St. Paul on Living a Chaste Life


For the Jewish people in Jesus’ time, and for Jesus’ own family, the Temple in Jerusalem was the holiest place in the world. Mary and Joseph brought Jesus to the Temple as an infant to make their offering to God. (Luke 2: 22, 24). All religious, political, and economic life revolved around the Temple. Every year Mary and Joseph went each year to celebrate Passover at the Temple (Luke 2: 42). This was the place where heaven and earth met. Jesus was most emphatic about recognizing the importance of coming to pray in the Temple with the proper attitude.

Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all those engaged in selling and buying there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who were selling doves. And he said to them, "It is written: 'My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you are making it a den of thieves." (Matthew 21: 11–12).

When in Jerusalem, Jesus prayed in the Temple every day. After he had expelled the money changers Jesus stayed to bring God’s healing presence to those who were in need.

The blind and the lame approached him in the temple area, and he cured them. (Matthew 21:14)

Jewish communities would send delegations from all over the world to offer worship in the Temple. In the Old Testament, the Temple is described as the “center of nations” and “the navel of the earth.”

Human Dignity

These images were on St. Paul’s mind when he emphasized with the early Christians how they were to respect themselves. Paul also had to clarify to his recently baptized Christians what true Christian freedom meant.

One of the accepted practices in the temples in the city of Corinth was sacred prostitution. Some of the new Christians thought that taking advantage of what the temples offered made no difference where their moral life was concerned. In fact, they interpreted this as an act they could lawfully commit as they were now free from the law in Jesus Christ.

Paul reacted in horror to this attitude. To act in this way is to violate the dignity of body.

The body, however, is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body; God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. (1 Corinthians 6: 13 –14)

Through Baptism Christians received the Holy Spirit and became united with the risen Jesus Christ. They were individual members of the Church and part of a community, a new temple of God. Paul could think of no stronger image for understanding why the dignity of the new Christian than the image of the Temple.

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been purchased at a price. Therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19–20)

In this teaching Paul was discussing the meaning of what it means to live chaste lives. Chastity is the essential virtue that helps us live out our sexuality in a proper manner. A chaste person is someone who disciplines his or her emotions and keeps them directed toward the good for which God created them. Our Baptism challenges us to follow Christ, the model of chastity.

Chastity is practiced differently by people according to their circumstances. For single people, chastity means learning to express their sexuality in ways other than physical intimacy. For married couples, chastity means doing all those things that will help both husband and wife remain faithful to each other.

New Life in Christ

Paul wanted people to remember that in Christ and the Holy Spirit, new life is possible. God gives us the grace to live the moral lives we are called to as Christians. In 1 Corinthians, Paul listed the misery of the peoples’ sinful lives before they had received Jesus.

Do you not know that the unjust will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators nor idolaters nor adulterers nor boy prostitutes nor sodomites 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor robbers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Corinthians 6: 9 – 10)

Paul explained that they were now a new people:

That is what some of you used to be; but now you have had yourselves washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:11)

In reminding us of the price of our salvation, Paul was reminding us of the dignity we have as children of God and temples of the Holy Spirit.