You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
Our topic today is sexual integrity, which is relevant to all of us. Everyone above puberty is a sexual sinner. I am a sexual sinner. Can we all admit the terrible darkness everywhere inside us, including this delicate part of us? And we’re sorry for that. But Jesus has covered us completely by his grace, and now we want to live with new integrity for him.
A pastor can make two mistakes when preaching on this very personal topic. On the one hand, a pastor can be cowardly, not saying what needs to be said. On the other hand, a pastor can be sensationalistic, saying things that don’t need to be said. I want to be wise and helpful. So my safest course is to take this verse-by-verse and just tell you what the Bible is saying. The Bible is never cowardly, never sensationalistic. The Bible is wise. In this passage, we have nothing less than the biblical view of the human body. God cares about our bodies, the humblest part of us. He wants to talk to us about our bodies. So let’s listen.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12
Paul is responding to his friends in Corinth. He is quoting something they’ve said. He might even be quoting their misunderstanding of something he had once said. In any case, “All things are lawful for me” is their way of saying, “I’m free in Christ now. I’m under grace. I’m not bound by petty legalism any more. So I can do whatever I want with my sexuality. All things are lawful for me.” Paul was a formidable champion of God’s grace. But here’s what his friends don’t see. Some allowable things, if I use them, will also use me. I don’t want my freedoms to end up mastering me. What kind of freedom is that? What kind of grace is that?
Let’s think of three categories. One, the obviously horrible, like hating Jesus. Two, the obviously glorious, like loving Jesus. Three, the in-between kinda sorta okay allowable. And the question is, Where will we locate our daily lives, including our sexuality, within those three categories? The in-between kinda sorta okay allowable — is that what exerts a gravitational pull on our hearts? We might think, “If activity X isn’t horrible, why exclude it?” That’s how the Corinthians were thinking. But did Jesus die on the cross and send out his Spirit, so that we could make neutrality our goal? The real Jesus is glorious. How could we settle for mediocrity? You might work a rotten job, 40 hours of drudgery every week. But if you do your tedious job for the Lord, he puts his glory on it all. He always puts his glory within the reach of ordinary people.
Here’s another problem with a minimalist ethic – a just-get-by-with-the-minimum approach to daily life. It never stays minimal. It grows. Allowances become patterns, exceptions become rules, pushing Jesus out to the margin, even as we still tell ourselves we love him. A blasé “Whatever!” way of life will encroach on more and more of our hearts and habits, until it dominates us. That is why Paul says here in verse 12, “I will not be enslaved by anything.” What worries him about these early Christians is a problem among us Nashville Christians. Do we even see the opportunities we keep losing simply because we’re just not thinking in terms of the glory that could be? Are we sitting on the edge of our seats, eager to see his glory in our lives? Don’t be fooled. Even behavior that cannot tear you from God’s mighty heart – still, don’t you want to run free every day for Christ? That’s the only freedom that exists. Jesus didn’t set us free from one slavery for us to use him as an excuse for another slavery. He has called us into his glory, including our sexuality. C. S. Lewis wisely said, “He cannot bless us unless he has us. When we try to keep within us an area that is our own, we try to keep an area of death. Therefore, in love, he claims all.”
“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 1 Corinthians 6:13-14
Here’s another quotation from the Corinthian church. Apparently, they were trivializing sex as just another appetite, like hunger for food. Again, Paul helps them think at a deeper level. Yes, sex is an appetite. And yes, our bodily appetites are legitimate. But no physical hunger is ultimate. And the gospel gets us thinking in terms of ultimacy. What then do we see by faith, when we look upward and outward and forward into eternity? God will do away with all our earthly appetites, when they no longer serve his purpose. He has greater things in store for us. In the meantime, he never means us to satisfy our temporary appetites in ways that insult him. Verse 13: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Why steer clear of sexual sin? Because the Lord despises your body? No. Because the Lord is for your body.
The gospel’s incentive for our sexual holiness is not that the body is so disgusting and yucky and dirty and smelly and earthy that God will have nothing to do with it. The gospel’s incentive is the opposite – the Lord is for your body. He isn’t squeamish about your body. He isn’t sorry he made your body. We rejoice in the gift of our bodies, because the Lord is pro-body. And now we want to respond to his kindness by deploying our bodies, in every respect, for his purposes and his purposes only.
