We only have a short time left. So from now on, if you’re married, you should live as if you were single. If you’re grief-stricken, live as if you weren’t. If you’re happy, live as if you’re not. If you’ve got a lot of stuff, live as if you haven’t got it. If you’re concerned about the world, don’t be. Everything you know is about to vanish.
Another “end of the world” passage. How should we live? Paul wants us to leave the world behind, even before it’s gone. Unfortunately, two millennia later, we still have to deal with the world around us. I’m going to leave the rest of the interpretation to the awesome folks at Radio Free Babylon, who’ve said it about as well as can be said:
Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Even legal habits can be addicting. Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food – but those who live to consume will be consumed. Your body isn’t intended for illicit sex. It’s for Jesus. And Jesus is for your body. God raised Jesus, and God will raise us by that same power.
You know that your bodies are components of Jesus, don’t you? So would I defile Jesus’ body parts by having sex with any whore I can find? Hell no! You know that when you have sex with a whore you become one with her, don’t you? Remember Genesis? “The two shall become one flesh.” But if you’re part of Jesus, you’ve got Jesus’ same spirit. Avoid illicit sex. Every wrong anyone can commit is done externally, except sex. People who have illicit sex do wrong to their own bodies. Don’t you know your body is a holy spiritual temple? Once you have God’s spirit you belong to God, not to yourself. You’ve been bought with cash, so treat your bodies like God’s property.
Paul has a reputation for being a prude. It’s probably well deserved. But if Paul was a prude, the church in Corinth had an issue with illicit sex. Neither of them was dealing with it very well.
Neither of them really gets beyond the view of people as objects. And especially women as objects. (Paul is addressing the men at Corinth.) It doesn’t really matter whether the illicit sex the Corinthians were engaging in was part of other pagan cults that were on the scene. What matters is that they were buying people with cash. And inasmuch as they were participating in the dehumanization of people, they were cut off from Jesus, whose whole aim was precisely the opposite: to re-humanize people who had been objectified.
But Paul applies a theology to the situation in which God engages in the same behavior, buying and paying for people. Paul is too concerned for the purity of Jesus’ body to consider that hanging around with prostitutes and sinners never seemed to bother Jesus himself. Paul is too upset about the whores polluting his church to care for them as the very people Jesus came to re-integrate into the body of humanity.
Thanks to Paul, much of the church still has a sex issue. And the problem is still in recognizing that the sin is not in contamination transmitted by touch or even by the exchange of bodily fluids. It’s still a problem about getting past a theology of transactional redemption that treats people as objects to be bought, paid for, and used.
I always thank God for you, because in Jesus you have become graceful. In Jesus your lives have become full of everything. You speak so well! You’ve become so smart! And you can tell the story of Jesus so well! Truly, you have everything you need to wait out Jesus’ return. And Jesus will make you strong to the finish. You’ll have no regrets in the end. God is faithful, and it’s God’s calling that makes you part of the Jesus movement.
The Corinthian church was, in fact, a hive of the worst kind of church politics, divisions and squabbles. So it’s hard to say whether Paul is writing this in the attempt to be flattering or to be sarcastic. Perhaps a little of both.
But, in any event, Paul is outlining what a good church ought to be: graceful, well-spoken, smart, able to tell the story of Jesus, living by the power of doing what Jesus did and doing it with no apology or regrets.
If a church is doing that, it will be as if Jesus has indeed returned, at least for the parts of the world it touches. And, last time I checked, Jesus’ coming is what Advent is about.
There are many ways of being spiritual, but the point of being spiritual is always the same. You can serve in any number of ways, but it’s always about serving Jesus. There are lots of things to do, but the energy to do them for everyone in every case comes from God. So whatever you have, its for the common good.
It’s when we miss the point that things go wrong, even if we’re “spiritual.” In fact, 99.44% of the trouble (church trouble, political trouble, job trouble, family trouble, personal trouble) stems from missing the point.
That point? That it’s about the common good.
Sure, we want it to be about us. But it’s not. And any road to “what’s good for us” that doesn’t pass through the common good is a dead end.
When you do something for the common good instead of for yourself, you end up better off yourself. But it doesn’t work if your motive for doing something for the common good is to end up better off yourself.
When you do something in which you completely forget yourself, you end up doing what it is uniquely yours to do, and you become completely yourself.