Here’s the notes from Monday Night’s study:
Recently I read an article in First Things that seemed to illuminate so much of what we’re going to study here. Here’s an excerpt:
Christians, it has been said, “worry about what people are doing in bed much more than making sure everybody has a bed to begin with.” That pithy statement of conventional wisdom can be usefully tested against the life and writings of Dorothy Day. Through the Catholic Worker houses she founded, Day provided beds for innumerable desperate and destitute people. But she also recognized that, once you had given them beds, you had to worry about what they did in them. In a 1971 letter to Frs. Daniel and Philip Berrigan, Day lamented the moral waywardness she was witnessing in Catholic Worker communities:
I have seen such disastrous consequences, over my long lifetime, such despair, resulting in suicide, such human misery that I cannot help but deplore the breakdown of sexual morality. After all it involves life itself.
Day’s service of the poor, as well as her activism against war, exploitation, and inequality, were in defense of human life. And sexual immorality, she thought, was a direct attack on life’s source. Behind Day’s remarks on sex—“When it comes to divorce, birth control, abortion . . . The teaching of Christ, the Word, must be upheld”—was her sense that, although one might reasonably devote more time and energy to making sure people had beds, what they did in bed could be even more fundamental to human happiness and human misery.
Roger Scruton has written, “Sex is either consecration or desecration, with no neutral territory in between.” Day’s philosophy was similar:
Man and woman are co-creators. In this lies their great dignity. Sex is in its pleasure, its joy, its “well being”—the image throughout the Old Testament of the beatific vision—the nearest we come to God. Sex is a gigantic force in our lives and unless controlled becomes unbridled lust under which woman is victim and suffers most of all. When man takes to himself the right to use sex as pleasure alone, cutting it away from its creative aspect, by artificial birth control, by perverse practices, he is denying “the absolute supremacy of the Creative Deity.”
When mishandled, sex is a rejection of God, and therefore of one’s own dignity.
It was hard to get thrown out of the Catholic Worker house over which Day presided—a house which welcomed the helpless, the lost, the mentally ill, the addicted, and the simply obnoxious—but Day did once expel some young bohemians after they used the printing equipment for an obscene magazine entitled “F*** You.” The use of the word shocked her: It showed contempt, she wrote in her diary, “for the very sources of life itself.” It was a “breath of evil,” a blasphemous nihilism which maimed “the creativity within them.” To profane the creativity of sexual desire, in word or in deed, was a kind of self-harm.
In one letter she surmised: “The kids are almost hysterically afraid underneath and want to eat, drink, and be merry because they feel death is so close.” But their attempted revolution set them “against the body and its needs, its natural functions of childbearing. It can only be a hatred of sex that leads them to talk as they do and be so explicit about the sex function and the sex organs as instruments of pleasure. . . . This is not reverence for life, this certainly is not natural love for family, for husband and wife, for child.”
The “reverence for life” which inspired Day’s activism also meant reverence for life’s natural origin—a permanent marriage of man and woman, open to new life. In a startling letter to her co-campaigner Jim Forest, who had left his wife for another woman, Day told him that if he stayed in the new relationship he would be “a hollow man,” that he was “denying life” by abandoning his spouse. She told Forest (with whom she remained on good terms; he later wrote an admiring biography of her) that there was no point in being a pacifist if his sex life was disordered:
Your letters emphasize all the good the CPF [Catholic Peace Fellowship] is doing, but I assure you that all that means nothing. The dishonesty, the deceit involved negates the good… If you gave all you had to the poor and delivered your body to be burned, it is all nothing but sounding brass and a tinkling cymbal, if you have not charity, the love of God which you have turned from to have the love of women.
I thought Day’s comments were very helpful and crystallizing for some of these issues. Also… check out these pretty amazing quotes from Day (from the Wikipedia page on her).
In September 1963, Day discussed pre-marital sex in her column, warning against those who portrayed it as a form of freedom: “The wisdom of the flesh is treacherous indeed.” She described herself as “a woman who must think in terms of the family, the need of the child to have both mother and father, who believes strongly that the home is the unit of society” and wrote that:
[W]hen sex is treated lightly, as a means of pleasure … it takes on the quality of the demonic, and to descend into this blackness is to have a foretaste of hell…. There is no such thing as seeing how far one can go without being caught, or how far one can go without committing mortal sin.
