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Bible Commentaries

Expositor's Bible Commentary
1 Corinthians 6

 

 

Other Authors
Verses 1-14

Chapter 9

ON GOING TO LAW

ST. PAUL here gives his judgment on the litigiousness of the Corinthians. The Greeks, in general, were fond of going to law. They were not only quarrelsome, but they seemed to derive an excitement pleasant to their frivolous nature in the suspense and uncertainty of cases before the courts. The converts to Christianity seemed not to have discarded this taste, and as a habit of going to law not merely involved great loss of time, but was also dangerous to the feeling of brotherhood which should exist among Christians, St. Paul takes the opportunity to throw in some advice on the subject. He has been telling them they have nothing to do with judging the heathen; he now proceeds to remind them that they ought not to go to law before the heathen. He feared that an unseemly wrangling among Christians might convey to the heathen quite an erroneous impression of the nature of their religion. There was, to his mind, something incongruous, something monstrous, in brother going to law with brother. What was that brotherhood worth that could not bear a little wrong? How could he continue to speak of Christian love, if Christians were to bite and devour one another? How could he preach the superiority of Christianity to heathenism if Christians had so little common sense, so little esprit de corps, so little mutual forbearance, that they must call in a heathen to settle their disputes for them? It seemed to Paul to be a losing of caste for Christians to proclaim their insufficiency to carry on their own affairs without the aid of heathen. It seemed to him a public confession that Christianity was not sufficient for the needs of its adherents.

The reasons which St. Paul adduces to give weight to his rebuke are important.

I. The saints are destined to judge the world, to judge angels; that is to say, to judge persons in separation from earthly interests, to judge unclothed detached spirits, to ascertain what is spiritually good and spiritually evil. Shall they not then be considered fit to judge little worldly matters, matters of £’ s. d., matters of property and of bargain? This statement that the saints shall judge the world is one of those broad widely-suggestive statements with which St. Paul from time to time surprises us, making them casually, as if he had many more equally astounding facts in his knowledge which he might also reveal if he had leisure. It is difficult to grasp the statements which he makes in this style; it is also difficult to link a truth so revealed to the truths amid which we are now living; it is difficult even to ascertain with precision the bearing and significance of it.

It seems plain, however, that whatever else may be implied in this statement, and in whatever way it is to be fulfilled, St. Paul meant that ultimately, in that final state of things towards which all present things are growing and travelling, the men who are holy shall be at the head of affairs, acknowledged as the fittest to discern between right and wrong; and also that the germ and first principles of this final state of things are already implanted in the world by the Christian religion-two very important truths, certainly, to those who believe them. The precise form of the final judgment and future government of the world we cannot predict: but from this statement a bright ray of light shoots into the darkness, and shows us that the saints, i.e., the servants of Christ, are to have the responsibility of pronouncing judgment on character, and of allotting destiny, reward or punishment. We shrink from such a thought; not, indeed, that we are slow to pronounce judgment upon our fellow men, but to do so officially, and in connection with definite results, seems a responsibility too heavy for merely human judges to sustain. But why men should not judge men hereafter as they do judge them now, we do not see. If we, in this present world, submit ourselves to those who have knowledge of law and ordinary justice, we may well be content to be judged in the world to come by those whose holiness has been matured by personal strife against evil, by sustained efforts to cleanse their souls from bias, from envy, from haste, from harshness, from all that hinders them from seeing and loving the truth. Holiness, or likeness to God, assimilation to His mind, formed by the constant desire to judge of things in this world as He judges, and to love truly all that He loves, this quality is surely worthy to be at the head. In that future kingdom of God in which all things are to have their proper place, and are to be ranked according to their real worth, holiness must come to the supremacy.

