Purpose: a frank discussion about the risks of sexual intimacy outside of marriage.
Sermon prepared by Rev. Curtis Korver, pastor of Covenant CRC, Calgary, Alberta
Public speakers will tell you that a key to a good speech is an effective hook. You need to grab people’s attention. Today, getting your attention will be easy. I’m going to talk about sex. Or more specifically, lust – you know, dreaming about, desiring, wishing for, and even engaging in sexual encounters with a person who is not your spouse. That’s the racy start and now I am faced with the challenge of keeping your attention because how many different ways can I say, “Don’t do it”?
I mean the instruction is pretty clear, isn’t it? The seventh commandment says don’t commit adultery. That is, don’t have sex with anyone who is not your wife if you’re a man or with your husband if you are a woman. Jesus took it all a step further and said that anyone who as much as looks at a woman with lustful thoughts has already done the deed. There is no Bill Clinton “define sexual relations” double speak here. Don’t do it. It’s Nike in reverse. Just don’t do it.
That’s the rule; it’s clear. But there is a funny thing about being human. That funny thing is that when we come to a fence, we can’t help but wonder what’s on the other side. We can’t help but wonder what’s on the other side of a rule. Why can’t we do that? Hearing the rule makes us want to break it. So I will try something different. We’ll stay away from rules and instead, I will try to explain what sexual intimacy was created to be and then explain what it has become. If we get it right, then that monster of lust will slink off all by itself. He’s powerless if we won’t buy what he’s selling.
To understand how it is supposed to be, we need to go back, all the way back to a young couple who lived in a garden. We go back to the only couple in the history of the world who undeniably and unmistakably were made for each other. It was a wonderful time in the splendor and glory of the Garden of Eden, right after creation. This was a time before selfishness, jealousy, or suspicion had entered the world. All they had was honesty, trust, clear communication. That’s it. That’s all they had. This couple didn’t even have clothes. And that, I suppose, led to at least one other thing they had – a great, physical relationship.
And inseparable from the physical stuff was an emotional and even spiritual bond. The physical relationship often, but not necessarily always, included sexual intimacy, enjoyed by both. Fun was an element of it. It was deeply personal but never considered private – never just my business and my body so I get to decide what I do with it. There was never any shame. It was a normal part of life, utterly lacking anxiety. Never once did Adam or Eve say, “No, not now. What if your dad comes in?” There was no fear.
Then something went horribly wrong with all of life in the garden. The happy couple got it into their heads that they were missing something. They began to wonder if God was holding back on them, not allowing them to become all that they could be. The way the story is told, they ate some fruit that made them aware of good and evil. They became aware that all the stuff they had could be used for good or bad. And though they knew it was insane, they had an unstoppable urge to find out what bad was like.
The beautiful sexual intimacy they enjoyed was tarnished, too. Suddenly, they were naked and ashamed. Foreign matters began to seep into the sexual intimacy that a husband and wife were supposed to enjoy. The young couple in the garden was affected and so were their children and all generations that followed. Coming in were things like suspicion, anxiety, selfishness, dissatisfaction, self-doubt and worry that one was not good enough for one’s spouse. Also coming in was longing for a person other than a spouse.
A monster had suddenly moved in. But don’t despair. We can get him out.
It helps a lot to think about what sexual intimacy is supposed to be. A woman named Lauren Winner has written a book called Real Sex* and in the book she helpfully suggests that sex, among other things, is unifying. The Bible teaches that sexual intimacy is unifying. If we can grasp even this one aspect of sex, we will have a pretty good understanding of how it is supposed to be.
Let’s think about it. Sexual intimacy is unifying.
This thought is rooted deeply in creation. Here is Genesis 2:20-25 “So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds of the air and all the beasts of the field. But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man's ribs and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
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.’
For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.”
A man is united with his wife and they become one flesh. Adam says she is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. Sexual intimacy brings two people together. In fact, it is how the Bible defines a married couple. The Bible, which says a great deal about being married, says precious little about getting married. The only thing it says with crystal clarity is that when a guy and a girl, well, do it, they are married. Paul, in one of his letters, took the Corinthians to the woodshed for visiting prostitutes. Paul’s explanation of why it’s wrong? 1 Corinthians 6:16-17: “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.’ But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.”
