February 16, 2020

 “True Freedom”

 

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

 

What does it mean to have freedom? The dictionary defines freedom as, “The condition of being free.”  This section from Paul’s letter deals with personal freedom, in this case addressing the Corinthians' idea of freedom without responsibility or consequence. Paul wanted to challenge their idea of being free to do whatever they wanted.

 

 Both of our kids spent many years on the local swim team in Fort Bragg, the Mendocino Coast Sea Dragons. They could do all of the major strokes, including the butterfly. It was amazing to see both of our kids be able to swim so well back in the day. However, they didn’t always swim like that. I remember our daughter Abigail’s very first swim class, in the shallow end of the community pool in Fort Bragg. She was with a group of four-year-olds, and frankly, it looked like their teacher was trying to herd a bunch of wet cats in the pool. They were all over the place. They would listen for a little while, but then they would start jumping up and down or heading off toward the deep end. The swim teacher had to keep stopping them, telling them not to go so deep that they couldn’t touch the bottom. If these four-year-olds had their way, being free to do whatever they wanted, the results would have been tragic.

 

In this letter to the church at Corinth, Paul says, “All things are lawful or permissible for me, but not all things are helpful or beneficial for me.” (v.12) Paul is speaking here about human freedom. We are free to do whatever we want. God has given us free will to live our lives as we choose. Our nation is built upon the ideal of human freedom-that we can say and do as we please, protected by this nation and its laws. The Declaration of Independence from Great Britain, written in 1776 says, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men(and women) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

 

Pursuing life, liberty, and happiness has been translated by our modern society much like the Corinthians back in the first century- We are free to do whatever we want in this nation of ours.  We love our freedom in this country, and will often take that freedom to its full extreme. We don’t like anyone trying to limit our freedom.

 

 

The Greeks in Corinth were pursuing all earthly freedoms, doing as they pleased. The popular philosophy of the day was that one could do anything one liked with their bodies, for it was Sophos or human wisdom that guided human beings. The popular

belief of the day for Sophists was that the soul was spiritual, the body temporal.

Therefore, since it was only the soul that ascended heavenward, and would not be harmed by anything the body did, a life of hedonistic pleasures was accepted and encouraged. 

 

Many scholars believe that Corinth even had a catchphrase-“I am free to do anything,” perhaps the historical equivalent of, “What happens in Vegas stays in Vegas?” There was another saying around at the time, to “live like a Corinthian,” which meant to live it up, in excess and debauchery. Prostitution was legal in Corinth and encouraged as a way for people to express their freedoms. Since the body was transient and trivial, it made no difference what one did with their bodies. Another phrase, "all things are permitted," was a common slogan among the Corinthian upper classes for the right of young men at the age of eighteen to attend banquets where they could satisfy their appetites for food and sex. So, for the Corinthian, if one was hungry, one could eat; if one desired sexual gratification, one could seek it without consequence. After all, these freedoms only concerned external physical matters, which were of no lasting significance to the soul. Corinthians were merely insisting upon their right to continue participating in a pleasurable activity that was entirely normal in their own culture. For the people of Corinth, ALL things were lawful.  Party On, Dudes!

 

But Paul says, “not all things are good or beneficial.” (v.12) From Paul’s perspective, what one did with the body harmed the soul as well. The Corinthian position was bad philosophy according to Paul. Even for Christians in Corinth, this Sophist free philosophy was part of their Christian life, and Paul wanted to challenge them about their understanding of freedom. Paul says in today’s passage, that “we are not our own, but have been bought with a price.”(v.20) Our bodies belong to God through the redeeming act of Christ upon the cross. The body, Paul tells us, is not simply a husk to be cast-off in the next life. Our bodies belong to Jesus. Paul says that because the Holy Spirit dwells in us, we should keep our bodies from sinfulness. We have been placed under the ownership of Jesus, who died upon the cross to free us from the powers of sin. Consequently, we now belong to him, and not to ourselves. Paul sought to help the new Christians in Corinth come to a higher understanding of their bodies in their faith lives, an understanding that is as counter-cultural in our time as it was in his. Theologian Richard B Hayes says “To misuse the body is to hold the Creator in contempt.” Paul is not trying to get us to deny our bodies, to punish them and abuse them. Paul celebrates the power and beauty and holiness of our physical forms. His desire is for us to live in true freedom, not mastered by sin, but living as servants of God applying our bodies in service to the Creator. His caution is that there is something wrong in a world that focuses solely on the rights and freedoms of the individual. In a world where the focus is on whatever I want for my body, what is lost is a respect and love for the bodies of ourselves and others as temples of God.

