Glorify God in Your Body
Glorify God in Your Body
As we have seen through looking at the early Christians in Corinth, we see that so much of what they dealt with is the same thing that we deal with. It seems like the more things change, the more they stay the same. The problems that plague humanity are not problems so much on the outside: they are on the inside, and we bring them with us from generation to generation to generation. So here we are with a lot of the same hang-ups and problems that the Corinthians had almost 2,000 years ago. Through the book of 1 Corinthians, we see the wisdom that the apostle Paul—by the inspiration of the Spirit—brings to the believers at Corinth, and we are able to glean from that wisdom about how we should be living our lives here in the present day.
The first chapters in 1 Corinthians—chapters one, two, three, and most of four—talk about divisions and unity in the church and really focus on the theme of Christian unity. In chapters five, six, and seven, there has been a focus on sexual propriety, on marriage, and on singleness. There's a little bit of an interlude in the beginning of chapter six. But for the most part—in five, six, and seven—the focus is on proper sexual conduct, on marriage, on singleness, and on sexual morality. So we are going to be looking at these very relevant issues: issues not only relevant for the lives of the Corinthians 2,000 years ago, but very relevant for us, as well.
The issue of 'embodied'
Indeed, at the heart of these important issues is the very heart of our own culture's confusion about what it means to live as embodied, gendered human beings. Perhaps even more so than the Corinthians, we wrestle in a culture and live in a culture that is especially confused about what it means to be embodied. We can see this confusion in things such as casual sex that treats others and ourselves as mere objects—bodily gratification. We can see it in overeating and in self-indulgent appetites, on the one hand, but then on the other hand, we can also see it in a near-idolatrous fixation on the health food craze and the exercise culture that has emerged in the last number of years in our culture. We see it in practices like cutting; we see it in anorexia. We even see it in abortion, where there are arguments over what the body is, who owns the body, and what one can do or not do with one's body. All of these issues are sourced in a confusion about what the body is.
Recently, this confusion has been illustrated very pointedly in the news. In Midland, Michigan, there is a Planet Fitness, which came under controversy because a man entered the women's locker room. When one of the women in the locker room went to complain to the facility management, she was told that the man self-identified as a woman and therefore was allowed to go into the women's locker room. The woman who complained didn't think that was an acceptable answer, and she began to complain to some of the other patrons of the facility. Eventually her membership was revoked because she had broken the nonjudgmental policy of the health facility.
It's fascinating to see this story play out in the news, because I think there is general agreement on both sides that men should not be in women's locker rooms. The debate is not that. The debate is what constitutes a man and a woman. Our culture is no longer about what it means to be a man and a woman. Was the person in the women's locker room a man or a woman? It's very interesting to hear the news anchors try to navigate this. The first time they began to report on the story, they referred to a man who self-identified as a woman entering the women's locker room, and they used masculine pronouns to refer to the person who had come in there. But the second time they reported on the story, they must have gotten a different memo from somebody, because they no longer referred to the person who came into the locker room as a man: they referred to that person as a transgendered woman. So now it was a transgendered woman who had gone into the women's locker room, and why shouldn't she be in the women's locker room? Even in trying to think about how to talk about this, there was this evolution that the news anchors were wrestling with.
In our day, it is no longer obvious to our culture that the body is inherently a fixed reality. It is something that we manipulate, move, do things to, and treat as a various object, at our own discretion. At the core of our culture, we no longer think that the body makes us; we think that we make the body. We think we stand as a lord over our bodies and have the right to bend them to our will as we see fit. All sorts of questions then get raised with this sort of thinking. What is the connection between the body and the person? How should we use our bodies? What do our bodies say about us? Most importantly, at the center of this is a question that's not asked but needs to be asked: what do our bodies say about Christ?
Paul reorients the Corinthians
Our text this morning is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, and these are the sorts of questions that it will answer, albeit a bit indirectly. We know from 1 Cor. 7:1 (and what follows it) that the Corinthians had written to the apostle Paul previously and had a number of questions about proper sexual conduct, about singleness, and about marriage. Part of 1 Corinthians is a response to the letter that had been written to Paul, and he is going to answer a number of questions that the Corinthians have about sexuality, marriage, and singleness. But before Paul gets to the questions the Corinthians asked—starting in 7:1—Paul is going to address a question they didn't ask about sexuality, but that they should have asked. That question, put bluntly, is this: "Should Christian men visit prostitutes?"
