"Honouring God Bodily amongst Sexual Wickedness"

January 11, 2009 1Corinthians 6:9-20

●    Corinth - Then and Now
    Paul had some tough things to say to the church at Corinth. Mind you, they were just a young church - like us. They had a lot to learn - like us. They lived in the midst of a generation whose thoughts and ways were far from God, and they unwittingly brought much of that thinking and behaving into the church when they came - like us. Yet along with the strong-tasting medicine, Paul held out good news for the young church: that by the Holy Spirit’s help, they could come to experience life on a higher plane, a new intimacy and freedom in Jesus Christ that would surpass mere earthly pleasures and, at the same time, heighten their enjoyment of life whether married or single.
    ○    “Corinthianizing” today
    At first, it may seem the church Paul was writing to was in a very different world. After all, instead of the present steep canal at Corinth, they were hauling boats overland from one sea to the other! Greek culture, philosophy, and religion underpinned daily life. Back then, the NIV Study Bible says: “Like any large commercial city, Corinth was a centre for open and unbridled immorality. The worship of Aphrodite fostered prostitution in the name of religion. At one time 1,000 sacred (priestess) prostitutes served her temple. So widely known did the immorality of Corinth become that the Greek verb ‘to Corinthianize’ came to mean ‘to practice sexual immorality.’” Another source adds: “To call a young woman ‘a Corinthian’ meant she was an immoral person.” (http://www.angelfire.com/sc3/redentormio/ICorinthians.html)
    But hold on - maybe we’re not all that different today in North America. George Barna’s research organization offers a sobering appraisal of how low our moral standards are overall. They conducted telephone interviews with a random sample of 1003 adults selected from across the continental United States, age 18 and older, in May 2008. “Researchers asked adults which, if any, of eight behaviours with moral overtones they had engaged in during the past week. The behaviours included exposure to pornography, using profanity in public, gambling, gossiping, engaging in sexual intercourse with someone to whom they were not married, retaliating against someone, getting drunk, and lying. A majority of adults had engaged in at least one of those eight behaviours during the past week...
    “Two out of every ten adults (20%) had gambled in the past week (including the purchase of a lottery ticket) and almost as many (19%) admitted to intentional exposure to pornographic images...The least common of the activities tested were having sexual intercourse with someone to whom the respondent was not married (9%)...21% of single adults indicated they had sex with someone during the prior week.
    “One of the most stunning outcomes from the Barna survey was the moral pattern among adults under 25. The younger generation was more than twice as likely as all other adults to engage in behaviours considered morally inappropriate by traditional standards. Their choices made even the Baby Boomers – never regarded as a paragon of traditional morality – look like moral pillars in comparison. For instance...The younger group - known as Mosaics - was nine times more likely than were Boomers to have engaged in sex outside of marriage (38% vs. 4%), six times more likely to have lied (37% vs. 6%), ...and twice as likely as Boomers to have observed pornography (33% vs. 16%)...
Among evangelicals, profanity (16%) and pornography (12%) were the most common transgressions. Fewer than 5% of evangelicals had engaged in gossip (4%), inappropriate sex (3%), gambling (2%), lying (1%) or drunkenness (less than one-half of one percent).
    “While evangelicals averaged 6% participation in each of the eight behaviors mentioned, skeptics averaged five times that level (29%). Other common acts among skeptics included exposure to pornography (50%), gossip (34%) and drunkenness (33%).
    “According to George Barna, who directed the survey, the results reflect a significant shift in American life.
‘We are witnessing the development and acceptance of a new moral code in America,’ said the researcher and author, who has been surveying national trends in faith and morality for more than a quarter-century. ‘Mosaics have had little exposure to traditional moral teaching and limited accountability for such behaviour. The moral code began to disintegrate when the generation before them – the Baby Busters – pushed the limits that had been challenged by their parents – the Baby Boomers. The result is that without much fanfare or visible leadership, the U.S.has created a moral system based on convenience, feelings, and selfishness.
    [Barna continues] “‘The consistent deterioration of the Bible as the source of moral truth has led to a nation where people have become independent judges of right and wrong, basing their choices on feelings and circumstances. It is not likely that America will return to a more traditional moral code until the nation experiences significant pain from its moral choices.’”
