By Dermot Cottuli
“Where there is no vision, the people perish.”
The NIV puts it this way:
“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint.”
Something that always amazes me when talking to non-Christians and Christians alike is the narrow mindedness of a lot of people when it comes to the topic of sex. I’m not talking about the frequency or their practice of sex, I’m talking about the lack of thought that most people give to this subject. Christians sometimes get labeled narrow-minded by the world because of our stance on sexuality – but if you understand the term narrow-minded then you’d realise it has nothing to do with your belief system but rather the thinking that went into the construction of your belief system and your ability to think outside of the cultural patterns that surround you. I’ve come across very few people who have made it a habit of thinking through the consequences of their actions – too many of us simply follow the herd. You see narrow-mindedness isn’t a label that should be used to describe my practice – it should rather be used to describe my thinking that led me to my practice – because for better or for worse we are what we think, or far too often, don’t think. Jesus said that out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks. If you’re not thinking through why you believe and do the things that you do, you’ll find yourself constantly defaulting to the pattern pressed on you by the prevailing culture of your day. Paul gave us a clue to the power of our thinking when he told us not to copy the behaviours and customs of this world but to let God transform us into a new person by changing the way we think. That sounds exactly the opposite to narrow-mindedness. God’s never been afraid of a thinking person – in fact he created us to be autonomous, thinking beings. We get ourselves into way more trouble by not thinking through our beliefs on issues than seeking the answers for difficult questions.
In Uni I was challenged in front of a tutorial class by one of my female friends who said to me “You don’t believe in sex before marriage, do you Dermot?” To which I replied with “What, you do?” I then asked her to give me at least 3 reasons for why it was better to have sex before you were married rather than wait till you were married. She couldn’t come up with one. Why? Because she’d never given it any thought.
The point I’d like to make this morning right from the start is that whilst we as Christians, have the advantage of owning the makers handbook, we still need to grapple with the issues of our sexuality if we’re to communicate God’s liberating truth to the many who have yet to darken the doorway of a church and also to help answer the questions that plague many of us when no-one’s looking.
This week I’d like to lay down a broad foundation for our subject and then over the next few weeks tackle some of the hard questions about sex being thrown at us by our current culture and give you workable, practical advice on how to live the way you were designed to live in the area of your sexuality.
Philip Yancey, in his article “Holy Sex – How it ravishes our souls” tells the story of a friend of his and his reintroduction back into western culture after time spent away living in a remote part of Africa.
“A physician friend of mine spent two months in a remote part of the African nation Benin. The airplane on which he traveled home was showing current movies, and after two months away from all media, he found them jarring. Each movie centred on sexual intercourse, as though this were the only significant topic in the world, whereas David had just been dealing with weighty matters—disease, poverty, hunger, religion, death—while relating to colleagues in a way that had nothing to do with sexual intercourse. When the plane stopped for refuelling at the Brussels airport, David saw rows of magazines for sale featuring women’s breasts in various stages of exposure. That, too, seemed odd, for he had been working in an area where women commonly uncovered their breasts in public, not for sexual arousal but to feed their children. Welcome back to Western civilisation, he thought to himself.”
In the western world we pride ourselves on being more liberated, more educated and more affluent than at any other time in the history of civilisation. Is it possible that we’re just kidding ourselves? Do the things that consume us and our media really point to our advancement or to us having lost the plot.
Outside the church, people think of God as the great spoilsport of human sexuality, not its inventor. The pope utters pronouncements, denominations issue position papers, and many Christians ignore them and follow the lead of the rest of society. Surveys reveal little difference between church attenders and non-attenders in the rates of premarital intercourse and cohabitation.
A George Barna poll found that 36 percent of self-proclaimed born-again Christians in America approve of cohabitation, and 39 percent said indulging in sexual fantasies is morally acceptable — despite biblical principles to the contrary. Peter Brandt, Focus on the Family’s issues response director, said, “To a great extent, the church has lost its moral moorings on sexual behaviour.”
We need to do better!
In our society today just about anything goes and if you have an opinion that runs contrary to the vocal minority you get labeled a hater, a prude, a dinosaur from a bygone era. Yet every tribe studied by anthropologists has taboos that fence off some of the practices that our society would like to legitimise. As if by instinct, the most “primitive” of humans recognise that in sex there is something beyond merely the physical act.
Only in technologically advanced cultures do people reduce sex to an act of pleasure we perform like any other animal. Music gives us away. A song by the group Bloodhound Gang urges, “You and me, baby, ain’t nothin’ but mammals, so let’s do it like they do it on the Discovery Channel.” Why not? If all we are, are advanced mammals.
