God's Design for Our Sexuality

by Brian Morgan

One of the greatest struggles for Christians today is maintaining purity in a sex-saturated society. What began in the late '60's as sexual liberation has now developed into open sexual perversity. What was once confined to adult bookstores is now openly displayed in every video store. Even well-respected hotels now provide R-rated and X-rated movies for the enjoyment of their clients. Our teenagers face increased pressure to join in sexual perversity. And the schools, instead of promoting abstinence and chastity, actually encourage the use of contraceptives and help students acquire them without parental consent. College students face increased sexual pressure as well. When I was a student in 1968, coed dormitories were introduced. Just eight years later, one of the students I worked with as college pastor had to use coed bathrooms in his dorm.

President Reagan has been so concerned about the spread of immorality that he appointed a commission to investigate pornography's effects upon the nation. The results were recorded in the Meese Report. I was amazed by the public reaction. People are more concerned with the loss of their personal freedom than they are with curbing the spreading licentiousness that defiles our nation.

How do we respond to this perversity as Christians? How do we stem the tide of present-day immorality? Christians in every age have always been called to live in the midst of an immoral world. In fact, the Ephesians faced the same situation at the time of Paul's writing that we do today in the Bay Area.

Lying at the mouth of the Cayster River valley, Ephesus was the gateway to the interior of Western Asia Minor. The Greeks called such a colony an "emporion," meaning "the way in," since it could tap the trade and resources of the foreign world. Thus, the city grew as a commercial port with harbor facilities. Then the Romans moved in and made it the seat of government for the area, calling it the "Landing Place." During the century before Christ, the city was hit with an economic depression. To survive economically the city turned from trade to tourism, somewhat like the wharf area in San Francisco today.

The central attraction for tourism in the city was the temple of Artemis. Alexander the Great had contributed largely to this temple, making it a shrine of unrivaled splendor. The worship at the temple of Artemis focused upon a fertility cult complete with prostitution, orgies, and fertility rituals. One historian described the statue of Artemis:
Artemis of Ephesus was a strangely ornamented female figure, shrine and basket on head, a veil decorated with beasts, long necklaces, embroidered sleeves, legs sheathed with empaneled animals, an apron covered with clusters of grapes or dates, sign and symbol of Artemis' role as the nourishing spirit of nature.

This sexual imagery led to bestiality. I am reminded of some of our modern rock videos in which the participants dress up and act out scenes of sensuous animals, thereby introducing bestiality into our culture.

The historian describes life around the temple:
Around the great shrine, to which worshipers and tourists poured from far and near, tradesmen and hucksters found a living, supplying visitors with food and lodging, dedicatory offerings, and the silver souvenir models of the shrine that the guild of Demetrius was most interested in making and selling. The temple was also a treasury and bank, in which private individuals, kings and cities made deposits.

The Christians of Paul's time, therefore, lived in a city whose main commercial support came from prostitution and sexual orgies.

How would you respond to that kind of atmosphere? When Jesus came to earth, there were three Jewish responses to sexual immorality and evil. These three responses are representative of the attempts of religious people in every generation to curb evil.

One group represented what I would call the isolationist approach. They were the Jews called the Essenes who were so fearful of the evil around them that they escaped to the desert by the Dead Sea to create their own commune. Their solution to the evil was to surround themselves with godly people and let the rest of the world go to hell. The problem with their approach is that when the Messiah came, they missed him and missed participating in God's plan of salvation for the rest of the world.

Today many Christians take the same approach. Being astounded by the evil in the world, they cluster themselves in Christian ghettos and only socialize with Christians. Without non-Christian contacts, they become isolationists and miss out on God's plan of salvation for reaching the world.

The second approach is what I would term the legalistic approach. This was represented by the Pharisees. Their way of keeping pure was to create long lists of rules focused on externals and ceremony. But when Jesus came, he lashed out at them, "Woe to you Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs which on the outside appear beautiful but inside are full of dead men's bones and all uncleanness." They may have been ceremonially pure, but their focus on external legislation did nothing to change the heart. In other words, they were just as wicked as the worst pagan.

Again, I think there are many Christians who follow this approach to handling evil. They are comfortable with external rules and ceremonies, and they are proud of what they do not do-whether it be smoking, drinking, or gambling. But they are hypocrites.

