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Tim Keller Lecture Notes — Series: Sex, Singleness, and Marriage — Lecture #1: Sex–The Biblical Guidelines

Lecture was given on September 1, 1993.

The teaching is based on 1 Corinthians 6:12-20.

Please note that these notes are provided only to encourage, and that any or all parts of the notes may contain errors or omissions, due entirely to the note-taker. Full audio may be found at the Redeemer Sermon Store.

Introduction:

There is no biblical view of dating. They didn’t date. You were three years old and you were walking along with your parents and they saw someone and said, “Oh, there’s a nice family, there’s a good arrangement, let’s have them get married.” My grandmother was betrothed; she was twelve and she was betrothed to my grandfather by her parents. And I used to say, “How was it?” And she’d say, “I had a great marriage, what are you talking about? It was fine!” (More on dating next week, when we talk about singleness.)

The biggest problem tonight is that you’re all in different places, but I’m going to have to aim at a particular type of person. I may not be coming right up the center of your alley, but I hope I can at least knock down a lot of pins in your alley….

Many of you have heard me preach on sex before, though I haven’t done it many times. But you’ve come tonight because you need more details than the overview I’ve given in sermons. So first, I’ll lecture, and second, I’ll let you ask me questions so that you can get the details you need.

Here’s how I’ll start, at the locus classicus on the subject: 1 Corinthians 6:12 to the end….

What is the biblical sex ethic?

  • First I’ll say it negatively: the Bible is clear that sex is for a man and a woman within a marriage. It’s always been like that.
  • Sometimes when I’ve taught on this, people have looked at me and said, “Period? That’s where it ends?” They’ve said you must be one of the conservative pastors.
    • Every branch of Judaism and Christianity has always taught this same thing. It’s very hard to find something that all of the religions have consensus on. Someone who says that this kind of stance on sexuality is part of a backwater cult, they simply don’t understand the history of the world.
    • They say, “Times have changed! This was an idea developed in Europe to keep population down.” I’m glad you’re laughing at that, because that’s really silly. Christianity originally broke on the scene in the middle of the Roman empire! Everybody looked at them and thought they were crazy. But when people came into belief and experienced the power of this ethic, it won. Believing this is something that’s outdated is simply showing a lack of understanding of the transformative power that this idea of a biblical sex ethic had in the sexually permissive society it came on the scene in.
  • The problem with this negatively posed description of sex is that it doesn’t tell you what sex is for, it only tells you what it’s not for.
    • A lot of you were raised in churches where you were taught this, but you weren’t converted, and then later in life you were transformed and came back to the church as genuine believers, and you’re faced again with this teaching which for years you’ve abandoned.
    • So I want to explain what sex is for.
  • But before that, let’s address two views that Paul was dealing with.
    • The Platonic View: First, get out of your head of the way that word is used today. We’re talking about the philosophy of Plato–that the body is bad, matter is bad, the soul is imprisoned in the body, and therefore sexuality is a dirty bad thing.
    • On the other hand, there was the view of the mystery religions: That sex was an appetite that you fulfilled when you felt like it.
    • Paul is careful to distinguish the Christian view from both.
  • We are neither to despise nor deify sex.
    • To despise it is to think of it as a dirty, defiling thing.
    • To deify it is to simply let our instincts do what they want; we can’t treat our instincts as if they’re God.
    • Paul teaches that sex isn’t dirty, but that our sexual instinct is disordered.
    • To deal with the Platonic side, Paul says, “Sex is so critical that both spouses ‘owe’ sex to each other.” It’s commanded–go to it! (“That’s a paraphrase.”)
      • Is it possible that God would command something that was defiling? Heck no. It’s good. He gave it a benediction after creation (Genesis 1-2).
      • The Bible is very embarrassing for Platonic views of sex — the Song of Solomon. The translators constantly wimp out on translating the Hebrew as it really is.
      • Proverbs 5:18 — A man must be ravished with his wife’s breasts.
      • There’s no tittering about sex in the Bible; when it’s wrong, it addresses it, when it’s right, it praises it.
      • Romans 7 — the image is that just as a woman puts herself literally in the arms of her husband and fruit is born into the world, in the same way the Bible says if you put yourself into the arms of Jesus Christ, in the same way fruit will be born into the world through you. It’s an amazingly intimate and daring thing.
      • The Bible teaches us that the ecstasy and joy of sex was created by God to give a foretaste of the amazing intimacy and closure that we will enjoy with God. Sex is a signpost, it’s an analogy. The intimacy that you hunger for in sex can only be given to you by intimacy with God.
      • When we meet with Christ face to face, when we enter into that closure, then we’ll know what sex has all been about; therefore, sex is glorious! How can it possibly be dirty or defiling?
      • The Bible’s view of sex is higher than any other book or philosopher I’ve ever read.
    • To deal with the appetite view of sex, Paul says:
      • v. 13-15, 18 — the body is not for immorality!
      • Sexual oneness with somebody apart from having every other kind of oneness (through marriage) is a monstrosity
      • Now: Why? If sex is so great and glorious, why is Paul talking about how serious it is?
        • Sexual sin can really disorder you in a major way.
        • Sex isn’t any more unforgivable than other sins, but biblically, because sex is a whole lot closer to the center of reality than a mere appetite, therefore sin has hurt sex in the way it hasn’t hurt your physical appetite for food
        • Sin: the bent of the whole person to want to live for your own self and to do things your own way. It’s sin that makes us use people, that makes us always want to put ourselves in the center.
        • Sin can affect our appetite with food, but when you’re dealing with food your dealing with an inanimate object; sex is dealing with another person.
          • If anyone says they deny sin, why do they lock their car? Their front door?
        • Lewis’ radio talk over the BBC on sexuality: Imagine going to a country where young men in college put on the walls of their dorm rooms great big, life-size, full color pictures of hot dogs and hamburgers, and the guys went around to each other’s room saying, “Oh, wow, look at this one!”
          • If you saw this, you’d say, “What’s wrong with these people? They must be starving!” But if you came you’d find out that’s not true; they’ve been eating like crazy. The only conclusion you’d be able to come to would be to say that there’s something deeply disordered and distorted about their appetite for sex.
          • So can you really believe that the appetite for food and the appetite for sex are similar?
          • No — something has gone much more deeply awry with sex than with appetites.
        • You can’t follow your instincts with sex; something has gone wrong with them.
        • If you give sex it’s way, if you hand over the reigns, you won’t get much out of it at all.
        • J. I. Packer — Sex is a signpost to God, now if you camp under a signpost you’re not going to get much of anywhere. If you camp under a sign that says, “New York – 50 Miles,” and say, “We’re here, honey!” you won’t get there. That’s what we’re doing.

