Friday, November 6, 2009

Christians in an X-rated World

This is sermon #15 from my long-ago First Corinthians series. It was written, if you can imagine, before the Internet was such a common presence in our homes. If the battle for sexual purity was intense when I wrote this about 20 years ago (and it was), then how much more today. Satan has a highway from hell that comes straight into our computers if we open the gate. Please don't do it!

1 Corinthians 6:12-20


This is not a subject I gladly come to in a sermon. One of the advantages, though, of preaching through a book of the Bible is that one takes what comes; there is little chance of riding a favorite hobby horse, nor, if one is honest, avoiding some of the hard things we read in the Scriptures.

The next several sermons will focus on some facet of sexuality. That is good, because we need a word from God about our sexuality. We are sexual. We are male and female, and that affects the way we think and act with one another in this world. We are all the more affected because this world is fallen, and the fall has distorted our sexuality. We need a word from God.

At the same time, this is a hard subject to address. It can be depressing. It can be disgusting. It is hard for me to know when I have said enough or too much. Some of you may have opposite opinions, some thinking I did say too much while others feel the need for even more explicitness.

We live in our own Corinth today. Corinth was an X-rated world when Paul wrote this. William Barclay quotes an early Greek, Demosthenes, saying:

“We keep prostitutes for pleasure; we keep mistresses for the day to day needs of the body; we keep wives for the begetting of children and for the faithful guardianship of our homes." So long as a man supported his wife and family there was no shame whatsoever in extra-marital affairs.

That was the moral climate in which the Corinthian Christians lived. That was the attitude Paul was calling to holiness.

We live in our own Corinth. I remember going quite regularly to one of the local drug-stores when I was about thirteen to browse through the monthly issues of Playboy and Cavalier. That caused no little struggle when I surrendered to Jesus, and later, even in my marriage. Back then it was nude women in mostly demure positions with a wisp of fabric strategically placed so that the genitals were concealed. That was over 25 years ago.

Today one can go into a store that sells "adult magazines" and be confronted with myriads of titles, some of which cannot be repeated in public by decent people. Inside these magazines today you will find full male and female nudity. And they do not stop with mere nudity; there are simulated sex scenes of men with women and women with women, portraying manual and oral fondling of genitals. Such magazines are openly displayed in many small towns in our country.

And not just magazines –– one can also rent videos that do not stop at simulation. These videos offer any kind of sexual variation the fallen mind can concoct: straight, lesbian, oral, anal, and all kinds of combinations. And the reason those things are available is because people (many and all kinds of people) rent them. Some people who go to church look at such regularly.

I talked with a Christian psychological counselor. He told me that he sees little difference in the lives of professing Christians who come to him compared to non-Christians. People who come to see him are sleeping around outside of marriage, feeding on pornography, and getting involved in extra-marital and homosexual affairs. He told me of a ten-year-old boy who is already sexually active.

There are phone numbers where a person can call and either get a recording of a woman detailing what she would do if she were there or a live conversation willing to lead in any fantasy the caller wants to pursue. I read of two boys, thirteen and fourteen, and an eleven-year-old girl who called one of those numbers. Following the phone call the boys forced the girl to do all the things they had just heard.

Young people today are afraid to admit they are virgins –– if they are! Virginity is jokingly called the horrible disease that comes with a simple cure. Sex is used to sell any and everything in magazine ads and on TV. Calvin Klein jeans advertisements have half-nude men and women in suggestive poses, and I do not mention this one brand because it stands alone. Everywhere we look our culture is obsessed and reeling with sexual immorality. That is what Paul is talking about here in I Corinthians 6.

In v13 we find the body is not meant for sexual immorality and in v18 flee from sexual immorality. The Greek word is porneia, which means prostitution or any other sexual wrong. It's the basis for our word, pornography. I am sorry for being so explicit about the kinds of things that are around us today, but if I merely talk about sexual immorality in a general kind of way, many would not know how stark and pervasive it is, and some who do (among whom are our youth) would yawn and tune out one more predictable morality lecture.

There are two reasons why this sermon is necessary. The first is that sexuality is so powerful. Don't think those advertisers do not know what they are doing. There is something about sex that grabs our attention and holds it. Don't think the people who produce and market pornography do not know that once a person gets hooked, he or she wants more and more. Don't think, young person, that you are the exception –– that you can be alone with a girl or boy friend in a compromising situation and not be tempted beyond your ability to say no. Don't think, married man or woman, that you can feed that fantasy of another person and come out unscathed. And let's not any of us think we can uncritically absorb the stuff that comes at us through the media without our moral fibre breaking down. We live in Corinth! Ours is an X-rated world.

Sexuality is even more powerful because of the lies that we use to rationalize wrong behaviors. That was one thing Paul recognized in the Corinthians. One was the line of argument in v13: food for the stomach and the stomach for food. The Greek view of life at that time regarded sexual activity as just as natural, necessary and justifiable as eating and drinking. Sexual abstinence was regarded as unnatural and even harmful. "If it feels good, do it."

That line of thought obviously has not died. Some secular psychologists and sociologists today try to say that sexual suppression causes mental illness and social inhibitions with resulting frustration, and even violence. Don't you think it is odd that we have far more frustration and violence today when sexual freedom runs rampant than a hundred years ago in what is today sneeringly called "Victorian prudishness?"

