This sermon is part of the sermon series "Project Hazmat: Handling Today's Tough Topics". See series.
I often need to fix and repair things, but I'm not very good with nails. I'm even worse with screws, and there are some things that duct tape just can't repair. I know because I've tried. And when I can't use one of those three categories, I move to Super Glue and all of its powerful properties. If something is broken and I can't fix it any other way, I go to the utility drawer and pull out the bottle of Super Glue.
Super Glue can be really good or it can be really, really bad. For example, I go to the Super Glue bottle and try to unscrew the lid, but that lid, of course, was put on there a week ago when I used it before. And Super Glue got on the lid, so now it's super glued to the bottle itself. And even though I live in a country with remarkable technological advances, there's still no way to get a Super Glue lid off a Super Glue bottle that's already been used. So I twist it and turn it and I get frustrated, and I think, Oh, I'll just use pliers.
So I get the pliers and I squeeze the bottle trying to get it off, and of course no Super Glue's coming out of where it's supposed to be coming out. But it starts to bleed out of the sides of that cranky little metal bottle. And now it's all over my fingers. I wipe my fingers together to get the Super Glue off, but they are now adhered one to another. And of course what can you do at that point? Close your eyes, be a man, and pull your hands apart. Yow! My skin tears and it hurts like crazy, and it's just so frustrating. Super Glue can be bad—really bad.
But it can be really good, too. When I actually use it in the right way, I can put my wife's broken teacup back together. I can fix the wooden sword one more time. And when it works well, you can't even tell it was ever broken. It's completely restored to what it was.
In this morning's passage, Paul is using the concept of glue, the concept of powerful and potent bonding. As a matter of fact, one of the words he uses comes from the word group in its original language that includes glue. In verses 16 and 17, Paul uses the word joining. The word joining also means "to hold fast." It also means "to glue." Paul is giving us as an image of the fact that the body is profoundly bondable. The body is a kind of Super Glue. You and your body are made to bond in a profound way, to have deep bonds. That's how God designed your body.
The bodily resurrection of Jesus changes our lives because it changes our bodies. It changes how we think about our bodies. It changes how we act in our bodies. And it changes the central place of bodies in our thinking about life in God and life as people. Our bodies are eternal realities, and they are made for bonding. This is a reality set into the very fabric of all that is. Jesus' body is an eternal reality. When we are raised from the dead when Jesus returns, we will have our bodies. We'll see more about what those bodies are like according to the Bible.
If this is true about our bodies, then we have to decide how to engage them in bonding. Because if they are so profoundly bondable, if they are like Super Glue, that can be really good. But it can also be really bad, destructive, traumatizing.
When Paul talks about the body, he wants to focus on the good things you can do with your body. Although he talks about the bad things for the sake of being clear, he's not interested in the dangerous things you can do with your body. The preponderance of his teaching is on the glory of your body, the beauty of your body, the goodness of your body. And that's where we'll spend most of our time as we look at this passage.
If you come at this passage sequentially—a proposed idea, some secondary ideas to support that idea, and then the main point at the end—you'll get confused reading Paul in 1 Corinthians, because he's not writing with one-plus-one-plus-one-equals-three, sequential thinking. He's actually writing with poetic thinking. He's using a ring composition—think of the trunk of a tree when it's cut, with rings moving out from the center. There are over a hundred different homilies designed like this in 1 Corinthians. It is a work of true literary genius, apart from its theological import. So the beginning and the end are the outside rings. Then you move in from both sides toward the center, which we might easily skip over as less important. But the middle section is actually the main point. Paul quotes Scripture, from the book of Genesis: "For it is written, 'The two shall become one flesh.'" So we're moving in on a ring composition.
You may think, Oh, this passage is all about marriage, because that's the center piece. But it's actually not all about marriage. This passage and its teaching are all about your body and the way in which your body is made for bonding. That's what this passage is all about. Marriage is not the most important way that your body's made for bonding. Not everyone marries. As a matter of fact, Paul even says, "I actually prefer that some remain unmarried for the sake of the kingdom of God, but others will marry like Peter, who has a wife."
He's not saying that marriage is the center of all bonding. Why is marriage in the center of this passage? He's trying to deal with the people in Corinth who are living a confused, pale, one-dimensional sexuality. He's trying to say that their sexuality does have expression, but only when two become one flesh.
