Sunday, October 18, 2015

Transformed by the Cross: Hosting the Spirit of God

You know, sex really does sell. According to an article in USA Today, had been one of the most sought-after domain names in cyberspace for years. In January of 2006, it sold for $12 million! That web address had been viewed as one of the most recognizable, and financially promising, domain names ever created. That transaction ranks as one of the most expensive Web domain name transfers ever. In 2006, the pornography industry brought in $4.9 billion from internet sites alone! I guess that should come as no surprise, considering the number of websites devoted to that cause: 4.2 million (or, 12% of the total number of all websites). Research shows that 42.7% of internet users view pornography on a regular basis. A well-known 2007 study showed that the porn industry in the United States made $13 billion in profit from adult movies. By comparison, Hollywood made only $8.8 billion that year. The porn industry makes more than the: NFL, NBA, MLB combined and NBC, CBS, ABC combined.

What do all of these numbers tell us? I think these numbers can tell us many things. Technology is not always a good thing! We have many people in our society that are lonely and we, as a society, do not fully understand the importance of our bodies. I think it’s possible that we, as Christian members of that society, do not fully understand the importance of our bodies either. According to the Bible, the body matters. From the days of creation, we read that when God created this world, he said, “And it was good.” When God created human beings he said: “And this is very good.” The world around us is crying out for a new view of this created world. The people of God must be the harbingers of this message. Creation is good. After all, God created it. And God expects us to take care of it. What sometimes gets lost in our environmental discussions, however, is this fact: We, too, are part of that creation! And God expects us to take care of His creation!

Paul says it more eloquently than me. Listen to his words:
“I am free to do anything”–but not everything is beneficial. “I am free to do anything”–but I will not be controlled by anything. “Food is for the stomach and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both.” The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Now God indeed raised the Lord and He will raise us by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that anyone who is united with a prostitute is one body with her? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But the one united with the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee sexual immorality! “Every sin a person commits is outside of the body”–but the immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price. Therefore glorify God with your body. (I Corinthians 6:12–20)
This is one of the most complicated passages in the entire New Testament. You need to know that there were no quotation marks in the original Greek manuscript of this letter. So, when you see quotation marks in your Bibles, you need to realize that those are the result of the translators’ interpretations. And this passage, as you can see, is full of interpretation! So, why are there so many quotation marks? Most think Paul here was engaging in a common rhetorical style called “diatribe.” Perhaps the easiest way to explain the diatribe style is simply to say, “Paul was having a conversation with himself.” He was having a dialogue with the Corinthians, but they were not present to offer their own thoughts, so he inserted them himself.

“I am free to do anything.” This was most likely a statement made by the Corinthians at some point. Paul heard about it, either in person or through a letter. Some Corinthians believed that Christian freedom afforded them the right to do anything. “If we’re covered by grace, might as well go all out!”
“If the law doesn’t matter anymore, we should ignore it!” Paul writes out their thoughts and then offers his own, “All things may be lawful…” “But not everything is beneficial.” Most biblical scholars agree up to this point, but the real point of discussion arises from verse 13. If you look in your text, most likely, all of your Bibles will have quotation marks around the first few words of that verse:

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food…”

Many contemporary translations (NIV included) end the quotation right there, with Paul’s rebuttal following: “And God will destroy them both…” Consider, however, how the meaning might change if you extend those quotation marks to the end of that sentence.

“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food and God will destroy them both.”

And then Paul’s rebuttal:

“But the body is not meant for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?”

Can you see what is at issue here? The Corinthians were living their lives as if this body didn’t matter. "It’s just a fleshly body…of no consequence.” “God will destroy it one day anyway!” But Paul challenges them! “The Body does matter.” “God raised the body of Jesus, and God will raise yours also.” “Your bodies are members of Christ’s body!” Paul reminds the Corinthians, and he reminds us: It matters what you do with your bodies. Specifically, Paul says it matters for three reasons.

First, we need to remember that God loves His creation! Our bodies are part of that creation. And God expects us to honor our bodies just as God expects us to honor this earth that we live on. To misuse the body, therefore, is to disrespect the Creator of this universe.

Second, we need to remember our bodies are temples of God’s Spirit. Do you remember the reverence given to the Temple in the Old Testament? The rituals that had to be performed before one could enter the Holy of Holies? The reason for that reverence was the simple fact that God lived there! Brothers and sisters, in these last days, God no longer lives in a temple made by human hands. God lives in you. A couple of weeks ago, Paul used this metaphor to talk about how God’s Spirit lives in the church. Here, he uses the same metaphor to talk about how God’s Spirit lives in your bodies. And for that reason, you should honor your bodies, the host of the Spirit of God!

