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Fornication - What It Does
by Pastor Douglas Shearer
Figures are sometimes hard to come by - and often they’re not entirely consistent; nevertheless, let me cite some for you - saving the most recent figures for last.
Now, for the most disturbing of all the surveys - conducted just this last month - and reported on all three of the national networks. It found that three out of ten 6th, 7th, and 8th graders, fully 30%, have engaged in sexual intercourse. Not high schoolers, that’s 9th through 12th graders, but junior high schoolers, 7th and 8th graders, and even grade schoolers, 6th graders! And what’s particularly surprising about this finding is that there were no distinctions pertaining to scholastic achievement, family, financial status, or race. It didn’t matter whether the child was getting good grades or bad grades; was from an intact family or a ruptured family; was financially well off or poverty stricken; or was Black, White, Latino, or Asian - the likelihood of his or her having engaged in sexual intercourse was the same - 30%. And, again, we’re talking about 6th, 7th, and 8th graders.
In other words, what we’re talking about here is not rooted in deprivation; it’s not the result of an on-going pattern of discrimination, it’s not due to an emotional trauma. It can’t be traced back to any kind of hardship. What does it reflect then? It’s the result of changing ethics.
Frankly put, sexual promiscuity is no longer frowned upon. It’s no longer enveloped in shame. Its commission no longer prompts conviction and guilt. Thirty years ago, or, more likely, forty and fifty years ago, sexual intimacy on the part of anyone who wasn’t a married adult - let alone 6th, 7th, and 8th graders - generated moral outrage. Anyone caught engaging in promiscuous sexual intercourse was ostracized - and if that person was a child, the parents were left bewildered, shocked, and stupefied - and their standing in the community was seriously undermined. But today, there’s almost no sense of moral outrage - that is, there’s very little sense of shame - either on the part of the child or on the part of the parents. There's a single prevailing attitude:
Let me ask you, “what’s likely to occur to a child caught today engaging in sexual promiscuity?” He’ll be told that . . .
Then father and son or mother and daughter might have a good cry together. And the whole matter is set aside. What’s avoided at all costs is the inculcation of guilt. And without the inculcation of a searing sense of guilt, there can be precious little in the way of actual repentance. The two go hand in hand. No guilt, no repentance - and without repentance, prompted by guilt, there’s little likelihood of any lasting change in behavior. Oh, there may be tears, but those tears are not the tears of repentance - however much sorrow might be gripping both parent and child. Compassion is almost always extended before repentance is proven.
There’s a never ending scenario that’s played out in my office - again and again. I wish sometimes you could sit in with me. This scenario is played out not just in my office, but in the office of every pastor I know. A man or a woman is caught engaging in sexual promiscuity - sometimes even resulting in a pregnancy. And the very first issue that’s raised by that person’s friends in the church or by his relatives is not guilt, or shame, or repentance; it’s the need to extend compassion. And, yes, compassion is a uniquely Christian virtue; but the Bible never encourages extending compassion in the absence of shame, conviction, and repentance.
In fact, the Bible demands not just a verbal repentance; its demands are much more severe than mere words can evidence; it demands that we prove our repentance with deeds. And then compassion can be legitimately conveyed - and restoration and healing can be brought to bear.
Let me remind you of the rebuke Jesus hurled at the Pharisees in Matthew 3:8.
...bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance...
And the same point is made by Paul in his conversation with King Agrippa…
...but (I) kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.
No, what we’re witnessing today - rampant sexual promiscuity on the part of not only adults but children - is not the result of material hardship or emotional trauma, it’s the result of changed ethical standards. Sexual promiscuity is no longer considered shameful. There’s no appeal made to moral outrage. There’s no real sense of guilt. It’s still considered to be unwise - even stupid - and most certainly dangerous; but that’s all. And what that means is that the conscience has been deactivated. The moral energy of the conscience is left untapped.
