Dominated By Anything?
Dominated By Anything?
Every now and then in different conversations a familiar phrase is quoted. The phrase is typically something to the effect of “the bible says nothing can have control over our bodies.” Along those same lines you’ll also often hear people say that we can’t engage in things that are harmful to our bodies because “our bodies are the temple of God.”
Most often when I hear these phrases come up in conversation it is because the use of tobacco has come up. When the question is asked if Christians can or should partake of tobacco products people immediately and very boldly shout out these “truths” in a way that implies it is doctrine.
Now I’ve heard these things said for a very long time. I’ve even heard these types of things preached and much in the same way. Just recently I’ll admit that I had to actually ask, “where does it say that again?” Though I’ve always heard things said like that I couldn’t place the scripture or context.
It’s found in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20. “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body
When studying scripture we know that the most important thing to understanding what the text means is understanding it’s context. We also know that while there is a specific context that there is an appropriate level of drawing out applications other than the immediate context (key words appropriate level). A danger though is that if we’re not careful, those applications that we draw out to show good wisdom in a Christian’s conduct and life cross a line to the point that Christians can’t distinguish between tradition and doctrine.
I believe that when you look at the entire context of this section of Paul’s letter you’ll find that 6:12-20 is wrapping up a specific context that he has been addressing with the brethren. As far back as chapter 1 and chapter Paul is addressing the problem of division and the havoc it is having on the body there. He points out their immaturity of faith and lack of understanding. In chapter 5 he calls them out for tolerating the blatant sexual immorality within their number.
In dealing with their division and the chaos that was ensuing Paul had to take a moment and condemn the sad reality of them taking one another to court with lawsuits and that there was no one wise enough to settle these disputes between them.
It’s then in our text that Paul is really wrapping up the entire thought when he calls out a familiar saying to the Corinthians, common to them in their culture. Notice in v.12 that there are quotation marks around “All things are lawful for me” but not in the response. It was apparent that this was a familiar phrase that they not only knew but apparently used it seems to justify their behavior. Paul uses the same phrase again in chapter 10:23.
This idea that “all things are lawful” is much like the mindset of today in that anything that the body desires is okay. I have a right to pursue my desires and be happy. Or so society today claims. Paul isn’t saying that he is agreeing with that mindset but rather he’s simply assuming the argument to prove that even if that were the case, children of God are still to behave and live differently. Specifically he is addressing the situation and subject of sexual immorality in this text. Paul is saying that not all things are necessarily good for me, not all things build up, and like he says in other texts, he will keep his body in control and not be dominated by the desires of the flesh. He maintains that control because he is a member of Christ’s body set aside for holy use just as the temple was.
Going back to the most common use of this text, at least when quoted in conversations in regard to the use of tobacco, I would encourage us to take a fresh look at what this passage is addressing and also how we are using this passage to make a particular argument and yet at the same time neglecting to apply that argument to every aspect of our lives.
We say that children of God should not use tobacco products because of the physiological dependency that to often it creates. Thus “nothing shall have power of us.” I would make the argument as I already have that contextually that’s not what this passage is talking about but assuming we just want to use it as an application then let’s not be hypocritical and ignore what we’re really saying here.
It’s humorous almost to listen to Christians take such a bold stand against tobacco because of those physiological “powers” it often has and then later talk of how they can’t start their day without their morning coffee. I’m not talking about we just like a relaxing cup in the mornings as part of our routine. I’m talking about if they don’t get their cup(s) of coffee you’d better leave them alone until they do. The rest of their day will be off and just besides themselves because they don’t. I’m talking about those that have to have a certain number of cokes and energy drinks each day. If you were to cut them off the withdraws would have them debilitated for days if not in the ER. And believe me I know because I’ve been there.
What about the we have to take care of our bodies because “they’re the temple of God.” Again I’d make the same argument about the context but let’s take that to other things in our lives. It’s a proven fact that eating junk food, fast food, to much sugar, to much breads for that matter is bad for our health. People go to their doctors and nutritionists and they are told over and over again to cut back on the carbs and sugars. Been there too. We try for a while but then just can’t take it. We get absolutely HANGRY! That desire and drive for that biscuit or SWEET tea or snickers bar, whatever appeals to you is so overwhelming that nothing can pacify you until you sink your teeth into what you desire most.
I could keep on going with many other examples and I’m sure that you could think of a whole bunch as well. So why? Why is it that we’ll boldly proclaim that as truth and yet while we’re having that conversation turn and give in to those other things? Partly it is because we chose not to see those other things are really bad because of our desire to partake in them despite the warning associated with it to the same extreme and level as tobacco.
What I am NOT saying. The purpose of this article is not to destroy the arguments of Christians’ abstinence from tobacco. I’m NOT implying that Christians should partake in tobacco products. You’ll never hear me or read of me being in favor of it and you will ALWAYS hear me preach against it and there are plenty of scriptures and reasons we can see from God’s word to, I believe, present those views according to God’s will. I’m also NOT seeking to establish a standard for a Christian’s diet and what we can and cannot eat.
What I AM trying to point out is that although this text and this argument may have been used in this way for however long we can remember and we’ve heard it for so many years, we need to look at our approach and this text with a fresh set of eyes and ask ourselves are we really “rightly dividing and handling the word of truth” or are we just using a passage out of context because that’s just what traditionally has always been done? Are we like those in Romans 2 preaching one thing but in reality guilty of the very same thing or principle?
The fact of the matter is we lose credibility with people when we can’t discern between our traditions and our doctrines. If we’re going to tell people that “it’s wrong to do so-n-so and you’d better do so-n-so” then we’d better be speaking “the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11) and not our opinions and what we’ve always heard. We must constantly distinguish between true matters of doctrine and matters of judgment and in both cases approach, encourage, challenge, and correct with patience and gentleness.
“So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.” (Romans 14:19)