Listen to Alan Benson’s chapel message on singleness:
Join us for chapel every Monday through Thursday at 11 a.m.
INTRODUCTION: A Call to Understanding
What a beautiful thing God Himself has done in building His church. In her future expression in heaven she is a multifaceted, multi-fabriced, beautifully woven and intricately made tapestry of every people and tribe and tongue and nation. She is made up of people of every physical attribute, mental capacity, economic demographic, and racial distinction.God Himself has put us together, by his grace and for his glory. We could not have done it by ourselves. The church only exists by the creative handiwork of God alone!
But even as I say that, there is an interesting and often forgotten about distinction in the makeup of the church that crosses over all of the other demographics, but isn’t thought about as often as it should, and even more pressing, isn’t thought about the way that it should be.It is the demographic of singleness.
Sam Allberry writes, “Much of what we commonly assume about singleness—that it is primarily about the absence of good things like intimacy, family, or meaningful ministry—is either flat-out untrue or, at the very least, shouldn’t be true. To be single, we often think, is to be alone and spiritually hindered. But the Bible paints a very different picture of singleness: it is a positive gift and blessing from God.”
As believers, we need to steward one another well. This stewardship looks like all the “one anothers” of the New Testament. Consider, for example, that we are to “love, honor, edify, and exhort one another. We are to forbear, forgive, and pray for one another.
This “one-anothering” demands real relationships! Those relationships demand knowledge and understanding. Genuine care doesn’t just strive to know what you think, but also how you think. We should want to know why people think and feel the way they do. It is this understanding that enables us to steward well our relationships in the Body of Christ. An important part of that stewardship—an often-neglected part—is thinking biblically about the issue of singleness. The rise of singleness in our culture as well as in our churches makes this more and more pressing. All the trends indicate this part of our demographic is growing at both ends—people marrying later and marriages ending sooner.
Consider 1 Corinthians 7: Paul addresses the topics of marriage and singleness he addresses directly the different sections of the church: the unmarried and the widows (v.8); the married (v.10); “the rest” (v.12). But even as Paul addresses each of these groups specifically, he wants and expects the whole church to be listening in. I am not a widow (and can never be one), but the Scriptures addressed to them are still given to me. I must not skip over them.
- What the Bible says about singleness concerns the whole church—single and married.
- What the Bible says about marriage concerns the whole church—single and married.
A proper understanding and valuing of marriage is essential for all us. In like manner, a proper understanding and valuing of singleness is essential for all of us.
Romans 12:4–5 tells us that as a church, we’re a body.
We’re invested in one another, therefore I need to know what the Christian life is like for you in your situation, and you need to know what it’s like for me in mine. As a single person, I have a stake in the marriages around me being healthy since they affect the health of my church. As those who are married, we have a stake in our brothers and sisters in Christ who are single being single in a healthy way.
I will talk next week about rightly assessing marriage.
This week I want to focus on rightly assessing singleness.
Rightly assessing singleness
The universal nature of singleness
We tend to define “singleness” by marriage.
One definition reads, “It is the state before betrothal and after the death of a spouse.”
WOW—isn’t that helpful! That is like defining marriage as the state that exists when one is no longer single!
What we have to understand is that singleness is universal, and some of us get married!
- All of us are single to begin with.
- Most of us who are married will one day be single again.
I don’t say this to merely state the obvious. I state this to help us see that there is a purpose for singleness, no matter how long, in God’s sovereignty, He intends for it to last!
Explanation: We often think of this in terms of what we need to learn as children or adolescents, but I want to take a more holistic view.
There are obviously phases of singleness that have differences:
- There are differences between those who are “single again,” and those who are single to begin with.
- There are differences between those who are single in adolescence and those who are single in adulthood.
But, I want us to think in terms of the whole of singleness, and consider the things that God intends to be developing in us as an essential part of effectively living for Him whether the future pathway is one of marriage or one of singleness!
