THREE KEYS TO HONOR
October 1, 2006
You are aware, surely, in reading the New Testament that all of us are called to honor in all matters regarding human sexuality. For example, in I Thess. 5:4-5, Paul noted that it is God’s will that each one of us know how to control our own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God. Again, in Hebrews 13 at verse 4, there is this statement, “Let marriage be held in honor among all and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” Both of those passages are obviously speaking about things that have to do with sexuality in our lives, and the standard both of them lay down is honor. Whether it is as an individual or toward marriage, it is honor which is the Christian’s concern.
We ought to honestly say, however, that a person cannot live in this world without having to deal with the reality of sexual immorality. Sometimes these episodes are so evil they are shocking –like the story a few months ago of the man who apparently killed members of an Idaho family and abducted two of their children and molested them, killing one of them. Sometimes the stories are so lurid and public they are disgusting. We have one ongoing now involving a disgraced congressman. Sometimes they involve people in the entertainment industry. And sometimes these events involve such unexpected failure and hypocrisy that they are embarrassing and heartbreaking. This is the case with numerous religious leaders who have turned out to be guilty of this failure.
Now if we are called to honor in sexuality, but if we are often confronted by the reality of dishonor in this realm of life, then how are we to answer our call as Christians? One thing that will help us is to be reminded again and again of the great truths on purity that are laid down by the Lord in passages like the Sermon on the Mount. I invite your attention to Matthew 5:27-32. We set the broader context for this last Sunday night, but in particular now the passage says, “You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. It was also said, 'Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.' But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery. And whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
It is obvious in reading this passage that it has an undeniable practical relevance. It is also clearly a difficult passage. We could expect that with something that has such a powerful effect in our lives as does our sexuality or our marriage vows. We could expect that there would be difficulties here. It helps us to realize that the Lord is not trying to answer every question that has ever been raised about these matters. He is speaking about something in particular. As we look at what he says, may I suggest that there are three principles here to guide us toward purity in the dearest relationship of our lives. How do we find honor in this matter?
Guard Your Heart
First, the Lord counsels us to guard our hearts. The Lord in this context is correcting some misunderstandings that had been perpetuated by teachers of the scribes and Pharisees, and one of them is that “as long as I don’t actually do the deed, then I am alright; I am faithful to my wife or to my husband, and I am faithful to God.” This suggestion is that I can involve myself on a deep emotional level with another person all I want to, and still be in keeping with my promises. Or, that I can fill my mind with fantasies about some other person and still be true to my mate. But the Lord says the truth is that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. In other words, he has sinned against the spirit of purity and the spirit of his marriage. It might help to be really clear about exactly what the Lord is speaking of on this point. He is not talking here about noticing beauty. He is not talking here about physical attraction. That is a part of life that comes from being human, and for allowing a place for the joy of love in our lives. What he is talking about here is purposeful and repeated looking with one thing in mind and that is making that other person an object to be used. The Lord is speaking here about sexualizing another person so that the person ceases to be a human being with a personality, and comes to be a thing to be taken and used and then tossed aside.
J.O. Sanders in one of his books suggests that what Jesus is condemning is looking at a woman as a possible object to exploit and not as a person to be respected and loved. What we are saying then is that Jesus in this passage is getting down to what we are at heart, to what has our attention and our affection and our imagination. These are the things that turn out to proceed in behavior and thus defile a person, according to Matthew 15:18-20. Jesus recognized that the seeds planted in the heart really determine who we are, and that they are what ultimately bear fruit in actual deeds.
Now, in view of the truth stated in this little paragraph, the Lord instructs us to rid ourselves of anything which would encourage that lustful intent in our hearts. This is really crucial. What’s at stake is so important that it would be better to sacrifice what tempts us, what causes us to sin, than to keep it and end up lost. You can see that the Lord is not saying literally to pull out your physical eyeball or to cut off your hand. What he is talking about is to not allow something to come into your heart through your eyes that is going to stay there and defile your imagination, and not to go and do things with your hands that are going to be shameful and defiling to you as a person. The images are so vivid they jar us. If it is looking at something that places that sinful intent in my heart, I am to tear that out and throw it away. If it is by touching which stirs up lustful intent in my heart that I am tempted, then that likewise is to be thrown aside. I am to rid myself of it.
