“‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
(1 Corinthians 6:12-20)
I want you to think back to the context of these verses, to those to whom they were originally written – the Christian church in Corinth. We sometimes think that the Bible is too old to be applicable to modern life, but we are so wrong! Recall the reputation of the city they were in and realize how similar it is to our current context.
Corinth was one of the bigger, more important cities of its day and was full to the brim with trade, politics, money, and religion. It was someone mixed modern inner-city life and the worst parts of the internet together. It was urban, materialistic, and overcrowded with every sort of person from every walk of life – intellectual elites, religious fanatics, celebrities, government workers, hard-core businessmen and poor, uneducated street people. It was the capital of the province, a port with hundreds of thousands of people from all over the world and one of the most influential commercial and manufacturing centers in the world. It was incredibly similar to Ottawa or downtown Toronto.
Everyone in town was committed to some form of religion and most were represented by the many places of worship around the city. They had temples like Ottawa has Tim Hortons. But the temples weren’t churches like you and I think of. They were like a mix of night clubs, museums, live concerts and brothels.
Sailors, tradesmen and people of all kinds would come to Corinth for business and then go to “worship” at one of these temples – the most famous of which was the Temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love, beauty, pleasure and procreation. She was literally the goddess of erotica and to worship at her temple was to see pornography come to life. Thousands of girls were kept there as sacred sex workers who would parade themselves before crowds of men so they could choose among them, pay their way (or not), and have sex as an act of worship. One ancient writer (Herodotus) wrote that every female in the city had to take their turn in the temple, whether they wanted to or not. In the centre of town was the Temple of Apollo which glorified sex too. Not with women, but with men and boys.
Today, if you want to see something pornographic, profane, illegal, or disgusting, you can lock yourself in a dark room and find it on the internet. If you want to live it out, then you have to risk making illicit connections online, but in Corinth it was simply all around you. The city was a monument to the fulfilment of any kind of appetite you might have, no matter how immoral. If you wanted the thrill of murdering someone, you could buy a slave. If you desired financial gain or political power, you had every opportunity. There was almost no kind of sexual perversion you could not try, legally. No matter what turned you on, sex, drugs, cults, war, politics, everything – it was there.
It was to this town that the Apostle Paul journeyed to and planted a church in. He felt such a strong connection to the people of this city that he spent a year and a half there – an uncharacteristically long time.
God was absolutely at work among the Corinthians. People were giving up their old, pagan, addicted, messed-up lives and turning to Jesus for cleansing and forgiveness. The utter selfishness and individuality of their former lives was overtaken by a love for each other and a desire to serve. They no longer feared the petty, ever-changing gods, or tried to manipulate them with rituals, but now had a relationship with the One, True God who they knew loved them so much that He was willing to send His Son Jesus to save them. They had become a Christian church. Paul spent months teaching them from the scriptures, preaching and teaching inside and outside the church, and defending the Christians before the government and other opposing groups. Then, before he moved on, he appointed and trained elders to carry on the work of ministry there.
After he left, cracks started to form in the leadership and among the believers. False teachers came in and taught false gospels. Unsaved people from the local temples, working for Satan, started to gain influence in the church and sow discord among the people and tempt them towards their old lives.
Paul obviously didn’t have email, but even while he was hundreds of miles away in Ephesus he was starting to get reports of some of the things going on in Corinth and it was quite unsettling. He wrote them a letter, which we don’t have, addressing some of these concerns, but it clearly didn’t work. Shortly after they received the first letter a couple contingents of people came from Corinth to track down the Apostle, tell him what was happening, and ask some very specific questions. He couldn’t leave the Ephesian church at the time so he wrote a second letter addressing the issues and answering the questions.
We’ve been through part of this letter already, which we call 1st Corinthians, and we are coming up to Chapter 7 which starts the “now concerning” part, where Paul directly answers the Corinthian questions, but before this, he addresses some of the biggest issues he’s heard about through the grapevine.
Things like them not getting along, accepting sexual immorality, rejecting the authority of the Apostles, listening to false teachers, self-deception, sinful living, and changing the word of God and the Gospel of Jesus Christ to fit better with their culture – all things we are still very much dealing with today.
Out of Control Appetites
In our passage today we see the Apostle Paul addressing some of the root issues of what is causing the church such trouble – and if I had to pick one phrase to summarize it, it would be “Out of Control Appetites”.
Do you see the quotes around the first parts of verses 12 and 13? These are the excuses that the Corinthians were giving for their behaviour. They had strong appetites, fed and encouraged by their local culture, and instead of following the Apostles’ teaching, God’s Word, or the conviction of the Holy Spirit within them, they were trying to justify and excuse their behaviour.
