The Gospel and Human Sexuality

William C. Brownson Uncategorized

READ : 1 Corinthians 6:18-20

Shun immorality. Every other sin which a man commits is outside the body; but the immoral man sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

1 Corinthians 6:18-20, rsv

The late Bishop Fulton Sheen once observed that sex has become one of the most talked-about subjects of modern times. Whereas the Victorians pretended it did not exist, moderns pretend that nothing else exists. We can see plenty of evidence around us which seems to support that claim. Someone has called contemporary America a “sex-saturated culture.” The advertisers, the producers of movies and television shows, the pornographers, are all said to “glorify sex.” The consciousness of our people is being exposed to more and more explicit portrayals of sexual behavior. It’s almost becoming a national obsession.

Fulton Sheen, in his generation, believed that there was a reason for that. He wrote: “The principal reason for sex deification is loss of belief in God. Once men lose God they lose the purpose of life; and when the purpose of living is forgotten, the universe becomes meaningless. Man then tries to forget his emptiness in the intensity of a momentary experience.” Turning from God, in other words, we have made an idol of sex. And in doing that, many feel we have lost the deeper meaning of our sexuality.

We’ve been thinking together in these recent weeks about Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. The believers in the city of Corinth lived in a culture in some respects strikingly like ours. The sexual mores of that city were so notorious in the ancient world that the term “Corinthian” came to mean an immoral person. “To Corinthianize” was to engage in sexual promiscuity.

AN INSIGNIFICANT MATTER?

It was difficult for Christians in that environment to keep their moral and spiritual balance. Paul has a good deal to say to them accordingly about sexual behavior. He’s contending against a mentality that most of us would readily recognize. There were many in Corinth who looked upon sexual intercourse, for example, as a matter of very little consequence. It had become so customary in Corinth for men and women to have many different sexual partners that the significance of any one sex act seemed to them trifling. We learn from Paul’s letter here in Chapter 6 how people rationalized about that. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” they maintained, and both will obviously perish. Some of them then drew this parallel: the body is for sexual intercourse and sexual intercourse for the body. In other words, the sex act was seen as having no more significance than a meal or a drink. Each was a purely natural function, to be regularly repeated.

Some of the Corinthians, picking up language they may have learned from Paul, said piously, “all things are lawful for me.” They apparently meant to include in the “all things” promiscuous sexual behavior. Just as it was lawful for a Christian to eat every kind of food, they reasoned, so apparently all kinds of sexual activity were sanctioned. According to the prevailing view, it didn’t make a great deal of difference how you behaved sexually. After all, it was merely your body that was being involved in this, and the body was temporal and perishable anyway. There was strong resistance in Corinth, apparently, to any limitation of people’s sexual expression.

Does that have a familiar sound to you? Pleas for current sexual mores may be more sophisticated, but their message is essentially the same. The sex act, according to many moderns, has no great significance in itself. Sex is for entertainment. It’s to be enjoyed for itself, without emotional entanglements, without commitments, certainly without guilt.

We Americans have even coined the term “casual sex.” If people like each other, feel attracted to each other – why not? They may never see each other again. They may have nothing else in common. But if the chemistry is right, so the argument runs, let there be sex.

We begin to wonder, does this outlook really glorify our sexuality or does it rather make it trivial? Does it fill the sex act with significance or diminish its meaning? Does it ultimately enrich human life or merely cheapen it?

PROFOUNDLY PERSONAL

Against this background, Paul wants to present a very different view of sexuality, a very different understanding of what happens when persons engage in sexual intercourse. He begins by rejecting the idea that the body is for sex and sex is for the body. For Paul, the body is more than the flesh and blood, the bone and sinew, that make up our physical frame. The stomach for food is a physical organ and nothing more, but the body represents the mystery of the person. The body is more than a physical organism; it’s an animated self. And what Paul wants the Corinthians to see is that the sex act involves the body in an intensely personal way.

Paul looks back to a great Old Testament word about marriage. Remember this? “Therefore, a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh.” That’s a stunningly different view of sexual intercourse, isn’t it? From this standpoint, the sex act in some way constitutes a union between two persons. It isn’t simply like taking a drink of water or eating a meal. It has lasting significance. It creates a bond. It alters somehow the persons involved.

For that reason, Paul can say that sexual immorality differs from other forms of sin. Those are outside the body, but in a sense the person who commits immorality sins against his or her body. Now of course we can think of other kinds of sin that also affect the body adversely, but Paul insists that there’s something about this that goes deeper, that involves our personhood more profoundly, that injures in the depths one’s self.

He also implies that there is something about this kind of evil that especially hooks us. To the bold claim, “All things are lawful for me,” Paul answers, “Yes, all things are lawful for me but I will not be brought under the power of any.” The immorality that injures the person can also capture the life. Giving way to it, we lose something of our selfhood and something of our freedom.

