SEX AND THE CHURCH
By Pastor Glenn Pease
Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary defines sex as "The character of being male or female, or of pertaining to the distinctive function of the male or female in reproduction." This sounds like a rather simple, harmless, little word with a clear and obvious meaning, but no one can doubt the truth of these words of Oscar Feucht who said, "Seldom has a word in our language describing something good and beautiful in itself become associated with so much disillusionment, evil, and impurity as the word sex."
It is another illustration of the fact that the more intrinsic value a thing has, the more potential it has for evil. Sex is one of the greatest goods, and that is why it can be perverted and distorted into one of the greatest evils. In Gen. 1:27-28 we read, "So God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him, male and female He created them. And God blessed them, and God said to them be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it." The sexes are the handiwork of an all wise God. God made them His partners in creating human life to cover the planet.
Sex was a part of God's plan from the beginning, even before sin entered the world. Reproduction is part of man's obedience to God's original great commission to multiply and subdue the earth. Sex was not slipped into the world by the devil. It had its origin in God, and its purpose was vital to God's purpose for the history of the world. Sex in proper perspective, and in the proper context, is as pure as prayer, and as essential to the perfection of God's purpose.
This must be the foundation on which the Christian and the church builds its philosophy and attitudes about sex. So many people begin with the false idea that sex is just a necessary evil to keep the race of man going, but it is, in itself, a part of man's sinful nature. They attribute the desire and the pleasure to man's sinfulness, rather than receive them with thanksgiving as one of the good and perfect gifts from the Father above. Most parents who have this false attitude feel shame about sex, and that is why they suppress information in the home, and why they seek to protect their youth from this which is in their mind a germ that can defile them. The Christian can never come to the right conclusions about sex if he starts off like that on the wrong foot. The Christian attitude is to recognize that all the perversions in the world cannot altar the fact that sex is a positive and beautiful gift of God.
The only hope of keeping sex under control, and in its proper place is to keep it related to God's purpose. When you divorce it from God and the spiritual life, and you secularize it, you lower sex to the animal level where it becomes mere lust. This is the concept you hear expressed in the world. I picked up two high school boys one day, and as we approached a bridge there was a girl standing on the corner. One of the boys said to the other, "How would you like to ride that across the bridge." It is shocking to hear young people talk that way, but it is understandable in an age where sex for sex's sake is the philosophy. It makes no difference who the person is, or whether you know them or not. It only matters that they have a body that can satisfy a biological urge. It is as impersonal as the sex life of a dog.
This is why girls who think they can gain a boys affection by dressing sexy are deceived. They gain only his lust, and not his respect, or honest affection. A relationship based on sex alone is nothing to build on as a permanent basis. Sex becomes human only when it grows out of a deep personal love for another as a person. This is what distinguishes human sex from animal sex. This means that a proper preparation for marriage is a period in which two persons grow in their love and appreciation for each other as whole persons. The sex desire then is to have its foundation in a love for the personal worth of the partner, and not just a selfish desire to use the person to release sexual tension.
Clemens Benda in his book The Image Of Love contrasts animal and human love. He writes, "In the animal world the sex act is impersonal. Because in the human embrace the beings face each other, a new and specific human element has been introduced which takes mankind out of the animal kingdom....Facing each other, man and woman are no longer the prey of an impersonal force that throws them together; the sex act has become an act of mutual acceptance, and act of choice.....The awareness of the other's total personality demands full commitment. It brings about an element of inhibition that prohibits the most intimate relatedness with any person not chosen." This means the person who doesn't care who satisfies his sex desire has lost the human and biblical concept of sex. They are living on the level of the animal, and unfortunately, this is the trend in our society today. Television has dehumanized sex almost completely.
What man is doing with sex is playing marbles with pearls. He is getting the physical pleasure of it, and missing all the higher values that God intended to go with it. The interest of the church should be, not to deny the pleasure of sex, but to get people to restore sex to its proper place in God's plan in order that they might gain all the values that God intended. This would also enable them to escape all the suffering that results from perversion of the sex drive. In other words, the question for the church is not, sex or no sex, but what kind of sex? Will it be secularized sex, which is impersonal, or spiritualized sex, which is deeply personal, and Godlike in that it expresses true love.
