There is no Hebrew or Greek word used in the Bible that precisely refers to sex before marriage. The Bible undeniably condemns adultery and sexual immorality, but is sex before marriage considered sexually immoral? According to 1 Corinthians 7:2, “yes” is the clear answer: “But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” In this verse, Paul states that marriage is the “cure” for sexual immorality. First Corinthians 7:2 is essentially saying that, because people cannot control themselves and so many are having immoral sex outside of marriage, people should get married. Then they can fulfill their passions in a moral way.
Since 1 Corinthians 7:2 clearly includes sex before marriage in the definition of sexual immorality, all of the Bible verses that condemn sexual immorality as being sinful also condemn sex before marriage as sinful. Sex before marriage is included in the biblical definition of sexual immorality. There are numerous Scriptures that declare sex before marriage to be a sin (Acts 15:20; 1 Corinthians 5:1; 6:13, 18; 10:8; 2 Corinthians 12:21; Galatians 5:19; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; Jude 7). The Bible promotes complete abstinence before marriage. Sex between a husband and his wife is the only form of sexual relations of which God approves (Hebrews 13:4).
Far too often we focus on the “recreation” aspect of sex without recognizing that there is another aspect—procreation. Sex within marriage is pleasurable, and God designed it that way. God wants men and women to enjoy sexual activity within the confines of marriage. Song of Solomon and several other Bible passages (such as Proverbs 5:19) clearly describe the pleasure of sex. However, the couple must understand that God’s intent for sex includes producing children. Thus, for a couple to engage in sex before marriage is doubly wrong—they are enjoying pleasures not intended for them, and they are taking a chance of creating a human life outside of the family structure God intended for every child.
While practicality does not determine right from wrong, if the Bible’s message on sex before marriage were obeyed, there would be far fewer sexually transmitted diseases, far fewer abortions, far fewer unwed mothers and unwanted pregnancies, and far fewer children growing up without both parents in their lives. Abstinence is God’s only policy when it comes to sex before marriage. Abstinence saves lives, protects babies, gives sexual relations the proper value, and, most importantly, honors God.
views on premarital sex
In contemporary thinking, three views on premarital sex are significant, and they deserve our attention. We have called them the natural impulse view, the affection view, and the abstinence view.
The Natural Impulse View
This position is extremely liberal. One common form of it is the Playboy morality. This view says sex is a natural human impulse or instinct. Now that contraceptives are easily available and extremely reliable, sex should be seen as a purely pleasurable physical experience. Just as good food can be enjoyed in a variety of settings, so one can enjoy a casual sexual encounter with someone without deep feelings of love and affection. Fulfillment of one’s sexual desire need not be limited to a single partner nor accompanied with feelings of love. Many who hold this view admit that love does tend to enhance sex with greater meaning, but they believe that most people at some time in their lives find themselves sexually attracted to an individual for whom they have little or no affection. Thus, greater human happiness is attained if people can take whatever pleasure they can get from sex without the burden of moral guilt, as long as they do not satisfy their sexual urges by using a partner involuntarily, hurtfully or deceitfully.
Commonly offered arguments for this position are as follows. First, sex is a natural impulse or instinct, and, it is argued, it ought to be followed. Jean Jacques Rousseau thought humanity in the wild state was naturally good and happy. Mankind had been spoiled by society. Thus, one ought to return to the wild state. A second argument claims sexual repression is bad. Christianity and Victorian ethics are the primary culprits. They have given sex a bad name and are responsible for most of the sexual repression. This repression has resulted in a variety of neuroses, even insanity. Thus, free sexual expression is healthy and ought to be pursued.11 Third, mankind has an obligation to maximize pleasure. Some, though not all, defend free love on the basis of hedonistic utilitarianism (the view that we ought to act to maximize pleasure). Thus, any act that would increase pleasure ought to be performed, or at least it should not be prohibited. Finally, it is also argued that the burden of proof rests on those who would limit our behavior. prima facie, any act is right. The burden of moral persuasion rests with those who would interfere or condemn what we can do. In the absence of such arguments, we are free to do whatever we want and whatever gives us pleasure.
Clearly, from a Christian perspective this approach to human sexuality in general and premarital sex in particular is unacceptable. Moreover, there are also good reasons for rejecting this philosophy that have nothing to do with Christian belief. Some objections we shall raise question the morality of this view, while others question its wisdom. As a result, we reject this view as both immoral and imprudent. We also note that most of the objections to the affection view apply equally here and vice versa. For the sake of brevity, we offer each set of objections only once.
