‘All things are lawful for me’, but not all things are beneficial. ‘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 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.
‘You were bought with a price’. Anyone who’s done sex work will understand that phrase. People sell time, expertise and labour and some people sell their body or the services their body can provide. They are bought with a price. Women, and men, find their options narrowing and, with bills and debts to pay, a few months on Babestation or a web cam at home or nights on the streets are ways out. I don’t suppose that the Roman temple prostitutes of Paul’s time were driven by anything different from those who are sold for a price today. There are some things in this world that do not change very much.
So, Paul writes to tell the Corinthians that they have been ‘bought with a price’ too – by Christ himself, but always from love. Perhaps Paul is reminding them how loved by God they are and what dignity they have, but by using these words he might also give them a kind of empathy with those some of them have been ‘buying’ for a price. The Roman world had a very different view of sex from that of Victorian, or even contemporary, Britain, and we should not be surprised to know that the lonely or the exploitative, even in church communities, might do this.
It can never be right for anyone to treat another person as a commodity to be bought. But, anyone who follows the Christ who proclaimed that tax-collectors and prostitutes would be first into the Kingdom of God knows that sex workers have full human dignity and grace. Christ welcomes all his people as part of his body. Like Saint Aidan, who bought Saxon children out of slavery, Christ pays the price to set us all free, those who do sex work included.
Prayer: Loving God, who made my body to be a holy temple, save me from exploitation and pain, deliver me from any who would hurt me, and give me freedom and courage to let my body be a sign of your love a place where joy is found and where you are glorified, this day and always, Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Susan Durber is Minister of Taunton URC