1 Corinthians 6:12-20
“You can lose unwanted pounds. You can gain more muscle. You can feel fit and trim. You can look years younger. You can do it all in the next 30 days, without breaking a sweat, guaranteed. But you must act now! This is a limited-time offer. Have your credit card ready. Operators are standing by.” Every day there seems to be a new health and fitness product making incredible claims. We can only smile and shake our heads. We know the old saying, “If something sounds too good to be true …”
Have you scanned the advertisements in your Sunday newspaper? Health is on sale this week at Scandinavian and at Sears! Perhaps that is why every New Year millions make pilgrimages to health clubs or make purchases of treadmills. But by late winter most health clubs are no longer crowded and most treadmills have gathered a layer of dust.
Given their attitude that “everything is permissible for me”, it’s unlikely that the Corinthians were greatly concerned about health and fitness. Their distorted view of Christian freedom was expressed in their extreme sport of choice – keeping company with prostitutes. Their justification for this immorality emerged as they elevated the spiritual realm and devalued the physical realm of life.
Paul challenged this errant body / soul dualism by reminding them – and us – that our bodies are meant for the Lord. Let’s explore two questions: First, what does this passage say about sex? Second, how does this text tell us to honor God with our bodies?
Becoming One Flesh (1 Cor. 6:16b) – In proscribing sexual immorality, Paul refers to Adam and Eve. While some Corinthians engaged in spiritually-deadening sin, the first couple knew joyful ecstasy when God gave them to each other. Jesus describes their embrace: “And because of this, a man leaves father and mother and is firmly bonded to his wife, becoming one flesh – no longer two bodies but one. Because God created this organic union of the two sexes, no one should desecrate his art by cutting them apart” (Matt. 19:5-6, Msg.).
This process of becoming one flesh involves leaving, cleaving and weaving. In the original text the words for leave and cleave are very strong ones. The word for leave literally means to abandon or to forsake; and the word for cleave literally means to adhere firmly, to be strongly attached. If a husband and wife want to have a good and growing marriage, they will put a boundary around themselves and they will not allow anyone or anything to separate or divide them against themselves. Then, a husband and wife are to be “weaving”. They are to become one flesh. This involves the intimate joy of knowing and being known, of loving and being loved. The sexual union of husband and wife is God’s gracious gift for consummating the marriage bond – intended for procreation and intended for pleasure.
In confronting the Corinthians, Paul points out how sexual immorality is physically and spiritually destructive: “he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (1 Cor. 6:18). Neil Plantinga observes, “Sex, like fire, is a powerful gift which can not only draw us to its warmth, but also burn us painfully. Sex needs a context. It needs a fireplace. Sex needs to be guarded by the security of that life-long union we call marriage.” (C. Plantinga, Beyond Doubt, Grand Rapids: Bible Way, 1980, p. 84.)
Becoming Less Flesh (1 Cor. 6:20b) – Despite countless New Year’s resolutions to lose weight, good nutrition and fitness require wise decisions. We know that our decisions, day by day, will either contribute to a healthier lifestyle, or they may hinder our long-term health and well-being. Wise decisions are the hallmark of a well-disciplined person. Admittedly, we may chafe at the idea of being well-disciplined.
Yet, we know that self-discipline is important and even necessary, in order to steward our health and to honor God with our bodies (1 Cor. 6:20b). Long before Webster defined discipline as “training that produces obedience and self-control,” Paul penned these words to Timothy: “For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come (1 Tim. 4:8).
Not surprisingly, to honor God by growing in spiritual fitness demands the same commitment, and many of the same disciplines, required as we seek to grow in our physical health and fitness. How goes your spiritual training of late? You may not need a new treadmill. Instead, a daily quiet time and a brisk prayer walk might be just the answer. (Gary Bruland)
Sermon brief provided by: Gary Bruland, Pastor of West Shore Baptist Ch., Camp Hill, PA