The Corinthians were in a real mess in many ways. We’ve seen that already in our journey through this letter, and we’ll see more of it.
In the last half of chapter six, the issue has to do with some of the believers sleeping with prostitutes in pagan temples. Temple prostitution in the ancient world was a supposed way of obtaining good fortune or blessing from the gods.
We aren’t going to cover the whole passage right now, but let’s read it all so we can see the context.
12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. 13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. 14 And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.
15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make them the members of an harlot? God forbid. 16 What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. 17 But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. 18 Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body. 19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:12–20)
It appears from verses 13, 15, 16, and 18 that some of the Corinthian believers were continuing to commit fornication with pagan temple harlots or prostitutes.
Now, why on earth would they think that it would be okay to do such a thing? Part of it has to do with cultural blind spots. There are things in every culture that most of the people, even Christians, think is okay to do.
I am sure that if a Christian from a different part of the world visited us for a length of time, they would be shocked at some of the things that we do that could be morally questionable and yet we’re blind to it.
Likewise, we might be shocked at what something that Christians in a different part of the world would think was fine.
Temple prostitution was so ingrained in the culture of Corinth, and the ancient world, that new believers sometimes had a hard time shaking it off.
It’s unthinkable to us that they couldn’t see sex with prostitutes as sinful, but that’s the power of cultural blind spots. And remember, you have them also—take time to ponder what they might be for you.
Naturally, if others had objected to their practice of visiting the temple prostitutes (and probably a few in the church did), those Christians who were participating in this sin would have had to rationalize it somehow.
Perhaps they said something like, “Look, everyone in the city does this—why, I know several church members that participate!”
But they also found another way of defending their sin. They turned Christian freedom on it’s head. Paul addresses their misuse of Christian freedom in verse 12—
I. FREEDOM IS NOT A FREE-FOR-ALL
1 Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
A. All Things Are Lawful
What does Paul mean when he says that “All things are lawful unto me”? Surely not all things are lawful—murder, for example? Of course not.
As it turns out, this phrase (and another we’ll see in verse 14) is what we call a slogan. A slogan is a short, memorable phrase that a person uses to encourage themselves or others.
Properly speaking, it should be in quotes…but the original Greek didn’t have quotation marks nor were quotation marks in use when the KJV was translated.
We use slogans or catch-phrases all the time. If you are exercising you might keep going by saying, “No pain, No gain.” If you are trying to motivate a crowd to clean up the room after a meeting, “Many hands…light work.”
The Corinthians either made up this slogan themselves, or misapplied it from something that Paul had written earlier (cf. 1 Corinthians 5:9).
Properly understood, this slogan does teach the truth of Christian liberty—that Christians have been set free from legalism. Paul doesn’t deny that, but the Corinthians were using it to justify immoral, sinful, behavior.
Apparently they thought that their freedom in Christ would allow them to do such a thing as have sex with a harlot. “Hey,” they said, “All things are lawful unto me now that I am a Christian!”
Christians have slipped in this area in just about every arena imaginable. Because they are free in Christ, they wrongly think:
- I can view pornography.
- I can sleep with my girlfriend.
- I can do drugs or drink.
- I can swear and cuss.
- And on and on.
Whatever the sin or questionable activity, some Christians are eager to excuse it by claiming freedom—liberty—in Christ. They cry out: “All things are lawful unto me!”
This was a problem that Paul had to deal with at more than one church. To the Galatians he wrote—
13 For, brethren, ye have been called unto liberty; only use not liberty for an occasion to the flesh, but by love serve one another. (Galatians 5:13)
In other words, we have liberty from sin, not liberty to sin. Paul offers two correctives to their slogan. All things are lawful, but…
B. Not All Things Are Helpful
1 Corinthians 6:12a All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient:
The word “expedient” (συμφέρει, VPAI3S, συμφέρω) means “profitable” or “beneficial” or “helpful.”
Our tendency is, once we discover a freedom, to push the limits of that freedom. In fact, we live in a culture that applauds the pushing of the limits of freedom. But is it helpful?
When a child learns to walk, it’s not long after that they start walking in places that aren’t safe. They have to freedom to go there now, but they lack the maturity to realize that the ability to go anyplace is not the most profitable thing for them to do.
A teenager learns to drive a vehicle, and it’s not long before they start pushing the limits of what they can do. Yes, you can drive eighty down a dirt road, but is it profitable for you do that?
