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1 Corinthians 6:12-20 by Robert Dean
Series:1st Corinthians (2002)
Duration:1 hr 1 mins 45 secs

Application of Positional Truth; 1 Corinthians 6:12-20


Here is this passage we have an interesting scenario because of the emphasis on sexual immorality and the problems they had in Corinth. There are two things that are important to understand in terms of background. The first has to do with the role of ritual sex in the fertility religions and idolatry that was prevalent in Greece. The second is to understand something about the philosophical climate of ancient Greece. In Platonism there was a dualism that emphasizes a dichotomy between matter and idea. Anything that is material is separated from anything that is spiritual so that one does not have any impact on the other. Whatever happens in the material realm has nothing to do with what is going on in the spiritual realm. Matter is often thought of as being evil, limiting, restricting, whereas that which is spiritual is good.  There was this dualism and dichotomy in life so that whatever happens to the physical body, whatever happens to the material body has nothing to do with what happens spiritually and it is basically evil. The result of this was that the physical body of man is reduced in significance. It either has a very limited significance, all the way to being downright evil. This is the kind of thinking that produced monasticism and fed into a lot of asceticism in the early church. Early Platonism went through several modifications and by the time of the early church which became known as neo-Platonism, and Augustine, who was considered one of the great church fathers and architects of what became known as Roman Catholic theology, was a neo-Platonist. So there were these elements of neo-Platonic thought influencing Christianity all through the early church where anything having to do with the physical body is just not important, is insignificant, and that gave rise to the whole doctrine of celibacy, to the priesthood and the whole idea that sexual relations in marriage were simply for the purpose of procreation and having children and wasn't created for pleasure, and if you have pleasure in sex you ought to feel guilty about it. And, of course, that produces a wh0ole array of Catholic guilt. All of this goes back to the influence of Greek philosophy on early church Christianity.

The Corinthians had a slightly different problem because of the influence of Platonism, and this that is cause them to think that you could do just about anything, it really didn't matter, it didn't affect you spiritually. Whatever you did in the physical body had no relationship whatsoever to the soul or the spiritual life, they were just completely separated and completely distinguished. Some of the things that Paul says will sound a little bizarre and a little extreme if we don't realize the significance of what he is saying in light of this background.

Another thing that we must understand if we are going to properly interpret this passage is that everything that is said here is not coming from the apostle Paul. That is a difficult thing for interpreters to deal with because in the original Greek text when they wrote, they wrote everything in straight capital letters. There was no punctuation. Punctuation is usually indicated through the use of various grammatical and syntactical devices. Sometimes you just have to understand the sense of what is going on before you realize that there are often quotations within a passage that are just statements that may not reflect the author or Paul's view but they are the words—at least three slogans in this passage—that were just common statements made by the Corinthians. So Paul states them and then he refutes them. But in many of the English Bibles there is no indication of that and when we look at a passage like verse 12, which begins, "All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable." That may sound like something the apostle Paul would say, but Paul doesn't say that. This is a slogan or phrase that the Corinthians are using to justify their licentiousness. They are saying, "All things are lawful for me, everything is okay, I'm saved by grace, all the sins are paid for, everything is just fine and legal." Paul contrasts that by saying, "Not all things are profitable." He is going to quote their own words back to them and then juxtapose the divine viewpoint. This is a tremendous technique for teaching because it helps people see more clearly the truth of God's Word.

Verses 12-20 form a conclusion to the previous two chapters but they also, if you look at it structurally, set the stage for talking about issues that Paul is gong to cover beginning in chapter seven. One of the first issues that Paul has to deal with in chapter eight is the problem of food that is sacrificed to idols and the issue of doubtful things. That is foreshadowed here in vv. 12-13.