The usefulness of singleness
Singleness is a gift from God that He intends to be used to serve Him in unique ways and with unique capacities. If we are going to serve Him well with the gift of singleness, we must rightly focus on the issue of identity, the issue of maturity, and the issue of purity!
I would like us to consider three key areas that I believe God intends for us to focus on in singleness:
The issue of maturity
For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ: Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ: That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive; But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
EXPLANATION: Just as every child born physically will mature physically, every child of God born spiritually will mature spiritually. However, we know that there are specific factors that aid or hinder human physical development—issues like nutrition. We also know that there are factors that influence the spiritual development of God’s children as well. Here we find a divine/human confluence in the area of sanctification and maturity.
It is God that worketh in you both to do and to will of His good pleasure and we are to work out our own salvation!
1 Corinthians 16:13–14
“Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men, be strong. Let all your things be done with charity.”
In the middle of this short text, Paul issues a direct challenge that will be explained with four modifying statements!
At the center we find these words in the KJV—“Quit ye like men.” The NKJV says, “Be brave.”—the Greek word is “andridzesthe,” which translated literally is “act like men,” or more directly—“Be men.”
The Greek word occurs only one time in the New Testament—this imperative verb which is taken from a noun which means “man”—it literally is now turning the noun into a verb—“become a man; you be a man.”
1 Corinthians 13:11
When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
to be manly v. — to be courageous, conceived of as possessing qualities befitting a man.
Put in the vernacular, this verb means — “Grow Up!”
This is a radical call to maturity!
What is maturity?
EXPLANATION: The Discipline Continuum—From Obey to Honor
There is a continuum to biblical discipline. In the clearest biblical model, which is the home, we see a continuum which moves from “obey” to “honor.”
Honor: the volitional choice to elevate another and their wishes (goals, desires, priorities) by intentionally showing deference in an area of preference
Honoring not only requires maturity, it produces it. Character is formed and developed as one learns to practice self-control through the demonstration of loving others.
Maturity is a values proposition
Let’s compare two ideas: Strict obedience and honoring.
Strict Obedience (command and control)
- Expectations reinforced with consequences—produces obedience which has learned through a COST analysis.
- Activates the mind to evaluate right and wrong on a COST basis: “What will this decision cost me or gain me?” As such, the reinforcement tends to be external, and produces behavior modification.
- Explanation reinforced with responsibility—produces maturity which is grown through a VALUES analysis.
- Activates the will to evaluate, not just right and wrong, but “good and better,” and even “better and best” on a values basis: “What is important to me?” or “What really matters.” This process moves us from seeing that most decisions are not merely simple or unilateral, but are complex and have multiple outcomes and impacts causing us to not just think simply, but socially! As such, the reinforcement tends to be internal, and produces heart growth and change.
Maturity is a vehicle for producing community
- Due to impacting the mind with a cost analysis scenario, tends toward “self-focused” decisions based upon gain or loss. It produces a love that causes us to think mostly about “how much I need you.” It causes one to modify their behavior in light of that need. When handled correctly with a child, it produces the proper environment for teaching self-denial and the value of others. However, when applied to those who should be maturing or who should have already matured, it produces a self-focus which will lead to manipulation. Either, the authority will become controlling in order to get the response that it wants—this often looks like controlling behaviors such as anger, guilt, or shame, or the one being trained becomes manipulative in order to get what they want because the artificial boundaries of command and control are viewed as “currency” to be spent.
- The perfectly timed temper tantrum in a public place
- The careful usage of demerits at the end of a semester
- Due to impacting on the will with a VALUES analysis tends toward “others focused” decisions based upon caring. It produces a love that causes us to think about “how much I value you,” or “how much you need me,” which leads to actions based on that evaluation. This produces a relational focus which considers myself and others in light of what I value. This leads to critical thinking which engages mind, will and emotion by processing values and producing actions that are a result of CHOICES.
