Right or Wrong?
1 Corinthians 6:12–20 ESV
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. 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. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know 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. So glorify God in your body.
We live in a funny world where right and wrong aren’t as simple as they seem. You’ve heard me teach that everyone, deep down inside of them, knows right and wrong. It’s part of the ‘knowledge of good and evil’ that we inherited from our ancient ancestors.
But, today, people want to say, ‘this is right for me.’ Right and wrong become relative faculties that change from person to person.
Is that true? Is right and wrong different for everyone?
Many of us who say no to that live by a strict law, where there is no leeway. It’s right because God says so. It’s wrong because God says so. Everyone must live by the exact same standards.
Is that true? Is there no difference for different people in different circumstances?
In our text today, Paul is going to deal with some of that. He begins, ‘All things are lawful.’ When he says, ‘all things,’ I see no reason to believe that he means anything less than, ‘All things.’
But, the statement seems to suggest that nothing is actually wrong at all. It almost agrees with the relativist who says that you yourself determine what is right and wrong for you. It’s like, anything you do, if you believe that Jesus has covered over your past sins, becomes a good thing, no matter what it is. ‘All things are lawful’ seems to suggest that there is no such thing as sin at all for a follower of Jesus.
Consider what Paul said to the Romans,
For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. (Romans 8:2, ESV)
Free from the law. No more strict sets of rules.
Or the Galatians,
For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery. (Galatians 5:1, ESV)
Paul emphasizes our freedom from the law, so much that various Christian groups throughout the centuries have claimed that sin no longer even exists for Christians; we can do whatever we want.
But, that doesn’t work with what Paul is saying here. Look at the whole statement. He writes,
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12, ESV)
Twice he says that it is lawful for him to do whatever he wants. In other words, freedom from the law means we are not held accountable to a written law as Christians.
But, he gives two reasons up front that Christians ought not to do certain things. Some things are harmful and should be avoided for that reason. Other things dominate or enslave you and thus violate our freedom, so those should be avoided. And then he gives a third reason later in the text that things should be avoided. Some things glorify the self in opposition to God and thus should be avoided for that reason.
In other words, sin isn’t defined any more by a written law. Rather, sin is defined by what is harmful, enslaving, or self-centered.
We’ll explore all three of these angles in detail through our passage today. Paul uses the example of sex outside of marriage or extramarital sex as an example for how this works out.
I want to show you that in the text, because it’s not obvious in the English text.
In verse 13, Paul says,
…The body is not meant for sexual immorality… (1 Corinthians 6:13, ESV)
Here, the word used for sexual immorality is a general term encompassing any form of sexual activity that is not between a married man and woman.
But, then Paul gets more practical in verse 15 when he says,
…Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? (1 Corinthians 6:15, ESV)
The key word here is “prostitute.” Prostitution is a very specific form of immorality the way we use it in English, but it’s a weird word to use to translate the Greek, because the Greek word belongs to the same root word translated ‘sexual immorality’ in verse 13.
Paul is getting practical, but still not specific. A clearer translation of this text would be,
…Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a [sexually immoral person]? (1 Corinthians 6:15, ESV)
Paul is talking about all forms of sexual immorality here, not just prostitution. Paul is broadly addressing any sexual behavior commited outside the bonds of marriage between a man and woman.
So, the first question Paul asks about this behavior is, Is it…
Beneficial or Harmful?
Like most people in our culture, I grew up with network television. And when I was in, I think, High School, we actually got cable TV. So, when I moved into my first apartment and I set up my utilities—water, gas, and all that—it seemed obvious that I should set up TV service.
There were a couple channels that I just loved. I could watch any of them for hours. They were comedy central, HGTV, and my favorite by far, the Food Network.
Jami and I had cable TV or Dish Network for the first few years of our marriage and it was fine. But, there came a time when we felt it was no longer beneficial. We started our family and didn’t feel like our time was well-spent watching much TV. And it was pretty expensive. So, when it came time to make a decision on what we wanted our family to look like, we chose to cancel our TV service and instead get Netflix so that we could moderate our TV time a little bit better. And we saved a lot of money that way.
A number of other things went that way. We got rid of our video game systems. We chose to drive older cars. We chose not to own anything we don’t intend to use and got rid of more than half of our belongings. We chose to homeschool our kids.
