May 24, 2015

Not Your Own

Have you ever borrowed something from someone and then messed it up?  Isn’t that an awful place to be?  It creates the potential for all kinds of trouble.  We’re tempted to cover it up and lie about it.  We worry that the person won’t trust us anymore.  We don’t trust ourselves with other people’s stuff anymore.  We have to spend money we weren’t planning to repair or replace something that wasn’t ours in the first place.  This all becomes especially true when we’re no longer talking about borrowing something from a neighbor and are instead talking about rentals.  I remember the first time I was given responsibility for a rental car.  I was terrified.  I parked three miles away from the door when I went places so no one would park next to me.  I drove more defensively than I usually do.  I thought seriously about taking my shoes off and putting them in a bag when I got in the car just so I wouldn’t mess up the interior.  I didn’t take any water with me when I drove which is highly unusual for me.  I did all this and more to make sure that nothing happened to that vehicle.  The reason was fairly simple: we were newly married and poor and fixing a car that wasn’t our own was not in the budget (fixing a car that was our own wasn’t in the budget either, but you get my point).

The fact is, most folks behave differently when using something that doesn’t belong to them than they do for their own stuff.  Even for a perfectionist like me, messing up my own stuff is mammothly irritating, but not the end of the world.  For instance, if I’m reading one of my books and the cover gets messed up, I’m nearly beside myself for a while…just ask Lisa.  But, it’s just a book.  (It’s just a book…it’s just a book…there, I almost believe that.)  Messing up someone else’s stuff, though, that’s bad.  If something doesn’t belong to us, we can’t just go treating it however we want.  We are to take care of it and do with it what the owner wants.  The thing we have to keep in mind, though, is who the owner is.  Because when we forget that, we run the risking of getting ourselves in trouble.

This morning we are in the second part of our series, The Four S’s of Idolatry.  The whole idea for this series is that our culture, our world really, has an idol problem.  No, that doesn’t mean we all bow down to little statues, but it does mean we have a laundry list of things we worship other than God.  The problem is, worshiping things other than God will gradually cause us to take on the nature and character of whatever this other things is.  Well, if God is the only source of good in the universe, then taking on the nature and character of something that isn’t God will lead to ends that are not good.  Taking some time to identify what these idols are and how we can root them out of our lives, then, would seem to be a worthwhile conversation to have.  And, while there are lots and lots of different idols we could talk about, four are perhaps the most primary and serve as categories into which various other idols fit: self, sex, state, and stuff.

Last week we started this conversation by talking about the worship of self.  I said then that this really serves as the foundational idol.  When the serpent was trying to convince Eve to eat the forbidden fruit and share some with her husband the line of argument it took was to get them to think of themselves more highly than they ought.  Really and truly the worship of anything other than God comes out of a worship of self.  In other words, the first thing we do is to throw God off His throne and place ourselves on it.  But then, as I said last week, once we are seated we begin to survey our kingdom and immediately start to see things that seem more impressive than we are at some level.  Following on this, we tend to refashion ourselves after the image of this other thing.  The result of this is a double fault.  Number one, we give up the power we tried to take for ourselves in taking God’s place.  Number two, by refashioning ourselves after the image of something else, we actually reduce our worth and beauty because we were created by God to sit atop the created order, not below whatever this other thing is.  Well of all the things we look to as seemingly more impressive than we take ourselves to be, the one we often look to first is sex, the second “S” of idolatry.  And so in part two of our series this morning, I want to talk with you about sex, how getting it wrong causes us nothing but trouble, and again why worshiping God is so much better.

Let me add this little disclaimer before we get started.  If you are here this morning and aren’t totally sure whether you are a follower of Jesus or not, while there’s a lot of good wisdom here that has the power to change your life if you accept it, this is all optional stuff for you.  For the Christians in the room, though, none of this is optional.  This all comes by way of command from Paul who wrote on behalf of God.

With that said, let’s start here:  The truth about sex is that it’s a gift of God.  It was His idea.  He could have made human procreation work in a million different ways, but He decided on sex.  Now, He could have made it painful and boring, but, for the creation of new life to be anything other than spectacular from start to finish wasn’t something the God who is the source of all life, who is life, was willing to tolerate.  New life always brings Him glory and so He made it glorious.  He made it not merely physically fulfilling, but emotionally, relationally, and even spiritually fulfilling as well.  And when it’s pursued in the appropriate context—which the guys who contributed to the Scriptures consistently defined very narrowly as between a husband and a wife—it is one of the purest delights we can experience.   In short, He made it incredibly, incredibly powerful.

