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“Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
(1 Timothy 5:2)
The dominoes are falling. Hollywood’s power brokers, iconic media figures, Washington’s most powerful officials, titans of industry, sports idols. Everywhere that there are men who have abused their power to gain sexual advantage, women are coming forward and calling them out.
The amount of pain, degradation, and violation that women suffer in this regard is staggering. A majority of women have experienced harassment, ranging from inappropriate come-ons to groping, pressure and threats from men in positions of power, and a painfully high number have experienced molestation or rape.
We are right to grieve with our sisters in their pain. We are right to support our sisters who are speaking up about their experience. We are right to rejoice in truth – hard as it can be to hear – because it is right to “rejoice whenever truth wins out” (1 Corinthians 13:6). We pray for change, that this moment will contribute to a world in which women are more and more treated as their heavenly Father would have them treated. We also remember – hard as it can be – that the gospel is for both abusers and abused. Perhaps we have sinned in a different way, but all us have sinned, and all of us are in need of grace.
What can we learn in the midst of all this? Two themes that run through these stories stand out to me as especially significant. First, we can’t avoid reaping what we sow. And second, the Bible’s sexual ethic, object of scorn that it is, is actually brilliant.
As story after story comes to light we are shocked, but should we be? Our entertainment industry is hypersexualized, both feeding and shaping our culture’s longing for whatever sexual freedoms we as individuals desire. Should it surprise us that such an environment might also lead to a culture of abuse? And that a culture which objectifies women on our screens will also end up objectifying women in real life? And that where power goes unchecked it leads to abuse, and where abuse happens, abuse of a sexual nature will often be in the mix? (It was a shocking, if not entirely surprising, outrage to learn that the powerful in congress have a fund for paying off women who come forward with complaints. They have a fund!!!)
In a culture which every day tells us that we deserve to have our desires satisfied, we need to remind ourselves that God puts fences around our sexual expression, not because he would deprive us of something good, but to preserve that good. Both on an individual and a societal level, he wants to protect us from the harm that results when our libidos become our gods.
For our culture to continue to celebrate an anything-goes sexuality, which degrades sex and objectifies women, while simultaneously shouting, “But don’t you go and abuse it!” is as naïve as telling a drunk to take the car for a spin but not to hit anything. If we do not exercise our sexuality in the way which God has designed it, we will experience wreckage, personally and societally. And we will not be able to control the shape that wreckage does and does not take. As the Apostle Paul wrote, “God will not be mocked, we reap what we sow” (Galatians 6:7).
Second, the Christian sexual ethic, which to a watching world seems naïve and backwards, is brilliant. If you wanted to shape a society where sex is not a commodity, women are not treated as a means to an end, where it is taken seriously that intercourse joins people in more than just their bodies, that recognizes how serial hook ups lead to severely damaged souls, where children grow up with the benefit of two parents, etc., one could hardly find a better starting place than the words of Jesus:
“Haven’t you read the Scriptures?” Jesus replied. “They record that from the beginning ‘God made them male and female.’ And he said, ‘This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one.’ Since they are no longer two but one, let no one split apart what God has joined together.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
Then, as now, people recoiled at the challenge those words posed. In the Jewish world, the idea that one could not simply obtain a divorce for any reason and move on to the next partner was enough to cause Jesus’ disciples to ask if marriage was worth it! (To which Jesus also affirmed the value and dignity of singleness/celibacy – a teaching that challenges us as well.)
As Christianity moved into the Greco-Roman world with its anything-goes sexuality, the Christian sexual ethic was even more foreign. Wherever your attractions took you – male or female, child or adult, slave with no choice or willing partner, spouse or mistress – nothing was out of bounds. For the Christians to affirm as they did that sex was only for those who were married, only between men and women, only for those old enough and free enough to consent, and that you were to be faithful to one partner for life – this was crazy talk. And as our society becomes more post-Christian, it sounds crazier here as well.
Yet it would be hard to deny that to the degree we live by the sexual ethic Jesus taught, we find a level of shalom that reflects the deepest longings of both individuals and society as a whole. We ache for the lack of whole and healed sexuality.
We do well to pause here, in the midst of the avalanche of scandals, and look at ourselves. Are my interactions with the opposite sex respectful, marked by dignity and “absolute purity,” as Paul says? If not, why not? We might ask ourselves, how am I letting the culture shape my view of women? Of men? Of sex? Is my own sexual ethic derived from the Scriptures, or from the world’s present mood? Do my choices in what I let entertain me feed a Christian ethic or a worldly one? Am I seeking to have my views and practice shaped by Jesus and the Scriptures, or am I being conformed to the world around me?
God do your work in us. Give us grace to live as your people, honoring you and honoring one another.
Lord bless you friends, and we’ll look forward to being with you this Sunday –