Big Idea: To really flourish, shift from the culture’s view of sex to how God designed sex.
Last week we began an unusual series. We’re talking about sex. The title of the series is “God Loves Sex.”
I want to imagine that a young single man — let’s call him Joe — heard that we’re doing this series. He lives around here, and he never thought he would come out to church. He still hasn’t, even though he’s a little bit curious. He’s a young professional who lives a pretty good life, and isn’t afraid to have a little fun when the situation requires it. He’s been in and out of relationships. He’s a really nice guy. You’d like him.
So he calls me up for coffee. He tells me a bit of his story. It turns out that he downloaded the audio from last week’s sermon. He’s a little curious about a church doing a series called “God Loves Sex.” He never thought that the Bible may talk about sex in a positive light rather than a negative one, and he’s curious about how he can flourish in this area of his life.
So picture him. We’re over in Balzac’s, having a coffee, talking about what the Bible says about how to live well sexually.
What would I tell him?
The first thing that I’d tell him, that may surprise him, is this:
Things Aren’t That Different
I’d begin by saying that the Bible has a lot to say about sex. One of the reasons is that people haven’t changed much. We’re wrestling today with the same issues that people have faced for thousands of years. It may even surprise you to learn that society hasn’t changed much either.
I think I’d pull up the passage we just read on my phone. I’d tell him that was written by Paul, an early Christian leader, to the church in Corinth, a modern, planned city in the Roman Empire. Corinth was known for its wealth and for being a cosmopolitan city, with a variety of cultures , religions, and all kinds of people. Somebody’s said, “Paul’s Corinth was at once the New York, Los Angeles, and Las Vegas of the ancient world” (Gordon Fee).
If you like Liberty Village, and if you like Toronto, you probably would have liked Corinth. And if you had liberal sexual views, you would have liked Corinth as well. There’s really nothing new in our society that would have shocked people back then, except maybe the Internet.
I’d then explain that there were a variety of sexual views back then, just as there are now. Some believed that sex was for procreation. Some saw sex as recreational, and had no problem with men having sex outside of marriage with household slaves, prostitutes, or other people from lower classes. There was a huge double standard. Married men were allowed to have sex outside of marriage; adultery only happened when a married woman was involved. Men typically got married in their late twenties, but they were expected to be involved in various sexual experiences once they became adolescents.
Homosexuality was also part of life in the Roman world, including Corinth. Same-sex marriage began in Ontario in 2001, and was fully recognized in 2003. But same-sex marriage isn’t a completely new thing. The Roman emperor Nero married two men on two different occasions.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some differences in the way we think about sexuality now compared to the way that they thought back then. But in other ways, things are just the same. We live in a sexual culture now; they lived in a very sexual culture then.
I’d have a lot to talk about with Joe, because Paul addresses a culture that’s like ours in a lot of ways.
As I looked at the passage we just read, I would explain that Paul tells us four shifts that we need to make from the way culture thinks about sex, to the way that God wants us to think about sex. I’d remind him that the Bible is very pro-sex, so that these shifts aren’t about being anti-sex. Rather, they are to make sure that we’re living in line with the character of God, and bringing glory to him. But they’re also for our flourishing as well.
I’d share with Joe that there are four shifts that he has to make if he’s to live according to God’s design for sex. Here they are:
Shift One: Shift from “Freedom is doing what I want” to “Freedom is doing what God wants”
Paul gives us the shift in verse 12. He first gives us what we need to shift away from. Notice that the first sentence is put in quotes. Paul is quoting slogans or beliefs that people held. Here it is: “All things are lawful for me.” Or, as the NIV puts it, “I have the right to do anything.” In other words, “Freedom is doing what I want.”
Things haven’t changed. This was a major cultural belief then, and it’s a major cultural belief now. Our society values freedom and personal choice. We think that the good life comes when we get to decide what’s right for ourselves. Nobody can tell us that we’re wrong, because that’s infringing on our freedom. You need to decide what’s right for you without anyone telling you what to do. There are only two rules: don’t hurt anyone else, and do what is best for you.
Not only is this view still present today, but it makes some pretty big promises. It tells us that sexual freedom, doing what want, is the path to happiness.
Paul wants the Corinthians, and us, to shift away from this view. I’d tell Joe, and I’ll tell us, that there are a couple of problems with this view. Look at what Paul says about this in the rest of verse 12:
All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. (1 Corinthians 6:12)
Paul repeats this phrase twice, and gives us two problems with the view that we can do anything that we want:
First, some things that we want to do just aren’t helpful. Actually, it’s the very opposite. Some things that want to do are harmful. Doing what we want looks good, but it can actually be quite damaging.
Second, doing what we want can lead to addiction and a loss of control. I hope you catch the irony here. Paul says that sexual freedom actually leads to being dominated by sex. In other words, sexual freedom isn’t freedom at all. It’s more like being imprisoned in a prison of our own making. Sexual freedom isn’t freedom at all.
Let’s just look at one example: porn. According to stats, porn is a huge issue, even in the church. And it has a number of negative effects. In 2012, Men’s Health magazine — which is not a Christian magazine the last time I checked — summarized eight harmful effects of porn. It’s progressive. It creates unrealistic expectations. It can lead to casual sex. It amplifies emotional problems. It creates unhealthy sexual bonds. It counterfeits intimacy. It disrupts real relationships. It hurts your spouse.
In a minute, we’re going to see that there’s hope and healing for those who have done what they want. But for now I’d tell Joe that if he wants to flourish, he’s got to move from doing what he wants to doing what God wants. But there’s more:
Shift Two: Move from thinking that your body is about physical urges to thinking that your body is important to God.
