Today we will continue our discussion on Christian sexuality and intimacy. The premise of this sermon series is that there is such a thing as good, healthy, and holy sex. Sex is not innately bad nor sinful. While sex is not innately sinful, sexual sin does exist and it is quite dangerous and destructive to the mind, body, and spirit. In order to identify what good sex is, we must first identify what good sex is not. In order to have good sex, we must have a deeply developed understanding and a commitment to refrain from the behaviors that get in the way of good sex, the sexual behaviors that destroy one’s body or the bodies of others, or the sexual behaviors that God has called sin. Leviticus is the common place to begin a conversation on sexual sin.
Our pericope, Leviticus 18, at first glance seems pretty straight forward, primarily emphasizing healthy non-sexual boundaries between family members. But there is more happening here. Let’s take a closer look:
Vs. 7- Don’t have sex with your parents.
7s. 8- Don’t have sex with your step-parents.
Vs. 9- Don’t have sex with your siblings, your full siblings or your half-siblings.
Vs. 10- Don’t have sex with your siblings’ children, nieces or nephews.
Vs. 11- Don’t have sex with your stepsiblings. Have you ever seen the 1995 movie Clueless, starring Alicia Silverstone? In the end, the protagonist fell in love with her stepbrother… yea, don’t do that.
Vs. 12, 13, 14 – Don’t have sex with your aunts or uncles.
Vs. 15,16- Don’t have sex with your in-laws, sister-in-law, father-in-law… As if anyone gets along with their in-laws long enough to even conceive of the idea!
Vs. 17a- Don’t have sex with a person and the person’s child. (“I’m leaving you for your daughter!” Or “I’ve been sleeping with your father!” And all the other episodes on Jerry Springer, don’t do that).
Vs. 17b- Don’t have sex with your grandchildren.
Vs. 18- Don’t have sex with two sisters concurrently or two brothers concurrently.
Vs. 19- Don’t have sex while on your period or have sex with someone who is on her period.
Vs. 20- Don’t have sex with a neighbor’s spouse. Think of it like this: Don’t have sex with your neighbor’s partner, your friend’s partner, and your partner’s friends. I call this the “don’t smash the homies” rule.
Vs. 21- Don’t sacrifice children to Molech. This one is interesting. It may seem out of place but it isn’t. Molech was a pagan God. It was common at this time for people to sacrifice a first born child to Molech in hopes of greater fertility in the future, both fertility in the body (more children) and fertility in the land (plentiful harvest). We will come back to this.
Vs. 22- The infamous Leveticus 18.22 or don’t engage in sex with one of the same sex.
Vs. 23- Don’t have sex with an animal.
It is understandable to wonder about the utility of stating many, if not most, of these rules. It is understandable to think that this chapter is not particularly helpful in our quest to determine how to have good sex. You may be thinking, “Of course I know not to have sex with my mother, that’s gross!” But given our conversation on sexual abuse of children and the disturbing prevalence of incest and sexual violence that takes place within families, we realize that these non-sexual boundaries between family members really cannot be overstated. Moreover, when we understand what is happening in this chapter we will find that the sexual ethics presented here are quite relevant and practical tools to guide us in cultivating healthy sexual practices.
In this chapter, God is creating a culture of sexual and spiritual holiness that is different from the culture that the Israelites were heading to (Canaan culture) and different from the culture that the Israelites were leaving (Egyptian culture). The book of Leviticus is set in the wilderness. God has just freed the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and is now leading them to the land that God promised to give to their ancestors, Sarah and Abraham. In the midst of this journey from Egypt to Canaan, God establishes a Holy Covenant with the Israelites. He vows to overwhelm them with God’s power, provision, and steadfast love and in response to God’s commitment to them, they would become a peculiar people- different from the rest of the world in their living and different from the rest of the world in their worship. The rules listed above were sexual and worship practices that the world, especially Egypt and Canaan, considered absolutely normal but God considered sin.
In God’s covenant, God vowed to have a special relationship with the Israelites, the Israelites would be the children of God (Duet 14:1). But this special relationship to the Divine did not permit them to have sex with one another. In Egypt, the Pharaoh also believed that he had a special relationship to the divine, he was considered the son of Ra, the Egyptian God of the Sun. The royal family were descendants of the Sun God, considered divine themselves, and therefore only primarily produced with one another to keep their divine lineage. The Israelites were leaving a place where it was considered completely normal, therefore, to have sex with a sister or close relative. But God is saying in this chapter that what the world considers normal, God considers sin.