An initial objection questions whether hedonistic utilitarianism is an appropriate justification for moral commands. Anyone who rejects such a theory of ethics, as we do, will not find this understanding of premarital sex morally acceptable. Put another way, are we obligated to act to maximize pleasure? While there is certainly nothing wrong with pleasure, we may question whether it is the highest human good and whether all ways of pursuing it are moral, even if it is the highest good. Moreover, sometimes we are obligated to perform acts that are painful, and we are not morally justified in avoiding those acts just because we would like to pursue pleasure instead. For example, we are obligated to pay a debt rather than spend the money on a vacation, though that act may not bring us pleasure. All of these considerations lead us to believe that this view of premarital sex and the underlying ethical theory that supports it are unacceptable.
Second, is what is wild or natural naturally good? Rousseau advanced his theory two hundred years ago, but no happy “natural” humanity, unspoiled by society, has been located. Instead, men and women seem inevitably to form societies, and societies set limits on sexual behavior. Moreover, humans are not without restraints even in the so-called wild. God has written his moral law on their hearts, even if they have no written revelation (Rom 2:14–16).
Third, even if one grants for the sake of argument that hedonistic utilitarianism is correct, there are still some aspects of sex for pleasure that raise questions about whether it is moral when considered against the background of that moral theory. That is, given a hedonistic utilitarian approach, one is obligated to do (and it is moral to do) whatever brings the most pleasure. But, then, casual sex cannot in all circumstances be morally right, for certain factors are likely to reduce its pleasure. For example, it is not unlikely that the couple, especially teenagers, will lack a suitable and completely private place, making it necessary to perform the sex act hurriedly and uncomfortably. While this problem does not confront all who engage in casual sex, for those who experience it, it lowers the pleasure value of the act and, hence, on a hedonistic approach lowers the morality of the act. Moreover, regardless of what they say about feeling no guilt, couples who engage in casual sex are likely to sense some anxiety in performing an act which is still generally socially forbidden. While one might respond that even reduced pleasure is pleasure, it is worth noting that almost always in the case of casual premarital sex it is trivial pleasure at best. Moreover, if one uses hedonism to justify the act, one is obligated by that ethical theory to do what brings the most pleasure, not just what brings some enjoyment.
Fourth, the possibility of unwanted pregnancy is always present, and that raises questions about the wisdom of following this view. As already noted, Planned Parenthood reports that 1.1 million American girls between fifteen and nineteen become pregnant every year. The fact that we possess modern contraceptive devices makes it too easy to forget that no device is 100 percent effective. The fact that the largest percentage of abortions are obtained by unwed women (see Chapter 2) is a vivid reminder that many who aren’t expecting to get pregnant (or never think about it at all) become pregnant, anyway. Unwanted pregnancies occur not just because people use contraceptives that fail. A major reason stems from the fact that contraceptives may be used improperly or not at all. Such an eventuality is increased when partners are engaged in casual sex. Since there is no established relationship or genuine love between them, neither may care enough about the other to take the necessary precautions. Moreover, both the strength of one’s sexual drive and the lure of spontaneous lovemaking tempt casual sex partners to throw caution out the window. A number of social problems have resulted from the rising number of unwanted pregnancies: the feminization of poverty, the increase in single-parent families, and, as noted, the alarming number of abortions.
Fifth, sexually transmitted diseases such as AIDS are at epidemic proportions and are strong objections against this view as imprudent. Those engaged in casual sex are most at risk for several reasons. For one thing, they are the most likely to engage in sex without adequate protection. Moreover, surveys show that they tend to have multiple partners. Some of these partners are casual acquaintances at best, and their sexual habits and history are unknown. That this is a real problem can be seen from the surveys mentioned earlier. Figures from those surveys indicate that a majority of those responding did not think premarital sex was wrong, but 42 percent of the girls and 43 percent of the boys from this same group worried that they might get AIDS someday.
Sixth, casual or recreational sex, as it is sometimes called, lacks full meaning or significance for the partners. This is an important objection. The act of sexual intercourse lacks full meaning for casual partners, because it does not grow out of a life context “of past shared activities, present joint life, and future commitment that marriage can give.…” In 1 Cor 6:12–20 Paul says emphatically that even the casual act of sex makes the couple “one flesh.” Sexual unchastity is not an act external to the partners; it affects one to the very core of his or her being. Paul teaches that the sex act does not have a certain meaning to one partner and something else to the other. It is not something we give meaning to by our choice or circumstances. Rather, it is already filled with meaning, and we disregard this to our own harm. In becoming “one flesh” with another, one has less to give to the love of his or her life. He or she “has memories, expectations, lessons from his [or her] experience; and these lessons go to the root of his [or her] character.”19 Those who took part in the Playboy experiment eventually found that they wanted love more than sex, a relationship more than pleasure.