In 1968, Day wrote again about sex—this time in her diary—in response to the criticisms of Stanley Vishnewski (and other coworkers at the Tivoli farm) that she had “no power” over marijuana smoking “or sexual promiscuity, or solitary sins.” The situation continued to remain a problem, as Day also documented in her diary:
For some weeks now my problem is this: What to do about the open immorality (and of course I mean sexual morality) in our midst. It is like the last times—there is nothing hidden that shall not be revealed. But when things become a matter for open discussion, what about example set, that most powerful of all teachers. We have with us now a beautiful woman with children whose husband has taken up with a seventeen-year-old, is divorcing her and starting on a new marriage. She comes to us as to a refuge where by working for others in our community of fifty or more, she can forget once in a while her human misery. . . .
We have one young one, drunken, promiscuous, pretty as a picture, college educated, mischievous, able to talk her way out of any situation—so far. She comes to us when she is drunk and beaten and hungry and cold and when she is taken in, she is liable to crawl into the bed of any man on the place. We do not know how many she has slept with on the farm. What to do? What to do?
The Logic of 1 Corinthians 6:9-7:9
Now let’s turn to God’s word, as written by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthian church (6:9-7:9). His logic runs like this: Because of the reality of sexual immorality, aka sexual sin (7:2), people should get married. [The Greek word for sexual sin or sexual immorality here is porneia]
The point of this seems to be something like… because of all the sexual sin that permeates the Corinthian culture, (and I think that would include both the situation where someone is actively involved in it, and just the fact of all the temptation in the culture because it’s so common)—because of all of this sexual sin, it’s important for people to know that marriage is God’s way of dealing with the things that suck people in to sexual sin.
Now Paul might have been writing this mainly, directly to currently married people who were abstaining from sex with each other (see 7:5) and maybe then getting tempted to visit prostitutes (6:15)). But even if that was his primary aim, what he wrote still applies pretty directly to people who aren’t yet married. In other words, to give in to temptation would be to commit porneia. So get married (7:8-9), and then turn your passion towards each other (7:3. 7:9). Marriage is the one place where this passion and the actions it leads to are not a sin—in fact, they are good! (Hebrews 13:4.) (as an aside: we should notice that 1 Corinthians 7:2-4 teaches explicitly that the only kind of sex that is holy occurs within an explicitly heterosexual marriage.)
In other words, any giving in to these temptations and having any kind of sexual encounter outside of that covenant is—porneia. And that’s not what the body is for (6:13). The example of this sin Paul gives in chapter 6 is visiting a prostitute (6:15-16), but the language from 6:18 on seems to show that he isn’t only talking about prostitutes when he uses this word. He’s talking about sexuality expressed anywhere except in marriage, and so he says, “flee sexual immorality” (6:18). I think this statement is basically synonymous with “exercise self-control” in 7:9.
The first thing that I want you to notice here is that Paul does not say, “Stop having sex because sex is dirty” or something like that. That needs to be said because there’s a lot of misinformation about what the Christian view on all this even might be. Paul is pro-sex—just notice how intense he is that married couples shouldn’t abstain at all unless they have a good reason to. And since Paul was writing scripture when he wrote this, what he’s written here is God’s personal teaching—God is pro-sex. In fact he’s so pro, that he understands what a high, holy, and powerful thing it all is.
And that’s why he put safe-guards all around it. If you have cash at home, you keep it in a safe place. If you have jewels, you probably keep them in a lock box. If you have guns, they go in a safe. Priceless paintings are in a museum, behind barriers. Nuclear reactors are encased in layers of metal and cement. None of these things are protected because they’re dirty or worthless—just the opposite. And so sex is designed to be encased in a well-protected relationship of a life-long exclusive love commitment.
So if it’s not that sex is dirty…why does Paul tell us we should run away from sexual sin?
- “It’s not helpful.” (6:12). That is, it does not benefit or help me, or others around me (10:23, 10:33)
- “it brings me under its power.” (6:12) Humans are meant to be free. Sexual sin enslaves us.
