Ken’s mother was preparing a salad for the evening meal when Ken asked permission to go with a few friends to a r-rated movie. Ken knew the family rule was not to attend any movies rated stronger than pg, but he thought, just this once, my parents might give in. Ken’s mom went to the pantry and began to get small bits of trash and throw it in the family’s dinner salad. Ken protested, “mom, what are you doing? You’re putting trash in the salad.” his mom replied, “I thought you would not mind a little trash with your meal; it is just a small amount.” without another word, Ken got the point and decided not to go to the R-rated movie.
None of us want to mix food and garbage for a meal. We don’t want to eat something unclean. But sometimes, we forget God has commanded us to live holy and pure lives. Many believers have a tendency to flirt with immorality by trying to get as close to sin without sinning. Paul puts his finger on the problem with their spiritual walk.
My goal today is to show you that whether you are married or single, the clearest evidence of sanctification is sexual purity so that you will walk to please God. As with every message in this series, it will come down to this: will I live by God’s word or man’s opinion.
1 Thess 4:1, “finally then, brothers, we ask and encourage you in the Lord Jesus, that as you have received from us how you must walk and please God—as you are doing —do so even more. 2 for you know what commands we gave you through the Lord Jesus. 3 for this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality, 4 so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor, 5 not with lustful desires, like the gentiles who don’t know God. 6 this means one must not transgress against and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. 7 for God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification. 8 therefore, the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you his holy spirit.”
The command’s of scripture are protective (1–3)
We talked last week about how the Christian life is a walk. What direction are you walking in? God has given us direction for living a prosperous life. His rules are not a restriction of happiness but expressions of his love. As believers, we should excel in pleasing God. It should be the overarching theme of our life. I believe every Christian, if asked, would say, “i want to please God.” most would respond, “how can I do that?” through obedience. Some of you are going to hear this message and have to make a decision of whether to follow God’s word or not. The word “commands” is a military term used to describe soldiers in God’s army who listen and obey God. These orders are not options for the troops. In 2 Timothy 2:4, Paul said, “no soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits because his aim is to please the one who enlisted him.” Of all the area’s that Paul could have pinpointed, notice what he says, “for this is God’s will, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality.”
Adrian Rogers, “God’s not trying to keep you from something, he’s saving you from something.”
After being saved out of the paganistic culture of hellenism, the Thessalonians were confronted with a lifestyle that was foreign to them. The pagan cults of dionysus, aphrodite, osiris, and isis of Thessalonica celebrated raunchy, sexual acts. After coming to Christ, the believers heard that God forbid sex before the marriage union of one man and one woman. This would have gone against everything they were taught by the culture in which they lived. It was socially acceptable to have sex before marriage, in fact, it was encouraged for young men to do so.
William Barclay cited, “in Rome, for the first five hundred and twenty years of the republic, there had not been one single divorce; but now, under the empire, as it has been put, divorce was a matter of caprice. As seneca said, “women were married to be divorced and divorced to be married.” in Rome the years were identified by the names of the consuls; but it was said that fashionable ladies identified the years by the names of their husbands. Juvenal quotes an instance of a woman who had eight husbands in five years. Morality was dead.”
Knowing the culture, Paul offers a command, “abstain from sexual immorality.”Abstain is complete abstinence. Avoiding completely a thought or behavior that is forbidden by God. What is sexual immorality? It’s the greek word porneia where we get pornography which we will talk more about next week. It is any sexual act outside of the marriage covenant of 1 man and 1 woman: fornication, masturbation, homosexuality, bestiality, rape, adultery, or pre-marital sex.
The conduct of salvation is a picture (4–5)
Verse 4, abstain from sexual immorality, “so that each of you knows how to control his own body in sanctification and honor, 5 not with lustful desires, like the gentiles who don’t know God. 6 this means one must not transgress against and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you.”
The goal of abstinence from sexually immoral acts is sanctification, which is the process of being separated from sin and joined to Christ. This is God’s plan for our life. Sanctification involves every aspect of our lives, including sex. We are sanctified when we control our bodies in the area of sexuality by abstaining from immorality.
The majority of the New Testament letters are written to a group of converted gentiles who were under roman law. Rome had no uniform marriage laws. The roman empire was filled with slaves. John Macarthur explains the situation, “marriage in the strict and legal sense did not even exist for slaves. A master could allow what was called contabairnium, or literally, tent companionship, living together we would say. [this is probably where we get the term shacking up]. This was entered by slaves without a ceremony and could be ended if the master chose to end it and at any point he could sell one of the slaves and that would virtually end it anyway. It is like today’s “live in” sex partners.”Since many early Christians were slaves, they came out of such unions or even were in them at the present time.
