There is perhaps no better way to get someones attention than saying just one simple word: sex. I know I have all of your curiosity now, wondering what I may say next. It is just a cliche today to say "sex sells," but it is a truth we cannot ignore. Sexuality forms the basis of advertising, as titillation grabs our attention. Sitcoms find the best laughs off of sexual innuendo and provocative predicaments. Our fascination with the sensual is preoccupied with the libido in ways not seen in other realms of sensual pleasure. C.S. Lewis, in his book Mere Christianity, shows how twisted our view of sex has become. He says:
"Suppose you visited a country where an auditorium is packed to the walls with people watching, not a girl undressing, but a guy walking out with a big tray. The tray is covered with a cloth and wild music begins to play and lights begin to flash and all of a sudden, in a rather enticing manner, the veil is popped off and there on the tray is a nice, fresh pork chop. Wouldn't you think that in that country something had gone wrong with their appetite for food?"
When it comes to sex, weve twisted a good gift. It should come as no surprise that many today scoff at traditional sexual morality, such as Alex Comfort who claims, "Chastity is no more of a virtue than malnutrition." The assumption is that we are under the control of primal urges which not only we cannot control, but that we should not seek to reign in at all.
And yet, humanity has struggled with sex in each and every culture. It is a mistake to think that our age alone has discovered sexual freedom, throwing off the perceived constraints of mores imposed by repressive puritanical prudes. It is an error to think weve sunk to lows never imagined before in human history. Rather, our sexual skirmishs have plagued men and women for centuries.
When Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus, he wrote to a sex-saturated society. The great Temple of Diana which overlooked the city was filled with thousands seeking sexual satisfaction. Athenaeus, who was sympathetic to the Ephesian quest for sexual liberation, praised the temple prostitutes for their spiritual service. He quotes Demosthenes summary of Greek culture by saying: "We have boys for our pleasure, harlots for daily use, and wives for the procreation of legitimate children, and for the faithful preservation of our property." Paul struck out against this degraded society when he instructed the church of Ephesus.
Pauls words to those in Ephesus who struggled with living out their faith in obedience are just as pertinent today as we seek to integrate the truths of our justification in our daily sanctification. What does Christs death and resurrection have to do with my sexuality? Everything. Does God care about this? Yes!
The application of the Gospel to our sexuality is an aspect Paul tackles in Ephesians 5 and which we should not ignore by a conspiracy of silence. Far too often we vainly imagine that immorality is what unbelievers do, but would never dare enter these sacred walls except in the rare instance of some deviant. But the same confused thinking that muddles the unregenerate mind remains a strong power in those who profess faith as well. Verse 3 warns that not even a hint of immorality should be here.
Yet, a few years ago a study by Leadership Journal found that 45% of the lay leaders in evangelical churches said that sometime during their marriage, they have had sexual contact with someone other than their spouse. The Leadership survey found that 23% of evangelical pastors admitted to having had sexual contact with someone other than their spouse during their marriage. In light of that, lets take a candid look at sex in light of Christs sacrifice. Beginning in verse 3 Paul outlines what should be absent from our lives.What does God command regarding our sexuality? (What is the Law) - verses 3-7 We must guard our actions Sexual immorality: The word used here is porneia, from which we get our term pornography. This broad term refers to any sexual activity outside the confines of marriage. Paul does not go into great detail as to what this term covers. He doesnt have to. His readers well understood its all encompassing scope. But we must not neglect its impact. Any sexual activity outside the context of a covenant marriage falls in this camp. The trouble is, we work so hard at distancing ourselves from the implications of this prohibition.
While we do not have the looming temples to gratify our desires, and while we may try to convince ourselves of our superior morality by abstaining from physical contact, this term certainly encompasses the realm of virtual immorality. The big business of pornography has infiltrated American homes. What comes through our cable, our VCRs as well as through the Internet is one of the largest growth industries in the world today. Video pornography alone as increased 100% since 1992 to become a 4.2 billion dollar business, making it twice as large as major league baseball, three times bigger than Disneys theme parks (World, Feb. 21, 1998). Time and propriety of mixed company and youth does not allow me to go further but well understand the seduction and enslavement of so-called "sexual freedom."
Impurity: This is the heart condition which propels the immorality. This word means "uncleanness," used of decaying bodies rotting in tombs. Impurity describes the internal condition of the heart which believes the lie that pleasure can be found by contradicting what God has commanded. It is believing the lie of the serpent in the Garden: "Did God really say...?" Impurity describes the activity itself. Not only does it offend Gods law, but it contaminates those who participate. The foul stench of immorality wafts from those who think they can do as they please.
Greed: The third term, pleonexia, drives even deeper. This word, also translated "covetousness," defines what is going on inside to drive a person to deny Gods sovereign authority over his life, over his sexuality. Usually when we think of greed we think of money and wealth, of hoarding for oneself. But the context here helps us define the word more specifically. In 4:19 Paul uses this same word connected with impurity to describe the unregenerate lifestyle which, having lost all sensitivity, gravitates to the sensual. In verse 19, the NIV translates this word as lust, but context describes the insatiable hunger for more of that which is polluted. It is the insane quest to consume filth.
