Love and Marriage

Every year the British Social Attitudes survey asks over 3,000 people what it’s like to live in Britain and how they think Britain is run and the results of the latest survey are published today. Since 1983 the survey has been tracking people’s changing social, political and moral attitudes. Compared with 30 years ago, the survey reveals British people are far more likely to be tolerant of one another’s relationships and lifestyles. When the survey back in 1983 it was hard to imagine a Conservative Prime Minister advocating gay marriage. Now public opinion suggests that widespread acceptance of gay marriage and gay adoption is here to stay. The survey shows that in 1983 only 28 per cent said it was ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ wrong for a man and a woman to have sexual relations outside marriage. Now just 12 per cent say this is ‘always’ or ‘mostly’ wrong, and an all-time high of 65 per cent see nothing wrong at all in such behaviour. Even when a couple want to have children only 42 per cent think they ought to get married first. But the figures reveal that attitudes towards other parts of our personal relationships have become more conservative. Cheating on a partner likely to be greeted with disapproval than it was 30 years ago. Now 63 per cent say that it is “always wrong” for a married person to have sexual relations with someone other than their partner, slightly more than the 58 per cent who thought this in 1984.[1]

These Sunday evenings leading up to Christmas we are considering some of the popularly held views, and discovering from the Bible – how to answer them. Tonight we come to the question of sex. Although billed about sex before marriage, it could be broadened to include any form of sex outside a monogamous relationship between a husband and wife – Our passage from 1 Corinthians 6 deals with, and treats as equal, the sins of fornication, adultery and homosexual acts. As we begin, observe that four times Paul has to ask the question: “Do you not know?”

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (6:9)

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? (6:15)

“Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body?” (6:16)

“Do you not know that your body is a templeof the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” 6:19)

Why does Paul say “Do you not know?” Why does he have to ask these rhetorical questions, not just once or twice or even three times but four times in ten verses? Because their behaviour or, at the very least their attitude toward the behavior of others, is inconsistent with their professed faith. They were either ignorant, deceived, or inconsistent. Doesn’t that sound remarkably contemporary? As David Prior observes,

“For all their so-called knowledge, the Christians in Corinth has lost sight of the centrality of Jesus Christ, the controlling power of the Holy Spirit and the transforming experience of having been called and saved by God. They had come to boast in their broadmindedness, in their chosen gurus and in their independence of the apostle himself.” Then as now the need is for clear convictions. Notice.

 1. The Need for Clear Convictions about the Future

“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God?Do not be deceived:  Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterersnor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlerswill inherit the kingdom of God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10)

Paul defines ten types of destructive self centred behaviour that, unless repented of, will lead people to hell. It will not do to make light of one to lighten the others. You will hear people say “well we are all greedy aren’t we…” as if that means immorality can’t be so bad either. If I can be greedy and go to heaven then why can’t they? My question to you is “can you?” Can you be so sure? Can you be so complacent? The text gives no warrant for complacency – just the reverse.

The word Paul uses for “greedy” originates from the grappling hook sailors used to hook another ship with and pull it close. Greediness, as a way of life has the idea of grabbing or holding on and not letting go. Are you hooked by any of these practices? Are you addicted to any of them? If so, then repent, for you have no assurance of eternal life. What is shaping your view of the future? The need for clear convictions about the future.

 2. The Need of Clear Convictions about the Past

“And that is what some of you were.But you were washed,you were sanctified,you were justified  in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11)

David Prior says, “Nothing on earth could have produced such a transformation in this motley collection of Christians, to whom he is so deeply devoted…” were it not for the grace of God revealed in the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul uses three metaphors to explain the saving work of Christ. Each verb – ‘washed’, ‘sanctified’ and ‘justified’ – is in the aorist tense meaning ‘once for all’ and each is preceded by the strong adjective ‘but’ – so Paul is saying

But you were washed – meaning they have been cleansed from the defilement of sin.

But you were justified – meaning God has declared us, because of Jesus death in our place, in a right and faithful relationship with him.

But you were sanctified – meaning God has brought them into his Holy family.

