8th Sunday after Epiphany March 3, 2019
1 Corinthians 6:12-20
1 Samuel 3:1-10
132, 415, 371, 372
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Grace, mercy, and peace be multiplied to you in the revelation of Jesus Christ as your own personal Savior from sin, death, and eternal torment in hell. Amen.
Dear Fellow Inhabitants of the temple of God:
Certain words just don’t sound good, no matter how you say them. Think back to the early days here on the prairie. What would you want to be called if you moved onto some land that didn’t necessarily belong to you and just started living there? The folks who first moved to this area and began living off the land were given rather dashing titles like “trail blazers,” “explorers,” "mountain men,” or “pioneers.” After the pioneers came the settlers. Still not bad. After the settlers came the ranchers and farmers. All good. But somewhere along the line there came another category of those who came west looking for a place to call their own. They pretty much did what everyone before them had done—settled into a place they hadn’t necessary paid for—but by the time they came on the scene the land was pretty much all claimed, legally or otherwise. That’s why this last group were commonly known as squatters. Even if you didn’t know anything about the name, the word itself just doesn’t sound good. Who would ever want to boldly proclaim at a family reunion, “Why, yes. My wife and I are squatters!”?
The problem with squatters was that they were often seen as ingrates who tried to live off the hard work of others, but who seemed to show little or no gratitude for the hard work that had been done by someone else to make their newly acquired home what it was. Historians tell us that some had little regard or respect for the land, since they were always in doubt as to whether or not they would be able to keep it, and therefore reluctant to give it their all. In fact, they often proved to be the bane of the rightful landowner and a source of constant friction and strife.
It makes you wonder just how our God sees us. Our text for this morning tells us that we are living in dwellings that are not our own and benefitting from the work of Another. Yet, we tend not only to act as if our lives are ours, but to routinely misuse and disrespect what we have been given. Does God see us as tenants, settlers, or just “no-account squatters"? This is one of the questions that we will seek to answer on the basis of our text for this morning, found in the Sixth Chapter of Paul’s First Letter to the Church in Corinth:
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be enslaved by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food&8221;—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. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 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! 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? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
So far the very words of our God. Confident that God will keep his promise to visit us with his power, comfort, strength, and wisdom whenever we come to him in his Word, so we pray, “Sanctify us by your truth, O Lord. Your word is truth.” Amen.
The greatest and perhaps most difficult lesson of this text with which we must first come to grips is the fact that you and I don’t own ourselves. Hear that again and allow it to sink in: You and I don’t own ourselves. We are, in fact, as our text put it, “bought with a price.”
The unbelieving world around us really, really doesn’t want to hear that. In fact, the very fabric of who they are and what they do is woven from the brain-threads of humanism and self-ownership. Think for a moment of the great and ongoing sins of our society and you will find that in each case the evil is justified on the basis of self-ownership. Abortion jumps out as the most obvious example of self-ownership. Society’s promotion and defense of what is unquestionably the most barbaric offense of our times—the ongoing slaughter of the sweetest and most helpless among us—that heinous evil is predicated and justified on the basis of the misguided notion that a woman owns her own body and therefore should be allowed to do whatever she wants with it. Plug in other great sins that our society seeks to justify and behind them all you will find the notion that man owns himself and therefore can do what he wants “as long as he doesn’t infringe on the rights of another”—others who, in their minds, are also self-owned).
Into that darkness shines the divine brilliance of our text: “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.”
This will actually serve as a life-changer, if we let it. It can serve as a touchstone or centering point all throughout our lives. How so? Because it permanently alters our entire worldview. It forever changes how we look at everything that we do, all the decisions that we make, every direction that we take in life. Truly understanding these words from our God means that nothing will ever be the same again, because suddenly it isn’t all about me; it’s all about God. The question then is not “What makes me happy?” but “How can I best serve and glorify God with the gifts or tools that he’s given me?” Not “How will this please or benefit me?” but “Will this please the Holy Spirit that lives within me?” The renter or occupant doesn’t get to decide, the Owner does.
It also therefore radically alters our definition or perception of “success,” doesn’t it? The test is not then defined according to money, power, pleasure, fame, and the accumulation of “stuff,” but serving the One who actually owns the body that you inhabit.