The word "greed" points to the selfishness of immorality. Many justify their immorality on the basis of love, but it is not love which drives one to deny Gods law, but selfishness. Forsaking one's spouse for someone younger, someone more attractive, someone wealthier or more interesting is hardly an act of love. In a marriage, the sexual relationship is an outgrowth of love. Outside of marriage, it is not love but selfishness which propels the sexual sin. The focus is not specifically the act, but the sinful heart which attaches itself to a sinful act. This behavior doesn't belong in a Christian's life. Paul makes it all the more clear in verse 5 as he describes this sexual greed as idolatry.
If then, we guard ourselves against immorality, if we keep ourselves squeaky clean in all our dealings is that enough? As we see throughout Gods Word, Gods concern is not just with what we do, but also with what comes out of our mouths.
We must guard our words
Obscenity: Paul moves from immoral conduct to immoral speech, forbidding us to joke about that which is immoral or inappropriate. Obscenity is a general term for impure conversation, the Greek referring to that which is ugly. Our English comes from the Latin theater term meaning "offstage." Whenever we speak of things which are done in private, that is obscene; it is done off stage and our language should not drag it out in public. It is obscene to watch a movie of even a married couple making love, for that which is beautiful in private is not meant for voyeuristic entertainment.
Foolish talk: Literally this means "moronic words." It involves more than just stupidity, but often referred to foolish speech focusing on sexual matters. Aristotle used this term to describe uneducated humor. This is the scatological humor prevalent in those movies directed at teen boys; this is Bevis and Butthead where everything is sexually charged.
Coarse joking: The English translations here miss the nuance of this term. The word (eutrapelia) means well-turned, that is, a witticism, a pun. In ancient Greek times this word applied specifically to the double entendres, the cleaver off-color phrase, the veiled sexual reference. Whereas Aristotle said foolish talk was lowbrow bathroom humor, skill in this form of humor was a virtue; it was the "educated" humor. But no matter what term is placed on it, Paul is clear that humor which demeans our sexuality, which turns what God has called good into a joke, is not allowed. Coarse joking is not the blue comic of the nightclub, but Jay Leno, able with a wink and sly laugh to say far more than is said. This is high class dirty talk. It is joking so clever that many may laugh in spite of themselves.
Paul is not putting the brakes on humor; he is not commanding us to be wet-blankets. There is certainly room for humor in Christian conversation. A command of language allows us to communicate with humor, but there are limits on what we should speak of humorously. These three words point to a dirty mind expressing itself in dirty conversation. Paul seems to be concerned mainly about two related errors: treating things as gross or treating things as trivial: filthiness and flippancy. When our actions are chaste, but our humor is raunchy, we are not taking sin seriously. Even more, we are demeaning what is wonderful. We lower that which is lofty and raise that which is lowly.
We must be aware of the penalty
Before we move to Gods remedy for this, we have to see the seriousness of this sin. When our lives are based on immorality, whether that be our actions or our words, when what we say or do is not in keeping with our profession of faith notice the severe warning in verses 5-6. For this reason, Gods wrath is against those who are disobedient to Gods commands. Paul gives this same warning in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10:
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 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 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.
Here, as well as in numerous other places in Gods Word, sexual immorality is closely connected to absolute rejection of Gods Law as well as Gods grace in salvation. Our sexuality is not superficial, but strikes at the heart of what it means to be an image bearer of God, our sovereign Creator.What does God offer regarding our sexuality? (What is the Gospel?) verses 4, 1-2
What are we to put on?The Christian response is not the eradication of sexuality. Paul is not advocating that we become monks, cloistered from human desires. There is a mistaken notion from the time of the early Church fathers, promoted by Augustine, that it would be best if human procreation could occur without sex. But, if there had to be sex, it would be best if it were not pleasurable. This is not what Paul is saying. In fact, Paul is saying the opposite of what is expected. Because sex is so wonderful, sex outside the covenantal union is wrong. Humor about such a wonderful gift is uncalled for. Christians don't joke about sex for the same reason they don't joke about Communion or Christs death on the Cross. It is not that sex is nasty; it is that sex is sacred and to joke about it is profanity. Sex is a gift from God, a powerful part of what it means to be created in the image of God, for through the joy of sex God uses us to procreate and to experience what it means to be one flesh. Sex is such a powerful force in our lives not because it is evil, but because it is given to us by God. Scripture never treats sex as deplorable or shameful; rather in the context in which God has created it, sex is wholesome and wonderful. The prohibitions listed here only serve to reinforce its goodness, to keep us from perverting that which is good for us. It is interesting that the surveys of psychologists show that those people who are married and are faithful to their spouses are more satisfied sexually than those people who are involved in all sorts of other types of sexual relationships. There is a reason that those who treat sex as a toy, who demean it by humor or use it selfishly have difficulty forming lasting, loving relationships. So, instead of the humor, what should our response to the God-given gift of sex? Verse 4b: Thanksgiving!
