Paul gives us a way forward: How do we as a church help one another live lives of increasing sexual integrity
Reflections on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8: Part Five: Paul gives us a way forward: How do we as a church help one another live lives of increasing sexual integrity.
Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. 2 For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 6 that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. 7 For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. 8 Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.
(Here I mention two other ways of living that are crucial for us as believers, and as a church, to live honestly in dealing with sexual struggles and sin. You can access the prior two ways here)
Three, we need to be truth sayers
Our churches must speak the truth. I mean two things here regarding speaking truthfully.
One, of course I mean speak the truth about sex and sexuality as the Scriptures teach it. We do not need to be ashamed of what God’s word says here. The gospel offers something good to us and to the world. God, as the Creator, knows how the world and all of life should work. Today, we need to have the backbone to speak what it says.
But in speaking truthfully we need to go beyond merely saying what it says: we also need to articulate clearly why God’s design for sex is good; that it makes sense; that it really is good for individuals and for society. It is not enough to simply know what the sexual boundary lines are—we need to articulate WHY these boundary lines should be in place, and that good things come in our lives from honoring God with our bodies.
In just the past month I’ve talked to two parents whose college-age children, raised in the church, are sexually active, and they were unable to engage them in a conversation about the goodness of God’s design for sex and why it matters and why it’s best for relationships. On the one hand they were grateful for the honesty of their child; but on the other hand, they had no words other than to say: you shouldn’t do that; it’s not what God wants.
Two, the second way to speak truthfully is to present information that isn’t distorted or wrong. On the issue of sex and sexuality, it’s easy to for us to do that.
I might step on some toes here, but some of the abstinence education I’ve heard presents inaccurate information. In our zeal to protect our kids from early sexualization, we’ve said that pre-marital sex will bring lifelong guilt and that if you only wait for your wedding night, sex is going to be great!
No, that’s not true in all cases, and it certainly isn’t accurate.
And on the issue of homosexuality, the church has said some misleading and incorrect information about gays and lesbians. Christians have made derogatory statements about their character, and labeled all gays and lesbians as being people whose sexuality is out of control.
No, that’s not true in all cases. If you go to Florida during spring break, you’ll see a whole lot of straight people whose sexuality is out of control. Are heterosexuals all the same?
When we speak falsely, we contribute to the confusion our people have today about sexuality. This is especially so with our youth—when they hear that the church one thing but the reality is something different and more nuanced, no wonder they begin to doubt what the Bible says is true or not.
Four, we need to be mercy givers
What do I mean here?
Two things here, as well:
Loving mercifully invites help: The sexual brokenness of our culture is everywhere. It’s not easy to resist the pull and temptations of our culture and our sinful nature. Our sexual natures are powerful, and living in this broken world hurts. That is a powerful combination! All of us are sinners—and all of us frequently slip and fall.
Loving mercifully says: we are in this together; let me help you get back on your feet. I’ll be patient with you as you learn and grow.
18 years ago I went to a counselor because I needed help. It took me more than a year to make that appointment, because I kept trying to figure things out on my own. And when I sat down in my counselor’s office, she leaned over and simply said: “How can I help you?”
I wanted to reply with a well-thought out answer, but instead I started to feel overwhelmed with emotion. I felt so shamed that I had a reached a point in my life that I couldn’t figure out how to help myself.
Her response was full of mercy: “Tell me what you think the problem is, and together we’ll find a way to help you.” Her answer gave me hope. I wasn’t a problem to be fixed and therefore I needed someone smarter than me to figure it out. Instead, I now had someone who would walk with me to help me find a way through the problem.
Secondly, loving mercifully means forgiving and restoring: What sexual strugglers need is God’s forgiveness, communicated through your love for them. Forgiveness surprises us. We expect judgment and condemnation for our sins and failures, but sexual strugglers feel that way even more so.
I love the story of Jesus and the “woman sinner” In Luke 7. Jesus eats at the house of a religious leader. The leader is shocked when a woman, described as “a woman of the city, who was a sinner,” (a prostitute) knelt behind Jesus at his feet and wept. She covered his feet with her tears, and poured a jar of perfume she had over his feet.
The Pharisees were shocked that Jesus allowed this sexually-sinful woman to draw near to him, to even touch him. She was so defiled.
Jesus wasn’t shocked or offended. But then he shocked the Pharisees even more—by forgiving her and honoring her embrace of him. Jesus understood that her embrace of him came as a result of her experience of being forgiven.
It is only when we minister out of our own brokenness and forgiveness, that we will love others mercifully. God’s forgiveness of us levels the playing field.
One more thing about the story in Luke 7: I particularly like that Jesus said of the woman, “her sins are many.” That’s a challenge to us. Many of us don’t like to get our hands dirty with messy people; people who have a long history of sins. But if we increasingly live like Jesus, then we’ll see more strugglers in our churches, and we’ll love them well. And God will set them on the road to healing and freedom from enslavement. Forgiveness both cleanses and empowers.