Brothers and sisters, "all things are lawful for me," but not all things are fitting. "All things are lawful for me," but I will not be brought under the power of anyone. "Food is for the stomach, and the stomach for food," but God will destroy both the one and the other. Now, the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. For God has raised up 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? By no means! Or do you not know that one who cleaves to a prostitute becomes one body with her? "For the two," it is said, "shall be one flesh" (Genesis 2:24). But anyone who cleaves to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every sin a person commits is outside the body, but the immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit Who is in you, Whom you have from God - and that you are not your own? For you have been bought at a great price. Glorify God, therefore, in your body and in your soul which both are God's.
Cultural background to the Epistle:
As you can see, Saint Paul is talking about some very carnal things here, namely gluttony and fornication. The city of Corinth in the days of St Paul was a busy trade city, and because of it was very wealthy. Before the first Christian communities were established there, citizens of Corinth were pagans. One of the characteristics of ancient Greek urban culture was sexual promiscuity. In a city of wealth, trades, and constant travelers immorality was especially prevalent.
The Christian community, since it was made up of Corinthians who grew up in this pagan, immoral, environment, was also a seriously troubled church. Infected with sexual immorality, split by factions that dragged each other to court, crippled by abuse of the spiritual gifts...all this in a church that was not even a couple decades old. Corinthians had a strong faith, but they had a lot of growing up to do. St Paul, like a true father of the community, had to diagnose the problems and aim his efforts at the source of the problem: pride and lack of true love.
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Our culture may or may not be as immoral, sexually and otherwise, as the culture that surrounded the early Corinthian church, but St Paul's words ring as true today as they did nearly 2,000 years ago.
"All things are lawful for me" and "food is for the stomach, and the stomach for food" were two of the slogans Corinthians used to justify their immoral behavior. Food is gratifying and essential for life, so when Corinthians were hungry, they ate. In the same logic, when they craved sex, they indulged themselves. They thought that any physical activity does not affect our spiritual life, just like digesting food does not affect our spirituality. There are two faults with this logic: (1) The stomach and the digestive process only have function is this temporal life, they have no function in the eternal life. Our body is eternal because Christ took on our human nature (flesh and blood and all) and sanctified it through the resurrection. The body is given to us to glorify God. (2) While the stomach's purpose is to digest food, the body's purpose is not to have sex (or commit any other immoral act) whenever it wants it. Christians practice abstinence for their own good, not because God wants to "punish" us or put some weird "restrictions" on us. And when we do eat or have sex, we do it with moderation: we eat just enough for our sustenance, and we have sex in the right circumstances (that is, between married man and woman). To do these things in all other situations is not so much unlawful, as unhealthy - it is detrimental to our physical and spiritual being.
Your in Christ,