Session 4: How Sin Distorts Marriage and Sex - Radical

Secret Church 11: Family, Marriage, Sex, and the Gospel

Session 4: How Sin Distorts Marriage and Sex

People often underestimate the craftiness of the enemy in his efforts to distort our understanding of what is good and holy in the eyes of God. It should not come as a surprise to Christians that sin has therefore distorted our view of sexuality. The sexual revolution has unfolded at a rapid pace, leaving many Christians confused as to how to engage with certain pressing issues of sexuality.

In this session of Secret Church 11, Pastor David Platt explains the various ways in which man’s sinfulness has distorted God’s good design for sexuality. It is critical that Christians are able to articulate the biblical view of issues such as homosexuality, abortion, polygamy, casual sex, and pornography. Only the power of the Gospel is able to redeem our culture’s fallen understanding of these issues.

  1. The Gospel and Homosexuality
  2. The Gospel and Abortion
  3. The Gospel and Polygamy
  4. The Gospel and Pornography
  5. Gospel Exhortations

Romans 1:

“Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another.”

Homosexuality Is an Example of Sin Distorting Marriage and Sex

So, what does the gospel have to do with homosexuality? Let’s start with thinking about homosexuality and the world, just to address really quickly the ideas and thoughts and ideologies that are out there in people’s minds when they think about homosexuality. There’s a prevailing view that homosexuality is innate, “I was born a homosexual. God made me this way. Homosexual orientation is one of God’s gifts in my life.” Mel White, a prominent gay spokesman for a supposedly “Christian” lesbians, gays, bisexuals and transgender men and women said, “I’ve learned to accept and even celebrate my sexual orientation as another of God’s good gifts.”

Others think homosexuality is fixed. “My homosexual orientation cannot be changed, that’s just the way I am.” One prominent gay psychiatrist said, “Sexual orientation simply can’t be changed. There may be severe emotional and social consequences in the attempt to change from homosexuality to heterosexuality. It’s fixed.” Others believe that the core of homosexuality is loving. “What’s wrong with it? My partner and I love each other; we’re in an exclusive relationship. How can that be wrong? Why stop that or be afraid of that?”

Others say, “Well, homosexuality is Christian.” Many people say, “Jesus didn’t say anything against homosexuality.” Troy Perry, one prominent gay Christian leader said, “As for the question: ‘What does Jesus say about homosexuality?’ The answer is simple—Jesus said nothing, not one thing, nothing. Jesus was more interested in love.” Others say, “Well, I’m Christian, and I’m gay. How can that be if homosexuality is wrong?” Go back to Mel White, and he said, “Now thank God! After 30 years of struggle, I can say at last who I really am. I am gay, I am proud, and God loves me without reservation.” Others have said, “I attend a gay church where the presence of God is evident. How can that be if homosexuality is wrong?”

Is Homosexuality Biblical?

The next logical step from there is the idea among many that homosexuality is biblical. “Passages in Scripture which deal with homosexuality have, obviously, been misinterpreted,” or “The Bible doesn’t condemn homosexuality.” So, let us see what the Word says about the homosexuality.

The reality is, Romans 1 deals with homosexuality, but it’s even a bigger picture just of the sinfulness of all of our hearts, and how that plays out in all of our sexuality, whether it’s heterosexual sin or homosexual sin. So, the picture here is, “What does sin do in our lives?” First, see the anatomy of sin here in Romans 1.

This will be huge for all of us, regardless of whether we have any struggle with homosexuality. Sin disorders our worship. Paul says, “For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things.”

The picture here is disordered worship. We exchange God’s pattern for our preferences. Sin disorders our worship to where God is not supreme in our hearts. That’s the whole point of Romans 1:18-32. The reality is, any sexual sin, whether it is heterosexual or homosexual, is that it springs from a heart that doesn’t delight supremely in God and God’s ways.

It’s interesting, if you go back to Genesis 1 and 2, you see God’s pattern for marriage, which is clearly between a male and a female. That is God’s design. The Bible very clearly and definitively shows us that as God’s design, and then shows beyond that that all things that are labeled sexual sin in the Bible are things that subvert that design that is in Genesis 2. Whether it’s sex outside of marriage between a man and a woman, or sexual relationships between men and men, and women and women. This is the design of God, and that which forsakes or undercuts the design of God is classified as sin in Scripture. In that sense, we are all guilty here of disordered worship.

We have exchanged God’s praise for our pleasures; these passions that wage war in our souls. The reason is we’re born with a heart of pride. We’re brought into the world in sin, and so, all of us have different biological heritages, but we all have one common spiritual inheritance, and it’s sin. So, the Bible doesn’t leave room for anybody to say, “Well, God wouldn’t allow for somebody to be born with a bent toward a particular sexual sin.” The Bible says we are all bent towards sexual deviation. This is big. It is very clear for two reasons: one, because clearly homosexual thought, desire and practice is an adjustment of the pattern of God in Genesis 1 and 2, which is reiterated by Jesus and Paul in the New Testament.

The second reason is huge. It’s not just homosexual sin that skews that pattern, it’s heterosexual sin as well. The reality is, I represent the class of people that is responsible for the vast majority of sexual wrongdoing in the world today: male heterosexuals. I and every other heterosexual person would be wise to stop looking at the speck in others’ eyes on this when there is a log in our own eye.

If we shake our heads at conversations about same-sex marriage, but then we turn the channel to stare uncritically at a drama showing us adultery on TV, watch the trivialization of sex on the sitcoms, seductive images on reality TV shows or virtual prostitution in advertisements, then we have missed the point. Are our sins acceptable because they are the sins of the majority? Obviously not!

Is It Intolerant to Go Against Culture?

So, we need only the gospel when it comes to this. Sin disorders all of our hearts’ worship, and from this, sin disorders our belief. We exchange the truth of God for tolerance. So, here’s the deal: we live in a culture today where to say that homosexual expression, or even heterosexual expression outside of marriage between a man and a woman, is wrong is to go totally against the grain of the culture. You would certainly be labeled intolerant very quickly, but you think about that statement. The statement that it’s intolerant to say that homosexuality is wrong.

First of all, it would be self-defeating to say that statement, meaning that you’re claiming that I’m intolerant, and in the process, you’re claiming your intolerance of me. The way I would put it is that our culture is so sick of intolerant people that it’s not going to tolerate them anymore. In other words, people who claim to be tolerant are intolerant of intolerant people which means they cannot tolerate themselves. Did you follow that?

This is foolishness that we’ve created in our thinking. There is such thing as truth, and that’s the whole point that we’re seeing in Romans 1, John 8, and John 14. Not only have we exchanged the truth of God for tolerance, but we’ve exchanged the Word of God for the experience of man. We have relativized the Word of God saying that truth is actually dependent on what we think or what we believe. We have made it based on what we want. This is the core of the issue when it comes to homosexuality. Even if there was nothing besides Genesis 1 and 2, we would see that this is God’s design, but then, we do see clear pictures in Scripture that speak against homosexuality.

Look at Genesis 19 in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. There the Bible gives us a glaring picture of homosexual sin referred to in Jude 7. The holiness code in Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13, “You shall not lie with a male as a woman; it is an abomination” For “if a man lies with a male as with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination.” 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 and 1 Timothy 1:8-11 both use the same term in the Greek translation of Leviticus 18 and 20 to refer to homosexual behavior, that it’s evil in God’s sight. It’s the picture in Romans 1. To try to say that Scripture does not speak against homosexuality is to take the biblical text on an exegetical circus.

In order to say that the Bible supports homosexuality, homosexual advocates must maintain either that, one, the Bible is irrelevant. Now, this is where some supposed “Christians” have gone. Listen to Gary David Comstock, University Protestant Chaplain at Wesleyan University:

Not to recognize, critique, and condemn Paul’s equation of godlessness with homosexuality is dangerous. To remain within our respective Christian traditions and not challenge those passages that degrade and destroy us is to contribute to our own oppression… Those passages will be brought up and used against us again and again until Christians demand their removal from the biblical canon or, at the very least, formally discredit their authority to prescribe behavior.

Remove them? Get rid of the verses? Either the Bible is irrelevant, or the Bible is inaccurate. William M. Kent, member of the United Methodist Committee to Study Homosexuality said, “The scriptural texts in the Old and New testaments condemning homosexual practice are neither inspired by God nor [are they] of enduring Christian value.” At least Kent’s honest enough to hear what they’re saying, that the Bible is condemning homosexual practice, but then he just says that it’s not true. That it’s not inspired by God.

See, either you have to say that the Bible is irrelevant, inaccurate or you have to say that the Bible is insufficient. This one takes the cake. Luke Timothy Johnson, Robert Woodruff Professor of New Testament at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University accepts that the Bible nowhere speaks positively or even neutrally about same-sex love. Listen to this:

I think it important to state clearly that we do, in fact, reject the straightforward commands of Scripture, and appeal instead to another authority when we declare that same-sex unions can be holy and good. And what exactly is that authority? We appeal explicitly to the weight of our own experience and the experience thousands of others have witnessed to, which tells us that to claim our own sexual orientation is in fact to accept the way in which God has created us. By so doing, we explicitly reject as well the premises of the Scriptural statements condemning homosexuality—namely, that it is a vice freely chosen, a symptom of human corruption, and disobedience to God’s created order.

Don’t miss the danger here. He never asks the most obvious question. If we’re not going to trust the authority of the Bible, but we’re going to trust human experience, then whose experience are we going to trust? The obvious answer is his experience, and as a result, we are exalting the experience of man over the Word of God.

To put it bluntly, if the claims put forward by the supposed “Christian” homosexual movement are true, then the entire system of the Christian faith is undercut. Lest you think that is an over-statement, think about it. If the Bible is not authoritative, or if the Bible is wrong or misdirected on certain issues, then who is to say what the Bible is right and wrong about? Sin disorders our thinking and our belief.

Then, sin disorders our desire. Who we worship affects what we believe; what we believe affects how we feel. This is where it comes to desire. We have exchanged sexual responsibility for supposed rights. This has become a civil rights issue in many people’s minds. They’re all about debates over rights to sexual preference. My purpose is not to have a public policy debate, but I want to point out that what’s not in the conversation that needs to be in the conversation, obviously, in the church, is responsibility before God. At this point, we have exchanged what Scripture says about our desires for what science says about our desires.

The idea that prevails today is that science is serving the cause of civil rights, and the bigotry of traditional Christian religion is against civil rights. I’m not saying that the Bible is opposed to science. In fact, I’m confident the Bible is not opposed to truth in any form, but no matter what science says or science concludes about where our desires come from, or how we get them, Scripture still speaks about those desires, and Scripture says improper sexual desire is immoral, not inevitable.

Let’s put it this way: when a man makes a rude sexual comment, or maybe even when a man commits adultery, some people shrug it off and say, “Well, men are just like that. They have those desires.” Other people think that young teenagers who experiment with sex are just doing what they’re expected to do. They have those desires, but, when an adult solicits sex with a minor because he desires it, no one is saying, “Let him do it. That’s just the way he is.” His desires are immoral, not inevitable.

Sin Distorts Marriage, Sex, and Worship

Let’s go ahead and tie all this together. Sin disorders our worship, our belief, our desires, and then sin disorders our behavior. We act out our desires. You see the core here? The core here is not what we’re doing. The core here is what’s going on in our hearts, then our behavior. Now think about this: we have exchanged moral obligations for natural explanations. There’s a lot of research today, and it’s all debatable. It is being debated on all sides. It is looking at what determines homosexual desire and behavior.

Biological factors, social factors, environmental factors, emotional factors, all kinds of factors play into each of us and determine who we are. What I want to propose, based on what we’re seeing in God’s Word is that it doesn’t really matter what the research finally concludes, if it concludes anything. None of that determines the rightness or wrongness of one’s actions. We have exchanged moral obligations for natural explanations, assuming that if there’s a natural explanation, then that implies a moral obligation: “If I am this way, then I have to act it out.” There is mega-danger in that kind of thinking.

Just for the sake of illustration, compare this to pedophilia for a second. Why would God have “given” a pedophile that desire if it wasn’t intended to be carried out? “He’s made” the pedophile that way. “He’s given” him that “gift.” Jesus never spoke against it. In fact, He welcomed the children. He says he’s a Christian. He has these desires. He can’t change. He’s tried to go to therapists, and it doesn’t work. He’s been told to suppress his natural orientation, but he can’t deny it no matter how many people in society say he should. He’s just a persecuted minority. As a result, he is all the more deserving of rights to molest children.

