I have begun to think that the church has failed terribly in its job. It seems that things that churches need most to talk about most, and the things that the Bible talks about most—are oftentimes the things least addressed in the pulpit.
This week I heard a lecture wherein the professor said that the number 1 thing that Jesus talked about was money. The one thing that Jesus talked about most was money—how it should be used, its dangers, and so forth.
But so many churches today hardly ever talk about the issue. Perhaps 1x or 2 church’s will talk about proper stewardship.
behavior. This subject has been neglected too, perhaps more so than the issue of money. We have considered talking about sex and sexuality taboo. We’ve simply thought it is inappropriate to talk about publicly.
And perhaps it is because of this that our culture is the way it is. What we have been afraid to talk about publicly, is all too public now. We are living in a sex-crazed culture. You can’t go anywhere and you can’t do anything without hearing or seeing some reference to sex. As you well know, the media is plagued with it. As a matter of fact, Elizabeth and I were astonished to see that companies are trying to use sex to sell tires for cars!
We live in a very sensual culture. I’ve said before that we live in a culture that says, “do what feels right.” And in that regard we have much in common with the people of the NT times. They had sex in the media—books were published on the subject. They had cultic prostitution on the street corners.
To be sure, their culture was just as fanatical about sex as ours is. And in the midst of this kind of culture, we are called to live holy lives. In a sex crazed society, we are called to live sexually pure lives.
Our passage this morning instructs us about living a sexually pure life. In this passage the Lord shows us how a Christian is to conduct himself with regard to his sexuality, and why he should live this way.
I. How do we live sexually pure lives?
When we ask “How do we live a sexually pure life in a sex crazed culture?” we get two answers. God tells us what we should not do and what we should do. He gives us a restriction and a proscription.
A. The Restriction: What does God forbid us to do?
There in verse 3 he says, “This is God’s will: Your sanctification, that you abstain from sexual immorality.”
The word we have translated sexual immorality is the Greek word porneia. You can probably tell that it is the word from which we get our word pornography. But in Bible times this word wasn’t used of dirty magazines or websites. This word is used to refer to any type of illicit sexual practice. That is why most of our translations translate it as sexual immorality.
Now, when Paul says “abstain from sexual immorality,” I would assume you immediately think of adultery. Adultery is perhaps the most obvious form of porneia. While it is true that adultery is a form of porneia, I want you to be aware that it is only one form of sexual immorality. You must understand that Paul’s command is much broader in its scope.
Porneia is any form of illilcit sexual activity. We can also think of things like homosexuality—that’s a form of sexual immorality too. We can also include things that have become all too common in our day, such as premarital sex, or promiscuous (or “loose”) living.
We must not think that Paul is limiting himself to adultery. He is says that we must abstain from any sexual practice that deviates from the way God has ordered it. Porneia is any practice that would defile the marriage bed.
For that matter we can think of any other sort of improper sexual activity. And I am thinking particularly of what is commonly called “making out.” It is commonly held among teenagers today that “making out” is just an ordinary part of dating. When two young people go out, even if they don’t intend to pursue a serious relationship, they think it is perfectly fine to engage in such conduct.
And parents, you must be careful to teach your children that that is something they should not be involved in—because prime time television is teaching them otherwise.
Moreover we owe a great deal of this shame to our former President. After his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, he tried to justify himself by saying, “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” It was as if to say, “What I did wasn’t wrong, because it wasn’t sexual intercourse.”
But that was porneia. It was an improper sexual relationship.
Hopefully you are starting to see what Paul is talking about when he uses this word “porneia.” And I wouldn’t doubt that as I speak the screen inside your brain has a lot of static. I would bet the picture isn’t coming in all that well. That’s because this is so radically against our culture. Everywhere you look you hear “Go ahead, indulge yourself. Let loose on your passions.” And it is not just TV shows sending us these messages. We have people who are supposed to be professionals, professional doctors and psychologists, who are saying that it is not good for us to repress our sexual desires.
So what you are hearing now and what you hear out there the rest of the week are clashing like two swords in a gladiator battle. But you must hear what God is saying here: We are not to be fooled by the world or caught up in its licentiousness. God has called us to keep ourselves pure. He has called us to demonstrate restrain and exercise control over our passions.
