I Corinthians 6:9-20
Last week I began our three-part series on sex with a look at the Biblical view of sex. This morning I want to examine what it is that makes sexual immorality so devastating.
The scriptures are pretty clear about the consequences of sexual immorality.
Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
What difference does it make if you are sexually immoral? These verses, and there are many more, make it clear that sexual sin is judged severely. The Bible tells us not to engage in sexual immorality; the Bible gives us abundant evidence that sexual sin leads to disaster; the Bible is clear about this. We are supposed to avoid sexual immorality.
But we are not very good at avoiding sexual immorality. Surveys indicate that between 17% and 35% of pastors in the US have had, as married men, sexual relations with women other than their wives. Pastors and priests are regularly exposed for being sexually immoral. Politicians are continually exposed for their sexual immorality. In the US it is very unusual for someone to be a virgin when he or she is married. Most Americans have had sex outside of marriage. I don’t need to go into the statistics for the rest of the world; I did that last week when I talked about the Biblical view of sex. Sexual immorality is a worldwide problem.
This is not a recent phenomenon. Throughout history sexual immorality has been a problem. It makes me wish God had decided to have us reproduce like plants. We could walk around shaking hands, pollinating each other and there would be none of the mess human sexual reproduction makes possible.
There are a lot of sins and the Bible tells us that God will forgive us our sins. We should try to avoid sexual immorality just as we try to avoid a lot of things, but we’re human and we are not perfect, and it seems that everyone else is having sexual relationships, so why make such a big deal about sexual sin?
I could spend time this morning talking about ways in which we can avoid sexual temptation but I feel drawn to talk about why sexual sin is so important. It is precisely because sex is such a dominating power in our lives that we need to see the ways in which it has the capacity to harm us.
We can be forgiven for our sexual immorality and Tracy will talk about that next week, but to be forgiven does not undo the damage done by sexual immorality. So I will address this morning the eternal and temporal reasons why we should avoid sexual immorality.
Let me first point out the temporal, earthly reasons.
The world tells us that those who have the most sexual experience are those who have the richest and most fulfilling sexual relationships. The world mocks those who are virgins and warns that they will be less prepared to have an exciting sexual life if they ever do get married. And so it came as a great surprise when Redbook, a US magazine, in 1970, reported the results of a sex survey and announced that religious women and their husbands were among the most sexually satisfied people on the face of the earth. Common understanding was that religious people were sexually repressed. Was this report true?
This was not a flash in the pan study. Researchers at the University of Chicago released in 1992 the results of the most “comprehensive and methodologically sound” sex survey ever conducted and they reported that religious women experience significantly higher levels of sexual satisfaction than non-religious women. This finding confirmed an earlier Stanford University study as well as the Redbook survey.
Does this surprise you? Why should it? If God is the one who gave the gift of sex to us and we enjoy it as he intended for us to enjoy it, why should it not be within the covenant of marriage that it is most richly enjoyed. Why should it not be that when we live in submission to God that we find the deepest and most satisfying life?
The studies present four factors that appear to be responsible for the link between spiritual commitment and sexual satisfaction.
First, church-going women appear to benefit from their lack of sexual experience prior to marriage. The studies show that women who engage in early sexual activity and those who have had multiple partners are less apt to express satisfaction with their sex lives than women who entered marriage with little or no sexual baggage.
Second, churchgoers appear to benefit from a commitment to being faithful in marriage and persevering in marriage. Most major studies show a strong correlation between marriage in which the couple are faithful to each other and sexual satisfaction.
Third, church-going women typically enjoy far greater sexual freedom because of the absence of sexual anxiety. Monogamous couples do not need to worry about AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases, fear of rejection, or performance anxiety.
Finally, church-going women appear to benefit from the belief that God created sex. One study noted that the nonreligious “have a tendency to focus on the more technical or physical performance aspects of sex, while the religious pay more attention to the mystical and symbolic dimensions of one’s sexuality.”
To put it another way, churchgoers are more likely to delight in what Genesis describes as the state in the garden of Eden: “being naked and not ashamed”, celebrating what can be found only in the marital bed.
Doesn’t this flip on the head the understanding that drives much of our world? People think that by exploring their sexual freedom they are enhancing their pleasure and enjoyment when in fact they are working against their goal of seeking pleasure.
This is similar to Paul’s argument in Galatians, that we discover true freedom when we live in obedience to Christ.
Submission to God and his plan for us is where we find our greatest pleasure and the couple that perseveres in marriage is the couple most likely to find the pleasure they seek.
If you are engaging in pre-marital sexual relationships, you are harming the potential sexual fulfillment to be found in marriage.
