Tag Archives: sexuality

All sins are not the same? [False ideas Christians believe about…Sin. Part 4]

28 Feb
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This week we have been fact-checking Christian statements about sin. In part 3 yesterday we looked at the phrase “all sins are the same.” Today we’re investigating its opposite: sins are different. There is an important sense in which sins are very, very different, and they are not the same.   In part 3, we saw how this statement is true in the claim the person made when they said that they are not a sinner because they haven’t committed murder or rape.  They are correct that there is a major difference between, say, shoplifting on the minor end, and human trafficking on the major end. 

As I already said in part 3, sins are equal in God’s eyes only in the sense that all humans are sinners.  But God’s word also gives evidence that all sins are not equal.  There is no doubt that some sins have much more devastating consequences, and are thus treated much more seriously by God.

Look at 1 Corinthians 6, for example, in verses 9-11 where Paul is talking about the equality of many sins.  He lists out a whole bunch of sins saying that they are equal in the sense that people who are engulfed in these sins cannot inherit the Kingdom of Heaven.  But look at his flow of thought as it continues in verses 15-20.  There he singles out one sin in particular and shows how deeply damaging it is to a person: the sin of sexual immorality.  He says in verse 18, that all other sins are committed outside the body, whereas sexual sins are against one’s own body!  What is so egregious about sexual sin is that a Christian’s body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Paul is saying, therefore, that sexual immorality is not the same as other sins!  But hear me, he is not saying that sexual immorality is the worst possible sin.  He is simply saying that it is different and should be seen that way, as it affects a person deep within.  How many of us have seen sexual immorality wreak havoc on people and relationships?  There is such a better way!  The way of Jesus.  That’s exactly what we saw last week when the writer of Hebrews quoted Deuteronomy 31:6 in Hebrews 13.  He said that Christians should be committed to keeping the marriage bed pure. 

That means that sexual expression should be between a man and a woman within the confines of marriage only.  When you are married, Christians are not to have sex with people other than your spouse.  Before you are married, you are not to have sex at all.  Why?  Because it is an intimate gift and when handled outside of a marriage commitment it hurts, it damages and can cause lasting effects.  God of course can forgive, but there are always effects to sin. He wants the best for you, so he sets up guidelines for that purpose. You can follow that standard for disciples of Jesus because God says that he will never leave you nor forsake you.

Why am I saying this?  Not to elevate sexual immorality as some super special category of sin.  No.  I am bringing it up because in the Bible we see that sexual immorality is not the same as other sins.  Think about the damage that sin does.  This is why Paul makes a big deal about sexual immorality, it does damage in relationships.  There are other sins that do massive damage as well.  Obviously, murder.  It is right for Christians to view murder as altogether different from other sins because murder is the taking of a life.  This is but one example of many.

Another is when Jesus taught, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”  He was pretty serious about protecting children.

So sins are all equal?  Or sins are different?  Both are true.  While we all have equal sin in God’s eyes, there are sins that are way worse than others in God’s eyes.  All are forgivable.  Redemption is possible in everything.  He can teach us through it all.  Some sins, just by their nature, have more effects, more ripples on more people and on His temple, our bodies, on his body, the church, and on his creation.

The surprising thing God says about sex

19 Sep

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You fill in the blank: “Sex is ________”.

Too often we Christians have responded to our culture in negative, hurtful ways that have led people to conclude that we hate sex, that we think sex is bad.  Our young people have heard so often “don’t have sex”, that many Christians teens are scared of it, and they know very little about how God thinks of it.

I remember as a kid reading the biblical book Song of Solomon and thinking, “Woah, I cannot believe this is in the Bible.”  And yet there it is.  A husband and a wife expressing their sexual desire for one another in colorful language that leaves little to the imagination.  Some of the figures of speech seemed really kooky because in our culture we generally don’t use animals like gazelles to describe one another’s bodies.  But in Song of Solomon, as we read this racy story about marital sexual expression, we get it.  Their longing for one another, their description of one another is very real, very much like our own experience of sexuality.

And yet, it can be kind of embarrassing to read Song of Solomon.  Have you ever heard a sermon about Song of Solomon?  Mostly likely not.  Why?  Because we tend to think of sexual expression as deeply private.

We Americans need to realize, though, that not all cultures think about sexuality quite like we do.  Though we live in a sexualized culture, and that aspect of our culture has become a lot more open, we still are more cautious than many other places around the world.

So we read Song of Solomon and can question whoever decided to put this R-rated book in the Bible.

