A God-Centered Sexual Ethic
Intro: Remember that Corinth was afflicted with the love of philosophy and rhetoric. They wanted that which sounded good and seemed wise. It didn’t matter whether or not it was right, they just liked fine sounding and wise sounding things. (Cf. Acts 17:21 They spent their time either hearing or telling new things. Beware the itch for new things when the old will suffice.) Their pride led to division. Now, remember that James told us that envy and strife are accompanied by every evil work (James 3:16). It is no wonder, then, that Paul had to rebuke the Corinthians for the approval of a church member committing incest (1Corinthians 5:1-13). A proud and envious person who is striving with others is never satisfied, and that person is very likely to seek out his satisfaction in any place and manner that he can find it, except in God.
It is in this context that Paul establishes a God-Centered sexual ethic.
1. The Relationship Between Worship And Sex :9-11
They were once sexually immoral, but God has forgiven them and cleansed them of these things. The gospel of Christ is a message of sacrifice of self as well as good news that God gives us that which is better. Having cleansed them of their sins, God has given them Himself.
That being said, immorality is idolatry. Note the downward spiral of sin in Romans 1:18-17. The worship of the Creator is traded for the worship of the creature and carnal passions. It is not that the carnal passions are wrong, but outside of the context of worship of God, they are filthy and immoral, and they lead to that which is unnatural in the pursuit of pleasure and satisfaction. One only need observe the glorification of sex and the objectification of people in our nation to recognize that immoral sex is an act of misdirected worship.
True worship leads to monogamous, heterosexual pleasure. Note that the mandate given to Adam and Eve was not only to take dominion, but first to be fruitful and multiply. This mandate is about imaging forth God. It is about worshiping our Creator and showing His greatness through the way that we live. Being fruitful means having sex and raising children. Note also that there is pleasure associated with it, because Moses said that the man and woman were to cleave to each other, and that they were naked and not ashamed (Genesis 2:24-25). Man and woman were to enjoy their union, and they were unashamed in their union.
Later, Solomon wrote and exhorted his son to rejoice with his wife (Proverbs 5:18-19). Note that he was not instructed to rejoice in his wife, but with his wife. That is, he was told that he and his wife were to together find joy. That joy will first be in God, and then in each other. In other words, the joy that Solomon’s son was to have with his wife was the joy of worshiping Christ through expressing their love for God by loving each other.
This should be not be surprising to us, because husbands are told to have a God-Centered love for their wives- a gospel-motivated love. We are to love our wives as Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25-33). This love is certainly a sacrificial love, but it is also a love that seeks to nurture, protect, and give joy to one’s wife. This includes giving emotional support and sexual pleasure.
Included in the issue of sex and worship is the issue of sexual flirtation and lust. They are both wrong. Jesus told us as much in Matthew 5:27-30 as He warned us against lust and the fact that it will lead to sin which could damn our souls.
2. Make Love As Worshipers Who Understand That God Has A Plan For The Body :12-14
Paul is probably repeating a statement that they made as an excuse for their sexual improprieties: “We are not under the law, so all things are lawful for me”. Paul says that, all things may be lawful, but not everything is helpful, and we are not to be brought under the power and dominion of anything. Only helpful things are truly lawful, and nothing should be lord of our lives other than Jesus Christ.
In saying this, Paul is still relating sexual morality to the gospel. We are not the servants of sin, but the servants of righteousness (Romans 6:17,22), and have been changed from being people dominated by sin (1Corinthians 6:9-11). With this in mind, we should not let sex rule our minds, hearts, and actions. Only Jesus should have that sort of power over our lives.
In verses 13-14, Paul anticipates their arguing that, since we have appetites for food and a stomach for food, that we should also be able to use our sexual appetites and organs to satisfy ourselves. Paul states that God is indeed in favor of our enjoying sex- the body is “for the Lord, and the Lord for the body”. God is not against fleshly pleasures, but He expects us to enjoy fleshly pleasures within the context in which He has created them to be experienced and enjoyed. Note how Paul is no prude at all, but he states that God is in favor of our pleasure. He doesn’t speak only about the negative aspect, but tells us where true pleasure is to be found- under the Lordship of Christ and as worshipers of Him.
