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We are finishing up our series of basic teaching on what Christian marriage is.

As I have told you several times, Christian marriage is not necessarily the same as other ideas of marriage in the world we live in. There are many different understandings today, both secular and religious. Now if you are up on your news, you know that same-sex marriage is now legal in PA, and in many other places. So this is just one example of this.

Given all this, I have labored to lay out for you biblical teaching to ground us in our understanding of what marriage is. And today we will be looking at six key distinctives of a Christian understanding of marriage, that are often in tension with the world’s point of view.

Now, I do not think that it is our job as Christians to force our beliefs on others. That isn’t how the kingdom of God works. No, it is our job to be a city on a hill; a light to the world. It is our job to live out a Christian vision of marriage and then invite others to choose this for themselves. Let’s look at our six distinctives that are a part of this vision.

1. We believe that marriage is the place for sex.

Christian teaching is certainly in disagreement with much of society around us on this one! Scripture forbids any non-marital sex,whether it be:

  • prostitution – 1 Corinthians 6:15, 18
  • premarital sex, which is likened to prostitution – Deuteronomy 22:20-21; Leviticus 19:20-22; 1 Corinthians 7:2-3, 8-9
  • living together, which is another form of premarital sex – John 4:16-19; 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
  • or adultery, which is sex outside of your marriage – Exodus 20:14 (see also Proverbs 5:15-18)

As we have seen, in Christian thought the very purpose of sex is marital. It is to merge every part of two people into one, it is to bond them to each other like glue (Genesis 2:24) and it is to bring forth children (Genesis 1:28).

Speaking of children leads us to our second distinctive –

2. We believe that marriage is the place for having and raising children to be Christians

God says this about marriage in Malachi 2:15 – “and what was the one God seeking? Godly offspring.” One of the reasons God joins together bride and groom is so that they can have and raise godly children. As Paul teaches in Ephesians 6:4 – we are to “bring our children up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

So having and parenting kids is not just about having kids, or raising them to be good people by some societal or worldly standard. It is about raising our children in such a way that they will hopefully one day choose to walk in God’s ways for themselves.

3. We believe that Christian marriage is between a man and a woman,who are not too closely related

Genesis 2:18-25, our key text in this series, gives us three creation boundaries:

a) animals are not fit partners for the man, so this is excluded.

b) The woman was made as a fit partner for the man, not another man so that you have two men or even two women. There was originally one person and then God made the woman out of the man. There is separation and differentiation. Sexual union, then, is the bringing together of the two differentiated parts to make, once again, a “one flesh” union. And this can only happen between a woman and a man, who correspond to each other in this way. (see the teaching on a one flesh union.)

c) One is to leave father and mother to find a spouse which excludes close relatives or incest. And in Jewish thought if you found out later you married someone who was too closely related, the marriage was considered to have never existed. (David Instone-Brewer, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible, p. 158).

These three creation boundaries are treated together in Leviticus 18, not because they are equivalent, but because they are all a breach of God’s creation boundaries.

Jesus accepted these creation boundaries when he spoke of marriage in Mark 10:6-8, quoting Genesis 2. And he saw these, not just as a description of what happened in one particular case way back when (descriptive), but as normative for all time (prescriptive). The first marriage teaches us what God’s will is for humanity in the area of sex and marriage.

4. We believe that Christian marriage is between one man and one woman

It is true that polygamy (or more correctly polygyny – one man and more than one wife) is assumed in the Old Testament. But Jesus’ teaching in Mark 10:11 excludes this as an option. For if he forbids remarriage after an invalid divorce, because you are still one flesh with your spouse, then this also logically forbids polygamy. You can’t marry another spouse because this too would transgress your one flesh union with your first spouse.

Also in Mark 10 Jesus highlights that there are only two people involved in the first marriage.

  • He quotes Genesis 1:27 – “God made them male and female,” that is to say, two people.
  • He uses a different version than the Hebrew text of Genesis 2:24, one that has the phrase “the two shall become one flesh,” instead of simply “they,” emphasizing just two people. (The ESV misses this in its translation).
  • And he repeats this again in Mark 10:8 – “they are no longer two . . .”

He is making the point that “in the beginning” (Mark 10:6), which reveals God’s will to us concerning marriage, there was no polygamy. 

5. We believe that Christian marriage is between two Christians

Scripture teaches that we are only to marry fellow Christians. Paul tells the widow who is considering remarrying, “She is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” – 1 Corinthians 7:39, that is to another believer.

Paul also says in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 – “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” Although he isn’t just talking about marriage here, this teaching does cover the marriage relationship.

It’s not just that there is a spiritual incompatibility, that can hinder our living for God (Deuteronomy 7:3-4). If you think about it, how can you work together to raise godly children, as Malachi 2:15 talks about, if you marry an unbeliever?