Finally, the Bible explicitly prohibits sex before marriage. In the OT era, if a man had intercourse with a virgin, he was required to marry her and to pay the bride price to her father (Deut 22:28–29). Men were also warned against sex with prostitutes (Prov 5; 7:5, 25–27). In the NT Paul rejects all forms of sexual immorality (1 Cor 5:9; 6:12–20; Eph 5:3–5; 1 Thess 4:1–8) and warns against becoming one with a prostitute (1 Cor 6:15–16).
The Affection View
Over the last twenty-five years a new ethic has emerged. It might be called the affection view or the ethic of intimacy. At first, this position seems not substantially different from the previous view, because those who hold it expect to have a number of sexual partners during their lifetime. However, it is quite different. Proponents of this view are at least moderately positive toward marriage. Less is said about the repression of sex in modern society. Sexual freedom is praised, but it is not an end in itself. Rather, it is to be guided by the ideal of intimacy. Intimacy is not identical with love. It is a feeling that two people may have for one another for a night, for a year, or for a lifetime. Intimacy is not something that can be planned; it just happens. And when it does, you will know it. There are no ethical absolutes to guide behavior, but only attitudinal ones such as openness and caring. Whereas traditionally marriage was required for sex, those who hold the affection view see couples going in and out of relationships. They go together, sleep together, live together, and then, if things work out, ratify their relationship by marriage.
It is easier to give an outline of this view than to offer arguments for it. That is because so much is assumed about sexuality and personal freedom. The justification for the ethic of intimacy, however, can be described. It begins by claiming that sex is good. It is not related to our lower nature. Sex is inherently and completely good as long as it is done with someone you love. Casual sexual experiences will occur. They are excusable, but they are not to be taken as the ideal. Sexual intercourse is an expression of a loving and caring relationship.
Second, each partner must retain his or her independence. Anything else would be stifling. Even in an ongoing and stable relationship each member must retain independence. Each has his or her own needs, and those needs are paramount. One partner never has the right to control the other. A covenant that binds one individual to another is to be rejected; one’s primary obligation is to oneself.
Third, the right to intimacy is created by compatibility, not covenant. Compatibility is not primarily sexual compatibility, but affinity in personality and psychology. Compatibility just “happens.” You “click,” “receive good vibes,” or “are attracted to your partner.” As should be easily seen, one’s personality and psychology change over time. Thus, someday you may find that you and your lover are no longer compatible, and for you, divorce is morally right, or at least not wrong.
Fourth, sex is a private matter. Under the old consensus, society felt it had the right, even the obligation, to protect itself and to punish those who violated its norms. However, what you do and with whom is entirely up to you.
Fifth, sex can be engaged in with no “strings attached.” The idea that passage from virginity to experience involves a profound personal change is wrong. Today people make less of individual sexual encounters. One is expected to have many experiences with sex and with partners. Some will be good, and others not so good. Each new partner is a chance to start afresh.
Sixth, there is no double standard in matters of sex. Women are to be treated exactly like men in sexual ethics. If indiscretion is excusable for one, it is also for the other.
Finally, sex demands maturity. Since there are no absolute principles to guide one sexually, a number of variables in any situation must be weighed to determine if sexual intercourse is acceptable. This requires maturity. Though proponents of this position do not like to say this, they think that children under sixteen are too young for sex and ought to be told so.
While the affection or intimacy view is an improvement over the natural impulse view, it too is open to serious objections. First, affection, love and intimacy as defined in this view are too weak to deal with the impulses that make up human sexuality. As Stafford says, “It is like walking a lion on a leash. Sometimes he goes where you want him to. Sometimes he will not. Sometimes he turns around and devours you.” In the passion of the moment, one can convince himself or herself that anything is love. Moreover, there is a certain passivity and fatalism connected with this ethic. Compatibility is something that strikes a relationship like lightning strikes a building. In contrast, a Christian ethic places one’s will, not emotions, at the heart of human behavior. Love is seen in and fostered by action. True intimacy is developed through persistent self-sacrifice.30
Second, sex involves the expression of the total person. It grows out of lives that are fully shared. Even in stable relationships based on love but without commitment, sexual activities are emphasized at the expense of other activities. This can be true for married couples, as some share little of their lives except for the sex act itself. However, it is not as likely in marriage where the sex partners have opportunity over an extended period of time to grow as persons and to learn to share their lives together and where they must of necessity participate in many joint endeavors related to home and family.
