Personal modesty: The Biblical Standard
1. The marital relationship is the proper place for a man and woman to be exposed to one another’s nakedness: "The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame" (Genesis 2:25). This means that the sexual relationship of marriage needs to be protected by the curtain of privacy. This means that the discussion of the sexual aspect of the marital life should be restricted to the marital partner first, and that there should be no other outside discussion except with counselor or medical doctor for the correction of difficulties, preferably by mutual consent. This exposure of personal modesty with the partner in the marital relationship is a part of the mutual consent and lifetime commitment of both partners. This mutual exposure is perhaps the ultimate expression of trust in another person. Because of that, there is a tremendous vulnerability in this exposure. Any spouse would therefore have understandable embarrassment and anger at its unnecessary violation by unnecessary discussion with friends and relatives.
2. Personal modesty is the natural attitude of embarassment at the exposure of personal nakedness before the opposite sex: "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves" (Genesis 3:7). The natural bent of people will generally be to shield one’s modesty from others by the use of clothing, as a natural defense against the lust of others and the embarassment of sexual exposure before the opposite sex.
Generally past the age of modesty (which begins most often well before puberty) an adult should avoid the intentional violation of the modesty of the opposite sex, and avoid intentional exposure of his or her modesty before the opposite sex (this excludes accidental exposure or other special circumstances such as medical examinations).
The Problem of Lust:
Sexual lust is the intentional visual violation of personal modesty of others for personal sexual pleasure. It includes unrestrained sexual desire for someone outside the bonds of marriage .
The Tenth Commandment: "You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife . . . or anything that belongs to your neighbor" (Exodus 20:17). Coveting under the Tenth Commandment encompassed the desire for something possessed by another and not rightfully one’s own. This would forbid jealousy, envy and lust. This is based upon the scriptural principle that the thought is the precursor of the action, and the intention of a sinful action amounts to the actual commission of the action. This would forbid the thoughts at the basis of murder, lying, adultery, etc.
Jesus made this connection explicit in his teaching: "You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27).
It is not clear whether the discussion of coveting in Romans 7:7-13 is to be restricted to sexual lust; more probably it includes the whole of envy, jealousy and begrudging the success of another person. More importantly, it does describe the process of the rebellious reaction of fallen human nature to the commandment of God, and the consequence of estrangement from God, spiritual death, even from a sinful thought where there is no outward act of sin. The conclusion is not that lust is ultimately unrestrainable but that human nature is prone to sin even in thought and that the indulgence of sins of thought estranges from God as surely as the outward actions. Thus unrestrained lust will mean coldness and degeneration in a believer’s relationship with God in the same way as an immoral sexual relationship.
"Just One Look: That’s All It Took": the Example of David and Bathsheba and the Potential Consequences of Unrestrained Lust
"In the spring, at the time when kings go off to war . . . one evening David got up from his bed and walked around on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing. The woman was very beautiful . . ." (II Samuel 11:1, 2). The terrible sin of adultery with Bathsheba and its culmination with the conspired death of her husband Uriah all had its beginning in this one look. The problem was not with the initial seeing, which seems to have been accidental (Bathsheba may have been bathing in a place and at a time where she might have expected no one to see her), but with the allowance of his accidental sexual arousal to become illegitimate sexual desire and intentional sexual sin.
"In the course of time, Amnon son of David fell in love with Tamar, the beautiful sister of Absalom son of David. Amnon because frustrated to the point of illness on account of his sister Tamar, for she was a virgin, and it seemed impossible for him to do anything to her" (II Samuel 13:1-2). Like father, like son; the lust of David was paralleled by that of his son Amnon, and like him, it led to sexual sin, the rape of Tamar. This was one of the judicial consequences of the sin of David, and shows a striking pattern of how sexual sin can be repeated within a family. Since Amnon was his firstborn son, he may well have been in late childhood or early adolescence when his father became sexually involved with Bathsheba, and his father’s example made an unintended impression on his developing sexual identity. Thus what David inadvertently taught his son was not sexual fulfillment in a godly marriage but the indulgence of lust in the violation of the commands of God.
Women and Emotional Lust
Many women do not seem to have the same problem with visual lust as men often do, though the presence of male strippers and male "exotic dancers" shows that visual lust is also a problem of women. The problem for many women, though, is rather emotional lust as fostered by romantic novels and soap operas. This form of entertainment has been known to foster romantic fantasies for idealized men, and may begin thoughts of romantic and sexual satisfaction in someone else besides the husband. It may lead to marital dissatisfaction by inflated, wrong expectations of the husband through comparison with the fictional, idealized men.
Drastic Medicine: the Prescription of Jesus for the Hooked
"If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell" (Matthew 5:29-30).
After his definition of lust as adultery (or sexual immorality) in the heart, Jesus went on to prescribe the drastic remedy for release from the sexuality of hell in thought and deed. Jesus’s command here is figurative, not literal; he is calling for whatever action is necessary to avoid the indulgence in immoral sexual thought. His command is parallel to that of the apostle Paul: "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires . . . "(Colossians 3:5).
This does not mean the cessation of sexual desire, but its redirection into the proper channels. Sexual desire cannot be truly eradicated, and inasmuch as it is a legitimate desire which is a part of human nature, it is not in the will of God to do so. His desire is rather that his people should be so free from illegitimate sexual desire that they would enjoy their fullest relationship with him and with each other in the purity of Christlike love and fellowship, and pure sexual satisfaction within the bonds of marriage.
1. Make plans to avoid everything involved with the sexuality of hell.
This means dealing with all intentional avenues and habits of indulgence: "Do not those who plot evil go astray? But those who plan what is good find love and faithfulness . . . Do not be misled: ‘Bad company corrupts good character" (Proverbs 14:22, I Corinthians 14:33). This means the avoidance of:
- Companions: friends who share in this indulgence
- Literature and Entertainment based on visual and/or emotional lust
- Places where this is permitted.
- List all the people, books, magazines, films and places that have been stumblingblocks for you.
- What plans will you now make for the avoidance of these?
- How can you replace these indulgences with constructive activities?
2. Find a trustworthy confidant for the power of united prayer, encouragement and responsibility.
"Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective . . . Again, I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" (James 5:16, Matthew 18:19-20).
A trustworthy confidant will be:
- Someone of the same sex; matters of sexual temptation and sin are not fit matters for discussion with the opposite sex.
- Someone who can keep a confidence: a person’s struggles with any type of sexual sin are not a legitimate topic of casual conversation.