A second temporal reason to avoid sexual immorality has to do with sexually transmitted diseases. Sexually transmitted diseases are rampant. In North America, 19 out of every 1,000 people has a sexually transmitted disease: syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia or trichomoniasis. In Western Europe 20 out of 1,000 are infected. In North Africa & the Middle East, 21 out of 1,000 are infected. In sub-Saharan Africa it is 119 out of 1,000. In Asia it is 50 out of 1,000. In Lain America and the Carribean it is 71 out of 1,000.
In addition, there are 33,000,000 people infected with HIV Aids in the world. Africa has 11,600,000 children orphaned by HIV Aids.
All of these diseases would be eliminated if sex were kept where God intended it to be kept, in the marriage relationship between one man and one woman.
The world seeks after great sexual pleasure and satisfaction and this is found by restricting sex to the marriage bed. The world seeks a cure to sexually transmitted diseases and the cure is found by being faithful in marriage and keeping sex in the marriage bed.
God created marriage as the protective sheath for the sharp sword of sex and when it is taken out of that protective sheath, it wounds and destroys rather than be what God intended it to be, a wonderfully pleasurable means of growing intimacy.
A third temporal devastating effect of sexual immorality is the weakening of our cultural view of marriage. There has been a lot of effort expended in the US to pass laws protecting marriage. Christians have worked for a marriage amendment to the US Constitution that would define marriage as a relationship between one man and one woman.
The pundits have had fun with this. Based on the behavior of pastors and family-value politicians, they say, for example, that marriage is not a relationship between a man and a man, marriage is a relationship between a man and his wife – and his mistress and a stripper.
The politicians who have been supporting family values keep on falling down as it is revealed that they have had or are having sexual relationships with mistresses and prostitutes. Pastors continue to fall as they preach on Sunday about moral purity and then live a double life of sexual immorality during the week.
The problem is not just pastors and politicians. Christians who support a marriage amendment to the US Constitution keep on getting divorced at the same rate as those who do not identify themselves as Christians. They keep on having marital affairs at the same rate as those who resist the marriage amendment.
I am opposed to a marriage amendment to the US Constitution. If such an amendment is passed, the church will be like the Pharisees who Jesus accused of being white-washed tombs. The amendment would put a nice coat of paint on the outside to hide the rotting corpses of marriages on the inside. Passing an amendment to encourage our hypocrisy does not seem to me to be a very good solution to the problem.
If Christians are serious about marriage they will go to counselors and try to work out why it is they are unable to love each other in the way they need to be loved. They will push aside their fantasy life and begin to live in the reality of their marriage. They will forgive each other when one of them fails to be faithful. None of this is easy but that is precisely why Christians prefer to pass an amendment rather than work on their marriage; it is far easier to get signatures on a petition than to forgive and sacrifice for your marriage.
The best sex is to be found in the marital bed, between a man and a woman who are faithful to each other. Sexually transmitted diseases are the nasty consequence of sexual immorality. Sexual immorality weakens the institution of marriage. These are earthly, temporal reasons to avoid sexual immorality. But there are also eternal reasons.
When Paul wrote to the church in Corinth, he had to deal with the temple of Aphrodite. This temple in Corinth employed 1,000 cult prostitutes who were housed above 33 wine shops. This temple gave Corinth its reputation as an immoral city.
So Paul wrote (I Corinthians 6:9-11)
Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.
The church in Corinth came out of the immorality of Corinth as sinners were washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
But stepping out of sin is not always so clean cut. The temptation to slip back into the cult of prostitution was still there; it continued to be part of the culture of Corinth. So when the Corinthian church sent a letter to Paul, they made the argument,
“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”
Paul had already spoken to them about eating meat sacrificed to idols and since he had said that it was only food, their argument went something like this: Since everything is permitted, and since food is for the stomach and the stomach for food (after all, God will destroy them both in the end), and since all bodily appetites are pretty much alike, that means that the body is for sex and sex for the body – because God will destroy them both in the end as well. So eat meat sacrificed to idols, have sex with the cult prostitutes, these are only earthly pleasures that will pass away. What difference does it really make?
But Paul strongly countered this argument, making the case that the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord and it is not destined for destruction but for resurrection, the proof of which is Christ’s resurrection.
The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
There are three parts to Paul’s argument. The first centers on the Biblical truth that when you have sexual intercourse, you create a one flesh relationship.
This comes from the teaching in Genesis 2:24
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
Jesus affirmed this teaching when talking about marriage and so did Paul.
