The world we live in is obsessed with sex. It’s willing to consume anything about sex put on film or in books or on the internet – and it’s never satisfied.  It’s always hungry for more. Sex scandals – both inside the Church and out – are everywhere. Our world is obsessed with sex![1]

 In Ephesians 5, the apostle Paul deals with the subject of God, Love & Sex. And he’s decidedly “counter culture” in his teaching. Everything he says about the topic is in opposition to the attitude that most people in America and around the world have toward sexual morality – including many people who identify themselves as born-again Christians.

Let start with an emphatic statement:  GOD LOVES SEX! God created sex. God is not repulsed by sex – as some people teach. Sex is God-given. And it’s a very good and a very exciting part of our humanity…especially as Christians. But what God hates with a passion is the perversion and misuse of sex – because sexual sin messes with the picture God’s Word reflects about His relationship with His Church. Sex between a man and a woman in marriage is a parable around which God wants to paint a picture of His love and passion for us – His bride – the Church. So…God loves sex! He always has and He always will. [And by contrast Satan hates sex!]

Here’s what Paul teaches unapologetically about sex from Ephesians 5:3-14 (NLT): “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people. Obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you. Instead, let there be thankfulness to God. You can be sure that no immoral, impure, or greedy person will inherit the Kingdom of Christ and of God. For a greedy person is an idolater, worshiping the things of this world. Don’t be fooled by those who try to excuse these sins, for the anger of God will fall on all who disobey him. Don’t participate in the things these people do. For once you were full of darkness, but now you have light from the Lord. So, live as people of light! For this light within you produces only what is good and right and true. Carefully determine what pleases the Lord. 11 Take no part in the worthless deeds of evil and darkness; instead, expose them. 12 It is shameful even to talk about the things that ungodly people do in secret. 13 But their evil intentions will be exposed when the light shines on them, 14 for the light makes everything visible. This is why it is said, ‘Awake, O sleeper, rise up from the dead, and Christ will give you light.’”

Paul is very specific here…He says sexual immorality should not be a part of a Christian’s life. Then he defines what he’s talking about – using some very specific words. And – most important of all – he gives us reasons why sexual immorality and practicing sexual sin is not God’s will for a Christian.

In this passage, there are five compelling and consistently logical reasons why sexual sin (as Paul very clearly defines it) is not compatible with the lifestyle of a follower of Jesus Christ. Paul flatly declares that sexual immorality is totally incompatible with the Christian faith – the two simply cannot mix.

 Actually, Paul is repeating the teachings of Jesus on the same subject in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7.  Jesus taught that adultery and fornication were sin. He taught that the eye that is attracted to adultery and the hand that is involved in fornication should be “cut off” (figuratively speaking). Jesus said, if we don’t, it will lead us into evil. He went so far as to say that even the thought that leads to adultery or fornication is wrong.

Here are two definitions of sexual immorality from the Apostle Paul:

  • “fornication” = voluntary sex between two unmarried people before marriage;
  • “adultery” = voluntary sex with someone, if you’re married, other than your spouse.

Jesus makes it clear that God’s intention for every one of us is that we either marry, and remain sexually faithful to our partner, or that we totally abstain from sex. The Bible doesn’t allow any wavering from that standard. The Bible makes it very clear that this is the Christian moral standard on sexual behavior.  PERIOD!  

In my opinion, Eph. 5:3-14 is one of the most helpful passages in the whole Bible when it comes to understanding how we’re to conduct ourselves in a “sex-obsessed” society. It stands in complete contrast to what the world outside of Christ and His values has to offer. And this passage gives us some very illuminating reasons why we don’t have to be confused or mentally foggy about sexual sin.

REASON # 1 that sexual sin is incompatible with Christianity is because It’s harmful to our basic humanity. Verse 3: “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people.”

“Sexual immorality” is the most common term in the Bible for any kind of sexual sin. It has nothing to do with how you feel morally about you and your sexual partner… “Our relationship isn’t immoral!” Sexual immorality refers to any form of deviate sexual behavior (adultery, fornication, homosexuality, lesbianism, incest, bestiality, etc.). “Impurity” means literally “uncleanness.” It refers to anything that’s morally rotten or obscene. That includes pornography. “Greed” refers here to greed for someone else’s body. So, anyone who makes an idol of another person’s body is “greedy” or “covetous.” And Paul says that is sexual sin. All of this is included under the term “sexual sin.”

Notice that in vs.4 it’s not only the acts themselves which are prohibited, but even verbally joking around about them. In Paul’s words, “obscene stories, foolish talk, and coarse jokes—these are not for you.”

NOTE: The Bible never tells us not to talk about sex. Sex is a legitimate topic of discussion – any time. But it’s the trivializing and distortion of sex Paul says is inappropriate. We don’t have to be Victorian prudes – where the mere mention of the word sex in public was socially unacceptable. We can talk about the God-given blessing of sex and sexuality as often as it’s appropriate. Just don’t trivialize and distort sex in your everyday conversation – which is so common today.