Rome also had a custom for the common people which specified that women who lived with a man for a year was considered his wife. It would be what we call in america common law marriage. The other form of marriage was “co-emptio in manum” or marriage for sale. When a man was low on cash, you could approach him and purchase his daughter. The father would then sell his daughter for the right price.
Only the elite, upper class could afford a traditional ceremony, which is similar to ours today. They joined hands, exchanged vows, they prayed together to the false gods jupiter or juno, and placed rings on the fingers. Flowers filled the reception halls and cakes were eaten. The cutting of the cake was an old roman tradition that was picked up by the Roman Catholic church. Since morality was low, divorce was high. The informal covenants were broken all the time by the slaves and common folks as they exchanged partners like they changed clothes. Marriage in Paul’s day was chaotic and trivialized.
When Paul said, “the standard of marriage is the one man and one woman covenant before God and others,” they people had a choice to make: do I follow man’s opinion and the cultural norms of the day or God’s word. But what does this have to do with cohabitation? Cohabitation is an attack on marriage and marriage is a picture of the gospel. My argument against cohabitation is based upon abstaining from immorality. Gentiles live together before marriage. Christians shouldn’t do that. Your body is not our own, we have been bought with a price.
Cohabitation or shacking up is the new alternative to marriage. It’s not just as much a problem for young people, but older adults as well. In many assisted living centers, senior adults are living together so they don’t have to forfeit social security benefits.
Here are some statistics of cohabitation today.
• The census bureau reported a 14% increase since 2000 in the number of unmarried heterosexual couples living together.
• Since 1970, cohabitation has increased by 700 percent.
• It is estimated that 25% of women age 25 to 39 are currently living with a partner and an additional 25% have lived with a partner at some time in the past.
• 50% of all first marriages are now preceded by living together, compared to virtually none 50 years ago.
You may think that cohabitation prepares you better for marriage. I heard someone say, “i like to test drive cars before buying them. I use the same philosophy with women.”
Nancy Wartik, in her article, The Cohabitation Trap: when just living together sabotages love, believes otherwise: “couples who move in together before marriage have up to 2 times the odds of divorce, as compared with couples who marry before living together. Moreover, married couples who have lived together before exchanging vows tend to have poorer-quality marriages than couples who moved in after the wedding. Those who cohabited first report less satisfaction, more arguing, poorer communication and lower levels of commitment.”
Researchers at UCLA after extensive researcher said: “cohabiters experienced significantly more difficulty in [subsequent] marriages with [issues of] adultery, alcohol, drugs and independence than couples who had not cohabited.”Marriages preceded by cohabitation are 50 to 100 percent more likely to break up than those marriages not preeceded by cohabitation.
Sociologists from the University of Wisconsin-Madison conclude: “cohabiters were more likely to divorce than couples who did not cohabit before marriage, and longer cohabitation was associated with higher likelihood of divorce. We can state that cohabitation for two years or more increases the perceived risk of divorce by approximately twice as much as cohabitation for less than six months.”
According to the journal of marriage and the family, “emotionally or academically, the children of cohabiters just don’t do as well, on average, as those with two married parents, and money doesn’t fully explain the difference.” The reality is that children are better cared for by two biological parents.
Terry Mattingly, in his article in the Denver News, “religious community reluctant to criticize cohabitating couples” said, “data provides a painful bottom line: couples that cohabit before marriage increase their odds of divorce by 50 percent. Researchers found that only 15 out of every 100 cohabitating couples were married after a decade. They are more than 60 percent more likely to be assaulted, and their children are endangered as well.”
Here’s what the research says: if you want to exponentially increase your chances of a divorce in the future, continue to living together. If you want to solidify your chances of being miserable, less fulfilled, more susceptible for abuse, likely to experience alcohol or drug abuse, and raise children in a less than desirable environment.
Did Jesus really speak against living together before marriage? Absolutely. He confronted the woman at the well by saying, “go call your husband and come back here.” “I don’t have a husband,” she answered. “you have correctly said, ‘I don’t have a husband,’ ” Jesus said. 18 “for you’ve had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband.” What Jesus doesn’t say, the audience knows. Jesus was condemning shacking up before marriage.
The thrust of Paul’s argument is not found in research but in the picture we give to a lost world in his statement: “don’t live like the gentiles do who don’t know God.” The reason you shouldn’t move in with someone other than your wife or husband is because it has the appearance of evil. But I’m not worried about what others think. You have lost the right to not worry about what others think. Your life is not your own, you’ve been bought with a price, so glorify God with your bodies. Jesus said, “be my witnesses in the world.” Just because your relationship with Christ is personal, its never private. Your life is on display for all to see. You are either leading people to Christ or turning people from Christ. That may not mean much now, but it will when you stand face to face before Christ and give an account for your earthly life.