Why am I bringing this up?

Because the Bible says a lot about sex.  I mean, really.  A lot.

Additionally, we live in a culture very much like the culture in which the New Testament was written. Through most of 2014, I taught through the book of 1st Corinthians.  Paul talks about sex a lot in 1 Corinthians because sexuality was a part of their city.  It was even a part of pagan worship.  The local temple had hundreds of prostitutes, and one element of worship was to pay to sleep with a prostitute.  So when he was writing a letter to people living in a sexualized culture, Paul knew he had to talk about it.  And so do we.

Sexual expression is all over the place.  Commercials, TV shows, and even news programs are cluttered with it.  With the rise of the internet in the last 20 years, the sex industry has exploded.  We are bombarded with messages that say to us that we should express our sexuality however we want.

Unrestricted sexual expression has become commonplace.

I mentioned a favorite show a few weeks ago: Running Wild with Bear Grylls.  He recently had Olympic skier Lindsay Vonn as his guest traipsing through the wilderness.  She told Bear that she was married at 22, called it wrong decision, and got divorced.  Then she dated Tiger Woods, but with crazy schedules, they couldn’t manage a relationship.  Bear asked “What about kids, do you see them in your future?”  She said “Yes, but no more of this marriage stuff.  I don’t want to go through all that.  If you want to be with someone, just be with them.”  That’s pretty normal to hear these days in our culture.

In this post, I’d like to introduce you to the surprising thing God says about sex.  What do you think?  If God were to fill in the blank, just like you did above, what word would he use to describe sex?  Sex is ________.

One college art professor says “Nothing reduces a collegiate art classroom into nervous giggles quite like the sculpture of David by Michelangelo. As an art teacher for 13 years, I have seen reactions to David that have varied from amazement — “Wow! What an amazing work of art!” — to embarrassment and even outright anger — “How dare you show this in class?! He is… well, he is… you know…. Naked!”

She goes on to say that “Culture sends us many messages about the human body, nudity and sex. Unfortunately, these messages can taint our views of sexuality, causing us to feel shame about our bodies and the act of sex. For many, the word “sex” is synonymous with the words “dirty”, “shame,” and “guilt.”  Shame is not from Jesus. God created our bodies, including our sexuality, for good.  Our bodies reflect God’s image, and God created sexuality as a fundamental part of life.”

What that means is that the surprising thing God says about sex is that it is good!  Because God created us as sexual beings with sexual desires, and that means his plan for sex is good!  Here is a key principle: God designed sexuality to be the way a man and woman can become one. I brought this up a few weeks ago when I talked about marriage. In Genesis 2:24 we read “The two shall become one flesh.”  Marriage, then, the proper place for sexual expression, and it is so good.

Because of that, consider the amazing gift of your purity, your virginity.  You get to give that gift one time.  Imagine that you wait and give that to your spouse after you are wedding!  There are few gifts that you give them that are so exquisite at that.  By waiting your are saying “I saved this incredibly precious part of me for you and for you only.”  Isn’t that wonderfully romantic?

This gift is so important because the expression of your sexuality is much more than just a physical act.  The act of sex is also very emotional and relational.  When you make connection of becoming one with another person, the two becoming one flesh, you are connecting much more than physically.  We need to see sex as a deep connection in all these ways.  This is why it is such a powerful gift.  When you give the gift of your sexuality, you are giving your entire self to that person.  It is, therefore, genius of God to reserve sexual expression for marriage, for that one lifelong partner.  Your spouse is only person you are to go that deep with.

As a result, the writers of the NT have a lot to say about purity.  Here are few examples:

1 Cor. 6:12-20 “That is what you were,” Paul says to the Corinthians, “You used to indulge in an openly free sexuality, but no more.”  He goes on to teach that our body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, and so it is to be treated that way.  What you see, what you eat, what you touch, all of it.  Strive for purity.

Eph. 4:17-5:20 is a long passage, but a very good one to read. One comment Paul makes in this passage is that “There should not be a hint of sexual immorality among you.”  Not a hint.  In other words, strive for purity.

But what if you haven’t been pure?  Are you ruined in God’s eyes?

I recently learned of an interview of a woman in 40s who was physically intimate with a number of men in college days.  20 years later in her 40s she was still reliving, with great pain, all the brokenness of those relationships, emotionally and physically.

That is not to say that if you mess up, if you have premarital sex, that you will be in pain for the rest of your life.  God is a God of mercy, grace and forgiveness.  He can restore.  He is a God of making things new.   Many people have experienced the transformation that God has brought to their lives.

