A Christian’s Response to Sexual Morality
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
In The Door Mike Yaconelli writes:
Author Susan Howatch made a fortune writing blockbuster novels like Penmarric. She had houses in several countries, drove a Porsche, and, after divorcing, had a number of “transient liaisons.” But at age 30, she says, “God seized me by the scruff of the neck and shook me until my teeth rattled.”
Now a Christian, she reflects: “I was promiscuous, but finally one morning I woke up and said, ‘What am I trying to prove and to whom?’ I knew exactly what—that even though my marriage broke up, I could still attract men. The fact that I could control men boosted my fractured ego.”
Her conclusion: “Promiscuity is a sign that you’re not aligned right with God or yourself.”1
Sex is like fire. In a fireplace, it’s warm and delightful. Outside the hearth, it’s destructive and uncontrollable.2
I entitled this sermon “A Christian’s Response to Sexual Morality” because as Christians we have to respond to the culture. The prevailing culture believes that all kind so sexual morality is correct. But sexual morality for the culture is not the same as sexual morality for the Christian. Just because the culture says something is ok, it does not mean that a Christian should engage in the same behavior. So I want to share with you seven truths about Christian sexual morality. These truths should guide the Christian when it comes to sexual relationships.
SEVEN TRUTHS ABOUT CHRISTIAN SEXUAL MORALITY
1. Just because I can, it doesn’t mean I should let it control me.
““Everything is permissible for me,” but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me,” but I will not be mastered by anything.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, CSB)
The Christians in Corinthians were making the case that everything is permissible. These Christians were participating in supper parties that included eating food that was sacrificed to idols. Paul encourages Christians to exert self-control over sexual appetites.
When you look at the context of these verses, you see that in chapter 5, two Christians in the church are having an improper sexual relationship.
“It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and the kind of sexual immorality that is not even tolerated among the Gentiles—a man is sleeping with his father’s wife.” (1 Corinthians 5:1, CSB)
In chapter 6, Paul reminds the church that sexually immoral people are those who will not be accepted in Heaven.
“Don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s kingdom? Do not be deceived: No sexually immoral people, idolaters, adulterers, or males who have sex with males, no thieves, greedy people, drunkards, verbally abusive people, or swindlers will inherit God’s kingdom. And some of you used to be like this. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9–11, CSB)
In chapter 7, Paul begins by explaining that a husband and wife should fulfill each other’s sexual appetites.
“Now in response to the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to use a woman for sex.” But because sexual immorality is so common, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman should have sexual relations with her own husband.” (1 Corinthians 7:1–2, CSB)
So Paul is dealing with a series of misunderstandings in the church. The Christians in the church were being influenced by the culture when it came to matters of sex. The same is true today. So we have to spend time correcting false beliefs. One of these false beliefs is that everything goes. I can have sex with anyone. Yet Paul makes the statement, that sex can control me. That is why I should not engage in it in all kinds of ways. Paul is referring to the fact that we have appetites that want to be filled and Paul says that these appetites need to be filled in the right context: marriage.
2. Just because I have an appetite for something, it doesn’t mean that it is good for me.
““Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will do away with both of them. However, the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. God raised up the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” (1 Corinthians 6:13–14, CSB)
The second truth I learn about sexual morality for the Christian is that God has a purpose for my appetites. One of the purposes of my body is to learn to let God have control of it. This is the reason for fasting. Fasting is designed to deny my mouth from enjoying physical tastes so that I can focus on God. We have to release control to allow God to have control over my bodies. God also will have control of our bodies after we die. By God’s power, our bodies will be raised up. So in the end, I should not let my appetites control me because God ultimately has control of my body.
3. My sexual appetites affect my relationships.
“Don’t you know that your bodies are a part of Christ’s body? So should I take a part of Christ’s body and make it part of a prostitute? Absolutely not!” (1 Corinthians 6:15, CSB)
A third truth I learn about sexual morality is that my sexual appetites and activities affect other relationships. Christ’s body is the church. My body is part of a community. What I do affects other people. This is why sexual immorality is so dangerous. When I fulfill my sexual appetites in a way that God did not design them for, then it affects other people, especially people in the church.
Why is that? Because my sexual appetites have a spiritual foundation.
4. My sexual appetites have a spiritual foundation.
“Don’t you know that anyone joined to a prostitute is one body with her? For Scripture says, The two will become one flesh. But anyone joined to the Lord is one spirit with him.” (1 Corinthians 6:16–17, CSB)
Fourth, my sexual appetites have a spiritual foundation. My sexual appetites are not for a purpose of the flesh. God designed my sexual appetites to be fulfilled in a marriage relationship for which God designed them. There is a spiritual foundation to the appetites which God gives me. This is the reason why God wants me to be joined with who He designed in marriage. This is the reason that sex should be done within the marriage relationship.