It’s not just whether or not it’s helpful to yourself that you must consider, it’s also whether or not it’s helpful to those around you.
Don’t you wish that a toddler would consider their parents before expressing their freedom to walk on top of the kitchen counters?
Don’t you wish that the teenager would consider the lives of their friends and pedestrians before zooming down the street as fast as they can?
Paul is very plain that a Christian needs to consider other Christians when using their liberty. He said in Romans—
21 It is good neither to eat flesh, nor to drink wine, nor any thing whereby thy brother stumbleth, or is offended, or is made weak. (Romans 14:21)
And in 1 Corinthians 8, he gives his own personal testimony about reining in his Christian liberty—
13 Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend. (1 Corinthians 8:13)
All things are lawful…but are they helpful to me or to others? All things are lawful, Paul says, but…
C. Don’t By Controlled By Anything
1 Corinthians 6:12b …all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.
The Bible says that all people are enslaved either to sin, or to Christ.
17 But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you. 18 Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness. (Romans 6:17–18)
A problem arises however, when a Christian allows a liberty to take control of them. Now, instead of being a servant or a slave to Christ, they are a slave to the liberty that he gave them. In a strange twist, they fall into bondage because of their freedom!
Imagine a child who receives an iPad for their birthday—their parents have decided to give them that freedom. What happens? Every waking moment is spent playing on the thing. Within days, the parent is ordering them to put the thing down and go do their chores, or just to come eat supper!
Or, a child learns to read. Suddenly the freedom of new worlds open up to them. They start devouring books. Initially, the parents are pleased. We love it when our kids get hooked on reading. We think, “Oh wow, we are going to have a genius in the family after all!”
But then what happens? Their newfound freedom consumes them. Every waking moment they are sitting on the couch while the laundry basket sits nearby waiting for clothes to be folded.
Or the parent is shoving the kid outdoors to get fresh air because they haven’t left their reading chair for six hours.
Paul says that all things are lawful, but he “will not be brought under the power” (ἐξουσιασθήσομαι, VFPI1S, ἐξουσιάζω). The word here has the sense of not being controlled by something—whether it be a power, authority, or influence.
Christian, is there something in your life that you take as a liberty, but in some way it controls you? Perhaps it takes up your time. Perhaps you get angry when another Christian suggests it’s not such a good thing to do.
Christian, is there a sin in your life that you are blind to because it’s a part of your culture?
Perhaps you’ve had an inkling that it was sin, but you’ve ignored the warning in your conscience and explained it away with an excuse, perhaps even saying, “I have the liberty to do this!”?
We need to repent of these things and live our freedom in Christ as slaves to Christ, not to sin!
The Corinthians had another slogan that they used to rationalize their sinning. We see it in the next verse—
II. OUR BODIES ARE NOT FOR SIN
1 Corinthians 6:13 Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.
A. But It’s The Natural Thing To Do
The phrase “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats” is another slogan or catch-phrase that the Corinthians were using. This one was probably commonly used by many people in their culture.
It went like this—if you approached an all-you-can-eat buffet, you might say, “Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats!” You meant, “I am free to eat whatever I want, because, after all, my stomach was made to eat!”
The slogan, like the one in verse 12, was used to defend sexually immoral practices like being with temple prostitutes. They might have said, “Sex was made for the body, and the body was made for sex, so what’s stopping you?”
In other words, if it’s the natural thing to do, you should feel free to do it. Of course, you can see the implications of that philosophy being played out all through our society.
Just one example: Teenagers are told to practice “safe sex” instead of waiting for marriage, because, hey, they’re going to do it anyway, because that’s what teenagers do.
We also see this in how we excuse our sins. Someone might say, “I didn’t intend to click on that dirty picture in my web browser, or say that mean thing, or cheat on my taxes—but you know, my flesh was weak…I am only human, after all!”
We think that if it comes naturally for us to do, it must be okay to do it.
B. Our Bodies Are Not For Sin
Paul’s response was “but God shall destroy both it [the belly] and them [the meats].” What does he mean by that? Put simply, I think he means that ultimately, God is in control and is still the Judge, despite what we might think about our freedom.
We may think that we can use our bodies for anything that we wish, but that’s not how God designed it. In this case Paul says, “Now the body is not for fornication.”
Our culture tells us that we can use our bodies for any type of sexual pleasure we want—casual sex, homosexual sex, premarital sex, multiple partners, and so on.