Now, I’m not saying that homosexuality and pedophilia are exactly the same. I am pointing out though that causation does not imply justification. “That’s just the way I am” does not hold up. Time Magazine reported, at one point, that infidelity may be in our genes. Gentlemen, it may not be natural for you to be faithful to one woman, but adultery is not justifiable before God. This is key. The reality is we do not always choose our temptations. So, there may be sufficient “evidence” that some of us are born with one tendency toward this sin, and others are born with the tendency towards that sin. We don’t choose our temptations, but we always choose our reactions. Everyone has struggles with sexual sin in some ways,  and the Bible clearly gives us boundaries in which to live and restrain those things for the glory of God.

You say, “Where does that leave me? What does the gospel, then, have to do with homosexuality?” The gospel has everything to do with you because the Gospel reorders our worship.1 Corinthians 6 says it reorders our worship.

The Gospel Can Redeem Sin’s Distortion of Marriage and Sex

The gospel renews our belief and transforms our minds. The gospel refreshes our desires. I’m not saying that, in Christ, immediately, when you’re saved or born again that all improper sexual desire vanishes, but through the gospel, we pray for God to refresh our desires. The contemporary thinking about sexual sin just says, “You’re that way so give in to it.” No! You’ve been conquered by a superior desire in Christ and His holiness and His beauty. You pray for His desire to overwhelm you more and more.

The gospel redeems our behavior. I heard one homosexual man testify to the power of the gospel in his life as he stood beside his wife and nine children. In his words, “God heals very well.” I’m not saying that people going through this study who may struggle with homosexual desires will get married and have nine children, but I am saying that the Bible intends every one of our lives to be a demonstration of grace, and where sin abounds in each of us, grace abounds all the more.

So, I would challenge the church in these three ways: number one, look in. Based on Matthew 7 and Romans 2, it’s high time for the church to completely avoid selective moral outrage. Biblically assess your spiritual and sexual condition. Be honest. Let the gospel transform you. You flee from sexual immorality.

Then, look out. How do we respond to gay men and lesbian women around us in our lives and our families and our work-places? Based on Matthew 9, express humble compassion. Stanton Jones from Wheaton College said, “If you cannot empathize with a homosexual person because of fear or revulsion to them, then you are failing our Lord.” Express humble compassion and maintain deep conviction. It’s not easy to cling to the Word today, but cling to it. Cling to it, even when those close to you profess homosexuality. We cannot go the way of throwing God’s Word out the window because we are afraid to stand on it. So, show them the Word and weep with them over the Word.

Finally, look up to God. Exalt His glory. Sexual sin starts with robbing God of the glory He is due. So, fight sexual sin with giving God the glory He’s due, and proclaim the gospel. Share the gospel. Show the power of the gospel in your life, so that people come to know Christ and His love and His mercy and His grace and His peace and His salvation. Even though it’s not easy, God is not calling us to play things safe but to tell the truth. Amidst public policy debates, share the gospel with your life. God has not called us to control the government but to preach the gospel and proclaim the gospel with compassion. God has not called us to win arguments, but to win souls. This is the gospel on homosexuality. All right, from one hot button to another.

The Gospel and Abortion

Psalm 78 talks about the children yet unborn. In the United States, over 45 million abortions have occurred since Roe vs. Wade in 1973. That averages out right now to, approximately, 1.4 million abortions every year; 3,000 abortions every day; an abortion every 20-25 seconds. One third of American women have had an abortion at some point in their lives. In the world, over 46 million abortions occur every year; 130,000 abortions occur every day.

Do you remember that feeling when you saw the earthquake in Haiti? Or the tsunami in Southeast Asia? I mean mega-disasters where hundreds of thousands of people were just swept away, swallowed up? I want you to see the moral disaster of greater proportions: 130,000 helpless babies are being dismembered and destroyed every single day, and we hardly even notice it.

A woman has an abortion almost every second of every day. I don’t think it is an overstatement to call abortion a modern holocaust. That is an understatement. Every month, we surpass that number of people systematically slaughtered in the world and, just as German Christians did not need to hide from the reality of what was happening in concentration camps, we cannot and must not hide from the reality of this happening in abortion clinics all around the world.

You won’t find the word “abortion” in the Bible, but you will find a theology of who God is, who man is and what God is doing in creating man. You will discover that abortion is not primarily a social issue. It is not primarily a political issue. It is not primarily a woman’s issue or a children’s issue or a health issue. Abortion is primarily a God-issue. So, think about abortion and God. The primary text here is Psalm 139:

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Three truths spring in from this, and they’re all over Scripture, too. One, abortion is an affront to God’s sovereign authority as Creator. The one who forms the inward parts and knits us together, He is the Giver of life. He alone has the power to give life and authority to give life, and He alone has the authority to take life. Second, abortion is an assault on God’s glorious work in creation. “You formed my inward parts. You knit me together… I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works…The way God creates people compels praise.

When David said this in the Psalms, he didn’t even know what we know. We know how God takes a little egg and a sperm and brings them together. In two weeks, a human heart is beating, circulating its own blood. Within a few more weeks, fingers are forming on hands. Brain waves are detectable. After six and a half weeks, those inward parts are moving.

Two weeks later, there are discernible fingerprints, discernible sexuality. Kidneys are forming function; then a gallbladder. By the twelfth week, all the organs of a baby’s body are functional, and the baby is crying. All this within three months, the first trimester, the baby has a heart, organs, brain, sexuality, movement, and reactions, and God on high is doing all of that. Does that not evoke worship and praise?

So, then imagine, during this time period, inserting a tool, taking a pill, undergoing an operation that takes the life God is designing and destroys it. This is without question an assault on God’s glorious work in creation. There’s no way around it. Most abortions take place between 10-14 weeks of gestation when it is the “optimal time,” so to speak, for dismemberment and removal. The beauty of what God is doing, the intricacy of the person that God is forming, is just ripped apart.

This is, in large part, the crux around the debate on abortion. What’s going on in the womb? The Bible is clear. The womb contains a person formed in the image of God. Psalm 139 and Genesis 1 both say He is knitting together a human being, and this is the most important question. Don’t miss this. Virtually every argument in the abortion controversy comes back to this question: “What is the unborn? What or who is in the womb?” Once that question is answered, every other question comes into perspective. If the unborn is not human, no justification for abortion is even necessary. Some say the unborn is not a human person, but only a non-viable tissue mass, a potential human. The reality is, if that’s true then the argument is over: have the abortion. No justification for abortion would be necessary at that point.

On the other hand, if the unborn is human, no justification for abortion is adequate. This is where I’m going to lean on a great little booklet that I put in the end of your notes by Gregory Koukl called “Precious Unborn Human Persons.” People say, “Abortion is so complex. There are just no easy answers.” However, if that which is in the womb is a person, then this issue is not complex at all. Think about it. If it’s true that the baby in a womb is a real baby, a person, then every single justification for abortion totally falls apart.

People say, “But women have a right to privacy with their doctors.” Certainly, we all have a right to a measure of privacy. No privacy argument, though, is a cover-up for doing serious harm to another innocent human being. We have laws that invade all of our privacy whenever we start harming someone else. Privacy is not the real issue here.

People say, “Well, women should have the freedom to choose.” Yes, some things, but not all things. Yes, we have the freedom to choose whether or not we have children, but we don’t have the freedom to simply eliminate toddlers or teenagers who are inconvenient. No woman has the freedom to kill her child, if it’s a child. “But making abortion illegal forces women into back alleys with coat hangers.” If it’s dangerous to kill a person, should we make it easier for them to do so? If it’s dangerous to rob a bank, should we make it convenient for bank-robbers? “But more children will create a drain on the economy.” When human beings get expensive, do we murder them? You think about it.

Follow along with me here. Koukl mentions this story about a little girl named Rachel, the daughter of a family friend of his. He describes:

Think of a little girl named Rachel. Rachel is two months old, but she is still six weeks away from being a full-term baby. She was born prematurely at 24 weeks, in the middle of her mother’s second trimester. On the day of her birth Rachel weighed one pound, nine ounces, but dropped to just under a pound soon after. She was so small she could rest in the palm of her daddy’s hand. She was a tiny, living, human person. Heroic measures were taken to save this child’s life. Why? Because we have an obligation to protect, nurture and care for other humans who would die without our help—especially little children. Rachel was a vulnerable and valuable human being. But get this… If a doctor came into the hospital room and, instead of caring for Rachel, took the life of this little girl as she lay quietly nursing at her mother’s breast, it would be homicide. However, if this same little girl—the very same Rachel—was inches away resting inside her mother’s womb, she could be legally killed by abortion.

That makes no sense; it is utterly ludicrous. If a child in the womb is a person, everything in this debate revolves around what’s happening in the womb, and Scripture is clear: the womb contains a person being formed in the image of God. You cannot believe the Word of God and deny this, and once you realize this, there is absolutely no adequate justification for abortion.

One of the wonderful things Psalm 139 does is it gives us a glimpse into what God is doing in the womb. Though the unborn is visibly hidden from man, he or she is not hidden from God. God is creating in a way that compels praise. All of His works are wonderful. Psalm 139:14, “All your works are wonderful.”

Now, here’s the deal: abortions here and around the world oftentimes happen because having a particular child is seen as inconvenient, either costly or with the advancement of medical technology, you’re able to detect the child’s sexuality. In some countries, it’s favorable to have a boy instead of a girl. This is true in countries like China where there’s a one-child policy, and India where it’s more expensive to have a girl, and you lose money on dowries, so girls are aborted.

Other children are aborted if there is a disability that is able to be detected before birth. So, should abortion be permissible in those circumstances? Not if you believe Psalm 139:14. Not if you believe that all of God’s works are wonderful, even, or especially, in the case of disability. In John 9, a man is born blind. So, whose fault is this? It’s not his fault. It’s so that God’s glory might be shown through him.

One article on ABC News from a pediatric geneticist at Children’s Hospital in Boston said an estimated 92% of all women who receive a prenatal diagnosis of Downs Syndrome choose to terminate their pregnancies. 92%! God’s works are wonderful. Even, especially, in the case of disability, and even, or especially, in the midst of difficulty. God delights in taking difficult circumstances and turning them into good.

So, it’s at this point some people ask, “What about rape? What about incest? Is abortion justifiable then?” I cannot imagine, again, to presume to know what it would be like to be in that situation. I shudder at the thought of my wife, or any woman, being in that situation. I won’t presume to know the physical or emotional toll that brings, but it comes back to the fundamental question: “Is this child a person in the womb?” If so, then everything changes. Would you murder a child who is out of the womb because they were conceived by rape? Of course you wouldn’t! Then, why would you murder a child in the womb because they were conceived by rape?

Why Should a Child Pay for His Father’s Crime?

Why should a child, Deuteronomy 24:16, pay for his father’s crime? How ought we to treat a child who reminds us of a terrible experience? With love and mercy. You say, “So, what about the emotional toll on the woman?” Think about it. If the rapist is caught, would we allow the woman to murder the rapist in order to have emotional relief for herself? No. Then, why would we allow her to murder her innocent child instead? I’m not saying this is easy at all, but I’m saying this because Scripture is saying this. God delights in taking the worst of circumstances and turning them into good.

It is this picture in Genesis 38. Incest between Judah and Tamar leads to, eventually, the Son of God coming into the world in Matthew 1. This is the message of the gospel: God takes unimaginable evil and turns it into ultimate good. If God took the murder of His Son and turned it into the means of your salvation, we can trust Him to take evil and turn it into good, even when it’s not easy.

Abortion is An Attack on God’s Relationship with the Unborn

Third, concerning God and abortion: abortion is an attack on God’s intimate relationship with the unborn. Everything here is just flowing from Psalm 139 all over Scripture. You think about God’s relationship with the unborn. He fashions them, Job 31:15. He values them, Exodus 21. He knows them, Jeremiah 1. He relates to them, Psalm 22. He calls them, Galatians 1:15. He names them, Isaiah 49. He anoints them, Luke 1:15. Do you see the intimacy here between God and a baby in the womb, how serious this is? This is not social, political, a women’s, or children’s health issue. This is a God issue. Abortion is an affront to God’s character and assault on God’s work and an attack on God’s precious relationship with babies that He creates. So, I hope you’ve seen the severity of abortion.

