“Your Body Is a Temple”

Categories: M. W. Bassford, Sermons

Sometimes, our biggest problems with interpreting Scripture arise when we really want the Bible to say something that we already believe.  There is something that we think surely is wrong, so we find a suitably vague passage and impose our meaning on it.  Though this might satisfy us, we’re finding something in the word that isn’t really there.

There are several passages that invite this kind of abuse, but of them all, perhaps the most egregiously misused is 1 Corinthians 6:19.  “Your body is a temple,” Paul says, and well-meaning Christians take this as an opportunity to invest physical health with spiritual significance.  Your body is a temple, so you shouldn’t smoke.  Your body is a temple, so you shouldn’t be overweight.  Your body is a temple, so you should exercise regularly.  And so on.

All of this certainly loads guilt on the heads of Christians who do smoke, are overweight, and don’t exercise, but these applications say much more about us and our values than about Paul’s original intent.  This evening, then, let’s try to figure out what that original intent is, so that we can better understand what it means that our body is a temple.

As always, the best way to understand a passage is to consider it in context, and the context here begins with a discussion of FOOD AND THE STOMACH.  Consider 1 Corinthians 6:11-12.  Here, Paul is attempting to address a distorted view of Christian liberty that some in the church in Corinth had.  Depending on translation, your Bible may have quotation marks around statements like “Everything is permissible for me,” and “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food.”  I think that accurately captures the dialogue that is occurring in this text.

From these comments, we can infer that the Corinthians believed that because Christ had set them free, there were all kinds of earthly delights that they were free to enjoy too.  Just like the stomach was made for food, their bodies were made for pleasure, so they might as well live it up! 

Paul has several things to say in reply.  First, he notes that simply because something is lawful doesn’t mean that it is wise.  Christians frequently attempt to justify their conduct by saying, “The Bible doesn’t say it’s a sin!”  While that may be true, it’s incomplete.  Before we engage in some activity, we also should ask if it’s going to help us draw closer to the Lord and to our eternal home.

Second, Paul points out that even some innocent delights can become a problem if they start controlling us instead of us controlling them.  I don’t think there’s a thing in the world wrong with playing video games, but if we love video games so much that they start interfering with our work or our time with our families, there’s a problem!  Any number of things can take on too much significance in our lives, and we must be on guard against all of them.

Third, Paul shows that some pleasures are flatly wrong.  The stomach is for food, but the body is not for immorality!  If we justify our behavior on the basis that it feels good, we are leaving the door wide open for sin.

Next, Paul explains exactly why it is that SEXUAL IMMORALITY is wrong.  This discussion appears in 1 Corinthians 6:14-18.  He begins by pointing out the significance of our bodies.  First, it is our bodies that will be resurrected.  We’re not going to be disembodied spirits who drift off to heaven.  Instead, just like God raised Jesus from the dead, He will raise us.  Second, when we obeyed the gospel, our bodies were incorporated into the body of Christ.  Our earthly bodies have great spiritual significance!

Here, then, is the big problem with Christians who engage in fornication, adultery, and so forth.  When we do, we are taking something that is part of the body of Christ and making it one flesh with a prostitute.  Sometimes, preachers will say that every marriage involves three:  husband, wife, and God.  This passage reveals the dark side of that spiritual truth.  Our sexual sin brings Jesus into contact with corruption and defilement.

Indeed, Paul reveals that immorality’s ability to do this is unique.  Every other sin is outside the body, but sexual sin is a sin against the body.  This might seem strange to us.  Take drunkenness, for instance.  Drunkenness is definitely a sin, and it definitely affects our bodies.  Doesn’t that count?

Not the same thing, says Paul.  He doesn’t specify why, but his previous words imply it has to do with the one-flesh nature of sexual intimacy.  Drunkenness doesn’t make us intimate with anyone; in fact, the more we drink, the more isolated we become.  Sex is different.  It’s a union of body, mind, and spirit, one of God’s most beautiful gifts to the human race.  When we take this precious gift and turn it to the service of evil, the spiritual fallout soaks into our very bones.  We have turned something that was holy into a source of unholiness.

Paul concludes by pointing out the serious problems this creates for those who were BOUGHT WITH A PRICE.  Let’s conclude our reading for the evening with 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.  Here, we meet our old friend, “Your body is a temple.”  However, in context, it takes on a very different meaning.  Things that the Bible doesn’t call sins don’t defile our bodies—they’re not sins.  In fact, even most of the sins that the Bible condemns don’t defile our bodies either.  Drunkenness is as wrong as wrong can be, but it still is a sin outside the body.  It simply doesn’t involve our bodies that deeply.

Contextually, there is only one sin that defiles the temple of our bodies, that insults the Spirit who dwells within us.  It is sexual immorality.  We shouldn’t come away from this passage resolved to eat fewer Big Macs.  We should come away from it resolved to keep ourselves sexually pure because of the disastrous consequences of sexual sin.

If there is any commandment in Scripture that our society hates, it is this one.  We are, after all, only now coming out of Pride Month, and this year I saw ungodly sexuality celebrated as never before.  Sadly, the Bible leaves no doubt about what will happen to all those who practice unrighteousness.

For us, though, the analysis is different.  Our worldly neighbors exalt sexual autonomy.  Their rallying cry is, “It’s my body, so I can do what I want!”  Paul wants us to understand, though, that because we are Christians, our bodies are no longer our own.  We were bought with a price, not into the freedom to do whatever we want to, but into servitude to Jesus.  I can’t just follow physical pleasure wherever it leads because my body belongs to Him.  It’s not something I have the right to do anymore.

Instead, we are responsible for glorifying God with our bodies.  There are a couple of different ways we can do this.  Sexual union in marriage does this.  If we are not married, though, we glorify God by reserving our bodies for our possible future spouses.  In no cases can we bring the Spirit within us into contact with intimate sin.