Our children - and I do mean “children” - are being assaulted by a media that hypes up sex - that appeals brazenly to their developing sexual drives - sexual drives that they only barely understand but feel keenly; and, inadvertently, we’ve stripped them of their best defense - the moral energy of an acutely sensitive conscience. The conscience can no longer be enlisted in their struggle against sexual promiscuity - because sexual promiscuity is no longer cast in the guise of sin - and all in the name of compassion.
Sexual temptations have assaulted every generation; but our children, unlike past generations of children, have been left defenseless - because we’ve deactivated their consciences. And that’s why there’s such an increase today in sexual promiscuity.
But let’s not blame only our schools - or the federal government - or Hillary Clinton - or Molly Yard - or the National Organization of Women - or the American Civil Liberties Union. That’s too easy. And, furthermore, it's not right. The church has played a major role. Let me give you a concrete example - drawn from a church right here in Sacramento. A good church. A Bible believing church. And it’s an example that’s repeated scores of times each month throughout the Sacramento area. Several years ago a person was caught engaging in on-going sexual promiscuity. Not once did that person truly repent - bringing forth evidence of changed behavior. The immorality continued. Oh, there were tears; but there was no change. Eventually the person simply ceased attending church - and withdrew from all fellowship. And what happened? Again and again, the pastors of the church were condemned by an influential segment of the congregation for lack of compassion. And several families left the church as a result.
What do we have here? It’s the same dynamic that’s at work among the unsaved:
Whenever the church seeks to protect a sinner from the pain of conviction in the name of compassion, she strips believers of perhaps their single most powerful defensive mechanism - an acutely sensitive conscience.
My first point this morning, then, is that we must recover our sense of moral outrage. I’m not countenancing cruelty or malice. I’m not encouraging you to form sin patrols to ferret out sexual promiscuity in the church. All I’m asking you to do is
Clearly, once conviction has run its course and genuine repentance is evidenced, then compassion, healing, and full restoration should be extended quickly. Furthermore, the person must be accepted back into fellowship not as a second-class citizen, but as a first class citizen.
Now, building upon this insight, let’s move on to my second point this morning: that what sexual intercourse is meant to be is far different from what you’ve probably been taught. It’s not only an act, it’s a special language. Let me begin with a passage of scripture you may be familiar with, but perhaps you’ve never really fully understood. It’s Revelation 2, verse 14:
Now we’re going to have to get a bit technical here; it’s unavoidable. What I’m trying to do this morning is not simply shout at you that sexual promiscuity is sinful, but to explain to you why. OK, let’s turn now to Revelation 2:14
But I have a few things against thee, because thou hast there them that hold the doctrine of Balaam, who taught Balac to cast a stumblingblock before the children of Israel, to eat things sacrificed unto idols, and to commit fornication.
There are several terms and phrases I want you to take note of here in this verse:
It’s apparent from the verse that all four terms and phrases are linked. But how? You can pick up the story of Balak and Balaam in the Old Testament; more specifically, in the Book of Numbers - beginning with chapter 20 and extending through chapter 25. But let me sum it up for you here briefly: Balak was the King of Moab, a country which butted up against the boundaries of Canaan, just east of the Dead Sea. He was King of Moab at the time Israel, under Moses, was passing through the Wilderness into the Promised Land. Balak was fearful of Israel; so, he hired the prophet Balaam, from Midian, to curse her - hoping that in so doing he would destroy her. But God prevented Balaam from cursing Israel; and each time Balaam sought to pronounce a curse, God forced him to utter a blessing.
Nevertheless, Balaam wasn’t finished. His first strategy - to curse Israel - had failed; but he hit upon a second strategy that ultimately proved to be successful. He advised Balak, King of Moab, to send out the women of Moab into the camp of Israel - enticing the men of Israel to commit fornication. And we read about that in Numbers 25.
And Israel abode in Shittim, (which is part of Moab just opposite of Jericho on the Jordan planes) and the people (i.e., the men of Israel) began to commit whoredom (i.e., fornication) with the daughters of Moab.
