(A) Introduction. (Read the reference)

In the second part of Corinthians6 Paul deals starkly, bluntly and at times almost crudely with the problem of sexual permissiveness. Of all the passages that I have dealt with in my expositions this gave me most trouble. Paul does not make very clear what sexual immorality is or why prostitution is such a great evil. Some things he writes are very difficult to understand and I am not altogether in sympathy with him or the conservative evangelical scholars who comment on the verses under consideration. He underestimates the problem of persistent, unsatisfied sexual desire. Perhaps I, like the Corinthians, have been infected by the permissive society in which I live.

(B) Qualified freedom

It seems likely that: "Everything is permissible for me. v11." was a favourite saying or catch phrase of the Corinthians. They used it to justify making use of prostitutes.

Paul himself was partly responsible for this. The apostle was bitterly opposed to legalism and taught that Christ set a believer free from the demands of the law. He wrote to the Galatians: It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Gal5v1. But in the same epistle he also qualifies this freedom: You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. Gal5v13.

He found it necessary to challenge the Corinthians' concept of Christian freedom. He used two arguments:

    (a) Not everything is beneficial:

      (I) To ourselves. I love the game of Bridge. I certainly do not think it is wrong to play Bridge. However, I have not joined a Bridge Club because I fear it would waste far too much of my time. Jesus has set me free of the old sabbatarian rules and regulations. I do not believe it is wrong to play games on Sunday. But I do not play cricket on Sunday because it would interfere with my worship - it would not be spiritually beneficial.

      (II) To others. It is permissible to leave one church to attend another in the same locality. Before taking such a decision I must decide whether it is beneficial to the church I leave. A Christian is free to resign from a church office - but should not if this is not to the advantage of his or her fellowship. It is not wrong to keep peacocks unless the noisy birds are going to disturb my neighbour's peace of mind.

      (III) To society. A rich Christian is free to buy a large car - a gas-guzzler. Maybe Christians should desist from such purchases if they are going to be detrimental to the environment and society. Paul would argue that prostitution had a thoroughly bad effect upon society.

    (b) I will not be mastered by anything.

    So many things can be a ruling passion. I can recall many years ago travelling in a car with a man from my village called Phil. He spent the entire journey describing in minutest detail the exact sequence of drinks he had in the Hartest Crown the night before. Drink was his consuming interest. There are others, not one wit better, who will go into raptures about some gourmet meal. Many people are mastered by their hobby whether it is collecting rare maps, playing bowls or watching TV. Samuel Pepys was obsessed by sex. He had a young wife but she was not enough for him. He also needed to grope the maids, seduce shipyard worker's wives and resort to prostitutes. He was so taken with some beauties' neck in church that he pleasured himself in the pew!

(C) Bodily desires need satisfying.

Another slogan of the Corinthians was: Food for the stomach and the stomach for food. Food and the stomach were made for one another. We eat food to satisfy our appetite. Bodily needs must be satisfied. Some members of the church at Corinth used this argument to justify having sex with a prostitute. It is a powerful argument whatever Paul might say. Bodily needs are urgent - for food, drink, sleep, evacuation of waste, relief from pain and for sex. A motorist has only to be trapped for hours in a traffic jam on one of Britain's congested roads to discover this. When someone is desperate to urinate there is not much else he or she thinks about.

(1) Let us consider the bodily appetite for food.

There are three possible conditions:

    (a) A person gets regular, nourishing meals that are enjoyed and which satisfy. Such a person is content and his desire for food does not pose a temptation. He is a happy man. Most of the population of England would fall into this category.

    (b) A person is gluttonous. Some rich Romans lived to eat. They over indulged until sated. Then, in order to eat some more, a feather was used to tickle the inner ear and induce vomiting. Gluttony is more sophisticated in the West. There are folk who spend huge sums on food - going from one extravagant food experience to another. Gluttons are those to whom Paul referred when he wrote: Their God is their belly. Phil3v19.

    (c) A person does not get enough to eat and is always hungry. You can live a long time hungry. Seriously malnourished individuals will spend a lot of time thinking and fantasizing about food. This was the experience of Alexander Solzhenitsyn in the Gulag. I read about a Jew in Prague at the beginning of the last World War who had no job and no money and as a consequence no food. He would stand drooling outside the window of a butcher's shop - a bit like a man in prison panting over pornographic pictures. Hunger is not an ideal condition! It is miserable.

