It was not that many months ago that Tiger Woods was major headlines: the accident outside his house, the accusations that his wife attacked him, and then the unfolding news that he had had affairs over the last few years with at least 12 different women. There was a media feeding frenzy that went with that and all we heard about was the latest mistress to come out, some of whom he tried to pay off. It seems that the concoction of fame and wealth invested Tiger Woods with the power to exploit and seduce pretty women and perhaps their beauty gave them the power to seduce him.
Like Solomon of old, Tiger had the wealth and the power to get whatever his eyes saw. You remember in Ecclesiastes where Solomon said “I had more gold and more silver and so forth, and whatever my eyes saw, I got. I denied myself nothing.” And so Tiger, having that kind of economic and star power, used it without restraint. Like Solomon’s father he had an eye for the pretty girl. Remember the story of David who as king again had a power available to him undue to most? And he looks out of his palace, probably up on a hill possibly through a lattice work, and there is Bathsheba, bathing in the afternoon on the roof top nearby. Having the power he did, he sends a messenger and the rest we know is history in the story of David and Bathsheba.
It could be argued on the one hand, that Bathsheba responded out of fear. How do I say “No” to the king? Certainly there was an unequal power relationship. It is likely that she knew David personally because her husband was one of his inner circle of mighty men. And perhaps she feared for her husband’s safety, as one of the mighty men sent to do the most difficult jobs, that she would someday be widowed, probably in the near future, and therefore maybe she needed to do something to secure security for herself. So perhaps she bathed in the afternoon on purpose for David to see her because she knew of his weakness. Any way you cut it though, I would say David carries the bulk of the culpability even if she were a willing accomplice because of his power over her as king and his misuse of that power to get something for himself that he was not entitled to, just as Tiger used his power to get something he was not entitled to.
So we have an example here of two men with tremendous personal power to exploit and use others for their own pleasure and purposes and seemingly to get away with it. What is the moral significance for you and I? None of us have the power of Tiger Woods or David. We don’t have that kind of money to draw that kind of attention. And few of us are blessed with the kind of looks that would bring that kind of attention to us as well.
I remember as a freshman and sophomore at Andrews we had a seminary student who was blessed with those kind of looks. I mean, women swooned before him. It was not, I heard, an uncommon occurrence after vespers on Friday night to have to fight his way through a gauntlet of girls to get into his car, and the rest of us drooled. And many would have thought, in fact in the student directory, (in those days we didn’t have the internet so it had to be printed, you know—what was it called at Andrews, I think it was the “Joker,” wasn’t it? The “Cast,” the “Joker” is here. Yeah, the “Cast,” right. And he managed to get the “Cast” people to only put his name with no phone number, we didn’t have e-mail in those days, either, and so no address, no phone because he got harangued by so many girls. Fortunately he appears to have not yielded to the power he had to exploit and was a good Christian boy and got married at the right time and all that good stuff. But how many of us put in that position would have been able to hold up?
You see, personal power is the most dangerous commodity in the world because the temptation to misuse it for selfish purposes is so hard to resist. You see when you are poor, you are limited by force. You have to learn to say “No” to yourself because you have no way of saying “Yes.” But when you have the power to give your eyes or ears or whatever to indulge yourself, now, we have temptation. And while we may not have the power of this seminary student or the power of Tiger Woods or the power of David, the fact of the matter is that when it comes to this most primal and powerful of drives in the human experience, the sexual drive, in these days of media and internet, we have more power than we think we have.
Facebook is destroying many marriages because many people are reconnecting with old flames and the like. And if it is not that, a few clicks, and we can have all the pornography we want. And that is a female problem as well as a male problem today. And the likelihood is if this church represents a demographics typical of fundamentalist and evangelical Christianity that we have a significant number of people who are having affairs, addicted to pornography, and other deviant sexual practices. And part of the ethos that has happened outside of Adventism and perhaps we are a bit more insulated because of our holistic view of man. Most people believe in a body soul separation, you know dualism that the soul lives after the body dies, kind of thing, and so therefore what really matters is the soul, and they develop a dualism in their life that the spiritual has to do with the soul so I go to church for the soul but when it comes to other things like my sexual life, I go other places for that. And we have a divorce between sexuality and spirituality. And basically anything you read that the world is doing is happening in the church because the church has made itself irrelevant to this topic by never talking about it in public. And so today I am talking about it.