And they (i.e., the women of Moab) called the people (i.e., the men of Israel) unto the sacrifices of their gods: and the people did eat, and bowed down to their gods.
And Israel joined himself unto Baalpeor (i.e., the god of the Moabites): and the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel.
So, Numbers 25:1-3 give us much of the meaning pertaining to the terms and phrases we noted in Revelation 2:14
The phrase “the teaching of Balaam,” found in Revelation 2:14, is Balaam’s advice to Balak, King of Moab.
The stumblingblock - is, of course, fornication. The word “stumblingblock” translates the Greek word “skandalon” - from which we derive our word “scandal.” And it means a “trap,” or more accurately, “the bait used in a trap.” Fornication is bait for a trap. That’s its meaning here in Revelation 2:14.
But the trap itself is idolatry, not fornication. Fornication is the bait; idolatry is the trap.
At this point, we’ve unraveled much of the meaning of Revelation 2:14; but we still aren’t quite there yet; and that’s because most of us don’t really understand the meaning of “idolatry.” That term has lost its meaning to our 20th century minds. When we think of an idol, we imagine a statue of some kind - a stone statue or a carved image. For me, almost inevitably, what pops into my mind is a Buddha - with his legs crossed - in a Japanese garden. But that image does nothing to convey the real meaning of idolatry. Let’s turn to the Bible again - and read several verses in Isaiah and the Psalms. And it may be that from these verses we can begin to catch the meaning of “idolatry” or the “principle of idolatry” - because that’s what we’re talking about here - a principle - a spiritual principle.
For the Lord is a great God, And a great King above all gods...
For Thou art the Lord Most High over all the earth; Thou art exalted far above all gods.
To whom then will ye liken me, or shall I be equal? says the Holy One.
Thus says the Lord, the King of Israel And his Redeemer, the Lord of hosts: I am the first and I am the last, And there is no God besides Me.
To whom will ye liken me, and make me equal, and compare me, that we may be like?
Do you catch now the principle of idolatry? Each of the verses we’ve just read stresses the utter transcendence of God. He is unique - so utterly unique that He’s incomparable. That’s His nature. There is none like Him. Indeed, it’s sinful to even attempt comparisons with God. The very act of comparison profanes God. Do you know what it means to “profane” God? Do you understand the technical meaning of the word “profane”? Let me read two more passages of scripture with you…
...for My own sake, I will (vindicate myself); For how can My name be profaned? And My glory be given to another?
As for you, O house of Israel, thus says the Lord God, Go, serve everyone his idols; but later, you will surely listen to Me, and My holy name you will profane no longer with your gifts and with your idols.
Do you see how the word “profane” is used in conjunction with idolatry? That’s because idolatry is an act of profanity. And profanity simply means to “make common.” That’s its technical meaning. The very act of comparing God profanes Him - because it reduces God to the level of the item to which He’s being compared. God is incomparable - beyond comparison. And any attempt to compare Him reduces His majesty.
All of us know the Ten Commandments, right? How many of you know that four of the ten commandments warn mankind against profaning God - reducing His majesty? And those four commandments are the first four. Turn with me to Deuteronomy, Chapter five.
Thou shalt have none other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the waters beneath the earth...
So the first two commandments essentially forbid comparison. God will not tolerate being brought alongside other gods. Nor will He tolerate anyone making a statue of Him or an image of Him - because that presumes comparison. The third commandment is like the first two - in that it prohibits another form of profanity - blasphemy - taking the Lord’s name in vain - which drags down the name of God to a common level - and serves, therefore, to undermine its utter transcendence.
Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain: for the Lord will not hold him guiltless that takes his name in vain.
Idolatry profanes God Himself; and blasphemy profanes the name of God. Both are acts of profanity. And even the fourth is akin to the first three - in that it’s designed to set aside one day of the week to remember to worship God - and call to mind His utter uniqueness - His transcendent nature.
Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee.
