Exodus 20:14 - Unrestrained Appetite
August 24, 2014 Speaker: Series: Exodus
Topic: Sunday Worship Passage: Exodus 20:14–20:14
[Text: Exodus 20:14 - "Unrestrained Appetite"]
Today we're talking about sex. And I promise I'm trying to be mindful of young ears, but I also won't be offended if you skip this for the sake of your little ones (who might not be ready for this heavy topic). But I will say this - the Church of late has been too silent about this topic, especially when it comes to what God says about this good thing he created. And if we won't talk about it in the Church, then our children (and we ourselves) will only hear the voice of the world telling us that our sexuality and our bodies are our own. And we so often believe it.
[Pray - God our Helper, by your Holy Spirit, open our minds, that as the Scriptures are read and your Word is proclaimed, we may be led into your truth that we may embrace and ever hold fast and taught your will, the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.]
[Read Exodus 20:1-14 for context]
There are few things in this world as powerful or mysterious to us as sexuality. So many things are tied up with our sexuality - desires for happiness, acceptance, comfort, pleasure, or families. Sex affects us physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. And for so many people who have been wronged sexually, what is for others a desired thing is for them a fearful thing, full of pain and anxiety. So, only a thoughtless person would say, "It's just sex." Once again, I'm convinced that we could spend weeks on this commandment. And maybe we will when I'm older and better understand God's design.
But for today we're talking about what happens when the Law of God meets our unrestrained appetite - an appetite not just for sex, but for what we worship through sex. And we're talking about the grace that meets us even there through the One who gave himself up for us. Today, we're going to focus on the simple reality that you and I are broken and rebellious people. But we're going to hear that for people like us - even broken in our sexuality - there is hope because there is a faithful Savior.
We'll approach this commandment through a few simple questions. First, what are we supposed to do? Second, why don't we do it? Third, where is there room for hope? And finally, how does that hope change everything?
So, first, what are we supposed to do? What does God's Law require of us?
Well, we hear the command - "You shall not commit adultery" (Exodus 20:14). God speaks here into marriage, drawing boundaries to protect it. And it needs protecting because remember when the command was given. After our rebellion in Eden, things aren't the way they're supposed to be. Marriage, which existed before the Fall, feels the effects of sin when two deeply selfish people come together under one roof. This command restrains individual appetites, even encouraging people to take care of one another's marriages. You can imagine the peace in this world if humanity obeyed even just the letter of this command. You can imagine the misery that would be avoided.
The Seventh Commandment, in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, "forbids all unchaste thoughts, words, and actions." It also "requires the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior." (WSC, 72 and 71, respectively - based on Matthew 5:28; Ephesians 5:3-4 and 1 Corinthians 7:2-5; Thessalonians 4:3-5, respectively) Now, we don't really use the words "unchaste" or "our neighbor's chastity" on a regular basis, so what's the idea behind them? What does it mean to be chaste in thought, words and actions?
Well, answering that takes us back to the beginning. Because chastity has to do with faithful sexuality. And in the beginning, God created sex.
Sex was his idea. He made it. It was God who said it is not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). It was he who made man and woman compatible and complementary (Genesis 2:18). He created a woman for Adam to cleave to and become one flesh with (Genesis 2:24). He told them "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth..." (Genesis 1:28) and gave them the means to accomplish the task. It was God who made our first father and mother sexual beings - humans with an appetite for sex. And it was he who was please for our parents to be naked and unashamed in the Garden before when the Earth was new and unbroken (Genesis 2:25). In the beginning, sex was included under God's pronouncement, "...very good." (Genesis 1:31) So, sex is a good thing created and given purpose by God himself.
Chastity, then - and the idea of protecting our neighbor's chastity - has to do with using our sexuality in line with how God intended it to be used. And doing so in "thoughts, words, and actions" while helping our neighbors do the same.
So, obviously, adultery - since it breaks God's original design for a husband and wife to be fruitful and multiply together and worship him together and enjoy oneness (which is more, but not less than physical) together - adultery is right out. But so are emotional affairs. And desertion. And abuse in all its forms - including verbal. Because it breaks God's design, a believer choosing to marry an unbeliever has to be counted as disobedient just as pre-marital sex - taking the pleasure without the commitment - is disobedient to God's design. Whether it happens in a bed or online, anything that breaks God's design for human sexuality is a breaking of the Seventh Commandment.
So those are some forbidden things. But how does it look to keep the positive side of the command by preserving sexual faithfulness? Keeping the commandment is more than just married folks keeping themselves for their spouses. It's humanity using their sexuality according to God's design. It means husbands and wives not depriving one another, but coming together in a joyful, physical celebration that their wedding vows were kept that day. And if vows weren't kept - they can still come together celebrating that love and grace covers over a multitude of sins, the wronged spouse still accepting the sinner both body and soul. Keeping the command can look like calling a wayward brother or sister to repent and believe the Gospel, to embrace the forgiveness offered in Christ and try again to keep the command.