But equally worthy of remark is St. Paul’s inference from the fact that holiness shall eventually be supreme. His inference is that it ought now to be regarded as competent to settle the petty disputes which arise among us. "If we are to judge angels, much more the things that pertain to this life." We can only arrive at any dignity by perseveringly seeking it. If the future kingdom of God is to be a perfect kingdom, it can only be as its subjects carry into it characters which have been strongly tending towards perfection. It is not the future that is to make us, but we who are to make the future. The kingdom of God is within us; if not there, in our own dispositions and likings, it is nowhere. Heaven will be what its inhabitants make it. Earth is not heaven only because men decline to make it so. We do not know the forms which society will assume in the world to come, when men will be grouped, not by families and blood relationships, and the necessary requirements of physical life, but according to their character and moral value, their spiritual affinities and capacities for usefulness. But though we cannot say exactly how men will be grouped, nor how they will find expression for all that intense emotion and eager activity which in this life creates adventure, war, politics, speculation, inventions of all kinds, we do know that wherever there are men there must be society, there must be men not isolated and solitary, but working together and depending one on the other; and that there will therefore be difficult complications of interest and obscure relations of man to man very similar to those which arise in this world; but that those difficulties will be removed without passion and wrangling and the interference of force. A heaven and an earth there will be; but "a new heaven and a new earth." The outer framework will be very much the same, but the inner spirit and life very different. But it is not the altered place or time that is to produce in us this change of spirit; we are to find it there only if we carry it with us. St. Paul takes for granted that the principles which are to be perfectly and exclusively manifested in the world to come, are now cherished by Christians. And as there will be no differences in heaven which cannot be adjusted without appeal to an authority which can silence and reconcile the disputants, so there ought to be, among the heirs of heaven, no going to law now.

St. Paul, therefore, while he contrasts the subjects in which a lawyer like mind will find employment in this world and the next, reminds us that those who are here trained to understand character, and to discern where right and justice lie, will be in no want of employment in the world to come. The matters which come before our courts, or which are referred privately to lawyers, may often be in themselves very paltry. A vast proportion of legal business is created by changes from which the future life is exempt: changes consequent on death, on marriage, on pecuniary disasters. But underneath such suits as these the keenest of human feelings are at work, and it is often in the power of a lawyer to give a man advice which will save his conscience from a life-long stain, or which will bring comfort into a family instead of heart burning, and plenty in place of penury. The physician keeps us in life; the minister of Christ tells us on what principles we ought to live; but the lawyer takes our hand at every great practical step in life, and it is his function (and surely there is none higher) to insist on a conscientious use of money, to point out the just claims which others have upon us, to show us the right and the wrong in all our ordinary affairs, and thus to bring justice and mercy down from heaven and make them familiar to the marketplace. And therefore many of the finest characters and best intellects have devoted themselves, and always will devote themselves, to this profession. It may attract many from less lofty motives; but it always will attract those who are concerned to save men from practical folly, and who wish to see the highest principles brought into direct contact with human affairs. If the legal mind degenerates into a mere memory for technicalities and acuteness in applying forms, nothing can be more contemptible or dangerous to the character; but if it takes to do with real things, and not with forms only, and tries to see what equity requires, and not merely what the letter of the law enjoins, and seeks to forward the well-being of men, then surely there is no profession in which there is such abundant opportunity of earning the beatitude which says, "Blessed are the peacemakers," none in which the senses can better be exercised to discern between good and evil, none in which men may better be prepared for the higher requirements of a heavenly society in which some are made rulers over ten cities.

II. The second confirmation of his rebuke St. Paul brings forward in the fifth verse: "Is there not a wise man among yourselves?" "A wise man" was the technical term for a judge in the Hebrew courts.

To understand Paul’s position we must bear in mind that among the Jews there was no distinction between Church and State. The courts appointed for the determination of the minor causes in each locality were composed of the same persons who constituted the eldership of the synagogue. In the synagogue and by the eldership offenders were both tried and punished. The Rabbis said, "He who brings lawsuits of Israel before a heathen tribunal profanes the Name, and does homage to idolatry; for when our enemies are judges [Deuteronomy 32:31] it is a testimony to the superiority of their religion." This idea passed over from Judaism to Christianity; and Paul considers it a scandal that "brother goeth to law with brother, and that before the unbelievers." And even a century after Paul’s time the rule of the Christian Church was "Let not those who have disputes go to law before the civil powers, but let them by all means be reconciled by the elders of the Church, and let them readily yield to their decision." And as late as our own day we find an Arab sheikh complaining that Christian Copts come to him, a Mohammedan, to settle their disputes and "won’t go and be settled by the priest out of the Gospels."

