Sex was God’s Idea!

Many people, especially Christians, get hung up over sex. Sadly we are bombarded with all kinds of ideas about our sexuality and how to express it. This can lead to confusion and disappointment. Misinformation in this area is not a new problem. As we shall see when we resume our studies in 1 Corinthians this week some strange ideas were floating around in the first-century church. Most notably the idea that abstinence from sexual intercourse was the best and most spiritual course of action. Fortunately, Paul makes it clear that this is far from the case and he gives some really helpful advice for married couples concerning sexual intimacy.

As part of my preparation for preaching through what Paul has to say on a number of issues related to sex and marriage I have read a couple of books that you may find helpful. These go into the subject with greater depth and thoroughness than I will be able to in a few brief sermons.

My first recommendation is What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Sex by Ryan Howes, Richard Rupp and Stephen Simpson (ISBN 978-0-8010-6774-7). As the title suggests the book is targeted at men, however there is a chapter specifically for women. The authors candidly show how the Bible is not coy about sex, and in places is actually quite explicit in its celebration of the act of love between a husband and wife. Although I wouldn’t agree with every statement made the overall message is helpful in teaching that sex is part of God’s design for healthy marriages. It includes sound advice for sparking up our sexual relationships in a godly way.

Buy What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Sex from Amazon UK
Buy What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Sex from Amazon US

My second recommendation is The 4 Seasons of Marriage: Secrets to a Lasting Marriage by Gary Chapman (ISBN 978-1-4143-0023-8) You may recognise the author who wrote the 5 Love Languages. In this book Chapman uses the analogy of spring, summer, autumn and winter to describe phases that marriages go through. Just as during our lifetime we experience many seasonal cycles so in a marriage we may go through these phases many times. He offers hope for those whose marriages have become cold and frozen as in winter, that it is possible to move back into the heady days of spring and summer again. As well as describing what marriages in each season look like he provides helpful strategies for enhancing the seasons and advice on developing an appropriate action plan. Obviously it is a book that is best worked through together as a couple but he is realistic enough to address that sometimes only one person in the marriage desires to make a change and gives advice for them alone.

Buy The 4 Seasons of Marriage: Secrets to a Lasting Marriage from Amazon UK
Buy The 4 Seasons of Marriage: Secrets to a Lasting Marriage from Amazon US

If you are married I would encourage you to read either or both of these books and pray that doing so will enrich your marriage.

This blog post featured in the September 2016 edition of Lifelines

Is God anti-gay? – by Sam Allberry

IsGodAntiGay There are many issues that face the modern church that cause much division between sincere followers of Jesus as they try to work out a biblical position. Few can cause as much pain and confusion as the issue of homosexuality. The recent legislative change in the UK (and many other western democracies) approving of same sex marriages only adds to the challenge.

Sam Allberry is uniquely positioned to help us in this matter, combining his role as a church pastor with his own journey as a man who experiences ‘same sex attraction’. Sam candidly describes how he came to terms with experiencing homosexual feelings as a teenager and now as an ordained minister. He writes: ‘When someone says they’re gay, or for that matter, lesbian or bisexual, they normally mean that, as well as being attracted to someone of the same gender, their sexual preference is one of the fundamental ways in which they see themselves. And it’s for this reason that I tend to avoid using the term. It sounds clunky to describe myself as “someone who experiences same-sex attraction”. But describing myself like this is a way for me to recognise that the kind of sexual attractions I experience are not fundamental to my identity. They are part of what I feel but are not who I am in a fundamental sense. I am far more than my sexuality.’

Sam reminds us that Jesus Christ said that everyone who follows him is called to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34). He explains that understood properly this truth means the challenge of following Jesus demands our absolute obedience regardless of our sexuality: ‘Ever since I have been open about my own experiences of homosexuality, a number of Christians have said something like this: “the gospel must be harder for you than it is for me”, as though I have more to give up than they do. But the fact is that the gospel demands everything of all of us. If someone thinks the gospel has somehow slotted into their life quite easily, without causing major adjustments to their lifestyle or aspirations, it is likely that they have not really started following Jesus at all.’

