Confident Christianity: “Knowing Good” – 1 Corinthians 6:12-20

spaghetti_bologneseI love food, and it shows. I have been working on my personal disciplines and my gym time, but as yet it isn’t showing. Anyway, as both an historian and a self-professed “foodie” I have often wondered exactly how people figured out what was good to eat. Recently I started watching a series of food lectures that surmised how people worked out a variety of foods. Think about it! How could someone figure out that the head of a grain could be pounded and separated from its chaff covering? How did they work out that after the grain was separated, it could be dried, and ground into flour, added to water and a little salt and made into a bread base? If they could figure all that out, how could they then work out that if they cut it in thin strips, let it dry and boiled it in water, they could top it with tomatoes and Parmesan cheese for a spaghetti dinner? Yet, they clearly did. The variables of that evolution of the recipe probably produced many other things that DON’T go together. This past week I went to lunch with Pastor Matt, and watched him consume a burger that was topped with peanut butter and jelly. Some things are just WRONG, and that appeared to be one where I needed to take a stand!

The truth is that modern life is full of options, and not everything is clearly right or wrong. Sometimes we are left with a decision about our participation and what to use our resources on – and the choices aren’t always “cut and dried”. Since we have only a matter of decades on the planet and it moves by much more quickly that many realize – we don’t want to waste it. As a believer, I know that I could easily waste my life on things that will not honor God. At the same time, there is much to enjoy in this life! I sleep on a comfortable mattress, not a bed of nails. I drive an automobile with air conditioning. I eat far too many good meals. How do I know what God allows for me, and what will move me off my mission? How do I know what is His direction for my life and what is His enemy’s distraction to pull me away from Him?

Key Principle: God intended His people to carefully choose what they will include in their lives and what they should stay away from.

This principle can sound like l am about to offer you a legalistic rant, but I am not. Today’s lesson will leave you with a list – but it will be a list of principles, not practices you must conform to in order to please me, or anyone else. These are principles from God’s Holy Word on personal choice items. Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. 18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”

In the first half of 1 Corinthians 6, after a quick reading one might conclude that Paul wasn’t sure the Corinthians really understood the components of a Christian at all. Notice in 6:2 the phrase: “Do you not know?” You see it again in verse 3 and again in verse 9. It seems there may have been doubt about their understanding of the content of their faith and lifestyle. Curtiss Kitrell wrote:

“What? Know ye not?” This expression is used by Paul eight times in this first letter to the Corinthians. Again and again he had to say to them, “Didn’t anyone ever tell you about these things? … Could it be that the Christians at Corinth did not know better and had to be informed? After all, they had been saved from gross heathenism, dreadful superstition, and loose moral living. Perhaps they really didn’t know how to behave as Christians. Or it could have been that the Corinthians were ignoring certain information given them. They knew what was expected of them but they were doing nothing about it. They were not living up to their potential in Christ. They were not growing because they were not obeying Christ. (Sermon central illustrations).

Corinth was a center for prostitute cults. Of that, there is no doubt. It was an economy fueled by sensuality. Here Paul was directly answering the issue: “Can a Christian go to the brothel?” His answer was clear… God defined that as immoral. “What about Judah in Genesis?” one asks. The answer is this: He was wrong to go into a prostitute, and you would be too. “OK!” you say. “Got it. Now let’s go home…” Not so fast… there is much more here! Here there are principles to help me decide the moral premise of many things that may not have even been invented at the time of Paul…

In the event that it was not clear how to select activities that honor God, and how to eliminate things that were NOT RIGHT for them, Paul offered them eight tests. A believer can apply these to any participation opportunity or choice. Each test can help me decide IF I should participate, if I should exclude participation, as well as HOW MUCH I can involve myself and still be “on mission”.

The premise of the all eight is this: Paul stated elsewhere a number of times that our body belongs to God. It is HIS. This section explains HOW to set your body apart and glorify God with all of you.

Help Test: Will it help on my mission?