So, how does God respond to all this? We’ve seen what we do to God in abortion. What does God do? Remember, two things I want to point out based on what we’ve seen in the gospel: God is the judge of sin. He is a righteous judge. God hates the taking of innocent life, and He judges those who take innocent life, including mothers who have aborted babies.

Mothers who have aborted babies stand under the judgment of God. Fathers who have encouraged abortion stand under the judgment of God. Grandparents who have supported abortion stand under the judgment of God. Doctors who have performed abortion stand under the judgment of God. Leaders who have permitted abortion stand under the judgment of God. 

On a side note: the only time medical action like we’re talking about would be justified is in the case where a woman’s pregnancy would kill her, like tubal pregnancies. Obviously, it’s better for one human to live, the mother, than for two humans to die, a mother and her child. So, the intent is not to kill a child but to save a life, and the tragic, unavoidable result is the death of that child.

Aside from that, there is no biblical warrant for pastors to counsel people to have abortions. Pastors and legislators and others who have worked to make abortion possible, whether that is the President of the United States or local Congress-persons, I want to be clear. I’m not presuming to give a political speech here, but to preach the Word and proclaim what God has said, and on a side note, real quickly, look at Romans 13:1-4:

Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.

So, real quickly, let’s see here. The Bible is teaching that the government is given by God for the good of people. The government exists under the authority of God and is instituted, by God, to be “a terror to bad conduct.” So, those who do what is good are approved by the government, and those who do what is bad are opposed by the government. The government does this by making laws and enforcing them.

Which leads to the second thing in your notes there: the government is given by God for the legislation of morality. God gives governments to affirm good and condemn bad. That’s what Romans 13:3 is all about: to ensure justice and to promote good for all people. That’s foundational, but many people have said, “It’s not the job of the government to legislate morality.” That is a sham argument, and we all know it. The state does have the responsibility of legislating morality, saying that stealing is wrong, lying is wrong, murder is wrong, and a host of other things are wrong. Now, when it comes to the issue of abortion, people immediately say, “We shouldn’t take someone’s right to choose away.” However, the government exists to take people’s “right to choose” away. You cannot choose to steal, for if you do there will be consequences.

I met a kind, government official off the interstate not too long ago, and as we conversed there, I did not say, “You cannot take away my right to choose to go that speed. It’s not your place.” I would not say that. That is his place. He takes away that right from me and other drivers on the road. If everybody chose to do whatever they wanted to do, the inevitable result would always be anarchy, where we’re free to do whatever we want.

This is not good! Yet, it is the basis by which many in the church are saying, “Well, maybe I wouldn’t have an abortion, but I don’t think we should take someone else’s right to choose away from them.” We take people’s right to choose evil away from them every day as a society, and that is a good thing. It’s good for all of us. It’s good for us to say, “No one has the ‘right’ to do evil,” and it’s absolute moral silliness and cultural suicide to say that everyone should have the right to do whatever they choose to do.

So, I want to call you, church, out of a muddled, middle road that says, “Well, I don’t think I should impose my morality on someone else.” I want to call you to realize that we impose morality on others every day, and that’s a good thing for all of us. When it comes to evil, it is right for us to oppose it wisely, graciously, firmly, humbly, and boldly.

You say you’re pro-choice? Pro-choice about what? Whether you have Chinese or Mexican food? Where you live? What kind of car you drive? Of course you’re pro-choice about that, but you are not pro-choice about rape. You are not pro-choice about burglary. You’re not pro-choice about kidnapping. So, are you pro-choice about killing children?

Brothers and sisters, moral or political neutrality here is not an option. I’m saying this based totally on the Word of God which leads me to say God is the judge of sin, including Christians who have done nothing about abortion, i.e. me. This is where I’ve been convicted over the last year when I’ve come to this issue, because I’m the chief of sinners here. I have been passive.

There is a battle raging in our culture and in the world, and I’ve sat idly by on this one, and that is not going to be the case anymore. Randy Alcorn put it best when he said, “To endorse or even be neutral about killing innocent children created in God’s image was unthinkable in the Scriptures, was unthinkable to Christians in church history, and should be unthinkable to Christians today.” God is the judge of sin.

Thankfully, that’s not all. He’s also the Savior of sinners! He is the judge. He hates abortion. He is the Savior. He loves sinners. So, let me encourage you, whether you’ve had an abortion, supported abortion, performed abortion, permitted abortion or done nothing about abortion, know this. Feel this: He forgives you entirely. To every woman in this room who has had an abortion, hear this: Christ has paid the price for your abortion. He forgives entirely, and He heals deeply. He restores completely. You do not walk around with a scarlet “A” on your chest. You’re forgiven, and God does not look at you and see the guilt of abortion; He looks at you and sees the righteousness of Jesus Christ. Whether you’ve had one abortion or five abortions; whether you’ve performed hundreds or thousands of abortions, He redeems fully. God turns evil into good.

So, to the Church: we must not only avoid works of darkness, Ephesians 5:11, but we must act against them. So, we need to look around to learn the facts about abortion. If you’ve sat idly by, let this be a wake-up call. Learn the facts about abortion. See the pictures of abortion.

You say, “Well, I don’t want to see that.” Just as many people did not need to hide from images of concentration camps in Nazi Germany because it was too painful to watch, they needed to see it, didn’t they? We need to see it. We don’t need to hide from this. Learn, see, and listen to the victims of abortion. One estimate is that 95% of the people in the church who have lost a child to abortion have never really come to terms with it, and oftentimes never share it with anybody else. So, listen.

Step forward to share your burdens from the past with brothers and sisters if you have had an abortion or been involved in abortion in the past. Share your struggles of the present with your brothers and sisters. If you’re struggling with the potential of abortion at any point, go to brothers or sisters who will walk you through the Word.

Pray for Abortion

Then, to all of us: speak up before God in prayer. This is an intense battle in our culture and across the world, and it requires prayer and fasting, and speak up before the government. I’m not saying I know what this looks like in each one of your lives or the different cultures that are represented around the world, but where there are democratic privileges of free speech and representation and demonstration, press for legal protection for the unborn. Also, reach out through giving to pro-life causes and ministries, serving unwed under-age mothers, volunteering in pregnancy centers, supporting abortion alternatives, or adopting unwanted children.

Here’s the deal: I’ll tell you one final story. A little girl was born into a country where girls are not popular, and her mom decided not to have an abortion. She had the baby girl and put her in a brown paper bag and placed her on a doorstep and walked away the day after she had been born. By God’s grace, a few weeks from now, I’ll go and have the privilege of picking her up and becoming her dad. I praise God that she was not aborted when so many around her are. I pray that God will give us grace, compassionate courage, and broken-hearted boldness to speak to this issue as the Word clearly speaks to this issue. The gospel and abortion.

Polygamy Is an Example of How Sin Distorts Marriage and Sex

All right. The gospel and polygamy. Some might wonder why this is even worth mentioning because it doesn’t seem like it’s that big of a deal in this culture, but this is an issue that is huge in cultures around the world. 

Okay, just to make sure we’re on the same place and plane here: polygamy is having more than one wife at a time. It’s all over Scripture, particularly, the Old Testament. There are over thirty different references to polygamy. Four chapters into the Bible, we’ve got Lamech, who takes two wives. You have Abraham and Esau; you have poor Jacob who gets married, he thinks to Rachel, then he wakes up in the morning, rolls over and sees Leah. That would be odd! So, Laban had deceived him. Jacob worked out a deal to take Rachel, too, in exchange for another seven years of service. You’ve got polygamy in the Bible, even among the Patriarchs.

So, does the Bible and God endorse polygamy? Well, let’s think about polygamy and God from the very beginning. Just as we’ve seen, there is an unequivocally, clear, divine pattern for marriage: one man and one woman. One husband and one wife. This is the picture in Genesis 2, Proverbs 5, and 1 Corinthians 7. In addition to that divine pattern, you never see polygamy, not one time, praised as a good thing in the Bible. In fact, you see the opposite. The divine prohibition of polygamy. Most clearly in Leviticus 18:18, “You shall not take a woman as a rival wife to her sister, uncovering her nakedness while her sister is still alive.”

There’s a lot of discussion about Leviticus 18, because Leviticus 18 before and around this, talks about incest. Some people have discarded this as not really talking about polygamy, but the same word that is used as a “rival wife” here in verse 18 is brought in in 1 Samuel 1:2 to talk about Hannah’s rival wife, Peninnah. She was not a biological sister, but a sister in the sense that they were both Israelites; she was a second wife.

Then, you get to Deuteronomy 17:17 where God strictly warned the future king or kings of Israel not to acquire many wives for themselves. So, you have these biblical prohibitions of polygamy. Why? Well, just like we were talking about a second ago, it all starts in the heart. Polygamy breeds idolatry. Solomon takes the cake with 700 wives and 300 concubines. Many of whom were taken from other nations for political purposes, but he went directly against Deuteronomy 17:17, and indeed, his heart turned away from the Lord in idolatry. Polygamy brings disharmony. Some of the major disharmony we see in Scripture, particularly among the Patriarchs, deals with a husband and his wives.

So, we see a divine pattern for marriage in Scripture, a divine prohibition of polygamy, and then we see the divine provision for polygamists. So, much like divorce, for example. Was divorce part of God’s original design? No, it was the result of sin; the result of the fallen world. Consequently, God made provision for how to address divorce. In the same way, polygamy is the result of sin. Consequently, God made provision for how polygamists should act.

Now, Deuteronomy 21 helps protect against favoritism among wives. Some have taken that passage and said, “Well, there it is. God endorses polygamy.” However, this is not an endorsement for polygamy any more than regulations about divorce are an endorsement of divorce. When this passage starts by saying, “If a man has two wives…” that’s just giving guidance, such as case law, for certain circumstances. Just like when you see in Exodus 22, “If a man steals an ox or sheep…” that doesn’t mean God is advocating theft.

No, He’s addressing what needs to be done when this sin happens. So, this is not an endorsement of polygamy, this is simply compassion for people who find themselves in sinful, polygamist situations. God is doing what He does throughout Scripture, using sinful people in sinful situations to show His grace and His mercy and providing for them. So, He provides. He wants to make sure there is not favoritism, that they are provided for in the case where this has happened. Not because He is endorsing it, but because He loves His people.

So, polygamy and the church. You go to the New Testament, and the stance is pretty clear: a polygamist cannot be a church leader. This is evident all over the New Testament. An overseer/elder must be a husband of one wife. Deacons each must be the husband of one wife. So, that’s clear, but can a polygamist be a church member? There’s nothing in the New Testament that seems to warn against that, so yes, based on Scripture, a polygamist can be a church member. Polygamy doesn’t disqualify somebody from the kingdom of grace, which leads to polygamy and the gospel.

On the one hand, the gospel compels us to avoid polygamy, to follow the divine pattern. Polygamy defies that pattern and distorts the picture of the gospel. So, in Christ, we’re compelled to avoid polygamy to honor Christ, but what about the person who is already a polygamist, like we were talking about? The Bible encourages us to encourage polygamists, first and foremost, to be saved by Christ. We’re to share the gospel with polygamists. We are to tell them to be saved by Christ, but what happens when they do? How do you encourage them concerning their wives?

Based upon Scripture, it seems that our encouragement would be for them to be faithful to all of their wives. Nowhere does Scripture call a husband to cast off his wife. Scripture calls us to love and care for wives, so even though it’s not God’s design, there is provision out of God’s compassion for His people, just like we saw in the Old Testament, for needs to be met of all wives in a way that shows them love and honor for the Lord who created marriage. At the same time, we are to encourage polygamists to be opposed to any and all future polygamy. Be faithful to your wives until the next generation, or until death do you part, but never do this again, and preach “one wife” to everybody you know, so that God may be glorified in monogamous marriage. The gospel and polygamy.

Pornography Is an Example of How Sin Distorts Marriage and Sex

All right. When it comes to the gospel and pornography, I’ve struggled with how to address this because, brothers and sisters, we know it’s not like there needs to be a case built that this is sinful. Yet, statistics estimate half of men in the church keep running back to it and are addicted to it in some way. So, I don’t presume that anything I say of my own words is going to change that in your life, but I have prayed that, for this next couple of moments that God might deliver people from this and cause people to flee.