- Rather than the external reinforcements of merit and demerit being viewed as currency, the internal reinforcement of responsibility, trust, and freedom leads to heart transformation that produces maturity and develops character.
- Rules—stated negatively and have negative consequences for reinforcement
- Expectations—stated positively and have positive results for reinforcement
When operating in a rules (obedience) environment (command and control) opportunity is found in loopholes, but the opportunity is always accompanied by fear.
When operating in an expectations (honor) environment, opportunity is found in trust which is always accompanied by freedom.
The difference in perspective is found when the immature person looks at what is stated and responds by finding their opportunity in what is “not” said, while the mature person responds by considering what is actually expected. The immature chooses based on an ethic characterized by “have to,” while the mature acts on an ethic demonstrated by “get to.”
Maturity has characteristics
Greek—“gregoreite” from “gregorew—to be alert ⇔ be awake v. — to beware, conceived of as staying awake.
There are two sides to this coin—there is a positive and a negative.
There is something on the positive side that we need to be awake toward, and there is something on the negative side that we need to be awake against!
Understand your values
1 Corinthians 15:34 (NKJV)
Awake to righteousness, and do not sin; for some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.
- You will not live the things you believe by accident. No one becomes more spiritual by osmosis!
- To grow in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ takes a disciplined, intentional pursuit.
1 Timothy 4:7
But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.
1 Corinthians 9:25–27
And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Can you see the personalization of truth here? Paul says, “I myself!”
This is a call to truly come to grips with what you believe in such a way that you actually live it! This is no longer believing something just because your parents believed. It is not a matter of believing something just because the church that you have always attended believes it! This is becoming mentally engaged to the point that you take an “apologetic” approach to life—“Prepared to give every man an answer for the hope that lies within you!”
Understand your vulnerability
1 Peter 5:8 (NKJV)
Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.
APPLICATION: If you are not intentionally walking with carefulness, you are vulnerable!
It is funny what our impressions of the phrase “Be a man” are. In our over-exaggerated masculinity, we take that phrase to mean having a sense of bravado that trumps our sense of caution. In other words, real men don’t need to be careful! Real men throw caution to the wind and with a sense of abandon, stand in defiance of danger!
Friends, biblically, that is not characterized as being a man. That is characterized as being “a fool!”
A prudent man foresees evil and hides himself, But the simple pass on and are punished.
There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death. Even in laughter the heart may sorrow, And the end of mirth may be grief. The backslider in heart will be filled with his own ways, But a good man will be satisfied from above. The simple believes every word, But the prudent considers well his steps.
It was time for them to wake up!
Greek—“stekete” from “stekw” —to stand (maintain) v.—to hold one’s ground; maintain a position; be steadfast or upright.
The Corinthians were challenged by Paul to “stand firm in the faith.” It is all too obvious that false teachers were among them.
EXPLANATION: The gospel message, by which they were saved, was being looked down upon as something less than the new “wisdom” that had been introduced (see 1 Corinthians 1–4; 2 Corinthians 11).
This is not merely “stubbornness,” or inflexibility. The idea is not just one of “not caving in under pressure,” but also of “not allowing to be eroded.”
The idea is that of “continuing to be standing.”
- This requires a sense of resistance
- This requires a sense of resilience
Notice, they are to stand firm “in the faith.”
Gospel content ⇔ faith n.—the content of what is (and should be) believed about the good news of Jesus’ way of salvation.
Twenty six times this phrase “the faith” is used in the NT. Every time the word “faith” is used with the definite article “the,” in the NT it is referring not to the action of believing, but to the content of what is believed.
It is that Body of Truth that Jude refers to in Jude 3 when he writes, “Beloved, while I was very diligent to write to you concerning our common salvation, I found it necessary to write to you exhorting you to contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints.”