[12] "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." The words "are lawful" is the Greek EXESTIN [e)cestin], and it means all things are possible or all things are permissible. Their idea is that now that I am saved and am in Christ, and Christ paid the penalty for all my sins, I can do anything, it won't have any real impact on my spiritual life. This happens all the time. People get some Christian ideas and they just sort of blend that with some human viewpoint that they already have, and they come up with a whole new twist on things. They had this Platonic idea that any sins that they committed in the body didn't really have any impact whatsoever on their spiritual life or on their soul, so they could do whatever they wanted to do and be involved with any kind of sexual relationship and it didn't have any impact on anything else. So Paul first states their principle that all things are lawful, and he counters it by saying that not all things are profitable. That is the principle. As a believer we have to recognize that even thought we have freedom in Christ—Galatians 5:1—and that there are many activities that we may engage in as believers that are not sin per se, they are activities that might create problems for other people around us at the time. For that reason we have to exercise caution. There are also things that may be just good things for us to do but they are not really priorities, they are not the best. And the thing that destroys most people in their spiritual life, i.e. the initial subtle assault, is not that they make a decision between that which is good and that which is bad and choose bad, but the choices between the good and the better and they choose the good rather than the best. They put something else that is not a sin in place of the importance of Bible doctrine and the application of Bible doctrine. So the Corinthians are using this particular slogan to justify their licentiousness because they are in affect rejecting the authority of God. There is a play of words here because the word EXESTIN is very closely related to the word EXOUSIA [e)cousia] which has to do with authority.

What they are having trouble learning is that there is no such thing as unbridled freedom. This is a problem that many people today do not understand, that when you have unrestrained freedom it destroys freedom for all, because if I do everything that I want to do and have the freedom to do, sooner or later I am going to infringe on your freedom and cause some kind of restraint on it. So freedom must always be exercised with responsibility and sensitivity towards others. Freedom is not the absence of authority but discipline within a correct authority. Freedom is not absence of authority; that is a human viewpoint concept. When you have freedom without authority the result is anarchy. On the other hand, authority without freedom is tyranny. Freedom clearly includes the right of privacy, the right of self-determination, the right to hold your own opinions, and to have property and to hold property.

Paul goes on to say, "All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." There Paul recognizes the principle that when you are free and you give yourself to whatever you want to it can eventually enslave you as a habit because it is not being used in relationship to doctrinal principles. This brings us to principles related to doubtful things and how to make decisions related to areas that are not specifically addressed by the Word of God. There are four laws that are involved here and the first is the law of liberty. This law recognizes that God has saved us and set us free from the slave market of sin. But if you look carefully at Romans chapter six the only thing that happened was that the slave master changed from being a slave to the sin nature to being a slave to righteousness. As a believer you are not independent, you are not autonomous. This is how Paul is going to end this discussion, by reminding the Corinthians that they were bought by a price and they do have a new owner, and that is Jesus Christ. We have the freedom to engage in any activity that is not sinful and any activity that will not cause us to fail before the Lord. The problem is that many of those activities can be distractions for us in our spiritual life, so there are also restrictions. And some of those activities can be distractions at times for other people. But we do have the freedom to engage in any activity that is not specifically forbidden or prohibited by the Word of God, despite the fact that there are many Christians who have for their own personal reasons decided that it is not wise for them to engage in this activity or that activity. What happens with the legalist is they start mandating those decisions on other Christians. It may be that one believer decides that because of particular weaknesses in his sin nature it is not wise for him to drink alcoholic beverages, but then if he says it is not wise for anybody else to that is when you start moving into legalism. Sometimes you have to say as a believer that this is fine, other believers can do such and so activity but I can't, it would be just too much of a problem for me. We do have liberty. The law of liberty is the first law.

