Sunday sermon on the Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:12-20)
In the Name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, one God. Amen.
Holiness of our body, holiness of a Christian body in particular, is the theme of today’s Epistle of Saint Paul to the Corinthians. And it’s not a coincidence that he talks about sex, or rather sexual immorality, in reference to this holiness.
Today I would like to answer three questions regarding all of this: (1) Why does Paul focus on sexual immorality when talking about the holiness of our physical bodies? (2) What is this holiness rooted in? (3) And, what do we do about it?
So, first question, why does Paul focus on sexual immorality? The answer lies in the background of the community he is writing to. Corinth, which is located in Greece, was a notoriously pagan city. And pagan rituals of those days were accompanied by extremely immoral acts, group immoral acts. Let’s leave it at that.
In Greek, these immoral acts were called porneia (you can guess which English word is derived from it). But we have never been able to find a good English translation for it. Even in the Bible it is translated as “fornication,” “sexual immorality,” or just “immorality” in general.
And people engaged in this sort of immorality, of course, physically, with their bodies. And more than that, sexuality in the ancient world was viewed as a biological need, like eating or sleeping. If you were hungry, you desired food; if you were tired, you desired sleep; and if you desired to exercise your sexual need, all you had to do was find a receptacle, someone or something to relieve the urge.
This is not the picture of sexuality or humanity that we get in Scripture. This is a completely broken and corrupted understanding of who we are.
Some of the people in Corinth heard the Gospel and converted, becoming the disciples of Christ, Christians. But not all of them stopped participating in porneia. So, Saint Paul had to write to them, warning that this kind of behavior is not only harmful for them physically (even today’s science has shown that having multiple sexual partners can have adverse effects), but it also destroys the holiness, both spiritual and physical, that they received at baptism.
Today, it’s not hard to look around, watch some TV, browse some internet, read a few books or articles, and realize that humanity has circled back to the immoral filthiness of the ancient pagans. Morally we have gone back, yet for some reason it’s called progress.
I am not going to give any examples, because they are self-evident, of sexual immorality that is prevalent all over. It not only exists, it is promulgated by media and even the government.
So, even though Paul’s letter is almost 2,000 years old, it hits home today just as much as it did back then. And the reason is that God did not give us the body to do all sorts of immoral acts with it. We are made the way we are to be united to God in Christ, to experience and exercise holiness.
Our bodies are meant for holiness, not debauchery. “My body, my choice,” as we hear so much today, is not only not a thing, it’s also a dangerous game. The kind of game that we always lose when we refuse the holiness for which we are created, both spiritually and physically.
The holiness of our bodies is rooted in the fact that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and God Himself, has become incarnate, embodied, in the same body that each of us has. By assuming this body, suffering in it, dying on the Cross, resurrecting, and ascending, He sanctified it.
He took it from the immoral filth in which humanity was stuck and brought it to His Kingdom. Remember, Christ ascended physically, He did not abandon His body when He returned to be seated at the right hand of God the Father.
And at baptism we are joined to God through Christ, both spiritually and physically. Physically, again, because Jesus has the same body. In light of the incarnation, through baptism, we share in the holiness of Christ. We are part of Him, connected to Him. We can’t just take our bodies now and do whatever pleases us.
I mean, we could. We still have the choice of remaining faithful or wasting away with the pigs. But if we choose the second option, the option of “my body, my choice,” my actions now affect not just me, but the entire Body of Christ, the Christian community. Being connected to Christ means that porneia, immorality, damages me and those in my family and those in my church community. No sin is completely personal.
So what do we do about all of it? Saint Paul has a nice, three-word exhortation in the Epistle, “Flee sexual immorality!” Flee from it, do not entertain it, avoid people who engage in it, have nothing to do with it.
And if you think that you do not have a problem with it, then think again. Sexual immorality is not the only kind of immorality with which we do violence to the holiness of our bodies.
Gluttony, the animal-like behavior towards food, drunkenness, and all sorts of addictions, from smoking to drugs, are all immoral acts that corrupt us and those around us.
And, as Saint Paul again says, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.” God Himself dwells in us, in our physical body.
Let’s say someone desecrated this church building. Would we be shocked and horrified and furious? You bet. So why do we so willingly desecrate the temple of God that is our body? Where do you think God dwells more – in a building of stone and glass or in the temple He Himself has created and given to us, our very own body?
God can’t dwell where sin and corruption persist. He either leaves that place or that place can’t withstand His presence and His holiness, and gets destroyed.
So for the Holy Spirit to remain in us and not destroy us, we must remain pure. This does not mean that we never sin (because, if you’ve tried, you know it’s impossible not to sin). To remain pure means that when we do sin, in thought or word or deed, we repent and return and amend our life.
The return of the Prodigal Son to his father was an act of repentance. He didn’t just leave the pigs, he returned and amended his life. Repentance is crucial in remaining in the community of God. Like I said, no sin is completely personal. Repentance brings us among the people of God and keeps us there.
The body is not meant for the immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. In this same body Jesus Christ has brought salvation. As Tertullian, one of the early Christian authors said, “The body is the hinge of salvation.” A hinge is what joins the gate to the post. Salvation comes to us through the body. Therefore, the body is not for porneia, but for the Lord.
Let us flee all sorts of immorality and maintain our bodies pure for the Lord. So that we may glorify God in body and in spirit, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, always, now and ever and unto ages of ages.