Genesis 1:26-31; 2:19-25
In just a month I will have the privilege of officiating at the wedding of my daughter Elizabeth and her finance, Matt. She has been living the past few years in an apartment in Cambridge, Massachusetts with four other single women and her lease ran out at the end of August. Matt has an apartment in Lowell where they will live when they are married. So the question was, what should she do? Where should she live for the month or so before she gets married?
When Ann was back in Boston in July to help make preparations for the wedding, she talked with some of her brothers and their wives and they could not understand why she did not move in with Matt now. Their assumption is that they are already sleeping together, so why not live together?
Last year when we went camping together, one of her sisters-in-law asked her what we were going to do about sleeping arrangements. Would we allow Elizabeth and Matt to sleep together in a tent? Again, the issue was not whether or not they had a sexual relationship, that was a given. The issue was would we allow them to do so with us at the campsite.
I remember a similar discussion before our youngest daughter got married. When I said they were not going to have sex before the wedding, the reaction was, “Who do you think you’re kidding? Are you naive? Of course they are already sleeping together.”
When Elizabeth was in her second year of high school, the health class had a discussion about sex. The teacher asked the girls when they would decide to have sex. One by one they answered. “When I meet someone I love.” “When I’m a senior.” “When I get to college.” And then it was Elizabeth’s turn. “When I get married,” and all eyes turned to look at her. What a revolutionary idea!
Surveys indicate that half of US teenagers and 75% or more of college students are sexually active.
The US is part of a world that views sexual freedom as one of the most basic human rights. You can deprive someone of many things, but don’t dare restrict their sexual freedom.
The situation in Europe is even worse. At least in the US, marriage is still considered the norm. In Europe, marriage is becoming an endangered institution. When a couple decides to get married it seems to be the exception rather than the rule.
And in Europe and the US as well, even the institution of marriage is under attack. It is not bad enough that it is being bypassed with many couples simply deciding to live together but now laws are being changed that allow gays and lesbians to be recognized by society as partners in marriage.
This is the situation in the decadent west, but the rest of the world is not really in better shape. The Muslim world condemns the decadence of the west but they arrange for one night weddings to legitimize their sexual adventures. The incidence of rape is vastly under reported because of the repression of women in Muslim society. Prostitution flourishes in the Muslim world. The problem of the west is a problem for Muslim countries as well.
Africa is not in better shape. The primary reason AIDS continues to spread in Africa is the sexual promiscuity that is so much a part of the culture.
Asia is not immune. Thailand is well known as a vacation spot for sex tours.
This is a global problem.
In January 2002, before my daughter Caitlin’s marriage, I preached a longer version of the message I later preached at her wedding. I started out wanting to do the same this year with Elizabeth’s wedding, but because of all the controversy about marriage, decided to make this a three sermon series. My intention is to preach this morning about a Biblical view of sex and why it is that Christians fight the battle they do against abortion and homosexuality. Next week I’ll talk about submission in marriage and then in the third week about parenting.
Chuck Colson, a Christian author and speaker, first pointed out what I am going to tell you. Up to that point I had wondered why it was that the battle between Christians and the more liberal population in the US picked homosexuality and abortion to be the issues they argued about. After all there are many other topics they could have picked. Why not drugs or alcohol or gambling and pornography? There are discussions about these issues but they do not generate the emotional intensity that homosexuality and abortion do. Chuck Colson’s line of argument made it clear to me and I want to present that this morning.
It all starts with what is the Biblical view of sex.
Our understanding begins in the first book of the Bible, Genesis 1:
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
27 So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.
God created man and woman and instructed them to Be fruitful and increase in number. How were they to do that? If they wanted more wheat, they had to plant seeds, water them and wait. If they wanted more rabbits they had to put a male and female together and wait and from this observation they figured out what they were supposed to do and how to do it.
When God created man, he chose to have sex be the way they would reproduce and so what we learn from the Bible is that sex is primarily procreational. Sex is how we become fruitful and increase in number.
But sex is more than procreational. I read about a man who worked in a machine shop alongside a lathe-operator whose son was soon to be married. The day before the wedding, he announced that the wedding was off. When asked why he said that the girl had just the night before announced that they were not going to have sex on the honeymoon. She intended to have sex only three times in her life because she wanted to have only three children.
Not only did she have a lot to learn about sex, but she had a lot to learn about the biblical view of sex. Having sex only to have children has unfortunately also been the view of the Catholic church and misses out on the secondary but not unimportant role of sex.
Sex is primarily procreational but it is secondarily and not unimportantly recreational. Sex is intended by God to be the means by which we have children but it is also a sensual gift we are to enjoy.
The Bible celebrates the recreational aspect of sex. Listen to this from Proverbs 5:
Do you know the saying, “Drink from your own rain barrel, draw water from your own spring-fed well”? It’s true. Otherwise, you may one day come home and find your barrel empty and your well polluted. Your spring water is for you and you only, not to be passed around among strangers.
