Study Notes for I Corinthians 6:12-20 (click here for Study Sheet)
"Everything is permissible for me-but not everything is beneficialI will not be mastered by anything," Paul declares.
Apparently some members in the Corinthian congregation have been flaunting their freedom in Christ, boasting that no law binds them now that they are in Christ. Paul stops them short, however, and declares that while they're legally free to do anything, not everything is good for them.
Paul takes it a step farther and touches the heart of the matter; "I will not be mastered by anything." He realizes that most people persist in destructive behavior because it's a habit they can't break. The behavior has mastered them. The compelling sin Paul is addressing here is sexual immorality. He knows that many in the Corinthian church have rationalized sexual sin, and he explodes their rationale.
Certain Corinthians had picked up the Gnostic heresy that the body was of no account; only things of the spirit mattered. From this belief they built the argument that what they did with their bodies had no spiritual significance. They could pursue pleasure in whatever way they wished.
Paul dismisses food as a serious problem. God will destroy both food and the stomach, he says. But immorality is intolerable.
"The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord," he declares, "and the Lord for the body." This assertion negates the Gnostic philosophy that the body has no spiritual significance. Our bodies are meant for the Lord, and the Lord for our bodies. If our bodies are God's, then they surely matter spiritually.
Furthermore, Paul reminds us that our bodies will be resurrected just as Jesus' was. If our spirits were the only things that mattered, God wouldn't bother redeeming and resurrecting our bodies! Our bodies, he persists, "are members of Christ himself." It's not just our spirits which are Christ's body; our whole self-body and spirit-are his.
Paul jars us with his next picture: "Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!"
As part of the body of Christ, if I am immoral, I am being unfaithful to Christ. My body is his. Furthermore, if I am immoral, I am defiling Christ's body.
God does not see our bodies and our spirits separately. We are one entity. When we unite ourselves with the Lord, Paul says, we are one with him in spirit. Our bodies become the home of the Holy Spirit. If we are sexually immoral, we are literally taking "the members of Christ" and involving the body of Christ in our immoral act.
Paul points out that sexual immorality results in becoming "one flesh". That is the same phrase used to describe marriage. In a marriage "a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh." (Genesis 2:24) In an illicit relationship, however, there is no "leaving" of one's life and committing to a new life with the lover. An immoral relationship has no binding promises; it doesn't involve both parties renouncing other loyalties and committing only to each other. Becoming "one flesh" without the promise of permanence will yield lethal wounds when the bond is torn.
Sexual immorality in believers is particularly destructive because they bring uncommitted bodies to a committed Lord. Jesus doesn't give and take his Spirit from us depending upon our behavior. When we accept Jesus, the Holy Spirit comes to us and lives in us. Since God sees our bodies and spirits together as whole units, our relationships with Jesus suffer if our bodies are not committed. We are being unfaithful to our Lord. We put the Holy Spirit in us in a compromised place. We don't fully open ourselves to him.
The Corinthians had an even more complex problem. The prostitutes in Corinth to which Paul referred were temple prostitutes. They were not only making money; they practiced their trade as part of the worship of pagan gods. When believers united with them, they were placing Christ's body in union with bodies dedicated to evil spirits. The Corinthians were setting themselves up for internal spiritual battles.
Sexual fidelity, on the other hand, honors God. When believers are in committed marriages, they honor God with their bodies. The "members of Christ himself" become united, and the Holy Spirit becomes part of the marriage.
Even in a marriage, however, partners can behave without integrity. The marriage does not justify disrespectful or selfish treatment of the spouse. If one or both marriage partners are not committed to acting and growing in love, even their "legal" intimacy can be manipulative and brutal. In such conditions, even though it's in a marriage, sexual conduct is not truly intimate; it's dishonoring to the body of Christ.
Sins of pornography and child abuse likewise dishonor Christ. People who call themselves believers are called to live in faithful purity, dedicated to honoring the Holy Spirit within them and the spouses God has given them.
"All other sins a man commits are outside his body," Paul says, "but he who sins sexually sins against his own body."
Sexual sin is different from all others because it involves relationships. Becoming "one flesh" creates a powerful emotional bond between two people. If that bond has no permanent commitment holding it together, it becomes bondage. It lacks honesty and integrity. If one or both parties are actually believers, the relationship will tear them apart internally. On the one hand, the Holy Spirit claims and lives in their bodies. On the other hand, the body is behaving unfaithfully.
If a believer is immoral, he or she treats another person without integrity. Additionally, that believer is unfaithful to our indwelling God. Sexual immorality creates spiritual war inside a Christ-follower.
We are "not [our] own; [we] were bought at a price." We owe our Lord fidelity.
Marriage is the symbol of Christ and the church. Jesus is the bridegroom, and we, his followers, are his bride. As believers we must live our lives to honor that relationship with our Savior. We are to live committed to God, giving ourselves only to Him and to the one we marry. He has redeemed our bodies and our souls, and he has brought life to our mortal bodies through his Spirit who lives in us. (Romans 8:11)
We, the temple of the Holy Spirit, wait for our beloved bridegroom to return and physically take us to be with him.
"My lover is mine and I am his." (Song of Solomon 2:16)
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 23, 2000.