- Someone who has faith in God and his power to conquer sin through Jesus Christ, and who is experienced and effective in prayer.
- Someone who holds to Biblical sexual standards and has a long experience of consistent holding to these standards. Those who are having struggles themselves may not have the strength or wisdom to be of much help at the best, or become stumblingblocks themselves.
Action Plan: List two or three people who can meet these qualifications. Ask them to help you with this bondage.
3. Seek the power of the Spirit of God.
"Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death" (Romans 8:1-2). Freedom will not come by the strength of human willpower, but by the almighty power of the Spirit of God conquering the bent toward sin which is a part of human nature.
4. Immerse yourself in positive scriptural teachings; transformation by renewal of the mind through the Word of God.
"Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will . . . All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work" (Romans 12:2; see also Ephesians 4:22-24).
For Men: Imitate the Commitment of Job:
"I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl" (Job 31:1). This commitment of Job, as evidence of his righteous life, runs totally contrary to the Playboy mentality and exhibitionism for the indulgence of visual lust. This commitment entails:
- avoidance of specific enticements of the display and rationale of the sexuality of hell in entertainment, magazines, films, etc., even if there is no definite addiction pattern evident in one’s own life
- avoidance of dwelling on the happenstance encounters throughout the culture in art, advertisement, entertainment and immodestly dressed women; the aversion of one’s eyes and the redirection of one’s thoughts can become a usual reaction to these accidental encounters
For Women: Put Your Romantic Imagination to Work in Your Marriage:
- Avoid romance novels and soap operas, especially if they tend to increase your expectations of a dating partner, fiance or husband beyond his legitimate capacities. Understand that the men in these portrayals tend to be highly idealized. You have as much right to expect the man of your affections to behave in that manner as he would expect you to behave as a sexually idealized woman from men’s sexual literature.
- Do not demand increased romance from your husband! Pressure and nagging kills romance, instead of stimulating it. Rather, make a respectful, courteous expression of your desire for more romantic creativity in your marriage, and make it a matter of teamwork. Express your willingness to do your part to increase the romantic variety and play in your marriage. Work together to schedule times for romance.
- Allow your husband to think about his part, and accept his way of giving it when it comes. A husband who truly loves you can often be pleasantly surprising if given the chance! (Make allowances for fatigue and temporary preoccupation with other things to weaken his enthusiasm at times; be as patient with him as you would expect him to be with you.)
- Put your own romantic imagination to work! Initiate some innocent fantasies of your own; tell some playfully to your husband. See the Song of Solomon 7:11-8:2, where the wife tells the husband of some of her romantic fantasies about him.
A fine summary of Biblical sexual morality, suitable for memorization, is Hebrews 13:4: "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage be kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and the sexually immoral." The Bible’s sexual standard is sex within marriage exclusively. All forms of sex outside of marriage, therefore, are outside the will of God; God’s holy gift of sex is then reserved entirely for marriage.
The Biblical standard is God’s constant and unchanging standard. It came originally to God’s people in a world at least as sexually permissive as the modern world. It was never intended to change across times and cultures. Thus the Biblical standards on sexual morality are for all times and cultures, and deviation from them is a matter of individual and cultural deviation from the standards of God.
Biblical reasons for sexual morality
1. The commitment to the will of God to be holy:
"It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen who do not know God . . . " (I Thessalonians 4:3-5).
- Biblical sexual morality therefore begins with a commitment to God and his will first. It comes from a love for God first and foremost. This all consuming love for God is the passion that is the basis for the mastery of sexual passion. Just as no one can serve both God and Mammon, no one can serve both God and Aphrodite.
- Biblical sexual morality is part of the expression of holiness in the life of a believer. It is part of the learning process of the will of God.
- Biblical sexual morality involves self control. This contradicts an underlying cultural rationalization of sexual immorality that sexual arousal and desire are uncontrollable.
- Biblical sexual morality involves the rejection of the "passionate lust" of the world. Again, this is not the extinction of all sexual desire or sexual capacity, but the rejection of its misdirection. It involves the rejection of the sexual rationalizations, incentives, fantasies and practices of the world apart from Christ which are contrary to the Word of God.
2. Right use of the body as the possession and dwelling of Christ through the Holy Spirit.
"The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body . . . Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body" (I Corinthians 6:13).
- Biblical sexual morality is based in the Christian’s self understanding of himself as the possession and dwelling of Christ through the Holy Spirit. To use one’s body contrary to his will therefore is a betrayal of a person’s relationship to Christ.
Defenses Against Sexual Immorality:
Sexual immorality is not simply the result of uncontrollable physical arousal on the part of either men or women. Rather, sexual immorality begins in the heart: "For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality . . . adultery . . . " (Mark 7:21). Thus sexual immorality is ultimately a matter of thought and intention. Thus sexual immorality occurs:
- through seduction: when one person attempts to break down the moral defenses of another person, through deceitful rationalizations of and invitations to sexual immorality
- through peer pressure: when social acceptance calls for sexual immorality and provides its rationalization, when surrender to group standards replaces commitment to God’s standards
- through the influence of the culture as a whole: the propaganda of sexual permissiveness in entertainment, literature, and pseudoscience
- through lack of caution and foresight: when sexual arousal reaches a level of intensity that seems uncontrollable, there usually has been some kind of continued sexual stimulation beforehand. Even so, at this point sexual immorality occurs when the decision is to indulge the arousal rather than to break off the contact.
1. Make the Biblical standards of sexual conduct your own.
Determine that you are not going to break your standards no matter what reasons or encouragements are offered to you. In a dating relationship between believers in Christ there should be an agreement that either can cut short a date with no questions asked if that person senses that he or she is approaching a level of sexual arousal that could lead to the breaking of Biblical sexual standards.
2. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, avoid dating relationships with those who are not believers in Christ, who are backslidden, or immature and inconsistent.
Seek to date those who hold to standards of Biblical sexual morality, and arrange early dates at Christian or group activities until you are sure of your date’s personal standards. Remember that serious dating is the process of evaluation of the possibilities of a marital relationship, and one of the components of a godly marriage is a mutual adherence to Biblical moral standards.
3. Avoid situations which would encourage sexual compromise.
- Limit physical affection to a manner which keeps sexual arousal at a low level. Keep hugging and kissing brief, and spend most of your dating time in other activities. Avoid long make out sessions.
- The violation of modesty can often lead to a level of sexual arousal which is difficult to control. Determine that you will neither give nor permit sexually familiar touching to someone to whom you are not married. Do not see sexually explicit movies on a date with a member of the opposite sex. Avoid conversations on sexual matters with someone of the opposite sex except as a part of premarital counseling.