Ø So in one sense God has given us a restriction. We are to abstain from sexual immorality (in whatever form that may take). But don’t think that God is just an ogre out to make your life miserable. That can’t be farther from the truth. He doesn’t just put restrictions on you. He gives you proscriptions-- He proscribes marriage.
B. Proscription: Acquire a spouse
If you are going to live a sexually pure life, you need to get married. Read it with me again. It says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you possess your own vessel in holiness and honor.”
Now I like that way of translating it. Some translations, like mine, say something like “each of you should control your body.” You can perhaps understand why some of our versions would say that. “Possess your vessel” and “control your body” sound similar. But I think that such a rendering basically repeats what is said in verse 3. Abstaining from sexual immorality basically means you have to control yourself, doesn’t it? I think these words of Paul’s in verse 4 are not a repetition.
Think about it this way: Remember how Peter describes women. In talking to men Peter says that husbands are to look out for their wives because they are the weaker vessel.” Now if you possess your vessel in this sense, what are you doing? I think Paul here is saying that he is to get married. In other words, you are not just to abstain from sexual immorality—you are not just to pin up all those desires and urges and explode like a balloon. You are to acquire a wife and enjoy all the blisses of marriage.
It’s like what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. There he says, “If you can’t remain single, get married, so you don’t burn with passion and then end up sinning.” God is saying there is a place where you can give vent to your desires—and that is in the context of marriage.
Now I know that marriage is not held in high esteem in our day. People rip on it all the time. Typically you hear that when you get married your sex life basically ends. But that’s not true. Recent studies have even proven that those who are married enjoy sex more often and find it more satisfying that those who try to live otherwise.
That study wasn’t a fluke. God’s might not be the popular way, but it is the right way. When God created man he made them male and female, each was made for the other.
Now I think that is clear enough. What I want you to think about is how you are to acquire a spouse. Look at verse 4 again. Paul says that we are to acquire a spouse “in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”
How do people who do not know God go about pursuing their relationships? Its basically like shopping for meat in the meat market. You go to the grocery store and you look at all the different meats they have laying out and you say “That one looks good, I’ll take it.” Then you take it home with you.
That’s the way people go about their relationships too! They look around for the one that looks the best and they take it. It’s not about love. When they enter the relationship they are not thinking how they can love this person and serve him or her. They pursue the relationship for what they can get out of it. They want the meat to satisfy their craving—their lust.
It’s no wonder that most marriages today end in divorce. Once the lust is gone or is placed elsewhere, the relationship is done. The person has served their purpose, and now they can be disposed of.
And it’s no wonder people are not even getting married anymore! Things today are just like it was in Paul’s day. Marriage at that time was something that was not necessarily the norm. Marriage was not held in high regard. People a lot of the time didn’t get married they just lived together. And we are seeing that in our day.
But we are not to enter into our relationships that way. Those of us who may be single are not to act like animals. Nor are we to let our children grow up and act like such beasts. We are to pursue marriage, and do so in a distinctively Christian way—a way of respect and dignity.
I could spend the rest of the sermon focusing on that very thing—how to pursue a relationship. But I am not. I am going to leave that to you. I only want to conclude with this: Isn’t that the way Jesus Christ has pursued his relationship with his bride—in holiness and honor? He doesn’t treat his bride like a piece of meat. He respects her, and seeks to promote her best interests. Right now even, as he yearns to be united to his bride—as he yearns to consummate his marriage—he waits patiently. He honors his bride by waiting until the day of their wedding. That is the way a relationship is to operate.
Like I said, I could say a lot more. But I have to move on. Let’s consider…
II. The Motivation: Why should we abide by this rule?
In the rest of the passage God gives us some reasons why we should abstain from sexual immorality. These reasons are here so that we might be moved to live the way God wants us to.
Whenever we were young our friends would be doing something. And we would go and ask our parents if we could do it. And they would tell us no. Then we would say, “But everyone else is doing it!” And our parents would say, “If everyone else jumped off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you!”