Now, if you cover up your text, I'll give you a chance to guess what Paul is going to think. Yes, the answer is no. He does not think that Christian men should be visiting the prostitutes. But this was a live issue in Paul's day, and he's going to need to tackle it head-on. We are going to look at what Paul has to say about this issue in verses 12-20. Not so much for the point of application as it relates to that age-old vice, but rather for the logic and the argumentation that he uses to explain to the Corinthians why they should not be doing this. The arguments he uses there are based upon a proper understanding of the body. In other words, what Paul sees happening in Corinth at this time, with this particular practice, is that the Corinthians do not have a proper understanding of the body. Paul is going to reorient the Corinthians back to a very Christ-centered, God-centered understanding of the body, and in doing so, he expects that it will then motivate and shape their behavior.
For most of us here, the issue of prostitution is most likely not as much of an issue. The North American culture we live in is still sufficiently Christian for that to not be viewed as permissible behavior—even by the larger culture. So we're not going to be looking so much at what Paul has to say specifically about prostitution, but more generally, we are going to be examining the text for his argument about the body. In our passage, Paul is going to offer two basic arguments for why the Corinthians must abstain from sexual immorality, and those arguments focus on the body. In doing so, he is going to offer us a very Christ-centered way of thinking about the body and what it means for us ultimately to glorify God with our body.
Points of context
Let me give a couple points of context to orient some thoughts as to what's going on in this passage, and to help us understand how it is that the Corinthian men converted and don't have a category for why this kind of behavior is inappropriate.
One is that there seems to be a gnostic influence that has permeated Corinthian thought. We don't need to spend a lot of time talking about what Gnosticism was: it was an aberrant form of Christian teaching, and one of the hallmark features was that it denigrated the body. It viewed the body as inconsequential. God was interested in the spirit, and the spirit was the thing that would connect with God and live on into eternity. The body was just the carcass that housed the spirit: not just a carcass, in fact, but a prison. Salvation was getting free of the body. The body was filled with passions and desires, and it was something that would be laid aside: that God would do away with and then redeem the spirit, redeem the soul.
This led to a couple different ways of treating the body. One way was a form of asceticism that would view the body in a very negative light. There would be a lot of fasting and abstaining from all kind of bodily desires—a very harsh treatment of the body. The other way this heretical gnostic teaching took shape was to say, "Well, since the body doesn't matter, since the body is of no consequence, since the body is just this thing that's there and that is going to only be here for a moment and then be gone, we can indulge it in any way. The real me is the spirit inside of me, and the body is just this shell or this prison. So there is no need to have any kind of moral restraint, and we can just live in whatever ways we want." It would lead to a very hedonistic kind of lifestyle. It seems that this hedonism is what the Corinthians have fallen into. The way they live in the body is without consequence, because—after all—what really matters to God is the spirit or the soul.
If we read between the lines a little bit, another thing seems to be going on here as well. Particularly when we consider what Paul is going to say in chapter seven. In that chapter, Paul makes an extended argument for celibacy, for foregoing marriage for the sake of the kingdom. We see this example in Jesus, and we see the example the apostle Paul lived out. The apostle Paul was able to do many, many things and to travel as an itinerant missionary because of his celibacy.
It seems that many of the early Christians had looked at the example of Jesus, looked at the example of Paul, and then said to themselves: "This is great. Paul can go around preaching the gospel, he can go from town to town, and he can live for the sake of the kingdom without having to worry about the responsibility of a wife and children." It seems like some of the Corinthians were saying, "Okay, yes, a life of singleness is good." But they had not made the connection that Paul was now having to make for them: that if you forego marriage, you also forego sex, and that those two things go together. You can't "give yourself"—as it were—for the sake of the kingdom and forego the responsibility of marriage, but then find sexual gratification in some other venue.
