Sexual Morality 101 (I Corinthians 5-7)
I. Nothing New
Listen to the words of the writer of Ecclesiastes, words penned over 3000 years ago:
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Though many today feel astonished and horrified about the subject, while others feel evolved and liberated, these words apply just as much to sex and sexuality as they do to any other subject. There is nothing new under the sun. Though each generation can invent new language, though each generation can package things differently, there have always been men and women who fancied themselves rebels or revolutionaries or innovators or pioneers or emancipators when it comes to sex. But...
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.
II. The Passage: “So Glorify God in Your Body” (5:1-7:9)
This morning I'd like to talk with you about sexual morality. Though I will be driving the bus or boat or whichever tour vehicle you prefer, our guide this morning will be the Apostle Paul. But even better than Paul, our ultimate light this morning will come from the Being, from the One who created us. So since there is “nothing new under the sun”, let's turn to God's enduring word, specifically to I Corinthians, chapter 5.
This morning my goal is not simply to highlight certain 'proof texts' or 'gotcha verses' when it comes to sexual morality. What I'd like to do instead is think about the more foundational ideas that are revealed in chapters 5, 6, and 7 of I Corinthians. These principles of a Scriptural sexual morality are the like the molten lava that we discover breaking forth from the fissures or volcanoes of the specific circumstances taking place in the church at Corinth. So without further ado, let me give you an example of one of these principles. The first one is revealed in chapter 5. It's there we discover that...
1. While everyone has a sexual morality, most are usually me-centered, rather than God-centered.
Look at the very first verse of I Corinthians 5...
It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife.
Talk about a troubling scenario: a man in the church is carrying on an adulterous affair with his stepmother. And just as disturbing, the Christians at Corinth are doing nothing about it. But notice one reason Paul gives us in verse 1, one reason why their response to this sexual immorality is so shocking: because even their pagan neighbors know this is wrong. The word “pagan” here is really just the word “Gentile”. It means someone who is on the outside spiritually, that is, someone who is not (or we could say 'not yet') one of God's people.
But as Paul points out, even those who do not know the true God... do know that such behavior is sexually immoral. Their sexual morality, that is, what they understand to be right and wrong when it comes to sex, condemns such behavior as very, very wrong. But Paul's language and logic here seem to imply that, in general, there are plenty of things that are tolerated among these unbelievers; that is, things they would say are right and good. We'll talk more about these first century, pagan moralities in just a minute. But unless you've been living under a rock the last 55 years, you know that sexual moralities in our own society have continued multiplying.
What we need to understand about these sexual moralities is that they are almost always based on the preferences of the individual. They are not based on the inherited wisdom of humankind. They are not based on science. They are not based on sociology or any kind of data regarding human flourishing. They are built and defended in light of an individual's preference. Of course, that shouldn't be surprising. On the pedestal in today's cultural temple individual preference is enshrined as that which is most holy. That basis should concern us about such moralities.
But in contrast to these revered moralities, Paul offers us a revealed morality; one that does correspond to tradition and science and what so much data confirms about real human flourishing. What does this God-revealed, God-centered morality reveal? It describes how...
2. God's sexual morality is grounded in the fact your Creator cares about what you do with the body he created.
Look over at chapter 6 of I Corinthians. Paul writes this in verses 18-20...
Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
It's helpful to note that the word “other” in v. 18 is not present in the Greek, so it would literally be translated, “every sin a person commits is outside the body”. Now, as you may have noticed in this letter, Paul often quotes phrases the Corinthian Christians were using to justify their behavior. This is probably one of them. You see, one of the sexual moralities at work in this first-century Greek city was built around the idea that sin was something outside the body, so it didn't really matter, since what mattered most were internal, spiritual realities. Some in this church seemed to be saying, “Do what you want with your body, since Jesus has redeemed your spirit.”
But Paul wants them to understand that the body matters, because God made you embodied. Your body is not simply a shell or merely a vehicle for your spirit. Your body is an essential part of who you are; so much so, that Jesus will redeem your body in the end; he will transform it for an eternal existence (v. 14). Paul is crystal clear about the importance of the body in verse 13: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”
What Paul wants them to understand (and God wants us to understand) is how certain, stunning spiritual realities are really inseparable from our bodily reality. Paul points out two here:
First in verse 16... “Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh.'” Sadly, Corinth was the home to the Temple of the Greek goddess Aphrodite. The Greek geographer Strabo described how one thousand cult prostitutes worked at that temple, and how, like an ancient Las Vegas or Amsterdam, the city was renown for its sexual tourism. So it's not surprising that Paul mentions prostitution here. But the Corinthians needed to know that God had created sex to be more than just a physical union. It was also designed to create a strong relational/spiritual union.
