Sexual Immorality – The Biblical Standard

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.

God’s Word

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)

Conclusion

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.

References

Best, E. (1977). The First and Second Epistles to the Thessalonians. London, G.B.: A.& C. Black Limited

Blankenbaker, F. (1989). What the Bible is All About: Quick Reference Edition. Ventura, CA: Regal Books

Blomberg, C. L. (1994). The NIV Application Commentary: 1 Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan

Challies, T. (2012). Compromising God’s Standards for Sexuality. Retrieved from http://www.challies.com/christian-living/compromising-gods-standards-for-sexuality

Covenant Eyes (2015). Pornography Statistics: 250+ facts, quotes, and statistics about pornography use (2015 Edition). (PDF). Retrieved from http://www.covenanteyes.com/resources/download-your-copy-of-the-pornography-statistics-pack/

Heimbach D., Blomberg, C., Strickland, W., Jones, P., Juster, D., Martin, F., … Holmes, R.A. (2004). The Colorado Statement on Biblical Sexual Morality. Retrieved from http://www.pureintimacy.org/t/the-colorado-statement-on-biblical-sexual-morality/

Keener, C. S. (1993). The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press

Lewis, C.S. (1952). Mere Christianity. New York, NY: Harper One.

McGee, J.V. (1977). 1 Corinthians. Pasadena, CA: Thru the Bible Books

McGee, J.V. (1978). 1 & 2 Thessalonians. La Verne, CA: El Camino Press

Morris, L. (1953). The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries: The First Epistle of Paul to the Corinthians. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company

Padfield, D. (2015). Corinth, Greece in the New Testament. Retrieved from http://www.padfield.com/2005/corinth.html

I Have a Dream, Too

As a 36 year old, white man who was raised in a middle class home, never wanting for anything… the epitome of white privilege (in italics for emphasis, not to de-legitimize the reality of it)… you might be wondering why I am bothering to write a blog post about civil rights and racism.  Well kick off your shoes and set awhile, because I’m about to tell you.  Yes, the title is a plug from one of the most famous civil rights speeches of all time; and, yes, I know that because I’m white what comes next better be damn good.  I hope I won’t disappoint you, or the memory of the late GREAT Martin Luther King, Jr.

We are in a bit of a weird spot right now as a society.  I’m just barely NOT a Millennial and just barely a Gen-Xer.  Regardless, most of the Gen-Xers were truly among the first to have parents who didn’t have racist thoughts regarding other colors of skin.  When I was a little boy, a family with African ancestry, a black family, moved in across the street from me.  To my parents, this was something to talk about. Not out of racism, but curiosity. While they talked about how a “black family” moved into the neighborhood, it was because they were the only ones, they were different in their looks, not worth less.  For me, all I saw was that they had a little boy the same age as me.  His name was LeAndre.  He became one of my best friends.  Most of us were never taught as a child that one race was better than another. Heck my mother was a hippie, free love, drugs and rock n’ roll.  My father was a police officer and later a human resources manager, who never uttered a racist comment that I EVER heard.  I’m fairly certain that the parents of the Millennials were even less inclined to do so.  Regardless, I can say with fair certainty, that neither generation hold nearly the racist tendencies that previous generations have.

This then, is why I am scratching my head at my fellow Gen-X, Y, Z-ers and Millennials who are all up in arms about the Oscars.  This is why I get so upset at the “Black Lives Matter” movement.  Not because black lives don’t matter, but because today’s society gets it, and I don’t think that the lack of black actors nominated for the Oscars has ANYTHING to do with race.  Marches and mass, violent, demonstrations don’t fix the current problems.  YES, we have an institutionalized privilege issue; but it isn’t just blacks who are affected.  Every minority, blacks, Asians, Hispanics, women… every one of them is underrepresented in every aspect of commercial, government and political systems.  However, there are new systems being put in place every day that are affecting more and more change. Ultimately, though, these groups are still truly minorities.  If we have equity amongst races, then, in reality the minorities will be OVER represented.

Why am I upset?  Because, like I said, we get it.  Today’s generations are changing the landscape, drastically, every stinking day.  These changes, take time… this isn’t an excuse, it’s fact.  Look, I don’t know a single person, not one, below the age of 70 who honestly believes that one race is superior to another.  Does that mean that they don’t exist?  Of course not, there will always be a few total idiots in society.  What I am seeing is a minority rising up against a majority that believes in their cause, because of another minority.  Let that sink in for a moment.

