Living With Honor (1 Peter 2:12–3:7)




I spent three summers in Kentucky at a Mennonite bible camp. One of the great parts of this was getting to experience Appalachian life, which was very different from my life in a farm community in Ohio. There are lots of stereotypes, but actually being there and meeting people gave me the opportunity to see for myself what the lifestyle and the people were like.

I was an outsider, right? I was not from there. Some of the language did not make immediate sense to me (what’s a tarpin?); some of the leisure activities were knew (catching crawdads for a meal); even going and playing pick up basketball was different, because on-the-court rules were different

But as I got to know people, I loved them and I loved it there. Now, whenever I see a movie or read a book set in Appalachia (like Justified Hillbilly Elegy), I have a context, a measure. How those around me lived set my mind toward them in a particular way. The people I got to know there represented where and who they were in a way that was compelling to me as an outsider.

Being ‘outsiders’ is a universal experience in that we all go places and are put in situations where we not comfortable because it’s not our place or not our people. It’s as simple as shopping or eating out somewhere new; vacationing somewhere new; working for new company; going to a new school. And in all these situation, you will likely have some preconceived ideas of what the experience or the people will be like (or should be like), and in every situation, your experience will confirm or change what you thought to be true. And when you leave, you will tell others what you learned.

After Peter talks about our holiness as followers of Jesus for a chapter and a half, he reminds us that we are in this challenging situation of being ‘resident aliens’ in this world, but rather than discourage us, that should encourage us to embrace a fantastic opportunity 

12” Live honorably among the outsiders so that, even when some may be inclined to call you criminals, when they see your good works, they might give glory to God when He returns in judgment.”

Note: These are good works designed not to earn salvation or get brownie points in church circles. This is about bringing glory to God by living with honor. This is life as a witness: displaying the redeemed life that Jesus offers to a broken world in such a way that God’s glory at work in us is clearly seen. By doing this, they can break stereotypes and change the way the Greeks and Romans thought of followers of Jesus, which meant they would change the way they thought about the Jesus they were following.

I want to talk about what this looked like for the early church, and then how it applies to our lives today. So history first for a context, then the application.

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The ‘crimes’ of the early church involved the potential disruption of social hierarchy of authority in Greek and Roman culture: rulers above citizens, free above slaves, husbands above wives. The Romans thought it mirrored the life of the gods, and that the gods would bless Rome to the degree that the people mirrored their life.

As far back as the fourth century BC, there is record that the Greeks viewed the household to be a miniature and crucial version of the order found in the realm of the gods. Aristotle even identified the three key relationships within the household that mattered: “The smallest and primary parts of the household are master and slave, husband and wife, father and children.”  These developed into “household codes”.

Aristotle believed free men were by nature intended to rule over their wives, children, and slaves because they were created by the gods to be better. His writing is pretty clear on this point, noting that “the one gender is far superior to the other in just about every sphere,” and that “the slave has not deliberative faculty at all; the woman has, but it is without authority, and the child has, but it is immature.” 

An upper class Greek or Roman husband was the head of the family (like Augustus was the head of Rome, and Zeus was the head of the gods). His word was law. His wife, kids, and slaves were all possessions. He could kill his children or divorce his wife on a whim. If a wife did not meet the needs of her husband in any way, she could be beaten.

The reason for marriage was primarily for wives to bear legitimate children and to keep the family line going. Athenaeus explained the set up: “Is not a ‘companion’ more kindly than a wedded wife? Yes, far more, and with very good reason.  For the wife, protected by law, stays at home in proud contempt, whereas the harlot knows that a man must be bought by her fascinations or she must go out and find another.”

The double standard for women is remarkable. In the face of this behavior for men, “Good Roman wives demonstrate their character by respecting and honoring their husbands, by working faithfully to manage the domestic affairs of the household.”[1] Piety, chastity and modesty were so important for women that the words were often given abbreviations on the tombstones of women.