Did Paul then mean that such legal cases as are now tried in our civil courts should be settled by non-professional men? Did he mean that ecclesiastical courts should take out of the hands of the civil magistrate all pleas regarding property, all disputes about commercial transactions? Did he foresee none of the great evils that have arisen wherever Church or State has not respected the province of the other, and was he prepared to put the power of the sword into the hands of the ecclesiastics? We think no one can read either his life or his writings without seeing that this was not his meaning. He taught men to submit themselves to the powers that then were - i.e., to the heathen magistrates of Rome-and he himself appealed to Caesar. He had no notion of subverting the ordinary legal procedure and civil courts, but he would fain have deprived them of much of their practice. He thought it might be expected that Christians would never be so determinedly rancorous or so blindly covetous but that their disputes might be settled by private and friendly advice. He gives no orders about constituting new courts and appointing new statutes and forms of procedure; he has no idea of transferring into the Church all the paraphernalia of civil courts: but he maintains that if a Christian community be in a healthy state, few quarrels will be referred for settlement to a court of law. Courts of law are necessary evils, which will be less and less patronised in proportion as Christian feeling and principle prevail.

This rebuke is applicable even to a community like our own, in which the courts of law are not heathen, but Christian; and the principle on which the rebuke is based is one that has gradually worked its way into the heart of the community. It is felt, felt now even by nations as well as by individuals, that if a dispute can he settled by arbitration, this is not only cheaper, quicker, and equally satisfactory, but that it is a more generous and Christian way of getting justice done. Those who hold office in the Church may not always happen to be suitable arbitrators; they may not have the technical and special knowledge requisite: but Paul’s counsel is acted on if disputes among Christians be somehow adjusted in a friendly way, and without the interference of an external authority. Christian people may need legal advice; they may not know what the right and wrong of a complicated case are; they may be truly at a loss to understand how much is justly theirs and how much their neighbour’s; they may often need professional aid to shed light on a transaction: but when two Christians go to law in a spirit of rancour, resolved to make good their own just claims, and to enforce by the authority of law what they cannot compass by right feeling, this only proves that their worldliness is stronger than their Christianity. St. Paul thinks it a scandal and a degradation when Christians need to appeal to law against one another. It is a confession that Christian principle is in their case insufficient by itself to carry them through the practical difficulties of life.

But some one will say to this, as to every unworldly, truly Christian, and therefore novel and difficult counsel, "It savours of theory and of romance; a man cannot act it out unless he is prepared to be duped, and cheated, and imposed upon. It is a theory that, if carried out, must end in beggary." Just as if the world could be regenerated by anything that is not apparently romantic! If a greater good is to be reached, it must be by some way that men have not tried before. The kingdoms of this world will not become the kingdom of Christ by the admission into our conduct of only that which men have tried and found to be practicable, and void of all risk, and requiring no devotion or sacrifice. If then, anyone says, "But if there is to be no going to law, if we are not to force a man to give us our own, we must continually be losers," the reply of a well-known Kincardineshire lawyer might suffice: "Don’t go to law if yielding does not cost you more than forty shillings in the pound." And from a different point of view St. Paul replies, "Well, and what though you be losers? The kingdom you belong to is not meat and drink, but righteousness." If a man says, "We must have some redress, some authority to extort the dues that are not freely given; we must strike when we are struck; when a man takes our coat, we must summon him, or he will take our cloak next," St. Paul replies, "Well, if this be the alternative, if you must either push your own claims and insist upon your rights, or suffer by assuming the meekness and gentleness of your Master, why do you not rather take wrong? why do you not rather suffer yourselves to be defrauded? It may be quite true that if you turn the other cheek, it also will be smitten. It may be very likely that a greedy competitor will be so little abashed by your meekness, and so little struck by your magnanimity in giving way to some of his demands, that he will even be encouraged to greater extortions. It is quite probable that if you act as your Master did, you will be as ill off in this world as He was. But is that any reason why you should at once call Him your Master and refuse to obey His precepts and follow His example?" One thing is certain: that so long as men honestly accepted Christ’s words in their plain meaning, and followed Him in His own way, making light of worldly loss, Christianity was believed in and rapidly extended. It was seen to be a new moral power among men, and was welcomed as such, until a large part of the world received it; but its victory was its defeat. Once it became the fashion, once it became popular, the heart of it was eaten out. As soon as it became a religion without hardship, it became a religion without vitality.