Now, notice what I’m not saying. I’m not writing a list of rules or a law for Christians to live by. Paul says we are free; ‘all things are lawful.’ So, I’m not telling you to make all of the same decisions for your family that Jami and I have made.
What we did was apply Paul’s principle to our lives. He says,
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. (1 Corinthians 6:12a, ESV)
Or, some translations say profitable, but my favorite word here is beneficial.
Not all things are beneficial. When we looked at the vision we had for our family, we felt that things like TV and video games didn’t benefit us. And we felt like car payments and public school were harmful to the vision we had. So, for us and the vision God gave us for our family, things like Cable TV, car payments, and public school were actually the wrong things.
For you, you have to decide what God wants your life and your family to look like and then you can gauge what is beneficial or harmful for you. Then you will know what is right and wrong for you.
Some things, like this, can be right for you and wrong for me. But, some things are actually wrong for everyone and Paul gives us one example of that in our text. Paul says we should all,
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18, ESV)
Paul says that sexual immorality—remember, that’s any sexual behavior outside of a marriage between a man and a woman—is damaging to your own body. It’s harmful to you and often to others.
I don’t need to go to deep into this, but this is a common excuse people use when they are sexually active outside of marriage. People say, ‘But I’m not hurting anyone.’ Or I’ve heard this said of homosexuals, ‘But they’re not hurting anyone.’ In other words, it’s not harmful! How can it be wrong?
I’m baffled by the ignorance of those excuses, though. I’m thankful I have not had multiple sexual partners. But I also know that every one of you who has had multiple sexual partners is aware that you have brought a piece of baggage from every past relationship forward into the next one. Sex is so intimate that every sexual encounter you have becomes a permanent part of who you are.
And I don’t need to address STD’s, unwanted pregnancy, issues of consent and all that.
Sex in marriage is good and beneficial—which we will get into more detail on in October—but outside of marriage it is always, in every circumstance, harmful.
So, the second question Paul seems to ask is, Does the behavior result in…
Freedom or Enslavement?
I came in on Thursday night to setup for Oikos Training and Dan and Matt came in to setup for Youth Group at the same time. So, I asked Dan what they were teaching on and Dan said he was going to teach the kids about credit. And I thought that was sort of odd, but what Dan is doing is giving the students some practical and biblical stewardship skills.
I get why. Quite a few years ago, Jami and I were praying about moving to Chile for a couple of years to support a church down there. We had it all figured out. I was running an internet business that I could run from there. I was going to school online so I could do that from there also.
Everything in the plan was pretty solid except for one thing. We had a mortgage on our house and we were upside down. We owed more on our mortgage than we could sell the house for. And we couldn’t rent the house out, because there was a lot of work that needed done to get the house in order, which we couldn’t afford.
This is what is meant by enslavement. We didn’t have the freedom to carry out our plan, even if that plan was inspired by God. We were enslaved by our mortgage debt. That’s why Paul says,
All things are lawful for me, but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12, ESV)
That word dominated means to be ruled over. Our mortgage company was ruling a big part of our lives so that we couldn’t do what God was calling us to do. Paul says he will not allow anyone or anything rule over him.
And I realize it’s hard not to become enslaved to mortgage companies and car payments and other things we are tempted to finance. Again, I’m not saying it’s sinful to have a mortgage or a car payment. I have a mortgage right now. But, you have to consider the cost of becoming enslaved to creditors or becoming enslaved to other organizations, or to people, or to habits and patterns of behaviors.
Notice Paul’s wisdom,
If you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. (1 Corinthians 7:21, ESV)
We will get to deal with this passage more in a few weeks, but Paul’s pretty strait-forward. We should seize the opportunity to be free whenever possible, because things that enslave us prevent us from carrying out God’s purposes.
How do you know if you are enslaved by something?
First, if you are enslaved, it controls you. If you are free, you control it. Debt enslaves, because I don’t have the power to change my contract. It controls me.
Second, if you are enslaved, you feel as though you need it. If you are free, it’s merely something you want. Alcohol fits well in this category. If you enjoy an occasional drink, great. If you need a drink or multiple drinks every day, then you are enslaved.