Now, for a little sense of continuity, Pastor Gettys has me preaching four times this year. This is the second one. Last time you may remember that I preached about Paul’s ethics of personal power and even if you have the right to do something and the power to do something, it may be better for bigger purposes to give up those rights and powers and not exercise them. I am going to suggest to you that the Ten Commandments are based on that same principle. The Ten Commandments are not just a list of rules to be complied with or broken. The Ten Commandments are training tools to teach us how to use our personal power, the way God uses His personal power, and hence the commandments address individuals who are agents of power. And when it comes to the seventh commandment, we are not addressed as the potential victim of adultery, we are addressed as the potential perpetrator—the one who has the power to inflict the scourge of adultery. And hence this commandment is how do we use our personal power in the area of sexualty. And frankly, now that I’ve hit the magical 50 mark, at least in my experience, there may be a slight waning of that power with age, but it’s still a powerful force to be reckoned with. And so I don’t think it looses its relevance to those of us who are a little more mature.
The commandment then speaks to me as one who can use my power like Tiger Woods or David did to satiate myself on members of the opposite gender with apparently no great consequence. I would thus argue that this commandment is designed to protect others from my use of my power or from your perspective, others from your use of your power, and to protect God given rights in the area of sexual privilege. So the question is, what are these rights and what are they grounded on. I would suggest that these rights are part of God’s gift to us at creation and by studying our scripture reading we can discover what those rights are.
So let’s go back to Genesis, chapter 2. We know this story well, where God brings the animals before Adam and he names them and he discovers there is something missing and so God makes Eve and brings Eve to him and establishes the first marriage, and Adam’s famous vows, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” as part of the first wedding.
And out of this Moses makes a moral norm—something we ought to do because God did this with Adam. “Therefore,” says Moses, “a man shall” what? “leave his father and mother,” (here’s where the King James is nice because it rhymes, right?) “a man shall leave his father and mother, cleave to his wife and the two become one…” finish it, yeah, don’t be embarrassed…“the two become one flesh.” Moses gives us a three step process that we ought to do because God brought Adam and Eve together. And these three steps unpack the nature of the rights that the seventh commandment is protecting from our use of our power. Now the people of Moses day would have read this with a bit of a jolt. What is it that is so odd for the culture of Moses and Abraham and so forth, what would have been so odd about saying “A man shall leave his father and mother?” What would have been so odd? Think about how Isaac got married. Who did the leaving? Rachel. See the woman left her family to move into the clan of her husband. It was self-evident that she left. But Isaac doesn’t move out. He lives in the patriarchal compound. So what does it mean, “A man shall leave his father and mother” if he doesn’t leave? How does he leave when he doesn’t leave? I would like to suggest that it means establishing independence; no longer dependent upon mommy and daddy. Isaac becomes his own man, accountable for himself, no more bailouts from Abraham. Which means that before marriage we should become independent, whole, functioning people, capable of managing our own affairs successfully. One of the problems we have today is that many people get married and they haven’t established independence and so now they both have to adjust to independence and to marriage and it is too much for them.
Second thing, I come back to the wholeness issue. We should enter marriage as a whole, two whole people who can contribute to a greater sum, as opposed to two deficient people who are going to consume each other to pieces. By leaving we have to establish that wholeness, that independence. But there is more than just financial and self-sufficiency here, there is also a leaving emotively where you come out from under parents’ authority to be your own person. You see before marriage, ladies, your father was the man of your life, and gentlemen, your mother was the woman of your life. But ladies, how are you going to like it if your husband has to call his mama about every significant decision you guys are making? I hear a bunch of snickers. Are you going to like that, ladies? No. See, you leave mom and dad to prepare the way for a new man or woman to be the one in your life. There is a change of status here. What this leaving is doing is preparing the ground for exclusive commitment. A new priority is going to come into your life that’s going to supersede parents. For most of your life parents have been first priority and the parent of the opposite gender has been that opposite gender of your life, the woman or man of your life. Now there is a distancing and you become your own. Like Adam with the void to fill, someone is going to trump mom or dad as the woman or man of your life. And God’s intention is that this be an exclusive one. God did not bring Adam, Eve and Sally. Right? Nor did He bring, Adam, Steve. The creation design is an opposite gender couple, one of each, in a special, exclusive relationship. But in order to be exclusive, that brings us to the second stage of this thing. How do we get exclusivity beyond not floating around?
