Oddly enough, people feel comfortable coming to me with questions about sex. I guess when you run around saying the church needs to talk about sex more, folks feel that you’re the one to go to with their questions. So one day a couple comes to me for some counseling. They wanted my opinion on the idea of sex before marriage. As far as they were concerned, the sex felt right and was beautiful and thus had to be God’s will. Of course, if they were truly convinced of this then they wouldn’t have come to me asking what I thought. Now, this wasn’t a dumb couple. Far from ignorant, they had both sat under the same ministry that I had and listened to the same pastors I did for a number of years – more evidence that we, as the church, aren’t communicating effectively, that there are some truths we aren’t passing along effective.

I hardly enter into these discussions as some paragon of virtue. The whole peer pressure of sexual activity never really affected me. I don’t buy that “all teens are doing anyway.” I got high school doing what all good males did: lying. I lived in a sexually charged household, where my father and his father collected and traded porn quite openly. The mechanics of sex weren’t exactly a mystery. While our sexuality is a powerful drive, like any of our other drives, it can be disciplined as well as abused.

Our “just say no” approach to talking about sex leaves much to be desired. As I drive around town, I see billboards reading “Sex Can Wait – You’re Worth It.” And I know plenty of folks who have taken the “True Love Waits” pledge: “Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.” While these campaigns convey truths, they miss some critical questions that eventually come up. “What am I waiting for?” “When is it going to come?” “Is it going to come?”

I lost my virginity in my early 20s to this line of reasoning: “we’re going to get married anyway.” (At the risk of losing my guy card, I wasn’t the one making the argument). When I proposed to her, I got the friend speech. [“Let’s be friends? You see us more as friends?!? Five years of us dating and we’re only friends? You don’t want to jeopardize our friendship by … getting married?!?” I’m not still bitter about that. I’m not. Really. Luckily, it all worked out in the end and I found a woman who fell madly, and often regretfully, in love with me, but still … friends?] “True love waits.” What happens when true love disappoints? Or when true love fails?

Being perfectly frank, biblical reasons rarely top people’s list of reasons for waiting. Part of this is due to the fact that when we do anything, but the larger reason is biblical ignorance period. We hear that sex before marriage, or better said, sex outside of marriage, is a sin, but we have no idea where it says so in the bible and “because I said so” doesn’t sit well with us.

Once again I return to our basic questions: how does this behavior form us and into what does it form us? Chastity is a discipline, the earlier you start to master this discipline the better off you will be. Teaches us control before marriage which helps with fidelity within marriage. [As an aside, it can be a handy discipline within marriage. For those singles who still live under the delusion that marriage equals sex all the time, when my wife was pregnant with our second child she was diagnosed with placenta previa. Practically this meant eight months of no sex, or as she so delicately put it, “if I get none, you get none.” Believe me, I got the feeling exegeting the passages about how we’re supposed to surrender our bodies to our spouses would only end up with the better part of the New Testament being rammed up my backside.]

Now we turn to what the Bible has to say on the topic. As I mentioned earlier, we hear that the Bible says that sex outside of marriage is a wrong. Paul is clear that extramarital sex is a sin. Really? Where? If he’s so clear, why is there such confusion? Rarely have we been shown where it says this or explained why. As usual when posed with these sort of dilemmas, I go scouring the Bible with a certain amount of skepticism (read: looking for loopholes).

“There shouldn’t be even a hint of sexual immorality” –Ephesians 5:3

This sounds pretty clear cut, yet at the same time, this simple line is the source of much confusion. People point to this verse, but I don’t see anything about don’t have sex until you’re married. This is a long way to go to say that there is a context for sexual expression. Like many things, sex is good. Great, even. However, it is something that should be taken seriously and not entered into lightly – which runs contrary to how our culture likes to treat it.

“Porneia” is the word translated as “sexual immorality”. Originally it meant the practice of consorting with prostitutes, but it came to mean habitual immorality. Porneia includes adultery (Matthew 5:32, 19:9), incest (I Corinthians 5), prostitution (I Corinthians 6), the “burning” (I Corinthians 7). It includes pederasty (I Timothy 1:9-10). Porneia, therefore, is the idea of fornication or any kind of extra-marital sexual relations. In its most general sense, it covers all types of sexual sin between male and female. In some passages, usually when Paul is listing various characteristics that we are to excise from our lives, “sexual immorality” is expanded on by words like “impurity” or “lust”. The word that translates as “impurity” has a broader reference since it includes uncleanness in thought, word, and act. “Pathos”, the word for “lust”, essentially means feeling, though in the New Testament it is used to denote uncontrolled desire.

However this sin devastates at least two Christians every time lines are crossed, leading two down a path away from the holy life we are called to. The sin goes deeper than just physically crossing lines with another. There are few sins that so specifically cause us to “forget” about God during the course of it. It affects our walks in a multitude of ways, like a cancer creeping into other areas of our spiritual journeys, slowly atrophying it. This is an area that I personally continue to struggle with. Fidelity is a discipline. I want to learn the Joseph lesson of running from temptation (Potiphar’s wife) and avoiding setting my own traps that may cause me to stumble. I want my relationships with my friends to be edifying to all of us, not a source of disruption. I want to develop character traits of faithfulness and discipline. That is my continuing prayer for my life. Next week we’ll explore more of what the Bible has to say and why this area is important to even think about.

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