Paul is going to need to reframe an understanding for them about why this is wrong. Prostitution was such a common practice in Corinth—and really, in the Greco-Roman world at large—that visiting prostitutes was not seen as something that was really out of bounds. As long as a man didn't let himself get too carried away or waste his money, it wasn't seen as something that was really inappropriate. In fact, many wives in the ancient world would not have taken offense at it. They lived in a very different context than the context in which we live, and so Paul was having to address this in ways that he wouldn't perhaps have to address it in our day.
(Read 1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
This is a very dense passage. The punch line is very clear: flee sexual immorality. We know exactly what Paul wants, but his argumentation to get to it is very dense. We are going to have to take some time to unpack some of Paul's logic as he is moving in two arguments.
Paul's first argument: Christ's body and our bodies
The first argument takes place between verses 12-14. Here is the basic gist of it: our body was made as a prefiguring of Christ's eternal body. Paul begins in verse 12 and it appears that he is quoting something that the Corinthians had been saying to justify their behavior. "All things are lawful for me," they're saying. Paul is listening to this, and it could have perhaps come from something he had said that they are taking too far, or something that perhaps the Gnostics said. The Gnostics taught that once you are truly an enlightened one, a spiritual one, then there's nothing you can do with your body that's immoral. Perhaps the Corinthians viewed themselves as the enlightened ones, or viewed themselves as very wise. We know they were into all sorts of prophetic utterances and sign gifts and what-not, so it could be they thought themselves above the law, as it were.
Paul is going to counter that saying with logic of his own. He says, "All things are lawful for me, sure, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, sure, but I will not be dominated by anything." Whatever that expression meant—if the Corinthians are taking and abusing something Paul had said—Paul wants to clarify that the Christian is free, yes: but not free to sin. The Christian is free, but not free to live in ways that are contrary to God.
Food, the stomach, and the body
But then there's this next quote that we find. It's an interesting one because we are ultimately talking about sexual immorality, but all of a sudden, we get this quote that relates to food. Again, here we have what appears to be the Corinthians' pithy statement that they're using to justify their sexual impropriety.
Now, about the quotation marks, scholars differ a bit as to where the quotation marks should go. I think they go all the way to the end of the first sentence, so it would read like this: "Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy both one and the other." This would be in keeping with the Gnostic mentality that the body is just here: it's a temporary thing, it's meant for the gratification of its desires, and the way we know this is because we can just look at the way that food and the stomach relate to each other. The stomach exists for food, food exists for the stomach, and God—one day—is going to destroy both of them. What you do with food and what you do with the stomach are irrelevant. That's a way of thinking about the body and its appetites generally: that the body, as a whole, exists for the gratification of its desires, and these objects of desire exist to gratify the body. But God will destroy all of them, and he will raise us up into a place that's a kind of disembodied utopia, where we will be free of all the carnal concerns of the body. There is this mindset that because the body is just a temporary thing, it finds its meaning simply in its satisfaction of its own impulses.
This is something that Paul is going to counter, and he counters it with some remarkable logic here. Food is meant for the stomach, and the stomach for food: we can see how those two things go together. But Paul says, "No, the body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." Paul is saying that the body is not meant for the satisfaction of its desires, whether those are food or sex. Rather, it is meant for the Lord. And, even more remarkably, he says the Lord is meant for the body. In other words, Paul is saying that what the stomach is for food and what food is for the stomach—that kind of symbiotic relationship—the body is for the Lord and the Lord is the for the body. The Lord and the body go together like stomach and food.
Made with Christ in mind
What can this mean? Commentators can get a little vexed on this, and I think we have to bring in Paul's larger Christology, the way he thinks about Christ, to make sense of his logic here. The physical body, Paul is telling us, is made for Christ: not merely in the sense that we should use our bodies to honor Christ, not merely in the sense that I have a body and I should live my body as unto the Lord. Rather, when we think about Paul's wider Christology, what he means is that the human body was made with Christ in mind. The body is for the Lord.