    But we have to ask the question: are hungry people justified in doing anything to satisfy their insistent appetite? Solzhenitsyn described how the zeks of the prison camps were corrupted by their hunger. Some stole from the weak; women sold their bodies for a plate of fried potatoes; inmates of both sexes turned informer to improve their diet and a sad, grey, grimy group scoured the rubbish dumps for pieces of discarded gristle to chew on. Solzhenitsyn observed that not all were corrupted. The desire for food does not legitimize every action to get it.

(2) Let us consider the bodily desire for sex.

Once again there are three possible conditions:

    (a) Contentment. A happily married Christian couple who are sexually compatible and follow Paul's advice in 1Cor7v1to6 should experience few problems regarding sex. It is unlikely to be a source of temptation. Christians who are relatively untroubled by sexual temptation should count their blessings and not be too judgmental of those who fall into temptation.

    (b) Obsession. There are some, like Samuel Pepys and Georges Simenon, for whom sex with a wife or husband is not enough. Simenon, the author of the Maigret books and a writer I much admire, desired many and various sexual encounters. He indulged his desires! For him sex was a controlling passion. His god was his gonads!

    (c) Frustration. Finally there is the man or woman with an unsatisfied bodily desire for sex. They will be like the starving man. They will fantasize and be guilty of voyeurism - but not usually outside a butcher's shop.

    Nevertheless, bodily desire does not make anything legitimate. Paul recognised the intensity of the sex drive and suggested a solution: Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 1Cor7v8.

    I wonder how this would go down as a marriage proposal in church circles today: "Will you marry me - I burn with desire for you. I need you to help me control my urges."

    The fact of the matter is that many believers do not find Christian partners and they burn on and on and on. The question remains: What is legitimate and what is not. Some advocate perfect purity in the matter citing Christ's remark: "You have heard that it was said, 'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Mt5v27. I think that the section on the Sermon on the Mount containing the, 'You have heard that it was said' sayings is prefaced by some irony on Jesus' part. For example he said: "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." Mt5v20. It is possible that Jesus is saying that if we want to enter the kingdom of heaven by works we shall have to reach the very highest standard - one that none of us can attain. I do not believe it is possible to be sexually frustrated and to abstain from lust. However, it is possible to keep away from prostitutes. Paul certainly did not consider the use of prostitutes in any circumstances appropriate behaviour for a Christian.

(D) Contempt for the body.

I think that the phrase: but God will destroy them both is part of the saying: "Food for the stomach and the stomach for food." In other words the inverted commas in the NIV are in the wrong place. I do not believe that Paul uses the phrase to distinguish between eating and having sex. Hunger for food and the appetite for sex are both bodily desires; eating and sexual intercourse are both bodily functions and neither involves more of the body than the other.

The Corinthians are arguing that in the end both the old body and its needs will be destroyed - so what does it matter how we treat our bodies or if we indulge our senses. It is a bit like a hostess telling us to eat up, to finish the food, because it is all going to be thrown out at the end of the feast or squatters living carelessly in a house that is condemned and due for demolition.

There is some truth in the argument of the Corinthians. In the new heavens and new earth there will be no pain (Rev21v4), no hunger or thirst (Rev7v16 and John6v27) and no sex.(Lk21v25).

We can be contemptuous of our bodies. We cannot wait to shuffle of this mortal coil. It is possible to almost hate our bodies because they give us so much trouble. Our bodies may be:

(1) Embarrassing. I was held up recently in a traffic jam for 2 hours. When I sloped off to urinate behind some bushes I heard two woman making coarse remarks in their car and gurgling like drains. I have known ladies stop away from chapel because their hair is such a mess or because they are having problems with their dentures.

(2) Humbling. We do no like to be reminded that we share bodily needs with the animals. It is very difficult to retain your dignity in the grip of winter vomiting sickness. We prefer to be alone when violently vomiting into the toilet.

(3) Unruly. The bodily desires are hard to control. It is this that led many in the past to mortify their bodies by fasting or flagellation.