To show just how much God is for our bodies, Paul states that the resurrection is proof that God is in favor of the body. Just as He raised up Jesus, He will raise us up from the dead (Cf. Romans 8:11). God is in favor of the body and fleshly pleasure! The body is the Lord’s, and is to be used in worship of Him.
3. Make Love As Worshipers Who Understand That Their Bodies Belong To Jesus :15-20
Our bodies are joined to Christ. Not only are we in Christ (See 2Corinthians 5:17), but we are part of the body of Christ (1Corinthians 12:13). This means that there is a union between us and Christ. We are not physically joined to Christ, but we are spiritually joined to Christ. Our bodies are made and redeemed so that we would give spiritual worship to Christ. That is why physical sin is not merely physical, but a matter of worship, as we have already seen.
When one is sexually joined to another, there is a one flesh union. This is not the same as marriage, which includes a lifetime commitment, but it is still a matter of two bodies joined as one. Being joined to Christ in a spiritual union, those who take the bodies which belong to Christ and commit sexual sin are actually dishonoring Christ. He is dishonored, not only because of our misusing His members; but, our members, being His members, means that we involve Him in our sin, in a sense. Those bodies which represent Christ here on earth surely are misrepresenting Him when involved with a harlot. Not only so, but the fact of most prostitution occurring at idolatrous temples meant that Paul was working hard to help the Corinthians to see that they were to fully leave idolatry.
Not only is sexual sin a sin against Christ, but it is sin against one’s own body, Paul says. John MacArthur says, “No sin has greater potential to destroy the body.” While other sins are apart from the body in that their effects are most often toward others more than toward ourselves, fornication is a sin against (Greek eis= into) that radically affects our bodies. The intimacy brought about by being joined to another is more than physical. It is an emotional intimacy. The damage that can be done to our bodies is indeed physical, and that of such a degree that it can kill us (See Proverbs 5:11,21-23;6:26-35;7:22-27) and condemn us, and that is an extremely emotional thing. In other words, all other sins do not have such a radical effect both immediately and in the hereafter as fornication, and especially that which is connected with idolatrous worship.
But, to take the issue of fornication being a sin into/against one’s body further, we must understand that our bodies are temples. We are desecrating the temple of the Holy Spirit. We remember that God does not take kindly to folks disrespecting His temple (See Leviticus 10:1-3;2Chronicles 26:16-23). No longer do we go to the temple to worship, but we are the temple. We sin into/against our own bodies because we desecrate the very holy of holies. Paul intends to shock (And I’m sure that he does so.) the Corinthians by making fornication analogous to having sex in the holiest place in the temple. In other words, fornication is sacrilege against our own bodies, the temples of God.
Not only so, but we are temples of the Holy Spirit because we have been purchased by the blood of Christ. The gospel truth is that Christ died to make us holy unto Himself (cf 1Corinthians 6:9-11;Ephesians 1:3-7;Titus 2:11-14). A God-Centered sexual ethic remembers that Jesus died to purchase us so that we could/would worship Him and find joy in Him more than in any other passion.
How do we glorify God in our body and in our spirit? We do so by seeking our joy first in Him, then by sharing our joy in Christ by showing Christian love in our sexual activities. We show love in that respect in two manners: 1. by refraining from sexual sin which is theft (1Thessalonians 4:1-8). We steal by taking that which is not our own- it is not our own because we are not married to the person, and it is not our own, because it is not ours to give to one who is not our spouse. 2. by passionately pursuing Christ and showing our joy in Christ to our spouse by being faithful to them as Christ is faithful to us. Not only so, but that love seeks to encourage the joy of our spouse just as Christ came that our joy might be full (John 15:11).
This is by no means an exhaustive study and exposition of the passage that is before us. Neither is it an exhaustive study of biblical sexual morality. I trust, however, that God will use this study to help us to understand where true joy is found (in Christ alone), and to lead us into the experience and sharing of that joy as we commit ourselves to enjoying God in the marriage bed. “Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled…” (Hebrews 13:4)