Matthew 5:27-30 & 1 Corinthians 6:12-20;

What is the body for? – 1 Corinthians

Nice to see you, to see you …..
Brexit means ….
A Mars a day helps you work, rest and ….

Across the worlds of entertainment, politics, marketing we see the power of the slogan, the short phrase that catches people’s imagination, that is easily memorable, that captures the essence of an argument, a position, a set of thoughts. This is not a modern phenomenon, it is as old as language itself. There’s a whole book of these things in the Old Testament, we call it the book of Proverbs. One liners that capture something of the wisdom of the age.

As we continue on through our exploration of our Paul’s letter to the Christians in Corinth, we have now reached some of the practical applications of the things that he started off with. In the first part of the letter he laid the foundations of what he was writing to them. Everything he writes is about being in Christ, about being united, about living in the light of the cross, having been filled with the Holy Spirit.

He has know moved on some practical applications of these principles, addressing particular issues that he has become aware of in the church at Corinth. In the section we are looking at tonight, he is taking on the false teaching and unholy living that is summarised by a couple of slogans that were popular in Corinth. We can see two of these slogans clearly in the first couple of verses. “I have the right to do anything” in verse 12 and “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” in verse 13.

Before we go on to look at Paul’s arguments against these slogans, it is worth taking a moment to examine what was behind them, and where these ideas were coming from.

“I have the right to do anything” It is probable that there were two ideas driving this way of thinking. One was a libertine element in the Greek / Roman culture of Corinth. This included a refusal to accept any cultural norms or morality. Each individual had the right to do what pleased them, with no regard to conventions or what other people thought. The second idea was a Christian one, the idea of freedom in Christ, in particular freedom from the requirements of the Jewish law.

“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” Again, it is likely that there were two ideas at the foundation of this slogan. The first the Greek idea of the separateness of the body and the soul. The idea that the body is just a vessel for the soul, and that one can do what one pleases with the body, without affecting the soul, and that after death the body just rots and the soul escapes to the afterlife. The other idea is, again, a Christian one. In Mark chapter 7 Jesus says this, ““Don’t you see that nothing that enters a person from the outside can defile them? 19 For it doesn’t go into their heart but into their stomach, and then out of the body.” (In saying this, Jesus declared all foods clean.)”

In both cases, then, we see this dangerous mixing of pagan philosophy and a misunderstanding of Christian doctrine. Paul addresses this particularly toxic mixture in two ways. Firstly he attacks these slogans, and points out their deep flaws. Having dealt with them, he brings out two slogans of his own, ones which are deeply challenging but also profoundly life giving.

“I have the right to do anything” is the claim. But not everything is beneficial and I won’t be mastered by anything, is the rebuttal. Paul doesn’t argue with the right, he can’t, it’s true. Right back in Genesis God gave human beings the right to do whatever they wanted. God also commanded them not to do certain things, and gave the responsibilities, but God also gave them the freedom, the right, to choose. What Paul does is remind his readers that there are consequences to choices. As human beings we might have the right to do what we like, but not everything is good or healthy for us. I may have the right and freedom to eat 10 doughnuts for every meal, but it would not be good for me. Paul also puts his finger on the irony that it is often those who shout loudest for their right to do what they want who are most mastered by their desires. Sometimes this takes the form of addiction, whether to nicotine, alcohol, gambling, or pornography. Sometimes it is manifest in the inability to make good and wise choices in relationships, under peer pressure, or under the influence of marketing and cultural pressures.

“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both” is the claim. But the body is not intended for immorality, it is the Lord’s, and God will raise us as he raised Jesus, is the rebuttal. It seems that this slogan was not being used by those in Corinth to justify eating what they liked, but using their bodies in anyway they fancied, including sexually. What the body does, doesn’t matter. On the contrary, Paul argues, the body and soul are inextricably linked. Our bodies are the Lords. What we do with our bodies is the outworking of our faith, it is an expression of our beliefs, it reveals what we believe about our whole relationship with God. And, by the way, says Paul, these bodies may rot, but God raised Jesus’ to a life in a body, a body that showed the scars of his crucifixion. So, we also will be raised in bodies. It’s not just our souls that go to heaven, but our bodies as well. We are created whole beings, body and soul and what we do with one does affect the other.

So, if our bodies are not just some vessel for our souls, if they’re not just there to be used as we please, what are our bodies for?

Paul reminds his readers of what they have been taught about their bodies, with this repeated phrase, “Do you not know?” We find it firstly in verse 15 and then in verse 19. It’s almost as if Paul is providing two alternative slogans to the two that he has just comprehensively dismissed.

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?” I wonder what you are a member of. I’m a member of this church. I’m a member of Ironbridge Rowing Club. I’m a member of Wellington library. I’m a member of my family. I’m a member of the National Trust. Which of this is closest to the way that I think of myself as a member of Christ. Maybe being a member of my family, but to be honest, it seems to me that none of them come even close to what it means to be a member of Christ. Look at your members. Your arms, your legs, your fingers. They are completely and totally connected to you, they are part of you, removing one would be immensely painful. My body is a member of Christ in the same way that my arm is a member of me – inextricably linked.

So, what we do with our bodies matters because they are as much in Christ as our souls are. Paul uses a dramatic example to emphasise his point. Shall I take my body, that is in Christ, and use it to have sex with a prostitute? Of course not, but not only that, but because of my awareness of my membership of Christ, we must flee from all sexual immorality. As Jesus says in the reading we heard from Matthew, we must put out of our lives all those things which might lead us to sin sexually. Sex was created by God, as a good and wholesome thing. It is intended for us to enjoy in the context of a marriage. It is also a strong force that can lead us to do things that are harmful, sinful, and dangerous.

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” Not only are your bodies in Christ, but the Holy Spirit is in your bodies. If the first wasn’t reason enough for us to be watchful over what we do with our bodies, Paul gives us another thing to think about. Somehow the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, God Almighty lives in these weak, slightly odd shaped, always breaking down, bodies. It’s amazing. Not only that, but these bodies of ours aren’t just houses for the Holy Spirit, they are temples. They are the place of worship, of sacrifice, of the dwelling of God’s glory. What we do with our bodies is, therefore, part of our worship of God. What we eat, how we exercise, who we sleep with, whether we smile or scowl at people, everything we do with our bodies is an expression of worship or a denial of the reality of God’s presence within us.

This is mind blowing. These are two slogans to live by. Our bodies are in Christ. The Holy Spirit is in our bodies. They are slogans that we cannot live by on our own. If you’re anything like me, as soon as I start thinking about the implications of these statements for my own life, I become painfully aware of how far short I fall of living faithfully in these realities. But we are not on our own. We have been brought at a price. This brings a responsibility – honour God with your body, but it also brings forgiveness for those times we fail, the strength and capacity to change and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit to convict us and to guide us into the holiness and righteousness that are already ours in Christ.

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