As we begin, we should remember that prostitution in Corinth was a “religious act of worship.”
Corinth took pride in the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, which had 1,000 cult prostitutes. In the name of religion, men can indulge their fleshly appetites. The Greeks have a proverb about the city of Corinth, which tells us much of its moral decay: “It is not every man who can afford a journey to Corinth.”
Those who are worldly wise use the verb “to corinthianize” to describe an act of immorality. “Corinthian girl” was a synonym for a prostitute. For a Corinthian saint, concluding that whatever is legal is also moral leaves him a great deal of latitude. There isn’t much he can’t do under this definition of morality.
Freedom in Christ was a truth Paul never tired of emphasizing. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.… For you were called to freedom, brethren” (Gal. 5:1, 13).
The Corinthian church had been taught this truth many times while Paul was among them, but they were using it as a theological excuse for sin. They ignored the truth, “only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13), which he surely had also taught them.
The use of any Christian liberty should be subject to the following questions:
(1) Does this practice contribute to my own spiritual growth and maturity?
(2) Does this practice contribute to the growth and maturity of fellow-believers?
(3) Does this practice further the gospel?
(4) Does this practice glorify God?
The Corinthians had perverted this truth to justify their sinning. They possibly used the same argument that Paul anticipated when he was explaining grace to the Roman church: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” (Rom. 6:1). They pretended to have theological justification for living as they wanted.
They may have had a philosophical argument for their sin as well, perhaps implied in 6:13, “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food.”
Much Greek philosophy considered everything physical, including the body, to be basically evil and therefore of no value. What was done with or to the body did not matter. Food was food, the stomach was the stomach, and sex was sex. Sex was just a biological function like eating, to be used just as food was used, to satisfy their appetites. The argument sounds remarkably modern.
Like many people today, the Corinthian Christians rationalized their sinful thinking and habits. They were clever at coming up with seemingly good reasons for doing wrong things. They also lived in a society that was notoriously immoral, a society that, in the temple prostitution and other ways, actually glorified promiscuous sex.
To have sexual relations with a prostitute was so common in Corinth that the practice came to be called “Corinthianizing.” Many believers had formerly been involved in such immorality, and it was hard for them to break with the old ways and easy to fall back into them. Just as it was hard for them to give up their love of human wisdom, their worldliness, their pride, their divisive spirit, and their love for suing, it was also hard for them to give up their sexual immorality.
The Law of Expediency (v. 12)
- “All things are lawful.”
- Must be considered in context.
- 1 Corinthians 9:21 – We are always under law to God and Christ.
- 1 Corinthians 10:23 – All things are lawful, but not everything edifies.
- Paul is discussing those things which are morally neutral.
- All things are not expedient. Three considerations regarding expediency.
- It must be lawful – Command, example or necessary inference.
- It must be edifying or that which builds up.
- It must not be enslaving.
- Things which are morally indifferent.
- Eating meat.
- Eating meat offered to an idol; but stay away from the idol temple because of one’s influence.
In 6:12-20 Paul shows three of the evils of sexual sin: it is harmful to everyone involved; it gains control over those who indulge in it; and it perverts God’s purpose for the body.
Sexual Sin Harms
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything (NASB).
“Everything is permissible, for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything (NIV).
“I am free to do anything,” you say. Yes, but not everything is for my good (New English Bible).
“For me there are no forbidden things”; maybe, but not everything does good (New Jerusalem Bible).
In this passage Paul is up against a whole series of problems. It ends with the summons, “Glorify God with your body.” This is Paul’s battle cry here.
The Greeks always looked down on the body. There was a proverbial saying, “The body is a tomb.” Epictetus said, “I am a poor soul shackled to a corpse.” The important thing was the soul, the spirit of a man; the body was a thing that did not matter. That produced one of two attitudes. Either it issued in the most rigorous asceticism in which everything was done to subject and humiliate the desires and instincts of the body. Or—and in Corinth it was this second outlook which was prevalent—it was taken to mean that, since the body was of no importance, you could do what you liked with it; you could let it sate its appetites. What complicated this was the doctrine of Christian freedom which Paul preached. If the Christian man is the freest of all men, then is he not free to do what he likes, especially with this completely unimportant body of his?
