It is no revelation to say that we live in a sexually-provocative culture. The clothing and entertainment industries are highly sexualized, romance novels with sensational covers abound, advertisers use sex to sell virtually every category of product, news programs are filled with sexual content that would have been considered inappropriate for airing a generation ago, and conversations are regularly spiced with tawdry talk.
It seems that every year (day?) the spiral into sexual degradation and temptation increases.
But it has always been that way. The world is always drawn to sinful desires of many sorts and sexual temptation is one of the more basic (and base) sins to which the world is attracted. What we are seeing in our world is perhaps new variations of sin, but the theme of sexual sin is the same as it has always been.
Certainly the apostle Paul saw the need to battle various kinds of sexual sin as he wrote the Ephesian church. In Ephesians 5, he identifies and warns his readers three categories of sexual sin with six different terms:
- Avoid ungodly sexual activity (Eph. 5:3). The word “immorality” is the broadest term relating to sexual sin — it includes every aberration away from God’s design for sexuality; the term “impurity” refers to “unclean” and “filthy” deeds — with only a couple of exceptions, this word is always used in the New Testament to refer to sexual sin. Combined, these words address the sexual activities of the believer. There is a standard of the world, and there is a standard of the believer and they are different. The believer must avoid any engagement in any kind of sexual activity that conforms to the world.
- Avoid ungodly sexual desires (Eph. 5:3, 5). The word “greed” is a word that indicates a debased desire; specifically it is greed for unattainable and ungodly sexual desires. This clearly suggests that a deeper problem of sexual sin is the desire for ungodly sexual activity. The desire itself is sin. Just so we don’t miss the intention of his words, Paul says in verse five that this is not just greed, but it is “idolatry” — the one who covets and is greedy is worshipping what he wants. He believes that to receive this desire will be the very most satisfying thing to him — more gratifying than anything the Lord might give. The problem of the sexual sinner is not just that he acts sinfully but that he wants something God has said is not his to have.
- void ungodly sexual talk (Eph. 5:4). The final three words all refer to various kinds of perverse talking: “filthiness” is abusive and obscene talk. It contradicts moral standards and flaunts immoral talk. It is base, disgraceful, and shameful. And “silly talk” is literally “moronic words.” It is the talk of a fool indulging in his sin. It is course laughter and stupid talk about a precious gift of God. Finally, “course jesting” is a more “sophisticated” kind of laughter about sex. It is to be witty and to have dexterity of speech so that any phrase can quickly be turned into sexual innuendo and double entendre. And this “witty one” could always plead that his “risqué wit” is actually innocent. In a city famous for orators, this would have been a particular temptation in the church. None of these activities or words (vv. 3-4) are “fitting” for the believer. It is inappropriate for a believer to do, think about, or talk about such things. There is a place for laughter, but laughter at unholiness and ungodliness is always sin.
So what is the antidote? What should we do instead of engaging in these sexually perverse activities and desires? Paul says we are to put on gratitude (Eph. 5:4). The antidote to sexual sin and desires is gratitude (which means that part of the problem of sexual sin is discontentment and lack of gratitude). The person who is sinning sexually is ensnared because he believes God is withholding something good from him. So what does he need to do and think? He needs to have his mind renewed to think righteously about God. Specifically, he needs to be thankful in everything (e.g., 1 Thess. 5:16-18).
How can one give thanks instead of succumbing to temptation?
- Give thanks for the gift of sexuality and the good way in which it can be exercised in your life.
- Give thanks for the power of the Spirit and the wisdom of the Word of God to direct you to obedience with your sexuality.
- Give thanks that God is more satisfying than anything else.
- Give thanks for your singleness (if you are single) and your ability to serve God without divided responsibilities.
- Give thanks for your wife/husband and for the gift of God that one is to you (even if you are tempted to be dissatisfied with your sexual life with your spouse).
- Give thanks for the privilege of giving and receiving the gift of sexuality to your spouse (1 Cor. 7:3-4); give thanks when it is given and when it is not given.
- Give thanks for how God has protected you from carrying out your sinful desires; of, give thanks for His forgiveness when you have confessed the sinful desires you have cultivated and the sexual sins you have committed.
- Give thanks for how God has transformed your from the way you used to live (1 Cor. 6:9-11).
- Give thanks that you have a heart that has not been hardened by sin, and though you struggle, still you are struggling and not succumbing.
Sex in itself is not bad. Sex is good — a precious and wonderful gift from God to be enjoyed between a man and his wife. So even desire for sex is not wrong — as long as the desire is oriented toward the God-given purpose (1 Cor. 7:1ff). It is even good to desire a husband or wife.
So fight for sexual purity by giving thanks for the sexual life (in marriage or in abstinence) God has given you today.