March 23, 2015

Heart and Soul: Theology

This is the third in our series of three articles on human sexuality first presented at a conference entitled “Scripture, Sexuality, and Society” in Cape Town, South Africa, March 2014.—Editors.

In a seminar on Christian sexuality, another professor and I were teaching a group of Adventist young men about the sin of pornography. We knew it would be a challenging lesson for these college-age men to learn, but we were not prepared for the response we got from them. They were angry with us and thought they had a right to be.

“You’ve already taken sex away from us,” they said. “Now you’re taking this away too? What do you expect us to do?”

The response illustrates an attitude toward sexuality on the part of the secular culture that has found its way into the church. It is taken for granted in both the heterosexual and homosexual communities, as though it were self-evident, that adults must have an active sex life in order to be happy and fulfilled. Chastity (especially celibacy) is an unreasonable expectation. But the Bible teaches differently. It reveals that there is great liberation and reward in submitting our sexuality to principle as a gift of loyalty to God for His glory and honor.

Joseph’s Story

“Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he refused” (Gen. 39:6-8). Joseph was the favorite son of his father, Jacob, to which his other sons reacted with jealousy. The robe his father gave him, the “coat of many colours” (Gen. 37:3, KJV), was a token of Jacob’s plan to pass over his older brothers and give Joseph the birthright. Joseph told of dreams of his ascendancy over his parents and his brothers, in which they all bowed down to him, and his brothers hated him even more (verse 5). They plotted to kill him, but sold him into slavery instead because of Judah’s intercession. Judah said, “After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood” (verse 27). So they peddled him off to a band of Ishmaelites, descendants of their grandfather Isaac’s rival.

“I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day.” 

This was the situation that brought Joseph into a position of vulnerability to his master’s wife. Thinking about it thus, we realize that Joseph’s circumstances provided him many rationalizations he might have used to justify giving in to sexual temptation: 17 years old, at the height of his sexual powers, with all kinds of hormones
coursing through his body. He might have said, “Nature took over.” Rejected by his family and completely alone in exile, he might have reasoned, “God will understand.” He didn’t approach her; she approached him: he could have shifted the blame to her and said, “She is my boss.”

Finally, there was the deception of secrecy. Joseph might have told himself, “After all, no one has to know. No one will ever find out.”

Joseph had good excuses for sin, and if he had so chosen, it would not have been hard for him to convince himself that he was justified in giving in. But he flatly refused. He did not budge. He did not say, “Maybe I’ll just have oral sex, and it won’t count since there’s no penetration”; or “Maybe a little mutual masturbation, and I’ll still technically be a virgin.” Joseph would not compromise one inch. Joseph said no!

Integrity and Faithfulness

“ ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’ ” (Gen. 39:8, 9).

Integrity is defined as “firm adherence to a code,” applying especially to a code of “moral and artistic values.”1 These values are embodied in and passed on by a community. The most important part of this definition is “embodied in.” This is how our values are truly passed on: as we embody them. If our children are to develop a sense of sexual integrity based on Christian values, we will need to deliver it to them in more than one form. They will not be convinced by what we say unless it is in harmony with what we do. If it is not, our teaching and instruction will become counterproductive, because it will convince them that we don’t mean what we say. Our children will call us hypocrites.

When I was in grade school, I had to memorize Edgar Guest’s poem “Sermons We See.” Here is an excerpt:

I’d rather see a sermon than hear one any day;
I’d rather one should walk with me than merely tell the way.
The eye’s a better pupil and more willing than the ear,
Fine counsel is confusing, but example’s always clear. . . .
One good man teaches many, men believe what they behold;
One deed of kindness noticed is worth forty that are told.
Who stands with men of honor learns to hold his honor dear,
For right living speaks a language which to every one is clear.
Though an able speaker charms me with his eloquence, I say,
I’d rather see a sermon than to hear one, any day.2

We must become the lessons we teach to our children. There is nothing more rewarding in this world than to see the qualities we uphold passed on to the next generation successfully.

This was the case with Joseph, which brings us to a second definition of the word so fitting to describe his life. Integrity may also be defined as having the quality of being “undivided.”3 Our English word from the Latin root is “integer,” a whole number. Joseph was undivided. He had integrity.

Joseph could not be one way with Potiphar and another way with Potiphar’s wife. There was no duplicity in him; no point of division that separated him from his conscience so that he could sometimes act as though he were someone else, or believed something else. He was not a fraction of a man split by a decimal point. He was a living human integer.

