Contact Us

  • Phone: (509) 747-3007
  • Email:
  • Mosaic Address:
    606 West 3rd Ave., Spokane, WA 99201

Service Times

  • Sunday:  8:30 am, 10 am, 11:30 am
  • Infant through 5th grade Sunday School classes available
  • FREE Parking!



Back To List

Feb 02, 2014

Sanctifying Sexuality, Part 2

Sanctifying Sexuality, Part 2

Passage: 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: I Thessalonians--Empowered Expeditions

Keywords: sexuality, sanctification, sex, singleness, marriage


This message continues with the treatment of how sexuality, specifically our view of singleness and marriage, can be used by God to make us holy, sanctified and righteous.


Sanctifying Sexuality

I Thessalonians 4:1-8

February 2, 2014


No show of hands on this question, but if you had to choose today between being single or being married the rest of your life, which would you choose?

            The irony of this is that there are probably a fair amount of married people who, if they were free enough to be really honest about that question, would probably say, “Single!” while a fair amount of singles would probably say, “Married!” Ah, the ironies of life!

            Fact is, we live in a culture which is pretty well split right down the middle when it comes to adults and singleness or marriage. 50% of American adults are single today, an all-time high in our history, and 50% are married. What that says is that marriage is on the decline…or so it would seem. Here are the hard facts:

  • The “leading marriage indicators”, empirical descriptions of marriage health and satisfaction in the U.S. have been in steady decline the last 40 years.
  • The divorce rate is twice what it was in 1960.
  • The marriage rate has declined 22% since 1960 (from 72% to 50).
  • 2 out of 5 children are born to unmarried parents today.
  • More than half of all couples live together before getting married now whereas virtually no one did in 1960.
  • By their late 30s, 60% of women will have lived with a partner.
  • 45% of marriages end in divorce nationwide.


These realities have radically changed what our culture and the church thinks about marriage and thus practices about singleness. There is a widespread belief that most marriages are unhappy. If 45% are so miserable they divorce, then there must be a whole lot of the remaining 55% who aren’t happy in their marriages either. But I digress.

Today’s text of Scripture in I Thess. 4 talks a lot about singleness, about sex and about sexuality. But before we jump into that, it’s time for single people and married people to do a little talking to each other. So grab or 4 other people around you, try to have at least one person in your group from each of those two camps (married or single) and discuss this question:

  • What are some of the most difficult challenges singles face in the experience of singleness?
  • What are some of the most difficult challenges married people face in marriage?

After you introduce yourselves if you don’t know everyone in your group, jot down as many responses to those two questions as you can in about 2 minutes.



[Ask for responses.]

Hopefully you can see from this little exercise a few things about the married and single states:

1.)    They both can share similar challenges. For example, while loneliness is probably one of the major challenges of the single state, there are many married people who are very lonely as well, though it may be a different kind of lonliness.

2.)    Our cultural view of what is important or should be expected comes out in what we think is difficult about each state. For example, if we think marriage should always be a romantic binge fueled by emotional intimacy, you will probably say that heart-pounding exciting romance is a challenge in your marriage. Our American cultural view of marriage today is very different from what it was 40 years ago. And it is very different from what it has been for centuries in the Western world.

That is significant because how we view marriage will impact how we view singleness.


The rather negative view of marriage that has arisen over the past 40 years in America is not the norm. “A recent report by the University of Virginia’s National Marriage Project concluded the following: “Less than a third of the [high school senior] girls and only slightly more than a third of the boys seem to believe…that marriage is more beneficial to individuals than the alternatives. Yet this negative attitude is contrary to the available empirical evidence, which consistently indicates the substantial personal as well as social benefits of being married compared to staying single or just living with someone.” [Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, pp. 19-20]

            Speaking of empirical evidence, a 2010 Pew Center report concluded that 84% of married people are very satisfied with their family lives, compared to 71% of those living with a partner, 66% of those who are single, and 50% of those who are divorced or separated. In fact, the study found that on average unhappily married adults who divorced were no happier than unhappily married adults who stayed married (when rated on any of the 12 separate measures of psychological well-being). Two-thirds of those unhappy marriages out there will become happy within 5 years IF people stay married and do not get divorced.” [Keller, p. 19.]


So WHY all the pessimism? Some are suggesting that there has been a massive and unrealistic change in our culture’s understanding of the purpose of marriage. Previously marriage was seen as a permanent contractual union designed for the sake of mutual love, procreation, and protection.

That attitude has given way to the modern model of marriage as primarily a sexual and emotional contract designed for the gratification of the individual parties. (Which is one reason the mantra “If two people love each other, why can’t they get married?” has gained so much traction in the gay marriage debate today.)

            Marriage used to be a public institution for the common good, and now it is a private arrangement for the satisfaction of individuals. In short, marriage used to be about us, but now it is about me.

The roots of that shift go all the way back to the Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries. Prior to this, marriage was viewed as a social and religious contract, a solemn bond designed to help each party subordinate individual impulses and interest in favor of the relationship and the strength of society. Lifelong marriage was seen as creating the only kind of social stability in which children could grow and thrive…and that was one of the primary purposes of marriage—procreation and raising of the next generation.