But your body isn't ultimately about your sexuality. Your body is about bonding. Isn't it amazing that when I say the word body, we think of sexuality? That's confusing. That's not a biblical concept of body. That's a cultural confusion. The biblical understanding is that the body means bonding. That's why you were given a body. Unfortunately the world knows so little about sexuality. It's so confused, and it's missing out on the beauty and the glory of sexual truth.
Bonding with God
First and primarily, Paul teaches that our bodies are given to us for bonding with God. "Do you not know that our bodies are members of Christ connected with Christ?" We are a part of Jesus and, by implication, a part of his church. He plays that out more in 1 Corinthians 12 and in the book of Romans. The body of Christ is the church of Christ. Your bodies are members of Christ. The parallel passage says, "Do you now know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit within you which you have from God?"
Our bodies are made to bond with God. They are sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit. Could Paul get any more poetical or graphic in his clarity that your body is made to be in communion and to live life with the Holy Spirit all the time? But this plays out very pragmatically as well. How else do you live out the Bible but through your body? How else do you receive Holy Communion, the very presence of Jesus? Through your body. How else do you actually worship the living God but by walking into this space using your body? You stretch out your arms or you bow your knee or you open your mouth with your body. Your body is given to you first and foremost to bond with the living God. It's not a side reality or an extrinsic reality. It's absolutely intrinsic to your body's very design. God chose to reveal himself to us in a body. Jesus is fully and actually a bodily reality, and in light of that, our bodies are profound, a gift from God.
Not only that, but our bodies are then redeemed. Jesus was resurrected from the dead in his body, so we too will be resurrected from the dead in our bodies. Our bodies are forever. Paul says in Philippians 3 that our bodies will be changed. Try to understand exactly what our bodies' will be like forever. We don't have a clear scriptural explanation or witness from the early church on the exact nature of our bodies in eternity. Paul says this is Philippians 3: "Our bodies will be changed from lowly bodies to glorious bodies." That tells us a bit.
Of course when I get confused, I just go to the one answer that's almost always right, which is "Jesus." What is Jesus' body like, his glorified body, his resurrected body? We have revelation in the Bible of his resurrected body. On one hand, people don't recognize him at first. They don't know exactly who he is, but when he speaks their name, when he engages them, they know exactly who he is. So that must mean his body's different but the same. At first it's disorienting to engage him in his new resurrected body, yet it's still Jesus. It is his body. Thomas, one of his beloved followers whom he loved doesn't know for sure if it's Jesus, but Jesus says, "Put your hand in my wound. It's still here. It's my body."
In some capacity this is your body forever. And this body that is your body is not really your body. It was designed by God. It was given to you as a gift. And although we have sinned with our bodies and engaged our bodies in unholy realities, our bodies are bought back for us with a price on the cross. We cannot say, "This is my body." It's tempting because there are so many things that aren't ours, so many places in life where you instinctively think, Well, at least I have my body. This is my body, nobody else's body. I'll do with my body what I think is best.
We can understand why those outside of Jesus could think that way and show love and compassion to them. But if you're a Christian, you should recognize that it's never your body and you're never alone with your body. God's with you, walking alongside you. He's in your body. So much unholy bonding, so much sexual sin happens when we think, I can break apart somehow, even for just a moment, to be by myself and engage in some kind of unholy bond, some kind of sexual sin. I'm finally on my own. I'm finally by myself. I finally have control over my body. That is an absolute lie. You are never by yourself with your body. You've never done anything unseen with your body.
Yes, that can be unnerving. Don't go to a place of shame about that. But it's true. We want to know that we're never alone, that God is always with us. But if we want to say that, we have to own the fullness of that reality—we're never alone in our bodies.
Bonding with others in the body of Christ
But there's more. Look at this section again: "Do you not know that our bodies are members of Christ?" Paul's saying that your body not only belongs to God but also to each other. If you're equating body with sexuality that sounds weird. But if your body is not first and foremost a sexual reality but a bonding reality, then it's actually really interesting.
Your bodies belong to each other within the body of Christ. Not only does my body belong to God, but God has given it to me so that I can belong to you and you can belong to me. Christians form a type of solidarity when they understand their bodies to be resurrected bodies, eternal realities. So I must treat you and your body in a unique and holy way, and you must treat me and my body in the same way. You're my sister or brother and our bodies relate in solidarity, as families who know that one day these bodies will be fully glorified. But what we do with our bodies now matters profoundly and deeply.
