1 Corinthians 6:12-20: "Are All Things Permissible?"
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When I was at Bethel Seminary, I had to write a paper on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. I remember thinking that it was a horrible, difficult passage. The kind of passage professors give students, in part to mess with them. I remember being really unhappy with it, and never feeling like I quite got it right. So it was with some amusement that I found myself having the privilege of wrestling with it again. This sermon is a little more complicated than some, possibly. But it's a legitimately difficult passage. And English Bibles maybe aren't very helpful at times, so I have to interact with them more than normal. ----------------------------------------- Most Bibles draw a line between 6:1-11 and 6:12-20. And most teachers, and I guess I did the same thing, separate these verses. But there's no break in the text- there's no "de" (Now,), or any other clue we are opening a new section ("Brothers," "Now concerning," etc.). So, really, we are supposed to read chapter 6 as a whole. Paul isn't talking about a separate thing. So let's start, by reading the chapter as a whole. Then, we'll pick back up in verse 12: (1) Does someone among you dare, a dispute having against the other, to be judged before the unrighteous and not before the holy/dedicated ones? (2) Or don't you know that the dedicated ones the world they will judge?, and if by you the world is judged, unworthy/undeserving are you of the most insignificant courts of justice? (3) Don't you know that angels we will judge-- not to mention the things belonging to everyday life? (4) Therefore, on the one hand, if you have the courts of justice for the things belonging to everyday life, [the despised/disdained ones by the church] -- these ones do you seat? (5) To your shame I speak. So isn't there among you, anyone wise who will be able to reach a decision in the midst between his brothers?, but is a brother with a brother being judged-- and this before unfaithful ones? (7) Therefore, on the one hand, already completely a loss/failure for you it is, that disputes you have with one another. Why not rather/instead be treated unrighteously? Why not rather/instead be defrauded?, (8) but you act unrighteously and you defraud-- and this to brothers. (9) Or don't you know that the unrighteous God's kingdom will not inherit? Don't be deceived: neither sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor passive homosexual partners, nor dominant homosexual partners, nor thieves, nor greedy people, nor drunkards, nor insulters, nor robbers, the kingdom of God will inherit. (11) And these things some of you were, but you washed yourself, but you were made holy, but you were made righteous by the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God. (12) "All things for me are permitted," but not all things are profitable. "All things for me are permitted," but I will not be dominated/controlled by anything. (13) "Foods [are] for the stomach, and the stomach for foods. Now, God both this thing (the stomach) and these things (the foods) he will abolish." Now, the body [is] not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord [is] for the body. (14) Now, God both the Lord raised up and us He will raise up by his power. (15) Don't you know that your bodies members of Christ they are? Therefore, taking away the members of Christ, shall I make them of a prostitute members? May it not be! (16) Or don't you know that the one uniting himself to the prostitute one body he is? For they will become, it says, the two into one flesh. Now, the one uniting himself to the Lord one spirit he is. (18) Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a person may commit, outside of his body it is. Now, the one committing sexual immorality against his own body sins. (19) Or don't you know that your (plural) body (singular) a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, it is, whom you have from God,? And you aren't your own? (20) For you were bought at a price. Consequently, glorify God with your (plural) body (singular). ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- One of the things that people do sometimes, is live their life in part on the basis of slogans. "You only live once." "This is the first day of the rest of your life." "No fear." Paul begins verse 12 by quoting a Corinthian slogan. This is like a catchphrase for them, that they live by. And most modern Bible translations recognize this, and put the first words in quotes (NIV, ESV, NRSV, etc.). What the Corinthians say, is this: (12) "All things for me are permitted," The Corinthians think they can do anything they want. They think they have total Christian liberty. They think they are free to do whatever they want. And we find ourselves asking, "Why?" We tend to think of Christianity in terms of its "don'ts" or it's "can'ts." There are a lot of things that Christians "can't" do, and this list varies by church. Christians, maybe, "can't" watch movies, or play certain video games, or listen to secular music, or shop on Sundays, or drink, or smoke, or dance, or play card games, or gamble, and so on. If we think about bigger things, we say, Christians can't have sex outside of marriage; they can't get drunk; they can't be homosexuals; they can't serve idols. We think of Christianity in terms of what we can't do. And the Corinthians are the total opposite. They look at the world, and everything in it looks like fair game to them. They say, "We can do anything we want." Why? The Corinthians know why they think this, and Paul knows why they think this. So Paul doesn't feel any need to explain this to them. No one has to tell you why you believe what you believe, right? Paul will leave a clue for us below, so I'll wait to try explain this. But I want