 

The results are as clear in our society as they were in First Century Corinth. Sex is taught in mainstream media to be nothing more than an act. There is no connection of Spirit or love.  There has long been a film tradition of the story of an adolescent or young adult seeking to lose their virginity, in movies such as “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” “Sixteen Candles,” “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” just to name a few. The plots of all these films present sex as something to be achieved, a prize to be gained, rather than as the fulfillment of a loving, mutually respectful relationship. Sex is trumpeted in our advertising. Magazines like Cosmopolitan at the checkout stands advertise new ways to gain your lover’s favor.  The internet Pornography industry is a multibillion-dollar business, and is available on any computer device, from cell phones to tablets to laptops, spreading images that degrade people, and make bodies objects to be used, not temples to be worshiped.

 

As for food, sigh… Some of you are aware that I am currently dieting, trying to get some weight off of this body of mine. I’m in the midst of working on “mindful eating”- watching what I eat and how I eat and when I eat, etc…Being free to eat anything I want just isn’t an option if I want to be healthy. But it is so hard!!!  I love bacon! AND Fried chicken! In addition, restaurants give portions that are bigger than necessary so that their customers won’t feel cheated on meals. Fast food places advertise 1-pound burgers with cheese, bacon, and onion rings all heaped together with a fried egg on top, of course being eaten by some gorgeous model in a skimpy outfit. And yes, I do mean you, Carl’s Junior! Gluttony is not a sin in our country; it is encouraged.

 

As for how we view our bodies- Eating disorders are on the rise, as young women are constantly fed body images that are unrealistic, and surgically enhanced. Mary Pipher’s powerful book Reviving Ophelia presents case studies of adolescent girls who abuse their bodies in numerous ways. She observes with great sadness, “In all the years I’ve been a therapist, I’ve yet to meet one girl who likes her body.”

 

What we do with our bodies and how we treat them can have a lot to do with how we VIEW them. Author Jon Pahl says, “As we look at our bodies, how do we describe them? What significance do they hold for us? Are they simply vessels in which we live and which we are free to use to pursue whatever pleasure comes to mind? Or do we interpret our bodies, as Paul suggests, as ‘temples of the Holy Spirit?’” How would our society function differently if we took Paul’s contention that our bodies, as well as our spirits, are united with Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit? What would that mean?

 

We need to consider how we teach our children to love and respect their bodies and those of others. We need to consider what we eat and how much, what substances we use or abuse, our sexual practices, how we view the bodies of others.  Paul calls us to focus on the glory of our bodies created by the God who dwells in them, that our bodies might be a holy temple. We have all of this freedom to do as we want with our

bodies.  We need to have some limits on our freedoms, lest we harm ourselves and others.

 

Consider, a few years ago when we were still living in Fort Bragg, we were getting ready to take our son Sam out to dinner to celebrate his birthday. However, when I came out of the front door of our house, I was met by 3 barking, charging, amped up and large boxer dogs, who had somehow escaped the confines of one of our neighbor’s backyards.  I pushed Sam back into the house and slammed the door shut, turning to face the threat. I do not say lightly that for a moment, I feared for my life. I remembered that when cornered by a dog, or pack of dogs, rising yourself up in height and making a loud noise will generally turn them away from you. So I stood up at full height, clapped my hands and yelled for them to “git”, and slapped my hands at them. They slowed down a bit but kept advancing towards me. Thankfully one of the owners from across the street had heard the ruckus and came running out. He called them back, put them back into his back yard and closed the gate. Those dogs were free from their confines, free to do whatever they wanted, no leashes or fences to restrain them, which was almost very bad for me, my family, and for those dogs as well.

 

Perhaps you see this passage as a way of restricting our freedoms, a big fence to keep us in place, and from a non-faith background, it is easy to be misled in such a way. Yet when we do whatever we want with no morality, no conscience, it is not freedom, but bondage. Galatians 5:1 tells us, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free from sin. Stand firm then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”

 

In reality, it is living within God’s love and guidance that frees us from the yoke, the bondage of sin. When we are freed from sin, and our minds are connected with God, we are empowered to live as we were created to be- beloved of the Creator. Pastor Warren Wiersbe says, “Freedom does not mean I am able to do whatever I want to do. That is the worst kind of bondage. Freedom means I have been set free to become all that God wants me to be, to achieve all that God wants me to achieve, to enjoy all that God wants me to enjoy.”  May we remember this day, and every day, who we are and to whom we belong, so that we might live in true freedom. “I know you”, Jesus says, “and you are Mine.” Alleluia. Amen.

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