Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
January 14, 2018
Text: I Corinthians 6:19, O.T.: I Samuel 3:1-10, N.T.: I Corinthians 6:12-20
Jack LaLane died in 2011. Before there was health consciousness in America, there was Jack LaLane. He was the grandfather of America’s fitness culture. At the age of 60 he swam from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Warf in San Franscisco. He towed a boat behind him on his swim.
For many Americans, Jack LaLane taught them to take care of their bodies. Perhaps he was someone envisioned by the Apostle Paul when he talked about the human body in I Corinthians 6. The body is the shrine of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Care for the body as that shrine.
Whether or not Jack LaLane believed the Holy Spirit inhabits the human body, he certainly taught us to revere this earthly house in which the Holy Spirit resides. If there was anyone whose outward appearance presented a sense of reverence for the human body, Jack LaLane presented such an appearance.
There is much reverence for the human body these days. From food to exercise to selfies, Americans revere the human body. Some of us marvel how our parents and grandparents lived to such a ripe age with the food preparation of their eras, without the body shaping gurus we employ to keep us healthy. But then they weren’t sitting before computers either.
The Apostle Paul, however, wasn’t looking at outward appearance as an end to itself. Reverence for the human body is about image, not substance. He was writing to a generation that didn’t look at the human body for the substance of housing the Holy Spirit. Modern secularism is dominated by image. Spiritual vitality takes a back burner to what we see and touch – the material image.
Secularists don’t participate in athletics to develop our spiritual strength. Tim Tebow aside, watching professional football isn’t about cultivating the power of religious faith. Athletics is not a venue for things of the Holy Spirit for most athletes and audiences. It’s just sports. It’s entertainment. It’s not about the substantive matters of religious faith.
In a world where appearance contends with spirituality, there’s little to be said that’s in common between the two. Therein lay the Apostle Paul’s wisdom.
Both Greece and Rome were known for athletic competitions. Rome’s legions guarded worship of Caesar. Their military success came from the power of their convictions in the divinity of the Roman Emperor. The personal strength of legionnaires was related to the strength of Caesar as the living god.
Greece’s athletic competitions were divine contests between the gods. Athletes were favored by the gods for their devotion to the deities. Rome was filled with fit men.
However, Greece and Rome’s inner life – their moral life – were not related to the gods. Greek and Roman national life was limited to physical success in war-making and violence. It was not seen in inner life sought by God.
The Christian message went beyond the worlds of Greece and Rome. God prescribed a particular type of life that was spiritual, ethical and moral. Spiritual purity was seen in outward purity where ethics and morality expressed devotion to God. The body and the spirit were connected to one another.
The Apostle Paul is writing to the Church in Corinth, in which the Temple to Aphrodite was the primary religious building. Aphrodite was not the benign goddess to love we like to romanticize. Aphrodite was the goddess of sexual passion and lust. One thousand prostitutes worked from her sanctuary.
Corinth’s primary temple to a deity defined the culture of the city. The people of Corinth were enamored by sexual prostitution. Oaths of marriage were routinely violated by Corinthian men. Women were defined by their sexual liberation, not their fidelity in monogamous marriage. Men were defined by their infidelity and licentiousness.
The Apostle Paul was concerned about Corinthians who had been converted to Jesus Christ continuing their lives of sexual depravity they had practiced in this Greek city. He was calling the Corinthians to understand that the loss of personal integrity that was cultivated in prostitution would destroy their spiritual identity as Christians. When Christ called people to love one another, he did not mean carry on relationships that destroyed fidelity in marriage.
For Paul, the corruption of the human body in prostitution was a spiritual corruption that threatened a Christian’s relationship with Christ. Christ’s followers needed to live purely, without unbridled passions of the body defining their identity, just as Christ lived His life with His followers.
He saw the Temple of Jerusalem as the alternate example for the Corinthians’ spirituality.
Acts of atonement performed in the Temple of David were examples of the Temple’s spiritual purity. They were offerings to God seeking forgiveness from sin, just as Jesus Christ offered Himself for the forgiveness of sin.
The Apostle Paul believed that each Christian is like a miniature Temple of David. Each of us is responsible for acts of atonement that show our devotion to Christ. When we live a life spiritually disciplined by God to exercise self-control over our bodily passions, we show God devotion.
Inside the Temple of Jerusalem, God was glorified by sacrifices thanking God for His grace upon the people. Within the individual Christian, the sacrifices we morally and ethically make to serve the needs of others as loving acts show that we live our life spiritually to glorify God as a thank-offering. When we limit how we live to moral boundaries God prescribes, we live as a thank offering to God.
Our bodies can be used as any public building to perform any number of acts. God gives us the freedom to use our bodies for any purpose. But if our bodies are to represent the inward spiritual substance of our relationship with God, then we limit our actions to those things that glorify God.
Rome and Greece did not connect personal morality with faith in the divine. Neither did either identify the human body as possessing a sacred purpose – to house the Holy Spirit of the living God. Both Greece and Rome were culturally similar to our secular modern view of life.
That is why the sacrament of baptism is so important as an expression of our inner substance as Christians. Through baptism we are showing the world how Christ has purified us of the stain of living life by our bodily passions. We commit ourselves through baptism’s waters to be spiritual disciplined in our relationship God. The water symbolizes the atonement from sin we receive from God through Jesus Christ that cleanses us from moral and spiritual impurity.
But the sacrament must convey more than the image of being pure. It is the beginning of a life of spiritual accountability for the purity of God’s Temple in the substance of our hearts and minds.
We are spiritual creatures. Our spirituality matters first. When it rises to the foremost concern of our daily living, the Temple in which God’s spirit resides will show His glory in how we live our marital oaths with integrity, caring for our spouse’s love for us by being faithful to our spouses alone in marriage.
Our lives will shine with the promise of the resurrection hope – a temple not made by hands, eternal in the heavens – through Jesus Christ our Lord.