Christianity and the Body

(PHOTO: Stephen L. Harris, New Testament: A Student’s Introduction, 5th ed. (Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies, 2006), 367.)  

Pastor Joe Skogmo

St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lowry, MN

01.14.2018 – Epiphany 2 – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

“All things are lawful for me.” (1 Corinthians 6:12)…was the smug response which Paul received from the Corinthians when he questioned the morality of church members who were engaging in habitual sexual activity with prostitutes.

First, a brief background on this letter from Paul to the Corinthians. In the early 50sCE, roughly 20 years after Christ’s death and resurrection, the Apostle Paul had founded numerous congregations in the Greco-Roman world. One of those congregations was in the city of Corinth, Greece.[1]

The city of Corinth in Paul’s day was a “busy seaport” on the Mediterranean Sea and it “was famous for its prosperity, trade, [and] notorious for its legions of prostitutes.”[2] Corinth was a place with a freewheeling atmosphere which ran the reputation for wild behavior. In laymen’s terms, Corinth was a party town.

This party town was the context of Paul’s young congregation. A context where it was common, particularly, for “elite, married males” to regularly engage multiple women in “sexual relationships”[3] and this sexual abuse and recklessness was the specific issue being addressed here in 1 Corinthians 6.

Not only that, the Corinthians had been using some pretty interesting excuses for their sexual behavior. For instance, they used Paul’s very preaching to justify it. They used the message that they are forgiven of their sin—their freedom in Christ—as a green light to continue engaging in sexual promiscuity.

‘All things are lawful for us’ (v. 12)—you said so yourself, Paul!

Then, they apparently added other arguments, particularly, this one: food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food (v. 13). In other words, We have these bodies and we have urges, so let us do our thing, Paul!

And that’s not all—remember the culture here. Paul has started a church in the middle of Greece. And Greek philosophy at that time “placed little or no value on [the body].”[4] According to the philosopher, Plato, the material world, including the body is unimportant; the body is ultimately a shell for the much more valuable soul.[5] In other words, in ancient Greek culture the body was not considered sacred.[6] So who cares what you do with it, right, Paul?

So what we have here is Paul’s congregation a) using the Gospel: you said we’re free, Paul, and b) using philosophical arguments: the body isn’t worth anything anyway!—all to justify the patronizing of prostitutes! In summarizing this, it sure does make our annual meeting agenda next week seem pretty tame, doesn’t it!? Could you imagine?

Agenda:

Business Items

  1. Capital Campaign Report
  2. 2018 Budget
  3. Prostitution – Do it? Or not do it?

Nevertheless, a main issue, here, is how to understand and view the human body. That’s what’s at issue here.

These Corinthians think that their freedom in Christ permits them to do anything they want with their body and their Greek philosophy placed little value on the body. In result, sexual promiscuity and sexual violence was rampant.

So Paul addresses this issue and their arguments. Paul’s response to the first argument is clear: the Gospel frees us, yes. But he argues that it doesn’t free us to be degenerates of destructive behavior; not all things are beneficial (vv. 1, 12-13). We are not freed to hurt others, but to serve others!

Then Paul gives insight into how Christians should regard the human body.

But before we get into that, I want to make note that disregard for the body is not an issue from which we are so far removed.

Today in our culture the body is not valued. It is either shamed or it is abused.

On one hand, we don’t regard the body as something beautiful and sacred. This is shown in a variety of ways.

We ridicule or gossip about others’ bodies, especially if they don’t uphold the nearly impossible social standard for what is a beautiful body.

And sometimes we ridicule or gossip about those who dress confidently or less conservatively.

Sometimes we ridicule and shame our own body. Many of us look in the mirror and we loath and despise it, as if it is some object of which we should be embarrassed, rather than a sacred creation of God.

We are generally ashamed of the body. And this isn’t only from our nature or social standards—some very conservative sects of Christianity even physically punish the body as if it were this dirty element in need of constant reprimand.

And if we’re not condemning the body – others’ or our own – we go completely another harmful direction and we exploit, degrade, use, and abuse the body.

Prostitution is still a reality. Sexual abuse cases are hourly. This watershed moment of sexual assault victims coming forward speaks volumes to how little value some give the body. Sex trafficking is one of the globe’s most permeating problems, and even here in Pope County. And if it isn’t outright abuse, the objectification of the body is in every magazine, movie, television show, and advertisement. The most outrageous example might be Hardees, who unapologetically uses women’s bodies to sell hamburgers.

The human body is reduced to a marketing decoration at best and an object of violence at worst.

And here Paul is reminding us that these are “sins against the body” (6:18), as he proclaims to his Corinthians that the body is not worthless, but it is sacred.

It is created in the image of God, a part of the creation that God calls, “very good” (Genesis 1:27, 31). To these shaming, destructive, and abusive behaviors, Paul is pleading, “Do you not know that your body is a Temple of the Holy Spirit…which you have from God?” (1 Cor 6:19)!

And we see a remarkable example of this understanding in the Psalm today, of how to view our own and others’ bodies. No shame or exploitation with the psalmist’s understanding:

For it was [God] who formed my inward parts; [God who] knit me in my mother’s womb…I am fearfully and wonderfully made…My frame…intricately woven in the depths of the earth”

Psalm 139:13-15

Sisters and brothers, here is the law: stop shaming, judging, and exploiting the body; rather encourage, lift up, and take care of yours and others’ bodies.

Here is the gospel: your bodies are “very good”, your bodies belong to Christ, your bodies are redeemed and worthy of resurrection. Your bodies are sacred. Amen.

     [1] Stephen L. Harris, The New Testament: A Student’s Introduction (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2006), 336.

     [2] Ibid., 337.

     [3] David E. Fredrickson, “1 Corinthians” in The Lutheran Study Bible (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2009), 1881.

     [4] Walter Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 111.

     [5] Stanley J. Grenz, David Guretzky, and Cherith Fee Nordling, Pocket Dictionary of Theological Terms (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 91.

     [6] Walter Brueggemann, Texts for Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV—Year B (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 111.

Leave a Comment