This past Thursday, I had lunch with an old friend. We enjoyed the lunch hour reminiscing about old times, about the time he took me fishing, about the things we had to say way back when before we knew what it would be like to be grown up.
When we were discussing our day around the table that evening, Brenda asked, "Now, how do you know him?"
Then I had to admit it. His sister was my first girlfriend. That, of course, pricked up a few ears. "Daddy," said one of our daughters, "did you think a lot about girls when you were younger?"
Now what do I say? Well, I had to admit it. "Yes, I did think a lot about girls when I was younger." Of course, there was no stopping now. "Mommy," and I saw Brenda thoroughly enjoying it now, "did you think a lot about boys when you were a teenager?" Yeah, Brenda thought a lot about boys too.
Sexuality is a beautiful gift.
Boys like girls, and girls like boys. And something happens that gets them married. What does the Bible have to say about sexual relations?
The first thing the Bible has to say about sexual relations is that our human sexuality is the best thing that's ever happened to us. Remember the story of Creation? God fashions Adam to romp and to roam in his beautiful new world. He brings all of the animals for Adam to play with. But they're not enough.
He's all alone in a crowd. God has to bring Eve, someone who is exactly like him and, yet, so different. What's behind it all? God says that loneliness is a curse, a curse that doesn't belong in his world. And the way to get around loneliness is to find relationships that matter with people who matter. The way God intended for that to happen in the most awesome way is across the gender lines.
You know, Hugh Hefner is on to something. Hefner is the guy who turned sexuality into a multi-billion dollar business with his Playboy clubs and his Playboy magazines. In an interview he was asked why he was so fixated on sex. He said, "Sex is a function of the body, a drive which man shares with the animals. Like eating and drinking and sleeping, it's a physical demand that must be satisfied. If you don't satisfy it, you'll have all sorts of neuroses and repressions, psychoses. Sex is here to stay. Let's forget the prudery that makes us hide from it. Throw away those inhibitions. Find a girl who's like-minded and let yourself go."
What do you think about that? Well, you know what? In many respects, he's absolutely right. God made us males and females, and he wanted us to enjoy that relationship exactly that way.
Stan Weirsman, former English professor at Calvin College wrote a book called Purpleni. It's a series of eighteen poems, one for every year of his life up until the age of eighteen. He talks about the way in which his awareness of sexuality came to him slowly over the years. Number seventeen says:
"Mother worried that my sex education was not complete, not knowing that you had undertaken it when I was one. Mother called a family council before I went off to college. Mother led off, 'Love is never sin; lust is always sin. Love is giving; lust is getting. Love always lasts; lust never lasts. Love is expressing yourself; lust is gratifying yourself.' "
"Then it was Dad's turn. He was agitated.
" 'This uncivilized English language with two words for the same thing. Only one is good and the other is bad. In Dutch, "lust" means wanting food when you're hungry. Sure it's getting, it never lasts, and it's self-gratifying; but it's not a sin to enjoy food when you're hungry.'
"Then you fell silent. When you spoke again, you were calmer.
"'When you get married, Sitza, I hope it's for love. But I hope it's for lust too.' "
Don't imagine that Adam was a prude. Don't think that Eve felt any shame or shyness about being a woman. Don't pretend that Jesus didn't understand what it was like to be a male. After all, he's one of the three persons of the Holy Trinity of God. And what did the three say to each other before the creation of the world? They said, "Let's make humankind in our own image. Male and female, let's make them that way." What does that mean? Not that the persons of the Trinity are necessarily female and male.
It means that the persons of the Holy Trinity of God had such a wonderful relationship with one another that they wanted others to share the same kind of depth of a relationship. Then they blasted the stars and the planets out from the big bang. When they condensed the moistures of the earth to form the clouds and the seas, and when they planned together the human form, they said to each other, "We've got to give these beings the delightful relationship that we share together in the Holy Trinity of God." The best way to make that happen was to fix some of us up as females and some of us up as males.
God himself declares at the beginning of time that the best thing that's ever happened to us as human beings is our human sexuality. But, in the verses we're looking at, Jesus doesn't just talk about human sexuality. In Matthew 5:27-32, he talks about adultery, and he talks about divorce.