But also consider this. Christian marriage is classified differently than a mixed marriage between a believer and an unbeliever. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul address those who became a Christian, but their spouse did not. And two things stand out:

1) He uses different terminology for mixed marriages. Paul writes “to the married” – v. 10, in reference to Christians who are married to each other. But in the case of mixed marriages he just says, “to the rest” in v. 12. Yes, they are married, he speaks of husbands and wives, but there is a difference in his mind.

2) Paul doesn’t apply Jesus’ teaching on marriage and divorce to mixed marriages. The latter do not fall under the saying of Jesus, “What God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Mark 10:9). And in fact, a divorce can take place here, even if there is no sexual immorality.

Different rules apply because mixed marriages are categorized differently.

6. We believe that Christian marriage is for life

We live in a time when there is low commitment in marriage relationships. Despite often lofty marriage vows, it is understood that if you can’t get along, or fall out of love, divorce is always there for you as an option. Marriage is a merely legal, human matter, not also a covenant before God.

From a Christian point of view the marriage covenant can only be ended by:

  • death – Romans 7:1-3 (This is also taught by implication in Mark 12:18-27).
  • or sexual immorality – Matthew 19:9, since this breaks the one flesh union, as well as the covenant vows.

Short of this our marriage to our spouse is to be just like the commitment of God to us, his bride. We are to display the same covenant love toward each other, as God does toward us. 

So these are six distinctives; six differences between a Christian understanding and the ideas of other groups. May we be empowered by the grace of God to live out these beliefs so that we are a light to all of God’s way of being married.

William Higgins

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God & Dating

I think it’s good that we talk frankly in the church about sex and dating. Because apart from parents teaching these things (and I certainly hope that you are!) the only places young people learn about these things are from school, friends and Hollywood, none of which are really trusted conduits of Christian values.

Besides, with today’s TV and internet it has never before in history been easier to get involved in sexual immorality. And so the need to speak out is all the more urgent.

Now, Scripture doesn’t talk about dating. It tells us that some marriages were arranged and some weren’t. All it talks about is “betrothal” – which is more like what we call engagement – but a bit more serious. We don’t really know what courting rituals were involved in any of this, and no specific instructions are given. So we will look at some things Scripture says about different topics that relate to what we call dating.

Only date fellow believers

Scripture teaches that we are only to marry Christians. And since dating is a form of courtship for marriage and is a serious relationship, this certainly applies here too.

Paul tells the widow who is considering remarrying, “She is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord” – 1 Corinthians 7:39, that is to another believer.

Paul also says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?” – 2 Corinthians 6:14-15. Although he isn’t just talking about marriage, this does pertain to marriage and by extension to dating.

To be married to an unbeliever is to yoke yourself together in the most intimate way possible with someone who does not share your faith; your deepest life values. It is to be “unequally yoked.”

It is to partner yourself with or to become one with someone who is, spiritually speaking, on the other side. Paul asks, “what fellowship has light with darkness?” And this is true even if they aren’t openly hostile to your faith.

Indeed the difference is so great between the Christian and the unbeliever that in 1 Corinthians 7:12 – Paul classifies these marriages as something less than ‘what God has joined together.’ And they are governed by different rules than Jesus’ teaching on Christian marriage.

The danger for you in all this is that they will pull you away from your faith. This concern is expressed in Deuteronomy 7:3-4 – “You shall not intermarry with them (that is, those outside the faith of Israel), giving your daughters to their sons or taking their daughters for your sons, for they would turn away your sons from following me, to serve other gods.” The issue is that they will be a stumbling block for you.

Even short of open disapproval of your faith, you know, if they are ‘tolerant of your faith they will most likely put implicit pressure on you to tone things down; to be lukewarm, as opposed to full devotion and commitment to Jesus. And they will not be particularly interested in giving you encouragement in your Christian faith

So, if you take your faith seriously, you are signing up for a life of disappointment. Think of two oxen yoked together who are trying to go in different directions. It won’t be pleasant.

Here are just a few examples from married life:

  • When there is a life crisis and you need to look to Scripture for help, will they encourage you in this? Not likely.
  • When there is a question of where to send extra money will they like it that you want to give it to mission work? Probably not.
  • When there is a death in the family will they be able to comfort you with Christian hope? They will not.
  • When you are struggling with temptation will they be able to give you wise Christian counsel? They will not.

And perhaps most seriously, how will you raise your children? Whose values will be taught? One of the purposes of marriage, according to Malachi 2:15, is to raise godly children.

Will your unbelieving spouse consent to this? And if they say they will, will they change their mind later? And what will it mean to the child to see that one of their parents doesn’t accept Christian faith?