That maybe how we feel. We can look around at our culture and see everyone else engaging in all sorts of debauchery. When it comes to satisfying their desires, they go right ahead. And we can be tempted to say to God, “Well, everyone else is doing it.”
And God here is much more gracious than our parents. He doesn’t give us the Brooklyn Bridge line. He gives us 4 convincing reasons why we shouldn’t just follow the crowd. Let’s run through them quickly.
In verse 6 you see the first reason. It says, “No one should wrong his brother in this matter.” We have to see that sexual immorality is not only an offense against God and against yourself. It is an offense against the person you come into contact with and against the person that they are married to (or will be married to someday). You can think of sexual immorality like you would robbery. If you rob someone you not only affect them you affect the rest of their family. It is a crime that has a lot more repercussions than we initially think.
As a matter of fact people usually think, “Aw, it doesn’t hurt anyone.” But you couldn’t be farther from the truth. It not only hurts the person we become involved with, but it scandalizes the person who they are rightly joined to.
The next reason is there in the second part of verse 6. it says that the “Lord is the avenger in all these things.” Or your version may say something about the one who punishes.
In the OT, we read of the avenger of blood. If someone was murdered, his next of kin was to become the avenger of his blood. He was to seek out the murderer and bring him to justice.
Though the OT did not have that practice with regard to sexual sins, we find that same principle being manifested here in 1 Thessalonians. And we find that God is the avenger. God will take this wrong seriously. And he exacts the punishment that it deserves.
Of course I should also point out that those who have been involved in this sin in some way can be forgiven if they repent. Just as God was gracious to receive back his people from their whoredom after other gods, he can forgive. But those who pay no regard to his command, they will find him hunting them down and making their lives miserable.
So we should avoid sexual immorality because it wrongs others, because God is the avenger, and verse 7 tells us that we should simply regard our calling in life.
It says, “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” Someone might say, “Well, I’ve got a free ticket to heaven. I’ve believed in Jesus and God has forgiven me. Now I can do whatever I want!”
But to think that way is to totally misunderstand what God has called you to. God has called you to be different [That’s basically what the word holy means—to be set apart]. You can think of it this way: Let’s say that you are in the midst of a crowd. And let’s say that this crowd is moving at a good pace down a street, like a bunch of cattle being herded into a pen. As you are walking along you hear someone yelling your name. You look all around to find out where it is coming from. Finally, you see that there is someone on the 5th floor of a building behind you. As he yells your name, you can see that he is waving his arms telling you to turn around and come to him.
So you turn around. Now you have to wade through this sea of people who are still marching in the same direction. That is what the Christian life is to be like. God has called you to be one of his people. He has called you to come join him in heaven. As a result, you are to turn from your lifestyle. You are no longer to live the way everyone else around you is living. You are to live in a radically different way.
Well, you might not be convinced. You may simply blow me off and say, “Well, that’s what you say, Matt. But you’re just old fashioned.” But God says don’t do that. Don’t blow me off. Look at the last verse, verse 8. It says, “Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.”
Everything I have said thus far is not based on my own opinion or personal viewpoint. It is God’s Word. God has said this, not me. If you chose to crumple up this sermon and throw it out of your mind, then you despise God and throw away His word.
In other words, if you despise God’s word, you act just like Adam and Eve in their rebellion. A&E disregarded God’s word didn’t they? They chose to live by their personal lust & craving. They chose to eat of the Tree of the knowledge of good & evil. They threw aside the word of the one who had given them life and Paradise.
You might say, “Hey, am I any better than Adam and Eve? They were perfect! How can I one up them?” You’re right. By yourself, you can’t top them. That’s why that last phrase is included: he is the God who “gives you his Holy Spirit.” You obey only because the Spirit of God enables you to obey. And God has graciously given you that Spirit. What all the more reason to submit to God’s word.
And that is where we end: Whose word will you live by? Will you live by God’s Word? Will you seek to please him by maintaining a chaste demeanor? Or will you choose to live by the dictates of your passions? Just remember this one thing: This is God’s will for your life: that you abstain from porneia and possess your spouse in holiness & honor. His will for you is that you live his way, in the mist of a culture that doesn’t.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.