So, what I’ve done is I’ve taken the five elements of the gospel that we started with at the beginning of our study, and for each one of those five, I have just put in ten gospel exhortations based on that element of the gospel that, if pornography is something that you are involved in, engrossed in, or pulled toward, you would mediate on these things in the days to come, and you would just receive them. I’ll just read some Scripture; I’m going to make very little commentary in between here. 1 Peter 2:11: “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” 2 Corinthians 10:5: “…take every thought captive to obey Christ…”

Ten Gospel Exhortations

The character of God. Brothers and sisters, cultivate unshakable zeal for the glory of God. So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Desire His glory more than you desire pictures and images. Acknowledge that your sexual drive is a good gift from a gracious God. It is good to have desires. God made you that way, so enjoy them in the context of a wife, Proverbs 5. Guard married brothers, 1 Corinthians 7. So, some single men think, “Well, when I get married this won’t be a problem.” Married men struggle with this all over the place. Married brothers, guard against sexual sin with good sex. Enjoy your wife and sex. 1 Corinthians 7:3, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.” One of the best ways to fight pornography on the internet is through sex with your spouse in the bedroom. Acknowledge your sexual drive as a good gift from a gracious God. We’re sexual beings, and this is good.

The sinfulness of man. Exhortation number three: run. Run from every temptation, knowing that one sin is enough to warrant infinite damnation. It was one sin in Genesis 3. They ate a piece of fruit and, from that one sin, came condemnation for all men. All world wars, holocausts, murder, violence, rape, natural disasters, tsunamis, earthquakes, and tornados all came from one sin. So, don’t minimize the effects of one sin. Run from it.

Guard yourself with godly friendships and gospel accountability. We are sinful, and we need each other. “Exhort one another every day…that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12-13) “Let us consider how to stir one another up to love and good works.” (Hebrews 10:24-25) Surround yourself with brothers and sisters who will spur you on toward Christ, and by the grace of God and the Word of God, help guard you from yourself. You and I need to be guarded from ourselves.

The character of Christ, which is where we need to push one another to. Five, contemplate the price Christ paid for your purity. See Him writhing on a cross in agony. Fight tempting images with that image. See Him, not them. 1 Peter 1:13-19, “…preparing your minds for action… set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ… knowing that you were ransomed… not with perishable things such as silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.” Contemplate the price Christ paid for your purity and fix your eyes on Him, not them.

Then, consider the compassion that Christ has for the souls of men and women. Love and pray for them; don’t exploit and abuse them. Women (or men) in pictures are people. They are not objects. They are souls. Love and pray for them. Do not exploit and abuse them. They need you to point them to Christ, not fuel their exploitation. Their eternity is at stake. Consider the price Christ paid for your purity; consider the compassion Christ has for their souls.

The fourth component of the gospel: the necessity of faith. Believe God is for you. He’s for you, and He knows what is best for you. In calling you away from pornography, He is calling you away for your good. He knows what is best for you. Believe that! He is good, and He will give us everything we need; everything our souls truly desire. Believe that God is for you.

So, how do you grow in your trust for Him? Memorize and meditate on Scripture. “How can a young man keep his way pure? By guarding it according to your word… I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Psalm 119:9-11) Fight the fight of faith with the weapon of the Word. Memorize these Scriptures or others like them. Lodge them deep within your heart. Take up the shield of faith and the sword of the Spirit and fight the flaming arrows of the evil one. Don’t give up. Persevere.

Press on in light of the urgency of eternity. The stakes in this battle are high, brothers and sisters. Ponder the eternal danger and destruction associated with sexual sin. All of us should just read through those. Don’t be counted among the dogs in hell. This is not a game. Ponder the eternal danger and destruction associated with sexual sin; it damns! Run from it. The last exhortation, and best exhortation, in light of the urgency of eternity, is to ponder the eternal delight and joy associated with future salvation. You have been saved to delight in God, and one day, that delight will be full. So, look forward to that day and long for that day, knowing that, in His presence, there will be fullness of joy. The gospel and pornography.

Sexual Distinction in the Church

Let’s take a look at sexual distinction in the church. What I mean by that is how the roles and responsibilities of men and women, that we have already seen, play out in the church. What I mainly want to do is consider one passage of Scripture in the New Testament that often brings up a lot of questions about this issue, but also sheds a lot of light on this issue.

In 1 Timothy 2:11-15, Paul says, “Let a woman learn quietly with all submissiveness. I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet. For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor. Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.”

Now, as soon as we read this text, we need to remember that it does not stand alone. It is tied to what comes before it in 1 Timothy and what comes after it. We don’t have time to do an exhaustive study of the context surrounding this passage, but suffice to say that, before this, in the first part of 1 Timothy 2, Paul is calling Timothy and the church at Ephesus to pray and to worship in light of God’s desire for the salvation of all peoples.

So, in the first part of this chapter, we see who to pray for and what to pray for, and now, Paul is telling us who we need to be as we pray; we need to be men and women who bring glory to God in the church. So, that’s what’s before. Then, after this, in 1 Timothy 3, Paul talks about leadership in the church, specifically, elders who lead in the church. We’re going to see in a minute why that’s so important.

So, this text does not stand alone in this letter, and it also doesn’t stand alone in history. For example, Paul is addressing some specific things that were going on in the church at Ephesus. We know from 1 Timothy 4 that there were teachers at Ephesus who were encouraging women and men not to marry. They were undercutting the beauty of marriage. In 1 Timothy 5, which we’ve looked at when we talked about widows, there was a group of younger, unmarried women who were not getting married, instead were spending all their time gossiping in the church.

Then, you look over in 2 Timothy 3, we find out that there was a group of women who were giving into false teaching and living according to worldly passions. So, what you’ve got at Ephesus is some problem, likely a significant problem, with women who were undercutting godly doctrine, godly behavior, and godly leadership in the church.

Now, keep in mind that Paul’s not just picking on women here. He spent all of 1 Timothy 1 railing against men in the church who were teaching false doctrine. So, Paul is addressing a variety of things when we come to this seemingly difficult passage in 1 Timothy 2:11-15. There are two principles to keep in mind that help us when we interpret any passage of Scripture, and they will help us as we understand this passage of Scripture.

The Principle of Harmony

The first principle is the principle of harmony: we interpret each Scripture in light of all Scripture. What I mean by that is what Paul says later in 2 Timothy, “All Scripture is God-breathed.” In other words, all Scripture has one ultimate author: God, and God does not contradict Himself. So, wherever we see one passage here and another passage somewhere else that seem to contradict, we look into the context of both of those passages under the conviction that ultimately, they are unified.

Let’s think about the Trinity. My 5-year-old has been asking about the Trinity, so we’ll use that as an example. Deuteronomy 6 says there is one God, our Father. John 10 says that Jesus is God. Acts 5 says the Holy Spirit is God. How can one God be our Father and Jesus and the Holy Spirit? This is where we understand each of these truths/texts in light of the other. Yes, there is one God, and He is revealed in three persons…the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. So, we put all Scripture together to understand each Scripture. So, that’s the first principle: the principle of harmony.

The Principle of History

Then, the second principle I want us to think about is the principle of history: God has revealed Scriptural truth in the context of specific historical and cultural settings. This is what we’ve already talked about some. 1 Timothy didn’t just appear in the Bible out of nowhere. This was a letter written from Paul to Timothy for the church at Ephesus in the first century.

So, there is a specific historical and cultural context here. Which means we have to ask the question, “What part of the text is cultural expression (which changes)?” Right before this passage, Paul says, “Women should not wear braided hair and gold or pearls.” Does that mean we need to start looking around for any women with braids in their hair at church? Post people at the door, saying, “Sorry, your hairdo is out of line. Go back home and fix it differently.” “You, wearing pearls, gold earrings, necklaces? Drop them at the door. It will help our missions offering. We’re getting radical.” No, probably not.

Or, not even just our context. Imagine, an African context where Christian women have preserved traditional hairstyles with intricate designs. They are traditional hairstyles. They are not expensive. They’re not ostentatious. They have no sexual overtones. So, would it be wrong for them to wear braids in their hair according to their traditions, then? No.

In Ephesus, these things were used to draw attention to themselves and to their wealth in unhealthy ways. That may not be the case among the Dinka of central Africa, so that changes. However, we’ve also got to ask the question, “What part of the text is central revelation (which never changes)?” In that example, clearly, central revelation…what God has said to all people of all times in all cultures…is, “Don’t adorn yourself with stuff that draws attention to yourself and your wealth in unhealthy ways. Dress and live in a way that draws attention to God.” That principle never changes.

Now, we have to be really careful with this principle, because this is where people start irresponsibly throwing all kinds of things out of the Bible. We saw, people say, “Homosexuality is okay in the Bible. That was a problem then because they didn’t know about science now, and how these desires are natural, and they can’t be changed, but we know that now.” Be very, very careful when the Bible addresses something clearly and repeatedly not to discard that truth in order to accommodate your culture. All this to say, when we come to Scripture, we think through principles like these, both of which help us when it comes to 1 Timothy 2:11-15.

So, two principles; also two reminders that we saw earlier tonight. Number one: God created men and women with equal dignity. Second: God created men and women with complementary roles. When the Bible talks about different roles for men and women, it is not an issue of superiority or inferiority; not a different in value or dignity, but a difference in role. We’ve seen how this applies in the home in passages like Ephesians 5. Now, in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, we’re seeing how this applies in the church. This passage is about equal dignity and complementary roles in the church.

Two Prohbitions

So, those are two principles and two reminders that now lead us into two prohibitions. Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:12, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man.” Okay, there’s so much here. We know about how Paul actually encourages women to teach in some settings; we’re going to talk about that more in a minute. Just two books later in your Bible, Titus 2:3, makes that clear. So, we know this is not a blanket statement, “Women should never teach. Beth Moore, you are in sin.” That’s not what the Bible is saying. Beth is a friend and good Bible teacher.

So, if Paul is not saying, “Women should never teach,” what is he saying? This is where I think it’s helpful, to understand the two distinct prohibitions, “do not lead” and “do not exercise authority over a man,” together. I think it’s warranted by the context of 1 Timothy.

Right after this chapter, in 1 Timothy 3, Paul talks about elders/pastors with authority in the church. They express their authority by doing what? Teaching. 1 Timothy 3:2 is a qualification for elder. You must be able to teach:

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil. (1 Timothy 3:1-7)

The same thing is in Titus 1:5-9.

This is why I left you in Crete, so that you might put what remained into order, and appoint elders in every town as I directed you—if anyone is above reproach, the husband of one wife, and his children are believers and not open to the charge of debauchery or insubordination. For an overseer, as God’s steward, must be above reproach. He must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or a drunkard or violent or greedy for gain, but hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined. He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.

That’s how elders and pastors lead the church: through the teaching of God’s Word. That’s the only authority one has to lead in the church; a pastor’s authority is tied to the teaching of the Word. You see the same exact thing in 1 Timothy 5:17 where Paul says, “Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching.”

So, the picture here in the New Testament is clear: elders do what? Two primary things: they lead and they teach. They teach with the authority to lead. So, when Paul says, “I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man,” he is pointing specifically to the two primary responsibilities of elders.

So, at the very least, Paul is prohibiting two things. Number one: women should not teach as elders, pastors or overseers in the church. That is clear. Now, it’s important to realize, just as a side note, that men who don’t have a gift of teaching, and men who don’t have the qualifications of 1 Timothy 3:1-7, should also not be elders in the church. That’s not what Paul is addressing in 1 Timothy 2, but he’s making clear here that even a woman who has a gift of teaching is not intended by God to teach as an elder, pastor or overseer in the church.

Instead, Paul says that women listen willingly to the biblical instruction of elders. When it says, “they should listen quietly,” or “remain quiet,” this is not saying that once a woman steps into the gathering of the church, she should go mute. We know that, because at other points in the New Testament, we see women praying or prophesying at some points when Christians are together. So, this text is simply saying that a woman should listen attentively, with a teachable spirit to elders, God-ordained leaders in the church, when they are teaching the Word. In the spirit of Hebrews 13:7, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

At the same time, don’t forget that women should teach in various settings of the church in accord with elder instruction. We see this in other parts of the New Testament as well, even in Paul’s writings. Meaning, that outside of elder leadership, there are all sorts of teaching possibilities for women. In Titus 2:3-5, Paul commanded the older women to teach the younger women. “Older women likewise are to be reverent in behavior, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled, pure, working at home, kind, and submissive to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be reviled.”

