Sir Paul Coleridge, the High Court Family Judge, said not so long ago that …
“Family breakdown is on a scale, depth and breadth which few of us could have imagined even a decade ago. It is a never-ending carnival of human misery - a ceaseless river of human distress. I am not saying every broken family produces dysfunctional children but I am saying that almost every dysfunctional child is the product of a broken family.”
And one reason for this family breakdown is the massive increase of recreational sex and the related trivializing of marriage. This has dire results for society, for individual partners and, most serious of all, for children. And that is why my first, heading tonight is CHAOS and CONFUSION in this sermon on SEX AND MARRIAGE which is part of our series on DISCIPLESHIP. And my second heading is CAUSES and CONSEQUENCES; and then thirdly come CONCLUSIONS. I want us tonight to look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians chapter 5 - our Epistle Reading.
First, then, CHAOS and CONFUSION
Look at verse 5 of chapter 5:
“of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
Paul doesn’t mince his words. But why should we bother with this ancient teaching? Isn’t the world so different to day? The answer is “No!” The world today is not so different to the world of New Testament times. The Roman world of the early Christians was also chaotic and confused sexually and maritally. There was decadence all round. In AD 50 a Roman Empress was a common prostitute. Of the first 15 Roman Emperors, 14 were practising homosexuals or bisexual. We hear of a woman marrying her 23rd husband, she being his 21st wife. And the talk of the day in Palestine was of the divorce and incestuous remarriage of Herod Antipas to Herodias. John the Baptist, Jesus’ cousin, publicly denounced Herod and Herodias. For doing so he was imprisoned and then beheaded.
That was the context of Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching on sex and marriage. It was for a world not unlike our own. So we first need to note the fundamental or basic Christian sex ethic. This is expressed later on in our chapter. Look on to verse 31:
"For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh."
This is straight from Jesus and a quote from Genesis. Jesus pointed his followers back to Genesis as we heard in our Gospel reading from Mark 10. By going back to Genesis both Jesus and Paul are saying that Christian sex and marriage teaching is not just a perk for the believer. No! It gives the maker’s arrangement and instructions for all and in all ages and in all cultures. It is to do with the order of creation. This is the best way of ordering sexual relationships, as social science is now proving.
Genesis first teaches that what God has created are human beings sharing humanity with the opposite sex. In this homosexualized Western World you need to remember that at the beginning of creation, said Jesus quoting Genesis again, “God made them male and female” (Mark 10.5). Therefore, your gender is not an add on that can be changed or experimented with. It is not just a secondary matter of human plumbing, so to speak and so you can live as though it did not exist. No! Genesis teaches that men and women are equal but different.
That means they do have some different possibilities or roles. A man cannot be a mother, nor a woman run in the men’s 100 metres at next year’s London Olympics. And marriage is limited heterosexually. There can be no such thing as “gay marriage”. For marriage means the “leaving of father and mother” for a socially recognized lifelong uniting with a wife or husband. Then and only then “the two will [and should] become one flesh” through sexual union.
Having sex in itself, of course, is neither moral nor immoral any more than eating is moral or immoral. It all depends on its context. Jesus and Paul are defining immorality as all that contradicts and works against the standard of marriage as taught in verse 31. Sexual relations, therefore, are moral within marriage alone and immoral when outside marriage in any other hetero- or homosexual relationship. And a reason for that is this. Marriage is not just a relationship, but an institution that needs a range of supports. One of these supports is sexual intercourse. Yes, it is for procreation. But if sex is reserved for marriage, it also has an important bonding effect which should not be damaged or blunted. It is a bit like a razor blade. You can use it to sharpen your pencil, but it then blunts it for shaving. You can sleep with a number of different men or women before marriage. But, then, by definition and experience, sexual intercourse will no longer be special and unique for marriage and your marriage partner. So in the light of this standard, Paul says in the first part of chapter 5 of Ephesians, immorality – and all that goes with it such as (verse 4) “obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking … are out of place, but rather [there should be] thanksgiving”.
There should be thanksgiving for sex for it is a good gift from God for marriage. Certainly the evidence is that people who keep God’s rules have better sex (in marriage) than those who don’t. That is a hard fact. When it was discovered in America, it blew the minds of secular journalists – the fact that on average biblical Christians had more fun in bed than pagans. So Paul says (verse 5 again):
“For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person--such a man is an idolater--has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.”