Let me be a little more specific here to illustrate what we are talking about. Very often when we are struggling with these matters in our lives, we are doing things which we are unwilling to cease. I can give you examples. One would be the threat of pornography. Whether these materials are delivered through magazines or films or the internet, the degrading and corrosive effect are dangerous. This is a practice which exploits other people as objects to be used. This is a practice which erodes the trust out of relationships, short-circuits the person’s ability to actually get involved emotionally with another human being, and to invest himself in building a closeness and an intimacy that a healthy relationship ought to have. This is a practice, then, which can finally lead to the darkness of abuse and violence. And if you don’t believe it and you use this stuff, let me lay a challenge before you. If it is not harmful, if you can quit at any time, then quit. If you can’t do that, you are being dishonest. You are making a claim that you can’t back up in your behavior.
Some years ago a young man grew up coming to my Bible camp session every summer. That young man went on and got his training and graduate degree, and he now is in charge of the computer programs at Freed Hardeman University. His name is John Bentley. A couple of years ago, John did a scientific survey of nearly 5,000 men of different ages from churches of Christ all over this country. They were able to give privately whatever responses that were honest. John compiled all the figures and did the statistical work behind this, and he writes that in a typical gathering of 500 members of the church on a Sunday morning anywhere in this country, the law of averages are that 60 men will be sitting there who are struggling with this problem. I am not accusing any of us or saying that we are average in that way, but that is an eye-opening statement. That tells us that we have a problem here that we need to be aware of.
The Lord also spoke to what we do with our hands. What he is saying emphasizes that we should not go places or do things which are intentionally going to put ourselves in situations where the temptation will be stronger. Don’t intentionally go to that chat room where you are talking to somebody not your husband or wife. Don’t put yourself in situations where you are alone with someone that you already are attracted to. Do not make allowances for the fulfilling of desires that you know you should not pursue. Passion is a strong thing, and unless you draw some lines ahead of time that you are not going to cross in leading up to that, you end up with broken hearts. The first key to honor in our relationship is to guard your heart.
Keep Your Faith
The second key I find in the passage in Matthew 5 is to keep your faith. By “keeping your faith” I don’t mean your faith in worshiping, or your faith in terms of what you believe the New Testament says. I mean that we should keep our promises and that we should fulfill our vows. When Jesus spoke of divorce in verse 31 here, he was still dealing with their tendency to miss the intention of God’s law. Because of their hardness of heart, God had limited a practice of divorce that was already going on by requiring that a certificate of divorce be given to a woman before she was sent away. Deut. 24, the first four verses, speaks to this issue, and it is a situation in which a man was forbidden from treating that woman as if she was someone who merely existed for his satisfaction. When he was tired of her, he could send her away. If he wanted to take her back, he could take her back. And the Lord was saying, “No way. You can’t treat people that way.” And it was for her protection against the dehumanizing treatment which used her that way and cast her aside that Moses was speaking about in Deut. 24.
But notice in verse 31 Jesus shows that these people had made the certificate the important thing. Their attention focused immediately, not on whether marriage was being honored or whether divorce happened, but the certificate! The legal technicalities of how you executed this casting aside became more important to them than the casting aside. The Lord corrected that kind of abuse.
He made the marriage the real point. What he is emphasizing here is that marriage involves a relationship between two people which is sacred. What injures marriage is when that covenant is broken by somebody committing sexual immorality even though he has promised himself to this other individual in marriage. The Lord is emphasizing here that marriage reverences the personalities of both individuals. These two individuals focus upon each other to the exclusion even of their parents in terms of their priorities. They promised themselves to each other, and they are joined in a sacred covenant by God, and they set about the work of becoming one in their marriage together. Now, within that context, they share all the joys and sorrows of life. They share a relationship in which sexuality can occur with joy and with meaning that lasts through life.