(emphasis added; source:  http://www.barna.org/FlexPage.aspx?Page=BarnaUpdateNarrowPreview&BarnaUpdateID=315)
    On the whole, then, morality - compared to traditional standards - is in a shambles; sexual immorality is so prevalent that even disease-control experts are concerned [SEE SIDEBAR]. What does God’s Spirit have to teach us about this area than can help save us from social chaos, let alone consequences beyond this life?
●    Accentuate the Positive: God’s Wholesome Good Intention
Before we look at some of the problems immorality causes, which could come across as being negative, let’s stop first and recall that God’s Word overall is very positive about the gift of sex.
    ○    for the married - enjoyable physical intimacy, free from anxiety/competition (Gen 1:27-28,31, 2:22-25; Prov 5:18f; SoS; Eph 5:28)
Sex belongs in marriage; that’s its appropriate place of expression, as can be seen from God’s presenting to Adam the woman He’d made in Genesis 2:22-25; Adam exclaims what a union he feels with Eve, “flesh of my flesh”, united together without shame. In Genesis 1(27-28,31) God creates people male and female, blesses them, tells them to multiply, and it’s all pronounced “very good”. From the book of Proverbs and the Song of Songs it’s apparent that a husband is to “rejoice in the wife of [his] youth” and “ever be captivated by her love”; couples are to find satisfaction in each other’s physical features (Prov 5:18f; SoS). Paul picks this up in the New Testament, urging husbands to ‘love their wives as their own bodies’, nourishing and cherishing each other (Eph 5:28f). The context of a loving, supportive marriage relationship is the well-bonded partnership for which sex was designed, as a launching pad for the family unit.
    ○    for the single - concerned about and devoted to the Lord in body and spirit, needs met (1Cor 7:8,32,34)
But marriage is not the ‘be all and end all’. Our Lord Jesus never married; some of the apostles and many famous believers since then have lived without ever being married. For the single person, God’s intention is that we derive satisfaction from Him, seek Him first and His governance, and allow Him to look after our needs, bodily and otherwise. There are many ways to be generative and creative and connected with life other than sex. Even for couples, in premarital counselling I keep telling them, “Sex is just the icing on the cake – it’s not the cake!” Singles still have much ‘flavour’ and other aspects of pleasure to enjoy, with just ‘cake’. Paul writes most about this in 1Corinthians 7(8,32,34): It can be “good” to stay unmarried; an unmarried person “is concerned about the Lord’s affairs - how he can please the Lord.” Rather than having divided interests like those who are married, “An unmarried woman...is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit.” In that “undivided devotion” the Lord helps compensate for one’s single state.
    ○    free from sin’s mastery (6:12) - a responsive cookie
Paul suggests at least 3 positive benefits about remaining sexually whole or moral in chapter 6. Look at v.12: He counters the argument that Christian freedom means “Everything is permissible” by saying “But I will not be mastered by anything.” The truly ‘free’ believer can resist (with Christ’s assistance) the ‘tug’ of sin. Watchman Nee once used the illustration of a cookie: when broken and placed back together, it looks exactly like the original cookie, but the slightest finger-tap will separate the parts and show it’s been changed. So the Christian’s soul yields to the slightest ‘nudge’ of Christ’s Spirit. How hard is it to click a mouse to look at porn? Not very hard! Freedom in Christ helps us not be mastered by that subtle ‘tug’.