you to see how differently the Corinthians view the world than you do. So Paul begins by quoting this slogan, "All things for me are permitted." And then he counters it by saying a slogan/truth of his own: "but not all things are profitable." Paul doesn't dispute that everything is permissible-- that we are allowed to do, whatever we want. However, Paul says that he asks himself a different question to guide his decisions. He asks, "Is this profitable?" What things, when you do them, are you, or others, better off for having done? That, for Paul, is a much better question. Paul then quotes their slogan a second time, so that he can attack it from another angle. "All things for me are permitted," but I will not be dominated/controlled by anything. If you choose to sin, you are going to tell yourself that you are in control of that situation. You are in control of yourself, and you are in control of the sin. You are the Boss. Some of you have dogs, and you take them out for walks. Maybe you think that choosing sin is like walking your dog. You take it outside, you give it some fresh air, you let it do its thing. But you think you are the one holding the leash. You think you're out walking Sin. But what Paul says is that when you choose sin, you are giving up control of that situation. Think of Sin as a Being-- as a Living Thing. When you choose Sin, what Sin will do, is turn around, and control you. It will dominate you. It will consume your thoughts; it will try to re-master you. Now, there was a time when you were slaves to Sin. Romans 6:6: 6 We know that our old self[a] was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin. 7 For one who has died has been set free[b] from sin. Part of becoming a Christian is that you die. You have been crucified with Jesus, and you died with him. You died to yourself, to Sin, and to the Mosaic covenant (=the "law"; Gal. 2:19-20). And it's only because you have died to these things that you are free. But even though you've been freed from Sin, and no longer serve Sin as a slave, Sin is perfectly happy to reacquire you. Sin would love to become your Master a second time. So you may think that when you sin, it's like walking a dog. Sin is at the end of the leash, and you're in charge. But the truth is that when you sin, you end up on the wrong end of the leash. And if you've ever been caught in sin, and felt like you couldn't get out, this should resonate with you. You know Sin wants to dominate you. To rule you. With this, we come to verse 13. English translations usually have part of verse 13 in quotes, but there's some disagreement over where the Corinthian slogan ends. Most NT scholars think English Bibles end the quote too soon. We should read the first two sentences as their slogan (the NIV is the only one that gets it right, as far as I know). We have to, because Paul doesn't actually believe the second sentence-- he fights back against it: (13) "Foods [are] for the stomach, and the stomach for foods. Now, God both this thing (the stomach) and these things (the foods) he will abolish." So the Corinthians have this slogan about foods. When you look at foods, you can see they are designed for the stomach, and the stomach is designed for foods. They belong to each other; they were meant for each other. And then the Corinthians say, both of these things-- the foods, and the stomach-- God will one day abolish. Neither one of them will last. They are temporary. [Now, this isn't actually biblical. If we step away from Paul for a minute, let's read Jesus' words: I tell you I will not drink again of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” -Matt. 26:29 Jesus assumes that we will drink wine with Jesus in the new kingdom. So the stomach must not be temporary, right?] Now, Paul leaves a gap in his letter here. It's not immediately clear from the slogan in verse 13, or Paul's response to it in verse 14, what is actually going on. And the reason Paul leaves this gap the way he does, I think, is because the Corinthians are using this slogan to guide their understanding of sex. And explaining this in detail is really awkward. The easiest way into this is by talking about food and the stomach first. When you look at food, and you look at your stomach, it's obvious that they were designed for each other. You can look at your body, and say, "I was made to eat food. And food was meant to be eaten." What the Corinthians then do, is take this understanding of food and the stomach, and they apply it to the wider body. When you look at your sexual organs, it's obvious that they are designed for something, right? They were made for sex. And sex was made for sexual organs. And when you get hungry, what do you do? You eat. If you have an appetite, you fulfill that appetite. And so they draw a line from the stomach, to sexual organs, and they say, "When we are hungry, we eat." So that, I think is the first part of the Corinthians' argument. Let's reread their slogan: (13) "Foods [are] for the stomach, and the stomach for foods. Now, God both this thing (the stomach) and these things (the foods) he will abolish." The second part of the Corinthians' slogan is that the stomach and foods are all temporary. God will abolish them. And since this is the case, it doesn't really matter what you eat, right? And the Corinthians argue that sexual organs and sex work the same way. The Corinthians argue that these things are temporary, so there is no harm is using your body however you want. Use it, because someday you'll lose it. Let me use an illustration to help you visualize what this looks like. Most of you are a little careful about your own cars. You avoid potholes in roads. You change the oil. You don't run up on curbs when you park. But when you get a rental car, everything feels different right? You find yourself not caring about the car-- it's disposable. And