"One of evangelicalism’s biggest problems is we have no compelling sexual vision which makes sense of celibacy as a fulfilling calling. We have little or no sexual ethic except the glorified desire of Hollywood lopped onto heterosexual monogamous marriage. We have no theology of desire formation. It is “lust,” and enjoy it, only while married to one person. We have no concept of the “ordering of desire.” This is why our witness is so vapid among the sexual brokenness of our day." - David Fitch
I think Fitch may be onto something here, though I will say that this is rapidly changing. I think from the twin poles of places like Mars Hill in Seattle and Mars Hill in Michigan, this topic is being, uh, fleshed out. Rob Bell's Sex God went a long way (in a cool, lots of white-space-on-the-page way).
At any rate, here's my take- part 1. This is taken from a two part sermon series we did a couple of years ago and owes much to Ben Patterson and, as always Tim Keller.
This Fall we are doing all we can to focus on how the Gospel shapes us, both as individuals and as a community. And while we'll get into that topic more properly 2 weeks from now, for this Sunday and next we're going to look at a topic near and dear to my heart... and probably to yours... Sex.
How many of you have ever heard a fantastic sermon on sex- one that just blew you away? Well, I wish I could say you were going to hear that today... :)
The elders asked me this summer to do this, and I was a bit, uh, hesitant, because to be honest- it can be embarrassing and uncomfortable and the fact is, no matter how we talk about this topic, no matter what positions we stake out, in doing so we'll be drawing some lines and someone will disagree and get their knickers in a twist. But it’s important. We are all sexual beings- it’s how we were made. Single, married, young adult, middle aged, 55 and up, after a certain age, we are all sexual beings. So let me say a couple of things as we start...
I recognize that occasionally, when we get to discussions of tough topics, preaching turns into a great spectator sport. We all want to see how Bob is going to get himself out of this one. Well- the short answer is- I guess we'll see.
Actually- the real answer is- I hope I don't. I don't want to get out of anything- But I do want to recognize that there are people here who are at all different places both in their spiritual journey AND in their views on sex.
So let me be upfront with you.
We're going to approach these two weeks both unabashedly pro-sex and unabashedly pro-bible. I believe, and am going to invite you in joining me in believing, that sex is a good gift from God and that He has definite ideas about how best to use that gift.
Now when I say that, don't either get too excited or too afraid- We're not going to spend a lot of time talking about don't do this and don't do that... Why?
Because I honestly believe that when you come into relationship with God you begin to change from the inside out- it's something that God's Spirit does in you, making you more and more a person of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self control... And the area of our sexual ethics is no different. That doesn't mean that anything someone following Jesus can manage to do without feeling overly guilty is then necessarily okay- our consciences are not the final arbiter or right and wrong... but it does mean that I have a reasonable expectation that we can explore together the positive formulation and descriptions of sexuality in Scripture and trust that if you are following Jesus, you are listening to God, you take seriously what the Scripture says, and you are able to come to some logical conclusions without getting hit over the head repeatedly... Also, you don’t necessarily need to agree with what I say… but I do want you to strive to hear, and understand, what I see as the biblical idea of sex…
Let me ask to start us off: Why is Sex so difficult to talk about? I mean, it’s a part of life- everyone in this room is here, other than miracles of science, because your mother and your father had sex. It’s extremely common. So why so difficult to discuss? (discussion)
The Bible is a book about marriage, specifically about A Marriage (and we’ll see that in a few minutes… but as such... it's also a book about sex. You probably haven’t thought of it that way, at least in any positive way. Maybe you are sitting here, doubting my claim… Fair enough. We’ll see.
But one thing you can’t deny: There's a lot of sex in the Bible- good sex and bad sex.
Let’s go back to the beginning- In Genesis chapter one, God creates everything- and the pinnacle of creation is man and woman.
And without looking, who can tell me what the very first command they were given was? Let’s read it…
VS GEN 1: 27-28 “Be fruitful and multiply” Now, the first command God ever gave us was not “have sex”, but… they sure couldn’t obey without having Sex! God told them- make love. Make children. Enjoy this good creation I have given you and make more people to enjoy it.