Sexual intercourse is not simply a physical act. Animals have sex and it is just physical, but men and women have been created in the image of God and we are flesh and spirit. Sexual intercourse affects our spirit as well as our flesh.
It is because we are spirit as well as flesh that breaking the one flesh relationship we create by having sex becomes destructive.
The illustration is sometimes used of gluing two pieces of cardboard together. When you try to pull them apart after the glue has dried, you end up destroying both pieces of cardboard.
In the same way, when men and women engage in sex with multiple partners, there is a part of them that is destroyed. There is a gradual hardening of the heart that takes place with the repeated breaking of one flesh relationships because the spirit has to be denied in order to allow the flesh to continue having sexual relationships.
The second part of Paul’s argument is that when we become Christians, we are united with Christ. Our bodies are no longer our own.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” 17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
It is one thing for a man or woman to tear apart a one flesh relationship but, Paul argues in this letter, it is entirely another matter when it is not our body but the body of Christ himself.
When we enter into a relationship with Jesus we become part of his body. We enter into a unity with Jesus. Our body is no longer our body alone.
It is like getting married. When I am single I can do whatever I want whenever I want to do it. If I want some people to come over, I simply invite them to come. I can do this at the last minute and it is not a big deal. If I want to leave to go somewhere else, I simply go.
But when I am married, now I have to ask my spouse what he or she thinks. If I want to go someplace but my spouse does not, we have to sit down and talk it out. We have to come to agreement.
In the same way, when I become a Christian, I enter into a relationship with Jesus and it is no longer just me to be taken into consideration. Now I need to live with regard to what Jesus thinks is best for me. My relationship with Jesus is not only spiritual. When I become a Christian, I become part of the body of Christ, body, mind and soul. All of me, body, mind and soul is affected by what I think and what I do.
When I go to a prostitute, Paul argued, it is not just me being with the prostitute; I take Christ and the whole body of Christ with me. I cannot disassociate myself from Christ while I have sex with a temple prostitute and then reconnect with Jesus afterwards. My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit and I cannot ask the Holy Spirit to step outside and get a cup of coffee while I indulge in my immoral sexual adventures.
The third part of Paul’s argument is that when we die, we will rise to new life with Jesus and just as Jesus’ resurrection was a bodily resurrection, so will our resurrection be a bodily resurrection.
I will talk more about this in a couple weeks when I preach about heaven. Our bodily resurrection is more complicated than it might seem at first, but Paul is clear that there is a connection between our earthly body and our heavenly body.
The way I treat my body on earth will somehow affect the body I receive in heaven.
There are many ways I can disrespect my body. I can smoke, drink excessive amounts of alcohol, take drugs, eat too much, eat the wrong things, exercise too little. I can do all these things but what makes sexual sin different is that I don’t have a one flesh relationship with a cigarette or a bottle of alcohol or a plate of food.
I do have a one flesh relationship when I have sex with a man or woman. And when I break that one flesh relationship I damage the body that I will take to heaven.
You can do whatever you want with your body now but you will pay for it later. Your experience of eternal heaven will be affected by how you treat your body here on earth.
Sexual immorality does matter. We will be judged for our sexual immorality. Our sexual immorality will affect our eternal experience of heaven. Our sexual immorality works against the sexual pleasures of marriage. We pay the price for our sexual immorality with disease. The institution of marriage suffers because of our sexual immorality.
I would guess that there are those among us this morning who are engaged in sex outside of marriage. You may be single or you may be married. Your attraction may be to the opposite sex or to the same sex. It does not matter, the consequences of your actions are harming yourself, harming the other person in the relationship and harming the culture in which you live.
I want you to know that God is judging you for your sexual immorality and God will judge you for your sexual immorality. Remember the verses I quoted at the beginning of the sermon. The writer of Hebrews wrote: God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral. Paul wrote to the Galatians: The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality … I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
It may feel good, it may make you feel loved, it may be helping you financially but you are destroying yourself and your future. This morning, right now, you need to stop and put an end to your sexual immorality.
As I mentioned, Tracy will talk next week about restoring sexual purity. God is good and God can and will forgive you if you turn to him. But to turn to him, you must turn away from your sinful behavior.
If you are being tempted, come to your senses and share with a trusted friend that you are being tempted and ask him or her to hold you accountable.
In a few moments we will celebrate communion. Don’t come forward without talking with God about your sin. Confess your sin to God, resolve to make a change, resolve to share with one of the pastors of the church or some other mature Christian who can counsel you and advise you and hold you accountable. Deal with your sin and then come forward to receive the forgiveness of Jesus. Come eat the bread and drink the juice. Hold on to Jesus with desperation and receive the strength you will need to resist sexual temptation.