Paul is saying that when a man and a woman have sex, they become as Adam and Eve; they become a couple – they are married. In God’s eyes, they are married. They are one flesh, just like the very first couple. Sexual intimacy is unifying.
And you must know this: it will work. Sexual intimacy unites. It doesn’t even take sexual intercourse. Pardon my frankness, but if we are to talk about sex, we have to talk about sex. Shedding clothes, stimulating one another’s genitalia, oral sex are all forms of sexual intimacy that create permanent bonds. Such bonds can even be formed by fully clothed and simulated sex or explicit talk with another or sexual fantasies and masturbation. A lot of people are unconvinced that these last things automatically create the bond, but be careful. You do such things at your own peril because the bond could be formed before you know it.
Sexual intimacy unites.
If you experiment with sex outside of marriage, you will build unity whether you intend it or want it or not. I’m not trying to blast anyone for what he is doing or has done, but one has to know the consequences of his action.
There is a movie that helps to explain this point. Tom Cruise’s character, in a movie called Vanilla Sky, has affairs with one woman after another. He maintains that no commitments were made and when he moves on, no one should be hurt because everyone knew the rules. There was no unity, no right to be hurt when it all ends. One woman will not accept this. She speaks these words, straight from the Apostle Paul, “Don’t you know that when you sleep with someone your body makes a promise even if your mind doesn’t?”
She’s right. Sexual intimacy yields unity. You have established a solemn unity. You’re married. Maybe you will deny that. Maybe you can find a way to block out God’s commands about adultery and sexual immorality and fornication. It may not even be difficult to block them out because the words sound so heavy handed, like they come from a different era and have no relevance now. But you will have a bond with that person until you die. You can end the affair or you can break up with the boyfriend or girlfriend, but you have established a bond that is not going away. I don’t say that to sound self-righteous or to smite you upside the head with the wrath of God. I say it because you need to know what you are getting into.
Once the bond is formed, you have only two choices. First, you can try to ignore the unity that you have just built. That’s a very popular option and why not? Sex brings unity and excitement and wonderful, physical pleasure. Take away the unity and sex is still pretty good.
Right there lies the problem. Sex outside of a marriage – whether it be pre-marital sex or an affair – is exciting. It is dramatic. It’s a part of a relationship that is not entirely stable and there’s no promise that it’s going to happen. There is risk. You might get a huge kick from the danger of the forbidden. The excitement and the pleasure might even increase! All the excitement and pleasure can make you think that this thing you share with the other person must be right. I wish that sin immediately made you feel miserable, but it doesn’t always work that way. It could be really thrilling – a drug that makes you want more and more.
But the substance to which you are addicted is excitement and it is excitement built on a gift from God that is missing an essential component. The foundation is flawed. It can’t last. It’s not real. Real sex starts with unity, not excitement, certainly not the excitement of indulging in something out of bounds.
And this may be the way that the sin pre- and extra marital sex sticks with us most lastingly. It teaches us a twisted lesson convincingly: that sex is exciting, that sex is dramatic. But that drama is a false story. The opposite is true: the dramas of married sex are smaller and more intimate and indeed it is the stability of marriage that allows sex to be what it is. Problems will come when we define excitement by instability’s terms, to connect sexuality and desire with that instability, with that risky thrill. Real sex, joyful, lasting, deeply unifying sexual intimacy is found only in the stable, daily, and yes, occasionally dull, rhythms of marriage. *
The unique delights of married sex are described well by Alexandra Marshall in her novel The Court of Common Pleas. Her protagonists are Gregory and Audrey, a restrained, middle-aged couple living in Ohio. They’ve been married for twenty years and when the novel starts, they have a fight, a big fight, a fight that threatens to undo their marriage. But they speak, and they shower, and they have sex. The words of the novel: “And now it was an advantage that Gregory had come of age in the generation that contented itself with being good. Audrey was in no danger of being overwhelmed by a lust encrusted with the aspects of a performance… ‘Comfort food,’ they called this aspect of lovemaking, not because it was bland but because, like meatloaf and mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese, their associations enlarged the experience. He could know that she would rake her fingers through his hair like a fork, pulling it back to expose the subtly off-center V-shaped point his mother gave him… as a widow’s peak. Audrey could know that he would cater to her and sense whether she was feeling patient or impatient.”**
Like macaroni and cheese, this married love-making was not especially surprising, not particularly exotic, but very satisfying and profoundly unifying. Gregory and Audrey were together again. The problems come when sex is separated from unity. All that is left then is the thrill and excitement that is guaranteed to fade. That kind of excitement has no unity, there is no foundation. It cannot last.