- “it’s not what the body is for.” (6:13) Everything valuable has a purpose.
- “the body is for the Lord.” (6:13)
- “The Lord [gave himself] for the body” (6:13) If Jesus was willing to become enfleshed, and let his body be killed, to save my soul and my body, how can I say it doesn’t matter what I do with it?
- “the Lord will raise up this body.” (6:14) The body is eternally meaningful. It’s not a throw away.
- “your bodies are members of Christ.” (6:15)
- …and “sexual sin makes you one body with someone else.” –not in Christ.
- “It is a sin against your own body.” (6:18)
- “your body is the Temple of the Holy Spirit.” (6:19). It’s a high, holy thing.
- “you were bought with a price” (6:20). That is, the blood of Christ. So your body is a gift from God doubly—first because he made it, then because he bought it back when you threw it away.
- “it’s the kind of unrighteousness that excludes people from the kingdom of God.” (6:9) So it’s not to be played with.
So when you look at all the reasons Paul gives for why Christians need to avoid sexual sin, you can see that God’s focus isn’t even on sex per se, but on the body—and a view of the body matches God’s design for sex. The point in these verses isn’t that your body is dirty, or that physical things don’t matter… It’s actually the opposite of that. The point is how holy and valuable the human body is—especially in this passage, the Christian’s body. It belongs to the Lord. The Lord gave himself for it. It’s joined to Christ—in other words, a Christian’s body is forever linked to his or her destiny, to God’s plan for you as a human. To sin sexually is a sin against this holy, precious thing—your body. It’s not—“Ewe that’s such a physical, dirty thing to do, all that bodily function stuff,” it’s, “Your body is so holy and precious, how could you drag it through the mud of such a deep, intense sin?” I want to say this again, the sin is not sex itself, but sexuality used sinfully—the problem is sexual sin.
And it’s even bigger than that. The reason that the body of a Christian is such a high holy thing, is not only that it’s this great thing God made and gave you, but also that it’s a Temple of God. In other words, it’s a holy place—God is living inside it! This takes it up to a whole new level. To sin sexually is to take a Temple use it for the opposite of what it was meant for. It’s not just bad—it’s desecration. You can’t desecrate a garbage can. It’s made for garbage. But you can desecrate a Temple. And so you can desecrate a body. And sexual sin is what does it. Paul’s just piling up reasons here why Christians should see what a big deal it is that we use our bodies in ways that make sense based on what they really are.
So I think we can see that Dorothy Day’s point was biblical. God agrees with it. To make sex into a joke, or a common thing, desecrates something God made holy. It’s the same when we make it into a dirty thing, or an economic transaction, or an instrument of power, or visual entertainment, or just something any friends or strangers can do any time. Our culture acts like all this sex it peddles is because it loves life and loves sex. But think about—if you take a Picasso out of its place in the museum, and ride it through the city on the back of your bike—is that how you show you appreciate great art? If you take a nuclear reactor into a city square so people can watch it—is it because you love people? Do you give little kids wads of your cash to play with? So what does it say about a culture that takes sex out of its protected place and plasters it up for the world to see everywhere, and then tells everyone to make it as common as eating—go do it everywhere, all the time, with everyone? What do we say about a culture that insists that such an awesome thing is nothing more than a common addiction?
We say that culture degrades sex. Which must mean that it really hates sex—at least the real thing, And that must mean that it’s driven by forces that hate life. And that must mean that it loves our death.
So let’s get really biblical for a second here. If you’re student of the scriptures, you know where temptation originated—it came from Satan, who’s called “the Father of lies.” Think about it—Satan knew that the first two humans would be the mother and father of the whole human race, who God decreed would be the rulers of his world. To fulfill this plan, they had to obey what God told them—“Be fruitful and multiply.” In other words, sex was central to God’s plan. (Incidentally, if you read the bible, you know that it’s just like God to make one of the main things we have to do also one of the main things we want to do.) Now Satan evidently wants to ruin this plan for men and women to rule God’s earth. So what would be an obvious point of attack—How about the thing they need to do to multiply? How about the thing that’s central both to their love and their life—not to mention their mission? And I’m just saying I think we can see that that’s what he went after. For all of human history—sex has been one his primary attack points. He’s attacked it from every angle, and he’s led humans to abuse it in every direction—all to try to ruin the spring of human life and multiplication itself.
