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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Abstain from Sexual Immorality

As we work our way through chapter 4 of 1st Thessalonians, we are going to find that verse 13 begins a discussion of the Rapture. It contains one of the most important passages in all of Scripture on the topic. It teaches us about the imminent return of Christ for His bride – the church. This first part of chapter 4, however, teaches us how to live in light of that truth. If Christ could come for us at any moment, how should we than live?

We saw the answer last time as we looked at 1st John 3:2-3:
2 Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. 3 And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.
If we knew Christ was coming at any moment, we would want to live pure and holy lives. But what does that mean? To live a pure and holy life? That’s what this portion is all about.

Interestingly, though, it begins with “finally.” Oh, is the letter to the Thessalonians finished? Not hardly! There are still two chapters left – Chapters 4 & 5. Sounds like a modern preacher who says, “In conclusion,” but then keeps talking for fifteen minutes. You wonder what, if anything, he concluded. Obviously Paul isn’t ending, he’s just switching gears.

As was Paul’s custom, Paul would spend the first half of an epistle teaching doctrine, and he would spend the second half of the epistle on practical stuff – how to live it out. So, here he is going to explain how to live in light of Christ’s imminent return.

So let’s look at it - 1st Thessalonians 4:1 –
Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God.
Paul says, “We urge and exhort?” This is important stuff he wants them not only to get, but to do! And this isn’t just something Paul thinks. He’s saying it in the name of “the Lord Jesus.” Paul writes with the full authority of Jesus Christ behind him. This isn’t stuff he made up out of the fancy of his imagination. He is speaking/writing for Christ by revelation. And what he is trying to teach us is from verse 1, “How you ought to walk and to please God.”

Our walk is our lifestyle. It is feet on the ground, here and now daily activity. It starts with a step of faith, and leads to a walk of faith. To Paul, Christianity was always a blend of belief and behavior. Proper belief always leads to proper behavior, and our proper behavior (our right “walk”) pleases God. Back in 1st Thessalonians 2:4, we learned Paul lived his life “not as pleasing men, but God.” That’s the way to live- as God pleasers. That’s how we will “abound more and more.” Jesus told us in John 14:15 - “If you love Me, keep My commandments.” That’s how we please God and show Him we love Him.

So it all boils down to obeying the commandments. 1st Thessalonians 4:2 agrees, “For you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.” This isn’t something they were ignorant of. Paul tells them, “for you know what commandments we gave you.” They don’t have to wonder how to live.

But do we? Can any of us honestly say we are ignorant of God’s commands? Yet, do we always obey? The truth is, we all know much more of the Bible than we actually live which is why we need to be exhorted to obey the commands. It is because we don’t usually.

Well, at this point, the logical question would be: What commands is Paul talking about? Paul is going to focus on two in this passage. These may have been the two he especially thought the Thessalonians needed reminding about. They involve sexual purity and brotherly love. We are concentrating today on the first – sexual purity, and we see that in the next verse: 1st Thessalonians 4:3 says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality.”

Have you ever wondered what the will of God is for your life? Well, let me tell you, most of the time you don’t have to wonder. It is all spelled out in the Bible. God’s will for you is “your sanctification.”

What is sanctification? It comes from the Greek word, “hagios,” from which we also get holy. Holy means to be set apart unto God for His use. It means to be set apart from sin unto holiness. It was used of the utensils and furniture that were set apart for use in the temple. They dedicated them to God for His use alone. You’d never grab a spoon from the temple and use it to shovel manure, or grab a stool from the temple to use in milking a cow. You would never defile those instruments dedicated to God. We could never imagine doing anything so heinous. Nor, should we ever defile ourselves, not once you have been set apart for God’s service, because sanctification is all about becoming useful for God. And God won’t use defiled vessels. Sexual sin defiles us – PERIOD! That’s why Paul says we “should abstain from sexual immorality.”

“Abstain” means, “Don’t do it!” It’s total abstinence from “sexual immorality.” That phrase, “sexual immorality,” is translated from only one Greek word – “porneia.” It is a general catch-all term for all kinds of sexual sin, and it means anything outside the bounds of marriage.