Third, if you are enslaved you are never satisfied. If you are free it always satisfies. Paul uses the example of sexual immorality. It begins with wandering eyes that never satisfy. ‘I look but I don’t touch’ is a lie. Sexual immorality never satisfies, so it gets deeper and deeper.
“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. (1 Corinthians 6:13a, ESV)
Paul quotes a common saying of the day. The people used to use this excuse for sexual immorality, that, since they have passions in the flesh, then it is right that they explore those passions. Just like the stomach needs food because it hungers, the body needs sex because it lusts.
In that culture, it was a common understanding that the body was naturally enslaved to it’s passions. So, Paul continues,
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. (1 Corinthians 6:13b, ESV)
Do you see the comparison that Paul is making?
Paul is saying that we are not to be enslaved to our passions, serving our passions, because the body was not created to serve our passions. The body was created to serve the Lord, Jesus.
That is our purpose from the beginning of creation. Man was created to build a Kingdom for the glory of God. Serving God with our bodies is our natural purpose.
Serving our passions is part of our fallenness. It’s an expression of the brokenness of humanity. Being enslaved to our passions and lusts is an expression of our rebellion against God. It’s exactly the opposite of God glorifying.
See, you might say that you feel enslaved by God’s standards. But, you only feel that way if you are already a slave to the powers and principalities of this world and you like it. If you think following Christ is too difficult it’s because you are already serving another master and although you want to be free, there is a part of you that likes it.
So again, Paul says,
If you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. (1 Corinthians 7:21, ESV)
If you can get free, get free. And you can gain your freedom in Christ. Whether you call yourself a Christian or not, know this: If you want freedom from your bondage to the things of this world, to the sin that enslaves you, whether you are a slave to sexual immorality, a slave to drugs and alcohol, or just a slave to you own selfish agenda—comforts, pleasures, wealth—there is freedom offered to you in Christ.
Leaving the Kingdom of this world and entering into God’s Kingdom, swearing off your allegiance to this dying world and giving allegiance to Jesus is the only path to freedom.
And I need to say this. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t be enslaved to the world and also say that you serve Jesus. In God’s eyes, there’s no such thing as dual citizenship. Look what Paul says,
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. (1 Corinthians 6:15–17, ESV)
In some sense, when you enslave yourself to the things of this world, whether that be sexual immorality or anything else, you bind Jesus to those things if you claim to be a Christian. This is where claims of hypocrisy come into play. The church gets accused of being full of hypocrites because we say we serve Jesus, but the world around us sees us serving the passions and lusts of the flesh.
Notice Paul says that if you are joined to the Lord, you are one in spirit with him. That means that your purposes are his purposes, your desires are his desires, your passions are his passions. When your passions, desires, and purposes are different than Jesus’s, then you proclaim to the world that Jesus can’t really free you from your sins, because you are still enslaved to them.
As a side note, it seems clear from Paul that there is a special binding that takes place between two people when they have sex that makes it a little different than other sins. It’s more than just hypocrisy. It’s taking the natural binding that God has designed in creation to happen between a man and a woman in a monogamous marriage and it binds you to multiple people and if you are a Christian, it binds Jesus himself into that relationship. That will come into play more when we get to chapter 7 in October.
So, do you want to know if an action or decision is right or wrong?
Does it enslave you to the things of this world? Or does it free you to serve God in His Kingdom?
In our Oikos Training last week we talked about five reasons Christians don’t share their faith. One of those was that many of you are so busy that you can’t prioritize the time, energy, and effort. If that’s you, you might be enslaved to the things of this world. Avail yourself of the opportunity to be free, so that you can carry out your God given purpose.
Is it beneficial or harmful? Does it result in freedom or enslavement? A third question is Does it…
Glorify God or Self?
This question has to do with motive. A couple thoughts.
First, there is a question Christians have to wrestle with.
Can someone who is not a Christian glorify God? Or more precisely we could ask, Can someone who isn’t a Christian actually do things that are good?
As we speak, countless non-Christians are in Florida and Texas, sacrificing time, money, and other resources to help those who suffered loss by the recent hurricanes.
That seems good enough to me, but Paul says,
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:12, ESV)
What do we do with this? What do we do with things that are seemingly good, when God says that we cannot do good apart from Him?
