You know, that video clip is so outrageous. It is hard to imagine someone, even a Christian, responding so dramatically to something that is so trivialized in our culture. We typically do not respond to temptation in that way. For many, sexual immorality is a thing of curiosity. It’s new. It’s captivating. It’s enticing. It’s powerful. It offers an exciting new adventure or a quick thrill in an otherwise dull and boring world. We don’t see sexual immorality as being dangerous or as being any kind of a threat to us.
As a youngster I would travel with our family to attend the Prairie States Christian Assembly camp which is just outside Watseka, Illinois. We had made it a family tradition to attend their three day family camp. The camp is situated alongside a small river. Early one afternoon without anyone’s knowledge, certainly not our parents', a group of us boys decided to jump into one of the camp’s canoes and go for a joy ride. The camp director had warned us about not taking the canoes, but what did he know? This was the chance of a lifetime. We wanted to know what lay down the river around the next bend. What was the harm in that?
Against our better judgment, against the warnings of the camp director, with our hearts beating out of our chests, we pushed off into the slow moving current. It was a totally new experience for all of us. We had never been in a canoe before. We didn’t even know how to paddle together as a team, let alone know how to steer a canoe! As the familiar sounds of the camp faded, we were pleasantly surprised at how effortless the whole ride was. For hours, we glided downstream, navigating the bends, weathering the occasional rapids, enjoying the scenery, smiling and laughing.
But about mid-afternoon, we decided to turn the canoe around and head back to camp. Our smiles and laughter quickly faded as we began paddling upstream against the slow, but steady pull of the current. Suddenly the scenery wasn’t so exciting. As evening approached, we found ourselves hungry and thirsty. We were exhausted and virtually unable to return home. Wherever we could, we would hop out and pull the canoe by rope along the bank. It was only by the grace of God that we made it back to camp. Somewhere in this, there is a life lesson about the power of our sinful nature.
Our sinful nature is extremely powerful.
All sin, but especially sexual sin, can be captivating and alluring and powerful. It is so easy for us to push out into the currents of the sinful nature. It is so easy to be carried downstream. It is so easy to let our curiosity get the best of us. It is easy to cast aside all judgment and constraint, to silence our conscience, and to drift far beyond the boundaries that God has set for us. With the click of a mouse, with the touch of a remote, with the turn of a page, with the curious second glance at a stranger, with an inviting gaze into another’s eyes, with a few seemingly careless words and innocent gestures, with the careful recalculation of our steps to place ourselves at temptation’s door, we can easily be swept downstream, far away, to a place of no return.
If you find yourself swept downstream this morning, you need to know that God’s grace can help you find your way back to camp. But also know that his truth can insure that you never step into the canoe and push out into the current in the first place.
God's warning about sexual immorality.
In Ephesians 5:3-7 (NIV) God’s word warns us specifically about sexual immorality. "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. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person— such a man is an idolater— has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient. Therefore do not be partners with them."
There are certainly many positive, God-glorifying aspects to our sexuality. The truth is that God has given us many good gifts, including our sexuality. James 1:17 (NIV) says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights…"
Our sexuality is a gift from God.
When used according to God’s design, these good gifts bring joy and happiness. But when these good gifts are abused, they produce brokenness and sorrow. Food is a gift from God. When consumed appropriately, food nourishes and strengthens our bodies. But when abused, food enslaves us and it destroys life and health. Work is a gift from God. There is a joy that floods our souls when we create and produce. But when pursued in excess, work exhausts, it angers, and it destroys the body and spirit.
Our sexuality is also a gift from God. It was God’s gift to Adam and Eve. It enabled them to become one, to enjoy an exclusive and trusting relationship, and to experience deep intimacy without shame. It enabled them to remain together as one man and one woman for a lifetime, enjoying rich fellowship with their God.