On a personal level, Paul told Timothy in 2 Timothy 3:14-15, “Remember who taught you the Word,” and the answer was: his mother and his grandmother. “But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” “I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you as well,” 2 Timothy 1:5.

Another example might be Priscilla and Aquila in Acts 18:24-28. She and her husband both taught Apollos the Word of God.

Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately. And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.

Then, you’ve got an informal picture of teaching all over the Scriptures, applying to both men and women. Men and women both make disciples, which involves going, baptizing, and teaching people to obey everything Christ has commanded us. Paul said to the whole church in Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.” That wasn’t just to men; that was to men and women together. As I mentioned, you’ve got women praying and prophesying in the New Testament as well. In Acts 2, you see sons and daughters prophesying, and then in 1 Corinthians 11, you see this as well. So, there is a sense in which, when it comes to disciple-making, all sisters, along with all brothers, in Christ are supposed to be teachers of the Word.

Then, you have some women, like some men, who have gifts in teaching, and those gifts should be used for the building up of the church.

Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head, but every wife who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head, since it is the same as if her head were shaven,” 1 Corinthians 11:4-5. “On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied,” Acts 21:8-9.

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God,” Colossians 3:16. “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,” Matthew 28:19-20.

However, not for women as an elder in the church. I put in your notes, “in accord with elder instruction,” simply to remind us that a woman who is teaching in the church should not be teaching that which is contrary to what the elders of the church teach, but that applies to any men, or any women, who are teaching in the church.

So, the first prohibition is that women should not teach as elders, pastors or overseers in the church. Then, the second prohibition: women should not lead as elders, pastors or overseers in the church. “She is not to exercise authority, but she is to learn quietly with all submissiveness.” Meaning, that women submit gladly to the servant leadership of elders. Now, I emphasize “servant leadership” because elders and pastors lead by serving the body of Christ. As this happens, Paul says, that women, as well as other men who are not elders, for that matter, should gladly submit to such servant leadership, in the spirit of Hebrews 13:17, “Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.”

They don’t rebel against the leadership of qualified, Christ-like men in the church. Does that mean, then, that a woman can never be in any type of leadership position in the church? I don’t think that’s what Paul is saying at all. Much like the situation with teaching, based on the rest of the New Testament, and again what Paul says in other places in the New Testament, women should lead in various positions of the church under authority of elder leadership. In other words, with submission to elders, women are free to lead in a variety of different positions.

Women are intended by God to thrive in ministry across the church. I have examples listed in your notes of times throughout the New Testament where you see women prophesying, helping, serving, equipping, teaching, and spreading the gospel. As one person said, “the fields of opportunity are endless” for “the entire church to be mobilized in ministry, male and female.

Nobody is to be at home watching soaps and reruns while the world burns. God intends to equip and mobilize [all] the saints [under the leadership of] a company of [qualified] men who take primary responsibility for leadership and teaching in the church.” Yes! Don’t tell Lottie Moon or Amy Carmichael or Elisabeth Elliot or Kay Arthur that women are sidelined in the church. All of these are women who have embraced exactly what Scripture has just outlined and have thrived for the glory of God through ministry in the church.

I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchreae, that you may welcome her in the Lord in a way worthy of the saints, and help her in whatever she may need from you, for she has been a patron of many and of myself as well. Greet Prisca and Aquila, my fellow workers in Christ Jesus, who risked their necks for my life, to whom not only I give thanks but all the churches of the Gentiles give thanks as well. Greet also the church in their house. Greet my beloved Epaenetus, who was the first convert to Christ in Asia. Greet Mary, who has worked hard for you.” (Romans 16:1-6)

“Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. Their wives likewise must be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things.” (1 Timothy 3:8-11)

Now there was in Joppa a disciple named Tabitha, which, translated, means Dorcas. She was full of good works and acts of charity. In those days she became ill and died, and when they had washed her, they laid her in an upper room. Since Lydda was near Joppa, the disciples, hearing that Peter was there, sent two men to him, urging him, “Please come to us without delay.” So Peter rose and went with them. And when he arrived, they took him to the upper room. All the widows stood beside him weeping and showing tunics and other garments that Dorcas made while she was with them. But Peter put them all outside, and knelt down and prayed; and turning to the body he said, “Tabitha, arise.” And she opened her eyes, and when she saw Peter she sat up. And he gave her his hand and raised her up. Then calling the saints and widows, he presented her alive. (Acts 9:36-41)

“I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion, help these women, who have labored side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.” (Philippians 4:2-3)

“Let a widow be enrolled if she is not less than sixty years of age, having been the wife of one husband, and having a reputation for good works: if she has brought up children, has shown hospitality, has washed the feet of the saints, has cared for the afflicted, and has devoted herself to every good work.” (1 Timothy 5:9-10)

“If any believing woman has relatives who are widows, let her care for them. Let the church not be burdened, so that it may care for those who are truly widows.” (1 Timothy 5:16)

Some might ask, “Well, apart from an elder, then, are there any other positions that a woman should not lead in?” “What about a small group?” “What about teaching theology in a class or at a seminary?” “What about doing this or that?” There are so many different scenarios and possibilities, each of which, I believe, need to be approached by leaders and elders of a church with care and consideration, but I think there are two questions that should guide a church, and elders, when it comes to those possibilities.

The first question: as a woman teaches or leads, is she reflecting God’s pattern in Scripture? Meaning, we see women doing many different things in the New Testament, and where we see that happening in healthy ways in the New Testament church, we can be encouraged to see the same thing happen in the contemporary church. For example, you see older women commanded to teach younger women in the New Testament church, so that needs to happen in our church. You also see women teaching children, and so it is good for us to foster teaching and leadership roles for women among children. Though, I will say that our children also need to see prominent men leading them in the church, as well.

That’s certainly the picture God has designed for the home, which leads to the second question I would ask: as a woman teaches or leads, is she reinforcing God’s priorities in the home? Meaning, God has set up similar roles of leadership and submission in the home, which we have talked about; wives submit to husbands; husbands, lead your wives by loving them and serving them.

This is God’s design in the home, and we want to be careful not to undercut God’s priorities in the home with the way we lead in the church. We want to display, at every opportunity, especially in our day, we want to display Godly, humble, loving, sacrificial leadership of men in the church in a way that models that kind of leadership for men in their homes. We want to display at every opportunity, glad, willing, godly submission of women in the church that models that kind of leadership for women in their homes.

Now, I’m not saying that both of these questions just make everything easy and cut and dry, but I do believe they are helpful in considering what teaching or leadership roles a woman might have, apart from an elder. Scripture is clear on the prohibitions against teaching and leading as an elder; beyond this, it’s not quite as clear. So, we want to be clear where Scripture is clear, and we want to be wise where Scripture is not as clear.

Two reasons for all of this. Paul says, “For Adam was formed first, then Eve; and Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor,” 1 Timothy 2:13-14. Reason number one: God’s design in creation is that God gives authority to man. “Adam was formed first, then Eve.” This is how we know that what Paul is saying here is not just cultural expression; this is central revelation. Paul’s basis in 1 Timothy 2 goes all the way back to Genesis 1-2 when God created man before woman. Paul’s not just basing this setup on human opinion (which changes), but on divine revelation (which never changes).

Paul points to God’s design in creation, and then he points to Satan’s distortion of creation: man abdicates authority to woman. When Paul says in verse 14 that Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived, he’s not saying, “Women shouldn’t lead because they’re more easily duped.” No, he’s pointing back, again, to what we saw earlier, that the whole picture of sin entering the world in Genesis 3 started when Satan subverted God’s design, when he approached Eve instead of Adam, and undercut Adam’s responsibility as the leader of his home. In turn, Adam sat back and did nothing. God’s design was distorted, and sin entered the world when man abdicated his God-given responsibility to lead. He didn’t step up with godly, gracious leadership.

“And to Adam He said, “Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, ‘You shall not eat of it,’ cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life…” Genesis 3:17.

So, Paul points back to this and says to the church, “God’s design is good.” Good in the home and also in the church. God’s design for qualified men to lead as elders is good, just as God’s design for godly men to lead as husbands is good.

All of that then leads us to the zinger: 1 Timothy 2:15, “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control.” What does that mean? Only God knows. That’s my answer. Here’s the deal: there are two things we don’t know for sure. “Yet she will be saved through childbearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control,” 1 Timothy 2:15. Out of all the plausible interpretations of this verse, two really stand out as closest possibilities.

Number one…people wonder, “Is 1 Timothy 2:15 talking about salvation through the offspring of Eve?” Basically, there’s the idea that this is a deliberate reference here to how, even though the woman ate the fruit first, and sin entered the world through her, the promise was the Savior would enter the world through her. Through her line a child would be born, Genesis 3:15 says, that would trample the serpent one day. John Stott espouses this view, and he writes:

Earlier in this chapter, the one mediator between God and men has been identified as the man Christ Jesus, who of course became a human being by being born of a woman. Further, in the context of Paul’s references to the creation and fall, recalling Genesis 2 and 3, a further reference to the coming redemption through the woman’s seed, recalling Genesis 3:15, would be most apt. The serpent had deceived her; her posterity would defeat him. So then, even if certain roles are not open to women, and even if they are tempted to resent their position, they and we must never forget what we [all] owe to a woman. If Mary had not given birth to the Christ child, there would have been no salvation for anybody. No greater honor has ever been given to woman than in the calling of Mary to be the mother of the Savior of the world.

So, that’s one possibility.

Another possibility: is 1 Timothy 2:15 talking about the significance of women nurturing children? In light of the ways that women’s roles in the home, in marriage and in bearing children were being undercut by false teachers, could it be that Paul is simply taking the one facet that without question, no one can deny, only women can do, which is bear children? A culture, even our own, can do everything possible to minimize the differences between males and females, but one distinction will still remain: no guys are giving birth. So, Paul is saying, “God has created women uniquely, and their responsibilities are uniquely good…in the church, in marriage, and in bearing children, all of which should be embraced in faith and love and holiness.”

Those are the two most plausible interpretations. Clearly, this passage is not saying that a woman must bear a child in order to be saved. If Paul believed that, he would not, over in 1 Corinthians 7, encourage some women to stay single. He’d say, “Get married and have a kid fast. Your eternity depends on it.”

Women Are Sanctified through Glorifying God

So, there are a lot of things we know he’s not saying, and some questions about what he is saying. There are some things we don’t know for sure, but here are two things we do know for sure. Number one: women are sanctified as they glorify God in the distinct roles and responsibilities He has entrusted to them in the home and in the church. God has created you as a woman (or as a man), and there is meaning and significance behind that. Distinct meaning and distinct significance in who God has made you to be. And sisters in Christ, you are working out your salvation not just as a generic person, but as a woman of God. With inherent beauty and value, with distinct giftings and opportunities…so thrive in them. As a wife, as a mom, as a woman…thrive, and know that women are saved, not through the birth of a child, but through the death of Christ.

But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by His blood, much more shall we be saved by Him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by His life. More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:8-11)

For that matter, women and men are saved through the death of Christ. Sin has disordered this world that we live in, and Satan has distorted God’s design for our manhood, our womanhood, our marriages, our families, the church, and the culture, but Christ has come, and He has conquered sin, and He has trampled the devil, and in Him, we can all thrive as the men and the women God has created us to be in our lives, in our families, and in the church for our good and for God’s glory. That’s sexual distinction in the church.

Sexual Sin in the Church

Now, let’s talk about sexual sin in the church. In light of the eye-opening statistics we saw earlier of pastors and church leaders who are involved in pornography, who have been involved in affairs, I know that there are men and women and churches represented all over the place, tonight, that have experienced the pain of seeing a pastor or church leader fall into sexual sin. The church I pastor has walked through this in our history, and God has been so gracious to this church in the middle of all of it. Even if you haven’t walked through something like that personally in your church, the possibility, and I hate to even say that, but you probably will.