What are the three biblical purposes for sex?

  • Procreation
    • One of the reasons the Roman Catholic church doesn’t do birth control is that it believes this is the purpose for sex. They believe that because of St. Augustine, who was a Platonist.
    • However, if there’s more than just this purpose for sex, than some forms of birth control are permissable.
  • Fun
    • Proverbs 5:18 — It brings joy. It’s recreational.
    • But if we stop there, we get into trouble, too. We get stuck with the mystery religions.
  • A Unitive Act
    • It is for fully, permanently, completely committed relationships b/c sex is a way of cementing relationships with complete oneness. It is God’s appointed way for saying to another person, “I belong completely and permanently to you.”

Four ways of saying the same thing

  • What Paul is saying here is that to have sexual, physical union with a prostitute (a woman) without all the other kinds of union is a monstrosity, is frustrating the purpose of sex.
  • What happens physically has got to have as its context the same unification at every level–social, legal, moral, psychological, emotional, spiritual.
  • E.g., when you have sex, you become naked. You make yourself physically vulnerable. When you have sex outside of marriage, you say, “I’m going to make myself physically vulnerable, but I won’t do it in any other way. I don’t want to make myself that vulnerable to you!”
  • You know darn well that when you first had sex with that first person, it seemed like a monstrosity that that person didn’t have any obligation to be with you.

If you see these things, you begin to see that “Thou shalt not have sex outside of marriage” is not just because we like to have rules, we like to keep you from having fun–it’s because sex is BUILT to say I belong completely to you, and if you don’t use it that way, you’ll destroy it.

