Christians sometimes worry about where declining sexual morals will lead, though there are many in our culture who would consider all of this a matter of primitive and Puritanical prudishness. I think, for example, of media scholar Laura Kipnis, who once suggested that adulterers who pursue sexual freedom should be considered countercultural heroes for taking a stand against restrictive understandings of love and marriage.
I can imagine, therefore, that Kipnis might have sided with those in the Corinthian church who argued for free sexuality. But as we saw in the last post, Paul wants to elevate their vision beyond simplistic notions of law and freedom. The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body, as evidenced in the fact of Jesus’ resurrection and the promise of our own (1 Cor 6:13-14). On the basis of that transformative statement, Paul continues:
Don’t you know that your bodies are parts of Christ? So then, should I take parts of Christ and make them a part of someone who is sleeping around? No way! Don’t you know that anyone who is joined to someone who is sleeping around is one body with that person? The scripture says, The two will become one flesh. The one who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with him. Avoid sexual immorality! Every sin that a person can do is committed outside the body, except those who engage in sexual immorality commit sin against their own bodies. Or don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you? Don’t you know that you have the Holy Spirit from God, and you don’t belong to yourselves? You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body. (1 Cor 6:15-20, CEB)
The command has two sides. There is the negative: “Avoid sexual immorality!” The verb actually means “flee”: don’t mess with this; run; get out of there. To make his point, he pushes the Corinthian logic to its extreme: Don’t you get it? If you are united with Christ and visit prostitutes, then you are making Christ one flesh with prostitutes. Is that what you want? At this point, I imagine some of the Corinthians might have responded, “Um, well…gee, Paul, I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
But are we so inured to negative prohibitions–like the repeated youth group refrain, “Don’t have sex before you get married!”–that we don’t even hear them anymore? The same may have been true in Corinth; given their anti-legalistic interpretation of Christian freedom, any “don’t” from Paul might not have been received well.
That’s why there must also be a “do”: if one side of the command is to flee immorality, the other is to honor God bodily. And the reason Paul gives is stunning: we are each individually dwelling places of the Holy Spirit, purchased by God through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross.
More on that in the next and final post in this series.