Think of some of these famous actresses. And I don’t mean this disrespectfully. Elizabeth Taylor was married how many times? Eight or nine? What does that say about exclusivity? Is serial exclusivity really exclusivity? So if we are really going to have exclusivity, what do we need to have with it? We need to have permanence. Not only exclusive but permanent bond and this is what the cleaving is about. We leave—that creates the void that allows a new exclusivity and permanence to be established. Now this word for cleaving in Hebrew is a word used of the skin cleaving to the body. Now how permanent is that cleavage? Permanent enough that if you’ve ever uncleaved some skin from your body, what did it feel like? It felt like it was supposed to be permanent, right? Yeah, this is a very…the idea is that of a permanent bond. So if it is a permanent bond, that’s why our wedding vows say that we plan to do it, ‘til what? Death. See as long as we live. Which is why—see marriage is a covenant, right? What’s a covenant? It is a contract you guarantee with your life. See your life is the collateral. Which is why in Old Testament law adultery could be punished up to death because you guaranteed that relationship with your life. This is a serious commitment, folks.
Let me illustrate it a slightly different way. In modern terminology it is the kind of bond that we think of with epoxy. And many epoxies come in what form? We have the “A” tube and the “B” tube. And in order for that epoxy to make a permanent bond what do we have to do? We have to mix it together, right? And once you mix it together, you are not unmixing it. And then these beams make a wonderful example. We epoxy layers of wood together to make these beams that are holding up our ceiling, right? And if we could go to the end of the beam and saw a little slot at the end of the epoxy joint, and put a little hydraulic set of claws and have the hydraulic start pulling, what is it that is going to break? It will be the wood, not the epoxy. Do not underestimate the power of the bond of marriage and the power of the sexual bond. Which is why I say divorce does not so much break marriages, it breaks people.
Let me push my illustration a little further. Sometimes you have the “A” and the “B” tube, other times you have an epoxy that my dad uses in model airplanes, that will cure of itself, given five, ten, fifteen minutes. But you break a wing flying and you want to glue it together and keep flying and not have to wait for 20 minutes, what do you do? You put the epoxy in and then there’s a little squirt bottle called “Zip Kick,” and you go psuush and a little puff of smoke comes out and it’s ready to fly. It is cured that fast. Before you spray “Zip Kick” you can sit there and pull it apart and it’s gooey and so forth, zzzttt, and it’s set.
We are here to make a permanent emotional bond. We leave, we now have the shift to a new man or woman in my life as is appropriate, and we are to make a permanent bond before we get to one flesh. What is it that establishes permanence? It is very simple. “I do.” You see, engagement is not permanent, right? How many here have been engaged?
Hmm. How many of you have stayed engaged? No, you got married. You are no longer engaged, right? See, it is not permanent, right? You are going to change. It is a temporary status. Furthermore, I worked with a guy who one week, seven days, before his wedding, met a girl and the bells and whistles went off and he terminated the engagement seven days prior to the wedding. Now that raises a few eyebrows in some ways but we don’t put that in the same level as divorce, right? Because engagement is not a legally binding relationship. It is not a permanent condition. You either are going to break up or you are going to get married. So we need something that produces permanence. And that is the legal foundation, the “I do.” The wedding. You don’t just walk out of a marriage the way that you can walk out of an engagement, right? Because [marriage] is designed to be permanent. So the leaving establishing the basis for the exclusiveness and the cleaving creates the permanence for the exclusiveness. And once those things are in place, now we can add “one flesh” safely. Is it any wonder that our world is such a mess with family structure? Because we tend to go about it the other way around. Let’s fool around with “one flesh” and if that works nicely then we’ll think about commitment, right? And if we finally decide to commit then we’ll think about leaving. When we go about it backward, it is no wonder… Is it easy to save “one flesh” for marriage, particularly when you’re young and full of hormones? NO! But I would propose to you that the discipline it takes to say “No” prior to permanence is the discipline it takes to make it work after permanence. And if you don’t establish the discipline first, you are at a disadvantage afterwards.
