Faithlife Sermons

Sex Talk

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Special thanks to: Commentators Stott, Holmes, Green, and Fee; Preachers Nathan Roach (Proclaim Trial Church); Geoff Lock (Parkstone Church in the UK); Christopher J. Dewar (City Church in Canton, Ohio); Kyle Edwards (Holy Trinity Church in Chicago, Illinois); Community Input from Jae Ruark, Craig Priestley, Shawn Procter, Nokihomis Willis, Justin Francis, CD Fabien, Gomez Hampton, and Jenean Truesdell. Though my own words, those aforementioned helped. Map from ESV Study Bible

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Laurence Wagner Professional Ethics Dr. Gallagher Sexual Ethics Sermon Manuscript 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 Big Idea: We urge you to please God with your sexuality! Would you pray with me? God our Father, we thank you for making clear to us how to please you. We thank you for calling us to holiness and giving us your Holy Spirit. Teach us through the Lord Jesus today, and may we walk away looking more like Him. In this Name we pray. Amen. Thank you church family for coming so I could complete this homework assignment. As church family, I strive to be an open book with you all. So, here is a piece of my childhood: I only remember getting two sex talks from my mom growing up. There may have been more. I only remember two. Once when I was about thirteen years old, my mom came into the kitchen while I was at the table. I remember her saying, “Son, you know about sex, right?” I said, “Oh, no. Mommy, please don’t.” She replied, “No, really. You know people don’t just start walking up to each other doing this, right?” [Gesture thrusting movement] I begged my mom, “Please, Mommy, no! Stop it!” And somehow I convinced my mom to stop. She tried again when I was about sixteen. We were in the kitchen, go figure. This God-fearing, Jesus-loving, prayer warrior closed in on me, stuck a butcher knife against my throat, and said, “Laurence William Wagner, if you bring a baby into this house before you’re married, I will cut your [ – ] off.” I don’t know if I’ve ever said, “Yes ma’am” so fast. And those are the only two sex talks I remember growing up. Well, we’ve got a sex talk of our own today. If you would, open your copy of the Holy Scriptures to first Thessalonians, chapter four, verses one through eight. Again, please meet me in the first letter to the Thessalonian church, the beginning of the fourth chapter. You don’t have to go there. However, if you refuse to or get lost on the way to first Thessalonians, chapter four, verses one through eight, you’re going to miss out on our sex talk. Now, reading from the ESV. It is not the especially sanctified version, but that’s what our church largely uses: Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man, but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you. Upfront and right away, I want you to know the main idea of this passage: We urge you to please God with your sexuality! We urge you to please God with your sexuality! You might be asking yourself, “Who is this ‘we’?” If you were to flip to the beginning of this letter, you would see it is addressed from not just Paul, but Silvanus and Timothy as well. See what had happened was, Paul, Silvanus – also known as Silas when you read the book of Acts – and Timothy concluded that God had called them to preach the Gospel to Macedonia. They went through Philippi, and when they left, they came to Thessalonica. And the Scriptures say Paul went into the synagogue at Thessalonica on three Sabbath days, reasoning with them from the Scriptures that Jesus is the Christ. Some of the Jews got jealous, formed a mob, and set the city in an uproar in order to find Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. So, the brothers and sisters from Thessalonica – who are probably no more than a couple months into the faith by this point – sent them to Berea, one of the next towns over. Here is a map of the surrounding regions. Feel free to pass the computer around. Well, the first three chapters of this letter are basically Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy thanking God for the Thessalonians’ faith and perseverance through the persecution I just mentioned, when jealous Jews set the city in an uproar. Paul says after they were sent away, he wanted to see the Thessalonians so badly, that when Satan kept hindering him from going, he sent Timothy to see how they were doing. The end of chapter three lets us know Timothy came back with an encouraging report of how the brothers and sisters in the Thessalonian church were doing. And when Timothy returned with his good report, all three of them penned the letter. As you already know, we are jumping in at chapter four. And the main idea from Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy is: we urge you to please God with your sexuality! We get the meat of this main idea right from verse one. Look with me: Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. Finally, being: we’ve finally gotten to the meat of the letter! We – Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy – have finally gotten to what we really want to say you all! I also take brothers to grammatically imply “and sisters.” Not just because it’s inclusive in our day and age to say, “and sisters,” but because each time the word “brothers” is used up to this point, they are addressing the whole church of Thessalonica. Furthermore, the word brothers frequently referred to both genders collectively. And when they say, “we and ask urge you in the Lord Jesus,” they are using two verbs to explain one action. This isn’t, “We ask you, and we also urge you,” but another way to say, “We urge you.” What are they urging the brothers to do? They are urging the brothers to please God! We get that because, again, they are using two verbs to communicate one action. This isn’t, “We urge you to walk, and we also urge you to please God,” but just “We urge you to please God!” Furthermore, this isn’t even new information! You, the brothers, the Thessalonian church, received this from us already. And yes, by Timothy’s report