Upwards to 2/3 of those living in Roman society were slaves of some sort. The word for ‘slave’ that Peter uses is more specifically a house servant, of which many were probably in the church. (When Paul wrote the letter to the Ephesians, almost everyone he addressed specifically ‘were of the household’ of someone.[2] Slaves loved the church, because it offered honor that was unheard of before. Read the link at footnote #2)

They could own property, achieve social advancement, and even be released or purchase their freedom. They were often highly educated: doctors, professors, teachers, administrators, public servants and even policemen. They often earned their freedom by the age of 30 or after an average of 10 years of work.[3]

Still, a master owned a slave like property and was free to be kind or cruel. The freed people scorned anyone who did not have freedom. Aristotle said slaves were “living tools,“ slaves by nature, almost like animals.  The Romans had a saying translated as “a slave has no persona,” no personality.

Christians were already finding themselves butting heads with both the culture and the law as they came to grips with what it meant to follow Christ. They were now part of a “new humanity” in which the divisions so crucial to the Greeks and Romans were meant to dissolve in mutual love toward Christ and each other. For example, Jew and Gentile, slave and free, men and women, were now sharing common meals together in their meetings (1 Corinthians 11). This was unheard of. Meals separated the free men from everybody else. While the Romans passed laws forcing widows to get remarried, the early church helped the widows (1 Timothy 5:3-16) without insisting they get remarried.

This was not sitting well with Rome. The early Christians were called “haters of humanity” because they challenged the structures that the Greeks and Romans believe brought stability to the nation and honor to the gods. So when the husband/father became a follower of Christ, his conversion brought him and his household shame and suspicion in the eyes of the Romans and Greeks. They were pretty sure this man and his family were on the verge of being traitors to their country, the gods and the order of the universe.  

So Peter has his work cut out. The early Christians needed to show ‘outsiders’ who they really were. They had to show the worth of Christ in the integrity of their lives. In the portion of the letter we are reading today, Peter is going to offer a way for believers to enter into the structures of a hostile culture and apply a gospel of love and servanthood that reflected the heart of Christ.



13 For the Lord’s sake, accept the decrees and laws of all the various human institutions, whether they come from the highest human ruler 14 or agents he sends to punish those who do wrong and to reward those who do well. 15 You see, it is God’s will that by doing what is right and good you should hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish. 16 Live as those who are free and not as those who use their freedom as a pretext for evil, but live as God’s servants. 17 Respect everyone. Love the community of believers. Reverence God. Honor your ruler.


18 If you are a slave, submit yourself to the master who has authority over you, whether he is kind and gentle or harsh as he deals with you. 19 For grace is clearly at work when a person accepts undeserved pain and suffering and does so because he is mindful of God. 20 For what credit is there in enduring punishment you deserve? But if you do what is right and yet are punished and endure it patiently, God will be pleased with you. 21-22 For you were called to this kind of life, as Isaiah said, He did no wrong deed, and no evil word came from His mouth. The Anointed One suffered for us and left us His example so that we could follow in His steps. [he goes on to describe this more][4]


3 1-2 In the same way, wives, you should patiently accept the authority of your husbands. This is so that even if they don’t obey God’s word, as they observe your pure respectful behavior, they may be persuaded without a word by the way you live. 3 Don’t focus on decorating your exterior by doing your hair or putting on fancy jewelry or wearing fashionable clothes; let your adornment be what’s inside—the real you, the lasting beauty of a gracious and quiet spirit, in which God delights….In the same way, husbands, as you live with your wives, understand the situations women face as the weaker vessel.[5] Each of you should respect your wife and value her as an equal heir in the gracious gift of life. Do this so that nothing will get in the way of your prayers.


Paul is telling the church how to live so their perceived criminality or wrong-doing will not get them arrested and will not be a stumbling block to those who are far from Christ. In fact, if they do this right, God will be glorified.

  • They will obey the rulers to “hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish.” But they will do more than that: they will use their freedom to live as God’s servants and even honor those who dishonor them.
  • Servants will patiently obey their masters to display God’s grace, always doing right and enduring wrong, trusting in God to make things right when He judges.[6]
  • Wives, “demonstrate your character…respect and honor your husband” (the Greek/Roman ideal) so unbelieving husbands are “persuaded [toward Christ] without a word by the way you live.”
  • Husbands, treat your wives with gentleness and respect so your prayers will not be hindered (possibly the prayers for their conversion, or to avoid being hypocritical. I tend to think it has to do with the genuine conversion of a wife who would have ‘converted’ if her husband did, since that is consistent with the overall topic being emphasized in this section.)