Erroll Hulse sums it up:

It is a morbid and depressing fact that when it comes to adultery, there are too many casualties among pastors. Ministers are just as vulnerable as others. No area, no country, no denomination is immune. The damage done in each case is irreparable: the breakdown, as far as ministry is concerned, final. This is a distasteful subject, but we cannot shirk it. The matter demands faithful treatment. Let him who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

So, I want to treat this issue with fear and trembling. I am not resigned to say, “Well, it’s going to happen in more pastors,” but with an urgent, solemn longing that it stops happening, and doesn’t happen in pastors and church leaders listening all across locations tonight, including myself.

For those who have walked through times like this in the church, there is a lot of hurt and pain and disillusionment that can creep in. So, what I want to do is simply give you ten words of encouragement for those of you who have been hurt or disillusioned by sexual sin among leaders in the church. These are ten words of encouragement. All of these spring, mainly, from 1 Corinthians that I gave our church when we walked through a similar road with a pastor who had served here.

First, find your comfort in prayer. Look at 1 Corinthians 1:1-9, and just get a glimpse of who God is.

Paul, called by the will of God to be an apostle of Christ Jesus, and our brother Sosthenes. To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge—even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you—so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.

God is holy. From the start in verse 2, Paul says the church is sanctified and called to be holy. A reference to Leviticus 11:44-45: “For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy. You shall not defile yourselves with any swarming thing that crawls on the ground. For I am the Lord who brought you up out of the land of Egypt to be your God. You shall therefore be holy, for I am holy.”

Then, in 1 Corinthians 1:8, Paul prays that they will be made blameless by this holy God. The God we pray to is holy; that’s the only way His church can be made holy. This means that God has absolutely no sin in Himself. He is whole. His integrity is unquestioned. He is without fault.

Now, this is important because, in light of the scores of stories of sexual sin among leaders in the church, there are many people who look at all the hypocrisy, and the inconsistency, and the worldliness, and partiality, and greed, and insensitivity of these leaders, and they sit back and stamp a big question mark over the reality of the whole Christian faith. They begin to question, “Is anything real? Or is everything just a fake?” Many of you are angry at what seems to be rampant hypocrisy, and it’s driving you away from God. What I want to do is to remind you, tonight, that God is holy, and as such, He hates hypocrisy ten thousand times more than you do. If you don’t believe me, look at Malachi 2:1-9 and see the rebuke of hypocritical priests in the Old Testament. It is stronger than any language I could use.

And now, O priests, this command is for you. If you will not listen, if you will not take it to heart to give honor to my name, says the Lord of hosts, then I will send the curse upon you and I will curse your blessings. Indeed, I have already cursed them, because you do not lay it to heart. Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung on your faces, the dung of your offerings, and you shall be taken away with it. So shall you know that I have sent this command to you, that my covenant with Levi may stand, says the Lord of hosts. My covenant with him was one of life and peace, and I gave them to him. It was a covenant of fear, and he feared me. He stood in awe of my name. True instruction was in his mouth, and no wrong was found on his lips. He walked with me in peace and uprightness, and he turned many from iniquity. For the lips of a priest should guard knowledge, and people should seek instruction from his mouth, for he is the messenger of the Lord of hosts. But you have turned aside from the way. You have caused many to stumble by your instruction. You have corrupted the covenant of Levi, says the Lord of hosts, and so I make you despised and abased before all the people, inasmuch as you do not keep my ways but show partiality in your instruction.

God is holy, and He hates hypocrisy.

God is holy, and God is present. Three times in the first five verses of 1 Corinthians, Paul mentions that the church is “in Christ,” and then in verse 8, he says, “He will keep you strong to the end.” He is with you; You are in Him; He will keep you. It is in times of struggle in the church that God’s presence is most felt. Look at Matthew 18:19-20, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”

“Where two or three are gathered…” In the middle of church conflict, Jesus reminds His church that He is right there with them. When struggling with sexual sin among leaders in the church, you don’t walk through these emotions and thoughts alone. His presence is very real, and God is faithful.

1 Corinthians 1:9 says, “God is faithful.” He is faithful. Ladies and gentlemen, people and pastors, even those whom we respect most, will let us down, but God will never let you down. Now, this is especially important in situations like we’re talking about. Many of you, in your faith, were greatly influenced by a certain leader. Maybe he led you to Christ, he baptized you, he challenged you, and when you think of some of the spiritual markers in your life, that leader was a part of those times. A leader like that, oftentimes, has huge influence in wonderful ways on the church.

So, some people start thinking, “Well, if he committed this sexual sin, what does that mean for all of those moments and experiences in my life and ministry?” What it means is that every bit of trust that you have put in God as a result of that leader is still good, because God is still faithful, and this faithful God has been working in your church. This faithful God has been working in your life, and this faithful God will continue to work in your life and in this church because His faithfulness will never end. You have no need to doubt or ask, “Is my salvation real?” Or, “Is my baptism real?” Or, “Is His Word real?” Or, “Is this ministry real?” Because God is behind your salvation, God is behind your baptism, God is behind His Word, and God is the reason for any good in any leader’s ministry. He is faithful.

“Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations…” Deuteronomy 7:9. “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful,” Hebrews 10:23. So, find your comfort in prayer before the holy, present, faithful God.

Find Direction in The Word

Secondly, find your direction in the Word. When you look at 1 Corinthians 2, you see Paul’s explanation of his preaching. He says, ”…and my speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might not rest in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5) Paul reminds us that our faith, especially in times of struggle, cannot rest on man’s opinion, but on God’s power; the power that is in His Word.

So, I want to remind you of the importance of God’s Word when it comes to situations like this. God guards us by His Word. We’ve got to be careful because it is in times of suffering and trial and confusion that we can easily slip into bad theology and make some of the most unbiblical statements in our counsel to each other. We are prone to follow our private religious hunches and opinions rather than letting situations like this drive us to God’s Word. I want to remind you, we don’t base our convictions on what we feel or think but on what God says.

God guards us by His Word, and God guides us by His Word. God does not leave us in the dark. He leads us through difficult times according to His Word, to show His power. So, find your direction in the Word.

Find your comfort in prayer, your direction in the Word, and find your wisdom in the cross. Some say 1 Corinthians 1:17-18 is the theme of the entire book of 1 Corinthians. “For Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power. For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

The cross is central for everything in 1 Corinthians. I want you to think about the implications of the cross for dealing with sexual sin in the church. First, the cross displays the severity of sin. There is no greater picture of the payment of sin than the cross. Sin is ugly, sin is brutal, sin is hurtful, sin is painful, sin leads to death. As Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” we see that sin is not just making a mistake. Sin is an offense to God of ultimate, infinite proportions.

Recognize the Severity of Sin

As a result, any time we deal with sexual sin in the church, we must recognize the severity of sin. Do not try to lighten it, to make it seem like sexual sin among leaders or anyone, for that matter. Do not treat the situation like it is not a big deal; it is a huge deal. If we respond to sexual in the church without contemplating the severity of sin, then we are fools. However, at the same time, the cross displays the wonder of grace. In the middle of the darkness of sin, we see the grace of Christ at the cross. So, we must remember in any response to sexual sin in the church, that if we respond without grace in our minds and our hearts and our words, we are also fools.

Now, we must have both of these. The severity of sin and the wonder of grace are to be kept in balance An example would be David in the Old Testament. He was described as a man after God’s heart. What a gracious description of David, and I’ve heard this description used to gloss over sexual sin before. Does that mean that his sin was not severe? Absolutely not. Yes, he was a man after God’s heart, but what was the result of that sin for a young child? Death was the result. David was affected for the rest of his life on earth. So, when dealing with sexual sin in the church, we must emphasize both the severity of sin and the wonder of grace in our hearts and minds.

Find Your Support in the Church

Fourth, find your support in the church. This is one of the main themes of 1 Corinthians, and especially, the first few chapters. This book is all about the church, and this book is a reminder that we are in this thing together. We lean on each other. Look at 1 Corinthians 5:1-5.

It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.

Unfortunately, we don’t have time to digest all that this passage means, but I want to summarize this chapter with three statements. First, we are accountable to God. Paul is, obviously, very angry with the church because they had let sexual sin run rampant in the church. This was the church he earlier mentioned that was sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be holy, and yet, they had done nothing to address the sexual sin in their midst. So, Paul reminds them that the local church is accountable to God for guarding, and protecting, and nurturing, and encouraging the holiness of His people.

The local church has a responsibility before God to treat sin seriously. We are responsible to each other. He says, “You have a responsibility to rebuke this person so that they will see their sin and be brought back to Christ.” In other words, Paul is saying, “Stop sweeping each other’s sin under the rug like it doesn’t matter. It does matter, and you have a responsibility to each other in the body of Christ to watch out for each other.”

Also, we are visible to the world. Look back at verse 1, “…of a kind that does not occur even among pagans!” Paul’s concern was not sexual immorality outside the church. He makes that clear later in the chapter. He’s most concerned about the fact that, because of their casual approach to sin in the church with each other, they were actually outdoing the world in immorality.

Brothers and sisters, there is a word there for us. What we are seeing in Christianity is an epidemic of sexual immorality that is much greater than one instance. The world is pretty convinced of the church’s lack of integrity as they look at the scandals that go on, and on, and on, in today’s church. The church, actually, tries to minimize the sin, and as a result, the church is shocking the world. We are accountable to God, we are responsible to each other, and we are visible to the world.

So, find your support in the church as you address the severity of sin and the wonder of grace, and find your examples in church leaders. Now, this might sound like an odd thing to say in light of this subject of fallen leaders, but watch this. Look at 1 Corinthians 4:1-5.

This is how one should regard us, as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God. Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found faithful. But with me it is a very small thing that I should be judged by you or by any human court. In fact, I do not even judge myself. For I am not aware of anything against myself, but I am not thereby acquitted. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore do not pronounce judgment before the time, before the Lord comes, who will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness and will disclose the purposes of the heart. Then each one will receive his commendation from God.

I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. For though you have countless guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. I urge you, then, be imitators of me. That is why I sent you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ, as I teach them everywhere in every church. (1 Corinthians 4:14-17)

One of the tendencies we have, when we hear of sexual sin among a leader in the church, is to begin to question every leader in the church: “Well, who’s to say that you’re not guilty? Or that you won’t do the same?” A cynical nature begins to creep in when we think about Christian leaders and pastors. This cynicism is unbiblical, and we must guard against it.

I don’t say this because I want you to think well of me or other pastors. I say this because it’s biblical. There are two main ideas here in the first verses of 1 Corinthians 4. God has appointed us for our service. He used the term “servants” from the start of this passage. God has entrusted servants to the church for a reason; He has put them there. So, we respect them; we honor them.

1 Timothy 5:17-20 is particularly important here.

Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who labor in preaching and teaching. For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain,” and, “The laborer deserves his wages.” Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.

Some say, “When a church leader sins, aren’t they just people, too? Shouldn’t their sin be treated as privately as everyone else’s?” I don’t believe so based on Scripture. Here’s the deal: God puts servants of the church in a public situation with a biblical expectation that their ministry will be largely by example. As a pastor, if I embrace the burden of public influence by example as the Bible says I must, then I must accept that burden of influence when my example goes wrong, and needs to be reproved.

If you are to consider the faith and conduct of your leaders, I cannot believe you are to look the other way when our behavior falls short. We receive respect and esteem when we live uprightly, and we receive dishonor and shame when we walk in sin. We simply cannot say, “I will be public when I am good, and I will be private when I am bad.” Pastors, leaders, are servants set up by God as examples in the church. Hebrews 13:7 says, “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith.”

Also, God will judge us for our stewardship. “They will give an account,” says Hebrews 13:17, “to God.” I will give an account to God for how I shepherd the church I pastor. All pastors care for the church, which Christ bought with His blood. (Acts 20:28)

“Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you. Pray for us, for we are sure that we have a clear conscience, desiring to act honorably in all things,” Hebrews 13:17-18. “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood,” Acts 20:28. This is heavy, humbling stuff for pastors.

Now, we’re going to shift a little in the second half of this list…these last five…to see how these truths have particular effect on our own lives. Part of our response to moral failure in the church is to recognize the extremely serious nature of sexual sin. I am convinced that we are so overexposed to sexual sin in our culture, whether inside the church or outside of it, that our sensitivity to sexual sin is dulled. We are very much like the Church in Corinth, which was victimized by pagan immorality.