EXPLANATION: In Corinth, the Fundamentals of the Gospel (i.e., the resurrection of the dead) were being forsaken (chapter 15). Another gospel was tolerantly accepted (2 Cor. 11:4). These saints needed to stand firm in the faith which Paul and the other (true) apostles had delivered to them.
- This requires diligence
2 Timothy 2:15 (NKJV)
Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.
- This requires determination
Greek—“krataiousthe” from “krataiow” —to be strong v.—to be or become strong or powerful beyond the average or expected; whether physically or in one’s constitution.
The Corinthians were encouraged to “be strong” —How ironic.
These Corinthians despised weakness. This is what they did not like about the Gospel or Paul (see 1 Cor. 1:18–2:6; 4:6–13; also 2 Cor. 11–12). God uses the weak things to demonstrate His strength.
By thinking and acting like those who were perceived and presented as being “strong,” the Corinthians were showing themselves to be spiritually weak.
Paul was urging them to “be strong” in the Lord, and this would mean forsaking their human, culturally-approved “strengths.” These people, who thought themselves strong and Paul weak (2 Cor. 13:9), were the ones who needed to be strong.
love (Christian) n. — a strong, non-sexual affection and regard for a person and their good as understood by God’s moral character; especially characterized by a willing forfeiture of rights or privileges in another person’s behalf.
Finally, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to do everything they do in love (verse 14).
Here we find one of the vital ingredients of the Christian life obviously missing in the church at Corinth.
Paul had to devote an entire chapter to its description (chapter 13). These saints were obviously lacking in love, toward God and toward men.
Love would radically change the church at Corinth.
The issue of identity
Whose am I?
Consider Adam: Before the creation of Eve, he walked in fellowship with God. He received the instructions about avoiding the eating of the forbidden fruit. He served God by tending the garden and by naming the animals.
Adam had a relationship with God and was productively living with purpose while he was single!
- God individually made them and made them individuals!
- As individuals made by Him, they individually belong to Him and have value!
Consider the creation of Adam:
But there went up a mist from the earth, and watered the whole face of the ground. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
Consider the creation of Eve:
And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and he slept: and he took one of his ribs, and closed up the flesh instead thereof; And the rib, which the Lord God had taken from man, made he a woman, and brought her unto the man. And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh. And they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed.
A proper sense of security
2 Timothy 1:12
For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.
EXPLANATION: Our value is found in the fact that we are “in Christ.” We belong to Him.
Know ye that the Lord he is God: It is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; We are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
- Our identity is not in what I have.
- It is not in what we have accomplished.
- It is not in what we have earned or deserved
- It is not found in any human relationship.
My Worth is not in What I Own
My worth is not in what I own
Not in the strength of flesh and bone
But in the costly wounds of love
At the cross
My worth is not in skill or name
In win or lose, in pride or shame
But in the blood of Christ that flowed
At the cross
I rejoice in my Redeemer
Wellspring of my soul
I will trust in Him, no other.
My soul is satisfied in Him alone.
As summer flowers we fade and die
Fame, youth and beauty hurry by
But life eternal calls to us
At the cross
I will not boast in wealth or might
Or human wisdom’s fleeting light
But I will boast in knowing Christ
At the cross
Two wonders here that I confess
My worth and my unworthiness
My value fixed—my ransom paid
At the cross
A proper sense of Authority
1 Corinthians 6:19–20
What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s.
We must live in recognition of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We serve a King! We must allow Him to reign on the throne of our hearts! We must submit our wills to His will, our passions to His purpose!
Who am I?
A proper understanding of my stewardship
I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith. For as we have many members in one body, and all members have not the same office: So we, being many, are one body in Christ, and every one members one of another. Having then gifts differing according to the grace that is given to us, whether prophecy, let us prophesy according to the proportion of faith; Or ministry, let us wait on our ministering: or he that teacheth, on teaching; Or he that exhorteth, on exhortation: he that giveth, let him do it with simplicity; he that ruleth, with diligence; he that sheweth mercy, with cheerfulness.