But then there are the sinful distortions of human sexuality, the misappropriation of the good gift God has given each and every one of us. Every day we face the choice of how we are going to appropriate God’s gifts. When God’s design is abandoned, our sexuality can become a kind of curse. When handled incorrectly, sexuality can produce brokenness and sorrow, cause pain, decimate life's relationships, corrupt the heart, mind, body and soul, and steal us away from God himself. We live or die according to God’s design. We can either move deeper into joy and happiness by living within God’s will or we can break ourselves against God’s design.
Why break ourselves and destroy our souls when we can instead be set free? The Bible teaches us that the truth will set us free. It doesn’t matter how broken you are or how far downstream you’ve drifted. The truth in Ephesians 5:3-7 can set you free. These are timely words of warning, prophetic words of warning about a topic that we simply cannot ignore or pretend doesn’t impact our lives. Allow me to share some facts about sexual immorality out of Ephesians 5:3-7.
Sexual immorality affects everyone.
Without question sexual immorality is an issue for teenagers. Everything is overly sexualized in the youth culture. Virtually no one and no thing is exempt. Sexuality sells everything. In the youth culture sexuality is flaunted, exploited, idealized, and worshiped. But don’t you believe for a moment that sexual immorality is confined to the youth culture. Sexual immorality impacts everyone. No one is exempt. It is a male problem. It is a female problem. It is a youth problem. It is an adult problem. It is a problem for singles and for married couples. It is a problem among senior citizens.
When Paul says that there should not be even a hint of sexual immorality among us, he doesn’t put any qualifiers on it. This word applies to everyone.
The mere mention of sexual immorality is lethal.
In Ephesians 5:3-4 (NIV) Paul writes, "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. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving." Paul is not referring primarily to behavior here, though sexually immoral behavior is certainly prohibited. Paul is digging deeper into the root cause of sexual immorality. In these verses he is referring to our words. He is referring to our speech and to the power of suggestion.
Years ago I went to a youth conference where a hip youth pastor gave a talk. When he was finished, it was clear that he had done more damage than good to his listeners. For the rest of the day it was all the youth talked about. He had made the obscene explicit. He had planted seeds. He had fueled their imaginations. He caused them to lose a measure of innocence.
Why should you care what music you listen to, what movies you watch, what books you read, or what sitcoms you laugh at? Why should you be careful which conversations you join in on the job site, in the break room, in the classroom, or in the locker room? You should care because sexual immorality begins through the power of mere suggestion.
When you read the New Testament, sexual immorality is always referred to in general, broad terms. The Bible never gets into the nitty gritty, R-rated, or X-rated details. In Ephesians 5:12 (NIV) Paul says, "For it is shameful even to mention what the disobedient do in secret." As one scholar pointed out, "There is a danger that by talking about evil activities, even though disapprovingly, one can come to enjoy a perverted pleasure in them..."
Sexual immorality is all-consuming.
What takes root through the power of suggestion quickly overtakes one’s entire life. Sexual immorality is sharing God’s gift with anyone other than your marriage partner. The Greek word for sexual immorality is pornea and this word covers everything including premarital sexual relations, adultery, pornography, living together without marriage, and more.
Ephesians 5:3-4 (NIV) says, "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. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving."
The word impurity refers to the broad range of defilement and humiliation that occurs during sexual immorality when a person forfeits all dignity and self-respect. Impurity follows on the heels of general acts of sexual immorality.
Greed refers to the complete and utterly selfish exploitation of others for one's pleasure.
Obscenity refers to shameful, dirty, indecent and lewd behavior. This is where a person self-advertises his moral laxity, inviting ruin upon himself and others.
Foolish talk is seducing people with false promises.
Coarse joking is belittling God’s gift through wit, insinuation, and suggestive speech. Coarse joking is treating something that is holy and sacred, such as the marriage bed, with complete and utter contempt.
Most of our entertainment and music choices consist of sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk, and coarse joking. We are in real trouble. All of these things represent a progression whereby one’s entire life and very identity, becomes a distortion of one's own sexuality. These things represent immorality pursued to its ultimate end of self-ruin.