C.S. Lewis calls this the ‘miserable illusion.’ The illusion is that we can do good works, godly works, without knowing who God is. This is miserable, because it gives us a false sense of goodness. It makes us feel like we have done good, when we have not done good enough in the eyes of God.
The miserable illusion elevates the self—look how much good I have done.
The solution to this miserable illusion is Jesus, who said,
What is impossible with man is possible with God. (Luke 18:27, ESV)
In other words, God can empower our subpar efforts at goodness so that they become actual good works.
Notice the difference in good works between a Christian and a non-Christian. The non-Christian seeks goodness according to the self and boasts in the self. But, if the works of the Christian are empowered by God, then the Christian can only boast in God and His power.
So, you look at a situation, a question, a decision you have to make and you ask, Is this good?
Maybe it is beneficial and it promotes freedom. But can it be said that it glorifies God? Or does it glorify the self?
I fear that a great many of the right things we do become wrong things because we don’t give credit where credit is due; we don’t give the glory to God, but we speak as though we’ve accomplished these things on our own.
I worked so hard to get this promotion. I went to school for years and now I know how to do all this great stuff. Look how gifted I am at such and such.
Look how God has blessed me. Look how God has trained me to accomplish His purposes. Look how God has gifted me to carry out His mission.
Who gets the credit in your mind? You or God?
That’s one thought. Paul gives us a second. He writes,
Flee from sexual immorality…Or do you not know 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. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:18–20, ESV)
Here Paul tells us that a Christian does not own their own bodies. God has purchased your body by His blood on the cross for the purpose that His Spirit might abide in you, like a temple, to empower you to good works, to make good decisions, and accomplish great things to the glory of God.
Sexual immorality and many things that stem from it are about the self. Sexual immorality, sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, exists because people value their own pleasure and comfort above God’s mission and purpose.
But, ‘you are not your own,’ Paul says. ‘You are a temple of God.’
Therefore, ‘glorify God in your body.’
Do you value your own comforts and pleasures above God’s mission and purposes for your life?
The reality is, we try to hold these two ideas in tension. We compartmentalize our lives. We live as though our jobs and our homes are the domain of the self and that God’s domain is the church. But, you are the church if you are in Christ and everywhere that you go is God’s domain and everything that you do falls under the dominion of Christ.
We’ve been talking about this in our Oikos training. The mission and purposes of God go with you wherever you are. Tom Mercer says that 100% of the US attends church, because 100% of the people in the US know multiple people who are Christians.
You enter into their lives on a regular basis.
And when you enter into their lives, what do they hear of God? What do they hear of Christ? What do they experience of God’s goodness? What do they experience of God’s mercy? What do they see of God’s providence? What do they feel of God’s love, provision, and protection of His people?
You see, if you as the people of God are the church and responsible for the mission and purposes of God to be made known in the world, then everything you say and do drives the people in your life either deeper into the world or it draws them further into Christ.
The choice is yours.
Everything you say and do drives the people in your life either deeper into the world or it draws them further into Christ.
There is no neutral zone. There’s no middle ground. Everything you do is either beneficial or harmful. Everything you do offers people freedom in Christ or it enslaves them further to the things of the world. And everything you do is to glorify yourself or to glorify the God who has created all things and called you into His Kingdom.
I guess what I’m saying is this. If you hated the brokenness and unfaithfulness of the world and came to Jesus to escape this world by entering into Christ’s Kingdom, then why do you continue to live for the things of this world?
No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money [stuff]. (Matthew 6:24, ESV)
Sometimes the Greek in this passage is transliterated as the word mammon. It isn’t really money, but wealth in general and is probably best understood as ‘the things of this world.’ I like to translate it as, ‘stuff.’ You can’t serve both God and stuff, because that’s what we do today; we live for our stuff.
At any rate, you can’t live for the stuff of this world and say that you serve God. Jesus says you will always love one and hate the other.
I fear that there are many Christians, who under this pretense, profess Christ as Lord and savior, but in their hearts, they hate God. They love the things of this world and the hate the things of God’s Kingdom.
Let it not be for you.
Christian, live every day as free men and free women in the Kingdom God has called you into. And let it be, that, through your life, others will see the goodness, mercy, and gloriousness of Christ, that they too might enter into His Kingdom, eternal.
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