Glorifying God

1 Corinthians

Setting – In chapter 4 Paul contrasted the arrogance of some (4:6, 7, 18, 19) indicated by their party spirit with the lowliness (4:9-13) of the positions of the apostles. In fact, all that the party leaders had of any spiritual consequence, they had received from the faithful ministry of the apostles (4:1,2, 7). In spite of their being of no esteem in the eyes of the world, God’s power in accordance with God’s truth had operated through the apostles, and would again if necessary (4:19). In chapter 5, Paul addressed the issue of their ignoring a case of blatant and perverse immorality among church members (5:1). Paul called for immediate dismissal of the offending parties from membership (5:4, 5). He makes the point that corporate sanctification is an important element of personal sanctification (5:6-8). Such dissociation from the immoral, arrogant, and swindling coveters does not include isolating themselves from normal operations in business and society (5:10. 11). They need to be in the world to influence it and show their spirit of honesty, industry, and purpose; but they are not to be of the world in their spirit individually nor like the world in their toleration of immorality in the church. Since he has introduced the idea of the necessity of judging the conduct of those inside the church, he brings up a matter of scandal that church members have gone to secular court against church members (6:1-6). One should be willing to suffer wrong than do such a thing—much less should one brother seek to swindle and cheat another. Saints will judge the world, and even angels, as members of the kingdom of God, and do we go to the world to be judged in temporal matters between ourselves? True judgment exists only in the principles of kingdom living, and the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom. In going to secular court, they have put themselves into the hands of fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals sodomites, thieves, the covetous, drunkards, revilers, and extortioners. Such people will not inherit the kingdom, so why would you purposely appeal to them in matters that can be handled within the wisdom and sanctified judgment of the church? That was the former life style of these church members, but by the gospel they were “washed,  . . . sanctified, . . . justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and the Spirit of our God” (6:11).

Now Paul has to confront a false view of spirituality that has so divided body from spirit that the prevailing idea is that what is done in the body does not affect the spirit.  Though the body is fallen and certainly will experience death, the resurrection testifies that the perfect state of existence involves perfect harmony in the thoughts, intentions, and actions of body, mind, soul, and spirit. There still is a holistic relationship in every constitutional part of the human person. What one does with his body involves the spirit.


I. Certain persons misunderstood the context in which the believer is free from the law. It is true that believers are free from the condemning power of the law because of Christ’s righteousness. Also, none of the Law’s ceremonies have regulatory power in life or in worship. Its articulation of worship toward God and loving regard for one’s neighbor, however, has lost none of its authority for it reflects eternal truth concerning the image of God, both as we regard his holiness and our sanctification.

A. One person may plead, “All things are lawful for me.” Paul answers this in two ways.

  1. Paul points to a principle of sanctified living that looks for all thoughts and actions to contribute to progress in one’s holiness. He responded, “But not all things are helpful.” One might not be breaking a moral law in what he allows himself to do, but he might pursue mere trivialities that do, in fact, dull his mind, establish a focus on fantasies that contribute nothing to the moral skill and perceptions needed to negotiate this world that is hostile to holiness.
  2. His second response expands that idea. He shows that in the matter of the use of our minds, our bodies, and our wills, and in the way we take advantage of the time that God gives we find no neutral territory. “But I will not be dominated by anything,” he answered. Many things we may consider innocent in themselves, become an enemy to spiritual growth and the expansion of the glory of God in our lives. Some activities might become so regular and so absorbing that they dominate time and energy that could be spent in more edifying and positive pursuits. Time is sanctification or decline; what dominates our time contributes to or detracts from our understanding of the glory of God.

B. A particular example of this spiritual foolishness is found in a desire to be undisciplined in the matter of eating. “Food is meant for the stomach,” so the moral logician argued, “and the stomach for food.” Paul answered, “God will destroy both one and the other.”