The attempt to reduce human sex to a mere animal act, however, runs into unexpected problems. The more we learn about human sexuality, the more it differs from how the animals do it. Most obviously, humans come vastly over-equipped for sex. The human male has the largest penis of any primate, and the female is the only mammal whose breasts develop before her first pregnancy. Virtually all other mammals have a specified time in which the female is receptive, or in heat, whereas the human female can be receptive anytime, not just once or twice a year. In addition, humans continue to have sex long after their child-bearing years have passed. The question is, “Why are we so oversexed?”
Relationship is the key. Human beings experience sex as a personal encounter, not just a biological act. We are the only species that commonly copulates face-to-face, so that partners look at each other as they mate, and have full-body contact. Unlike other social animals, humans prefer privacy for the act. In many animal species, females openly advertise their receptivity with swollen, colourful genitals, and the male and female mate in full view of the group.
Zoologists continue to puzzle over the oddities of human sexuality, unable to find any evolutionary advantage in sex that does not directly lead to reproduction. Some conclude that for humans, sex represents a huge waste of time—certainly true if the point of sex was fertilisation rather than relationship.
In every feature, human sexuality encourages relationship. Humans negotiate a contract between consenting parties. Unlike domestic bulls or rams, which service every receptive female within sniffing distance, mating humans demand some sort of mutual consent. When none exists, we call that rape and punish it.
Schizophrenic is the best way to describe modern society’s view of sexuality. On the one hand, scientists insist that we are organisms like any other animal, and that sex is a natural expression of that animal nature. The pornography industry (which in the U.S. grosses more money than all professional sports combined) happily complies, supplying sexual images of the famous and the anonymous to anyone willing to pay.
But when people truly act out their animal natures, society gets all upset. A few states in Australia allow legalised brothels, but no parents encourage their daughters to grow up and become a prostitute – I mean if it’s just a physical act, just like laying bricks or typing up a letter why all the fuss? Hollywood might glamorise adultery onscreen, but in real life it provokes pain and a rage sometimes strong enough to drive the wounded party to murder or to jump off a bridge.
The root cause of this schizophrenia is the attempt to reduce sex between humans to a purely physical act. For humans, unlike sheep or chimpanzees, sex involves more than just our bodies. [Slide] In A Natural History of Rape, Randy Thornhill and Craig T. Palmer report that only 22 percent of rapes involve “gratuitous” violence beyond what is necessary to subdue the victim, yet any rape counsellor knows that the real violence occurs on the inside and may lead to years of depression, nightmares, memory loss, and sexual dysfunction. Victims of abusive relatives testify that something far more than a body gets hurt when a trusted adult abuses a child sexually. Decades later, suffering persists.
In 2002 the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that “Congress cannot outlaw “virtual child porn,” consisting of computer-generated images on the Internet, since no one gets harmed in its production.” Their decision neglected the harm done to the people feeding on the images, for the real damage in sexuality occurs inside. Sex may engage our bodies, but unlike bodily functions such as going to the toilet, sneezing, and burping, it also touches our souls in a way that nothing else can or does.
The very word sex comes from a Latin verb that means to cut off or sever, and sexual impulses drive us to unite, to restore somehow the union that has been severed. Freud diagnosed the deep pain within as a longing for union with a parent; Jung diagnosed a longing for union with the opposite sex. The Christian sees a deeper longing, for union with the God who created us.
Unfortunately, few people look to the church for perspective on the true meaning of human sexuality, since they view the church as an enemy of sex. How the church got its reputation as an enemy of sex is a long story, in some ways shameful and in some ways understandable. Every society sets boundaries, or taboos, around sexuality, and in Western civilisation Christianity was the main force to set those boundaries. Against the background of pagan Greek and Roman culture, which incorporated temple prostitutes into worship activities, the early church went through a period of purging. Saint Augustine, converted out of that pagan background and tormented by his own guilty past, connected the transmission of sin with the act of intercourse and said that sex for any purpose other than conceiving is a sin. He came to regret that God had created sex in the first place.
Augustine’s contemporary, Jerome, went even further. Plagued by sexual fantasies, he turned to studying Hebrew as a way of occupying his mind. His scholarship resulted in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible used by the church for a thousand years, but did little for Jerome’s attitude toward sex. “I praise wedlock, I praise marriage; but it is because they produce me virgins,” he said, and proceeded to give prison-like rules to the mothers who raised these virgins. To husbands he declared, “Anyone who is too passionate a lover with his own wife is himself an adulterer.”
In the succeeding centuries church authorities issued edicts forbidding sex on Thursdays, the day of Christ’s arrest; on Fridays, the day of his death; on Saturdays, in honour of the Blessed Virgin; and on Sundays in honour of the departed saints. Wednesdays sometimes made the list too, as did the 40-day fast periods before Easter, Christmas, and Pentecost, and also feast days and days of the Apostles, as well as the days of a female’s period. The list escalated until, as John Boswell estimated, only 44 days a year remained available for marital sex.
