Teaching series from 1 Thessalonians

Sexual Purity

1 Thessalonians 4:1-10

Teaching t08686

Introduction

Briefly review setting. Chapter 4 begins with “finally then”—which signals a transition. Paul turns now from reviewing his relationship with the Thessalonian Christians to elaborating on the instruction he gave them when he was there (read 4:1). He acknowledges the great progress they have made in their walks with God, and he urges them not to regress but to keep pressing forward in these areas.

Notice where he starts (read 4:2-3)—by addressing the importance of sexual purity. The first thing we need to do, then, is define what Paul means by “sexual immorality” (porneia). It refers here (and throughout the Bible) to all sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage.

Why? Because God is a cosmic kill-joy, a hung-up prude, a cruel sadist who gets off on tantalizing us and then smacking our hands? No, God is the One who created human sexuality and gave us the nerve-endings to enjoy sexual pleasure. The God of the Bible inspired Solomon to write "The Song of Solomon," which exalts romantic and sexual love.

The issue is one of design. That's why Paul describes sexual purity as “sanctification.” This word means “set apart for the purpose for which it was intended” (BALL-POINT PEN). As our Creator, God designed human sexuality to be a physically pleasurable, potentially reproductive, and above all a deeply personal and relationally cementing union between a husband and wife (see Genesis 2:24).

This is why, in the Old Testament, to “lie with” is a negative commentary on sexual misuse. “To know” is the verb used to describe sex as God designed it. In this context, it mysteriously mirrors the joyous, self-giving love between the Persons of the God-head (Genesis 1:27) that overflows in the creation of other persons.

This positive implies a negative—namely, that all sexual relations outside of heterosexual marriage are a corruption of God's design and therefore morally wrong (see Hebrews 13:4). This includes not only those acts which our culture still deems unacceptable (sexual abuse; incest; bestiality), but also those acts about which our culture is morally ambivalent or accepting (adultery; group sex; homosexuality; pre-marital hetero-sex).

QUALIFICATION: I am not arguing that all of these practices are equally destructive, or that they should have the same legal/social penalties (that is a very complex subject); I am simply staking out the moral ground. To walk with and please God involves trusting his wisdom and design in this area.

Christians are called to be different here! Because of the power of our sexual urges, because of our fallen natures, and because of the prevalence of sexual immorality in our environment, there is an insidious temptation to “lower the bar” in this area. That's why Paul's reminder in this passage is aimed at refuting the most common rationalizations . . .

Common Rationalizations

“Paul's instruction is personal opinion, culturally bound, etc.—and therefore not authoritative.” Paul is only offering his human perspective shaped by his culture, rather than a word from God that transcends culture.

You hear this all the time these days (UNDERGRAD PROFESSORS; SECULAR THERAPISTS; NEW TESTAMENT “SCHOLARS”).

But Paul goes out of his way to claim that he speaks as a messenger of Jesus on this matter: “we exhort you in the Lord Jesus” (4:1); “you know what commandments we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus” (4:2); “this is the will of God” (4:3).

The culture in which he spoke disagreed just as profoundly as our culture does. Except for the DOUBLE STANDARD that men enjoyed, it was just as immersed in sexual immorality as ours is (RITUAL PROSTITUTION; SODOMITES; RAMPANT PROMISCUITY; WIVES FOR HEIRS & MISTRESSES FOR SEXUAL EXCITEMENT). This is not cultural accommodation—it is confrontation!

Furthermore, this is the biblical position from the beginning and across all cultural contexts.

“Suppression of sexual desire is unnatural and harmful.” This is the conclusion that flows from rejecting revelation about human sexuality, and viewing it only in terms of “plumbing and fluid dynamics.”

We are urged to view ourselves as animals and take our sexual cues from animals.1 We are told that all attempts to restrict our sexual urges are perverse and psychologically harmful.2 We are told that sexual desire is like physical hunger or elimination—we will be damaged if we don't satisfy it. We are told that our culture's sexual practices do not match the biblical norms—so the norms must be wrong (LOGIC OF KINSEY REPORT & SEXUAL REVOLUTION).

But Paul argues just the opposite direction (read 4:4,5)—not that we should view our sexuality as evil, but that we should learn how to control our bodies in this area rather than be slaves to our lusts.3 Sexual self-control, motivated by respect for God and others (4:4), is a good thing! Slavery to sexual urges is dehumanizing.

Where are the examples of harm from sexual self-control? Because God made us as sexual beings, we should not feel guilty about having sexual desires. But it is not true that choosing to say "no" to acting on sexual desire is physically or psychologically harmful. I have yet to meet anyone who physically injured himself because he didn't have sex. And if you want to talk about sex-related harm, it is overwhelmingly related to unrestrained sexual activity (as we'll see soon).

Do we really want to take our sex education from the animal world and sex surveys? Should we eat our sexual partners after sex, like many spiders do? Should we take cat sex as our paradigm? Should we approve of rape and incest and child sexual abuse because of its statistical prevalence in our society? There is no way to derive a moral “ought” from the “is” of what animals and humans do. So we use such information to rationalize activities we want to practice—but still ignore it where it is personally offensive. We need a moral compass to guide our sexuality that is not subject to the fluctuations of fallen human opinion—which is exactly what the Bible claims to give us!

“Sexual relations between consenting partners is not harmful.” This is dogma in our culture (especially among high school and college students), and you will receive a blistering rebuke if you dare to disagree. As Wendy Shalit says, sexual modesty has gone from a virtue to prudery to pathology; jaded sexual promiscuity has become “mature.”

