(to save a file simply right click the link and select 'Save Target As...' or 'Save Link As...')
1 Corinthians 6:15-20 (New International Version)
15Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, "The two will become one flesh." 17But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
18Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
9 YOU WERE MADE THAT WAY
I have come to the conclusion that the seventh of God’s Ultimate Top 10, you shall not commit adultery, only makes sense if you believe that human beings are the crown of a divine creation and not simply the result of an evolutionary process that began millions of years ago when some sea creature decided to investigate real estate on dry land.
You remember the creation story is coming to the end and we are told that God decides the first human should not be alone. The animals and birds are created and God brings these creatures to the man and he gives each a name. But the judgement is none of these are suitable as a partner and helper. God then takes a rib from the man and out of that raw material creates the first woman. The judgement of scripture upon that relationship is this: Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh (Genesis 2:24).
I want you to know I wrote this sermon very much aware that my wife would likely be in the congregation along with one or two of my children. I had in mind then the “cringe” test. In other words, I didn’t want to say anything that would make my family cringe with embarrassment. I figured if I could pass that test with them, the rest of you would be safe also.
But, we are talking today about something quite powerful. God has built into men and women the potential for such a significant attraction between them that the relationship with their parents, the relationship which brought them into being and which is central to the shaping of character, becomes a lesser priority. It is only of a husband and wife that scripture says they become one flesh. There is no possibility of that becoming true without the desire for intimacy that brings a man and woman together. Therefore God has to
put up a fence around the relationship. That fence is no adultery or stay faithful.
9 NOT RABBITS
For Christmas of 2007, Rachel and Christopher gave Chris and I a subscription to Toronto Life. Early last December I called Rachel and asked if they had decided our gift for 2008 was to be a renewal of that subscription. She said no. I was relieved and told her so. The reason was this article from the January 2009 issue— “The Two-Timers’ Club.” It begins, “Cheating on a spouse has never been easier, thanks to Ashley Madison—the Web site that facilitates philandering for 2.7 million users. How Toronto changed the rules of adultery.” Guess what: the offices for this little venture in sin are in one of the office towers at Yonge and Eglinton. Don’t you feel a certain pride at being so close to the action?
So I said to Rachel, I don’t want to support a magazine that thinks Toronto’s contribution to pulling apart relationships and breaking up families, burdening people with guilt ought to be celebrated as if its a contribution to our culture. (We’ll put up banners—Banting and Best discover insulin; Ashley Madison helps you violate the seventh commandment.)
At some point during my childhood I convinced my parents that I should have two pet rabbits—Buggs and Fluffy. How it was that anyone thought two rabbits was a good idea is one of life’s great mysteries. You see Buggs was a male rabbit and Fluffy wasn’t. I assume this was the point in my life when I learned the cliche, “they breed like rabbits.”
Of course, when a young entrepreneur named Hugh Heffner wanted to start a business to take advantage of Western culture’s growing interest in all things sexual, the rabbit became the image of that business. “As a symbol, it intends to commend not only the sexual behaviour for which the bunny gained its reputation, but also an attitude that, like the bunny’s, is frolicsome and sportive, morally unreflective and spontaneous in matters of sex” (The Ten Commandments for Jews, Christians and Others, 135). In other words, if we are
going to violate the seventh of God’s Top 10 list we have to become more like rabbits than people.
I say that because it is simply part of what it means to be human to reflect within on the consequences of our actions. In fact, the person who is incapable of understanding the moral consequences of his or her actions is regarded as mentally incompetent. Here is the bottom line for me. When God says do not commit adultery, God is not primarily trying to curtail our freedom, God is endevouring to help us live up to the best possibility of our creation.
9 DESIGNED FOR FAITHFULNESS
We are designed for faithfulness. And here’s why. Do you remember what I said last week about the traditional Jewish understanding that the commandments, etched on two stone tablets, were related to each other in a one to six, two to seven, etc. pattern? And do you remember a few weeks ago when I suggested the reason we are not to make idols is that we will get it wrong? Like the ancient Israelites we will create an image for worship that makes no moral demands on us.
The Magician’s Nephew is one of the Narnia stories by C. S. Lewis. In it, two children, Digory and Polly are exploring the ruins of a once great palace in a strange ancient world. They come across a beautiful golden bell, somehow untarnished by the passing of years. Lying beside the bell is a tiny golden hammer and below the bell is a sign with these words of warning.
Make your choice, adventurous Stranger:
Strike the bell and bide the danger,
Or wonder, till it drives you mad,
What would have followed if you had.
Polly shrinks away from the bell, wanting nothing to do with the danger. But before she can stop him, Digory grabs the hammer and strikes the bell. It produces a clear, sweet note. But rather than fading, the sound of the bell begins to grow—until it becomes deafening. Walls and buildings begin to collapse under the massive reverberation. Through a series of circumstances that follow, Digory’s impulsive decision brings tragedy beyond anything he could have imagined.
Relationships are not easy. Ruth Graham, the wife of the famous evangelist, Billy Graham, was once asked if, given the pressures of living with such a famous preacher, she had ever considered divorce. “No,” she said, “never. Murder, yes, but never divorce.” Relationships are hard work.
The intimacy of the sexual relationship is intended by God for marriage between a man and woman because it cannot be separated from that relationship. The television show, Friends, tended to play fast and loose with any notion of morals. Yet there was an early episode in which even their writers could not quite bring themselves to condone mindless sex. Chandler, the character played by Matthew Perry, meets a beautiful woman and begins a relationship. All is well until he discovers she has a husband and a boyfriend. The situation is, of course, played for laughs but in the end Chandler concludes he cannot both grow in affection for this woman while she shares her affections with others.
This is the part of the story not being told, of course, by Playboy or the Ashley Madison web site. Their motto is this—“Life is short. Have an affair.” The idea is presented as something that will somehow enhance one’s well-being. It’s just not true.
As you can imagine, over 35 years of pastoral ministry I have listened to the stories of those who had an affair and those who were left behind to pick up the pieces of their life. The first thing I can witness to is the power of God’s redemptive love and the incredible resiliency of the human spirit. But I cannot think of a single story that isn’t marked by some measure of sadness or regret or outright tragedy.
Now let me be clear here. I am not talking simply of the breakdown of a relationship and divorce. That happens. I doubt there would be even one of us here today who does not know in their own life, or in the lives of the close circle of family and friends, at least one instance of divorce. You might point to an example where the end of a marriage seemed absolutely the best thing for everyone.
In my experience that sort of story is never told when the prelude involves a violation of God’s commandment—do not commit adultery.
Let me say it again. It’s part of the design. When Paul is writing to the Corinthians about moral choices he reminds them of what God intended as a result of the intimacy of the sexual relationship. The man and woman become one flesh. As Princess Diana famously told an interviewer, “Well, there were three of us in this marriage, so it was a bit crowded.” More than crowded, it was a disaster. Three cannot become one flesh. Friends, if you accept the reality of creation by God, then sex is not a recreational sport, it is an integral part of God’s design for marriage and family and the finding within that relationship of grace, forgiveness and joy.
Some of you, perhaps many of you, might be wondering what this sermon has to do with you. Here’s one thing. Most of us will have the opportunity to tell someone that adultery is wrong because we are not designed for it. We are the best we can be when we are faithful. Say that with conviction and compassion.
One more thing. Live a faithful life—that’s you at your best, faithful to God, to your spouse, to family, to friends. Live a faithful life, with no detours, as a witness to a world that except for you might depend on Hugh Heffner and Ashley Madison as their guides. God help us!