Before the apostle Paul enters into his discussion on marriage, he begins with a critical problem that destroys marriages: sexual immorality. Sexual immorality is not only an issue in marriage, but single people who engage in sexual immorality bring these sins and problems into the marriage.
The Instruction (6:18)
So what are we to do? First, flee sexual immorality. “Run from sexual sin!” (NLT). We need to run far away from sexual immorality and any temptation or hint of temptation that would lead us into this sin. We must run away from it. Sexual immorality is dangerous and deceptive. There are three places in our culture today where we need to be particularly careful: at work, online, and in the church. We need to be careful at work because we are spending hours in a place where we may be compelled to spend time with the opposite gender. This is extremely dangerous and must be carefully watched. Do not allow for flirting. Do not allow for complements on looks. Do not sit with the opposite gender having private discussions during lunch. All discussions must be about work and not about home or problems or whatever. By doing so, you are opening the door to a relationship that will infringe upon your marriage.
Online is another dangerous place where sexual sin can occur. I am not speaking of the obvious problems of pornography. Rather, I am speaking about the problem with social media. I have witnessed many affairs and divorces occur because people have reconnected with old flames and childhood crushes from their school days. What begins as innocent conversations develop into the breeding ground for an affair. So we need to put up some barriers when we are married. You are welcome to monitor the status of your friends and make comments. But we must avoid any kind of drawn out conversations. This is dangerous and how affairs begin. Not only must these conversations be avoided, but your spouse must have full access to any of your online browsing and social media usage. If you do not like this, then you are doing something wrong. If you don’t want your spouse to see what you are doing, then you are sinning against him or her.
You may be surprised that I said that we must be careful in the church. We are enjoined to be the family of Christ. The danger is that we can let our guard down and think that because we are Christians that we are safe from these temptations. Yet so many affairs have happened in the church by not being careful with boundaries. Even among Christians, there is no reason for two people of the opposite gender who are married to another person to be together alone, even though they are Christians. It is very dangerous. Perhaps there is an extenuating circumstance that may require it but it needs to be rare. There must not be the habit of spending alone time together. There also should not be conversations on the phone, by text, or in person that are long and drawn out. These are important boundaries. Nothing wrong with talking to each other. But I’m married and I shouldn’t be having long conversations with another woman. Now, even my job is precarious because I have to do advising and counseling. But my wife is going to know and see all conversations that I have. It has to be this way.
Now, married people sometimes get upset about these kinds of boundaries which need to exist. But please think of it this way. It is not about trust. It is about you wanting to show your spouse that everything is above board and nothing his hidden. It is about you wanting to protect your marriage from sin. We look at this all wrong. We argue that we should be trusted. No, we should not because we know that Satan cannot be trusted and he is ready and able to violently attack us with temptation in any of these innocent situations. Marriage must be completely transparent. If I don’t want my wife to know where I am going, then I am doing something wrong. If I don’t want her to look at my phone calls and text messages, then I am doing something wrong. It is not about trust. It is giving your spouse confidence in your love for them. So run from sexual immorality. Run away from any opportunity that could cause sin. Protect your marriage. Protect your spouse. Protect yourself.
The rest of verse 18 continues the severity of sexual sins. There are two ways to read this. One way is to read this as a declaration by Paul. “Every sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.” (ESV, NASB, NRSV, NKJV, NIV). The other way to read this is that this is part of the Corinthian slogan that Paul must defeat. “Every sin a person can commit is outside the body.” On the contrary, the person who is sexually immoral sins against his own body. (HCSB, NET). With this view, the Corinthians are discarding sexual immorality as a sin like other sins that are outside the body. But Paul corrects them to show that sexual immorality is a sin against one’s own body. I believe the teaching is the same. Sexual immorality is a serious sin that impacts your own body and destroys your own life. Proverbs 5-7 describe the damage of sexual sin. Listen to a few lines from these Proverbs that describe the punishment for sexual immorality.