God’s covenant also required a peculiarity in worship. Not only did God require the Israelites to worship only the God of Israel but God was greatly interested in how the Israelites worshiped the God of Israel. They were headed to Canaan where the Canaanites venerated various deities like Molech, Baal, Asherah, Ashtoreth, etc. The Canaanites worshiped these deities by engaging in child sacrifice (Lev 18:21) and in mass sexual orgies. The orgies included everyone and everything, it was a big sexual mess. Verses 21-23 is addressing this sort of worship practice. God is telling the Israelites not only to refrain from worshipping the Canaanite deities but also refrain from worshipping the God of Israel in the same manner that the Canaanites worship the Canaanite deities. They are going to a place where it was considered normal to have these sexual orgies as a part of worship and ritual but what the world considered normal, God considered sin.
They were coming from a place and they were going to a place where certain sexual practices were considered normal but what the world considered normal, God called it sin.
This refrain rings true in the ancient world of the Israelites and it still rings true for Christians today.
What the world considers normal, God calls it sin. Today
It’s totally normal to begin having sex at 13, 14, or 15.
It’s totally normal to meet someone at a club, bar, party. Sleep with them and not remember their name the next morning.
It’s totally normal to have had so many sexual partners that you have lost count. Can’t remember names or faces.
But what the world considers normal, God calls it sin.
It’s quite normal to have multiple partners at one time. In or out of marriage. Normal to sleep with your wife. And your girlfriend. And your side piece. And that girl you met at the mall yesterday. Oh, it’s normal to sleep with your hubby, your boo, that dude you met at a Casino on your girls weekend to Vegas, and the ex who texts you every 6 months with “hey stranger.”
It’s normal to have sex for money.
It’s normal to have sex for drugs.
It’s normal to have sex to get your rent or utilities paid.
But what the world considers normal, God calls it sin.
It’s totally normal to tell a woman that you really like her, even love her. To tell her you want to be with her. To tell her how beautiful she is. To sleep with her. And then never call her again.
It’s normal to watch porn all day. And all night.
It’s normal to be confused about the reverence owed to a female pastor in a pulpit because the only time you see a woman on an elevated platform is when she is on stage at a strip club.
But what the world considers normal. God considers it sin.
And this too, my friends, is about worship. Our sexuality is wrapped up with and through our spiritual selves. You tell me what is going on in your sex life and I can tell you what is going on with your soul. Your heart, you mind, and soul are inextricably bound to what you are doing sexually. And God really cares about it. Even if you don’t. God cares.
God cares about what you are doing with your body.
God cares about what you are doing to your body.
God cares about what you are doing with other people’s bodies.
God cares about what you are doing to other people’s bodies.
It is clear from Leviticus 18 that in order to have good sex one must refrain from sexual sin. Using Leviticus 18 as a point of reference and considering the vast conversation on sex in the Bible, we find that there are three fundamental sexual behaviors that we must refrain from in order to have good sex.
- Sex in violence is a sin. Sex that is wrapped around aggression, oppression, the desire to conquer or control another’s body is a sin. We find this clearly illustrated in the Book of Judges, chapter 19. In this text, we find a Levite who is seeking to reconcile with his concubine who has run away to her father’s house. He goes to her father’s house to try to encourage her to come home with him. A group of men from the neighborhood then come pounding at the door demanding that they father hand over the Levite so that the group can rape him. The Levite instead pushes his concubine outside and the text says that the group, “raped and abused her all night long” (Judges 19:25). This sounds unspeakable but the truth is that gang rape happens all the time. It happens in parties and night clubs. In college dorm rooms and frat houses. It happens in prisons and detention centers. It happens to women and children in war-torn countries who cannot get away from the soldiers fast enough. It happens all the time. And it’s a sin.
One-on-one coercive sexual violence is also a sin. I am talking to men and women here. Women, too, pressure and force men into sexual acts. Have a look at Potiphar’s wife in Genesis 39. There we find Joseph living with his slave master Potiphar. Potiphar’s wife takes a-liking to Joseph and tries to seduce, compel, and finally coerce him to have sex with her. Sex that wrapped around an attempt to control someone else’s body is violent and sexual violence is a sin.
Sexual behavior that violates your own body is a sin as well. Sometimes people rape themselves. Sometimes a person will consent to a sexual behavior that s/he really doesn’t want to perform. If s/he would just stop and listen s/he could hear the inner voice that is crying “please, I don’t want to do this.” Committing a sexual act against your own will is self-inflicted violence. And it is a sin.
2. Prostitution is a sin. It is sinful to trade sex for money. It is sinful to barter sex for goods and resources like clothes, shoes, a new cell phone, tickets to a Beyoncé concert, dinner and a rent-free place to stay at your baby’s momma’s house. Your sex should not be for sale. Your sex is not a Visa or a MasterCard.