That changes everything about how we relate. There's an incredible connection among us. It's a bodily connection as well as a spiritual connection—a dynamism. When I say that you're linked in a holy way, that doesn't mean I should walk around thinking, I better not accidentally touch or run into your body. That's thinking of the body in sexual terms. No, think of the body in dynamic terms. Think of what a body of Christ can do physically. Think of things that happen with our bodies. Think of the ways in which bodies build beautiful spaces for God or develop homes for children or reach out to people who are hungry and feed them or provide clean water for the thirsty or paint beautiful paintings or sing glorious songs or build buildings that are critical for the development of society. When we begin to do that together with our bodies, with each other, it's profoundly creative. There's so much to learn and know and do with our bodies, with each other.
I saw an illustration of this on Friday night. My family and I went to Wheaton College for an improv night. Improv is a little bit like theater without a script; it's spontaneous storytelling. It was amazing to watch them—they became so integrated with each other. They worked closely on their improv every other week for four years, but there was a profound knowing of each other bodily, mentally, emotionally. In improve, just like in a church, you build something together in the moment. The worst thing you can do in improv is to pull yourself out of a scene to make a comment. Isolating yourself sets everybody else down; the improv goes flat.
But an improv takes on life when you're building the story together. Someone has an idea. Someone else builds on that idea, and so on. Something just develops, and everyone watching this happen is stunned. How did they come up with that story? They're a body of bodies making something creative and new. It's just like the church.
Yes, we're telling the exact same old story, but we're telling it in profound, new ways together in Christ in our bodies. That's what your body is for. If you think your body is simply for sexual expression and not for all the glory and dynamism and creativity of being a part of the life of Christ and the life of Christ's body, then you have been told a lie. You'll have a narrow, one-dimensional life if you think that's what your body is all about.
More than the media, more than what you're watching, more than pornography, the deepest engine to the sexual and immoral epidemic of our culture is isolation. So many men and women live in isolation from each other. And that's unnatural—you weren't meant to live in isolation. We have a profound drive to connect and to bond. But if you're not doing it in a holy way with God and with each other, then you find unholy ways to bond. The driver behind sexual immorality is the profound loneliness that so many of us keep ourselves in and don't break out of.
Bonding in marriage
Third, Paul highlights marital bonding: "The two shall become one flesh." He wants to be clear to the Corinthians that this is where sexual expression belongs. The only place sexual expression belongs is in the marriage of one man and one woman, a husband and a wife in holy marriage. But you're not ultimately a sexual being. You're a bonding being. There are some who will be called to holy marriage, but not all. You are in no way less a Christian, less a human being, less a person if you are not sexually engaged in a marriage right now.
So many believe that if their marriage is not strong sexually or if they're outside of marriage and not sexually engaged, somehow they're living half a life. That is a lie, because foundationally you are a person made to bond. If you're not bonding with God and with brothers and sisters, then you're living a half life, then you're missing out, then you're not getting all that there is to get out of this life. But that's not true if you're not expressing yourself sexually.
Yes, within marriage sexual expression is beautiful and important. Sexual expression leads toward bonding and babies. That's the Christian understanding of marriage—it's for bonding, for mutual blessing and edification and affection between husband and wife. It's a beautiful thing when it's based in that holy bond, when God gives the gift for babies, for fruitfulness in that way. But that's not the heart of the bonding body matter.
Some of you need to hear that you're not first and foremost sexual beings. Some of you are acting out of that, and it's destroying your life. Others aren't acting out sexually, but you are insecure that you're not. You're wondering how you ever will.
Now Paul wants to be clear that there is a kind of unholy bonding. Our bodies are so adhesive, they can bond in ways they are not meant to.
When Paul says, "May it never be," he is not simply saying that it would be immoral. That's part of why Paul is saying, the surface reason. Immorality does concern him. But he's actually speaking at a deeper level than that. "Oh may it never be that your body, which is given to bond with each other and with God be bonded in an unholy way with a prostitute."
Prostitution in Corinth had a very particular cultural reality. It was easily accessible, by all strata of society. It had a spiritual component. Very likely you would go to a temple like that of Aphrodite, a Greek goddess, and you would engage in prostitution as part of your worship experience at the temple. So when we hear about prostitution, we can't equate it with the prostitution of today. If you've been caught up in prostitution, there is profound healing for you. Please seek prayer and Christ's healing. But a more appropriate application for what seeing here is as a prevalent, easily accessed sexual expression outside of marriage.
