Before we discuss the next topic from I Corinthians, I'd like to give a description of some popular TV shows being re-run on various channels. This is how TV Guide describes them:
- Friends – The characters of the popular "Friends" series imagine the various sexual combinations that they could have had in a "what if" dream sequence. Situations include threesomes and MORE.
- Veronica's Closet – A series from 2000 with Kirstie Alley being broadcast in repeats, describes one episode in the following way. Josh continually denies his homosexuality even though he constantly flirts with Kevin, the wedding coordinator for his wedding. Josh's fiancée, also enamored with Kevin, faxes him a picture of herself in the nude.
I mention these because public sexual immorality is nothing new.
In Paul's letter to the Corinthians he deals with the same kinds of problems. The Gentile Christians in that church had a very different background when it came to sexual conduct than their Jewish brothers. Many of them were familiar with the practice of having sex with temple prostitutes, and Paul refers to a case of incest actually going on in the church (I Corinthians 5:1-3).
So, there were problems of sexual immorality in their society as well as the church of that time; and nothing has changed. I could go on to describe show after show, movie after movie, that all have one common denominator, regardless of their characters or storylines. Each one of them condones and promotes fornication as something normal and consequence free. You see, every program and situation I described to you before:
- Whether it included the free and friendly sex on "Friends."
- The homosexual and lesbian stories on other shows.
- The nudity, transgender characters and live-in sex repeated endlessly in movie after movie.
All these forms of sexual identity and activity come under the umbrella of one single word in the Bible: fornication.
Fornication is not truly an English word. The Greek word for illicit sex in the New Testament was porneia. This word was first translated into the Latin word fornicare, which meant brothel. When English translations appeared, the Latin word fornicare became the English word fornicate.
With time, the English word "fornicate" came to represent all forms of illicit or forbidden sexual practices including:
- Adultery – sex outside of marriage by a married person
- Homosexuality – sex between two men or two women
- Pedophilia – sex between an adult and a child
- Pornography – depiction of sex in print, film or live shows
- Beastiality – sex between humans and animals
In other words, fornication is sexual immorality, and sexual immorality is sexual activity outside the boundaries of marriage.
I've gone into detail about this word because there is such a permissive attitude today about fornication, even among Christians. Thankfully, believers still see the seriousness and sinfulness of various types of fornication like adultery, homosexuality and pedophilia, however, there seems to be a greater acceptance of sexual intimacy and sexual intercourse by men and women outside of marriage. It seems that Christians are as opposed as ever to unfaithfulness in marriage and various sexual perversions, but are more accommodating to heterosexual relations before people are married. There was a time when there was considerable shame and guilt if a couple fell into temptation and had sex before they were married. Today, it seems that the only time we feel ashamed or guilty of sin is if our pre-marital sexual activity produces a pregnancy or disease.
To remind us and caution us concerning these pervasive and powerful elements in our lives, I'd like to review some of the important teachings the Bible sets forth on the subject of fornication and a key admonishment about it in I Corinthians chapter 6.
Bible Teaching on Fornication
Fornication is Sinful
Whenever the Bible mentions fornication it is always in the context of sin. There is no such thing as moderate fornication, or good fornication; it is always bad.
Jesus Himself specifically mentions this activity as being sinful.
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile a man
- Matthew 15:19-20a
Note the various activities He mentions along with fornication: murder, stealing, lying, etc.
No one, especially Christians, would doubt for a moment that these things are wrong; they are immoral, evil, against God and against man as well. And yet, we doubt at times the seriousness of the sexual sin of fornication. Make no mistake, fornication is a sin, it was a sin when Jesus taught about it to His Apostles and it remains a sin today.
All Fornication is Sinful
This point may seem redundant to you but there is a reason why I am reemphasizing it. Many Christians, especially younger ones, are beginning to make distinctions among the various sexual activities covered by the biblical term "fornication." They see as wrong and sinful those sexual practices that they feel are perverted and disgusting: child molestation, homosexuality, beastiality.
But, certain sexual activity that is promoted and accepted by this society and the media, this is ok:
- Sex between two people who may not be married but who love each other.
- Casual sex between friends that may not include intercourse but permit oral sex, nudity, various ways of stimulating and satisfying each other's sexual feelings.
In other words, there is this effort today to pick and choose within the different activities of fornication and make some acceptable. But the Bible does no such thing. When Jesus condemned fornication, He condemned the child molester and the couple having sex before marriage in the same sentence.
The only acceptable and blessed sexual union is that which God ordained between a man and a woman in marriage. All others are fornication, whether it be two lovers on a beach or the seller of pornography.
Fornication is Destructive
Some might be thinking, "Teaching #2 is pretty tough, who can accept it?" This is why there is Teaching #3 about the destructiveness of fornication.
The problem is that we can more readily see the destructive and dehumanizing affect that rape or molestation has on a person. This is why this form of fornication is easier to see as sin. But many, especially the young, don't always see the destructive nature of premarital sex between heterosexuals. This type of fornication is hard for them to see as sin. In the movies and on TV people are having sex all the time and they seem happy and satisfied.
The problem here is that TV and movies are make-believe. In the real world, pre-marital sex (whether it be full intercourse or partial sexual foreplay) has a negative, not positive, effect on people.
- Unplanned and unwanted pregnancies
- Sexually transmitted diseases
- Terrible feelings of guilt, shame, anger and resentment
- Feelings of loss
- For couples who have sex before marriage and go on to marriage, their marriage is twice as likely to have problems and divorce than the couple who waited until marriage to engage in sex – statistics, not doctrine!