Not only is it sinful to trade your sex for material gain, it is sinful to trade your sex for immaterial gain as well. To hand over sex in order to feel loved or desirable for a little while. To trade sex to feel powerful and in control for a while. To give sex in order to feel less lonely or isolated for an evening. Sex for the sole purpose of intangible goods – “I just don’t want to be alone tonight.” Or “I need to feel like The Man” is a sin.
It is sinful to use sex as a way to change situations and circumstances that you may find yourself in. This is illustrated in Genesis 38 with Tamar and Judah. This is a complicated story but suffice it to say that Tamar was Judah’s daughter-in-law. According to custom, Judah was supposed to give Tamar to his youngest son after the first two sons died. But Judah never did it. So she hid her identity, had sex with Judah, got pregnant, all as a response to the fact that Judah did not give her to his third son. She wielded her sexuality in an attempt to control her situation. When you use your sex as way to manipulate your circumstances, control your environment or control the actions of other people, it’s called prostitution. And it’s a sin.
3. Finally, lust is a sin. Constantly chasing after your many, and ever changing, sexual impulses is a sin. We see this exemplified in the life of David, in II Samuel 11. David sent his army out to war and in a very un-kingly fashion, he stayed back to hang out in the palace while his soldiers fought for his kingdom. One day he looked out and saw Bathsheba, the wife of one of his chief soldiers, bathing in the sun. David took one look at her and he just had to have her. It didn’t matter that he was married. It didn’t matter that she was married. It didn’t matter that she was married to one of his chief soldiers who was in real-time fighting for David’s life. None of that mattered. All that mattered was that he saw Bathsheba. And he had to have what he saw. So he took what he saw. The consequences of this act of lust were devastating to everyone involved, it led to the break-up of marriage and the ending of lives. And that is what lust does. It destroys relationships. It destroys lives. It’s a sin that keeps on sinning.
We are sexual beings and we have sexual desires but it’s exhausting and destructive to be constantly subject to all of your sexual impulses. If you don’t get in control of lust you will find yourself constantly chasing your tail, running nonstop after the things that you think that you want. But the reality is that you do not know what you want.
Listen closely, I said you don’t know what you want. I’m not saying that you don’t know how you like it. I’m sure you know how you like it. You like it stripped down. And beat up. You like it licked. Stroked. Flipped. And reversed. You know how you like it but you don’t know what you want.
Because if you knew what you wanted, you wouldn’t wake up next to a man one morning and next to a woman the next.
If you knew what you wanted, you wouldn’t change your sex partners like you change your underwear.
If you knew what you wanted, you would not be bound to the bedposts of your bedrooms by your impulses, desires, addictions, and angst.
That constant temptation to chase and chase and chase after our perceived wants is the result of the human condition. It is the incurvatus- it’s a brokenness in the spirit, a sickness in the soul.
But the good news is that there is a God who knows what we want. And more importantly, there is a God who knows what we need. What we need is freedom. What we need is liberation from the sins of violence, prostitution and lust that keep us bound up to our bedposts. What we need is healing for our tattered, bruised and bleeding souls.
The good news, brothers and sisters, is that there is a bandage for the tatters. There is an ointment for the bruises. There is a salve for our bleeding. There is a balm. There is a balm in Gilead to heal our sin-sick souls. There is a balm in Gilead and his name is Jesus.
Jesus who looked at the woman accused of adultery (John 8:4-11).
A woman whose name we do not know.
A woman whose story we do not know.
We don’t know if she was a prisoner to violence. We don’t know if she was just trying to feed her children. We don’t know if she was high on the opiate of lust. All we know is that she stood before her Lord and savior, caught in the act.
Like her, we stand today in the presence of our Lord, caught in the act. None of us free from the temptations of violence, prostitution, and lust.
Jesus looks at her in her eyes. And then he looks into the eyes of her accusers and said, “You who is without sin, you cast the first stone” (John 8:7). You who have never been tempted by the thrill of violence. You who have never been tugged by the promised reward of prostitution. You who have never been seduced by the tantalizing voice of lust. You cast the first stone.
And the Bible says that one by one,
From oldest to the youngest. They laid down their stones.
“Have none of your accusers condemned you?” Jesus asked.
“Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more” (John 8:10-11)
We stand today in the overflow of the mercy and grace of our Lord Jesus the Christ.
Who has not condemned us but delivered us.
Who has not condemned us but liberated us.
Who has not condemned us but freed us.
Good sex occurs when we put down the sin of sexual violence, prostitution, and lust.
Brothers and sisters Go. And sin no more.