- Avoid being in a place or situation with a member of the opposite sex that might lead to the breaking of Biblical standards. Alcohol has often been a part of sexual compromise; therefore abstinence is good advice for dates as well as the rest of life. Avoid being alone together in places with sexual association, e.g. do not spend time in each other’s bedroom alone with each other.
4. Learn quick replies to seductive lines, such as:
- "If you love me, you’d do it with me."
"IF YOU LOVE ME, YOU WON’T ASK!" ("Love is not self seeking . .. Love does not delight in evil . . . " — I Corinthians 13:5-6). Real love will not ask anyone to compromise Biblical moral standards!
- "We’re going to be married anyway."
"SO WE CAN WAIT UNTIL THE WEDDING NIGHT!" ("Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth" — Proverbs 27:1.) Engagements get broken; people even die before their wedding nights; the commitment of marriage has not been finalized to safeguard a potential sexual relationship.
- "We need to see if we’re physically compatible."
"SO WE’LL LET THE DOCTOR DECIDE THAT!" Sexual ignorance is at the root of this deception; any physically normal man and woman are already physically compatible. A premarital physical examination can easily confirm this without breaking moral standards.
- "I can’t control myself."
"SO WE CAN CUT THIS DATE SHORT AND WAIT UNTIL YOU CAN LEARN SOME SELF CONTROL BEFORE WE SEE EACH OTHER AGAIN!"
NOTE: REPEATED SEXUAL PRESSURE FROM ANOTHER PERSON IS A LEGITIMATE REASON FOR BREAKING A DATING RELATIONSHIP OR AN ENGAGEMENT. ATTEMPTS TO BRING ABOUT A COMPROMISE OF BIBLICAL STANDARDS BEFORE MARRIAGE FORMS A LEGITIMATE BASIS FOR DOUBT ABOUT A PERSON’S ADHERENCE TO BIBLICAL STANDARDS AFTER MARRIAGE.
- TACTFULLY EXPLAIN THAT THE REASON FOR THE BREAKUP IS MORAL INCOMPATIBILITY, AND THAT THERE IS NO FUTURE TO THE RELATIONSHIP UNLESS THERE IS MUTUAL ADHERENCE TO BIBLICAL STANDARDS.
- DO NOT ATTEMPT A LONG DISCUSSION TO SET THE PERSON RIGHT YOURSELF. RATHER, ENCOURAGE THE PERSON TO SEEK COUNSEL WITH A PASTOR OR CHRISTIAN COUNSELOR AND STUDY THE SCRIPTURES AND CHRISTIAN LITERATURE. IF THERE IS PROFESSION OF CHANGE TO BIBLICAL STANDARDS, KEEP THE RELATIONSHIP CASUAL TO BE SURE THAT THE CHANGE IS PERMANENT.
4. Avoid the company of those who have sexual designs on you.
THE JOSEPH MANEUVER: AVOID IF POSSIBLE, TURN AND RUN IF PURSUED
"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 . . . ‘How could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?’" And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even to be with her."
"One day when he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. She caught him by the cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house" (Genesis 39:6-12).
Sexual violation is one level of the way in which people are victimized by the abuse of God’s gift of sexuality. Jesus knows what this is like, from his own experience on the cross (see Jesus and Abuse).
1. The mildest form of sexual violation is that of the victims of sexual curiosity and visual intrusion by family members. Sometimes siblings, especially boys on the brink of adolescence, will attempt to view a physically developing adolescent sibling as a part of their developing sexual curiosity. Or perhaps a parent may fall prey to a single instance of desire to view a child of the opposite sex past the age of modesty. These matters can be dealt with most effectively within the family, with tact, understanding and patience. Overreactions can have more harmful and devastating longterm consequences than the actual actions themselves.
- Anyone who intentionally violates the modesty of another family member owes an apology to that person. Appropriate punishment should be given to any repeated instances among the children as a part of a general policy of reasonable parental discipline (a Biblical policy of child discipline should be developed by both parents). If a parent is at fault, a private, gentle apology may be in order, as carefully worded as possible, with a promise to respect the child’s privacy.
- This violation can be a symptom often of inadequate Biblical teaching about sexuality by the parents. If there has been no Biblical direction, the parent of the same sex (preferably not the opposite sex) should spend a time of preparation in prayer, study of the scriptures and godly teaching on the subject, and set aside a time of private discussion.
2. The next level of sexual violation is the voyeurism of family members, friends and strangers. You are the victim of a civil crime if someone, especially a stranger or neighbor, seeks to intrude covertly upon your personal privacy. Inform the authorities.
3. The most severe and devastating form of sexual violation happens to the victims of molestation, incest and rape by family, friends and strangers.
- If this has happened to you, you have been the victim of a civil crime or crimes. The civil authorities have the responsibility of enforcing the laws against these outrages. Report what has happened to you. Work with the civil authorities for the enforcement of the laws, not as a matter of personal vengeance, but as a matter of civil order. Your report may lead to the apprehension and restraint of an extremely dangerous individual who would otherwise continue to victimize others.
- The sexually molested, abused and raped have experienced the violation of their personal modesty and sexual consent by violence or deceit. There has been a devastating loss of personal control and violation of the Biblical boundaries on sexual conduct, which can lead to great sexual confusion. The sexually abused need to understand Biblical teaching on sexuality as the path to sexual sanity as much, if not more, than anyone else. The danger is that there may be more of a predisposition in this sexual confusion towards the extremes of unBiblical immorality, from the violation and blurring of the boundary of sexual consent within marriage, or of unBiblical sexual inhibition from the shame and revulsion of the experience, which would hinder the course of courtship and sexual satisfaction in marriage.
- Sexual violence and abuse (except for a certain percentage of cases of incest) is not the result of sexual unfulfillment or desire. It is rather violence and exploitation based in anger and hostility toward the opposite sex. (Some cases of father-daughter incest have been known to result from sexual withholding by the mother, but the more common response would be the initiation of an adulterous affair by the father.)
- Each instance of sexual violation calls for the forgiveness of the person who committed the act, but the victims of molestation, incest and rape especially need to understand the nature of true forgiveness and forgive, no matter how much effort and how many tears it takes.