But finally, Paul offers a third reason we should honor our bodies: Our bodies belong to God! Your body is not your own; it was bought with a price. Church, this is a difficult concept for us American Christians to grasp. We are not accustomed to hearing this reality: We are not free! In reality, we are slaves of Christ! Two thousand years ago, we were purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. And as His servants, we are called to use our bodies for His purposes. You know, I think this single reality changes everything! It even changes how we talk. Take, for example the issue of abortion. Both sides of this debate are using faulty language! Our society asks you to choose. Do you support the “Right to Life”? Or, do you support the “Right to Choose”? Do you hear the problem? In reality, where are bodies are concerned, we have no rights! We are not our own. We belong to God.

Church, I believe Christians are called, among other things, to change the texture of these debates. We need to shift the discourse away from a discussion about “rights.” And we need to move that discourse toward a discussion about slavery and submission. Where the body is concerned, it is not about your rights! It’s about God’s purposes.

Brothers and sisters, let’s get a bit more practical for a few minutes by answering this question: How can we follow Paul’s advice by glorifying God with our bodies?

I must be up front and say, we have a battle ahead of us, because our culture is not at all concerned about this issue. This week on the news there was a story about San Francisco. In that city, there is a growing effort to decriminalize prostitution. The rationale given for such an effort is that by decriminalizing prostitution, the state will spend less of the taxpayers money on prosecuting prostitutes. You see, in this one instance, the body has become nothing more than a financial pawn. In preparing for this sermon, I came across an interview of Kim Alexis, Carol Alt, and Beverly Johnson, three supermodels. Together they have appeared on more than 2000 magazine covers. In their interview, they spoke very frankly about the stresses and health problems of struggling to stay at the peak of the beauty business. Here is a portion of that article:
Alexis, who is five-feet-ten-inches tall, admits that after being discovered by a talent scout, the owner of New York City's Elite modeling agency guaranteed her a certain amount of money if she lost 15 pounds. At the time, she weighed 145 pounds. "I cried for the first year of my career," Alexis confesses honestly. "I remember trying every fad diet. I remember starving myself for four days in a row. I remember trying the Atkins diet, which was low carbohydrate, high protein. If I didn't drop 10 pounds in a week, I was on another diet." As a result, Alexis points out, "I lost my period for a full two years."
Carol Alt also dieted and exercised strenuously to force her five-foot-eight-inch frame down to an unnaturally slender 115 pounds. On her first modeling job, she passed out and fell into fellow model Kelly Emberg's arms. "An editor had given me a month to lose 12 pounds," Alt explains. "If I did, she promised me a trip to Rome. So I stopped eating."
As a highly paid fashion model and cover girl, Beverly Johnson frequently found herself doing exactly the same thing. "I ate nothing. I mean nothing," she says. "From the moment I took my first picture, I thought it would be my last, and from the moment I started modeling at 17 years old, I thought that the next 16-year-old girl who came in would be better than me." Eventually ending up with bulimia, anorexia, and a thyroid problem, Beverly attributes her ailments to self-imposed starvation and crash dieting. "In our profession, clothes look better on a hanger, so you have to look like a hanger."
I’ll be honest, this is harder for me to read now than it would have been 14 years ago. As a father of two teenage girls, I have my work cut out for me. Because we live in a world that will constantly tell them they have to be thinner. Our world tells them they have to conform to the image of the woman they see on the front cover of the magazine at the checkout counter. Fathers, you have a special role in this process: You need to remind your girls on a daily basis that their worth does not come from how they look on the outside. You need to show them that you love them for who they are, not what they look like. You may need to become the fashion police in your own home. Fathers (and mothers), it does matter what they wear. It doesn’t matter if everyone else is wearing it. Let me tell you what following everyone else will get you: The Guttmacher Institute reports that the United States has the highest levels of teen pregnancy among developed nations. This is hardly surprising, since nearly 75 percent of teenagers have had intercourse by the time they turn 20. Only 15 percent report remaining virgins until the age of 21. Parents, it is your job to protect the bodies of your children. And you need to remind them on a daily basis that they belong to God, and God is not a talent scout, God is not a magazine editor, God is their Father who loves them unconditionally!

I want to conclude this morning by shifting gears just a bit. I have painted a pretty dire picture this morning. I think it is important for us to recognize the seriousness of this issue in our culture. But I do not want to leave this place without reminding us of something else. The same Father that gave us our bodies is waiting with open arms to receive those who have made mistakes. Hear me loud and clear: There is no unforgivable sin. You cannot move far enough away from God that He cannot find you. And God is ALWAYS ready to forgive, ready to accept, ready to heal. May God grant us this morning the power to reclaim our bodies for His service and may God grant healing to those of us who have fallen short of this calling.

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