I would call the third group the lobbyists. These were the Sadducees who felt that the control center for life was the government. They thought that if they could control the government, they could control all of life including evil. Thus, they strove to gain control of the Supreme Court, the Sanhedrin. But in the process of doing so, they compromised their values, morals and integrity. The power they gained corrupted them along with everyone else. As a result, they lost their influence on the society, the very thing they originally wanted to gain.

Many Christians today believe that if they could control the government they would have the keys to the kingdom. Now I am not saying that we should not put godly people into government, nor am I saying that as citizens we should not vote or get involved in politics. Rather, I am saying that government is not the key to influence for the kingdom of God. It never has been and never will be.

When Jesus came, he took none of these approaches. He was not an isolationist, a legalist or a lobbyist. Instead he told an insignificant group of people who listened to the Sermon on the Mount, "You people are the center of world influence because you are the salt and light of the earth." He took a different approach to stem the tide of evil-telling ordinary folk around him to disperse into the world as salt and light in every occupation and form of government.

In Ephesians 5:3-14, Paul follows the tradition of Jesus rather than that of the Essenes, Pharisees or Sadducees and teaches us how to be salt and light in the immoral world in which we live. Paul's outline is similar to the one we looked at in the last section. We are going to put off the old man, renew our minds, and put on the new man. Ephesians 5:3,4:

But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.

In regard to our own sexuality, the way to influence the world is to first and foremost be concerned about our personal purity. We are to put off all wrong sexual conduct-fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness which are the act, the effect, and the drive respectively.

The word "immorality" could be better translated "fornication." Its root means "to sell out." Fornication describes any sexual activity outside of the holy bonds of marriage, including premarital sex, adultery, and homosexuality.

Often young people who are dating ask, "How far can we go physically and still maintain a righteous relationship?" In response, I take them to the Song of Solomon 2:7 where the bride tells the young women of Jerusalem:
I cause you to swear, O daughters of Jerusalem, By the gazelles or by the hinds of the field, That you not arouse or awaken [this kind of] love, Until it pleases.

She is saying that if you arouse sexual love before it is ready (within the bonds of marriage), it will get out of control. Sexual love is like the gazelles and hinds on the mountainside who are still one moment and darting away the next. Therefore she says, "If you are not married, do not awaken this kind of love because it can only be fulfilled with sexual intercourse. You will keep escalating until you are involved in a sexual relationship."

Paul's words to Timothy are similar when he commands the older men to treat the younger women as sisters in all purity. He says, "Treat the girl you are dating like a sister. You can hold her hand and give her a kiss on the cheek, but you certainly would not fondle her or arouse desires in her that you could not righteously fulfill." This is the dividing line for Christians: we do not arouse desires that we cannot righteously fulfill.

Thus, Paul tells us to put off fornication. Then he adds uncleanness which refers to the effect of sexual sins upon the soul. This Greek word was used to describe the contents of graves which if touched made a person unclean. Thus, he says, "Bodily sins defile the soul and make us unclean."

Then he goes to the heart of the issue. "You have not dealt with this until you have dealt with your thought life." He says to put off greed or lust, the Greek word meaning the "desire to have more." Lust has an insatiable appetite. If you feed your fantasy (the food for men is lust, for women romances), you are playing a deadly game, creating appetites that will never be satisfied in life. And you will be deprived of reality and all the joys of wholesome love. As John Stott says, "Starve the flesh, feed the spirit."

I would like to give a threefold exhortation to all of us. When Paul tells us to put off wrong sexual activity, we have to remember how persistent lust is. We have to firmly close the doors on lust and build walls of protection around us. Chuck Swindoll writes that the alluring voice of lust
. . . can infiltrate the most intelligent mind and cause its victim to believe its lies and respond to its appeal. And beware it never gives up . . . it never runs out of ideas. Bolt your front door and it'll rattle the bedroom window, crawl into the living room through the TV screen, or wink at you out of a magazine in the den.

The first step we must take as men is to open up our lives to each other to share how we struggle in this area. Ninety-five percent of the men I know are vulnerable in the area of lust, the other 5% are liars! Married men: you should teach your wives that you are easily stimulated by sight, even by one fleeting image on the TV screen. Because men are more easily stimulated by sight and women by touch, women need to be taught how men struggle in this area.

