Second Sunday of Epiphany – Sunday, January 14, 2018

January 14, 2018  

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you,
which you have from God, and that you are not your own?

For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

(1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

The apostle Paul wrote this letter that is 1st Corinthians to the church he founded in Corinth. Although it is called “1st Corinthians,” as in it is his first letter to the congregation, some scholars believe it is actually his 2nd  letter (see The New Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 10, p. 776). Their point is that this letter that we call 1st Corinthians was written to clarify comments Paul made in his actual first letter, comments that confused the congregation and led to some disagreement among members (TNIB, p. 776-777).

What they were confused about was how to deal with immorality—either their own or someone else’s.

To understand the struggle the church was engaged in, we need to understand the culture of Corinth. One scholar wrote

In Paul’s time everyone had a lord—that is, someone who could rightly be construed as being over someone else, to whom that someone else belonged or was indebted, and to whom that one was responsible. It was not just slaves who belonged to someone. Everyone right up the chain belonged to another person. Even… the Roman emperor, mused that he was responsible to the gods. And one’s comportment [or behavior] was understood as being keyed to pleasing one’s lord, to whom one was responsible.    (TNIB, vol 10, p. 782).

So—when Paul writes “you are not your own” and when Paul writes “You were bought for a price” – Paul was saying your “lord” is God.
He was saying “you belong to God.” He was saying “you are responsible to God.”

In the context of immorality, Paul was saying “because you are God’s, you have a responsibility to honor God in all that you say and all that you do. Which is why our reading today ends with the words “therefore glorify God in your body.”

This is a tough message to bring into the year 2018.

We’ve been saying for decades “our bodies; ourselves” (see book by same title).

Particularly for women, there has been and there is a necessary struggle in our time to claim ourselves as ours, not someone else’s. The same is true for African Americans who have lived for generations as descendants of slaves… or for Asian Americans or Latin Americans, who have not been slaves but have been servants. Independence and self-governance is vital. Independence and self-governance are necessary in order achieve true freedom.

So how do we live as free, independent people and still believe Paul when Paul says to us “you are not your own”?

The answer is to turn to the first part of verse 19 of our reading.

Verse 19 begins with the words: Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.

God dwells in us.

Paul was comfortable referring to God as our Master. I am not. Master imagery invokes slavery, which is a horrible, inhumane, oppressive image for relationship.

I am most comfortable thinking of myself as God’s temple.

I am most comfortable thinking of each of us as God’s temple.

I think it is wonderful, that God lives in me. And in you. That doesn’t make us God, it makes us God’s dwelling place. And it gives us a tremendous responsibility, to remember that God dwells in us in all that we say and do. Which gets us back to the reason for misunderstanding in Corinth.

It appears that some members of Paul’s church believed his teachings to mean that “All things are lawful for me” (the first verse of our reading today). They meant by that that all things were permissible. Because they believed this they tolerated immoral behavior. For example, one member of the congregation was living with his step-mother as if his step-mother was his wife.

Paul is trying to correct this misunderstanding by teaching them “your body is a temple of the holy Spirit.” God dwells in them. Because God dwells in them, and now in us, we must “glorify God in [our] body.”

Our reading is a lesson in morality. The reading tells us how we ought to live. According to Paul, we ought to live knowing God dwells in us. Every decision we make, every decision we make about who we are and what we do, we are to make with the knowledge that God dwells in us. Paul calls us to ask ourselves: is who you are giving glory to God? Is what we are doing—what each of us is doing—giving glory to God?

When our answer is “yes” thanks be to God.

When our answer is “no” we’ve got some work to do. We’ve got some thinking to do. We need to think about how we can change ourselves and change our behavior so we better glorify the God who dwells within us.