God, Men And Women

GOD, MEN AND WOMEN is our subject for tonight. Some people think that problems over sexual and marital relationships are unique to the late 20th Century and with people like Bill Clinton and Monica Lewinsky or Prince Charles. But it was no different in New Testament times. There was Herodias, for example. She was, in a way, the Camilla Parker Bowles of those days. Herodias was the granddaughter of Herod the Great and married to her uncle Herod Philip. She then fell in love with another uncle, Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee and Perea, her husband's brother. To be free to marry Antipas she divorced her husband Philip. But this was an incestuous and illegal marriage. Like Prince Charles' adulterous relationship with Camilla Parker Bowles it was wrong and sinful. The person who had the courage to say so publicly was John the Baptist. And for his pains he was beheaded. This then made Herod's marriage to Herodias even more of an issue in Jesus' day. Nor were there only problems in the Palestinian Jewish world of New Testament times. It was even worse among the Gentile part of the Roman Empire. Take Corinth. Corinth was the "Red Light" city of the ancient world. It had an international reputation for its prostitutes, its sexual deviance and its homosexual sex. There was a verb in those days, literally, to "Corinthianize" - which meant to be sexually decadent. But Corinth is where Paul lived for a time, where he evangelized and where he planted a church. Soon after he left, he wrote a letter to the Christians in that church there. Tonight I want us to look at what he wrote to them on sexual relationships - it is the portion we had read to us for our second lesson, 1 Corinthians 6.9-20. And my headings are, first, THE BELIEVERS' PROFILE; secondly, THE BELIEVERS' PROBLEM; and thirdly, THE BELIEVERS' PRESCRIPTION First, THE BELIEVERS' PROFILE Look at verses 9 - 11 of chapter 6 of 1 Corinthians:

Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders {10} nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. {11} And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Paul says: "do not be deceived." In this whole area of sexual and marital relationships there are lies, lies and more lies. That is Paul's consistent message. How we need that warning today. On the one hand we can deceive ourselves. The bible is clear that sex is for marriage alone, and marriage is for life. But what happens when someone very close to you is in an immoral relationship or they want to divorce and remarry or they want to get into a homosexual relationship - someone in your family or a close friend? And you know the clear teaching of the bible that these things are wrong. I'll tell you what often happens. It happened recently to two church leaders. They were quite open about it. They said that because their children were not bothering with Christian sexual morality, they - those leaders - changed their own views. They changed their views about the bible. That is tragic and foolish. It is so easy to deceive ourselves - even in the church - about what the bible says. With sexual and marital morality collapsing all around us, some of the people you love and care for - your parents, your brothers and sisters or your children - will get into wrong relationships and have problems. You won't help them by denying the truth and changing your views to accommodate them. You must love them and care for them. But true love is strong and speaks the truth. On the other hand there is deception in the world. So you get some people saying, "Oh! the loss of the married family doesn't matter. Single parents are just as good. Lesbian households are just as good." That is a lie. Last month the chairman of the Headmasters' Conference reported on a survey of HMC schools. It found, I quote, that ...

... marital strife was the most disruptive influence on children's behaviour - worse than alcohol or drugs in themselves. Virtually every time the schools were up against a problem of suspension or expulsion they were dealing with a home breakdown. That was not to say that all pupils from broken homes caused problems. But most of the really serious problems do seem to come from broken homes - or if not broken, you find out later that the marriage was breaking up.

That is in line with the majority findings of responsible Social Science. It is also important not to be deceived when it comes to sexual enjoyment - a primary value in the modern world. People will say, "Oh! don't bother with all that Christian stuff on sex and marriage. It just comes from people who don't know how to enjoy themselves." That is another lie as Social Science is also proving. The huge Sex in America survey from the University of Chicago found that the people who had most fun in bed were Conservative Protestants. That blew the minds of the researchers. But other studies had, and have since, found that people who reserve sex for marriage have, on average, the greatest sexual happiness. A British National Opinion Poll Survey this past September found that married women were twice as satisfied with their sex lives as sexually active single women or women living with a non married partner. Do not be deceived, says Paul. But who precisely was Paul writing to? Look again at verse 11:

And that is what some of you were.

"That" refers back to the people in verses 9 and 10. So in the church at Corinth were ...

the sexually immoral, adulterers, male prostitutes and homosexual offenders [plus a range of other people.]