My son, be attentive to my wisdom; incline your ear to my understanding, that you may keep discretion, and your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol; she does not ponder the path of life; her ways wander, and she does not know it. And now, O sons, listen to me, and do not depart from the words of my mouth. Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house, lest you give your honor to others and your years to the merciless, lest strangers take their fill of your strength, and your labors go to the house of a foreigner, and at the end of your life you groan, when your flesh and body are consumed, and you say, “How I hated discipline, and my heart despised reproof! I did not listen to the voice of my teachers or incline my ear to my instructors. I am at the brink of utter ruin in the assembled congregation.” Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths. The iniquities of the wicked ensnare him, and he is held fast in the cords of his sin. He dies for lack of discipline, and because of his great folly he is led astray. (Proverbs 5:1–23 ESV)
My son, keep your father’s commandment, and forsake not your mother’s teaching. Bind them on your heart always; tie them around your neck. When you walk, they will lead you; when you lie down, they will watch over you; and when you awake, they will talk with you. For the commandment is a lamp and the teaching a light, and the reproofs of discipline are the way of life, to preserve you from the evil woman, from the smooth tongue of the adulteress. Do not desire her beauty in your heart, and do not let her capture you with her eyelashes; for the price of a prostitute is only a loaf of bread, but a married woman hunts down a precious life. Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched? So is he who goes in to his neighbor’s wife; none who touches her will go unpunished. People do not despise a thief if he steals to satisfy his appetite when he is hungry, but if he is caught, he will pay sevenfold; he will give all the goods of his house. He who commits adultery lacks sense; he who does it destroys himself. He will get wounds and dishonor, and his disgrace will not be wiped away. For jealousy makes a man furious, and he will not spare when he takes revenge. He will accept no compensation; he will refuse though you multiply gifts. (Proverbs 6:20–35 ESV)
And behold, the woman meets him, dressed as a prostitute, wily of heart. She is loud and wayward; her feet do not stay at home; now in the street, now in the market, and at every corner she lies in wait. She seizes him and kisses him, and with bold face she says to him, “I had to offer sacrifices, and today I have paid my vows; so now I have come out to meet you, to seek you eagerly, and I have found you. I have spread my couch with coverings, colored linens from Egyptian linen; I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love till morning; let us delight ourselves with love. For my husband is not at home; he has gone on a long journey; he took a bag of money with him; at full moon he will come home.” With much seductive speech she persuades him; with her smooth talk she compels him. All at once he follows her, as an ox goes to the slaughter, or as a stag is caught fast till an arrow pierces its liver; as a bird rushes into a snare; he does not know that it will cost him his life. And now, O sons, listen to me, and be attentive to the words of my mouth. Let not your heart turn aside to her ways; do not stray into her paths, for many a victim has she laid low, and all her slain are a mighty throng. Her house is the way to Sheol, going down to the chambers of death. (Proverbs 7:10–27 ESV)
The writer of Proverbs does not speak this way about other sins. Sexual sin is dangerous, tempting, and destructive. You only have one option to preserve your soul: Run from sexual immorality! (6:18). Run far from it. When you see the temptation, run from it. Put up barriers to keep the temptation from entering your life.
Your Body Is a Temple of the Holy Spirit (6:19)
You may quickly see that this verse does get ripped out of its context quite a bit and applied to a variety of subjects. But let us examine what the apostle Paul is arguing. To understand what this argument means, we need to understand the temple imagery. In the scriptures, the temple was the place where God dwelled. But Solomon declared that God did not actually live in that temple because there is nothing physical or made that God can dwell in (1 Kings 8). God is higher than the heavens and more vast than all creation. When Stephen gave his sermon in Acts 7:47-48, he made the same point. “The Most High does not dwell in houses made by hands.” God is not actually in the building itself, as if he can be contained in something physical. Rather, this was a picture of the relationship of God dwelling with his people. The people were in covenant relationship with God, enjoying the blessings of God, and belonged to God when God was dwelling in the temple (cf. Ezekiel 37:26-28). The temple was the place to worship God.
Now consider how this is the argument Paul is making in 1 Corinthians 6:19. The argument is not that God, as the Holy Spirit, is literally living inside of you and that is why you must run from sexual sin. God cannot be housed in the physical creation. Don’t you know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you? The meaning is the same imagery that we see in the scriptures. You are in covenant relationship with God, enjoying the blessings of God, and belong to God. You cannot then give your body over to sexual sin. The temple was the place to meet God and be in relationship with God. You cannot use for your body for sexual immorality. This image matches the teaching back in verses 15-16. You are joined to the Lord and cannot then join your body in sexual immorality. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, not a temple of sexual sins. Your body is for worshiping God.
Why? Because you are not your own (6:19). You were bought with a price. God gave you your body. Your body belongs to God. Everyone argues today, “It is my body!” God says that it is not your body. It is God’s body. Your body belongs to him and is to be used as a temple to the Lord for worshiping God, not worshiping your sexual desires. When you came to Christ, your body was put into the Lord’s service. It is not your body because you were purchased by God. God made your body and then he bought your body. Your body must not be used for selfish, self-centered uses. Verse 20 tells us the purpose for our bodies. Our purpose is to glorify God with our bodies. Use your body in such a way that it becomes clear that God is more valuable, precious, and satisfying than all bodily cravings. This is the reason for sexual purity! Use your body as God designed it and governed it.
Friends, think about this admonition. “Glorify God in your body.” Think about how marriages would dramatically improve if we acted in a way that glorified God in your body. Think about how we would avoid sexual sins if we thought first to glorify God with our bodies. Run from sexual sin! Put up barriers and boundaries to keep your marriage pure. Offer transparency in your marriage because you love God and want to show love for your spouse. Any resistance to boundaries shows you are doing something wrong. Put up the walls to keep you from crossing into sexual immorality.