Exposition of 1 Corinthians 6:12–14 The shape of freedom in Christ

1 Corinthians 6:12–14

“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. 13 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. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

At no point is Corinth closer to our daily experience than it is here! One myth of America is that we have the — God-given — freedom to do as we please. The Corinthian believers held the same idea and were equally wrong. Before some of you take offense at that, see what Paul tells them on behalf of Christ.

First, we will look at the Corinthian Declaration of Independence: “I have the right to do anything” (1 Cor. 6:12a). This phrase has rightly been placed in quotation marks by the NIV, not because the Greek text does so — New Testament manuscripts have no punctuation — but because almost all commentators believe this was a slogan in the Corinthian church. To make sure you understand the phrase as a slogan, the words “you say” have been added by the NIV translators.

Paul begins his critique of the Declaration by saying “not everything is beneficial” (1 Cor. 6:12b). Anthony Thiselton describes Paul’s approach: “[Paul] transposes debates about ‘liberty’ and ‘what is permissible’ into the different key of ‘what is helpful.’”[1] Gordon Fee takes the next step by saying, “Truly Christian conduct is not predicated on whether I have the right to do something, but whether my conduct is helpful to those about me.”[2]

But how do these commentators know that the word “beneficial” applies first to others? They are peeking at the hidden cards by looking ahead to 1 Cor. 10:23–24, where Paul explicitly makes the application to the good of others: “’I have the right to do anything,’ you say — but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ — but not everything is constructive. 24 No one should seek their own good, but the good of others.”

So, the age-old debate between seeking my own good or seeking the good of others has been decisively settled by Jesus Christ, who gave his life on the cross for the salvation of all, even his enemies (Phil. 2:3–8, Rom. 5:10–11). Our identity as those united to Christ, those “in Christ,” demands that our freedom also be limited by primary concern for others.

Another possible misdirection of our freedom in Christ is that it might be hijacked by clever arguments to justify indiscriminate sexual indulgence. The second half of verse 12 — and Paul’s response to it in subsequent verses — seems to suggest that the Corinthian application of the slogan “I have the right to do anything” was primarily to justify their sexual exploits. Paul first makes an implicit warning (“I will not be mastered by anything”) about the well known power of sexual activity to master the one engaging in it. We call this power “seduction.”

In 1 Cor. 6:13a, Paul again seems to be quoting an idea used by the Corinthians to bolster their conclusions: “’Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.’” David Garland outlines what the Corinthians were trying to say: “Just as eating food belongs to our fleshly, transitory human condition . . . and has no effect on our soul or eternal destiny, neither do sexual relations.”[3] You can imagine an immature believer arguing that since we are already going to heaven — clearly a spiritual matter — what difference does it make if we bodily indulge ourselves however we like.

But that way of thinking — when applied to the body — is a complete distortion of our freedom in Christ! In the second half of verse 13, Paul is crystal clear that the body of a believer must not be used for sexual immorality because the intended use for our bodies is “for the Lord.” So, we see that Paul has made up his own slogan to counter theirs: “The body is for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”[4] Paul elsewhere describes our bodies as weapons (Greek hoplon in Rom 6:13) to be placed in the hands of God (Rom. 6:12–13). The phrase “the Lord for the body” probably means that the Holy Spirit indwells us and that we are God’s temple (1 Cor. 3:16 and 6:19).

The fact that God has current plans for our bodies is shown by the bodily resurrection of Christ (1 Cor. 6:14). God will also raise us from the dead, a subject that will be explored in detail in 1 Corinthians chapter 15. The Holy Spirit gives life to our mortal bodies (Rom. 8:11) so that we can serve God now, and one day we will rise to live with him forever. God’s promise to resurrect us makes it plain that he cares about our bodies and how they are used both before and after our bodily resurrection. The use of our bodies is a spiritual matter from start to finish!

Copyright © 2013 Barry Applewhite. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.



[1] Anthony Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids: William. B. Eerdmans publishing Company, 2000) 461–2.

[2] Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 252.

[3] David E. Garland, 1 Corinthians, Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2003) 230.

[4] Fee Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1987) 255.

Do you have an opinion or a different interpretation? Let me know!