1 Corinthians 6:12 “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable.”

On a book jacket by John Piper: “February 1998 Reader’s Digest: A couple ‘took early retirement from their jobs in the Northeast fives years ago when he was 59 and she was 51. Now they live in Punta Gorda, Florida, where they cruise on their 30-foot trawler, play softball and collect shells. . . .’ Picture them before Christ at the great Day of Judgment: ‘Look, Lord. See my shells.’ That is a tragedy. “God created us to live with a single passion: to joyfully display his supreme excellence in all the spheres of life. The wasted life is the life without this passion. God calls us to pray and think and dream and plan and work not to be made much of, but to make much of him in every part of our lives.” —– [Don’t Waste Your Life, Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2003, rear jacket]

If we agree with the old commercial from the United Negro College Fund: “A mind is a terrible thing to waste!” how much more is a LIFE a terrible thing to waste! Paul argues that even if something is ALLOWED, it may not be helpful for the mission we were given. A ball gown may be elegant in a waltz, but it makes for lousy as swim wear. Many a believer is adorning his life with practices that do not help him accomplish the goal in life God has given them… and inside they KNOW it.

As a believer I have the right to eat, to drink, to sleep, to work, and to pursue enjoyment. No other mere mortal has the right to tell me how to live my life. God’s Word and God’s Spirit are my guides – not someone else’s preferences or traditions. Yet, though that is true, there are some constraints.

Here, before he even got to that point, he precedes the argument with – “DOES THIS HELP?” The term PROFITABLE in 1 Corinthians 6:12 is symphérō (from sýn, “together with” and phérō, “bring, carry”) – properly, combine in a way that brings gain).

If it ADDS to my life and its mission, then it is worth considering. In my life, art, music, natural beauty, excellent food, dear friends – all add to make the operations of the journey with Jesus more pleasant and fulfilling. Kept in balance, they are HELPFUL. Out of balance, they become selfish and harmful.

Control Test: Will it overwhelm my ability to complete my mission?

1 Corinthians 6:12b “…All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.”

Galatians 5:16 warns believers to be sensitive to a war that is fighting for CONTROL over us … Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. 17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish.

Herein is the caution – be careful that the things you are doing are not warring and defeating the work of the Spirit of God within. At the same time, we have the additional need to be careful that the thing we are doing isn’t DOING US. Do I have the absolute control over my faculties? That is a key question to the use or participation in an activity.

Many people allow outside influences to shakle them, just as you would handcuff someone to a jail cell wall. They willingly put their arms forward, allowing the cuffs to snap on and bind them. When they are closed, they are no longer in control of their ability to respond as God would have them. The choices must be made to stay out of the situation BEFORE it becomes a situation.

Let me offer a story or two to ilustrate:

John is out with his friends until after 3:00 AM. Two of the friends have been drinking and may have taken some drugs. John gets in the car with one of them driving, and ends up ending his sports career in the accident that was caused by the bad judgment of the driver. He hadn’t been drinking, but in getting in the car as a passenger, he was brought under the mastery of the driver and the bottle all the same.

Suzie saw a school acquaintance on the side of the road walking down Highway 27 at 11:30 with a day bag on her shoulder. As a believer, Suzie thought she should stop and help. Her friend Debbie got in the car and asked for a lift to the south of town. Suzie could tell that she was stoned on drugs. A mile and a half down the road, the officer pulled the car over for a broken tale light. When he looked into the car and saw the drugged young woman, he asked to see both of them outside the car. He asked if he could search the car. Debbie had taken her stash of drugs and put them under the seat. Suzie had to make a call from jail to her parents, and be arraigned on drug charges. She left control of the situation and it mastered her testimony.

In both of these cases, mastery wasn’t drinking; it was placing myself in a place out of the proper controls of God’s designated people in my life. Wrong friends may be the problem, but that choice happens before the TRAGIC problem arises.

Often “mastery” is about surrendering your future choices to another person or influence. We must guard the influences of our life to be careful not to allow something to control our testimony.

Longevity Test: Will it put too much emphasis on things that won’t last?