Anyone who has read the Bible (especially the OT) knows that it speaks very openly and candidly about sex. The Bible teaches that our sex drive is God-given. God likes sex. And He wants us to like it too. Sex was God’s idea – not the Devil’s. God made us “highly sexed” and that’s a good thing. Christianity, almost alone among all the great religions of the world, thoroughly approves of the human body. God once entered into time in a human body – complete with sex organs. And He found no shame in it at all. The Bible makes it clear that within marriage sex is to supposed to be enjoyed as beautiful and wholesome – as God-approved. God is for sex – in the right and proper context of marriage.

But the Bible is equally clear in its declaration that sex outside of marriage is harmful to our basic humanness. And that’s why God prohibits it – for our own good. His prohibitions are designed to keep us from being deprived of enjoying the very best. In fact, sex outside of marriage is so injurious, that Paul says, even passing references to it among us Christians can be emotionally inflaming and dangerous. He tells us that we must “lay aside” even the desire to talk about the details of sexuality immorality.

If you think this is a tough pill to swallow, it may help you to know that this statement was made by Paul is a day when sexual sin was even more widely tolerated and accepted that it is today. In the city of Ephesus, where the church to which this letter was written was located, there was a temple dedicated to the pagan goddess Diana (or Artemis). In this temple were a large number of both male and female “priests” and “priestesses” who gave their bodies to whoever could pay the price, as an act of worship to the goddess Diana. The whole city accepted sexual intercourse as an act of worship. They regarded it as normal and proper – as a sign of religious dedication. That was what the society in which these 1st c. followers of Christ lived. Yet, to them Paul writes: “But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is fitting among saints.” (NASB)

 If that sounds unrealistic to you today in 2024, think what it must have sounded like to the Christians in Ephesus in A.D. 62. But it’s there – for us all to read and heed. Why? It’s there, Paul says, because the absence of this kind of activity and this kind of talk is “fitting” among the saints. That word means “becoming” or “wholesome” or “attractive” or “refreshing.” The implication is that if we indulge in these things or talk about them in sordid detail – it’s unwholesome, it’s unattractive, it’s unbecoming and it’s unrefreshing. In short it is debasing and defiling.

Naturally, a society and a culture like the one America has become over the past 55 years is going to challenge that idea. We’re being told today that all sex is beautiful and natural – like any other bodily desire or urge. We should feel free to satisfy our sexual urges as openly and without shame as we do all other bodily needs. We’re continually subjected by the media and the entertainment industry to a barrage of propaganda which links sex with everything natural, and wholesome, and youthful and vital.  We’re urged to perform a sex act – any kind of sex act – with whomever and whenever we find it mutually agreeable. Why? Because it will make you a happier person – that’s why. That’s the sexual propaganda of our day.

 “This idea that sex, all sex, any sex, is natural and beautiful is a lie. It never was true. Like all powerful lies, it derives its strength from being based upon a partial truth. It is true that sex is a natural urge. It is true that sex is related to our physical body like hunger or thirst, or the need to urinate, or sleep, or any other physical urge. But what is never said is that these other urges also require regulation and control.  They are not indulged in at will, any time, any place. We don’t eat in any manner that we choose. We don’t sit down at the table and begin to grab with our hands and stuff food into our mouths. We learn to eat with a knife and fork that we might not be offensive. We learn to regulate our eating, and control even the way we eat as well as what we eat.  We don’t sleep whenever we please, even though we may be awfully sleepy…And even though we see many signs and pickets demanding the right to sexual freedom, we never see people picketing for the right to urinate publicly, or any time they will. We even insist that our puppies and kittens learn to do otherwise. Therefore, just because sex is like our other natural desires, because it is nothing to be ashamed of, then like these other natural urges it requires regulation and restraint.” – Ray Stedman

And the Bible teaches us that God’s intended regulation for sex is – marriage. Marriage is the way to regulate sex so that it is right and wholesome and mutually beneficial to husband and wife. Any other expression of sex is a defiling and a debasing of our humanity.

 Verse 2 & 3 in this chapter actually form a whole thought: “And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you, and gave Himself up for us, an offering and a sacrifice to God as a fragrant aroma. But do not let immorality or any impurity or greed even be named among you, as is proper [or fitting] among saints.”

What Paul is saying is that sexual immorality is a violation of love. In other words, you can’t truly love someone and engage in sex with them outside of marriage. For a Christian love and sex outside of marriage are mutually exclusive.

