How many times a day do you blink? 100? 500? A thousand? You blink 14,000 times a day, so much that your eyes are shut for 23 minutes every day. Yet, you don’t even think about it, even though if you stopped blinking you would irreparably damage your eyeball in short order. Our body is able to do all kinds of critical life-saving care, all without our conscious thought. For instance, from the second I began speaking this sentence, our bodies have made a million red blood cells and are already transporting them around our body, all without us intentionally directing our heart or veins to do so. If you are sipping a cup of coffee right now, you have a small trapdoor in your throat called the epiglottis that automatically opens when you breathe and closes when you swallow a drink. If you are eating something, your brain is monitoring the texture and size of what you are eating and prompting you when the food has been chewed enough to be swallowed safely, all without your conscious effort.
While our body does many things without our conscious effort, we ought to consciously appreciate the wonder that is our body. As ions move in and out of your cells, they create a small amount of electricity, about a hundred millivolts. But, “that translates as thirty million volts per meter—about the same as in a bolt of lightning. Put another way, the amount of electricity going on within your cells is a thousand times greater than the electricity within your house.”
“Your lungs, smoothed out, would cover a tennis court, and the airways within them would stretch nearly from coast to coast. The length of all your blood vessels would take you two and a half times around Earth…You have a meter of [DNA] packed into every cell, and so many cells that if you formed all the DNA in your body into a single strand, it would stretch ten billion miles, to beyond Pluto.”
I learned all of this from reading a book called The Body, by Bill Bryson, a kind of pop-science book that is intended to explain the wonder of the human body to average non-medical people like myself. It was one of my favorite books I read in the past couple of years because it opened my eyes to the wonder of a thousand things I was unaware of about my body. By the end of each chapter, I felt a renewed sense of awe at God’s design, we are in the words of Psalm 139, “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
Today in our study in 1 Corinthians, we encounter a brief window into Paul’s theology of the body.
12 “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. 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.
- 1 Cor 6:12-20
A persistent issue that Paul addresses with the Corinthian church is the issue of sex and sexual immorality. Because sex is one of the most sacred things we do with our bodies, this leads Paul to zoom out from the issue of sex exclusively, and think more holistically about our bodies. So today we will look at the problem of the body, the purpose of the body, and the owner of the body.
The Problem of the Body
“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. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. (1 Cor 6:12-13)
This letter is a response to a prior letter that the Corinthians have sent Paul, so throughout this section (and the following) Paul is quoting their own words back to them. “All things are lawful for me” and “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” are some of what the Corinthians have been saying.
“All things are lawful” just means, I can do what I want, no one tells me what to do. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” just means Your body has appetites, and you should gratify those appetites. And because Paul then immediately brings up sexual immorality right after this, the saying likely is comparing our bodies appetite for food with our appetite for sex. So, together, the two sayings appear to be a justification for illicit sexual activity. You don’t wait around for someone to tell you it is okay to eat, right? Why wait around for someone to tell you who you can sleep with? Do what you want.
This is the problem of the body. For as much as the Bible has dignifying and exalted teaching on human embodiment, it also presents our body as a vehicle for sin. Why does Paul use “the flesh” as a metaphor for sin so often? Because within all of us there is a sub-rational energy that animates us towards sin that manifests itself through the desires, cravings, and appetites of the body. There are sinful systems and temptations outside of us, that would be what the Bible refers to as “the world” and “the devil.” But with us, there is another problem. In our body, because we are fallen in Adam, there is a corresponding throb of desire for what is sinful. We want sin. The world and the devil have a key that corresponds to a lock inside of us, and suddenly the faculties of our body become opportunities for sin. We don’t only experience temptation the way a man experiences a bad storm, warm and safe inside a lighthouse. We are more like a man in a small boat on the sea frantically baling water.
And there is a certain point where Christians get tired of baling water, tired of enduring temptation, tired of saying “No” to what the rest of the world and their own cravings are telling them to say “Yes” to, and so they have to come up with a justification for how they can do what they want. And so the Corinthians have apparently twisted some of Paul’s teachings to soothe a guilty conscience.
But let’s look at how Paul responds to the first saying: “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 Cor 6:12).
Interestingly, Paul doesn’t directly reject the saying, doesn’t say: No, not all things are lawful. There are many possibilities why that we don’t have time to consider, but perhaps one has to do with what we will discover later in the book. Elsewhere in the letter, we find out that the Corinthians are divided over secondary issues in the church that are relatively unimportant. Some, with very sensitive consciences, believe that eating certain foods are wrong, while others disagree. The dilemma is that while our body does house sinful desires, this doesn’t mean that all bodily desires are wrong! But the Corinthians are disagreeing over which is which. This is actually what he is addressing when he brings up this Corinthian quotation again later in the letter: “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor,” (1 Cor 10:23-24).
There are certain individuals who want granular detail in what is forbidden and what is commanded. These could be hyper-scrupulous individuals with overly sensitive consciences, or (ironically) individuals with seared consciences who are wanting to know how close they can get to the line without technically sinning. But both these individuals have missed the thrust of Christian ethics. Christian morality does have borders, does have limits, but the Christian life is not aimed at fixating on the borders, but in fixating on the center. The Christian who is asking: How far can I go until it is sin? Rather than, How close can I get to Christ? Has missed the purpose of God’s Law.
