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‘Dare any of you, having a matter against a fellow Christian, go to law before the unrighteous and not before those who are holy (‘the saints’)?’
‘Having a matter.’ The use of the middle voice might suggest a hint of selfishness , ‘having their own matter’.
Paul’s point here is that Christians see things differently from others. ‘Dare any of you - ?.’ This suggests that while pagan judges might be perfectly fair and reasonable, they might not see things from a Christian perspective. To go before them was a risk both morally and socially. ‘The unrighteous’. Such judges or magistrates are not subject to God’s Law nor are they aware of what is right in Christian eyes, and indeed in God’s eyes. ‘Those who are holy’. This refers to the godly in the church. They look at things from God’s viewpoint. Surely, he is saying, it is better to be judged by those set apart to God, those who see things from God’s point of view.
We can compare how Rabbis warned against taking such matters before non-Jews, because Gentiles lacked the Jew’s high moral perspective. They also had in mind, among other things, the discrimination that might be revealed against them.
Christians Are Not To Go To Court Against Their Fellow-Christians (6:1-9a).
The idea that the church judges internal matters like sin leads on to the idea that the church can also act as judge in disputes. The general principle behind this passage is that Christians should be able to sort out matters between themselves and not resort to local civil judges in the market place or to civil law courts. By doing do they encouraged the mockery of non-Christians. But Paul’s main concern is probably really with the failure of Christians to follow Christ’s injunctions (Matthew 5:23-26; Matthew 5:38-41) and their failure to love one another (John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17; Romans 13:8; 1Th 4:9 ; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11; 1Jn 3:23 ; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 4:11-12). Such things should be dealt with internally.
In Paul’s day one danger was that in going to a pagan court the Christians drew attention to themselves, especially where the dispute might be related to Christian matters, and that they did it in front of courts which were based on submission to the Emperor of Rome, which were not always favourable towards Christians. Thus when times of trouble came they and their affairs were known to the courts and in the public domain and thus more easily attacked. But there is also the principle that for Christians to reveal unchristian aims and behaviour before non-Christians (for usually one side must be in the wrong, or both be partly in the wrong) is to be a bad witness, especially where they were brought out into the open before the judgment seats in the marketplaces before crowds of ordinary people. Dirty Christian linen should not be washed in public.
Important Scandals That Have To Be Dealt With (5:1-6:20).
Having dealt with the central spiritual concern which has been to do with their divisiveness over secondary matters, over ‘the wisdom of words’, which were in danger of squeezing out ‘the word of the cross’ (1 Corinthians 1:18), Paul now moves abruptly on to two scandals which are among them. These are important for their own sake, but equally important because they demonstrate that the teachers who are opposing him have clearly not been concerned about moral behaviour, whereas he has.
He has given a hint of this in what he has already said. But he now moves straight into the issues with vivid and forceful directness, for he wants to catch them by surprise. He wants to take them unawares with something that they are not expecting. But he does not directly use them as an illustration to back up his point, for he does not want their impact to be lessened by suggesting that they are simply a part of the controversy, thus making them simply appear to be an arguing point. He is genuinely distressed at the dreadful testimony they are giving about Christ. He wants them to land among them like bombs exploding. By moving straight in he emphasises their seriousness in their own right and prevents their force from being degraded.
This explains the abrupt change of subject which comes without any connecting word or phrase. This is deliberate. It is partly so that his words about the scandals will make a full impact in themselves, demonstrating that he is extremely concerned about the sins for their own sake, and partly so that it will catch the teachers who are sitting listening to the letter, by surprise, and prevent them from formulating their arguments for the defence against what he has already said. With one swift movement he pulls the carpet from under them.
That is also partly why he does not want to soften the impact of what he says by simply suggesting that they illustrate what he has been saying. He wants them to stand on their own in all their starkness. However, having said that, we should note that he does, while drawing attention to them, cleverly draw out their connection with what has gone before by relating what he is saying to the topics of righteousness (1 Corinthians 5:6-8; 1 Corinthians 6:9; 1 Corinthians 6:11), sanctification (1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 1 Corinthians 6:11; 1 Corinthians 6:19) and redemption (1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Corinthians 6:19-20). Compare 1 Corinthians 1:30. He is drawing attention to the fact that when it comes to dealing with sin it is the word of the cross that enforces holiness on men, not the ‘wise’ teaching of these men whose words and ideas have no real power. Let them, while they are facing up to the dreadfulness of this behaviour that they have simply passed over, just pause and consider that. He knows that they can have no answer to such a dilemma.