The church has not always believed that sex relations were for other purposes then for procreation. The Bible clearly teaches that it has the function also of satisfying a bodily appetite in a pleasant way, and preventing people from immorality. Paul clearly teaches in ICor. 7 that sex is to be on a regular basis in a marriage, and that each partner has an obligation to satisfy the sexual needs of the other. The Phillips translation of verses 3 through 5 says this: "The husband should give his wife what is due to her as his wife, and the wife should be as fair to her husband. The wife has no longer full rights over her own person, but shares them with her husband. In the same way the husband shares his personal rights with his wife. Do not cheat each other of normal sexual intercourse, unless of course you both decide to abstain temporarily to make special opportunity for fasting and prayer. But afterward you should resume relations as before, or you will expose yourselves to the obvious temptation of the devil."
This passage is packed with principles to guide the Christian and the church in their thinking about sex. It is definitely not just for having children. It is a part of the whole marriage relationship of love and romance. It is a duty, Paul says, to have intercourse on a regular basis. The implication is that poor sex relations in marriage will leave one exposed to the temptation to find satisfaction elsewhere. The marriage partners who satisfy each other will have no basis for adultery, and will be able to avoid it if the temptation arises, for they know they have a partner who will relieve them of any tension that comes. It is denial of the need for sexual satisfaction that leads to evil. It is those who try to suppress the natural desire for the pleasure of sex who fall into temptation because they do not fully enjoy it within their marriage union.
The Essenes and other ancient ascetics said that marriage is destructive of purity, and so it is evil. Christians debated this, and though they did not go that far, they often came to the conclusion that celibacy was superior to marriage. This is what led to the double standard of holiness. The first rate Christian went off to the monastic life of the monk, priest, and nun. The second rate Christians married and kept the world populated. The views on sex and marriage in the church varied according to the times, and the nature of the world's opposition to the church.
In the second century the Gnostics branded marriage and the begetting of children as the work of Satan. Many Christians, not wanting to seem a champion of sex, tended to be very negative toward it. In the 3rd century Origen went to a silly extreme and claimed that Adam did not have sex relations with Eve until after the fall, and if they had never sinned they never would have had sex, but would have propagated the race in some mysterious angelic manner. He took self-denial in this area to the point that he castrated himself before being ordained.
Because sex was the area of life most abused by the world, and because it was the one appetite you could live without satisfying, it became the one that was centralized as a symbol of sin if you indulged, and of purity if you abstained. This, of course, led t the whole negative attitude toward sex that has created guilt and shame where there should be thankfulness and joy. The false attitude always goes back to the old Gnostic view that matter is evil, and so the body is evil. Christians are still fighting this view today. We must recognize the fallacy of it, for Jesus had a body and was perfect. Satan had no body and is thoroughly evil. Paul said in Eph. 6:12, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." The body is not the crucial point at all, but the will is, and when the will of a man is committed to God he will follow the purpose of God. His body will glorify God.
We must also get away from the false idea that immorality always refers to some sex abuse. I have heard the 7th commandment quoted as, "Thou shalt not commit immorality." This is easier on the ear than adultery, but it leads to a misconception about the commandment, and the word immorality. It is our sex obsessed age that has led us to think of immorality and sex offenses as synonymous, but, in fact, the violation of any of the commandments is immoral. It is immoral to lie, cheat, steal, bare false witness, and on and on through all the sins of the mind and spirit as well as those of the body. All to often we like to think of sin as sexual because this throws the light away from those sins of the spirit that we are guilty of.
The bottom line is that sex is good, and it only becomes evil when it is divorced from the purpose of God in maintaining the marriage bond. When the sex desire is satisfied outside of marriage it become impersonal, and merely lustful and biological. Love and lust are miles apart. Shakespeare wrote,
Love comforteth like the sunshine after rain,
But lust's effect is tempest after sun;
Love's gentle spring doth always fresh remain,
Lust's winter comes ere summer half be done;
Love surfeits not. Lust like a glutton dies,
Love is all truth, lust full of forged lies.
It is lust without love that leads to all that is bad about sex. But when lust, or strong desire, is within a bond of love, it leads to all that is good about sex. The challenge, then, is to keep lust and sex always within the bond of love, for then it will always be that for which you can give thanks to God.