St. Paul then shows no hesitation about pushing his doctrine to its consequences. He sees that the real cure of wrangling, and of fraud, and of war is not litigation, nor any outward restraint that can be laid on the wrong-doer, but meekness, and unselfishness, and unworldliness on the part of those who suffer wrong. The world has laughed at this theory of social regeneration all along; a few men in each generation have believed in it, and have been ridiculed for their belief. At the same time, the world itself is aware, or should be aware, that its own remedies have utterly failed. Has war taught nations moderation in their ambition? Has it saved the world from the calamities which it is said would ensue were anyone nation to prefer submitting to injustice rather than going to war? Have the outward restraints of law made men more just or less avaricious? There has been time to test the power of law to repress crime, and to compel men to honesty and justice. Can anyone say it has been so successful that it must be looked to as the great means of regenerating society, of bringing society into that healthy and ideal state which statesmen work for, and for which the people inarticulately sigh? Does not St. James come nearer the mark when he says, "Whence come wars and fightings? Come they not hence, even of the lusts that war in your members?"-i.e., from the restless ambitions, and appetites, and longings of men who seek their all in this world? And if that is their source, it is to that we must apply the remedy. Law is necessary for restraining the expressions of a vicious nature, but law is insufficient to remove the possibility of these expressions by healing the nature. This can only be done by the diffusion of unworldliness and unselfishness. And it is Christians who are responsible for diffusing this unworldly spirit, and who must diffuse it, not by talk and advice, but by practice and example, by themselves showing what unselfishness is, rebuking covetousness by yielding to its demands, shaming all wrong doing by refusing to retaliate while they expose its guilt.

While therefore it is a mistake to suppose that all the laws which are to rule in the perfected kingdom of God can find immediate and unmodified expression in this present world, it is our part to find for them an introduction into the world in every case in which it is possible to apply them. Those laws which are to be our sole rule when we are perfect cannot always be immediately applied now. For example, we all believe that ultimately love will be the only motive, that all service of God and of one another will eventually spring solely from our desire to serve because we love. And because this is so, some persons have thought that love should be the only motive now, and that obedience which is procured by fear is useless; that preachers ought to appeal only to the highest parts of man’s nature, and not at all to those which are lower; and that parents should never threaten punishment nor enforce obedience. But the testimony of one of the most genial and successful of preachers is that "of all the persons to whom his ministry had been efficacious only one had received the first effectual impressions from the gentle and attractive aspects of religion, all the rest from the awful and alarming ones-the appeals to fear." Take, again, the testimony of one of the wisest and most successful of our schoolmasters. "I can’t rule my boys," he says, "by the law of love. If they were angels or professors, I might; but as they are only boys, I find it necessary to make them fear me first, and then take nay chance of their love afterwards. By this plan I find that I generally get both; by reversing the process I should in most cases get neither." And God, though slow to anger and not easily provoked, scourgeth every son whom He receiveth, not dealing with us now as He will deal with us when perfect love has cast out its preparative fear. So, in regard to the matter before us, there must be an aim and striving towards the perfect state in which there shall be no going to law, no settling of matters by appeal to anything outside the heart of the persons interested. But while we aim at this, and seek to give it prevalence, we shall also be occasionally forced back upon the severer and more external means of self-defence. The members of Christ’s Church are those on whom the burden falls of giving prevalence to these Christian principles. It is incumbent upon them to straw, even at cost to themselves, that there are higher, better, and more enduring principles than law, and the customs of trade, and the ways of the world. And however difficult it may be theoretically to hold the balance between justice and mercy, between worldly sharpness and Christian meekness, we all know that there are some who practically exhibit a large measure of this Christian temper, who prefer to take wrong and to suffer quietly rather than to expose the wickedness of others, or to resent their unjust claims, or to complain of their unfair usage. And whatever the most worldly of us may think of such conduct, however we may smile at it as weak, there is no one of us but also pays his tribute of respect to those who suffer wrong, loss, detraction, with a meek and cheerful patience; and whatever be the lot of such sufferers in a world where men are too busy in pushing their worldly prospects to understand those who are not of this world, we have no doubt in what esteem they will be held and what reward they will receive in a world where the Lamb is on the throne, and meek self-sacrifice is honestly worshipped as the highest quality, whether in God or in man.

