1 Corinthians

Week of March 29, 2020

The Point:  We are set apart in Christ to live holy lives.

Flee Sexual Immorality:  1 Corinthians 6:9-20.

[9] Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, [10] nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. [11] And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. [12] “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. [13] “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. [14] And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. [15] 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! [16] 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.” [17] But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. [18] Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. [19] 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, [20] for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.   [ESV]

“Convictions about the future [9-10]. For Paul the reality of the kingdom of God was completely central to his own convictions and to his consistent teaching. Although the New Testament clearly contains many different expressions of the gospel, each suitably relevant to its context, it seems important to stress that today careful, relevant exposition of the biblical teaching about the kingdom of God is crucial. Evangelicals have stressed the preaching of the gospel; others have stressed the importance of the kingdom; Jesus came proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom. This balance is needed in every kind of situation today. In each and every situation it is incumbent upon the church to proclaim the gospel of the kingdom. Paul spent his time thus preaching the kingdom of God and teaching about the Lord Jesus Christ, because he was absolutely convinced about the preeminence of Jesus. This kingdom has a future application, however much it is to be entered and enjoyed now. This is summarized in the word inherit in verses 9 and 10. On four occasions when he refers to the kingdom of God, Paul talks of inheriting (or not inheriting) it. This inheritance is here likened to (and contrasted with) the Promised Land which awaited God’s people under the old covenant. That earthly inheritance was subject to natural disasters, invaded by hostile enemies, marauded by wild beasts, and generally something of a problem for the people of God to contain, let alone fully to enjoy. In spite of all the difficulties facing the people of Israel in claiming their promised inheritance, they were under a divine obligation to exterminate every alien influence both in the land and in their own community-life. The same summons comes to the people of God under the new covenant: our inheritance is imperishable, undefiled and unfading: there is nothing inherently corrupt or corrupting in the kingdom of God: nor will anything of that nature be allowed to enter it. The two cannot mix. The unrighteous cannot inherit the kingdom of God, because God is altogether righteous. The unrighteous actually exclude themselves from the kingdom of a righteous God. They exclude themselves by their chosen behavior. Because God’s kingdom reflects his own character of righteousness and compassion, those who insist on living by different standards will not be there. Paul is not talking about isolated acts of unrighteousness, but about a whole way of life pursued persistently by those who thus indicate that they would be aliens in the kingdom of truth and light. Now the church in Corinth – or anywhere at any time – was called to reflect the conditions which prevail in the kingdom of God. The church is a sign of the kingdom, a pointer to its true character. Church discipline is, therefore, not a matter of arbitrary decisions about sexual morality; it is based on firm convictions (rooted in and taken from the Scriptures) about the essential character of God’s kingdom, both in the ways Jesus himself revealed its nature, and in the visionary portrait we are given of the quality of life it will one day fully manifest. The significance of this conviction about who will, and who will not, inherit the kingdom of God effectively revolves round our belief about the judgment of God. If we are unable to accept the reality, the eternal reality of judgment, we will not accept the urgent need for discipline in the church. It is not trivial that Paul warns the Corinthians, do not be deceived – the word indicates a tendency to wander off course into a minefield of falsehood, both false teaching and false behavior. When we look at the actual list of those excluded from full possession of the kingdom of God, there is little difference from those mentioned in 5:10-11. The three extra words are adulterers, men who practice homosexuality, and thieves. The complete list comes under the summary statement: the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God. These were Paul’s cardinal convictions about the future. They represent the very core of his regular teaching in all the churches. He believed that the kingdom of God had already been ushered into this world through the arrival on the scene of King Jesus. Citizens of such a kingdom were called to live in a special way: more than that, they were able to live in a distinctive way, and it was therefore doubly crucial for them to be different.

