November 8, 2015

I grew up in a house where discussions of sex and sexuality were as scarce as hen’s teeth. I actually learned a lot about sexual issues from reading the Bible.

The Bible is plainspoken about rape, incest, polygamy, adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, fornication, lust, the healthy and normal attraction between a man and a woman, and relations within marriage, both healthy and unhealthy. It’s all there.

In the first few pages of the Bible we are told that we are sexual beings made in the image of God.

In other places of the Bible we are told that God is neither male nor female, but is Spirit and we worship God in Spirit and in truth (John 4:34). However, within the Spirit of God there are aspects that are uniquely male and female. Otherwise, we could not have been made in His image.

Genesis teaches that from the beginning our sexuality was a good thing and Adam and Eve felt no shame in that.

Adam and Eve were gifts to one another and were made for each other’s joy, admiration, love, and mutual benefit.   More than being made for one another, they were made to be in communion and in fellowship with God.

When their relationship with God got out of balance, it affected their relationship with each other and it affected how they related to one another sexually, evidenced by their shame of their naked bodies.

When Eve offered Adam fruit from the tree and tempted him as the serpent tempted her, it affected their relationship with God. They both made the wrong choice and they tried to hide from God and then God cast them from the garden.

When we are pursuing holiness, we are seeking God and desiring that God set us apart to do His work, we cannot at the same time do whatever we desire with our bodies or our minds. We have to observe the limits God has imposed in order to maximize our joy and effectiveness as His servant.

Sometimes when I am hunting I will come across a neighbor’s sign on a piece of property that joins the hunting lease which reads, “Private Property, No Trespassing.”

I know that I’ve gone as far as I’m supposed to go. If I go any farther, I will be walking in an area I have no right to be in that could get me in trouble with both the law and the landowner. If I go into forbidden territory it might bring me temporary pleasure, only to later cause me great pain and suffering. Sexual sins and other sins are a lot like this.

Paul, writing from Ephesus back to the troubled church he established in Corinth, wrote to them in order to point out some “No Trespassing” signs they were ignoring, among them sexual sins.

Unfortunately, members of the congregation at Corinth had already passed over into some forbidden territory. These people, although professing to be Christians, were not living holy lives sexually.

Part of Paul’s letter points out the forbidden sexual territory they should not go to because it did not bring them close to God or to one another.

We need to understand that God is looking out for what is best for us, for what will bring to us maximum joy and happiness.

What is interesting is that Paul wasn’t warning them about going to specific places like a prostitute’s house near the sea, or peep show in the city, although Corinth had its share of sinful places because it was a place where commerce passed going and coming from Rome. As in any major city, you could find places of ill repute.

Sexual sin doesn’t have to be connected to a physical place. As long as you have a mind and undisciplined desires, sexual sin can be around any corner or within your mind. Today, it is as close as the click of a mouse or a cellphone. But it’s always been as close as one’s imagination.

Sexual sin, like many sins, begins with our human desires.

The song our Reach Worship Team presented today challenges us with this thought: “What are the desires of your heart?” From our hearts’ desires we often move to actions of some kind.

The Apostle Paul understood this. In order to get the church he started in Corinth to pursue holiness, Paul told them to

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 (1 Cor 6:18-20) NIV.

We are different from all of God’s other creation because we were created in God’s image.

We are made holy when the Lord breathes into us the gift of his Holy Spirit when we come faithfully acknowledging Christ as Lord. We are then set apart to do the good works God has called us to do.

Sin becomes a great hindrance to doing what we have been called to do. It becomes a hindrance to achieving the purposes God has created us for.

The sins of the Corinthian Church were greatly hindering their purpose.

Paul told the Corinthian Church that one of the unique things about sexual sin is that it is actually a sin against the body, which is the temple of God.

Now if we have established a relationship with God and Christ lives within us, then our bodies are the temples where God resides.

Paul says we are doing damage to the very place we have invited God to dwell when we sin sexually.   God dwells within us in the form of the Holy Spirit. When we sin sexually, we are saying that we desire the pleasure of the flesh more than the joy we have in the Holy Spirit.

Even the sexual sin of lust, a sin that takes place without touching anyone, is doing great harm to our relationship with God.

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You must not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that if a man looks at a woman and wants to sin sexually with her, he has already committed that sin with her in his mind. (Matthew 5:27) NIV.

Jesus made it more difficult to keep Moses’ seventh commandment, which says that we should not commit adultery.

In 1976, “Playboy Magazine” conducted an interview with then President Jimmy Carter. In an unsolicited confession, President Carter said, “I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”

Just so you know, in 1976 I was in the ninth grade. I didn’t actually read this in “Playboy Magazine,” but I remember hearing this quote and looked it up to share with you. Just so you know.

Look, folks, this isn’t about recognizing beauty. God made men and women to be attracted to one another and we can all recognize beautiful people when we see them. It’s called nature. It’s called hormones. It’s called biology. It’s called, “that’s what makes us human.”

This is about making people the subjects of our desires and reducing them to the objects of our pleasure, or just reducing them to objects.

