As Christians we take for granted that our lives are meant to glorify God, through the things that we say and do, or perhaps through the things we refrain from saying or doing.  This is the first of four articles in which I would like to explore what it means to glorify God.  Each of the articles will focus on an excerpt from Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth and will ask how we might glorify God with various aspects of our lived existence here on this earth. In our first installment, we consider what it means to glorify God in our bodies.   

Roman Corinth is a city with a fascinating history.  In 146 BC the city was destroyed by the Romans for choosing the wrong side in a war.  Roughly a hundred years later those same Romans would rebuild the city, even making it the provincial capital of Greece.  While Athens enjoyed a certain prestige due to its intellectual heritage, Corinth was the cosmopolitan center of the region in the 1st century, a bustling port with significant traffic in people and goods.  When Paul brought the gospel to Corinth, those who accepted it embarked on a continual process of learning how their lives must change in accordance with the teachings of Jesus.  The things we take for granted, or at least that we once took for granted, were by no means assumed to be true for the Corinthian Christians.  There are parts of Paul’s letter where he states the obvious.  Yet, these things were not so obvious to the Corinthians.  Paul had to help them connect the dots.  Furthermore, the points that Paul labored to make to the Corinthians seem less obvious to Christians today.  It begs the question, are we really all that different from the Corinthians, and those who were the first to believe the gospel?

12 All things are permitted for me, but not all things are of benefit. All things are permitted for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, however God will do away with both of them. But the body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body. 14 Now God has not only raised the Lord but will also raise us up through His power. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are parts of Christ? Shall I then take away the parts of Christ and make them parts of a prostitute? Far from it! 16 Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, “The two shall become one flesh.” 17 But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him18 Flee sexual immorality. Every other sin that 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, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought for a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (I Corinthians 6:12-20)

In Corinth, it was deemed socially acceptable to make use of prostitutes, even when married.  In Roman society, marriages were much more concerned with social status and the propagation of heirs. While emotions like love were possible, feelings were not the primary concern, nor were they how the health of a marriage was evaluated.  Wives were for having children, whereas prostitutes were often seen as legitimate outlets for the gratification of husbands’ physical desires and passions.  Before we find ourselves looking down judgmentally at the Roman culture of the past, it is worth pointing out that the pornography industry was predicted to surpass $1 billion in 2023. Are we so naïve as to think that only single men are taking in these images?  Do we really believe that no marriage has been wrecked by a husband’s addiction to pornography?  Before we start to argue that in some way it is less egregious because there is no actual sex taking place, we also live in an age where between 24-28 million people are trafficked. Some are “lucky” and are used simply for manual labor, but others are used as sex workers. With stories of “Epstein’s Island” dominating the news, do we really buy into the notion that we have somehow evolved beyond the struggles of those in 1st-century Corinth?   

At the heart of these issues, for the Corinthian in the 1st  century, as well as for us in the 21st  century, are a few questions. First, what does “freedom” really mean? Paul keeps referring to a phrase, “all things are permitted for me,” that more than likely had become a type of catchphrase for the Corinthians.  It is even possible that the phrase grew out of a radical misunderstanding of Paul’s own preaching on Christian liberty. After all, if we are saved by grace and not by works, could one not make the case that works don’t matter, and therefore we are free to do as we please? Connected to this question of what “freedom” means, are misunderstandings about the nature of the body and its ultimate purpose.  I am reminded of my youth when we would go out to eat with my grandparents.  Invariably, my grandpa would spill something on his shirt.  Loving cobbler as he did, it would often be a blackberry complete with the accompanying filling, or sometimes jelly that had slid out of a Cracker Barrel biscuit.  The easy fix to this was for grandpa to take precautions by using a napkin as a type of bib, which would allow him to indulge at will without staining his clothes.  I say all of this because the Corinthians, and many others at the time, viewed the body and soul through the lens of Platonism, according to which the body was a prison that held the soul in this life.  Death, consequently, was a freeing of the soul from its prison.  Some of this thinking has endured right down to our own age, where hymns such as “I’ll Fly Away” make statements such as, “like a bird from prison bars has flown” to describe our journey from this life, and to the next. The Corinthians seem to have drawn the conclusion that because the soul is what is eternal, and the soul will flee this mortal body upon death, what is done in the body does not ultimately matter.  We see Paul at pains to sort a lot of these misconceptions out.  His great treatise on the resurrection later in this same epistle, found in I Corinthians 15, is an effort to show that the body is far more than a temporary shell, that Christ died to redeem us body and soul. If the redemption of our soul is accomplished, we can be sure that of the body will follow in due course.

Something that this reveals is that a precursor to sin is a redefinition of the body.  Perhaps it is of the Corinthian variety, the lie that what we do in our bodies does not matter, that the soul is all that really counts.  It might come in the more modern attempt to justify certain behavior with the rationalization “I was born this way,” or its close cousin “I identify as…”  We err when we either deny the importance of our created bodies or attempt to redefine the reality of how we were created. We see that the issues that seem to have engulfed our society are not new.  As Solomon says, “there is nothing new under the sun.”  The cultural wars that rage around identity and how we understand our bodies have been happening for millennia. To ask what “freedom” means does not completely address the issue.  The real question is, what does freedom in Christ mean? Did the Corinthians of Paul’s day and do the people of our own have the right to view their bodies as they see fit?  Absolutely.  But those embracing such freedom will find it is not the road to happiness, but instead a cul-de-sac of despair.  When writing to the Galatians, Paul states, “For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh but serve one another through love.” (Galatians 5:13) In other words, any freedom that is grounded in self-service is also out of bounds for the Christian, if for no other reason than the one we called Lord used His own freedom not for self-service, but for self-sacrifice.  Several centuries after Paul wrestled with this idea of how Christians make use of their freedom, Augustine wrote in a similar vein, “Love, and do what you will.” When love, as revealed in Jesus Christ, becomes the filter through which we speak and act, we find true freedom to become who God has called us to be.  

This leads us to the second and final question, one that has essentially been answered for us already.  What is our purpose in life? If, as Paul makes clear in no uncertain terms, our life’s purpose is not the gratification of the flesh and the pursuit of pleasure, what is it?  Quite simply, our purpose is to be like Christ, if for no other reason than we belong to him.  The problem with the idea that we can use our body however we want in pursuit of pleasure is that it wrongly assumes that our bodies are our own.  Paul states it clearly at the end of our passage:   

         “19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought for a price: therefore, glorify God in your body.” (I Corinthians 6:19-20) Our bodies belong to Christ.  They have been purchased, redeemed if you will from sin and death, by the precious blood of our Lord shed on the cross.  Jesus treated his body, his own flesh, not as his own, but as a gift to the world.  He was not born, he did not live, he did not suffer and die, for his own gratification.  Far from using his own life to advance his own interests, Jesus’ life is the ultimate example of loving service, humility, and self-renunciation.  We have been freed from lives of self-interest and charged with following his footsteps.  Glorify God in your body because Christ has saved you with his.   


Justin Simmons lives in Glenmora, LA and preaches for the Glenmora Church of Christ