These tensions are real, and at least in part, they are why such relationships don’t last as long. The divorce rate for mixed-religion marriages is three times higher than the average. (The Washington Post, June 10, 2010)

In terms of dating the fundamental question is – Do you value your faith more than any potential relationship? Another way to put it is – Do you love God more than any person who has caught your attention? If you don’t, you have already begun the journey away from your Christian faith.

Look for someone with real faith and commitment. I don’t mean the rationalizing that we so often do – he went to church once; or she said her family used to be Christian. I mean someone who is a solid Christian, who will be able to encourage you in your Christian faith and walk with you in this for a lifetime. Pray for someone like this and trust God for an answer

A word of advise here. To put this teaching into practice, you have to make the decision up front. If you allow yourself to get emotionally involved with an unbeliever, it’s going to be really hard.

Maintain your sexual purity

We talked about this last week, so just a bit of a reminder. Yes, premarital sex is sexual immorality, even if our society doesn’t think so or all your friends don’t think so.

And like all sexual immorality we are to flee from it, not run to it and embrace it as the world does. Paul says, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his/her own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” – 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5.

Speaking of lust, let’s talk for a minute about making out. Here are some questions to consider:

  • Is this not being sexually active outside of marriage, which Jesus forbids?
  • If we are not even to look at another with lust (Matthew 5:27-28) can this possibly be acceptable?
  • Is this an expression of the fruit of the Spirit of “self-control” as Paul talks about in Galatians 5:23? Or is this an expression of “the passion of lust” as Paul talks about in 1 Thessalonians 4:5?

Receive these words from 2 Timothy 2:22, “Flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart.”

Choose someone according to the values of the kingdom of God

– not the values of the world. Who does the world exalt? Those with power, status and wealth; those who make you feel good; those who look good. I will just focus in two examples.

Look for true love – that is, according to the Biblical definition. The world portrays love in a distorted way. And we often get caught up in this. But love is not lust, and love is not emotion, although it involves this. And so much dating is about these two things.

But emotion and sexual attraction can fade. And in the world this means it’s time to move on. Just this week I saw a celebrity that said she was getting divorced because it wasn’t fun anymore.

But scripturally love is fundamentally commitment to someone; to their well being; caring for them whether you feel like it or not, whether they turn you on or not – Matthew 5:44-47.

And so if you date you need to think:

  • Is this someone I can love for the rest of my life?
  • And is this someone who will love me for the rest of my life?

Even after the romance fades? Even when the ‘honeymoon’ is over and you are both acting more like your true selves with each other?

Find someone with true beauty. The world emphasizes outward beauty. The kingdom of God emphasizes the inner beauty of godly character.

Peter says this to women, “Do not let your adorning be external – the braiding of hair, the wearing of gold, or the putting on of clothing – but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” – 1 Peter 3:3-4.

So gentlemen, listen up. Outward beauty by itself is useless. Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” It’s a waste and it’s not what you want.

And also outward beauty fades with age.  Proverbs 31:30 says, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.” Ladies we could say the same for men. Their handsomeness, physical strength and yes, their hair is fleeting over time.

Both men and women need to look for the true beauty of a godly heart that fears the Lord, and not get caught up in the glamour culture that we live in that worships outward beauty. And in turn you need to focus on being beautiful within, and not outward beauty.

Finally

Having said all this about dating, let me end by saying that you are perfectly fine if you don’t date. You have to remember that Jesus was single and so was the apostle Paul. And remaining single for life is always an option. And it can free you up to have more time to serve the Lord – 1 Corinthians 7. You can be both fulfilled and faithful to God without marriage.

But even short of this, you don’t need to feel pressured to date, just because everyone else seems to be dating. It is fine to wait until you are older; to wait until you are ready; to wait until there is someone you truly want to date, for all the right reasons.

William Higgins

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[Also see the expanded teaching on this – The issue of sexual desire and self-control]

Sexual desire was created by God and is good. But like all the desires of our flesh it often seeks expression in wrong ways. So we must act to control our sexual desire and keep it within the bounds of righteousness.

1. Control your thoughts

We all from time to time have sexual thoughts that come to mind, many of which are inappropriate. And these thoughts can fuel our sexual desire. What is important is that we not entertain them. Similar to what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10:5, “We . . . take every thought captive to obey Christ.” That is, we have to control our thoughts with regard to sex.

If you do have inappropriate sexual thoughts, use the name of Jesus. Satan will often seek to put thoughts in our minds that tempt us, or he will tell us that it is alright to indulge in our own sexual thoughts. We can rebuke these thoughts/Satan so that they have to leave. The name of Jesus is powerful. In Luke 10:17 the disciples said, “Lord, even the demons are subject to us in your name!” All the powers of evil have to yield to the name of Jesus. When we become aware of inappropriate thoughts say, “Depart from me in the name of Jesus!” As James 4:7 says, “Resist the devil and he will flee from you.”

