Paul continues his exhortation to holiness to the Corinthians. In the previous section the apostle shames the Corinthians for their lack of wisdom before the watching world, and their ignorance of their inheritance as saints evidenced by the lawsuits brought against one another. He challenges their profession of faith (those who will not enter the kingdom) and reminds them that this described some of them but now they belonged to Christ.
Thus, Paul now brings up the issue between what is lawful compared to what’s profitable. That is (my understanding), what is not sinful versus what does not contribute to kingdom of God flourishing. Now, while this state of affairs is true (lawful/profitable) he refuses to be mastered by anything.
12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.
When Paul says, “12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable” he may be referring to a refrain the Corinthians proudly touted where their freedom in Christ was correct concerning food (e.g., Jesus did make all foods clean) but mistaken regarding sexual practices (e.g., Jesus demanded “…you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect”).
And the second part of the clause, “All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.” Paul can’t be excluding being mastered by Christ, (which was their problem and ours) for in verse 20 he rounds off his command to the Corinthians to glorify God in their bodies (the implication here is to submit to Christ in your sexuality).
Paul explains that the purpose of food (v.13) is to feed the stomach, and the purpose of the body is for holy purposes, not immorality. Both food and immorality are temporal “God will do away with both of them”. The former is good, the latter is bad, “Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body.” Contextually, the Corinthian’s were not living according to God’s design. They misused their capacities for knowledge (i.e., warped thinking, caused by their pride, and thus they acted like fools) which resulted in their misuse of the body (i.e., sexual immorality). God has called believers to be Holy even as He is holy (i.e., live in accord with God’s design) because they belong to Him.
It is God’s holiness where our deepest joy resides and the age old satanic lie that it’s not presently remains. When things cease to operate according to their design, disintegration occurs, and when this obtains what is true beautiful and good dies. Immorality is not the purpose for why God created our bodies, but rather they were made to glorify and enjoy Him forever.
God is always about our highest Good which necessarily puts Him at the center of all reality, the implication of which is kingdom flourishing because of His favorable presence on the Christian community. Thus, just like food and the stomach are temporal (even though they are good) so is immorality (which is bad, part of this evil age, unlawful and it is passing away).
Paul seems to be exhorting the Corinthians to live in light of the future coming eternal kingdom of the new heavens and the new earth with an emphasis on the resurrection of our bodies: “14 Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power.” Thus, in light of future resurrection where death no longer reigns, and because of new birth and the indwelling power of the Spirit within believers, Paul buttresses the following question with the emphasis on the believers’ union with Christ:
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! 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.””
When Paul asks, “Do you not know…” implying they should know, he exposes their lack of knowledge and wisdom. Their comfort with immorality (Chapter 5-6:11) is shameful and reveals their ignorance of both who they are and who they serve. Paul is not saying that the body is bad for God created all things good, Christ’s incarnation affirms that, and both body and soul will experience final salvation at the resurrection.
Again, Paul is not saying that sex is bad, for He created and designed it to consummate its’ full expression within the confines of marriage between one man and one woman.
Paul is saying that there’s a spiritual union that occurs when bodies through intercourse are united. However, when this union occurs outside the marital borders, it goes contra God’s design and thus does not promote human flourishing, as in the case of prostitution. Moreover, said acts of immorality take the Name of the LORD our God in vain because His nature as Holy is not represented, but rather a distortion of His being is placarded for the watching world to observe and critique.
Paul asks: “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.” He again leads with the question, “Or do you not know”, implying that they should. When illicit physical intercourse occurs, there’s an immaterial union that damages the soul, and if left un-repented, it will lead to utter destruction (one shall not inherit the kingdom of God 6:9).
This one flesh union began in the Garden of Eden where conjugal purposes where designed by God not only to procreate and enjoy the wonder of sexual union, but ultimately it was to mirror the intimacy and covenant fidelity God demonstrates to His people ultimately in Jesus Christ (Eph. 5: 22-33). That’s why I think Paul says, “17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.”
Now Paul gives this command in light of verses 12-17:
“18 Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body.”
This command to holiness is based on Christ’s atonement “20 For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body”. Believers are not to “be good“, as an end in itself (biblically that’s unattainable and contra the Gospel). Instead, believers are to reflect the reality of new birth in their sexuality. This is a command, not a suggestion, based on God’s fidelity toward His bride, the Church.
When Paul says, “Flee immorality”, I’m reminded of Joseph who fled from Potiphar’s wife who wanted to sexually seduce him, but he refused her. She then falsely accused joseph of making advances on her, which resulted in his unjust imprisonment. He suffered for righteousness sake. When we stand for sexual purity because of Christ, we may suffer great harm as Joseph did, but our fidelity to God is revealed. We must nevertheless follow said example, if in fact we are wed to Him.
Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Note that sexual immorality is distinct from every other sin for it somehow “pollutes the body”. Here, Paul places supreme value on the body. As image bearers we are soul and body both of which are to honor God, both of which are to love God. To obey this it would include ceasing from engaging with temple prostitutes (a popular practice in Greek culture). In our day, it would mean refraining from “same-sex marriage”, from internet pornography, from “hooking-up”, from having “friends with benefits”, etc.
Why obey this command? Because Jesus Christ purchased you believer out of the slave market with his precious blood, thus God’s just holy righteous wrath no longer is yours to bear. Because through Christ’s substitutionary atonement, death has been defeated on Calvary’s cross, because if we actually belong to him, it will show up in our sexuality and if it does not, it may be evidence we have a “said faith” not a real “saving faith”. That’s why!