The issues of marital unfaithfulness, homosexuality, abortion, abuse, and unwanted pregnancies once seemed new within the Christian community. But in many ways we are repeating the mistakes of our fathers and showing our need for repentance and the forgiveness of God. In many ways we are faced with a need to distinguish ourselves from those who don’t know our God. Moses warned the nation of Israel about falling into the sexual practices of the surrounding culture. In Leviticus 18, he expressed to his people what God had said about the dangers of adultery, incest, homosexuality, and bestiality.With the detail of a lawyer, he made capital crimes of sexual contact with children, stepchildren, parents, stepparents, brothers, sisters, step-brothers, step-sisters, brothers-in-law, and sistersin- law. He outlawed sexual relations with aunts and uncles, a neighbor’s wife, a person of the same sex, or with an animal.
Not My People! The prophet made his reasons clear. All of these sexual sins were common in the surrounding culture of his day. Yet God’s people were to distinguish themselves by avoiding those behaviors that had brought destruction, disease, and shame to the nations around them. Specifically, Moses wrote:
You must not do as they do in Egypt, where you used to live, and you must not do as they do in the land of Canaan, where I am bringing you. Do not follow their practices (Lev. 18:3 NIV).
Such behaviors, God said, would bring great harm to those who practiced them (vv.24-30). Yet the people of God didn’t remain faithful to their God. Even King David, a man after God’s own heart, gave in to temptation. In a moment of misdirected passion, he had an affair with another man’s wife and brought enormous pain to himself, his family, his nation, and his God. How could it happen? How could someone as godly as David fall so low? What was happening inside him on that dark night? How could sexual temptation reduce a man after God’s heart into a sexual predator and murderer? If misdirected sexual desire caused David to act like a pagan, what chance do we have of not repeating his mistakes?
Not Even a Hint! A thousand years later, the people of God were still struggling to separate themselves from the sexual behavior of a surrounding culture. Writing to brothers and sisters in the metropolitan city of Ephesus, the apostle Paul said:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people (Eph. 5:3 NIV).
Earlier in the same letter he urged:
So I tell you this, and insist on it in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their thinking. They are darkened in their understanding and separated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them due to the hardening of their hearts. Having lost all sensitivity, they have given themselves over to sensuality so as to indulge in every kind of impurity, with a continual lust for more (Eph. 4:17-19 NIV).
There was good reason for Paul’s concern. Ephesus boasted one of the ancient wonders of the world, the temple to the goddess Diana. At this shrine, prostitutes engaged in ceremonial sexual intercourse with the worshipers. But there was more. According to Henri Marrou in his history of ancient education, homosexuality was also taught in this “open” Greek society as one of the privileges separating civilized Greek nobility from the barbarians.
Yet, someone asks, so what? Why does religion have to look into society’s “bedroom”? Why would God be concerned about the sexual behavior of those who believe in Him? Isn’t it more important that we believe in Him, love one another, and respect our differences? Why would God want Moses and Paul to make rules about sexual behavior? There are several ways to answer this. One answer, according to the Bible, is that God cares about sexual behavior because it is rooted in deeper issues. More about that later. Right now, it is enough to mention what has been happening in our own society as we have increasingly thrown off the sexual restraints urged by Moses and Paul. Is it possible that God loves us enough to want us to be spared the pain of misdirected sexual desire?
Sexually Transmitted Diseases. In Tracking The Hidden Epidemic: Trends In STDs In The United States 2000, the Center For Disease Control And Prevention reported that 1 in 5 people in the US (65 million Americans) is currently living with an incurable sexually transmitted disease. Among the 15 million new cases diagnosed each year, twothirds occur in those under 25 and one-fourth in teenagers (p.3). AIDS is now the seventh leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds (National Vital Statistics Report, Vol.47, No.9, June 30, 1999).
Unwanted Children. In spite of all the education on risky sexual behavior and pregnancy, about 40 percent of American teenage girls become pregnant before age 20. Approximately one million teens—10 percent of all women between the ages of 15 and 19—become pregnant each year. And of those pregnancies, nearly 4 in 10 are terminated by abortion (Teen Sex And Pregnancy, Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1999). Sadly, “despite a 20- year low in the teen pregnancy rate and an impressive decline in the teen birth rate, the United States still has the highest teen pregnancy rate of any industrialized country” (When Teens Have Sex,Annie E. Casey Foundation, p.1, 1999).
Sexual Abuse. The costs and cries of misused sexuality are everywhere. Infatuation and physical conquest replace love. The explosion of the pornography industry routinely exploits women, children, and men. Society’s protectors become predators. Suspicion replaces trust. Little children are warned about adults. Adults, in turn, are hesitant to greet a little child on the street for fear of being misunderstood. Men are suspicious of other men, and women of both men and women.
Families have been turned upside-down because of decades of secret sexual abuse. Husbands and wives struggle with the memories and scars of prior sexual partners. Divorce of long-term commitments is seen as freedom to pursue the short-term passion of a new relationship. Pastors, priests, counselors, and child-care workers all work under a cloud of distrust that has been created by countless instances of sexual misconduct by others in their profession.
These are some of the reasons that God cares about our sexuality. But there are deeper issues as well, and in the remaining pages we’ll take a closer look at why the Bible makes such an issue of our sexual behavior.