I Cor. 6: 12″Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for me”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13″Food for the stomach and the stomach for food—but God will destroy them both.” The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15Do 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! 16Do 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.”[b] 17But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19Do you not know that your body is a temple 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 body.
I Cor. 6: 17 “But whoever is united with the Lord becomes one spirit with him”
I Cor. 6: 19-20: “Don’t you know that your body is a sanctuary of the Holy Spirit, whom you have received from God, and who dwells in you, to the effect that you no longer belong to yourselves. Rather, you have been bought at a high price. Therefore, glorify God with your bodies.”
According to today’s Bible passage, all baptized believers in this sanctuary have been married at least once. Even the single people among us. And many people in this sanctuary have been married at least twice. No, I’m not talking about widowed or divorced people who may have remarried. I’m talking about people who have stood up before God and before human witnesses at least once in their lives to make some very exclusive and enduring vows. Like, eternally enduring. For whether it was at the altar with a human bride or groom, or at the waters of baptism with Christ the husband and bridegroom of the church, or both, we said “I do” to some very exclusive questions with exclusive and enduring, even eternal, meanings.
And while it may strike us as a bit ticklish or embarrassing to compare our baptismal vows to human wedding vows, I’m actually being more discreet than was Paul the Apostle, who told the Corinthian Christians, that “whoever unites himself with the Lord is one with him in Spirit.” Blush if you must, because Paul says this even while he’s talking about human marriage and sexuality, right after he quotes from Genesis 2:24: “For this reason, a man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.”
From one flesh to one spirit: we can’t get any more intimate and explicit than that. And that’s what we did with our baptismal vows: we declared ourselves united with the Lord in a relationship at least as powerful, at least as intimate, at least as exclusive as human marriage. While we may forget these vows from time to time, or take them for granted some days, or even betray them, God takes these vows very seriously, never forgets them, always cherishes them—and us– and always acts accordingly.
Now, if I made it sound as though God’s relationship to his people is patterned after human marriage, between husband and wife, I goofed. I got it backwards. Actually, Paul is asserting that the biblical vision of human marriage and sexuality is based on God’s commitment and relationship and intimacy with us, as individuals and together, as the church. God’s love does not so much reflect marital love and commitment, as much as intimate marital love is to reflect God’s love. And that’s at the root of all that we are to do with our bodies, as Christians. Because they are no longer ours alone.
That’s what today’s scripture focus is about: first of all, God’s fierce and eternal relationship of love, commitment and intimacy with us, God’s constant courtship of us, God’s Spirit-to-spirit intimacy with us, and then, secondly, what that says about human intimacy, emotional, sexual, spiritual, and more.
Now, usually we read this passage as though its only about morality and marriage. And Paul is indeed dealing with such things. In particular, he’s dealing with that faction in the Corinthian church that says that everything is permissible to us. He quotes them to that effect; they say it and believe it; he doesn’t. Furthermore, since our bodies are just for this life—so they think, and wrongly—then allegedly it doesn’t matter what we do with them.
So, Woo-hoo! Party time! Like a lot of people today, they may have considered their sexual activity as simply casual, recreational and physical, with no spiritual meaning, and no enduring consequences.
Now, when we preach and teach from this passage, we typically go straight for the moral advice in verse 18: “Flee from sexual immorality.” Which is always good advice. And yes, by the way, I stand by all that this passage says against fornication and prostitution. And what it implies about some things about pornography and cohabitation.
But if all we do is just moralize against certain behaviors, then we’ve put the cart in front of the horse. Everything in this passage hinges on what Paul says about God’s nature, about God’s love and commitment to us, about God’s intimate relationship of one spirit between himself and us. Our most ardent, passionate, intimate human loves are meant to be reflections and expressions of this divine love, reflections and expressions of God’s passion, courtship and commitment toward us.
