For the next few posts, I will be writing on the latter half of 1 Corinthians 6, where Paul instructs the Church in Corinth about fleeing sexual immorality. There is so much packed into these few verses, it will help to expound in a few separate topics, working through progressively.
First, 1 Corinthians 6:12-13 tells us about Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthian Church, and just as in other Scriptures, the context is extremely important. If taken out of context, these verses could be taken to mean something very different.
Verses 12-13 say, “‘all things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved 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.”
By themselves, these verses do not make much sense. It almost sounds as if Paul is saying that, while not everything is helpful, anything can be lawful. This is a dangerous mindset, which Paul addresses in Romans 6 as an answer to those who say that increasing in sin is allowed so that grace may also increase. Paul’s answer is “By no means!”
So to make sense of verses 12-13, we need to look at the context of events in the Church of which Paul was writing. Paul here is addressing a problem that the Corinthian Church had with some of its members engaging in sexually immoral behavior. If you look carefully, you can see that Paul is using quotes – “all things are lawful for me” – “food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” – which may have been a popular saying in Corinth, and was being used in the Church to excuse their behavior.
He quotes the saying “All things are lawful for me” twice, each time responding more harshly against it. First, he says that not all things are helpful, even if they might be lawful. That is certainly true in some situations, so the saying might not be bad at first glance.
But these people within the Church have perverted the saying, justifying their egregious sin, so he quotes it again, replying that he will not be enslaved by anything. Here he hits at the heart of their problem: they are slaves to their sin. Simply saying “All things are lawful for me” to justify their sin is a cover for their slavery to their sexual immorality. While the saying might not necessarily be a bad thing in certain situations, it in no way represents their entrapment to their sexual sins.
Paul then quotes seemingly another saying, which gives an analogy. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” In context, with Paul addressing their sexual immorality, we can see, again, that they are most likely attempting to use this analogy to justify their sin. But they are comparing apples to oranges.
It is true, the stomach is meant for food, and vice versa, but in no way is the body meant for licentiousness, or licentiousness for the body. On the contrary, as we see a little later in the chapter, verse 18 says that “the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” Sexual immorality is meant for the body in the same way that rocks are meant for the stomach; they are not only totally adverse, but are harmful, and in no way synonymous.
Paul confirms this in his reaction, saying “God will destroy both one and the other.” Not only is the analogy not appropriate, but if sexual immorality is for the body as food is the stomach, God would destroy both food and stomach. While the stomach is indeed made for food, in no way is the body meant for sexual immorality, and God would destroy them both if the analogy were true.
Thankfully, Paul does not leave us here. He says “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” I think this can be taken in two ways.
First, bought in Christ, we are now one with Him. As verse 17 says, “he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with Him.” Those who have been bought by Christ’s blood have no place being enslaved to a former master. Our savior made the purchase, and we are now free from slavery to sin, and alive in Christ. The Corinthians are dead wrong in saying their actions do not matter; our bodies are meant for the Lord, not sexual sin.
Second, this could also be a call to the Church in Corinth to not suffer these sins in their local body. Previously in the letter (Chapter 5), Paul had stated that they were wrongfully boasting and were arrogant to look over these sins when these brothers were in need of punishment, for the sake of their salvation. He instructs them instead to judge their brother, and “purge the evil person from among” them, “so that his spirit may be saved…”
The Church body also, like the individual, has no place for the tolerance of immorality of any form. Repentance, not arrogance and boasting, is the response we should have for our sins. Tolerating any sin is a cancer that threatens the entire body. Chapter 5:6-7 says “Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?” (Usually used in a good way, this saying is now used oppositely) “Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump…” Justifying and tolerating any sin, without repentance, is dangerous, and should be rooted out and removed.
The body of both the individual and the Church is for the Lord, not for sexual sin. Paul answers the Corinthian wisdom with Godly wisdom, and will continue his exhortation by expanding on the idea of our one-ness in Christ, and what that means for our response to sexual sin.