In Christ, there is no slave or free, Gentile or Jew, male or female – but in Rome, there is. So while the NT writers value how the radical nature of the Kingdom of God erases hierarchies of value and worth, here Peter is telling people in a particular time and place how to live as effective witnesses in a world that holds remarkably different values.[7]

  • Everybody - honor rulers, don’t just obey them.
  • Servants – honor your masters by serving your masters in a way that your patient suffering and grace models the patient suffering and grace of Jesus.
  • Wives - be modest, respectful and honoring of your husband to delight God, and to win him over if he is an unbeliever.
  • Husbands, your honoring of your wife removes a stumbling block that could be at odds with your prayers for your wife’s genuine conversion.[8]

This is all about living honorably as a witness. This is all about honoring God by honoring others, living in a way that gains the respect of your culture while simultaneously pointing toward God to reveal the power of His salvation and love to the world.

So that has me thinking. How do we witness to our culture today? By honoring everyone properly in order to:

  • “hush the gabbing ignorance of the foolish” by doing what is right and good
  • display God’s grace
  • “persuaded [toward Christ] without a word by the way you live”
  • support, not undermine, our prayers for the salvation of the lost

I’d like this to be the focus of our thoughts and prayer this week. Online, at work, in our homes, at church, in every conversation we have: Did we bring honor to God by honoring others? And then, add the prayer of the surrendered and desperate: “Oh, dear God, help me to honor you by properly honoring others.”



[2] “Slavery And Early Christianity.”

[3] For more insight on slavery, particularly how Paul addresses it in his letter to Philemon, see “The Best Way To Change A Culture” ( Also, “Runners and Rulers” ( and “A Place To Call Home” (

[4] Paul gives the same reason why slaves should be obedient: for the sake of God’s reputation (1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:9-10) Read more at

[5] Much has been made of the ‘weaker vessel’ comment. Roman, Greek and even Jewish men were pretty sure women were inferior by nature. Not so, says Peter. They may have less strength (physically or in social status/power at the time), but they are not a lesser or inferior person by nature or in the eyes of God.

[6] Other places Christian masters are challenged about their new responsibility as Christians, but that’s a different sermon.

[7] See the following sermons for more information:

[8] “Where there was no reciprocated respect, each recognizing the high vocation of the other, there could be no union of heart and soul in prayer.” (Cambridge Bible For Schools and Colleges)

Marriage and Sexuality (Pillars of Faith Series)


“We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. Together they reflect the image and nature of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman as delineated in Scripture (Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:5-6). It is intended to be a covenant by which they unite themselves for life in a single, exclusive union, ordered toward the well-being of the spouses an designed to be the environment for the procreation and upbringing of children.”

Sex is a topic that more than most others strikes at our emotions, our sense of self-worth, even our sense of identity. I think this kind of tension actually matches the importance of this topic biblically.[1] The Apostle Paul wrote that whatever we do, even if it’s just eating and drinking, we should do it to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). That includes sex. And like other natural acts, sometimes we glorify God with what we do, and sometimes we do not.

I’m going to make a case this morning for a biblical view of sex and of marriage. I’m not going to talk about the challenges of being single[2], or whether it’s better to be single or married[3], or about roles in marriage[4], or about overcoming or recovering from sexual sin[5]. Those are important topics, but they are not the focus today. I am going to talk about a biblical view of sex, which will lead us into a biblical view of marriage.

There are at least three common misconceptions about sex found either in church or in our culture.

  • The first misconception is that sex is simply a natural appetite like eating or drinking. The fact that we want to have sex means we ought to have sex; in fact, ignoring or stifling our impulse is unhealthy. If someone is cranky, they just need to have sex. In the 60’s, the way to stop making war was to make love. The idea is that if sexual satisfaction follows sexual desire, all will be well.
  • The second misconception is that sex is embarrassing, maybe even shameful, and our sex drive is something that needs to be squelched. I grew up in a church culture that sent this message. When people got married, they had this nagging thought that they probably shouldn't be enjoying sex. They had absorbed the notion that sexual desire was dirty and sexually desirable people were somehow bad, and that was not an easy lesson to unlearn.[6]
  • The third misconception is that sex is a critical form of self-expression and personal fulfillment, a way to find yourself and be truly happy. In this view, sex is primarily for individual fulfillment and self-realization. Those who want to put boundaries around sex are actually stifling the personal growth of others. At best, these moral policemen are jealous of the sex lives of others or scared by the power of sexuality. At worst they are bullying or coercing people to accept the bully’s notion of sexuality morality.