John MacArthur writes: “Any sexual activity that deviates from the monogamous relationship between a husband and a wife is immoral by God’s standard.” MacArthur is so right.

The King James translates it as “fornication.” We usually look at fornication as sex between unmarried people, but “porneia” can include adultery, homosexuality, pornography, bestiality, and so forth and so on.

This kind of sin was rampant in the Greco-Roman world that reveled in debauchery where the temple of Aphrodite featured ritual prostitution and where wives were for procreation and mistresses were for recreation. And, of course, the Caesars had a fondness for young boys as their playmates.

But, we as Christians are to be set-apart from all that. We are to have a different lifestyle, a different walk, one that pleases God. So we can’t be involved in sexual sin and be used of God as His vessel. It is a disqualification. Verse 3 is quite clear:
God’s will for you is that you “abstain from sexual immorality.”

But how do you do that? I mean sexual temptation is nearly as rampant in our day as it was in Paul’s. You can’t watch TV, go to the beach, or even walk through the check-out lane at the grocery store without being bombarded with sexual images. And we haven’t even mentioned the internet. And casual sex, even between strangers, is considered normal in our society.

So what is the answer? 1st Thessalonians 4:4 says “that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.” What must you do to protect your “sanctification and honor?” You must learn to “possess [your] own vessel.”

OK, what is my vessel? It is your body, your flesh, specifically the desires of your flesh. 2nd Timothy 2:21 shows us this, and the next verse shows us how it ties in:
21 Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work. 22 Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
If we want to be “a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work,” we must “flee youthful lusts.” You will never be useful to the Master if you are defiled. You wouldn’t want to eat off a dirty dish either.

Look at 1st Corinthians 6:18-20 which continues the thought:
18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
Scripture does call sexual sin different, worse than other kinds of sin.

The “vessel” Paul talks about in 1st Thessalonians 4:4 is your own body, that husk that houses you, that temporary tent you live in on earth. You need to learn to control your own fleshly desires – those bodily urges that are so powerful. The lusts of the flesh Scripture calls them. You are not at the mercy of your lusts, do you hear me? Repeat: You are not at the mercy of your lusts. No one that commits adultery can ever claim, “I couldn’t help myself.” That’s a bunch of hogwash. Scripture says you can, and you must. There is no excuse. You must exhibit self-control. You must be the master of your body and its desires. You must if you expect to please God.

Romans 6:12-13 address this quite convincingly:
12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. 13 And do not present your members (your body parts) as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.
Don’t do it! Don’t let your body sin! That’s the message of Scripture. You’re supposed to have control over your body. There is no excuse allowed. The devil didn’t make you do it. You weren’t tricked into it. You wanted to do it, and you wouldn’t say, “No!” God doesn’t accept excuses, and neither will your spouse. Oh, God forgives, and your spouse might, but your lack of self-control can destroy so very much that can never be rebuilt – your trust, your happy home, or two, your health, and your reputation. So don’t do it! And, listen to me, that includes with your eyes, men.

You know what Jesus said in Mathew 5:27-28:
27 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.
That kind of describes what happens when someone looks at pornography, doesn’t it? Or lets their eyes linger too long at a woman walking by. You are already guilty in their heart because of the desire spawned there.

And Jesus talks about just how serious that is in the next verse of the Sermon on the Mount, Mathew 5:29:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.”

You’re better off plucking out your eye, Jesus says, than to use your eye to sin by ogling women for your illicit sexual enjoyment. So don’t do it. For men, who are stimulated through their eyes, looking leads to lust and lust to sexual sin. That’s why we try to train our boys to avert their eyes when around immodest women, or look away from inappropriate scenes.

How much better to do what Job did in Job 31:1?
“I have made a covenant with my eyes; why then should I look upon a young woman?” He made a covenant not to lust with his eyes. Or, Psalm 101:3, “I will set nothing wicked before my eyes.” You’ve got to set up some boundaries, some barriers you will not cross.

