So, I just finished the final capstone paper for my degree in Biblical Studies. I still have a couple alibi classes to go, but the majority of the work is done. It’s quite long, probably too much for a traditional blog post, but I decided to post it anyway. With my life long struggle with various kinds of sexual immorality this was a very cathartic piece to write. I pulled from a lot of sources, many of which were never quoted; but the inspiration came from Scripture and my own brokenness. I hope to someday be a published author, and throughout the last few years I have written a couple pieces that I wish to expound upon into books. This is one of them, and even my wife thinks this should be my first.
For those that read this entire post:
First, thank you. I know it was quite the undertaking. Second, please, please, please, if this affected you in any way, please leave a comment. I love feedback, both positive and negative. I love to be challenged, and I love to know when I touched someone. Again, thank you for reading, and God Bless! Now on to the real post…
There is a joke that begins with a son asking his father about where babies come from. The father, being the honest man that he is, proceeds to tell his son all about sex and reproduction. After some discussion, the son stops the father and asks, “Do you think that God knows about this?” All kidding aside, sex was created as an amazingly beautiful thing, but sin has twisted it into something that has the potential to poison our very souls, and alter our personalities. Even a child understands that sex is something that has the potential to be sinful. That something could be both so amazingly wonderful and so horribly twisted just proves to identify the importance of sex within our very being.
The world’s standards regarding sexuality vary greatly from place to place and time to time. Society’s standards are at times so conservative as to be stifling, and at other times so liberal you wonder if there are still any standards. There is one place where sexual standards have never changed; within the heart and mind of God. Few things are as prominent in Scripture as sex. From Genesis to Revelation the pitfalls, dangers, importance, purpose and beauty of sex are repeatedly revealed. In today’s society, when uncertainty and liberal thought reigns supreme, it can be hard to find a universal truth. This article will help to uncover God’s truth regarding sexual immorality. Specifically, we will discuss what the sexual life of a believer should look like; how to respond to sexual temptation; the dangers of giving into sexual immorality and lust; and why the Biblical understanding of sexuality is better than the world’s.
Our warped nature, the devils who tempt us and all the contemporary propaganda for lust, combine to make us feel that the desires we are resisting are so natural, so healthy, and so reasonable, that it is almost perverse and abnormal to resist them. Poster after poster, film after film, novel after novel, associate the idea of sexual indulgence with the ideas of health, normality, youth, frankness, and good humor. Now this association is a lie. Like all powerful lies, it is based on a truth – the truth… that sex in itself (apart from the excess and obsessions that have grown around it) is normal and healthy, and all the rest of it. The lie consists in the suggestion that any sexual act to which you are tempted at the moment is also healthy and normal. (Lewis, 1952, Pg. 100)
In order counter these lies, and to be able to apply the resulting truths to our lives we will pull directly from Scripture, and support our position with worldly evidence. As stated before, there are multitudes of places in Scripture where God’s standards for sexuality can be found. For this article we will focus primarily on Paul’s thoughts on the avoidance of sexual immorality found in 1 Corinthians 6:12-7:5 and 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8.
The Problem of Sexual Immorality
The fallen state of mankind has created a sin problem in every area of our lives, one of the most profound, however, is in the area of sex. When God created man He designed sex to be a source of satisfaction, honor, and delight. In fact “the gift of sex was among those things God declared to be “very good” (Gen. 1:31)” (Heimbach et al., 2004, para. 1). While sin has tainted what was once good, we can bring our sexual lives much closer to the way God designed. We must understand and live within the bounds of the moral standards He has established. The world says that our bodies are our own, and we can do whatever feels good, whenever it pleases us to do so. We should accept God’s timing for sexual activity because these principles that our wise, loving, and authoritative Creator has given to us were designed for our health and happiness. God’s standard for sex has nothing to do with limiting our pleasure, but rather maximizing it. Sex by the world’s standards leaves us empty and needing more and more to achieve the same pleasure. It also represent selfishness, manipulation, misogyny, shame, sexually transmitted diseases, and fatherless children. Now, before we get too far ahead of ourselves, let’s take a moment to realize that even through the assorted “thou shalt nots” there is an amazingly positive message surrounding the beauty of sex and marriage contained within Scripture. The entirety of the book of Song of Solomon is an allusion both to sex between lovers, and the relationship that God has with His church.