Paul is saying that when you engage in this type of sexual expression, you actually separate from your original solidarity within the body of Christ. You move yourself away from your brothers and sisters. You act independently from them. You reject them. You say, "I am not bonded with you; you have no connection with my body; I will now bond my body in a prevalent, easily accessed sexual expression outside of marriage." That is pornography. It's masturbation that often follows pornography. It's sexual intercourse outside of marriage.
One of the great gifts of the Anglican priesthood is the confessional, and I get to hear what's truly going on in many lives. And an application of this prostitution principle in this day is the way in which so many engage in sexual expression. It's not fully sexual intercourse, yet people think that somehow that doesn't create a holy bond. Sexual intercourse is a particularly profound way in which husband and wife are called to come together. It's critical. But you can form an unholy bond in a lot of other ways.
Brothers and sisters, sons and daughters, you can't sleep with each other in the same bed when you're not married, even if you don't have intercourse at that time. You can't bring each other to climax, even if it doesn't lead to intercourse, and somehow think that you've not created an unholy bond. Man to man, woman to woman, man to woman. Your body's made to bond, and in that moment it will bond physically and spiritually. It's like the Super Glue. And because your body doesn't just go away at some point, neither does that bond. Time doesn't erode that bond and wipe it away. If you are called to marriage, you'll carry that bond into your marriage, if it's not healed and cleansed and broken, which it can be. Even if you went there with the person that you marry, you bring that unholy bond into your marriage where you then have opportunity for a holy sexual bonding. That unholy bonding affects your life in the church. It affects your life with God. These bonds must be broken, and they can be.
This is why the cross matters so much. This is why it matters so much that you're not master of your own body but that your body was bought with a price, because he who bought your body with a price is powerful to break any unholy bond you have ever created. He can go back in time, for he made time itself. He can go back into your former relationships, back into the pornography that you've looked at and the images that are still in your mind, even when you try to pray or worship. He can go back to those places, and he can absolutely break those bonds, because he broke the power of death. That's the power of the Resurrection. That's how the Resurrection changes our lives: it frees us from unholy bonds so that we can experience the beauty and the glory of the bonds we were made to have. You can get that freedom right now.
So we see Paul's antidote: "Do you not know that the one joining a prostitute becomes one body with her?" And right after that, "… but the one joining to the Lord becomes one spirit with him." That's the way to freedom. He offers it to any that would come and repent of the ways in which they have misused the gift of their body, the ways in which they have bonded in unholy ways. This spiritual cleansing involves confession, repentance, and I strongly encourage a bodily response—by getting up and receiving prayer from a prayer minister, asking someone to pray for you. Do something with your body as you receive that antidote and that bodily cleansing. Receive prayer with the laying on of hands over your body.
Finally, Paul gives one other way to become free: to flee. It is a physical image of running away. It's likely an allusion to Joseph and Potiphar's wife in the book of Genesis, in which Joseph is brought into a temptation to make an unholy bond and he literally runs out of the room. He physically moves. He physically does something. It may not be actual fleeing, but you should physically respond to the temptation to make an unholy bond. Fight with your body; use your body for the sake of making a holy bond with Jesus. You can't think your way out of sexual temptation. You have to remove yourself from the situation, remove yourself from the apartment where it's about to happen, remove yourself from the screen you're about to engage. Make a phone call. See a brother or sister. Bond in a holy way. That's the antidote and the way out.
I had a dear friend who shared with me about a time he had a wide open weekend. He was isolated. All of his friends were gone. He knew from Friday afternoon when he finished work until Monday morning when he started work, he was likely going to make an unholy bond. He was driven. He was alone. So he made a physical choice. He went up to his door and put a band-aid over the door and the jam of the door, and he decided, I am not leaving this apartment, because if I leave I will go out and I will find a sexual encounter and I will sin. I'm not going to leave this place until Monday morning when I go to work. He cleaned his whole house, read five books he'd been hoping to finish. He went through a frenzy of activity. But he didn't leave. He acted physically. He chose with his body to make a decision.
Stewart Ruch III is the rector of the Church of the Resurrection in Wheaton, Illinois and the bishop of the Midwest Diocese for the Anglican Church in North America.