We, and I mean the collective we… as in ALL of us.  Are truly one race.  The human race.  The amazing thing is that most of the Western World gets this.  In our drive for equality, we are pushing beyond equality and now demanding equity.  Don’t believe me?  Look at Bernie Sanders’ polls.  Look if you like Bernie, I get it.  You want something better for this country, and some of his ideas sound fantastic.  I don’t want to get into a political discussion, but what Bernie represents is a perfect example of what I am pointing out.

We live in an age of ultra-sensitivity.  People aren’t allowed to feel pain anymore without it being a huge moral and ethical tragedy.  Heck, if I don’t feel guilty for being a white, middle class, Christian male, then I’m an insensitive prick.  What have we become?!  I have served in the military for over 16 years now.  I joined because I love this great country and everything that she stands for.  I believe, with every fiber of my being, that this country is something worth fighting for.  Heck, just the fact that I can type this means I am free.  Except, I’m not.  We have gone so far beyond equality, that we are now making it white people’s fault for the inequity in America.

Look, I’m not dismissing the fact that less than 100 years since the abolishment of slavery that there are still issues to overcome.  What I’m arguing is that EVERYONE that really matters, knows.  Let’s stop fighting about it, and work together.  Isn’t that what equality is all about?  It’s not about everyone having the same things.  It’s about everyone having the same chances.  At the end of the day, if everyone wins, then nobody wins.  Equity, is the enemy of a fully functional society.

So… once again, I Have a Dream:

I have a dream that every man, woman, and child will be seen as a human being, equal, regardless of skin color or sex.  We are all one race, the human race.

I have a dream that we will stop expecting the government to help us, or help others, and we will all reach out and lend a hand, or give when we can.

I have a dream that those that succeed will be praised, rather than scrutinized. That we will stop judging someone’s harvest before we take a look at what they have sowed.

I have a dream that EVERY man, woman and child will be treated the same, and judged based on merit, rather than forcing a quota based on skin color or sex. That “participation trophies” will be thrown in the trash where they belong.   This means that the best comes out on top, regardless of color or sex, without riots and boycotts seeking to create equity. Life isn’t fair, and when we decide that it is, we will always be disappointed.  We are raising a generation that will be so weak, and sensitive, that it won’t be able to face the real world.

I have a dream that whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics in will come together to help decrease crime in the whole of society, most of which occurs color on color.  There is no denying the numbers.

I have a dream that we will also embrace our own uniqueness.  Once upon a time, all of mankind spoke the same language and had the same culture.  In the Bible, this ended with the Tower of Babel.  While the new covenant means that we ARE meant to live, love and grow together, we aren’t meant to throw off our heritage and culture.  This melting pot we call the United States would be nothing special if it weren’t for our many personalities.  Our differences make us great.

Ultimately, though, I have a dream that we will conquer all of these things with love.  For Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails.  And in love, neither will we.

 

 

 

The Love Crisis

There is a crisis going on in our society today. There are more people on this planet than ever before, and yet people are lonelier than they have ever been. We reach out on social media (yes I see the irony here) and have hundreds of “friends” yet we know less about all of them combined, than our parent’s did about their neighbors.

We, I, don’t have a people problem, but a heart problem. We have lost our hearts to the things of the world. We live on superficial relationships, that offer nothing to either party but a kind word, or a smile. Deep friendships, the kind developed over years of laughing and crying together, are the rarest commodity. We, as a society, throw away human life as if it is garbage, and divide ourselves over flags, lions, and legal definitions.

We have rearranged our priorities in life and placed money, things and ideals over the very thing that should bind us together. Love. This world is sorely lacking in love. Oh sure, we “love” our friends, and our families, but the idea that passes for love in today’s society is nothing more than a word, sometimes attached to a feeling. If this love was real love, friendships wouldn’t be so easily discarded, promises broken or families divided.

The few people that display real love are often the loneliest of all. Those people truly understand what love is, and they give it every second of every day, but almost never really receive it. Oh sure, people give them love back, but it’s the cheap kind of love that society has produced. It’s like beholding the beauty of a gemstone, picking the most beautiful one, and giving it away to someone; only to have them hand you back a plastic dime store stone, never understanding the difference.

You see once you understand what real love is, anything else is cheap, and ugly. Search your heart. There is a place deep down where real love exists. Maybe it’s just a spark, or a fading ember, but it’s there. It’s time to stoke the fire, and add fuel. It’s time to take a stand for something that really matters. Love. If we learn to love again, truly love one another, then everything else will fade away.

