I am speaking to men this weekend about holiness and wisdom and sex as related to the Corinthian Epistles and during my study time today I came upon something I feel is important in regards to our current conflict over sexuality.
One of the teachings that seems very obvious in First Corinthians is that the body matters. Our flesh and bones, and how we use them, matters to God. That our faith is simply a mental assent or a spiritual high (what Gnosticism teaches) is impossible to argue if we take this first letter to the carnal Corinthian Christians seriously. Time and time again Paul calls our attention to our physical bodies, reminding us that it, the body, is not meant for sexual immorality. Do you not know, he asks, that your bodies belong to Christ? Flee sexual immorality, he pleads, because every other sin is committed outside the body, but sexual sin is a sin against the body. Why is that so bad? Because our body (not our heart, our head, or our spirit) is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and therefore we do not belong to ourselves, but to God. You and I were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body (1 Cor. 6:12-20).
But the fact that we should not do this or that with our body isn’t the main point. The thing at stake here is not offending a God who is prude. The reason we should honor God with our bodies and walk in sexual purity is not so much because God finds a particular action sinful (though He does) but because how we handle our bodies reveals what is in our hearts. Consider this with me.
In 1 Cor. 5:1 Paul writes that there is a report of sexual immorality within the church, in this particular case it is a man taking his father’s wife. While this is bad, it is not the worst. What is most upsetting is what he says after: And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? The sin which really gets Paul’s goat is not so much the deed between the man and his father’s wife but the prideful heart of those who think they can do as they please with their bodies.
The thing which God detests more than anything else is pride. It is pride which makes us boast in our own knowledge and wisdom (something Paul spends the first four chapters of Corinthians sorting out) and pride makes us trust more in our talk than in the power of God (4:19-20). It is pride which causes God to resist us, and turn His face against us (James 4:6). Again, the sex itself is not the main thing (though it does matter) but “your boasting is not good,” Paul writes of them (5:6). A little bit of this prideful use of one’s body, outside the boundaries God has prescribed, without anyone taking a stand and saying NO, will “leaven the whole lump” bringing upon the church “malice and evil” (5:6-8). Thus, Scripture commands, purge such evil from the body of believers or else many more will be corrupted, not with sexual immorality per se, but with something far worse: pride. And as such, they will then do as they like with their bodies, forgetting that their bodies are not theirs to do with as they please.
I believe this has major implications for how we view our bodies and how we behave as stewards of them. It matters to God what we do with our bodies and the bodies of others. It matters in things like what we consume as food, how we care for ourselves, and how we live sexually. Regarding sex, God has revealed to us what is holy and good and what is sinful, from the beginning of time. We must continually choose to crucify our bodies to our “natural” desires, reminding ourselves and each other again and again that our bodies are not our own but God’s. Any deviations from that design are not something to be celebrated or boasted about but mourned (5:2). Being prideful about our sexuality, straight or gay, and acting as though our bodies are ours to do with as we please is the real issue. As always, it’s a matter of the heart.