The first scandal he brings out is the church’s willingness to allow to go unpunished among them an act of grave sexual misdemeanour (1 Corinthians 5:1-2). He then directs what should be done to put matters right (1 Corinthians 5:3-5) linking this with his teaching about the cross and sanctification (1 Corinthians 5:6-8) and then gives further advice about such matters (1 Corinthians 5:9-13). He leaves unmentioned the question of how this could happen in the light of his opponents’ wisdom teaching, although pointing out that the word of the cross deals with the matter quite clearly.
His final comments on this then lead on the second scandal, the question of going to the secular law against fellow Christians, which he forbids because it brings shame on the name of Christ (1 Corinthians 6:1-8). Let such things rather be judged by the church, he says. The Kingly Rule of God is here, and those who will one day judge angels should not draw back from judging God’s people. And he then draws an important spiritual warning from his comments, expanding the definition of sin to include many forms of sinful behaviour, and again links it with what Christ has done for them, once more introducing the ideas of righteousness and sanctification (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). So all manner of sin is being dealt with by him in the light of the word of the cross, which the wisdom teachers seem to have overlooked.
This is then followed by further emphatic teaching on sexual misbehaviour, this time in connection with having sexual adventures with prostitutes, many of whom would be connected with idolatrous religion. Their very behaviour is thus in itself blasphemous. So he draws out again how dreadful such sins are to those who are members of Christ and temples of the Holy Spirit, and finishes by reminding them that they are in fact not their own because they have been redeemed. They have been bought with a price, sanctified as the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, and belong to Another (1 Corinthians 6:12-20). They should therefore recognise that their bodies are His. So while dealing emphatically with, and condemning, the sins he is describing, he draws out again that it is his teaching about the word of the cross that deals effectively with such sins, not the ‘wisdom’ of those who have allowed such things to continue among them.
We must now consider these matters in detail.
‘Or do you not know that God’s people (‘the saints’) will judge the world? And if the world is judged by you, are you unworthy to judge in the smallest matters? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more things that pertain to this life?’
But the church’s expertise in such matters may be questioned, so Paul points out that Christians are destined to be judges in the spiritual world. They will share with Christ in His judgment of the world (Revelation 20:4; Daniel 7:27). Thus they should surely be seen as fit people to pass judgments on earth. The latter judgments referred to are, of course, relating mainly to disputes between Christian parties. These should be settled privately without drawing the world’s attention to them.
In the present day much harm has been done by such disputes between so-called Christian leaders. Established Christian bringing established Christian to court has resulted in mockery of the name of Christ and a spoiled witness in the eyes of the world. ‘So this is what Christians are like’, they say, and turn away, or mock. Paul was, however, talking about a situation in which ‘the church’ in a certain place was united in its leadership, although by necessity split into different subsections within the place where they were. (Slaves had limited freedom and could not go where they liked). Thus there would be central leaders with the experience to act in such matters. And there was a close bond of fellowship in the churches then, as there should be now.
Jesus taught a similar principle from a slightly different viewpoint when he warned against going before judges with a contentious matter because the case might go against you and the consequences be more serious than they needed to have been (Luke 12:58; Matthew 5:25-26). It is far better to solve a matter in a friendly way rather than risk potential problems.
Of course in modern society there are certain things which have to be dealt with in court because they have legal consequences, but the point is to use the courts only where strictly necessary. Indeed experience of courts often produces a realisation that they do not deal with such things satisfactorily because of limits on time and cost. Thus they come to arbitrary judgments in smaller matters, judgments not based on all the facts.
‘Do you not know that we will judge angels?’ This is presumably because in some way we will participate in the great judgment when angels too will be judged ( Isa 24:21-22 ; 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 1:6).
‘If then you have to judge things pertaining to this life, set those to judge who are of no account in the church (or ‘do you set to judge those---’). I say this to move you to shame. Is it so that there cannot be found among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brothers, but brother goes to law against brother and that before unbelievers?’
In Judaism the synagogues were given various powers of judging and making decisions and to a limited extent these were accepted by the law. Thus Paul is aligning Christian churches with the synagogue, and as the outside world still saw Christians as a type of Jew, their judgments too might have been found acceptable by the law. But Paul’s case goes far beyond this.
‘Set those to judge who are of no account in the church.’ This may be Paul’s way of saying ironically that in their case those whom they least value are probably those who would give the fairest judgment because the more prominent themselves behave in such a way as to exalt the wrong people.
Alternately, ‘Do you set to judge those who are of no account in the church?’ The question then is asking whether they really think that the church should use as judges ‘those of no account’ from God’s point of view. Surely they should look to those respected and chosen by God. It is seeking to give them assurance that they can rather trust their church leaders to do the right thing.