For some, keeping the command will mean not using their sexuality. Maybe it's because the time isn't right and the marriage vows haven't been made. Maybe it's because their hearts long for someone of the same sex and the Lord says that desire isn't right. Such obedience is difficult - a Christian with same-sex attraction has a particular cross to bear in a culture that says wrong is right. Maybe keeping the command will mean that a divorced person will say no to remarriage because their first one ended for reasons the Scriptures deem as insufficient. That, too, will be hard for the person whose hunger for love and acceptance is strong. If that is you, pray that The Lord would help you remain single for the sake of the Kingdom of God, to spend yourself for the sake of Christ, the faithful lover of your soul.
There's no illusion of easy obedience here. But the command is unwavering. This – and more – is what we're supposed to do (and not do). The Lord calls us to full obedience. He created sex and faithfulness means using our sexuality in the way he says is good and right.
But if that's what we're supposed to do, then why don't we do it?
The command cuts quickly to the heart when we ask a question - why would someone commit adultery? Why do men turn away from their wives? Wives from their husbands? Why does sexual sin – be it pornography or a spouse using sex to control the other’s behavior – why does sexual sin happen? Isn't it always the promise of something - the satisfaction of some appetite? Beneath every affair – real or emotional – is a heart level hope - maybe this person will satisfy me, love me, please me, accept me, comfort me, cherish me, protect me, listen to me, know me. Maybe this person will make me happy. Beneath every online search is a heart that craves acceptance but is terrified of rejection. Beneath every sexual sin is a heart that hungers for something. Whether a flesh and blood affair or a digital fantasy, adultery is always a heart-level issue. It begins in the heart before it is ever consummated in the bed.
That's what Jesus said in Matthew 5:27-28 - "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart." For the married and for the un-married - God sees the heart. So, it's not as if single folks are off the hook here. And if adultery begins in the heart as an attempt to satisfy our heart-level appetites, then we're not just talking about sex. We're talking about worship.
That's what Paul was saying in the passage we read from 1 Corinthians 6 (vv.12-20). "'Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food' [Paul seems to be quoting the church in Corinth here. They thought our appetites for food and sex were relatively un-important to God. But they were wrong because Paul responds,] "- and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, 'The two will become one flesh.' But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body."
People like to quote that "your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit" line to sell diet plans and gym memberships. But Paul's main concern there is worship. For the Christian, sexual sin - be it adultery or anything else - is fundamentally an issue of mis-directed worship. Because the one who is ransomed by the blood of Christ and joined to Christ's own body is trying to satisfy his appetites from some other source. Our Savior who provides perfect love, full acceptance, true intimacy, secure dignity, pure comfort, constant protection – Jesus who knows us fully and still died for us - is replaced with a counterfeit lover. And when the true God is replaced with a counterfeit god, there can be no lasting satisfaction.
"I made a wreck of my life," he said. Those were the words of a husband, a father, a pastor as he sat across the table from another pastor. 15 minutes earlier he'd been removed from office, stripped of his ordination for his long affair with a church member. The arms of a woman not his wife had promised to satisfy his appetite for happiness, excitement, and acceptance just months before. But misery sat with him at that table.
The Seventh Commandment - if nothing else - is meant to confront us with the reality that our hearts have wants and desires. I would argue that God is the one who put them there. But the commandment tells us that God cares how we go about satisfying them. For a married man to have someone other than his wife; for a married woman to have someone other than her husband; for anyone to try to satisfy their appetites outside of the way God establishes is rebellion against the God who created both marriage and our appetites. If a human being has an appetite he's trying to satisfy, adultery - whether physically, mentally, or emotionally against our spouses or spiritually against our God - adultery is forbidden fruit.
But we know how well humans resist forbidden fruit, don't we. We may have cute sayings like, "Forbidden fruit is the sweetest." And while it may taste sweet in the moment, the poison of death is in it. Because rebellion against the God who created sex – who gave it purpose for his glory and our good – rebellion against him always leads to death because it means we’re running away from the Lord of Life.
So, where is there room for hope?
There’s room for hope because when Jesus came, he came eating and drinking with tax collectors and prostitutes. Jesus even said to the religious elites, “Truly, I say to you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes go into the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31) They were going in not because they fixed themselves. Then and now, unfaithful people are welcomed into the kingdom of God because we trust in the One sent from God to rescue unfaithful people.
Listen to Paul again from 1 Corinthians 6 (vv.9-11) – “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
In this list of sins, sexual sin is prominent (right next to greed, which is another form of false worship). The stain it leaves on our bodies and souls is dark and nothing we do can get rid of it. But, Paul says, you were washed. Not only washed, cleansed fully and set apart for holy use (which is what it means to be sanctified). Not only sanctified, but justified, declared righteous – counted as one who never sinned and always did the right thing – even sexually.
How could that be? Paul goes on. It is all by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. By faith in him (itself a gift of God’s Spirit) even the most rebellious sinner finds forgiveness and grace and hope and new life.