If Paul’s words about God’s spirit-to-spirit union with us seem a little over the top, remember that he did not make this up. He was simply reading and reflecting his Bible. He got it straight from Israel’s prophets. Such as when God said to Israel through Hosea, “I shall wed you to me in righteousness; I shall betroth you to me in justice (2:18).” Hosea was not the only one. Other prophets spoke for God and likened God’s covenant with Israel to wedding vows. Through Jeremiah God said, “But like a woman unfaithful to her husband, so you have been unfaithful to me, O house of Israel.”
If you have attended any wedding anniversary celebrations of 30, 40, 50 years or more, you may have noticed that, after so many years, not only do the spouses know what each other is thinking, not only can they complete each other’s sentences, they may even start to look alike. Some of us here may remember when Alan and Eleanor Kreider, retired missionaries to England, led a church retreat for us. Wasn’t it something how they team taught by conversing with each other, how their insights, qualities and characteristics complemented each other? That’s the proof and fruit of a true, long-standing marriage, intimate in more ways than one.
Such blending and melding of unique and different partners is also the proof of knowing God over time—that over a life of love and union with God’s Spirit, we begin to think, talk and act in ways that look like God. The Prophet Jeremiah understood this when he took King Shallum of Judah to task and said, “Defending the cause of the poor and needy….is that not what it means to know me?’ says the Lord.” If that’s how God is, then that’s how anyone in a spirit-to-spirit union with him would be too.
This one-spirit intimacy and unity with God is not just a private, interior, spiritual thing. It doesn’t necessarily lead to interior mystical feelings and experiences of union with God. It has very concrete, bodily, physical implications. Like, as Jeremiah said, “Defending the cause of the poor and needy.” Because we were redeemed at such a steep price, our bodies are no longer just our own bodies, Paul says. God’s Spirit dwells in us, so then, naturally, logically, we are temples of God’s Holy Spirit. Imagine then the monstrous implications of entertaining injustice, idolatry and immorality in a temple reserved for a holy, loving God. It would be unworthy of the temple, and a betrayal of the God who is worshiped there. Actually, that happened, in Solomon’s temple nonetheless, and it got Israel deported to Babylon for 70 years.
Here’s what our relationship of one-spirit intimacy looks like from God’s perspective: One, in every moment, through every experience, good and bad, God is passionately, eagerly courting us, seeking to catch our attention, that we might receive his love, and return his love, to the point that our love affair with God flows over into other people’s lives. It also means that God’s passion and desire for us are exclusively faithful and loyal. In that sense God has every right to call himself “a jealous God,” and he alone has every right to be jealous, as our creator, as well as the insistent and passionate Lover of our souls, whose love is so often unrequited and betrayed by his bride, the church. It also means that God’s commitment to us is unconditionally binding and eternal, such that God will give us every good gift that he knows we need. The whole idea behind the resurrection is that “Not even death can separate us from the love of God.” We may turn our backs on God and flirt with other gods and idols, but God will never turn his back on us. With God, we always get as many chances as we need to repent, start over, and get it right.
To reflect then the nature of God, our most intimate relationships with others must also be faithful, unconditionally loyal, binding, exclusive, eternal and self-giving. The best setting, the divine ideal, for intimate, sexual self-giving then is in a covenant that reflects these qualities of God and his love, a covenanted commitment that is public, binding, unconditional and exclusive. Just like our baptismal vows. In short, what we call “marriage.” Its not the tux, the gown, the top hat nor the license that make marriage marriage, but this kind of exclusive, eternal, public, God-reflecting covenant and commitment. Get that down, understand and embrace the way that a two flesh union between husband and wife reflects our two-spirit union with God, and everything else about a uniquely Christian approach to love, sex and marriage is neither extreme nor repressive nor punitive, in spite of what we are hearing from the world. Rather, it is a gift of God, and a reflection of God, rooted in the union of two spirits, God’s Spirit and ours. In light of a divine love so glorious, holy and faithful, how can we settle for anything less in our human loves?