Body Life (1): Plus One (2016-0117)

Call to Worship, Psalm 36.5-10
Children, John 2.1-11
Message, 1 Corinthians 6.12-20

Well, that’s an interesting passage, not typical Sunday School fare, except for a line we take out of context: “Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit” (6.19). One of my former pastors coined an expression designed both to be theologically accurate and to conceal what he was doing. He wanted to exercise, get in shape … not his strong suit … so he instructed his kids that if anyone called while he was jogging they should tell them, “Dad’s doing temple maintenance.”
      Given the context of this passage, that members of the church, what Paul calls “members of Christ”, are uniting their bodies with prostitutes … half of you are saying to yourselves: “I wonder how the pastor is going to keep this PG.” The other half is hoping that I slip up just a little, enough to make it extra interesting. To both group, a couple things up front. One, Gordon Fee, in his commentary on 1 Corinthians, writes that this passage is “one of the more important theological passages in the NT about the human body” (251). Two, I’m going to try to do what I believe the apostle Paul does. Instead of simple moralizing (“thou shalt not”), instead of prideful condescending (“that’s unintelligent”), he actually pays attention to theology – the implicit theology that underlies the argument of the Corinthian Christians (which misses the mark) and a biblical theology of the body which he offers as an alternative.
      This is the first message in our “Body Life” series, and we are going to explore the variety of ways that Paul uses the term “body” in 1 Corinthians. He uses it as metaphor for the people of God, he uses it as the literal human body in human sexuality and resurrection, he uses it as a metaphor for the presence of Christ in the bread and cup of the Table of the Lord.
      This series of message was preceded by our observance of The Baptism of the Lord Sunday, last week. It is, very much, a bodily experience to be baptized, to be washed. And, as Joel pointed out, baptism makes us the body of Christ in the world. This message series will end on the Sunday we remember Jesus’ Transfiguration. It is the story of Jesus being revealed in glory, before his death and resurrection, a glimpse of what is to come. And it is a revelation of his BODY, not some disembodied glorious cloud.
Most of us have a complicated relationship with our bodies. We’re not particularly satisfied with how we look, we’re not happy about how we feel. We find some people attractive but don’t think that others find us attractive. Or, we think everyone finds us attractive. We wish ourselves to be older – 18 or 21 – or we wish ourselves to be younger. Bodily noises and smells are embarrassing; we need to excuse ourselves. To go back to the line we lift out of context, but still use in a way that is largely consistent with the context, “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.”
      That is, our bodies are HOLY! The age marks that are beginning to appear in my skin. The creaks and groans of joints that have been pushed a little too hard in my 47 years. The subtle indicators of the power of gravity adding a line here, a fold there. The multiplying grey hair, with its rough texture and unruly curls. The out of proportion or asymmetrical features. All of it, soup to nuts, HOLY.
      And, if the idea that our bodies are temples isn’t enough to convince us, let’s go back a couple weeks to Christmas. Jesus – the Son of God – takes on human flesh and blood. He has a BODY. He still has a fully human body. Resurrection is the resurrection of his body – to glory, yet without removing his wounds. Amazing. Truly, the human body is holy.

Let’s get back to the passage before us, the specific problem that Paul is addressing: “members of Christ” are patronizing prostitutes. The Greek word for a sex worker or prostitute is porne, and the word for fornication is porneia. It is the root for our English term pornography. Within the context, I believe it I quite appropriate for us to expand our consideration beyond patronizing prostitutes to other ways we elevate desire and rights above promises and good.
      The conversation around these questions in our culture today is multifaceted. The objectification of women, children, and men in pornography and the sex trade; “safe sex” and “victimless crimes”; legalization of “the world’s oldest profession”; fulfillment of desire as both right and duty; faithfulness and fun; the Darwinian imperative to reproduce, the “strong” not only surviving but passing on their genes to the next generation; the right to control our bodies. Some football fans cynically suggested that Russell Wilson failed to win last year’s Super Bowl because he and his girlfriend had pledged to be chaste. Some sexologists are suggesting that we need an alternative both to monogamy (since the covenant is so often broken) and to open relationships (since most folks have no interest in that), and are suggesting a third relationship pattern they call “monogamish”. Ugh!

