The Wisdom of Sex

Perhaps now, more than ever, Christians need wisdom to process the multitude of temptations to sexual sin with which they are confronted. While it is true that sexual sin has always been a problem in the church, there should be little doubt that the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life are a seemingly ubiquitous danger for Christians today.

The Puritans were well-known for their diagnosis of sin. In fact, it might be one of their lasting legacies. Some modern theologians (e.g. see this and this) have continued that pattern of examining the Christian life by seeking to uncover the root issues which lie behind our external sins. Of course, Scripture itself is the main source for uncovering both surface and root issues. Below are several biblical principles by which we may guard ourselves from sexual sin.

1. Sexual sin is idolatry: The Apostle Paul tells us this plainly in Colossians 3:5: “Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire and covetousness, which is idolatry.” That is to say, sexual immorality--whether on a screen or in person--is a replacement god. Nothing should be more appalling and grevious for the sincere Christian, than to turn his or her back on Christ and bow down to another god. That is precisely what we do, however, in idolatry. We de-throne Almighty God and replace him with pornography; or fantasy; or adultery.

2. Sexual sin occurs when we fail to “keep our heart.” Proverbs 4:23-27 provides us with a powerful warning and encouragement to help us keep our hearts pure. “Keep the heart with all vigilance, for from it flows the springs of life” (Prov 4:23). The next verses tell us what that looks like: v 24 watch what you and others say; v 25 watch what you look at; v 26 watch what you think about and vs 27 watch where you go. That is to say, if we are not always keeping guard over our senses, we allow ourselves to become subject to wickedness. We strangle the ministry of the Spirit in our lives (c.f. Prov 4:23 & John 7:37), giving ourselves to impurity, through which the Spirit will never work

3. Sexual sin is not just visual, it is "audio-visual." Sexual sin, especially fornication and adultery, involves words. In fact it frequently starts with words. Think about it: a work colleague, friend at the gym, family friend or church member begins talking to you in a way which is subtly inappropriate. A misplaced compliment that is altogether too familiar; a shoulder upon with to cry; a sympathetic ear and voice which says, “I’m the only one who understands you.” These are the words of the adulterer or adulteress. Proverbs 5 tells us so: “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey and her speech is smoother than gold” (Prov. 5:3). It is for this reason that we need to take great care about what we say and what is said to us (Prov. 4:24).

4. Sexually suggestive speech challenges God’s authority. Extramarital flirtation and sexually perverse talk confronts us with a challenge to the authority of God in his Word. Note well the pattern of wisdom “Put away from you crooked speech and put devious talk far from you (Prov 4:23… My son be attentive to my wisdom...that...your lips may guard knowledge. For the lips of the forbidden woman drip honey and her speech is smoother than oil (Prov 5:1-3)And now O sons… do not depart from the words of my mouth (Prov 5:7). Sexually immoral talk--which is so often the prelude to fornication and adultery--calls us to leave the protective authority of our Father and his Word, and to listen to another word. Will we stand on God’s authority or surrender ourselves to the authority of the world? Our responses to words matter. Words are important. Words can carry authority. God's word is our authority. 

5. Sexually immoral activity is inherently destructive. This is the great irony of sexual sin: that which is supposed to bring liberation, joy and its own “high” is actually destructive. It destroys the seducer: “in the end she is bitter than wormwood… Her feet go down to death her steps follow the path of Sheol” (Prov 5:4-5). Moreover, for the seduced, it brings devastation: “How I hated discipline and my heart despised reproof…I am at the brink of ruin in the assembled congregation” (Prov 5;12,14). Simply put, sexual sin destroys those who engage in it.

6. Sex in marriage is an enormous blessing. Husbands and wives must give themselves to each other in sexual intimacy. The Proverbs tell us, in no uncertain terms, “Drink water from your own cistern…let your fountain be blessed and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely, graceful doe...Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love (Prov 5:15-19). Marriage involves the encouraging of purity in each other by making ourselves delightful to our spouse and giving ourselves to each other regularly. That is, I believe, one of the best ways to preserve ourselves from the troubles of impure hearts and impure people.

Matthew Holst