Third, the sex act may overcommit the couple to each other. We have previously spoken of the bonding effect of sexual intercourse. Where bonding is thought to be based on love, it may in fact intensify emotional involvement and lead a couple to make a commitment too quickly. Because a couple has great sex does not mean they will have a great marriage. Sexual compatibility may lead a couple who are badly mismatched in other areas to get married. This lack of general compatibility will in time affect their sexual affinity, and the relationship will not survive.
Fourth, premarital sex destroys the possibility of sharing something unique to that marriage. On the other hand, if sexual intercourse is reserved for marriage, marital sex gains added significance.
Thus, while a stable and loving sexual partnership avoids some of the most damaging consequences of casual sex (less meaningful sexual acts, anxiety about the circumstances surrounding the sex act, and danger of disease), this position in the end is not in keeping with biblical teaching.
The Abstinence View
This is the most conservative view. It has often been justified from Scripture and the examples of personal and social behavior that are thought to be ordained therein. God has spoken and has prohibited certain sexual practices as immoral. Not all, however, who advocate this position do so on the basis of divine revelation. There are those who justify the conservative view on the basis of a utilitarian interest in the maximization of human happiness. Certain practices about sexual behavior, however arbitrary, are essential to the maintenance of a sense of community and, in turn, to human happiness.
C. S. Lewis states the abstinence view succinctly: “Either marriage, with complete faithfulness to your partner, or else total abstinence.” He also goes on to note that chastity is the most unpopular of the Christian virtues. It is recognized that sex is both natural and enjoyable, but it should never be used merely for physical gratification. Rather, it should be the expression of deep love and affection. Moreover, it should have procreation as one of its ultimate purposes. The limitation of sex to marriage is necessary for the forming and maintaining of family units. The restriction of sex to marriage will encourage people to get married and stay married. The prohibition of sex outside of marriage will tend to strengthen marriages.35
Arguments for the abstinence position have served in a number of instances as objections to the previous positions. Nevertheless, we briefly review them here. First, those who think the Bible is the revealed word of God believe that abstinence is clearly taught both in the OT and the NT. Premarital sex and prostitution are condemned in both testaments. For example, in the OT, the following verses teach that premarital sex and adultery are wrong: Exod 20:14; 22:16, 17; Lev 18:20; 20:10, 14; 21:13; Deut 22:15, 17, 20–21; Prov 23:27. NT teaching to the same effect is found in 1 Cor 5:1; 6:9, 13, 18; Eph 5:3; 1 Thess 4:3–8. Moreover, the following verses from both testaments teach that harlotry or prostitution is wrong: Lev 19:29; 20:5, 6 (here in connection with idols); Deut 23:18; Prov 23:27; 1 Cor 6:13–18.
Second, it is argued that the sex act involves the whole person, bonding physically and psychologically two individuals in a unique way. Therefore, while sex may bring gratification to two uncommitted partners, in at least some cases that pleasure is trivial and fleeting. Moreover, limiting sex to marriage encourages individuals to get married and stay married. The development of solid family units makes for a stable society and for human happiness. Conversely, where all the benefits of marriage are available without any of its responsibilities, society, and particularly children, will suffer.
Third, in a marriage where both partners are absolutely faithful to one another, the likelihood of contracting a sexually transmitted disease is almost nonexistent. With sexually transmitted diseases on the rise and with the threat of spreading AIDS by heterosexual promiscuity, this consideration is of growing importance.
Finally, while abstinence does not entirely eliminate the problem of unwanted pregnancies, it greatly reduces it. Young women who are sexually active before marriage have the most abortions. If abortion is morally wrong, as has been argued earlier in this book, then this is a powerful reason for abstinence.
Objections and Answers
A number of objections can be imagined, but we believe they are answerable. For example, some object to the abstinence view by noting that problem and unwanted pregnancies do occur among married couples, and this is not taken as an argument against sex within marriage. Moreover, not all pregnancies that occur as the result of premarital sex are problematic or unwanted. A couple planning to get married might be quite happy with the birth of a child. Similarly, a single parent who is willing, even happy, to raise such a child would not be creating a problem or unwanted pregnancy. Finally, if the couples who are sexually active before marriage are willing to put any child conceived up for adoption, then the problem of abortion could be avoided, and a childless couple would be given a most desired and priceless possession, a baby.
