For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them; their bodies were scattered in the wilderness.
Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ, as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel.
These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall! No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.
This is not a soft and cuddly passage, and you won’t find every passage even from our Lord in the gospels to be what people would call soft and cuddly. There are of course what are called, “the hard sayings of Jesus.” But life isn’t soft and cuddly, either. It is hard for everyone, and it seems, harder for some more than for others. And for many reasons, mirroring the complexity of life and being human in all its wonder and brokenness.
Paul doesn’t mince words and makes no bones about what he’s getting at, nor does he flinch from making the First/Old Testament scripture to have some kind of normative sense for today. He says what is written in them is written to us as examples and for our warning. Ironically, I think that since “Today” is the day of salvation, it is Christians God holds accountable now, withholding the removal of those who are not Christian which ultimately awaits the final Day of Judgment to come.
I won’t echo the words of the passage quoted above. 1 Corinthians 10:13 is a popular kind of precious promise verse, but everyone who has memorized that verse would do well to memorize or just as good, probably better, simply meditate on that entire passage, cited above.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
This is earlier in the same letter, Paul warning believers to flee from sexual immorality. Quite a bit is said in the passage just quoted above, some of it at least a bit hard to understand, but the point I would like to hammer home some, is that sexual intercourse is much more than just a physical act, though it is certainly that. It is perhaps first and foremost an expression of oneness with each other, the climax and in a sense fulfillment of being one, but carried over into all of life. That is why adultery is so utterly devastating. The oneness in the marriage union is broken. It is little wonder to me that Paul followed up those thoughts with the next passage on marriage, which I will quote only in part.
Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
This is not rocket science, yet at the same time involves all the complexities of the wonder and brokenness of our humanity. So that we need God’s grace to follow through and work on these things, and to do so in a way that is honoring to the Lord and a witness to the world.
One of the problems which is a part of our culture (or sub-culture) is the false idea that sex itself is dirty, which comes from the false idea that the body is somehow morally dirty, or less than the ideal or goal of creation. Nothing could be further from the truth, but I think it continues to plague many Christians, and too often there’s a backlash from the culture into a mindset and practice that anything goes.
Last, but not least, we need to adopt the attitude and practice of the Apostle Paul. Even though he was single himself (probably once married, in that he was a Pharisee, and all Pharisees had to be married, but perhaps his wife was deceased), and according to his thoughts in 1 Corinthians 7 (click hyperlink above, to read that), had a gift from God so that he could live happily without a wife, yet Paul himself had to exercise strict self-control, and yes, over his body.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
Yes, the body is good, and meant for the Lord, and for the right and natural use of it from creation, but no, we can’t allow whatever circumstances we face, or temptations, to detour us from God’s will. That is to be our passion, our drive, so that when necessary, we put the brakes to the inclinations, or strong desires which may come our way. We do so with God’s full revelation in Christ in mind, with the fact that God makes a way of escape for us. Indeed we must, in the words of scripture, flee from sexual immorality.