“Glorify God in Your Body” (1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
“Flee from sexual immorality.” “Glorify God in your body.” Now those are two direct quotations from today’s Epistle reading, 1 Corinthians 6. “Flee from sexual immorality.” “Glorify God in your body.” Two imperatives, two commands, telling us what to do. Are they true? Yes, of course. This is what we should do, both things. One is stated in terms of what we should flee from. The other is stated in terms of what we should positively do.
But now suppose this was all that Paul had to say to us here. “Flee from sexual immorality.” “Glorify God in your body.” OK, you’ve got your orders. Now go out and do what I say. Would that be enough? Would that get the job done? No, I don’t think so. And Paul doesn’t do just that. There’s a whole lot more here than just giving orders. And that other stuff, surrounding the commands, will give us a clue as to how the Bible teaches and encourages us to live the new life as Christians, what we call “sanctification” or “holiness.” And so it is with that surrounding context that we too will be able to say, “Glorify God in Your Body.”
But imagine that were all that was here, just a couple of commands, telling us what to do. Or suppose your preacher were only to draw out those imperatives from the text and focus just on them. “Flee from sexual immorality.” “Glorify God in your body.” And so the preacher might give you a seven-point “how-to” message on how to implement these commands in your life. Maybe he’d have a power-point on a big screen, outlining these steps you should take. All good advice, perhaps. 1) Get a filter to screen out the bad stuff on your computer. 2) Limit your television viewing to 30 minutes a day, or, better yet, don’t watch television at all. 3) Exercise 30 minutes a day. 4) Cut back on your carbohydrates. And so on. You get the idea. Here are steps you can take to avoid sexual immorality and to glorify God in your body.
Now you may make some firm resolutions and say to yourself, “This time for sure! This time I’m going to conquer sin and straighten up and fly right! I can do this!” Oh, really? Maybe your resolve will last for a couple of weeks. But then you slip up and fail. Your resolve weakens, and you fall back into old sinful patterns. What then? Well, maybe you’ve got to try harder. So you try again. And you fail again. Oh my. “Boy, maybe I’m not really a Christian.” And you despair, and you give up.
Or, on the other hand, maybe you’ve got pretty good willpower. You’re able to keep up your resolutions to avoid sexual immorality and to glorify God in your body. You stay away from all temptation–although, maybe, sometimes those thoughts come back in your head. But you say, “Oh, that doesn’t really count.” Or you excuse your failures away. You rationalize. Or you compare yourself to the really bad people, and you think how much better you are doing than they. Pride starts to enter in.
You see, those are the two directions we can go spiritually, when all we think of religion is that it’s a matter of keeping the rules. We end up either in despair or in pride. And neither of those is a good thing.
Instead, maybe we should look at living the new life as Christians in the way that St. Paul here lays it out in 1 Corinthians. This is not just command and here’s what you should do. There’s more here than that. Let’s see how it goes.
First of all, in the verses right before our text, immediately leading up to it, Paul lays down the law, full-blast, very bluntly and strictly. In verses 9-11, he says: “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, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 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.”
Paul is telling these Corinthian Christians: “Look, think about what you have come out of.” Corinth was known for being a sin city. It was a major commercial seaport, with all that goes with a big city being a major commercial seaport. The morals were not good there, to say the least. And Paul says: “This is what you guys came out of. You made a break with your pagan culture. You’re Christians now. You are baptized. You have a new identity. Don’t fall back into the old ways. If you do, you are in grave danger. People who practice those sinful behaviors will surely not enter the kingdom of God.”
So here is a warning, a law warning. This is needed. And how it is needed in our culture today! 21st century America makes Corinth look like a Sunday School class! Sexual immorality is everywhere in our culture. Not only is it no longer shameful, now it is even celebrated, approved, and promoted–by the entertainment industry, by our educational institutions, and even by our government. Our society today calls good evil and evil good. This is the world we live in. So we are surrounded by temptation at every turn. We need to hear that this stuff is spiritually dangerous. These are still sins in God’s book, no matter what our culture may say. God’s unchangeable law makes this plain.
