed that all of the eschatological promises had been fulfilled, that they were already living in the new spiritual state, and that therefore they did not have to worry about rules and regulations. Sin was not an issue for them because they had already “arrived” at their destiny. We can see this in a few places throughout 1 Corinthians. In chapter 15, it’s clear that some denied a physical resurrection. Paul asks, “how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?” (1 Cor. 15:12). In chapter 4, he uses sarcastic language to describe how the Corinthians think of themselves— “You are already full! You are already rich! You have reigned as kings without us—and indeed I could wish you did reign, that we also might reign with you!” (1 Cor. 4:8). Here in chapter 6, Paul now has to interact with the claim that “all things are lawful” (1 Cor. 6:12). Paul has to straighten that out in order to teach the Corinthians how to understand sanctification and to live holy lives.
This morning we will take a look at how Paul corrects the Corinthians mixed up theology. He tries to separate things which are morally “indifferent” and truly matters of Christian freedom from those things which are still off-limits, and he does this by applying a Biblical eschatology to their present sanctification. They need to live their lives in a way that is consistent with their final destiny in Christ.
Really what Paul is saying is that the work which Christ has done for believers has changed their identities. They are new people, and the way that they answer questions of personal morality is simply by knowing who we are. This means knowing what we were originally created for, as well as what we now owe Jesus for our salvation. We need to act like who we really are, in Christ, and this means helping others and glorifying Christ. We need to be the Body of Christ, and our goal ought to be getting to the place in our Christian maturity where we freely desire to do the right thing, with or without rules. We need to be who we are, and we need to train ourselves to want this.
Now, how could the Corinthians believe that they were already living in the New Heavens and New Earth in its final state? That seems a little far-fetched. But in the 1st Century, for new believers, it was actually a real temptation. You see, a lot of “End Times” things had happened. As we mentioned during the Advent season, the first coming of Christ was marked by a lot of “end of the world” prophecies. Jesus’ death, burial, and resurrection also fulfilled eschatological prophecies from the Old Testament, and the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost ushered in “the Last Days.” That’s pretty much exactly what Peter says in Acts 2 when he is explaining the prophecy of Joel.
The fact that the “law” was no longer binding in the way that it had been was also eschatologically significant. If the ceremonial and judicial law has been transformed with the New Covenant, then might not the moral law also be changed? This appears to be the argument that Paul is answering here in vs. 12. He says, “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” By “all things,” he doesn’t mean that all moral actions are lawful. That would run into contradictions all over the place, especially in chapter 5 and with what Paul is about to say in chapter 6. Paul instead seems to be taking the Corinthians’ own slogan and giving it the correct meaning. All “things are lawful” in the sense that there are no longer ceremonial restrictions about food, ritual cleanliness, or physical holiness boundaries. This what Christianity has called “things indifferent.” You can eat bacon, go without ritual washings, and associate with Gentiles, even at church!
But even this doesn’t mean that there’s no moral direction involved. Yes, all these things are lawful, but Paul says that they are not all equally helpful. This is main argument in this section. , “All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.” This is a line he will repeat in chapter 10. There he will say that even if something is technically lawful, we still need to ask the question “Does it edify?” He says that our rule for making decisions within Christian liberty should be this, “Let no one seek his own, but each one the other’s well-being” (1 Cor. 10:24).
In fact, Paul says that the misuse of Christian liberty—using something that is lawful in a selfish way that does not help others—is itself sinful. This is part of what he means when he says, “Foods for the stomach and the stomach for foods, but God will destroy both it and them” (1 Cor. 6:13). Some commentators think this is also an argument that the Corinthians have made to Paul and to which Paul is responding. If God is going to destroy the body, then what does it matter what we eat? But I think Paul is putting a double meaning on it. Yes, he is probably using the Corinthians’ own rhetoric, but I think he’s also adding the point that God reserves the right to “destroy” those persons who misuse their liberty and turn it into sin. After all, he said, back in chapter 3, that God would “destroy” anyone who defiled the temple (1 Cor. 3:17), and he’s about to get right back into that conversation about how our bodies are the temple of God. So I take his point here to be that, yes, you do have the freedom to eat whatever kinds of food you would like, but the way that eat them and the reason that you eat them will determine whether the eating is sinful or not. If you use your Christian liberty to promote the prideful use of food and in a way that will harm other believers, then God will judge you.
This is what Paul argues for in Romans 14, by the way:
Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather resolve this, not to put a stumbling block or a cause to fall in our brother’s way. I know and am convinced by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself; but to him who considers anything to be unclean, to him it is unclean. Yet if your brother is grieved because of your food, you are no longer walking in love. Do not destroy with your food the one for whom Christ died. Therefore do not let your good be spoken of as evil; for the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. For he who serves Christ in these things is acceptable to God and approved by men. (Rom. 14:13-18)
He concludes with a similar rule there, “Therefore let us pursue the things which make for peace and the things by which one may edify another” (Rom. 14:19). So, the New Covenant does bring liberty. We no longer have the food laws or precise holiness codes of the Old Covenant. Yet, this does not mean that we can live however we please, but instead means that we must use all things to glorify Christ and to help our neighbor.
