The temple of the Holy Spirit. 6:12-20
In our passage for study Paul confronts the issue of church members visiting prostitutes.
v12. In verses 12, 13 and 18b, Paul quotes slogans used by his opponents and then details an argument against them. In the opening verse he notes that it is true that in Christ we are free from the constraints of the law, sin and death. Such freedom is beneficial. Yet, freedom can be used in a way that is not beneficial. So, we can use our freedom to place ourselves in slavery again, to be "mastered" by something or someone. Clearly, Paul has in mind "fornication" - physical sexual union with someone outside a marital relationship, in particular, visiting prostitutes. Not only is fornication an enslavement to sin, but it is an enslavement to the sexual partner. Each is psychologically imprinted onto the other. We were not set free to become a slave of sin.
v13-14. Another false claim made by some of the Corinthians relates to an assumed dichotomy between our spiritual eternal being, and our "body", our humanity - the living, breathing, self. Some of the church members obviously put great trust in the slogan "food for digestion and the digestive system for food, and God will do away with both of them" - implying that the functions of the body, including sex, are of matters of the flesh and of this age, and therefore, unimportant. Not so, argues Paul. We have been raised with Christ, intimately united to Christ, such that our new self is certainly not for fornication. We are being transformed into the likeness of Christ and fornication is totally incompatible with that transformation.
v15. Paul now theologically tackles the issue of fornication. He points out that the Corinthians have failed to understand the true nature of sexual intercourse. Based on Genesis 2:24, the idea of "one flesh" in marriage, Paul explains that an integral union is established between a man and a woman in the sex act. Yet, there is also an integral union that exists between Christ and the individual believer. Thus, if the sexual union is illicit, say with a prostitute as here, then the two unions become mutually exclusive.
v16-18a. Paul now extends the point made in v15. In simple terms, the believer already belongs to Christ and is indwelt by the Spirit, how then can we go off and belong to a prostitute? The two unions are irreconcilable because they are mutually exclusive. So, avoid fornication like the plague.
v18b. Paul now quotes another slogan: "Every sin that a person commits is outside the body", NRSV, ie. sin does not affect the true self ("other" is not in the Greek). Paul treats this slogan with disdain. Of course sin affects the self and this is easily demonstrated when it comes to fornication. Fornication "attacks" the self, psychologically imprints the prostitute onto us and tears us away from Christ. Because Christ is intimately united to us, transforming us into his image, there is a sense where our body now belongs to him; we are one with him. Sin tears at our union with Christ.
v19-20. Since our real self belongs to God, we must glorify God in the way we treat the self. We are the sanctuary of the Spirit in the sense that we are intimately associated with the divine. This being the case, we are not a free agent. This state of grace was gained at great cost; Christ died for us "therefore honor God with your bodies" - "be engaged in the Lord's service"
Do your own thing
In our passage for study, Paul has argued against fornication. He has done so, not by demanding that his readers keep the law. He has not even mentioned the law of adultery. Rather, he has reminded his readers of their standing in Christ and thus, of the incompatibility of such a sin with their Christian walk. A person united to Christ cannot countenance union with sin. The two are mutually exclusive.
By being united with Christ in his death and resurrection we "have been released from the law so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code", Rom.7:6. "Now that we have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God, the benefit we reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life", Rom.6:22. "Therefore, do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace", Rom.6:13-14.
It is not possible to follow Christ and then claim the freedom to sin. We will always fall short of the glory of the living God; imperfection will always be with us. Our past may haunt us, our marriages may fail, our unregenerate nature may repeatedly raise its ugly head, but God's mercy in Christ will constantly cover us. Yet, if we set our face against God and devalue the horror of sin, defiantly claim that sin is not sin, then we will end up a slave to sin. Therefore, stand in the strength of the Lord. Through Christ's death and resurrection we are one with him and indwelt by him. This reality will strengthen us, it will empower us to honor our God.
The Christian today is constantly tempted to compromise on sexual matters. Our society is obsessed with the freedom of sensual self-expression. Yet, such freedom can only lead to slavery. So, stand in Christ.
Why hasn't Paul just simply told the Corinthians to obey the Mosaic law against adultery?
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