A proper understanding my service
Let love be without dissimulation. Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good. Be kindly affectioned one to another with brotherly love; in honour preferring one another; Not slothful in business; fervent in spirit; serving the Lord; Rejoicing in hope; patient in tribulation; continuing instant in prayer; Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality. Bless them which persecute you: bless, and curse not. Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep. Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits. Recompense to no man evil for evil. Provide things honest in the sight of all men. If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men. Dearly beloved, avenge not yourselves, but rather give place unto wrath: for it is written, Vengeance is mine; I will repay, saith the Lord. Therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him; if he thirst, give him drink: for in so doing thou shalt heap coals of fire on his head. Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.
The issue of purity
1 Thessalonians 4:1–8
Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: that no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his holy Spirit.
The Christians in Thessalonica faced the same kind of questions and pressures. Some responded to the pressure by literally quitting their jobs, and living off the avails of other Christians, arguing, “Jesus is coming again so it doesn’t matter if I work. After all, He is coming for a perfect church. How can I be a Holy Christian if I am in the world?” Others would respond by being quiet about their faith all together, being fearful of how they might be treated.
The Apostle Paul writes here reminding us that the answer is not in hiding from worldly pressures. The answer is found in verse 3, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification.”
Peter wrote in 1 Peter 1:13–16, “Wherefore gird up the loins of your mind, be sober, and hope to the end for the grace that is to be brought unto you at the revelation of Jesus Christ; as obedient children, not fashioning yourselves according to the former lusts in your ignorance: but as he which hath called is holy; so be ye holy in all manner of conversation; because it is written, be ye holy; for I am holy.”
Peter said that it was written that we are to be holy because God is holy. He was quoting Leviticus 11:44, which says,
For I am the Lord your God: ye shall therefore sanctify yourselves, and ye shall be holy; for I am holy: neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
One thing ought to be very clear to you—one of God’s chief desires for you and me is that we be holy, that we be like Jesus Christ in His divine attribute of holiness, and if we are to study our Bibles and be honest and open about what the Scriptures teach, then we cannot escape the fact that a key issue in holiness is the subject of sex.
Because sexual issues are confronting God’s people so frequently, and because it is a frequent subject in the Scriptures, it is necessary for us to deal with the subject today. It is an issue that affects both men and women. This is not a new problem. Sometime read through Leviticus 18 and notice that God had to take time to spell out very specifically His desires for the Israelites concerning sexual purity. It deals with such things as pedophilia, incest, beastiality, homosexuality, adultery and so forth. God had to get graphic with those folk because He already knew what man left to his own devices would do. God’s desire for us as His people is that you be sexually pure in every way, both in the light and in the dark, both in public and in private, so that your character is consistent with your reputation. God’s people must be a people of sexual purity and integrity.
If you are going to maintain a high level of sexual purity throughout your life, then you need to…
Acknowledge the LORD as the sole authority on maintaining sexual purity
When Paul began this section, he said, “Brethren, we beseech, or beg and exhort you by the Lord Jesus Christ (by His authority)…that as you have received from us how you ought to walk, or conduct your lives and please God, that you would continue to do so more and more.”
Then he goes on in the next verse to mention the teachings he gave them by the Lord Jesus. He doesn’t mention any teachings in particular, but we can see from the context that he had spent some time dealing with this subject of sexual purity to the Thessalonian believers. You see, Paul was saying to this church, “I taught you what I did by the authority of Jesus Christ. I left you those instructions because they were His instructions.”
Why did Paul have to deal with sexual purity in their church? He had to do so because sexual immorality was a major problem. It was common in that day for men to take several wives. Temple prostitution was a common form of worship to the false gods of the day. It was an honor for a woman to serve as a temple prostitute. Homosexuality was common, as was using slaves for sexual gratification. Now for Jewish believers, these kinds of issues may not have been so difficult. Remember that they had grown up under a strict moral law, so the high standards of Jesus Christ, while still difficult, would have been easier to accept. On the other hand, you take these Gentile pagan converts who had grown up in a sexually immoral, anything goes culture and tell them to stop, that’s quite a different thing.