A New Christian Reformation

Today’s Christianity in America, and much of the First World, has become more concerned with how the world affects the Church than how the Church can affect the world.  Many Christians are concerned about stopping the onset of secularism in their society.  This seems like a good thing, upholding Biblical principles in society; but, the methods and motives behind these movements usually aren’t Christ-like.  It seems that much of the church is more concerned about maintaining our comfort, and safety than reaching out to a broken and hurting world.  Dr. Paul Louis Metzger asks “What kingdom are we really after, Christ’s Kingdom or American privilege?” (Manning & Merchant, 2008).  The strange part about this truth is that most Christians have no idea that their motives, methods and causes are misguided.  Ask a non-Christian, however, and they will point it out as one of the biggest reasons why they aren’t a Christian.  There are even Christians who are afraid to admit their belief, because so many of Christ’s followers have it all wrong.

How long before evangelical Christianity is destroyed in America?  Well, assuming we agree that it hasn’t already happened, Dr. Tony Campolo believes that we have less than 25 years (Manning & Merchant, 2008).  The good news is that there are people like Gabe Lyons who are marching towards a new horizon in the Church; a modern day reformation, if you will.  Lyons (2010) says “As Christians, we must work for the peace, security, justice, and prosperity of our neighbors.  We have a responsibility to be in service to the good of our cities while we remain grounded in Christ” (pg. 200).  How do we do this?  How do we break free of our instinctual, society bred, need for self-preservation to serve others?  How do we return Christianity to every sector of society without violence, alienation and protest? The concept is simple, but the application will be one of the toughest battles the Church has ever fought.  We must cease trying to be the mouth of Jesus and learn to, truly, be His hands and feet.

Our Big Mouth

From very early in the history of the Church we have used violence and hatred as a tool to attempt to mold the world.  When we finally realized that killing and violence weren’t working, we started spewing our hatred with our voices.  Our motivation is our hatred for sin, but what we display is hatred for people, and a twisted interpretation of God’s Word.  Pastor Rick Warren said “The Church is the body of Christ, and for the last 50 years the hands and the feet have been amputated, and all we’ve been is a big mouth” (Manning & Merchant, 2008).  Ouch.  This quote places the blame for the world’s animosity towards Christians right where it belongs, squarely on the shoulders of those same Christians.  We have forgotten that hating sin does not allow us to hate the sinner.  Oh, sure, we’ll spout the rhetoric “hate the sin, not the sinner”; but, the rest of our actions speak far louder than this simple, empty phrase.  For these reasons Christianity is not seen by society as a light, but rather, a sidebar, a nuisance, a petulance from a less enlightened time.  The frightening reality is that our own failures have ensured that “The effort to see America formally defined and characterized according to Judeo-Christian ideals has been lost” (Lyons, 2010, pg. 27).

The reality of the Gospel has gotten lost in translation by most of today’s Christians.  We see someone openly sinning and feel the need to step out and point out their sin.  We protest the loss of family values and the sanctity of life and marriage on the streets, but ignore them in our own homes.  We protest gay marriage on the courthouse steps, but not the divorces taking place between heterosexual Christians in that same courthouse.  It’s not that our hearts are in the wrong place.  A heart changed by God is broken for the same things that break God’s heart.  The problem is that we are molding God around our own prejudices and thoughts rather than allowing God to mold us.  More to the point, we are spewing our own interpretation of God’s truth to people who don’t even know Him.  We say that we are doing it out of love and concern for people; but, true love has never made someone feel hated.

The problem with our current tactic is that God doesn’t need us to speak for Him, or even to shove His words in someone else’s face.  God has already spoken, and His Word is available to all.  With the help of pastors, teachers, apostles, and the Spirit, any who desires can study and learn the truth contained in the pages of Scripture.  It’s time for God’s followers to talk less and do more.  It’s time to display God’s love through actions and not words.  If we are acting for God, we really don’t have to talk about Him at all.  People will see Him in us and be drawn to him.   It’s time to follow the very Word that we throw around.  1 Peter 4:8-10 says:

Above all, keep fervent in your love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins.  Be hospitable to one another without complaint. As each one has received a special gift, employ it in serving one another as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. (1 Peter 4:8-10, NASB)

It’s time to be the body of Christ, and not just His mouth.

 What Now?

Christ was a man of action; He went about performing miracles and helping people.  When He taught, it was only then that they came to Him.  He never forced anyone to listen to Him, and He treated everyone with love and compassion.  Thus far in this paper we have discussed ways in which our big mouth has caused the church to be branded with the sins of strife, intolerance and hatred.  All is not lost, however, for there is a movement stirring amongst many Christians.  An understanding is dawning that the old way of doing things isn’t working, and was never right anyway.  “Americans are spiritual, but they have begun to seek spiritual experiences outside the framework of traditional religions” (Lyons, 2010, pg. 27).  This says something about the state of the Church vs the state of God.   He’s working, we aren’t.  Those that understand this have been dubbed the NEXT Christians by Gabe Lyons (2010).  What is it that these people understand that the rest don’t; and, how do we use this to reach the world for Christ?  They understand that it isn’t about teaching people the Gospel through words, tracts, or even rallies; but about being Christ to the world, through action.