Folks in Corinth think of themselves as extraordinarily spiritual. They live on a higher plane, and what they do with their bodies has no impact on their souls. Bodies don’t matter to God because they will die and decay, or they will be destroyed in the last day. The Corinthians, like most Christians today, are confused on the matter of resurrection as well, and we’ll get Paul’s response to this in one of the upcoming dates in our series.
      Paul quotes two of their statements. First, “everything is lawful” or, “everything is permissible”. They claim that, as spiritual people, they have freedom to do anything they want with their bodies. Paul agrees with the basic idea that followers of Jesus are free. He objects to the purpose of that freedom. In the English Standard Version, his response reads, “I will not be enslaved by anything” (6.12), including my desires.
      Second, “food for the stomach and the stomach for food” and “God will destroy them both”. This particular quote has two dimensions.
·       On one hand, that the desires of our bodies are exactly what our bodies are made for. When it comes to food, we are made for the “see food” diet, not for counting calories or points, not for paying attention to gluten or lactose content, and certainly not for the fasting and prayer we talk about during Lent. We have a stomach. The stomach is made for food. The stomach is only fully actualized when we eat. They are making the claim that the same is true for our sexual appetite – we are made for a “see food” diet. Restraint is bad for our bodies. We need the release.
·       On the other hand, that bodies are destined to be destroyed by God, not resurrected.
Paul responds to this argument as well. He indicates that the body is not to be destroyed, but resurrected. And, because the body is to be resurrected, bodies are not simply their desires. Bodies are for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. We are not fulfilled by accomplishing or consuming all we desire. We are only fulfilled in and for the Lord. And, if our body is the Lord’s, then to unite our body with a prostitute, to pursue sex outside of covenant, to become enslaved to porne or porn, is a sin not only against our own body, but against the body of our Lord Jesus, the temple of the Holy Spirit.

In the following chapter, 1 Corinthians 7, we discover some related material. It is related, but the arguments are … weirder (if that were possible). It begins, however, with the flip side of the issue in this passage. Some wives and some husbands are refusing to give themselves to their spouses. Perhaps, one may think, that contributes to the patronizing of prostitutes. Paul does not make that connection. He is addressing it as another inadequate spirituality of the body. In this passage, folks think they are so spiritual that they can pursue desire without any impact on their souls. In the next one, Paul refers to others who think they are so spiritual that they don’t need to please their bodies. And, that they have sole authority over their bodies, a similar language used in today’s abortion debate: “the woman’s body” as her “property”. For a follower of Jesus, however, our bodies belong to the Lord. Our bodies are “members of Christ” (parts of Jesus’ body, another theme that Paul picks up later in the letter) and a “temple of the Holy Spirit”.

Beyond the structure of the argument itself, the basic conclusion that our bodies are made for the Lord, and the theological considerations involved, Paul adds some specific detail about what our bodies are made for.
      Our bodies are made for One, and for Oneness. In terms of sexual love, we are made to be united to one, and only one, other, in covenant love and faithfulness. “The two shall be one flesh.” Our sexual love is a gift of God to make one those who are promised exclusively to one another. However, sexual love is not the only, or greatest, way that our bodies are made for oneness. It is possible to live a life of oneness without having a romantic or sexual partner.
      In terms of the spiritual life, “anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him” (6.17). As both the temple of the Holy Spirit and members of Christ, we are interpenetrated with God. As the psalmist urges, “Take delight in the LORD, and [God] will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37.4). Our highest fulfillment and deepest satisfaction, for both body and soul, is found in One.

That’s nice … but, how? Three practical aspects I want to life up today: Exclusive, Time, Prayer.
      Whether it is “one flesh” or “one spirit”, what the Scriptures envision for our intimate relationships is an exclusive relationship – not only for our bodies but also for our emotions and fantasies. The Song of Songs, an erotic poem in the Bible, uses the metaphors of a private locked garden and a sealed fountain to describe the unique power of an exclusive love relationship. In a similar way, we are called to “love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6.5).
      Time. It takes time to learn to love your partner. Sexual love is wonderful, and sexual love shared exclusively with the same person for 50 years only grows in its power and beauty. Don’t expect your oneness with God to simply jump to the level of maturity of some of the great saints among us. Take the time to learn along the way and enjoy the process.
      Prayer. Prayer is the most intimate thing we can do. Even something as simple as praying to give thanks over a meal turns us to God in those moments. Praying together with our life partner is likewise a powerful way we can bond with one another. Again, simplicity is key. To join hands as you drift off to sleep after an exhausting day and whisper, mumble a word of thanks, a prayer over a problem, binds us in ways that we often fail to recognize. So, in the process of growing more in love with God, practice prayer, expand your practice of prayer, and practice prayer with the person you love.

For most of us, the ideals that Paul shares for intimate relationships are something that we miss by a mile. Our stories are full of brokenness and failure. There is hope. Note that Paul is sharing this with the Corinthians – members of Christ patronizing prostitutes, spouses denying their love to one another – and he does so not to tell them that they are being bad, but because the promise of God is still open to them, there is wholeness for our brokenness, forgiveness for our failure.


Gordon Fee. 1987. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. P. 249-following


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