The word “immorality” does not appear in the original King James Version (KJV) of the Bible. Some have deplored this omission and the use instead of archaic terms, such as fornication1, which is not readily understood in the modern context. The English Standard Version (ESV) corrects this difficulty by using the word “immorality” forty-one times to describe behavior that is specifically repugnant to the Lord God. The Apostle Paul tells us:
“For this is the will of God,…abstain from sexual immorality;” (1Thess. 4:3 ESV2)
The sexual revolution
The sexual revolution that took part in the latter part of the 20th Century, fostered by the invention of the birth control pill, and the ready availability of legal abortion, are elements that made promiscuous sexual relationships more commonly accepted in society. The endless reports of sexual immorality in society, as a whole, was exemplified by the general acceptance of the multiple marriages, or live-in relationships, of public figures ranging from entertainment personalities and sports figures to political leaders. One infamous basketball star even boosted of having known intimately 20,000 women, and this didn’t seem to incite any serious public approbation. The specter of sexually transmitted diseases, especially the possibility of contracting AIDS, slowed this immoral march for a time, but at least in the western industrialized nations the progress of medical treatments has largely alleviated these dangers. So, to a great extent, the explosive pace of immorality has resumed with vengeance in the 21st century. With many universities having moved to co-ed dormitories and the general blind eye college administrators seem to have towards sexual immorality — their attitude appears to be one of having much bigger issues to worry about, such as whether or not the school has a winning football team! For those of us born in the dark ages when men and woman lived in separate buildings on campus, where members of the opposite sex were not allowed anywhere except the lounge areas of the opposites dormitory and where housemothers zealously protected the virtue of the female students under their care — the current climate on campus is a total, unabashed shock. Even more troubling is that the sexual revolution has spread to high school where a recent extensive survey determined that 40% of young woman in America ages 15 through 19 have had intimate sexual relationships.3 Now is this a serious problem, or is it not?
From my observations on a college campus, I have found that most parents seem resigned to the sexually immoral climate these days, and simply hope that their child takes proper precautions so as not to cause a pregnancy. (Some minority of parents may even give their children more explicit advice to protect themselves, but this still implies that they are implicitly accepting the sexual climate as a fact without condemning its promiscuous immorality.) I have heard some young
people in our community say to me: Just what sort of behavior does God consider as being sexually immoral? After all we have politicians seeking Presidential nominations that have had multiple marriages and still claimed to be running on a platform of “Christian values”. I have also heard it said that promiscuity is a not considered a crime, and if the act is between two consenting adults, why should it be anyone’s business what they do in the privacy of their relationship. Of course, in saying this the “anyone” who is being left out of this equation is the Lord God! The notion that sexually immoral behavior is first and foremost a sin against God is not appreciated in modern society, but it certainly should be amongst us regardless of our age. That this is the case can be illustrated by the behavior of Joseph when Potiphar’s wife was attempting to seduce him. This seduction was intense, we are told: “…she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her”. Joseph’s spiritual character is wonderfully revealed in his refusal to give in to temptation when he said: “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9-10). It might be well for all of us to keep these words of Joseph in our hearts and minds if we are ever placed in a situation where peer pressure or simple lack of moral constraint might tempt us to do otherwise.
For a young person to indulge in immorality with the moral climate so prevalent today places them in jeopardy of not being able to eventually have a happy marriage. The apostle Paul was keenly aware of this danger especially since the moral climate of the prevalent pagan culture of the 1st Century A.D. was in many ways parallel to our society today. He exhorted his beloved friend Timothy to:
“… flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim. 2:22).
The divorce society
The problem of pervasive immorality permeates all ages not just the teenage and college cohorts. At one university where I worked approximately 50% of the nearly 500 faculty and staff of my particular college were divorced, and among the most prevalent causes leading to the breakdown in the marital relationship was infidelity! While the statistics aren’t this outrageous for Christadelphians, the fact remains that marital infidelity has slowly but surely crept into our community with tragic consequences not only for the individuals involved, but also causing painful collateral damage to family, children and the Ecclesia. What are the implications of today’s loose morality with respect to being capable of having a happy marriage?