1 Corinthians 6:13   Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them.

Don’t get the wrong idea about the reference to food. Paul was not trying to surrender pasta in favor of dry and moldy bread. He ate, and at times he ate well. He knew the difference between a quality wine and street swill vinegar, sold by the fast drink vendors. At most street vendors, cheap food and drink was readily available. Since many people had no cooking facility in their one room flat, the average Roman ate all their meals in the community. Many wine bars served CONDITUM, a wine mixed with pepper, honey and seawater – and yes, it was often as bad as it sounds.

Excavations at Pompeii and Herculaneum in southern Italy preserved more than walls – it preserved graffiti and dipinti – ancient writings and murals that showed people’s opinions that were contemporary to Paul. The problem wasn’t that FOOD was bad – the emphasis of the sentence was on the temporary nature of food. Our ladies understand this. They will work hard every Thanksgiving, spending hours creating a meal that is literally gobbled down (pun intended) by hungry, ravenous beasts in what seems like seconds.

Is food wrong because it is temporary? No, of course it is not. God made us to eat, and God made us with taste buds. Satan didn’t stick them in our mouth after the Fall to get us off track. God intended us to enjoy and savor life – even though everything here is temporary. What does this test mean then?

Again, the issue is perspective. We must be careful not to get lost in the temporary to the expense of the permanent. Souls are forever – comfort is not. How can we look at a missionary, let alone a martyr in glory in the eye if we refuse to sacrifice any personal comforts for the cause of Christ? We must guard not to allow the temporary to overrun the eternal.

Spurgeon once offered a parable in which he said, “There was once a tyrant who summoned one of his subjects into his presence, and ordered him to make a chain. The poor blacksmith — that was his occupation — had to go to work and forge the chain. When it was done, he brought it into the presence of the tyrant, and was ordered to take it away and make it twice the length. He brought it again to the tyrant, and again he was ordered to double it. Back he came when he had obeyed the order, and the tyrant looked at it, and then commanded the servants to bind the man hand and foot with the chain he had made and cast him into prison. “That is what the devil does with men,” Mr. Spurgeon said. “He makes them forge their own chain, and then binds them hand and foot with it, and casts them into outer darkness.”

With eternities values in view, we will walk uprightly and see clearly during the journey. Don’t live without joys of this life – but don’t live driven by them either.

Purpose Test: Am I using it the way the Lord intended?

I Corinthians 6:13b “…Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord , and the Lord is for the body .

The physical relationship of intimacy was made FOR marriage to be used IN marriage. God tells a story through our sexuality – a beautiful one about the Father’s commitment to Israel, and the Son’s commitment to the church. There is no place in the story for a “side use”. God’s rule on sexuality is: “Use only as directed.” Everything else is dangerous, and produces harmful side effects.

Little Billy took his girlfriend downtown to get married. The marriage license clerk smiled and explained that they were both much too young. Little Billy asked, “Could you give us a learners’ permit then?” Well Billy, I would have to say that there is no such thing.

The Apostle John wrote, “Love not the world neither the things in the world for all that is in the world the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the boastful pride of life is not of the Father but is from the world. The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.” (1 John 2:15,16)

My body – every part of it – has a Divinely appointed purpose. I am to use all the parts as HE commanded.

• If I use my eyes to gaze where He has warned they should not look, I will be plagued with guilt.
• If I strain my ears to hear what He has told me I should not hear – I will live with the stains on my heart.
• If I take my feet where He warns I dare not go – I will find myself in a place of peril.
• If I place my hands where He has forbidden them to be – I will dishonor Him who called me.

The University of Northern Iowa once offered a general art course that included a most unusual exercise. The teacher brought to class a shopping bag filled with lemons and gave a lemon to each class member. The assignment was for the student to keep his lemon with him day and night–smelling, handling, examining it. Next class period, without warning, students were told to put their lemons back in the bag. Then each was asked to find his lemon. Surprisingly, most did so without difficulty. God designed sex in a way for people to know their partners in such a way that know one else will ever know.