Sometimes the only solution is to flee:
1st Corinthians 6:15-18
15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? (That’s sexual sin) Certainly not! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a harlot is one body with her? For “the two,” He says, “shall become one flesh.” 17 But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him. (The solution?)
18 Flee sexual immorality. Every sin that a man does is outside the body, but he who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. 19 Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? 20 For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s.
Do you see how important this is? Sexual sin is not a light matter. Don’t ever flirt around the edges, or see how far you can go without crossing the line. You will lose that battle with temptation. You must “flee” – get those feet a running. Turn off the TV, make sure there are filters on the internet, avert your eyes. We should strive to be utterly separate from immorality. This is the way we please God. Is it easy? NO! A thousand times NO! But is it necessary? Yes! A thousand times YES! And this is a battle you can win.

You just have to consider yourself dead to these sins. Paul told the Colossian church:
Colossians 3:3-5
3 For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with Him in glory.
5 Therefore put to death your members which are on the earth: fornication, uncleanness, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.
But now here is a different track. Actually, God gave a great answer to the question, how can a man “abstain from sexual immorality?” The answer is: Get married!
1st Corinthians 7:1-2
Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
(Why? Because women are stimulated by touch, men by sight. And Paul urged singleness b3ecauaswe of the rampant persecution in his day. You didn’t need to be tied down with worry about a family.)
2 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.
There is the answer.

Now look down at 1st Corinthians 7:9
“But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”
Look at what this says: Marriage is a legitimate outlet for sexual passion. If you have sexual desires, that’s OK. That’s the way God wired us, as sexual beings. And God gave us a legitimate way to satisfy those sexual desires – within marriage - a fully God-ordained, God-blessed outlet.

Maybe it’s time to pause and set something straight right now. The issue we are talking about isn’t sex, but illicit sex, illegal sex. Sex is God’s invention, right? Part of His creation? And He meant it for good. Therefore sex is a good thing, a precious thing. God designed it as a pleasurable way to procreate the race and a powerful means of bonding married couples together. God intended sex to be a blessed and holy experience - inside marriage. Outside marriage, sex is prohibited; but inside marriage, sex is holy.

Why? Not because sex is so bad, but because it is so good and so powerful. Something that powerful needs to be contained, controlled. It is like a nuclear reaction. When controlled it can light up a city, but uncontrolled it can totally level a city with a massive boom. So sex is good, but it needs to be protected, guarded, so it remains untarnished. We do a great disservice to our daughters when we tell them, “Sex is evil, dirty, and disgusting, and you need to save it for your husband.” No! We should tell them, “Sex is so wonderful and such a precious treasure, it must be protected for your husband.”

Sex is God’s blessing on us. Gary Thomas said in Sacred Marriage, “The reason it feels good is because God designed it so.” And one part of the God designed female anatomy, the clitoris, has no other function than sexual pleasure. So don’t ever think God is a prude, since He created it. So, Yes, God endorses marital physical love.

Betsy Ricucci writes:
“Within the context of covenant love and mutual service, no amount of passion is excessive. Scripture says our sexual intimacy should be exhilarating (She than refers to Proverbs 5:19 – which we’ll read in a moment). . . Believe it or not, we glorify God by cultivating a sexual desire for our husbands by welcoming their sexual desire for us.”
Yes, marital sex is God honoring. Hebrews 13:4 teaches: “Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

Outside marriage? No! It is sin! Inside marriage? Yes! It is blessed! And we have complete freedom to enjoy our spouse’s bodies. Lots of Christians even pray together while making love, and about their love making because they want God to be a part of it. And why shouldn’t He be? So this passage is entirely aimed at illicit sex. In many ways the Bible is a very sexual book, and it is a passionate cheerleader of a fulfilling sex life in marriage.

For instance: Proverbs 5:18-20
18 Let your fountain be blessed,
And rejoice with the wife of your youth.
19 As a loving deer and a graceful doe,
Let her breasts satisfy you at all times;
And always be enraptured with her love.
20 For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman,
And be embraced in the arms of a seductress?
The N.A.S. translates the end of verse 19 this way: “Be exhilarated always with her love.” How is that for a Scriptural command? Why should any man want an affair if he had a loving, willing wife? He can “rejoice (Find great joy) with the wife of [his] youth.” Yes, even when they are old. Why should he ever want to go elsewhere when he can have the best right in his own home?

