In light of yesterday’s sermon about the pillar of cloud and fire, I wanted to follow-up with one point I made towards the end of the sermon:
How is your body the temple?
On the list of misquoted Bible verses, 1 Cor 6:19 must be one of the most frequent. Some of the problem stems from a general arc in today’s theology toward a ‘therapeutic’ approach to the Bible. This results in an emphasis on what can ‘faith’ do for me now: how can it solve the problems I have in this life? For the record, I don’t think it’s illegitimate to talk about how genuine faith can (many times) make this life better, it just can’t be the whole story (e.g. Jesus talks about true disciples must expect suffering, persecution, etc. which doesn’t fit with ‘our best life now’ theology).
In this vein, 1 Cor 6:19 is used by some to talk about a biblical basis for the pursuit of good health. “Eat right! Exercise!” we are told because “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.” I have heard someone once state that a certain diet is ‘cleansing the temple’ just like Jesus drove out the money changers. While this kind of thinking may help someone shed a few pounds, it really detracts from the original meaning of the verse. On the one hand, our bodies are a gift from God, and it is part of Christian stewardship to care well for what we are given (this is a historic argument against self-harm). On the other hand, the context of 1 Cor 6:19 has more to do with the moral use of our bodies. Here are the preceding verses:
1Cor 6:16-19 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.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?
Rather than speaking of the latest organic food fad, Paul, here, is informing the Corinthians not to sleep with prostitutes (how about that for pastoral advice to a local church!) and points to the larger issue of sexual immorality. Sexual intimacy is not only a physical union but a spiritual one as well. This is the blessing of sexual intimacy when it is in its proper context of marriage, but becomes disastrous outside its proper context. Paul further argues that we also can’t treat this topic casually because, as believers, we are united to Christ by the Holy Spirit. TheHoly Spirit dwells in the hearts of believers just like He dwelled in the temple (which connects back to the pillar of cloud and fire of Exodus). And just like in the Old Testament the temple was to be kept pure and holy from anything that could defile it since there was God’s presence, so should we seek purity in how we use our bodies.
The beauty of this text (that I explored briefly in the sermon) is that this is how God dwells with His people: the Spirit dwells in us and among us as the body of Christ. The challenge of this text is that God’s presence is not only a great comfort, but it is also motivation to flee from temptation. And the power to flee from temptation (sexual or otherwise) resides in the Spirit’s work within us, changing our hearts and strengthening us to fight sin in our lives.