For some, this means giving up the marble pillared malls, fancy cars and extreme comfort and heading off to the mission field.  For most, however, it’s about displaying love right where they are.  A joyful coworker or employee can change the entire atmosphere of an office or job site.  A dutiful servant husband or wife can change the entire family, both inside and outside the home.  Swarms of church goers serving a hot meal for the homeless, while never once proclaiming the Gospel, still leaves the imprint of God on the city.   Business owners who offer a fair price for excellent products, without gimmicks or false promises, returns a sense of trust to the community.

You see, while society thrives on quick fixes and instant gratification, Christians need to do and expect the opposite.  It’s time to return to the core of what Christianity is, to who Christ is, to the FULL Gospel.  The full Gospel begins with restoration and ends with salvation, and is preached with action, not words.  As we use our hands, feet and hearts to restore people and situations to wholeness, then the conversations will begin that lead to salvation.  By feeding the hungry, clothing the needy, showing compassion to a stranger, coworker or sibling, we open the door of our hearts, and the love of God spills out.  This type of love is far more powerful than any words we currently spew outside courthouses or abortion clinics.  It also produces the kind of salvation that is real, lasting; and, that alters the very fabric of society.

Only through the restoration of the hearts can we ever expect the minds to change.  As we work together to display Christ to the world, we will slowly see His face again in culture.  We will likely still see scripture removed from courthouses, and sinful things becoming legal and acceptable.  The difference is, though, that we will see a restoral of true love, tolerance and acceptance.  Believers and non-believers will be working side-by-side to combat the problems that plague all of us.  Conversations about motivations, hearts and love will take place.  Sinful things that were once glorified, won’t go away, but they won’t matter anymore.   What will matter is taking care of the person next to you, and loving everyone will become common place.  All of this will ultimately lead to people being saved.  The truth will no longer be seen as something to be hiding from.  The Gospel of love will be lived, not just talked about wistfully.

Conclusion

Since only a few hundred years after her commission the Church has become everything she should not have.  Instead of the bastion of hope, joy, love and grace that she was created for, she has become something much worse.  Today she is known by non-believers as hateful, intolerant, closed-minded, selfish and something to be rid of.  Few statements capture the state of the Church more succinctly that the words of St. Augustine: “The church is a whore, but she’s my mother.”  While the Church has failed at almost every part of the great commission, and at loving everyone, she has still carried the truth forward.  This is good news, because it means we still have the means to set it all right.  It’s time for a new approach.  Gone are the days of setting up mass salvation revivals, and traveling crusades.  Oh sure, they will still draw a crowd, but real change for the world doesn’t happen there.  Real change happens at work, in business, under a bridge, or in a third world country.  It happens through closing our mouths, opening our hearts, and using our hands and feet to serve others.  It’s time to restore humanity’s trust in humanity.

It may seem counter to everything that we have ever been taught in church.  Putting away the tracts, stop pushing salvation and start providing restoration.  However, the truth is that this is what the world needs.  She needs restoration of the heart and a renewed trust in being loved, not judged.  Gabe Lyons (2010) nails it when he says:

The fact is, where Christians restore, people get saved.  And the perception these new converts have of what it means to be Christians is pure and unmistakable.  When someone’s introduction to Christ comes through an encounter with real grace, love and an invitation to a better way, it’s likely to reproduce in the same result. (pg. 209).

Finally, it’s time to stop pretending that we have it all figured out, too.  Just because we have experienced what God has to offer, doesn’t make us any better, or any less of a sinner than those that haven’t; “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23).  It simply means that we have been covered by grace, and are thus now more aware of the Law.  It isn’t our place to share the Law with people.  The Spirit will convict people when He knows them ready.  Instead, we are to teach people about love and grace through how we treat them.

“Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth” (1 John 3:18).

References

Lyons, G. (2008).  Cultural Influence: An opportunity for the church. Retrieved from http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/1550/cultural-influence-an-opportunity-for-the-church/

Lyons, G. (2010). The Next Christians: Seven ways you can live the gospel and restore the world. Colorado Springs, CO: Multnomah Books

Manning, J. (Producer), & Merchant, D. (Director). (24 October 2008). Lord, Save Us from Your Followers [Motion picture]. United States: Thunderstruck Films.