The apostle is not saying here that the sins of sex are worse than all other sins, as though violent, malicious crimes were less heinous than this. But he is saying that sexual misconduct can never be taken lightly, because it strikes at the heart of our inmost selfhood, and because it brings us into bondage to an alien master.

THE DIFFERENCE CHRIST MAKES

Now having warned about the evils of sexual promiscuity, Paul wants people to view the whole issue of our sexual life in the light of the gospel. What does the good news of Jesus Christ, crucified and risen for us, say about this important dimension of human life?

His first great affirmation is this: The body is the Lord’s and it’s therefore, “for Him.” Paul is saying to these Christians: You don’t belong to yourself. Your body is not yours to use as you please. You, remember, were bought with a price. Christ gave Himself to die for you, and now you are His.

In the ancient world, a slave could sometimes manage to save up the price of purchasing his freedom. When he had succeeded in doing that, he would bring the money to the temple and devote it to a god. Then, though he was free in the eyes of other people, he was thought henceforth to belong to this deity.

In the most profound sense, this has become true for Christians. Their freedom has been purchased not by their toils and savings but by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and now they belong entirely to Him. So since the body of a believer belongs to Christ, it is not to be used for fornication, for immorality, but for Him according to His design and plan.

Further, the body of the believer has been marvelously joined to Christ. “Do you not know,” asks Paul, “that your bodies are members of Christ? . . . He who is united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” You are joined now to the living Lord, he says. This makes every kind of immoral practice unthinkable. Paul asks with horror, “Shall I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!” The enormity of such a thing becomes immediately apparent when we see the issue in the light of the gospel, in the light of the risen Christ, and the union of believers with Him.

Again, the body as Paul describes it has a high destiny. God raised the Lord, he says, and will also raise us up by His power. The body of a believer is more than mortal flesh. The personhood which Jesus Christ has redeemed will not be destroyed even by the power of death. These bodies of ours will be raised with Christ to endless life. Can I possibly treat my body then as though it were merely a physical organism? Merely a perishing carcass? I am destined for resurrection life.

Paul has one more question in the light of the gospel. “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you which you have from God?” The word temple which the apostle uses here refers to the inner sanctuary, the sacred shrine, the place where God had pledged Himself to dwell among His peoples. It was called by the Hebrews “the Holy of Holies” or the “Most Holy Place.” It represented the personal presence of the God, the Holy One of Israel.

Since the Christian’s body is the temple of God, since the Holy Spirit dwells within him or her, nothing is to be allowed to go on in the body that would dishonor God’s presence, that would grieve His Spirit.

In the light of this gospel, the apostle Paul has two strong exhortations for his friends in Corinth. The first is negative: “Shun immorality.” Keep clear of it, in other words. Have nothing to do with it. By immorality, Paul means every kind of sexual liaison outside of marriage. He says, “Shun it.” In that culture, immorality was so pervasive that shunning it was a large order indeed. Mere disapproval was not enough. Strong action was required to avoid it. But in the light of these great gospel motivations, in the power of the living Christ, that’s what Christians were to do. Say no to it. Turn away from it. And if they are commanded to do that, then by the power of Jesus Christ, it must be possible. Yes, and many servants of God have found it so. Don’t believe the myth that every man cheats on his wife. Don’t believe the lie that no healthy man or woman can remain a virgin until marriage. It is possible, in the strength of the Lord, to shun immorality.

The second charge is positive, wonderfully so. Listen: “Glorify God in your body.” The gospel way is never a bare prohibition. It’s a positive style of life. Seek to conduct yourself in every aspect of life and especially in this crucial area of human sexuality with the aim of honoring God. Devote yourself entirely to Him. Offer up your body and all your members as instruments of righteousness to Him. And then in the practical affairs of life, obey Him.

This delivers us from a religion that is falsely spiritual. It makes living the life of faith a practical reality. Friends, it’s in the concrete circumstances in which our physical members operate that we either honor God or dishonor Him. The life of obedience is the purest expression of our devotion and praise.

Whatever your past experience may have been, God is offering you today a new beginning. His forgiveness can wash away all the stains and wrongs of the past. Sexual immorality is no exception to that. Christ died for all our sins. Through faith in Him we are pardoned freely.

However trapped you may be in destructive patterns of behavior, believe it, the Lord can liberate you. By His Spirit, He can empower you to live in a new way. If you will this day turn away from all immorality and yield yourself entirely to the lordship of Jesus Christ, He will give you the strength to glorify God in your body.

PRAYER: O God, may every person sharing this message be able to look at this crucial issue in the light of the gospel of Christ, who gave Himself for us and rose again. Amen.