Also, use the word of God. After we rebuke Satan we can speak out the Scriptures. This is what Jesus did when he was tempted – Matthew 4:4-10. This reminds us of God’s truth and it teaches us to have right thoughts. It renews our minds – Romans 12:1-2. Here are some Scriptures to use:

  • 1 Timothy 5:2 – “Treat . . . older women like mothers, younger women like sisters, in all purity.” Women are also to think “in all purity” about other men.
  • 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 – “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his (or her) own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

Also, to control our thoughts we must protect our mind. This is a preventative measure. Whatever we allow to enter our minds will be there and affect what we think. If we want to control our thoughts then we need to be careful what we allow to enter our minds – through images, movies, advertising, lustful looks, pornography, and so on.

2. Control your sexual desire

Even if we control our thoughts we will still struggle at times with sexual desire. As Jesus said, “the flesh is weak” – Mark 14:38. Our desires often seek to do what is unrighteous. But Jesus also said, “the Spirit is willing” – Mark 14:38. The same Spirit that gave us a new heart with new desires when we were first born anew, can strengthen our desires for righteousness so that they are stronger than the desires of our flesh. As Paul said, “walk by the Spirit (the power or strength of the Spirit), and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh” – Galatians 5:16. So when we are struggling with sexual desires, we can call out to God in prayer for strength from the Spirit to do what is right.

As the Spirit strengthens us, we are, as it were, crucifying or killing the inappropriate desires of our flesh, our fantasies or lusts. Jesus tells us in Luke 9:23 that we are to deny ourselves and take up our cross in this way “daily.” Paul writes in Romans 8:12-13 “we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live according to the flesh – for if you live according to the flesh you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you will live.” By the Spirit (the strength the Spirit gives us) we put to death the deeds of the body (we deny ourselves, we crucify or kill the desires of our flesh), in order to follow God. Pray, “God take this inappropriate desire and put it to death by the power of your Spirit. Give me the strength I need to do what is right.”

3. Cut off stumbling blocks

Stumbling blocks are things that are not necessarily sinful in themselves, but they lead you to sin. So, access to the internet is fine, but if it leads you to give in to viewing pornography it is a stumbling block for you. Friends are fine, but if certain ones encourage you to see inappropriate material they are a stumbling block for you. Being with your date is fine, but if spending too much time alone with him/her leads you to act in inappropriate ways, this is a stumbling block for you. When you don’t deal with these things you are putting yourself in a situation where you will most certainly sin; where your inappropriate sexual desire will overwhelm you.

Jesus said, “If your right eye causes you to stumble, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” – Matthew 5:29. We have to cut off what leads us to sin. This can mean unrestricted access to the internet or certain friends or certain ways of dating. Jesus calls us to act, even if it is difficult and painful.

4. Find righteous expression for your sexual desire

God gave us our sexual desire, in part, to cause us to seek out a relationship with a spouse. If we are struggling with our desire and are not married, Paul says, “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion” – 1 Corinthians 7:9. In a marriage relationship, our spouse is to be the focus of our sexual desire. This is the context in which to give expression to our desires.

Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:3; 5, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. . . . Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”

Work on your marriage, love and care for your spouse. Then you will have the kind of relationship in which your sexual desires can find righteous expression – as a part of a loving, committed life-long relationship.

William Higgins

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Sexual Purity

Let me just begin by saying that sex was God’s idea and it’s a good thing! Sometimes we get the idea that because God has so much to say about wrong sex, that sex itself is bad. Not true!

Take for instance, the garden of Eden. Adam and Eve were walking around naked and happy. And that’s the way God set it up. And there is an entire book of the Bible, The Song of Solomon, which celebrates sexual love. And then there is Proverbs 5:18-19. It says to the husband, “Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.” Sex is good.

But the fact is that like all the desires of our flesh apart from God, our sexual desire often seeks expression in wrong ways. And so God has to call us to live sexually pure lives.

To be sexually pure means that we set aside our own desires and ideas about sex, or the world’s ideas, and live according to what God says; we choose to live within God’s boundaries for sex.

Jesus teaches us the basic boundary in Mark 10:7-9. He said, “’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh’ (speaking of sex). So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” Sex is for one man and one woman in a committed lifelong marriage.

