By Sam E. Stone
First-century Corinth was not an easy place for a Christian to live. Paul’s letters to the church there deal with a number of challenges believers had to face. In 1 Corinthians 6:1-11 he mentions lawsuits; in today’s text he turns to sexual laxity. In chapter 5 he dealt with fornication as an occasion for exercising church discipline.
Some of the people were arguing, “I have the right to do anything.” Evidently they were trying to take the teaching of Paul and misinterpret it to excuse sinful behavior (see also 1 Corinthians 10:23; Galatians 5:23).
J. W. McGarvey explained, “They had erred in taking the rule as to things indifferent, such as natural appetites, and so applying it as to make it cover not only sinful things, but even those grossly so, such as sensuous lusts (compare 1 Peter 2:16).”
1 Corinthians 6:12-16
It appears that some in Corinth were using this concept to excuse themselves for doing wrong. Other religions prescribe rules that people must keep in order to be saved. For them abstaining from unlawful things is part of gaining salvation. But Leon Morris explained, “Not so with Christianity. The believer will avoid evil and unhelpful things, but this does not earn his salvation. Salvation is all of grace. It depends on what God has done in Christ.”
Elsewhere Paul taught that Christians have freedom in Christ (Galatians 2:15-21), but he never excused them for doing wrong. The believer surrenders his body to Christ, not just his heart. As one teacher put it, “Paul emphasizes both the dignity and the destiny of the body.”
Sexual sin involves the union of one person’s body with that of another. Paul reminds the church that their bodies are members of Christ himself. Every Christian is part of the Lord’s body (1 Corinthians 12:27; Ephesians 5:30; John 15:5). It is unthinkable for any part of Christ’s body to be united with a prostitute. The apostle cites Genesis 2:24 to establish this truth (cited also in Matthew 19:5; Ephesians 5:31). McGarvey added, “The correlation between the stomach and food is transient, ending at death; but that between the body and the Lord is made eternal by the resurrection.”
1 Corinthians 6:17-20
Paul contrasts improper intimacy with what is proper (united with the Lord). The better a Christian understands the eternal destiny of the resurrected, glorified body, the better he will be able to use his present, physical body for its God-designed purposes. Christ died to give each person a redeemed soul and a pure body. Because our bodies belong to Christ, we must use them for him.
In the strongest possible terms the apostle commands, “Flee from sexual immorality.” Joseph did precisely this (Genesis 39:12). James offers similar advice: “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). Elsewhere Scripture encourages God’s children to remain faithful to Christ, resisting all evil (see 1 Timothy 6:11; 2 Timothy 2:22).
Orrin Root wrote, “Most sins, like theft, assault, and murder, damage the soul of the sinner, but the physical or material injury falls on someone else. But the fornicator injures his own body. Apart from the disease that may result, there is the worse damage done by wrenching the body from its holy union with Christ.”
Just as the whole church is compared to a temple, so the bodies of individual believers are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God.” Tom Friskney reminded us, “Beware! You are playing with eternal, destructive fire. You could destroy your relationship with God. Flee fornication! Don’t play around with it.” Having respect for the body is a good start to ruling it. Renouncing immorality shows Christian maturity.
The Christian’s body is designed to be a dwelling where God’s Holy Spirit can live. At baptism the believer receives the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38), a heavenly help and encouragement. Paul sums up his directions by saying, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”
Holy living is evidence that a person follows God. J. B. Phillips paraphrased Romans 12:1: “I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him.”
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.