Paul responds with a positive and negative corrective to the Corinthians saying. Positively, Paul states that while the Corinthians may believe that all things are lawful, the reality is that not all things are helpful and he will not be dominated by anything. So, two bumpers that hem in Christian liberty and freedom: is it helpful? Will it dominate me, control me? That last question is easier to identify than the first. Is there anything in your life that “dominates” you, that controls you more than Jesus Christ? Are you led along into habits, decisions, or acts that you don’t feel in control of? Are you at the mercy of the appetites of your body that leave you thinking afterwards, Why did I do that? This has a much broader application than just sex, but also applies to gluttony, sloth, vanity, anger, drunkenness. So, one way to answer the question of “Am I being gluttonous? Am I being lazy? Am I being vain?” is to ask yourself, “Does this control me? Am I okay with going without it? With missing a workout? With saying no to dessert or the glass of wine or to the TV show? Will I feel guilty afterwards or thankful and worshipful to God?” Remember, no one can serve two masters.
On the other side, Paul asks, is it helpful? Helpful for what? Look again at the other use of the saying, “All things are lawful,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful,” but not all things build up. 24 Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor,” (1 Cor 10:23-24). How do you sift through your desires wisely? Ask yourself: is this helping me be more oriented towards the good of my neighbor, or the good of myself to the exclusion of my neighbor?
What does Paul’s response to the second Corinthian saying mean? God will destroy both one (the stomach) and the other (food). The sinful flesh and its desires will not last. One day, unless the Lord returns, we will all die. The pang of sinful desire in you is aimed exclusively at this life and it does everything it can to blind you and I from the reality of death. No sexual fling, no luxurious lifestyle or extravagant meal will matter when you breathe your last. Your body and its object of temptation will fade away. And what then? At one point, the firstborn son of Isaac sold his birthright—which would guarantee him the lion’s share of his father’s wealth and titles--to his little brother for a bowl of soup. Maybe, as he drained the bowl he thought, receiving the inheritance is so far away, I don’t need to think about it. But there came a day when Esau sat back and watched his brother inherit everything that he forfeited for one meal. Friend, don’t be like Esau. Don’t live as if the future won’t one day become the present, like you won’t reap what you sow. One day, you and I will die and then give an account to the Lord for how we used this body He has given to us:
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil,” (2 Cor 5:10).
The Purpose of the Body
“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,” (1 Cor 6:13-14)
The body is not for sexual immorality. Sexual immorality is any sexual activity whatsoever outside of marriage. This isn’t limited to sexual intercourse, but includes all acts that are erotic or sexual in nature, whether by yourself or with another person. Your body is not made for that. Next week, we will do a deep dive into what God’s design of sex is, but today we see that while sexually illicit cravings and perversions may be common, they are not good. The cold and flu are common, but harm our bodies.
What is our body for, then? Paul simply says The Lord. And, amazingly, the Lord is for the body.
- Christianity is not anti-body, we are not gnostics who think matter is evil and spirit is good.
- Our bodies can be abused and used for sin, but there is an original design for embodiment.
- Adam and Eve were made in God’s image by being embodied (So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. Gen 1:27)
- Jesus Christ had a body—a perfect body with no sin nature.
- Significantly, Jesus’ body was resurrected: “14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power,” 1 Cor 6:14
- Our bodies will also be resurrected.
- Our bodies are affected by the Fall now, not perfect yet, but one day
- This means that God cares about our body. He is for our bodies, and our bodies are for Him. What does that mean?
- We use our bodies in ways that honor Him. Our body is for the Lord.
- “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God,” (1 Cor 10:31)
- Exercise and Play
- God has designed our bodies to be used and enjoyed. The Lord is for the body. We can functionally live like this isn’t true by…
- Harming our body—punishing, cutting, rejecting our body (as seen in all forms of transhumanism, whether that is transgenderism, transspeciesism)
- Neglecting our body—not using proper nutrition, physical exercise, or sleep
- Indulging the body—gratifying the desires of the flesh.
- Are you grateful for the body that God has given you?
- We use our bodies in ways that honor Him. Our body is for the Lord.
“I would rather be what God chose to make me than the most glorious creature that I could think of; for to have been thought about, born in God’s thought, and then made by God, is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.” (George MacDonald)
The Owner of the Body
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. (1 Cor 6:19-20)
Paul relies on two simple arguments here.
One, if you are a Christian, then that means that the Holy Spirit indwells you and therefore your body now is sacred. We don’t generally think in terms of sacrality today. Much of our wider pop-culture relies on poking fun of the sacred, the transcendent. But the Bible vests a scandalous amount of importance in the human body. It is a temple—not because you are inherently sacred, but because you contain someone that is: the Holy Spirit. So, whatever you do with your body, Christian, you bring the Holy Spirit along with you.
The second argument is that you are not your own. You were bought with a price.
- This tells you three surprising things at once
- You were in need of redemption
- You are infinitely valued
- You are not in the master of your life.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.
- William Ernest Henly, Invictus
I have no fear though straight the gate:
He cleared from punishment the scroll.
Christ is the Master of my fate!
Christ is the Captain of my soul!
- Dorothy Day, Conquered