A New Look at Christian Sexuality
I – Introduction
•Few issues divide Bible believing Christians like conduct
“liberty vs. law”
All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. (1 Corinthians 6:12)
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not. (1 Corinthians 10:23)
These texts comes at a momentous time for Christianity. Previously Christianity was simply an outgrowth of Judaism. As such the accepted code of conduct was traditional Jewish law.
Now the Jewish Christians were confronted by new Christians from the primarily Greek culture of the Greco-Roman world. These converts rightly saw Jesus’ message as an inner spiritual journey emphasizing love toward others over religious tradition. Thus they did not adopt the Jewish laws or traditions that were being practiced at the time.
The converts from Judaism had a very different take on Jesus. They saw his message as a renewal of the original Jewish laws and traditions. And to an extent they were also right, as it applied to the Jews.
What they did not want to accept is that for those converting from the Hellenistic culture had no concept of rigid morality about private matters, particularly sexuality. They did understand religious rites and taboos, but to them all such rights seemed like the polytheism that they had converted from. So the first conflict in the Christian world was the same conflict about with we still struggle: liberty vs. law.
II. The Law of Love
1 Corinthians 10.23 -33
All things are lawful for me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but all things edify not.
Let no man seek his own, but every man another’s. Whatsoever is sold in the shambles, [that] eat, asking no question for conscience sake: For the earth [is] the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof. If any of them that believe not bid you [to a feast], and ye be disposed to go; whatsoever is set before you, eat, asking no question for conscience sake.
But if any man say unto you, This is offered in sacrifice unto idols, eat not for his sake that shewed it, and for conscience sake: for the earth [is] the Lord’s, and the fulness thereof: Conscience, I say, not thine own, but of the other: for why is my liberty judged of another [man’s] conscience?
For if I by grace be a partaker, why am I evil spoken of for that for which I give thanks? Whether therefore ye eat, or drink, or whatsoever ye do, do all to the glory of God. Give none offence, neither to the Jews, nor to the Gentiles, nor to the church of God:Even as I please all [men] in all [things], not seeking mine own profit, but the [profit] of many, that they may be saved.
1 Corinthians 8:10-13
For if any man see thee which hast knowledge sit at meat in the idol’s temple, shall not the conscience of him which is weak be emboldened to eat those things which are offered to idols; And through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish, for whom Christ died? But when ye sin so against the brethren, and wound their weak conscience, ye sin against Christ. Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.
The first century Jewish Christians were a traumatized lot. To them Christianity was Jewish and the Romans were doing there best to crush all things Jewish and replace them with a Roman civil system that tolerates many religions, but respects none. In some ways modern conservative American Christians feel this same dread of a powerful government secularizing all parts of their word.
In this example Paul discusses the Roman trade in food products that come out of the temples of various gods and goddess’s in the city. Having first played a religious role, the meat was then available for all to buy “second hand” for consumption. Unlike today, meat was a precious commodity and for the working classes it was “second hand” meat or no meat. But to the Jewish Christians, this was a back handed way at selling out their Jewish heritage.
Paul’s solution was simple. He makes it clear that the Jewish Christians are wrong in pretending that what is culturally traditional is morally superior to what the Hellenic Christians were doing. At the same time he does not give the Hellenic Christians a carte blanche, becouse he makes the issue not the meat, but rather the feelings of the “weaker” Jewish Christians. Why is this so? Becouse Jesus made it clear many times that the whole point of the law is to show love to those around you.
So in practice the first guiding principle for all Christian morality is “How does this affect those around me?” This concept also drives how one interprets scripture. If the purpose of the law and the prophets is treat those around you in a loving manner(Matthew 7:12 et.al), then when we read of laws of conduct it must be with the question “How did this law given to the Jews demonstrate love?”. It is the answer to that question that gives guidance to us, thousands of years after the law was given.
In a related vein, we see that the scriptures call those bound by tradition and legalism the “weaker” Christians, and those of us bound by love the stronger.
Having lived part of my Christian life under a legalistic system and part under the constraints of love, I find that the former is by far the easier road. That is why most Christians simply ignore the whole concept of the New Testament, in favor of a new Old Testament i.e. a new set of “Thou shalt nots”. Walking the path of love requires not only to examine ones actions, but one’s motives and the potential impact of ones actions. This examination goes on all the time for a truly committed Christian.
