Over the last few days we’ve seen Paul writing about the unity of the Church, overcoming divisions and differences. In 1 Corinthians 5-6 we see the boundary of this, where immorality is concerned. While Paul is careful to list other sins as requiring church discipline –
Anyone… who is sexually immoral or greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard or robber (5:11)
– his writing is occasioned by a case of sexual immorality. He continues in chapter 6 to draw out why there is a particular significance to sexual sin – it’s because the body matters. This doesn’t change the fact that the church has tended to get this whole area out of all proportion. Sexual sins are not uniquely serious, or somehow in a separate category from other sins, though they’ve often been treated as if they were.
More fundamentally, though, Paul makes a point which applies to any kind of behaviour. The urgency of the problem seems to have been not just the scandalously immoral behaviour of an individual Christian but the fact that the church was proud of being so openminded that this person could still be part of their fellowship. Paul warns them that ‘a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough’, and that the sincerity and truth of the Corinthians’ discipleship was in danger.
This is one of the problems of the good news of freedom in God – of the gospel of forgiveness by grace. Hard logic too easily leads people to the belief that it doesn’t matter what we actually do, since it’s not on the basis of what we’ve done that we are saved. So long as our heart has accepted God’s love, our salvation won’t be affected by anything our body does.
This was the line followed later by some strands of Gnostic Christians – believing that the soul was the only important part of being human, they tended to go to one extreme or the other. Either they would believe that the body was a hindrance needing to be controlled in the extreme (especially when it came to sex or abstinence) or they would believe that the body was completely irrelevant to salvation, so that there was no need for control (especially when it came to sex or… well, more sex).
This came later, but Paul is alert to the dangers of distortion of his gospel. That’s probably why he stresses the importance of the right use of the body. In Jewish thinking, body, mind and soul aren’t three distinct things, but three ways of talking about one reality of being human. So what we do matters, as well as why and how we do it.
Paul speaks wisdom in this, as in so much.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (6:12)
Or, to reference Jeff Goldblum’s character in Jurassic Park, ‘you were so excited finding out what you could do that you didn’t stop to ask yourself whether you should do it.
If salvation were just about getting a ticket to enter heaven when you die, then perhaps the ‘anything goes, God forgives’ line might just about work. But that’s not the point. Salvation isn’t just about judgement day, it’s about today. It’s about living free from the domination of sin, instinct, circumstance – free to live each day with God’s help a bit more like Jesus than we did yesterday.
And in doing that, while above all we depend on the Holy Spirit, we need to recognise that we’ll also be affected by the company we keep. So perhaps we should look around ourselves and ask us who we’re choosing to spend time with (face to face or online) – those who encourage us to be more holy or those who encourage us to indulge the sides of our nature which aren’t yet like Jesus.