Several responses are in order at this point. First, since God condemns such practices, they are wrong or immoral. Second, one’s mitigating some of the unhappy consequences of an immoral act does not make that act morally permissible. Utilitarian justifications of certain actions lead to just these kinds of moral dilemmas. Third, at the time of the sex act one cannot possibly know that all of the mitigating circumstances will follow without any of the problematic ones. We do know that premarital sex allows too many victims.
Finally, common experience teaches us that promises of lovers made in private are rarely reliable. Society has always required that lovers make their promises public. They should commit themselves to one another before church, state, family and creator. This public commitment strengthens personal commitments that may be weak or unstable. While public promises are no panacea, they do lend support to the relationship. Too often couples who thought they were committed to each other for life have found out only a few months later that they were not. Even in cases where a couple lives together for a long period of time, their relationship falls short of marital commitment. Living together, even at its best, is an experiment. The door out of the relationship is always left open.
 Feinberg, J. S., & Feinberg, P. D. (1993). Ethics for a Brave new world (152–160). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.
Christian Liberty and Sexual Freedom
by John MacArthur
“All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food; but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, “The two will become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (1 Corinthians 6:12–20)
Freedom in Christ was a truth Paul never tired of emphasizing. “It was for freedom that Christ set us free; therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery. … For you were called to freedom, brethren” (Gal. 5:1, 13). He continually rejoiced in “the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Rom. 8:21). Believers “are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). We are not saved by works or kept saved by works. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Eph. 2:8–9; cf. Rom. 3:20). “Now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter” (Rom. 7:6). God’s grace alone saves and God’s grace alone keeps salvation. Christians are justified, counted righteous and holy in God’s sight (Rom. 4:22–25). “Who,” therefore, “will bring a charge against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies” (Rom. 8:33). A Christian can commit no sin that is not already covered by God’s grace. No sin can forfeit his salvation. No accusation can succeed against the believer. God is the highest court, and He has declared that believers are righteous. There is no higher appeal. That settles the issue. The Corinthian church had been taught this truth many times while Paul was among them, but they were using it as a theological excuse for sin. They ignored the truth, “only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh” (Gal. 5:13), which he surely had also taught them. When Paul spoke of Christian freedom it was always in relation to freedom from works righteousness—that is, earning salvation by good deeds—whether by the Mosaic law, Pharisaic tradition, or any other means. The Corinthians had perverted this truth to justify their sinning. They possibly used the same argument that Paul anticipated when he was explaining grace to the Roman church: “What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace might increase?” (Rom. 6:1). They pretended to have theological justification for living as they wanted. They may have had a philosophical argument for their sin as well, perhaps implied in 6:13, “Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food.” Much Greek philosophy considered everything physical, including the body, to be basically evil and therefore of no value. What was done with or to the body did not matter. Food was food, the stomach was the stomach, and sex was sex. Sex was just a biological function like eating, to be used just as food was used, to satisfy their appetites. The argument sounds remarkably modern. Like many people today, the Corinthian Christians rationalized their sinful thinking and habits. They were clever at coming up with seemingly good reasons for doing wrong things. They also lived in a society that was notoriously immoral, a society that, in the temple prostitution and other ways, actually glorified promiscuous sex. To have sexual relations with a prostitute was so common in Corinth that the practice came to be called “Corinthianizing.” Many believers had formerly been involved in such immorality, and it was hard for them to break with the old ways and easy to fall back into them. Just as it was hard for them to give up their love of human wisdom, their worldliness, their pride, their divisive spirit, and their love for suing, it was also hard for them to give up their sexual immorality. In 6:12–20 Paul shows three of the evils of sexual sin: it is harmful to everyone involved; it gains control over those who indulge in it; and it perverts God’s purpose for the body.
