The text of this sermon on 1 Corinthians 6 is reprinted here by permission of the vicar who wrote it and told us about it in a comment here.
1 Cor 6v12-20
“What Jesus has to do with your body”
One common bumper sticker these days reads, “Keep your laws off my body!” It’s a sentiment the Corinthian church of St. Paul’s day would echo whole-heartedly. They write to him asking, in effect, “What does Jesus have to do with my body?” This is a question that, in various forms, has engaged Christians through the centuries. If grace be true, if the freedom of a Christian is real, if God has indeed redeemed our souls—what’s to keep us from living however we wish? Who’s to say otherwise? What does Jesus have to do with my body?
To better understand where the Corinthians are coming from we need a brief church history lesson. In the first couple centuries of the church, a heretical movement snuck in called Gnosticism: G-N-O-S-T-I-C-I-S-M. From the Greek gnosis, knowledge. Gnostics held that
- The soul, not the body, is man’s essence
- That soul is in fact imprisoned by the body, but freed from that imprisonment—redeemed—by “knowing the right things”, secret things
- Since the soul is what matters and what has been redeemed and what will be set free, the body should be treated accordingly: either whip it like a trained monkey or indulge it like a spoiled grandchild. Typically the latter.
This ancient heresy of Gnosticism is a perpetual heresy, afflicting the church both then and now. It pops up whenever believers would pride themselves on knowing the right things, contenting themselves with nebulous “spirituality”, to the neglect of concrete life in the world. Gnosticism exists wherever the soul is prized over and against the body. Hence the question: “What does Jesus have to do with my body?”
The quotes in our text this morning are Corinthian slogans that Paul is repeating back to them; these are the arguments the Corinthians were offering Paul:
- “All things are permissible for me”—What good is “grace”, what good is “freedom”, if it doesn’t mean I can do whatever I want?
- “Food for the stomach…God will destroy them both” and “Every sin…the body”—all that matters is my soul, and this body’s just a shell; what difference does it make how I live in it, what I do to it?
It’s like this. I know many of you went to college. Did any of you stay in a rental house or apartment during your time in college? Let’s just say, these are not the finest dwellings one can live in—but my junior year of college a few friends and I decided to do just that. We were moving into Haslett Arms apartments in East Lansing, and our first day seeing the place, the out-going tenant showed us around.
Now, this was one of those apartments that is furnished, so it had desks, bunk beds, chairs, and so forth. And it had a couch: a sagging, worn, coffee-stained-teeth colored couch. And the former tenant says to us, “Do not—do not—under any circumstances or for any reason whatsoever, sit on or lay on this couch. Trust me on this one.”
The Corinthians’ attitude toward the body is like a college kid’s attitude toward his apartment: it’s just a rental, so what do I care? I am just a stranger here; this is not my true home. I will live as I please, with no one to tell me otherwise. Such is the so-called “freedom” of the Corinthian—and college freshman. It’s a freedom to do whatever I darn well please with my body.
And so the Corinthians, in the name of Christian freedom, were engaging in some stereotypical college freshmen revelry, if you catch my drift. Their bastardized pseudo-gospel held that they could live however they wanted. It doesn’t matter: our souls are redeemed. That’s the Christian message. Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die—and our stomach’s gonna be destroyed, so we might as well enjoy it!
Is such an attitude unique to the Corinthian church? Hardly. Among Lutherans, it’s not uncommon to eat like an ox and drink like a fish—as signs of how orthodox you are! But Paul addresses the issue of sexual immorality specifically, and so let’s stay with him for a moment.
The Corinthians justified taking prostitutes with their laissez-faire attitude toward their bodies. I doubt many among us would stoop that far, but that doesn’t mean other aspects of our sexual ethic are above reproach. The Gnostic inclination is a weed that bends to reach light wherever it may be. To offer only a few examples:
- A recent study found that teens who took a “virginity pledge”—a promise to abstain from sex until marriage, taken almost exclusively by Christians—were no more likely to remain abstinent than those who did not.
- Statistics vary, but according to several sources no less than half of Christian men view pornography on a regular basis.
- And at risk of sounding too Roman Catholic: the uncritical acceptance of birth control methods and the contraceptive mentality propagated by our culture is a mark against the Church. We are called to “be fruitful and multiply”, and though sex is not merely for procreation, attempts to sever the God-ordained connection between sex and procreation are sinful. Though we oppose abortion, we neglect the silent abortion perpetrated everyday by IUDs, hormonal methods of birth control, and other abortifacients.
Our culture teaches us that our bodies are our own, and that we should do whatever we desire to maximize our pleasure. Nothing could be more hazardous than our culture’s licentiousness met with a Gnostic view of the body. Go ahead: stuff your body—or starve your body. Do what feels good. “Food for the stomach…” Just so long as your soul is okay, your body may do as it pleases.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, these are not edifying exercises of Christian freedom. You are not being more “spiritual” by neglecting and denigrating life in the body. We Lutherans have never been ones to shy away from boasting in our Christian freedom, but we need to take heed, for neither were the Corinthians. A “freedom” that boasts of its license to do as it pleases, confident that the soul will escape unscathed, is not Christian; it’s Gnostic. We’re that college kid throwing up on the carpet and sleeping on a bed of pizza boxes and punching a hole in the wall: eh, what’s it matter? All things are permissible! Food for the body and the body for food—and they’re both gonna burn!
Paul has a word for both the Corinthians and us: not so fast. “All things are permissible for me”? No: you are a member, a limb, of Christ’s body. You belong to Him and to your fellow limbs in the Body of Christ. “Food for the stomach, and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both”? No: God will not “destroy” our bodies; He raised Jesus’ body, and will raise ours, too—emphatic evidence that the body is of utmost importance.
You are not your own, Paul says; you were bought at a price. That body, which you are so wantonly abusing, happens to be a body Christ purchased with his blood. It is not just some dump you can let rot; it houses the Holy Spirit. Yes: Jesus has everything to do with your body.
[Recount scenes from Les Mis.]
And you and I are not our own, Paul says; we were bought at a price. Like Fantine, like the Corinthians, like humans through the ages, we prostitute ourselves and become slaves to sin. We abuse this body, which is a gift, and we place it in low esteem. But your body, your very self—you—are a person for whom God is willing to fight for. Our Lord Jesus shed His own blood to redeem you from your sinful way of life, to give you the fairy tale ending. Jesus has everything to do with your body: it belongs to him.
Your body is not your own, and so you are also not at liberty to ridicule it, despise it, loathe it. You might look in the mirror and see a body that’s too ugly, too fat, too skinny, too short, too old, too decrepit. That’s not what your Heavenly Father sees. He sees his child, whom he made, whom he gave His Son for to reclaim. He sees the jewel in his crown, the apple of his eye. You may wonder why God made you, but God says you’re fearfully and wonderfully made.
And I don’t just mean your soul; it’s no less stained than your body. No: body & soul, Jesus died and rose for you. Our God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—is so enamoured with you, body & soul, that he will raise you, too. He thinks that that supposed “decrepit old shell” of yours isn’t a college-campus rental; it’s a Holy Spirit palace. Like the old poster says: God made you, and he doesn’t make junk. And he bought you—and there is no more savvy shopper than Him.
So what do we do? Having been freed from that old way of life, do we go back to it? Does Fantine return to the streets? No! Of course not! Like Eric Liddell knew, the Scottish Olympian of Chariots of Fire fame, Jesus gave His body to redeem our bodies, and so we feel His pleasure when we run, or exercise, or live chaste and disciplined lives, or whatever: we glorify with our body the one who has bought it. You and I are not our own. Thanks be to God!
Now may the peace of God, etc.