A Clash of Cultures ~ 1 Corinthians 6:7-20
Big Idea: How we choose to live reveals what we believe to be true and good. Faith and lifestyle, spirit and body, are inseparable. Our physical bodies have eternal spiritual significance because Jesus – to whom we’re joined – rose bodily from the dead.
“When you’re a star, you can do anything,” said Donald Trump. This 10-year-old audio recording immediately went viral at the closing stages of the 2016 presidential campaign. In vulgar terms, Mr. Trump bragged about kissing, groping, and having sex with women.
When you are rich and famous, Mr. Trump implies, you’re not bound by normal rules that apply to everyone else. Billionaire celebrities live by a completely different sexual code: none. And most people accept this as OK. This permissive sexual attitude was also mirrored in Corinth. Except it wasn’t billionaire celebrities, but rich, upper-class believers.
Based on first-century Roman custom, we know only the rich elite could initiate a lawsuit. So it’s likely that Paul continues to speak to them as he pivots from lawsuits (6:7-11) to prostitutes (6:12-20). Both lawsuits and prostitutes had one thing in common: most in Corinth accepted it as OK.
“I have the right to do anything” (6:12) and “food for the stomach and the stomach for food” (6:13) were most likely slogans repeated by the Corinthian (rich, upper-class) believers. (The NIV translation adds “you say” to clarify the Greek text.) What do they mean?
What’s wrong with suing someone to get back what they owe me? That’s what the courts are for. That’s my legal right. Aren’t Christians supposed to be law-abiding citizens? What’s wrong with visiting temple prostitutes? They’re not illegal; I’m not unfaithful to my wife. It’s OK to eat when hungry; Christians are supposed to take care of their bodies. This is just another healthy, physical need. My regular visits don’t affect my spiritual worship at all.
That was the thinking of first-century Corinthians. As one commentator observed:1
Many Greek thinkers reasoned that sex without marriage was fine as long as it did not control a person … Much more commonly, for most Greek men under the age of thirty, heterosexual intercourse was most available with slaves or with prostitutes. Roman law permitted (and reaped tax profits from) prostitution, and it forbade fornication only if both parties were of aristocratic birth.
Like the lawsuits, it was their worldly culture and not the gospel, that influenced their lifestyle choices in Corinth.
The (Greek) world says our bodies are nothing more than temporary vessels for our spirits/souls. We take care of our bodies in this life, but will discard it completely in the next. The two – body and spirit – are not connected. What we do in one does not affect the other.
The gospel, however, says our bodies are not temporary vessels. “By his power,” Paul writes (6:14), “God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” Jesus’ bodily resurrection means our bodies matter. We won’t be leaving it behind. So what we do physically with our bodies matters spiritually.
The (Greek) world says visiting prostitutes is OK. It is a legal, pleasurable, healthy outlet for our sexual needs. It does not violate our marriage vows. In fact, some even considered it to be a useful deterrent against adultery.
The gospel says, our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit” (6:19). It’s the place where our invisible God chooses to manifest his presence in our world – bodily through His people. Just as a pagan worshipper would not desecrate his own shrine, a Christian worshipper should not desecrate Jesus’ temple (6:15).
Believing in Jesus is not only a matter of the mind – assenting to certain doctrines – but also a matter of the body. How we live is inseparable from what we believe. Our cultures don’t have the final say in what’s OK to do with our bodies. Jesus has the final say.
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies. (6:20)
The heart of the matter:
Worldly people do what their culture says is OK with their bodies.
Gospel people do what Jesus says is OK with their bodies.
1 Craig Keener, The IVP Bible Background Commentary (Second Edition), (Downers Grove: IVP, 2014), p. 472.
Questions for personal reflection or group discussion:
1. What are some activities or practices from the world’s liberal culture that you have always thought are perfectly OK for Christians to indulge in?
2. What is your perspective about them now that you have read Paul’s rationale about why Christians need to be mindful of them?