Listen to 1 Corinthians 6:12-20,

“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. 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! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 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.

These verses are loaded, but I want to spend time on two particular truths that are crystal clear in this passage. First, there is a tendency to treat sexual sin today just like any other sin, but that is not biblical. Now, hear me clearly. All sin is the same in that it separates us from God. There is no question about that. However, 1 Corinthians 6 is clear: sexual sin is different. “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”

Now, what’s not exactly clear is what Paul means by this. We don’t really know what the exact difference is. However, Paul is obviously pointing out how harmful, how controlling, and how dominating this particular sin is. It is a strong and consuming impulse and drive and has the capacity to corrupt more deeply and widely than other things. It destroys deep inside, it shatters relationships, it devastates trust, it is a profound and penetrating sin. Any easygoing attitude toward this sin is very, very dangerous.

Sexual Sin is Devastating

Sexual sin is devastating. Look at the picture here: the whole Trinity is involved in this thing. God the Father in verse 13. Your body belongs to the Lord. He sent His Son to die for it. Your body is not your own to do with what you will. God the Son in verse 15. You are members of Christ. You are in Christ in the closest, most intimate way. You are one with Christ. It would be unthinkable to use Christ’s body for sexual sin. No one would knowingly take the body of Christ and put it with the body of a prostitute, and yet, that’s exactly what you do when you commit sexual sin. As a Christ-follower, you cannot separate yourself from Him. Just know that if you choose to sin sexually, you violate the fact that your body belongs to God and you indulge the Lord Jesus Christ in your sin. That’s why Paul says in verse 15, “God forbid! Never!” No, no, no, impossible, unthinkable, don’t do it! Don’t take the body of Christ and put it with a prostitute!

Then, you see the Holy Spirit. Can you desecrate the sanctuary of the Holy Spirit? We have to see sexual sin for what it is. It is not simply a mistake. It is not simply some small indulgence. It is not simply some biological act. It is a desecration of God Himself. There are people who go into sexual sin, thinking, “It’s forgivable.” What we don’t count is the harm, the enslavement, and the perversion. There’s no escape from the consequences. That’s why we flee from it. That’s why we consider our bodies as belonging to the Lord. That’s why we unite it to the Savior and embrace the Holy Spirit in our bodies. With that sacred view of ourselves, if we have any love for God and any concern for His holy nature, we will not violate His word in this area.

Love Your Spouse

Let sexual sin among leaders in the church drive you to recognize the extremely serious nature of sexual sin; to recommit yourself to wholehearted love for your spouse or future spouse. This is 1 Corinthians 7:1-4:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.

I want to urge you to recommit yourself to wholehearted love for your spouse or future spouse for two reasons. Number one: the covenant of marriage is too precious. Men, you have entered into a covenant with your wife before God to honor her. Women, you have entered into a covenant with your husband before God to honor him. God, help us to guard this covenant.

Number two: the picture of marriage is too valuable. I hope that we have seen that tonight; that marriage is one of the clearest pictures of Christ’s love for the church that we can show the world. Guard your marriage. Some of you are struggling in your marriage. Let tonight be a wake up call to you. Take heed lest you fall in your marriage.

Which leads us to 1 Corinthians 10:6-10. This is the next word of encouragement: repent of any and all sins that you are hiding.

Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did. Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.” We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day. We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents, nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

Oh, let the sins of those who have gone before you be a warning to you. Let the sexual sin of leaders in the church that have been exposed remind you that compartmentalization is always dangerous. Compartmentalization is living in two worlds. It’s believing the lie that one sin in this area of your life does not jeopardize the other areas of your life. It results in living two lives, one which justifies the other, and it is a dangerous road to walk.

Run from Temptation

Is there any area of your life that you are compartmentalizing? Repent! Also, be reminded that cover-ups are always temporary. Ladies and gentlemen, you cannot cover your sin. It will be found out. There are endless ways, it seems, to admit to a little bit of it, while still holding on to a little more over here. The enemy is so clever. He will give you secret ways to practice your sins while he, all the while, destroys you down deep inside. Let me remind us: religion is the biggest cover-up for sin in our lives. We can you go through the perfunctory motions of church and ministry and simply pretend it’s not there. That’s dangerous. Stop pretending it’s not there. Repent!

Repent and run away from any and all temptations that you are entertaining.

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come. Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. (1 Corinthians 10:11-13)

Repent and run away from any and all temptations you are entertaining! Oh, our pride is subtle. Our pride says, “This temptation is not a problem. You only looked at the pictures on the website once or twice.” Run away. “You only had one intimate conversation with her at work. Surely, it wouldn’t lead to more.” Run away. “You only made a few decisions or business deals that didn’t seem ethical.” Run away.

Our pride is subtle, and our lives are susceptible. I do not want to address what we are addressing right now. I know I am not immune to anything I have warned you about, and I tremble when I hear the words, “Take heed, lest you fall.” We are all susceptible. God, help us to run away from any and all temptations that we begin to entertain.

At the same time, by the power of the gospel, this does not end on a heavy note, but on a joyous note. Even when we see sexual sin among leaders in the church, we can rejoice that sin will not have the last word.

I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:50-58)

Oh, there is coming a day when the Lord will resurrect our bodies. Can I speak for one moment here to the people, maybe pastors or leaders, who themselves are guilty of sexual sin? God has taken the record of all your sins and all your sexual failures and everything else that made you accountable for judgment, and instead of holding them up in front of your face and using them as a warrant to condemn you, He put them in the palm of His Son’s hand and nailed them to the cross. The victory of Christ ensures that you stand before a holy God, “Not guilty.”

This is good news that we do not deserve. The Lord will resurrect our bodies, and brothers and sisters, the Lord will preserve His church. Do not be discouraged. When things, even trends, like this happen, do not think, “Oh, the church is falling apart.” The church of Jesus Christ will never, ever fall apart. The very gates of hell cannot prevail against the church of Jesus Christ. Sin does not have the last word; Christ does. “Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 24-25)

Sexual sin in the church. Okay, we need a lighter and better note, and this is where we shall end.

Sexual Satisfaction in Marriage

Sexual satisfaction; gospel foundations. Here we go, and then, what we’re going to do is we’re going to walk through quickly foundations, then we’re going to get into Song of Solomon, and that’s where we’re going to close. Sex is relational. This message is the foundation that we see in Scripture. I think there are seven of them here, and I’m leaning a lot on Heimbach, that great resource that I mentioned earlier.

Sex is relational. It’s not a mechanical act that happens between two objects; it’s a personal act that happens between two people becoming one flesh. Do you see how Proverbs talks about the prostitute? Don’t give yourself to a stranger. This is a personal, intimate, relational act with another person that you’re joining your flesh with. It’s not something you do with someone, treating them as an object for pleasure. This is a person with whom you have a relationship. Sex is relational.

Sex is exclusive. You participate in it with “the wife of your youth.” (Malachi 2:14) Drink deeply, Proverbs 5 says, from the well that is yours, not someone else’s. All throughout Scripture, sex is only celebrated in the context of exclusive, covenant relationship between a husband and a wife. It’s exclusive. Sex is intimate. It is not trivial; it is deep.

This is where we realize sex is, obviously, physical, but it is deeply spiritual. We talked about this. Ephesians 5 says it’s a union not only of bodies, but of souls. Genesis 2 says the man will hold fast to his wife, and I’ve put other Scriptures, here in your notes, and all these other Scriptures are places where that same word for “hold fast” is translated differently and is used to point out how it’s a picture of loyalty and commitment to one another, where nothing divides and nothing separates. That’s what sex is intended to be. Sex is intimate.

Sex is fruitful. Obviously, sex is productive based on Genesis 1:28, “Be fruitful, increase and multiply.” That doesn’t mean, though, that sex is wrong if it’s not producing children. We’ve talked about barrenness earlier, and how God used, in the Patriarch’s lives for example, unfruitful sex to still build faith. We’re going to see in Song of Solomon that there is a picture of intimacy that, obviously, grows in marriage as a result of sex. 1 Corinthians 7:1-3, don’t rob one another of this desire.

Sex is selfless; not self-centered. We’ve already seen this in Ephesians 5 with a picture of marriage. We’re talking about 1 Corinthians 7. I love this quote from Daniel Heimbach, because you might think, “What? I thought sex was for self-gratification.” Listen to this:

Some wonder, of course, how sex can be truly satisfying or enjoyable without focusing on yourself. The idea of enjoying selfless sex seems contradictory. Does not getting the most out of sex require putting your own desires ahead of everything else? The surprising answer is no, both on biblical terms and based on human experience as well. God has imbedded a paradox in how sexual pleasure works that helps to restrain natural human selfishness. The more a couple focuses on pleasing each other, the more enjoyment each receives in return; and the more a person focuses on demanding his or her own satisfaction, the less satisfaction is possible. Self-centeredness always destroys satisfaction, while unselfishness always makes it better.

Good word, Heimbach. Sex is selfless.

Two more: one, sex is complex. There are so many dimensions to sex. Sex involves the mind. Sex involves the body, which is obvious, I hope. Sex involves the soul. There is a great quote from C.S. Lewis about how all these come together. Finally, sex is complementary, meaning that sex brings together two people to complement one another on two main levels: one, complementary gender, as we’ve talked about. Man and woman fitting together, and then complementary kind, such that sex between males and males or females and females is not only wrong, but also sex between, you see in Leviticus 18, people and animals is, obviously, not part of God’s design. You can see in Leviticus 18 how God put homosexuality and bestiality beside one another. So, see that.

All right, so that’s gospel foundations. Now, gospel prohibitions because there is a list of things in Scripture that God says do not do when it comes to sex. God clearly says no sex outside of marriage, that all sexual desire is intended to be played out in the context of marriage, and anything outside of that is adultery. Whether it’s sex before marriage, sex with someone not your spouse during marriage, or anything outside of God’s design is classified all over Scripture. “Don’t do it. No sex outside of marriage.” It is clear. No questions or discussion. Singles, I urge you not to try to justify anything here where Scripture is absolutely clear.

Do not Worship Sex

Second, no sexual worship. This is where we remember sex is good, but sex is not God. We don’t worship it. We don’t worship the gift, we worship the Giver. Third, no sexual prostitution. It’s clear in those verses as we’ve seen. No homosexuality. You’d have to deny Scripture altogether to miss this. As we’ve discussed, no sex with animals, no sex with relatives, Leviticus 18:6. We find it in 1 Corinthians 5. No sex with children. Pedophilia is not specifically addressed in the Bible, but when we take everything else we’ve talked about sex into account, as well as clear instructions from Christ in Scripture about care for children, it’s clear: no sex with children.

No sexual violence. Sex is not designed by God to be hurtful. So, any kind of spousal abuse, or anything along those lines sexually, is warned against in God’s Word. No sexual lust. We’ve seen this. It is wrong for you to think about, or to lust after sex with someone apart from your wife or your husband. No sexual lust.

No Sexual Immodesty

No sexual immodesty. So, lust deals with having sexual desires yourself. Sexual immodesty is about trying to provoke sexual thoughts about you in others. Do not cause your brother to stumble, Romans 14:21. Adorn yourselves, women, in respectable apparel; adorn yourself with modest dress. (1 Timothy 2:9-10) Do not draw attention to physical beauty. Sisters, I encourage you, especially in a day where skin-tight clothes, low necklines, short dresses, short skirts, short shirts, and short shorts, all of which fall far short of the biblical standard of modesty, to not cause a brother to stumble. Do not look in the mirror and think, “What’s going to make me look best?” Look in the mirror and think, “What’s going to bring the most glory to God in those around me?”

Do not draw attention to worldly wealth. That’s what he’s saying in 1 Timothy 2. Instead, adore God through a Christ-like demeanor. Adore God with Him. Now, it’s not just what we wear; sexual modesty also deals with what you see, so don’t try to see something that someone else is not wanting you to see. It includes what you touch. In Deuteronomy 25, the law punishes a woman who grabs a guy in the crotch to help her husband in a fight. That is not permissible, biblically. The crotch is off limits outside of marriage no matter what’s at stake. Sexual immodesty includes what you say. So, guard your language, brothers. Guard your language, sisters.

What about Masturbation?