Paul knows that the Christian conscience is with him when he declares that men should rather suffer wrong than bring reproach on the Christian name: "Know ye not that wrongdoers shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived; neither covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners shall inherit the kingdom of God." And yet how little do men seem to take to heart the great fact that they are travelling forward to a state in which nothing uncongenial to the Spirit of Christ can possibly find place. Do they think of the future at all? Do they believe that a state of things ruled by the Spirit of Christ is to follow this? And what preparation do they make? Is it not the height of folly to suppose that the selfishness and greed, the indolence and frivolity, the dreamy unreality and worldliness, which we suffer to grow upon us here, will give us entrance into the kingdom of God? The seaman who means to winter in the Arctic circle might as reasonably go with a single mouth’s provisions and clothes suited to the tropics. There are a reason and a law in things; and if we are not assimilated to the Spirit of Christ now, we can have no part in His kingdom. If now our interest, and pursuits, and pleasures are all found in what gratifies selfishness and worldliness, it is impossible we can find a place in that kingdom which is all unselfishness and unworldliness. "Be not deceived." The spiritual world is a reality, and the godliness and Christlikeness that compose it must also be realities. Put away from you the fatuous idea that things will somehow come all right, and that your character will adapt itself to changed surroundings. It is not so; nothing that defiles can find entrance into the kingdom of God, but only those who are "sanctified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God."


Verses 15-20

Chapter 10

FORNICATION

IN remonstrating with the Corinthians for their litigiousness, Paul was forcibly reminded how imperfectly his converts understood the moral requirements of the kingdom of God. Apparently, too, he had reason to believe that they were not only content to remain on a low moral plane, but actually quoted some of his own favourite sayings in defence of immoral practices. After warning them, therefore, that only those who were sanctified could belong to the kingdom of God and specifying certain kinds of wrong-doing which must forever be excluded from that kingdom, he goes on to explain how they had misapprehended him if they thought that any principle of his could give colour to immorality. The Corinthians had apparently learned to argue that if, as Paul had so often and emphatically told them, all things were lawful to them, then this commonest of Greek indulgences was lawful; if abstaining from the meat which had been killed in a heathen temple was a matter of moral indifference which Christians might or might not practise, as they pleased, then this other common accompaniment of idolatry was also a matter of indifference and not in itself wrong.

To understand this Corinthian obliquity of moral vision it must be borne in mind that licentious rites were a common accompaniment of pagan worship, and especially in Corinth idolatry might have been briefly described as the performance of Balaam’s instructions to the Israelites: the eating of things sacrificed to idols and the committing of fornication. The temples were often scenes of revelry and debauchery such as happily have become incredible to a modern mind. But not at once could men emerging from a religion so slenderly connected with morality apprehend what Christianity required of them. When they abandoned the temple worship, were they also to abstain from eating the flesh offered for sale in the open market, and which had first been sacrificed to an idol? Might they not by partaking of such flesh become partakers in the sin of idolatry? To this Paul replied, Do not too scrupulously inquire into the previous history of your dinner; the meat has no moral taint; all things are lawful for you. This was reasonable; but then how about the other accompaniment of idolatry? Was it also a thing of indifference? Can we apply the same reasoning to it? It was this insinuation which called forth the emphatic condemnation which Paul utters in this paragraph.

The great principle of Christian liberty, "All things are lawful for me," Paul now sees he must guard against abuse by adding, "But all things are not expedient." The law and its modification are fully explained in a subsequent passage of the Epistle. {1 Corinthians 8:1-13, 1 Corinthians 10:23, etc.} Here it may be enough to say that Paul seeks to impress on his readers that the question of duty is not answered by simply ascertaining what is lawful; we must also ask whether the practice or act contemplated is expedient. Though it may be impossible to prove that this or that practice is wrong in every case, we have still to ask, Does it advance what is good in us; is its bearing on society good or evil; will it in present circumstances and in the instance we contemplate give rise to misunderstandings and evil thoughts? The Christian is a law to himself; he has an internal guide that sets him above external rules. Very true; but that guide leads all those who possess it to a higher life than the law leads to, and proves its presence by teaching a man to consider, not how much indulgence he may enjoy without transgressing the letter of the law, but how he can most advantageously use his time and best forward what is highest in himself and in others.

