This is post 5 of 7 in the series “RELATIONSHIP RESCUE - JESUS STYLE”
Relationship Rescue – Jesus Style: Sex, Lies And The Christian Faith
I Thessalonians 4:1-6
“Sex without strings, relationships without rings.” That’s the title of a just-published study by Rutgers University. The study documents the case that for the majority of young people in America today romance and marriage are out while casual sex and low-commitment relationships are in. Young people now are more concerned with economic and sexual self-gratification. The report states that young Americans today:
- favor living together as a tryout for marriage or as an alternative to marriage
- think sex is for fun and has no strings attached
- have a fear of divorce
- see marriage and divorce as a potential economic liability
Sex without strings, relationships without rings. That clever line captures a pervasive truth in the time in which we are living. A few months back there was PBS special telecast entitled: “The Lost Children of Rockdale County”. It was a hard, harsh look at the moral substance and sexual experience of the teenagers in the affluent town of Conyers, Georgia. The picture was not pretty: “Significant numbers of teenagers involved in extreme sexual behavior, a secret world of sex that functioned, as one boy put it, ‘like an underground railroad with everybody having sex with everybody’ in which the only clueless people were the adults.”
The Rutgers study and the PBS special are among a host of books, articles, documentaries and sociological studies which deliver a veritable expose’ of the sexual practices of modem America. And frankly, it ought to provide a wake-up call to the church, moving us to articulate in more winsome and significant ways the Biblical standards for chaste and moral relationships. I am convinced that the church in our time is called to create a culture which celebrates purity because the culture around us offers anything but that. Teenagers and singles trying to be sexually pure can feel terribly isolated. One of the more poignant scenes in “The Lost Children of Rockdale County” shows three girls, virgins by Christian conviction, who have been rejected by their peers and who spend their weekends together shopping for clothes for dates and parties that don’t exist. In a culture that lacks social support for sexual purity those who choose that lifestyle pay a higher price than previous generations.
I wish I didn’t have to talk about this. If you only knew how uncomfortable I am talking about this anywhere, but especially from the pulpit—but I feel that I have no choice. In this hypersexualized culture of ours, right at half of all 15-year-old boys and girls have had sexual intercourse. (Christianity Today) Younger and younger children are buying the lies about sexual practice which our culture is producing. I wish we didn’t have to bring the subject to church, but where else is truth going to be told? At least, I am somewhat comforted by the knowledge that the Bible deals honestly, forthrightly, faithfully and truthfully with this whole matter of pure and moral relationships. Take for example this passage from I Thessalonians 4. Paul uses frank, hard-hitting, even indelicate words to deliver the truth. Listen: “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from fornication; that each one of you know how to control your own body in holiness and honor; not with lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one wrong or exploit a brother or a sister…for God did not call us to impurity, but in holiness.”
How clear is that? May I then, with a measure of discomfort but with a mountain of conviction, try to apply this marvelous Word from God to the time in which we are living?
The first thing I want to do is to contrast the real with the ideal.
There was a movie not long ago called Casual Sex. That’s an oxymoron. There is no such thing as casual sex. You see, sex involves two people and once you involve another person in anything it is casual no longer—for you are dealing with another person whom God has made, and there’s nothing casual about that. Sigmund Freud was wrong about a lot of things, but he was right about this: Our sexual behavior affects every dimension of our human experience. When we violate the basic premises of a true sexual relationship, then all of the fear, guilt and anxiety is going to burst through the trap-door of our lives and begin to haunt us and when we are haunted, we end up spooking the society around us. When the sexual lives and practices of the people in any society have descended to the level of casual, meaningless, impure and immoral, then, inevitably that society has crumbled. So when the reality of our time is that sex has become a sport, marriage has too often become what we might call “serial polygamy” and fidelity is laughed at as being Victorian or puritanical, is it any wonder that hearts are broken and homes are smashed and children are bent and our society is decaying—any wonder indeed?
Of course, we in the Christian faith do not simply denounce the wrong-headedness of the real, but we also proclaim the rightness of the ideal. We do not merely condemn the way in which many are walking, but we declare with fervor that there is a better way to walk. The Christian faith offers an ideal that the gift of sexual intimacy is intended by God to be shared only in the context of a life-long commitment between a man and a woman in marriage. This is not a lie; this is what is true. Sexual loving apart from marriage between a man and a woman is out of bounds, off limits—not because sex is so bad but because it’s holy. It is set apart for special use. It is not now and never has been for casual indulgence. So Paul says here: “Abstain from fornication…know how to control your own body.” That Christian ideal must be forcefully and forthrightly proclaimed.
Understand me, please. God is always dealing with imperfect people—I know it, because He’s having to deal with me. But imperfect people ought not to be encouraged to be more imperfect. Instead, we who are imperfect ought to be challenged to constantly strive toward attaining the ideal. For it is in the striving and the reaching that we are made better and stronger people.
Now give me a moment, please, to speak to our young people. I got a letter the other day from a man who teaches in our schools. He said that the vast majority of the students he knows claim to be sexually active, engaging repeatedly in physical relationships and he sees no way to change that. Well, I believe that what Paul wrote to Titus is true—that the renewing power of the Holy Spirit can change us. If you believe in Jesus Christ, then you can never say, “I cannot change.” So young people, please listen up for a moment.