- A special danger for the sexually abused is the transference of hostility and resentment towards all members of the opposite sex. Sexually abused men are in danger of becoming abusers themselves.Sexually abused and exploited women have the potential of becoming emotionally abusive towards men themselves, and thus disrupting their own potential for marital satisfaction. Moreover, they may attempt to trap innocent men into sexually compromising situations, and sexually and/or emotionally abuse their own sons, especially as they enter adolescence. The victims of sexual molestation, incest, and rape are not the victims of the entire opposite sex, but rather a tragically dangerous individual of the opposite sex; all the members of the opposite sex are not the same as that person nor to be made scapegoats for that individual’s sins.
For those who have committed the sexual sins of adultery, fornication, homosexuality:
1. God holds you responsible to stop these sins.
If you are currently engaged in any of these activities, understand that these sexual sins will disqualify you from eternal life unless there is cessation and conquest, and that God’s Word holds before you the possibility of complete conquest. God’s Word says to cease the commission of the act and avoid the person with whom you are involved. Then you will need to work on the underlying thought processes that led to the commission of the act.
"Do you not know that [wrongdoers] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral . . . nor adulterers . . . nor homosexual offenders will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you [have washed yourselves], you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God" (I Corinthians 6:9-11).
"The acts of the [flesh] are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery . . . I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21).
2. Admit your personal responsibility for the compromise and breaking of the moral standards of the Word of God.
Even if you were the victim of the seduction of another person, you are responsible for allowing yourself to break your standards. If you were the primary seducer, you not only violated the moral standards of God’s Word but are responsible for your part in encouraging another person to do so.
3. There is no future for a "relationship" in which there are these types of sins unless there is already a Biblical basis for marriage.
This could only occur between two professed believers in Christ who have fallen into immorality during the process of dating and engagement.
- Immorality is not the proper initiation of a lifelong commitment of sexual faithfulness to one partner. Thus, the initiation of a sexual relationship, whether during dating or engagement, or the unscriptural practice of living together out of wedlock before marriage (these marriages fail 50% faster than others) is not the proper way. There will be issues of trust, moral convictions and commitment, and past guilt to be dealt with. Rather, seek to find a godly way of courtship and engagement.
- A believer in Christ who pursued a dating relationship with someone not a believer in Christ and fell into sexual immorality further compounds the sin by entering an unscriptural marriage."Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever?" (II Corinthians 6:14-15). This holds true even if the sex results in pregnancy, because a pregnancy is not sufficient reason for going against scriptural standards for marriage. The preferable alternative is adoption through a Christian agency.
- An adulterous affair on your part is no reason to break a marriage for involvement and marriage with the partner in adultery. Your present marital partner is God’s will for your marital life. The proper step is to break off the affair and seek to bring your present marriage into scriptural standards and a genuine resurgence of love. It can happen!
4. Take the scriptural steps to cleanse your conscience before God, even if there is no continued commission of the act and the incidents were far in the past.
You can push these past incidents away from your conscious thought but the memory of the sin will still be on your conscience and you will experience stunted spiritual growth until you do.
"He who conceals his sins does not prosper,
but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy"
5. Understand that the "love" and "romance" of an immoral sexual relationship is counterfeit love.
Sex can be pleasurable physically and provide a temporary emotional boost (the "pleasures of sin for a short time" — Hebrews 11:25), but at the cost of a defiled conscience, loss of awareness of God’s presence and love, and hardness of heart toward the moral consequences. Sex may gain associations that may impede the development of a healthy sexual relationship within marriage, such as an association of sexual fulfillment with risk and secrecy (excited misery) instead of moral compatibility, a clean conscience and lifelong love and commitment within the will of God. This is in addition to the physical consequences of sex outside of marriage, such as venereal disease, AIDS, and pregnancy.
6. Renewal of the mind is necessary.
The thought life must be cleansed. These areas will be the primary areas of difficulty at first, during the cessation of the relationship:
- Flashbacks of the sexual activity
- Continued desires for the wrong person.
The basic problem, though, is a wrong and unBiblical idea of love, romance and sexuality. Even if you cease the actual commission of the sin, you have not achieved real conquest until you have dealt with your faulty mental/emotional programming which is at the basis of the sinful behavior. Go through the teachings on renewal of the mind, the Biblical reasons for marriage, and the Song of Solomon. Fill your mind with God’s Word and with constructive activities; put together a Biblically based faith plan for your life, with Biblical goals. If you are not married, make yourself a candidate for a godly marriage.
5. Learn the Biblical standards of sexuality, and commit yourself to sexual fulfillment within the bonds of marriage.
Study the scriptures and Christian literature on the subject. Make the Biblical teachings your unshakeable moral convictions.
6. Do not attempt to conquer the sin on your own, if you are still actively engaged in the actual commission of the sin.
Seek a godly counselor, according to the standards previously given. Life dominating sins require exposure and confession before another, united prayer, and godly counsel for a far reaching and radical rearrangement of life.
7. If you suspect someone else, a brother or sister in Christ, of sexual sin, follow the scriptural steps of Matthew 18:19-20 and Galatians 6:1.
Speak privately to the person if he or she is the same sex, or with one other person, preferably a spiritual leader such as pastor or elder, if it is a person of the opposite sex, as the first step of dealing with this. Speak to no one else of your suspicions; much unnecessary and harmful gossip has resulted from believers who have spread their misunderstandings and suspicions too freely.
Jesus Christ is the only person who has lived a perfectly sinless life since the fall of mankind into sin, and this includes his sexual life as well. Marriage was not a part of God the Father’s plan for him, not because it was necessarily beneath him, nor because there might have been a lack of sexual capacity in his sinless human nature before the resurrection, but because his mission to suffer and die for the sins of the world precluded marital and family responsibilities. Indeed, if marriage had been part of the Father’s plan for him, it should go without saying that he would have been the only perfect husband there has ever been. But certainly Jesus demonstrates an example of perfect sexual self control for his followers, and his example needs careful consideration.
Sometimes believers in Christ have fallen into unnecessary inhibitions about physical affection toward another person, because of unnecessary sexual associations of physical touch. The absence of legitimate nonsexual physical affection, though, can also make a person unnecessarily vulnerable to sexual temptation. The real hunger may be for this kind of loving physical contact instead of sexual contact. The example of Jesus gives some guidelines for what would be scripturally permissible, even healthy and normal, among family, friends, and brothers and sisters in Christ.