If this is sexual purity, then we also need to talk about –

Sexual impurity

The Greek word for this is Porneia. It is usually translated as “sexual immorality” or “fornication.” But I want to make clear that it doesn’t just refer to premarital sex, as is sometimes thought, especially when the word fornication is used. It actually means “every kind of unlawful sexual intercourse.” It is a word that covers every category of forbidden sexual activity. In some cases the context defines a particular meaning, like adultery or incest. But often it is used generically for all kinds of sexual immorality. I will use this Greek word -Porneia as we go along here today.

Alright, let’s look at some examples of Porneia. You have the handout. We will focus on three of these that are widely accepted in our society.

1. Pre-marital sex. It is wrong to create a one-flesh sexual union with someone who is not your spouse – I Corinthians 6:16. As we just saw this is reserved for marriage – Mark 10:7. Let’s be clear, this is Porneia – I Corinthians 7:2; John 8:41

If you are unmarried, you are to control your sexual desires. Paul says it is God’s will “that each one of you know how to control his/her own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” – I Thessalonians 4:4-5. If you feel you can’t control your desire, the answer is Christian marriage – as he says in I Corinthians 7:2, 9.

2. Adultery – This is, of course, breaking your marriage commitment through sex with someone who isn’t your spouse. The Old and New Testament are clear on this: “You shall not commit adultery” – Exodus 20:14. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery . . ..” – Matthew 15:19.

3. Homosexual practice – or same-sex activity. The Old and New Testament are clear on this as well: “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination” – Leviticus 18:22. And Romans 1:26-27 applies this to both men and women.

You can look at the rest of the list later. Now there are also –

Other concerns with regard to Porneia

Not just the outward act is wrong, but also entertaining the inward lust for Porneia is forbidden. Jesus said, “Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” – Matthew 5:27-28. So we are talking here about mental fantasies, the use of pornography and so forth – Porneia of the heart.

Now let’s be clear. Everyone has inappropriate sexual thoughts that come to mind from time to time. The point is don’t indulge them by dwelling on them, by feeding them, or by acting on them. In our verses the action is the lingering “look.” Exercise control.

Another concern – beware of stumbling blocks that can lead you to Porneia. Stumbling blocks are people or situations that pressure you or lead you to sin.

Jesus says this about stumbling blocks – “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.” – Matthew 5:29. These are serious. We have to get rid of them.

In our case this has to do with putting yourself in situations that tempt you to Porneia. For instance, spending too much time alone in a private place with your date.  It’s like the alcoholic who tries to hang out at a bar, but every time he gives in to his desire to drink. And he can’t understand why. The battle was lost as soon as he entered the bar. The bar was the stumbling block. The victory is won with the choice to get rid of what leads you to sin, because once you expose yourself, you’re too weak to say no to the temptation. This also applies to spending too much time alone with your date.

Another example – hanging out with friends who like to look at internet porn. If you go there, you know what will happen. So make the right choice ahead of time.

A final example – spending too much time with someone of the opposite sex who isn’t your spouse. You’re playing with fire!

Jesus is saying take this seriously! Don’t just get rid of sin. Get rid of what leads you to sin. Even if it is painful, like pulling out your right eye.

A final concern is don’t be a stumbling block to others. This is what Jesus says about the one who causes another to stumble – “ . . . it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.” – Mark 9:42. And this certainly applies to sexual sin.

So we need to be careful not to lead others into Porneia. This has to do with the way we dress. We need to heed the scriptural call to dress modestly, both men and women – I Timothy 2:9-10. And this has to do with how we act and talk. Proverbs 2:16 speaks of tempting someone to adultery.

The seriousness of Porneia

In our culture it is no big deal. In fact if you take this seriously you are laughed at. But God has a different point of view!

1. It “defiles” us before God – Mark 7:23. We are made dirty or unclean by it.

2. It brings God’s judgment upon us – I Corinthians 10:8. Paul refers here to Numbers 25 where 23,000 Israelites were killed for their Porneia.

3. It will exclude us from the coming kingdom of God. Paul says, “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral . . . nor adulterers . . . . will inherit the kingdom of God.” – I Corinthians 6:9-10. And he says the same thing in Galatians 5:19-21.

Because of all this, there are many –

Scriptural calls to refrain from Porneia

  • “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:13.
  • “Flee from sexual immorality. . .. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” – 1 Corinthians 6:18-20.
  • “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity . . ..” – Colossians 3:5.
  • “But sexual immorality and all impurity . . . must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” – Ephesians 5:3.
  • “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality . . ..” – I Thessalonians 4:3.

So these calls comes to us in many different ways, but they all say the same thing – “Christians, no more Porneia!” “Get it out of your lives!” “Flee from it!”

Let’s end by talking about –

The grace of God

Have you failed? Are you sexually impure? You can be cleansed. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Last I checked, “all unrighteousness” includes sexual impurity. Isn’t that amazing! What grace! Our sins can be forgiven.

