As a church we talk about so many different things – faith, sin, heaven, prayer, the weather, Plymouth Argyle… But when was the last time we had a really good discussion about the whole subject of sex?
The elephant in the room
Well, I realise this whole subject is intensely personal and for many people extremely difficult. I am not exactly that comfortable bringing up the subject. Yet in our discussions last Thursday evening it became very clear that this was an area we simply can’t simply avoid. Somehow we need to find a way to approach the whole topic in a healthy, open and honest fashion, so that Jesus becomes Lord over every part of our lives.
But why mention it at all? Let me give you six reasons for starters:
First of all, the Bible says a lot about sex and relationships.
It starts with the story of Adam and Eve who are joined together in one together in marriage. It goes on to tell how the Fall affected their relationship, and has affected relationships ever since. As the Bible goes on, we hear tales of adultery, incest, rape and prostitution, which are definitely all signs of a fallen world. But the Bible is not wholly negative about sex. The book of Song of Songs is a wonderful erotic poem about human love. Jesus Himself affirms the goodness of marriage, and the Bible ends with the image of the church as the bride of Christ.
Secondly, sex is the issue that is dividing the church at the moment.
There are some, like myself, who remain committed to the teaching of the Bible as the supreme authority in this area. There are others who while respecting what the Bible says would redefine what is and is not permissible for practising Christians. Because the church has so often failed to teach in this area, many folk are simply confused as to what they should or should not believe. Too often debates boil down to one person telling their story, or someone sharing their feelings. That is the not a good basis for any kind of reasoned discussion.
Thirdly, we live in a culture that is obsessed by sex.
I have been watching some episodes of Grey’s Anatomy recently. It is an American drama set in a hospital where the main characters have sex first, and then work out the consequences of their actions. It is very much in step with the times where sexual freedom is seen as good and healthy, and the act of intercourse a bodily function simply to be enjoyed. The motto of our age is “if it feels good, do it”. But as the characters in this drama, and I suspect many people in real life discover, acting on your impulses never brings the fulfilment you are hoping to find. There is still a God-shaped hole which no amount of pleasure can fill.
Fourthly, the digital age is promoting all kinds of unhealthy behaviour.
When I prepare couples for marriage, one thing I always says is that when you make your vows, “forsaking all others” doesn’t just mean avoiding other physical relationships. It also means being very careful what you watch or enjoy on social media and the Internet. The percentage of people who are addicted to online pornography is truly staggering, and the number of children who are exposed to it from an early age is heartbreaking. Virtual reality is very good at promoting fantasies, and the deeper you get into these fantasies, the more harm you are doing to yourself and potentially to others. Yet where is the church clearly and forcefully addressing this issue?
Fifthly, those who come to faith bring all kinds of baggage with them.
We all fall short in the area of relationships. Some are very damaged. Others are trapped in ungodly patterns of behaviour they cannot easily escape from. We need as a church not talk about sin and forgiveness in abstract, cold terms. We need to talk about the saving power of Jesus Christ and the liberation that repentance brings that actually sets people free and enables them to become all that God wants them to be. As a church we have the good news that others need to hear.
Sixthly, without discipleship in this area people will fall away from the faith.
It is sometimes said that the last part of a person to be converted is their wallet, and we often use this slogan when we want to encourage more giving. However the greatest challenge folk find in their faith is when someone new enters their life, who may not share their faith, who seems to offer the happiness they are looking for. It can be so easy as a church to condemn, but how are we training folk to think Biblically about relationships and to remain faithful to Christ? If we are not, then we should not be surprised when some of our number fall away.
So how and where do we start this conversation? I would love to hear your answers. In the meanwhile, I will be putting down some thoughts myself in my next post. Contributions will be welcome!