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The Church, Culture, & Sex: 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 6:12-20

In a 2014 study conducted by ChristianMingle.com, Christian singles between the ages of 18 to 59 were asked, "Would you have sex before marriage?" 63% of the single Christian respondents said ‘yes’.

What this survey, and others like it tell us, is that we have a kind of “sexual atheism” that is beginning to pervade the Church.

Men and women alike will say that they believe in the all-knowing, all-powerful, always-present God of the Bible ….. BUT ….. at the same time, they’re saying that they don’t believe He should or does have any business speaking into their personal sexuality.

As we continue our series Church & Culture we’ll see two specific ways this sexual atheism is showing up in Corinth, AND what Paul says to do about it.

1. A man who is part of the church in Corinth is sleeping with his stepmom, and the rest of the church is accepting it

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father's wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

2. Men in Corinth are visiting temple prostitutes, and they want the rest of the church to accept it

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! (1 Corinthians 6:15)

There are at least three reasons these Corinthian Christians were using to justify this sexual atheism. They had thought it through. AND these are three reasons some professing Christians seem to be using today as well:

(1) It’s LEGAL

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)

(2) It’s NATURAL

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food...” (1 Corinthians 6:13)

  • “Isn’t sex just a natural bodily function, like eating, or any other bodily appetite?”

(3) It’s PERSONAL

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV)

• "Why should anyone care what I do with my own body?”

There are some OBVIOUS FLAWS with these lines of thinking:

“It’s Legal”

  • Just because something is legal doesn’t make it right
  • Just because something is legal, doesn’t mean its helpful to ourselves or others

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)

“It’s Natural”

  • You wouldn’t eat things that are toxic to your system, and you wouldn’t eat at a rate that’s toxic to your system, would you?
  • We’re not animals fulfilling a bodily function, we’re human beings, created in the image and likeness of God, fulfilling our God-given purposes. Any other view is too low a view of humanity.

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. (1 Corinthians 6:13-14)

“Its Personal”

Sexual sin does affect others in ways other sin might not

  • Fornication (Future spouse)
  • Adultery (Spouse, Children, Church, Friends)
  • Pornography (Spouse)

Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. (1 Corinthians 6:16-17)

It’s not your body. Jesus created it, died for it, and will resurrect it someday.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)

Notwithstanding the flaws in these three lines of thinking, AND the Scriptural correction of them, many Christians today, just like many of the Christians in Corinth, are still living like sexual atheists when it comes to their sexuality.

How should we respond to this kind of sexual atheism in the church?

1. Confront It With Clarity

One of two things were happening in Corinth. Either:

(1) the people in the Corinthian church didn’t’ have clarity on what God’s design for sexual expression was, so anything went, including sex with your stepmom or prostitutes, OR,

(2) they were clear about it, but were unwilling to confront one another about it because of the open, affirming and accepting nature of the popular culture of Corinth.

God's Design for Sexuality:

If you’re not familiar with God’s design for sexuality, we discover what it is in the opening chapter of the Bible:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” (Genesis 1:27-28)

The rest of the Bible always affirms this design – throughout the Old and New Testaments: ONE MAN ….. ONE WOMAN ….. ONE LIFETIME

THIS is our standard for clarity on sexuality.

So ….. it must have been reason number two: they were unwilling to confront sexual expressions in the church that was outside of this clear, biblical design.

TO BE FAIR ….. Confronting sin in the lives of other Christians with the right degree of clarity and compassion is hard. Often that’s because we misunderstand what the Bible teaches about making judgments about sin.

Clarity on Judgment

Many Christians and non-Christians alike seem to love Jesus’ teaching from Matthew 7:1:“Judge not, that you be not judged.” But most of those same people fail to see that one phrase in the context of all that Jesus said:

“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. (Matthew 7:1-2)

If you’re going to judge something with clarity, judge it to the degree that you would want to be judged by yourself— not just in action, but in thought and intent.

Why do you see the speck that is in your brother's eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother's eye. (Matthew 7:3-5)

  • Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t judge things as Christians, He’s saying that we shouldn’t judge with hypocritical, insincere, unloving judgment.
  • Jesus isn’t saying that we shouldn’t judge things as Christians, He’s saying that we shouldn’t judge those outside the church, but those inside (brother).