The Bible offers a far more complex, compelling and beautiful view.

  • The Bible disagrees that sex is something about which we should be ashamed of or embarrassed. God created sex and sexuality; the Bible celebrates it (Song of Solomon; Proverbs 5;19); the New Testament actually commands it for people who are married (1 Corinthians 7). The Bible is clear that sex is supposed to bring, pleasure, joy, laughter, intimacy, trust, self-giving, mutual care and comfort.
  • The Bible agrees that sex is a powerful drive that God placed in us, but disagrees that ignoring or stifling impulses is necessarily unhealthy. Like our drives for food and drink, the sex drive has been distorted because of sin. Sex needs boundaries not because sex is something to be feared, but because sex is something to be revered. This is done by living within God’s design, and sometimes that means we will go against our desires. The latest World Magazine had an article about a pastor, a married man who struggled with same-sex attraction. At one point he noted, “What I have to tell myself over and over again: To act on my impulses is a denial of my real that that God created. To not act on that is an affirmation of myself.” [7]
  • The Bible agrees that sex can bring individual happiness and fulfillment (read Song of Solomon if you have any questions), but the Bible disagrees that this is the purpose of sex. Throughout the rest of the morning I will be making the case that sex is so much more than this. 


I am going to offer a biblical view of sex that may use language that is unfamiliar to you, at least in this context: God intends sex to be an act of covenantal commitment between a man and a woman. Let’s start with what we mean by covenantal commitment.  In biblical times, a covenant was a strong bond, an oath, in which two people would pledge mutual faithfulness and commitment, often at the cost of their life. There would be equal privileges and responsibilities between the parties involved; they would each played a necessary and complementary role in fulfilling this mutual oath. Covenants were complex, serious, and deeply binding.

 When Adam and Eve “cleave,” that’s a covenant word (Genesis 2:22-25. Malachi 2:14 and Proverbs 2:17 also use ‘covenant’ to describe marriage). I am going to quote Tim Keller and his wife extensively here (from The Meaning Of Marriage) because they explain this better than I can:

“The covenant brings every aspect of two person’s lives together. They essentially merge into a single legal, social, economic unit… they donate themselves wholly to the other… Sex is understood as both a sign of the personal, legal union and a means to accomplish it. The Bible says don’t unite with someone physically unless you are also willing to unite with the person emotionally, personally, socially, economically, and legally. Don’t become physically naked and vulnerable to the other person without becoming vulnerable in every other way, because you have given up your freedom and bound yourself in marriage. Then, once you have given yourself in marriage, sex is a way of maintaining and deepening that union as the years go by. 

Sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.’ You must not use sex to say anything less. So, according to the Bible, a covenant is necessary for sex. It creates a place of security for vulnerability and intimacy. But though a marriage covenant is necessary for sex, sex is also necessary for the maintenance of the covenant. It is your covenant renewal service.”

 This was entirely at odds with how the rest of the world viewed sex when the Bible was written. Sex was just simply not associated with all these ideas. Broadly speaking, there were those who used others and those who were used. Gender and age were usually of no consequence. Sex was one of the more obvious ways in which the strong used the weak for their purposes. [8]

The idea that the act of sex was meant to initiate the covenant of marriage or that an ongoing, active sex life as a ‘covenant renewal service’ probably sounds as unusual to us as it did to the original audience. Yet we see that from the beginning God was declaring that even the sex lives of His people were to be holy - literally “called out” or separated, set aside for God’s design and purpose.

This idea of starting and renewing a covenant provided a constant reminder between both husband and wife would have entirely changed the dynamic of sex. Instead of using or being used, sex was a way of saying, “I have committed to you, I have pledged to give myself wholly to you. We are bound together in every way and on every level. We have no secrets; we are naked and unashamed; we are a covenanted union of service, sacrifice and love.”