Here are some practical aspects of the Law of Love as is related to Christian sexual mortality.
1.As Christians, we must judge all sexual actions not by our preferences but by their impact on our sexual partners and others in our sphere of influence.
2.Since we as Christians must yield our “rights” to our neighbor, even our right to exercise our Christianity the way we prefer, we must not conduct our sexual life in such a way as to not bring attention to our Christian liberty, but to Christ.
3. Though we may have great latitude in our sexual behavior personally, we must be ever concerned about the effect of that behavior on others. Not just participants, but on those who will be offended if we flaunt our liberty.
III. The Law of Appetite
I Corinthians 6:12-18
12 All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient: all things are lawful for me, but I will not be brought under the power of any. Meats for the belly, and the belly for meats: but God shall destroy both it and them. Now the body [is] not for fornication, but for the Lord; and the Lord for the body. And God hath both raised up the Lord, and will also raise up us by his own power. 15 Know ye not that your bodies are the members of Christ? shall I then take the members of Christ, and make [them] the members of an harlot? God forbid. What? know ye not that he which is joined to an harlot is one body? for two, saith he, shall be one flesh. But he that is joined unto the Lord is one spirit. Flee fornication. Every sin that a man doeth is without the body; but he that commits fornication sins against his own body.
This text is significant in a number of ways. First the opening phase is shattering to the legalist as it preludes a discussion on sex “All things are lawful for me” wipes away a thousand years of sexual taboos in one stoke. This bold statement then appears to be contradicted in the next, so how is one to understand what Paul meant.
Paul was well educated in Greek philosophy and customs. He certainly would have known how the Greek Christians viewed sexual morality. To the Greeks there was not specific moral judgment on what body part of person “A” could be put into person “B”; however there was a coherent morality as to how sexually played a part in one’s life.
The Greeks view of sex has three components relevant to this passage. They believed that although the sex act was amoral, to be consumed by sexual desire was self destructive. They saw men with what we would now diagnose as psychiatric illnesses wast their lives away with sexual lusts. The also observed the age old habit of men to “think with their penis” and make poor decisions. Thus they concluded that the lust harms the brain and body.
Second, with medical knowledge in it’s infancy, the Greeks observed that many men who were extremely sexually active became ill (i.e. venereal disease), lacking the concept of germ theory they believed that over indulgence in sex could lead to disease and bodily weakness.
Thirdly they saw sex as a unidirectional act of penetration with honor for he penetratior and humility to the penetrated. Greece was an extremely patriarchal society, thus sexuality was viewed from the standpoint that all people with sexual decision making had a penis. Thus a high ranking man could honorably sexually penetrate any man in a class lower than his own or any woman who was not property of another man (wife, daughter or slave). However it would not be honorable for a man of lower status to penetrate him (orally or rectally). In practice what we see is a world were men expected to “be fucked” by the boss, while they intern used those under them as they pleased. It is not hard to see how this moral position violated the Law of Love, by having no concern for the rights of the receiver of a man’s sexual desire.
With this foundation in mind look at the text again. The word Fornication is from the word Porniea in Greek. This is not the word for sexual pleasure but rather a reference to illicit or dishonorable sexual relations. The normal word for sexual pleasure would be Aphrodisa. But that word would be tainted as it literally meant “the gift of Aphrodite”. One could readily see why the Jewish Christians were suspicious of something who’s very name invoked a pagan goddess.
In specific this text links it a man going to a prostitute, but one must understand this is written in to people living in a Romano-Greek culture. Paul is clearly saying that the use of a prostitute constitutes fornication – or dishonorable sex. In the context of the Law of Love there leaves little doubt that “using” people for sex is dishonorable, but Paul goes on to make a larger point.
He equates this pornia, or dishonorable sex, as destructive to the self. The self that is, as a Christian, the possession of Christ. This is very consistent to the Greek view that unrestrained sexual actives weakens or sickens the body. Greek athletes had long been warned to limit sexual encounters to be strong. This is very consistent with Paul’s admonition to Christians to be “strong” in the Lord and the concept the body is the temple of the holy spirit.
Though this passage has these other connotations, the focus in this passage is point out that Christians have an obligation to keep their lives free of encumbrances so they may serve Christ. Paul is making an early reference to what we not refer to as additive behavior. Long before modern therapist coined the word sexual addition, Paul warned Christians not to be controlled by their sexuality.