Convictions about the past [11]. There are few more exciting and energizing statements in the New Testament than this little phrase, And such were some of you. We have only to recall the moral cess-pit of first-century Corinth to appreciate the wonder of Paul’s assertion. No power on earth could have produced such a transformation in this motley collection of Christians, to whom he is so deeply devoted that he explicitly addresses them as ‘brethren’ twenty times in this single epistle. Never had Paul been more convinced that God is able to save to the uttermost all who come to him through Jesus [Heb. 7:25]. Every Corinthian Christian was living evidence that God’s answer to sophisticated Greek wisdom was not clever arguments but changed lives. ‘Such were some of you’: something had happened; they were no longer inextricably caught up in this way of life. Paul is absolutely clear about this: But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. All three verbs are in the aorist tense, indicating an once-for-all event which had completely transformed them. This verse has a definite baptismal ring to it. The human and the divine elements in salvation, symbolized in water-baptism, are brought out in the tenses of the three verbs in verse 11. The first is in the middle tense (literally ‘you washed yourselves’), while the other two are passive. This would correspond to the decisive act of the Corinthians in making a clean break with their old way of life, interacting with the sovereign initiative of God in accepting them into his kingdom as fully-justified royal subjects, and setting them apart for special service under his kingly rule. The intensity of the change this achieved is underlined by the triple But in the original, one before each verb. Paul is totally convinced about what has happened to the Christians at Corinth. Whatever the problems in the church, whatever their personal failures and corporate worldliness, however much pain he personally feels about their attitude to himself – he remains established in his convictions about the past: they have been washed, sanctified, justified … and the whole weight of God the Holy Trinity lies behind that conviction: verse 11 has a clearly trinitarian sound to it. However reminiscent of baptismal liturgy and practice, Paul’s language is not placing confidence about the Corinthians’ standing before God in the actual event of baptism. That much is plain form the double phrase, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. To have – and to be controlled by – such Christ-centered conviction both about the future and about the past is essential to a healthy body-life in the local church and to the individual believer’s own spiritual health.

The need for purity [12-20]. The theme remains sexual ethics, but Paul moves from aspects of church discipline and the immorality of certain behavior into a masterly presentation of the beauty of sexual holiness. Negative injunctions about sexual practices have their place; warning about the consequences of disobedience are necessary. But the most attractive aspect of a truly biblical sexuality is its power to provide what Os Guinness has called ‘both the basis and the balance for human love – its height, its depth, its realism and its romanticism.’ Therefore, in a world which is largely obsessed with sex as the universal panacea for our emptiness and our needs, this passage in Paul’s writings comes to us with topical pungency. The major premise of many Corinthian Christians was All things are lawful for me. Paul’s dilemma was accentuated by the presence in the church at Corinth of both antinomians and legalists. He was bound to fight the battle on both points: if he conceded too much in one direction, he would give too much leeway to those at the opposite extreme. Walking in the Spirit is always a matter of steering the middle and narrow course between too much license and too many rules and regulations. Before Paul gives a fully Christian perspective on the body, he deals with the general principle