The congregation at Corinth hadn't led sheltered lives. Many of them had "been there and done that", sexually speaking. Let me digress. Paul is also attacking greed, drunkenness and fraud. Sexual sin is not the only sin, of course not. But it was a major problem at Corinth. So in verse 10 Paul repeats what he said before. He says that such people will not

inherit the kingdom of God.

Of course Paul is not saying that people who are tempted and fall, but then repent, will not inherit the kingdom of God. No! He is referring to people who persist in these things, who glory in and promote immorality. Back now to the profile of the believers in Corinth - Paul then says to the Corinthians - verse 11:

And that is what some of you were [in the past]. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

You've changed, he says. In a congregation of this size there are bound to be some who have pretty sordid sexual histories - heterosexual and a few homosexual - like these Corinthians. You have done wrong. And you not only feel guilty but you know you are guilty. Well, what did Paul say to people like that - to the Corinthians - when he met them all those years ago? Did he give them marriage counselling and marriage guidance? Did he produce a Green Paper on the Family? These things are no doubt good. But what Paul did at sex-mad Corinth was to preach Christ and the cross. 1 Cor 2.2:

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.

He taught and applied what Jesus taught about sexual and marriage relationships - that is probably what we have here in chapters 6 and 7. But supremely he taught them about the cross where Jesus died and what that could mean for them. He taught that all of us are sinners - some of us are sexual sinners and marital sinners, some of us sin in other ways - and we all sin by ignoring God and going our own way. So we all deserve God's judgment. But on the cross Jesus Christ, in an amazing way, bore the judgment we deserve, in our place. All our sins and guilt were laid on him, so we could be free. Paul put it like this in his 2nd letter to the Corinthians, chapter 5 verse 21:

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

And you receive that righteousness by faith. You admit you're a sinner, you turn from your sin (so you don't carry on with wrong relationships), and you receive Christ and all he offers - his forgiveness and the power of his Holy Spirit to live a new life. Who needs to do that tonight? That is what those Corinthian Christians had done with all their messy sexual lives. And so they were, says Paul, "washed" - they were cleansed from their sins. They were "sanctified" - the Holy Spirit was making them more like Jesus Christ day by day. And they were "justified" - they were right with God, forgiven and accepted - for all their sordid pasts and old lifestyle. That then is the profile of the believers at Corinth. Secondly, THE BELIEVERS' PROBLEM The church at Corinth had some false teachers. The probable content of that teaching is there in inverted commas in verses 12 and 13. Some people were saying:

"Everything is permissible for me"

They were saying if I'm forgiven, I can do what I like sexually. Others were saying:

"Food for the stomach and the stomach for food"

They may have been saying eating is a natural function. So if sex is a natural function why put greater restrictions on sex than on food. Notice that these Christians at Corinth although they were washed, sanctified and justified were still open to temptation. They were tempted to drift away from the teaching of Jesus and his apostles. That is why Paul writes as he does. So don't think that because you are a Christian, even an established Christian, you are immune to these temptations. How then does Paul answer the Corinthians? He says six things. One, he says that defying God's standards for sex is, verse 12a, not "beneficial" - it's not good for you, for the family and nurture of children or for society at large. Two, he says that to give in to sexual or marital sin is to be a slave to your appetites. How much better to be free, verse 12b:

I will not be mastered by anything.

Three, he says, verse 13, remember that one day ...

... God will destroy them both [food and the stomach];

and verse 14:

By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.

He is saying this world will end. So have an eternal perspective in these things. Each one of us, one day, is to give an account to God of how we have lived this life. Yes, if we trust Christ we are forgiven. But the genuineness of our faith will be seen in how we've lived. Four, Paul virtually asks, "who is going to be Lord? Christ or your appetites?" - verse 13b:

The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

Five, Paul suggests that some things are simply shameful - verse 15:

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!

That word "Never!" suggests you should recover a sense of "shame". All societies need "taboos" and "shame" if there is to be sexual restraint without recourse to the criminal law. But six, and most important of all, Paul directs the Corinthians back to Genesis. Verse 16:

Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute [and that covers all sex outside heterosexual marriage ... he] is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh."