What Paul is thinking of here is that our humanity is a prefiguring. It's just an image, it's just a shadow, it's like a black and white pencil sketch of the true humanity. The true humanity is Christ's humanity. Christ is the true human being. The body was not made just to be satisfied here in its own horizontal pleasures, but the human body was made for the Lord and the Lord for the body. They were meant for each other. Our bodies, though they come first in order of time, are pointing toward the body of the Lord, which is first in order of preeminence and intent. He is not made according to our image, but we are made according to his image. In short, Christ doesn't have a body because we do, we have a body because he does.
Paul is using something that we call typology. The easiest way to understand a type is as something that is earthly and that points to something higher than itself, mainly to Christ and his redemptive work. Paul will say in Romans 5, for instance, that Adam is a type of Christ, and that we, as human beings, are made in the image of the Son. We are pointing toward Christ. We can see images and types of Christ all throughout the Old Testament.
The easiest one to get our head around would be that of the Passover lamb, which took place when God delivered the nation of Israel out of the land of Egypt into the land of Canaan. In order to deliver God's people out of bondage from Egypt, God gave the Israelites the command to sacrifice a lamb, take the blood of the lamb, and put it over the doorposts of the house. When the death angel came, the angel would see the blood of the lamb—the wrath of God would see the blood of the lamb—and would pass over that house. So the wrath of God would pass over the faithful Israelite because of the blood of the lamb, and through the shedding of the blood of the lamb, the Israelite would then leave the land of slavery and go into the land of promise. When the New Testament writers look back on redemptive history and see the shed blood of the Passover lamb, what they see is Christ, and not only as a coincidence: "Look! What happened with the Passover lamb just coincidentally looks like what Jesus accomplished for us!" But in fact, they would say that God prepared the Passover lamb first with Christ in mind. The Passover lamb finds its identity, finds its meaning, finds its very reason for existence in that it is pointing to the true Passover Lamb, the One who has true meaning.
In the same way, God made us as human beings, and though we came first in order of time, our humanity is but a mere reflection: a mere pointer that points toward Christ as the true human being. Christ is the true God-man, the true human being. Our bodies are intrinsic to what it means for us to be human beings because the body is intrinsic to what it means for Christ to be a human being.
This is made further evident in Paul's next comment because he then turns his attention toward the Resurrection. Paul notes that God has raised Jesus from the dead and will also raise us up from the dead. And raise us up from the dead as he raised Christ, in a bodily sense. Sometimes I think we can lose sight of this. When Jesus took upon himself flesh and bone, that wasn't just for the 33-odd years he was here in this world; as though when he rose from the dead, he rose in some sort of angelic form. But he went out of his way with his disciples to prove that he rose from the dead bodily.
Even more interestingly, he not only rose bodily, but he ascended bodily. Have you ever paused and thought about that? He lifted off the earth bodily. When he was going, you could have jumped up and grabbed his ankle, and I don't know where you would have gone, but you could have held on to him. And he sits right now at the right hand of God as a body. He has a body.
The fact that he is embodied shows us that what it means to be a true human being is to be an embodied human being. He is the fully redeemed human being. Our bodies, then, are not throw-away items. They find their identity in the fact that they are pointing toward the true humanity, which is Christ, and he is an embodied Christ. The fact that the body is made for the Lord and the Lord for the body—meant for the Lord, meant for the body—and that God troubled himself to raise the body shows us that the body really matters. The body, our body, matters insofar as it corresponds to the Lord's body, like the type to the archetype. Our embodiment is not about us alone, but it is in service of a higher purpose than our own pleasures and desires. The body wasn't given to us simply for this world's desires, but rather in service of our union with Christ and his true humanity. This is Paul's point: the body, then, wasn't even really made for us. It was made for the Lord. We need a radical, Christ-centered reorientation of who and what we are, because we find our meaning not in the satisfying of our carnal desires. We find our meaning in Christ, and our bodies find their meaning in Christ. We are what we are because Christ is what he is, not the other way around. He is the archetype, and we are the type.