Marriage is sacred.
Jesus declares that there is something very special about marriage, and no one has a right to tamper with it. No one. Why? Why is marriage such a sacred thing?
Well, it has to do with our search for ourselves. Notice that when Jesus speaks of someone committing adultery, he gives the impression that that person doesn't really know who he is. A person who divorces doesn't understand what his actions mean for himself or others.
Babies come into this world as unfinished creatures. They're fully human but not fully developed. They have a lifetime of potential and growth, of development all within them. Intellectually, they need teachers who will pour water into the soaking sponges of their brains. Volitionally, they need that parental discipline which will shape and mold and give contour to the persons they're becoming. Socially, they need friends and family and neighbors so they can begin to relate to one another. But chances are they won't find themselves personally until they find themselves in relation with someone of the other gender.
You know it's true, says A.E Hausman: When I was in love with you,
Then I was clean and brave,
And miles around the wonder grew
How well I did behave.
Renowned psychologist Rollo May says that loving another person of the opposite gender and finding intimacy with that person has five deepening dimensions of self to it.
1) Softening. Those mighty defenses of individuality are penetrated. Remember the Johnny Cash song,
Six foot six, he stood on the ground,
Weighed 235 pounds.
Yet I saw that giant of a man brought down
To his knees by love.
Our individuality makes us scramble for a personal identity, and our sinfulness makes us fight to retain some distance from others. But something happens with love. It burrows past all of our rocks and our walls and our pride and opens us up to a wonder we never thought we'd find there before.
2) Affirmation. There's an affirmation of myself in a relationship of love. Social scientists talk to us about the culture of space. Unconsciously, each of us draws a circle around ourselves approximately three to four feet wide, reaching out from the center of our beings. Wherever we go we do that.
When we were in Nigeria with missionaries, the circle was a little bit smaller than that. The circle is our personal space, and we won't easily allow anyone else to come into that. Ever have somebody come close to your face and try to talk right into your nose? What do you do? You lean back a little, or take a step back from the other person.
Why do we do it? We do it because we're afraid someone else will dominate our identity. We're afraid the other person will enter our space and take over us. We're afraid that we'll lose some sense of self if the other person comes too near us. But what happens when we fall in love? We suddenly can't get close enough to the other person. "Snuggle up to me." We do that because we're not afraid this other person will harm us. The other person, we know, will affirm us.
3) Creative energy. Love convinces us that the two of us together are bigger and better than the sum total of each of us individually. I give to you, and you give to me. Somehow, when we give to each other, there's a greater identity that's formed. God blesses that in a very powerful way through children. Children are really the combination and extension of ourselves; new persons who are bigger and better than their parents could ever be.
4) Giving. Love teaches us the truth of Jesus' statement that it's better to give than to receive. We don't give in order to buy back something from the other person. We give because giving is the meaning of love itself.
5) Union. This is the dimension of shared consciousness. We begin to become one soul, one spirit, one person in some real and mystical and beautiful way.
These are the things that love is all about. And this is the reason that God made us to be females and males, because we would only begin to plumb the depths of ourselves most fully when we found ourselves in that kind of relationship with someone else.
Intimacy demands safety.
No one in this world knows me better than Brenda, and no one in this world has helped me to know myself better than Brenda. I can share bits and pieces of myself with all of you. I can share more intimate thoughts with my special friends. But with Brenda, I'm learning to share everything that I am—all those five dimensions of love.
How do we develop that intimacy? We only develop it in this sense—because there's a safe place created by the other person for us. Our marriage is a sanctuary of safety where we can express and explore those dimensions of love. If I am to enter her space, if I am to gain access to a place that allows me to find my truest self, if I am to learn the female language in order to learn and understand better my own native tongue, then I have to know that she will not violate me; she will not ridicule or destroy me; she will not demean me; she will not use me and toss me aside; she will not play with my secrets like toys. If I am to find myself, then I need to know that she wants me to find myself and that she wants to find who I am as well. Not to abuse but to cherish. And here's where we find our greatest sexual need in life. Our greatest sexual need is for the other person and for society around us to confirm with us the sanctity of marriage.
