Monday, July 7, 2014

Stop abusing 1 Corinthians 6:19-20.

No this isn't a post defending tobacco or booze. Not really, anyway.

But we've all heard it. Well meaning Christians challenge their fellow believers with these words: "do you not know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit...?" Or often these folks skip right to v.20, "You were bought with a price. Therefore honor God with your body." 

We hear this verse quoted about everything from smoking tobacco, to consuming GMO corn products, to eating hamburgers. Joel Olsteen recently published an online devotional claiming "when you take care of yourself by eating properly and getting enough sleep, you are honoring the Lord with your Body." Elsewhere he uses this verse to argue against eating bacon and other greasy foods, saying to do so is "disobedient".

There's just one problem. 1 Corinthians 6 isn't talking about tobacco, greasy foods, soda pop, or the failure to get a good night's rest. It's talking about sexual immorality. Let's look at the passage in context (vv.12-20):
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. 
But despite its clear context, this passage is used to support the notion that if a particular activity has bad health effects, it must be 'sinful' because it hurts your body. Of course, there are two huge problems with that. First (and less important), such a position is inherently self-defeating as no one can live it out consistently. Everything we consume ultimately hurts us. We live in a world tainted by sin and even the water we drink is full of impurities. Don't get me started on ice cream or chocolate. Secondly (and far more importantly), God says no such thing. 

Listen, I'm not saying it is wise to eat GMO corn products (personally, I don't have an issue). Frankly, if you want to smoke cigarettes I think your an idiot. You might be a righteous and Christ-like idiot, but an idiot nonetheless. But your morality shouldn't necessarily be called into question (see note below). If you want to sip a little booze or smoke an occasional pipe, I'll even defend your Christian liberty to do so (and might even get out one of my pipes and join you). But just to be clear, I would probably also make sure you understood the biblical commands not to be drunk/addicted to anything but the Holy Spirit, because that would be dishonoring the Lord with your body as God has declared drunkenness/addiction to be sinful. [Note: this is why cigarettes are problematic, because they are addictive. If you can't go a day, or an hour, without a cigarette you are in sin].

1 Corinthians 6 is not saying that something is wrong or sinful because of the effect that particular behavior has upon the body, but rather because the behavior itself is sinful and abhorrent to God. God nowhere declared tobacco or greasy hamburgers to be an affront to his holiness. He has claimed that running around sleeping with prostitutes or other people other than your spouse is such an affront.

See, that was the problem in the Corinthian church. They were making a mockery of the Gospel and of their own personal lives. They claimed with their mouth to believe in Jesus and to have surrendered their entire lives to God, but they were still using their bodies to engage in the same kind of sinful behavior that they had been saved from. This would not do.

This is why Paul told them in vv.9-10, "do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." 

In v.11 he goes on to remind them that they had been freed from that behavior, "And such were some of you. 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." 

Now, you might strongly believe that no self-respecting Christian should smoke any kind of tobacco. You might really believe eating a greasy hamburger is a sin. Maybe you're on a crusade against margarine, whole milk, or chocolate (seriously, why chocolate?). But unless your claiming God has given you additional divine revelation, it would be nice if you would at least admit your just giving your own opinion and not speaking for the Lord.

You might be able to make a wisdom case against using such products. You just can't make a moral one.

1 comment:

  1. I agree completely with your exposition. However, my big concern is what Paul said a couple chapters later: 1Co 8:10 For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol's temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols?
    1Co 8:11 And so by your knowledge this weak person is destroyed, the brother for whom Christ died.
    1Co 8:12 Thus, sinning against your brothers and wounding their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.
    1Co 8:13 Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.
    There is nothing I enjoy more on a hot summer day than a frosty glass of Guinness Stout on draft, and my conscience does not convict me in enjoying it. However, since I became a leader in my home congregation (which you remember, Josh, PRBC in Vanderbilt), I am convicted by 1 Corinthians 8. Therefore I will not engage my own desires (in this matter specifically. I am certain there are others where I fail).