Sexual sin is, at its core, the simple act of using parts in a way that they were not designed to be used or for a purpose for which they were not made to be used. This need not involve another person, but it may. It is the simple act of taking what is made for a distinct purpose – the intimacy of marriage – and using it for personal pleasure. The pleasure of these acts were to be a byproduct, but not the primary purpose. Feeding pleasure only entraps you, and leaves your life stained and guilty.

Margaret was lonely. She wanted to walk with God, but she also wanted a husband and children. She wanted to feel close to someone. She let Bill have what was not his to have. She wanted him to stay and love her. He stayed, but not with the respect she wanted him to have for her. She lived with guilt, and in the end got her man – but wishes she hadn’t. Sometimes the WAY you do something is as important as what you are doing.

Let me challenge the world’s hypothesis that LUSTFUL PASSION is something you should LOVE to have in your life constantly. Let me ask you directly to consider the self-destructive consequences of lust, as well as your commitment to honor the Savior. Lust can be for sexual gratification, but it can just as easily be for heart intimacy. Lust is simply a yearning. Men often yearn for physical gratification while women often yearn for emotional gratification – both are equally wrong if they are not “held in check” by a walk with God, directed by His Spirit.

Memory Test: Since this body will be raised, is this what I want to show I did with it?

I Corinthians 6:14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.

There are two sense of this verse. First, we must look at the fact that we will be raised in the power of God – and then we live an unending life before the Lord. Right now it seems so important to have what we want. In one million years, how will it look?

Second, there is a sense of God’s power in the verse. It is as though Paul were asking for us: “Can God deliver me from this?” Sure He can! Since it is true that He raised up Jesus from the dead, He can surely help me with my struggle to resist something God doesn’t want me to do.

The singer-songwriter Jackson Brown wrote: “I’ve learned that if you give a pig and a boy everything they want, you’ll get a good pig and a bad boy.” (Jackson Brown, Jr., Live and Learn and Pass it On).

Link Test: Am I bringing Jesus into an agreement or place in which He would not choose to participate?

1 Corinthians 6:15   Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says , “ THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH .” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him.

Here is a simple rendering of the principle: “God knows where He wants to be – so don’t take the Spirit where He is uncomfortable!” Participate in things that God desires to participate in. When I fell in love with my wife, we began to express that love by DOING THINGS TOGETHER. Dottie and I had, in the beginning, very different tastes. We still have an entirely different sense of HUMOR. She is a “Three Stooges” slapstick kinda gal, and I am… well, NOT any of those things. We don’t read the same kinds of material. Yet, over time, our lives have become so intertwined that we have learned to like things the other was involved in. I am a boring guy in many ways. A good book, a quiet room and some soft string chamber music are my speed. Yet, I would be willing to watch or listen to a great variety of things if it will bring my wife a measure of joy. Could we do less for our Savior?

The specific topic of 6:15-17 is clearly the joining of a sexual nature. It is the sharing of the most intimate part of ourselves with another. The verses end with the admonition that we can have an intense level of intimacy with the Lord Himself. We can, spiritually speaking, find deep joy and share deeply in the satisfaction of bringing Him joy! Here is the clear idea once again: Don’t put Jesus where Jesus wouldn’t put Himself. You carry Him within – walk like it without!

Harm Test: Will it harm my body or wound my soul?

1 Corinthians 6:18 “Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body.

Radio personality Paul Harvey told the story of how an Eskimo kills a wolf. The account is grisly, yet it offers fresh insight into the consuming, self-destructive nature of sin.

First, the Eskimo coats his knife blade with animal blood and allows it to freeze. Then he adds another layer of blood, and another, until the blade is completely concealed by frozen blood. “Next, the hunter fixes his knife in the ground with the blade up. When a wolf follows his sensitive nose to the source of the scent and discovers the bait, he licks it, tasting the fresh frozen blood. He begins to lick faster, more and more vigorously, lapping the blade until the keen edge is bare. Feverishly now, harder and harder the wolf licks the blade in the arctic night. So great becomes his craving for blood that the wolf does not notice the razor-sharp sting of the naked blade on his own tongue, nor does he recognize the instant at which his insatiable thirst is being satisfied by his OWN warm blood. His carnivorous appetite just craves more–until the dawn finds him dead in the snow!