The body and the soul are inextricably tied together. The body is not just the baggage the soul carries around nor is the soul is just a bubble of air encased in the body. The two are united. That means that all physical relationships are both profoundly personal and profoundly spiritual. When we make love with someone in the back of a car, we can’t leave our souls parked outside. When we sell, loan or give away our bodies, we are also selling, loaning or giving away part of our souls. Therefore, when we use another person’s body for the fulfillment of our own fantasies or for the satisfaction of our own desires, or for a moments thrill and pleasure, that is an assault upon that person, a violation of that person is. When we do that we not only desecrate the other person, we also desecrate ourselves. Why do you think that prostitutes are unable to have healthy, romantic personal lives themselves? It’s because they have given so much of themselves away that there is nothing left to give. Why do you think, and statistics prove it, that people who have had serial physical relationships or people who have chosen to live together have a significantly diminished chance at a successful marriage? It’s because they have taken so much from others and have had so much taken from themselves that there is nothing left on which to build a marriage.
Thankfully, more and more young people are waking up to this truth. A recent survey by the National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy reveals that two out of three teenagers who have had sex say that they wish that they had waited—with the percentage rising to 72% for girls. Moreover, eight out of ten teens say that they and their peers should not be having sex. So, my young friends, I’m not trying to get in the way of your fun—I’m trying to show you the kind of fun that lasts for a lifetime. And it is not my purpose today to lay a guilt trip upon anyone. Instead, it is my purpose to point us all to a higher way, a better way, a wiser way, the ideal way that God would have us to walk.
The next thing I want to do is to help us transform the real into the ideal.
What I am about to share is intended both for those who are not married and for those who are married. Sexual practices in this society are creating havoc not only in the lives of those who are single, but also those who are married. Paul says: “Abstain from fornication (sex outside marriage)…know how to control your own body.” Here then are four suggestions to help us, married or single, to stay true to Paul’s teaching and to God’s ideal.
Suggestion #1—Beware of the vulnerable times. Remember, please, that temptation in and of itself is not a sin. Jesus was tempted. It may shock you to think about this, but Jesus was single, and therefore, Jesus was tempted sexually. It says in the Letter to the Hebrews 4:15 that we have a Christ “who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” There is no temptation which we face which Jesus has not already faced—the difference between Jesus and us is that Jesus did not yield to the temptation. Paul, at least at this point in his life, was single, and Paul knew temptation. That’s why I believe he says so forcefully: “Abstain…control your own body.” To be tempted toward sex is not sin, but to yield to that temptation is sin. I love what Martin Luther once said about temptation: “We can’t be held accountable if a bird lands on our head, but we certainly are accountable if the bird builds a nest there.” We need to recognize that there are times when our physical desires are running at the flood, and then we are most vulnerable to yielding to temptation. At such times we must be especially on our guard.
Suggestion #2—Choose the right friends. Surround yourself with other people as friends who share your view of the proper role of sex and marriage in the Christian faith. It doesn’t mean that you can’t have some non-Christian friends along the way. It does mean that you will build your deepest friendships with people who share your own values and your own faith. If you are around friends who regard no-commitment sex no big deal, if you are around people who see divorce as harmless, if you are around people who think that a faithful, lifetime commitment is not very important, then I promise you you will catch those values just as you would catch a cold. Choose the right friends.
Suggestion #3—Behave sensibly with the opposite sex. Hear this please. Appearance is everything. When you take care of how things look, then you take care of how things are. One of the secrets of Dr. Billy Graham’s amazing success for Christ is the fact that at the beginning of his ministry he made some hard, fast commitments to those to whom he was accountable. One of those commitments was that he would never find himself in a situation where he was alone with another woman other than his wife, Ruth. He will tell you today that he has never had so much as a meal with another woman alone. Jerry Jenkins says: “Two’s company, three’s security.” Mark that down. If in the course of your daily life you have to be in the presence of a person of the opposite sex for a meal or a meeting or a trip, then regardless of the cost or inconvenience, take a third person. Two’s company, three’s security. Behave sensibly. When you take care of how things look, then you take care of how things are.
Suggestion #4—Reject improper invitations or advances. When someone invites or encourages you to do something wrong, it is not a compliment, it’s an attack upon God, upon our faith, upon our society, upon our nation. It’s an attack upon us. It must be rebuked and rejected. The only answer is to just say no. Do you remember Joseph in the Old Testament encountering a woman with immoral designs upon him? What did Joseph do? He ran out of the house. It cost him his job and it cost him time in jail, but he kept himself right for the service of God. Therefore, when you are confronted with an opportunity for wrong-doing, reject it and run away. Don’t look back. Run. That’s not the chicken’s way out, that’s the Christian’s way out.
I’m not calling us to be perfect. I’m sure not perfect. None of us are. But with Paul, I am calling us, imperfect though we are, to be constantly striving to reach God’s ideal in our lives.
Well, let me finish with this
Years ago, the famous explorers Lewis and Clark set out to blaze a trail across the Rockies to the Pacific Ocean. They took with them a French guide. His name was Toussaint Charbonneau, and he brought along his Indian wife named Sacajawea. Life was tough, harsh, lonely and demanding for these men in the untamed wilderness. Each night Charbonneau would offer his wife to the men for a price. And each night Lewis and Clark would refuse. At a critical point in the journey, the expedition needed fresh horses and supplies and so they approached the chief of a nearby Indian tribe for help. The chief replied in broken English: “No help white man. White man lie and cheat.” At that moment Sacajawea stepped forward and said: “These men are different. They keep their promises even to their wives back home.” She then told of the nights by the campfire and the refusal of these men to do wrong. The chief then gave them the supplies they needed and ultimately they reached the Pacific Ocean. Their achievement was based on their morality. Women and men with that kind of commitment to God and to goodness have made this nation great. In the midst of a society where anything goes and where standards are all but gone, I long to see among us that kind of commitment to God and to goodness. I long for someone to point at us and say: “These people are different. They keep their promises to the Lord and to each other.”
Thank you, God, for helping me to get through this one