May 28, 2019 • Life for Leaders
Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. 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.
The transition from Ephesians 5:2 to Ephesians 5:3 can feel like whiplash. One moment, we’re asked to imitate God’s love, remembering Christ’s sacrifice that shows us what love is all about. The next moment, we’re confronted by a call to avoid sexual immorality. What’s up with this?
As I reflected on this strange juxtaposition of Christ’s love and sexual immorality, I heard echoes of a complaint I have heard throughout my life: Why are you Christians so preoccupied with sex? In sermons and campfire talks, in Sunday school classes and public pronouncements, it seems like Christians are always talking about sex, mostly from a negative point of view. We’re rebuking those who engage in sexual intimacy outside of marriage. We’re warning young people about the dangers of premarital sex. We’re fretting about our culture’s widespread rejection of traditional sexual morality. We’re complaining about the presence of graphic sex on television and the Internet. Sex. Sex. Sex. Why is sex such a big deal for Christians?
We might answer this question by pointing to the Bible. In fact, Scripture has much to say about sex, right from the beginning of Genesis. You may recall that God’s first words to human beings were “Be fruitful and increase in number” (Genesis 1:28), a command which, when taken literally, leads to sexual intimacy. The Ten Commandments include two prohibitions related to sexuality (no adultery, no coveting of one’s neighbor’s wife; see Exodus 20:14, 17). One Old Testament book, the Song of Solomon, celebrates sexual love in a way that can feel shocking. We find sex mentioned in virtually every genre of biblical literature, including the teachings of Jesus. So if you’re familiar with the Bible you won’t be surprised that this subject shows up in Ephesians. For Christians who base our lives on Scripture, it makes sense that we talk about sex.
Of course, none of what I’ve just written defends the peculiar preoccupations of many Christians. It also in no way commends the self-righteous judgmentalism that infects the hearts and words of so many believers today. When we Christians talk about sex apart from God’s love and grace, when we focus on the negative without the positive, we misconstrue God’s truth and miss God’s own heart for humanity, including our sexuality.
It’s no accident, I believe, that Ephesians 5:3 (avoid sexual immorality) comes right after Ephesians 5:1-2 (God’s love for us in Christ). What seems like thematic whiplash actually makes good sense. If we’re going to talk about sexuality, including behaviors we should avoid, we need to do so in light of God’s matchless love incarnate in Jesus Christ. God’s love isn’t just an idea or a wishful dream. It is something that touches our everyday existence, every part of life. Moreover, God’s love took shape in and through a human body, a body sacrificed on the cross. Thus, the connection of divine love and a human body almost invites a conversation about sexuality.
We’ll reflect further on Ephesians 5:3 tomorrow. For now, I’d encourage you to consider whether in your life you make a connection between God’s love in Christ and your embodied reality, which includes sexuality.
Something to Think About:
In what ways might the love of God in Christ, demonstrated in the cross, inform our understanding of sexuality?
Why does Christian conversation about sex so often become harsh and judgmental?
Is it possible to talk about sex in a way that is truly loving?
Something to Do:
With a trusted Christian friend or in your small group discuss the questions listed above, and any others that seem important to you.
Gracious God, I thank you for your amazing love, expressed and demonstrated in Christ. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for taking on human flesh, for saving us through your body.
Help me, Lord, to think about all of life – including my sexuality – in light of your love communicated through the cross. Help me to be one who speaks the truth in love, real love, cruciform love, your sacrificial love. Amen.
Explore more at The High Calling archive, hosted by the Theology of Work Project:
A Call to Sexual Holiness
Dr. Mark D. Roberts is a Senior Strategist for Fuller’s Max De Pree Center for Leadership, where he focuses on the spiritual development and thriving of leaders. He is the principal writer of the daily devotional, Life for Leaders, and the founder of the De Pree Center’s Flourishing in the Third Third of Life Initiative. Previously, Mark was the Executive Director of the De Pree Center, the lead pastor of a church in Southern California, and the Senior Director of Laity Lodge in Texas. He has written eight books, dozens of articles, and over 2,500 devotions that help people discover the difference God makes in their daily life and leadership. With a Ph.D. in New Testament from Harvard, Mark teaches at Fuller Seminary, most recently in his D.Min. cohort on “Faith, Work, Economics, and Vocation.” Mark is married to Linda, a marriage and family counselor, spiritual director, and executive coach. Their two grown children are educators on the high school and college level.