Sermon Commentary for Sunday, January 17, 2021
1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Commentary
Christians sometimes assume people’s souls are the only places where God works. God’s people, however, who add Christian freedom to that assumption sometimes end up with unbiblical notions about our bodies.
Of course, Jesus Christ graciously freed his adopted siblings from having to earn our salvation by obeying God’s law. Yet that leaves the question of how Christians use our freedom in Christ. How, quite simply, do God’s beloved children live in obedient gratitude for God’s gracious gift of salvation?
In this Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson Paul grabs his audience’s attention by talking first about food, then about sex. To quote Will Willimon, in just a few verses the apostle manages to talk about “mastication, fornication and prostitution.”
So those who assume 1 Corinthians 6’s proclaimers will just talk about spiritual things may be disappointed. Paul, after all, calls God’s people to also consider physical things. He reminds his letter’s recipients that while God gives God’s adopted children much freedom to responsibly respond to God’s grace, not everything we do is “beneficial” (12). Some things Christians have the freedom to do aren’t helpful to either the people around us or to us.
What’s more, Paul adds, while God has given Jesus’ followers much freedom to appropriately respond to God’s grace, some of our actions may, in fact, actually serve to recapture us. Our new freedom may begin to dominate our actions, thoughts and words, leaving us are little freer, in one sense, than when we were slaves to Satan.
Thankfully, then, Paul helps his readers to think about Christian freedom in a perhaps slightly different light. Though we might expect him to reject sexual sin because it’s immoral, he doesn’t say that. Instead the apostle makes the perhaps startling and certainly mysterious claim that Jesus’ followers’ bodies are somehow part of Christ’s (15).
Who in their right minds, then, he goes on to ask, would use their freedom to participate in immorality with a part of us that’s also part of Jesus Christ? To defile our bodies through things like improper eating or sexual immorality is to somehow defile the God living within God’s adopted children.
The apostle’s view of the body and sexuality is far higher than our culture’s. While society sometimes uses crude language for sexual intimacy such as “scoring,” Paul insists that those who are sexually intimate do something far more profound than “hook up.” They do something, he suggests, that changes their very lives. When Christians join bodies, we become one with the people with whom we’re sexually intimate.
God’s adopted sons and daughters believe in the resurrection of the body, both Christ and ours’. So we profess that God didn’t just raise Christ as some ghost or spirit, but in his body. While Christ’s resurrected body was clearly somehow different from ours’, it was still a body.
In the same way, Christians profess that when Jesus Christ returns, God isn’t going to raise Jesus’ adopted siblings as some kind of wispy ghosts either. While they will be somehow different than the ones we have now, it’s still our bodies God will graciously raise.
So Christians believe that after age has done its worst to our bodies, God will raise them when Christ returns. After death has done its worst to our bodies, God will lovingly transform them at the end of measured time. Even after decay has returned God’s dearly beloved people’s bodies to the dust from which God created our first parents, God will lovingly reunite them with our souls in the new creation.
God isn’t just concerned with God’s adopted sons and daughters’ souls, as we sometimes assume. By God’s Spirit, after all, God makes God’s home in our bodies. That means that Christians’ bodies are just as much instruments of our obedient response to God’s amazing grace as our souls.
So our bodies are just as important to Christians as they are to any of our culture’s fitness or sexually obsessed people. Yet Jesus’ followers don’t necessarily care for our bodies for the same reasons as our society. After all, while our culture often takes care of its bodies to look livelier, feel better, or live longer, Christians care for them primarily in order to honor God.
People in our culture are, for example, sometimes sexually intimate just to experience pleasure, assert power or hijack affection. Christians, however, aren’t intimate with our spouses just in order to procreate and experience pleasure. We’re also faithful in order to honor God.
Our bodies, like the Holy Spirit who lives in them, are, after all, gifts from God. The Lord bought them with the steep price of the life of God’s only natural Son, Jesus Christ. So God gave God’s adopted children bodies, just like he gave us minds and souls, to honor God.
