I realise that is not a sentence you will see often on a site dedicated to faith, but perhaps it should be.
Sexuality is such a big part of our lives and different perspectives about what is, and isn’t, right and healthy are constantly being fed to us through the media and also often through our friendship circle.
We need to talk more about sex.
Part of the reason I have been thinking about it over the past few weeks is that I have had to speak about it twice to two different groups of people. In addition to this I’ve been in conversation with my friend and colleague, Nathan, who is about to lead our church through a four week conversation about Jesus, the Bible and Sexuality.
Growing up I knew the bible taught about sex outside of marriage as wrong, but I didn’t find much other guidance from the bible about how to manage my sexuality. That wasn’t because it wasn’t there, somehow I managed to miss it, which is why I think we need to be talking about sex a lot more than we do. In fact the bible talks a lot about sex and addresses most of the lies that most of us believe.
At the root of the challenge most of us face is a simple lie that if we were to be honest, there is part of us would like to believe it, so we accept it as fact. It is a lie that the world re-enforces and that while there is no scientific basis for it, it is a lie that people look at you strangely for addressing.
The lie is this: that physical, sexual pleasure is a basic human need. It’s not. Our sexuality is a natural impulse or drive, but it is not a need.
I quoted C.S. Lewis a couple of weeks ago who wrote that we treat our sexuality “as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people.” Somehow we let ourselves believe that everything is ok as long as our sexual desires are being met.
The bit of the bible that I wish I had engaged with earlier in my life is 1 Corinthians 6:12-20, where Paul unpacks a what a healthy view of sexuality is and contrasts it with the lies that we so easily get sucked in to.
I thought that for this reflection I might just unpack what Paul says verse by verse, because I think it is the truth that we need to be communicating to our kids and remembering ourselves.
In verse 12 Paul says:
12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything.
Paul names the first lie: that the core issue of sexuality is personal choice. This is a big one in our culture. In fact here in Alberta the government has recently released a document about gender and sexuality that says “Self-identification is the sole measure of an individual’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression.”
The Apostle Paul would take issue with the Alberta government and would say to them that your choices about sexuality should not be guided by your feeling world. He would point to the reality that sexuality is not simply a physical thing, but that choices about sexual expression have a powerful impact on our whole selves. He would say that choosing to express sexuality in a way that is simply about gratifying desire will ultimately become a trap that binds a person psychologically, spiritually and physically.
He would say “Yes people can make a choice, but choices have consequences and gradually it will become harder and harder to choose so that instead of expressing freedom you are becoming a slave.”
Our sexuality is not neutral. Paul is saying that our sexual experiences actually shape our personalities and can dramatically limit our freedom to fully engage in healthy relationship.
Paul goes on to say in verse 13:
You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.
Here Paul is directly confronting the lie that sexuality is simply physical and therefore doesn’t matter. He confronts the lie that the need for sex is like the need for food and that neither have any real consequence.
Paul is asserting that our bodies are actually a gift of God meant to be used for Him. Interestingly Paul also says that God is meant for our bodies. That is not normally how we think about our relationship with God, but Paul is saying is that our relationship with God is actually fundamental to healthy management of our bodies: that without God we won’t have an external reference point from which to evaluate the up and down drives of our bodies.
In verse 14 Paul takes his argument in a different direction:
By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.
Paul is directly addressing the lie that the physical world doesn’t matter. He points out that Jesus was physically raised from the dead, and so will we physically be raised. Paul is pointing out the eternal nature of the physical world and that what happens physically matters eternally.
In verse 15 Paul paints a vivid, picture that would not make it past most censors:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never!
Paul reminds his readers that because Christ is in us, that our bodies are part of him, and that when our bodies are being used for inappropriate sexual activity, we are not only abusing ourselves and the person we are using, we are abusing Jesus who we are dragging into the mud with us.
Paul then talks about the profound nature of the act of sex:
16 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.”
Up till now Paul has been saying “don’t you realise that this is much more than just physical?” Now he explains why. The biblical view of sexuality is that it is a merging of body, soul and spirit into “one flesh.” Some people talk about “soul ties” that are formed between people as a result of inappropriate sexual expression. This is where they get that idea from.
I know in my own life, and for everyone who I have ever been able to have an honest conversation with about sex, sexuality expressed outside the bond of marriage results in personal fragmentation. The more sex sets the agenda, the more a person becomes fragmented psychologically, spiritually and physically. The result of seeking sexual pleasure in the wrong places is damage. While some might have intellectual problems with this truth, no-one who actually thinks about their own experience would deny it.
Paul then lifts his eyes and puts sexuality in context in verse 17:
But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
If my sexual desires shouldn’t set my agenda, what should? The only relationship that will always result in you becoming more free and whole: a real relationship with Jesus. The antidote to unhealthy sexuality is finding our needs met in the one person who will never let us down.
In verse 18 Paul comes back, as a result of the theological framework he has just established to say:
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.
The Christian view of sex is not to minimize its importance, but exactly the opposite. Paul again says sexuality is profound and has profound consequences. When you make choices to meet your sexual desires unhealthily, you are causing yourself damage.
Some Christians fall into the trap of trying to spiritualize everything, which results in thinking that what you do with your body doesn’t matter. Paul won’t let us get away with that. In verse 19 he says:
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own;
Verse 19 is the crux of the view of Christian sexuality, and for a modern person it is actually an offensive statement. What does he mean “You are not your own?” This is where Paul directly attacks any view that would say we define ourselves sexually or any other way.
At the heart of the Christian message is the counter-intuitive claim that we find ourselves to the level we are willing to stop looking.
Jesus says in Matthew 10:39 ” If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it”. He says something similar in Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35 and Luke 9:24. This is the message of the gospel and it is the central truth of sexuality: healthy sexuality comes as we stop trying to define ourselves and meeting our own needs and start learning to love God and those around us.
Paul finishes his conversation about healthy sexuality in verse 20 by reminding the Corinthians:
you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
What we do with our bodies matters, and the lie that sexuality is a hunger that must be sated is one that we need to watch out for.
In the next chapter Paul continues to talk about sexuality, but specifically related to those who are married, and his theme that healthy sexuality is about giving up your own needs actually continues, but perhaps not in the way that people who think Christianity is anti-sex might think.
Paul tells married couples that they should not stop having sex for any reason other than if they both agree so they can focus for a short time on God, otherwise sex is an important glue that holds a marriage together.
Paul’s definition of healthy sex inside marriage though, continues the theme of Chapter 6. He says in 1 Corinthians 7:4:
The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.
Paul exhorts married couples to have lots of sex, but to do it as an expression of love and self sacrifice, rather than self gratification. Again the gospel truth becomes clear: if you seek your own life you will miss out, but if you give up your life you will gain it.
Paul also goes on to address those who are not married… But I’ve already written too much and might come back to that in future.
The world tells you that your drives should run the show. The world is wrong. This though is not news, every honest person who has ever lived will, on reflection, tell you the same thing.
Christianity is not anti-sex, Christianity holds the key to healthy sexuality. We just need to talk about it more.