October 26, 2014.
“Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
(I Thessalonians 4:1-8)
I wasn’t sure what I was going to write about today, so I thought that it might just be time to write about the subject that, if I’m honest, has been hight on my list of topics to avoid. I didn’t want to avoid it because I’m not sure about it or because it’s not truth, but because of the stark difference of this teaching and that of society. As we progress further and further into this post-modern age, society is getting more and more intolerant to any teaching that applies immorality to any aspect of sexuality, save for rape (for the time being at least). The world does not like standards, and honestly it is not our place to judge the world by the standards that we live by though Christ. That’s not to say that sin is okay as long as you aren’t a Christian, but to say that God will indeed be the judge in this case. It is our job to preach the gospel to them which in turn will hopefully convict them of their sin leading to repentance and salvation.
However, it seems that societies acceptance of more and more is an ideology that influences many of us who bear the name of Christ. I cannot say that this is a new phenomenon, as Paul was dealing with it in the Corinthian church (I Cor. 5), which was located in a very pagan and immoral city. In the same way that this evil crept in amongst some in the church at that time, today too can we see the same. Tolerance of promiscuity is on the rise, and with it the inherent intolerance of intolerance (this is referred to as the paradox of tolerance). There are many in the church that don’t see this as persecution but rather as Christians simply not accepting what is right and good. This is often where we get phrases like “Well, God would want me to be happy,” or “God doesn’t really care if I do this.” Oh really? The problem with these two statements is that they are in no way based on Scripture, nor do that even line up with the given principles in the word. They are opinions of mere man that are designed to justify a sin as opposed to repenting from it.
Paul uses a strong phrase in this passage to the Thessalonians. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification…” For this is the will of God? That might as well be a “Thus saith the Lord.” It is interesting to me that when Paul is talking about sanctification and holiness in this passage, he relates to only one sin- sexual immorality. He doesn’t say that we are to be sanctified from drunkenness or that we are to be set apart by good works (though both of these plays a role), but he says that the specific impurity we are to abstain from is sexual impurity. Why does Paul focus on this? I don’t know the specific reasons, but I can definitely speculate. This was probably a big problem in Thesslonica as it was in Corinth. The culture around them taught that sexuality was to be worshiped basically, as temple prostitutes were common. Rome in general was too a haven of sexual immorality for both homosexuality and heterosexuality. Secondly, Paul emphasizes elsewhere the impurity of sexual immorality as compared to other sins:
“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.”
(I Corinthians 6:13b-18)
(It is interesting to note that Paul seems to strongly correlate sex and marriage in this passage, almost equating the two, but that is a topic for another day) Paul says that sexual immorality is a sin against your own body, and in the next verse he goes on to remind us that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. It is not a stretch, then, to understand the importance placed on this kind of immorality by God. Sure, sin is sin as it relates to our separation from God, but that does not mean that all sin is the same or has the same consequences (besides the ultimate separation of God, of course). We are called to live a life of holiness, and by that calling we are to abstain from sexual immorality in any of it’s form, no matter how hard it is to do so, especially in the society in which we live.
This is a hard statement, a statement that the world doesn’t like. I believe part of the world’s distaste for the Christian standard (beside the inherent distaste for a standard at all) is the way we go about teaching this standard. When you think of sexual immorality and the teaching of the church, what do you think about first? Probably homosexuality. This is because we seem to like to bash on this sin loudly and often (probably because it is one of the easiest for us to say “look, I don’t do this sin”) without much regard for the rest of the category. Sure, homosexuality is sexually immoral. But is it any more immoral than my lustful thoughts? Is it any more sexually immoral than your lustful look? Jesus said this:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”
We forget that Christ made some very hard statements. Adultery is committed by a simple lustful look, and if you don’t think adultery is a “big” sin in God’s eyes, I would encourage you to read the book of Malachi. The lust that wars inside my body, if allowed to operate, will cast my soul into hell just as quickly as any other sin that we would choose to harp on. Does that diminish the sin of homosexuality? No. It just puts it into perspective. Sexual immorality is a sin that all of us (well, I guess I can’t speak for everyone, but most of the people I’ve have ever talked to about it would agree) struggle with. Perhaps this is why this sin is talked about so often in the bible. It is the only sin to my knowledge that we are told to flee from (I Cor. 6:18). We are not told to stand up to it and try to be brave and overcome it. We are told to run and run fast. When Joseph was faced with this temptation from Potipher’s wife who wanted him to have sex with her, he got out of the situation as quickly as he could, leaving his coat in the process. He ran. We are to run, for this is a sin that easily besets us.
It is the will of God for us to be sanctified. We are called to be holy. The problem with this sin is that it is so easily justifiable. “We didn’t mean for it to happen… it just did,” or “I was just looking… you can look as long as you don’t touch, right?” Not according to the words of Jesus. It is also a sin that easily creeps in unnoticed as we are often guided by our own lusts. When David went stayed home from battle when he should have went out with the other kings, you couldn’t necessarily say that he was sinning. When he walked on his roof (which I’m sure he had done before and knew what he could see from it), you couldn’t necessarily say he was sinning. If he “accidentally” saw Bathsheba bathing (if he would have quickly adverted his eyes), I suppose you could make the argument that he wasn’t technically “sinning”. But all these things led to major sin in David’s life. Yet the path that got him there was so subtle that he didn’t even realize what he had done! After all the dust was settled and he had committed adultery with Uriah’s wife and then had him killed in battle to cover it up, God sent Nathan the prophet to David who tells him a story that was a parable for what David had done. When Nathan gets done, David doesn’t realize the story is about him.
“Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man, and he said to Nathan, “As the Lord lives, the man who has done this deserves to die, and he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.” Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, ‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you out of the hand of Saul. And I gave you your master’s house and your master’s wives into your arms and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah. And if this were too little, I would add to you as much more. Why have you despised the word of the Lord, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and have taken his wife to be your wife and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.”
(II Samuel 12:5-9)
“You are the man!” What a powerful statement. But we have to consider that we might be in need of this wake up call. At times, I am the man, as Nathan said to David. At times, you are the man or woman. The fact that we might not realize the sin that we are in does not change God’s view on sin, nor does it change the definition of sin. Just because some human doesn’t like a certain commandment does not make it any less of a commandment. Our call is to be pure and holy, and this is a hard battle to fight for most of us, myself more than included. But we must be strong, and we must flee from sexual immorality. That means we are going to have to do some things that are simply not comfortable. We are going to have to put safeguards on what we do, and carefully evaluate our decisions before we make them. A good rule of thumb might be that if you have to really consider whether you should be in a certain situation, such as a late night movie alone with just a “friend”, you probably shouldn’t. That’s a harsh line to draw, but I think it is a necessary one. “Flee from sexual immorality” does not mean “get as close as you can to it without stepping over the line.” You will step over the line. You are not that strong. What we must do is not be in the situation in the first place. This is how we safeguard. Hard? Yes. But we are called to be holy. We are called to be pure.
We cannot stay pure by continually jumping over puddles of mud.
Suggested Daily Reading: II Samuel 11-12, Matthew 5, I Corinthians 5-6, II Thessalonians 4.
The Lord bless you and keep you.