Let me give you just one example of how this shows up in one of the most famous of love poems, the Song of Solomon (or the Song of Songs). There are two times in Song of Solomon that the bride says, “I am my beloved’s and he is mine; he browses among the lilies” (2:16 and 6:3) Have you ever wondered what that means? What does belonging to each other have to do with browsing through a flower garden? In Song of Solomon 4:5, Solomon praises his wife by saying, “Your two breasts are like two fawns, like twin fawns of a gazelle that browse among the lilies.” When it’s her turn, she says, “I am my beloved’s an he is mine” then borrows his metaphor and makes him the gazelle. Why? The marital covenant is designed to be initiated, sealed and celebrated by sexual love.[9]

Considering the profound nature of a covenant and the role sex plays in creating and affirming it, it shouldn't surprise us that from the beginning the Bible insists that any sexual activity ought to be limited to the marriage covenant.  When we engage in an act of covenantal promise when it is not a promise, we break God’s design – we sin[10] - and initiate events that have a ripple effect that contributes to the brokenness of the world (the Old Testament is full of examples of this).

We want to have sex just be about bodies and biology when we so choose, and have it be about affection, commitment and love when we so choose. It doesn’t work that way. By design, “Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.’” (Keller) Sex was meant to initiate or confirm a lasting, legal, personal, all-encompassing covenant. And when our bodies communicate something different from what we say or believe, there’s a deep tension that arises.

I think we know this even if we don’t consciously think it or say it. Think of the phrases, “This is no strings attached. This is just a hook-up. We are just friends. This won’t change anything between us. Let’s not read too much into this.” But the words we exchange and the desire to ‘not let it get complicated’ won’t change our bodies or God’s design. Sex was made to unite and bind us in an exclusive, permanent covenant, not make us wonder if we performed well enough, or if the other person will be there in the morning, or how we can go about it next time without getting so emotionally involved.

I Corinthians 6:17ff  is often quoted in reference to this binding nature inherent to sex. Paul notes, “Do you not know that a person who is united in intimacy with a prostitute is one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’” 

Paul wasn’t just saying, “Do you know if you combine bodies you will combine bodies?” That’s pretty obvious. Paul is simply referring back to Genesis 2:24 (and Jesus’ affirmation of it in Matthew 19) where a husband and wife ‘cleave’ together, reminding his readers that every sex act is an act of covenant whether we want it to be or not. I suspect that’s why Paul says that sexual sins are unique (1 Corinthians 6:18). There is no other act that by its very nature is meant to initiate or affirm a covenant. The context of sex is covenantal marriage. We are not designed to give our bodies in this way to someone with whom we have not made a covenant for life.[i]

Christopher West has written that “all questions of morality, then, are questions about how to align human desire with the divine design so we can reach our heavenly destiny. This is the proper context in which to understand the Christian sexual ethic. It’s not a prudish list of prohibitions designed to keep us from having fun in this life; it’s a call to realign our desires with authentic love so we can be truly happy both here and in the next life.” 


So we've talked about a biblical view of sex as well as its covenantal context. Now let’s look at the nature of that marriage covenant. The Bible reveals the theology; God’s creation provides further support for this biblical ideal. Let’s start with what the Bible says about the theology behind the nature of marriage.

1. The Bible Reveals How Marriage Is Meant To Reflect The Nature Of God 

 A. Male and female together display the fullness of God’s image. “Then God said, "Let us make human beings in our image, to be like us. They will reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, the livestock, all the wild animals on the earth, and the small animals that scurry along the ground. So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:26-27).  

We see right away in Genesis a hint of Trinity – a God who has one essence, but three persons. We also see that in order for humanity to bear that image, just a man or just a woman was not sufficient. Both are needed to full capture the image God has embedded in us. Our creation as male and female is what Christopher West calls a “sacramental reality: a physical sign of something transcendent, spiritual, and even divine.” 

B.  Marriage between a man and a woman represents God’s nature. To quote the Keller’s at length again (and I am blending several paragraphs):

“There is a hint that the relationship between male and female is a reflection of the relationships within the Godhead itself – the Trinity. Although all people, men and women, are bearers of God’s image, resembling him as his children, reflecting his glory, and representing him as stewards over nature, it requires the unique union of male and female within the one flesh of marriage to reflect the relationship of life within the triune God. 

As Genesis says, male and female are “like-opposite” each other – both radically different and yet incomplete without each other. God’s plan for married couples involves two people of different sexes making the commitment and sacrifice that is involved in embracing the Other and performing different roles in the act of creation, which brings about deep unity because of the profound complementarity between the sexes. [This] tells us something of the relationships between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.”