Not only is sex good in itself; it is also given to serve good purposes. At creation God made it very clear that sex functions in two ways: it generates “fruit” (Gen. 1:28); and it enables relational “union” (Gen. 2:24). In other words, sexuality does not exist merely for its own sake. Rather, sex fosters human nurturing, both through the union of husband and wife and also through the enrichment of society through the building of families and communities. God also made sex to reflect the mysterious spiritual relationship He will one day enjoy with all redeemed humanity following the wedding supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7, 9).. (Heimbach et al., 2004, para. 1-2)
For these reasons, it is extremely important that we preserve the holiness of sexual behavior. This, then, is what we will define as sexual immorality: any sexual behavior is immoral if it does not honor God. Examples include, but are not limited to fornication, adultery, prostitution, pornography, rape, homosexuality, incest, bestiality, and impurity.
As stated earlier, there are hundreds, if not thousands, of places in Scripture that apply to human sexuality, but we are going to focus on the avoidance of sexual immorality. For this purpose two specific pericopes have been chosen where Paul directly tackles this issue:
“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.
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 6:12-7:5, ESV)
Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God (just as you actually do walk), that you excel still more. For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:1-8, NASB)
While there is much being said in these two pericopes, we are going to break them down to see what Paul had to say regarding sexual immorality. First, however, let’s look at a little background surrounding these passages.
Historical and cultural context of 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians
As their names suggest, 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians were written to the churches in the city of Corinth and the city Thessalonica, respectively. These two cities had a great deal in common. “Corinth controlled the two major harbors and thus command of the trade routes between Asia and Rome” (Padfield, 2015, The City of Corinth, para. 1). Likewise “Thessalonica was a busy seaport city located at the junction of two main roads. It was the largest city in Macedonia” (Blankenbaker, 1989, pg. 282).
The cultural and religious natures of both Corinth and Thessalonica were ones of great variety. Within Thessalonica there were a great variety of religions and cults, including the worshiping of Caesar and a Jewish community large enough to be able support a synagogue. Sexual immorality would have been an issue of concern to the church in Thessalonica. This is likely because the culture of the city called for loose morals and impure sexuality. “All around these Thessalonian believers were the pagans who combined sex and religion. Sex was a religion among the Greeks” (McGee, 1978, pg. 65). This bend towards hedonistic culture was even truer in Corinth.
The name “Corinth” became a synonym for immorality. This temple gave Corinth its reputation for gross immorality of which Paul often spoke (1 Cor. 6:9-20; 2 Cor. 12:20-21). She had a reputation for commercial prosperity, but she was also a byword for evil living. The very word korinthiazesthai, to live like a Corinthian, had become a part of the Greek language, and meant to live with drunken and immoral debauchery. (Padfield, 2015, The Religion of Corinth, para. 3-4)
The importance of this context. Understanding the context of these two passages deepens the overall link to sanctification and purity found directly in the passages. The entirety of scripture outlines for mankind our sin and inability to overcome the flesh on our own. When we are aware of the culture surrounding these two churches, it is impossible not to see the need for specific guidance in the area of sexual immorality. The non-Jewish converts would have come from the sexually charged and reliant pagan religions of the area. How much different is our society today? One can rarely go several miles in any major city without seeing sexually suggestive advertisements, strip clubs, porn shops, and in some places brothels. Furthermore, the majority of first world citizens spend a significant amount of time online or consuming copious amounts of media through radio and TV. Within these realms, and the rampant sexual debauchery found there, we are not so different from the ancient Greeks. One could argue that Las Vegas, Nevada, is the modern day Corinth.
God’s Solution Explained
So far we have identified that there is a problem of sexual immorality within humanity, that this problem is not new, and have seen a little of what Paul has to say about the issue. Now we are going to break down those specific passages to better understand what God is telling us.
“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. (1 Cor. 6:12-13)
Here we see Paul specifically tackling the conundrum surrounding an “only grace” type of salvation. “There is a danger that in claiming his Christian freedom a man may bring himself into bondage to the things he does” (Morris, 1953, pg. 99). In other words, if there is nothing that can be done to undo my salvation, what is stopping me from doing any of it? Paul here uses the example of food, indicating that sexual immorality is as natural as eating, but that doesn’t make it a good thing. Our bodies are meant to be used for the Lord’s purpose, not to be dominated by our own sinful nature. If we allow ourselves to be controlled by other things, such as sexual immorality, then we are no longer as free as we claim to be.