The two most common arguments for sex before marriage are: (1) As long as love is present, sex outside of marriage can be justified.” But Paul says that’s impossible, because if you really love someone you would not want to injure them. And sex outside of marriage injures the other person because it is incomplete, and guilt-ridden, and unfulfilling. There’s no such thing as sexual relations outside of marriage done in love; (2) The second argument goes something like this: “We need to experiment with sex before marriage so we can see whether or not our marriage will work.” That’s a lie, too. It mistakenly sees sex as the primary thing in marriage. And that is simply not the case. Believe me, I know. I’ve been married for almost 48 years – and sex is not the most important thing in a marriage. You cannot test marriage by sex alone. There are far more important ingredients than sex that make a marriage a “good” marriage. It’s impossible to tell if a marriage will work by having sex before marriage. It doesn’t prove anything. It is beside the point. I can guarantee you that if you and your potential mate are both healthy, that you will be sexually compatible.

Testing sexual compatibility in marriage is kind of like testing a parachute by jumping off a 30-foot building. There simply isn’t enough room for the parachute to operate. The only way to test a parachute is to go up and jump out of an airplane. And the only way to test the proper function of sex is to get married – and live as man and wife for twenty plus years!

The second reason that sexual looseness is not compatible with the life of a Christ-follower is found in verse 4: “And there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which is not fitting, but rather giving of thanks.” (NASB)

REASON # 2 that sexual immorality is not compatible with the life of a follower of Christ is because even the talk that leads to sexual sin is inconsistent and pointless.  Paul calls it “not fitting.”  This word is different than the one used in vs. 3. There it meant “defiling” or “disgraceful.” Here in verse 4 it means something that is “not consistent.” It can also mean “inappropriate” or “wasteful or “pointless.” Paul’s point here could be summed up in a question. He asks: What do Christians gain by exposing themselves to sexy, sleezy literature or by attending sexually explicit movies or by discussing sexual perversions or by indulging in telling dirty stories or double entendre jokes? His answer: You gain nothing. It is wasted and pointless activity. You gain absolutely nothing from it!”

Paul challenges the notion that we must have detailed knowledge of sexual sin before we can really understand its negative effect. He says that’s not true – and in fact it’s a waste of your time. It’s inappropriate and it has no point. You don’t learn how to avoid sexual immorality by talking about it or by joking about it or by laughing about it and exposing yourself further to it. That’s a dead-end street. It is wasted time and effort. You never learn the true nature of sex by studying its perversions or distortions. You learn what sex is all about from God’s Word and the revelation contained in it.

Sex is like a river. Kept within its banks it is harnessed as a great and powerful force for good. But when we indulge in “filthiness and silly talk and coarse jesting which is not fitting” through sexually explicit movies and books and sexually heated gossip sessions – then the sex drive overflows the riverbanks and becomes a flood which inundates the whole landscape. And we find ourselves slogging through mud and mire and sexual debris. Then the river of sex begins to lose its appeal. Unbridled sexual desire eventually loses its power to attract.

What do the facts reveal in this regard? What have the results been over the past 55 years or so? The problem doesn’t lie with Christians who have followed Paul’s counsel over the years and heeded this command in Ephesians 5.

The world apart from Christ has exposed itself to every possible form of sexual immorality over the centuries of human existence. And what it has gotten us? Well, to be sure, we don’t really know any more about the true nature of sex now than we did before. In Paul’s words, it is “pointless” and represents nothing more than “wasted time.” It only increased our understanding of the sexual perversions of society, until society today is flooded with so much sexual information that it has merely equipped us with the knowledge of how to be that much more sexually perverted – if we choose.

So there you have it – two of the five reasons Paul gives us for why every type of sexual immorality is totally incompatible with the Christian faith: it debases and defiles us and it’s a waste of time.

If we take Paul’s words at face value, then we as followers of Christ have no choice in the matter of sexual morality but to adopt his perspective. Any position other than the one taken by the apostle Paul is one of defiance toward God and it is a very foolish position. Anyone who chooses a different viewpoint is challenging the authority of the Lord Jesus Christ – God Himself!

Unless we Christians are ready to take a stand in obedience to what God has said, there is little we can do to stem the tide of sexual immorality in our society. If we adopt the world’s approach to sexual behavior the consequences will be grave.

Years ago, “ABC Evening News” reported on an unusual work of modern art – a chair affixed to a shotgun. It was to be viewed by sitting in the chair and looking directly into the gun barrel. The gun was loaded and set on a timer to fire at an undetermined moment within the next 100 years. The amazing thing was that people waited in lines to sit and stare into the shotgun shell’s path.  They all knew that the gun could go off at point-blank range at any moment, but they were gambling that the fatal blast wouldn’t happen during their minute in the chair. Yes, it was foolhardy, yet many people who wouldn’t dream of sitting in that chair live a lifetime gambling that they can get away with sin. Foolishly thy ignore the risk until the inevitable self-destruction.

How about you?  Have you been sitting in the “chair” of sexual immorality?  If so, God’s word to you – and to all of us is: “Get out of that chair, and stay out of it! It’s defiling your basic humanity, and it is a waste of your time.”

[1] This blog was inspired by Ray Stedman’s series on Ephesians: The Calling of the Saints //www.raystedman.orgnew-testament/ephesians


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