The particular type of sin Paul has in mind here (vv. 13-20) is sexual sin. No sin that a person commits has more built-in pitfalls, problems, and destructiveness than sexual sin. It has broken more marriages, shattered more homes, caused more heartache and disease, and destroyed more lives than alcohol and drugs combined. It causes lying, stealing, cheating, and killing, as well as bitterness, hatred, slander, gossip, and unforgivingness.
The dangers and harm of sexual sin are nowhere presented more vividly and forcefully than in Proverbs. “The lips of an adulteress drip honey, and smoother than oil is her speech” (Prov. 5:3).
The basic truth applies to a prostitute or to any other woman who tries to seduce a man. It also applies to a man who tries to seduce a woman. The point is that sexual allurement is extremely enticing and powerful. It seems nice, enjoyable, and good. It promises nothing but pleasure and satisfaction. But what it ends up giving “is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of Sheol. She does not ponder the path of life; her ways are unstable, she does not know it” (vv. 4-6).
The first characteristic of sexual sin is deceit. It never delivers what it promises. It offers great satisfaction but gives great disappointment. It claims to be real living but is really the way to death. Illicit sexual relationships are always “unstable.” Nothing binds those involved except the temporary and impersonal gratification of physical impulses.
Another tragedy of sexual sin is that often those involved do “not know it” is unstable, do not realize perhaps for a long time that their relationship cannot be lasting. Thus they fall deeper and deeper into the pit of their doomed relationship, which makes the dissolution all the more devastating and painful.
Those who consider all sex to be basically evil, however, are as far from the truth as those who consider all sex to be basically good and permissible. God is not against sex. He created and blessed it. When used exclusively within marriage, as the Lord intends, sex is beautiful, satisfying, and stabilizing. “Let your fountain he blessed,” Scripture says, “and rejoice in the wife of your youth.… exhilarated always with her love” (Prov. 5:18-19).
The Bible’s advice for avoiding sexual involvement outside marriage is simple: stay as far away as possible from the persons and places likely to get you in trouble. “Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8).
When we unavoidably get caught in such a situation, the only sensible thing to do is to get away from it as quickly as we can. Passion is not rational or sensible, and sexually dangerous situations should be avoided or fled, not debated.
Involvement in illicit sex leads to loss of health, loss of possessions, and loss of honor and respect. Every person who continues in such sins does not necessarily suffer all of those losses, but those are the types of loss that persistent sexual sin produces. The sex indulger will come to discover that he has lost his “years to the cruel one,” that his “hard-earned goods” have gone “to the house of an alien,” and that he will “groan” in his latter years and find his “flesh and [his] body are consumed” (Prov. 5:9-11). The “stolen water” of sexual relations outside of marriage “is sweet; and bread eaten in secret is pleasant”; but “the dead are there” (Prov. 9:17-18). Sexual sin is a “no win” situation. It is never profitable and always harmful.
Sexual Sin Controls
“Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything.
Paul was free in the grace of Christ to do as he pleased, but he refused to allow himself to be mastered by anything or anyone but Christ. He would not become enslaved to any habit or custom and certainly not to any sin. “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace” (Rom. 6:14).
No sin is more enslaving than sexual sin. The more it is indulged, the more it controls the indulger. Often it begins with small indiscretions, which lead to greater ones and finally to flagrant vice. The progression of sin is reflected in Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers” (v. 1). When we willingly associate with sin, we will soon come to tolerate it and then to practice it. Like all other sins that are not resisted, sins of sex will grow and eventually they will corrupt and destroy not only the persons directly involved but many innocent persons besides.
The Corinthians were no strangers to sins of sex, and unfortunately many believers there had gone back to them. In the name of Christian freedom they had become controlled by their own fleshly desires.
