The Rev. Frank
Glorify God in Your
OK. I’ll just come out and say it. I don’t like being told what to do on my own property. I have this impulse, that I think of as a deeply American streak of independence that runs counter to zoning restrictions, homeowner association covenants, and any other attempt to tell me what I can and cannot do with what I like to think of as my own property.
I readily acknowledge the inconsistency in being bothered that King of Peace has a 60-page ordinance to take into account when planning a new sign, while wondering if there isn’t anyway we could regulate signs so that our community looks a little more like St. Simons or Hilton Head and a little less like Las Vegas. Never mind that I tend to like restrictions that apply to others. I would prefer my neighbors not park so many cars or a large boat in their driveway. Yet, I would like to do what I want to do when I want to do it on land that I think of as my own. How dare the powers that be restrict my ability to do as I see fit.
Something like this desire to shuck off burdensome regulations must have run through the early Christian church in Corinth as well. Paul really hit pay dirt there when he preached about how new life in Christ set us free from salvation through law. The Jews had always taught that keeping the commands of the Torah was the way to stay right with God. Not the 10 Commandments mind you, but the 613 commandments found in the first five books of the Bible.
These 613 rules were ethical commandments and ritual law, which served to order and enrich the rhythm of Jewish daily life, keeping it in accordance with God’s will. In addition to these 613 commandments, Jews developed an ongoing history of case law, helping to show how to keep these commandments in a changing world. There is much to know and remember in keeping this law. For example, the Sabbath regulations told what constituted work and what did not, there were case law examples of how far you could walk and other things you could or could not do on the Sabbath.
Jesus ran into trouble with these very laws at times. The Pharisees were great proponents of keeping to the letter of the law and they criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath. The Christian movement struggled early on with how closely the Jewish law had to be observed as we had salvation through grace, God’s free gift of love, and did not rely on the works-based righteousness of following the law. Christians proclaimed that faith alone is what one needs to be in right relationship with God.
Apparently this sounded like very good news to the Corinthians as they might have gone a little overboard in proclaiming their freedom from law. You’ll notice in your bulletins that I have provided some bumper stickers sighted in the parking lot at First Corinthian Church. The top one is “All things are lawful for me.” This is a slogan the church may well have learned from the Apostle Paul. Paul used similar pithy sayings in his teaching and it would have been consistent with his thinking that all foods were now clean for Christians to eat. There were no more restrictions against pork for example. That’s why they could say, “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” as no food could make a person unclean in God’s eyes.
Paul’s own preaching is now coming back to haunt him. The Corinthians have been applying their knowledge of food laws across the board and ended up believing in statements a lot more like the bottom two bumper stickers in the bulletin. They live in a manner more consistent with the slogans “I am free to do anything” and “The body has nothing to do with sin.”
You can see these slogans as quotes in our reading today, which Paul then counters, or at least qualifies. Paul quotes, “All things are lawful for me,” then rather than saying that’s not true, he reminds the Corinthians, “but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” Paul repeats this time adding, “but I will not be dominated by anything.” Paul reminds them that all things are lawful did not mean everything was good and that they could not let their freedom cause them to be dominated by their desires.
Paul who once preached that we were free from the law, now tries to explain that he didn’t mean the Corinthian Christians could do anything they please. You see word has reached Paul that Corinthian males are still frequenting prostitutes seeing no reason why this practice would go against their Christian faith.
I’ll admit that this would seem to be a dead issue. I certainly know of no one putting forward the idea today that prostitution and Christian faith are mutually compatible. However, I think this passage is significant in other ways.
First notice Paul’s argument. He does not go against the practice for the expected reasons of adultery. Instead Paul argues that what you do with your own body relates to your relationship with God. Paul must have been a preacher, because he gives three reasons, which is a classic sermon technique. Paul says that your body will be resurrected, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, and your body is the Lord’s.