Let’s go over this very carefully - because it’s an important key to solving our riddle. Idolatry puts God on a par with other gods. The principle of idolatry does not aim at replacing the worship of Jehovah with the worship of another god. All it aims at is to include the worship of other gods alongside the worship of Jehovah - Jehovah worshipped alongside Baal, alongside Bel, alongside Ashtaroth, alongside Istar, alongside a whole pantheon of other gods - the gods of the heathen. And in putting Jehovah alongside the gods of the heathen, it drags Him down to their level. It profanes Him. True worship - the kind of worship God sanctions and accepts - is, therefore, exclusive. Worship not only expresses adoration and praise, but, in addition, it promises God exclusive adoration and praise. The act of worship is an act of “exclusivity;” it’s an act which declares total commitment. Worship is not just an act of passion - an act of adoration and praise; it is, in addition, a declaration - a declaration of total commitment. It’s both an act and a declaration. And for the act to be meaningful and acceptable, the declaration must be authentic and truthful.
How important is idolatry in the Old Testament? In many respects, it’s the story of the Old Testament. The children of Israel never quite seemed to “catch on.” God would not allow Himself to be worshipped alongside the gods of the heathen. It’s the story of the Book of Judges. It’s the story of Elijah at Mount Carmel. Not even Solomon, with all his wisdom, caught on - and at the close of his reign, idolatry was rampant. The specific sin that called forth God’s judgment upon the Northern Kingdom was idolatry. And, likewise, the specific sin that led to Judah’s demise a century later was idolatry. It was the sin the prophets most singled out and warned against.
But how does all this fit into sexual promiscuity? Well, let’s go back to Revelation 2:14. We’ve already established that fornication is the bait that the devil uses to draw believers into idolatry - the act of profaning God. But how are fornication and idolatry related? What’s the link? How does fornication bait the trap? Ask yourself, “What do fornication and idolatry have in common?” We’ve already made the point that worship is not just an act of adoration and ecstatic praise - drawing God and His people into oneness, but, in addition, it’s a declaration of total commitment. Worship is not just an act; it’s a declaration. And for the act to be meaningful, the declaration must be authentic and truthful.
And that’s true of sexual intercourse as well. Sexual intercourse, like worship, is not just an act; it’s a declaration. And for the act to be meaningful, the declaration must be authentic and truthful. If the declaration of total commitment and exclusivity can’t be made in truth, the act loses its meaning. Let me put it another way. We’ve been taught that sexual intercourse - and all that leads up to sexual intercourse - is merely pleasurable. That it’s an act that gives pleasure. But sexual intercourse is not first an act which gives pleasure; it’s first and foremost a language that speaks of total and exclusive commitment. And then it’s an act that gives pleasure. Just as worship is not first and foremost an act of adoration and praise, it’s first and foremost a declaration of total and exclusive commitment. Therefore, if you’re a fornicator, you can’t speak the language of love. Sexual intercourse loses its meaning. Why? Because you’ve profaned it. The words it speaks come out garbled. If you’ve engaged in repeated acts of fornication, you’ve profaned sexual intercourse - and, therefore, can no longer use it to declare love to your spouse. It has become a garbled language.
And that’s the tragedy of fornication. We have a whole generation of men and woman for whom sexual intercourse is not the pure language of love it was meant to be. Spouses can no longer use it to declare love to one another. It has been profaned. It has been made common. That’s what fornication does: it makes common what was meant to be sanctified and pure - set aside for one person only. When you make love to your spouse, you can no longer authentically declare to your spouse, “I belong to you alone. I share this joy with you alone. I belong to no one else. I have reserved myself for you only.” And if that declaration can’t be made, the act loses its meaning - and the pleasure becomes very elusive.
Let me repeat myself: we’ve been taught that sexual intercourse is merely an act which arouses pleasure. But that’s wrong. Of course, it should produce an ecstatic joy - that's God's intention; but it's meant first and foremost to be a declaration of total and exclusive commitment. And if it can no longer speak that message, the passion and joy it's meant to convey are likely to vanish as well.