There has to be some authority that transcends all the issues in order to set the moral standard for our lives, and Jesus Christ is the only authority that can do that.
- Who decides if sex outside of marriage is right or wrong?
- Who decides what a real marriage is?
- Who can say whether homosexuality is wrong?
- Who can rightly decide on issues like abortion?
- What about adultery? Is it wrong? Who says, and in what cases?
- What about incest? What about pedophilia? What about all the fetishes that are running rampant today?
- Who says pornography is bad?
- Who says you can only have one wife or one sex partner?
- Is it wrong for me to lust after a woman? What harm have I done?
- Is rape always wrong? What if the girl was leading the guy on?
You may say those things are wrong, and the next guy says they are right, so who is right? You see, there has to be an authority that transcends you and me, one that transcends time and culture, one that transcends economic status and race barriers, because if there’s not, then anything can and will go.
I don’t care if you’re single or married, if you’re young or old, what your circumstances are, the Bible sets the standard for sexuality for all people in all times and it doesn’t budge.
Paul said, “I exhort you, I beg you, by the authority of Jesus Christ that you walk, that you conduct your lives, in such a way that will please God.”
Notice in verse 1 that Paul says, “how you ought to walk…how you ought to please God.” Is he implying that they weren’t? Perhaps they were trying, but they could do better.
Listen, I know that right here on our campus most people want to honor and please the Lord Jesus in their lives. Most of you want that—but have you applied Jesus’ standards for sex in your life?
Men, when it comes to your sexual desires, is Jesus your sole authority? When you are in private, does His Word dictate your actions and behavior and desires?
So, what is your authority? By what standard do you gauge whether your sexual desires are pleasing to God or not? Is that standard the Bible? Or is it the locker room?
Listen, let me plead with you the same thing Paul did. You’re doing well. You’re growing in God’s grace and you’re becoming more and more like Jesus, but have you been so quick to bring your sexuality, your ideas about it, your lusts, desires, your thoughts, your character, your conduct in private under the authority of Jesus Christ? Or have you been allowing some other authority to be your moral compass in this thing? Jesus Christ wants to be your sole authority even in this most sensitive area of your life.
Accept God’s will as it relates to issues of sexuality in your life
God’s will for your life is that you be sanctified. The word sanctify is a noun form of the Greek root word for holy.
What does that mean for you? It means that God’s will for your life is that you be holy, that you be sanctified. Sanctified has a two-fold meaning. On the one hand it means that we have been set apart from something, and on the other hand we have been set apart to something. Believers have been set apart from sin, but set apart to holy living, or holiness as a way of life.
Now, when Paul says that God’s will is your sanctification, he expresses that in three very practical areas of your life.
Abstain from fornication
First, we are told to abstain from fornication.
We know what abstaining means. It means not to have any part of, to keep our distance from, don’t engage in it.
But what about fornication? Usually when we see fornication, we think of sex before marriage. The word fornication is translated from the word pornea, from which we get our English word pornography. The word pornea actually involves most any sort of sexual immorality that you might think of. It is an all-encompassing term that takes in most of the sexual struggles that we face.
When Paul says, “abstain from pornea,” he says, “Brother, you’d better keep your distance from anything that even looks sexually immoral.”
Are believers immune from sexual temptations? Of course not.
A confidential survey was conducted among 350 “Christian” men. Of these, 64% struggle with sexual addiction or sexual compulsion, including but not limited to using pornography, sexual self-gratification, or other secret sexual activity; 25% admit to having an affair at some point during their Christian life, and 14% admit to some other form of sexual activity outside of their marriage.
