January 18, 2004

Text: 1 Corinthians 6:12, 20

“Everything is permissible for me, but not everything is beneficial. Therefore, honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:12, 20).

There are volumes written between the bookends of those two verses. Yet I need to add to these, for I have a confession to make about what Paul said or rather what God said here through Paul. What was Paul talking about? Well he was talking about food and stomachs, which happens to be something I struggle with every day. Mostly he talked about prostitution. Sorry folks; no news bites there! But my confession IS about something Paul talked about that I do several times most days in my own privacy. NOW I have your attention!

My confession has to do with cell phones. I sometimes talk on my cell phone while I am driving. I have so many people trying to reach me from early morning to late at night, and I am on the road all the time. People are hard to reach, and so many of my calls are urgent things. I am usually running late anyway, so I have to catch people when I can. So when the phone rings, I usually pick it up, even when I am driving.

Now compared to the sexual things to which Paul was referring, this may seem too trivial to confess. After all, it is not even illegal. And THAT is what Paul was really talking about. Overeating and sexual misconduct were (and still are) serious examples of this. But what Paul was actually talking about was the ideas of RIGHTS THAT ARE NOT RIGHTEOUS.

Notice the very first thing in this discussion, right after the verse number itself, right before the word everything. I am referring to the quotation marks. In the most ancient Greek transcripts, punctuation marks were not actually used. Most accepted translations, however, do use quotation marks here because the expert translators are trying to signal an important fact about this opening line. When Paul says, “Everything is permissible for me,” he is referring to an often-quoted saying of the day. This is like the sentiment so often heard these days, “I have my rights!”

For example, if a woman decides to dispose of a healthy fetus, we are told that the most important thing we need to remember is that she has the RIGHT to do with her body as she wishes. And she DOES! Many people who say that are themselves repulsed by the act itself. Yet most of you believe that it is the woman’s RIGHT to do that very thing which you think is in poor taste for me to even talk about!

And I have the RIGHT to talk on my cell phone while I am driving, even though there is research showing that cell phone driving is as risky as driving under the influence, by which I endanger the lives of others. But still I have the RIGHT to do so. I may not drink and drive, but I can talk and drive, even though both things do exactly the same thing, because I have a RIGHT to do so, and so I do; or did, until I wrote this sermon.

When her conscience bothers her, the woman destroying the fetus that is trying to be born supports her RIGHT to do so by telling herself that she is being responsible by destroying something that is not actually a person. When his conscience bothers him, the teenager having sex supports his RIGHT to do so by telling himself that he is being responsible in using “protection.” When his conscience bothers him, the pastor on the cell phone supports his RIGHT to do so by telling himself that he is being responsible in being extra cautious and has never yet had an accident while doing this. Each of us has a RIGHT to do these things, and no one is going to “tag” us for doing it. It is our RIGHT. If even God lets us do it and won’t tag us, then what is the problem?

This seductive trap has the Deceiver’s fingerprints all over it, especially in our particular society where we are blessed (?) with so many rights. This is also an especially seductive trap in our particular faith, which says that we are “no longer under the Law” because Jesus has paid the price to cancel our sins. Where in the Bible does it say that if I do this or that I will go to Hell? You would be surprised how much time I spend counseling people who are asking me if doing this or that under such and such a circumstance is technically a sin or not. You see, if we don’t think we’ll get tagged, then we must have the right to do it. “If I am able to do it, then obviously God has given me the RIGHT to do it” is the echo of another proposition: “Why not throw yourself down, for did not God say …”

Paul is essentially saying that we are confusing RIGHTS with RIGHTEOUSNESS. More to the point, we are replacing righteousness with rights. Yes, we may well have the RIGHT to do just about anything we want, but not all these things are righteous. Focusing on my rights puts the emphasis on what I want. Focusing on righteousness puts the emphasis on what God wants.

If we CAN do with our bodies what we want, it is NOT because our bodies are our own. God clearly says through Paul, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” In fact, it is BECAUSE our bodies are not our own that we should NOT always do what we physically and legally CAN do. The very next line is this: “Therefore honor God with your body.” Not exercising our rights but honoring God is what our bodies are for. Exotic justifications notwithstanding, sane consciences on all sides of elective abortion are clear about what does and does not honor God. The only real question is whether our rights or our Redeemer are our God. 

May the freedom that Jesus purchased with His blood on the Cross drive us not away from God into ourselves, but draw us out of ourselves in gratitude and faithfulness to Him. May what we do with our bodies glorify HIS righteousness and not our rights. Amen, may it be so!