This one’s a little trickier to see. It’s found in verse 13: “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food.” That’s a little confusing at first, so let me see if I can explain what he’s saying. If I’m walking down the street one day and I’m especially hungry, and I just happen to come across a Burger’s Priest, I might look at the burgers that people are eating in the window, and then think about my mouth and my stomach, and think, “Burgers are made to be eaten, and I’m made to eat burgers.” It’s just natural. The reason that hamburgers exist is to be eaten. There’s no other reason. And we were made to eat food. It’s just natural.
You can see how this would apply to sex. It’s as natural as eating and drinking. It’s natural. You eat when you’re hungry; according to this saying, you have sex when you have urges. It’s completely natural. The worst thing is to deny your urges. Besides, they thought, it doesn’t matter what you do with your body, because it’s just your body. What’s more important is your soul.
We live in a culture that affirms this view.
This isn’t God’s design for us, though. Paul says:
“Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. 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. (1 Corinthians 6:13-14)
I think I’d tell Joe: You need to take your body a lot more seriously than you do. God created our bodies with desires. There’s no doubt about that. But our bodies are much more than appetites. You are much more than your urges. Paul teaches us in this passage that our bodies will live forever, and so it really matters what we do with our bodies. Through the work of Jesus Christ, God intends our bodies to be for him, not just now but for eternity. Paul even says in verse 19 that, for the believer, our bodies are dwelling places for the Holy Spirit.
So I’d tell Joe to make a shift. The Bible thinks a lot more highly of our bodies than even our culture does. Your body matters. You are much more than a collection of urges and appetites. Your body is a whole lot more than that. Your body is meant for God. It is meant to live forever. It is meant to be the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit. Your body is much more than a collection of urges and appetites, so start treating that way.
Myth Three: Shift from thinking that sex is just physical to realizing that sex is about all of you.
I’ll make this one quick. There’s a popular view that our bodies are just our bodies, so that sex can take place that’s just a hookup, but that doesn’t involve our souls. Again, the problem is that we have too low a view of our bodies. We are not just souls that live in this physical container. We are united, body and soul, so that what happens to our body is inseparable to what happens to our soul. Look at what Paul says:
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. (1 Corinthians 6:15-17)
Here’s the deal: sex involves giving not just our bodies but all of ourselves to another. Lewis Smedes, a Christian ethicist and theologian, put it really well when he said:
There is more to sex than meets the eye—or excites the genitals. There is no such thing as casual sex, no matter how casual people are about it…No one can take sex out at night and put it away until he wants to play with it again, nobody can go to bed with someone and leave his soul parked outside.
Something happens in sex. As much as one would like to, he or she can’t ever go to bed with someone and leave his or her souls parked outside. There’s no such thing as sex that’s just physical. It’s always more than that. In fact, verse 18 says that when we sin sexually, the impact on our souls is more profound than other kinds of sin. There’s no such thing as just physical sex. It always has a profound impact on our souls.
So these are the shifts. True sexual joy is found in:
- moving from what we want to what God wants
- moving from thinking of our bodies as a set of urges to seeing our bodies as something that God cares about deeply
- moving from seeing sex as physical to seeing sex as deeply spiritual as well
All of these are very important shifts, but I think I would want to end my conversation with Joe with perhaps the most important shift of all.
Shift Four: Moving from whatever’s happened before to the hope that’s found in Jesus
I know as I’ve been talking today that I’m treading on dangerous territory. I mentioned last week that sex is a beautiful, powerful, and wonderful thing. But all of us have complicated histories with sex. We have hurts, longings, joys, and fears. I’m sure that I’ve probably bumped up against some of those as we’ve talked about things this morning.
That’s why I want to close with the powerful image that Paul leaves us in verses 19 and 20:
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
Here’s where I want to end with Joe, and with you as well: God wants you. Through the death of Jesus, God has paid the price to bring you out of slavery and make you his own. He wants all of you — your hurts, your mistakes, your deepest wounds, and more. He wants you for his own. All of you.
A preacher once spoke to a youth group and was trying to get them to see the dangers of sleeping around. He spoke very negatively of sex. As he did so, he passed a single rose through the crowd of about a thousand, and had everyone smell and handle it. You can imagine what the rose looked like at the end. It had started out as a beautiful rose, but ended up broken, drooping, and with its petals broken off.
The preacher stood up and said, “Now who in the world would want this? Who would want this rose now? Would you be proud of this rose? Is this rose lovely?” The message was brutal. If you have been broken and experienced hurt or failure sexually — and who hasn’t, by the way — then you’re worthless.
There was a young woman who was there that night who heard that message, and felt shame and hurt. A few weeks later she was in an accident. In the hospital, she asked the friend who invited her that night, “Do you think I’m a dirty rose?” He began to explain to her “that the whole weight of the gospel of Jesus Christ is that Jesus wants the rose! It’s Jesus’s desire to save, redeem, and restore” us, failures and all.
Jesus wants the rose. He wants all of us. He wants to buy us for his own and give us new life. We are much more than our failures and hurts. Jesus wants all of us. He gives grace and hope and healing. That’s what I would tell Joe.
In other words, shift from seeing our hurts and failures as something that’s a problem for God to seeing that God wants us. All of us. I quoted this last week, and I’ll repeat it today:
No one is sexually perfect, and our stains, flaws, and failures are used by God to intensify our surprise and wonder and to increase our gratitude for how his perfect love cannot be thwarted by our imperfection. (Allender and Longman, God Loves Sex).
There are a lot of shifts that we need to make as we think about sex, and that’s the biggest one of all. We belong to Jesus. He offers hope and healing and redemption to us all.