You can be restored.  You can say “from this day forward I am practiced God’s way.”  You can be a virgin from that point on.  One of the most amazing verses in the Bible is where he says in Revelation 21:5 that he is making all things new.  In Christ we are made new.  No sin from our past is held against us!

We can be pure, and we can remain pure.  Do pursue ongoing purity, we need to talk about the roots of sexual purity.  If God is in the business of making us new, how do we have purity in our very sensual society?  We may desire purity, but we live in a society that makes purity difficult.  So what do we do about that?

Practicing purity starts in the mind, with our desire.  Jesus notes in Matt 5:27-30 that if you look at a woman lustfully, you have done the same thing as committing adultery with her.  Jesus wants us to take lust seriously.

But when he says “if you look at a woman lustfully, gouge out your eye!” he is speaking in hyperbole.  Or making an argument from the absurd.  What do I mean by hyperbole and absurd?  Let’s look at each one.

Hyperbole is exaggeration.  Jesus didn’t want us to literally gouge out our eyes if we lust, as just about every Christian would then be blind on their first day of being a follower of Jesus.  Instead, one way to understand Jesus’ teaching is that he wants us to take serious action to eradicate lust from our lives.

Then there is the argument from absurdity.  He and everyone else in the crowd listening to him that day knows, obviously, that gouging out your eye, won’t stop you from lust.  In fact, when he said “gouge out your eye,” there may have been laughter in the crowd.  Why?  Removal of your eyes clearly won’t stop lust!  You can still lust in your mind.  Lust is a problem of the inner life.  What really needs to change is your heart.

How, then, do we apply Jesus’ teaching to help us live with purity in a sexualized culture?

Someone has said that you can’t help it if a bird poops on your head.  But you can prevent them from a building a nest there.  Some of you know that you cannot handle certain forms of sexual expression or encounter.  And you may need to get help.  Stop allowing sexualized music, movies, TV shows, books, etc. into your life.

If you are allowing pornography into your life, even in light forms, like looking at pictures of scantily clad people on Google Image search, then you need to take action. Use both the argument from hyperbole and absurdity.  Take action.  Admit what you are doing, first to yourself, that it is wrong and confess to God as well.  Then confess to someone you can trust.  You simply must get the truth out.  Invite accountability, take the initiative to be held accountable.  Put the filtering and accountability software on your computer. And if you addiction is controlling you, seek professional help.  Locally here in the Central PA area, you can contact Day Seven as they specializing in helping get free from sexual addiction.

In addition to taking action to remove sexualized content and encounters from your life, seek to fill your life with pure, wholesome content and encounters.

In Psalm 119:9-11 we read some excellent advice: “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word…I have hidden your word in my heart so that I might not sin against you.”

One way to do this is to fill your mind with God’s good things.  Read, study and memorize passages from the Bible.  Get an accountability partner to work with you.  Fill your mind with good things, and that is what you will think about.

When considering purity, know this: God’s vision of human sexuality is not to impose rules on us.  God is not saying that if we express our sexuality in a way that is disobedient to him, we have committed an unpardonable sin.  God’s vision of sexuality is with our best interest in mind, and when we don’t live up to that best, know that there is grace, there is hope, and there is new life in Christ.  God is a merciful, forgiving God!  He loves you, and he continues to want what is best for you.

What does the Bible say about Sex?

16 Sep

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I feel a bit like the parent who knows they ought and need to talk with their pubescent child about the birds and the bees, but because it is so awkward they procrastinate.

Except this time, I’m talking to the church, an entire congregation, on a Sunday morning, about the birds and bees.

Yeah, we are really going to talk about it.  Human sexuality.

It’s not just the awkward, private nature of the topic that has me shuffling my feet, but also the fact that in our society it has become an extremely broad topic.  And a very divisive one.  Christians themselves have many divergent viewpoints on sexual ethics.  I started a topical preaching series called Life In These United States, and my goal has been to talk about the things that everyone is talking about, but to do so in such a way that invites conversation, shares principles, and hopefully avoids cornering people.  The topic of sexuality could easily offend.

A few years ago I preached on homosexuality and I was nervous about that sermon too.  You can read all about it here.  So I won’t be spending much time on same-sex concerns.   A few weeks ago, I also preached on marriage, so likewise, I will most talk about other areas related to sexuality.