Bless your fresh-flowing fountain! Enjoy the wife you married as a young man! Lovely as an angel, beautiful as a rose— don’t ever quit taking delight in her body. Never take her love for granted! Why would you trade enduring intimacies for cheap thrills with a whore? for dalliance with a promiscuous stranger?
This section from Proverbs encourages men to take delight in the body of their wife. There is much more direct language in the Song of Solomon but we will not read that here this morning. In fact ancient Jews did not allow young men to read this book of the Bible until they had turned 30 years of age.
There are those who point to the church and in particular the Puritans as being opposed to the sensual side of sex and in fact the dictionary defines a puritan as one who regards pleasure or luxury as sinful, but this is very far from the case. It was the Victorian age that covered the legs of pianos and offered to a lady not a chicken breast but “light meat”, not the Puritans.
The Puritans used Proverbs 5:18-19, which I just read, to express the joy and beauty of marital sex. They often spoke of marital sex as one of the great delights and joys among earthly blessings. A favorite Biblical passage quoted by Puritan churchmen was Genesis 26:8 where the king of the Philistines discovers that Rebecca was not the sister of Isaac but his wife.
In the King James, it says he looked down and saw Isaac “sporting with Rebekah his wife.” Other translations say he was dallying with her, caressing her, showing endearment to her, fondling her or playing with her. In a commentary I read the writer noted, “The Hebrew word for ‘sporting’ there does not mean, I assure you, ‘playing checkers’!”
There is a text in Deuteronomy which says that a young man should take a year off from war, once he gets married, ‘to cheer up his wife.’ Although the text does not say that the first year of marriage should be one long honeymoon, it does indicate the tremendous importance of the marriage in general and the wife in particular. And the Hebrew word for ‘cheer up’ really involves a profound sense of intimacy: find out what pleases the wife in every way possible.
Sex is a gift God has given us for procreation and recreation and he delights in our use of this gift. But notice very well that this gift was not given without restrictions. God did not give this gift of sex and then say, “Use it in any and every way you want.”
God gave the gift of sex and then laid it in the protective wrapping of marriage. He did so because sex is a very dangerous gift.
When I was a teenager, my father gave me a machete, a long knife used to cut small underbrush. This was a large knife and sharp. He did not give it to me as it was, he gave it to me in a leather sheath so I would not cut myself handling it.
This is why God gave to us the gift of sex and then laid it in the protective relationship of marriage. He means for us to enjoy this gift but does not want us to be destroyed by it.
This is the Biblical view of sex. Sex is a gift given by God for procreation and for our sensual enjoyment and it is to be used within the protective relationship of marriage between a man and a woman.
But here is the problem. Over the centuries, there has been a huge double standard. Men have been permitted to be sexually active before they were married and have not been condemned for having affairs after they were married. Men have been free to enjoy the recreational side of sex without having to pay much attention to the procreational side of sex.
Women, on the other hand, have been expected to be virgins when they marry and faithful afterwards. A woman who violated this carried with her a tarnished reputation and was kept on the fringe of society.
The reasons for this double standard are complex. It is partly because men have controlled the wealth and power of the world but it is also because when a man and a woman have sex, it is the woman, not the man, who can get pregnant.
In a sense, it is because a man cannot be proved to have been adulterous. But the woman, if she gets pregnant, carries with her the proof and it becomes increasingly obvious to all what has happened.
This is an age-old double standard. When the woman caught in adultery was brought to Jesus, where was the man? Doesn’t it take two to commit adultery? And yet the man was free while the woman was dragged to Jesus. In the Koran, a woman who committed adultery was brought to Mohammed. He discovered she was pregnant, waited until the baby was born, and then had her buried up to her neck in sand and stoned to death. What happened to the man?
The woman was forced to deal with the consequences of sex because she became pregnant but the man was able to walk away.
Nothing much changed over the years. When I was in high school, a boy who had sex was considered to be cool. A girl who had sex was called a slut or a tramp. A cheerleader in my class became pregnant and had to leave school. Let’s suppose that she had sex with more than one boy and that the boy had sex with more than one girl. Who was the father of the baby? They were not doing DNA testing in those days so it was difficult to say. But there was no question about who was the mother. And so the girl left school but there was no mention of the boy.
That’s the problem and so when birth control, the pill and abortion became available and legal, there was celebration. Now women were freed from this age-old oppressive double standard. Women could be as free and casual about sex as men had always been because they no longer had to face the parental consequences of sex. For the first time in history, it was possible for women to enjoy the recreational aspect of sex without having to face the procreational consequences.
Now a woman can enjoy sex and not suffer the consequences. She can take the pill and if that fails, she can get an abortion. There is no longer a pregnancy to deal with, no longer a child to support. Just recreational sex without worrying about pregnancy. A woman now can be like men have always been.
Birth control, the pill, the day after pill and abortion are rights held on to so tightly because women are fighting to maintain equality after the inequality that has existed from the beginning of time.