SEXUAL SIN HARMS
All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. (6:12a)
The statement, All things are lawful may have been a common Corinthian saying in that liberated society. Paul borrows it and, playing off it, says, “It is so for me, too. Every sin I as a Christian commit is forgiven in Jesus Christ.” But no sin is ever right or good, and no sin ever produces anything right or good. Sin can never be worthwhile or profitable. Profitable (sumpherō) means “to be to advantage.” In the sense that believers are free and no longer under the penalty of the law in any way, all things are lawful for them. But the price for doing some things is terribly high, terribly unprofitable. Sin never brings profit; it always brings loss. The particular type of sin Paul has in mind here (vv. 13–20) is sexual sin. No sin that a person commits has more built–in pitfalls, problems, and destructiveness than sexual sin. It has broken more marriages, shattered more homes, caused more heartache and disease, and destroyed more lives than alcohol and drugs combined. It causes lying, stealing, cheating, and killing, as well as bitterness, hatred, slander, gossip, and unforgivingness. The dangers and harm of sexual sin are nowhere presented more vividly and forcefully than in Proverbs. “The lips of an adulteress drip honey, and smoother than oil is her speech” (Prov. 5:3). The basic truth applies to a prostitute or to any other woman who tries to seduce a man. It also applies to a man who tries to seduce a woman. The point is that sexual allurement is extremely enticing and powerful. It seems nice, enjoyable, and good. It promises nothing but pleasure and satisfaction. But what it ends up giving “is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two–edged sword. Her feet go down to death, her steps lay hold of Sheol. She does not ponder the path of life; her ways are unstable, she does not know it” (vv. 4–6). The first characteristic of sexual sin is deceit. It never delivers what it promises. It offers great satisfaction but gives great disappointment. It claims to be real living but is really the way to death. Illicit sexual relationships are always “unstable.” Nothing binds those involved except the temporary and impersonal gratification of physical impulses. That is poor cement. Another tragedy of sexual sin is that often those involved do “not know it” is unstable, do not realize perhaps for a long time that their relationship cannot be lasting. Thus they fall deeper and deeper into the pit of their doomed relationship, which makes the dissolution all the more devastating and painful. Those who consider all sex to be basically evil, however, are as far from the truth as those who consider all sex to be basically good and permissible. God is not against sex. He created and blessed it. When used exclusively within marriage, as the Lord intends, sex is beautiful, satisfying, and stabilizing. “Let your fountain be blessed,” Scripture says, “and rejoice in the wife of your youth. … Be exhilarated always with her love” (Prov. 5:18–19). The Bible’s advice for avoiding sexual involvement outside marriage is simple: stay as far away as possible from the persons and places likely to get you in trouble.“Keep your way far from her, and do not go near the door of her house” (Prov. 5:8). When repeatedly enticed by Potiphar’s wife, Joseph refused not only “to lie beside her” but even to “be with her” (Gen. 39:10). When she tried to force him into adultery and grabbed his coat, “he left his garment in her hand and fled, and went outside” (v. 12). It was not the time for argument or explanation but for flight. When we unavoidably get caught in such a situation, the only sensible thing to do is to get away from it as quickly as we can. Passion is not rational or sensible, and sexually dangerous situations should be avoided or fled, not debated. Involvement in illicit sex leads to loss of health, loss of possessions, and loss of honor and respect. Every person who continues in such sins does not necessarily suffer all of those losses, but those are the types of loss that persistent sexual sin produces. The sex indulger will come to discover that he has lost his “years to the cruel one,” that his “hard–earned goods” have gone “to the house of an alien,” and that he will “groan” in his latter years and find his “flesh and [his] body are consumed” (Prov. 5:9–11). The “stolen water” of sexual relations outside of marriage “is sweet; and bread eaten in secret is pleasant”; but “the dead are there” (Prov. 9:17–18). Sexual sin is a “no win” situation. It is never profitable and always harmful. God looks on sexual immorality with extreme seriousness. Because of this sin in Israel, “twenty–three thousand fell in one day” (1 Cor. 10:8). David was a man after God’s own heart and was greatly used of the Lord in leading Israel and even in writing Scripture. But David was not exempted from the consequences of his sin. He committed adultery with Bathsheba and she became pregnant. He then arranged for her husband to be killed in battle and took her as his own wife. “But the thing that David had done was evil in the sight of the Lord” (2 Sam. 11:27). Through His prophet Nathan, God told David that because of his sin, “the sword shall never depart from your house. … I will raise up evil against you from your own household,” and “the child also that is born to you shall surely die” (12:10–11, 14). David paid for those sins almost every day of his life. Several of his sons were rebellious, jealous, and vengeful, and his family life was for the most part a tragic shambles. David repented and was forgiven. “The Lord also has taken away your sin” (12:13), but the Lord did not take away the consequences of the sin. After that experience the king wrote Psalm 51, in gratitude but also in deep remorse and agony. He had experienced God’s marvelous and gracious forgiveness, but he had also come to see the awfulness of his sin. “Against Thee, Thee only, I have sinned, and done what is evil in Thy sight” (v. 4). God’s grace is free, but the cost of sin is high.