And why these problems? Despite sex education, condom distribution, the glorification of sex in the media, the ridiculing of Christian views on sex – despite all of this, fornication, especially "the pre-marital sex" kind of fornication still causes problems. Why?
- Because God created sex and placed His boundaries on sex. Man didn't do this, God did.
- Because whenever man violates the boundaries that God has placed around sexual activities he will suffer, no matter what he thinks or says or does. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23).
- Because you cannot cross God's boundaries or laws without consequence, and that includes sexual boundaries.
So what are the boundaries?
- God has said that within marriage a man and a woman have a lifetime to enjoy, create, share and explore human sexuality to their hearts content (Genesis 2:23-24).
- This privilege and gift belongs exclusively to those who make a lifetime commitment to live as husband and wife.
- It is forbidden to all others and those who cross this boundary are guilty of the sin of fornication in one of its many forms.
God also says that there will be physical (which I mentioned before) and spiritual consequences for those who violate His command concerning fornication.
Flee fornication. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral man sins against his own body.
- I Corinthians 6:18
Here Paul summarizes the dangerous physical consequences that result from sexual sin.
Or do you not know that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God. Do not be deceived, neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, shall inherit the kingdom of God.
- I Corinthians 6:9-10
This is pretty clear as to the sinfulness and seriousness of fornication. Paul teaches that those guilty of this sin will be lost, they will not go to heaven. We should take seriously an action that has the power to both ruin our physical and emotional health, as well as condemn our souls to hell.
Satan has seduced us into thinking that fornication is normal, healthy, even something better than purity, self-control and obedience. Let's not be fooled (or "deceived" as Paul says), fornication in all of its forms: Is an offense to God because it crosses the boundary which He has set for human sexuality, is destructive to one's body and emotion, and is the cause for losing one's soul.
People in the world write their own rules when it comes to sex. As Christians, however, we follow the rules written by God concerning this and other matters.
If I were to summarize all of what the Bible says about dealing with fornication in our lives, I could not do it better than what Paul says in I Corinthians 6:18, "Flee fornication."
In today's words: stay away, run away from every form of sexual sin. Every person has (for whatever reasons) weaknesses in the area of sexual feelings, desires and expression. Some are tempted to exhibitionism (they want to show themselves), for others it's pornography, for still others it may be the constant lure to be unfaithful; the most common is pre-marital sex.
Because of our sinful nature we are drawn to any number of forbidden sexual practices under the general heading of fornication. How do we, as Christians, deal with these temptations to sin sexually?
A. Remember Who We Are
We're not animals regulated solely by our feelings and our instincts. We are not unbelievers, slaves to sin and to whatever stimulus Satan puts in the world. We are Christians, washed in the blood of Christ, powered by the Spirit and instructed by God's word.
Our goal is not sexual gratification, our goal is higher and more satisfying than this: our goal is to please the God who saved us from sin and with whom we will live in purity forever.
Therefore also we have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.
- II Corinthians 5:9-10
Sex is for this life and this world. We are made for the world to come.
B. Remember Who We Belong To
The argument for much illicit sex is that this is my body and so long as it's consensual, I can have whatever sex I desire. This argument is false because it is based on a false premise: that our bodies belong to us. In reality, our bodies are given to us by God as a vessel to carry our eternal souls, also given to us by God. Just because non-believers reject this idea doesn't make it untrue.
A Christian understands that his life is a stewardship of the body given to him by God and redeemed by the blood of Christ. Our bodies belong to God twice over: once when He created us, and once again when He saved us through Jesus Christ. Paul says that, "our body is not for fornication but for the Lord…" (I Corinthians 6:13)
Our bodies belong to God, and we must use our bodies to serve and honor Him. We can serve and honor God with our sexual activity but only when we keep it within the boundaries He has set, otherwise we dishonor ourselves and our Lord.
C. Remember To Flee
Since sexual power is so strong we need to remember that the best way to deal with temptation is to flee. Don't put yourself into situations with people or activities in such a way that you know you'll be tempted. Don't dress in such a way that invites sexual desire. Do decide and declare ahead of time what your boundaries are – to yourself and others.
We are weak sinners and easily fall, so take precautions and head for the hills at the first sign of temptation.
D. Remember Heaven
The hardest thing for people (especially young people) to do is to take a long view. But the issue of sexual sin is all about taking the short view over the long view. Sexual sin is short lived, a passing passion, usually over as quickly as it takes to lure us in. But the consequences are usually felt over a long period of time.
Remember the promise of heaven, remember the peacefulness and joy of a clear conscience, remember the strength that comes from doing what is right.
When not sure about the situation, ask yourself, "will this help me or hinder me from going to heaven?"
The ideas that you have just read about sex are rarely spoken in today's media concerning sex. This is because what you have heard today is what the Spirit says about sex. What you see in the world is what the flesh wants to hear about sex.
As Christians, young and old, remember what the Spirit says concerning the sin of fornication:
- Fornication is a sin in all of its forms.
- No matter how appealing and acceptable the world makes it look, fornication is always destructive.
- Because of our weak flesh we need to make every effort to avoid people and situations that will lead us to sin in this way.
- One last thing I'd like to remind you of is this: fornication, like every other sin can be forgiven. Paul says of those who were guilty of fornication, "And such were some of you, but you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in the Spirit of our God." (I Corinthians 6:11)
You see, sexual sins hurt us deeply, the scars are ugly and the damage is extensive. But, the Bible promises us that God's love and forgiveness go even deeper to heal the damage, repair the scars and stop the pain caused by sexual sin.
Those who confess Christ, repent of this and every other sin and are washed in the blood of Christ through baptism are given a purity that the past cannot erase or take away.