Does this mean then that everyone has to be a pastor or teacher to please God? Of course not. In fact, if you search out that very topic (known as the Doctrine of Vocation) in God’s Word, you find that it is God who calls souls into those fields, and obviously he neither equips nor calls everyone for that work. Those that God does call into the public ministry are simply called to equip other Christians for kingdom work. That means that God’s plan is that everyone will be active and faithful in their church and faith-life, regardless of occupation. It means God has called you (no matter who you are) to serve him in whatever station of life you find yourself. Since we all serve the same God with the same goal, all will need the Word of God to be the unbroken thread that runs through every single day.
That’s sort of the picture of the perfect world in which you and I ought to live. But then we are dragged back to the image of the squatter, and we begin to wonder if that is really how God sees us. We have established the fact that our bodies and lives are not our own. They belong to God. You and I do not therefore have the option of “home ownership.” We can be devoted and conscientious tenants in the temple of God that is our body, or we can be loathsome squatters. The difference was spelled out for us in our text.
Evidently some of the souls in Corinth were using and abusing what had become a popular expression of the day: “All things are lawful for me!” This is squatter talk. This is the sort of thing you say to try to convince yourself that your immoral behavior is somehow acceptable. Paul went on to put it all into perspective in our text when he said, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.”
Some of the Corinthians were trying to justify their sinful behavior by claiming that since Jesus paid for all sins, their actions didn’t really matter. Jesus certainly did pay the penalty for every single sin, and man is not saved by his actions but through faith in Jesus Christ. But sin does not advance the Kingdom of God. On the contrary it diminishes, erodes, and eventually destroys saving faith. Yet somehow in the minds of some of the Christians in Corinth, they came to the conclusion that they could do pretty much whatever they wanted with impunity—that their actions somehow didn’t matter and that God somehow didn’t care.
The Christian faith would in fact be a most dangerous proposition if an internal change of heart did not take place at conversion. The true Christian is no longer a helpless slave to his passions—which is exactly why Paul said what he did in our text, “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.” He then went on to address one particular area of sin—the sewer that is sexual immorality—pointing out just why sexual immorality is so terrible: “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?”
It’s hard to come up with an example or analogy for how God feels about Christians committing sexual sins, so great and so loathsome is the evil in God’s eyes. Think of building a magnificent, ornate temple to our God, and then filling it with raw sewage. Think of doing a complete, no-expense-spared renovation of your home, and then filling it with rotting, bloated road-kill carcasses that have been cooking for a couple days in the summer heat.
This is how repulsed each of us ought to be at the thought of allowing any sort of sexual immorality “inside the walls.” Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who since conversion has been living within us. How appalling, how profoundly wrong, to introduce anything so unholy into the temple of the Holy Spirit that is now your body and life. Again, we have no right to do something like that because our bodies are God’s temple. We are not our own. We have been bought and paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ.
Now, in case your old Adam is starting to feel sorry for itself because you don’t get to do what others get to do, focus finally on these words in our text, “For you were bought with a price.” That purchase price was, of course, the life-blood of Jesus Christ. Yet understand this well: every single human being has only two options—neither of which is self-ownership. The alternative to being owned and inhabited by the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus Christ is ownership by sin and Satan. The hard cold fact is that you and I can never really own ourselves. We are owned by our God or we are owned by the devil. We are never—and can never be— the independent operators so many imagine.
Therefore far from existing as an ongoing burden or irritation, the fact that God owns and lives within us is our greatest joy and comfort—a constant source of amazement. Our text assures us that it was Jesus Christ who saved us from the eternal torment we had both earned and deserved. It is therefore only that old Adam in us that bristles at the thought of being owned, inhabited, and controlled by our Holy God. That new man in us, however, couldn’t be more pleased. That new, holy part in us rejoices daily in our inner communion with our God, and the priceless, intimate connection we personally have with him through faith in Jesus Christ as the one who has paid in full the debt we owed for our sins. Our new man understands that the only other alternative is ownership by Satan and an eternity in hell.
How could you and I ever feel burdened or displeased by the fact that God himself is the landlord of our bodies and lives? How could this intimate connection to our God ever be a bad or negative thing? How could we ever be anything but overjoyed at the news that we are indeed bought and paid for by the life and death of Jesus Christ? On the contrary, we pray this morning that that Holy Spirit who lives now within us would never leave. We pray instead that he would reign there without a rival, and that he would give us the wisdom to make the sort of decisions that give honor always and only to our God—in no way ever dishonoring that God who now lives within us. Amen.
Ministry by Mail is a weekly publication of the Church of the Lutheran Confession. Subscription and staff information may be found online at www.clclutheran.org/ministrybymail.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.