A third possibility is that ‘those -- of no account’ refers to pagan judges, that is, of no account when it comes to decisions between Christians, of no account under the Kingly Rule of God. The use of these judges by a Christian would then suggest that they did not think that there was even one person in the church fit enough to judge.
Whichever is true Paul is bringing home the fact that their behaviours shows that they have a poor view of their own church. It would seem that the Corinthian church had this as a special problem because they had so many well-to-do church members and businessmen who were constantly in dispute with each other. And by their actions they were bringing Christianity into disrepute.
‘If then you have to judge things pertaining to this life.’ There seems to be a hint here in the ‘if’ that in most cases it should not be necessary to do this in the courts if they are living as true Christian brothers. Would brothers in a family behave in such a way?
‘One wise man who will be able to decide between his brothers.’ There may, however, be a dispute between brothers, although it should not be. Then surely it is better to go to a member of the ‘family’ to decide the case. Can they really doubt that, with so much wisdom of words among them, there is someone wise enough to do it?
‘Brother goes to law against brother.’ This is even worse. They cannot settle their dispute reasonably. ‘Before unbelievers’. The greatest shame of all. They are accounting unbelievers as better able to achieve what is right than Christians, and humiliating their Christian brother publicly, and at the same time making clear to the world how badly Christians can behave. Note the downward progression.
‘Is it so that there cannot be found among you one wise man who will be able to decide between his brothers, but brother goes to law against brother and that before unbelievers?’
The Greek is difficult to us. This might mean, ‘you appoint unsuitable Christians, is it in order that you can demonstrate the church’s unfitness to judge?’ Or it may mean, ‘You appoint pagan judges. Is this in order that no one will arise who is wise enough in the church circle to act as judge?’ Either way it is condemned. They should be striving with all their might to ensure that the church is able to judge such matters. For otherwise brother goes to law against brother before unbelievers, those who by their unbelief have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted to decide rightly about sin, and that is a shameful thing.
‘No already it is altogether a defeat (or ‘defect’) for you that you have lawsuits with one another. Why do you not rather accept wrong? Why not rather be defrauded?’
Indeed it demonstrates to the world a spiritual defeat, and is itself a spiritual defeat. For to have lawsuits between Christian brothers before the world is for the world to witness a spiritual defeat, a spiritual defect in one or the other, or both. And to submit oneself and a brother to the world’s judgment is also a spiritual defeat, a sign of an inability to deal with the matter in the presence of Christ. In such cases the Gospel has failed to fulfil its potential. And this is made openly apparent to outsiders. Instead of genuinely saying, ‘see how these Christians love one another’ with feeling (John 13:34; John 15:12; John 15:17; Romans 13:8; 1Th 4:9 ; 1 Peter 1:22; 1 John 3:11; 1Jn 3:23 ; 1 John 4:4; 1 John 4:11-12) they will be saying it derisively. Would it not be better to accept the wrong in Christ’s name or allow themselves to be defrauded (Matthew 5:39-41)? Then at least Christ would not be dishonoured.
‘No, but you yourselves do wrong and defraud your brothers.’
But even worse than the bad witness of Christian brothers falling out is that in fact some of them are actually using the law to defraud their brothers. They have become extortioners. They have learned to use the law to their own ends. And we must always remember that what is legally right in a worldly court might not be morally right. Thus they are behaving unjustly. They are using pagan courts to get their own way, often unfairly, against Christian brothers. This can only bring them into condemnation. In such cases they win the case before men but lose it before God. And God loses as well.
It is very probable that Paul had good knowledge of some of these court actions conveyed to him by his visitors. And this may have affected what he put in his lists, coveting and greed, extortion and cheating, reviling and destroying men’s characters, and so on. And all before unbelievers. Shameful.
‘Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God?’
Do they not realise in all this that those who behave unjustly or wrongly thereby reveal that they are disqualified from the coming Kingly Rule of God? Paul is always quite firm in his view that those who continually fail to reveal Christian virtues, those who do not seek to ‘put on the new man’, thereby reveal that they are not really truly Christian at all. Those who are at ease in Zion may well discover that they are subject to God’s woes (Amos 6:1). For whom God loves He chastens (Hebrews 12:6). Whom Christ saves He gradually transforms (2 Corinthians 3:18). So to be without chastening from God in some way, to be without some evidence of improvement as a Christian, is a sure sign that someone is not Christ’s. So when they win their unfair court case let them recognise that the verdict may eventually also exclude them from the Kingly Rule of God, for it has shown that they are not willing to be subject to that Kingly Rule in the church, and that simply for the purpose of obtaining unjust gain. Thus they will be known by their fruits.
The Contrast Between Sinners and Those In Christ (6:9b-11).
