Unreasonable, Holy, Loving Sexual Ethics

Finally, then, brothers, we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.

-1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

We all seem reasonable to ourselves, and we all want to be considered reasonable by others. This is especially true when it comes to controversial questions about sexuality: What we think about sex before marriage, same-sex marriage, adultery, divorce, re-marriage. These issues each involve unique circumstances, but they’re all questions of “sexuality” because they each involve a similar, emotionally-laden question: Who should have a sexual and/or romantic relationship with whom? Should this person and this person? Should this person and that person? What about that person and that person? Because these questions are so personal, we tend to feel passionate, but we also try to sound reasonable.

Many of us craft our stances on sexual questions more carefully than anything else, and we’re often shocked when other people who tend to feel passionate and try to be reasonable don’t find our stances reasonable at all. We come into these conversations convinced that those who disagree with us will see how reasonable we are if we put it just right and if they will just listen, but it rarely turns out that way. Perhaps we fight because we don’t sound reasonable to one another at all. Perhaps we don’t sound reasonable to one another because expecting ourselves to sound reasonable comes from actually believing we’re right. Perhaps, if we both believe we’ll sound reasonable and we both we believe we’re right about an ultimately binary question (that is, either these two people should have a romantic/sexual relationship or should not), then we simply disagree.

Actually, it’s highly likely that we often will disagree. My worry is, many Christians are urgently unprepared for such an unpopular conclusion.

Being prepared to simply disagree does not mean we need to content ourselves to always disagree. Taking a pure “live and let live” position is to beg the question, because “live and let live” is one of stances on each particular question; it’s the “these two people should have a romantic/sexual relationship (if they want to)” choice. No, being prepared to simply disagree means we need to content ourselves with seeming unreasonable.

The first question we have to ask ourselves is not whether this person and this person or that person and that person should have sex. The questions are all different, and it’s premature to simply be for less sex and romance or for more sex and romance. For example, if we’re talking about adultery, I’m against it, in every circumstance. If we’re talking about re-marriage, I’m often for it, especially if it means hurt people entering into a restorative, godly relationship that will pay dividends for the whole family and community. The first question is not whether we’re for more sex and romance or less sex and romance, nor is this case, that case, or the other. It’s this: Whose desire is the key to the right answer in this case, that case, and the other: Mine or God’s?

We need to decide, right out of the ethical gate, whether a person’s desire or God’s desire determines what is right, fitting, and good. Furthermore, we should be honest about the ethical framework in which we’re operating.

Following Jesus Christ is not an a la carte affair. If we want to be part of what He is doing, part of the chef’s choice is that God’s people value what God wants above what they want. It’s paired with the promise that though we may be served things we never would have ordered, God knows what’s good for us, wants what good for us, and has what’s good for us. If God does know best (and I believe He does), then His way is the most “reasonable”; nonetheless, we need to come to terms with God’s way seeming unreasonable in the present age. 1 Thessalonians 4, above, says as much: “this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God.”

To those who don’t care what God wants, what God wants will rarely seem reasonable. So, if our top priority is to understand and practice “what God wants,” then trying to craft the perfectly “reasonable” approach will fail us as often as not. We’d be better off trying to craft a “holy” approach, “For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.”

It’s time to let go of coming across as reasonable; it’s better to strive to come across as loving, that even if people consider us totally unreasonable because we put all our stock in “this supposed god,” it could all the while be said (as Paul says to the Thessalonians in the very next verse):  “concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another.” In fact, “unreasonable, holy, and loving” sound like fitting descriptors of disciples who follow a Lord who fulfilled the Law, suffered death on a cross, and rose from the dead to lead His people today.


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