Here is the final prohibition. People ask, “What about self-stimulated sex?” i.e. masturbation. People say, “Well, the Bible doesn’t prohibit it, so maybe it’s okay.” I hope we’ve seen that that kind of argument from silence is not healthy. The Bible doesn’t directly prohibit pedophilia, but that doesn’t mean it’s pleasing to God. So, is masturbation, a self-stimulated sexual act, pleasing to God? It’s clear, based on what we’ve seen in Scripture, that it is not in line at all with God’s design for sex. It is a passion of the flesh, Galatians 5.

You think about what we’ve seen about sex and think about how masturbation goes against everything that God has designed for sex. Sex is relational. Masturbation is individual, solitary, alone; this is not God’s design for sex. Masturbation encourages lustful wandering, not exclusive purity. It’s virtually impossible to engage in that act apart from lust and unholy desires for someone or something else.

It’s superficial, not intimate. It is shallow at best. It is not reflecting the intimate union God has designed. It’s fruitless. It doesn’t lead to child-rearing, faith-building, or relationship-growing at all. It’s self-centered not selfless. It’s only intended to satisfy yourself, not another. That is not God’s design for sex. It involves physical isolation, not complex union. The complete opposite of what happens when two bodies, two minds, or two souls come together, and when it comes down to it, it is a personal homosexual act, not a complementary heterosexual act.

A male is aroused by a male, or a female is aroused by a female. It is same-sex arousal and same-sex fulfillment. Merely imagining a heterosexual relationship, which we’ve already seen is also wrong, does not make this a heterosexual reality. It’s personal homosexuality. So, it would be wise to put it on the Lord Jesus Christ to make no provision for the flesh to gratify its desires. Okay. So, those are the prohibitions which are hugely important, but now, on to the good stuff.

So, Song of Solomon is a book about God and sex. You start to read parts of Song of Solomon, and you say, “Is that really in here? Navels and bellies and breasts, oh my! What is this?” However, it is good, and it’s from God. God has given us desires, and it’s good that in Scripture, in His revelation, we have an understanding about how that is to play out.

So, there are a lot of questions we’ve got about the book of Song of Solomon. You read through it, and you’ve got all kinds of imagery, plants and animals and spices. We understand when the guy says his bride is like a dove or a darling or a fountain, but when he says her appearance is like a horse or her hair is like goat, or her nose is like a tower, we’ve got to wonder if this guy needed a little schooling on romance. So, there’s a lot that’s difficult to understand.

People have asked, “Is this allegorical?” People have said, “Well, do little things here or there stand for something different? Are they metaphors, and, if so, what do they all stand for? What does this image stand for? What does that image stand for?” Is Song of Solomon typological? Is it a type as a shadow that’s pointing to something greater? Others have asked “Is Song of Solomon is literal?” “Is it literally, just naturally, a book about a man and a woman showing love for one another? Is it a story or is it just songs? Is it two characters or three? Is it to Solomon, by Solomon or about Solomon?” There are all kinds of questions.

Here is what we do know: Song of Solomon is musical. In other words, it’s a song. It’s a poem. It, literally, means the finest of all songs. It is the Song of Songs. It’s fine, and it is intended to show us a celebration of sexual love. The way I understand Song of Solomon is that it’s an illustration of Genesis 2:24-25. Man and woman are naked, unashamed, not stained by the effects of sin on sexuality but enjoying one another as God has designed. Enjoying the pleasure that God has designed in this. At the same time, reminding us about the cautions of sexual love. Over and over again in the book, you see, “Guard yourself until the time God ordains.” You see brothers guarding their sister from giving herself sexually to anybody else until the time is right in God’s design.

The King and His Bride in the Book of Song of Solomon

So, here’s the picture. There are different facets. I hope, in the process, you see that God is glorified in sex. We see exclusive devotion: they sought out only each other. Now, you might be thinking, “Well, didn’t Solomon have all these different wives?” The reality is this book is monogamous from cover to cover. It’s a picture of one man and one woman together. If you look at Song of Solomon 3:1-4, it’s a pursuit. She’s calling out for him. He’s calling out to her. You look at 4:12-15, she’s seeking after him alone. She’s longing for him alone, and he describes her, “A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed.” He is just describing her purity there because she has saved herself. Listen to 7:10, “I am my beloved’s, and his desire is for me.” So, this is a picture of a man and a woman seeking after each other.

So, exclusive devotion, seeking only each other. Leading to heated expectation. This is where I want us to see, regardless of whether you see in this book a drama or not, that there is anticipation here that builds between the king and his bride. You see two facets of this anticipation. First, they began with tender words. This is evident from the start, and it lasts throughout. Listen to how she starts, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant.” (Song of Solomon 1:2-4) He says,

If you do not know, O most beautiful among women, follow in the tracks of the flock, and pasture your young goats beside the shepherds’ tents. I compare you, my love, to a mare [there are the horses] among Pharaoh’s chariots. Your cheeks are lovely with ornaments, your neck with strings of jewels.” (Song of Solomon 1:8-10)

It continues throughout,

My beloved is radiant and ruddy, distinguished among ten thousand. His head is the finest gold; his locks are wavy, black as a raven. His eyes are like doves beside streams of water, bathed in milk, sitting beside a full pool. His cheeks are like beds of spices, mounds of sweet-smelling herbs. His lips are lilies, dripping liquid myrrh. His arms are rods of gold, set with jewels. His body is polished ivory, bedecked with sapphires. His legs are alabaster columns, set on bases of gold. His appearance is like Lebanon, choice as the cedars.” (Song of Solomon 5:10-15)

That will make any guy feel great! So, here’s the deal. This is key. Passion for one another is clearly grounded in praise for one another. You talk to your wife like this, brother, you’re in for a good night. Sister, if you talk like this to your husband about his body being like polished ivory and his wavy locks, this is romance in the making.

So, they began with tender words and that led to tantalizing work. This is the climax of the book, and this is one of the shadiest parts of the book where the king, basically, starts at the top of his bride’s body and works his way down, praising every part of her body. The imagery is beautiful and healthy, and we see God-glorifying images to describe sexual love in a way that is appropriate and alluring at the same time. So, follow along here. These verses are, basically, the king’s mental, if not physical, undressing of his bride.

Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead.” A little explanation here: the picture is from a distance a herd of black goats coming down the mountainside, the sun glistening off their backs. That would be a beautiful thing. So, she lets down her hair for him, it comes across her shoulder, and he’s drawn in, okay?

Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young.” So, she’s got her teeth. This is very positive. “Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely. Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil.” They are blushed red, like a sweet fruit and attractive to the eye; ready to be kissed. “Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors.” The picture here is like a tower of David that is dignified, elegant, and holding her head above her body proudly.

Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle that graze among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense.” Danny Akin wrote a great commentary on Song of Solomon called “God on Sex.” He writes:

Note that there is nothing even remotely pornographic about this imagery here. Porneia clearly refers to evil sexual desire and an entire industry is built on exploiting this sinful passion. Solomon’s point here is that a man’s desire for his wife is holy. His pleasure and erotic desire for her is holy. To deny this is to deny one of God’s good gifts.

First, they are compared to twin fawns of a gazelle that feed among the lilies. They are soft and attractive, tender and delicate, making her husband want to gently touch and caress them. Second, he describes them as two mountains: one a mountain of myrrh and the other a hill of frankincense. Both spices were expensive and used as perfume for the body and the marriage bed. Now the senses of sight and smell are aroused. So enraptured is Solomon that he desires to make love to his wife all night long: “until the day breathes and the shadows flee away.”

Well said, Danny! So, isn’t it good that God has given us a beautiful description of how our sexuality is intended to be expressed? So, he continues in 4:7-13:

You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you. Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Depart from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards. You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice! Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue [apparently the French did not invent that one] the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates…”

There it is. A garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. This is like a fantasy garden, a lover’s dream. To find all these fruits and spices and flowers together. This is my bride, and she is wonderful. This is good. When you go to the garden, you will never be bored. There will be pleasures to be discovered.

All leading to intimate consummation.

Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits. I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk. Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!” (Song of Solomon 4:16-5:1)

They gave their bodies over to one another. She, who had been a locked garden, closed to the public, now opened up for him to enjoy. Heimbach says,

Here is something extraordinary! She takes the key locking everyone out, and gives it to him! She has kept everyone out, and that made her special, but now she gives him the key, allowing him in, and that makes him special. That is why modesty is alluring! It does not keep the garden locked forever, but saves it for the right person at the right time.

This is itimate consummation, a picture of pure satisfaction on every level. This is emotional satisfaction. This is spiritual satisfaction. This is intellectual satisfaction, and this is clearly physical satisfaction. Akin says, “We cannot be certain of all that is meant by the imagery of coming to the garden and tasting the choice fruits. But it is not difficult to imagine all sorts of good stuff!”

Constant anticipation. “Make haste, my beloved [this is how it ends], and be like a gazelle or a young stag on the mountains of spice.” (Song of Solomon 8:14) After all that’s happened, he’s off doing something else as a part of his daily routine, and she says, “Make haste. Be like a gazelle, a stag,” animals known for their speed and swiftness. “Run after the mountains of spices,” which, there’s not a lot of room for imagination here. Basically, the Song of Solomon ends with “Hey! Hurry up, let’s do this again. We desire to do this again soon.” This is the way sexual love perseveres. It lasts again, and again, and again, and again. You get the point.

So, Song of Solomon is a picture of sexual love, but this is where I just want you to bring this out. This is where we’ll close. Bring this out because, yes, this is a picture of sexual love between a man and a woman, but we know from all we’ve seen throughout this study that a man and a woman in love like this in the context of marriage is intended to be a picture of something much greater. Not every little detail is a picture that’s standing for this, or this, or this, but love between a man and a woman is pointing us to a King and His bride in Ephesians.

A King and His Bride in Ephesians

Think about what we’ve already read: Ephesians 5:22-33. Think about the gospel that we have talked about in this study. Humble devotion. The reality is that the King has sought after you. Christ has come running after you. Historic expectation. This is what all of Old Testament history longed for. He came to us as the fulfillment of all of God’s Word. He was flawless in all of His works and exactly who we needed. Sacrificial consummation. He gave up His body for us, so that we could be reconciled to God and experience total satisfaction. Loving Him with all our hearts, and all our souls and all our mind, and all our strength, leading to continuous anticipation. Where we long for the completion of our salvation. We want more and more of Christ until the day where we are like Him; when we see Him as He is; we’re conformed fully into His likeness.

Which leads us to a King and His bride in Revelation.

Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure.” (Revelation 19:6-9)

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband… dwelling place of God is with man… God himself will be with Him as their God… wiping away every tear from their eyes… death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4)

Marriage here is intended to point us to the eternal relationship we have as the Bride of Christ. A relationship of continual devotion. Know this, brothers and sisters: the King who sought after you on the cross will never stop seeking you. He will continually pursue you as His beloved. It won’t be easy. That’s why John writes us the book of Revelation which speaks of the suffering of the saints, many who are being persecuted for their faith. John implores them in hopeful expectation, “Cling to God’s Word. Trust in His Word. The King is coming for you. This is a hurtful, fallen world. Trust in Him. The King is coming for you.” Then, commit to God’s work. Don’t waver in the battle.

Preach Christ, 2 Corinthians 4:4-6. Proclaim Christ to every nation on the planet, every people, Matthew 24:14, until all nations have disciples of Jesus. Until the day when a great multitude that no one can count from every nation, tribe, people, and language sings of salvation. Give yourself to that work, brothers and sisters. You are the bride of Christ, and His glorious consummation is coming, when our bodies will be made complete with Him, and the sufferings of this world will be gone and glory will come.

We will be resurrected with Him, and together, we will experience eternal satisfaction. Brothers and sisters, death will be replaced by life; night will be replaced by light; corruption will be replaced by purity; the curse will be totally replaced by blessing. This is our consuming anticipation. Revelation 22:4-5, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads, and night will be no more. They will need no light or lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

Let’s live, brothers and sisters, in our families and in our marriages, as men and women who live out the gospel. Let’s proclaim the gospel to the ends of the earth to all the families and the people and the nations on the earth. Let’s give our lives and lose our lives, if necessary, making this gospel known with one cry constantly on our lips, “We want to see your face!” “He who testifies to these things says ‘Surely, I am coming soon.’ Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!” (Revelation 2:20)


That means that the people with the most urgent spiritual and physical needs on the planet are receiving the least amount of support. Together we can change that!