Paul now expands on the idea that those who are unjust in their dealings will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God by pointing out that this is true of all sinful men and women, whether professing but not practising believer or pagan. He then contrasts the majority of the Corinthian church with those who face this dreadful prospect, brought about because of what Christ has done for them in delivering them from sin.
‘Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor those who offer homosexual sex for money, nor abusers of themselves with men (those who engage in homosexual sex for lust), nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, will inherit the Kingly Rule of God.’
‘Do not be deceived.’ Compare Galatians 6:7. Paul has no truck with those who water down God’s judgments. It is so easy for a man to convince himself that he need not be too strict about sin because there is always a way of cleansing. So Paul warns such not to be deceived. If they behave like those doomed to judgment, they will be doomed to judgment whatever claim they make.
The list of sins and sinners is expanded from 1 Corinthians 5:11. They are to recognise that such people as practise these things will not only be expelled from the church and its fellowship in this life, but will certainly be excluded from life under the Kingly Rule of God in Heaven. They will have no inheritance in the future blessings of God. Those who continue blatantly in sin cannot expect mercy.
For the details of the list see on 1 Corinthians 5:11. But here there is an increase in the emphasis on sexual sin, in that practising homosexuality and those who allow themselves to be so used for money (rent boys or rich men’s favourites), behaving in a way contrary to the general natural order of things, are also condemned, as is the specific act of heterosexual adultery, the leading astray of another person’s marital partner. There are some for whom, sadly, life is more difficult because of various tendencies, which men try to justify by calling them natural, but they must be fought against just as men must fight against the natural tendency to free and unbridled sex.
But they are not condemned alone. Also condemned are thieves, fraudsters and deceivers, greedy people, those who live with their minds set on being wealthy, those who misuse alcohol, those who use false means to get money out of others. Those who practise such things will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God, because thereby they have openly rejected it (whatever their claims may be that they are ‘Christians’).
‘Will not inherit the Kingly Rule of God.’ This is because their attitudes are already set against His Kingly Rule. They are openly and deliberately refusing to obey Him now, and have no intention to do so. Thus they can have no hope of a part in His future Rule, in the blessings of the coming age. They ‘hear His word and do it not’ so that all their hopes will collapse (Matthew 7:22-27 which we try to sideline at our peril). 1 Corinthians 6:11 ‘And such were some of you. But you washed yourselves, but you were sanctified, but you were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in (or ‘by’) the Spirit of our God.’
Paul has no qualms in pointing out to the Corinthians that in their sick society many of them had been exactly like that. This adequately described what they had been. But he then goes on to describe the transformation that has taken place in those who are truly in Christ, with the result that they had put all that behind them. Thus even while condemning these gross sins he indicates that even for the worst there is hope in Christ if only they will repent and believe.
‘You washed yourselves.’ It is very questionable whether this refers to baptism. Had it been so it would surely have read ‘you were baptised’. It is true that the middle voice might act as a passive (thus balancing the verbs), but it is far more likely that the middle voice draws attention to a deliberate response by them as in Isaiah 1:16-17. Baptism is rarely, if ever, likened to ‘washing’, as though sins could be washed off (Jeremiah 2:22), and the verb used is never used of ritual washing. It rather has in mind the rains and snow from heaven producing inward fruitfulness (Job 9:30; compare Isaiah 55:10-11), as in John’s baptism and Jesus’ description of the new birth, and the dying and rising again to new life. The idea here is rather that they ‘washed themselves’ by repenting, and turning from sin, and ceasing to have dealings with it, and by availing themselves of the blood of Christ (Revelation 7:14). They put aside what they were and began to live anew in Christ. They obeyed the words of Isaiah, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean. Put away the evil of your doings from before my eyes, cease to do evil, learn to do well, seek what is right --” (Isaiah 1:16-17 compare Jeremiah 4:14). It is the equivalent of true repentance.
Note On ‘Washing’.
It must be remembered that ancient man did not see personal cleanliness in quite the same way as modern man with his greater facilities. While there were exceptions, this was on the whole true. Water brought to his mind fruitfulness in the fields from rain and river rather than bathing and making himself clean.
Some have suggested a connection of ‘washing’ with baptism seen as connected with the Old Testament ‘washings with water’, but quite apart from the fact that apolouo is never used of such washings, in the Old Testament ceremonial washing in itself never ‘cleanses’, and we are specifically told in every case that the Old Testament washings left the person ‘unclean until the evening’. In other words it was not efficacious in cleansing. That required the waiting before God, probably in the tent. Indeed Peter makes clear that baptism does not represent ‘the washing away of the filth of the flesh’ and relates it to the resurrection, dying and rising again (1 Peter 3:21, compare 1 Corinthians 6:18 with 22-23)
This statement is repeated with monotonous regularity with respect to washing in water, and suggests that the cleansing itself actually arises through the time alone with God after the ritual washing, and the efficacy of the daily evening sacrifice on behalf of Israel. Whatever therefore the washings indicated, it was not immediate spiritual cleansing. In fact the idea was probably the removal of ‘earthiness’, of the taint of the world, prior to ‘waiting on’ a holy God for cleansing. Thus David in Psalms 51:2 was not referring to ritual washing but was using his regular royal baths as a picture of cleansing. But there he is referring to God washing him, as his attendants did, not his own action.