you all are mostly doing well. But we’ve got some more things to remind you of in how you walk in a way that pleases God. That’s why, “We urge you to please God, to do so more and more!” And that’s the main idea of this passage, “We – Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy, who love you, long to see you, and are encouraged by your faith – urge you – our super-young, not-even-two-years-old children in the faith – to please God!” Now, imagine you’re the Thessalonian church. As a church, you’re no more than two years old, probably less than that. Your disciplers left town early. The people who have shown you the way and poured into you have skipped town. They’re gone. But then you get a letter! And your disciplers tell you what an awesome job you’ve been doing! You all are good disciples of Jesus! So, why are your teachers urging you to please God, if you’ve already been doing a great job? As if Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy anticipate the Thessalonians’ confusion on why they are urging them to please God, they answer not only answer why they need to please God, but also how they need to please God. Look at verses two through six with me: For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. Why – Thessalonian brothers and sisters – do we urge you to please God? Because you already know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus! And these aren’t just some assembly instructions from something you get from IKEA that you may or may not look at when trying to put something together. These are the marching orders via the Master-in-Command over your life and conduct. And why – Thessalonian brothers and sisters – do we urge you to please God? Because this is the will of God! These marching orders we gave you through the Lord Jesus are the will of God for all of your lives, for you all’s sanctification, or the state of being made holy, as it says in BDAG. And what – Thessalonian brothers and sisters – is the will of God for your sanctification? What are these instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus? Or, like you may have wondered, how are you to please God? We urge you to please God with your sexuality! First off, you all need to abstain from sexual immorality. I don’t know if I can make it any more clearer. Abstain from it. Avoid it. Keep away from it. Don’t go near it. You’ve likely heard this before that the word for “sexual immorality” is referring to any kind of sexual activity outside of a marriage union between a man and a woman. One of our buzzwords in the Church is “counter-cultural.” This was counter-cultural! These Thessalonian brothers and sisters in Jesus were young in the faith; no more than two years saved from a culture whose sexual ethic had little to no boundaries! In their culture, it was expected that a married man would not only have sex with his wife, but with a concubine or mistress; with a female slave; with prostitutes, male or female. Now, it was taboo for a man to have sex with a married woman, but even that social norm was frequently violated. Women, of course, were expected to be celibate or faithful to their husbands in order to be well regarded in society. The social boundaries for women were much greater than the social boundaries for men. Women were even advised to not get jealous if their husbands desired other women. Yet, even prominent women of high status, because of this, divorced and remarried or sometimes just stop caring altogether and had sex with whomever they desired. And yet, Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy are urging these young brothers and sisters in the faith, who have most likely already tasted the pleasure of sexual intimacy, to stop! To completely avoid sexual activity outside of a union between a woman and a man; to please God with their sexuality instead of remaining like the world with their sexuality. Legacy Humboldt Park, or as we call it: Legacy HP. We usually meet on Thursdays, though we recently changed it to Wednesdays. Last week, we didn’t meet. Why? Because almost everybody was sick! So many people were sick, we called it the HP Plague! So, what did we do? We avoided each other that week. We stayed away from each other so the healthy wouldn’t get sick and the sick wouldn’t get sicker. But how many know there is a sickness much greater than the HP Plague? It’s called sexual immorality! It’s called a sex life without boundaries! And we need to abstain from it! We need to avoid it like the HP Plague! How do we please God with our sexuality? We completely abstain from sexual immorality. Secondly, each of you needs to know how to control his own body in holiness and honor. Now, this phrase is an idiom. I appreciate the NASB’s rendering: “that each of you know how to possess his own vessel.” “To possess his own vessel” is the idiom, but what does it mean? What would the Thessalonian church have understood when they heard this phrase? The verb “possess” has two different connotations: acquire or control. So it’s either “acquire his own vessel,” or “control his own vessel.” And then, the noun “vessel,” or “jar,” or my father-in-law really likes “container,” can either mean wife, husband, body, or genitalia. So, there are eight options for understanding this idiom. Some options are more likely than others. I recognize the likelihood for understanding the phrase as: “to acquire for himself a wife.” However, my humble opinion is to understand the phrase as: “to control his own body.” I will not go into a large explanation. Feel free, instead, to ask me after the sermon if you’re interested in how I came to my conclusion of: “to control his own body.” So, you each one of you must know how to control his own body! How should you control your own body? You should know how to control your own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. What passion of lust are they referring to? The passion of lust that compelled a man – married or not – to seek out sex from anyone who isn’t his wife. The passion of lust that brought a woman – frustrated with the social imbalance of sexual expectations – to the point of throwing