In this first point, Paul brings the Corinthians fundamentally to a recognition that their bodies are not some temporary, throw-away things. Rather, their bodies need to be understood in connection with Christ's eternal body, and that the body was made ultimately for the Lord. So the Corinthians need to think of their bodies not as transitory and temporary, but as having eternal significance.
Paul's second argument: the temple and the Holy Spirit
The second point Paul is going to make, in verses 15-19, is through a couple of different analogies, but the basic point is this: that your body is a body part of Christ's body. He'll use the language of the imagery of the temple and the Holy Spirit. But he wants to underscore the connection between who we are in our bodies and Christ's body.
You'll note here in verse 15 that Paul says, "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?" Now, this term "member" is an interesting term; it's not one that we use in the vernacular in English in this way. As Paul is using it here, the word basically means "body part." Paul is saying that our bodies are body parts of Christ. It's an interesting concept that Paul is introducing to us here. We are body parts of Christ's body, and because we are connected to Christ's body. We who are connected to our bodies are connected to Christ and him to us. There's this organic union that exists between the believer and Christ, and it's such an intimate union that our bodies are actually body parts of Christ's body.
Now we get to the punch line of how that's going to work itself out in how we live, because then Paul says, "Shall I then take the body parts of Christ and make them body parts of a prostitute? By no means." What the Corinthians have failed to understand is that their bodies are not just their bodies, but because they are in Christ, their bodies are now Christ's body. What they do with their body drags Christ with them into their conduct. When they are off visiting the prostitutes, Paul says, "Are you going to take the body of Christ, the body parts of Christ, and unite them with a prostitute? May it never be." Then he goes on to talk about the significance of the sexual relationship and the joining that happens in the sexual relationship.
We intuitively understand that our bodies are an extension of who we are. Even though our culture has tried hard to break the connection between the person and the body, it's an unbreakable connection. We intuitively understand it, and we embrace this as a people, as a culture, and not even just as Christians. It's why, if someone were to punch you in the face, you would probably not say, "Why did you punch my face?" You would say, "Why did you punch me?" We understand that our bodies are an extension of who we are and that our body is the way we interact with the world. It's the way we communicate with the world. There is no way we can access the world or relationships or other people without doing it through the body. We intuitively understand that the body is the conduit, that there is an organic connection between myself and my body.
Even attempts at gender reassignment demonstrate this, because someone who wants to self-identify internally as a member of the opposite sex recognizes that their body needs to match their own self-perception. They try to change the body to fit what they want to be on the inside or what they feel they are on the inside. Rather than accepting what the body is on the outside and then conforming the inside to the outside, we intuitively recognize the need for conformity.
But Paul is pressing beyond this intuitive logical point. Our body is not merely an extension of our person, it is, in a very real way, an extension of Christ's person via our spiritual union with him and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. We are one spirit with Christ, just as my spirit and your spirit inhabits your body and then works its way out into the world through your body. The Spirit of Christ inhabits my body if I'm in Christ and your body if you're in Christ, and Jesus works his will out in the world through our bodies. Our bodies are no longer just our bodies; our bodies are the dwelling place of the Spirit of God.
In verse 19, Paul uses the imagery of the temple. The temple of God, in the old covenant, was the dwelling place and the abode of the Spirit of God. Jesus starts us off in the Gospels by referring to his own body as the temple. Then, remarkably, because Jesus' body is the temple, and we are the body parts of Jesus, we too are the temple of God. Just as the Spirit of God dwells in Jesus, the Spirit of God dwells in us as well. The Spirit of God dwells in Jesus by nature and dwells in us by adoption, we might say. But the Spirit of God dwells in us all the same.
Again, we see a radical, God-centered reorientation about who and what we are. We are not independent, but we are part of Christ. Not only are we connected to each other as members of the same body, but the body that we are members of is one who is above us. We all are members of Christ's body, and as such, Paul is reminding the Corinthians—and, by extension, reminding us—that what we do with our bodies necessarily involves Christ.
Paul's two arguments involve a reorientation about the significance of the body. The body is not just made for carnal desires, it's not going to just be destroyed, and it's not a throwaway thing. Rather, the body was made for the Lord. The body finds its true identity in the fact that it is an eternal reality that constitutes part of our humanity, as seen in the Resurrection. Also, our bodies are not just our bodies, but our bodies are the body parts of Christ and therefore part of his body.