What is my body and ultimately sex for? Yes, pleasure. Yes, to love and to serve the one to whom you’ve committed yourself forever. And yes, to conceive children. But ultimately, beyond and beneath all of that one’s body and what one does with it is intended to be a reflection of one’s commitment. Yes, to the one you love, but maybe even more deeply to the one who gave all to commit himself to you forever. Verse 17 tells us that God joined man to himself, making man one with him. God is not a tyrant who makes arbitrary rules to kill man’s joy. He’s a Lover who wants to be one with the love of his life—to have us—all of us, not just our soul.3
5. My sexual appetite should be fulfilled in a way God wants for me.
“Flee sexual immorality! Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18, CSB)
Fifth, since my sexual appetites have a spiritual foundation, then they need to be fulfilled in a way God wants for me. The body cannot be separated from a person’s relationship to God. Body and spirit are not separable. What happens in the body impacts the spirit and vice versa.4
This is the reason why each of the Bible’s sexual prohibitions is encapsulated in the all-encompassing command “Flee from sexual immorality.” These words were written to a church in the sex-crazed city of Corinth, where singles were sexually involved before marriage, husbands and wives were sexually involved outside of marriage, homosexuality was condoned, and prostitution was common. (Not much has changed in two thousand years.) So to the church in that culture and to the church in our culture, God says, “Flee from sexual immorality—any and all sexual thinking, looking, desiring, touching, speaking, and acting outside of marriage between a man and a woman. Don’t rationalize it, and don’t reason with it—run from it. Flee it as fast as you can.”5
Because we are made in the image of a triune God, we are comprised of three parts as well: body, soul, and spirit. The body relates to the physical world. The soul is one’s essence, one’s personality, and relates to people. The spirit relates to God and will live eternally. Thus, each time one engages in an immoral activity, a part of his soul is permanently and irreplaceably forfeited. The tragedy, then, is that the one who continues to live in promiscuity becomes less and less of a person as a piece of his soul is stripped away with each encounter.6
God wants me to fulfill my sexual appetites in a way that God designed. The word for “sexual immorality” is the word in which we get the word for “pornography.” So what kind of porneia or pornography should I flee? It’s any kind of sexual activity that can be fulfilled through the five avenues of appetites.
Sexual immorality is not just through the sexual organ. Lust is a sexual immorality of the eyes. Pornographic images come in various media. Sexual immorality can happen by the use of the ears. This is why one must be careful about the media one takes in through the smartphone and television. Music has a powerful influence on how I act sexually. Certain smells can turn people on, so sexual immorality can happen with smells as well. Of course, certain forms of affection, when one kisses another person, can be the avenue for sexual immorality, when it is the wrong person.
Take this story fromMark Galli in his book Jesus Mean and Wild, for example:
My friend looked like a good Christian. He was a faithful elder in the church and a devout husband and father. He had a reputation for honesty, courage, and integrity. But he also had an issue with pornography.
He said he wasn’t addicted to porn, and there was no reason not to believe him. He could go weeks without it, he said. Porn didn’t affect his relationship with his wife. It didn’t interfere with his church work or prayer life. It was just a little recreational pleasure that he indulged in now and then, especially after working long hours for his company or the church.
“I’ve justified it in my mind a thousand times,” he said, “and I could out-argue anyone who wants to give me all that bull about potential addiction and how it ruins your marriage. Well, it’s only made my marriage easier, since I don’t pester my wife as often, and yet I don’t do porn so much that I don’t have any ardor for her when she’s ready. Still,” he conceded, “I feel so unclean.”
At first, he thought the guilt was just a leftover from his fundamentalist upbringing. But he noticed he didn’t feel bad about other post-fundamentalist behaviors, such as drinking wine or going to the movies. Just porn. I suggested that this feeling might be the prodding of the Spirit. “Why don’t you just give up porn?”
“I’ve thought about that,” he replied. “If God does want me to give it up, I know it’s because that’s ultimately good for me. Yet the thought of giving up porn cold turkey is one of the most frightening things I can imagine right now. And I don’t know why.”7
Sexual immorality messes up your mind. It created memories and thoughts that are misunderstood when the thoughts are recalled. For example, love equals sex, and sex equals love. In reality, sex is a byproduct of true love. Sex is a byproduct of true love the way God intended for two people (a man and a woman) in a marriage relationship. However, many people who engage in sex outside of this boundary have their minds messed up.They think: “He will really love me if I have sex with him.” “To keep her, I have to sleep with her.” But after you have engaged in any kind of sexual relationship, your memory is affected. You can’t remember what true love is. You think the feelings that came from the sex were true love moments. But then you realize, the other person did not care about you and so you walk away confused. You think: “Did he really love me?” “Do I really love her?” Your answer becomes a big “No.”
Sexual immorality messes up your mind by changing the way you think toward other people. Other people become objects of desire and not people to love. Your desire changes from thinking about the best for that person to thinking about what you can get out of that person.
Sexual immorality messes up your mind by acting like a virus in your mind. Just as a computer virus messes up good programs on your hard drive, sexual immorality can mess up good things in your body. Wrong sex leads to disease, sickness, mental problems, and dark thoughts.