Secondly, not only must we be vulnerable with each other, we must also predetermine our ethics. Life is a battle, and we cannot be naive. A friend of mine who was leaving for a business trip said to me, "Brian, I want you to pray for me. I know I am going to a hotel that offers movies I should not see. I want you to hold me accountable. If I share with you now, I know I will protect myself." When ministry is dangerous we should never do it by ourselves. Evangelistic dating is for the birds! In my home we have determined that we will not enter a video store that sells pornography. We returned our membership card to our corner store because I felt it was unethical for me to support a store dealing in pornography. We predetermined our ethics and set up walls of protection for ourselves.

Finally, you women must educate the younger women about how lust affects a man simply by sight. Take your daughters to the Song of Songs 8:10 and read where the bride says, "I was a wall, and my breasts were like towers; then I became in his eyes as one who finds peace." The bride knows that the first thing a man looks at is a woman's breasts. Therefore, instead of making them an opening into her life, she made her breasts like towers. They became a defense on her wall, a place of protection. She covered herself in modesty. Because of that, when Solomon looked at her, he said, "This woman is content; she has shalom (peace)." He fell in love with her because of her purity and contentment. You mothers must teach your daughters to dress conservatively.

Thus, Paul says to put off all wrong sexual conduct. Then he goes on to say put off wrong sexual speech. Avoid filthiness which refers to our lewd sexual gestures. The word actually means "ugliness due to deformity." Avoid foolish or silly talk, joking about sex or treating it lightly.

Also, avoid all coarse jesting. This means to be able to "quickly turn things over," "to have a lively wit." This was an honorable attribute in Greek society. They loved men who could use their sharp wit to turn conversation quickly with a cutting edge. This includes giving funny answers and creating double meanings to keep people laughing.

One who displays this skill is Alan Alda in the TV series "MASH." He keeps conversations moving while putting his listeners on the defensive. Interestingly, he played the same role in the movie "The Four Seasons." But at the end of the movie, there is a poignant scene in which his friends turn on him and say, "Your quick wit keeps people on the defensive and does not allow them to get to know you. You destroy the atmosphere for vulnerable sharing." This is what happens when we turn conversation and make light of serious things. Nobody will share.

Our pastoral staff all have sharp minds and quick tongues. We have to watch ourselves because we can take things and make them humorous. This can quickly turn into sarcasm and facetiousness. When it does, the atmosphere of transparency is destroyed.

The world loves coarse jesting, but this is not fitting for us as Christians. The antidote is to put on thanksgiving. Isn't that amazing? Paul says, "When you are tempted by lust, give thanks" Thank God that you are a responsive sexual being. Thank God that he made sex for our good.

Ultimately, when you thank God, you are expressing gratitude for him giving you everything you need to be content. The first commandment in the Garden of Eden was "Eat from the banquet of life everything that God has given you. Just do not touch this tree." The devil says, "God has not given you enough. You have to take what is not yours in order to have life." Therefore, by practicing thanksgiving, we are expressing our dependence upon God and our contentment with what he has given us. He has given us a banquet; we can eat and be satisfied. We can trust God that what the devil says we need is not true. Thus, thanksgiving is the antidote to lust and wrong sexual speech.

The first step to influencing the immoral world around us is to be concerned for our personal purity. Paul discusses the next step in verses 5 and 6. We need to know how high the stakes are.


For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.

Paul makes an emphatic statement: "You know this with certainty-knowing you know---that no fornicator, unclean one or covetous person who is an idolater will go to heaven." This does not mean that those who sin out of weakness and then repent will not be forgiven. If this were true, none of us would make it! Rather, the immoral person here is one who has given himself up to immorality without shame and has an idolatrous obsession with sexual sins.

You cannot give yourself to two masters. Sometimes we think we can make Christ Lord on Sunday and on Tuesday night make provision for an idol. In so doing, we think we can control the idol. But by its very nature, idolatry demands your whole being. Either Jesus consumes you and destroys all your idols, or the idol will consume you. It is one or the other.