But not only that, you can be set free. John 8:36 says, “So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” I am not saying it will be easy. But Jesus can set you free and give you the power to do God’s will.

  • Are you stuck in an adulterous situation?
  • Do you struggle with same-sex desires?
  • Are you engaging in premarital sexual activity?

I’m not here to condemn you. I’m here to invite you to be cleansed of your impurity and to be empowered to live differently, according to God’s will. This is a message of grace and freedom.

And you need to know that other people have been where you are and have found cleansing and help. And you need to know there are people who care about you and can help you in your struggle.

If this is a concern in your life I invite you to pray along with me in your heart . . .

William Higgins

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Kinds of Porneia (handout)

edited 5/14

1. Sex between unmarried people. It is wrong to create a one-flesh union with someone who is not your spouse – I Corinthians 6:16. This is reserved for marriage – Mark 10:7; 1 Corinthians 7:8-9. This includes:

  • Prostitution. Paul forbids this. He says, “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 prostitute? Never!” – I Corinthians 6:15. In I Corinthians 6:18 it is called Porneia.
  • Premarital sex. In Deuteronomy 22:20-21 the clear expectation is that a bride is to be a virgin. For a man to have sex with an unmarried woman is to treat her as a prostitute – Genesis 34:31. For a woman to have premarital sex is likened to prostitution – Deuteronomy 22:21. (see also Matthew 1:18-19).

1 Corinthians 7:2-3 calls both of these sexual immorality.

If you are unmarried, you are to control your sexual desires. Paul says, it is God’s will “that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.” – I Thessalonians 4:4-5. If you feel you can’t control your desire, the answer is Christian marriage, not pre-marital sex or prostitution –  I Corinthians 7:2, 9.

2. Adultery – Breaking your marriage commitment by having sexual relations with someone who is not your spouse. “You shall not commit adultery.” – Exodus 20:14. “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery . . ..” – Matthew 15:19.

Also, remarriage after a wrongful divorceis considered adultery.If your first marriage is not already broken by sexual immorality, and you consummate another marriage (even if you are legally divorced) this is considered an act of adultery, because the first marriage is still intact in God’s eyes. Jesus said, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” – Matthew 19:8-9. (However, if your spouse was an unbeliever and left or divorced you, you are free of the marriage, even if the marriage is not broken by adultery – I Corinthians 7:12-16.)

3. Homosexual practice – Or same-sex activity. “You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination.” – Leviticus 18:22. This is also forbidden in Romans 1:26-27 and   I Timothy 1:8-11. In this last passage it is connected to the word Porneia. It is also associated with Porneia in Jude 7. The Apostolic decree of Acts 15:28-29, referring to Leviticus 18, also classifies this as Porneia.

4. Incest – Sexual relations with close relatives. (See Leviticus 18:7-18 and Deuteronomy 27:23). This is forbidden in the New Testament – Mark 6:18 and I Corinthians 5:1-3. It is called Porneia in I Corinthians 5:1.The Apostolic decree of Acts 15:28-29, referring to Leviticus 18, also classifies this as Porneia.

5. Bestiality – Sexual contact with an animal. “And you shall not lie with any animal and so make yourself unclean with it, neither shall any woman give herself to an animal to lie with it: it is perversion.” – Leviticus 18:23. The Apostolic decree of Acts 15:28-29 tells us to observe the regulations of Leviticus 18 in its prohibition of Porneia.

6. Sex during menstruation. This may not seem that crucial compared to the other items here, but it is forbidden. “You shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness while she is in her menstrual uncleanness.” – Leviticus 18:19. (Also Ezekiel 18:5-9). The Apostolic decree of Acts 15:28-29 tells us to observe the regulations of Leviticus 18 in its prohibition of Porneia.

7. Other: Sex was made to be expressed between one man and one woman in a committed life-long relationship. Jesus said, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh.” – Mark 10:6-8. Sex outside of this is forbidden, including things like polygamy and pedophilia.

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I want to share with you some teaching today that speaks to the big picture of how we interpret the Scriptures, but which also deals with some specific aspects of Christian obedience; things that are rarely or never talked about.

We begin with the big picture question, which is: Are Christians supposed to keep the Law of Moses? For instance:

  • Are Christians to keep the Sabbath, that is, Saturday, as a day of rest?
  • Should Christian men be circumcised?
  • Should Christians eat only clean foods and abstain from foods like pork?
  • Should we maintain ritual purity for example, if we touch a dead body?
  • Should Christians tithe according to the precepts of the Law?

It seems like there has always been confusion among Christians about the role of the Law of Moses in the Christian life. Didn’t Jesus change things? Didn’t Paul teach that it is no longer binding?