“Good.” That’s an important word in this narrative…
From the beginning- the unifying principle of everything has been relationship- It begins with a relationship- a God who exists in perfect relationship and intimacy as a community within Himself. Then two people- together, naked, unashamed. Together, in relationship, just the two of them- and God tells them- make love, enjoy this creation, be in relationship with Me.
The man said,
"This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called 'woman, '
for she was taken out of man."
24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.
25 The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.
The first love poem- This is now bone of my bones, flesh of my flesh...
Here's how Jesus spoke about this initial creation-
Mark 10: 6-9
But ‘God made them male and female’ from the beginning of creation. 7 ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, 8 and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, 9 let no one split apart what God has joined together.”
Jesus says this in answer to a question about marriage, and He basically says, do you want to understand marriage, sexuality, relationships? Then go back to the beginning. What was God’s original picture in all this?
In the first chapter of Genesis, 7 times God declares what He has made “good.” Good, good, good.. and when He made people He said… very good.
God created everything good and everything in relationship with everything else- there was peace... what the Hebrews called "shalom." Wholeness...
He says- they will be “one flesh.” The word in Hebrew is echad. One.
It’s the same word used of God Himself- Hear Oh Israel, the Lord Your God is One.” Echad. This relationship- including, no especially the sexual part of it is about something much bigger than just the relationship itself. It points beyond them to Someone Else. This sexual relationship we have as man and woman is meant to picture a couple of things, but one of the deepest is that is meant to picture a wholeness and completeness in relationship that mirrors God Himself.
The problem is, we messed it up.
Like I said- “good” appears 7 times in Genesis 1, 5 times in Gen 2, 3 times and Gen 3… and not at all in Gen 4, 5, 6, 7, 8… It disappears. Why? Because of what the man and woman did. Most everyone knows the basics of the story, if you don’t, I’ll let you read it on your own, but this is instructive- when they disobeyed- when they chose selfishness for the first time, “At that moment their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.” Shame? It was still just the two of them? Who did they feel ashamed in front of?
Each other. Their relationship with God was broken, and their relationship with one another that mirrored that was as well.
But the picture, cracked though it may be, is still there. Deep down inside, we still have that sense of what it means to be naked and un-ashamed, that is, to be known fully by someone and not just to be known fully but to be loved fully.
We've been trying to get back to that place ever since. With God and with each other. We feel our brokenness and the brokenness of the world. And a marriage, and the sexual relationship in it, is designed to counter all this- to stem the tide of hurt and division and sin. This man and woman who give themselves to each other are supposed to give the world a picture- a glimpse of hope, of things being put back together again, a display of what God is like and what God desires for the world, a bit of heaven, of echad, here on earth.
The very first command to people from God was- have sex. Make more of you. Be one. This idea of oneness of relationship being pictured by sex isn’t just found in Genesis… it’s all through the book.
In the book of Hosea, God's people who are constantly turning their back on the one true God and worshiping idols are pictured as a wife who constantly prostitutes herself out to other men, and God is pictured as a husband who loves her so much, he continues to take her back time and again. It says…
14 “But then I will win her back once again.
I will lead her into the desert
and speak tenderly to her there.
15 I will return her vineyards to her
and transform the Valley of Trouble into a gateway of hope.
She will give herself to me there,
as she did long ago when she was young,
when I freed her from her captivity in Egypt.
16 When that day comes,” says the Lord,
“you will call me ‘my husband’
instead of ‘my master.’
17 O Israel, I will wipe the many names of Baal from your lips,
and you will never mention them again.
18 On that day I will make a covenant
with all the wild animals and the birds of the sky
and the animals that scurry along the ground
so they will not harm you.
I will remove all weapons of war from the land,
all swords and bows,
so you can live unafraid
in peace and safety.
19 I will make you my wife forever,
showing you righteousness and justice,
unfailing love and compassion.
20 I will be faithful to you and make you mine,
and you will finally know me as the Lord.
See, there’s a reason why God constantly refers to His people worshipping other gods in sexual terms and metaphors. And there’s a reason why the worship of those other gods almost always seemed to turn sexual- with temple prostitutes and orgies around giant phallic symbols… because sex isn’t just sex. It’s a picture. A picture of our relationship to God Himself… or to something else.