When you discuss with someone about a woman’s right to have an abortion, don’t underestimate the power of this liberation.
Instead of arguing the morality of abortion, why not (if you are a man) confess the sin of men over the ages that have abused the gift of sex and created the double-standard under which so many women suffered. It is because men have been irresponsible over the centuries that women have chaffed at the bit. If men had taken responsibility for their sexual conduct there would not have been this sense of injustice that women were being deprived.
We begin with the Biblical view of sex: Sex is a gift given by God for procreation and for our sensual enjoyment and it is to be used within the protective relationship of marriage between a man and a woman.
We move to the problem: Men have abused this gift from the beginning of time and women have suffered under the double-standard that was forced on them.
This leads us to the tragedy. Instead of men becoming responsible and moving their sexual activity into the protective relationship of marriage, women have joined men in the irresponsible use of God’s gift of sex and now sex is a sharp, naked sword cutting and slashing its way through lives and relationships.
And this leads us then to the consequences.
Because of recreational sex having been set free from procreational sex, we have moved into a new arena. The purpose of sex is no longer to build intimacy in a marriage, no longer to grow a family. The purpose of sex is to experience pleasure.
Once the purpose of sex becomes sensual pleasure without parental consequences, then it is no longer so important that it be a man and a woman who are engaging in sex. If the goal is pleasure, than pleasure can be had with a man and a man, a woman and a woman or combinations of these.
Those who fight for gay rights do so because they live in a culture that views sexuality as a basic human right and if pleasure is the goal of sex, why should they be denied if they find their homosexuality enjoyable? To say that homosexuals and lesbians do not have a right to seek sexual pleasure is a distinct threat to heterosexuals who seek sexual pleasure outside of marriage and if that right is restricted, then women move back into the restrictions of the past from which they so recently escaped.
So society says that as long as two people love each other, there ought not to be a problem and if two men or two women want to get married, why should we step in their way? The problem here is that there is no end to this argument. If all that is required is some measure of affection, than what is to prevent three people from asking that society give them legal recognition as a married trio? What is to prevent an adult and a child who love each other from receiving recognition as a married couple?
This all sounds absurd, but once you separate procreational and recreational sex, there are no longer any limits to what is permitted. What sounds perverse to us today will seem not so strange in the future as we continue to drift along.
How does this relate to us?
1. Don’t be passive. When your country is passing laws legitimizing homosexual marriage, work to resist those attempts. The problem with Christians is that we drift just as easily as the rest of society. Divorce used to be a scandal in the church. The Bible is very clear about divorce and yet today preachers get divorced and continue on in their pulpits without any significant consequences. We were shocked by divorce and then we began to get used to it and now we hardly even mention it. The same thing can happen to us with gay marriage. We need to not only resist new attempts to weaken marriage, we need to fight to reclaim the land that has been taken and work to bring back to the church a Biblical view of divorce.
2. In the same way, resist society’s acceptance of cohabitation. Living together without being married is as unacceptable to God as homosexual marriage. It is not more acceptable because it is heterosexual sex.
3. Resist indulging in pre-marital or extra-marital sex. We are created as sexual beings and as a consequence we have strong desires. But we are not animals that satisfy every desire that comes to our minds. As Christians, we chose to satisfy the desires that we know God has brought to us to enjoy. Those of you who are not married have to choose to be celibate. Those of you who are divorced or widowed have to choose to be celibate. Those of you who are married have to choose to be faithful. Sexual desire for someone other than your spouse can be a very powerful attraction and married people have to choose, just as singles do, to restrain desire.
4. On the positive side, if you are married, work at your marriage to set a positive example for others. Let your children see why it is good to be married. Let your friends and family see why it is good to be married. If you are struggling in your marriage, persevere in loving your spouse. Forgive, repent, sacrifice for the benefit of your marriage.
5. If you are not married, keep yourself sexually pure. Don’t drift off into pornography or the female equivalent, romance novels. Married people can have the same temptation, but in either case, it is an inadequate substitute for the real thing and is destructive to a marriage in the present or the future.
No matter how much you are tempted, resist the urge to have sexual relationships before you get married. Even if you never get married, you harm the institution of marriage God created when you use his gift outside the bounds of marriage.
Next week I want to talk specifically about submission in marriage. We submit to God, to the institution of marriage and to each other.
In these sermons on sex and marriage and family, if you are single, don’t feel that this is not relevant to you. We all submit to the institution of marriage, whether married or single and I will talk more about that next week.
The church is under attack. The kingdom of God is under attack. But this is not the first time in history when we have been in this situation. Resist the attempts of society to pull you from a Biblical view of sexuality and affirm the positive use of this gift within marriage.
We will have a time of preparation before communion this morning. Use this time to confess your sin and resolve to live a pure life before God. If you are involved in sexual sin, do not despair. God can and will forgive you when you come to him in repentance. Let God’s gift of sex rest where God means it to rest, in the protective relationship of marriage.