Little wonder, therefore, that as our view of what marriage is supposed to be has changed, the birth rate has plunged and the divorce and single-parent stats have climbed. Marriage has been redefined as finding emotional and sexual fulfillment and self-actualization, not something to be entered into to fulfill responsibilities to God or society. Neither is marriage seen as a way of creating character and community but as a way to reach personal life goals. The happy marriage is, as one author puts it, “The ‘Me’ Marriage.” Tara Parker-Pope writes, “…in modern relationships, people are looking for a partnership and they want partners who make their lives more interesting…[who] help each of them attain valued goals.” [Quoted in Keller, p. 22.]


But that’s not all that has changed about our view of marriage. A 2002 study by the National Marriage Project entitled “Why Men Won’t Commit,” the authors report that there is clear evidence today that men are “commitment-phobic.” Among numerous reasons discovered, one is rather striking: many men said they would not marry until they found the “perfect soul mate,” or someone very “compatible.”

Just WHAT does that mean??? Well, probably not what some of us think of when we think of a soul-mate. When Sandy and I fell in love, we thought we would have a great marriage because we had similar values in life, liked to do a lot of the same things, enjoyed meaningful conversation as well as meaningful quiet, and thought each other were great.

Nowadays, first and foremost “a perfect soul mate” means physical attractiveness and sexual chemistry. If you don’t believe me, read the studies on divorced people. One of the leading causes of divorce today is the lack of great sex! The “hot” factor cools and the body factor becomes boring.

But today’s idea of “compatibility” trumps even that in many men. By compatibility, many young adults today mean “a willingness to take me as I am…and not change me.” The notion is that if you are truly compatible, you won’t have to change. Oh, the naiveté of youth!

And then there is the god of “freedom” in our modern culture. Many of the males in modern research are adamant that their relationships with women should not curtail their freedom at all. So men prefer cohabitation because it gives them regular access to domestic and sexual benefits while allowing them to lead a more independent life and continue to look around for a better partner.

Then there is this change in what is valued in men. For most of Western history, the primary and most valued characteristic of manhood by women was self-mastery. A man who indulged in excessive eating, drinking, sleeping or sex—who failed to ‘rule himself’—was considered unfit. Sexual restraint rather than sexual prowess was once, not that long ago, considered the measure of a man.


The problem with these views of marriage are that they are paradoxical. They demand too much and too little from people.

In today’s culture you are looking for someone who is already perfect, not someone with whom you can grow and change through an imperfect life. One author calls this “apocalyptic romance”—a belief that romance can deliver what only God can. That false god will eventually melt down or blow up in our face. Spiritually healthy adults know that marriage and family can provide some things…like love, support, security and a little romance. But for things like meaning in life, hope for the future, a moral compass and self-identity, we will have to look to God and the afterlife. We’ve come to look at sex and romance to give us what we used to get from faith in God…and will, in reality, only get from God.


Additionally, the contemporary view of marriage wants the benefits of lives committed unconditionally to each other but the freedom to fly like a single. The “Me-Marriage” seems so liberating. Yet the result has been a steep decline in marriage and a sense of hopelessness because it cannot deliver the ideal. The Me-Marriage requires two completely well-adjusted, happy individuals, with very little in the way of emotional neediness of their own or character flaws that need a lot of work. The problem with that??? Nobody out there is like that! A marriage based not on self-denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low-or-no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you. Good luck with that!


C.S. Lewis addresses the modern god of “freedom” from marriage bonds in his book, The Four Loves, when he says,

Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket—safe, dark, motionless, airless—it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation.” [Quoted by Keller, p. 31.]


So what’s the answer? Reality.

The truth is, we never marry ‘the right person.’ We marry imperfect people. No two people are really “compatible”; they are just relatively comfortable…or not…with each other. Duke University ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas makes this point:

Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become ‘whole’ and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.

        We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary problem is…learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.”

The moment you marry someone, you and your spouse begin to change in profound ways, and you can’t know ahead of time what those changes will be.

            Now wisdom would tell us that some people are really, really the wrong people to marry. But everyone else is still incompatible. Marriage demands that we learn to love a person we didn’t marry because they are always changing. It demands that we make changes that we don’t want to. But that process, if done under the direction of the Holy Spirit who lives in you, will eventually lead you into a strong, tender, joyful marriage and into being the person who can produce that for your spouse.

            Making the perfect soul-mate your desire will turn any marriage toxic. Thinking that any person will complete us at the deepest levels of our soul makes the lover into God, and no human being can live up to that.

            In contrast to this view and the other extreme (and older) view that holds to the purpose of marriage as denying your interests for the good of the family, God gives a better blend: Christian marriage finds mutual fulfillment through mutual sacrifice.


Without this biblical, realistic and more balanced view of marriage, singleness will never take on its proper place in our lives and sexuality. Failure to have a biblical view of marriage will condemn singles to either over-desire or under-desire marriage. Exalting sex as our culture has ultimately destroys marriage and singles. The whole gay marriage issue simply mirrors what our culture things about sex—sex is THE defining element of a fulfilling marriage. Just choose the kind of sex you want and that defines both you and marriage.  