Here is a paraphrase: “You were like that, but now you have washed yourselves; you were like that, but now you have been given different and special work to do; you were like that, but now it is all a thing of the past and you are the royal sons of a royal king” – so start acting like it! Prior says, “The whole weight of the God the Holy Trinity lies behind that conviction…  To have – and to be controlled by – such Christ-centred convictions both about the future and about the past is essential to a healthy body life in the local church and to the individual believers own spiritual health.”[1]  The need for clear convictions about the future. The need of clear convictions about the past. Which leads us to:

3. The Need for Clear Convictions about the Present

“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins people commit are outside their bodies, but those who sin sexually sin against their own bodies. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;  20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (6:18-20)

Again, don’t let anyone tell you that all sin is the same. It is not. Sexual sin is of a different order. It is more serious for the very reasons given here. Prior writes, “The theme remains sexual ethics, but Paul moves from aspects of church discipline and the immorality of certain behavior into a masterly presentation of the beauty of sexual holiness. Negative injunctions about sexual practices have their place; warnings about the consequences of disobedience are necessary. But the most attractive aspect of a truly biblical sexuality is its power to provide what Os Guinness has called ‘both the basis and the balance of human love – its height, its depth, its realism and its romanticism.” Let me ask you, do you like your body? Do you ever thank God that he made you the way you are?

In verses 6:13-20, notes Prior, “Paul makes five powerful statements about the body and then concludes with his tour de force: You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (19-20).” Remember, “Paul is talking about our own physical bodies… (Os Guinness) It is our bodies… which are instruments either for evil or for good. It is our bodies that Paul urges us to present to God as a living sacrifice. Obedience or disobedience are expressed in our bodies or they are expressed nowhere. Obedience for the Christian is a body activity. God does not address us purely as minds or emotions or wills, but as people with bodies…” Here are those five statements:

 3.1 The purpose of the body in the Lord

“The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” (6:13).

Your body has a purpose – to glorify God. So do it.

3.2 The resurrection of the body in the Lord

“By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” (6:14).

Your body is going to be resurrected after you die. To eternal life or eternal damnation. It will become immortal but you will still be recognizable. Our bodies are not dispensable or disposable. They are the raw material of a more glorious future in Christ.

 3.3 The interaction of the body with the Lord

“Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!… But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” (6:15, 17)

Our bodies are literally the limbs of Christ. We are his body on earth. The imagery here is of marriage. Paul quotes from Genesis 2:24. The oneness of married life is an illustration of the oneness between Jesus and his followers. It should therefore be inconceivable that we would profane Jesus through immorality.

 3.4 The habitation of the body by the Lord (6:19)

“Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” (6:19).

“Paul’s fourth plea for Christ-centred purity” uses the imagery of the Temple. Our bodies are literally temples of the Holy Spirit. And the fifth image summarises and reinforces the previous four.

 3.5 The redemption of the body by the Lord (6:20)

“You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.” (6:19-20)

Prior writes, “Paul’s final plea for purity is based on the cost of redeeming our bodies… Before they began to experience the freedom for which Christ had set them free, the Corinthians were in the most servile bondage. They were slaves to themselves, their self-centred desires, self indulgence and bodily passions. Then came a master with the resources to set them completely free. He paid the necessary ransom. They had been set free from the futility and of their previous manner of life. Their bodies were no longer like chunks of flash up for sale to the highest bidder in the slave market, or available to a cult prostitute for a fee. They had been bought with a price and they belonged to a new master. His orders now mattered, not their own fancies or foibles. He now intended every physical faculty they had within them to express the glory of God.”

In this passage, “we are urged to learn from the Spirit of God what it means to glorify God in our bodies; not to pander to them, make excuses for them, or be flippant about the many powerful temptations to abuse them. Paul forthrightly commands the Corinthians to flee two sins; immorality (6:18) and idolatry (10:14).” We do not have “to be citizens of Corinth… to discover the practical wisdom of running away from temptation when the odds are stacked too high against” us… Paul’s last word on the subject is far more challenging and positive “glorify God in your body”

To summarise this sweeping overview of the Bible, we can be firm and clear in our convictions. Because on this question the Bible is unambiguous.  Sex outside marriage is forbidden on pain of eternal separation from God. But the good news is – God can forgive. God can heal. God can deliver –  through repentance and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. That is the good news. Paul writes to the Corinthians,

“And that is what some of you were.But you were washed,you were sanctified,you were justified  in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11).

This is not something on which bible loving Christians can simply agree to disagree.

It is not merely a question of interpretation. The authority of scripture, the nature of the church, the basis of family life, indeed the very gospel and people’s eternal salvation is at stake.  On the question of eternal life, you had better believe the Bible.

“But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served …or the gods … in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household,we will serve the LORD.” (Joshua 24:15)

[1] This and previous quotes taken from David Prior, The Message of 1 Corinthians (IVP)