Of course, he is not saying that anyone who has committed sexual sin is damned for ever. Many of these people Paul is addressing in Ephesus would have been devotees of the religion of Artemis. And that involved sexual immorality. In verse 8 he can describe them as being “once darkness”. He knew how they used to feel – sometimes black and certainly dirty and debased. But, he goes on in verse 8, “now you are light in the Lord.” They had believed in Jesus Christ.
There is forgiveness for all, through the Cross of Christ. No one is too bad to be forgiven and no one is too good to need forgiveness. I expect there are some here tonight who need such forgiveness and cleansing. Well, if that is you, know that on the Cross Christ died to bear the punishment you deserve. He bore that punishment in your place. So trust him and receive his forgiveness. And if you seek his forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit to live a new life-style and you trust him as Savour and Lord, the evidence for your new relationship with Christ will be that new life-style.
True, this side of heaven your obedience will not be perfect; so you will need to repent. But if you still live the life of an “immoral, impure or greedy person” with no desire for repentance, it is to be doubted that you being are serious with Christ. You will still need to remember those words of Paul, namely that you cannot expect “any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.” So those who have no “inheritance” are not those who sin sometimes and then repent, but those who show no evidence at all of a change of life.
But how have we got to where we have got in the West? How have we lost these Christian standards? And how is it that people are now positively promoting “immorality, impurity and greed” – “greed” because it is related to sexual sin in taking selfishly more than is right? That brings me to my …
… Second, heading and CAUSES and CONSEQUENCES
Look now at verse 6 - Paul says:
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes on those who are disobedient.”
The number one cause of this loss of standards is deception and the use of empty words or vacuous arguments. And deception begins now in our schools.
A former student at Durham University had a somewhat wild period. However, she became a Christian through Paul’s teaching on sex and the body and is now committed to a single life of chastity. Like Paul she sees great value in chastity and in fighting the notion that unless you are sexually active you are not a proper human being. She knows the deception in that. For Christ was sexually inactive, yet the most proper human being that has ever lived.
However, she was doing a survey and learnt what schools were teaching children for a book she was writing. Here is an excerpt from one interview with a typical modern girl, aged 16. It reveals some deception – unintentional, no doubt.
“I lost my virginity three months ago.
In myself I was ready …
It was more about making sure Jo was comfortable.
I wouldn’t do it unless it was a boyfriend. I would feel a slut.
I haven’t seen Jo since it happened.
It’s probably a lot to do with his friends …
At school they teach us that we have to feel ready.
They tell us, “don’t feel pressure. It isn’t a need.
If you want to do it, it’s because you want to.”
That was our biggest worry.
I was nervous.
There was excitement.
Love? Well, yeah, love has a lot to do with it.
But I wouldn’t say at the time I was in love with Jo.
At school they should go into the emotional thing.
But it can scare you.
It is going to affect you for the rest of your life.
I think it would be good if they gave you emotional awareness rather than just :“You can get an STD or get pregnant.”
I do think the emotions behind it are more important – because of how you feel after you have done it.
I can’t tell you what love is because I don’t know what love is.
I am not sure what I have with Jo, is.
[Then the girl has a long pause before continuing]
At the moment I am really angry with Jo.
I feel like he has pushed me out of his life and he hasn’t given me a reason.
You don’t get taught about marriage as something for sex.
They teach you that marriage is the final way to say I love you, not sex - which is interesting.
Part of me wishes they had taught me that.”
Such a girl is a typical product of our current school system. She certainly has been deceived and to some measure scarred for life. I call that child abuse.
But why is that happening? Because our teachers have been deceived through what they have been taught; and some who have not been deceived, have not taken action. Someone has written:
“The sexual climate in which we now live and whose implications have left family life in many urban areas at the point of ‘meltdown’, has not happened by accident but is the result of ideological struggle.”
Probably Freud was the start of the current ideological struggle over sex with his now rejected mythology (for it wasn’t science). He asserted that so much hinges on men’s fear of their fathers who they’d like to kill to have sex with their mothers or sisters. That is now recognised for what it is, nonsense! But Freud could still write influentially:
“Present day civilization makes it clear that it will permit sexual relations only on the basis of a unique and indissoluble bond between a man and woman … Only the weaklings have acquiesced in such a gross invasion of their sexual behaviour.”