Paul wrote the Thessalonians, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3-5). The context argues that “vessel” is here a synonym for body rather than for wife, as many interpreters hold. Every believer is to rightly possess, rightly control, his own body. If we are living in the Spirit, we “are putting to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13).
It is not as easy to be in control of ourselves as we sometimes think. Many people are deceived in thinking they are perfectly in control of their thoughts and actions, simply because they always do what they want. The fact, however, is that their desires and passions are telling them what to do, and they are going along. They are not masters of their desires, but are willing slaves. Their flesh is controlling their minds.
Paul himself testifies that he had to “buffet [his] body and make it [his] slave, lest possibly, after [he had] preached to others, [he himself] should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). Buffet (hupōpiazō) means literally, “to give a black eye, or to beat the face black and blue.” To keep his body from enslaving him, he had to enslave his body. Otherwise he could become disqualified, not for salvation but for holy living and useful service to God.
Sexual Sin Perverts
Paul’s teaching in our text is but an abbreviated version of what he has taught in Romans 6. The Christian dare not feel free to “live in sin,” because he or she has “died to sin” when joined by faith to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Dying to sin is symbolized in Christian baptism. By going under the water, we proclaim in a symbolic way that we died in Christ, and were buried. By coming forth from the water, we proclaim that we have been raised from the dead, in Christ, now enabled to live an entirely new life. To continue to live in sin is to deny everything we believed when we were saved, and everything we symbolically proclaim when we were baptized.
Sexual sin not only harms and controls but also perverts. It especially perverts God’s plan and purpose for the bodies of His people. A Christian’s body is for the Lord; it is a member of Christ; and it is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
The Body Is for the Lord
13 “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”–but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.
Food and the stomach were created by God for each other. Their relationship is purely biological. It is likely the Corinthians were using this truth as an analogy to justify sexual immorality. The Greek text says literally, “The foods the belly, the belly the foods.” Perhaps this was popular proverb meant to celebrate the idea that “Sex is no different from eating: the stomach was made for food, and the body was made for sex.” But Paul stops them short. “It is true that food and the stomach were made for each other,” he is saying, “but it is also true that that relationship is purely temporal.” One day, when their purpose has been fulfilled, God will do away with both of them. That biological process has no place in the eternal state.
Not so with the body itself. The bodies of believers are designed by God for much more than biological functions. The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. Paul had a better proverb in mind with that statement. The body is to be the instrument of the Lord, for His use and glory.
Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Our bodies are designed not only to serve in this life but in the life to come. They will be changed bodies, resurrected bodies, glorified bodies, heavenly bodies—but they will still he our own bodies.
The stomach and food have only a horizontal, temporal relationship. At death the relationship ceases. But our bodies are far more than biological. For believers they also have a spiritual, vertical relationship. They belong to God and they will forever endure with God. That is why Paul says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Phil. 3:20-21). We need to take serious care of this body because it will rise in glory to be the instrument that carries our eternally glorious and pure spirit throughout eternity.
The Body Is a Member of Christ
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.
Paul referred to the Creation account (Gen. 2:24) to explain the seriousness of sexual sin. When a man and woman join their bodies, the entire personality is involved. There is a much deeper experience, a “oneness” that brings with it deep and lasting consequences. Paul warned that sexual sin is the most serious sin a person can commit against his body, for it involves the whole person (1 Cor. 6:18). Sex is not just a part of the body. Being “male” and “female” involves the total person. Therefore, sexual experience affects the total personality.
Paul’s next point follows logically. For a Christian to commit sexual immorality is to make the members of Christ… members of a harlot. It is to use a part of Christ’s own body in an act of fornication or adultery. The idea is incomprehensible to Paul, as it should be to every believer. May it never be!
Sexual relations involve a union; the man and woman become one flesh. This indicates that the most essential meaning of the phrase one flesh (see Gen. 2:24; etc.) is sexual union. God takes sexual sin seriously because it corrupts and shatters spiritual relationships, both human and divine.
