Seward United Methodist Church
Tuesday, October 16, 2018
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Honoring the Body

1st Corinthians 6:12-20

 Every time I read from the letters to the Corinthians, I am always struck by their similarities and the relevance to contemporary America.  It seems that everything that was an issue in 1st century Corinth is an issue, in some way or another, in America today.  In this case, the issue was sexual sin.  

 Sexual indulgence was part and parcel of first century Greek culture.  Greek philosophy of that time rejected any importance of the body.  Most Greeks believed only in an eternal soul or spirit.  The body simply did not have any relevance for them beyond this lifetime.  For example, a Greek philosopher named Epictetus said that “I am a poor soul shackled to a corpse.” That was their opinion of the body, worthless, dead, useless.

 So if the body is irrelevant, there were two options about how to treat the body.  One was that some philosophers advocated asceticism.  Asceticism is the punishment of the body, in this case to free the soul from the prison that is the body.  These philosophers advocated sexual abstinence, refraining from food as much as possible, perhaps even physically punishing the body.  The other approach was to say that if the body doesn’t matter, well then just let it have its way.  Indulgence.

 And that was the way in Corinth.  Corinth was famous throughout the ancient world for its indulgent lifestyle.  There was actually a verb in the Greek language, Korinthiozomai, from the name Corinth, that meant to indulge oneself.  Corinth was famous for its Temple of Aphrodite, the Greek goddess of love.  The Temple employed 1000 prostitutes, both men and women, and “worshippers” would go there to engage in “cultic sex,” “worshipping” the goddess of love by going to a prostitute.

 Corinth was really just the worst example of the general culture of the first century Roman world.  Prostitution was a way of life in the Roman world.  Most prostitutes were slaves.  In Roman society, if a woman gave birth, and her husband did not want to keep the child, they would simply take it to the town dump and leave it there.  And many of those abandoned babies became slave prostitutes, even from the time that they were very young, only six years old.  

 And Roman society thought prostitution was good.  They considered it a useful deterrent to adultery, because to them, going to a prostitute was not adultery.  In fact, the only adultery was of any consequence in Roman society was when it involved a

member of the aristocracy.  If an aristocrat went to a prostitute or if they had an affair with a member of a lower class, it was no big deal.  It only was considered a problem when an aristrocrat woman had an affair with a lower class person.  Sex with prostitutes, homosexuality, sex outside of marriage, even most adultery was just a normal part of life.

 Their attitude was summed up by the expression, “Food was made for the stomach, and the stomach for food,” which was their way of saying that just as the stomach was made for food, so it should be given food, the body was made for sex, so it should be given sex, in any way it desires.  

 By the way, that brings up the related issues of food and alcohol.  Greek and Roman society regularly practiced excessive indulgence of those too.  

 And there were some in the Corinthian church who wanted to continue this lifestyle.  They even argued that it was in keeping with the Christian message.  “Christ has set me free!  I’m allowed to do anything!  I’m free to indulge the desires of my body, because after all, the body doesn’t matter.” 

 Well, that was a Greek way of thinking, not a biblical way.  The biblical understanding of the body is very different.  God cares about our bodies.  He cares how we use them.  We believe in a resurrection of the body, not just a spiritual afterlife but a physical afterlife.  And we also understand that our bodies and our spirits are deeply interconnected.  If you are feeling depressed, that’s a spiritual condition, but it will also affect your body.  And if we are sick, that’s a physical condition, but it’s probably also going to bear on our spiritual feelings of well being.  It was only later, as Greek thought began to permeate Christian theology that Christians began to think of the spirit being more important than the body.  And I think we see that quite a bit in the Church today.

 God cares about our bodies.  The Bible tells us that God created the physical world, and when he was done, he called it good.  Now we don’t believe that the world around us now is good any more, since it has been corrupted by sin.  But we do believe that God will renew creation and we will live forever, spiritually and physically, in a new creation, a good creation. 

 And we believe that God honored the human body by taking on human flesh in the Incarnation.  There were some who said otherwise.  In the first few centuries of the Church, there was a heresy called docetism, which stated that Christ was never a

physical being.  He was just a spirit who looked human.  As you might guess, that heresy sprung out of Greek thought.  But it was condemned and eventually disappeared.

 We also believe that our bodies do not belong to us.  That’s a serious challenge to our culture that says, “I’ll do what I want to do with my own body.”  But we believe that we were purchased at a high price.  Paul is using the terminology of the slave market in this passage.  We were slaves to sin, but God redeemed us from sin by paying the highest possible price, the very lifeblood of Jesus Christ.  

 You don’t belong to yourself.  You have a master.  And your actions should reflect the fact that you were purchased with the highest price. 

 We are free in Christ.  But our freedom should not be misused.  And most especially, we should not use our freedom to become a slave again, to anything.  

 And there are many things that are not necessarily harmful, but they do have the potential to make us slaves.  The two things that Paul mentions in this passage, food and sex; neither of them is necessarily harmful.  Food is essential to life.  And sex is too, since none of us would be here without it!  But they can be used in ways that are harmful.  And they can make us slaves.  

 Well, if our bodies don’t belong to us, and if we should not become a slave to anything, and if we are indwelled by God’s Holy Spirit through Jesus Christ, then abuse of our bodies, in any form, is an abuse of sacred space.  “Your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, so honor God with your body.”  

 “Should a man take his body, which is part of Christ, a sacred temple of the Spirit, and join it to a prostitute?”  Of course not!  That is a violation of covenant.  It’s a violation of the covenant of marriage, obviously.  And it’s a violation of the covenant of faith, more importantly!  Sex is more than just a physical act of union, it’s also a spiritual act of union, and it is not appropriate to misuse it.  

 I think this is a very relevant passage for contemporary America and for the Church in America.  We live in a very indulgent society.  Sex outside of marriage is the norm.  Adultery and homosexuality are generally accepted by society.  Even pornography and prostitution are becoming accepted in some places.  

And it’s more than just that one issue.  We have national epidemics of obesity and heart disease and diabetes, and those are all related to our indulgence in food. 

Abuse of drugs and alcohol are very common in our society.  And I think all of those things fall into the same category:  They are abuses of our bodies, and to abuse our body in any way is to violate sacred space.  

For the most part, those things are not necessarily harmful in themselves.  Some drugs, of course, are harmful in any quantity.  But it’s not wrong to eat.  It’s not wrong to enjoy alcohol in moderation.  It’s not wrong to enjoy sex within the bounds that God intended for it.  But any one of those things, if they are misused or indulged, are sins against our bodies and have the potential to make us slaves.  

When we consider how we use our bodies, we should ask ourselves:  Is this thing beneficial to me?  Does it have the potential to enslave me?  Is it fitting for a body that has been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ and does it bring glory to God?

Look ahead for a moment: In about a month, we’re going to enter into the season of Lent.  And it is a frequent practice of Christians to engage in some form of fasting during that season.  Out of a conversation in our FAITH Class, I’m going to propose that we, as a church, participate in a form of fasting this year during Lent.  I’m still working on the details, but somehow we’re going to offer a chance for everyone to engage in a form of prayer and fasting during Lent.  I’d like you to consider whether or not you’d like to participate in that.  

Fasting is beneficial because it teaches us how to deny our bodies when they cry out for something that is not necessary and that has the potential to enslave us.  It’s a way of journeying toward self-denial and away from self-induldgence.  So please in prayer about that over the coming weeks.

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