Sexual immorality is idolatry.
In Ephesians 5:5 (NIV) Paul writes, "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person— such a man is an idolater— has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."
The real problem with sexual immorality is that it usurps the authority of Christ and demotes God from his rightful place in our lives. Instead of serving the living God, we begin serving our passions and the flesh. We disengage ourselves from God to worship ourselves at the altar of our own distorted sexuality. We stop needing God and begin believing that our greatest need is the fulfillment of our sexual desires.
The idolatry of our sexuality is a great crisis facing our modern era. People, even Christians, gladly trade away their friendships, their marriages, their families, their reputations, their integrity, and even their souls for a fleeting moment of pleasure. Of course this leads us into another point that Paul makes concerning sexual immorality.
Sexual immorality is an empty pursuit.
In Ephesians 5:6 (NIV) Paul says, "Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient."
Sexual immorality is a false promise. It promises happiness, but never delivers happiness. It promises deeper love and intimacy, but leaves one empty and broken. If you were a thinking intelligent person, you would pay attention to the place that sexual immorality has brought its own practitioners. Does promiscuity satisfy? Does fornication build a stronger marriage? Does adultery lead to happiness? Does pornography satisfy the soul? Does obscenity bring healing and wholeness?
Sexual immorality stirs the wrath of God.
I have saved this for last because it is really the most important thing we need to understand about sexual immorality. There is no promise of salvation for those living in willful, continuous sin. Sexual immorality deeply angers God. It profanes his holy name.
In Ephesians 5:3 (NIV) Paul says it is, "improper for God’s holy people."
In Ephesians 5:4 (NIV) Paul says it is, "out of place" for God’s people.
In Ephesians 5:5 (NIV) Paul says, "No immoral, impure or greedy person— such a man is an idolater— has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."
In Ephesians 5:6 (NIV) Paul says, "because of such things God’s wrath comes on those who are disobedient."
Loved ones, I am only telling you what the text says. Don’t hear these as words of condemnation. Let them be words of challenge. Let them quicken your consciences to live according to God’s design. God is seeking repentance and confession!
When I was a really young guy, in grade school I found myself adrift. I was hanging out in my front yard one day and a neighbor kid brought over a dirty magazine. I saw things a youngster should never see. In mere seconds those images were etched into my psyche. I felt something change deep within my spirit. A darkness, a deception, had settled over my mind. I had crossed a line. I had violated a boundary set by the living God. I had treated God’s sacred gift with contempt.
In that moment, it was like I got hit by a freight train. God’s Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin and I cried out to my savior in repentance and begged his forgiveness. It took mere seconds to sin. It can take years to sort through the aftermath. Since that time, I have learned to live in that eternal moment of conviction. I have learned to, by the grace of God, see sin for what it is, to repent of it, to confess it, to ask forgiveness, and to ask God to take me back to the place where I once was.
Silencing sexual immorality.
What should you do this morning if you are adrift in currents of sexual immorality? First, see sexual immorality for what it is; the great destroyer of life. The truth will set you free. Stop messing around. Stop playing with dynamite.
Second, avoid every audible hint of sexual immorality like the plague. On your television, in your music, on your headphones, on your car radio, in the movies, in your entertainment choices, in your daily conversations. Don’t let a syllable slip off your tongue. Don’t let a syllable touch your outer ear. It is not overkill to cancel your cable television, satellite, internet, or magazine subscriptions. You may need to change your movie choices, change what places you visit, etc.
Third, change your relationships. In Ephesians 5:7 Paul tells us not be partners with sexually immoral people. There are people you need to physically avoid in order to find healing.
Last, give your life to Jesus Christ. Acts 2:38 (NIV) says, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." 1 John 1:9 (NIV) says, "If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness."
Know that you are not beyond the grace of God. God wants to forgive you. He wants to fill you with his Holy Spirit to give you power and strength. He wants to purify you from all unrighteousness. But is that what you want?