Again, I wish that some of you could sit in my office and hear what I hear - so many husbands and wives who find no real joy in sexual intimacy. I remember when I was young - around 18 or 19 - I couldn’t figure out why husbands and wives didn’t spend all 24 hours a day in bed with one another. To me - at 18 - sexual intimacy was merely an act that promised unending ecstasy and passion. But later I discovered that it’s meant to be a language. And the pleasure of the act depends upon the purity of the language. I have counseled with some married couples who engage in sexual intercourse no more than once or twice a year. That's not common; but it's not as uncommon as you might imagine. More frequently, I’ve counseled with married couples who engage in sexual intercourse no more than once a month. And though certainly better than once a year, it's still far from God's intention. Why the infrequency? Because it has lost its pleasure! And why’s that? Because they’ve profaned it. Keep the language pure, and you’ll keep the act pleasurable.
Anything that profanes sexual intimacy jeopardizes its long-term pleasure - anything at all - not just fornication and adultery, but pornography, illicit thoughts - yes, even trashy soap operas. Moreover, it’s not just the sins a person commits himself or herself, it’s sins committed against him or her as well; e.g., incest and rape.
It's not that sexual intimacy once defiled can't be recovered and sanctified. God is more than able to cleanse whatever stains have tarnished it; however, it can't be "swept under the rug" and ignored. Once again, sexual intercourse and worship are inextricably linked. And that’s why fornication baits the trap that leads to idolatry. Both idolatry and fornication are acts of profanity. And once you’ve engaged in profanity at any level, it spills over onto all other levels. Fornication always leads to idolatry. Balaam knew that principle - and that’s why he advised Balak to entice the men of Israel to commit fornication with the woman of Moab - because he knew that profanity at one level always leads to profanity at all levels. He knew that fornication would lead to idolatry. And it did. And this is one of Satan’s master plans for the Last Days. Fornication not only ruins marriage; but, in addition, it turns hearts away from God. What a master strategy! One thing the devil isn’t. And that’s dumb.
Now, I’m not through yet. I want to conclude my warning today with a few principles concerning dating. Let’s turn to 1 Corinthians 7:5. Here Paul is speaking to married couples - and, specifically, he’s speaking about sexual intercourse.
Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
1 Cor. 7:5
This is another passage of scripture which, like Revelation 2:14, is so much more than it appears. Now, the verse here is specifically addressed to married couples, not singles; but there’s a principle here that we can apply to singles - and which will shed light on what kind of behavior should be avoided in dating. I want you to take special note of the word “defraud.” It translates the Greek word “apostereo.” Some translations substitute the word “deprive” for the word “defraud.” And that’s accurate up to a certain point. We’ve lost the meaning of the word “defraud” - and “deprive” seems to come closer to what Paul is conveying here. But the word “defraud” implies deceit as well as deprivation - which the word “deprive” doesn’t. And that’s the problem with the word “deprive” - it misses the element of deceit. Here's the point in a nutshell - it's very simple and straightforward: marriage incorporates by its very nature the expectation of sexual intercourse.
Everyone who gets married looks forward to sexual intercourse. Marriage establishes that expectation. It certainly did for me. It certainly did for Sita. Didn’t it for you? Of course it did. In light of that expectation, then, don’t deprive one another. Indeed, such a deprivation is more than merely an act of holding back, it’s fraud. Why is it fraud? Because the expectation is so clearly established. And that’s the principle I want to draw out here. Any setting which establishes the expectation of sexual intimacy - and then fails to provide it is fraud. And fraud is a sin.
Marriage is not the only setting that can establish the expectation of sexual intimacy. It’s the only legitimate setting; but it’s certainly not the only one. And singles dating one another over an extended period of time - spending a great deal of time alone with one another - encounter those settings again and again. They reach a point of profound emotional intimacy - and that emotional intimacy presses almost inexorably toward sexual intimacy. Just about every moment alone becomes a setting which establishes the expectation of sexual intimacy. And they find themselves defrauding one another again and again and again. Now, are we going to kid ourselves at this point?