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. (1 Cor. 6:12-13)
Paul here continues with his specific bodily teaching, reminding us that the sexual union brings people together so that they become one. In the same way, spiritually, we have become one with Christ through our salvation. This means that, if we are sinning sexually, we are literally bringing God’s spirit into union with sin. This, Paul says must “Never!” happen. In the same way, Paul continues:
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. (1 Corinthians 6:18-20)
Likewise Paul tells the Thessalonians:
For you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God…For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. (1 Thessalonians 4:2-5, 7)
Paul is not one to mince words, or give any sin a gentle treatment, and here we see this displayed better than many other places. Charles Spurgeon (1988) explains precisely and dramatically what Paul is doing here when he says
In this particular instance he sets the sin of fornication in the light of the Holy Spirit… and lets us see what a filthy thing it is. He tells us that the body is the temple of the Holy Ghost, and therefore ought not be profaned; he declares that bodily un-chastity is a sacrilegious desecration of our manhood, a violation of the sacred shrine wherein the Spirit takes up its dwelling place; and then, as if this were not enough, he seizes the sin and drags it to the foot of the cross, and there nails it hand and foot, that it may die as a criminal.
Paul’s words “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” indicate that the blood of Christ has set us free from sin, and brought us into union with Christ. Sexual immorality is unique amongst sin, Paul says, because we are literally sinning against our own bodies. The same body that is supposed to be a temple for the Holy Spirit. One who has saving faith will reject sexual sin. A faith that does not reject sexual immorality not only rejects his own body but also rejects God (1 Thessalonians 4:8). This is the same faith as demons who believe, tremble, and flee from God have. Instead, Paul is telling us to flee from sexual immorality and to follow Christ. Our sexual lives, like the rest of our lives, must be sanctified.
Let’s pause a moment and look at the word flee. Verse 18a says “Flee from sexual immorality.” Paul does not say “avoid” or “be wary of” sexual immorality. This is because he knows that at some point we will be faced with the temptation, desire and opportunity to engage in sexual immorality. Paul is telling us to flee; don’t walk, run away! Additionally, he is saying that we shouldn’t be doing this just once, but that we should be making a habit of fleeing. The phrase “Flee from sexual immorality” within its original language indicates a habitual action. It could be translated to read ‘make it your habit to flee from sexual immorality.’ Paul understood the need to break these patterns, and is offering a purer alternative.
Why is it so important to make a habit of fleeing from sexual immorality? If we don’t make fleeing a habit, then the sin will become the habit. When we feed our sexual appetite with lust and fornication this becomes a part of who we are. Morris (1958) summarizes that Paul is instructing the Corinthians that “anyone who commits fornication is committing an offense against his very personality” (pg. 103). This sin against the body changes our very personality, causing us to lust more. One of the biggest threats to purity today is pornography. Paul tells us that we should flee from sexual immorality, but according to Covenant Eyes (2015) “64% of Christian men and 15% of Christian women say they watch porn at least once a month” (pg. 20). What is even more troubling is that “37% of pastors said viewing pornography was a current struggle” (pg. 21).
All sexual sin is ultimately a violation of the covenantal relationship God has established with the first man and woman as representatives of the human race to whom God directly gave the gift of human sexuality within the exclusive confines of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. Those who violate God’s design for sexual activity and marriage do so at their own peril and ultimately dehumanize and degrade a person into sinful bondage and sexual slavery. (Harding, 2012, para. 6)
This quote from Pastor Harding, leads us into our next thought, how do we help to guard against sexual immorality? The best way, Paul says, is through the bounds of marriage.
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:1-2)
In verse 8, Paul indicates that remaining unmarried, and devoted to God is far better than being married; but, he only makes this statement after acknowledging that, for most, sexual temptation will hinder our Christian walk. As J. Vernon McGee (1977) puts it, “You cannot live in immorality and serve Christ” (pg. 72). For this reason Paul instructs both men and women to marry, so that they may have both an outlet and a support for their sexual desires. In fact, Paul indicates that our bodies, because they belong to the Lord, also belong to our spouses.
