When we surrender to hatred, or violence; to conceit, or envy; to contempt for our brothers and sisters we betray the Lover of Our Souls. This is the "adultery" the prophets railed against: our unfaithfulness to God.
I Corinthians, 6:13-20, 7:1,2, 5-7
The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, "The two shall be one flesh." But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.
Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own. For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.
Now concerning the matter about which you wrote: It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.... Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am.
From its origins our faith has proclaimed: "Jesus is Lord!" There is no other.
As Christians we declare that Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah, the Son of God who came to restore our hope, encourage our lives, bless our souls, and teach us to walk in the ways of righteousness. It is he in whom we place our trust and belief.
When there is a conflict between what an "authority" says — even as esteemed an authority as the apostle Paul — and what Jesus has revealed, Christians are to follow the teachings of our Lord. That's why we're called CHRISTians. Otherwise we'd be Paulinians.
We cannot ignore the writings of the apostle from Damascus — for they have been woven into the very fabric of our faith. But we must read them in light of the healing and compassionate message of our Lord Christ. In the words of another scriptural authority, we are called to "examine the spirits" (1 John, 4:1) before adopting any of Paul's teachings as "gospel."
Let us, then, take a look at Paul's letter to the congregation at Corinth with that admonition in our minds and Jesus' compassion in our hearts.
Paul writes: "Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, 'The two shall be one flesh.'"
The passage to which he refers comes from the second account of creation, as given in Genesis 2:23-24. It follows Adam's joy at meeting Eve, and describes marriage in terms of a joining of souls: "two hearts with but a single beat." Paul, however, treats it as a euphemism for the sex act. Apparently the apostle understands "marriage" only in terms of physical relations, rather than as a partnership of whole and holy beings who love and care for one another.
Paul goes on to say that "Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself." He considers sex outside of a marriage contract to be the worst sin of all. It is worse than any other thing we may do "outside the body." Worse than child abuse, violence against elders, arson, assault, robbery, murder, genocide?
The ancient prophets often portrayed the intimate and loving relationship between the people and the Holy One as a "holy marriage." By extension, the Israelites' failure to follow the Beloved's teachings was characterized as "adultery" or fornication. It is this spiritual reality — our betrayal of the One Who Loves Us — which the prophets condemned, in no uncertain terms, as fornication.
For them the worst sin is not illicit sexual behavior: it is our disloyalty to the Beloved.
"You say you seek Me," God says through the prophet Isaiah, "yet you have forsaken your vow to be My people. You serve only your own interests. You oppress your workers, quarrel and fight and strike with a wicked fist" (Isaiah 58:2-11).
And Jesus tells us that
"the Judge will say, 'Depart from Me ... for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.... For as you did not do to the least of these, you did not do for me'" (Matthew 2:31-46).
When we surrender to disordered desires — to hatred, greed, jealousy or violence; to conceit, or envy, to contempt for our brothers and sisters — we betray the Lover of Our Souls. This is the "adultery" the prophets railed against: our unfaithfulness to God.
When our hearts are angry and unforgiving, our charity feeble, our compassion limited and conditional we fail to honor our life-pledge to Christ. When we do not live as Jesus taught us to do, our conduct is as scandalous as prostitution.
That is a difficult message to hear, and yet we know the Truth. The standard of faithfulness was set by the Lord Christ. Who among us is as good and true as He? Who would dare to judge another, when our own conduct is so sadly wanting?
It is easier to look down on single mothers than it is to see our own failure to show charity toward widows and orphans. It is easier to condemn abortion than it is to admit that we have refused to give life to the Christ that is within us. It is far easier to scorn and judge other peoples' relationships than it is for us to faithfully love the Lord our God with all our hearts and minds and souls and strength.
Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye?
~ Matthew 7:3,4 (Luke 6:37-38)
The apostle Paul gives very bad advice in his letter to the Corinthians. He provides a temptingly broad and easy path for Christians — implying that religious piety is all about sex; as if all other sins are insignificant by comparison. As if all we have to do is get married and stay married, and we're Home Free. That is simply not true.
There is more to a life of faith than loyalty to our partners or avoidance of prostitutes. Christian witness demands that we live and pray and hope and believe as Jesus did: with a passionate concern for all the world.
It isn't about following a list of rigid, harsh and unyielding demands — we aren't being held hostage, we are being called to live a life of love. When we love the Lord it is reflected in what we say, what we do, and what we hope for. That love transforms us: it makes our spirits light, our smiles genuine, our hearts forgiving, generous, and joyful.
To miss that is to miss out on what really matters.
To fail to take love into account is to ignore the Good News of Jesus Christ. And that is a truly terrible sin.
May your life be abundantly blessed with the grace-filled and transforming love of the Lord.
Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,
Due to the depth and breadth of Paul's influence on the Church — and the ways in which his teachings often conflict with the Gospel of Christ, we will revisit this topic.