    ○    experiencing oneness with Jesus in body and spirit (6:13,17,19) - e.g. handsfree cycling
Paul mentions another positive aspect of sexual morality spread over vv13, 17, and 19. 13: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Did you get that? Jesus is “FOR the body”. That implies something deep and mystical about finding our ultimate satisfaction in Him, not in passing physical pleasures, an induced endorphin quick fix. V17, “He who unites Himself with the Lord is one with Him in spirit.” Horse-lovers talk about rider and horse being in complete unison - the rider doesn’t really need to use the bit; a mere touch of the rein aside the neck or gentle pressure with the knee and the horse veers right or left as desired. I don’t know horses well but I did spend a lot of time on my bicycle growing up. First there were training wheels; then I was steering on my own using the handlebars. But at some point - I think about the time I became a teenager - I discovered if I balanced my weight carefully on the seat, I could ride the bicycle without even using the handlebars. You could get quite good at that - able to swerve in and out between the long yellow dashes down the middle of the quiet paved country road (of course after making sure no cars were coming). Rider and machine zooming along in complete unison: scarcely a thought - a mere shift of balance, and you were heading in a different direction! So Paul is describing a close oneness between the Lord and the believer totally devoted to Him; an instant responsiveness, joined spiritually ‘at the hip’ so to speak. Your body a ‘living temple’ indwelt by the Holy Spirit (v19).
    ○    honouring God as those redeemed at a cost, washed, and filled (6:20, 11)
The final positive image here comes from vv11 and 20. The sexually moral person honours God (v20), gives God precedence over wrong desires. Billy Graham will leave an elevator rather than ride it alone with a member of the opposite sex - nothing wrong with women, he just is guarding his wholeness and widespread reputation by which he honours God. V20 explains we ought to honour God with our body because we were ‘bought at a price’: Jesus’ costly death at the cross paid for our redemption from sin. That takes us back to v11: as believers we have been washed - made clean; sanctified - made holy; and justified - made righteous in heaven’s eyes, in Jesus’ name and by the filling of the Holy Spirit. All those are very valuable, positive things we wouldn’t want to throw away in a careless moment.
●    Eliminate the Negative: Immorality’s Invasiveness
    ○    Destructive Cords (Proverbs 2:16-19; 5:3-[22]23; 6:23-35; 7:6-27)
While the Bible is very positive about sex within a committed lifelong marriage relationship, it’s extremely negative on physical relations outside that. It uses vivid word pictures to describe how damaging that can be.
    First, early on in the book of Proverbs, several passages warn against being enticed by an adulterous person whose ‘house leads down to death’ (2:23). Chapters 5-7 all give major attention to the perils of sexual immorality. Those enticed stand to lose wealth, health (they had STDs back then too), and peace; instead they get disease, disgrace, shame, and furious blows – they risk suffering from jealous revenge. One image in particular stands out: 5:22 notes, “The evil deeds of a wicked man ensnare him; the cords of his sin hold him fast.” NLT says his sins “are ropes that catch and hold him.” Sin has cords like a lasso that ensnare or trap; sin pulls on one’s inner soul, yanking it off-track.
    ○    Corrupting Fungus (1Cor 5:6-8)
In 1Corinthians, Paul adds some other images. 5:6-8 likens immorality to yeast that ‘works through the whole batch of dough’; he says, “Get rid of the old yeast...” for Christ, our Passover Lamb, has been sacrificed. “Old yeast” is a fungus: picture a loaf of bread turning grey and green through mold. So sexual immorality slowly infiltrates unless we’re careful: recall Barna describing the moral downward shift from Baby Boomers, to Busters, then to Mosaics.
    ○    Pollution from which to be Washed (6:11)
In chapter 6 Paul states flat-out that the wicked will not inherit the Kingdom of God, and lists several types of immorality including sexual varieties. Then v11, “And that is what some of you were.But you were washed...” The Greek verb (apolouo) reminds one of being washed from pollution. Scum. Dirty stuff that gets in and spoils something from its original goodness and usefulness.
    Here in Canada, especially in urban areas, we take clean pure water for granted. We wouldn’t think of drinking from some muddy stream or creek that could have had cattle standing in it, or effluent from a sewage treatment plant. We assume our drinking water will be filtered and treated; we don’t really value pure water, it comes out of the tap for free. But what if we lived in parts of the world where they don’t have such facilities - where the muddy river water is all they’ve got to drink? Then a glass of pure clean water would stand out, would be desirable and precious. Christ washes us, cleanses us so we’re pure in God’s eyes: what a shame to muck that up through sin.
    ○    Amputation from Christ (6:15)
V15 talks about how unthinkable it would be to take the members of Christ, carry them off, and make them members of a prostitute. Here immorality is like spiritual amputation, being yanked away from Jesus. Disconnected.