The second law is the law of love and this is the principle that takes other believers into consideration. It is under the law of love that we have concern for the weaker brother, so that instead of exercising our freedom in some areas when we know that there is someone present who has a particular problem we are not going to rub their nose in it, we are not going to show off and emphasize our freedom because it may make them susceptible to some temptation. This doesn't mean that if you go out to eat in a public restaurant and Joe Weaker-Brother is sitting at another table, and you know that he is an alcoholic, that you decide you are not going to have a glass of wine because if he sees me have a glass of wine then that may cause him to stumble. If that is the way you reason, which is the reasoning of an extremely superficial immature Christian and is what dominates most Christianity—I won't do such and such because if somebody sees me do it they might sin—and you follow that to its logical conclusion, do not ever go out of your front door. Because there is just about any behaviour that you can engage in that someone else can use to rationalize and justify their irresponsible behaviour, based on that. So it not just something that is restricted to alcohol or consumption or any other activity that is usually brought up. This is the idea of causing someone to stumble, but as Dr Ryrie used to say, for someone to stumble they have to be moving. Most of the people who raise a problem with this—you can't drink, you can't smoke, you can't go with the girls that do—whatever happens it should be a more mature believer that gets upset. It is always some Christian who has been around a while who are the ones who get upset, and this is not talking about the older legalist. Paul leaves out one category of person in his discussion in 1 Corinthians chapter eight, and that is the legalist. You may offend a legalist, and that's fine; Jesus offended them all the time. He would go to a party and sit down with a bunch of tax collectors and prostitutes and He would drink wine and enjoy the banquet feast, and Pharisees came along and said, Well John the Baptist was an ascetic and he didn't do any of these things, and you come along and you are a drunkard and you are a glutton! Jesus didn't over-indulge, but because the fact that He indulged they extrapolated and exaggerated it and accused Him of being a drunkard and a glutton.

The law of love says that it is not because I am going to have a glass of wine and somebody across the way might walk by and see me. The application of the principle that we will see in chapter eight is that if you go out to lunch with somebody who is an alcoholic, or a recovering alcoholic, and has a particular weakness there, you don't say, Hey Joe, let me buy you a beer! You don't specifically put something in front of them that is going to cause them to stumble. It is not this passive idea that some behaviour I engage in is going to somehow be a justification for somebody to sin. The reality is that anything you do can give somebody else the opportunity to justify their sin. That is the principle under the law of love, that you manifest a concern for where the weaker brother is and the fact that what you do may cause him to stumble, you don't want to put anything specifically in front of him. In certain instances you may choose not to exercise your freedom. It is not a principle that you choose never to exercise freedom.

Third is the law orf expediency. This law considers the unbeliever and the fact that the unbeliever has a misconception of Christianity. They have certain ideas of what makes a person a Christian, and sometimes these are right and sometimes wrong, but to be effective in being able to communicate grace to them, whether it is giving the gospel to an unbeliever or just being able to develop a relationship with a believer so that you can help them understand the Word a little better, it is better for you not to exercise your freedom because that would just cause a distraction and confusion and raise non-essential issues that would be a distraction from the gospel. So the law of expediency is to set something aside so that it won't be a distraction—even though the other person may be wrong, even though they have misconceptions about Christianity, you are not going to let that become an issue in the process of witnessing.

The fourth law is the law of supreme sacrifice. Supreme sacrifice is directed toward God and involves giving up certain things in life in order to serve the Lord in a more specialized capacity. Usually it is related to a missionary who is willing to go and live in another culture and give up many things that they could enjoy at home, and to communicate the gospel to someone in another culture. Believers need to think about the fact that even though it is legitimate to enjoy all of the pleasures of a civilized and modern society, maybe they should give it up and go and be a missionary—not that being a missionary is something more spiritual but if that is where God wants you, you are never ever going to be happy if you don't follow that direction from the Lord.

[13] "Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body." Paul presents another slogan that the Corinthians were using in order to justify sexual immorality: "Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, but God will do away with both of them." Their idea was, the body just has these natural urges. You want to drink, you want to eat, you want to have sex. It is just a physical urge and sex is no different from wanting to eat or wanting to drink, and actually it is an urge you really can't control, it just seems to overwhelming at times, and the lust and the hormones and everything combined makes it very difficult to resist. It is just a bodily function, so why resist it?  Paul answers them: "Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body." God's redemptive work, the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit isn't restricted to just the soul, it impacts the body. The physical body is also sanctified and set apart for the Lord at the instant of salvation, and he takes them right back to positional truth, that at the instant of salvation your physical body is set apart for the Lord and His service, the Holy Spirit sanctifies it and sets it apart as the home for the indwelling of the presence of Jesus Christ. It becomes a temple for that indwelling of the Holy Spirit. So the body is important. He is not saying that now you have to become a vegetarian, eat all the right foods, any you can't eat sodium nitrate and you can't add any chemical additives, and obsessive about everything you put in your mouth because it affects the body. That is not his point. His point is simply a juxtaposition of the fact that the body has no value, no significance, and that material things related to the body don't affect the spiritual life whatsoever withy the counterpoint that physical things do affect the soul. That is all he is saying. He is simply countering the saying that the body is irrelevant. God designed a physical body at the very beginning of man and there is an intricate and intimate connection between the soul and the spirit and the body, they do not operate independently of one another.

