Like all the other Pauline epistles, 1 Corinthians is loaded with spiritual food. A man who truly desires to see his church grow in the Lord, Rev. Gary Yeoh recently started the English Congregation of Pandamaran Chinese Methodist Church in Klang on a series through 1 Corinthians, and on February 21st, guest speaker, Ps. Tan Sin Guan, was assigned to preach from 1 Corinthians, Chapter 6.
Recapping the context
The first epistle to the Corinthians was written to address certain issues besieging the church of that time. The believers were actually very gifted and anointed, but were struggling with many issues: there were division, immorality, lack of love, misuse of freedom, etc. Someone wrote to Paul, and Paul writes back to address these issues.
The first four chapters discuss division in the church, and Chapter 5 zeroes in on a case of incest. Paul reprimands them for failing to misunderstand his previous letter about associating themselves with those who continue to sin within the church. Then, in Chapter 6, he continues on addresses the issue of immorality—again, within the church. They had come to a point where they were unable or perhaps unwilling to say or judge what is right to be right, and what is wrong to be wrong.
Explaining the text (Part 1)
1 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? …6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!
(1 Cor 6:1-2, 6)
He talks about the church leadership’s inability to make a stand concerning right and wrong, therefore causing the believers to take their problems to court and sue each other rather than to settle them within the church. This inability to distinguish right from wrong was manifested not just in immorality, but also in their disputes with one another.
Paul is not saying that Christians cannot go to court, as we have to look at the context. At that time, the religious communities had the role of maintaining order in society. They had the authority to arbitrate civil cases such as inheritance, property, family disputes, or even marriage.
The court, on the other hand, would deal with criminal matters like murder, treason, and adultery. In this situation, the Corinthian church was unable to handle even the most trivial cases, and brought them to court. For that reason, Paul says that the church has already been defeated:
7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated?
(1 Cor 6:7)
The entire body of Christ had already been defeated, regardless of who won the lawsuit. The Corinthian church can be considered a “vibrant” church. They had worship. They probably had various ministries similar to what we have today such as missions, youth ministries, women’s ministries etc. But they were not a good example to their community. They were not pleasing to the Lord.
Paul points out that the main problem in this church was that even though they had already become believers, many of them still operated as non-believers. They continued in their practices of their previous lives.
To illustrate the contrast:
In Matthew 7:12, Jesus says, “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.” In John 13:34-35, He says, “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Then, in Acts 4:32, we see the church putting these teachings to practice. “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.” Such was not the case with the Corinthian church.
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. 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.
(1 Cor 6: 9-11)
Paul is saying that some of them used to practice these things: idolatry, adultery, drunkardness, homosexuality etc., but once they received Jesus as their Savior, their sins were washed away and were consecrated for God and His service. Therefore it is unthinkable for them, having been purified, sanctified, and justified, to go back to their sinful ways.
What does this text mean to us?
1. Maintain a sensitivity to sin
The church of Corinth had come to a point of losing their sensitivity to sin as a corporate body, and as individuals. This is a reminder to us that the leadership in our churches must be sensitive to sin. It cannot afford to be numb to sin and lose its ability to distinguish right from wrong in the eyes of God.
The mark of church is not how vibrant or enlightened it is, but how sensitive it is to the heart of God—in holiness, and in righteousness. “So be bold,” Ps. Sin Guan admonished. The leadership must be bold to rebuke and restore members of the church who stray.
Ps. Sin Guan then went on to talk about theology. What the leaders believe will determine how the church makes decisions and approach issues. “Just because there is a gray area does not mean that there is no black and white.”
13 Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. 14 But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.
Gray areas are not a reason for us to continue on in doing things that are not right. Instead, gray areas are an opportunity for us believers to wrestle with God and to train ourselves to do His will.
2. Turn away from your old ways of life
The church of Corinth was made up of believers who used to be pagans. They were in transition from one lifestyle to another. But there was no transition in their worldview. Having sexual unions with temple prostitutes was a way of worship to the pagan gods. After becoming believers, many continued with those practices, in the name of worship.
So the question we need to ask ourselves is this: “Are we Christians in our minds, but remnants of our old selves in our hearts? How has our lifestyle changed? What kind of mindset do we have now that we have been adopted into the family of God? Coming to church to worship God is not enough. We need to be reading the Word of God, wrestling with it, and growing in our theology and walk with God.
Explaining the text (Part 2)
12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
(1 Cor 6:12-13)
Here, Paul is saying that while they may have the right to do what they please—while it is legal—while they may ask for God’s forgiveness later on—these things are not beneficial. And while food may be for the stomach and the stomach for food, the same reasoning cannot be applied to sex because the body is for the Lord, and to engage in sexual immorality is to sin against one’s own body, and therefore God.
14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!
(1 Cor 6:14-15)
Paul sets the perspective on sex and the body right. Our bodies are for God—not immorality. We have been purchased by the blood of Christ and are indwelled by the Holy Spirit—making our bodies the temple of the Holy Spirit. In fact, it is more than just about our bodies, but our very lives.
I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Therefore the issue is not about how I want to use my body, but how I want to use my life for God. And if I know how to use my life for God, I will know how to use my body.
I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified.
(1 Cor 9:27)
Paul goes on to explain the nature of sex to highlight the severity of sexual sin:
16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
(1 Cor 6: 16-17)
Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is a very intimate, complete, and enduring action. It is the most intimate expression of love and communion between a male and female. “One flesh” refers to the coming together of the two individuals in their physical, emotional and physical experiences. It is a totality.
For this reason, there are great implications for those who are involved in sexual immorality. Sex has the ability to build a person, but when distorted, has the ability to destroy a person. Research has shown that premarital sex only matures a person mentally and physiologically, but results in psychological and emotional scarring.
“One flesh” is a very powerful thing and due to the nature of “one flesh,” when believers come into communion with temple prostitutes, they are worshipping the pagan gods in totality—having communion with their gods— with everything they have and with all of their being. The nature of sex is serious and sacred, and that is why the Bible restricts sexual relations to a man and his wife.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
(1 Cor 6: 18-20)
Sinning against one’s own body is not about one abusing his body as of wine by the drunkard or food by the glutton, etc. It means selling and giving the power of the body to another person. Therefore this sin is peculiar in that one defiles the body and degrades it by giving oneself (in totality) to another who is not covenanted to that person in marriage.
When we sin against others, we ask forgiveness from the other party and receive forgiveness. When we sin against God, we ask for and receive forgiveness from God. But sexual sins cause us to sin against our own body. By doing so, although God forgives, we forfeit our right to forgive ourselves, and therefore need to seek out a leader in the church to restore us before God.
What does this text mean to us?
1. If you have engaged in sexual immorality, repent before the Lord and seek out a church leader to pray for you and restore you before the Lord.
2. The church cannot be passive about sexual immorality within the church. Consider addressing these subject and issues seriously and proactively. The sex culture in our society is very real and pervasive, and is often a strong undercurrent in our churches.
That being said, the church’s role is secondary in sexual education. The primary role belongs to parents. It is the parents’ responsibility to train and educate their children about sex and marriage from the biblical perspective.
3. The biblical perspective of sex and marriage is unpopular. It is considered to be old fashioned or “kolot.” As the minority on this subject, stand firm. Be sure of what you believe in. Do not be swayed by peer pressure. Be the influencer—not the influenced. Not everyone will agree with you, but when you stand firm in your values, some certainly will.
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