If you are like me, it is difficult to hear these words and not form some instant reaction. And I’m not sure about you, but for me, when my heart reads over these words, it wonders: Is this realistic? To live pure? To honor God with your body? To be a temple of the Holy Spirit? In our world today? Because it’s not easy to do, is it?
This encouragement is not easy for the Corinthians to hear either. These words are so counter-cultural.
The best way to picture ancient Corinth is to picture present-day life in Las Vegas. That’s not an over-exaggeration (or my personal opinion). America has a saying: What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. That slogan describes the shameless behavior that runs rampant there. Well, the ancients created a slogan too. “Live Corinthianized” which means, “to behave as they do in Corinth.” And how do they behave? Well, a local Corinthian leader bragged: We have wives to manage our daily affairs and prostitutes for pleasure! (Athenaeus, qtd. in Deipnosophistae). Just like we have a seminary to train pastors, [the city of] Corinth had a school to train prostitutes for the false goddess, Aphrodite. Then, every year Corinth held a festival celebrating their prostitutes! The city held a special day, where drunk prostitutes carouse down the streets and people cheer—and the city is proud!
That’s the city culture: openly flaunt indecency. That’s the citizen mindset; no one sees anything wrong with this. That is the lifestyle in which this Corinthian congregation exists. And it rubs off on the Christians in Corinth.
Someone in the congregation is in an intimate relationship with his stepmom (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). That’s right, his dad dies, and he enters a romantic, intimate relationship with his father’s wife! Most shocking of all is that the congregation is proud! Even our society does not boast about this! If someone marries their stepmom, national tabloids cringe. We even have laws against marrying relatives.
Yet, in Corinth, this sexual behavior runs rampant. It is so normal, so widely accepted, that even Christians defend their indecency with a popular slogan: Everything is permissible for me. Just like the stomach has an appetite for food, so the body has an appetite for fleshly desires. After all, the stomach is created for food. It craves food. It is not wrong to eat food. So, it must make sense that if you have certain desires, it is only natural to satisfy them.
There’s a problem with that thinking. Everything may be permissible— but not everything is beneficial. The way you and I live as Christians— God has not commanded certain actions and has not forbidden certain actions. God has not said in the Bible that he forbids dancing or playing cards. God does not call drinking alcohol a sin (drinking too much is). Neither God has not commanded that you must wear suits and dresses to worship. You have freedom in these things; God has not given explicit commands regarding these matters.
Yet, God has commanded: The body is not meant for sexual immorality. God has warned: Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral (Hebrews 13:4; see also Exodus 20:6). God urges: Each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God (1 Thessalonians 4:4-5; see also Matthew 5:28). God desires: There should be no obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place (Ephesians 5:4). As Christians Everything may be permissible regarding matters in which God has given no explicit command. Yet, God makes clear: You cannot use your body in whatever way feels right to you.
That’s tough to hear and it may not sound like realistic way to live. Your present-day society, much like ancient Corinth, just doesn’t live like that. Instead, your society has normalized sexual temptations. Marriage rates have decreased— all because more couples live like husband and wife. Psychologists and counselors actually advise sleeping around in order to find the right spouse. How many television shows can go without a romantic scene between co-workers? … neighbors? … friends? What this does to us is that it desensitizes us so that when we hear a Scripture reading like this, we feel offended.
Speaking for myself, my heart tries to find some way around these words, tries to escape this condemnation, tries to find some reason that my behavior is not really all that bad. So, I hear these words and make excuses.
“But our society just doesn’t live like that.” Yet, it does not matter if your world acts differently, does it? God still laid an unchanging reality: The body is not meant for sexual immorality. God did not create you to live impure. He has not created your brain to think indecent thoughts. He does not create your mouth to share coarse joking. God created you to serve him.
“Yes, but my neighbors don’t act like this, they don’t believe the same thing.” That may be true, but what about you, Christian? Do you not know that your body is a member of Christ himself? By faith you are joined, you are glued to Christ. He is part of your life. His Word is the thing you have come to know, learn, and love. Christ lives in you. What do you with your body involves Christ.