(4) Trying. We fear our bodies for the pain they inflict. I read a story last week by Leo Tolstoy entitled, 'The Death of Ivan Ilyich.' The relatively young civil servant, Ivan, probably had an abscess on the kidney. The pain he suffered gradually got worse and worse until it dominated his whole existence. He spent the last three days of his life screaming incessantly.

It is very easy to think to ourselves that it is the spiritual that matters - our knowledge, belief, wisdom, ideas, creativity, character and personality. The body is just a confounded nuisance!

(E) The body does matter.

Rather surprisingly to me Paul argues very strongly that the body does matter. He gives five good reasons we should value our bodies:

(1) It is for the Lord.
The body is ........ for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. v13. Therefore honour God with your body. v20.

We serve God with our bodies - not as disembodies spirits. Manual labour and dexterity can be dedicated to the Lord's service. Paul supported, not just himself, but his missionary colleagues by his leatherworker's needle. The glorious cathedrals of England, the wonderful gardens of our green and fertile land and gorgeous religious music could not have been created without the co-operation of the body. Corrie ten Boom wrote a chapter in her book, 'Tramp for the Lord', entitled, 'One Finger for His Glory'. A Lithuanian woman with multiple sclerosis used her index finger - the only part of her body over which she could still exercise control - to type out Christian literature banned by the communist regime at the time.

            When she enters the beautiful city
            And the saved all around her appear,
            Many people around will tell her:
            It was you that invited me here.

So we should take some care of our bodies. I gave up smoking cigars - a habit that gave me a lot of pleasure but to which I was not addicted - because it was beginning to affect my larynx and interfere with my singing and preaching.

We can honour God with our bodies by showing self-restraint. My mother, according to her love letters to my father, refrained from sexual intercourse until after marriage to honour Jesus. It is pretty evident from her letters that it wasn't easy for either of them to wait! When I was at University I attended the starvation lunches organised by the Methodists. We had a piece of bread and cheese and gave what we usually spent on our mid day meal to Oxfam. This honoured God. Sadly I have lost some of the idealism of youth. But, like so many, I still perform routine, mundane and humbling tasks for Christ.

(2) We are members of Christ's body.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is part of it. 1Cor12v27.

Believers exist in the closest association with Jesus. Our relationship with him should be as intimate as that between the head and the hands and feet. So, what we do will reflect upon Christ our living head. There is no doubt that the grosser sins bring the church, Christ's body, into disrepute. The world does not deal sympathetically with clergymen who use prostitutes.

(3) The bodies of believers will be raised from the dead.
God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 1Corv14.

Our resurrection bodies will be new bodies - imperishable, glorious, powerful and spiritual. Nonetheless the old is not lost but rather taken into the new. Jesus was changed after his resurrection but he remained recognisable by his voice, gestures and the nail prints in his hands. God must consider the body is vital to us as human beings if he is going to equip us with new ones for all eternity. We should never forget that Jesus the Son has a body. (See Article on Heaven and Hell - The Resurrection.)

(4) Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have received from God. v19.

This is not a description that I am very happy with. I tend to think that if our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit why does God allow them to go to rack and ruin - to get ravaged by disease.

I prefer Jesus description of the body as a house or home. See Luke11v24to26. My body is the home of my spirit and the Holy Spirit is an honoured guest, an indispensable resident. I would be foolish to do anything to my home that would upset or offend the honoured guest. Of course as time goes on the honoured guest gets taken for granted and we begin to assume that nothing will offend him.

(5) We are not our own.
You are not your own; you were bought at a price. v19.

Christians belong to Jesus. When we gave him our heart we gave him our bodies as well. Believers are on earth to serve his interests. We can do this with our bodies as much as with our spirits.

(F) Application to prostitution.

(1) Some objections to Paul's condemnation of prostitution.

    (a) How is a prostitute any worse than a butcher? The butcher supplies lamb chops to satisfy hunger and the prostitute provides her body to satisfy sexual desire.

    Well there is a difference. No-one eats the butcher. He, unlike the prostitute, does not sell himself to gratify physical desire.

    (b) How is a prostitute any worse than a physiotherapist who spends her time massaging the rich to make them feel good? Actually, we might say that the physiotherapist who pampers the rich for gain and does not help those in real need is prostituting her skill. She is putting her expertise to an unworthy use.