1. Physical affection within the family:
Jesus probably participated in normal family affection within the household of Joseph. Besides Joseph and Mary, there were other brothers and sisters (Mark 6:3). Kisses between a brother and sister were a normal part of affection (Song of Solomon 8:1), and would mean no public embarassment. The reception of the prodigal son by the father with a hug and a kiss was probably a normal greeting of a beloved son after a substantial parting (Luke 15:20). The Biblical evidence has nothing to contradict a supposition that Jesus shared in a normal display of physical affection within his earthly family.
2. Physical affection toward small children:
Jesus embraced and prayed for the small children whom he called to him without embarassment or censure (Mark 10:16). Certainly physical affection with small children by those they know and trust is not inherently wrong and need have no sexual overtones.
3. Touch as a ministry of compassion:
One of the striking features of the healings of Jesus was the variety of ways that he touched people who needed healing. He touched the outcast, such as the leper (Mark 1:41); those who could receive no other communication from him, such as the deaf and dumb man (Mark 8:33) and the blind man (Mark 8:23); and a crippled woman (Luke 13:13). He could and often did heal by simply a word of command but he also chose to touch at times as an expression of his compassion for a suffering person. Likewise a believer’s ministry of compassion may also include a compassionate touch without sexual overtones.
4. Physical affection as a part of friendship:
Even among men a kiss could be a normal greeting (Luke 7:45, 22:47-48), and apparently Jesus also participated in this custom without embarassment. Nor was he embarrassed by the kisses of the repentant woman upon his feet (Luke 7:45; if anything was ever fodder for an overactive imagination, this was). After the resurrection, he also permitted the women to clasp his feet as a part of their worship for him (Matthew 28:10).
A special instance which needs consideration is the command of Jesus in John 20:17, which the King James Version translates as "Touch me not." The preferable translation is that of the New International Version: "Do not hold on to me." He is not forbidding touch or an embrace in itself as indecent but as inappropriate in view of the heavenly relationship which needs to be established instead of the previous earthly relationship.
In the friendships of Jesus, then, the physical contact and affection sometimes showed a recognition of his unique identity as the Son of God. He never violated the cultural norms of decency, of course, but still showed that there can be a totally innocent level of physical affection without embarassment or sexual overtones even between men and women, as an expression of affectionate friendship as well as family affection, Christian compassion and affection with children. The behavioral sciences have had some indications that there is a universal human hunger for nonsexual physical affection, and the actions of Jesus would seem to show his sensitivity to this aspect of human nature.
"BUT WHAT IF I GET PHYSICALLY AROUSED BY THIS PHYSICAL CONTACT? OR WHAT IF I UNINTENTIONALLY TURN SOMEONE ON?"
Physical sexual arousal can be an involuntary response to physical contact at times, when it is not initiated with the intention of receiving surreptitious sexual stimulation. This is not lust or sexual passion, since it does not include the intention of sexual stimulation but rather the expression of affection. It can be a symptom of inexperience at or of receiving insufficient nonsexual physical affection. A healthy family background of nonsexual physical affection and continued nonsexual physical affection will build a learned dissociation of nonsexual physical affection and sexual stimulation that will reduce the sensations of physical arousal.
A person who would initiate physical affection with someone to whom he or she is not married with the intention of receiving or giving surreptitious sexual stimulation has to deal with the Biblical teaching on lust. If one observes that another person is sexually stimulated by physical affection, though, one must allow for the possibility that this arousal was unintentional. Often the real hunger, even among those who would initiate physical affection for this purpose, is not for sexual stimulation but for nonsexual physical affection.
"WHAT ABOUT PHYSICAL AFFECTON FOR A DATING COUPLE? WHAT IF THAT LEADS TO SEXUAL AROUSAL? IS THERE STILL A JUSTIFICATION FOR HUGGING AND KISSING BEFORE ENGAGEMENT OR MARRIAGE?"
Hugging and kissing for a Christian dating couple is premarital physical affection.
1. Nonsexual premarital physical affection can form a pattern for nonsexual marital physical affection.
One of the common complaints in marriage is a lack of nonsexual physical affection, e.g., that the initiation of physical affection is too much a sexual overture. This might well be the result of this association of physical affection with sexual stimulation from a family situation where it was avoided for this reason, or a premarital dating situation where unrestrained physical affection led to sexual involvement. Marital hugging, kissing, handholding, etc. are the expression of affection for a lifelong companion, and not necessarily a sexual cue nor intended for sexual stimulation. A married couple can develop other sexual cues that will leave room for nonsexual physical affection that is not an immediate overture for sex. In a dating relationship through the engagement a healthy pattern of non sexual physical affection can develop which can carry on throughout the marriage.
2. The premarital physical affection should be restricted to genuine marital prospects.
Because hugging and kissing for a Christian couple in a dating relationship is premarital physical affection, it should be restricted to genuine marital prospects, and it should be the expression of a deepening commitment to each other that can and may blossom into the mutual decision of marriage.
3. Suggested limits: A godly Christian couple in a dating relationship can experience involuntary and mild sexual arousal during times of hugging and kissing. As long as this is kept to a low level by restricted time and contact, this is entirely manageable. The purpose of nonsexual physical affection in a premarital relationship is not sexual stimulation, but the expression of affection for a person whose friendship is deepening as a preparation for a lifetime companionship and an expression of the legitimate romantic interest that the Bible recognizes as a part of courtship (Genesis 29:18, 20, I Samuel 18:20). This enjoyment is entirely innocent when it is protected by a mutual agreement to wait until the wedding night for sexual involvement, mutually agreed limits and a personal commitment to God by each partner to keep it from becoming the basis for premarital sexual fantasies. Moreover, it should be in the context of a variety of wholesome dating activities.
"DIDN’T PAUL SAY THAT A MAN SHOULDN’T EVEN TOUCH A WOMAN? AND BECAUSE OF THAT, SHOULDN’T CHRISTIANS NOT HUG OR KISS ON DATES UNTIL THEY ARE ENGAGED OR MARRIED?"
What Paul actually meant was, "Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" (I Corinthians 7:1, NIV margin). The New International Version in the margin preserves the true meaning of the phrase. The traditional translation of "Touch a woman" in the King James Version is wrong on several counts.
- The literal meaning of the word translated "touch" is stronger, meaning to grasp or lay hold of.
- The phrase "touch a woman" is well known from both classical Greek sources (Plato, Aristotle, Archilochus) and the Greek Old Testament (Genesis 20:6, Proverbs 6:29) as a euphemism for sexual intercourse.
The context of Paul’s remark is his correction of the sexual immorality in Corinth in the preceding chapter and his instructions about the goodness of both celibate singleness and sexually active Christian marriage in chapter 7. His thought does not end at the end of verse 1! Rather, he is affirming the goodness of the Corinthians’ choice who decided to hold off their marriage during a time of persecution ("the present crisis" of 7:26), and of those who chose not to wait and were married or wished to be married in the midst of persecution.