So, it also shouldn’t surprise us that Jesus' ministry begins and ends with a wedding... It starts at the wedding in Cana in the book of John, a wedding He attends, blesses, creates more wine for so the celebration doesn’t have to stop… and it ends in the book of Revelation with another wedding- but this time, He doesn't just attend- He's the groom. Rev 19 says this:
6 Then I heard again what sounded like the shout of a vast crowd or the roar of mighty ocean waves or the crash of loud thunder:
“Praise the Lord!
For the Lord our God, the Almighty, reigns.
7 Let us be glad and rejoice,
and let us give honor to him.
For the time has come for the wedding feast of the Lamb,
and his bride has prepared herself.
8 She has been given the finest of pure white linen to wear.”
For the fine linen represents the good deeds of God’s holy people.
9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb.” And he added, “These are true words that come from God.”
See, there's an arc when it comes to sex in Scripture...
Do you see the arc? 2 people- a man and a woman committed to each other and to no one else. But then a people who not only go chasing a lot of sex outside the boundaries of that original 2 person, man/woman design, but who also go chasing a lot of other gods.
But then finally, back to the beginning- a wedding, a marriage, a groom and a bride, but this time, Jesus the groom and the whole community of Christ followers as the Bride…
I perform a lot of weddings... it's one of the joys of pastoring a young community like evergreen. And from where I stand, I generally get a view of something that no one else ever gets at a wedding.
When the bride comes into view, everyone does what? They stand up, and they turn around, and they look at her- in her beauty, in her white dress, meant to be very symbolic... that's what everyone else is looking at. But because of my place at the front of the room, I get to see something that most people don't. I get to watch not only the bride come down the aisle, but the groom's face as he, standing sideways, waiting for her, also watches her come down the aisle to him.
Can I just say, most of you guys look pretty goofy? Just kidding... "goofy"- isn't the right word. Smiling, overjoyed, glad to have chosen out of all the world this one, and that out of all the world she chose him. “Glad” isn’t the right word… Amazed. Is she mine? Am I hers? Could this be? I have never seen her look so beautiful….
And is it possible that this is how Jesus thinks of you and me? That when we become part of this mysterious entity of Christ followers known as the Church (with a capital "C"), the Bride of Christ...
It is if we understand the grand narrative, the story of the Scriptures, the whole point of the Bible. In Isaiah God says, “I will rejoice over you as a bridegroom rejoices over his bride.”
All of history is moving towards this- the creation of a redeemed community living in a renewed creation in relationship with the Triune God, and that wedding. So when we talk about sex, the first thing we need to understand is why God created it. For our pleasure- yes. For the making of other people, yes- those tiny little mini-me's running around. But something else as well- as a work of art designed to picture the greatest truth in the universe- the Gospel- Jesus, who gave up everything. This is how Paul can write things like this:
25 For husbands, this means love your wives, just as Christ loved the church. He gave up his life for her 26 to make her holy and clean, washed by the cleansing of God’s word.27 He did this to present her to himself as a glorious church without a spot or wrinkle or any other blemish. Instead, she will be holy and without fault. 28 In the same way, husbands ought to love their wives as they love their own bodies. For a man who loves his wife actually shows love for himself.29 No one hates his own body but feeds and cares for it, just as Christ cares for the church. 30 And we are members of his body.
31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.” 32 This is a great mystery, but it is an illustration of the way Christ and the church are one.
There are those words again… it’s all tied together.
Sex in its greatest, purest, most joyful expression is a glimpse of forever.
Now- most likely, the idea that sex is a metaphor probably isn't new information to many of you: But what some of you are really wondering is- Are there limits and boundaries? The short answer is yes... and we're going to talk about some of them next week- but there's something I want you to know.
There's a reason why the first commandment is the first commandment- You know, the one where God says "Don't have ANY other gods before me." Why is this even a commandment? Because, like all of God's commands- it's for our own good. It's much healthier to worship the God who exists rather than all the gods who don't exist. It's much better for you to worship the God who is rather than the thousands of false gods that we create. Much easier to love and pray to a God who hears us, who works, who acts... than a god we make that has no eyes, no ears, no heart... But why is it the first?