The two become one as image of God, mimicking God who is three in one in a permanent and eternal bond. Marriage was designed to be—Adam and Eve were not supposed to die--so permanence meant forever. God as part of His image wants us to have an exclusive, permanent, intimate, two-as-one-bond that matches His eternal three as one bond. And each of us has a right to an exclusive, permanent, lifelong, intimate and sexual relationship with one person of the opposite gender. Not all of us have exercised that right. We have some single folks here. But you still have that right. And if I go to “Playboy” and start ogling I am violating my wife’s right to that exclusivity and I am violating the model’s right to that exclusivity and by posing she’s violating a spouse or future spouse’s right to these exclusive privileges. And today with our technology we have the ability to exploit and violate very easily. To mix into our lives things that don’t belong, to adulterate, to dilute that which God wants to keep pure and whole--let me just say a word here--most adultery its not driven by lust it is usually driven by need. As most of us who have been married a few years know, there comes a point a year or two or five or ten down the road, where you wake up to the fact that you did not marry Mr. or Mrs. Perfect. Right? And, in fact, after ten years you can notice that there is a trait in your spouse that is starting to rub a nice raw spot in your psyche. Whether she doesn’t pick up after herself or he can’t close cabinet doors, or the toothpaste or the toilet paper…or he doesn’t touch enough or she doesn’t say nice things enough, there is something that starts bugging you, right? And you get into those battles of trying to change each other and one day you go to work or the gym or the Wellness Center and there is a man or a woman who is the epitome of what your spouse is not. And you can feel a tremendous attraction toward that person. You actually are not attracted to the person; you are attracted to the trait that they are strong in that your spouse is weak in. And if you can make that nuisance it will lower the strength of the attraction, you follow me? I am not attracted to them, I am attracted to this issue. But because you are wishing that he paid more attention to you, umm, I’ll put it, she feels neglected and she goes and hears a guy at the Wellness Center who is just the epitome of listening skills, right? Ooooh, attraction! And he’s got his issues and it so happens that she happens to hit his spot, so they start sharing and the boundaries start crumbling and they never intended anything but a year down the road suddenly they find themselves…and they wonder what happened. Because we weren’t guarding those boundaries of exclusivity and sacredness because of the unmet needs in our life. You can use those temptations to attraction to help you identify what needs working on and negotiating in the marriage.
The seventh commandment calls us then to restrain our power, to protect the exclusivity and the permanence of the marriage bond and that protection comes in part by restricting sexual expression to within the bounds of marriage. Why? I’d like to propose to you that when we talk about this topic, we usually end up doing much like our Sabbath School lesson this week did, right? They had the little story about the girl who finally lost her way and the emotional damage and the possible STDs and Aids; we like to scare people into submission, right? Look at all the nasty things that will happen to you if you don’t stay pure! The fact of the matter is such reasoning is not doing its job and sexual license is running rampant through the body of Christ. As C. S. Lewis quipped, “Human nature will venge itself upon us because a hard heart is no defense against a soft head.” So let’s see if we can up the vision. Are we merely trying to avoid problems or are we trying to get something good?
Genesis 39 the story of Joseph opens a vista to us that I cannot develop in this sermon but I want to introduce you to. We know Joseph’s story well. He’s a slave in Egypt; he’s become Potiphar’s slave and in chapter 39, verse 6, Potiphar trusts Joseph so much he puts everything in his charge. And he apparently has no concern; he trusts Joseph so much, he’s not auditing him. The only thing Potiphar is wondering is what am I going to have for supper tonight. And it is in this context of an absolute trust in Joseph’s integrity that the last half of verse 6 has the ominous announcement, “Now Joseph was handsome and good looking.” Now folks, it seems to me, that whenever the Bible announces that someone is beautiful or handsome, you know trouble is on the way! If this is a movie, this is where the spooky music starts to play because you know trouble is coming. Joseph is the handsome hunk, to use the last language that I’ve caught up with, and Mrs. Potiphar is apparently looking for a boy toy to play with. This is about gratification, stimulation, recreational, etc., not about commitment and all those good things. And in verse 7, she casts her eyes on Joseph and asks “Lie with me.” And before we look at the refusal, verse 10, she spoke to Joseph day after day. This was not a one time request. She badgered and pestered him for this illicit privilege. It may be the first case of sexual harassment on record and it is a stereotypical reverse. But Joseph’s answer to me is profound because he is not yet married and yet in my opinion we have the apex of a theology of sexuality in the scripture, right here. Verse 8, “He refused and said to his master’s wife, Lo, having me my master has no concern about anything in the house. He has put everything that he has in my hand. He is not greater in this house than I am. Nor has he kept back anything from me, except you, for you are his wife. How then, can I do this great wickedness and sin against...” Take a time out. What is the logic that he has set up to this point? Potiphar has given me this great trust. He has withheld nothing from me. He has this absolute trust in me. The only restriction that he has put on me, is you. The logic then I would expect him to say, how can I do this great sin against Potiphar, right? Is that a good argument? Absolutely! And yet at the last second he shifts gears and instead of saying Potiphar, like I expect, he says “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Woe! How does God fit into this? I think the key is in that word “except.” He is not greater in this house than I am. He is not different. There is no difference between the two of us in this household. I have as much power and authority as he has. But there is one thing that separates Potiphar from me: he has you; I don’t.