Well, I want us to look at the answer given by the Jerusalem Council in Acts 15:28-29. But first we have to note, by way of background, that . . .

Jewish Christians continued to follow the Law of Moses

Jesus himself was Law observant, all the way down to wearing four tassels on his garment (Deuteronomy 22:12/Matthew 9:20). Oh, he stretched some things now and again, like touching a leper (Matthew 8:1-4; Numbers 5:1-4), but this was to heal the leper. And even in this case, he told the leper to follow the Law of Moses to be certified as clean.

And not only was Jesus Law observant, he also taught his Jewish disciples to keep the Law. As he said in Matthew 5:17, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets, I have not come to abolish them.” (See Matthew 5:17-19; 23:2-3; 23:23).

Now for sure, Jesus rejected the human traditions, or the “tradition of the elders” (the oral law) which the Pharisees used as a guide for keeping the Law (Matthew 15:1-9). Rather, he gave his disciples his own teaching and example as a guide (Matthew 23:10) which clarifies and perfects the Law of Moses (Matthew 5:17). So for instance, with regard to the Sabbath: his Jewish disciples should keep it, but recognize that mercy has priority, which is why Jesus healed on the Sabbath (Matthew 12:9-14).

Paul also kept the Law. James, the brother of Jesus, and the leader of the church in Jerusalem, who was himself famous for his strict observance of the Law, bears witness that Paul was Law observant in Acts 21:20-24:

  • When Paul came to visit Jerusalem, James spoke of how the Jewish Christians there were zealous for the Law.
  • But, they had been told a rumor that Paul was teaching Jewish Christians to forsake the Law.
  • To counter this, James had Paul publicly go through a Mosaic vow ceremony.

James says in v. 24, “Thus all will know that there is nothing in what they have been told about you, but that you yourself also live in observance of the law.”

Now, these Jewish believers, didn’t keep the Law in order to be saved by it. Jesus is the Messiah and Savior. They kept the Law because Moses is the authority that God has placed over them, just as we submit to the authorities that God has placed over us and the laws of our land. And the authority of Moses for Jews will not pass away until the coming of the kingdom in its fullness, as Jesus said in Matthew 5:18.

The Jerusalem Council

But what about Gentiles? Should they keep the Law? There was a heated debate about this because Jesus didn’t leave any specific instructions on this point.

  • Some taught that Gentiles must be circumcised and become fully Law observant Jews in order to be accepted by God (Acts 15:1; 5). [To be circumcised is to commit to obey the whole Law of Moses – Galatians 5:3]
  • Paul and others taught that Gentiles do not need to be circumcised and keep the Law, to be fully accepted by God (Acts 15:2).

So, there was a gathering to settle this issue, the apostles, along with the elders of the church of Jerusalem, and Paul and Barnabas, called the Jerusalem Council.

They decided that Gentiles are not required to keep the Law of Moses to be saved (Acts 15:13-19). As Peter said:

  • Gentile Christians, like Jewish Christians, are “saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus” (Acts 15:11).
  • They are “disciples” of Jesus, that is, they obey Jesus’ teaching (Acts 15:10).
  • They have received the “Holy Spirit” as a witness to their salvation (Acts 15:8).

But Jewish Christians would continue to keep the Law, not for salvation, but in submission to Moses.

So this helps us to understand the bigger picture of Scripture, why some passages sound like the Law is to be followed; talking to Jewish Christians (see again Matthew 5:17-19; 23:2-3; 23:23). And why others sound like the Law does not need to be followed; Paul talking to the Gentile Christians.

Now to the issue of specific behaviors – that are rarely if ever talked about. It was also decided at the Jerusalem council that there was one portion of the Law that Gentile Christians should observe.

We see this in what is called . . .

The Apostolic Decree

. . . a letter that was sent out to the Gentile churches. It says in part,

“For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to impose on you no further burden than these essentials: that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols and from blood and from what is strangled and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well” – Acts 15:28-29.

This letter gives three essentials that apply to everyone: 1) Do not eat idol food. 2) Do not eat blood (or what is strangled, because the blood hasn’t been drained). 3) Do not practice sexual immorality

If we ask, where do these essentials come from? It is quite clear. These refer back to Leviticus 17-18, which talk about these same issues in the same order as in the Apostolic Decree: 1) Idol food – Leviticus 17:1-9; 2) Eating blood – Leviticus 17:10-16; 3) Sexual immorality – Leviticus 18.

So the decision of the council was that, Gentile followers of Jesus do not need to submit to the Law of Moses, except for a particular part of it that comes from Leviticus 17-18.

