I have a couple of questions for you. First, what impact has the gift of the Holy Spirit had on your life? And secondly, what's your attitude to your body? Both rather intimate questions, I know – and you can keep the answers to yourself.
They're questions that are linked to my title this morning, which is 'Body and Spirit'. You might think that Body and Spirit are unrelated topics, or that they are opposites: chalk and cheese. Not so. In fact in the passage that we come to today as we progress through 1 Corinthians the apostle Paul is spelling out very forcibly the impact that the gift of the Holy Spirit has, or should have, on our attitudes to our bodies - and therefore on how we use them and what we do with them. The passage is 1 Corinthians 6.9-20. Do have it open in front of you.
Corinth had some very distinct similarities to our own society. It was a greedy society. Its greed was fed by a prosperity that meant there was a good deal of money washing around. Its greed also expressed itself in rampant sexual immorality.
The Christians in this church in Corinth had been converted out of that world. That was the world they lived in day by day. And Paul doesn't want them to leave it even if they could - their God-given task was to bear witness to Christ within it.
But Paul wanted them to understand that they no longer belonged to that world. He wanted them to behave differently because they were different. But what he saw as he looked at them was a bunch of Christians who often behaved as if they had never been given the Holy Spirit at all. They were great at boasting about spiritual power and spiritual gifts. But what they did with their bodies showed that what they thought about their bodies was profoundly unspiritual. They had hardly begun to get to grips with what it meant to receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
So never mind the political parties battling it out at the moment – if you want a genuinely radical manifesto then get to grips with what Paul has to say here. This really does have the makings of a revolution. What does Pentecost have to do with what you think of your body? Well that's Paul's agenda here.
It's an agenda that he develops in chapter 7, as we shall see over the next three weeks when we'll be looking at what he has to say on marriage and then singleness. To start with, though, you can see what he's driving at if you look at the beginning of verse 18 and the end of verse 20. Negatively, he says (v18) 'Flee from sexual immorality.' His message, though, is supremely positive. You should flee immorality so that (verse 20) you can 'honour God with your body'. Why? That's what he spells out in this passage.
I want to think about what he says under three headings.
First, THE HOLY SPIRIT MAKES US HEIRS OF GOD'S KINGDOM
Paul knows that we'll never think straight about our bodies unless we've got a basic grasp of what the Holy Spirit has done for us as believers. If we're believers then we ought to know that. But as was the case with the Corinthian Christians, too often the way we live suggests that we haven't really got a clue. So Paul is characteristically blunt and direct.
First of all he reminds us of the great divide that exists within humanity. Verse 9:
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?
What is 'the kingdom of God'? It means here resurrection life beyond death, knowing God face to face and enjoying all the blessings and riches that implies – in other words, eternal abundant life. And the stark fact that we have to face is that there is this great divide. Some will inherit a place in this kingdom. Some will not.
The heirs are those who are in the right with God – in other words the righteous. Those who can have no expectation of a place in the kingdom are those who are not in the right with God – those who are his enemies – in other words the unrighteous, or as this translation has it, 'the wicked', which amounts to the same thing.
'You do understand that, don't you,' says Paul. Everything else is insignificant in comparison. Divisions of wealth, race, health, education, gender or class are all irrelevant when it comes to whether someone can have a confident expectation of eternal life. The issue is whether they are right with God or not – whether they are righteous or unrighteous. Ultimately that is the great divide.
And knowing that there is that great divide urgently raises the question for us of which side of the divide we are on. But before Paul sorts that one out, he wants to make something clear about what the righteous and the unrighteous are like. And he has to spell this out because there is a great deception going the rounds, and at least some of the Corinthian Christians had been taken in by it.
The great deception persuades us that we can be grabbing and self-seeking and still inherit the kingdom. What does Paul have to say about that? Look at the second half of verse 9 and verse 10:
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.
The essence of the behaviour that he's describing is greed. These are people for whom greed is good.