“Yes, but times have changed.” How easy to look around at the world and try to change your to fit the world’s views. Yet, God has not changed. Even if society changes its views on decency, even if you wonder if it really matters how people live today, even if you shrug off these instructions, God still commands: Flee from sexual immorality.
Times may have changed, but God has not changed. He has not changed his command to live a pure life. He has not changed what is considered sexual immorality. He has not changed enforcing his expectations. God has every right to separate from those who choose to unite with someone else.
Times may have changed, but God has not changed. That includes God accepting Jesus’ pure life as payment for yours.
You were bought at a price. Jesus bought you. When you (and I) stood shackled to the emptiness of your own flesh, Jesus bought you. And the price? The greatest, most priceless gift this world has ever seen: the pure blood of Jesus.
Yes, look back to the Christmas-day manger and see who lies there: Jesus— born as true man and true God. True man— meaning, he is tempted in every way like you (and I) are (Hebrews 2:14-18). His life on earth is spent feeling those same passionate desires; he knows how difficult it is to remain pure in your thoughts and words and actions. He understands what it is like to live in a society which normalizes sexual temptations. He even stands out in society. He shares forgiveness with prostitutes and tax collectors. He encourages a Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well to change her live-in-boyfriend status (John 4:1-26). He lives pure—not to shame you (and me), but to show that he lives the pure life God desires. As true God his pure life purifies your (and my) heart from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:8-9).
And that is what he has done. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, proclaiming that Jesus’ life is perfect enough to live forever. Since the pure life of Jesus is draped over you, God now sees you as pure. You live can live confident that he will raise us also.
You were bought at a price. God has not changed this price. Jesus paid for you once-for-all. Even when you (and I) stumble into impure living, God still forgives you for the sake of Jesus.
That’s what makes these tough words realistic. You can Glorify God with Your Body because Jesus has made you a child of God. You can Glorify God with Your Body because the love you have for Jesus motivates you to follow him.
So, you honor him with your body. Or, another way of saying it: You and I praise to God by the way you live. You and I lead others to praise God as they see the way you live.
Maybe you struggle to keep your thoughts and body pure. If so, take these words to heart. Society might normalize sexual temptation— and they will because they are not united to Christ. You do not live in order to blend into the world; you live to bring honor to God! That may mean you discuss marriage before relationship goes much further. That may mean your friends laugh and look at you weird when you share your belief about the blessings God gives in marriage. That may mean you need to literally flee from sexual immorality. You may have to stop watching a television show. You may have to turn the computer off. You may have to leave a room.
Why do this? Because God is an old, boring prude? No! Because God has made your body a temple of the Holy Spirit! God the Holy Spirit lives in you—and he constantly grows the desire and ability to match your life up to God’s expectations. He gives you strength to Glorify God with Your Body.
You are beacons of light leading others to praise God because of the way they see you live. That means as husband and wife be conscious that the world watches you. Praise God for the gift of your marriage! Hold up God’s gift of your spouse! Do not gripe about an old “ball-and-chain” or somehow give the impression that marriage is something less-than-satisfying. Show the world the emotional, physical, and mental joys of this blessed union. Glorify God with Your Body. Let the world praise God for such fulfilling commitment in what he established.
Even if you are not really seeking a relationship, these words are meant for you too. You may have celebrated decades of marriage. You experienced real joy. You may have experienced real struggle. Use that experience to encourage your grandchildren, your children, your fellow believers.
Those in your life also live in a world where relationships do not match up with God’s intentions. You know God’s intentions; you experience the peace of living united to him, to his Word, and under his blessings. Glorify God with Your Body, with your life as you lead others to praise him for satisfying unions.
Yes, this is tough— and it will be. It is not tough because God gives unreal expectations. It is tough because the world has fled from God’s intention for their bodies.
The Corinthians would stand out as they took these words to heart and put them into practice. You (and I) will stand out because we take these words to heart and put them into practice. That’s alright because you do not stand out alone, standing on your personal beliefs. You stand out because you are united to Christ, the One who has been raised from the dead and will raise you to purely unending life. With God’s realistic expectations in your heart, live to Glorify God with Your Body!