The Protestant Reformation brought about a shift in attitudes toward sex. Luther spoke out against the church’s condemnation of marital sex for the sake of pleasure.
When secular revolutions swept across Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries, the church’s position as guardian of sexuality faded. Yet in England and America, Victorians brought back an ethic of repression, even to the extent of covering the legs of furniture lest they arouse impure thoughts.
Because the church has failed to meet the sexual revolution head on and has instead more times than not buried its head in the sand or used simplistic arguments to repress sexual looseness we’ve done God and the world a disservice. We’ve taken one of the most amazing aspects of humanity, the very thing that speaks so clearly of a Creator and hidden it away behind closed doors.
When the church fails to communicate God’s truths then mankind is left to stumble around in the dark doing what we read out at the beginning of my message – where there is no revelation, people cast off restraint, and people end up perishing. All of us who are parents know that our children need guidance if they’re to avoid pain and heartache as they’re growing up. There are certain things that you don’t need to learn through personal experience. Mankind needs its’ Creator’s guidance on the issues of sexuality if we’re to avoid heartache and pain.
The apostle Paul makes a number of very interesting statements about sexual immorality. And let me clarify, sexual immorality is any sexual activity that I engage in with someone (real or virtual) that I’m not married to.
“But among you (children of God) there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving.”
1 Corinthians 6:13
“The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”
Where was that said? It was said right back in the beginning when God created Adam and Eve, when everything started.
1 Corinthians 6:18-20
“Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.”
We’re coming now to the crux of the matter – and you really need to get this if you’re going to understand why sexual purity is so important to your health as a human being.
It’s no use trying to overcome sexual temptation if secretly you think that God has it all wrong. If the only reason you’re not sleeping around is because you’re afraid of getting caught you’ll eventually end up resenting whoever it is that you’re afraid of. It’s a fruit of fear. God doesn’t want us to be afraid – he wants us to be informed!
In the beginning God created man and then he saw that it wasn’t good for man to be alone, so he divided man into male and female. The word man translated in your Bible is actually the same word that we translate mankind.
Because they were once one, there was a desire to join back together again – to become one once again. [Slide] That’s why it was written in Genesis ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’
Here we have the basis of sexual desire, this is the basis of that drive that we so flippantly call our sex drive – the drive that is looking for completion, wholeness, oneness with another person.
It’s through the act of sexual intercourse that we become one flesh with our other half. Paul called this a great mystery and used it as an example of the union between the believer and Jesus. It’s not something that we take and casually hand around.
Young people often worry that they’ll miss out on something if they pay attention to the Bible’s warnings against premarital sex. Actually, the warnings are there to keep them from missing out on something WONDERFUL
God’s intention was that you would join with one other person in a lifelong mutually exclusive relationship. That you would become one flesh with one other person and in doing so experience a taste of what God shares between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. You see it’s not the act that’s the important issue here – it’s what happens to a human being when the act takes place each and every time it happens. When you begin to see what God intended when he designed all of what goes into making love you begin to understand why you don’t go sleeping around and giving yourself to multiple partners. If you become one with only one person then you have all the raw materials to build an intimate relationship that will bring you great satisfaction here on earth without other attachments working against you. If however you share yourself with many partners how can you truly give yourself to just one? You’ve become fractured, rather than the whole human being that God intended you to be.
Every time you make love to someone (whether that’s real life or virtually) you join with them not just physically but in your very essence. Why do you think that people say they’re heart broken when a relationship goes bad even when there’s been no sex involved? Because we have this inbuilt drive to join with our partner and the process starts even before anything physical happens – why did Jesus say that if you looked lustfully at a woman, without even touching her, then you were guilty of adultery? Because something starts to happen on our insides. You can actually feel pain in your chest when someone you love walks away from you. You feel like they’ve taken a part of you with them. Have you ever heard or said the words, “I feel like my heart’s been ripped out.”
Your cat never feels that way. The cows in the paddock down the road don’t go off their food and pine away when the stud bull is taken to another herd of heifers.
Finally, here’s Martin Luther’s pastoral advice about holding on till marriage:
But some might say, “Waiting for marriage is unbearable and aggravating!” They’re right. It’s very similar to other difficulties requiring patience that believers must face, such as fasting, imprisonment, cold, sickness, and persecution. Lust is a serious burden. You must resist it and fight against it. But after you have overcome it through prayer, lust will have caused you to pray more and grow in faith.
Before I close today I need to share with you the words of Jesus to the woman caught in adultery.
When he asked her, “Woman where are your accusers”, she said “they’ve all gone”. Then he replied, “Neither do I accuse you, go and sin no more”.
The creator who put you together in your mothers womb is the same creator who can forgive you and give you a totally new start. If you’ve been sucked in by the world’s faulty view of sexuality then God has the best news you’re ever going to hear today. He can make you new again. He can make you whole.