Namely, how should Christians think about the expression of their sexuality in a hypersexualized culture?  What does the Bible teach?  We Christians have come across to the world as prudes, as anti-sex, to the point where teenagers growing up in a conservative Christian context can come to believe that sex is an awful thing.

But this confuses them because the culture around them seems to celebrate sexual expression.  No doubt the changing hormones in their bodies and the influence of friends and media can work together to make exploration of sexual expression nearly unavoidable.  What should Christians do about these forces at work within them and outside them?  Succumb?  Enjoy?  Run away?  Build walls?  Most importantly of all, what does God say about sex?  He created it, didn’t he?  So do we know what he says about sex in the Bible?

So I approach this sermon with some hesitation.  The answer are not easy.  Christians through the ages have had many disagreements about sexuality.  Some Christians have made sexuality a kind of litmus test for faith.  They can give the impression that if you are not sexually pure and self-controlled, you are a second-class Christian and perhaps not even a Christian at all.  But is that true?

And what about participating in sex before marriage?  Is it wrong?

What about cohabitation before marriage?  Can a couple live together first?  What if they live together but don’t have sex?

How much media should a Christian consume?  Is it sinful to look at any media depicting expressions of sex?

Finally, is it possible for Christians hold to a traditional sexual ethic of purity in a gracious way?

So if you want to learn more about sexuality, we welcome you to join us at Faith Church on Sunday September 18.

FOLLOW-UP POST – Click here to find out how we answered the questions above when we talked about the Scriptures and Sex on 9/18/16.

Why we have had four sermons about sex in less than two months

7 May

relationshipstatusDo you realize that we have talked about sex in four sermons in less than two months?  Take a gander:

  • March 30 – 1 Cor. 5:1-11 – Paul mentions incest and sexual immorality
  • April 13 – 1 Cor. 6:9-11 – Paul mentions sexual immorality and homosexuality
  • April 27 – 1 Cor 6:12-20 – The whole thing is about sexual purity
  • May 5 – 1 Cor 7:1-9 – Paul talks about sex in marriage

I’m slightly embarrassed about this prevalence of the topic of sex in these sermons.  But there it is.

So why did this happen?  Going back to the historical situation in the city of Corinth, we hear how Paul describes it in 1 Cor 7:2 “there is so much immorality”.  I can’t tell you how many people, since we started this series, have remarked that it feels like Paul was writing to the church in America in 2014.  We live in a world where the expression of our sexuality has moved from a private thing to a public thing.

Paul’s advice in 1 Cor 7:1-9, then, is very timely.  I said something in the sermon on Sunday that I think bears repeating: while Paul was single and will make a case for the value of singleness (which we’ll get to in a few weeks), he says clearly that marriage is a very good thing. That is true for many reasons, none the least of which, in a sexually open culture like ours, is that marriage is God’s wonderful design for the expression of this incredible gift that we call sex.  Paul says that Christian husband and wives should not be withholding sex from one another, except for mutually agreed upon periods of fasting, where they devote themselves to prayer.  Simply put, Christian marriage should be marked by husbands and wives having lots of sex.

There is much more that could be said about sex in marriage.  Particularly, husbands and wives need to talk about it.  Often we do not. And I get it.  Talking about sex can be awkward.  But we need to bring it up.  If you feel it isn’t happening enough, talk about it. If you feel you’re being pressured to have sex too much, talk about it.  Like Paul says, come to a mutually agreed upon decision about how often you have sex.

And here’s where Paul opens the door to the secret of marriage.  Not just by saying that couples should have lots of sex.  Instead he says that “your spouse owns your body”!  Just as he said in the previous chapter (for which Phil Bartelt had a powerful sermon on sexual purity), your body is not your own.  God owns your body.  Now in chapter 7, he goes on to say that your spouse owns your body.  Doesn’t that sound weird? In our hyper-individualized culture the thought that you don’t own your body seems wrong.  Twice, though, Paul says others own our body.  God and our spouse.  This is the secret to marriage.  When you embrace the idea that you don’t own your body, you know that you can give yourself lovingly and generously on behalf of your spouse.

That you do not own your body does not mean that you allow others, including your spouse, to treat your body with disrespect.  If your spouse is abusing you emotionally or physically or in any way, you should get to place of safety immediately.  Paul’s conveys his understanding of our spouses owning our bodies in a mutually beneficial way.  What he says is actually quite radical for his culture!  In the Greco-Roman era wives were considered possessions of their husbands.  So when Paul says “wives, your bodies belong to your husbands”, the people would have understood this as the norm for their culture.  But when he goes on to say “husbands, your bodies belong to your wives” a hush would have gone through the room.  That was radical stuff.  That kind of mutuality in marriage was unheard of.  It’s why our treatment of each other in marriage must be a practice of mutual loving-kindness (the kind of love Paul will go on to describe in 1 Cor 13).