There is to be praise, cheerfulness at Gods grace to us in making us the sexual beings we are. That part of Gods creation is not meant to be trampled and demeaned. It is not meant to be reduced to a celluloid image or paid for with a credit card. It is designed to be a reason for praise.If you are overflowing with thanksgiving to God, then you are not dominated and driven by discontentment at what you have been denied. Gratitude is what you feel when you believe God is for you and not against you. Thankfulness flows when you believe that He gives you only what is good for you and withholds no good thing (single or married!). It's what you feel when you trust Him, that the tragedies of your life are not evidences of His meanness or His incompetence; but rather that they are the discipline of a loving Father who values your holiness above your fleeting happiness. And you can see easily how thanksgiving is also the opposite of treating God's gifts as filthy or as trivial. When you are truly grateful for something, you don't despise it and you don't trivialize it. Throughout this section on change, on the process of sanctification, we have seen what we are to put off and put on. Off goes the immorality, on goes thankfulness. Remember, you cant go through life partially clothed. Often believers have the first part down "No immorality!" but neglect what is to be put on: thanksgiving for that spouse, finding your sexual fulfillment in the one God has given you or satisfaction in what He has not given you. How can we put this on? verses 1-2 The "but" in verse 3 helps us to understand what is the opposite of a deformed sexuality which sees personal pleasure as the be all and end all of our life. Paul is not just concerned with moral behavior, nor does he motivate us by human-centered reasons.
Today there is a "counter movement" among social conservatives wanting people to adopt lifestyles which are more in keeping with Gods law. People such as Bill Bennet and Dr. Laura promote chastity or sexual abstinence. That is wonderful. But that wont change the heart. In the end, that will not make us any better. If we only give psychological or sociological reasons for abstaining from immorality, then we may convince people at a dispassionate moment, but we may respond as one teenage girl said: "I agree with you this afternoon that it is best for me not to have sex. I am afraid when Friday night comes around, I may think differently."The biblical means to correct these behaviors comes in the first two verses; it is at the foot of the Cross. The means by which we change our thinking, our behavior, our speech, is through the Gospel. Just saying "Stop sinning; its bad!" is never enough. It would deadly if we reform our lives through the Law and ignore the Gospel. John Piper once said, "Success in morality without the gospel is suicide." It is at the Cross that we see the distinction between corrupted, greedy sensuality and biblical love. Here is where we define what sexuality really should be. Immorality is never the expression of love; it is the expression of lust. Immorality is not the work of the Spirit, but the fruit of the flesh.
When Paul refers to us as "beloved children" he reminds us of the fact that our sonship is both the motivation and the means for imitating God. Sexual morality is not advocated because it is the cure for aids and other sexually transmitted diseases. While sexual purity does protect one from some of the physical consequences of sin, this is not the motive which Paul seeks to promote. We are to avoid immorality because we are "beloved children" of God, and because we seek to imitate Him in our conduct. We avoid filthy speech because it is not loving, because it greedily satisfies our physical desires at the expense of others. In the final analysis, sexual immorality is to be shunned because we love God and seek to bring glory to His name.The love which we are to manifest is not to be defined as a three-letter word (sex); it is to be defined as a nine-letter word: sacrifice. Christs love for us has been demonstrated on the Cross of Calvary. His love empowers our love. His love defines biblical love. Our love is to be an imitation of Christs love, of sacrifice for another, not a demeaning of Gods creation or greedily taking, but sacrificially giving in a way which honors the Father. Rather than the stench of decay and death associated with immorality and impurity, rather than the false worship of getting what feels good for me, our pattern is the fragrant offering of Christ to His Father. But of course the Cross is not just a lesson in how to behave; it is here we see what God has done for sexual deviants such as you and me. When we learn of God's standard of sexual purity not one of us can leave here certain weve fulfilled the Law. Even if weve lived a chaste life, how often have we failed in the use of our words, when have we not been thankful for a spouse, or perhaps harder still, for the lack of a spouse. It is then we find ourselves at the foot of the Cross, turning to Jesus Christ, seeking mercy and forgiveness from Him. The wonderful news of the Gospel is that this is exactly what the Lord Jesus offers. When He died on the Cross almost 2000 years ago, He died for our sexual immorality. No matter how gross and perverse or pervasive our sexual sin has been, God offers free and full forgiveness to all who by His Spirit will put their faith in Jesus Christ. Even though we are filled with perversions uncounted, Christs took on those sins and in turn cleanses and clothes us. It is the work of a loving husband which Paul describes later in this chapter that follows the work of Christ for us. Christs sacrificial death is the only means by which we can ever be clean. He washes us with the water of His Word. He presents us to Himself without stain, without wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.