It is an error in interpretation called overspecification to make Paul’s remark into a blanket statement forbidding all physical contact between dating Christians. Paul was clearly not speaking to that kind of situation.
1. Sexual Fulfillment and Satisfaction are Part of God’s Purpose for Marriage.
"Drink water from your own cistern,
running water from your own well.
Should your springs overflow in the streets,
your streams of water in the public squares?
Let them be yours alone,
never to be shared with strangers.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
A loving doe, a graceful deer —
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love"
The proper place of sexual fulfillment is marriage.
2. Sexual Cooperation in Marriage
"But since there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone, but also to her husband. In the same way the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self control" (I Corinthians 7:2-5).`
Sexual cooperation is part of marital cooperation. It is based upon mutual giving rather than mutual demands and exploitation.
3. Sexual Satisfaction and Romance in Marriage: Read the Song of Solomon; study it with a study guide.
Stephen Arterburn, Fred Stoeker and Mike Yorkey, Every Man’s Battle.
Neil Anderson, A Way of Escape: Freedom From Sexual Strongholds.
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Which one is it? Which one would I say is people who have been believers in Christ for long time are prone to the most? Is it a secret addiction like pornography? Is is a secret sin such as sexual or emotional affairs? Is is gossip and social guerilla warfare? I would say that it is none of the above, but the sin which I am thinking of may be a part of all of them. That sin is pride.
I believe that the tendency to pride is ignored primarily because it is an inward sin of thought and attitude first, a sin of the heart. It requires honest self appraisal rather than someone else pointing it out – and so many in the churches have been taught rightfully not to judge the hearts of others. Many believers who have followed the Lord for a long time gradually distance themselves from the kinds of outward sins that would mean social disapproval in the church. It is this very inward nature of this kind of pride that makes it both so prevalent and so deadly. Unfortunately, pride is at the root of virtually all sin complexes, sinful habits of thinking, speaking and acting, and addictive sins.
Pride, and its ally, stubbornness, are rarely treated as the deadly sins that they are in the preaching and teaching of the modern church, where sin is even explicitly mentioned.
Pride, in the form of stubborn self righteousness, prevents honest dealing with secret, addictive sins and more open relational sins. It’s often a large part of why breaking and broken relationships in the church seem stuck in concrete.
Pride, in the form of selfish ambition, draws believers to seek and trust in a position of leadership as a cover for and an escape from their sins.
Pride, in form of vanity, is the sin behind ‘male ego’, ‘female vanity’ and both male and female selfishness, and thus results in many broken hearts, volatile dating relationships and broken marriages.
Pride, in the form of protecting a false religious reputation, is the reason why there are lost men and women who continue in our churches for many years. They know the right words to say by listening to and repeating what they hear from others but cannot admit that they need genuine conversion. This admission then comes when they really do come to the point of genuine conversion.
It is the root of the folly and ruthlessness of adultescence and middle age.
Here is a brief survey of what the scriptures say about pride.
- It is totally contrary to the character and humility of Christ (Matthew 11:29, Philippians 2:1-11) which is the attitude that God wants from the believer.
- It is contrary to Christlike love (I Corinthians 13:4-5).
- It makes a believer insensitive to the leading of God by the Word through the Spirit (Proverbs 10:17, 12:15, 15:10,32).
- It makes a believer susceptible to exploitation by others through flattery, and self deception and self seduction in the path of sin through self flattery (Psalm 36:3 , Galatians 6:7. Obadiah 3).
- It is the road to humiliations galore, but its opposite, humility, is the road to genuine respect and honor. “A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor" (Proverbs 29:23, see also Proverbs 16:18, 18:12, 29:23).
- It makes a believer susceptible to false teaching (I Timothy 6:3-4).
- It is the source of contention among believers (Proverbs 13:10, 28:25).
- It makes a person susceptible to demonic influence through seducing lies (Isaiah 14:12ff, I Timothy 3:6).
With the lack of preaching and teaching on the spiritual, psychological and interpersonal consequences of pride, it is no wonder that strongly narcissistic tendencies have taken hold of more and more in modern US society – including many in the professing church
All scripture references taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION, copyright 1973, 1978 by the International Bible Society and used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
“The popular notion that the first obligation of the church is to spread the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth is false. Her first obligation is to be spiritually worthy to spread it.” – A. W. Tozer, Of God and Men.
The path for many individuals and churches to being spiritually worthy to spread the gospel will be through revival and spiritual awakening.
Revival is the restoration of the life of God to a failing and dying church; it is the gift of new life and strength to faltering and discouraged believers; it is the renewal of backsliding believers and churches.
"A ‘Revival of Religion’ presupposes a declension . . . It presupposes that the Church is sunk down in a backslidden state, and a revival consists of the return of the church from her backslidings" (C. G. Finney).
Spiritual awakening is the when the power of God reaches beyond a revived church to the surrounding unbelievers with extraordinary conviction of sin. Many extremely degraded unbelievers may then become remarkably transformed by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Revival and spiritual awakening then are the work of God through the Holy Spirit, in response to prayer and his Word. It has been his way of reaching many people and communities and blessing many.
God promises the power and working of his Holy Spirit in response to the continued prayers of his people: ". . . how much more will your Father give from heaven the Holy Spirit to those who keep on seeking him?" (Luke 11:13). Prayer, along with the preaching of the Word, has been the avenue that God has used to send revival throughout the centuries. In preparation for revival God has often given a burden of prayer to some few who will not let go of God in prayer until they receive the promised blessing. Therefore let us make it our burden to seek God together for revival in our churches and spiritual awakening in our communities and our nation.
"A revival may be expected whenever Christians are found willing to make the sacrifices necessary to carry it on" (C. G. Finney).
- Personal Purification: seek a clear conscience before God and man; confess to God the sins against him and to men the offenses against them. Ask God to give you his view of your heart and conscience (Psalm 19:14, 139:23-24).
- Personal Consecration: we are responsible to Jesus Christ for everything in our lives; he must be Lord of all or he is not Lord at all! (Romans 14:7-12, Luke 14:25-35). Therefore dedicate all that you are and all that you have to God through Jesus Christ (Romans 6:11-13, 19, 12:1-2).