  1. This church had been established in a culture where gluttony was a major pastime and was celebrated jointly with immediate sexual gratification as among the greatest gifts of life. Paul had a major teaching task before him. Even with the many months he had spent there, eighteen (Acts 18:11), and with a previous letter of teaching (1 Corinthians 5:11), new converts (and perhaps some of the original ones) still needed apostolical instruction concerning the theological foundation of moral issues.
  2. As one finds in this letter and throughout Paul’s ministry, false spirituality, in its tendency to disconnect the importance of the body from the restoration of holy wholeness to the spirit, induces one to practice extremes.
  • One is the identification of holiness with unwarranted neglect of legitimate bodily appetites which have a God-ordained and -intended manner of manifestation.
    • He begins to answer one of these problems in the reported proposition of 7:1 (“It is good for a man not to touch a woman”).
    • He gives a long discussion of the body and the character of its eternal existence in his discussion of resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15.
    • Timothy was confronted with this false spirituality and Paul took it on in 1 Timothy 4:1-5. There he stated clearly a principle to be invoked: “For every creature of God is good, and nothing is to be refused if it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by the word of God and prayer.”
    • John dealt with this in those who denied that the Christ could really have taken on a human body: “Every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is of God, and every spirit that does not confess Christ [has come in the flesh] is not of God” (1 John 4:3).
    • Peter also pointed out the involvement of the body of Christ in his atoning work: “Who himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24); and in his resurrection (1:3; 3:18).
  • The other extreme, equally as false, is that the most rapid advance of holiness of soul may be achieved by freeing it from any kind of struggle with bodily appetites. Since the actions of the body do not affect the soul/spirit, granting its impulses gives leeway for cultivation of the life of the spirit. The apostle John confronted this with his presentation of false claims to sinlessness in those who were indulging the flesh (1 John 1:8; 2:4, 9, 15-17; 3:7 – “Little children, let no one deceive you. He who practices righteousness is righteous, just as He is righteous. He who sins is of the devil.”).
  • Paul here is giving attention to those who believe that abandonment to fleshly appetites does no harm to one’s progress in holiness. Yes, it is true that the stomach was made to digest food and food is meant for the stomach. All of that, by a design arising from the goodness of the Creator, is a source of pleasure, but is meant in its ultimate purpose to give proper sustenance to the body in this life. In itself, it has no lasting value, but both food and the stomach will perish. If the seeking of its pleasure goes beyond its proper intent, it is an expression of covetousness and idolatry. Our focus should be on those things that do not perish but cultivate the values of the life in eternity before God. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law” (Galatians 5:22). “Put off the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and . . . put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:22, 23). “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Philippians 4:8). “If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Colossians 3:1-3).


II. A more severe manifestation of this false spirituality was the view that sexual immorality did not affect the condition of the spirit. Along with gluttony, this had been one of the major pursuits of pagan culture.

A. Paul begins his answer by referring to the original purpose of the body. “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

  1. Though God is Spirit, the human body is the vehicle within which are expressed all those qualities that do reflect the divine image. The mind, intelligence, affections, creativity, communication are elements of the natural image of God and express themselves largely, if not exclusively through the body. We have no way of real expression apart from it: “Body language” is not a mere metaphor for even our words arise from the motions of the body.
  2. The qualities of holiness and spiritual beauty invested in all these elements of the natural image of God constitute the moral image of God. The mouth speaks that which dominates the heart. The mind defends what the affections embrace. The affections embrace that which is most palatable to the understanding. The body performs that which has captured the understanding. We cannot say that what the body does has no affect on the spirit; rather, the body expresses the state of the moral image of God within us, either for holiness or for destruction.
  3. Unwarranted sexuality is not bodily neutral but is real sexual immorality.
  • It is always connected with an internal disposition that has rejected the rightful rule of God as both Creator and Redeemer. He has defined the use of sexuality in his creation of two genders for the fulfillment of each and for the propagation of the race in order to subdue the earth according to the purpose of God (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:18-25).
  • Note how sexual immorality always is seen as an expression of internal spiritual rebellion and intense creature-centeredness. It both expresses and defiles the spirit and is contrary to sanctification. Sexual immorality expresses a covetous, idolatrous, rebellious spirit. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor; not in passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 4). “Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. Because of these things the wrath of God is coming upon the sons of disobedience.” “But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints; neither filthiness, nor foolish talking, nor coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For you know that no fornicator, unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:3-5).