Again, "all things are lawful for me"; all things are in my power. Yes, but for that very reason "I will not be brought under the power of any." "The reasonable use of nay liberty cannot go the length of involving my own loss of it." I am free from the law; I will not on that account become the slave of indulgence. As Carlyle puts it, "enjoying things which are pleasant-that is not the evil; it is the reducing of our moral self to slavery by them that is. Let a man assert withal that he is king over his habitudes; that he could and would shake them off on cause shown: this is an excellent law." There are several practices and habits which no one would call immoral or sinful, but which enslave a man quite as much as worse habits. He is no longer a free man; he is uneasy and restless, and cannot settle to his work until he obeys the craving he has created. And it is the very lawfulness of these indulgences which has ensnared him. Had they been sinful, the Christian man would not have indulged in them; but being in his power, they have now assumed power over him. They have power to compel him to waste his time, his money, sometimes even his health. He alone attains the true dignity and freedom of the Christian man who can say, with Paul, "I know both how to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need; All things are in my power, but I will not be brought under the power of any."

Paul then proceeds more explicitly to apply these principles to the matter in hand. The Corinthians argued that if meats were morally indifferent, a man being morally neither the better nor the worse for eating food which had been offered in an idol’s temple, so also a man was neither better nor worse for fornication. To expose the error of this reasoning Paul draws a remarkable distinction between the digestive, nutritive organs of the body and the body as a whole. Paul believed that the body was an essential part of human nature, and that in the future life the natural body would give place to the spiritual body. He believed also that the spiritual body was connected with, and had its birthplace in, the natural body, so that the body we now wear is to be represented by that finer and more spiritual organism we are hereafter to be clothed in. The connection of that future body with the physical world and its dependence on material things we cannot understand; but in some way inconceivable by us it is to carry on the identity of our present body, and thereby it reflects a sacredness and significance on this body. The body of the full-grown man or of the white-bearded patriarch is very different from that of the babe in its mother’s arms, but there is a continuity that links them together and gives them identity. So the future body may be very different from and yet the same as the present. At the same time, the organs which merely serve for the maintenance of our present natural body will be unnecessary and out of place in the future body, which is spiritual in its origin and in its maintenance. Paul therefore distinguishes between the organs of nutrition and that body which is part of our permanent individuality, and which by some unimaginable process is to flower into an everlasting body. The digestive organs of the body have their use and their destiny, and the body as a whole has its use and destiny. These two differ from one another; and if you are to argue from the one to the other, you must keep in view this distinction. "Meats for the belly and the belly for meats; and God shall destroy both it and them: but the body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body, and God shall raise up the one as He has raised up the other." The organs of nutrition have a present use; they are made for meats, and have a natural correspondence with meats. Any meat which the digestive organs approve is allowable. The conscience has to do with meat only through these organs. It must listen to their representations; and if they approve of certain qualities and quantities of food, the conscience confirms this decision: approves when the man uses the food best for these organs; disapproves when he uses consciously and self-indulgently what is bad for them. "Meats for the belly and the belly for meats"-they claim each other as their mutual, God-appointed counterparts. By eating you are not perverting your bodily organs to a use not intended for them; you are putting them to the use God meant them to serve.

Besides, these organs form no part of the future spiritual body. They pass away with the meats for which they were made. God shall destroy both the meats that are requisite for life in this world, and the organs needful for deriving sustenance from them. They serve a temporary purpose, like the houses we live in and the clothes we wear; and as we are not morally better because we live in a stone house, and not in a brick one, or because we wear woollens, and not cotton-so long as we do what is best to keep us in life-so neither is there any moral difference in meats-a remarkable conclusion for a Jew to come to, whose religion had taught him to hold so many forms of food in abhorrence.

But the body as a whole-for what is it made? These organs of nutrition fulfil their function when they lead you to eat such meat as sustains you in life; when does the body fulfil its function? What is its object and end? For what purpose have we a body? Paul is never afraid to suggest the largest questions, neither is he afraid to give his answer. "The body," he says, "is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." Here also there is a mutual correspondence and fitness.

"The body is for the Lord." Paul was addressing Christians, and this no Christian would be disposed to deny. Every Christian is conscious that the body would not fulfil its end and purpose unless it were consecrated to the Lord and informed by His Spirit. The organism by which we come into contact with the world outside ourselves is not the unwieldy, hindering, irredeemable partner of the spirit, but is designed to be the vehicle of spiritual faculties and the efficient agent of our Lord’s purposes. It must not be looked upon with resentment, pity, or contempt, but rather as essential to our human nature and to the fulfilment of the Lord’s design as the Saviour of the world and the Head of humanity. It was through the body of the Lord that the great facts of our redemption were accomplished. It was the instrument of the incarnation and of the manifestation of God among men, of the death and the resurrection by which we are saved. And as in His own body Christ was incarnate among men, so now it is by means of the bodily existence and energies of His people on earth that He extends His influence.