What does this mean practically in terms of specific behaviors? 1. Do not eat idol food. This isn’t a pressing issue in our context today. It was huge for them, and still is in some parts of the world. But basically it means, if you know the food has been offered up to an idol, don’t eat it.

2. Do not eat blood. This means that our meat needs to be butchered so that the blood is drained, which is the common practice today. (The widespread acceptance of the Decree in the Gentile churches and the later influence of the church on society no doubt played a role in this being common today). And also don’t eat dishes that have blood in them.

3. Do not practice sexual immorality. This seems self-explanatory, but Leviticus 18 gets pretty specific, you know, beyond just the basics, (you can read the whole chapter yourself, I rate it at PG 13 or above). Here are three examples:

  • Do not marry close relatives – vs. 6-18
  • No sexual relations during menstruation – v. 19
  • Do not engage in same-sex acts – v. 22

Alright, as I said, some of this is never really talked about, but this is God’s will for our lives. As the letter said, “It has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us (the apostles and elders)” – Acts 15:28. It really doesn’t get any clearer than that.

Why these three items?

It’s because they teach a ‘creation righteousness’ that is not Jewish specific, but applies to all people, everywhere.

  • Why can’t we eat food sacrificed to idols? Because God is our Creator and we are to have no participation with idolatry or false gods, including idol food. This applies to everyone, since God created everyone.
  • Why can’t we eat blood? Because the life is in the blood, (Leviticus 17) and the life belongs to the Creator. Originally God only allowed a vegetarian diet. God gave Noah permission to eat meat, but then only without the blood (Genesis 9:4). So this command applies to all the children of Noah; that is, to all people.
  • Why can’t we engage in sexual immorality? Because our Creator has established the boundaries of sexual behavior. And as the end of Leviticus 18 makes clear, Gentiles are held accountable to these boundaries. The Canaanites were judged, in part, for the sexual immorality described in Leviticus 18. These boundaries apply to all people.

Finally, what about Paul and the Apostolic Decree?

Well, he was there, he shared, and he supported the Decree – which, in fact, vindicated his position. Act 16:4 says, “As Paul and Timothy went on their way through the cities, they delivered to them for observance the decisions that had been reached by the apostles and elders who were in Jerusalem.”

He supported the specifics of the Decree. Now, there is no discussion of eating blood in Paul or anywhere else in the New Testament, other than Acts 15. But on the issue of idol food, Paul taught his people not to knowingly eat food sacrificed to idols – I Corinthians 10:14-22. (See also Revelation 2:20). And on the issue of sexual immorality, numerous examples could be given. Here are two: no incest (I Corinthians 5:1) and no same-sex behavior (I Corinthians 6:9-11).

He also supported the general principle of the Decree. This gets us back to the big picture level. All were to follow Jesus’ teaching and example as Christians, and then according to the Apostolic Decree:

  • Jewish Christians continued to keep the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20-24)
  • And Gentile Christians were only to keep the three essentials from the Law (Acts 21:25)

Paul affirms this in I Corinthians 7:17-20:

“Let each of you lead the life that the Lord has assigned, to which God called you. This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision in nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything. Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.”

He is saying, if you are a practicing Jew when you become a follower of Jesus, don’t give up your observance of the Law; don’t remove the marks of circumcision. But, if you are a Gentile when you become a follower of Jesus, don’t seek to start obeying the Law of Moses; don’t seek circumcision (at least not as a means of salvation).

Remain in the condition in which you were called, when you were saved. The Jew remains a Jew, the Gentile remains a Gentile. Just make sure, whether Jew or Gentile, that you are obeying God; that you are following Jesus’ teaching and example.

This is the mystery of God, according to Paul, that was hidden from the foundation of the world (Ephesians 3:1-6).

God has chosen to put together both Jews and Gentiles as the people of God.

  • Gentiles should not be forced to become Jews, which is what Paul fought.
  • And Jews should not be forced to be Gentiles, which is pretty much what has happened ever since the time of Paul.

Both Jews and Gentiles come together in Christ as one, on an equal footing.

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A footnote: The teaching of the decree was followed in Gentile churches for centuries as is evidenced in various church manuals and other writings:

  • No idol food: Didache 6:3; Apostolic Constitutions 7:2:21.
  • No eating blood: Irenaeus Fragments xiii; Tertullian Apology 9; Apostolic Constitutions 7:2:20.
  • No sexual immorality: The Apostolic Tradition 16:20; Apostolic Constitutions 6:5:28 forbids same-sex practice, intercourse during menstruation, etc. and appeals to Leviticus 18.

For an earlier version of this teaching – Should Christians Obey the Law of Moses

For a version of this teaching that focuses on sexual immorality and in particular same-sex practice – The voice of the Spirit and the Jersusalem Council on same-sex practice

William Higgins

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