Christians often think of honoring God with our praise, mostly through our music. What might it mean, however, for us to honor God with our bodies as well? Might it mean, as Willimon asks, showing gratitude to God for giving us our bodies by not abusing them?
Unhealthy activities like smoking, over-eating and abusing alcohol don’t just raise our risks in the eyes of the medical and insurance industries. Paul implies that they also dishonor the God who God fearfully and wonderfully creates bodies. God promises to one day raise our bodies from the dead.
While some care for bodies is an exercise in narcissism and selfish obsession with appearances, Paul encourages his readers to think of our bodies as gifts from God and responsibilities God gives us. Our bodies, according to the apostle, are a glorious work of God that we should enjoy, preserve, and improve for God’s glory. So even getting enough sleep and exercise may not be just a physical, but also spiritual issue for Christians.
This Sunday’s Epistolary Lesson’s message, however, also affects the way its proclaimers and hearers view those around us. As Christians have done mission and other outreach work, we’ve historically often thought of Christianity as just a matter of the soul.
We’ve sometimes worried only about the salvation of people’s souls while paying little attention to their bodies’ well-being. Or Jesus’ followers have cared for peoples’ bodies largely as a way to get their attention so that we can get to their (more important) souls.
Paul, however, reminds us that our bodies are so important to God that God is going to someday raise and redeem them. So we thank God for Christian agencies that minister to peoples’ bodies and souls. I thank God for colleagues who are doing things like improving needy people’s farming techniques, literacy rates and health care in Christ’s name.
Our text, however, also reminds us that God’s adopted sons and daughters also need to view our world as God’s creation just as much as we view our bodies as God’s work. I sometimes wonder if Christians haven’t avoided environmental debates because we think the spirit is somehow more important than the material creation.
God’s dearly beloved children understand that when God said “Let them rule” over the creation, he called our first parents (as well as their descendants) to care for God’s creation because it’s God’s handiwork. So care for God’s work includes not only caring for our bodies as God’s temple, but also our world as one of God’s homes.
Julie Jones was overweight for more than twenty years of her first forty-something years. Though she tried every diet under the sun, she couldn’t control her weight. Even when Ms. Jones managed to lose some weight, the pounds always crept back.
Then, according to an article in Christianity Today, Jones, using language some reserve for Jesus, says, “I found Gwen [Shamblin] … I opened The Weigh Down Diet, and I knew then and there that it was going to change my life forever.”
What made The Weigh Down Diet so much more successful than other diet plans? Jones answers, “Shamblin tells overweight women what we want to hear: you don’t have to starve yourself to lose. Overeating is a problem of the soul. Put your spiritual life in order and you will lose weight, without cutting out the foods you love from your daily diet.”
Shamblin insists people shouldn’t be obsessed with food. However, she also claims that counting calories can be fully as obsessive as compulsive eating. The real problem, she says, is spiritual. Your figure will improve, she insists, when you get right with God, when you stop trying to fill your God-shaped hole with food.
Shamblin herself struggled with obesity when she was a college student. However, she says she finally lost and kept off weight when she came to think of craving food without being hungry as a call to read her Bible or pray.
Shamblin’s Weigh Down Diet is part of a Christian dieting industry that may annually be worth as much $1.5 billion. She owns 30,000 Weigh Down workshops across the world and has authored at least three popular books.
While Shamblin’s approach to Christian dieting avoids many diets’ strict rules and regulations, another other popular Christian dieting approach, the “3D” (dieting, discipleship, discipline) approach that’s the brainchild of Carol Showalter, advocates careful measuring of caloric intake. It promotes losing weight through a disciplined lifestyle of prayer and eating. Showalter likes to remind people that “self-control” is one of the fruits of the Spirit.
Those like me who struggle with obesity are in no place to criticize efforts to help people to lose weight. I’m far more critical of Shamblin’s sometimes-loose theology that includes a fairly explicit rejection of the doctrine of the Trinity. However, I’m thankful for the efforts of Christian dieters to remind us, however unevenly, that God is fully as interested in our bodies as in our souls.
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