SEXUAL SIN CONTROLS
All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything. (6:12b)
Paul was free in the grace of Christ to do as he pleased, but he refused to allow himself to be mastered by anything or anyone but Christ. He would not become enslaved to any habit or custom and certainly not to any sin. “For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace” (Rom. 6:14). No sin is more enslaving than sexual sin. The more it is indulged, the more it controls the indulger. Often it begins with small indiscretions, which lead to greater ones and finally to flagrant vice. The progression of sin is reflected in Psalm 1: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners, nor sit in the seat of scoffers” (v. 1). When we willingly associate with sin, we will soon come to tolerate it and then to practice it. Like all other sins that are not resisted, sins of sex will grow, and eventually they will corrupt and destroy not only the persons directly involved but many innocent persons besides. The Corinthians were no strangers to sins of sex, and unfortunately many believers there had gone back to them. In the name of Christian freedom they had become controlled by their own fleshly desires. Paul wrote the Thessalonians, “For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thess. 4:3—5). The context argues that “vessel” is here a synonym for body rather than for wife, as many interpreters hold. Every believer is to rightly possess, rightly control, his own body. If we are living in the Spirit, we “are putting to death the deeds of the body” (Rom. 8:13). It is not as easy to be in control of ourselves as we sometimes think. Many people are deceived in thinking they are perfectly in control of their thoughts and actions, simply because they always do what they want. The fact, however, is that their desires and passions are telling them what to do, and they are going along. They are not masters of their desires, but are willing slaves. Their flesh is controlling their minds. Paul himself testifies that he had to “buffet [his] body and make it [his] slave, lest possibly, after [he had] preached to others, [he himself] should be disqualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). Buffet (hupōpiazō) means literally, “to give a black eye, or to beat the face black and blue.” To keep his body from enslaving him, he had to enslave his body. Otherwise he could become disqualified, not for salvation but for holy living and useful service to God.
SEXUAL SIN PERVERTS
Sexual sin not only harms and controls but also perverts. It especially perverts God’s plan and purpose for the bodies of His people. A Christian’s body is for the Lord; it is a member of Christ; and it is the temple of the Holy Spirit.
THE BODY IS FOR THE LORD
Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food; but God will do away with both of them. Yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. (6:13–14)
Food and the stomach were created by God for each other. Their relationship is purely biological. It is likely the Corinthians were using this truth as an analogy to justify sexual immorality. The Greek text says literally, “The foods the belly, the belly the foods.” Perhaps this was popular proverb meant to celebrate the idea that “Sex is no different from eating: the stomach was made for food, and the body was made for sex.” But Paul stops them short. “It is true that food and the stomach were made for each other,” he is saying, “but it is also true that that relationship is purely temporal.” One day, when their purpose has been fulfilled, God will do away with both of them. That biological process has no place in the eternal state. Not so with the body itself. The bodies of believers are designed by God for much more than biological functions. The body is not for immorality, but for the Lord; and the Lord is for the body. Paul had a better proverb in mind with that statement. The body is to be the instrument of the Lord, for His use and glory. Now God has not only raised the Lord, but will also raise us up through His power. Our bodies are designed not only to serve in this life but in the life to come. They will be changed bodies, resurrected bodies, glorified bodies, heavenly bodies—but they will still be our own bodies. The stomach and food have only a horizontal, temporal relationship. At death the relationship ceases. But our bodies are far more than biological. For believers they also have a spiritual, vertical relationship. They belong to God and they will forever endure with God. That is why Paul says, “For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ; who will transform the body of our humble state into conformity with the body of His glory” (Phil. 3:20–21). We need to take serious care of this body because it will rise in glory to be the instrument that carries our eternally glorious and pure spirit throughout eternity.