When you and I are confronted once again that we do things we don’t want to do. And as we see ourselves failing to do what is right – in our sexuality or in anything else - we’re called to keep on agreeing that our sin is deeply wrong. We can’t pretend that we’re moral free-agents – free to satisfy our appetites in any way we see fit. As Paul says to the Christian – “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) That price was the blood of the eternal Son of God poured out on the cross.
We’re called to repent but we’re also called to keep on trusting in the Good News of Jesus that says by his blood we have been washed. By his Spirit we have been joined with him, passing through death into life with Christ – his death was our death and his life is our life now. We’re called to believe again that through faith in Christ alone, we have been justified before God so that we stand just as if we never sinned and just as if we did everything right because that’s what Jesus did. His righteousness is counted as ours. His faithfulness in all things – including his sexuality – is counted as our faithfulness in all things. That is the hope of the Christian – that we belong to Christ in body and in soul. And he belongs to us.
And how does that hope change everything?
Well, after Paul meditates on our belonging to Christ, he ends with this – “So, glorify God in your body.” That means there is a new way of going forward. There is a new possibility that did not exist before Christ died and rose again. Sinners like us, broken by our own rebellion - even broken by a misused sexuality – sinners like us can actually begin to honor God with these very bodies. And we do that as we go back to the commandment. Because the penalty of death has been satisfied by Christ – fear is removed for the Christian. And what the commandment now holds out to us is God’s plan for how life works best – the commandment guides us and helps us keep sexuality in its proper place, used in love for God in Christ and loving concern for our neighbors, too.
So, the Christian will come to think of the porn star not as an object, but as a broken human being made in the image of God, who is not to be worshipped but rather pitied and prayed for, who cannot satisfy our appetites but is actually hungry for the God they do not know.
And the married can look at their spouse, not asking, “What can they do for me?” but rather, “How can I meet their needs?” Your spouse needs your love and acceptance and protection and your embrace. They need to know that they are the only one for you – physically, mentally, emotionally. And they need you also to point them to the One whose love and acceptance and protection are perfect and eternal. Let your marriage point one another to the faithful Bridegroom who is coming soon for his Bride.
For the single, the Gospel speaks of freedom – not to sexual freedom apart from consequence, but freedom from sexuality dominating life. The Gospel of Jesus speaks of freedom to devote one’s self fully to the service of Christ, seeing the reality that sex was meant to point toward all along – that God means to be close to his people. Jesus speaks of “eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.” (Matthew 19:12) He’s talking about those who deny themselves and lay down their sexuality so that they can devote their time and energy to the Gospel of Jesus. That’s not for everyone. And that doesn’t make those who go that way a higher-class Christian. But it is good, even though it’s crazy in the eyes of our culture.
But if you’re concerned with what our culture will think of you, think about how bi-polar our culture is when it comes to sexuality. We're told sexuality is simultaneously everything - and nothing. It's the thing that defines your worth, your identity and - at the same time - it should be approached casually. It's the most important thing of all and - at the same time - no big deal. Should we really listen to the voice of a world who think so poorly about such a beautiful thing?
Where sexual rebellion, where such false worship persists, there can never be health. But where there is repentance and faith in Christ, there is so much hope and life.
That’s what the deposed pastor is finding out. Although that family has endured shame and deep pain, although he did make a wreck of his life, the Lord is putting them back together, restoring what his sin would have destroyed. Though he was barred from even taking communion for until it was clear his repentance was more than just words, he continued agreeing with the Lord that his unfaithfulness was unfaithfulness. And he’s continued trusting Jesus at his word – that Jesus’ blood and grace is sufficient for him.
He’s been welcomed back to the Lord’s Table. He’s been welcomed back into his home. He’s been humbled and he’s been driven to rely on his hope in Christ every day. But that is what grace does to sinners like us. We see how prone our hearts are to wander. So, we rejoice in the Savior who comes after his unfaithful Bride. He poured out his blood to wash us clean. He died and rose again to make us his own. And he will continue to draw our hearts back to himself until the day we see him face to face – on the day our hearts are fully satisfied in him alone.
[Pray – Father, we praise you for your faithfulness. When we were running away from you, trying to satisfy our appetites in things other than you – when we traded true intimacy and your perfect love for ashes and dust – you sent Christ to make us beautiful again in your sight. That’s so hard to believe, Father, when we see remember our rebellion. Our brokenness is all we can see sometimes. So, Father, lift our heads to see the cross and the empty tomb. Lift our eyes to the risen Christ, who still bears the marks of death and lives forever before you, interceding for us even now. May we see in him your love and grace and may we be satisfied in him alone. Let no other loves lead us away, Father, and forgive us for Christ’s sake when they do. For we are weak, so weak. But Christ is faithful, so faithful. You say that by trusting in him we are washed and sanctified and justified in your sight. So, we will trust you and set our hope in Christ and follow after him again. Help us now to keep your commands. And may you be please to use us to help one another – pointing each other back to the faithful Savior who died to make us faithful in him. Through Christ our Savior we pray. Amen.]
[Benediction – from Number 6]
The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.