The Scriptures leave us no doubt with how the Lord God views sexual immorality:
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Rev 21:8 , also 22:15).
This is a straightforward, unequivocal statement — if one is sexually immoral then that person will not be in the Kingdom. That makes it a “first principle” though not explicitly stated in our Statement of Faith! We need to appreciate the seriousness of this fact and not accept the modern world’s denial of the crime — in God’s sight sexual immorality is, in effect, a capital offense.
Now it is evident that temptation to infidelity is nothing new and it has caused even the greatest of men to stumble. We read of King David:
“David arose from his couch and was walking on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; and the woman was very beautiful”( 2Sam: 11:2).
We all know the story; David’s passion led to sexual immorality with Bathsheba and eventually made him complicit in the murder of Uriah. David paid a terrible price for his infidelity and sadly didn’t even seem to recognize his crime until the Lord God strikingly pointed it out to him via the prophet Nathan. This is one of the most distressing features of sexual immorality — the self-justification and obfuscation that leads a person to do it with almost no awareness of the seriousness of their actions. At the time of occurrence they are instead being caught up in the passion of the moment.
Dissatisfaction in the marital relationship can drive a person, be it the man or the woman to seek, as it were, greener pastures. It is not at all unlikely that one can imagine finding a partner who is prettier, richer, more considerate, and more in harmony with our own dreams and ambitions. Sometimes it is not even a drive, but metaphorically a short-walk! It is the engine that propels the multibillion-dollar pornography business.4 This whole new form of virtual infidelity has ruined many a marriage. This industry preys upon human weaknesses and dissatisfactions and the apostle John clearly stigmatized such behavior when he wrote:
“For all that is in the world — the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions — is not from the Father but is from the world”(1John 2:16 ).
We should be able to perceive that the application of the words of our Lord Jesus Christ recorded in Matthew apply precisely to the modern forms of virtually infidelity epitomized in pornography:
“… ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:27, 28).
Pornography — a modern problem
Pornography has become commonplace, and accepted as a legal expression of free speech in the United States. So it is not surprising that most people in the world generally place no stigma on it as long as it doesn’t involve minors. Nevertheless, we should not confuse the law of God with the law of man! What the Bible is teaching is that high moral standards in marriage relationships include not having imagined infidelity, as well as actual physical unfaithfulness. The reason for this must be clear in our minds, because such virtual infidelity would exactly parallel our unfaithfulness to God. If we only worshipped the Lord outwardly, but inwardly resented that relationship, our vows to God would be as hollow as our vows to our marriage partner if we harbored lust for others in our hearts.
In times past we were insulated from the pervasiveness of porn by it being difficult to find and access. In previous generations most youths were not really aware of it until well into their adult years.5 But today what once was hidden and on the fringes of society is now on every newsstand. It also obtains access into our very homes via the cable or satellite TV and of course the omnipresent Internet. Woman also have been known to get caught up in sexual fantasies, but of a slightly different and possibly more benign variety, typified by the multibillion dollar romance novel industry which churns out more than 6,000 volumes a year. The trend unfortunately is to make such romance novels more and more explicit. Some of the top selling books on recent bestseller lists apparently fall into this category judging from reviews in leading newspapers. While still nowhere near as offensive as hard-core porn, this genre still is capable of becoming an addiction that detracts from the marital relationship by creating a fantasy world that a husband would find impossible to emulate.6 What to do about it? The Lord Jesus Christ provided us guidance if we are tempted to yield to this situation:
“If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell” (Matt. 5:29).7
The Lord here is talking metaphorically, but in the present discussion the analogy is especially apt. As with any addiction it is generally hard for a person to cut off the temptation stone cold without outside help. Most Ecclesias would not have the resources to deal with such a personal issue, and the danger of gossip would surely make almost everyone reluctant to discuss it with most other brethren and sisters. There are community resources available in most places in North American that specialize in dealing with a person’s addiction to visual and written immoral sexual fantasies, and they can provide a way to deal with and control these impulses. A search of the Internet yielded several in my hometown that are available locally and several Christadelphian resources are also available on-line that are worth consulting.8 Another possible avenue for seeking help would be to have a confidential discussion with one’s family doctor as to sources of expertise in this area. Finally, some Ecclesias in North America have a standing relationship with general counseling resources in the community, that either can help directly or would be knowledgeable to make appropriate referrals. I would urge anyone who suspects they have a problem in this area to recognize it immediately and get help sooner rather than later. Don’t turn a blind eye to the issue like King David did, because it is unlikely that the Lord will send you a prophet like Nathan to point the finger. More likely it is an issue that we need to face ourselves or have a loved one hurt by our lack of appreciation for the damage it may cause.