THE BODY IS A MEMBER OF CHRIST
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a harlot? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a harlot is one body with her? For He says, “The two will become one flesh.” But the one who joins himself to the Lord is one spirit with Him. Flee immorality. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. (6:15–18)
The believers’ bodies not only are for the Lord now and in the future, but they are of the Lord, a part of the Lord’s own body, members of Christ. Christ is “head over all things to the church, which is His body, the fulness of Him who fills all in all” (Eph. 1:22–23). “We, who are many, are one body in Christ” (Rom. 12:5). We are, in this age, the living spiritual temple in which Christ lives. We are His body, the incarnation of His person in the church. Paul’s next point follows logically. For a Christian to commit sexual immorality is to make the members of Christ … members of a harlot. It is to use a part of Christ’s own body in an act of fornication or adultery. The idea is incomprehensible to Paul, as it should be to every believer. May it never be! Sexual relations involve a union; the man and woman become one flesh. This indicates that the most essential meaning of the phrase one flesh (see Gen. 2:24; etc.) is sexual union. In his Screwtape Letters C. S. Lewis says that each time a man and a woman enter into a sexual relationship a spiritual bond is established between them which must be eternally enjoyed or eternally endured. God takes sexual sin seriously because it corrupts and shatters spiritual relationships, both human and divine. Christ’s people are one spirit with Him. That statement is filled with profound meaning and wondrous implications. But for his purpose here, Paul uses it to show that a Christian who commits sexual immorality involves his Lord. All sex outside of marriage is sin, but when it is committed by believers it is especially reprehensible, because it profanes Jesus Christ, with whom the believer is one (cf. John 14:18–23; 15:4, 7; 17:20–23). Since we are one with Christ, and the sex sinner is one with his partner, Christ is placed in an unthinkable position in Paul’s reasoning. Christ is not personally tainted with the sin, any more than the sunbeam that shines on a garbage dump is polluted. But His reputation is dirtied because of the association. Paul’s counsel regarding sexual sin is the same as Solomon’s in the book of Proverbs: Flee immorality. The present imperative of the Greek indicates the idea is to flee continually and to keep fleeing until the danger is past. When we are in danger of such immorality, we should not argue or debate or explain, and we certainly should not try to rationalize. We are not to consider it a spiritual challenge to be met but a spiritual trap to be escaped. We should get away as fast as we can. Paul does not elucidate on what he means by Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body. I believe he is saying that, although sexual sin is not necessarily the worst sin, it is the most unique in its character. It rises from within the body bent on personal gratification. It drives like no other impulse and when fulfilled affects the body like no other sin. It has a way of internally destroying a person that no other sin has. Because sexual intimacy is the deepest uniting of two persons, its misuse corrupts on the deepest human level. That is not a psychological analysis but a divinely revealed fact. Sexual immorality is far more destructive than alcohol, far more destructive than drugs, far more destructive than crime. Some years ago a sixteen–year–old girl came to my office in complete despair. She had committed so many sex sins that she felt utterly worthless. She had not looked in a mirror for months, because she could not stand to look at herself; and to me she looked nearer 40 than 16. She was on the verge of suicide, not wanting to live another day. I had a special joy in leading her to Jesus Christ and seeing the transformation He made in her life. She said, “For the first time in years I feel clean.” Many of the Corinthians needed that cleaning again.
THE BODY IS A TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT
Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body. (6:19–20)
As Christians our bodies are not our own. Paul puts sting into this verse by framing it as a sarcastic question. They are the Lord’s, members of Christ, and temples of the Holy Spirit, who has been given by God to indwell us. So Paul calls for sexual purity not only because of the way sexual sin affects the body, but because the body it affects is not even the believer’s own. Understanding the reality of the phrase the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God should give us as much commitment to purity as any knowledge of divine truth could. To commit sexual sin in a church auditorium, disgusting as that would be, would be no worse than committing the sin anywhere else. Offense is made within God’s sanctuary wherever and whenever sexual immorality is committed by believers. Every act of fornication, every act of adultery by Christians, is committed in God’s sanctuary: their own bodies. “For we are the temple of the living God” (2 Cor. 6:16). The fact that Christians are the dwelling place of the Holy Spirit is indicated in passages such as John 7:38–39; 20:22; Acts 1:8; Romans 8:9; and 1 Corinthians 12:3. The fact that God sent the Holy Spirit is clear from John 14:16–17; 15:26; and Acts 2:17, 33, 38. We no longer belong to ourselves because we have been bought with a price. We were not “redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from [our] futile way of life inherited from [our] forefathers, but with precious blood, as of a lamb unblemished and spotless, the blood of Christ” (1 Pet. 1:18–19). Christians’ bodies are God’s temple, and a temple is for worship. Our bodies, therefore, have one supreme purpose: to glorify God. This is a call to live so as to bring honor to the person of God, who alone is worthy of our obedience and adoration. A friend once took a visitor to a large Catholic cathedral in the east. The visitor wanted to pray at the station of his favorite saint. But upon arriving at that station, he was startled to find no candles lit, and a sign saying, “Do not worship here; closed for cleaning.” The Corinthians provided no divine focus, either, no place for seeking souls to worship, since they were unclean. That, Paul said, had to change.
MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians. MacArthur New Testament Commentary (145–152). Chicago: Moody Press.