 The “two becoming one”[11] is an echo, an earthly representation of the three-in-one nature of the triune God. We see in the Trinity, that the Son is not the Father, the Father is not the Holy Spirit, etc, yet all three even as they are different persons – they are the complementarian ‘other’ – the three become one essence. So in marriage, the husband is not the wife – they are the complementarian ‘other’ – and yet they, too, become one.

N.T Wright has noted, "If you believe in what it says in Genesis 1 about God making heaven and earth—and the binaries in Genesis are so important—that heaven and earth, and sea and dry land, and so on and so on, and you end up with male and female. It’s all about God making complementary pairs which are meant to work together. The last scene in the Bible is the new heaven and the new earth, and the symbol for that is the marriage of Christ and his church. It’s not just one or two verses here and there which say this or that. It’s an entire narrative which works with this complementarity so that a male-plus-female marriage is a signpost or a signal about the goodness of the original creation and God’s intention for the eventual new heavens and new earth."

This is the theological reason why the Bible never discusses marriage as the union between people of the same sex. Same-sex couples cannot be the “like-opposite” union of “otherness” that represent the triune image of a complementary and life-creating God.[ii] This is why, as a pastor, I cannot perform a same-sex marriage ceremony. It’s not a question of liking or disliking the people involved. It’s about being sure that if I am going to give a pastoral blessing to the marriage of two people, it must be a union that aligns with Scriptural authority.[iii]

2. Human Design Reveals That Marriage Is Uniquely Oriented As An Institution For A Particular Purpose.

Christians have traditionally pointed to some obvious facts about God’s creation to confirm the complementary union of men and women in marriage. The argument goes something like this. 

  • People are inherently incomplete with respect to one key biological function: making babies.
  • Only a man and a woman can form a union that is essentially oriented toward the uniquely complementarian purpose of conceiving children and raising them together.[iv]

And this brings us back to our statement of faith:

“We believe that God wonderfully and immutably creates each person as male or female. Together they reflect the image and nature of God (Genesis 1:26-27). Marriage is the uniting of one man and one woman as delineated in Scripture (Genesis 2:18-25; Matthew 19:5-6). It is intended to be a covenant by which they unite themselves for life in a single, exclusive union, ordered toward the well-being of the spouses and designed to be the environment for the procreation and upbringing of children.”


The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy and Kathy Keller

The Mingling of Souls, Matt Chandler

Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, John Piper and Justin Taylor

Real Sex, Lauren Winner

The Thrill of the Chaste, Dawn Eden

Fill These Hearts: God, Sex and the Universal Longing, Christopher West

[2] “Confessions of a Sex-Starved Single” (

   “ Single In Christ And A Sexual Being" (

[3]  “The Single Person’s Good Desire for Sex” (

[4]  “Made…In Complementary Community” – Part 1  (

[5]  “Erasing Shame: Finding Forgiveness For Sexual Sin” (

[6] “The general message hanging in the air for a lot of people raised in Christian homes was this: Your desires (especially your sexual desires) are bad, and they will only get you in trouble. So you need to repress, ignore, or otherwise annihilate them. But follow all of these rules and you’ll be a good, upstanding Christian citizen.” – Christpher West, Fill These Hearts

[7] “Loving Your Neighbor And Your Gender,” November 14, 2015


Martha Nussbaum, professor of philosophy at Brown University, has written that the ancients were no more concerned with people's gender preference than people today are with others' eating preferences: “Ancient categories of sexual experience differed considerably from our own... The central distinction in sexual morality was the distinction between active and passive roles. The gender of the object... is not in itself morally problematic. Boys and women are very often treated interchangeably as objects of [male] desire. What is socially important is to penetrate rather than to be penetrated. Sex is understood fundamentally not as interaction, but as a doing of some thing to someone...”

[9] For more on the imagery in Song of Solomon, “The Hunt” is a decent introduction to the language of Song of Solomon (  See also, “What’s The Difference Between Erotica And The Song Of Solomon?” (

[10] See the sermon in this pillars series on “Sin and Salvation” on our website. 