Any chance for a happy marriage stands a very good chance of being dashed to pieces if sexual immorality raises its ugly head in the relationship. Unfaithfulness, virtual or physical, is a serious breach in the bond of trust between a couple that is difficult to reconcile. If the condition is recognized, faced and dealt with via appropriate counseling it is possible for the offending party to control their future actions. The assurance that it will never happen again is a difficult thing to do and moreover may be hard for the injured partner to accept. However, we should never forget that forgiveness is also a “first principle”. It is the only phrase that our Lord Jesus Christ elaborates upon after teaching his disciples how to pray:
“… if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matt 6:15).
The Scriptures teach that there is only one sin that is unforgiveable by our Lord and that is blasphemy against the Holy Spirit (Mark 3:28-29). Surely, if the Lord God could forgive King David his sexual immorality, it is possible for us to receive this as a lesson in forgiveness ourselves. I would pray that none of my readers would face such a serious difficulty in their marriages, but if it does happen let the one who has offended repent and find the counseling necessary to permanently cease to cause such offense. Let the offended party find it in their heart to ultimately forgive and try their best to restore the relationship to the state of happiness that the surely they once had when they first fell in love.
John C. Bilello (Ann Arbor, MI)
Next: How to have happy intimate relationships in a marriage.
1. The word fornication appears 40 times in the KJV and not at all in the English Standard Version (ESV). The KJV uses it to describe a plethora of actions including idol worship, adultery, promiscuity, and physical or moral unfaithfulness.
2. All references are from the ESV.
3. From a Center for Disease Control (CDC), report 2010, as cited by the Associated Press June 3, 2010.
4 . “As an industry, it has a worldwide value of $57 billion and a $12 to $14 billion value in America. To put this number into context, this industry grosses more money than professional football, baseball and basketball combined in the United States.” Quoted from the Iowa State Daily, Ames, Iowa.
5. OK — I’m ancient being 73 years old when this is written! The fact is that growing up to adulthood in the 1950’s the availability and access to porn was so remote that neither myself, nor any of my college peers as nerdy engineering students thought about it. Our biggest concern was trying to understand that new-fangled theory called quantum mechanics. The critical point here is that the incredible explosion in availability today makes the temptation infinitely more difficult to ignore than when I was a youth.
6. It is a fact that men and woman have very different reactions towards visual porn. It also may seem to the readers that my equating “Romance” novel addiction to visual porn as a stretch. However, this is not original with me, but an analogy drawn from numerous discussions with brothers and sisters and from consulting sociological research findings. For more information on this see the article on the website: http://www.netnanny.com/learn_center/article/122
7. In Matthew 5:29 — The ESV and KJV word “hell” is translated from the Greek word “Gehenna” (See the Diaglott), which as most Christadelphians know was the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem where perpetual fires were kindled. Hence, Jesus is telling us to throw out our immorality into the incinerator. A fit image for what to do with pornography!
8 . See for example, http://cycresource.com/ and http://www.caringnetwork.ca/