But here’s the thing about power: it’s morally neutral.  Power itself has no moral content to it.  It simply is.  The key is how power gets used.  I’m a big fan of the superhero movies all coming out right now and I recently got the chance to see Avengers: Age of Ultron.  It was fantastic.  I won’t get into describing the plot right now, but at the heart of the movie is this thing called the Mind Stone.  The Mind Stone is one of the six Infinity Stones each of which give the knowledgeable and capable user the ability to exercise near complete control over the part of the universe the Stone affects.  They are objects of immense power.  Well, near the beginning of the movie the Mind Stone was used to create the villain Ultron, a psychotic robot bent on destroying the world.  However, later on in the movie, the heroes regain control of the Stone and use it to create a second robot called Vision who is good and committed to the preservation of life.  The Mind Stone itself is morally neutral.  The people using it were not.

Sex is like that.  By itself it is a powerful gift from God designed to express and strengthen the bond uniting a covenantally connected man and woman.  Well, because of the power and beauty it naturally possesses, from our imagined perch on God’s throne it had us beat, hands down.  And so we remade ourselves in its image.  We worshiped it.  We still do. This worship takes on various forms depending on a variety of factors, but the disastrous results are pretty consistent.  In fact, we can see some of the results of our culture’s worship of sex just by paying attention to what’s going on around us.

When we are worshiping the God who is Spirit, seeking to reflect His image, we think of ourselves primarily as spiritual beings who have bodies.  The real truth is that we are beings who are both spiritual and physical—the two parts are inseparable and are together what makes us human.  You can’t mess with one without hurting the other.  In any event, when we worship sex we lose this way of thinking and instead think of ourselves first as sexual beings.  The result of this perspective shift is that we now think primarily in terms of sexual “identity.”  Everything must now be filtered through the lens of sexual identity and all other considerations must be counted secondary to that one.

Now, culturally this is made to sound very cutting edge and, of course, very tolerant.  But, there are some problems with this line of thinking.  Perhaps most notably is the fact that we are far more than mere sexual beings.  When we use that as our primary interpretive filter we reduce ourselves to bare shadows of what God designed us to be.  We also open ourselves to all kinds of abuses.  When sex becomes our filter for judging something as worthwhile or not, the most powerless among us become the most victimized.  Think about it.  If sex is our filter, then those who do not adhere well with how we happen to consider it to be made manifest are considered to have little or no value.  To make that clearer, in significant portions of our culture, if you’re not sexy, you’re not much.  Guess what the results of that are?  How about the problems Dove’s Campaign for Real Beauty is trying to fix?

To all of this I would add another problem.  When sex becomes our idol, arguing against any form of its expression becomes very difficult.  Sex was one of the idols of the Romans in the first century most notably in the form of the goddess Aphrodite.  As a result, with very few exceptions, theirs was an anything goes culture.  This was the case because there weren’t any arguments against doing whatever you wanted nor were there reasons to have such arguments.  Well today, as more and more of our culture takes up the idol of sex, we are moving slowly back in this direction.  We don’t all agree about the merits and morality of the homosexual revolution that has come nearly full circle, but we probably do all pretty much agree that things like polygamy and pedophilia are not good.  Yet there are “cutting edge” scholars and cultural analysts who have started advancing arguments aimed at creating an eventual climate of moral legitimacy for these and other behaviors we would consider aberrant.  And if that sounds absurd to you, consider this: for at least the supporters of polygamy, they rely on many of the exact same arguments that the supporters of homosexuality have used to create a moral climate that is 180 degrees different from what it was even just 20 years ago.

The consequences of worshiping sex go beyond this, though.  You see, when we worship something, we intuitively “know” that our highest good is found in doing whatever it wants.  The god sex wants…sex.  When we make sex our idol it becomes a kind of relational currency in much the same way that for we who follow the God who is love, love should be our relational currency.  We can see this in the “hook-up” culture that is practiced by so many of my generation and especially on college campuses.  Sex has become what dating used to be.  Used to you went on a date and had a conversation to see if you were compatible. Things like emotional and relational and spiritual compatibility were considered the most important.  Today, with sex as our idol, it is sexual compatibility that trumps the rest.  Thus, two young people meet, they “hook up,” and from there decide whether or not a dating relationship will work.  Yet, consider again the power of sex.  Imagine if the government decided nuclear weapons were going to be our new currency and started handing them out like Larry Harrison hands out candy on Sunday mornings and encouraged people to use them liberally.  We would have the makings of a disaster on our hands.  Well, yeah.

We could keep going like this, but I suspect you get the point.  The tentacles of the idol sex are long and sticky.  But, lest you think this is a new problem, rest assured that it is not.  People have been dealing with this for centuries.  And not just “people,” generically.  People in the church have been struggling with this issue.  And as far as ancient churches go, the church in Corinth was one of the worst.  If you can imagine it, they had folks tied up in it.  In many ways the culture of the church was indistinguishable from the rest of the culture.  In particular, there was a faction in the Corinthian church which openly sought to justify all of this.  The result was an open threat to the integrity of the church and worse, a more subtle attempt to bring the idol of sex into the church.  This couldn’t stand and the apostle Paul wasn’t about to let it.  Grab a nearby copy of the Scriptures, find your way to 1 Corinthians 6, and let’s take a look at what Paul has to say about all this.