Christ’s people are one spirit with Him. That statement is filled with profound meaning and wondrous implications. But for his purpose here, Paul uses it to show that a Christian who commits sexual immorality involves his Lord. All sex outside of marriage is sin, but when it is committed by believers it is especially reprehensible, because it profanes Jesus Christ, with whom the believer is one (cf. John 14:18-23; 15:4, 7; 17:20-23). Since we are one with Christ, and the sex sinner is one with his partner, Christ is placed in an unthinkable position in Paul’s reasoning. Christ is not personally tainted with the sin, any more than the sunbeam that shines on a garbage dump is polluted. But His reputation is dirtied because of the association.
Paul’s counsel regarding sexual sin is the same as Solomon’s in the book of Proverbs: Flee immorality. The present imperative of the Greek indicates the idea is to flee continually and to keep fleeing until the danger is past. When we are in danger of such immorality, we should not argue or debate or explain, and we certainly should not try to rationalize. We are not to consider it a spiritual challenge to be met but a spiritual trap to be escaped. We should get away as fast as we can.
Paul does not elucidate on what he means by Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. I believe he is saying that, although sexual sin is not necessarily the worst sin, it is the most unique in its character. It rises from within the body bent on personal gratification. It drives like no other impute and when fulfilled affects the body like no other sin. It has a way of internally destroying a person that no other sin has. Because sexual intimacy is the deepest uniting of two persons, its misuse corrupts on the deepest human level. That is not a psychological analysis but a divinely revealed fact. Sexual immorality is far more destructive than alcohol, far more destructive than drugs, far more destructive than crime.
The Body Is a Temple of the Holy Spirit
19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
God the Father created our bodies; God the Son redeemed them and made them part of His body; and God the Spirit indwells our bodies and makes them the very temple of God. How can we defile God’s temple by using our bodies for immorality?
As Christians our bodies are not our own. Paul puts sting into this verse by framing it as a sarcastic question. They are the Lord’s, members of Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit, who has been given by God to indwell us. So Paul calls for sexual purity not only because of the way sexual sin affects the body, but because the body it affects is not even the believer’s own. Understanding the reality of the phrase the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God should give us as much commitment to purity as any knowledge of divine truth could.
To commit sexual sin in a church auditorium, disgusting as that would be, would be no worse than committing the sin anywhere else. Offense is made within God’s sanctuary wherever and whenever sexual immorality is committed by believers. Every act of fornication, every act of adultery by Christians, is committed in God’s sanctuary: their own bodies. “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). The fact that Christians are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit is indicated in passages such as John 7:38-39; 20:22; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:9; and 1 Corinthians 12:3. The fact that God sent the Holy Spirit is clear from John 14:16-17; 15:26; and Acts 2:17, 33, 38.
We no longer belong to ourselves because we have been bought with a price. We were not “redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from [our] futile way of life inherited from [our] forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18-19).
Christians’ bodies are God’s temple, and a temple is for worship. Our bodies, therefore, have one supreme purpose: to glorify God. This is a call to live so as to bring honor to the person of God, who alone is worthy of our obedience and adoration.
A very popular word today used even in Christian circles is the psychological word, “addiction.” Virtually every malady known to man is described as an “addiction.” Men and women, under the bondage of sexual immorality are said to have a “sexual addiction.” Alcoholism is spoken of as an addiction, one for which the individual under bondage is hardly seen to be responsible (after all, it was genetically predestined). Food is an addiction. And now, co-dependency is an addiction. Where will these addictions end? I think I know. They end with a new Master, Jesus Christ. We can serve but one master. When that Master is our Lord Jesus Christ, all other “masters” must be set aside.
 William Barclay, The Letters to the Corinthians, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1975), p. 3.
 D. H. Madvig, “Corinth,” The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed., Geoffrey W. Bromiley, General Editor (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1979), vol. I, p. 773.