Sexual immorality messes up your mind by changing how you feel for other people. Feelings come from the mind. You associate feelings with people, thoughts, actions, places, smells, sights, and sounds. When you engage in sexual immorality, you mess all these associations up in your brain. The way you feel about other people changes because your mind has changed the way it thinks about that other person. This is how someone can fall “out of love” with someone else.8
So I need to make an effort to flee different avenues of my sexual appetites when they lead in the wrong direction. But why must I do that? Why do I have to control my appetites? Because I am created by God for God. I am not the master of my destiny – God is. I am not the one who is in control of what I do – God is.
6. My body was designed not just for sexual purposes, but for spiritual purposes as well.
“Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own,” (1 Corinthians 6:19, CSB)
God designed my body because He loved me. God proved that He designed my body for Himself by making my body the house the Holy Spirit. God placed the Holy Spirit inside my body as a deposit to ensure my salvation. Paul compares my body to a temple where the Holy Spirit lives. This means that the body in which my soul and spirit are housed is designed for a great purpose than just sexual gratification.
This means that sex has a larger purpose than just my personal gratification. Because God designed my body for His purposes, then I can look at myself with a more positive self-esteem. God wants to be involved with my entire self. Since my body is the home of the Holy Spirit, then my actions should be holy as well. This is why porn can be very dangerous to me. Sexual immorality has a devastating effect on the person. It also damages my relationship with the Holy Spirit. The more I engage in sexual immorality, the less likely I am going to listen to the Holy Spirit who resides within me. That is dangerous because God designed my appetites for me to glorify Him.
Sex immorality also affects other relationships as well. This is why Paul was addressing this issue in the church. My sexual immorality doesn’t just affect my own body. It affects the Body of Christ. When I decide to fulfill my sexual appetites in ways that God never intended, it can affect other people. For example: Engaging in porn can cause you to be irritable. Hiding the fact that I am involved in porn can destroy trust in a relationship when the cover-up is discovered. Sleeping with someone when else than whom you are married will tear apart families.
7. My appetites were designed to be used to glorify God.
“for you were bought at a price. So glorify God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:20, CSB)
When Christ paid the debt for us to go free, he paid for our body as well as our soul. When God paid the price of his Son to purchase his people from sin and guilt and condemnation, it was the ransom for their bodies as well as their souls.9 God paid the price for your body by the death of His Son on the cross. This is in contrast to the prostitute who was paid to use your body.
Imagine the following scenario: If a person were to walk to the front of the church and start doing heroin on the altar, drowning an enemy in the baptismal font, or spray-painting obscenities on the pulpit? If, in the face of horror and outcry from the congregation, the person asserted, “This is my church—what I do in my church is none of your business,” how would church leaders respond? Church leaders would say that the building is a space that belongs to God and is both set apart for his worship and shared by others who also have a stake in its upkeep and purity. In this passage, Paul is saying that we must look at what we do with our bodies in the same way: our bodies are set apart for God’s worship and may be shared by a spouse, who also has a vested interest in our health and purity.10
So what is the proper Christian response? “Honor God with your bodies.” Your body, your entire self is a place of worship. God wants you to be a living sacrifice so that you can honor God.
Since the Christian body (individually and corporately) functions as the shrine for their patron, God, Paul’s command is clear: “honor God with your bodies.” The body is not morally irrelevant; rather, it is the locale for worship.11
1 Craig Brian Larson, 750 Engaging Illustrations for Preachers, Teachers & Writers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002), 426–427.
2 Michael P. Green, ed., Illustrations for Biblical Preaching: Over 1500 Sermon Illustrations Arranged by Topic and Indexed Exhaustively, Revised edition of: The expositor’s illustration file. (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1989).
3 Stephen T. Um, 1 Corinthians: The Word of the Cross, ed. R. Kent Hughes, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2015), 118.
4 Preben Vang, 1 Corinthians, ed. Mark L. Strauss, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 86–87.
5 David Platt, Because We Are Called to Counter Culture: How We Are to Respond to Poverty, Same-Sex Marriage, Racism, Sex Slavery, Immigration, Persecution. Abortion, Orphans, and Pornography (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2015).
6 Jon Courson, Jon Courson’s Application Commentary (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2003), 1038.
7 Craig Brian Larson and Phyllis Ten Elshof, 1001 Illustrations That Connect (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 2008), 83. Mark Galli, Jesus Mean and Wild (Baker, 2006)
8 Jim Erwin, “1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Sexual Immorality Messes Up the Body,” 5 February 2006, Internet, Patheos, http://www.patheos.com/blogs/jimerwin/2006/02/05/1-corinthians-612-20-sexual-immorality-messes-up-the-body/, accessed on 6 July 2018.
9 John Piper, Sermons from John Piper (1990–1999) (Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God, 2007).
10 Preben Vang, 1 Corinthians, ed. Mark L. Strauss, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 89.
11 Preben Vang, 1 Corinthians, ed. Mark L. Strauss, Teach the Text Commentary Series (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2014), 87.