The body then is for the Lord. He finds in it His needed instrument; without it He cannot accomplish His will. And the Lord is for the body. Without Him the body cannot develop into all it is intended to be. It has a great future as well as the soul. Our adoption as God’s children is, in Paul’s view, incomplete until the body also is redeemed and has fought its way through sickness, base uses, death, and dissolution into likeness to the glorified body of Christ. This body which we now identify with ourselves, and apart from which it is difficult to conceive of ourselves, is not the mere temporary lodging of the soul, which in a few years must be abandoned; but it is destined to preserve its identity through all coming changes, so that it will be recognisable still as our body. But this cannot be believed, far less accomplished, save by faith in the fact that God has raised up the Lord Jesus and will with Him raise us also. Otherwise the future of the body seems brief and calamitous. Death seems plainly to say, There is an end of all that is physical. Yes, replies the resurrection of the Lord, in death there is an end of this natural body; but death disengages the spiritual body from the natural, and clothes the spirit in a more fitting garb. Understand this we cannot, any more than we understand why a large mass draws to itself smaller masses: but believe it we can in presence of Christ’s resurrection.

The Lord then is for the body, because in the Lord the body has a future opened to it and present connections and uses which prepare it for that future. It is the Spirit of Christ who is, within us, the earnest of that future, and who forms us for it, inclining us while in the body and by means of it to sow to the Spirit and thus to reap life everlasting. Without Christ we cannot have this Spirit, nor the spiritual body He forms. The only future of the body we dare to look at without a shudder is the future it has in the Lord. God has sent Christ to secure for the body redemption from the fate which naturally awaits it, and apart from Christ it has no outlook but the worst. The Lord is for the body, and as well might we try to sustain the body now without food as to have any endurable future for it without the Lord.

But if the body is thus closely united to Christ in its present use and in its destiny, if its proper function and fit development can only be realised by a true fellowship with Christ. then the inference is self-evident that it must be carefully guarded from such uses and impurities as involve rupture with Christ. "Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them the members of a harlot? God forbid." The Christian is one spirit with Christ. There is a real community of spiritual life between them. It is the spirit which possessed Christ which now possesses the Christian. He has the same aims, the same motives, the same view of life, the same hope, as his Lord. It is in Christ he seeks to live, and he has no stronger desire than to be used for His purposes. That Christ would use him as He used the members of His own body while on earth, that there might be the same direct influence and moving power of the Lord’s Spirit, the same ready and instinctive response to the Lord’s will, the same solidarity between himself and the Lord as between Christ’s body and Christ’s Spirit-this is the Christian’s desire. To have his body a member of Christ-this is his happiness. To be one in will with Him who has brought by His own goodness the light of heaven into the darkness of earth, to learn to know Him and to love Him by serving Him and by measuring His love with all the needs of earth-this is his life. To be so united to Christ in all that is deepest in his nature that he knows he can never be separated from Him, but must go forward to the happy destiny which his Lord already enjoys-this is the Christian’s joy; and it is made possible to every man.

Possible to every man is this personal union to Christ, but to be united thus in one Spirit to Christ and at the same time to be united to impurity is forever impossible. To be one with Christ in spirit and at the same time to be one in body with what is spiritually defiled is impossible, and the very idea is monstrous. Devotedness to Christ is possible, but it is incompatible with any act which means that we become one in body with what is morally polluted. If the Christian is as truly a member of Christ’s body as were the hands and eyes of the body He wore on earth, then the mind shrinks, as from blasphemy, from following out the thought of Paul. And if any frivolous Corinthian still objected that such acts went no deeper than the eating of food ceremonially unclean, that they belonged to the body that was to be destroyed, Paul says, It is not so; these acts are full of the deepest moral significance: they were intended by God to be the expression of inward union, and they have that significance whether you shut your eyes to it or not.

