June 30, 2013
Pastor Joe Wittwer
A Glorious Mess
Lawsuits and Sexual Immorality
1 Corinthians 6
ILL: A well-known pastor named Ken was asked to speak to a class at his daughter’s high school. After his presentation, a high school boy asked, “If God made my body with all of its appetites, why are you preachers always hassling me about sex.” He went on, “My sexual needs are just like all my other needs. If I get hungry I drop by McDonald’s for a quarter-pounder with cheese, and if I feel the need for sex I get a date with a girl who is willing. Now what’s wrong with that?”
What would you say to that young man?
That’s pretty much what some church members in Corinth were saying to Paul. “I have the right to do anything I want—including having sex with whoever I want whenever I want.” We’re going to see how Paul answered them.
Our income has been down considerably—we’ve missed budget by quite a bit the last two months, which is unusual. I say this to let you know that your giving is needed and appreciated. Because I rarely say anything like this, it’s possible for folks to think we’re doing fine and don’t need your faithful gift. We do. Thanks!
Welcome to a Glorious Mess! This summer, we are working our way through the New Testament book of 1 Corinthians. The apostle Paul wrote this letter to the church in Corinth to address some problems—a lot of problems…Big Problems. He spent the first four chapters dealing with division in the church and opposition to his leadership. In chapter 5, he addresses a shocking case of sexual immorality—a man was sleeping with his step-mom and the church was doing nothing about it. We talked about that last week.
Today, we’re looking at chapter 6, and Paul tackles two big problems: some members of the church were suing each other, and others were visiting prostitutes. This is one messed up church! Kinda makes you feel good about yourself, doesn’t it?
I hope you’ll fill in the blanks on your outline, and take notes—jot down what God says to you; look for a takeaway, something practical that you can use in your life. We’ll come back to this at the end. Here’s:
The Big Idea: Jesus has transformed you—so live like it! Christians don’t sue each other or practice sexual immorality.
Paul starts by addressing the problem of lawsuits among Christians.
1. Settling disputes among Christians: better to be wronged. 1-8
1 Corinthians 6 (NIV)
1 If any of you has a dispute with another, do you dare to take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the Lord’s people? 2 Or do you not know that the Lord’s people will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! 4 Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, do you ask for a ruling from those whose way of life is scorned in the church? 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother takes another to court—and this in front of unbelievers!
7 The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? 8 Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers and sisters.
Paul is astonished and distraught that they are taking each other to court. The first verse could read, “How dare you take your disputes to the secular courts.” This is unthinkable—Christians asking unbelievers to settle their disputes.
Why is it unthinkable? Why is Paul so upset? “How dare you?”
Two reasons. First, they have forgotten who they are. They are the Lord’s people. Most translations say “saints”—the word means “holy ones”, those who are set apart for God.
ILL: A friend loaned me $5; I need to pay him back. So I’m taking this $5 bill (with Abe Lincoln’s picture on it) out of my wallet and putting it in my pocket to remind me to give it to him. This is holy money—it is set apart for my friend—it is “St. Lincoln.” I don’t leave it with the rest of my money where it could be spent. It is not mine; it belongs to my friend.
In the same way, every Christian is a saint, a holy person, set apart for God. And then, here comes a stunner: Paul says that we, the saints, will judge the world. Not only that, we’ll judge angels. What does this mean? I don’t know. Paul doesn’t explain, he just states it as accepted fact. Evidently, part of reigning with Christ in His kingdom is that we will also judge with Him. (I’m pretty sure that my part will be to say, “Whatever you think, Jesus—I’m good with it.”)
While we don’t know exactly what this means or how it works, Paul’s point is clear. If we, the saints, are going to judge the world and angels, don’t you think we can handle the trivial cases of this life? We who have the mind of Christ should be wise enough to settle trivial disputes among ourselves, without having to take them to public courts.
ILL: The Corinthians were acting like a plumber who can’t fix his own leaky faucet! Or a mechanic who can’t change his own tire!
You’ve forgotten who you are! You’re the plumber; you’re the mechanic; fix it! You are saints, the Lord’s own people. You have the Holy Spirit and the Lord’s wisdom; you should be able to handle this yourselves without calling in outside help.
Paul says, “I say this to shame you. Is it possible there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers?” I don’t usually recommend using shame to motivate people, but Paul thought it was appropriate in this case! “Shame on you! Are you telling me there is no one among you wise enough to settle this?” You’ve forgotten who you are.
Second, Paul is upset because they are discrediting their witness in the world. They were airing their dirty laundry “in front of unbelievers.” What is the mark of a Christian? Jesus said,
John 13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.
We are marked as followers of Jesus by our love for one another. So what does it say when we are dragging each other into court, fighting over money or our rights? Unbelievers look at this petty squabbling and think, “This is what Christians are like? Forget it!”
We need to judge our every action by asking, “Does this bring honor to God?” Will this make people want to find and follow Jesus?