B. Paul looks at the reality of the resurrection and the glorified body as evidence of the necessity for purposeful purity of the body even in this fallen world, and even though these bodies will turn to dust. “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” With the glorified body in heaven, we will be capable of full, unpolluted praise, with ever-increasing fullness as capacities of both body and spirit expand exponentially in the glorified state. Paul gives a strong statement of the unified purpose of body and soul in his second letter to the Corinthians: “For we who are in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed [that is, disembodied as pure spirits], but further clothed, that mortality may be swallowed up by life.” He looked, by revelation, to a transformation of the body (“further clothed”), not an emptying of it. Then he adds this gripping statement, “Now he who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Corinthians 5:4, 5). Any conduct, or view of life, that dissociates the body from the spirit in the privilege of praise directly attacks the very purpose for which we were created.

C. Paul also teaches that even our present bodies, because of the incarnation of Christ and his own union with us in our physical state in order to bring about redemption, have present union with Christ’s resurrected body. He asked the Corinthians, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”

  1. Then he reasons from that concerning the necessity of union of both body and spirit. When God created man, he did not take a spirit from some other place and put it into man. He did not have pre-created spirits to give to individually created bodies, but first created the body from the dust of the ground and “breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being” (Genesis 2:7). The life of the body expresses the vital operations of the spirit; a person is a soul, a living being, for God himself in the beginning breathed, as an expression of his own spirit, into man’s body. Now, amazingly in the propagation of the human race, procreation passes down both body and spirit from one generation to the next.
  2. In that light, he asked a second question arising from the implications of the first. “Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?” With such a vital union with Christ, a union that includes our bodies as being prepared for resurrection and the house of all our perceptions and praises of God in eternity, how could we ever conceive of such a thing? “Never!” he exclaimed. For even as our bodies are at one with Christ by redemption, even so physical union here establishes a kind of spiritual union. “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.”
  3. When, therefore we join the body with a prostitute, or in any illegitimate way, we join Christ himself in that same union. Given the unity of body and soul, and our spiritual union with Christ, (“he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him”) our use of our bodies has eternal implications. “Flee from sexual immorality, “ therefore (verse 18), for “every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” In doing this, he shows his disdain for the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ.

D. Paul then points to another reality to be considered in this matter. As we are united with Christ, so the Holy Spirit has come into our bodies as the image-bearers of God who are being restored into his spiritual image. He asked the rhetorical question (verse 19), “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”

E. Having been created by God, body and spirit, with the very purpose of praising him eternally, having been redeemed by Christ in his incarnation and united with him in that redemption, and having been indwelt by the Holy Spirit, we must join Paul in the conclusion, “You are not your own.”

  1. In the eternal covenant of redemption, we have been “bought with a price.” The Father paid for us in sending his Son, his beloved Son to become the object of his wrath against the sin of the people he had given to Christ (John 17:1-3). The Son shed his blood as a ransom price, as a redemptive cost, and so purchased by moral equity in suffering propitiatory wrath the people for whose sake he shed his blood. The Holy Spirit exerted his power in raising us from spiritual death to life, indwelt us to become an earnest, a down payment, on the eternal inheritance, is to us the Spirit of adoption, continually operates in his own holy desires against the desires of the flesh in order to sanctify us (Galatians 5:17; Romans 8:13), and finally will be the source of eternal resurrection life to these mortal bodies (Romans 8:11). So indeed, by the triune God, we have been “bought with a price, and we are not our own.”
  2. Away then, with this silly impression that the body has nothing to do with holy living here and preparation for eventual living in the presence of the glory of the three-personed God! “So glorify God in your body,” Paul concludes. When we rightly grasp both creation and redemption, we will say that all we are, the body and all the capacities of soul and spirit that express themselves through the body, and all that we have of time, energy, and talents should be elevated in their use to the endlessly satisfying calling of giving one’s self to the glory of God. Can anyone think of a more glorious occupation both now and forever? In this reside pleasures of all kinds in their ultimate purpose and fulfillment both here and hereafter.
Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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