[11] “As Stan Grenz points out in his book Sexual Ethics, singles can also mirror Christ's love. In marriage, we're to be committed to only one person—;it's exclusive. But there's also an ever-expanding sense of God's love where he keeps reaching out, establishing relationships with more and more people. Singles can demonstrate expanding love by having nonexclusive relationships. In not having a covenant relationship with a spouse, they can have more relationships, which demonstrates a different aspect of the character of God.” – “Sex and The Single Christian,” Steve Tracy (

[i] One does not need the Bible to see that waiting to have sex until marriage and limiting one’s sex life to that partner clearly provides a healthier sex life for both individuals and their family. For some introductory information, the following may be helpful:

  • The Health Benefits of Marriage,” Focus on the Family.
  • What Are The Advantages of Monogamy?” Tough Questions Answered
  • “A monogamous sexual partnership in formal marriage evidently produces the greatest satisfaction and pleasure.” (Social Organization of Sexuality)
  • A US News and World Report story from State Universtiy of New York and the University of Chicago noted that of all sexually active people, “....the people who reported being most physically pleased and emotionally satisfied were married couples... Physical and emotional satisfaction started to decline when people had more than one sexual partner.”

In addition, pornography – which not only fails to form covenants but celebrates sex devoid of anything remotely related to covenant – clearly undermines individuals and the community. For some introductory information, the following articles from Salvo Magazine ( may be helpful:

  • “Slave Master How Pornography Drugs & Changes Your Brain”
  • “Porn Is Not Free”
  • “Porn In The USA”
  • “The Porn Factor” “The Science of Pornography”             


[ii] Two things are biblically clear by the end of the New Testament era: 1) marriage is intended to be a permanent, faithful, sacrificially loving covenant between a husband and wife, and 2) the only proper context for sex is within the confines of that kind of marriage. Pornography, heterosexual promiscuity, adultery, and a homosexual lifestyle all take place outside of God’s design for sex. Homosexuality is a culturally hot topic right now, so I will respond to that one in particular.

We must remember that we are all sinner who are  recipients of God’s forgiveness and grace. If God forgives, heals and restores me and places me in church community, who am I to refuse to pass that on to others? Unfortunately, the church often drops the ball here. The church should be a place of refuge, hope, and godly formation for the disenfranchised, oppressed, wounded, and sinful.The goal for all Christians is to show love and compassion paired with a call to repentance and transformation into a new and better way of life (“I’m glad God saved and delivered me from my sins. He can do the same for you. Let’s walk through this together.”)  Repentance requires a commitment to be a different kind of person – not a perfect one, but one committed to ongoing, deeper discipleship in which all areas of life are surrendered at the foot of the cross – and that includes our sexual identity and practice. I recommend the following resources: 


[iii] Obviously, the state has the power to do otherwise. I think we will probably see an increasing trend in churches to separate civil ceremonies from church ceremonies, with the state sanctioning legal rights and the church celebrating biblical covenant. See “The Marriage Pledge” for more info. 



One does not need a Bible to note that a stable, low conflict, faithful marriage between the biological mother and father provides children with the statistically healthiest home. This clearly does not claim that other situations (such as adoption or single-parent homes) result in unhealthy kids, are necessarily unstable or are full of conflict. It merely claims there is a generally predictable situation which is optimal for children, and as such it ought to be uniquely acknowledged and promoted.

Conquering the Course of Life (1 Corinthians 7)


In some ways, life is like a slalom course. There are sudden turns that come too fast, rough water, fatigue, sharp turns, wakes that can send you flying or flailing. Success feels fantastic, but failure hurts. 

So how do we successfully navigate the slalom course of life? Rough waters show up in many ways: the death of a loved one, sickness, employment changes, relational breakdowns. Our lives taken sudden turns when our children get in trouble, or our friends let us down. Fatigue sets in when our ministry is unappreciated or ineffective. Success feels fantastic, but failure hurts.

A common mistake is to use all our energy to change our circumstance. When we encounter rough waters and sharp turns, we look for a different job, a different car, a different town, a different husband or wife, a different church. If we are unhappy single, we look for a spouse. If we are unhappy married we look for a way out. We’re sure that if we can just change our circumstance our lives will change for the better.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul addresses people who are having trouble on the course of their life. While his message is aimed toward several particular groups, Paul has a common message for all of them: no matter the water, the weather, or the twists and turns of life,  pursue undistracted devotion to the Lord (v. 35). 