Sam commences his exposition in chapter 1 by examining the biblical foundations of marriage as God’s baseline plan for sexuality. He argues that marriage is meant to reflect something of God’s nature, so that the unity between a married man and a woman is a reflection of the unity of the three persons of the Trinity. He then argues that a key purpose of marriage is to provide a secure environment for procreation of children. Thirdly he argues that biblical marriage reflects the grace of Christ in uniting Him with his people. It is this union of Christ and the church which leads us to understand that a marriage is intended to be the union of dissimilar people – a man and a woman, rather than two men or two women.

In chapter 2 Sam explores what the bible has to say about homosexuality. He emphasises that there are only a handful of passages that directly mention homosexuality, so it is not the main priority of biblical revelation and therefore needs to be understood in the light of bigger themes of scripture. However, he demonstrates that the teaching of Old and New Testament is unequivocally that homosexual acts of any kind, in common with many other sins, are an abomination to God. In chapter 3 Sam shows us how, like every other sin, homosexual acts can be forgiven. He also shows how those who have truly repented will have the desire to stop sinning. Sam acknowledges that while some people who repent and follow Jesus are no longer attracted to people of the same sex that is not true for everyone. Indeed his own testimony is that he still experiences this temptation, yet his desire not to sin is stronger, so he is able to choose not to give in to it.

In chapters 4 and 5 Sam provides helpful pastoral guidance on how we should respond to people with same-sex attraction within the church and within the wider community. In both cases we may need to acknowledge that our own personal history has been judgemental and even homophobic. However, having repented of such attitudes, he shows us how we can offer genuine compassion and support to people who face this particular temptation just as we would for people facing any other temptation and help them find complete fulfilment in Christ. In his conclusion he writes: This is, ultimately, the promise of the gospel. …. It is Jesus who satisfies our deepest emotional and spiritual needs. He is the prize – for all of us, irrespective of our issues and complexities. Anyone who comes to him will find fullness of life.

To conclude, this book provides a succinct, challenging, yet accurate interpretation of the Bible’s teaching on this subject. It is written with compassion and provides hope for those who, in Jesus words, ‘have ears to hear.’ His conclusions run counter to the PC agenda of western society and so will no doubt offend many. Nevertheless I believe the honesty and personal vulnerability which he has demonstrated in this short, readable book serves the church well and provides a clarion call to those who seek to faithfully follow Jesus.

Buy Is God anti-gay? from Amazon UK
Buy Is God anti-gay? from Amazon US

Marriage Matters

Following the vote in Parliament on the 5th February, the media frenzy surrounding the government’s bill on same sex couples marriage has quietened down for now. There are several stages for it to go through before it becomes law, and the public debate will doubtless continue to be robust and heated. However, regardless of the final outcome, it’s worth taking time to consider what our position should be as followers of Jesus.

Debate about marriage law is not new; indeed the Pharisees tested Jesus by asking him a question about divorce cf. Matthew 19:3-12. Jesus’ answer did not appeal to tradition, to Old Testament law, or even to social convention. His answer was firmly grounded in God’s creation plan as revealed in the early chapters of Genesis. According to Jesus, God’s plan was to create human beings as ‘male and female’. God ordained that in marriage ‘a man would leave his father and mother and be hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’. His conclusion so far as divorce was concerned was: ‘What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’

The Pharisees were not satisfied with Jesus’ answer, and even his disciples found Jesus’ teaching hard to accept, so we should not be surprised that a biblical understanding of marriage between a man and a woman is unpopular in contemporary society, and even some wings of the Christian church. Jesus himself said that ‘not everyone can receive this saying’.

The challenge we face is to uphold the creational principle that biblical marriage is a union between a man and a woman that is exclusive, permanent and sacred in the sight of God. Does that mean there is no place in the church for those who have not attained this high standard? Of course not!  We show compassion and love to the broken. We seek to bring healing and reconciliation to those who are hurting. We offer grace and forgiveness to the fallen. There is a safe place in our church family for everyone regardless of their sexual orientation. At the same time we affirm Jesus’ teaching that any sexual activity outside marriage between one man and one woman is sin and needs repentance if we truly wish to follow him.

This blog post featured in the March 2013 edition of Lifelines