And the law will kill us, crush us. Because it’s not just the really bad people who break God’s law, people like Hugh Hefner and his ilk. It’s also good respectable people, outwardly respectable, but who have trouble controlling their secret thoughts. We sin too. Just telling us not to do it–that won’t solve the problem. And most of all, it won’t forgive our sin.
“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.” That’s where Paul is going with this thing. He roots our sanctified living in our identity as baptized children of God, those who have been pronounced righteous for Christ’s sake, as those who have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Paul goes on, now moving into our text itself. He says: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” Paul reminds us of the importance of our body, yes, our physical body. Sometimes we don’t think of our body too much when we think about our relationship with God. But that way of thinking comes out of Greek philosophy, not out of biblical thinking. There were certain Greek philosophies that would dismiss the importance of the body and what we do with it. It was only the spirit or soul that counts. So go ahead and indulge your flesh. Eat, drink, and be merry. Go ahead and sleep with a prostitute. It doesn’t matter.
But that’s not how God views your body. He created your body. He is committed to a physical you. Your body matters. From the moment you were conceived to the day you die. As the psalmist says: “You formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” From the moment you were conceived to the day you die. And even beyond. Because God is going to raise up your dead body on the day of resurrection when Christ returns. Your body will be transformed, glorious. Your body, and how you use it, is important to God.
Paul continues: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?” Yes, you have been connected to Christ. Your identity is tied up with his. See yourself in that light. “He who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.” And that affects how you will use your body.
“Or do you not know,” Paul says, “that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” Now here is how Paul will appeal to Christians, as the new people they are–as the new people we are, in Christ. God has given you the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit was given you in your baptism. The indwelling Holy Spirit makes you holy. He gives you new desires, new affections, a new ability to do the will of God, as a good tree produces good fruit. You are a new you. This is who you are as a Christian. The new person wants to glorify God. This resonates with the new you.
And you have been set free to live the new life, which is yours in Christ. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” You have been redeemed from the old way of sin and death. God bought you with a price. That price is the precious blood of Christ. You belong to God now. You are holy, set apart for God’s purposes. Christ Jesus has redeemed you with his holy, precious blood. To what end? As Luther explains in the Catechism: “That I may be his own and live under him in his kingdom and serve him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.”
OK, so you have a new you, and now you do want to glorify God with your body. But there’s also that old you hanging around, the old Adam, that sinful nature hanging around your neck. So even though you are a new person in Christ, there will be times when you stumble and fall. What then?
Well, then–and really, at all times–turn and look to the one who truly did glorify God with his body, all the time. That would be Jesus, of course. Jesus, who glorified God with his feet, his beautiful feet, traveling the roads of Palestine, bringing the good news of the kingdom. Jesus, who glorified God with his hands, reaching out and touching paralytics and blind men, people with all manner of disease and affliction. Jesus touched them and delivered healing and wholeness, both physical and spiritual, pointing ahead to the ultimate healing that will take place in the resurrection. Yes, look to Jesus, who glorified God with his body, when he took our sins in his body on the tree, being lifted up on that cross in our place. And having accomplished that saving mission–for you!–this same Jesus was raised up, bodily, to live forever. And you, dear Christian–your future is tied up with Jesus, for you were united with him in your baptism. Also your present, your now, is tied up with Christ, because you have been raised with him to walk in newness of life.
Here is forgiveness for all your fallings and failings! Here is the power to live a new life. It is in Christ. It is because you have been given the Holy Spirit, to dwell in you. There is a new you. And, at the same time, there is cleansing for your sins. It is the complete package, everything you need. All yours, as a gift.
It is this gift approach, this reality of God’s grace in Christ–this is how St. Paul appeals to us Christians to live the new life, to flee from sexual immorality, and to glorify God in our body. Not just bare commands, but also real gospel content. The heavenly Father created your body; what you do with your body matters. Christ your Savior has redeemed your body, and he will raise you up on the last day, body and soul together, to live forever. The Holy Spirit dwells in you, in your body, giving you new desires and yes, new power, to live the Christian life. So then, in view of all of this–in other words, in view of all that God does for you–we can be bold to say, with Paul, “Glorify God in your body.”