Singles who have been dating one another for a long time and who have established a profound emotional intimacy with one another become trapped between two sins: fornication on the one hand and fraud on the other. If fornication is avoided, fraud is committed. And if fraud is avoided, fornication is committed. They find themselves bouncing back and forth between these two sins. Soon, their whole relationship turns sour. What should be done? Get married, doggone it. Or break off the relationship. But don’t continue simply dating one another.
A boyfriend/girlfriend relationship cannot endure indefinitely. It’s merely transitional in nature. I’m amazed at how often singles attempt to prolong a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Too many men these days are outright wimps. They want an emotional relationship with a woman, but they don’t want to pay the price for it - marriage. And too many woman these days are succors: they’ll continue indefinitely with a boyfriend/girlfriend relationship with hardly a murmur of protest. Listen, ladies, throw the bum out. Drop him. He doesn’t deserve you. Don’t play the fool for him. If he’s not willing to marry you, send him packing. Is he a real man? Then he’ll marry you. The point is stop playing the fool. So many times I hear the excuse: “We just don’t have the money to get married.” Sita and I got married with hardly a dime to our names. Yes, it was tough. But we managed it. The lack of money is just an excuse. And what does it excuse? Does it excuse fornication, ladies? Does it excuse fraud? A boyfriend/girlfriend relationship is going in one of three different directions: (1) courtship and marriage; (2) fraud; or (3) fornication.
Men, come to grips with what you want. If you want the emotional intimacy a woman can provide, then marry her. And if you’re unwilling to marry her, stop dating her. All this business of prolonging boyfriend/girlfriend relationships is morally wrong. And nowhere in the Bible is it countenanced. In fact there are many passages which warn against it. Let me give you a couple:
Flee also youthful lusts: but follow righteousness, faith, charity, peace, with them that call on the Lord out of a pure heart.
2 Tim. 2:22
But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfill the lusts thereof.
And you married men - never look to establish profound emotional intimacy with a woman other than your own wife. Emotional intimacy always leads to the press toward sexual intimacy - always. Stop lying to yourself. And you married woman, I have the same advice for you. I have only one woman with whom I share any kind of real emotional intimacy - and that’s my wife, Sita. And that’s because with her, that emotional intimacy can and, indeed, should lead to sexual intimacy.
Now what about those of you in junior high school and high school? Am I suggesting that you don’t date? Not necessarily. It depends on what you mean by “dating.” If by dating you mean a bunch of guys going out with a bunch of girls, then the answer is “no.” I don’t want to discourage that. Not at all. But if you mean going steady - spending a lot of time alone together - to the point that girls are drawn away from their girl friends and guys are drawn away from their guy friends, then the answer is “yes.” Don’t date. Serious dating is meant to lead to courtship. If you’re in junior high school or high school, you have no business thinking about marriage.
I know of too many young men and woman who feel almost destitute unless they’re “going steady.” And that sense reaches down to the grade schools. Don’t cheat yourself like that! It’s a delusion. Girls, spend your time learning how to make good girl friends. If you can't establish intimate friendships with other girls, you won't be able to establish an intimate relationship in marriage. The one lays the foundation for the other. And the same holds true for you guys. Loners and introverts don't make good marriage partners. What you learn in making friends throughout your childhood and teen years carries over into marriage. Marriage is not a cure-all for loneliness. Indeed, it only exacerbates loneliness for the lonely.
You say I’m being a prude. Oh no I’m not. If you sat where I sit, you’d think that maybe I’m not being sufficiently prudish. The devastation the devil has perpetrated on your generation is too awful for words. He’s ruining your relationship with God. He’s spoiling your generation for marriage. He’s getting you to profane life itself. And that’s his master plan. Keep yourself pure. You’ll never regret it.
Now, let’s review the main eight points:
Take these eight principles and begin to apply them in your lives - and we will enjoy a degree of spiritual health we’ve never before known - as individuals, as married couples, and as a church family.