Sexual Purity in the Church

1 Corinthians Series – Chapters 5-6

I was fortunate to travel to Europe with my parents as a teenager. On arrival in Amsterdam my father told me we had to see the red light district. This is the center of the city’s sex trade. Obviously my father did not want me to do any business there, he just wanted me to see what a strange phenomenon it was. Well, nothing could prepare me for what I saw. Prostitutes sat in shop windows advertising themselves like live dummies. You could window shop up and down the streets to find the one you fancied. I had never seen anything like it. Some people may view the red light district of Amsterdam as a place of sexual freedom, but I think most Christians would see it as a place of sexual bondage.

Ancient Corinth was a similar type of place. It had a roaring sex trade driven by the worship of Aphrodite; the goddess of love. Men worshiped Aphrodite by having sex with one of the 1000 temple prostitutes. This activity promoted sexual looseness of many kinds right across the community. And although the Romans destroyed the temple just before the time of Christ, the immoral activity associated with Aphrodite continued in the streets and market places.

Who would start a church in such a place? Well, Paul would; and did. But it was not without problems. The sexual looseness of the community began to creep into the church. And in 1 Corinthians 5-6, Paul addresses two issues that were affecting the church adversely – prostitution and incest.

Prostitution (1 Co 6: 12-20)

Paul says to the Corinthians, ‘You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.’ (13)

It is clear from numerous verses in this letter that Paul had given the Corinthians permission to eat food sold in the market place that had been offered to idols (10:25). He had told them that it was just meat and would not do any harm. But some of the Corinthians had taken this freedom a step further. They reasoned that since it was ok to enjoy the food of an idol it was also okay to enjoy the prostitutes of an idol.

Paul continues, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? 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 whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” (6:15-17)

Today we may not even see food that is offered idols let alone be tempted by temple prostitutes, but in Paul’s words is something for all of us. Paul claims that sexual intercourse is designed to form a lasting bond between a man and a woman, and this conflicts with prostitution. In verse 6 he quotes Jesus who said “a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one flesh.” (Mt 19: 5-6). If they are no longer two but one, then the rest of their lives must be one; they must share their money, their home, their food, their children, their sickness, their heath, everything. Or to put it another way – they are to be considered married. Yes, sexual intercourse consummates a marriage. God created sex to cement a man and woman together for as long as they live.
People often talk about the sex drive being the strongest drive within a human. Well it is this way because it is supposed to achieve something very important – two people becoming one in every aspect of life. And it is supposed to happen between two virgins – a male and a female. When its the first time for both, a bond is formed that they have shared with no other person, and it binds them not just in body, but in mind, emotion and spirit. And the glue works best the first time. So there is much to be said about the importance of waiting till your wedding day!

Prostitution reduces sex from a precious life bond to a moment of lust. People who practice sex before marriage do the same. Let me be clear. Sex before marriage is false sexuality because it involves a false oneness. Two people act as one in sexual intercourse without their lives becoming one in all areas. If a man or woman wants to be a real lover they must practice real sexuality, not a reduced and cheapened version of it. And if one day when you get married and you want to give your partner the real deal, then you need to make sure they are first one.

Paul says, “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (19-20)

Those who are joined to God spiritually must not be joined to a prostitute or anyone they do not have a marriage covenant with physically. On this scripture is clear.

Incest (1 Co 5:1-13)

Paul writes, ‘It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate: A man is sleeping with his father’s wife (step mother). And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this? For my part, even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. As one who is present with you in this way, I have already passed judgment in the name of our Lord Jesus on the one who has been doing this. So when you are assembled and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved on the day of the Lord.’

Paul says ‘you are proud’. It is unlikely the Corinthians were proud about the incest. Roman law did not allow it, and if a person was formally charged with incest they could be banished from the city. It is more likely that the Corinthian congregation was proud about the offenders popularity or position in the community. The early churches consisted of mainly lower to middle class people. So the upper class were prized, and a church congregation could easily be proud of them. But it was culturally unacceptable for the lower class to correct the upper class. So it may be that the Corinthians were caught in a position where they were proud about the person, but did nothing about their sin.

Would we do the same? If a top politician joined your church and you discovered he was in an illicit relationship, would you correct him? What about a famous film star or singer? Paul says rather than be proud, we should tell the person they cannot attend the church while continuing in that relationship. In fact he goes further and says the person should be handed ‘over to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved.’ That’s a bit like God putting Adam and Eve outside Eden so that suffering makes them realize their need for him.

Paul then corrects a related misunderstanding. He says, ‘I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who claims to be a brother or sister but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or slanderer, a drunkard or swindler. Do not even eat with such people. What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside.’

Often the church is quick to judge unbelievers and slow to correct its members. Paul is saying it should be the opposite. In fact we should allow unbelievers to come to church no matter what sins they are involved in. But with longstanding believers it is different. If they start doing what they know is wrong, we should correct them. And if they don’t listen we should put them out of fellowship. Unfortunately many church members do not realize how serious things are until a pastor does this.

Fortunately, it would seem that the Corinthians did take Paul’s advice in the end, and that it did cause the offending man to repent, because in the second letter to the Corinthians Paul says, ‘The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. Anyone you forgive, I also forgive.’ (2 Cor 2: 6-7)

Paul did not hold a grudge against this man, and we are never to hold a grudge against anyone. Putting a person out of fellowship has an aim – to bring about genuine repentance. Once that is achieved, the person must be, forgiven, restored and embraced as if nothing happened.

Many people believe that sex should be without rules, but true freedom always has boundaries. If you want to be a good footballer you must play to the rules. If football had no rules it would be confusing, meaningless and even dangerous. It is the same with sex. If you want your sex life to be full of beauty and meaning, if you want it to be healthy and beneficial; you must stick to the Creator’s rules.

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