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  Freedom and Morality 1 Cor 5:1-13; 6:9-20


  As you well know, the Governor-general has just been forced to resign over his failure to censor a priest who was guilty of sexual abuse of one of his parishioners. The Roman Catholic bishop of Phoenix has just been charged with obstructing the course of justice for protecting priests who were guilty of child sex abuse. The Anglican Diocese of Melbourne along with numbers of other dioceses are now instituting a whole range of processes to ensure that sexual abuse by clergy and others in authority doesn't happen again and certainly is never covered up. And there are many more examples that I'm sure you could think of. So today's passage has a timely ring about it.
  There's no doubt that this issue of high standards of morality for those in leadership is a burning one for the Church today. But of course those who shout the loudest about that issue, aren't necessarily so vocal when it comes to the personal morality of the ordinary Christian in the pew.
  So the question we need to consider as we look at today's passage is what sort of standard of life, what level of moral behaviour, is expected of us as Christians? In fact, does it make any difference how we live?
  You see, the Corinthians thought they were free to live however they liked, because Jesus' death had set them free. They'd understood the message of the freedom of the gospel very clearly. They'd understood that Jesus' death had removed the power of the law. So they thought that meant they could do what they liked.
  Well, what do you think? Can we do what we like as long as it doesn't hurt anyone else? That's the message of the rest of the world isn't it? It's the message of the gay lobby. It's the message of much of the mass media. If it feels good do it, as long as no-one gets hurt; or as long as it's in the privacy of your own home. In fact you could probably say that for the past 30 or so years there have been no absolutes as far as moral behaviour is concerned. Except for the absolute of freedom of course.
  I've even heard this sort of thing from a Christian leader who was justifying leaving his wife for another woman by saying love was what really mattered.
  Many in the church today would justify their actions the way some of the Corinthians did. Look at 6:11&12. They were saying they were washed clean by Jesus death on the cross; they had received God's spirit, so everything now was lawful. The old legalism of the Jewish religion had been taken away by the presence of God's spirit within.
  So what's wrong with that sort of attitude?
  Well, let's look at why God's word comes down so hard on immorality in the Church.
  First, look at 5:6: "A little yeast leavens the whole loaf." In the Bible yeast is a symbol for uncleanness or evil. The reason it's used as a symbol for evil is the fact that when you put even a small amount of yeast in a lump of dough it grows and grows until it affects the whole lump. So too, even a small amount of evil in a community can grow and grow until it affects the whole community. We have a similar idea in the proverb, "One rotten apple spoils the whole barrel." In the week before the passover the Jewish people celebrated the feast of unleavened bread. They'd clean out their houses of every trace of yeast as a symbol of the cleansing their lives required if they were to celebrate the passover with the sort of purity God required of them. That's the idea behind fasting during the season of Lent. And it's the idea here. The presence of immoral behaviour on the part of one member of the community will have an implication for the whole church because of the way such evil spreads to affect the whole community.
  But he fills this out in 6:9: "Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers -- none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." Again, there are those who would deny that God would reject people because of the way they behave. As though God wouldn't care about people's behaviour. Well, what do you think God thinks about people whose lifestyle exhibits those sorts of behaviour? I think his word is fairly clear about it. He doesn't like it.
  Mind you, let's be careful here. We're not talking about the behaviour of those who are outside the Kingdom of God. Look at 5:10. This is not addressed to those who are outside the church. If we're addressing them we have deeper issues to approach them with, like their relationship with God and their response to Jesus Christ, long before we ask them about their lifestyle. This is the problem with people like Fred Nile pushing the cause of Christian morality on a world that has no basis for observing such morality. First they need to hear the message of the Lordship of Christ and of the grace and forgiveness offered to them by God in the gospel. Then they need to be brought into God's presence where they'll realise that only a purity of life fits their surroundings.
  That of course was the thing these Corinthians had forgotten. They wanted to assert that "All things are lawful for me." And there's a sense in which that's true. Its certainly an idea that comes out in Paul's letter to the Romans. But the trouble is, not all things are beneficial.
  One of the catch cries of the sexual liberation movement of the late 60s was that 'sex makes free'; that freedom of sexual expression would be the universal cure for all our emptiness and loneliness. But it hasn't worked out like that, has it? For all the freedom of expression that people have gained through their sexuality, they're just as lonely, their lives are just as empty if not more so than they were before. If you've watched sitcoms on TV for the last 20 or so years, one of the things you'll have noticed is that the general tenor of those shows has become more and more depressed. There's as funny as ever, but the situations they depict are so often dysfunctional. Dysfunctional families like Malcolm in the Middle, bitter twisted people like Becker, people searching for lasting friendship in most of them, Seinfeld, Friends, Frasier. Despite their apparent freedom to do what they like.