And this is what Paul means when he goes on to say, "Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that committeth fornication sinneth against his own body." He does not mean that this is the only sin committed by the body, for of many other sins the body is the agent, as in murder, lying, blasphemy, robbery, and thieving. Neither does he mean that this is the only sin to which bodily appetite instigates, for gluttony and drunkenness equally take their rise in bodily appetite. But he means that this is the only sin in which the present connection of the body with Christ and its future destiny in Him are directly sinned against. This is the only sin, he means, which by its very nature alienates the body from Christ, its proper Partner. Other sins indirectly involve separation from Christ; this explicitly and directly transfers allegiance and sunders our union with Him. By this sin a man detaches himself from Christ; he professes to be united to what is incompatible with Christ.

These weighty reasonings and warm admonitions, into which Paul throws his whole energy, are concluded by the statement of a twofold truth which is of much wider application than to the matter in hand: "Ye are bought with a price to be the temple of the Holy Ghost." We are bought with a price, and are no longer our own. The realities underlying these words are gladly owned in every Christian consciousness. God has caused us to recognise how truly we are His by showing us that He has grudged nothing which can restore us fully to Him. He has bought us, not with any of those prices the wealthy can pay without sacrifice and without profound interest and feeling, but with that price which is coined and issued by love, which carries in it the token and pledge of love, and which therefore wins us wholly. In our relations with God we have never to do with any merely formal transaction performed for the sake of keeping up appearances, saving the proprieties, or satisfying the letter of law, but always with what is necessary in the nature of things, with what is real, with the very God of truth, the centre and source of all reality. God has made us His own, has won our hearts and wills to Himself, by manifesting His love in ways that touch and move us, and for purposes absolutely needful. God means that our attachment to Him should be real and permanent, and He has based it on the most reasonable grounds. He means that we should be His, not only because we are His creatures or because He has an indefeasible right to our service as the source of our life: but He means that our hearts should be His, and that we should be drawn to live and labour for His ends, convinced in our reason that this is our happiness and attracted by His love to serve Him. He means this; and accordingly He has bought us, has given us reason to become His, has made such advances as ought to win us, has not grudged to show His earnest desire for our love by Himself making sacrifices and declaring that He loves us. It is a thought the humble heart can scarcely endure that it is loved by God, that it has been counted so precious in God’s sight that Divine love and sacrifice should have been spent on its restoration. It is a thought that overwhelms the believing heart, but, believed in, it wins the soul eternally to God.

We are not our own; we belong to Him who has loved us most: and His love will be satisfied when we suffer Him to dwell in us, so that we shall be His temples, and shall glorify Him in body and in spirit. God claims our body as well as our spirit; He has a purpose for our body as well as for our spirit. Our body is to glorify Him in the future and now: in the future, by exhibiting how the Divine wisdom has triumphed over all that threatens the body, and has used all the present bodily experiences for preparing a permanent spiritual embodiment of all human faculties and joys; and now, by putting itself at the disposal of God for the accomplishment of His will. We glorify God by allowing Him to fulfil His purpose of love in creating us. What that purpose is we cannot wholly know; but trusting ourselves to His love, we can, by obeying Him, have it more and more accomplished in us. And it is the consciousness that we are God’s temples which constantly incites us to live worthily of Him. To say that we are temples of God is not to use a figure of speech. It is the temple of stone that is the figure; the true dwelling place of God is man. In nothing can God reveal Himself as He can in man. Through nothing else can He express so much of what is truly Divine. It is not a building of stone which forms a fit temple for God; it is not even the heaven of heavens. In material nature only a small part of God can be seen and known. It is in man, able to choose what is morally good, able to resist temptation, to make sacrifices for worthy ends, to determine his own character; it is in man, whose own will is his law, and who is not the mere mechanical agent of another’s will, that God finds a worthy temple for Himself. Through you God can express and reveal what is best in Himself. Your love is sustained by His, and reveals His. Your approval of what is pure and hatred of impurity have their source in His holiness, and by transforming you into His own image He discloses Himself as truly dwelling and living within you. Where is God to be found and to be known if not in men? Where can His presence and Divine goodness and reality be more distinctly manifest than in Christ and those who are in any degree like Him? It is in men that the unseen Divine Spirit manifests His nature and His work. But if so, what a profanation is it when we take this body, which is built to be His temple, and put it to uses which it were blasphemous to associate with God! Let us rather find our joy in realising the ideal set before us by Paul, in keeping ourselves pure as God’s temples and in glorifying Him in our body and in our spirit.

 


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Bibliography Information
Nicoll, William R. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 6:4". "Expositor's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/teb/1-corinthians-6.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, November 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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