Because we were made as sexual beings, we can and should affirm all the goodness that our sexuality affords.  Most conservative Christians see the most intimate of these expressions occurring within the bounds of a monogamous, faithful, relationship bound by the vows of marriage between a husband and a wife. Some see room for other possibilities. The Apostle Paul is not one of those individuals.

Whatever conclusions you draw from scripture, I challenge you to think about what brings you closer to the holiness of God. Since the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, Paul’s challenge is that we treat our bodies and other people in a way that will honor God.

This wasn’t happening in Corinth. Apparently, after people came to a belief in Jesus as the Messiah and united with the body of believers, it was difficult telling the ethical behavior of some of the church members from those outside the church.

Paul challenged the church that if the Holy Spirit lived within them there should be some evidence of that in their ethics, in their principles, in their decisions about money, in how they treated their neighbor, in what they said to each other, in how they treated bodies, and in their sexual habits and lifestyles.

So when Paul heard reports back from the Corinthian church this wasn’t happening, this is what he wrote:

9 I wrote to you in my letter that you should not associate with people who sin sexually. 10 But I did not mean the people of this world. You would have to leave the world to get away from all the people who sin sexually, or who are greedy and cheat each other, or who worship idols. 11 I meant you must not associate with people who claim to be believers but continue to live in sin. Don’t even eat with a brother or sister who sins sexually, is greedy, worships idols, abuses others with insults, gets drunk, or cheats people. 12-13 It is not my business to judge those who are not part of the group of believers. God will judge them, but you must judge those who are part of your group. The Scriptures say, “Make the evil person leave your group.” (1 Cor. 5:9-11)

I suppose this is one of those passages that birthed church discipline.

The pages of church history are filled with examples of members being expelled for things like dancing, gossiping, card playing, divorce, or taking a swig of liquor.

Few Baptist churches expel individual members these days. We do see the Southern Baptist Convention and local associations expelling congregations for things like calling a woman pastor and for accepting homosexuals as members or in one recent incident a church was expelled for having welcoming and affirming language which the association interpreted as being homosexual friendly.

While there are many other kinds of sexual sins, this one is the only one I know of that has risen to a level worthy of having churches being disfellowshiped.

If people want to use Paul’s passage here as a text to fall back on for justification for such action, what would the church look like if we refused to fellowship with people who are sinning in other sexual ways, or those who are greedy, or those who have allowed money, popularity, looks, or possessions, or status to rise to idol status, or those who insult us, or those who struggle with alcohol or those who cheat?

Perhaps Paul felt justified in his mandate to withdraw fellowship from all these sinning people, believing that it was the only way that a young church could survive and separate themselves from these kinds of members.

If we applied these words in a strict literal way to our church or if most churches did, it seems that most months we’d be trying to decide who needed kicking out.

Or, if we were really honest, we might find ourselves among the crowd, thinking we were the ones justified, thinking we had identified another sinner among us, thinking we’d come to church with the name of another sinner on our lips, only to discover Jesus say something extremely convicting that caused us to totally revaluate how we looked at the accused and ourselves.

That happened to a group of men who came with rocks in their hands, ready to stone a woman caught in adultery.

4 “Teacher,” they said to Jesus, “this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 The law of Moses says to stone her. What do you say?”

6 They were trying to trap him into saying something they could use against him, but Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dust with his finger. 7 They kept demanding an answer, so he stood up again and said, “All right, but let the one who has never sinned throw the first stone!” 8 Then he stooped down again and wrote in the dust.

9 When the accusers heard this, they slipped away one by one, beginning with the oldest, until only Jesus was left in the middle of the crowd with the woman. 10 Then Jesus stood up again and said to the woman, “Where are your accusers? Didn’t even one of them condemn you?”

11 “No, Lord,” she said.

And Jesus said, “Neither do I. Go and sin no more.”

Show me a church that’s doing a lot of condemning and show me a church that is offering a lot of grace and I’m going to opt for the one that’s offering a lot of grace because I think that’s where Jesus is.

Why? Because I understand the honesty of Jimmy Carter.

Why? Because I understand the hatred of these individuals who chose to condemn this woman but not the man.

Why? Because I understand how easy it is for us to see the sins of other people and not our own.

Why? Because I understand the weakness of the flesh, but I also understand the great desire to love God, to know God, and to be set apart to do His work.

Why? Because I need grace.

Why? Because I think people are redeemable.

Remember King David and how he lusted after Bathsheba, sinned against her and then had her husband killed to cover up the sin?

You say, “But preacher, you are soft on sin when you are heavy on grace.”

Did Jesus not challenge the woman to go and sin no more?

We do not have to lower our standards in order to extend grace.

God doesn’t lower His standards. In fact, grace abounds because the standards of God are so high and one of the great challenges we have as a church is to realize just how radical the grace of God is.

The best example is the life of Jesus.

This woman left loved, accepted, and affirmed. She did so knowing Jesus’ sexual ethic on adultery was still high.

Perhaps you need the grace of Jesus this morning because your sexual ethics are not what they should be or should have been. Jesus extends his grace to you.

Perhaps you know people whose sexual ethics are not in line with what you believe to be God’s standard. Do you stand with rocks in your hand or do you stand with love and grace? You do not have to agree with their lifestyle to be loving, kind, welcoming, and accepting.