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09.12.21 Technical Difficulties 1 Corinthians 6.12-17 Sermon Summary

by on September 13, 2021

Christians are called to made decisions with more than just their brains. In his letter to the Corinthian churches, Paul has already contrasted knowledge and love. Now he contrasts our brain and the body. He’s having an imaginary conversation with people in the Corinthian church. The issue is food used in pagan worship—whether Christians eat it. Some Corinthians say yes, and Paul actually agrees. 

But Paul also warns the Corinthians against “Rationalization,” when we use rational arguments to justify a behavior that may be objectionable. Rationalization puts our brain over everything else—our heart, our gut, or our body. It often appeals to “technicalities” to get around a larger point. Something may be true, yet does not represent the whole picture.

Some technicalities use words: “Well, it isn’t slander because she didn’t say the word, ‘all.’” Others use the law: “It’s not racist, the law is clear about curfews and he was still in town when he was arrested.” Some plead ignorance: “I was speeding? But I didn’t know it was a residential neighborhood. Look, there’s a daycare right there!” And some use nature: “How can it be bad for me when it grows in my garden?”

The Corinthians were appealing to technicalities. They start with Paul’s doctrine, saying, “We’re not under law, but under grace, as you yourself preach, Paul. So everything is legal for me.” And they turn to nature: “The stomach has to be filled. Food is how you fill it. Therefore, I can eat whatever I want.”

Here’s how the conversation reads in the letter:

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. 

Paul responds that something may be legal but not beneficial. We may be free but we can become addicted. Something may be allowable but we can become unhealthfully attached. Paul’s criteria are not what is legal, what we are free to do, or what is allowable. Instead he wants to save us from harm, from addiction, and from unhealthful attachment. 

He uses a visceral and evocative parallel: Fornication. Why does the parallel work? Because sex has certain things in common with eating. I’ll focus on eating; you can draw the parallels.

It is natural to eat. It is also necessary. Eating is driven by appetites. Some foods are more pleasurable than others. Meals can be relational. But the most important parallel between food and sex is that both deal with the “body.”

Paul’s favorite metaphor for church is the Body of Christ. Paul teaches that we’re all members of the Body of Christ. Baptism in-corporates us into the church—it “in-bodies” us into Christ. We each have gifts of the Spirit for building up the Body. 

With these parallels between food and sex in mind, Paul wants us to think twice about eating whatever we want. “Of course you can eat whatever you want. Of course you can have sex with anyone you want. But it could harm you. You could become addicted. You could develop an unhealthy attachment.”

“Remember you are the church,” Paul continues. “You may have law and liberty on your side but you need another criterion.” Here is that criterion: “You are not your own. God created you to reside in you. God redeemed you. You were bought with a price.”

“You belong to God,” Paul reminds us. “And you belong to each other.”

Think about your own decisions. How often do we rationalize what we want? How often do we appeal to technicalities to justify a particular behavior despite the risk to ourselves or to the common good?

When I was new pastor a couple came to me for guidance. “Should we continue giving to the church? We’ve begun to live on our retirement, and we tithed on our income, including what we invested. Since we tithed on the money then, do we have to tithe on it again now?”

I was a little stumped. They were sincerely seeking the right course. They were not rationalizing away giving to the church. Technically they made a good point. I think I probably told them to tithe on the earnings of their investment. 

What I should have said is, “Giving is more for our benefit than for the church’s. Pray honestly about it and follow the Spirit.” Or, “What’s something you’re passionate about that you’d like to financially support in our church?”

Something may be legal, and we may be at liberty, but if we each are to glorify God, we have to act in accordance with the good of the whole body. Let us keep this in mind as we move through the pandemic, as we cast our votes, and as we spend our money. 

If we each are to glorify God, we have to act in accordance with the good of the whole body. Let us keep this in mind as we use our technology, as we pay our taxes, as we work at our jobs. 

If we each are to glorify God we have to act in accordance with the good of the whole body. Let us keep this in mind as we entertain ourselves, as we use the earth’s resources, as we hear about the less-privileged. 

“For freedom Christ as set us free,” Paul writes to the Galatians. “Use your liberty to love. The whole law is summed up in this: Love your neighbor as yourself. For we are all one body in Christ.”

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