And the same applies to Psalms 51:7, although there he probably also has in mind the ‘water for impurity for the removal of sin’. The parallel ‘purge me with hyssop and I shall be clean’ in 1 Corinthians 6:7 suggests this, for hyssop was used to sprinkle water purified with the ashes of a sacrifice (Numbers 19:9; Numbers 17-19). This ‘water for impurity for the removal of sin’ was water containing the ashes of sacrifice, and was itself sprinkled to remove uncleanness, not in order to wash. It signified the efficacy of sacrifices for sin.
Notice in Numbers 19:19 how the careful distinction is made. First the person is sprinkled with the ash-connected water, then they wash their clothes and bathe themselves in water, then they wait for the evening when they ‘become clean’. The washing and bathing is carefully separated from the idea of cleansing, and seems therefore again to have more to do with becoming physically fitter to wait on God for cleansing, removing the earthiness and odours, preparatory to cleansing. Ezekiel also connects this sprinkled ‘purified’ water with the purifying of Israel in a passage connected with the coming of the Spirit (Ezekiel 36:25-27). Notice that there God will use ‘clean water’, i.e. water that has been cleansed.
In Acts 22:16 Ananias does say to Paul, (the only clear example of washing being even remotely connected with baptism), ‘Arise and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord’. But notice that the baptism is something done to him whereas the washing is something he must do for himself as with Isaiah 1:16-17. Had Ananias been directly linking the two he could have demonstrated it by using a participle or by saying ‘have your sins washed away’. If he is to be seen as linking the two specifically, as some insist, it would be the only example in the New Testament, for the only other washing from sin is in the blood of Jesus (Revelation 7:14). Elsewhere baptism is seen as symbolising the rain from heaven producing new life (in John’s baptism), or as a dying and rising again.
So Ananias’ statement ‘wash away your sins’ should more probably be seen as directly connected with ‘calling on the name of the Lord’, rather than specifically as directly connected with ‘be baptised’. In other words he is saying ‘firstly be baptised signifying your entry into the new age of the Spirit and secondly deal with the sins in your life by repentance, calling on the name of the Lord.’ It is significant in this regard that Ananias is shown as using ’apolouo for ‘wash’ and not louo. ’apolouo is used only once in LXX, and that is to represent washing in snow (Job 9:30 - water directly from heaven - which is connected with the going forth of new life in Isaiah 55:12), in contrast with louo which is used of ceremonial washing. This strongly suggests he was wanting to exclude the idea of ceremonial connections.
End of note.
So by ‘you washed yourselves’ (aorist middle) Paul is stressing how they did in the past truly repent and make a determined effort to turn their backs on sin in the name of Christ and by the power of the Spirit, something that they now needed to renew. You are now free from sin because you have washed yourselves by being born of the Spirit.
‘But you were sanctified.’ The verb is aorist passive indicating a once for all situation. God sanctified them, setting them apart as His in Christ and accepting them as holy in Him. Thus although unholy in themselves they are seen as holy in Him. That is why they could be called ‘saints’ (see on 1 Corinthians 1:2). See Hebrews 10:10 which declares that we have been sanctified by His fulfilling of the will of God through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. But the act of being sanctified also had an effect within them, for the Holy Spirit took up His dwelling within them (1 Corinthians 6:19), working new life and holiness within them as they commenced their life of faith. They were both set apart and regenerated.
‘But you were justified.’ Again aorist passive. They were declared righteous by God through the righteousness of Christ imputed to them and, as it were, put to their account (Romans 5:17-19; 2 Corinthians 5:21). The verb dikaioo (justify) refers to a judicial verdict by which a man is declared free of any charge against him. He is declared as being without a stain on his character.
‘In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.’ All these blessings were theirs through the merit of the Lord Jesus Christ and through His name, that is, through what He essentially is and has done, and were wrought in them by the Spirit of God Himself, working in effective power through Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 1:23; 1 Corinthians 2:2). Now he is calling them to remember what they are and to begin to live appropriately.