Dr. Nancy Moore Clagworthy spent 10 years researching people who lived together without being married. When she began her research, she was "convinced that living together apart from marriage was a good thing. Maybe better even than this whole stuffiness of marriage. Let's just live together. Isn't that more natural?"
She wanted to prove that in a scientific way. She interviewed couples who were living together. She observed the development of hundreds of people as their lives unfolded. She found that living together without marriage is one of the worst things that can happen to anybody. Why? Because the context of safety is gone.
People who move in together without the commitments of marriage view that relationship as one which is always temporary, and so they can never fully give themselves to one another. Why should I give myself to you if tomorrow you can walk right out of here? Why should I trust you with my most intimate self if I don't know whether you'll protect me when I let you know who I am?
Dr. Clagworthy now opposes totally, vehemently cohabitation outside of marriage commitments. She says that our human sexuality demands the safety of marriage in order for us to become fully the persons that we have the possibility of being.
Another scientific survey was published recently in Canada. Those who cohabitated before marriage and later married were twice as likely to end up in divorce as those who spoke vows of commitment prior to marriage. Studies in Sweden and here in the United States say the same thing. If you want your marriage to fail, the best thing you can do is live with that person before you get married. You'll never be able to fully trust that person again, and you'll have denied yourself one of the best opportunities for finding who you really are.
And so it is with adultery. The safety is gone.
"You slash away the curtain that hides our special room where it's safe for us to be together, and you leave me standing naked in someone else's bedroom? And divorce rips me apart.
"If the highest of those five dimensions of love is joining my identity to yours, how can I find myself again after you hack us apart with a knife? Divorce rips something special, something irreplaceable out of me. Divorce tears a gaping hole in our sacred and saved space, and I'm left exposed. I'm left incomplete. I'm left less than I was before I met you because you take a part of me away with yourself."
That's why Jesus has such strong words about adultery. That's why Jesus has such strong words about divorce—because they are worse than death. They kill the spirit while they leave the body still living.
Anybody who's been through divorce will tell you that at one point they've thought of murder. The line between thinking murder and doing murder isn't that major. And neither is the line between divorce and murder. And that's why all sexual perversions are such great crimes. Incest and rape. Each of them cuts at the very heart of our human identity. Each of them violates the safe space we need in order to find ourselves. Each of them robs us of something essential to our characters.
The first question we ask when a baby is born is, "Is it a boy or a girl?" Why? Because the very essence of our humanity is caught up in our sexual identity. When someone steals something of that away from us, our very lives are demeaned. That's why Jesus uses such strong language for anyone who presses that edge. He says cut your eye out before that happens to you. He says cut your hand off rather than allowing that to take place in your relationship with someone else.
If you take somebody's car, you can always pay her back. But if you violate someone else's sexuality, you destroy something of her very soul. You can never undo the damage. And I hope that's clear enough. That's what Jesus says about adultery and divorce. The best thing that can happen to you in life happens to you as a sexual being, and the worst things that can happen to any of us in life happen to us as sexual beings. God meant for each of us to enjoy our sexuality to the fullest. In fact, only in exploring our sexual relationships with one another will we begin to find our truest selves, because the greatest thing that happens to us is when another person opens us up to who we are. That's why Jesus cautions us to deal wisely with one another in sexual relationships, because the greatest violence that can happen to anyone happens when we violate her or him sexually. Don't let it happen.
Christ helps humans relate.
Where we as females and males have grown embattled against one another in our society, Christ alone can break down the barriers between us.
Where we are presently engaged in activities that would harm one another sexually, Christ can give us the power to overcome those weaknesses of flesh or spirit.
Where we have wronged someone else horribly and where we have been wronged horribly by someone else, Christ alone can lead us through the hurting and healing steps of forgiveness.
Where our marriages have come undone because of divorce, Christ can give us a second chance to find sexual meaning and intimacy and identity. That's also part of the Gospel message. And where marriage is not a possibility for us for one reason or another, Christ can make our lives full and complete in ways that even transcend our sexual identity. He promises that.
The human race is like a radio. It can make a lot of noise and it can produce a lot of music, but the best sounds come in stereo—female and male—and the best music happens when the system is tuned to the frequency that God designed for it.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Wayne Brouwer teaches in the religion department at Hope College in Holland, Michigan.