raised by the slogan All things are lawful for me. Paul sees the necessity of qualifying what could look like blanket-approval for anything a Christian might feel like doing. If we put together 6:12 and 10:23, we have three crucial qualifications on this apparent carte blanche. It is worth looking at each in turn, because Paul is enunciating principles for the whole of our daily behavior in the world, before applying it specifically in the area of sexuality. First, he maintains, not all things are helpful. It is certainly true that the Christian gospel is a message of freedom; but that does not mean that anything and everything is helpful or advisable. Paul is not satisfied with a ‘lowest common denominator’ approach to his daily behavior; he wants to ensure that what he does is genuinely helpful for his daily witness to unbelievers, for his work in the church and for his walk with Christ. Paul thus wants everything we do to have a positive result on our own lives and on the lives we touch day by day. That principle could most profitably be applied in the whole arena of inter-personal relationships, especially between the sexes. Paul’s second qualification on the ‘all things are lawful’ slogan contains an interesting play on words. The man who has to express his freedom is actually in bondage to the need to show he is a free man. The genuinely free man has nothing to prove. In the specific issue at stake in 6:12, Paul seems to be saying that rights of any kind are of no determinative value in his daily life. That is an extremely revolutionary statement and denotes a measure of freedom unfamiliar to most Christians, let alone the unbelieving world in general. If I am constantly concerned about my rights, like the Christians at Corinth, how can I be genuinely free to respond to what my Lord wants me to do? Paul’s ‘rights’ cover the whole of life, but he is not going to allow those universal ‘rights’ to dictate to him. Only Jesus Christ can do that, and he has total rights over every part of Paul’s life. Once we have been liberated from the need to receive, let alone to assert, our rights, we can then see clearly the habits and the things which tend to enslave us. If there is anything I find I cannot give up, that has become an infringement of my freedom in Christ: For whatever overcomes a person, to that he is enslaved [2 Peter 2:19]. Paul is adamant that he will not surrender the control of his life to anyone or anything but the Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God. He regards himself as a bondslave of Jesus Christ and there is no way in which he will allow his person or his behavior to be controlled by another force: I will not be dominated by anything. Paul’s third qualification of ‘all things are lawful’ comes at 10:23, but not all things build up. Paul’s major preoccupation is that the body of Christ in Corinth should be built up, not just on the right foundation, but by the wise use of sound materials. The leading question which Paul wants every Christian to ask himself constantly is this: ‘Will this or that proposed course of action prove constructive?’ This whole section [6:12-20] is as constructive a contribution to Christian sexual ethics as we can find inside or outside the New Testament. The stage is now set for Paul to unfold his view of the body, in contrast with prevailing views held by both pagan philosophers and untaught Corinthian Christians. Paul makes five powerful statements about the body and then concludes with is tour de force: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body [19-20]. It is our bodies that Paul urges us to present to God as a living sacrifice. Obedience or disobedience are expressed in our bodies or they are expressed nowhere. Obedience for the Christian is a body activity. God does not address us purely as minds or emotions or wills, but as people with bodies. Paul’s five truths about the body are explained in the following verses. Each truth contradicts the mood of his contemporaries and is worth examining more fully.