Any addictive or controlling behavior wipes out ones ability to “crucify one self daily” and serve Christ. And how does one serve Christ? By showing love to others of course.
One final note is Paul’s reference to the special nature of sex to make two people one. This is a reference to the Biblical concept of marriage where the two people become one flesh for life.
Here are some practical implications.
1.Christian sexual morality is not determined by what body part is put where, but rather what place does sex have in the Christian’s life.
2.As Christians we must be vigilant to ensure we do not become enslaved by things that appeal to our flesh. Things such as ingested chemicals, gamboling, or even opulent life style can if allowed enslave the Christian.
3.As Christians we must be aware that our sexual desires can, if allowed, overwhelm our Christian judgment and become the master of life
The warnings by Paul in the Law of Appetites are presaged by Solomon in this Passage. (Proverbs 7:13-23)
So she caught him, and kissed him, [and] with an impudent face said unto him, I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon. Come, let us take our fill of love until the morning: let us solace ourselves with loves. With her much fair speech she caused him to yield, with the flattering of her lips she forced him. He goeth after her straightway, as an ox goeth to the slaughter, or as a fool to the correction of the stocks; Till a dart strike through his liver; as a bird hasteth to the snare, and knoweth not that it [is] for his life.
With the Law of Love and the Law of Appetites in mind see how this passage in Acts is a watershed for Christian morality.
And certain men which came down from Judaea taught the brethren, [and said], Except ye be circumcised after the manner of Moses, ye cannot be saved. When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain other of them, should go up to Jerusalem unto the apostles and elders about this question. But there rose up certain of the sect of the Pharisees which believed, saying, That it was needful to circumcise them, and to command [them] to keep the law of Moses. And the apostles and elders came together for to consider of this matter.
And when there had been much disputing, Peter rose up, and said unto them, Men [and] brethren, ye know how that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the gospel, and believe. Now therefore why tempt ye God, to put a yoke upon the neck of the disciples, which neither our fathers nor we were able to bear? But we believe that through the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ we shall be saved, even as they. And after they had held their peace, James answered, saying, Men [and] brethren, hearken unto me: Simeon hath declared how God at the first did visit the Gentiles, to take out of them a people for his name.
Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and [from] fornication, and [from] things strangled, and [from] blood. For Moses of old time hath in every city them that preach him, being read in the synagogues every sabbath day. Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas; [namely], Judas surnamed Barsabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren: And they wrote [letters] by them after this manner; The apostles and elders and brethren [send] greeting unto the brethren which are of the Gentiles in Antioch and Syria and Cilicia: Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, [Ye must] be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no [such] commandment:
For it seemed good to the Holy Ghost, and to us, to lay upon you no greater burden than these necessary things; That ye abstain from meats offered to idols, and from blood, and from things strangled, and from fornication: from which if ye keep yourselves, ye shall do well. Fare ye well.
IV- A Christian Sexual Manifesto
• Unmarried Christians have enormous sexual freedom. The particulars of what body part touches or enters what body part is not of concern. This freedom is only limited by love:
- 1. Love shown to partners by a total commitment to one’s sexual partner’s wellbeing by:
- a) Only engaging on sexual behavior known to be within the pre-established boundaries of ones partner
- b) Never engaging in sexual behavior that causes spiritual, physical or emotional harm to ones partner or self
- c) Never using power or deception in any sexual relationship
- 2. Love shown to an unborn child by not risking conception by parents who are not willing or prepared for the lifelong commitment of parenthood.
- 3. Love shown to God by not allowing one’s sexual desires or behaviors to drown out the voice of the Holy Spirit and control one’s life.
• Married couples are as to be “One Being”.
- 1. Married couples (as a unit) are the same as a single person in freedoms and restrictions, ie. particular sexual acts have no moral significance in itself.
- 2. Sexual relationships not founded first on the marriage union undermine that oneness and run counter to the Biblical concept of marriage. So, as long as the couple purposes all their sex is to build the marriage, the particulars of the bodies involved is irrelevant, i.e. it does not matter if sex is physically with someone outside the marriage, if the intent is to support the marriage.
- 3. Adultery is essentially the betrayal of this one flesh concept becouse one partner reneges on the oath to live as one. i.e. presenting or imagine oneself as unmarried in the course of sexual relations with someone other than your spouse.
• Selfish, self-seeking, hurtful, harmful or deceptive sex is sinful, even in marriage.