  In fact in 6:13 he says something that may explain why this sexual freedom hasn't worked. He says "The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body." He takes up the idea that God has, in a sense, consecrated the human body by allowing Jesus Christ, his only Son, to take such a body as his own. He's died and has been raised again in just such a body, and God will raise all of us in a similar way, bodily. So our bodies aren't our own. They've been bought at a price; at the price of Jesus' own death on a cross. So when we misuse our bodies we're actually spoiling something that God has declared precious.
  It seems from v18 that the Corinthians may have had a saying that went something like "Every sin that a person commits is outside the body," as though that made it all right. But he points out that in fact when we commit sexual sin our bodies are totally involved. It's no good pretending that it doesn't make a difference. Whether we like it or not, our bodies are affected.
  If you think about it, the fact that God will raise our bodies makes this issue of what we do with our bodies even more important.
  This is one of the things we discover when we read John's first letter. Listen to what John says in 1 John 3:1-3: "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. ... 2Beloved, we are God's children now; what we will be has not yet been revealed. What we do know is this: when he is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure." (NRSV) If you know anything about the philosophical base of the 60s and 70s you'll realise that the defining philosophy of that era, and it probably still is, was that of existentialism, living for the present. So the way you used or misused your body only mattered in the moment. People stopped thinking about the long term. It's still true isn't it? Why else would people take up smoking when we all know that smoking is likely to cause you all sorts of pain in the future? But we don't worry about the future. Now is all that matters. It's the reason people don't RSVP to invitations any more. Because they might get a better offer on the day!
  But what about us Christians? Should we unthinkingly accept that sort of philosophy of life? Well, no. What's the defining principle for us? It's that God has a future hope prepared for us. This moment isn't all there is. And isn't that a good thing! No, Christ has gone to his father's house to prepare a place for us and will return to take us to be with himself.
  So if we have a future to which we're heading, how are we going to live? Well, we're going to purify ourselves. We're going to make sure that our bodies are kept in readiness for the place we're heading.
  But this isn't just a future thing. We'll also keep our bodies pure because of the present reality in which we live. Look at 6:19. "Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you." God has taken up residence within us, that is, within our bodies. So our attitude to our bodies should be the same as the Jews' attitude was towards the Temple. It's holy! Nothing unclean is to come near it. Notice that the issue for the Corinthians was that of prostitutes. You may remember when we started this series I pointed out that at the Temple of Diana on the mountain above Corinth there were about 1000 Temple prostitutes who'd go into the city at night to ply their trade. So for them there was a double issue with prostitution. Not only were they demeaning their bodies and God's intention for human sexuality, but they were doing it in the context of pagan worship. They were trying to do the unthinkable, to unite the living God with the servant of a pagan deity, a false God.
  Finally, let me just say that although the majority of this passage is about sexual morality, we mustn't miss the repeated references to others forms of immorality. Look at 5:11. There the reference is not just to someone who's sexually immoral but also to someone who's greedy, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or robber. Look at 6:9: "Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, 10thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers--none of these will inherit the kingdom of God." Notice how in both lists mixed in with the sexually immoral are those who are idolaters, who are greedy, those who are drunkards, those who steal. We need to be careful that we don't point the finger of guilt at those who are caught in adultery or child abuse or promiscuity of whatever sort, but overlook those who are greedy, or who get drunk on a regular basis, or who steal from others or who make idols out of things made by human hands.
  Sexual immorality in the form of prostitution may not be a big issue for you, though you'd be surprised how many Christians take that path, from all accounts. But what about the temptation to make an idol of our car or our house or our dog or cat or children or our career? What about the temptation to steal from our employer by doing your personal photocopying at work or over estimating your work hours on the time sheet or "borrowing" the stationery they provide or playing computer games or downloading stuff off the Internet. Or the temptation to cheat on our tax return. What about those who mistreat their bodies by the things they eat or drink? That I take it is the issue with people who are drunkards, not to mention the issue of loss of control of what the body does.
  You see, there are a whole host of morality questions that we're faced with every day. How are we to live as ordinary Christian men and women? The answer is given in 6:20: "You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body." Make sure that everything you do brings glory to God, not disgrace.
  It isn't just the leaders of our church from whom these high standards of behaviour are expected, though I take it the responsibility is greatest on those with the greatest authority in the Church. But it's on every one of us. We're to live such lives of purity that we glorify God not just with our words but with our whole bodies. And as a church we're to encourage one another to live lives of purity so that the church is strengthened in its purity, not weakened.

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