That’s why our culture is obsessed with sex. That’s why it’s a weapon and a currency and an addiction. That’s why it’s this huge place of confusion. We’ve been deceived. And the worst part of the deception is that we’ve been deceived into thinking we’re loving sex and celebrating it and enjoying it—when we’re actually killing it and destroying it.
And to bring this full circle to the beginning of our passage—I think we can see now why it only makes sense that God would exclude all sexual sin and those who love it from his kingdom. In the new earth, which the bible says is coming, all of God’s plans for humanity will be fulfilled. Like he said to Adam and Eve—we’ll fill the earth and rule it for our good and it’s good. Everything will be all about life and health and goodness and joy. So all the things that hated life and ruined it—those things are going to be be swept away. And everyone who loves those things and clings to them…will be swept away with all the rest of it. That’s how someone gets excluded form God’s kingdom—they love what has no place in God’s good world—and they choose it over God and his future.
Now 6:11 is very clear—there have always been Christians—most of us, probably, who lived like that once. It’s not saying that for someone to be a Christians now they need to have always been perfect. No the point is that when we begin a life of following Jesus we’re washed and given a new identity. If someone doesn’t leave these things behind, then they don’t have that new identity. It’s that simple. Except…it’s seems like it’s not sometimes, right? The fact that Paul told the Corinthians not to get deceived about this means that God knows that it’s easy to get tricked here. It’s easy to think that sexual sin is no big deal. That we can do whatever we want with it and it won’t have any effect on our humanity or our eternity.
Let me be really direct here—it’s basically certain that some of us here are currently, right now fooled in this exact way. We’re sinning sexually, and we don’t think it’s a big deal. Please hear God’s word. It is a big deal.
If you’re not a follower of Christ, the first thing you need to hear is that this part of life that everyone (we know!) considers as normal as eating is actually part of what’s separating you from God and ruining your own humanity. It’s sin. But, just like in the case of the Corinthians, God offers you a pardon—he’s already paid down the debt of your sin with the death of Jesus…and even though he does most certainly want you to see that your sin has made you dirty, he also offers you a complete washing. He points out that we’re dirty so that he can invite us to come get clean. He diagnoses our sickness so we’ll come to him and be healed. But this grace period (the bible calls it “the day of salvation”) only lasts until Jesus returns to establish his kingdom—and then it’s the time when, like I said, everything that dishonors God and ruins life must go—along with everyone who loves those things. So it doesn’t matter how much sinful sex you’ve had or are having right now—come to Jesus—he wants you! He can wash you. It’s what he’s all about. And all of us in this room who follow him are really glad that he was able to wash us clean from our sin. Believe me. We all have had our problems.
But for the rest of us in here—we should notice that this passage wasn’t actually written to people who don’t know Jesus—or to the culture out there or something like that. It was written to Christians, or at least, to people in the church community who considered themselves on the inside with God. And Paul is telling us—if you think you’re on the inside with God, and you live in sexual sin like everyone else—careful you’re not just fooling yourself. Don’t ignore verses nine and ten in chapter 6. People who don’t give up sexual sin don’t inherit the kingdom of God. Full stop.
If you’re a believer—and your life has active sexual sin in it—then I know that the Holy Spirit is convicting you. You need to repent. If you’re using the gift of sexuality in any way other than as the treasure that it is—in other words if you’re not married but you are being sexual—repent. And please, see that it’s deception. Satan hates you. And he hates the people you sin with. He’s degrading you and ruining your spiritual life. He’s making you degrade your body and use it to sow seeds of death—instead of using it to promote life in the world.
Christians! Please! The world is obsessed with it all because Satan hates humans and hates God and hates God’s plan for humans. Stop doing his work! Hear the word of the Lord.
Honestly, with the way the world is, we can’t afford to weaken ourselves this way. For the sake of the kingdom of God, and our spiritual family, and the honor of God himself, we have to be clean here.