Base sexual intimacy on unity and it can last. Base it on unity – on public vows, promises made to each other and to God and to all your friends and family, promises that the two of you will be one and always and only one and you will have something to build on. And as for the thrills and excitement, well, don’t worry. That will come often enough. Either way, God’s whole point is that one husband and one wife are bound together always.
Now if you are keeping score, you will remember that I said sexual intimacy in all its forms builds unity. If you have engaged in sexual intimacy, then you have built that unity with anther human being. From that point you have only two options. So far, I have only spoken about the first option. By this option, you simply try to ignore the unity and carry on. That can work well, but not completely. There is a second option, and this is a great place to conclude.
This option is all about grace, about the loving and faithful willingness of God to forgive. You see, you might wrestle with your past sexual behavior but it matters little where you have been or what you have done - you can always turn to the Father in heaven who forgives. He is in the business of making all things new. He can undo damage we have done to ourselves and even heal the wounds we may have inflicted on others.
It’s all caught so well in Jesus’ story about a son who disappeared with half his dad’s money. He wasted it all on drunkenness and wild living, forming more than a few permanent bonds with many different women. He came to his senses, the story goes, and decided to go home. He hoped that his dad would have enough pity on him to hire him to clean the barns. Well it turns out the old man saw him coming and ran down the driveway to meet him. He hugged him and before the son could give words to his apology, the father welcomed the son, called over his shoulder to the guy at the punchbowl to start up the band. The son was home! The son had a second chance, a fresh start and it was like the years of wandering had never happened. Grace always rules the day for those who answer the call to come home.
Let that be our last and best word today.
* Lauren Winner, Real Sex: the naked truth about chastity (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Books, 2005).
** Alexandra Marshall, The Court of Common Pleas (Boston: Mariner Books, 2001) p. 87
Order of Worship
GOD GATHERS US FOR WORSHIP
- Welcome and Announcements
- God’s Greeting: “May the grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the love of God the Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be and abide with us all. Amen.”
- Mutual Greeting Opening Song: “We Come O Christ to You” PsH #238
- Call to Worship: Psalm 121 (could be done as a responsive reading)
- Songs of Praise: “Come All you People, Praise Our God” PsH #242, “Great Is Thy Faithfulness” PsH#556
GOD REMINDS US OF HIS GRACE
- Call to Confession: Matthew 5:27-30
- Prayer of Confession
- Declaration of God’s Grace for Sinners: Romans 5:1-11
- God’s Will for His People: Ephesians 5:1-8
- Song of Dedication: “Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us” PsH #591
GOD SHAPES US THROUGH HIS WORD
- Prayer for Illumination
- Confessional Reading: Heidelberg Catechism Q&A 108, 109 (read responsively)
- Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:26-28; 2:20b-25; 1 Corinthians 6:15-17
- Sermon: “Risky Business”
WE RESPOND TO GOD’S SHAPING
- Prayer of Application: “Thank you, O God, for creating us to live abundantly. Teach us to live within your limits and enjoy life to the full. Forgive us, wash us clean when we stray across the lines you have drawn. Unite us more and more with your Son, our Savior. In His name we pray, Amen.”
- Song of Response: “Praised Be the Father” PH 582
- Morning Prayer
GOD SENDS US OUT INTO HIS WORLD
- God’s Parting Blessing: “May the Lord bless us and keep us. May He make His face to shine upon us and be gracious to us. May He turn His face towards us and grant us His peace. Amen.”
- Our Parting Praise: “Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow” #638