Sexuality and the Body
The next section is a little confusing at first. Paul moves from food to sexuality, which might cause you to think that sexuality is also an issue that falls under the umbrella of Christian liberty. However, Paul immediately squashes this notion, arguing that there are strict boundaries for Christian sexuality. Why did he connect it with food then? The best answer is that he is actually separating two issues that the Corinthians had connected. It was the Corinthians who had put sexuality in the category of things indifferent, arguing that the laws pertaining to sexuality were like the laws pertaining to food. Both had been fulfilled in Christ. I think this is the explanation for how they were able to practice and tolerate such gross immorality. They weren’t just falling into ordinary sexual temptation. They were actually acting out a very strange heretical theology.
So Paul is distinguishing two things that the Corinthians had put together. He says that sexuality is not like food because it has a particular relationship to the body. And by body, Paul means both, our individual bodies and the Body, the body of Christ.
Now the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? Certainly not! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. (1 Cor. 6:13b-17)
Paul had argued that things like food are to be used for our neighbor. Now he argues that our bodies are “for the Lord.” He explains this more by saying that our bodies are members of Christ, by virtue of our union with Him through the Holy Spirit, and he adds that they will be raised up again to live with him. Our future, our eschatology, matters and determines how we should use our bodies now.
Paul also points back to the creation account, which is always how he explains the nature of human sexuality. God created man after His own image, male and female He created them (Gen. 1:27). Paul highlights the fact that this pairing of two humans creates “one flesh.” This is why we are not to engage in sexual immorality. Sexual activity creates a union between those who participate in it. It is supposed to do this. That’s its basic design. And since that union is created, it must be honored and protected. That’s why we build a covenant around it.
We also have to realize that, for believers, we are united to Christ as well. The Church is Christ’s bride, and we are, therefore, “one flesh” with him. As Paul says in Ephesians 5:30, “we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones.” This means that the way we use our bodies necessarily involves Jesus. We take Jesus with us wherever we go. If we united our body to another person, we are, in a way, uniting Christ’s body to that person. And so we must not engage in sexual immorality. We must use our bodies for the sake of Christ.
You are not Your Own
Paul then adds one more guiding rules, “You are not your own” (vs. 19). Because we are Christ’s body, we belong to Him. More than this, we have to remember that we “were bought at a price” (vs. 20) and so now should live our lives, not to repay that price but to show gratitude for what we’ve been given. This is why we should live lives of holiness:
Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Cor. 6:18-20)
This is our basic rule for life—glorify God in your body and I your spirit. This is true for the moral law which we still keep, for sexual ethics, and for areas of Christian liberty. As Paul will say again, “whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31).
Why should we glorify God? Because He has bought us. He has redeemed us by the blood of Christ (Revelation 5:9), and we belong to Him. He has made us into His temple, His house, and the Holy Spirit now dwells in us as it once did in the tabernacle and in the Old temple of Israel. Therefore we must glorify God with our bodies, with His temple, and show His glory and our gratitude to one another and to the world.
The fact that our bodies belong to Christ answers both questions of how to apply the moral law and how to use Christian freedom. It tells us what we really are and what we are for. Since Christ was the Second Adam, He shows us what we were originally created to be. But, He is the Second Adam because the First Adam failed. Therefore, Christ also shows us how God redeemed us and set us back on the path to what we should be. And because Christ has already conquered death, He shows us our future, what we will be. In all of this He gives us our purpose. We are not our own. We belong to Him.
This rule should be how you answer any complicated question. Should you go to see that movie? Perhaps. Is it appropriate? And by appropriate, I don’t mean does it have swearing or nudity. Is it appropriate to who you are and what you are supposed to be about? Is it the kind of thing that the temple of God and the body of Christ ought to be associated with? Should you take that job? Well, does it glorify God? Should you spend you money on that new car? Is it the kind of thing that you should spend Christ’s money on? This is how we should go about sanctification. We should be who we were meant to be, and we should be who we will become. In short, we should be who we are.
The idea of the resurrection is also important. God will “destroy” the “stomach” but He will resurrect the body. Our sinful passions have to be put to death while our appetites have to be trained to desire good things. We should treat this life as training for the next. We should be living resurrection life now, and that will help you answer questions of freedom and choice. Be who you are supposed to be. In Christ, be who you are.
This question is going to come up many more times before we finish the book of 1st Corinthians, and it’s a question which continues to come up in our Christian lives today. How should we live? We know the answer can’t be licentiousness, but it also cannot be legalism. How do we make decisions about holiness? Choose the thing which glorifies Christ by honoring His temple and helping His people. Work to make this the choice that you desire as well. Make it the thing you want to do.
Let us pray.