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

. 8 min read

Call to Worship, Psalm 36.5-10
Children, John
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.”
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
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).
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 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