From 1 Corinthians 6:12: “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are helpful.  ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be enslaved by anything.  ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other.”  At first read that doesn’t seem to have so much to do with the worship of sex, but it does.  In the culture of the day the teachings of Plato were incredibly influential.  Plato taught that the spiritual was good while the material was bad.  He taught that we are all spirits who have the misfortune of bodies.  Now, while Plato didn’t directly teach this next part, one of the implications of his thinking is that if our bodies are temporary hindrances from our becoming wholly spirit-beings, what happens to our bodies and what we do with our bodies doesn’t really matter.  Things which are physically pleasurable, then, can be pursued to their fullest extent without consequences, moral or otherwise.  Some of the teachings of Jesus can be (and have been) misconstrued to agree with Plato.  What Paul was doing here, then, was crafting a kind of rhetorical argument with the folks in the Corinthian church who taught and practiced a kind of Christianized Platonism whereby they justified things like a man having an affair with his step-mom which Paul condemned rather forcefully in chapter 5.   These folks would make arguments to justify their illicit behavior like, “Thanks to my freedom in Christ, all things are lawful for me to pursue.  And, because my body is a temporary evil, what I do with it doesn’t affect my spirit.  As long as my spirit is in Christ’s hands, I’m good.”

Now, make the cultural leap with me back to the present.  Today the teachings of Plato aren’t so influential anymore…to a point.  Today, thanks to the teachings of Darwinism and a position called empiricism which holds that only things we can experience with our five senses are real, many folks reject the notion that we have a spirit that is affected in any way by what we do.  Similarly, for folks who have no belief in an afterlife of any kind, what we do in our bodies really doesn’t matter.  I mean, sure, we can make up a reason it matters, but that can’t be more than merely constructed and relative.  So think about this now, if we don’t have spirits which can be affected by what we do, or if Plato was correct (as many folks still do think), then what we do in and with our bodies really doesn’t matter in the long run.  The things the Corinthian believers were trying to justify make sense—which our culture increasingly seems to understand.

Paul, on the other hand, insists that this isn’t the case.  Stay with me in v. 13: “The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.”  He introduces a radically different idea here than most folks had ever considered.  Our bodies matter to God just as much as our spirits do.  He wants both.  We are not spirits with bodies and ne’er the two shall meet.  The two parts are utterly inseparable.  God made our bodies first, but we weren’t fully human until He breathed His spirit into us.  We are incomplete unless we have both working properly.  What happens to one affects the other and vice versa.  If anything, Paul points out in v. 14, the resurrection proves this to be the case.  When Jesus’ body was killed, if Plato was right, that should have been a point of celebration for His followers because now His spirit could continue His mission.  And yet, on the third day, it wasn’t just Jesus’ spirit that returned to earth.  He came out of the tomb with a new body.  Or as Paul puts it: “And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power.”

What more, if we are followers of Jesus, Paul is clear that we are members of His body.  The church is not simply the representation of Christ on earth, we are Christ’s body.  His Spirit is living and active in us.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you are literally part of Christ’s body.  Maybe you’re like me and feel like you’re not much more than a pinky toe most of the time, but, as Paul will tell the Corinthian believers a bit later in this same letter, in the body, every part needs to be a part.  In any event, with all of this in mind, Paul jumps with both feet on the subject of sexual immorality, of making an idol out of sex.  Look at this with me in v. 15: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ?  Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute?  Never!  Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her?  For, as it is written, ‘The two will become one flesh.’  But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.”

Got all that?  Big stuff there.  Let’s run down the list.  First, prostitution in the first century didn’t look like it does now.  Back then people would go to the local temple where there were sacred prostitutes—both male and female and often children—who were the representations of the god or goddess (in Corinth Aphrodite had a huge temple), and people would have “unions” with them as a part of their worship.  They were called prostitutes because the worshipers would make a monetary offering to the goddess before having these unions.    Paul’s point was: If you are part of Christ’s body, why would you do that with it?  This was kind of an early version of your grandma admonition to not go anywhere you wouldn’t want to take Jesus with you.