So once again his stress on the requirement for morality is linked with the word of the cross. Sin cannot survive where the word of the cross is at work. This is what has been lacking among the Corinthians and is why they need now to turn back to the centrality of the crucified Christ Who has died for them calling them to be crucified with Him. For it was through the cross that they had come to God so that they washed themselves by repentance from sin, and were sanctified and justified once for all in God’s sight. Note his assumption that they will no longer be engaging in such sins. If they are he offers them nothing.
Thus do his current words confirm and prove what he has previously said about the word of the cross. Through ‘the word of the cross’ sin is excluded and dealt with, unlike the effect of ‘the wisdom of words’ of his opponents which had resulted in the acceptance of such sins by the church as allowable.
Paul Now Stresses that All Immorality Is To Be Avoided At All Costs (6:12-20).
‘All things are lawful to me, but all things are not expedient. All things are lawful to me, but I will not be brought under the power of any.’
It is probable that Paul had had quoted at him, ‘all things are lawful to me.’ It may indeed have been his own phrase, but twisted to a new meaning. This may have resulted from his teaching that Christ had freed us from the curse of the law (Galatians 3:13), that the law was a schoolmaster, but that now we are free from the schoolmaster (Galatians 3:23-25), that we are no longer under the law but under grace (Romans 6:14). Thus the Law no longer condemning what we do because its penalty has been met at the cross, all things are lawful for us because, having become new men, we will choose what is lawful. But its perversion would come from people who had misinterpreted his words, either deliberately or accidentally. So he counters by saying, yes, but not all things are expedient, not all things are helpful. The Christian being in Christ (1 Corinthians 6:15) and being a Temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 6:19) must seek to do what pleases Him. Thus what is contrary to Christ is excluded, it is not expedient, nor helpful.
Or it may be that his opponents made this their watchword, saying, ‘If we experience spiritual gifts and blessings our behaviour is unimportant. Because we are ‘spiritual’ all things become lawful to us. We can then do what we like. We rise above the flesh.’ Thus he is then seen as countering them by saying, ‘Yes, but all things are not helpful to those who would know God.’
Furthermore, he then adds, nor will I ‘be brought under the power of any.’ Freedom is freedom to be free, he says, not freedom to do what we like and become enslaved by it. Had not Jesus said, ‘everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin’ (John 8:34). But men do not go with a prostitute because it is a releasing experience (whatever they may claim), they do it because they are slaves to sexual desires. And no Christian should choose to come under the power of the flesh. So he is declaring that the Christian’s freedom from the law means being free from the slavery of sin and bad habits. It means being free to live for Christ. It means being free to turn our back on all that defiles. It means being free to walk as He walks. (See Romans 6-7). ‘If the Son shall make you free you will be free indeed’ (John 8:36).
‘Meats for the stomach, and the stomach for meats. But God will bring to nothing both it and them. But the body is not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God both raised the Lord and will raise us up through his power.’
Again this is probably dealing with a further argument brought against him, that sex is a natural appetite and that therefore we have a right to it. Meat, they say, is there to satisfy the stomach, and the stomach to receive meats, thus eating is right, and in the same way the body craves sexual expression and therefore any means of sexual expression is right.
To this he replies that the comparisons are not equal. It is true that the food is for the stomach, but both the food and the stomach will come to nothing. They are not important in the scheme of things. They are purely physical. But it is different with the body, for the body is for participating in eating, which is necessary for life, but it is not for fornication. The latter was forbidden from the beginning (implied in Genesis 2:24). It is an intrusion into God’s perfect plan. Rather the body is for the Lord. Eating does no harm, indeed is helpful, but fornication is harmful. The body of the Christian is here seen as directly linked with the Lord and His body and belongs to Him, it is united with His body, and in a similar way He belongs to it, so much so that in 1 Corinthians 12:12-13 the body into which we have been baptised is Christ Himself.
‘The Lord is for the body.’ Furthermore Christ Himself gives Himself to His body. He came so that by eating of His flesh and drinking of His blood they would find life through Him. That is, they partake of him as the Bread of life (John 6:35), the very source of continual spiritual life, and partake of Him through benefiting from His death in which they are seen to have participated. Christ’s very purpose in coming was that He might deliver the body from sin, and incorporate each individual believer into His own body, in the course of which He cleanses them from sin and makes them one with His body (Ephesians 2:16). He came to gather to Himself all His own. So His coming is in order to possess the body which will share Heaven with Him.
The Christians’ body is therefore in fact part of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12-13), it is a ‘member’, a limb or organ, of His body (1 Corinthians 6:15), for by partaking of Him through faith it has become united with Him, and His very purpose in coming was to possess it. That is why He came. And we are to partake of His One body (1 Corinthians 10:16-17). Our body thus has a wonderful and holy present and future in the closeness of its union with Christ, and thus a holy status, and because of its oneness with Christ it is to be raised by God (1 Corinthians 6:14). It has a very much a spiritual aspect which excludes its misuse in fornication. It is in all ways holy. To unite it with a prostitute would be to defile it.