Then Paul gets to the heart of the issue. The very fact that they are suing each other indicates that they are totally defeated. It doesn’t matter if you win the lawsuit, you’ve already lost what matters. The way of Jesus is sacrifice for the good of others, even at great personal cost. It’s the way of the cross, the way of love. Love is doing what is best for others no matter what it costs us. So what does this mean when we have a dispute with a fellow-Christian? It means we don’t insist on our own rights. It means we would rather be cheated and wronged than do anything to hurt a brother or dishonor God.
ILL: When we built this building in 2005, we had only one hiccup. A vendor sent us some equipment to be installed, but it was the wrong size and was unusable. The architect, the contractor and the sub who ordered the equipment each denied that it was his fault and blamed the others. Meanwhile, we were stuck with $75,000 worth of useless equipment. Our church council, who oversees our finances, prayerfully discussed what to do for several months. In the end, we decided to absorb the loss rather than take anyone to court. The other parties were all Christians, and had on many occasions bent over backwards to help us or give us a break, cutting their own profit margins to the bone. We decided that the honor of God and our reputation as Christians was worth more than $75,000. By doing this, we also won the gratitude and loyalty of the other people involved.
Some people might disagree with that decision, but we felt it was the best way to honor God and obey the Scripture: “it’s better to be wronged than to sue a fellow Christian.”
The gospel is counter-cultural. We live in a culture that says “get what is yours, get your rights.” The gospel talks about being willing to suffer earthly loss to lay up treasure in heaven. Jesus won by losing. Paul says that when we try to win by taking our brothers to court, we are already defeated. Better to win by losing. Love does what is best for others no matter what it costs.
By the way, in verse 8, Paul also corrects the person who is doing the cheating and the wrong! Don’t cheat your brothers and sisters! Don’t do wrong to them! Which leads to the next verse:
2. Reminder: “that is what you were.” 9-11
9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 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.
Paul warns the cheaters and wrongdoers that they won’t inherit the Kingdom of God. He lists the kinds of people who won’t inherit the Kingdom.
Sexually immoral: pornos, any sexual union outside of marriage.
Idolators: worship of anything other than God.
Adulterers: extramarital sex.
Men who have sex with men.
Thieves: those who steal from others.
Greedy: always wanting more.
Drunkards: those who abuse alcohol and get drunk.
Slanderers: those who verbally abuse others.
Swindlers: those who cheat others.
The list is not exhaustive; there are other sins Paul could have included, so why these? These were the sins that were most prevalent in the Corinthian church. These were their sins, and Paul is saying, “You can’t keep living like this.”
Paul isn’t saying that if you’ve ever done any of these, you can’t go to heaven. He is saying that if you continue doing them, you won’t. It’s a sobering warning. Don’t think that you can keep living like everyone else and still be part of God’s Kingdom! Don’t be deceived! Don’t fool yourself and think that you’re saved—if you keep living like this, you’re not!
This reminds me of something Jesus said:
Matthew 7:21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
Not everyone who says he is a Christian really is. Some will be surprised on the day of judgment; they will think they’re in, but they’re not. They said one thing, “Lord, Lord,” but did another. They said Jesus was Lord, and then did what they wanted, not what He wanted. It was an empty profession.
In the same way, Paul says, “Don’t be deceived. Don’t think you can keep living like this and be part of God’s kingdom.”
Is this creating any mental turbulence? Someone may say, “Wait a minute—where’s the grace? This sounds like we’re saved by our works, but the gospel is that we’re saved by grace, by what God has done, not what we do.” That’s right. That’s the gospel. And the gospel says that when you have received this grace, you are transformed and live a new life. You are saved by grace and so you do good works.
Ephesians 2:8–10 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We are not saved by works, but we are saved by grace to do good works. However, if we keep on living the same old lives, it would seem that we haven’t really received God’s grace.
So Paul warns them, “you can’t keep living like this,” and then reminds them once again of the gospel and who they are.
11 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.
That is what you were—past tense. You are those things no more. You are a new person in Christ! You were washed, sanctified and justified. God has washed away your sins, made you holy, and declared you are forgiven and right with Him. You are a new person in Christ. It is time to leave that old life behind!
In a few moments, I’m going to give you a chance to do that.
Before we do that, let’s finish the chapter. Paul returns to the subject of sexual immorality.
3. Flee sexual immorality: honor God with your body. 12-20
12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 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! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 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; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
Paul begins by quoting a Corinthian saying: “I have the right to do anything.” Does this sound familiar? It is possible that they took Paul’s teaching about freedom in Christ and misconstrued it into a license for immorality. Paul says, “Even if I have the right to do anything, there are still other considerations: is it beneficial? Will it master me?” These are good questions to ask.
Is it beneficial? And not just for me, but for others. As we’ll see later in this book, Paul taught that we can’t just think of ourselves and our own good, but also the good of others. Will this benefit others? I may be free to do something, but if it isn’t beneficial, I should pass.
Will it master me? Is there a possibility that this freedom will result in bondage for me?