That relates to a second spiritual reality. Look back at 6:19... “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?” One reason your body is so important, believer, is because it is a temple of the Holy Spirit of God. Therefore, how can any of us treat the body like it doesn't matter spiritually? Paul made a similar point a few verses earlier when talking about prostitution. Verse 15... “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? Never!” Sexual matters matter spiritually. It matters what you do with your body.
3. Sexual morality should recognize that desire is natural, but also unnaturally tainted.
Take a look at 6:12-13. Paul writes, quoting some of the Corinthians justifications:
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food” [and I think the quote continues]—and God will destroy both one and the other [so what; the body wont last]. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Notice the different strands of reasoning Paul is trying to confront here: first, there were some who were attempting to rationalize their behavior by appealing to their freedom in Christ. This same slogan (i.e., “All things...”) appears in 10:23 as well. Second, some were arguing that if the body has an appetite, it should be satisfied. Just as the stomach craves food, our sexual organs crave sexual satisfaction. As some would say today, “Sex is natural, so do what feels right.”
It's important to note that Paul never dismisses or denigrates these passions. But he does challenge their reasoning about such appetites. The existence of such appetites doesn't justify every behavior driven by such appetites. Take food for example. In chapters 8 and 11 of this same letter, Paul will confront them on this topic of food, whether it be the issue of eating food sacrificed to idols or selfishly eating at the church's regular fellowship meal. As Paul has just told them, “Your appetite may crave this or that, 'but not all things are helpful'. Your appetite may crave this or that, 'but [you should] not be dominated by anything.'” Our bodies were made with sexual appetites, but (v. 13) “the body is not meant for sexual immorality”. And yet, we crave it.
So because our desires can be tainted, we recognize the need for self-control and nutritional discernment when it comes to food. In the same way, we also need to practice self-control and sexual discernment when it comes to our sexual desires. Where does that discernment come from? Ultimately from the sexual morality revealed by our Creator, the designer of sex and sexuality. So what should we do with such appetites, such desires, such passions? In the next chapter, Paul addresses that very issue by reminding them that...
4. The greatest good of God's sexual morality is God's masterpiece of marriage.
If sexual morality is about what is right and wrong (or good and bad) when it comes to sex, then it is definitely good to avoid the bad. It is right to reject the wrong. A life lived with self-control in regard to our sexual desires is a very good thing. But the greatest good has to be not simply restraint in terms of sexual appetite, but satisfying our sexual appetites in the way God designed them to be satisfied. Paul addresses this very things when we move on to chapter 7. Vs. 1-2...
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
Did you see Paul quoting the Corinthians again? Interestingly, it appears that some of the them were reacting to the 'spirit is more important than the body' crowd, the 'sex is natural, do what feels good' crowd, by swinging to another misguided extreme. This group seemed to be saying, “No sex at all is the best course of action. It's how we can be most pure.” Now, that can be true in some contexts. Paul will certainly go on in this chapter to argue for the benefits of celibate singleness in terms of serving Christ, but he knows this is not God's plan for everyone. That's why he writes in verse 9... “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
Again, Paul doesn't condemn anyone who “burn[s] with passion”. Instead, he directs his readers back to marriage. Why marriage? Because just as God is the designer of sex, he's also the designer of marriage. In fact, He made the two to go hand in hand. To be clear, if you want to hear Paul talk about the glories of marriage, read Ephesians 5. This section here is much more practical in light of the problem of sexual immorality. But it's a really good reminder that marriage between a man and a woman is the only relationship in which sexual desires are to be fulfilled, since marriage alone fulfills both the relational and reproductive designs of sex.
III. “And Such Were Some of You”
Now, there's so much more that could be said about marriage, about morality, about sex. And it's so important we understand these things. Why? Because everyday we and our kids are being bombarded by destructive, me-centered sexual moralities that call us to indulge our pleasures, but ignore our taintedness. And sadly, many of us have. Many of us are. This morning, God wants you to remorsefully reject those paths. He wants to offer you something far, far better. And he wants you to know forgiveness and change are possible. Look back at 6:9–11. This is Paul's reminder for these believers about how God had already worked among them...
...Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,  nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.  And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
The Good News about Jesus offers hope to the sexually burdened; forgiveness for the sexually guilty; restoration for the sexually straying. And it does this by pointing us to an even greater relationship, one no sexual liaison could ever match. Remember 6:19-20... “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Christ died for us, that we might live for him, in every way, including sexually. Will you ask Him now to help you in this way?
More in Our Bible Reading Plan (2021-2022)
October 2, 2022Visions of Jesus (Revelation 19:9-10)
September 25, 2022Why Justice is Worth Singing About (Revelation 15)
September 18, 2022How to Conquer the Dragon (Revelation 12:11)