While it is not Paul’s main purpose here this once for all does away with the idea that the body is essentially sinful. The Greeks saw the body as a prison from which we needed to be released. The Bible teaches that it is a blessing yet to be made more wonderful.
‘And God both raised the Lord and will raise us up through his power.’ This is another reason why the body is special, because it is to be raised a spiritual body (1 Corinthians 15:44). Its destiny is to be unfleshly. The same mighty power that raised up Christ from the dead will work in us to transform and renew our bodies so that we are presented before Him without spot and blameless (Ephesians 5:27), presented as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2). How then can we commit it to the grossness of fleshly living, even worse, to a prostitute? Our destiny is Heaven. Can we then consort with anything that is degraded?
‘Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ. Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it not be. Or do you not know that he who is joined in close union to a prostitute is one body, for “The two, says he, will become one flesh”. But he who is joined in close union to the Lord is one spirit.’
The fact that our bodies are members of Christ is stressed. And these arguments bring out that in sexual relations there is a metaphysical aspect which is not present in eating. Such relations not only result in physical unity but in a kind of metaphysical unity. This is why they were provided and are so tightly regulated, and abuse of them so decried and so serious in God’s eyes. Sex binds men and women in a unique way which goes beyond just a physical experience.
As members of His body we have been made one with Him in His body. That too is a spiritual experience which goes beyond the physical. We have been united with Him in spiritual unity. But to have sexual relations with a prostitute is to prostitute that unity, it is to destroy that unity and produce rather a fleshly ‘spiritual’ unity with the prostitute which is totally degrading, as well as being both temporary and meaningless, and it is especially harmful because it is metaphysical and mars our spiritual union with Christ. Indeed this is one reason why all sexual misbehaviour is harmful for it has the same result. Sex affects us in our deepest beings. In it we give of ourselves. We must choose between the prostitute or Christ. We cannot have both.
The union between Christ and His people is wonderfully expressed here. By ‘eating of Him’ by coming to Him and believing in Him (John 6:35) we have been made one with Him and are united with His body, something which we express every time we take the bread and wine (1 Corinthians 10:17). It is because of this spiritual union that we will be raised with Him, and have been raised with Him (Ephesians 1:19 to Ephesians 2:6). Thus we are ‘members’ of His body.
So we are to see that in a unique way our body is the Lord’s and sacred to Him. That is why to engage in illicit sex is to insult Him, misuse His body, and cause a break in our spiritual union with Him. How can we make His sacred body one with a prostitute, especially a godless or idolatrous prostitute? (The quotation comes from Genesis 2:24).
What a contradiction is this, a body which is a member of the body of Christ, crucified for us, and our spirit made one with the Lord, and then to make our body, which was to be presented as a chaste virgin to Christ (2 Corinthians 11:2), one flesh with a prostitute. This cannot be. It is only to say it to realise how inconsistent, indeed how horrific, it is, and even more so when the prostitute is probably a sacred prostitute seen as united to a ‘god’ and to devils (1 Corinthians 10:20). We can only turn away in horror from the very idea.
The argument also brings out the glory of true sex. Between a man and a woman who are united in marriage it is a holy thing. Two persons who are both members of Christ’s body, are themselves by it united as one within that body. That is one reason why we should not be ‘unequally yoked with unbelievers’ (2 Corinthians 6:14). We then unite outside the body. Although God then graciously ‘sanctifies’ those in the home (puts them under His protection from evil) as in the case described the marriage took place before the person became a Christian (1 Corinthians 7:14).
‘But he who is joined in close union to the Lord is one spirit.’ This contrasts with becoming one body with the prostitute, for Paul has to guard against any suggestion that uniting with Christ in one body has anything to do with physical alliance. The union with Christ is a spiritual union through the Spirit.
‘Flee fornication. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body.’
Thus picture now widens. What Paul is saying not only applies to consorting with a prostitute, it applies to all sexual misbehaviour. So there is only one thing to do with such desires of the flesh and that is, not to stand and fight them, but to flee (compare 2 Timothy 2:22). The man who would avoid the fornication or sexual misbehaviour which he is tempted to, must remove himself from the place of temptation and make his plans so that he is not put in that position again. And it is important to do so, for of all sins this is the only one that is actually a sin against the body itself, which has permanent effects within the body and the psyche, and which defiles as no other. And this the body which is one with Christ’s body and a temple of the Holy Spirit. It is thus a direct sin against Christ to defile it by degrading contacts.