Keeping your faith then means honoring your promise to love faithfully. Respecting the law of marriage means making yourself good material for which a marriage can be made. Be mature enough to be ruled by what you know is right instead of by your hormones and your desires. Be somebody who builds a healthy overall relationship first before you think about the physical aspects of it. Learn to talk, learn to care, learn to be open, learn to share, learn to sacrifice before you get around to the other, and be mature enough to make a commitment that you are going to stand by.
Respecting the law of marriage then means faithfulness to your promise within that marriage. This is the part of the Lord’s statement in verses 31 and 32 that is crucial. He is saying that the spouse can never be considered a disposable appendage, but that person is now a part of his or her mate in marriage. Dockery and Garland in their book, “Seeking The Kingdom,” say that many today enter marriage without any sense of it being a lifelong commitment, and that the vows have been changed from “to have and to hold as long as we both shall live” to “to have and to hold as long as my spouse meets my needs and I feel fulfilled.” I am afraid they are right, but I know we can’t be satisfied with that if we are going to be disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, and I know it because of what he teaches in passages like this.
Love Your Mate
First, guard your heart. Second, keep your faith. And the third key to honor is to love your spouse. Love that person you married. Love that person emotionally; love that person intellectually; love that person spiritually; love that person physically, but love that person. I noticed a little line about this which says, “Some pray to marry the man they love, My prayer will somewhat vary; I humbly pray to Heaven above that I love the man I marry!” (Rose Stokes). That is the idea. Someone commented that many of the mistakes couples commonly make stem directly from the partner’s failure to be mindful of their commitment every day. He observed, “A marriage can’t thrive if a partner sees commitment just as something they promised on their wedding day.” (Scott Stanley). It has got to be the context within which love is practiced and sexual love is expressed.
Biblically speaking, the environment we are taking about here requires three qualities. They are (1) self-giving love. Notice I am not saying just love, because some think in terms of romance. I am saying romance cannot take place without these three qualities. This kind of love is where one loves as he would his own body (Eph. 5:33). Secondly, respect, the respect which values that other person (again, Eph. 5:33). And then third, understanding in which one considers and cares about the needs of that other person (I Peter 3:7).
Chris Bullard recently passed away of a heart attack. He was a preacher in the Lord’s kingdom for a number of years. I noticed sometime back a little piece that he had written about the practice of loving one’s mate. He says that in practical terms it involves, first, lots of affirmations. He says we need to focus on what’s right instead of what’s wrong and then, to avoid a critical spirit, to verbally affirm your spouse regularly, especially for the little things that maybe you tend to take for granted. Constant affirming, saying “you are valued, you are important, you are admired.” Secondly, he says, it takes apologies. Someone wrote that “a happy marriage is the union of two good forgivers.” That is probably as good a definition as ever has been offered. We used to see a little Precious Moments deal about the time I was growing up which said, “Love means never having to say you are sorry.” What foolishness that is! There never have been people who say “I’m sorry” more than people who are trying to love each other. Apologies mean being quick to own up to your part in any problem between the two of you and asking for forgiveness and trying to do better. And then third, there is affection. A healthy relationship has to be filled with non-sexual touching and then with hugs and kisses and little expressions of love, sometimes expressions that only mean something to the two of you, but they will help to guard the heart.
What are three keys to honor in our lives where sexuality is concerned? First, guard your heart. Second, keep your faith. Third, love your mate. What we should be doing as Christians is pursuing the healthy kinds of relationships that illustrate the best of each of those three principles.
The model for Christian people for loving is always what the Lord has done for us. In fact, Ephesians 5 has the longest section on family life that the apostle Paul ever wrote, and what he does is just to call upon us to love our mate the way Jesus has loved his church. It is a voluntary love; it is a self-giving, sacrificial love; it is a respectful and honoring love. It is what enriches and ennobles life. Maybe today you and I need to respond to that love first. If you are here and you need to become a Christian, won’t you decide to do that this morning? If we can help you, won’t you come while we stand and sing together?