First, he addresses those who are unhappy with their relational status, and he begins with those who are married:

 “But because of immoralities let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband give his wife the affection owed her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does, and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control. “ (1 Corinthians 7:2-5)

    Paul is not saying sex is the only or most important reason for marriage. He is answering a specific questions Corinthians had about marriage at that time and in their circumstances. Considering the culture in which they lived, it’s no surprise they had some questions about sex.

As noted earlier in 1 Corinthians, some of the Christians thought it was okay to hire prostitutes, and now others were wondering if it really spiritual spouses should have sex at all. Paul says no to the former and yes to the latter, but he moves the subject beyond just sex – affection matters too. (For what it's worth, Paul may have been married at one time. He was an exemplary Jew (Philippians 3:4-6). Jews believed that an unmarried twenty-year-old man was sinning by not being married. Paul was likely a member of the Sanhedrin (as he “cast my vote” in Acts 26:10), and only married men could be members of the Sanhedrin). Basically Paul says (and I am, of course, paraphrasing):

“Here’s what you need to navigate the slalom course of marriage. Self-sacrifice is the rough water; responsibility the fatigue. Your body isn’t yours alone. It belongs to God first and your mate second. The entire relationship - including sex -  not just one person’s duty and the other one’s privilege. You need to meet each other’s sexual and emotional needs, and you need to hang in there even when you want to drop the rope and call it quits.

‘But he/she brings out the worst in me!’  Yep. That’s one way God reveals who you really are. Don’t change mates - change yourself by the grace of God. You are the temple of the Holy Spirit, part of the “body” of Christ on earth. Like Christ, you are called to be a loving servant, blessing when cursed, forgiving, interceding, confronting in love, and sacrificing. Don’t serve with expectation of earning something in return; it will only lead to resentment. You are trying to please the Lord and your spouse, not get something from them.”

Next, Paul addresses those who are single:

“(vs. 7-9) I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, but I say to the unmarried and the widow that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn. (Vs 28) But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (Vs 32-34) But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided."

If I may paraphrase Paul again, I believe he is saying something like this:

Here’s the reality. You are on the slalom course of the single life. There’s basically one thing you need to know in order to navigate that course, come rough waters or fatigue: Marriage is a challenge. It’s hard. Staying single will free you from the relational challenges of marriage and free you to serve God with undivided attention. Sexual temptation is the rough water; loneliness the fatigue. If God has given you the ability to stay the course, stay the course. The slalom is not necessarily easier on the other side of the lake.”

On the slalom course, you can’t change the course – but you can learn how to navigate in such a way that the challenges become the very things that bring you joy. Paul says in verse 7 that successfully navigating both marriage and singleness is a “gift,” and he uses the same word he uses in 1 Corinthians 12 to describe spiritual gifts that God gives believers. Some are able and willing to please God better while being single, others while being married. Paul summarizes his teaching on singleness and marriage with this line in verse 17: Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches."

If you read the entire chapter, you will see that Paul applied this principle even more broadly:

"Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave." (vs. 18-21)

That may seem like an odd list to include with marriage and singleness, but all of these "stations" in life were a big deal at the time. Marital status played a huge factor in social standing in Greek, Roman, and Hebrew culture; circumcision was such a contentious issue that the first church council in Acts had to deal with it (and there was a method to reverse a circumcisions); slaves were scorned by everyone.  Jewish men routinely thanked God for not making them a woman, a Gentile, or a slave.   

In the cultural context, Paul tells people that in the midst of their circumstance - no matter how dire - they were to live as a believer, not because their situation was perfect, but because God was present.  Meanwhile, Paul gives advice on how to make that circumstance better (or in the case of slavery, a hope that it will end). Husbands and wives, give affection and show submission to your spouse; Gentile Christians, don't feel obligated to get circumcised; Jewish Christians, don't feel the need to reverse a circumcision; slaves, Christ has made you as free as anyone else - and if there is a way to make your physical reality match your spiritual one, that's ideal. And while Paul does not address slave owners directly, surely there is an implication for them as well. 

The bottom line? Live devoted to God, no matter how dire the circumstances.

To Paul ,the most important thing was not changing circumstances (though he offers a path of hope). The most important things was changing our stance in the midst of our circumstance.

 - Based on the sermon notes of Scott Norris, 9/16/12