We often mentally skip over the part of the creeds which mention the resurrection of the body. However, the Christian Church has always taught a bodily resurrection. This is not a simple reanimation process in which everyone comes to look like a scene from a zombie movie. Early Christians saw no problem in martyrs who were eaten by lions or burned alive as they believed God would give them a new resurrected body. But for Paul, it is important to note that we are embodied spirits both now and in the afterlife, so bodies matter.
This would have run directly counter to the idea popular in Greek philosophy and Ancient Near Eastern mystery religions that the spirit is good, while the body is all bad. Greek sophists, with whom Corinthians as fellow Greeks would be familiar, taught that an enlightened person was free to do anything they chose with their bodies as it is only spiritual things that do really matter. This may explain why Corinth had such a licentious reputation that the comic playwright Aristophanes coined a verb “to Corinth” which meant “to fornicate.”
Paul goes on to say that our bodies are Temples of the Holy Spirit. God’s spirit dwells inside of you as surely as God’s spirit dwells in a church, or for Paul as surely as God is present at the Temple in Jerusalem. So, we should treat our own bodies with a reverence reserved for holy space.
What would the world be like if we thought of our bodies as temples and acted out our beliefs? How would you live your life differently if you carried around an ongoing awareness that your body is a temple to be treated as reverently as any cathedral? This must have really caught the Corinthians off guard. Yet, wouldn’t they have to acknowledge the truth of the statement? If God is present in you through the Holy Spirit, then your body is in fact a temple.
But Paul was not done with his life-altering ways of considering our bodies. Paul lastly reminded the Corinthian Christians that their bodies were not their own. They were bought with a price and they were no longer their own possession. They are to glorify God in their bodies.
If the Corinthian Christians buy Paul’s reasoning then not only is visiting a prostitute out, but they will have to alter their entire worldview. You can see them out in the parking lot after church scraping the last bits of those bumper stickers off their cars. So much for “I am free to do anything!” and sales of “The body has nothing to do with sin” bumper stickers must have tanked too.
Paul meant for his argument to extend well beyond the problems with prostitution. The First Letter to the Corinthians did not limit how far this concern could take you and neither will I. It does cause us to face head on something famed evangelist Billy Graham put like this, “There is not one verse of scripture that indicates you can be a Christian and live any kind of life you want to. When Christ enters into the human heart, He demands that He be Lord and Master. He demands complete surrender.”
Your body really is a Temple of the Holy Spirit. You have been bought with a price, but there is gift in that as well. One theologian I’ve read put it like this. “Paul…does not mean that the self is lost. Rather, the paradox consists in the experience that the true self is discovered by turning away from the ego to Christ.” Turn away from your ego and toward Christ and you will not lose yourself. It is in turning toward Christ that you will find yourself.
We are all on spiritual journeys. God is leading each of us closer to the Truth. Along the way, you are called to let go of more of yourself so that Christ can lead you to your truer self. You have to let go and let God. Part of this journey is to trust God not just with your spirit, but with your body as well.
As the Corinthian Christian’s discovered, just because all things are lawful, it does not make all things good. The challenge is to follow God’s leading and be more and more faithful in glorifying God in your body. I’m not sure what that means for you this Sunday. It’s enough of a challenge to wrestle with what that means for me. But I am confident that the Holy Spirit who dwells in you will lead you further along your own path.
So much for my concerns with zoning regulations. Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is not concerned about your house or yard. Paul declares that your entire body has been annexed by God. Your body has been zoned for godly purposes only. Glorify God in your body.
 I was helped to see the slogans in the Corinthian church as an interpretive key to this passage in Richard B. Hays Commentary on First Corinthians for the Interpretation series.
 Quoted in Ministry ToolBox, June 19, 2002 (Page 5).
 This is John O’Donnell’s paraphrase of the Roman Catholic theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar (1905-1988) in O’Donnell’s book on Balthasar for the Outstanding Christian Thinkers series from Continuum (page 24).
King of Peace Episcopal Church + P.O. Box 2526 + Kingsland, Georgia 31548-2526