Glorify God with your body (July 6, 2014)


Scripture Passage and Lesson Focus: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 

The Christians in Corinth were recent converts striving to understand the meaning of their new faith for daily living. Paul’s letters to them confirm that their struggle was often difficult and confusing. Moreover, his absence opened the door for other early Christian leaders whose ethical ideas were very different from those Paul had taught (1 Corinthians 4:18- 21).

Scholars have struggled to identify Paul’s opponents in Corinth. Some have linked them with Gnosticism, a widespread highly spiritual way of looking at the world and human existence. Others have suggested that proponents of a strict Jewish-Christian asceticism challenged Paul’s ethical teachings. Still others consider Paul’s letters to have been directed against a libertine “anything goes” type of morality often associated with ancient Corinth.

1 Corinthians 6:12-14 — Our body’s spiritual purpose 

In the lesson for today, Paul enters into a lively debate with his opponents by quoting their slogans and adding his own comments. That is why several translations, including the NRSV, have the words attributed to Paul’s opponents, “All things are lawful for me” and “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” in quotation marks. Of course, that is an educated guess at best, since we do not have any writings known to be from Paul’s opponents. But we do know that Paul was eager to defend his understanding of the gospel and its implications for everyday living.

What these presumed opponents have in common is a deep suspicion of the value of the physical body and the importance of its functions. At least one letter from Corinth to Paul raised questions about marriage and sexual relationships (1 Corinthians 7:1) as well as other life-style issues. Before addressing specific concerns later in this epistle, Paul lays down a basic ethical principle in 6:13b:

“The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”

1 Corinthians 6:15-18 — Believers and the body of Christ 

Because human beings do not simply have bodies but are bodies, and because Christians are bodily members of Christ who was raised with a body (albeit a spiritual body), our bodies and what we do with them are of the utmost importance. Christ died to redeem our bodies, verse 20 implies. Our bodies are sanctuaries in which the Holy Spirit dwells. This powerful Pauline metaphor underlines the close connection that exists between the bodies of believers and Christ. Minimizing the importance of the body detracts from the redemptive work of Christ and the importance of the Holy Spirit.

1 Corinthians 6:19-20 — Sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit 

Jesus Christ died to redeem believers completely, body and soul, at the cost of his death. Those precious redeemed bodies now belong to Christ as verse 13 implies. Therefore Paul can ask rhetorically expecting a positive answer, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

Rather than devaluing the body, much of contemporary culture goes to extremes to satisfy the desires of the human body. Conforming to distorted images of beauty and youth, many people subject themselves to diet fads, clothing fashions and sometimes painful ways to “beautify” the body. Others seek to satisfy their bodily appetites with gluttony, immoderate consumption of alcohol or harmful drugs, or with sexually promiscuous behavior.

It is ironic that whether the body is undervalued as it was by some in Corinth or overvalued as it is by many in contemporary culture, the resulting behavior can be very similar. Both positions overlook the spiritual value of the physical body. Those who do not glorify God with their bodies fall short of the gospel’s liberating power to free us from and forgive us for the improper uses of our bodies.

For discussion 

Can you give examples of bodily behaviors that glorify God? The media and many people in the church tend to focus on issues of sexual morality. How does this compare with Paul’s list in 6:10 in which greedy people and robbers are included with adulterers and male prostitutes? Are tattoos or cosmetic surgery appropriate uses of the body? (Is Leviticus 19:28 relevant?)