This is clearly seen in Samson's life. His first recorded words---"I saw a woman." revealed the character of his life. Chuck Swindoll writes of him:
The results of Samson's illicit affairs are familiar to all of us. The strong man of Dan was taken captive and became a slave in the enemy's camp. His eyes were gouged out of his head, and he was appointed to be the grinder in a Philistine prison. Lust, the jailer, binds and blinds and grinds. The swarthy pride of Israel, who once held the highest office in the land, was now the bald-headed clown of Philistia, a pathetic hollow shell of humanity. His eyes would never wander again.

Samson was a believer, yet he made provision for an idol which destroyed his life. He found forgiveness, but the Lord had to root out the idol before he died. Thus, in his death, Samson was able to rescue the nation Israel from the Philistine power.

If you want to play the game, you must be prepared for danger. Either the idol will consume you, or God will. What we do with our bodies determines everything else because our bodies reflect our spirit. You cannot have an immoral life without an idolatrous spirit. Idolatry and immorality go hand in hand.

Because of the importance of our sexual purity, know that it is one issue that will always come under satanic attack. This is why Paul says, "Don't be deceived with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience." In Paul's day, a group called the agnostics believed that there was no meeting between the soul and body. Therefore, a person could do anything he wanted with his body because it never affected the soul. You could be immoral, yet your spirit would be holy. Paul says that this is a lie.

Every generation has its quack theologians who say that sexual purity does not matter. They are the ones who say that premarital sex and homosexuality are okay. That is a lie! On account of these things, the judgment of God is coming.

Paul tells us to watch our own purity and to know that the stakes are high. This position of purity will always come under attack. The third step is to walk in the light. Verses 7-10:

Therefore do not be partakers with them; for you were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord; walk as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.

As Christians, we have a new identity. We are not in darkness; we are in the light. In fact, Paul says we are light. Therefore, we have no excuse for not knowing how to walk. God does not want you to learn about life through the horrible experience of trial and error. You are not supposed to go through your fourth marriage before you figure out how to make it work. God has written all the instructions in a book. Since we are children of the light, we must walk in the light.

This means we must have a life of transparency and a joyful sense of the presence of Christ. In everything I do, I let him examine me. I talk to him and use my mind to prove from the Scriptures what is right.

Paul is not necessarily saying that this kind of life is easy. It takes work and determination. We cannot be passive and let ourselves drift. But we have the resources in the presence of Christ and the light of Scriptures to know how to walk. As we study the Scriptures, we will learn what is good, righteous and true.

The word "goodness" refers to making the proper use of things instead of perverting them. The world always perverts good things. If you learn the Bible, you will know how to use the things of life for their good purposes. Since God gave sex, it is good. Therefore, he wants you to know how to use it so you are fulfilled.

"Righteousness" carries this a step further. When we sanctify these things, we get a sense that we have fulfilled our responsibility to the Lord. At the end of life, we can look him in the eye with a special satisfaction, knowing that we did our job well.

"Truth" in the Old Testament is synonymous with faithfulness. You can hang your life on truth because it is reliable. Therefore, When we operate according to reality, we are always promoting faithfulness in relationships.

This is the way to influence the world. Many Christians try to influence the world by being self-righteous prigs and shouting condemnation at it. But that is not attractive. God says we should not talk about ethics unless we can offer life, love and joy. We should be using things with the right intention and live holy, attractive, robust lives. This will attract the world to proper ethics and to a relationship with Jesus.

Once you are walking in the light, the final step is to shine your light into the darkness of the world: evangelize! Verses 11-14:

And do not participate in the unfruitful deeds of darkness, but instead even expose them; for it is disgraceful even to speak of the things which are done by them in secret. But all things become visible when they are exposed by the light, for everything that becomes visible is light. For this reason it says, "Awake, sleeper, and arise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."

We are not allowed to enjoy the light solely for ourselves. We are the light of the world. The world does not know how to function righteously in relationships because it lives in darkness. Therefore, Paul says we are to shine our light into the dark world. Again, this is not to be done in a self-righteous fashion. Rather, we explain how and why things work the way they do and reveal God's ultimate purpose for fulfillment.

There is a two-way relationship involved. We are either partaking of the deeds of darkness, or we are exposing them. If you are not exposing sin, you may subtly be partaking of it. Do you remember David's sin of murder and adultery? He sinned because he was not doing what he was supposed to be doing. Second Samuel reveals that in the spring, when kings normally go out to battle, David stayed at home and took a nap. Because of this, he participated in deeds of darkness. Life is a war. We must always take new ground and share our light in order to remain pure.