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)
These few verses have been used by many to affirm an idea that if a husband or wife wants sex, the other must submit, whether they want it or not. In no uncertain terms, submission to sex with someone we do not want to have sex with is rape. One statement alone would suppose that Scripture condones this. However, Paul here is indicating that within the confines of marriage and our marital sexual relationship, we must let go of ourselves. By submitting to each other, and remaining sexually active. We do the best for each other, keeping our marriage bed holy, and our temptation to wander at bay. Whatever our marriages are to be and whatever our sexual relationship is to be, it is to be a part of that portrait of Christ and the church. When we consider sex in this way, we must first asking, would this look like an accurate portrait of Christ and the church? Would this reflect Christ giving up his life for his bride? Would this reflect the church joyfully submitting to Christ? This thought process moves us away from self, and points us towards our spouse. What does all of this mean? This means that God’s instruction for married couples is that regular sex is not only good, but essential. Sex within the confines of marriage isn’t a suggestion, it is a command. However, just like with any sexual activity it must be done in a fashion that honors God.
Paul does tell us that it is permissible for couples to stop having sex, but only for a limited time and only if that limited time will be devoted to prayer. This is the only stipulation! While every marriage may go through seasons of sexlessness we must not abandon the sexual relationship altogether.
What happens when we compromise God’s standards here? Well right from 1 Corinthians 7 we see that we allow the possibility of sexual sin in our spouse. A husband who denies his wife is not protecting her from sexual sin. A wife who denies her husband is not protecting him from sexual sin. Abstaining from sex is selfish and unloving and compromising. (Challies, 2012, para. 10)
Scripture clearly indicates that sexual immorality is a gross sin that defiles mankind. We are instructed to flee from all sexual immorality. (1 Cor. 6:18). As believers we are one with the Holy Spirit in much the same way as one becomes one with another through sex, thus, sexual sin defiles the very Spirit of God. For those who cannot remain abstinent Paul offers that the sexuality should remain between a husband and wife. Not only that, but that sex should be regular so as to help to keep Satan from tempting us. Furthermore, the body of each believer is a temple in which God resides, and each one of us has a responsibility to “possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 The. 4b-5a). Failure to remain pure is not a rejection of man’s ideals, but a direct rejection of God (v. 7-8). Again, the way to remain pure is to pursue sanctification and to habitually flee from sexual temptation.
Sexual sin is different, Paul says, from all others; for it is the only sin that is committed against our own bodies. This sin is far more damaging than gluttony or drunkenness, it affects us at our very core. The Scriptures are full of warnings to avoid conforming to the world’s ideals in all areas of life. Sexual purity is one of the most identified areas in which believers must take care. From the very beginning God designed our sexuality around marriage and reproduction. It is an amazing part of a healthy marriage, but is quickly distorted and harmful to us when outside that realm. A worldly view of sexuality says that ‘if it feels good do it’; or that if both are consenting adults there is nothing wrong with it’. In fact, sex and sexuality is glorified in today’s society. The world no longer holds any stigma against pre-marital sex, and is even less likely to see pornography and masturbation as a problem. The problem is that this type of mindset leads to the spread of sexually transmitted diseases. If sex only occurred between married couples there would be no STDs. It also leads to a culture where people feel pressured into sexual activity or are held to the unrealistic expectations that are portrayed in pornography. Sexual promiscuity and pornography also has ties to the proliferation of drug use (Covenant Eyes, 2015, pgs.6-7).
The flip side, Paul tells us, is that when we live purely, keeping abstinent or confining our sexual activity and desires within marriage, we live far better. This scriptural view of sexuality tells us that when we follow Paul’s teaching we are sanctified, are able to serve God, and keep His holy temple (our bodies) pure. Additionally, we are far more satisfied in marriage, and less apt to be tempted. Paul also asserts that it isn’t just for our own sake that we should live in this manner, but that we should remember that our lives were bought with Christ’s sacrifice and “Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:17). Additionally, he reminds us that “For God has not called us for the purpose of impurity, but in sanctification. So, he who rejects this is not rejecting man but the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you” (1 The. 4:7-8). Ultimately, our sexual purity should be a response to the saving grace of God and the subsequent indwelling of the Holy Spirit within us.
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