They are greedy in relation to God – they want to strip the one true God of his authority and bestow it on idols of their own making. They are greedy for food and drink, and abuse their own bodies by gluttony and drunkenness. They are greedy for possessions and grab what isn't theirs, whether or not they stay on the right side of the law. They are greedy for glory, and think nothing of lying in order to trample other people down so they don't have to share the limelight.
And they are greedy in relation to other people's bodies – they want to use them for their own pleasure, contemptuous of their Maker's instructions that sex is for marriage, which is heterosexual, monogamous and lifelong. So they gratify whatever sexual desire they have, whether it's outside marriage, or homosexual, or adulterous.
Now Paul is not talking about people who are greedy in all of these ways. Just those who are persistently greedy in one or some of them. And God is saying to us, through him, 'You do understand, don't you, that you cannot be like that and at the same time expect a place in my kingdom? Don't imagine that if you belong to me you can persist in behaving like that.'
It is a great deception to imagine that we can trample on others in pursuit of our own interests and still inherit the kingdom of God. The righteous cannot and do not live like the unrighteous. Knowing God must change the way we behave.
So there is the great divide. And there is the great deception. Then thirdly, Paul speaks of the great difference - the great difference that is made by the Holy Spirit. Having described those who are wicked and unrighteous, he says (verse 11):
And that is what some of you were. 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.
You see how wonderful that is? It's not that the greedy and self-seeking cannot enter the kingdom of God. That's exactly the kind of material that the inhabitants of the kingdom are made of. But the Holy Spirit takes hold of people like that, and works such a deep change in them that they come out new people. The unrighteous are made righteous.
The Holy Spirit washes us. Our sin and rebellion are like filth that clings to us and stains us. We are powerless to remove it. But the Holy Spirit deals with all that. In the name of Jesus he makes effective in our lives the death that Jesus died to deal once for all with our sin, past, present and future. So, for instance, the dirt of past sexual immorality is washed away.
There is no stain so ingrained in our lives that the Holy Spirit cannot wash it clean away. It may be that some consequences remain. But the guilt and condemnation and power of that sin in our lives is broken. We are washed clean.
And the Holy Spirit sanctifies us. We used to belong to the world of greed. When the Holy Spirit gets hold of us, a transfer of ownership takes place. Now we belong to Christ. Now our reason for existence is to bring glory to God. And we do that by being like him. In other words, we are called to be holy. And that holiness – that Christlikeness – is formed in us by the Holy Spirit. We are sanctified.
And the Holy Spirit justifies us. We used to be unrighteous – enemies of God. But in the name of Jesus the Spirit puts us right with the Father. Once we were guilty, but now we are declared innocent. Once we used to be under condemnation, now we are acquitted.
So, says Paul, you used to be the kind of person who would trample on others to satisfy your greed. But now that you are a believer that is no longer you. The Holy Spirit has worked a deep transformation in you. You have been washed and sanctified and justified. You have been made an heir of God's kingdom. Not because you deserve it. Not on merit. But by grace.
So what next? We have to take on board the full implications of what's happened to us – of what has been done to us by the Holy Spirit. And there are very profound implications for how we view our bodies, and what we do with them. Which brings me to my next heading.
Secondly, OUR BODIES BELONG TO CHRIST
The work of the Holy Spirit in our lives is very down to earth. It has to do with the whole of our lives, and, crucially, it has to do with our bodies. We mustn't think of our bodies as somehow not part of us, as if the real me just lives inside a lump of meat. We are our souls and bodies. What our bodies do is what we do. What we think of our bodies is what we think of ourselves. If we're going to inherit the kingdom of God, then our bodies are heirs of the kingdom.
We live in a society that at one and the same time is obsessed with the body and debases the body. We pour money into looking after our bodies and poison them with tobacco and an excess of alcohol. We gorge ourselves and starve ourselves. Killing and dead bodies are the staple diet of our screen entertainment, but we turn our faces away from the reality of decay and death. We idolise youth and beauty and we hunt for medical miracles that will enable us to live ever longer. We drape ourselves with designer gear and we hate the way we look. We revile sex criminals and glory in sexual immorality.
We live in a greedy society that wrings its hands over the breakdown of marriage and family life, whilst simultaneously promoting immoral sex to the point where our society has almost lost any concept of sexual morality at all.