What is the point? Joseph recognized that the first purpose of sexual expression is not procreation. The first purpose of sexual expression is to enhance the sense of uniqueness and specialness between husband and wife.
You see, I could go into business partnership with a woman, right? I can be doctor, nurse, and we are in operating rooms together and so forth, we have dinner together—business—etc., etc. As a pastor I used to sit in my office and listen to women complain about their husbands and so forth and I could go home and listen to my wife complain about me. It is easy to start to loose the distinction. What’s the difference when there’s all these things we can do the same? But there is one thing that is reserved for my wife alone, that separates her from all other women and makes her unique and different. And this is why Paul said in I Corinthians 7, “Husbands and wives don’t deprive each other except by agreement for a season but come back together again so you don’t fall into temptation and stray.” Paul says be regular in that expression as a couple to maintain your sense of uniqueness and to strengthen that special bond.
And Joseph recognized that this was God’s design for sexual expression and he says not only will it violate Potiphar’s trust in me but it will violate the sense of uniqueness that is God’s design.
I was teaching a substitute a class at Andrews that had nothing to do with this topic but I got into conversation with a student who asked a doozey of a question after class, pastor’s daughter, international student, visible signs of rebellion against Adventist values all over her. She had heard it all and wasn’t sold and we got into this, why wait for marriage business, you know. She could care less about the STDs. She’d heard it all. And I said to myself, “Lord I need some help because I’m not a youth pastor. I’m not Mr. Cool, Suave…I’m a scholar.” And the Holy Spirit gave me a little line of questions. I asked her, “Do you hope to get married someday?”
“Yes.” She hoped to get married someday.
“Do you know who you are going to marry?”
“No. I am not even dating right now.”
“But you do hope to get married someday?”
I said, “When you get married do you want your marriage to end in divorce?”
“NO!” She took that one quite hard. “If I get married I want it to last forever!”
In my mind, I said “Good. There is still some value system left in there.” I said I have one more question for you. “What will it do for your marriage if you can say to your spouse, ‘I loved you enough before I knew who you were to be faithful to you?’” She couldn’t talk. I repeated the question for effect. “What will it do for your marriage if you can say to your spouse, ‘I loved you enough before I knew who you are to be faithful to you?’”
Folks how do we know that that other is going to be faithful to us? If they present us with a portfolio of faithfulness it is going to be more persuasive isn’t it? You see folks we are not selling abstinence from evil, we are calling people to faithfulness and fidelity for a lifetime. And to evidence that commitment by being faithful before you know who it is. To be respecting their rights and restraining your power to respect those rights before you know who it is. We should not only avoid evil; sexual purity is not only avoiding pornography and affairs, it is being exclusively faithful to the one we find with God’s help and to be faithful to them even before we know who they are. It is not about sex. It is about character. It is about faithfulness. It is about integrity. That’s what we are called to. May God help us be examples of faithfulness and purity in this area.
Let’s sing our closing hymn…
Hymn of Praise: #167, Alleluia! Sing to Jesus! Scripture: Genesis 2:20-24 Hymn of Response: #318, Whiter Than Snow
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Sermon at McDonald Road transcribed by Linda Lechler 3/7/11