We do the same thing. We have strong desires within us, natural and learned appetites that are constantly with us, nagging our mind and trying to steer our lives. Many of these appetites are biological. We have needs: air, food, water, shelter, sleep, and going to the bathroom, and when we don’t have access those things our bodies cry out for them, even causing us physical pain, until we give them what they want. Some of these appetites are not needs, per say (as in we wouldn’t die without them), but they are very strong. We have a natural appetite, or desire for safety, health, love, family, and sexual intimacy. And these appetites go further into our feelings. We want to feel confident, respected, meaningful, moral, accepted, and to know the truth.
None of these needs is wrong. God has designed us, from the very beginning, to have these needs – and they were designed to be perfectly fulfilled by being in relationship with Him and each other.
But when sin came into the world at the fall it corrupted everything, including our appetites. Now, instead of wanting enough food to survive and enjoy, we turn gluttonous, eating so much we make our bodies sick. We take sugar cane and beets, strip them of their “food” and turn them into pure sugar, and then pour that into things we swirl with caffeine, alcohol, and hyped up fats and salts.
Instead of sleeping enough to rest from our work, we now run away from work and our out of control appetite turns us into sluggards who sleep more than we should, inventing more and more devices to remove work and allow for rest.
We have a desire for safety, but now we create borders, barbed-wire fences, and bombs to keep danger away. Our insane pursuit of safety fills us with prejudice and turns us into racists. We become helicopter parents who won’t let our kids out of our site and spend staggering amounts of money on insurance and things to make us feel safe.
We want love, family, and acceptance, but our sin and selfishness cause us to reject and hurt those who are closest to us, creating family splits, divorce, fatherlessness, and runaways. Our out of control appetite to feel accepted causes us to turn from those who were supposed to care for us and seek the acceptance of others. We join gangs, cults, and clubs, giving away huge parts of ourselves in order to feel accepted by someone.
And this same thing has happened with sexual intimacy. God created the beauty of sex to be most fully enjoyed between a man and women in the committed bonds of marriage. Anything outside of this is, by God’s definition, harmful. But the appetite within us is strong, and, like in ancient Corinth, our culture has made us believe that the fulfillment of this appetite is the most important thing in the world, making it available everywhere. They have placed sexual experience at the same level as breathing air or drinking water.
And so, as this appetite grows within us, we seek to quench it. God invites us to turn our appetite over to Him and to seek fulfillment His way, but that requires sacrifice, self-control, mutual respect, the giving of oneself, and patience. But the appetite grows and everyone else tells us to listen to it.
To do this is like to try to go on a diet while living at an all-you-can-eat buffet. We exist live in a buffet of sexual options – from the prostitutes on the streets to the movies we watch, the mall we shop in to the games we play, the ads on TV and websites to the popular books we are told to read, the enticement to sin sexually is literally everywhere. And the appetite grows. It’s like taking little bites of sugar everywhere we go – even without wanting to.
As a Christian, we know we have been delivered from sin and we hate the effects of it. The Word of God teaches against it. Our Christian elders and friends give warning. And the Holy Spirit inside of us is warning our conscience. But with the inundation of options all around us, the internet at home and in our pockets, and everyone in our culture cheering us on to express ourselves, live out our freedom, and trust our appetites to guide us to happiness.
And so we relent. Canada has completely relented to the idea that our appetites will guide us to happiness, and we have a completely messed up culture as a result. Did you know that biggest website in the world streamed 92 billion videos totally 4.6 billion hours of porn – just in 2016? Almost every adolescent boy and girl today has been exposed to explicit pornographic content – and this isn’t naked pictures – we’re talking about high definition and stylized videos of incest, violence and rape, of which 88% of porn videos include. Most have no blockers on their home or devices. And over a third of people my age and younger watch porn to educate themselves so they can mimic it with their partners. Pornography use is rampant at every age, not just young adults. This isn’t merely a male issue. A third of young women (25 and under) and a quarter of older women go looking at least once per month.
Two new things that are being reported recently as a result of continued porn use is what they are calling “sexual anorexia” which is basically a total loss of desire for romantic-sexual interactions with other people, and “porn-induced erectile dysfunction” meaning that even when with a partner they simply can’t get aroused by a real-live girl anymore. Porn use increases the chance of cheating on your spouse by 300%.
The slide of the out of control sexual appetite doesn’t have an end. There is never going to be enough because, like a potent drug, it causes major chemical dependency in the brain. And the appetite for sexual sin only gets darker and more evil. It doesn’t just stay at romantic novels or underwear models, but grows stronger until normal sex isn’t enough – then strange sex isn’t enough – then violent, abusive sex isn’t enough – and then merely watching isn’t enough, you want to act out what you have been watching.