As proof that God treasures even our bodies, Paul points out, in verse 14, that God raised Jesus bodily from the grave, and he will raise us bodily from the grave, to live with him in all our physicality forever. God’s plan for you is not less physical experience but better physical experience – no weakness, no sickness, no aging, no decay, no pain, no sin, but only resurrection power forever. We believe in the immortality of the soul, but we also believe in the immortality of the body. God did not make us angels – disembodied spirits. He made us human – embodied spirits. And if you love Jesus, you will live in your body forever, glorified and mighty forever. This is the unblushing promise of the gospel. There is not one particle of you that God will throw in the trash. He is a total Savior for the total you, and he’s not apologizing for that. The Greeks taught that our bodies we had in common with the animals, but it was our minds and souls that we had in common with the gods. The gospel denies the Platonic way of thinking. When we become Christians, our bodies start mattering more than ever. Here’s how much our bodies matter now:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 1 Corinthians 6:15-17
I would never dare to believe this, if it weren’t in the Bible. What is God saying? Our bodies are members of Christ, limbs of Christ, organs of Christ. Our bodies, and not just our souls, are united to the living Christ. We are physical extensions of Christ in the world today. Your legs are how Jesus walks into your world. He so cares for you, he so identifies with you, he so gets involved with you that every part of your body, including your sexuality, is eternally joined to him. Your dear, precious body could not have greater dignity. Shall I then take the eyes of Christ and the brain of Christ and the sexuality of Christ and make them members of porn? Never! If our poor bodies could somehow speak for themselves, they would plead with us, “Oh please, don’t take me there! Don’t do that with me! I belong to Jesus now. He cares about me, even if you don’t. Oh, have mercy upon me and don’t do such horrible things with me!” But sometimes we get even more confused, when we get emotionally involved with someone. The relationship is wrong in the sight of God, but we’re in love. What then? In Jane Eyre, she and Mr. Rochester fall in love. But she discovers he’s already married, and she responds with integrity:
“Jane, you understand what I want of you? Just this promise — ‘I will be yours, Mr. Rochester.’”
“Mr. Rochester, I will not be yours.”
Another long silence.
“Jane!” re-commenced he, with a gentleness that broke me down with grief, “Jane, do you mean to go one way in the world, and to let me go another?”
“Jane” (bending towards and embracing me), “do you mean it now?”
“And now?” softly kissing my forehead and cheek.
“I do” — extricating myself rapidly and completely.
“Oh, Jane, this is bitter! This — this is wicked. It would not be wicked to love me.”
“It would be wicked to obey you.”
So here’s where sexual integrity comes from – the love of Jesus reaching out and embracing every one of us. In verse 16, Paul quotes part of Genesis 2:24 again. Remember how that verse defined marriage: “Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and cling to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.” The one-flesh union is marriage – one man and one woman sharing one mortal life completely, withholding nothing. Jesus quoted Genesis 2:24 in Matthew 19. Paul quoted it in Ephesians 5. Here it is again, it’s so important in the Bible. But what new thought is Paul adding now? He’s saying that sexual sin mimics one-flesh marriage with a mere one-body coupling. So Genesis 2:24 not only honors married sex, it also condemns sex outside marriage, as we see here in verse 16.
Paul tells us more, in verse 17: “But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” One-body is sexual sin. One-flesh is human marriage. One spirit is The Marriage. And the Bible is saying that sexual sin does more than violate human marriage; it violates The Marriage. If you love Jesus, you are joined to the Lord in a one-spirit union. You are loved. You are claimed. You are married at the most profound level of your being. You are in the embrace of the Son of God now and forever. So the command of verse 18 is meaningful:
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 1 Corinthians 6:18
There is something simple about this verse, and there’s something hard about this verse. What’s simple is the command: “Flee from sexual immorality.” What is it about the word “flee” that we don’t understand? God is having a special Father/son/daughter conversation with us today. He’s saying, “Don’t toy with sexual temptation and sin. Don’t debate it. Don’t see how close you can get without actually crossing the line. Run!” What simple measures should every one of us hurry to take, to safeguard our sexual integrity, since we belong to Jesus now? That part of verse 18 is obvious.