That’s not so hard a statement.  But then Paul takes things a step further with this thing about a person uniting with a prostitute—today we might phrase it “hooking up with someone”—becoming one flesh with her.  Hold on now, I thought sex was just physical.  Haven’t you ever heard the phrase, “It’s just sex”?  What Paul’s saying, though, is, “No it’s not.”  Sex is way, way more than just physical.  Remember what I said a bit ago?  Beyond procreation, sex was designed by God to express and strengthen the bond between a covenantally connected man and woman.  It is the physical expression of the two becoming one flesh—as Paul points out—but there is also an emotional, relational, and spiritual connection in addition to the physical that happens every single time whether you are involved with a person to whom you are covenantally connected (i.e. married) or not.  There is no such thing as “just sex.”  This is why the prevalence of the hook up culture on college campuses has led to a huge increase in the incidence of mental, social, relational, and psychological stress and disorder for students, especially young women.  It’s part of why rape is such an awful tragedy—it does violent damage to body, mind, and spirit.  In any event, because that’s what sex is, to pursue it in any form with someone to whom we are not covenantally committed does damage to our spirit which in turn hurts our body.

Think of it like a sticker.  When you stick it to one thing and leave it there it forms a pretty permanent bond.  But, if you stick it to something and then pull it off and stick it to something else, its ability to bond gets weaker.  Well, the more you unstick and restick it, the weaker it gets until it is finally worthless.  Now, we have the great fortune of serving the God who comes ready with a bottle of glue for those who’ve lost their stickiness due to repeated exposure, but if we keep moving the sticker, not even glue will do the trick.  Are you with me?  And hey, that’s just a single expression of our worship of sex and its consequences.  Other expressions have similar consequences.  The point is that when we mess around with sex and attempt to remake ourselves in its image, we’re not just playing with fire, we’re playing with napalm.  Maybe we get by without apparent consequence for a while, but eventually it’s going to ignite, and when it does, it’ll burn for a long, long time.

So what’s Paul’s solution?  It’s actually rather simple.  Look back at v. 18 with me: “Flee from sexual immorality.”  That’s it?  Yeah.  Any time we catch even a whiff of sexual immorality coming our way—temptation to be involved with someone to whom we’re not married; online pornography; the second look at the attractive stranger in the store; some show or movie design to incite lust in us; a tendency to think our sexual identity should be given priority over our spiritual identity; and so on and so forth—we are to run as fast as we can in the other direction.  Don’t try to engage it.  You won’t win.  Sex is simply too powerful.  This is an enemy from whom you run.  Period.  Flee from sexual immorality.  And why?  Keep reading: “Every other sin a person commits is outside the body…”  Right?  Pretty much everything else we do affects someone else as the primary target.  But, “…the sexually immoral person sins against his own body.”  Worshiping sex affects us first.  It affects other people to be sure, sometimes dramatically.  But we are the first casualty.

Now, that’s true generally.  It applies equally to followers of Jesus and people who have neither desire nor intention of following Him.  It doesn’t matter if you follow Jesus or not, if you mess around with sex and treat it casually, you’re hurting yourself.  Paul’s next reason, though, is just for Christians: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God?”  What’s a temple?  It’s a sacred space where a god dwells and where you can go to commune with him.  Well, if you are a follower of Jesus, you are a place where God dwells and you can commune with Him in your heart wherever you are.  (That doesn’t mean, by the way, that this kind of gathering is unimportant or unnecessary.)  Think about this: How many times were you told growing up or have you told your own kids to not run and play in the sanctuary?  Why does this rule exist?  Because people think of the sanctuary as a sacred place; a place where God is more present than in other places and thus a place where we should behave better (that is, more formally) than in other places.  Personally I don’t think there’s a whole lot of theological merit to that idea.  While we may attach a great deal of significance to this place, it’s just a building.  When it comes to our bodies, though, that sentiment is entirely more correct.  If you are a follower of Jesus, you are a place where God’s Spirit lives and so you should treat yourself differently than you would other things.  Making an idol out of sex and worshiping it in some way is no different than if a group of Satanists broke in here, wrecked the place, and put a big statue of a pentagram up here.  In fact, it’s even more of an offense to God as you are more valuable to Him than a building.  The building may house part of His body, but it doesn’t belong to Him like you do.  What happens to you is of much, much greater significance than what happens to a building.

Paul explains why in the last part here: “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.  So glorify God in your body.”  In the final analysis, if you are a follower of Jesus, you don’t belong to yourself.  You belong to Jesus.  (Now, if you’re not a follower of Jesus, you don’t belong to yourself either; you belong to whichever idol you happen to be worshiping and I guarantee you that’s not as good as belonging to Jesus.)  Your body is an extension of His body.  You’re running around in a rental.  Don’t mess it up.  Your body doesn’t belong to you, so whatever you want you just can’t do.  Your body doesn’t belong to you, so whatever you want you just can’t do.  Listen, the idol of sex is a powerful one because sex is such a powerful gift from our good heavenly Father.  But if we worship it—regardless of the justification we choose for meeting its demands—it will diminish our humanity and make us less than God created us to be.  We are not our own.  We are Christ’s body and therefore need to use our body to honor Him.  Your body doesn’t belong to you, so whatever you want you just can’t do.  You and I are living in a borrowed body.  Let us act accordingly.  Your body doesn’t belong to you, so whatever you want you just can’t do.