So in summary, we learned what it means to give yourself away to your spouse.  If you cultivate that kind of attitude, you’ll be creating furrow ground in which a fruitful marriage can grow.

This sermon gets an M rating

25 Apr

Join us this coming Sunday at Faith Church as Phil Bartelt continues our series in 1st Corinthians.  This past week, being Easter, we jumped ahead to 1 Corinthians 15, which focuses on the resurrection.  In two days when we gather for worship again, Phil will return to 1st Corinthians 6, finishing up a hard-hitting chapter with a section about sexuality.

That’s why this sermon gets an M rating.rated m

Mature audiences only.  We have our children’s programs, so if you join us, preschool and elementary kids will not be listening to the sermon.  We feel it best that parents be the first ones to talk with their kids about sexuality.

But the rest of us will be talking about it.

A church worship service might seem to be the last place you would expect to hear people talk about sexuality.  But we need to talk about it!  No surprise here: we live in a society that is inundated with sexuality.  I can look out my kitchen window as I type this and see my Amish neighbors’ bake stand.  The community we live is incredibly beautiful, and especially this time of year, with green grass, plowed fields, and a rainbow of flowers popping up all over.  But here, too, amid the gorgeous wonder of springtime in rural Lancaster County, we are swimming in the waters of a culture awash with sexuality.

Having said that I realize I could come across as equating sexuality with evil or as bad or not pristine, not gorgeous wonder.  Please know my intent is anything but that. Instead I want to ask you some questions in preparation for Phil’s sermon:

Is sexual expression always bad?  Should there be limitations to it?  What is a healthy, beautiful expression of sexuality?  What does the Bible have to say for how God wants his disciples for express their sexuality?  How should Christians interact with people, with a society that might have different ideas about what is the best way to express sexuality?

From the Puritans to Miley Cyrus, and everything in between, and many other expressions of sexuality more strict or more open, our society has changed greatly when it comes to expressing our sexuality.  Through the decades, not just our culture, but also religion and the Bible have had a significant impact on how people understand and express sexuality.  I encourage you to join us on Sunday as Phil teaches through this passage.  You might be reading this thinking that you couldn’t care less about what the Bible has to say about sexuality.   Perhaps you’ll be curious enough to hear it out.

Palm Sunday and Homosexuality?

12 Apr

A couple weeks ago, the child sponsorship agency, World Vision, made a big splash in the news. Did you hear about it? It came out that they had changed a long-held policy about standards for employee sexuality. Their previous policy was that sexuality was only to be expressed in marriage between a man and woman. Now they had changed to allow employees for whom marriage is between two adults of the same gender.

When the news the broke, overnight they lost 10,000 sponsorships. And the evangelical subculture went wild. There were World Vision haters, supporters, etc. Because of the massive, sad, impact of 10,000 kids losing sponsorship, 48 hours later World Vision changed it decision and went back to its previous position. There is much that could be said about this, much that has been said.  I bring it up today because the World Vision situation is indicative of the fact that we live in a very interesting time, especially regarding homosexuality.

And today Paul mentions homosexuality. After addressing a situation of sexual immorality, and after addressing a situation in which some people in the church were suing one another in court, mostly likely over a property dispute, Paul now takes a step back to look at the bigger picture.

In our study of 1st Corinthians, tomorrow we arrive at 1 Corinthians 6:9-11, and in a list of vices, Paul mentions the act of homosexual sex.  But there are so many questions about this passage.  How do we interpret the specific words he used?  What was the situation like in Corinth and in the Greco-Roman empire at the time that might help us understand the expression of homosexuality that Paul was speaking to?  Was something specific happening in the Corinthian church?  And what of the fact that in this list of vices, there are many other things that Paul mentions that have nothing to do with sexuality?  Is his list intended to be exhaustive?  What are the similarities and differences between our culture and the one Paul was writing to?  How do those similarities and differences help us hone in on principles that could be broadly applicable not only to their culture, but also to ours?

What we’ll find is that these three verses are about so much more than the expression of our sexuality.  Join us tomorrow at Faith Church at 9:30am for a Palm Sunday sermon that won’t feel much like a Palm Sunday sermon, until maybe the end!