  1. The purpose of the body in the Lord [13]. God has a purpose for our bodies, and it is certainly not for us to indulge them with sexual immorality of any kind, let alone the specialist kind rampant in the licensed prostitution of contemporary Corinth. The fact that Jesus himself took human flesh and blood shows that the Lord is for the body. This is underlined by the further fact that God did not allow ‘his Holy One to see corruption’, but raised him from the dead. This shows also that death does not terminate God’s purpose for our bodies.
  2. The resurrection of the body in the Lord [14]. The purpose which God has for our bodies is in no sense thwarted by death and dissolution. This theme Paul takes up more thoroughly in chapter 15, but he summarizes the supremely relevant truth in 6:14, God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. That is the eternal dimension of God’s purpose for the body. Paul preserves the consistent teaching of the New Testament in attributing the resurrection of Jesus to the dynamic agency of God the Father. Whatever is true of Jesus is true of all in Jesus. Our bodies are not dispensable, in the ultimate sense; they are the raw material of a more glorious creation.
  3. The interaction of the body with the Lord [15-17]. The extent to which the human body of Christians and the Lord himself are intertwined is eloquently described in the phrase in verse 15: Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? This is extraordinarily bold language: our physical bodies are limbs of Christ, and Paul’s rhetorical question reveals how fundamental is this union with the risen Lord. This is the measure of our oneness with Christ: he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. The two personalities become one, so merged that Paul uses the same phrases, joined (‘glued together’), to describe the Christian’s integration with Christ as to describe a person’s action in joining himself to a prostitute [16]. Jesus himself taught this perfect oneness between himself and those who believe in him [John 17:20ff.]. Paul uses the same vocabulary, explicitly in connection with marriage, to describe the relationship between Christ (the Bridegroom) and the church (his Bride) [Eph. 5:21ff.]. The complete and permanent oneness between husband and wife is a powerful pointer to the relationship, for time and for eternity, between Christ and his church. In God’s ideal purpose for marriage, two believers should be so united as persons that ‘two become one’, expressed in the physical oneness of sexual intercourse. Yet even that approximation to the ideal plan of God is, at its very best, only a pointer to the perfect union/marriage between Christ and his church. If each individual believer’s bodily members are actually limbs of Christ, it is inconceivable (as well as immoral) for him to abuse that body by resorting to sexual intercourse with prostitutes. This is also the strongest reason why believers ought not to marry unbelievers. The physical limbs of a Christian are members of Christ; those of the non-Christian are not. If a Christian, therefore, chooses to have sexual intercourse with an unbeliever, he becomes one body with her, according to the foundational truth expressed in the phrase, The two will become one flesh. But it is impossible for that ‘one flesh’ relationship to be integrated with the ‘one spirit’ relationship between that believer and his Lord [17]. Such a believer is from that point onwards living a disintegrated life.
  4. The habitation of the body by the Lord [19]. Paul’s fourth plea for Christ-centered purity is the habitation of our bodies by the Lord, by the Holy Spirit. Our bodies are not simply physical shells of remarkable composition: they are a temple of the Holy Spirit. Earlier [3:16-17] Paul affirmed that the whole church of God at Corinth was God’s temple, with stern warnings against any who might destroy that temple. Now he uses the same metaphor to remind individual Christians at Corinth that God has given to each the gift of his indwelling Holy Spirit.
  5. The redemption of the body by the Lord [19-20]. Paul’s final plea for purity is based on the cost of redeeming our bodies: You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. Before they began to experience the freedom for which Christ had set them free, the Corinthians were in the most servile bondage. They were slaves to themselves, their self-centered desires, self-indulgence and bodily passions. Then came a master with the resources to set them completely free. He paid the necessary ransom. They had been set free from the futility and servitude of their previous manner of life. Their bodies were no longer like chunks of flesh up for sale to the highest bidder in the slave-marker, or available to a cult-prostitute for a fee. They had been brought with a price and they now belonged to a new master. His orders now mattered, not their own fancies or foibles. He now intended every physical faculty they had within them to express the glory of God. So far from despising their bodies, marked as they were by all the degradation and indiscipline of sin, he was committed to working out from within ‘the redemption of their bodies’. Flesh and blood, particularly such dissolute flesh and blood, could never inherit the kingdom of God [15:50]; but the power of his redeeming love could – and would – complete what the Holy Spirit had already begun. So we are urged to learn from the Spirit of God what it means to glorify God in our bodies: not to pander to them, make excuses for them, or be flippant about the many powerful temptations to abuse them. Paul forthrightly commands the Corinthians to flee two sins: immorality [18] and idolatry [10:14]. Christians today do not have to be citizens of Corinth to discover the practical wisdom of running away from temptation when the odds are stacked too high against them. This, however, is the negative (though necessary) aspect of Christ-centered purity. Paul’s last word on the subject is far more challenging and positive: glorify God in your body.” [Prior, pp. 86-104].

Questions for Discussion:

  1. Why is it necessary for Paul to warn us ‘not to be deceived’ regarding the concrete realities of moral demands in the church? How does the example of the Corinthians in verse 11 hold out great hope for us? List and explain the three statements Paul makes in verse 11 concerning what has taken place in the lives of the Corinthian believers.
  2. What is the difference between true Christian liberty and license [12-13]? Are you engaged in behavior that is not helpful to your Christian walk? What should you do about this behavior? Why is what we do with our bodies in this life so important? Is the Lord controlling how you use your body?
  3. How does the Christian gospel affect our understanding of sexual morality? How are we to live Christ’s way in a pressingly pagan world? What motivations does Paul give us to help us fight sexual temptation? In today’s world we are bombarded on every side by sexual immorality. What practical ways can you take in order to Flee from sexual immorality?
  4. List the five truths Paul gives concerning our bodies. How do these truths contradict the thinking of our culture? Think about how you can use these five truths in your witness to the world..


1 Corinthians, David Garland, ECNT, Baker.

Let’s Study 1 Corinthians, David Jackman, Banner of Truth.

1 Corinthians, Peter Naylor, Evangelical Press.

The Message of 1 Corinthians, David Prior, InterVarsity.

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