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1 Corinthians #9. 1 Cor 6:9-20
This is one of those sermons about some “delicate” subjects. To be blunt, a lot of it is about sex. The truth is, we hear about sex on TV and radio. We come across on the internet. People talk about it in bars and in the workplace. In fact it seems like the only pace we DON’T talk about it is in church. But the Lord has said some things about this subject, and some of today’s passage is about sex. It seems to me that church is the BEST place to talk about sex. So let’s look at this passage.
Remember Paul began chapter six by pointing another way in which the Corinthians were living the life of “flesh” rather than the life of “spirit.” They were engaging in lawsuits against one another, and going to judges who were not Christians to have their disputes settled. One of Paul’s main points in all that is that there should be no one better qualified to judge than a person who knows Jesus and has the Holy Spirit living inside him or her.
He continues on in verse 9, by reminding them that the people who they live among – those who do not know Jesus – will not be part of God’s kingdom. He then names ten specific types of sins. These are not the ten commandments – they are examples Paul is giving of people who are living apart from the Spirit God. Basically, Paul is reminding them that there should be a difference between them and those who do not know Jesus. The difference starts, as we have said, in the spirit, but it is supposed to flow through the soul and affect the life we live in the body.
Now honestly, this list is pretty straightforward, but it has become more important as our society has begun to change in recent decades. I want to back up and briefly review a little history to set this passage in context in modern times.
Christianity was the first major world religion to practice religious tolerance. What that meant was that while virtually all of the governments in Europe were officially Christian, they did not require citizens to subscribe to the Christian faith, or to the doctrine of the government. There were some struggles in arriving at this point (notably during the Reformation in the 1500s, and the Spanish Inquisition at roughly the same time), but overall, by the late 1700s most people felt that it was wrong persecute someone for what they believe. The pilgrims came to America in the 1600s precisely because they believed they had a right to religious tolerance. This country was founded with a conscious value of religious tolerance.
However, over the past fifty years or so, the concept of tolerance has changed drastically. It used to mean that people were free to disagree with each other on religious matters, and that each person was free to live as she or he saw fit. Technically, according to the dictionary definition and the historical meaning, you can’t be tolerant of a person unless you disagree with her. More and more, however, “tolerance” has come to mean almost a religious belief in and of itself. People call you tolerant if you agree with them; they call you intolerant if you simply disagree with their religious and lifestyle choices. This is almost exactly the opposite of what tolerance used to mean.
The Bible does not teach us that we should deprive people of liberty or rights simply because they don’t believe and act as we do. It does teach that not all things are true, not all things are good and not all things are morally righteous. In a truly tolerant society, we have the right to say what we believe. We have the right to tell others what the Bible teaches. We don’t have the right to force others to accept what we believe, but we certainly have the right to say what we think.
What the Bible teaches in 1 Corinthians 6:9-20 is not popular in modern society. People don’t like to hear it. But we are not intolerant simply for believing it and we are not intolerant for saying it. Those who are seeking to silence our right to even say what we believe are the truly intolerant people.
The big issue about this text these days, is of course homosexual behavior. Paul names that as two of the sins in this list. He uses a Greek slang word which should be literally translated as “soft” (malakoi). This is probably equivalent to our English use of “gay.” Paul also uses a more specific technical word that means “homosexual.” A nuanced translation of this might read: “..neither gay, nor any kind practicing homosexual…” If we think of it in today’s terms, if we said, “gay,” that might leave out lesbianism or bisexual behavior. Paul uses the two terms to make sure all bases are covered.
There is a powerful movement, both in politics and in large church denominations, to say that homosexual behavior is not sinful, and to silence anyone who disagrees. People who simply say “the bible teaches that homosexual behavior is sinful” are labeled intolerant hate-mongers. But the Bible does teach that. It’s hard to be more clear than right here in 1 Corinthians 6:9.
So homosexual behavior is sinful. But I want to point something out. That behavior is condemned along with eight other behaviors: sex between unmarried people, adultery, idolatry, theft, greed, drunkenness, slander and swindling. Let’s get this straight. Greed is as sinful as homosexual behavior. So is petty theft (the Greek word for “theives” is the same root where we get “kleptomaniac”). Habitual drunkenness is as sinful as homosexual behavior, and so is adultery, and promiscuity and telling lies about others. So it would be wrong to suggest that homosexual behavior is particularly singled out as something more evil than other sins. But it would also be wrong to suggest that the Bible approves of “committed homosexual relationships.” It is a sin. There is no ambiguity. But it is not a special sin.
I have talked with gay people who told me that they’ve heard Christians say that homosexuals automatically go to hell. I’ve never heard anyone say that, but I’m sure some people somewhere do. However, that would be a misunderstanding of this passage. If that were true, then it would also be true of alcoholics, petty thieves, any every greedy person, and all those who have had a sexual relationship at any time in their lives with anyone other than their spouse. The real and main point of this passage is what Paul says in verse 11:
And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
In other words, whatever our particular sinful struggle, Jesus can put an end to it, and he has done so for billions of people around the world throughout history. So obviously, people who struggle with homosexual feelings can be saved and go to heaven – some of the Corinthians had those very struggles before they came to Jesus. People who struggle with drunkenness can be saved. So can thieves and those who are greedy. It all comes back to putting our faith in Jesus. Usually people who struggle with sins like homosexual behavior and addictions need help, support and understanding from fellow Christians as they open their lives to the Holy Spirit, but the Lord can change them. I have personally met people who used to call themselves homosexuals, who are now happily married (to the opposite gender) and call themselves heterosexual. Their testimony was that the Power of the Holy Spirit changed them. One them is the wife of a seminary classmate of mine. It can happen. It does happen. Jesus is a game-changer.
So the point is not a long list of sins that disqualifies people from heaven. The point is that Jesus can take care of a long list of sins. He can qualify those who were formerly disqualified, even those who may think they are beyond hope.
In verse 12, Paul gets very specific about one particular class of sin. Apparently the Corinthians were fairly blasé about sexual sins. You may remember from the introduction to 1 Corinthians, that the city of Corinth was the Las Vegas or Bangkok of the ancient world. Prostitution and loose moral standards were rampant. So the residents of the city didn’t take that sort of sin very seriously.
But Paul reminds them of the realities of our spiritual situation once we trust Jesus. Our spirits are united with Jesus. Through our spirit, our souls and even our bodies are joined to Jesus Christ. How then, can we take those same bodies and use them for sexual immorality?
Do 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; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
This is relevant to all areas of life. Your life is not your own. It belongs to God. Honor Him with it.