And it barely even twinges the conscience anymore because you have now rewired your brain to consider the perverse, dangerous, and violent images you have been watching to be “normal”. Girls no longer know what modesty, love and romance looks or feels like. Boys have no idea how to respect, woo or patiently love just one girl. Now they believe in the fantasy world that pornography has fed them – and they want to live it out. Maybe you have done the same in your own life as you try to fit the person you are attracted to into a pornographic fantasy, or grow disappointed as the real person doesn’t perform like the person on screen. The real person is way less interesting than the fantasy. That’s an insanely confused version of sex designed by Satan to destroy you.
But this isn’t just about the epidemic of pornography and what we do when we are alone, but all that this out of control sexual appetite creates in our minds, hearts, families, churches and societies. It destroys intimacy and closeness. Friendship is ruined because everything is about sex. Superficiality and total selfishness is rampant. People don’t give themselves to each other, they use each other. Sexual sin is a massive force for harm.
What happens when you take the individual consequences of an out of control sexual appetite and multiply it by the size of a church, a city, a country, or the world? Not just you seeking out selfish ways to use people for your own appetites, but also those around you, and far beyond.
Pornography users have a lot of misinformation that gives them an excuse to come back. For example: It’s free so I don’t pay for it, so I’m not contributing to the bad parts. That’s not true. These sites get money for every click, whether you buy or not. That’s why it’s free. There are dozens of ways to make money of people that come to your website and around. Yes, you are generating income for these companies, allowing them to stay in business.
Another thing people say is that these women are well paid and look like they are enjoying it. The women are some of the most beautiful in the world – they could do anything — no one is making them do this. In truth, many of the women in pornography come from abusive homes and were often sexually abused as children. Some of them are victims of human trafficking who have been told to look good or they will be hurt or killed. Some got into the business after being recruited in their first year of college with the promise of lots of money and a thrilling lifestyle, but many tell the story of how no matter what they did the company wanted them to do more and more grotesque things. They had spent the money already and needed more, so they quell the shame and pain inside them with alcohol and drugs. Especially when people on their campus or family members see their pictures and videos. Some have committed suicide because of the shame and fear they have felt.
When they do want out, they can’t put any of this onto a resume so it has gaps and their professional reputation is shot. Whatever their career was – teacher, nurse, scientist – is ruined because of pornography. So they only have one place to turn – the porn industry. This industry promotes only the youngest women, so as they get older the only way to stay employed is to do more and more disgusting things, perpetuating the shame and fear and trapping them in the industry further. And then they are sent out to do interviews and trade fairs to tell everyone how happy they are. And that’s not even covering the massive psychological and spiritual damage done. Every time someone reads, clicks, or watches, they perpetuating this abusive industry.
But the damage of an out of control sexual appetite doesn’t end with the individual. Then we get the societal consequences like the spread of sexually transmitted diseases which over 70 percent of sexually active Canadians have. There’s the evil of sex trafficking, which is the kidnaping and sale of people for the purposes of prostituting them, and it is growing, funded and supported by the multi-billion dollar porn industry. We see the sexualisation of younger and younger people and the rise of child exploitation, pornography, and child sex rings. And of course we have the holocaust of the millions of abortions in North America lone which have nothing to do with the health of the child or the mother, but simply are the result of people who want the pleasure of sex without the consequences or responsibility of parenthood. Rape culture, divorce, fatherlessness… and I could go on.
Consider that when an industry or company is connected to terrible things like child-labour or environmental destruction most people freak out and refuse to buy from that store or support that industry. Why not this one? Because it’s an out of control appetite that the world supports without question. Just this week they tried to fly the Walk for Life flag down at Ottawa city hall and it was pulled down within hours. Just FYI, the Mayor had the LGBT Pride flag fly for the entirety of the Sochi Olympics. Why the difference? Different appetites.
The Gospel is the Answer
Verse 12 gives their first excuses, “All things are lawful for me…” they say. Here we see them throwing Paul’s words back in his face. He had come and taught them that people are not saved by religion, nor obedience to a set of laws, but are instead set free from having to follow a bunch of rules by the grace of God.
Every other religion said you have to do certain things to appease the gods. Give money, make war, pray for hours, reach ecstasies, gives sacrifices, spill your own blood, do good deeds, even horrible things like burn children to death. Only these things would make the gods do what you want them to do.