The punch line: you are not your own
Now Paul comes to the punch line of everything he's been saying. If all of that was rather profound and heady stuff, the punch line at the end of verse 19 is very simple and clear. Because your body is just a prefiguring of the real body, and because your body is part of Christ's body, you are not your own. What the Corinthians had failed to realize—what we fail to realize in all of our messed-up ways of thinking about the body—is that we are not our own. We do not stand as lords over our bodies, bending them to our will as we see fit. But our body, rather, was given to us as human beings to point us toward the true humanity of Christ, who is the Lord over the body. Those of us who have been grafted into Christ owe our allegiance and our lordship to Christ all the more, because there is now another Spirit inside of our bodies that makes them not just our own bodies, but Christ's. Our bodies have been given to us as gifts from God as a way of participating in Christ's true humanity.
Paul's admonition here is a call for us to surrender our sense of sovereignty with respect to our own bodies. To surrender our sense of sovereignty with respect to our own selves, our own persons, and to recognize that we do not belong to ourselves, but rather to another. We were not our own before we acknowledged Christ's lordship. He owned us even before we acknowledged him, and we are certainly not our own after we have acknowledged Christ's lordship. Afterward, as Paul says in verse 20, we have been bought with a price.
The question for us, which is as relevant as the question for the Corinthians, is: "Are you honoring God with your body?" Maybe we press all the way into Paul's logic and say, "Are we honoring God, are we honoring Christ with his body?" It is his body that we wield in the day-to-day actions of our lives.
I doubt the issue facing many of us today is the issue the Corinthians were struggling with. It might be for one or two. Perhaps our issues are different. We have many other ways of compromising the intent of our bodies, of treating our bodies as though they are our own and not taking into account the eternal significance they bear and the fact they belong to another. We have many ways of dragging Christ into our shameful activities and behaviors. God forgive us, and God forgive me for pulling Christ into our shame. As Paul says, "May it never be."
But there is a truth here that we don't want to move past. God is sovereign over our bodies, and therefore, because they belong to Christ and are not our own, we must honor him. But our bodies are not our own—that is such good news. Because if they're not our own, then that means they belong to Christ. There is a beauty and a preciousness to who we are as embodied people.
You could very well be the kind of person who could get a little more excited about some of those Gnostic tendencies, because you don't really care for your body all that much. You feel like saying, "Won't it be good to be free of all of this?" You don't have a high view of your body. The reality is that we have done a number on our bodies through our own sin and through the sin of others that has come from the outside. There are scars that we carry in our bodies. If we think about our bodies just as it relates to here and now, then if we're all honest, we're probably not going to care much for our bodies.
But if we think about our bodies as body parts of Christ—the One risen from the dead, the One who sits fully embodied at God's right hand, the One who has become exalted in perfection and who is exalting us in perfection as well—there is a preciousness and a beauty and a glory to our bodies. It is not inherent in who we are or what we bring to our bodies, but it is inherent in the Spirit of God that now dwells inside of us, that grafts our body into the body of Christ. There is great glory and beauty in not being your own.
The heart of sin is to strive for autonomy, the desire to be our own gods. Strive for autonomy long enough and God may grant it to you, but the end of that road is destruction and ruin. Our bodies remind us that we are on the path to decay. Our bodies remind us that we stand in the path of death. But when we acknowledge God's ownership of our bodies, when we acknowledge that we are not our own, and when we allow the Spirit of God to be the controlling influence in our body, then our bodies, though they go into the grave like Christ's sin-scarred body, are raised victorious and triumphant. We have the hope of eternal life that comes because we release ownership of our bodies and don't make ourselves lords of ourselves.
God loves us, and he has given us our bodies so we can be participants in the true humanity that Christ has created in himself. Let's have faith to believe that his lordship over our bodies will be so much better than any lordship that we could bring to our bodies.
Gerald Hiestand is the senior pastor at Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, and the cofounder and director of the Center for Pastor Theologians.