    Paul would doubtless argue that a prostitute puts her body to unworthy use in gratifying sexual desire for money. But, what about the woman who has a few clients that she sees regularly and for whom she develops a real concern. She is happy to give them some pleasure and provide relief from sexual frustration. How is a prostitute of this type so different from a masseur? Both are being paid for services rendered.

    (c) How is a marriage contracted to satisfy a man's sexual drive and a woman's desire for a home and material support any better than prostitution? Some might well say: "Not much better at all." They are both a kind of contract involving sex for money.

    However, many arranged marriages work. Why is this? Marriage is a long-term relationship. There are obligations on both sides. It is highly possible that as time progresses a couple will develop a genuine regard for one another - so affection, friendship or even romantic love blossoms. A married couple also provide a secure environment for children to be born into and grow up in.

    If prostitution became widespread it would undermine the institution of marriage and prove a poor alternative to it. In all likelihood the birth rate would drop and more children would be brought up by single women. Prostitution is not beneficial to society.

    Nor is it beneficial to women. Prostitutes are rivals to wives. Prostitutes themselves are at risk from disease, violence and exploitation. Once they lose their physical charms they are discarded - although in this they are not so different from professional sportsmen most of whom have a very short shelf life!

(2) The transaction between a prostitute and client falls so far short of the ideal.

Marriage is what God intends for men and women. See Genesis2, Matthew19v4to6 and Malachi2v10to16. It is far superior because:

    (a) Of its permanency and security.

    (b) Husband and wife become one person - united in body and spirit. Sex with a prostitute is wholly a fleshly union. Paul wrote: For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." v16. I don't think Paul uses this expression in the sense it was used in Gen2v24. This is what the Pulpit Commentary says about Gen2v24: The language points to a unity of persons and not simply a conjunction of bodies, or a community of interests, or even a reciprocity of affections. Jesus said: "So they are no longer two but one". Malachi wrote: Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit they are his. Mal2v15.

    A man using a prostitute has no spiritual affinity to her. The fleshly union is very different from the relationship a Christian has with Jesus. Paul writes: But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in Spirit. v17.

    (c) In a loving Christian marriage a husband makes a gift of his body to his wife and a wife makes a gift of her body to her husband. Sex with a prostitute falls way below this standard. The client takes sexual gratification and the prostitute takes the money. We sin when we fall below God's standard.

    (d) In marriage a Christian husband is called upon to love his wife sacrificially even as Jesus loves his followers sacrificially. See Ephesians5v25to33. A Christian wife should submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ. See Ephesians5v22to24. A man should love his wife as himself and a woman should respect the needs of her husband as far as sex within marriage is concerned.

    There is no love in prostitution - men use women and women exploit men. The prostitute has no respect for her client. She is putting her body to unworthy use - she is prostituting it.

(3) The uniqueness of sexual sin.
Verse 18 is very strange: All other sins a man commits outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

I cannot understand this verse as it is translated in the NIV. Surely sins like gluttony, drunkeness, drug addiction, mutilation, flagellation, physical sloth and suicide are sins against the body.

A sin outside the body is a sin of the mind or imagination. Perhaps, the Authorised Version, always the most literally translation, if slightly amended makes more sense. The AV puts it: Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is without the body. Amended it reads: Flee fornication. Every sin a man does that is without the body. In other words flee the sins of the imagination: fantasising, covetousness and lust. This is easier said than done! It would be a fine achievement but it is not one that I have attained.

Then Paul goes on to write: But if you engage in actual sexual immorality, like using prostitutes, you sin against your own body.

Why don't I use prostitutes? Cynics might say: You don't want to pay. You are frightened of acquiring an infectious disease. You are fearful of being found out. These are not the only reasons! I am unwilling to engage in an act of bodily intimacy with someone who doesn't care a jot for me, who probably holds me in contempt, who doesn't desire affection or even pleasure from me and who can't wait for it to be over so she can go to the next customer. I would bring my body very low by having sex with a prostitute. I would be encouraging a woman to sin against my body, to exploit my bodily desires for gain.

When a Christian engages in sexual sin he or she does not live up to Paul's challenge to the Romans: Therefore, I urge you, brothers, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God - this is your spiritual act of worship. Rom12v1. It is a challenge that I have never risen to which is why I have found it difficult to produce this exposition.

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