Those who have sex outside of marriage can experience all sorts of consequences—sexually transmitted diseases or unintended pregnancies, for example. Violating God’s design has consequences.
And then, an unintended pregnancy can lead to violating more of God’s law or design by abortion or broken families. God’s design for sex is best—in marriage between man and woman.
But don’t limit this to sex—we abuse God’s design for our bodies when we overeat, drink, smoke, take drugs and so forth.
We might say, “Hey, my stomach was made for eating, and eating was made for my stomach.” Sure enough, God did make it that way—food is for us to enjoy, but not to abuse.
Are there consequences to overeating? Of course there is—everything from the common heartburn to heart disease. When a body isn’t treated as God designed it to be treated, it starts to fail.
You can use a knife as a screwdriver, but what happens to the knife after you do that for awhile? It gets dull and chipped.
Just because our bodies are capable of doing something—like have sex with anyone or eat junk food all day—does not mean we should.
C. Our Bodies Are For The Lord
Our verse says that our body was made “for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” Everything that the Lord makes can be abused in some way. What we need to keep in mind is that our bodies were made for the Lord’s use in this life.
Take sex, for instance, God made the body to experience and enjoy sex, but he designed it to be in used in a marriage between a man and woman. A lot of sex has to do with knowing the other person, and the better you know them…well, you know.
Doesn’t just warm your heart when the newspaper has a story about a couple who has been married for 60 years and they die a few hours apart? Or, as I read recently, about the couple in New York who have been married 82 years?
Those folks may or may not be Christians, but we sense a bit of God’s design being fulfilled when we read stories like that.
Our tendency today is to say that, “It’s my body and I can do with it as I please.” You hear that to defend abortion, to have sex outside of marriage, to eat too much, and so forth.
But if you are a Christian—your body is not yours. Let me say that again—your body is not yours. Your body, my body is made “for the Lord; and the Lord for the body.” Look how this chapter ends:
19 What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? 20 For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)
The Corinthians perhaps thought, that as long as they were dedicated to Christ in their spirits, it didn’t matter what they did with their bodies. We think the same today—as long as we’re dedicated to the Lord in our hearts, we can do pretty much anything with the body.
We might say, “The body ain’t important no how—it’s going to die and decay and be gone.” That’s true, as far as that goes, but we forget—God’s gonna resurrect our bodies:
1 Corinthians 6:14 And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power.
Did God only raise the spirit of Christ from the dead? Of course not, he raised his body also. And, moreover, Christ is at the right hand of God in a human body interceding for us with nail-scarred hands!
In the same way, God is going to raise your body also. What that means is that our bodies are important after all.
He doesn’t want us to think, “Well, my body is going to be resurrected one day into a new and glorious body—so let’s trash this one right now.” No, no, no. He wants us to see how important our bodies are, both the one we have here and the one we’ll have later.
Your body is for the Lord, so glorify God in your body.
I think most Christians would see sleeping with a prostitute as being a sin—although it wouldn’t surprise me too much if some Christians didn’t think it was a sin.
Culturally, we’ve come a full circle. In many ways, our culture is very much like the culture the Corinthians lived in 2000 years ago.
But even if sleeping with a prostitute is clearly a sin to you, what sins are you culturally blind to in your life?
Are you materialistic? Are you a glutton? Those are are just two very popular vices in American culture—so popular that most Christians don’t see them as sins, or, if they do, they aren’t that serious of sins.
Sometimes it may not be a sin—perhaps it’s just a weight. Modern, American Christians have gotten in the habit of pushing the boundaries of our Christian freedom.
We tend to think of freedom as being able to do whatever we want. But Christian freedom is the freedom not to do! With deep frustration, Paul wrote to the Roman Christians and said:
1 What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? 2 God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein? (Romans 6:1–2)
Christ died for you, not so that you could sin without impunity—not so that you could push the boundaries here and there. He died so that you could have the strength (through the Holy Spirit) to choose not to sin.
Christian freedom is freedom from being controlled by anything but the Holy Spirit. Christian freedom is being enslaved to Christ!
Have you placed your trust in Christ? Have you repented from your sins and found true freedom—freedom from the stain and even the smell of sin?
Let’s pray, and ponder this—what controls you? What are you perhaps blind to being a sin? Spend time this week before God’s throne pleading with him to open your eyes.