    ○    Self-sabotage: an Alien Body (6:18)
V18 says, “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” Sexual sin isolates us from our own body; it’s self-sabotage, separating soul from flesh, because wrong sex treats our bodies (and others’) like a machine, something I use or exploit to give me pleasure. Proverbs 7(13) describes the seductive adulteress as having a ‘brazen face’. There’s a hardening, a distancing, a disconnect that happens in immorality - the soul begins to hide. Like inhabiting the body of some alien, you’re no longer ‘at home’ in your own body.
    ○    Desecration of the Living Temple (6:19) - e.g. public monuments
What would it be like if vandals went around spray-painting graffiti on churches - or breaking in and wrecking pulpits, altars, shattering stained glass windows and anything else of beauty? Would that not be a desecration? Some time back there was a great outcry after men urinated on the National Cenotaph. What a shameful, disrespectful, inappropriate action! V19 implies a believer committing sexual immorality is doing the same thing: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” Sexual sin dishonours that temple.
●    Not Our Own – Bought with a Price
Wrapping up – sexual purity is a goal worth preserving and striving for. It’s not easy, given the temptations that surround us in this media-soaked generation. Thankfully, if we stumble and fall, there is mercy from God if we truly repent - as for any of the other sins on the list, like greed or slander. Recalling the love and sacrifice and Lordship of Jesus our Redeemer, and the power of God witnessed in resurrecting Jesus’ decaying body, motivates us to keep yielding to Him, to be completely His.
    Vance Havner has said: “Our Lord never put discipleship in fine print in the contract. He called on us to forsake all, take up our cross, deny self, love Him more than anything else. We are not our own; we are bought with a price, the personal property of Jesus Christ with no right to anything. ‘Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.’” Let’s pray.

The Centre for Disease Control (based in Atlanta, Georgia) in preparation for a March 2008 conference on STDs reported some disturbing statistics (and while these are American, the Canadian stats would not likely be much different).
    “A new CDC study indicates that one in four (26%) female adolescents in the United States has at least one of the most common sexually transmitted infections (STIs)...The authors analyzed data on 838 female adolescents (aged 14-19)... the teens were tested for human papillomavirus (HPV) infection, chlamydia, herpes simplex virus type 2 (HSV-2) infection, and trichomoniasis. The authors examined high-risk HPV types, including 23 types of the virus that are known to cause cancer, and the two types that cause most genital warts. Based on the overall STI prevalence of 26 percent, the authors estimate that about 3.2 million adolescent females in the United States are infected with one of these STIs. They note that the total prevalence might be slightly higher than these estimates indicate, because some STIs – including syphilis, HIV and gonorrhea – were not included in the analysis; however, the prevalence of these STIs is low in this age group. In addition to overall STI prevalence, key findings of the new study include the following:
    * The most common STI was cancer- and genital wart-associated HPV (18.3%), followed by chlamydia (3.9%), trichomoniasis (2.5%), and HSV-2 (1.9%). Among the teenage girls who had an STI, 15 percent had more than one....
    * Overall, approximately half of all the teens in the study reported ever having had sex. Among these girls, the STI prevalence was 40 percent.
“According to the authors, the high prevalence of HPV indicates that teenage girls are at high risk for this infection, even those with few lifetime sexual partners. It is important to realize that most HPV infections clear on their own; however some infections persist over time, placing women at risk for cervical cancer. A vaccine against HPV types 16 and 18, responsible for 70 percent of cervical cancer, and types 6 and 11, responsible for nearly all genital warts, is now recommended routinely for 11 and 12 year-old girls.
    “CDC supports a comprehensive approach to STD prevention that includes the promotion of abstinence as the surest way to prevent getting an STD, being in a mutually monogamous relationship with a partner known to be uninfected, and the consistent and correct use of condoms for sexually active people to reduce the risk of acquiring many infections. Condoms (used all the time and the right way) may lower your chances of passing HPV to a partner or developing HPV-related diseases.” (emphasis added; source: http://www.cdc.gov/STDConference/2008/media/summaries-11march2008.htm)