- Personal Prayer for the Filling of the Holy Spirit: God commands us to be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18). Seek him to fulfill his promise, and to fill you with the Spirit, for his glory, that you might be a witness to Jesus Christ (Acts 1:8).
I’ve discussed with others and heard some prominent evangelical leaders such as Michael Easley mention the decline in effective preaching today. Most preaching that I’ve been hearing lately tends to lack an adequate introduction, an adequate exegetical foundation, a confident, passionate and loving delivery, an effective organization, a clear explanation of the gospel or a clear anointing of the Holy Spirit. I don’t share this to be critical but to call for a return to effective preaching in modern evangelical churches. Here are the common problems that I’ve seen.
The introduction needs to give some reason to pay attention to the sermon and a brief but accurate background on the passage. Sometimes it’s no more than, “Open up your Bibles to <Book> <chapter> <verses>. Now, <first verse>.” If it’s a series, there may be no connection to previous sermons in the series with this approach. Even more, it does not hook the casual or indifferent hearers into listening to the Word. For many, this kind of introduction comes across as dry, passionless and routine. What they may hear is, “Prepare to be bored with a lecture.” This comes mostly from pastors who have been taught that expository preaching is this kind of verse by verse running commentary and interpretation. If they would look at the great preaching of Christian history, such as Jesus in in synagogues of Nazareth and Capernaum (Luke 4, John 6), Peter on Pentecost (Acts 2), Paul in the the synagogue and in the Areopagus (Acts 13, 18), Ambrose, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, and on and on, they would find that this modern Targum style of preaching only came about in the past generation or so. This Targum style was in fact more the style of the rabbis up to the time of Jesus. The example of Jesus and the apostles, and the style afterwards, was quite different than this kind of verse by verse running commentary, and no one could effectively argue that it was less Biblical.
The other style of introduction tends to be the constant recounting of some kind of personal experience of the pastor, whether recent or in the past. Certainly there is a need for the preacher to disclose his personal experiences in the pulpit as illustrations and in introductions, but this tends to treat the introduction as part of a running blog. Moreover, this seems to be a part of an overemphasis on personal disclosure and opinion in the sermon today. Often there are much more effective introductions to a sermon. Some brief stories or pithy quotes often do. Not only does this kind of introduction tend to focus too much on the pastor’s opinions and experiences, it also tends toward the strange subjectivity and historical isolationism of much of modern evangelicalism. Christian history is full of strong, effective and relevant illustrations that can serve as introductions or pepper the message with illustration throughout. More variety in the introduction can also reinforce the understanding that my spiritual experience as a believer is not my own little solipsistic thing, but is something that I share with millions across the world and throughout time, and that there is much that I can learn from other believers who share the same Lord and the same Bible.
For the introduction then, it comes down to the time honored method: hook the people into listening, and introduce the passage. Avoid making it a weekly display of what happened to you this past week, or your commentary on local, national or world events of the past week. Give the people a reason to listen, and you may gain more attentive hearers from the beginning.
Inadequate exegetical foundation
There are many sermons that I’ve sat through from pastors whom I know have a Bible college or seminary education, and whom I know have heard many fine Biblically based sermons over the years, but who show very little evidence of having opened a commentary or done any digging into the meaning of the passage. Some even have seemed to be parroting the notes in the NIV Study Bible when they give background or interpretation of the passage. I honestly wonder whether any who had any education in Greek or Hebrew go back to the original Greek and Hebrew text on any more than an occasional basis. For anyone who already has an NIV Study Bible in the service, or who has done any previous digging into the passage on his or her own, this comes across as extraordinary carelessness and lack of seriousness in study of the Word of God and preparation for preaching the Word of God.
It’s hard to say what the source of this is. I know that few in this situation actually have ever had the time demands that would prevent adequate exegetical preparation. My conjecture is that these individuals may never have really developed the kind of study skills during their Bible college and seminary education that carried through into being able to exegete a passage in sermon preparation, or that their education never connected effective exegesis and sermon preparation. They probably do not, or may not have received the suggestion, to read a Biblical or systematic theology text, a chapter at a time, annually or biannually, to keep their theologies in check and in growth. I tend to think that there’s probably also a failure to read and study the Bible consistently on their own for their own walk with Christ as well. With the preaching of serious exegetes such as Michael Easley and Chuck Swindoll available on the radio and elsewhere, my belief is that congregations notice when there is an inadequate exegetical foundation on a regular basis in the sermons of their pastors. And when this happens, I think that they turn even more to preaching and teaching in the media and Christian books to get Biblically based preaching and teaching.
Pretty much every guide to sermon preparation stresses the need for blocking off time to study the passage for the sermon and to prepare the sermon. This was in fact more difficult in previous years when there were many more churches holding Sunday morning and evening services, and the sermon for the evening service was normally different than the sermon for the morning service. C.H. Spurgeon would normally begin his study for the next weeks sermon on the afternoon or evening of the Sunday before. I myself would often arrive several hours before the evening service to begin the exegesis of the passages for the next week’s sermons. It’s never too early to let a passage begin to flow through the preacher so that it can flow out in the sermon.
I think that putting in the time for exegesis, to come up with the message of the passage, will also tend to basing the weekly sermon on shorter passages of scripture. Occasionally it is legitimate to preach on a whole chapter, but generally a pastor who is putting his time in to understand a passage will rarely base a sermon on a selection of scripture beyond a paragraph, or several verses, or even, in some cases, a single verse. He will discover that there is more material to communicate effectively in briefer passages than in skimming over larger swaths of scripture.
Lack of effective organization
This is the pattern that I’m seeing more and more in the preaching of the Word. First, there’s some kind of introduction. Next comes the running commentary on the passage from beginning to end. Finally, the preacher attempts to apply the passage in a long and drawn out conclusion. It’s often not easy to find the connection between the passage and the long drawn out conclusion. Even more, the preacher often rambles away from the passage, and inserts his own opinions and experiences. Sometimes it becomes more of a running personal commentary on the state of the congregation, on the lives of unnamed individuals and on evangelicalism as a whole.
This pattern reinforces two unfortunate tendencies. The first is the seeming tendency of some pastors to see themselves as having a pastoral authority outside the guidelines of the Word of God, to take up an air of self importance, and to give an undue weight to their own ideas, experiences and directions apart from the Word of God. This can often be seen in the manner of the preacher as well when he is spiraling downward from being a preacher of the gospel to a religious blowhard. The second tendency is that of the undue subjectivity, personal self importance, spiritual self absorption and scriptural disconnection and dissonance of belief and conduct of modern believers, which is reinforced when they see the same tendencies in the preacher.