But the God of the Bible says we can never do enough to impress or please Him. There will never be enough good deeds to outweigh our sins. Instead, God sent Jesus to live a perfect life, doing exactly what God wanted, so He could take God’s wrath against sin in exchange for anyone who would believe in him. This freed us from the bonds of man-made religious laws that only served to manipulate us and make us feel either guilty or prideful.
And so they say to Paul, “But you said that since we’re Christians we don’t have to obey any laws! We can do whatever we want! We have freedom in Christ! You said God accepts us as we are and will never reject us no matter how much we mess up! And you said that we don’t need to follow any of the Jewish Laws either because we are under the new covenant. So we’re doing that!”
And Paul says, “Yes, you are free in Christ, but not everything is helpful. Yes, you are free in Christ, but these you are doing aren’t bringing you more freedom – they are dominating you. You are no longer free when you do these things, you are making yourself a slave again. ” You see that?
The Emptiness Trap
When we turn away from God’s design for our lives we will feel empty. That emptiness will create an appetite that will eventually become all consuming. We will gorge ourselves on all manner of things trying to fill that emptiness, to satisfy that appetite that can only be satisfied by being in a right relationship with God and others.
This is the trap. We feel God’s way is too constricting, too hard. Satan offers to satiate that appetite an easier way – through violence, gluttony, sexual sin, stealing – and it works for a moment, but what happens is that appetite grows. And as a Christian, after we have succumbed to temptation, we realize we have grieved the Holy Spirit, ruined our reputation, lost our reward, invited God’s discipline, made innocent people suffer for our selfishness, tainted our ministry and testimony, left a stumbling stone for those who would follow us… and that shame can either cause us to fall before God and ask for forgiveness and restoration – which He will give… or will drive us away from God, separating us from Him further, and our church, and our friends, and His Word, and His voice… causing our appetites to grow and grow because now we feel truly terrible.
Which, again, either causes us to turn to God or, in many cases, cause us to not want to feel anything. When we feel empty we’re willing to try anything – and when that doesn’t work we try hard not to feel anything. So we self-medicate, fall into destructive behaviours, and our life falls apart.
Maybe you’re not all the way down this road, but I promise, this is where unconfessed, unforgiven sin leads. To a destroyed, corrupt, hard, and calloused heart that refuses to feel.
The remedy is the Gospel. The Bible says we need to realize that we were not designed merely to fill our appetites. “‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.” Our body, our lives, are not given to us merely to pursue our own pleasures, but for God. Colossians 1:16 says that all things were created through Jesus and for Jesus, and that includes us. We will only find true fulfillment, joy, and peace when we realize that they are not found by us though this world – but in Him.
Verses 15-18 talk about the invisible, emotional and spiritual dangers of sexual sin, but we’ve covered a lot of that already.
The way we escape these out of control appetites is in verses 19-20 which say, “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.”
This is the gospel condensed. We gave our bodies to sin and became salves to sin, but Jesus bought us back at a great price. We celebrate it every month at communion – that He gave His body and shed His blood in exchange for ours. He saves us to Himself. He makes us born again so we can live forever. He cleans us up so we can be temples of His Holy Spirit. But this was at the price of His life, freely given for all who would believe.
Our response to that amazing grace is threefold:
First, we need to acknowledge our sin and the danger of it. Sin isn’t fun or funny. It isn’t little. It creates spiritual death, no matter how small we think it is, and it’s destructive power is incredible. So we acknowledge that we are sinners, that we hate sin, repent from it, and ask God’s forgiveness of it by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Second, we accept that forgiveness and believe that we have been cleaned. It’s not because of any feeling we have or a tingle in our spine, but because of the agreement that God made with us because of the covenant of the blood of Jesus. If you repent and believe, you will be saved. If you ask forgiveness in His name, you will be forgiven. And from that point on we live as Christians. The Holy Spirit takes residence in our hearts and speaks to us in words that cannot be expressed.
And third, we glorify God in our body. In other words, we no longer live for ourselves, but trust that Jesus’ way is better. He is our Saviour and our Lord. When He says something is good, it is good. When He says something is dangerous, we avoid it. When He says go, we go. When He says stop, we stop. Jesus redeemed us, bought us back from death and Hell, so our bodies are no longer ours. They are His. And He can do with them as He pleases.
It is to this we appeal when we are tempted, when we face sin, and when our appetites get out of control.
We pray: “Jesus, this is sin and I know you hate it, and therefore I do too, and I want to avoid it. I accept that this has no more place in my life because I am yours. Help me to flee temptation as you taught me to pray. And Jesus, my body is yours. My mind, heart, and soul too. Do with them as You will. You gave me these appetites, so help me fulfil them your way, so you get the glory and I can experience more of you.”