  • Star Trek, “The Trouble with Tribbles”: There’s some governor of a wimpy asteroid somewhere whose trying to protect his special grain and he calls a star destroyer to come help him, he puts out a Priority One distress call, which always means that a planet’s about to be utterly destroyed.
  • If you use a non-verbal communication signal that has been legislated for one particular purpose for a different purpose, the communication signal gets destroyed!
    • When you have sex with someone who you’re not married to, you ruin your ability to communicate that commitment with sex.
  • Covenant: A binding legal contract done in public. It’s something done with witnesses, so that it’s hard for you to break your word.
    • Sex is supposed to be a regular covenant renewal ceremony
    • If you use sex the way God invented it to be used, every time you use it properly it continually strengthens and renews that covenant.
    • If, on the other hand, you use it outside of marriage, it operates backwards and destroys your ability to be totally committed, and some of you see that in your own life. It doesn’t mean anything anymore, it makes it harder and harder for you to trust.
      • A wife was once incredibly jealous of her husband and could no trust him
        • It came out that she had undermined her ability to trust by being sexually unfaithful to her husband
  • “To know” — this is one of the Hebrew words for sex in the Old Testament

So how do I actually start to practice that?

  • The Bible is always talking about lust. Jimmy Carter was mocked for admitting that he lusted for women in his heart, and that’s because if you’re not a Christian your view of sex is not very nuanced.
  • Lust is for something–for a sexual thrill.
  • So how do you deal with lust?
    • Make a distinction b/w a thought and  fantasy.
      • You can’t stop thoughts from happening. There’s a bit of time to deal with a thought.
      • To admire sexual beauty is not wrong. But to then begin to sit and entertain and begin to think of yourself in relation to that person, at that point you’re getting into a fantasy.
      • You don’t have control over the thought. You can’t stop somebody from knocking at the door, but you can go to the door and say, “I’m not interested.”
      • You can control whether or not you come to the door and say, “Well, come on in and let’s decide what to do with you.”
      • You don’t hear a knock at the door and say, “There I go again!” with dismay.
    • Fast sexually instead of starving
      • This is the difference b/w a diet and being starved. A diet is proactive approach to eating that gets you results that you like.
      • So, when it comes from dieting sexually,
    • Use the Gospel to overcome guilt from the past.
      • A lot of us have problems with our adult life because we used to have trouble with our behavior life.
      • I remember the naked women posters in the rooms on my freshman hallway. That was a long time ago! There are so many useful things to fill my mind with; why is that stuck!
      • The only way to turn those things off is if you don’t feel guilty for them anymore. You need to look at the people in the Bible who were healed and accepted who had a much worse past. Tamar’s incest. Rahab’s prostitution. And Jesus brought them into his family.
  • I’m a Christian, and I’m wondering, “How far can you go, sexually?”
      • Christianity makes you see distinctions, it gives you a much more nuanced view of sexuality, and you begin to see a real different between godly sexual passion and lust.
      • Now that you’re a Christian you’re a connosieur of sex!
    • Don’t forget that if you define sexual intercourse as penetration, it’s something for marriage, but we all know that there are all sorts of things leading up to it.
      • You’ve got to figure out that there is a place where your body will only be satisfied with penetration. I’m not going to tell you where that is. (This seems like a rigorous enough model for self-examination if you’re honest.)
      • You’ve got to think of sex as an escalator, and that everything you do will move you up it. A few steps up, there’s no problem getting off an escalator, but on the other hand, if you’re going up to the top you realize that there is no way you’re getting off.
    • Commitment and contact/intimacy go together.
      • The first time I held my wife (Kathy’s) hand, I got aroused. Women say, “What?” I think it’s because our egos kick in. We think, “Wow, she’s squeezing my hand back.” Just knowing that she’s interested in you can be sexually stimulating and arousing.
      • That doesn’t happen anymore–and that doesn’t mean the honeymoon is over, etc.
        • The reason for that is, the more committed you get the less your sexual stimulation is engaged with your ego and the more it is aroused when the other person is opening themselves up to you.
        • As time goes on, your intimacy moves up; as the commitment grows, the intimacy can grow.
    • Treat the person the way you would want someone to treat your future spouse
      • This rule will keep you safe!
  • These have been some specifics, and if you press me I might give you some more details, but I’m probably going to stick to principles because people are so different.

Some notes from the Q & A:

Someone expressed essentially that the main problem with being a Christian is not that you have to sexually fast, it’s that it narrows down your options so much for who you can marry.

  • Even you go for a long period of time without finding someone that meets the criteria, the alternative is having a string of divorces or being in a marriage where you are seen and not loved.

Marriage doesn’t fulfill you; nothing fulfills you but God. People who are rich have tremendous difficulties; people who are treading water financially have others.

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About davestuartjr
Dave Stuart Jr. is a full-time teacher who writes about becoming better, saner teachers at TeachingtheCore.com. He is a follower of Jesus Christ, a husband to Crystal, and a father to Hadassah, Laura, and Marlena.

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