Sexual sin lends itself to undercover activities: behind closed doors, in some secluded hideaway, in the bushes, in the dark. It’s the deception of secrecy that our covert acts don’t count because nobody sees them.

Too often we reduce the gospel to a set of rules, a legal arrangement by which we order our lives. And given the way humans make and think of legal arrangements, one can always find a loophole.

The truth is, our concealed activities count all the more because they are more authentically ours. It is our private moments that reveal true character. A person who would never steal with the lights on is shown to be a thief in a blackout. “The integrity of the upright guides them, but the unfaithful are destroyed by their duplicity” (Prov. 11:3).

Potiphar’s wife does not give up easily. She wants what she wants. This is probably not the first time she’s done this with one of her servants; and she’s used to getting her way in her own house.

But Joseph does not give up either. He does not define himself as Potiphar’s slave. He sees himself as God’s servant. He had to run away and leave his cloak, but he did not leave his conviction. His persistence to stay true to his conviction displayed the attribute of faithfulness, which we may understand as remaining consistently, unfailingly loyal regardless of circumstances.

Faith is the power that enables us to grasp onto God and His promises, even though we cannot prove that they are true. This is the starting point of the saving relationship with God. “Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Heb. 11:6).

But the gift of faith must be tested; sometimes by trial, sometimes by delay, often by unexpected changes. Then we are challenged to be true to our conviction and not be moved. This is faithfulness< /em>, faith to the full. It means not just having faith, but being full of faith. Faithfulness proves and strengthens our devotion to God as we hold on and keep our promises to Him, even when it costs us. And it will cost. Keeping faith with God in a sinful world always has a cost.

“The goal of faithfulness is not that we will do work for God, but that He will be free to do His work through us,” wrote Oswald Chambers. “God calls us to His service and places tremendous responsibilities on us. He expects no complaining on our part and offers no explanation on His part. God wants to use us as He used His own Son.”4

What a challenge to our loyalty to God! What a great opportunity to demonstrate our love for Him and show Him that He means more to us than anything and anyone, including ourselves. Every temptation, including every sexual temptation, is a test of our love and loyalty to God. It does not matter whether the temptation touches on my opposite-sex attraction or my same-sex attraction; our sexual attraction is not the truth. It is an experience of our nature over which we have control, by the grace of the Spirit, as creatures made in the image of God. When our sexuality belongs to God, pleasing Him becomes the source of our pleasure, and there is no guilt with it. We would rather have His smile than our own self-gratification.

When Mrs. Potiphar propositioned Joseph, it was not translated in his mind into some abstract category he could rationalize away. It was immediately and deeply personal with him, and not just between him and this woman or her husband. First and foremost, it was a matter between him and God: “How can I do this wicked thing and sin against God?”

Our sexuality belongs to God. It is a sacred trust given to us for a special purpose to be used in its proper place and time. In marriage it serves for bonding and procreation in a special relationship of a man and woman devoted to each other exclusively for life. Outside of marriage it serves the purpose of developing discipline, self-control, and faithfulness to God. Here is the secret of dynamic Christian living. Too often we reduce the gospel to a set of rules, a legal arrangement by which we order our lives. And given the way humans make and think of legal arrangements, one can always find a loophole.

Loopholes or Wholeness

Some disciples of Jesus live their lives based on loopholes, trying to get by as “slight Christians,” barely distinguishable from the world. But when God is a living reality to us, we do not settle for the least amount of Christianity we can get by with. We strive to be wholly and entirely for God, and more and more the longer we live. We do not depersonalize people into sex objects, even when they have done so to themselves. We count them as belonging to God too, and worthy of our respect, even if they have no self-respect.

These are the values God would have us embody and pass on to our children. And along with His other teachings, we should be constant in that instruction for as long as we have any influence in our children’s lives. “Repeat them again and again to your children. Talk about them when you are at home and when you are on the road, when you are going to bed and when you are getting up” (Deut. 6:7, NLT).5 Wholeness in Christ and in Christ’s image is easily the best legacy we could ever hand down to them.

  1., retrieved February 2, 2015.
  2. Edgar Albert Guest, Collected Verse of Edgar A. Guest (New York: Buccaneer Books, 1976), p. 599.
  3., retrieved February 2, 2015.
  4. Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest: An Updated Edition in Todays Language (Grand Rapids: Discovery House, 1992), December 18 entry. (Italics supplied.)
  5. Scripture quotations marked NLT are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.