That is a reference to the creation narrative - we had it in our Old Testament reading tonight - Genesis 2.24:

For this reason [the ideal of companionship with the opposite sex] a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.

Jesus himself had quoted this verse as fundamental. So Paul is simply echoing Jesus. When Jesus quoted this verse in Mark 10. 6-8, he pointed out that marriage is "at the beginning of creation". It is therefore good - it came before the fall. So sex, used in God's way, is good. It is only illicit sex that is shameful. And being "at the beginning of creation" it is to do with the way you are made. That is why you need to obey the maker's instructions. So endorsing Genesis 2.24, Jesus says there has to be a leaving of parents. Then there has to be a cleaving to your partner (of the opposite sex) - and that is to be a genuine uniting, publicly recognized, which in our society means marriage registration. And then and only then "the two will become one flesh" - there will be sexual intercourse. But Jesus adds to the Genesis account these words (Mark 10.8-9):

So they are no longer two, but one. {9} Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.

That is why Jesus teaches against divorce and remarriage. It is Jesus who brings a new strictness to marriage and sexual ethics compared with the legalistic Jews. That must be significant as Jesus was more relaxed than the Jews when it came to the Sabbath (as we heard this morning). So why? Because that is to live as God intended and for our good. Christian sex and marital ethics may sometimes seem hard. But Jesus teaches that what sometimes seems hard initially is the way to life; and what sometimes seems easy initially is the way to death - Mark 8.34-36

If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. {35} For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it. {36} What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul?

P.A.Sorokin, the famous Harvard sociologist proves how true all that is in his study of Soviet Russia in the 1920's. He tells us:

The revolutionary leaders deliberately attempted to destroy marriage and the family. The legal distinction between marriage and casual sexual intercourse was abolished ... Abortion was facilitated in the State institutions. Pre-marital relationships were praised; extramarital relationships were considered normal ... Within a few years millions of lives, especially of young girls, were wrecked. The hatred and conflicts ... rapidly mounted and so did psychoneuroses. Work in the nationalized factories slackened.

And what was the result? I quote:

The government was forced to reverse its policy.

Nor does Jesus exaggerate marriage. It is Jesus who points us back to Genesis 2.24. That doesn't allow us to say that to be fully human, you have to be married or sexually active. Jesus was neither, yet the most fully human person ever. So finally, THE BELIEVERS' PRESCRIPTION Verse 18:

Flee from sexual immorality

You have to be definite in these matters. Paul says, "Flee". On that brilliant TV series on BBC2 The Cold War, last night the programme was on the Berlin Wall. There were those shots of people trying to flee East Berlin. And before the concrete was in place and there was still only barbed wire, you saw people running at speed and diving through that barbed wire - sometimes getting lacerated. That is what you do when you flee. And Paul suggests that to "flee from sexual immorality" is in the interests of your psychological health - verse 18b:

All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.

The stress there is probably on "own" - on a man's own or inmost body or being. As Andrew Cornes puts it:

Paul is saying what 20th century psychologists have shown to be the case, namely that there is no such thing as purely casual sex. You cannot simply go to bed with a woman or man and do something that is a purely physical act that has nothing whatsoever to do with your personalities. On the contrary, you, as it were, leave something of yourself in that relationship.

That is negative. So more positively Paul then says (v 19):

Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price.

He is saying, whatever you do, the Holy Spirit is with you. You are a temple where God the Holy Spirit resides. So don't do what would grieve the Holy Spirit. Among other things, as he says in the next chapter, that will mean only marrying another Christian. If the Holy Spirit wants that new "one flesh" for his temple, you can't have one partner saying, "No!" So Paul concludes, verse 20,

therefore honour God with your body.

Worship is not just for Sundays - you are to worship God with your body 7-days-a-week, by doing his will. For some that will be a life of sexual abstinence. For others that will be a life of sexual faithfulness to one person. All of that is getting more difficult today with incitements to immorality everywhere and the erosion of marriage. Who said the Christian life was easy? But it's never too hard for the follower of Jesus Christ. For when the going is tough, as Paul wrote later to the Corinthians (2 Cor 12.9) he - Jesus Christ - says:

"My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness."

And what if we have failed - if we haven't kept to Christ's standards? Well, listen to John's words that we so often hear read at the beginning of our services:

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. [But] If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1.8-9).

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