But believers must be different. What we do with our bodies counts. It matters. And the best way to learn to stop using our bodies in wrong ways is to learn to use them rightly. So Paul has six positive things to say here about our bodies.
First, our bodies are for Christ. And what is more, such is the love of Christ for us, that he became a man, body and all, and died to rescue us from hell, bodies and all. Look at the second half of verse 13:
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Secondly, our bodies will be raised from the dead. Verse 14:
By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.
Jesus was raised bodily from that dark tomb, never to die again. And we too will be raised bodily. Of course, there's a good deal we don't understand about this. But we know enough. We know that these bodies will not simply be discarded as so much soiled and worn out old clothing tossed into the wheelie bin. We've got them for eternity. Transformed – yes. And that's probably a relief for most of us. But we are our souls and bodies, and the whole of us will be raised. It'll be like a seed becoming a plant, as Paul says later in this letter (in chapter 15). It's this body that we'll take with us. So what we do with it now matters.
Thirdly, our bodies are members of the body of Christ. Paul uses three images to describe the relationship of our bodies to Jesus: a body; a marriage; and a temple. So, at the start of verse 15:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself?
The church is the body of Christ. It's as if Christ is the head of his body and we make up the limbs and all the organs. So what we do, Christ's body does. And if we have any concern for the glory of Jesus, that should bring us up short when we are on the edge of using our bodies for sin. Paul is blunt. The second half of verse 15:
Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, 'The two will become one flesh.' But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
That's an astonishing parallel. What he's saying is that the relationship of believers to Christ is like a marriage.
So, fourthly, our bodies are for spiritual union with Christ. How can we abuse our bodies and use them for immorality when we are married to Jesus? From an earthly point of view, we may be married or single. But every believer is involved in a spiritual marriage to Jesus. Immorality is spiritual adultery.
Then in verse 19 there's another image:
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?
Fifthly, then, our bodies are lived in by the Holy Spirit. On the Day of Pentecost, God poured his Holy Spirit into the lives of his disciples. He is God's great gift to every believer. God himself, by his Spirit, lives among us and within us.
And where God lives is the true temple. So that's us. Muck up our bodies and we are trashing God's own home. And it's not as if the Holy Spirit is out doing the shopping or visiting friends when we sin. He never leaves us.
Then sixthly and finally, our bodies belong to Christ. That's what it all amounts to. End of verse 19:
You are not your own; you were bought at a price.
And what a price Jesus paid as he gave his body up to the lash, the nails, the spear and the grave. How valuable we are to him, body and soul! We belong to him.
So what conclusion should we draw? Well, that's my final heading.
Thirdly, WE SHOULD HONOUR GOD WITH OUR BODIES
And that's taken directly from the end of verse 20:
Therefore honour God with your body.
I heard a contemporary poem read on the radio a while ago, written by a daughter about her mother. It was expressing the contrast between the generations. The mother was proud of the fact that she had only ever slept with one man in her life – her husband. If that had been true of her, the daughter said about herself, it would have been a source of shame. Sexual purity and faithfulness is regarded as a source of shame. That is our society. Not so different from Corinth. And what a travesty of how things should be.
Our bodies are for Christ. They will be raised from the dead. They are members of his body. They are for spiritual union with him. They are temples of his Spirit. They belong to Jesus.
The conclusion is obvious, and it should challenge us to the core. Yes, Christ has set us free. But (verse 12)…
…not everything is beneficial.
We must not abuse our freedom.
We must flee from sexual immorality. That's not difficult. Christ has set us free. We just have to do it. If we don't want to, we won't. If we want to honour God, we will.
We must know our worth. The Son of God died for us. His Spirit has taken up residence. That's what fixes our value.
We must know that we belong to Christ. Our lives and our bodies are not our own. What we do with them is his business.
Yes, we know that forgiveness is always available. And praise God for that, because we certainly need it again and again. But we must not use our bodies to bring shame and dishonour on the name of God. How could we do that? Our bodies should be used to bring glory to God, who lives within us by his Holy Spirit.