[14] "Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power." He goes into the whole concept of physical, bodily resurrection. If the body wasn't important then Jesus Christ would not have been raised bodily and physically from the grave. Eventually we will be raised from the dead and we will receive a future resurrection body. In other words, the body is important and it is important for the soul to be associated with a body. Then he takes it to the next level. He is talking about the relationship of all of this to the body of Christ. This foreshadows the discussion of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians chapters 12-14. [15] "Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be!" It is not just your soul, it is you, it is a package deal. You can't just look at yourself as just nothing but a soul. You are a body, soul and spirit, that is a package deal.

[16] "Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body {with her?} For He says, "THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH." He quote from Genesis, which makes it apparent. What they were saying was that going to the temple prostitute and engaging in sex with that prostitute had no impact on their spiritual life. What Paul is going to say is, the Bible says that when a man and a woman marry they have soul intimacy because of their love for one another and the sexual relationship is an expression of that soul intimacy that enhances and develops that soul intimacy. What happens when you break it down and start having sex apart from marriage, sex for personal pleasure, then what is happening you are breaking down that relationship between the physical expression and the soul, and it destroys your capacity for love in the soul because sex then becomes nothing more than self-gratification. The very statement, "the two shall becomes one flesh," indicates that that physical intimacy enhances soul intimacy. So the major point that Paul is illustrating from his quote from Genesis 2:24 is that it is clear from the early part of Genesis that physical activities of the body do impact the soul and the spiritual life. Then he makes another connection in v.17.

[17] "But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit {with Him.}" When a man and a woman are married and one of them engages in sex outside of marriage it is a violation of the covenant and a breakdown of the union. Paul is saying, You have been joined with Christ, so when you go down to the temple and get involved with the temple prostitute you are being covenantally unfaithful to Jesus Christ. You are part of the church, the bride of Christ, and you are breaking that vow, so to speak by analogy, you are breaking that vow by application when you have sex with the temple prostitute. So what is the command? [18] "Flee immorality. Every {other} sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body."  The statement "but the immoral man sins against his own body," is the one that is lifted out of context and most evangelicals read that and say that every other sin that a man does is outside the body but, oh, when it comes to sexual sin, that is worse! But this is another slogan from the Corinthians. They were saying, Look, every son that a man does is outside the body. That is their statement; that is their dualism. Sin doesn't really affect the soul, it is outside the body. Paul counters and says, But he who commits immorality sins against his own body. Other sins are against the body, too. What about drug abuse? What about any number of other behaviours that we have that affect our physical bodies? That is a sin against the body as well. Don't misunderstand the verse by missing the point that there is a slogan and a response here. The human viewpoint statement is that every sin is just outside the body and Paul's response is, no. He is just dealing with sexual immorality in context, he doesn't exclude other sins, he says, sexual immorality is a sin against the body, he doesn't exclude other sins.

Then in conclusion he ties it in to the application of positional truth. [19] "Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own?" The Holy Spirit is in each and every believer and at the instant of salvation indwells each and every believer, and at that point sets the physical body apart as the home for the indwelling of the second person of the Trinity. So because of positional truth your body has been set aside and sanctified. It is not just your spiritual life you need to be concerned about but your body as well. Your body is just as important in Christianity as the soul and the spirit because it all makes you, you. That is Paul's emphasis, so we don't try to make Paul say more than he is saying here. He is simply countering the argument that the body and the physical is irrelevant and it doesn't have any impact on the spiritual life. He is saying no, the body is important.

[20] "For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body." He reminds them of the whole principle of redemption, that Jesus Christ paid the price. Here we have the word AGORAZO [a)gorazw], aorist passive, which is the term for being purchased at the market place. So he reminds them they have been purchased pout of the slave market of sin. As a result of that, because you are a child of God, "therefore glorify God in your body" and in your spirit. It is the total package—body, soul and spirit—which are God's.