But there is no evidence whatsoever that moral people are weak! Towards the end of his life Freud was advocating bestiality. Such was one great deceiver.
The next influential ideologue, who is still required reading in schools and universities, was Michel Foucault. An open homosexual, he debunked Freud but advocated the “virtues of sado-masochism” as “a creative enterprise”. With the advent of AIDS he wanted to explore everything. “To die”, he wrote, “for the love of boys - what could be more beautiful.” And die of AIDS, he did - in 1984!
Foucault was a follower of Nietzsche who pronounced the death of God and said we should create our own values. And that is what has been happening. People believe they are free to do what they like, when they like sexually, so long as it is consensual. But they are deceived. For they are not truly free as there is a tremendous cost in terms of the consequences as we shall see.
There have been so many other deceptions not least at the level of statistics with Kinsey’s I in 10 homosexuals - the fraud that changed the world, certainly in terms of state laws.
A current serious fraud is the use of the condom as a strategy against STDs. For we know now that while condom campaigns benefit a small number, they increase the overall amount of sexual activity. This generates more STDs as most people will not be perfect users.
Then there is the lie that our fundamental human identity is defined by our sexual preferences. The truth is that ultimately we are all human beings for whom Christ died, but with different temptations - some in a homosexual direction, some in a heterosexual direction, some in terms of greed and even taking property that doesn’t belong to them and so on. But the consequences from all these deceptions are enormous. This total undermining of a healthy sexual culture has negative consequences. Nor should we be surprised, for the Bible predicts this will happen. Look again at verse 6:
“Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God's wrath comes [note the present tense – this is not God’s final wrath on the day of judgment – it is his present wrath] on those who are disobedient.”
And there are dire consequences in the North East. For it is the worst area for births outside marriage in England with 55% of births now outside marriage. Nationally the figure for 2007 was 44.3% having risen from, listen, 8% in 1971. Many of these extra marital children will have significant problems.
Professor John Ermisch from the Institute for Social and Economic Research has recent research. This is based on 17 years of detailed longitudinal data from the British Household Panel Survey - a study of 10,000 British adults interviewed every year since 1991.
He has discovered that the amount of time children spend, from babyhood, living with just one parent has social consequences. He finds that a baby born to married parents spends on average 1.6 years of their first 16 with only one parent. A child born to cohabiting parents spends 4.7 years with just one parent. And a child born into a single mother household spends 7.8 years.
But, and this is the issue. The longer the time with just one parent, on average, the lower the school grades, the worse the job prospects and the poorer the health. And the real worry now is that marriage is at an all time low.
For cohabitation has risen 64% in ten years – with over a quarter of births now to cohabitees. And the facts are that only 35% of children brought up by unmarried parents will live with both parents throughout their childhood. But all this is just confirming massive research since 1990. So Paul says:
“Let no one deceive you with empty words [over sexual immorality and devaluing marriage], for because of such things God's wrath on those who are disobedient”
So, finally, and thirdly, CONCLUSIONS.
Paul’s conclusion was that in the decadent sexual culture of the Ephesus region the Christians should do four things in particular. And he would say the same today. First, verse 7, he says,
“do not be partners with immoral people”.
He is not meaning, don’t have anything to do with them or shun them or ignore them. No! He means, verse 11:
“Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness.”
He means, don’t have a part in their immorality. So when you are on that rugby tour, you don’t (like those in the England squad in New Zealand), go and get drunk in a bar and get involved with the women there. You say “No!” and go somewhere else. And you will probably find others will want to go with you.
Secondly, you are to “expose” (verse 11) these “fruitless deeds of darkness”. In the same way as certain serious physical diseases need to be reported and exposed, so serious moral diseases need to be reported and exposed for action to be taken to combat them.
And, thirdly, you are, verse 8,
“to live as children of light” with (verse 9) “the fruit of the light [that] consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth”.
So you are to model healthy sexual behaviour as a Christian – as a single person or as a married person. And if married you are to seek to follow that standard in the last part of our chapter for wives and husbands. That is why you must only marry another Christian, as the Bible teaches. Obviously you both need to have the same world view for a happy marriage.
And fourthly, have as your motto as you work to re-institutionalize marriage and promote chastity for singles, that saying in verse 14:
"Wake up, O sleeper, rise from the dead, and Christ will shine on you."