‘Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits fornication sins against his own body.’ The context has stressed that the Christian has become one body with Christ’s body. In the redemptive purposes of God he is one with Christ. When a man sins it reveals what is still within him, but it occurs outside the ‘body of Christ’. He does not make Christ and His body sin. But when a man commits a sexual misdemeanour his sin is actually affecting the whole body. He is uniting the body with a prostitute or fornicator. This is a heinous sin. He does not, of course, make Christ sin, but he produces an unacceptable situation in that part of him is united with Christ and part with a fornicator. He, as it were, tears apart the body of Christ.
Another way of looking at it is that, as with the previous verse Paul has to use a phrase that distinguishes one fact from another. In 1 Corinthians 6:17 he has had to temporarily drop for that purpose the picture of uniting with Christ’s body, and speak of uniting in spirit, for that experience could in no way be paralleled with physical union with a prostitute.
Here he has to distinguish between sexual sin and all other sin. But Jesus had made clear that all sin comes from within, out of the heart of man (Mark 7:20-23). Sin results from contamination of the inner person. Paul is not denying that. He is not saying that sin is outside the heart of man, he is saying that while it comes from the heart of man its effects are outside the body. In other words it does not directly affect the physical body in its connection with the body of Christ in the way that sexual sin does. Sexual sin introduces sin into the man’s body. All sin contaminates the heart, but it is effectually and clearly worked out outside the body. On the other hand sexual sin, he says, uniquely contaminates the body and all that that signifies. Its effects thus go even deeper. The man’s body is contaminated and defiled. That defilement cannot, of course, enter Christ’s body. Man can only be united with Christ once purified. He thus tears himself apart and robs Christ of what is His.
‘Or do you not know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which you have from God, and you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body.’
Now he expresses his incredulity that a Christian should forget his unique position in Christ. Are Christians not aware that they are each a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit? The sin of sexual uncleanness is made even more severe in view of the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, the Holy Spirit Whom God has given us, and that we are His temple, and each His sanctuary. Thus we are each made holy (1 Corinthians 3:17). How then can we defile His sanctuary by uniting it with an idolatrous prostitute or with sexual uncleanness? Note how carefully he makes each sanctuary individual. The fornicator does not defile the whole temple, he defiles himself as one of the sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit.
This is similar to the idea in the previous verse where his body is defiled without contaminating the body of Christ. The defilement robs God, but does not defile God. It does however defile what belongs to Him.
And that is one further thing that we are to remember, that we no longer belong to ourselves. We have been bought with a price. We now belong to Him by purchase. 1 Corinthians 7:23 may be seen as suggesting that the prime idea here is that we have been bought by God from sin in the slave market, and are thus now His bondservants. Others see it as suggesting that just as a slave who has been ‘bought by a god’ in order to set him free (a legal fiction) is seen as belonging to that god, so we too belong to the living God. But in our case He lives, and we are therefore really His, and we are responsible to Him as our Master. How then can we take what is His and use it in this dreadful way? We have no right. It is His body.
A third possibility is that slavery is not in mind at all and that the thought is that the sanctuary has been bought for its holy purpose at a great price. There is no thought of slavery in the context (whereas in 1 Corinthians 7:23 that is the context). The emphasis is on the buying and the price, the former stressing God’s ownership, the latter stressing how much the purchase cost God in the death of His Son (1 Peter 1:18-19). And the context is of a sanctuary of God. This would tie in with the fact that we are a part of God’s building (1 Corinthians 3:9), a part of the whole larger Sanctuary of God, the church of believers (1 Corinthians 3:16).
So the argument against immorality has revealed the positive side for the Christian. We are members of His body and will be raised by the power of God to be with Him, we are one spirit with the Lord, bound in the closest of unions, we are sanctuaries of the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us, Who was given to us by God, and we are bought with a price, the most precious price that was ever paid, the blood of Christ as of a Lamb without blemish and without spot (1 Corinthians 5:7; 1 Peter 1:18-19), a contract sealed by the indwelling of the Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14; Ephesians 4:30). How then can we behave contrary to God’s will and defile what we have contribute to Him?
We note here how Paul is also demolishing the doctrine that the body has no connection with the heavenly and will therefore be done away. He has firmly put the body within the heavenly. The body as well as the spirit has been redeemed. Thus all teaching that the body does not matter is done away with. What we do in the body does matter. (Pneumatics had probably argued that as we are to leave our bodies what our bodies do does not matter).
‘Therefore glorify God in your body.’ What else can we do? Away sin, away evil, away immorality, for we in our bodies are His and His for ever. Thus our bodies must ever bring glory to God.
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Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 12 / Ordinary 17