Yet this is pure myth and propaganda, a reality-denying rationalization. Paul denies this expressly in 4:6-7 (read). Because God has designed us for sexual purity, we unleash terrific damage to ourselves and others when we violate his design. Paul is not saying that you lose your chance to go to heaven if you commit sexual immorality (later). Rather, he is saying that because a moral God has constructed human beings in his image, we experience his judgment when we violate in the sense that we damage ourselves and others: “You can't ultimately break God's moral laws; you break yourself upon them."”

For 30 years now, I've been working among the wreckage of the sexual revolution with people who have been broken by this lie.

I'm not just talking about the danger of STD's, which is killing millions of people all over the world.

I'm talking about the wound in your soul when you give a part of yourself that you can never have back, and then the other person leaves. I'm talking about teenage girls and boys who have sex out of peer pressure (rather than love or even desire for pleasure) at 14 or 15 to “get it out of the way.” And they are not allowed to say it hurts, because that would give the lie to the dogma. I'm talking about college students describing their sexual activity as “hooking up” and “just another contact sport.” No wonder they are cynical about real love—you have to harden yourself to deaden the pain!

I'm talking about the lie that having multiple sexual partners before marriage will help you find someone who is sexually compatible, when those who have had sex only with their spouses report much higher sexual satisfaction. I'm talking about the damage of guilt and boredom and poor performance in marriage because of all the porn and other partners you compare your spouse to.

I'm talking about the lie that living together will help you succeed in marriage, when cohabitors are 80% more likely to get divorced and report a much higher incidence of marital infidelity.

I'm talking about the precious children born out of wedlock (not to mention those who are aborted) who suffer because they don't have an intact family to grow up in—no matter what word games we play about what “family” means. I'm talking about the way adultery rips a family apart and tears up the children of divorce (for which adultery is the number reason cited).

How much more of this wreckage do we have to reap before we're ready to drop the denial and admit that sexual immorality is destroying us? We're like the proverbial ostrich with its head in the sand while the lion chews its back-side. There is no such thing as “victimless” sexuality immorality! This is why God is so strong on this issue—because he loves us and knows what is best for us.

“Sexual purity is irrelevant to spiritual vitality.” Spirituality is in today—but only spirituality that has no binding moral authority.4 We want a god who has been morally castrated so we can use him/it to facilitate our own agendas. The sad thing is that more and more Christians, instead of being an attractive contrast to this, are conforming to it. I commonly hear professed Christians expressing outrage that other Christians' “judge” them because of their sexual immorality.

Evidently, some of the Thessalonian Christians were saying this about Paul. But he says that there is no such thing as rejecting God's teaching on this area and being spiritually healthy (read 4:8). It is not uptight people getting down on you—it is God's Holy Spirit convicting you. He is the Spirit of truth, and he indwells you personally train your conscience concerning God's moral will for your life. You can't reject his instruction and correction and have a healthy, intimate relationship with him (read 1 John 1:5-6).

SUMMARIZE: Repeat the tendency to lower the bar in this are to where we live. The point of this passage is to keep the bar where God keeps it—and ask God to provide us with the resources we need to lift us up to it . . .

God's provision for restoration

But God doesn't just hold the bar high on this issue—he also provides the resources to help us (Romans 5:20b). Paul doesn't cover these resources in this passage, but he does elsewhere. There is a lot to this; I can only summarize the high points and give you a personal picture.

He will forgive your guilt. The biggest consequence of sexual immorality is that it is rebellion against God that renders you guilty before him. The beginning of all true restoration in this area (as in any moral area) is having your guilt before God washed away. God is willing and able to forgive you and cleanse your conscience (Psalm 103:8-12). He sent his Son to die the death you owe him because of your rebellion. He is ready to give you his forgiveness as a permanent gift today, right now. He doesn't need or want your penance. The only condition is that you come to him admitting your guilt before him, casting yourself on his mercy through Christ.

If you have never done this before, this is what it means to be a Christian . . .

If you have already received Christ, God has not rejected you because of your sexual sin. But you need to appropriate his forgiveness when you fall in the same basic way as above.

He will heal your wounds. But God provides more than forgiveness, as wonderful as it is. He also can bring substantial healing into your life in this area (Psalm 147: 3, 5, 11). He may not remove all of the consequences for your sexual sins, but he can change your heart and restore much of your innocence and purity. I have seen God do this with people with an amazing amount of sexual damage—this church is full of such people. It takes time and cooperation on your part—to embrace sexual purity from the heart, flee sexual immorality, and pursue real relational intimacy with God and other Christians (2 Timothy 2:22).

I have asked Cindy Botti to share her own experiences in this area to encourage you and give you a peek at how God does this . . .

Footnotes

1 “You an me, baby, ain't nothin' but mammals; so let's do it like they do on the Discovery Channel.” The Bloodhound Gang, “The Bad Touch”

2 "(Chastity) is the most unnatural of the sexual perversions." Cited in James Patterson and Peter Kim, The Day America Told the Truth (New York: Prentiss Hall Press, 1991), p. 81.

3 4:4 can be understood in two ways. It could read “know how to acquire his own spouse” or “know how to control his own body.” In either case, Paul is arguing for sexual self-control out of respect for God and the other person.

4 “Speak about beauty, truth and goodness, or about a God who is simply the indwelling principle of these three, speak about a great spiritual force pervading all things, a common mind of which we are all parts, a pool of generalized spirituality to which we can all flow, and you will command friendly interest. But the temperature drops as soon as you mention a God who has purposes and performs particular actions, who does one thing and not another, a concrete, choosing, commanding, prohibiting God with a determinate character. (Then) people become embarrassed or angry.” C. S. Lewis, “Christian Apologetics,” cited in The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1994), p. 306.

Copyright 2000 Gary DeLashmutt