Can a man take fire in his bosom, and his clothes not be burned? Can one go upon hot coals, and his feet not be burned? So he that goeth in to his neighbor’s wife: whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent.
What’s the answer? Abstain from pornea, from all sexual immorality; in whatever form it takes, whether it’s the pretty girl in the newspaper ad or the wife you’re married to. Sexual immorality will take you down.
Take control of your bodies
1 Thessalonians 4:4
That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;
“every one of you should know how to possess his [body] in moral purity and high regard.”
It is worth noting that it is the believer who is held responsible for what he does with his body. No one can take control of your body but you. No one can dictate how you behave, what you think, where you go or any other thing but you! That’s why in Romans 6:12 Paul says, “You don’t let sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.” You alone can control your body.
Paul said that we ought to take control of our bodies instead of following our lustful desires. Verse 5 says, “not in the lust of concupiscence…”
In other words, “not in gratifying sensual passions…even as the Gentiles which know not God.”
Have you ever paid any attention to all the excuses we make for our sin? Hormones out of control. It’s just immaturity. Look, if you’re saved, if you’re really a child of God, then the Spirit of God lives in you and has equipped you and empowered you to take control of your body—I don’t care how strong the desire or how raging the hormones.
- Did you know that less than 40% of Americans believe that premarital sex is wrong?
- Less than 25% of the 18–29 age group thinks it is wrong.
I won’t bore you to death with too many statistics, but the point is this: we have come to a day when people do what they want to do because they will not exercise self-control and because Jesus Christ and His Word are not the authority in their lives.
Don’t defraud other people
The last thing he mentions is defrauding another person. The word brother here is used in a general sense, like the word neighbor.
What does he mean that we shouldn’t defraud other people? In this context it means that we need to maintain a high level of sexual purity so that we don’t overstep our boundaries and take advantage of someone else.
- Judah defrauded his daughter-in-law when he slept with her.
- King David defrauded Uriah by committing adultery with his wife Bathsheba.
- Amnon defrauded his sister when he raped her.
Whether you believe it or not, sexual sins always make a victim of somebody. Somebody is going to get hurt.
Adjust the priority of your own sexual desires
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to apply this principle to sex or not, but I’m going to ask you to try it. What is the one characteristic that dominates the Christian faith? You might say love, and if you do you would be right, but how is that love expressed? By putting others first. Jesus put our needs before His own personal comfort. Paul told us to prefer one another. In 1 Corinthians 7, speaking to husbands and wives, he said that our bodies don’t belong to ourselves, but rather to our spouses. In other words, their needs come first.
How would that apply in this message? We know that God comes first in our lives. He should get the top priority. If God is number one, if I am going to recognize His authority and accept His will, then my desires, my lusts, my fleshly passions, my wants and even my needs must come secondary to His. When your body is screaming and raging and it is in conflict with His Word, His Word must win out. You must take the high road of sexual integrity and purity by putting God and His Word first. When you recognize God first, you automatically must put yourself last.
After God must come others. If you love other people the way Jesus loves them, then you won’t exploit them, you won’t use them, you won’t abuse them, or put them in sinful situations. You must come last. Why? “Because God has not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.”
Set Appropriate Standards for Relationships
Young people often ask, “how far is too far.” I understand it, but it is really the wrong question because it essentially asks how close we can get to the line without crossing it. Instead, we need to ask things like how can I encourage holiness in my dating relationship or how can I protect my boyfriend/girlfriend’s purity so that, if he is not my future husband, I would not be ashamed to meet his wife one day in the future. Song of Solomon 8:4 pleads with the daughters of Jerusalem that they not “stir up or awaken love until it pleases.”
CONCLUSION: Singleness is a gift from God that He intends to be used to serve Him in unique ways and with unique capacities. If we are going to serve Him well with the gift of singleness, we must rightly focus on the issue of identity, the issue of maturity, and the issue of purity!