Paul is telling the Corinthians the same thing that Jesus told His disciples:

For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. (1 Corinthians 5:3)

Judgment: (krinō): to determine; to make a clear judgment on something

Paul was clear about the Biblical teaching for sexual expression, and he clearly had no hypocrisy in his life with any kind of perverted sexual expression, and he clearly loved the Corinthians— so he was able to make a clear judgment on what was happening in Corinth.

Paul was also clear about judging inside the church verses outside the church. This is something I believe we could use a little more clarity on.

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. (1 Corinthians 5:9-10)

These are the kinds of people that Jesus spent His time with. These are the kinds of people that the doors of the church should be opened to. These are the kinds of people that should be welcomed in to a different and better life with God and His people.

But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. (1 Corinthians 5:11)

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)

Inside vs Outside

Are you in the kind of place where you can confidently and humbly confront sexual atheism within the church with the right kind of clarity?

2. Confront It With Compassion

Compassion, NOT self-righteousness, MUST be our motivation when confronting others in the church about issues of sexual sin—or any other kind of sin.

For those who are living in unrepentant, arrogant, ongoing, public sin, this compassion might look a little different than you might imagine:

When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5)

This is ALWAYS the motivation behind any kind of confrontation in the church, especially confrontation that involves sexuality— love, compassion, and the restoration of that person, first to Jesus, then to the Church.

Added to the motivation to care for a person’s soul, is the motivation to care for the physical, personal, practical needs of the person who is living in and feeling the affects of their sin:

Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. (1 Corinthians 6:18)

Is compassion your usual motivation in confrontation of sin in the church? Confronting sexual atheism in the church?

3. Confront It With The Compelling Truths of The Gospel

Above and beyond confronting with clarity and compassion, above everything, we should be confronting sexual atheism with the compelling truths of the Gospel.

As natural as it could feel to focus on confronting sexual atheism with a Christ Against Culture approach— setting up boundaries, focusing on what we’re against and building boarders around our beliefs on sexuality, I believe a better approach would be to take a Christ Transforming Culture approach— calling those living in sexual atheism to something more compelling— to Someone more compelling.

The Well & The Fence

This is why I believe that while Paul acknowledges that its time to build a fence in Corinth, he would do it with a different purpose, and in a different order of priority than many Christians and Christian churches.

The PURPOSE would not be to keep non-Christians who are struggling sexually from coming to the well, but to keep professing Christians who are in open, unrepentant, arrogant, public sexual sin from poisoning the well.

That’s why the PRIORITY is first on establishing a well, then on building a fence. The priority is on inviting people to the well.

Through Jesus, God is calling us to a relationship with the God who created us, by grace, and through faith. God is inviting us into that relational connection that we were ultimately created for, and that we can’t find anywhere else, including through sex.

I believe this is why Paul inserts Gospel realities into his reasoning with the Corinthians on both of the issues of sexual sin he is addressing:

Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump? Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us therefore celebrate the festival, not with the old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth. (1 Corinthians 5:6-8)

Jesus has died on the cross, in our place, and for our sin—all of our sin, including our sexual sin. Jesus has purified us from our sin, so that we can live a pure life, free from bondage to sin, and have pure relationships, which points to the purity that He has in His relationship with the Father and the Spirit.

This provides for us the best possible scenario in our sexuality and protects us from anything less than His best for us.

THIS is what we want to call people to in the most compelling way possible.

Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. (1 Corinthians 6:16-17)

At the cross, Jesus mended the brokenness between us and God by forgiving our sin, the thing that caused the brokenness, and gifting to us His righteousness, the thing that can allow us to be united with Him again. This is called “Union With Christ.” It means that when we trust Jesus by faith, we are legally granted the entire inheritance that Jesus won for us in history through the cross. We receive all of the benefits of the righteous life of Jesus before God. Everything that is His is ours.

THIS is what we want to call people to in the most compelling way possible.

Good News: Jesus has made us holy and one with Himself, and invites us to reflect that holiness and oneness in the context of biblical sexuality.

Are we confronting sexual atheism with anything less than the compelling truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Are we living our lives from or for anything less than the compelling truths of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?