there's a reason rental car companies can't keep cars very long-- people do terrible things to them. The Corinthians view their bodies like a rental car. They think their bodies are temporary. They think God will abolish their bodies someday, and at that point, they'll get something much better. It's only at this point, that Paul begins to respond to their argument. He says this, first: Now, the body [is] not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord [is] for the body. Paul says, you messed this up, pretty badly. He refuses to simply talk about sex, and instead calls this what it is: sexual immorality. The body is not meant for sin. God didn't give you sexual organs, so you'd be sexually immoral. Any more than he gave you hands, so you can kill someone. Your body is intended for the Lord Jesus. It belongs to Jesus. And then Paul says this: "And the Lord is for the body." Jesus came to earth to set people free of everything that enslaves them. Both physical problems, and Spiritual problems. Jesus came for all of you. So it would be a huge mistake to think that Jesus came to save your soul. That language is toxic. Jesus is committed to you, in your entirety. Soul, spirit, and body. Paul then attacks the Corinthian slogan a second way, starting in verse 14: (14) Now, God both the Lord raised up and us He will raise up by his power. Why was the tomb empty? Why didn't God just raise the Lord's spirit, and leave his body to rot in the grave? It's because God cared about Jesus' body. Jesus' body is part of Jesus. And the same thing is true for us. God will raise us-- our bodies (!)-- by his power on the last day. So the Corinthians are wrong-- and we have to read the slogan as covering two sentences. Our bodies will not be abolished. No. Our bodies will be raised. In verse 15, Paul asks the Corinthians a question: (15) Don't you know that your bodies members of Christ they are? Therefore, taking away the members of Christ, shall I make them of a prostitute members? When you look at your body, what you should see is Jesus. It's through you that Jesus works on earth-- you are his hands, and feet, and mouth. So should you take your body-- Jesus' body parts-- and give them to a prostitute, to make them her body parts? If you are with a prostitute, what you are trying to do is join Jesus to a prostitute. And since this is impossible, what has to happen? Look how Paul frames it: "Taking away the members of Christ, shall I make them of a prostitute members?" Let's talk about the verb I translated as "take away." English Bibles consistently translate it simply as "to take." But that's not right. It means "to take away" or "to remove." This is a huge difference. The only way you can give your body to a prostitute, is if you first take it away from Jesus. You have to be removed from Jesus, because Jesus cannot be united to a prostitute. So when you are debating about whether or not to be sexually immoral, you have to understand what you are choosing, and what you are rejecting. You are making a choice between Jesus and prostitutes, and between holiness and sexual immorality. If you choose sexual immorality, you are separating yourself from Jesus. You cannot have both. Should you do this? Is a prostitute worth it? Paul continues: May it not be! (16) Or don't you know that the one uniting/gluing/welding himself to the prostitute one body he is? For they will become, it says, the two into one flesh. Now, the one uniting/gluing himself to the Lord one spirit he is. Picture yourselves like a sheet of paper. Maybe you think that when you are intimate with someone, you can come together, and then separate, and that nothing has changed. But what people are like, really, is a sheet of paper with Elmer's glue. And when you come together with someone, you are glued to them. You become one person with them. You are no longer 2 sheets of paper. You became one. And this happens regardless of what you tell yourself. You can tell yourself it was casual, or that it doesn't mean anything. But those are lies. You became one with them. You maybe didn't mean to create a permanent bond with someone-- you maybe didn't want to do this-- but this is what happens. Now, when this happens with your spouse, that's a good thing. God designed this, so that when a husband and wife come together, they become one. But when this happens with a prostitute-- or anyone other than your spouse-- it's a problem. And the reason it's a problem is that when you became a Christian, you become one with the Lord in spirit. Your spirit, and Jesus' spirit, have become united. What does this mean? The best explanation I've seen of this is from John G. Lake's book: "When the precious Christ enters into the unregenerated heart He becomes the very center of their being. He becomes the very acme of their ambition. That they might be like Him (Eph. 4:13). He, through true humility of His soul, left the things of His glorious Father's Kingdom to come into this world of woe and sin; by which He was enabled to live the life of perfection in this earth and become the real Redeemer and Sympathizer of mankind. "The Spirit of Jesus [becomes] one with us, so that we realize and He realizes when the condition of our nature and mind affect Him. "For two days I have been under a tremendous burden, one of these spirit burdens that comes at times, when you cannot define them. I could not tell whence it came. But every little while I felt I wanted to sit down and cry. Presently, during the day a friend came and unloaded the burden of her soul to me, and then I realized I had been under the burden for that soul for two days. I had not known the trouble existed. "That is the character of comradeship, which is between the real Christian and the Christ. The Christian feels the burdens of the Christ, and the Christ feels the burdens of the Christian and being united as one spirit, the interest of the Christ are the interest of the Christian, and the interests of the Christian are the interests of the Christ. That relationship is of the truest, deepest order. It is the relationship of spirit with spirit" (Collected Writings of John G. Lake, 852-83). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Jesus (Acts 16:7), who partners with us (2 Cor. 13:14). When we become Christians, our spirits, and Jesus' Spirit, become one. We become glued to Jesus, in spirit. We go through life, and we sense/hear the Spirit's leading, and guiding. We sense the Spirit walking beside us, strengthening us, empowering us to serve. We are a unity; we are Jesus' hands and feet and mouth. And if you don't currently have this type of relationship with the Holy Spirit, and you want it, all you have to do is ask (Luke 11:13). "Father, fill me with your Holy Spirit completely. Give me this unity and partnership with your Spirit. Give me this comradeship with your Spirit as I go through life." Now, you can become one with your spouse physically, and be one with the Lord in spirit. Those things are compatible. But this doesn't work with a prostitute. You are trying to join incompatible things. What then should you do? Verse 18: (18) Flee sexual immorality. If you understand what sexual immorality does-- (1) it removes you from Jesus, and (2) it creates a permanent bond with someone-- what should you do? You flee from it. You don't flirt with it. You don't find yourself hoping it will happen (Prov. 7:6-9). You don't leave yourself in situations where you know you're vulnerable. It's at this point that Paul probably quotes another Corinthian slogan, and then counters it: "Every sin that a person may commit, outside of his body it is." Now, the one committing sexual immorality against his own body sins. English Bibles they usually add something to the first sentence to soften it, because they recognize that Paul can't mean what he says. The NASB says this: 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the [a]immoral man sins against his own body. And the reason the NASB puts "other" in italics is that it's not actually in the Greek. It's not there. So probably what we have here is another Corinthian slogan (and you should X out "other" in your own Bibles, and put quotation marks in). The Corinthians say this: "Every sin that a person may commit, outside of his body it is." The Corinthians look at sin, and they think that every sin happens outside of the body. They think that nothing you do has any impact on you at all. There are no consequences. And this, I think, is why they think they are free to do anything. Paul then counters this: "Every sin that a person may commit, outside of his body it is." Now, the one committing sexual immorality against his own body sins. When you commit sexual immorality, you are sinning against your own body. How is this possible? Paul explains himself in verse 19: (19) Or don't you know that your (plural) body (singular) a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, it is, whom you have from God,? And you aren't your own? (20) For you were bought at a price. Consequently, glorify God with your (plural) body (singular). Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. So when you commit sexual immorality-- or any sin??-- you are sinning against the Spirit's temple. Just as teachers who teach destructive things are destroying the temple of God (1 Cor. 3:17), so too people destroy the temple when they commit sexual immorality. It works the same way. Paul then concludes with one final reason not to commit sexual immorality. You aren't your own. You were purchased. Consequently, you need to glorify God with your body. ---------- So let's try to recap this. The Corinthians say, "I am permitted to do anything. The world is my sandbox." And that's true. God doesn't put people on a leash. He doesn't keep you from doing whatever it is, that you want to do. If you want to have sex with prostitutes, or have your father's wife (1 Cor. 5), or defraud your brother (1 Cor. 6:1-12), you can. God will not keep you from these sins, if that's what you choose. He certainly didn't keep the Corinthians from committing these sins. But what the Corinthians didn't understand is that God cares how you treat your body. There are consequences to committing sexual immorality. When you do these sins, they separate you from Jesus. You are "taken away" from Jesus, "removed" from him. You have to be, because Jesus, and his Holy Spirit, can have no share in any of these things. So can you have sex with prostitutes? Absolutely. But is it profitable? Are you better off for giving in to your desires, and doing this? No. You lose your eternal inheritance in God's kingdom (1 Cor. 6:9-10). You become a slave to sin. You lose your connection to Jesus. You sin against your own body, because it's a temple of the Holy Spirit. So when you think about your bodies, and what they are for, know this: (1) Your bodies are designed to be a temple of the Holy Spirit. They have been purified, washed, and made right through Jesus' blood. God went to a lot of trouble, and a lot of work, to make your bodies a suitable home for the Holy Spirit (6:11). (2) Bodies are for Jesus. (3) Bodies are made to glorify God. Your body is not a rental, so don't use it like one. God values your body. He sent Jesus to save all of you. God uses your body as a temple for his Holy Spirit. And one day, He will raise your bodies from the dead. So when you find yourself trying to decide whether or not to do something-- and maybe whether or not something is sin-- ask yourself these three questions: Is this profitable-- will I be better off for having done this? Will this enslave me? And last, does doing this bring glory to God? Glorify God with your bodies. And flee sexual immorality.