One of the most popular ads right now promises us a world in which we can do some incredibly stupid and maybe even fun things in Vegas, and not have them effect us at all. Unfortunately, it's just not true. Expense tabs, debt, compromises of morality, memories, and hotel towels seem to find their way back home, even in the movies.
2,000 years ago, Paul was writing to the church in Thessalonica. In the first several chapters he noted:
- they were full of faith (they had turned from idols to the living God);
- they loved each other and seemed to understand community well;
- they were enduring persecution well;
- their reputation had spread far and wide.
"As for other matters, brothers and sisters, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus. This is the will (desire, purpose) of God: your sanctification (purity): You should avoid sexual immorality." (1 Thessalonians 4:1-3)
For Paul's readers, the word he chose for "living"would have invoked an image of walking about in an ordinary day. Paul starts this section by saying they are pleasing God (two thumbs up!) but there is more they need to know. In this case, they needed to focus very specifically on an area that causing them to stumble: sexual purity.
The word translated as “sexual immorality” provides an umbrella under which a lot of sexual activity fits: promiscuity, adultery, prostitution, pornography… The list goes on. Basically, their sex lives needed the purity of sanctification.
At the time Paul wrote this, the Gentiles in Thessolonica lived in a culture saturated with distorted views of marriage, sex, and family. Historians recorded upper class Roman ladies identifying years not by chronological numbers, but by the names of their ever-changing husbands. One Greek writer noted: ”We have courtesans for the sake of pleasure; we have concubines for the sake of daily cohabitation; we have wives for the purpose of having children legitimately, and of having a faithful guardian for all our household affairs.”
Here in an important biblical truth: sex is holy and sacred, and act of self-sacrifice, intimacy, commitment and trust.
First, he sets a boundary: sex is to be experienced only within marriage. This may seem restrictive, but because of God's purposes for sex, that boundary is necessary. Rivers need banks; cars need roads; stock markets need regulation; my blood needs veins and arteries. In every area of life, we see how boundaries maximize the ability of things to flourish. Sex is no exception.
Second, God intends sex to fulfill at least four key purposes: procreation, unity, personal formation, and pleasure. While some of these can clearly be experienced out of marriage, understating how all four work together to fulfill God's purpose is important.
Procreation: Sex brings babies. This is not a secret. That fact that we can avoid the consequence of children does not negate that this is a key reason we have sex. Children are a blessing, a gift from God. Not only do we ensure the continuation of humanity, but we have an opportunity to experience a glimpse of the kind of love God has toward us. God is our Father in a spiritual sense; how important is it, then, that earthly fathers embody that type of fatherhood God gives us - loving, committed, just, pure, holy?
Unity: Sex is meant to seal bonds of trust, love and commitment. That's one reason God sets marriage as a boundary line: during sex, we communicate with our bodies that we have made a covenant; we can now give each other everything, baring body in soul in mutual trust and self-sacrifice. It's no secret that sex within marriage might not fully fulfill this design. Sex outside of marriage simply cannot.
Personal formation: Sex refines us. Two very different people, with different levels of desire, different schedules, different libidos, different love languages, different personalities. different....everything.... must make this funny, embarrassing, awkward, intimate and beautiful act become good and meaningful for both people. That's not necessarily easy. It will require patience and selflessness. Within the safety of covenant, we have the freedom to explore sex without worrying that our marriage partner will leave because we don't do everything just right. Over time, we become better people as we learn to understand, appreciate, and whole-heartedly embrace our spouse completely.
Pleasure: Some may argue this is a very nice side effect, and it may well be simply a nice perk. But if pleasure is one of the characteristics of life in eternity with God, I'm not sure why He wouldn't purposefully give us glimpses now.
- "Control yourself sexually in a way that is holy and honorable." (See a comparable example in 2 Corinthians 4:7)
- "Relate to your spouse sexually in a way that is holy and honorable. (See a comparable example in 1 Peter 3:7)
“And that in this matter no one should exploit or violate a brother or sister.” Thessalonians 4:6)
- Transgressing the bounds of justice (a merchant who knows what ought to be done and constantly pushes the boundaries of the law)
- Cheating and defrauding in trade and business (merchants who used weighted scales – taking more than they should at the expense of others)
- Increasing or lessening the value and prices of goods by the buyer and seller (they would cheapen something valuable in order to profit at the expense of the seller)
- Not keeping to the bargain, contract, covenant (they didn't understand - or didn't care about - the importance of commitment)
- Taking advantage of the weakness and ignorance of people (they could spot those easily manipulated and take what they wanted from them)
- Transgressing the bounds of justice (they know what kind of respect ought to be shown, yet they constantly push the boundaries)
- Cheating and defrauding (they take more than they should at the expense of the other person)
- Lessening the value of sex (they cheapen purity, sex, intimacy and trust)
- Not keeping to the bargain, contract, covenant (they you don’t understand the importance of covenant)
- Taking advantage of the weakness and ignorance of people (they spot those easily manipulated and take what they want from them)
- Enforcing the bounds of justice (we know what proper sexual boundaries are, and we protect them.)
- Helping others flourish (if the scales are going to tip on question of sex and purity, it will be in favor of purity. The question is not "How far can I go?" but "How pure can I stay?")
- Attaching the proper value to people and sex (increasing the value of sex and intimacy by treating it like the precious gift it is, and helping others guard their purity)
- Keeping and honoring covenants (understanding that every relationship trains people how to flourish or flounder in an eventual or existing covenant. This involves treating someone else’s future or present spouse like they want others to treat their future or present spouse.)
- Protecting the weak and vulnerable (in a world where so many people are vulnerable in this area for a lot of different reasons, honorable people stand out because they protect those most in need of a hero).