What’s not so obvious is what follows: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body.” When I don’t understand something in the Bible, I tell you. And I’m not satisfied that I understand that sentence. So we move on to the next sentence: “But the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” What is God saying? He’s saying that our sexual recklessness cannot satisfy us, it cannot complete us, it can only harm us. My iPhone is amazing communications technology. But if I use my iPhone to hammer nails, I’ll end up with a broken iPhone, because that isn’t what an iPhone was designed for. In the same way, sexual integrity is not some petty Victorian taboo. It is wisdom from the One who designed us. A do-it-yourself sexually adventurous roll of the dice might sound like fun at a theoretical level, but it cannot work out. Sexual wisdom picks up on the clues and learns the steps and joins the ancient dance. Sexual folly is trying to be healthy on junk food, or get home by the wrong road, or swim against the stream of the universe. Lord Byron was the bad boy of the nineteenth century whom everyone secretly envied. He was down in Greece on his 36th birthday. He wrote down his thoughts:
My days are in the yellow leaf, The flowers and fruits of love are gone The worm, the canker, and the grief Are mine alone!
In other words, “I’m only 36, and all I have is an STD and depression.” The prodigal son, in that wonderful story by Jesus – what did he want? Fun! Of course. Who isn’t looking for fun? But where did the prodigal son find it? In the party back in the Father’s house. It’s the only real party in town.
Every one of us has been self-injurious. Every one of us has dishonored the Lord. But look at his amazing grace to us fools! Look at the miracle that you are now:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19-20
The gospel argument for sexual integrity comes down to this — we are now filled with the glory of God, and not just in our personalities but in our very bodies. If you love Jesus, you are indwelt by the Holy Spirit. You are sacred. He has made you into a temple, where Jesus is to be worshiped and served. And it cost him to remake you. He paid a price – his very lifeblood on the cross. You are holy with God’s very presence. You are no longer your own. You are filled with him now. The implications go like this. I try to drive carefully. But when I borrow a friend’s car, I drive very carefully. I don’t want to damage the property of a friend. Even so, our bodies are his. The only way we can say, “Who does he think he is, telling me what to do with my personal life and my body?” – the only way we can say that is if we don’t belong to him. Did he shed his blood for us? Has he given us his Holy Spirit? Then let’s glorify him in our sexuality.
Look at what God isn’t saying in this passage. He isn’t saying, “If you will glorify me in your body, then I will cover your sins with the blood of Jesus, I will indwell you by my Spirit, and I will raise you bodily on the final day.” That would be law. But this is gospel. What is God saying? “In the past I covered your sins with the blood of Jesus, in the present my Spirit indwells you, and in the future I will raise you bodily with total glory. Therefore, glorify me in your body.” Jonathan Edwards described our future glory at the second coming of Christ:
In that resurrection morning, when the Sun of Righteousness shall appear in the heavens, shining in all his brightness and glory, he will come forth as a bridegroom; he shall come in the glory of his Father, with all his holy angels. And at that glorious appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ shall the whole elect church, complete with every individual member and each member with the whole person, both body and soul, and both in perfect glory – we shall ascend up to meet the Lord in the air, to be forever with the Lord. That will be a joyful meeting of this glorious bridegroom and bride. Then will come the time, when Christ will sweetly invite his spouse to enter in with him into the palace of his glory, which he had been preparing for her from the foundation of the world, and he shall take her by the hand and lead her in with him; and this glorious bridegroom and bride shall with all their shining ornaments, ascend up together into the heaven of heaven, the whole multitude of glorious angels waiting upon them; and they shall together receive the Father’s blessing; and shall rejoice together in consummate, uninterrupted, unchanging and everlasting glory, in the love and embraces of each other, and in their shared enjoyment of the love of the Father.
That is your body’s future. So glorify God in your body. And whatever our past, whatever our sins, here is one step we all can take this morning toward our promised glory:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord, which is your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1