I’ve mentioned this before, but I feel a little weird teaching the passages from Scripture about the dangers of legalism. In every age it seems like the Church is following the example of the stereotypical generals who are busy fighting the last war instead of the one they’re in right now. The Church in America has a lot of problems, but excessive legalism seems to be a problem of a couple of generations ago, not today. Again, sorry for repeating myself, but this appears to me to be like someone mounting a modern crusade against Polio or against “separate but equal” water fountains.
In stark contrast, today’s passage and the rest of chapter six—it seems to me—could not possibly be more applicable and timely. I can’t claim universal knowledge of all the cultures and societies of the world, but as near as I can tell America is one of the most sexualized cultures in the world. There are things being shown on TV and in the movies which would've been (literally) unthinkable just a generation ago. Pornography has moved out of seedy theaters and “adult entertainment” stores (where at least you had to overcome the obstacle of possible embarrassment) into people’s homes. Seeing and watching and participating in absolute filth has never been easier or more convenient: Just a click of a mouse can lead to some really addictive problems.
If there’s one area in which the Church needs to be more counter-cultural, I’d submit this as the number one candidate. Unfortunately, waaaay too many churches are abandoning biblical standards on this issue, and the others which actually believe the Bible’s warnings on this are too quiet about it.
The church in Corinth had a lot of the same problems we have today, which is why I think it behooves us to study it carefully. The only reason why we aren’t doing a more thorough examination of the whole book (like we did with Romans) is because I’ve addressed a lot of its themes elsewhere on the Blog. But this one area—sexual immorality—is one in which the present-day church needs to look carefully at Paul’s words to the church back then.
Today’s passage starts with verses which we looked at regarding the topic of homosexuality, and it’s one I think is the most applicable concerning it. But Paul lists a host of sins here, and among them (along with theft, greed, drunkenness, slander, and swindling) is sexual immorality. Just to be clear, he lists “adultery” as distinct from the more generalized “sexual immorality.” Adultery fits under the broad category of “sexual immorality.” The Greek word translated as “sexual immorality,” btw, is pornoi, from which we get the word “pornography” and all its permutations. It was traditionally translated as “fornication,” which meant non-adultery-type sexual immorality, usually bearing the connotation of two people engaged in non-married heterosexual activity. Conservative biblical scholars today are pretty much agreed that a much better translation of pornoi is “sexual immorality,” which covers everything not holding up to God’s standards.
Just to be clear, his standard is restriction of sexual intimacy—both in thought and in deed—to marriage (which btw is between one man and one woman united for life). That’s his standard. As Jesus pointed out to us when discussing divorce, the Lord’s pattern for this was established with our first parents: One man united with one woman for life. Anything other than that is falling short of God’s standard.
In verse 12 Paul quotes what’s probably a popular slogan among them: “I have the right to do anything,” or more literally “All things are lawful for me.” He has two answers to this, which we’ll discuss tomorrow. In the meantime, we’ll look at this: His responses fall under the heading of “Yes, in a sense you’re right. But there are other things to consider.”
First and foremost we need to talk about the sense in which the popular slogan is correct. The Lord has forgiven our sin, and we’re justified before him. As far as God’s court system is concerned, I am now, and forever, found “not guilty.” The other sense in which it's correct is found in the more literal translation: “All to me is allowed.” Traditionally the first part of the verse has been rendered “All things are lawful for me.” Yes, all things are lawful for you if you’re talking about food or drink. We’re no longer under the dietary laws found in the Torah. And even if you define “things” in the sense of “activities,” then it’s mostly correct. As C.S. Lewis’s Screwtape put it, the Lord put a surfeit of pleasures in this world, and he only put any kind of restrictions on a tiny tiny tiny minority of them. I particularly love intimate times with my wife and watermelon and cantaloupe and chocolate milk and going to a hockey game and reading a good murder mystery novel and. . . well, I could go on and on, but I probably lost you a ways back.
But there are some activities—a very few—which God has placed some restrictions on, and this is one of the “biggies”: No sexual activity—in thought or deed—outside the boundaries of biblical marriage, which is defined by the Bible as one man with one woman united for life. That’s his standard, and you can argue with it, but as Paul put it in another letter, “anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God.”
We’ll get into the rest of chapter 6 tomorrow.
Father God, this is probably my sneakiest enemy, my Achilles Heel, the biggest chink in my armor. Above all other areas, this is the one in which I need to plead “Lead me not into temptation.” I desperately need your grace not just to forgive, but to keep me from even being exposed to this. Please. Oh please.