Every one of us has a choice: we can do it God’s way or our way. And when you do it your way, there will be consequences.
God’s consequences of sin are painful (6–8)
Verse 6, “this means one must not transgress against and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger of all these offenses, as we also previously told and warned you. 7 for God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification. 8 therefore, the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you his holy spirit.
Paul gives a sobering warning for those engaged in sexual immorality of any kind. Paul says, “you don’t have to avenge the wrong that people commit in this world, because God will.” God is the original avenger. This word occurs 2 times in the Bible. It refers to the one who executes justice by administering punishment for one’s actions.
Paul encourages believers to get out of a sinful situation to avoid judgment and condemnation. Stop deceiving yourself. You can’t expect God to bless a sinful relationship. I don’t care if he tells you he loves you, if he’s having sex with you before marriage it is a sin.
“for God has not called us to impurity but to sanctification.”
The problem is that “we want to know how close we can get to sin and get away with it?” it’s not how close you can get to sin. It’s how close can I get to God.
You have an option of how to respond. You can reject me and my words and continue living like you have been. That’s your choice. Paul knew that some would do that, which is why he closes this section with these words, “the person who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who also gives you his holy spirit.”
This is not a battle you will fight alone. God has given you the holy spirit to strengthen you and empower you. Rely upon him through prayer and dependence. He lives within you. He is not the spirit, but the holy spirit.
Someone said, “I don’t want to get married because marriage doesn’t always work.” The problem is not with marriage. God gave us marriage in genesis 1 and 2 as a gift. The problem with marriage is sin as a result of the fall. Marriage was never to make us happy but to make us holy.
For those who are single, let me offer a scripture. Some Christians use this verse to encourage those who are single and have a desire to be married. Psalm 37:4, “delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.” people have used this verse to assure me that if marriage is the desire of my heart then God has a husband planned for me. Upon careful reading, it is apparent that this verse does not mean God will give you everything you’ve asked for in prayer. This is a conditional promise. In order to receive the desires of my heart, I must delight myself in the Lord. If I am delighting myself in the Lord, what is the desire of my heart? He is.
What is more satisfying than sex? Pleasing God. Your sanctification is more satisfying than sex.
Your relationship with God is more important than any relationship with anyone, including your spouse. When the vertical relationship is right, the horizontal ones will follow. The more you know Jesus the more you want to please him and obey his commands. Preoccupation with sex, whether you’re single or married, crowds out our relationship with God.
I was confronted with a young man in our church who was living with his girlfriend and mother of his newborn child. He started meeting with me after expressing a desire to grow closer to God. Early on in our meetings, I realized that he was living with his girlfriend. When I shared some Biblical reasons to move out until marriage, he rejected my advice saying, “I promise you, I’m not sleeping with her.” I responded, “well you don’t have a good track record to prove otherwise since you moved in with her after she found out she was pregnant.” I gave him two options, “move in with your parents until you get married or marry her, if you believe she is the one.”
He said he would do neither. He visited churches in Chattanooga to justify his actions. He met with a pastor on the northshore about his situation. The pastor said, “Robby doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Living together with your girlfriend is fine. In fact, I did it before I became pastor of our church.” Unfortunately, he took the pastors advice and left our church. He married his girlfriend after a year of living together and sadly is divorcing her a year later.
I tell you this story to encourage rather than discourage. God gave us a process for satisfaction and fulfillment. The union between a man and woman came before sexual intercourse. God didn’t say to adam and even, “be fruitful and multiply and then if you desire to become one flesh you can.” or “after you think this relationship may work it, you can choose to become one.” you become one then you engage in a sexual, monogomous relationship. Until then, be sanctified, which means set apart from sin and be joined to God.
What if I am dating a person who is an unbeliever?
2 Cor. 6:14, “14 do not be mismatched with unbelievers. For what partnership is there between righteousness and lawlessness? Or what fellowship does light have with darkness? 15 what agreement does Christ have with belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? 16 and what agreement does God’s sanctuary have with idols?”
Paul’s context was probably not a marriage relationship here, but a business contract. Don’t get stuck in a contractual relationship with someone whose way of life is so different than your own. But if that is true in business, how much more true is it in a marriage?Missionary dating (or dating someone who is not a disciple of Jesus Christ) is a bad idea. This is the idea that “I’m dating an unbeliever with the hopes of leading him to Christ.” the chance of someone pulling you off a chair is easier than you pulling them up with you.
If you are having premarital sex: stop it.
Any sex outside of marriage is a sin. Repent. Don’t sin no more. Do you want God’s best for your relationship? Don’t do it again.
If you are living with their boyfriend or girlfriend:
You have 1 of 3 choices to make.
- Move out now.
- Get married
- Break up
If in doubt, get out.