Simple… because you can’t break any of the others without first breaking that one. In other words… if you are lying to me, it’s because at that moment, something other than God is more important to you. Your pride, how I see you, whatever. It matters more to you than God, and has at that moment become an idol. Why do people steal? Because at that moment, they’ve made an idol out of something- they think it will make them happy, fulfilled, whatever. It becomes more important to them than God Himself and so…
So, here I am, a pastor with a young congregation full of sexual energy. That’s a good thing! And in speaking to you about this subject, I myself have a temptation I need to fight. Let me illustrate it this way. Say I want you all to be more generous. I could easily stand up here and kind of scowl at you and say “Bad Christians! Be more generous! Good people are generous!” And maybe you would move more in that direction. But would I have done you a bit of good? No- you might in fact, become more generous. But why? To make me happy? To look good in front of others? In doing that all I really would have accomplished is shoring up your idols- your idols of pride and being the right kind of person. Or I could take another approach. I could tell you about God’s generosity to you. I could tell you about all that God, in His riches has given to us in our poverty. I could ask you what that does in you, what that understanding works in you. I could add that when we give to the poor, we paint a picture for the world of God’s grace and generosity to us.
The same thing holds true with the issue of sex. I don’t, even as we get into more detail next week, want to take the first approach. I want you to know what the picture of sex is- because I believe if you understand how it pictures the deepest truths of Scripture- the relationship between God and us, how it fits in the universe, you’ll begin to understand how it its in your life.
I don't want to make more pharisees who believe that a certain sexual ethic puts them on a different plane than everyone else- who feel righteous and justified because they live differently than many in the area of their sexuality and so feel righteous and justified in looking down their noses at those who don't.
I want us as a community to form in each other not that holier than thou attitude which eventually devolves down into nothing more than one face in public and another in private, but rather a holistic understanding of one another as whole people, sexual beings, who-whether single or married, see their sexuality as a way to worship God, to point people to Jesus.
I don't want you to act a certain way sexually to earn God's favor. You can't. Or because you are afraid of pregnancy or disease or guilt and shame. Though it's good to have some healthy amounts of fear around some of that.
I don't want you to act a certain way in order to be "super morals man" or "super morals woman." In fact, I don't want you to act a certain way sexually in order to anything.
I want you to discover and live out a biblical sexual ethic because of.
Because you understand the great gift God has given us in sex.
Because you understand the picture God wants to draw for us through marriage and sex.
Because you want to live life in the way of Jesus and out of gratitude and amazement that He is yours and you are His, you mirror that in your sexuality and your choices- your choice to live as the old marriage vow put it- forsaking all others keeping myself only for you.
Once you understand the picture that sex is meant to draw for us, you can never, ever say "it's just sex." We're just fooling around. It doesn't mean anything. No! It means everything! It's the most meaningful metaphor in the universe and to divorce it from love, from commitment, to take it in any way outside of what God means it to be, far from participating with God in the painting of a beautiful work of art, is to mar that artwork, to smear it, to point people towards something other than Jesus. And I can hardly think of something more serious than that…
Five years ago, Amy Clark left her old life and taking my name, coming to live with me, she became my wife. And in so doing she started a lifetime of showing me Jesus- when I think about what she's given up for me, for our children, I see Jesus. When I'm reminded day in and day out of my selfishness by her selflessness, I see Jesus. And by her example to me, she calls me to live out the life of Jesus to her- to lay down my life for her, to put her first- her wants and needs as she does the same with me.
The call of Jesus is to give ourselves away that we might ultimately find ourselves. In giving myself to her, I find myself. No- it's not perfect, but it is a living picture of the Gospel that is coming into better and better focus the more we learn about each other, love each other, the more serve each other... In the way we love each other and even the way we make love to each other we worship, we give thanks, and we point one another to Jesus.
Next week, I want to talk about a lifetime of making love well- as single people, as married people- a lifetime of drawing the most beautiful picture in the universe- by what we do, by what we wait to do, by what we refrain from doing… all of it can point to Jesus.