Author: Stephen Witmer, Pastor, Pepperell, Massachusetts
Our culture bombards us with sexualized images — Facebook ads, magazines, YouTube clips, television, catalogues, Netflix, and just about every other possible medium. That’s a truth so obvious you can’t miss it. But here’s a not-so-obvious truth: not only does our culture show us sex; it also speaks to us about sex.
Right or wrong, our culture teaches us about sex. The media conducts sex education all the time.Two thousand years ago, the apostle Paul warned, “Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things [for example, sexual immorality, impurity, and covetousness] the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience” (Ephesians 5:6). Apparently, the culture of Paul’s day was speaking deceitful words concerning sexual immorality, tantalizing and seductive words empty of truth, wisdom, and godliness.
What Does the Box Say?
What lies does our culture tell us about sex? I once conducted an informal experiment, watching ten random minutes of a television show popular with teens and young adults in order to see what it would tell me about sex.
In ten minutes, I heard at least three lies:
- Heterosexual sex outside of marriage is commendable and good.
- Homosexual relationships are commendable and good.
- It’s fun and exciting to invite someone you don’t know to come on to you sexually.
The show never said these things explicitly. It glamorized sexual immorality with catchy music. It normalized and trivialized sexual sin with humor. Almost every reference to sex (seven in ten minutes) was a joke.
The humor was telling me, Don’t take this too seriously. Relax. This is fun. I thought of Proverbs 5:3: “The lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil.” The smooth tongue of the adulteress woman in Proverbs (Proverbs 6:24; 7:5, 21) is a perfect description of the show I watched, because the lies I was told were so playful and funny.
Writer Andrée Seu tells the story of watching the film Doctor Zhivago, which she calls “the first film to make adultery beautiful.” She says the film almost seduced her into rooting for the love affair between Zhivago and his mistress Lara. It did so by minimizing the affair’s fallout on Zhivago’s son, maximizing the annoying qualities of Zhivago’s wife, and painting the affair in beautiful and noble colors. Seu confessed that by the end of the movie, God seemed very small; almost totally disconnected from the story. She was nearly taken in.
What Does God Say About Sex?
Our culture speaks to us about sex. And so does God. Many of God’s words, such as the passionate, unblushing testimony of Song of Solomon, celebrate the beauty and goodness of marital sex.
But God also warns us. While the world tells us sexual immorality is enjoyable, humorous, sometimes even noble, and free of lasting consequences, God says that sexual immorality will drag us into the hell of God’s wrath. God’s words about sex are consistently direct, serious, helpful, and honest (Ephesians 5:6).
What Do We Say About Sex?
In Ephesians, Paul draws a striking conclusion from God’s wrath against unrepentant sexual immorality: We are to talk in a certain way about sex. On the basis of the fact that God will judge forever those who are unrepentantly sexually sinful, he says, “Sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:3–4).
Paul’s logic appears to be: “Don’t go near this sin, not even with your words.”
Our words often both reflect and affect our hearts, and that seems to be the case particularly when it comes to sex. If we’re imagining it, joking about it, or crudely discussing it, we’re headed in the wrong direction. Our heart is creeping closer to sin, not fleeing in the opposite direction. Crude sexual talk, humor, innuendo, and flirtation lower our defenses and heighten our temptation. Paul’s charge is clear: Don’t do it. And don’t even talk about doing it.
Everyone’s saying something about sex these days. The question is not only who are we listening to, but what are we saying.
Stephen Witmer (@stephenwitmer1) is the pastor of Pepperell Christian Fellowship in Pepperell, Massachusetts, and teaches New Testament at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He is the author of Eternity Changes Everything and a 12-week study in Revelation. He and his wife, Emma, have three children.