Another lie Paul had to deal with was a perversion of the gospel. He starts his comments in v12 with something the Corinthians were saying to justify their immorality: everything is permissible for me. Is a Christian free to do any and everything? Does Christian profession and baptism mean you can sleep around and feed on pornography and yet get by with it? Paul asked the same question of the Romans: Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? His answer was, "By no means! How can people who have died to sin continue to live in it?"

Another variation of the Corinthians' rationalizing was the idea that what they did with their bodies did not matter. The body was temporal anyway, and what mattered was what was on the inside. It took Paul to remind them that what is on the inside is seen by what happens on the outside. Those who have hearts for God in the inside act like it on the outside.

New lies come up –– things that Paul does not explicitly mention (but you might be surprised at how much is here for those who are willing to see!). One subject today that is rife with lies is “freedom.” The foundation of "pro-choice" is that we should be free to do with our bodies whatever we choose. Of course it is mostly connected with women and abortion, but it goes beyond that. "It's my body" and "reproductive freedom" means she is free to sleep around with whomever without reaping the full fruit of the action. For the homosexual, "freedom" means the right to have sex apart from the laws of nature (which by the way are consistent with the moral laws of the Creator). Such thinking does not want to consider what "freedom" would mean for the man who desires young children.

Whatever else our culture might call these things, God's Word calls it porneia –– a prostitution of what God meant when he created sexuality. The problem is that when human culture rejects God's truth, there is no truth. That is yet another lie: there is no absolute right or wrong. The culture tries to say that sex is the same as love. Men say to women, "If you love me you'll do it." Women do it hoping desperately that along with the heat of passion they will get a bit of tenderness and true care. Men and women keep doing it, believing that more is better. We judge each other by our bodies, believing the lie that a perfect body will give perfect satisfaction, and that physical satisfaction is the most important thing in the world. We are told the excitement can’t last with the same old person; it is assumed that “looking” certainly won’t hurt anything. The goal is “safe sex,” and that only means a condom. We never hear anything about sex that is wrong. All such attitudes are what the Bible calls porniea –– sexual immorality.

I read a cartoon that was far more pointed than funny. A boy was asking his grandfather, “Gee Granddad, your generation didn’t have all these social diseases. What did you wear to have safe sex?” The grandfather’s wise reply was, “A wedding ring.”

There is a reason why sexual practices are getting worse and worse. It is because people are trying to find satisfaction through the physical sensation of sex. Sex that is cut off from a committed and lasting relationship is doomed to hurt and frustration. When physical sex is all you have, you have nothing when it is over. People who live for “now” find that it doesn’t last.

This is not to say that sex cannot be wonderful. If not, it could not have the power it does. When we come to the next section in this Corinthian letter we find human sexuality as God meant it to be. Yet even before that, we need to know who we are. It is when we know and believe the truth about ourselves and God that things like human sexuality begin to fall into the right place.

The first thing we need to know is that our bodies are not our own (v19b). None of us had anything to do with being here. God is behind every conception as well as our particular characteristics. Speaking under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, David wrote:

For you created my inmost being;

you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;

your works are wonderful, I know full well.

My frame was not hidden from you

when I was made in the secret place.

When I was woven together in the depths of the earth,

your eyes saw my unformed body.

All the days ordained for me were written in your book

before one of them came to be (Psa 139:13–16).

Not only is God our Creator, he is our Redeemer. He bought us with the blood of his Son, so Paul says you were bought at a price (v20a). The reason God did this was so his Spirit would be free to live inside us. This is our hope of fulfillment –– a hope realized: your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit.... (v19).

It matters what we do with these bodies of ours. We cannot use our bodies for immorality without it affecting our inner person. The people Paul was writing to were going to prostitutes for physical gratification. It was an accepted part of their culture (culture is never an excuse for illicit behavior). Prostitution was part of pagan temple worship. Prostitutes were readily available, and the Corinthian Christians easily could have said, “everyone does it.”

For us today the issue is greater than one dimension of immorality. This word porneia means any prostitution of sexuality –– any use of sexuality other than what God has intended and sanctioned. It means that sleeping around before marriage is a prostitution of sexuality. It means filling your mind with images of people misusing sexuality so that your desires are both warped and inflamed is a prostitution of sexuality. Christians are not to behave that way.

Why? Because if we are Christians we belong to Jesus. Our bodies belong to Jesus, and what we do belongs to Jesus. When we sin these ways we are sinning against a body that belongs to Jesus. We cannot embrace sexual immorality and Jesus at the same time. Those who try to do so find that God is serious about this.

God hates sexual immorality. Do you believe this? When you see the seductive scenes on TV, does something in you say this would make you happy? When you see the sensual magazines on the rack, can you remember there is a coiled snake ready to strike? When a passing encounter seems so inviting, are you tempted to see how far it might go?

God wants people who will honor him in every way. The final word here is: honor God with your body. Is that your covenant? God’s way is for our eyes to see only what the Holy Spirit wants us to see. God’s way is for your body to be held only by the one with whom you make a life-long commitment. God’s way is not to use your body except in those ways that honor the Lord who died to make you holy.

Hear these words as J. B. Phillips captured them:

The calling of God is not to impurity, but to the most thorough purity, and anyone who makes light of the matter is not making light of a man’s ruling but of God’s command. It is not for nothing that the Spirit God gives us is called the Holy Spirit (1Thess 4).

As you live in an X-rated world, remember who you are.

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