I mention this story for good reason. It is a fearful thing that people can be “consumed by their own lusts.” It is not uncommon; if you look you will see it everywhere in our world. Here is the simple principle: If it will harm your body or dull your passion for God – it simply isn’t worth the cost.

Temple Test: Is this something God would paint on the outside to advertise what a life surrendered to Him does?

Not everything is about what is DOES to me; some things are about what it SAYS to others when I participate in this action. Some things a slave did in a Roman home reflected on the Master.

1 Corinthians 6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.

Drew Anderson (from Tucson, AZ), wrote into Reader’s Digest: “While my wife and I were shopping at a mall kiosk, a shapely young woman in a short, form-fitting dress strolled by. My eyes followed her. Without looking up from the item she was examining, my wife asked, “Was it worth the trouble you’re in?”

Paul was speaking in the context of sexuality in this passage, and specifically the union with Temple prostitutes of Acro-Corinth. This was perfectly acceptable in the society of the people receiving the letter. A youth’s first experience was lauded by his father and other men. In some ways, our society is becoming much like Corinth of old…

A ten year old study estimated that the average American views over nine thousand sexual acts, or implied sex acts, every year on television. Of that, over eighty percent are by people who aren’t married. The average youth, watching television, from age eight to eighteen (ten years) watched 93,000 scenes of sexual expression, and over 72,000 of these scenes would have been premarital or extramarital affairs.

Is that linked, do you think to the fact that during the same period teenage pregnancies skyrocketed. The vast majority of unwed teen mothers required public assistance, but few connected it with their television diet at all.

After studying the trends, we now conclude that of teens who marry because of pregnancy, sixty percent divorced within five years. Two thirds of teenage pregnancies of the study were fathered by men over 20.

“Well”, you say, “That’s teenagers. Adults make wiser choices, right?” Not really.

Forbes magazine reported this year that pornography is a fourteen billion dollars per year business. By comparison, McDonald’s reported an eight billion dollar income size for their global business.

One huge problem with pornography and sexual advertisements, is not that they emphasize sex too much, but that they don’t emphasize it in its proper place. They eliminate the depth of human relationship and its picture – then restrain sexuality to the narrow confines of a momentary pleasure. They think an act alone defines sex, but that is only a small part of God’s beautiful design.

Here is my question for the Temple Test. Since you probably agree that Jesus purchased you, is your private life the billboard for the owner’s value system?

Here is the problem: Many believers wrongly think Jesus came to save them from HELL – but that is only a slice from the true reality of His Divine purpose. Jesus is as much our Savior from sin’s current bondage as from Hell’s eventual destiny. His power is given for my transforming walk today, not just my destination tomorrow. Many who came to Jesus out of a desire to escape the flames of hell, if honest, would tell you they have no real desire to be delivered from their sinful lifestyle. That is the truth. They want DESTINATION INSURANCE not a life transformation. They want a great final address, not a traveling companion. Think of it this way: That comparison is like the difference between God’s design for sexual expression and its shadowed but poor reflection in pornography. Emphasis of only one part obscures the total purpose and picture – but many are pleased with that portion without the requirement of relationship.

Galatians 1 opens with these words:

Galatians 1:3 Grace to you and peace from [a]God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, 4 who gave Himself for our sins so that He might rescue us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, 5 to whom be the glory forevermore. Amen.

Clearly the rescue from this age was not a removal – we are still here. Clearly it was not a call to live in monasteries – Paul walked in the cities of his day preaching. How, then are we delivered?

We have a choice to follow God. The mastery of sin is broken (Romans 6). We don’t have to serve it. We can be changed. Now… the real question is: “Do we want to be changed?”

God intended His people to use judgment about what they will include in their lives and allow for themselves.