off all restraint and seeking any sexual partner she desired. But understand this contrast, brothers and sisters! It’s either holiness or ignorance. There is no middle ground. You will either look like God, or prove you don’t know Him. You cannot please God with your sexuality if you don’t know him in the first place. I remember being concerned about Jason being super offended if someone said something that hurt his pride. I would be careful about what I said to him or around him because I thought he’d be deeply impacted emotionally if he didn’t like it. But one day, many of us were around the Priestley’s table, and Aidan made a comment that painted vaccines in an extremely negative light, making it sound as if all Christians who don’t vaccinate their children are ignoring good medicine or manipulating others to ignore good medicine. And I knew Jason heard him. And I was like “uh oh. Take cover!” But no! Jason was cool, calm, and collected. He heard the comment, for sure! But in that moment he had mastery over any fleshly desire to lose control and clap back at Aidan. O, Lord, may our control over our bodies be like Jason’s control in that moment. When the opportunity comes to act out in our flesh, when the flesh rises up and rears it’s ugly head, may we know how to control our bodies in holiness and in what honors You. May we please you, God, with our sexuality by controlling our bodies instead of leaving them loose in lust like those who do not know You. Thirdly, none of you should transgress or wrong his brother in this matter. Oh we’ve seen this before! Here are two verbs communicating one action. None of you should wrong his brother. None of you should wrong his brother. To transgress is to go beyond the proper boundary. And, interestingly enough, to wrong someone is actually financial language. It’s like: Do not cheat your brother. Do not defraud your brother. Do not exploit your brother in this matter, as BDAG would put it. Some might think Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy might be referring to when a man had sex with another man’s wife. Certainly, that is included. I also think the scope is just broader than that. Consider the culture of sex in their day. A man could have sex with his slave without any consequences, but if you’re that slave, what power do you have to protest? None! It wasn’t even sex. That man exploited you. A man could have sex with a prostitute, right? But in his eyes, that’s all she’s for. She’s a sex object. And that’s not sex. That’s sexual exploitation. Interesting to note, Gene L. Green says in a commentary on the letters to the Thessalonians, “In the intimate meetings held in the tight confines of the home or homes of fellow believers, Christians of both sexes were thrown together in a close, interpersonal setting that could easily have given rise to relationships that were outside the lines of morality.” So, unfortunately, it’s not too far-fetched, these sexual transgressions and wrongs in the Thessalonian church. You can get real personal and intimate with someone when the outside world is persecuting you. You’re already meeting in a house, so you’re getting close to each other. And the culture you come from says it’s okay to have multiple sex partners. Even worship at the temples included prostitutes! So, why not have multiple sex partners among all these people you’re getting close to in this new religion you’ve joined? But Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy are saying, “No! That’s not sex!” That’s sexual exploitation! And if you do so, you’ve wronged at least three of your siblings: your spouse, the person you cheated with, and the spouse of the person you cheated with. Do not exploit your brother in this matter! Please God with your sexuality by staying within the boundaries He set for your sexuality! Can you hear the Thessalonians protesting? Can you feel the flesh fighting against these commands? Why?! Why, Paul? We hear the three of you urging us to please God with our sexuality! You’ve told us before, and we hear you again, but why you gotta be so hard on us, huh? We’ve all had sex with people other than our wives! They don’t trip! What’s wrong with masturbation or sex outside of marriage? It’s fine out there! Why is it so bad in here? Csheh! Why is it so bad in here?! Look at the end of verse six! Because the Lord Jesus is an avenger in these things! That’s why! Because you having sex with someone other than your wife is not sex! It’s sexual exploitation! And the Lord will avenge those who have been exploited! Do you feel the knife against your throat?! Thessalonian brothers and sisters, if you sexually exploit anyone in this house, the Lord will cut you off! Did you know your precious Jesus is an avenger? Did you know the One with the Sweetest Name will bring vengeance? Why? Look at verse seven. Why is the Lord an avenger? Because God, His Father, called us in holiness, not impurity. I’ve told you already. There is no middle ground; either holiness or impurity. This is why the Lord is an avenger. This is why should we abstain from sexual immorality, know how to control our bodies, and never exploit our family. This is why Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy urge us to please God with our sexuality. Because, God has called us in holiness, not to impurity. There is no middle ground. Please God with your sexuality because He has called us in holiness. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy conclude their main idea in verse eight. Look at it with me: Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man, but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy add the concluding reason to why they urge the Thessalonian church to please God with their sexuality. If the Thessalonians disregarded Paul’s, Silvanus’, and Timothy’s urging and instructions, they wouldn’t actually be disregarding Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy. They’d be disregarding God. And the end of the passage is no mere sidenote. It defines who God is, yes. God is the one who gives His Holy Spirit to you. However, the writers are not just defining God, but implying consequences. Since God is the one who gives His Holy Spirit to you, to disregard God is to reject His Holy Spirit. To act how you used to act, in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God, is to disregard God. And to disregard God is to reject His Holy Spirit. And to reject His Holy Spirit is to show you are not even a brother or sister in Christ. If you were wondering earlier, how it is the Lord could show wrath to a brother or sister in the family of God, He wouldn’t. Because the truth is: If you sexually exploit your family, you are impure. If you sexually exploit your family, you disregard God. If you sexually exploit your family, you reject the gift of the His Holy Spirit. You cannot please God with your sexuality if you don’t even have the gift of His Holy Spirit. You cannot please God with your sexuality if you sexually exploit someone He indwells. I urge you to please God with your sexuality. If you have sexually exploited anyone because of sexual activity outside of marriage, do not sit and try to pinpoint, “Well, when exactly was I saved.” The conclusion of this passage is not meant to help us find and determine our salvation timeline. Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy meant for the Thessalonians, for us, and anyone calling themself a brother or sister in Christ to repent, turn away from our sin, and please God with our sexuality, so we can be the holy people He called us to be. I have failed in this area. I have failed to please God with my sexuality. I have failed to abstain from sexual immorality, and I have exploited sisters in Christ. I needed to repent. You also, if there is any unconfessed sin, need to repent and no longer act like you don’t know who God is. And do whatever you can to make that happen. If you watch pornography, get rid of your phone. Get rid of your computer. Get rid of your Internet. If you masturbate, stop being alone. If the TV shows you watch have gratuitous sex in them, look away. And if you can’t look away, turn the TV off, plain and simple. If you participate in any sexual activity with anyone who is not your spouse – with your eyes, hands, or any part of your body – do not think you’re just going to get away with it. Confess it to the Father. Confess it to the Body of Christ. Cease all sexual immorality. There’s no middle ground. There’s no room for excuses. Just stop, and do whatever you have to do in order to stop. Now, what if we’ve all stopped? What if all of us in this room are doing fine and not struggling like the Thessalonians? What then? Well, praise the Lord! Praise God for His Holy Spirit moving and carrying us along in holiness! Furthermore, do not tolerate a relapse! In your life and the lives of your brothers and sisters, do not tolerate a relapse into sexual sin. Continue to please God with your sexuality! That means be on guard. Be watchful. Do not get complacent. Do not be deceived by the lie our culture wants to sell you about sex. Because – and I’ll end with this last bit – the culture that we’ve been saved from has at least two key aspects to their sexuality. One: Sex is a private matter between consenting adults, however many. That is false. That is untrue. I urge you to please God with your sexuality because even sexuality is a communal matter in submission to the Godhead. I urge you to please God with your sexuality because even sexuality is a communal matter in submission to the Godhead! God the Father calls us to holiness. The Lord Jesus defends that call and avenges those who have been exploited. The Holy Spirit empowers us to answer that call to holiness and abstain from sexually exploiting our family, or anyone else for that matter. Two: Sexual exploitation is where there’s no consent. This is our culture’s definition of sexual exploitation: no consent. Sounds good, right? Should there be consent between sex partners? Absolutely! However, God has a stricter definition for sexual exploitation. Sexual exploitation is any sexual activity outside of the bounds of marriage. You cannot please God with your sexuality if you move outside of his plan for sexuality. But you know what though? Despite God’s stricter definition for sexual exploitation, the Church has still failed. We’ve still failed in this area. I have failed. The people in this room have failed. And the Church has failed the rest of the world. You know the #MeToo movement? Well, there’s a #ChurchToo hashtag. Because of the hashtag, you don’t have to go far to learn about sexual abuse among those who call themselves Christians. And there are a lot of ministers of all kinds sexually exploiting people in their congregation. Furthermore, other professing Christians have covered up these cases of sexual exploitation! They taint and twist first Corinthians six, cover up the offense, minimize the crime, and even blame the victim. Listen, if Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy gave this instruction to a church less than two years old, think about how basic and foundational our sexual ethic should be. They were babies in the faith! In spiritual diapers! Yet two thousand years later, collectively, as a religion, we are behind. People are calling themselves Christians, yet sexually defrauding others. And I am further reminded of all my failures in this area. There could be #ChurchToo hashtags about me. Did you know all the women I have sexually exploited have forgiven me? All of them. Some of them don’t even follow Jesus. I feel like Judah, when he said of Tamar after he had sex with her and basically threw her away, “She is more righteous than I.” The Lord Jesus has forgiven me too, but I feel that knife against my throat. And so, I urge you: Please God with your sexuality! I have told you. You have been warned. Pray with me. God our Father, we thank you for making clear to us how to please you with our sexuality. We praise you for calling us to holiness and giving us your Holy Spirit, so we can answer that call. Mold us and make us more like the Lord Jesus. In this Name we pray. Amen. Link: https://youtu.be/7b1A5l5xTfo
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