Sex, the Body, and God: 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 — A Sermon Outline


A.   The culture of the Greco-Roman world, including and perhaps especially Corinth, was highly sexualized. Public pornography was displayed on its city streets and on the walls of homes.

B.   The Corinthians were puzzled by the sexual constraints of the Judeo-Christian worldview. Distancing oneself from former habits and practices in the sexualized world of Greco-Roman culture was probably difficult and seemingly impossible for Corinthian males.

C.    Apparently, some Corinthians pushed back against Paul, specifically about porneia (fornication). They appear to have heard Paul say, “All things are permitted,” which they took to mean some kind of sexual liberty. Possibly, Paul was talking about another question like eating meats sacrificed to idols, but some Corinthians applied it to their sexual habits as well.

D.   This text is a dialogue between Paul and some Corinthians where Paul quotes his interlocutors at several points. Of course, the Greek text does not have any punctuation or quotation marks; only context can decide the question.  The NIV (2011) does a good job of alerting us to Paul’s quotations from some Corinthians.

The Text (NIV, 2011)

“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 

Flee from sexual immorality. “Every sin a person commits is outside the body,”[1] you say—but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.

The Dialogue

A.   “I have a right to do anything,” but not everything is beneficial, Paul responds; and  “I have a right to do anything,” but no one should be mastered by anything, Paul responds.

God created so many goods, including sex. Nevertheless, those goods are not always beneficial, healthy, or helpful, and they are addictive if not managed in a healthy way.

B.   “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both,” but the body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body as God will raise up the body just as God raised the body of Jesus, Paul responds.

The body is good, and it is not destined for destruction. The resurrection of the body is our Christian hope, and since God will raise the body from the dead, it matters what we do with the body. The deep connection between Christ and the body is reflected in the union of Christ and humanity through the resurrection (they belong to the same harvest).

C.   “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body,” but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.

The Corinthian argument appears to be that the body has nothing to do with sin, but Paul believes the body—because it is good, it will be raised, and it is united to Christ—is deeply connected to the ethical meaning of our actions, whether sin or righteousness.

A Theology of the Body

A.   The body is good; sex is good. Through bodies, we enjoy the created world. At the same time, we must be not be mastered by the body or sex (or any other chemical, physical, or emotional addiction). This is a self-destructive path. We are invited to enjoy God’s good gifts fully, though with balance and moderation. Porneia will master us if we do not pay attention to its power.

B.    Our bodies are united with Christ, and what we do unites Christ with that activity in the body. The unity (one flesh) of husband and wife in their sexual activity is a union with Christ; the experience of healthy sex is union with Christ. Sex, therefore, is a spiritual, even mystical, experience which honors Christ. The communion of husband and wife is communion with God.

C.    Our bodies are sacred space as the temples of the Holy Spirit. The awe, reverence, and honor due to God shapes how we use and treat our bodies because our bodies are God’s sanctuary. We, as whole persons—body and soul, image the holiness of God, and this principle grounds our ethical choices. We must always consider where we take this sacred space, what we do with this sacred space, and how we treat the sacred space of others.


Honor (glorify) God with your bodies!  Enjoy the goodness of creation, but do not be mastered by it. Instead, enjoy the good gifts of creation through your bodies and bring glory to God through a healthy use of your bodies.

[1] I have adjusted the NIV (2011) translation at this point because I think this is also a quotation from the Corinthian interlocutors. I also changed “all other sins” to “every sin”

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