This is a very sexual passage. But, this isn’t talking about having a breast fetish, since it is set against the taboo of being “embraced in the arms of a seductress.” This is talking about enjoying those intimate times with your spouse, about “rejoicing” in them. This is a God ordained guard against sexual unfaithfulness, a hedge against sexual immorality.

But, what if a married man has those God given urges, but nearly every night, the wife puts up a “No Trespassing” sign? She leaves him a frustrated bundle of sexual energy ready to explode, and leaves him tremendously susceptible to an affair or the temptation of pornography. What can he do when the God ordained solution is deprived of him? And since she’s the only legitimate outlet for his sexual energy, this is a total shutdown. It leaves a Christian man no recourse.

The whole world, it seems to him, is offering him sexual temptation. Titillating images are everywhere, on TV, magazines, internet, and yes, even the grocery checkout, but the one and only legitimate outlet for his desire is denied him.

Yet, so many wives use the withholding of sex as a weapon to punish their husband, or to manipulate him. “I have what you want, and you’re not going to get it. So there!” They either offer sex as a reward for proper behavior, withhold it as punishment for bad behavior, or use it as a tool to manipulate their husband into getting what they want. And it is definitely a great tool in a tyrant’s arsenal. But I wonder how many wives really understand the damage they are doing to their relationships, or if they care?

Jill Renich writes:
“A wife may demonstrate her love in immutable other ways, but it is often negated by her rejection or lack of enjoyment of sex. You may be a great housekeeper, a gourmet cook, a wonderful mother to your husband’s children, but if you turn him down consistently in the bedroom, oftentimes those things will be negated. To a man, sex is the most meaningful declaration of love and self-worth.”
If you shut down your husband in bed, it crushes his sex worth. Why would a wife want to do that to her husband when the benefits to her man are so great both to his emotional and physical health?

Gary Thomas writes in Sacred Marriage:
“A man who is passionate about his wife can be passionate about justice, God’s kingdom, about his own children, about the environment. On the flip side, if he is facing serious sexual problems in his marriage, a feeling of frustration and a certain despondency is liable to settle like a cloud over his work, his faith, and his fellowship. He is likely to become selfishly preoccupied and self-absorbed.”
Do you see? It has far reaching consequences within him. Many wives don’t have a clue what they are doing with their nightly headaches and their cold shoulders. And when you throw in the positive effects of oxytocin – called the bonding hormone – that is released during sex that makes a man feel so contentedly in love and bonded to his wife, it sounds like a win-win to both of them.

I remember hearing about a young wife telling an older widow how she shuts down her husband regularly as punishment, and the older widow responded, “Honey, why would you do that? It makes him so happy and it takes so little time.” She is right

But this is also Scriptural:
1st Corinthians 7:3-5
3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
This isn’t a legalistic thing. No man should ever demand anything from his wife, or she from him. But this a mutual giving of themselves to each other. We offer our selves, and our bodies, to our spouse as a gift of love. It’s not about taking, but about giving. Otto Piper said that marriage should be “a reciprocal willingness of two persons to assume responsibility for each other.”

He is absolutely right. All of marriage is based on the giving of agape love, he sacrificial love that gives, not takes. In marriage, we are to give our bodies, with no reservations, to the other to enjoy. This is a mutual serving, a mutual giving, that lines up perfectly with Philippians 2:3-4:
3 Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. 4 Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Marriage is a gift of yourself to your spouse. The husband must be most concerned, not about getting his own relief, but about giving his wife pleasure; and she should be most concerned about pleasing her husband. This is Biblical.

In spite of their stuffy reputation, the Puritans got this. The Puritan pastor, Richard Baxter wrote that a husband and wife should “take delight” in the love and company and conversation of each other. Then he added: “Keep your conjugal love in a constant heat and vigor.” In other words, keep your sex hot and steamy. Does that sound Puritanical?

Here is another example: The Anglican Prayer Book had as part of the wedding rites this phrase for the bride to repeat to her groom: “With my body, I thee worship.” She would worship her husband by presenting her body to him with no reservations. Now, no selfish-pig of a husband should demand anything from his wife, but she was to present this sacrifice of love to him - her body as his own precious possession.

Working together, you can “abstain from sexual immorality.”

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