ILL: This is why I don’t drink alcohol. My dad was an alcoholic; my grandfather was an alcoholic. I grew up in the chaos of an alcoholic home. Could I drink and handle it? Probably. Do I want to take the chance? Not at all. I watched it master my dad; I don’t want it to master me, so I don’t drink. That’s my personal position. I share it only as an example of this principle, not as a rule everyone must follow.
So they were saying, “I have the right to do anything.” And Paul answered, “Not exactly. If it’s not beneficial, if it could master you, you shouldn’t do it.”
Then Paul quotes another Corinthian saying about food and the stomach.
13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.”
What does this mean? Greek thought tended to treat the body and the whole material world with contempt. The spirit was good; the body was bad and was the spirit’s prison. This led to two extremes. On the one hand, extreme asceticism: these people reasoned that the body needed to be subjected, tortured, and subdued. So they denied their natural physical urges. On the other hand, extreme indulgence: these people reasoned that since the body was evil and would be destroyed, it didn’t matter what you did with it. So they indulged their physical urges. You can guess which was more popular! This Corinthian saying seems to be a reflection of the second view: Eat all you want. It doesn’t matter. The body will be destroyed anyway.
ILL: This is like thinking, “This car is an old beater that’s headed for the junkyard. I’ll drive it until it dies and then be done with it.” So you don’t do any preventative maintenance or repair anything. You just use it up and toss it.
But what if you knew that car had to last your whole life and was also your car forever! You’re going to be driving that hummer in heaven! You’d treat it differently.
So Paul challenges this idea that it doesn’t matter what you do with your body. The body is important, and what you do with it is important. Christianity is an embodied faith. The idea of the immortality of the soul is a Greek idea, not a Christian one. In Christianity, it’s not just the soul, it’s the whole person who is redeemed. The body belongs to the Lord just as much as the soul does. And the body is for the Lord, not for immorality.
To show how important the body is, Paul says two things. First, our bodies, like the body of Jesus, will be resurrected. So it won’t just be destroyed and tossed; it will be raised! You’ll be driving this hummer forever! It will be a glorified body there—which means that I’ll be able to touch my toes and dunk! Your body will be raised! Second, our bodies are members of Christ. Not just our spirits or souls, but our bodies belong to Jesus and are part of His body. So it matters what you do with your body.
This leads Paul to the problem in verse 15.
15 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!
Evidently, some of these new Corinthian Christians who believed that it didn’t matter what they did with their bodies were going to visit prostitutes. We don’t know if they were the religious prostitutes at the temple of Aphrodite or the regular prostitutes that worked the streets and shipyards. Either way, Paul’s response is “Never! May God forbid!” This is unthinkable!
Why is it unthinkable?
If our bodies are members of Christ, how can we unite them with a prostitute? To have sex with a prostitute is to become one body, one flesh with her. We can’t take the body of Jesus and unite it with a prostitute! Never!
Paul quotes Genesis 2:24, “the two become one flesh,” which refers to the marriage union. He is not suggesting that sex with a prostitute and sex in marriage are the same. Not at all. But he is saying that anytime we have sex, we become one flesh with another person. We give something of ourselves away that can never be recovered. This is why sex can never be casual or recreational.
ILL: The two become one flesh. There is a union, a gluing together. And if you separate, there is a tearing apart.
I’ve glued these papers together, and now I’ll separate them. What happens? They are destroyed; ruined. Now imagine taking the remains and gluing it to another piece and then separating it again. Then again…and again…and again. Before long, there is nothing left. You’ve given yourself away so often that you’ve lost you.
This is why Paul says, “Flee sexual immorality.” Some sins you stand and resist, but others it’s best to just turn and run. Think of Joseph when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him—he ran! If you find yourself in a sexually tempting situation, get the heck out of there!
Paul gives several reasons for fleeing sexual immorality.
First, sexual immorality is a sin against your own body (18), and you know that your body has been redeemed, is a member of Christ, and will be resurrected. So don’t violate your own body.
Second, your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is living in you (19). This body is important and what I do with it is important because God lives inside! This verse has often been used to prohibit other vices that abuse the body: smoking, excessive drinking, using drugs, overeating, lack of exercise, excessive stress. While Paul isn’t addressing any of those problems here, the principle is true. This body is the temple of the Holy Spirit—take care of it. It matters. You’re driving this hummer forever!
Third, you are not your own, you were bought at a price (19-20). You belong to Jesus. He bought you with His blood. So you can’t do what you want, because it’s not your life. It’s not your body. This is extremely counter-cultural. We love to say, “It’s my life, I can do what I want. It’s my body, I’ll do what I want.” But you are not your own. It’s not your life; it’s not your body. You are not your own; you belong to Jesus! So you live for Him, not yourself.
All this leads to Paul’s conclusion: honor God with your body. Here is the ultimate standard to test my behavior: does this honor God? Does this behavior honor God—does it show others how important God is in my life, that He is first and I belong to Him? Does this behavior honor God—does it reveal God’s glory and show others how great He is? Does this behavior honor God—does it make others want to know Him and follow Him too?
Pray: Give people a chance to repent and turn to Jesus.