Sunday, January 18, 2009

Sermon - Epiphany 2 - 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

1 Corinthians 6:12-20
“Sins of the Body”

We in the church are sometimes accused of preaching too much on some topics and not enough on others. The truth is, we preachers are human, and all too often take the easy way, the old comfortable topics, the well-worn paths. And so was I tempted to do the same today. It would be easy to preach a sermon about following Jesus, like Samuel in the Old Testament, or Phillip and Nathanael in the Gospel reading. But then there's that Epistle. Paul talking to the Corinthians about sexual immorality. What a good topic for the preacher to avoid! We could play it safe today, or we could address that topic which is difficult to speak about, and also hits us very personally.

Sometimes it's the topic that is uncomfortable that needs to be addressed. The hard truths we need to hear. And Scripture pulls no punches, so why should we? Let's consider, carefully, Paul's words to the Corinthians, and to us, concerning sexual immorality, and just how we Christians should consider our bodies – as temples of the Holy Spirit!

The church in Corinth was surrounded by sexual immorality. Corinth was the ancient equivalent of Las Vegas, a sort of “sin city”. The temple to the love goddess Aphrodite was there, and it did a brisk business. The church of Corinth would have been constantly tempted to remain in their old pagan ways. There was also a strain of Greek philosophy that believed only the spirit mattered, and you could do whatever you want with your body. Like a bird in a cage, the “good soul” was freed from the evil body at death, so they taught, therefore bodily degradation was no big deal.

But God who created the soul also created the body. And it is the whole person that Jesus came to redeem. Not just our spirits, but our bodies are his, and are saved by him. So sexual immorality matters to God. It is not just a physical matter, but a spiritual one too.

I don't need to tell you the state of our culture. You know as well as I how prevalent this kind of immorality is. It's on our TV and in our magazines. It's in our neighborhoods. It's even in our own homes. I had this sermon pretty well written when the news about our Mayor broke this week.

But we're not here to point fingers at others. We need to hear what God's word tells us.... what hits close enough to home, we have to admit this kind of sin in our own hearts.

When we apply the 6th commandment, we must recognize that all forms of sexual sin are condemned by God. It's not just wives and husbands cheating on each other, but it's living together outside of marriage. It's homosexual activity and divorce. It's the lust in our hearts and the wandering sinful thoughts of our minds. Pornography. The degradation of women and men, and the failing of husbands and wives to truly love each other. All of this, and any other sexual sin, comes out of our sinful nature, our corrupted flesh.

There is something insidious about this kind of sin. Paul says every other sin is outside of ourselves, but this kind of sin is against our own bodies. The Greeks rationalized it away, saying it didn't matter what you do with your body, it's the spirit inside that counts. And we can rationalize it, you see, by saying, “Oh, it's not hurting anyone else”, and “how can love be wrong?” and “It's no one else's business but mine”, or “It's a biological need”. But none of this will do. Sure, these are sins that come cloaked in the costume of love, but they are not loving. They come soaked in the promise of pleasure, but the pleasure they bring is impure.

God designed us, male and female, for each other, for that love to be expressed in a godly way, in the bounds of marriage. And in our sinfulness we find ways to twist this good thing into all sorts of evil. Male and female, we must confess. Young and old, we must confess. In thought, word, and deed, we must confess our sins. We must repent of these sins of the body, and every other kind of transgression.

For each of these sins, in its own way, is a sin of unfaithfulness. Unfaithfulness to our wedding vows. Unfaithfulness perhaps to our future spouse. Unfaithful to ourselves, and certainly to our Lord. We cheat in so many ways, defiling the body God has given us, all the while excusing and hiding it, hoping not to be exposed.

But like Adam and Eve with their fig leaves, our shabby coverings will not hide these sins, secret as we may think they are. Our conscience knows them, and our Lord knows them. But also like Adam and Eve, who were given animal skin clothes, we too can find a sufficient covering only from our Lord. Only he can deal adequately with these, or any other kinds of sin. We can hide only in his grace and mercy. We can be saved in our bodies of sin, only by him who gave his body and blood for us all.

Jesus' body, given at the cross, cleanses our bodies of sin. His body broken brings wholeness to our brokenness. His purity for our impurity. His body and blood are the price paid for us, to buy us back from our self-inflicted prostitution to all things unlawful. His body and soul for our body and soul. His whole self to save our whole self.

And if your body is a temple, as Paul says, isn't it only Jesus who cleanses the temple? He casts out immorality and sin, renovates the heart, and sets up shop there with his own Holy Spirit. He turns over the tables of our immorality and calls us to live in him, to follow him. Rather than following the desires of the flesh, we flee from them. Rather than indulging in whatever feels good, we seek to glorify God with our bodies.

This, of course, is no easy task. Indeed, on our own it is impossible. Only with and by the Holy Spirit within us can we live in accord with His will. The Spirit who guides us, directs us, works through the Word to strengthen our faith, and to keep us trusting in Christ, and expressing that faith in a life which respects the gifts God gives – love and marriage, soul and body. The spirit, not a bird in a cage, but the one who appeared as a dove dwelling inside us to bring us blessings and strength and holiness even here in this life.

And here's another promise. Jesus joins our bodies with his own, in death and in resurrection. Rather than uniting with a prostitute, we Christians are joined with Christ in a holy union. Indeed, he is the bridegroom, and we the church, are his bride. In this holy matrimony of heaven and earth, the love is pure and perfect. In this spiritual union, we are connected to Christ for eternity. And we look forward to the consummation of this blessed marriage when he comes again in glory, fulfilling all things. The “marriage feast of the Lamb in his kingdom, which shall have no end”.

Therefore, honor God with your bodies. Flee sexual immorality. You were bought with a price, you are not your own. Live in accord with who you are – who Christ has made you to be, with the Spirit's guidance, to the Glory of God the Father, Amen.


-Josh- said...

Nice sermon. I especially liked the turn of phrase about only Jesus cleanses temples. This is a tough topic to broach, but this does it well. Thanks.

Pastor Benjamin Squires said...

Tom, found your sermon as I prepare to start a series on 1 Corinthians--a chapter a week for 13 weeks. Which means I can't avoid some of the sticky issues. Thanks for a good example of how to talk about things and not shy away from taboo subject.