Moreover, sermons in this pattern of introduction, extended commentary and extended application tend to apply primarily the last verse or verses in the passage in the extended application. In these cases it seems like the introduction and the scriptural passage are like more an introduction to what the pastor really wanted to say. The problem, though, comes up where there are great and significant truths and commands which appear earlier in the passage, and which are left out in when the passage is applied. Much of the potential benefit and, indeed, much of God’s message through the passage is lost when this happens.
Almost every guide to preaching stresses the need to outline the passage for the sermon. It’s part of understanding the message of the passage and providing an organized structure for the sermon, and this is why a good outline comes from Bible reading and exegesis. It provides a way for the preacher to expound on and apply the entire passage for the congregation. But even more, it also forms boundaries for the sermon, to keep the preacher within the bounds of scripture. It avoids the non-sequiturs that surprise, annoy and irritate the congregation when the pastor steps outside scripture and begins to assert authority in ways and matters in which scripture has not given him authority.
Lack of a clear explanation of the gospel
Many, many sermons leave anyone in the congregation who is not saved with no clear understanding of the gospel. The assumption seems to be that everyone who hears has received eternal life through faith in Christ. This is by no means a safe assumption. For instance, I know of several instances of believers who faked conversion for years by simply listening for and repeating the accepted catchphrases. It was an unexpected shock to many when they really did come to powerful conversions when God dealt with the deceit of their lives and they stopped faking it. There may also be first time and occasional attenders who have not genuinely put their faith in Christ for salvation as well. It’s possible for a person to attend the services of many churches for an extended period and never hear an explanation of the gospel, of the death and resurrection of Christ, and repentance and faith in him to receive eternal life.
This does not mean that there needs to be an invitation in every sermon, though. Rather, one of the subpoints of the conclusion of the sermon can legitimately be an explanation of the gospel, and it’s usually not hard to tie this into the application of practically any Biblical passage, even if the passage is from the Old Testament. What is necessary to express is that gospel is the primary message of the Bible to everyone today, and it’s fundamental to understanding and applying any truth or command in any passage. It can then be underlined that any teaching from the Word of God in the sermon will ultimately be useless for anyone who has not taken this fundamental step to receive eternal life through faith in Christ.
If the passage already contains substantial content on the Biblical gospel, this could be explained both for the believer, for assurance and depth in the gospel message, and as necessary content for the unbeliever. One the reasons that many believers do not witness is, I believe, that after they receive salvation, they do not hear the gospel preached often enough and clearly enough to instill the message in them so that it becomes a constant part of their lives.
Lack of a clear anointing of the Holy Spirit
I’ve read how the power of the Holy Spirit seemed to go like an electric current through those who listened to Evan Roberts at the time of the Welsh revival. D.L. Moody spoke about preaching the same sermons before and after he was filled with the Holy Spirit, and the power of the Holy Spirit made all the difference. I’ve wondered whether modern congregations would recognize or sit still for the kind of Spirit anointed preaching of a George Whitefield, or a John Wesley. The content in these sermons may be familiar but when the power of the Holy Spirit is there, God is putting his life changing and life transforming power into the preacher and through the sermon into the congregation. There is a life changing power all out of proportion to the content itself. This is the kind of Spirit anointed preaching which is most prominent in a time of revival, but which can be evident throughout the ministry of a man who seeks it regularly, week by week.
One of the things which both astonished and grieved me was the number of my seminary classmates who could not attest to having been filled with the Holy Spirit and who knew the power of the Holy Spirit in their preaching. Some later came to realize that they could not continue to try to minister in their own power and ability any longer. It takes putting in the time to get alone with God and pray passionately for God’s power to come through the preaching of his Word. It takes the humility to become a clean vessel for the Holy Spirit through confession, repentance and, in some cases, restitution to others of finances and reputation when they have been robbed of either. The lives of men and women who come to hear the Word of God are worth this kind of personal investment in seeking to be filled with the Holy Spirit for each and every time you preach the Word of God.
Lack of confident, passionate and loving delivery
There’s an old expression that it’s a sin to bore people with the Word of God. Much of this may come when the preacher himself does not really seem to have much of a reason on why he is preaching on the current passage other than its place in the book on which he is preaching. Or he may not seem to have much of a reason for preaching itself other than the place in the order of service where it says, ‘Sermon.’ Or, he seems to be more delivering a sermon as a part of the routine of the job of being a pastor. So, because the preacher does not seem to have much of a reason for his preaching than it being a part of the routine, his preaching lacks confidence and passionate delivery. He is a man bringing a talk, and not a messenger with a message.
Unfortunately, though, the delivery of the sermon may also be confident and passionate in the wrong way. An irritated, annoyed and resentful pastor will display these characteristics in his preaching. In other words, his preaching will not be loving. It will rather contain spiteful jabs at individuals within the congregation and mocking parodies of people and ideas with which he disagrees. It’s also unfortunate that there are often a number of people in the congregation who find this entertaining but a regular diet of this feeds divisiveness and contempt for others within the congregation. Both the pastor and elders of the church need regularly to watch for when this happens. For the pastor, simply listening to himself as recorded from time to time will help to keep this in check.
Passion for the message of the passage comes from understanding, believing and living it. It comes from the power of the Holy Spirit. Christlike passion therefore will come from letting the living Word of God speak through his written Word in the heart of the man who has let its message fill him.
This morning I looked up on the Internet to see if there were any web sources of the classic book on preaching which influenced generations of preachers in America: John A. Broadus’s On the Preparation and Delivery of Sermons. For the most part it is necessary to purchase the book to get the full text, since Google books has a partial, but still substantial, preview. I think that a return to the time honored patterns of preaching would do more for the spiritual health and growth of our churches than most of the programs and fads that come up every few years.
Moreover, I think that there needs to be a heightened awareness of the awesome responsibility and difficulty of effective preaching. It’s far too easy to take it too lightly and to invest too little of oneself in preparation for preaching nowadays. It’s also far too easy to underestimate the growth in knowledge of and personal application of the Word of God and of prayer that is necessary in the years during and after Bible college and seminary to become an effective preacher. For instance, it’s almost comical to read how inept Billy Graham was during his first sermons, yet God honored his prayers and persistence. It’s often forgotten that the man whom God used to preach the gospel to more people than any other person in the history of the world was not an instant success and had a prolonged period of struggle and learning. The same is true of many who later went on to become strong and effective preachers. But for those who wish to glorify God in their lives and ministries, it worth the time and effort.