A few years ago, I went shopping to buy a pair of jeans. As I walked into the store, I noticed two mannequins wearing Levis, and one was holding a Playboy magazine whose cover showed a woman with exposed breasts. My thought life was distracted immediately. The Lord quietly said to me that I was either going to expose the sin or partake of it. In fear and trembling, I asked the see the store manager. When she arrived, I said, "Did you put that Playboy in the mannequin's hands to advertise your jeans?" She said yes. I told her that this offended me. When she asked why, I said, "Because you are using lust to motivate purchases. Jesus says that when I lust in my heart it is equivalent to adultery. That is adultery out there, and I am stumbling over it!" She said, "I've heard little old ladies tell me that but never men!" What I did was not just for her; it was for me as well because when I put myself on the line to take new life I erected walls of protection around me. When I am passive, I am more susceptible to partaking in the deeds of darkness than when I am in the front lines evangelizing.

Before I married, I worked in Los Angeles as the flagman for steel trucks on a construction site. When the steel workers heard that I was getting married, they became concerned because they felt marriage was worthless. Every one of those men, bless their souls, took me aside to tell me not to get married. In fact, one of them who felt I was getting married merely for sex, told me that what I really needed to do was involve myself in many sexual relationships, then I would find that sex was meaningless. In all these conversations, I was too timid to tell them that Jesus Christ makes a marriage. I was passive.

I decided that on the next job I would not be passive. When I started work in San Francisco, I asked the Lord to make me a marked man early! I took the first opportunity regarding ethics to talk about Jesus Christ. And on that job, God opened doors so I was able to share Christ with every carpenter that I worked with (about 15 in all!) What a difference between those two jobs! In one I was passive and would not speak up about my relationship with Jesus. In the other, I was actively taking new ground. I tell students who are entering college to make sure that they are marked men and women because it will protect them. Don't be a secret service Christian!

Then Paul says that something glorious happens in the process. When you expose your life, everything that becomes visible by the light becomes light. Light transforms what it illumines into light. Our righteous lives not only convict, they also convert. Paul quotes Isaiah in order to convince us to use the opportunity of ethics to lead people to Christ. We should never introduce our ethics to people without presenting Christ as the solution for theirs. The answer to life is not found in ethics and the law; it is found in Jesus the Messiah. Do you leave the impression on your unbelieving friends that they offend you because of their ethics or that they grieve you because they are not experiencing life? If it is the latter, you are doing what Paul has said.

What amazes me in this text is that Paul says the end of my sexuality is not physical. He takes my sexuality to a spiritual dimension, beyond the carnal, and says the ultimate fulfillment of life is found in having spiritual children. This is why the apostle could exalt singleness in the New Testament saying, "Even though I am single, I have a family and thousands of children who are holy and righteous. The end of my sexuality is not just physical sex or having physical children. It is sharing Christ and developing spiritual children in a spiritual community, a new Zion." This is the end of our sexuality and why we can tell single people, "'If you are not married, you have a high calling and can be fulfilled in your sexuality by sharing Christ."

How can you affect the world? First, guard your own personal purity. Second, know how important this area of your life is, for it will come under attack. Third, walk in the light. Live healthy, robust lives. Then shine your light on others-evangelize!

There is a ministry in our midst which corresponds to all of Paul's principles here, and that is the Crisis Pregnancy Center. This ministry began with women who, seeing the spreading tide of immorality, began to teach young women who were having children from fornication that the key to their sexuality was to put off fornication and lead a life of abstinence until marriage. But they not only tell women to put off the old behavior, they also go into the schools and share the new behavior that is possible through Christ. They teach and show films on the creative work of gestation and birth. Their ultimate goal is to win women to Christ: they evangelize. This is application of Paul's words in the fullest sense.

Which approach to the world of evil do you take? Are you a Pharisee whose focus on morality is solely external? Are you an isolationist cutting yourself off from the world and thus missing God's salvation? Or are you a Sadducee placing your hope on politics rather than on love and truth? May God grant to us the grace that we might follow the tradition of Jesus and Paul, to be salt and light in our community. Amen.

Peninsula Bible Church South
Catalog No. 627
Ephesians 5:3-34
Brian Morgan
September 21, 1989

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