Friday, April 24, 2009

Not Ours

You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.

                        1 Corinthians 6.19-20 

Whose You Are

We’re taught to value the right to be our own person, make our own decisions, follow our own lights, and live our own lives. We admire individuals whose strength of character guides their choices and whose sense of responsibility enables them live up to their promises and admit their shortcomings. It requires courage to be “your own” man or woman because the truer you are to yourself, the more likely you’ll become a target for weaker people who resent your self-confidence and independence. All it takes is tactfully declining something you know is unhealthy or unprofitable, and they work overtime to persuade you to “get over yourself” and join in. If you won’t be convinced, they criticize you for being a joy-kill or “holier than thou.” What you believe and how you behave should be of no consequence to anyone else. Still, it is.

Paul devotes a notable portion of 1 Corinthians to encouraging us to withstand unhealthy and unprofitable temptations. Yet this shouldn't be mistaken as counsel to be "our own" persons. Indeed, it's nothing of the sort. His message is, Know Whose—not who—you are. “You aren’t your own,” he tells the Corinthians. “You were bought at a price,” reminding them Christ purchased their redemption on the cross. He bases his argument for believers maintaining the highest ethical and moral standards on indebtedness to Christ, not personal integrity. When times come to choose right over wrong, what’s best over what’s easiest, Paul flatly insists the choice is not ours to make. What pleases our Maker takes priority over what pleases us. Very often the two coincide, and frequency with which they overlap increases as we gain experience following Jesus. We learn what pleases Him ultimately pleases us, if not in the moment, always in the long run. No believer reaches a point where making the best decisions comes automatically. Every believer regularly faces dilemmas where honoring God conflicts with satisfying self. Over time, however, honoring God’s ways above our desires becomes a proven best option.

What Are You Really Doing?

The context for Paul’s statement is sexual immorality, specifically, patronizing prostitutes. In Corinth, prostitution was openly practiced and even encouraged—as religious worship no less! Pagan rites often involved sexual acts our society prohibits in any open venue, least of all in a house of worship. Had Paul argued such behavior is indecent and degrading (as we would today), his objections would have gone unheeded. Instead, he reasons with the Corinthians—something we’d do well to emulate when addressing self-gratification issues, rather than trying to shame others and ourselves into healthy decisions. When you consort with prostitutes, Paul asks, what are you really doing? The act represents more than bodily coupling. It’s a physical union, the welding of two into one. If I’m a Corinthian believer who enjoys paying for companionship and considers it harmless, however, I’m likely to read this and say, “So what? It’s my body.” Paul sees this coming and he’s ready with an answer. “It’s not your body,” he answers. Following Christ is an act of total commitment, mind, body, and spirit. What we do on every level now involves Him. “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute?” Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6.15. It’s a crude yet vivid way to startle us into realizing everything we have belongs to Him.

Sacred Vessels

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” Paul stresses in verse 19. The instant we confess Christ, His Spirit takes up residence in us. We become sacred vessels charged with protecting ourselves against defiling thoughts or actions. Everything about us is precious—bought at an unprecedented price. We’re God’s property, not to be wasted on flip indulgences. And what’s ironic here is we’ll handle sacred objects like Bibles and rosaries and crucifixes with utmost care while thoughtlessly subjecting our minds and bodies to all sorts of indignities.

Suppose someone gave us a vat of swill and told us to pour it into a baptismal font. Would we? Would we give a chalice to a stranger to treat irreverently? Why then do we fill our minds with swill or offer our bodies for casual use? It’s not as basic as “being moral.” It’s about being reckless with what’s not ours. Jesus paid His life to reconcile us to God. God welcomed us back to Him, restoring us to new life by faith in Him. We surrendered all we own—our minds, bodies, and spirits—to Him for His use, honor, and pleasure. We are not our own. We cost too great a price to handle ourselves cheaply.

We are sacred vessels, purchased at an unprecedented expense and not to be handled carelessly and cheaply.

(Tomorrow: Love's Litmus)

Postscript: Weekend Gospel

Kumbaya – The Kurt Carr Singers

This weekend’s gospel video is by The Kurt Carr Singers, one of the finest contemporary ensembles working today. Hearing Kurt’s music and watching him minister in song, you’d think he grew up in the church. In fact, his family was non-believing and he didn’t find his way to church until 13. After earning a degree in fine arts/classical music at the University of Connecticut, Kurt made up for lost time, bounding on the scene as a major talent on every front: musician, singer, and songwriter. Here, he turns the campfire classic into something altogether fresh and inspiring. Chances are you’ll catch yourself singing, “Shower down on me!” after you watch this. The video was shot at West Angeles, my church home when I lived in LA—making this an added treat for me. (PPS: Happy birthday, Dad! I know you'll enjoy this!)

1 comment:

Missy said...

I meant to tell you yesterday--what a beautiful theology of the body you have expressed here.