            What is really striking about the biblical view of sexuality is that Christianity was the very first religion that held up single adulthood as a good way of life. Notice that I said “good” rather than “superior” or “inferior.” Both Jesus Christ and Paul the Apostle were single. I think it is not outside the realm of possibility that Paul was married at one time since that was the normal state of Pharisees. But by the time he writes I Corinthians, he is clearly not married. And while he talks there of the benefits singleness brings for ministry, he neither elevates it above marriage nor places it inferior to marriage. And the fact that Jesus himself was single should forever put an end to the notion that single adults are somehow less fully formed or incomplete individuals than married persons.

            So the early church did not pressure people to marry and, in fact, institutionally supported poor widows so they did not have to remarry. That was in stark contrast to the culture of the day which saw producing heirs as the norm and failure to do so as a loss. While having children was the main way for men and women to achieve significance as adults, the Christian gospel and hope of the future kingdom de-idolized marriage. Single adult Christians were living testimony that God, not family, was their hope. God would guarantee their future, first by giving them their truest spiritual family—the church—with brothers and sisters, fathers and mothers. Ultimately, a Christians’ inheritance was offered equally to singles and married people in the fullness of the kingdom of God.

            We don’t have time to look at it now but when you read Ephesians 5 it is clear that marriage isn’t ultimately about sex or social stability or personal fulfillment. Marriage was created to be a reflection on the human level of our ultimate love relationship and union with the Lord. [Keller, p. 226] While it presents a very high view of marriage, it confirms that marriage is penultimate or second best. The Real Marriage that our souls need and the Real Family our hearts were made for are found in Christ. Even the best marriage cannot by itself fill the void in our souls left by God.

            If single Christians don’t develop a deeply fulfilling love relationship with Jesus, they will put too much pressure on their dream of marriage and set themselves up for disillusionment and failure. But when every one of us, singles and married, learn to rest and rejoice in our marriage to Christ, we will be able to handle either the single or married life without a lasting hole in our hearts. But if we make our dream of marriage our god, that idolatry that distorts a single person’s life will eventually distort their married life if or when they do marry. If we will demote marriage (and sex in marriage for that matter) to its rightful place, it will help singles to learn to fully enjoy the goodness of the single life.


So let’s return to our passage in I Thess. 4:3-8 to see what sanctified sexuality looks like for anyone, singles in particular.

(ESV)--For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.


Notice a few things from this text.

1. Vss. 3-4—It is God’s will for ALL of us, single or married, to stay away from sexual immorality.

We spent quite a bit of time talking about that last week so I won’t add much here except to ask, “What is the solution for singles struggling to stay away from sexual immorality?” Answer: the same as for married people struggling with sexual immorality…really.

Now I know that the first objection by singles will be, “That’s not fair! The single person’s struggle is much harder. They don’t get to engage in sex whereas married people do.” True. But that doesn’t mean the battles are totally different. There is probably more similarity than singles might know.

Both singles and married people must learn to grow in the Christ-like and Spirit-led fruit of self-control…in regard to what we think about, what we look at, how we look at people, whether we consume and worship sex, use people, or get addicted to sex.

Here’s the thing. If having sex within marriage was the cure for our sexual appetites, there would be no unfaithfulness in marriages. Pornography would never be a problem. There would be no need for God to forbid adultery. Every married person would be completely content with their partner. No married men would have to guard their eyes as they sat on the beach or walked down the street. It would only be singles that would have to struggle with sexual temptation.

But we all know that notion is foolishness. In fact, the reality is that like anything that cuts a pleasure-pathway in your brain with the release of chemical triggers as sex or drugs do, the more you experience it, the more you both want to do it and need more of it to get the same initial highs you got when you first started.

So, singles, don’t be too quick to dismiss this. The habits you form when single will either make the battle for Christ-likeness harder or easier in some arenas as you move into marriage. It’s worth the fight now just as it will be worth the fight in your future, married or single.

And a quick sub-note here: Sex before marriage is “sexual immorality” according to God. So it is something that damages you and your partner, even if you end up getting married to them. Contrary to the popular belief that you need to live with someone a while to find out if you are really “compatible,” the research is in and the results are surprising. When you cohabit with someone before marriage, you double the odds that your marriage will end in divorce. You think God knew what he was talking about?  


2. Vss. 4—It is God’s will for ALL of us, single or married, to know how to control our own bodies “in holiness and honor.”

….that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor….

            Here’s why we can say that “sex is holy.” If there were something inherently unholy or dirty about sex, then sex between married couples could not be called holy. That doesn’t mean that ALL sex between a married couple is necessarily honorable or holy. Married people can make a god of sex just as much as singles. And when sex involves anything that does not honor the other person, it isn’t, well…honorable.

So if controlling our own sexual drives in such a way that our bodies are truly set apart for God, HOW specifically can singles learn how to relate through their bodies with others in an honorable and holy way? ANSWER: Again, much the same way married people learn to relate honorably with people of the opposite sex who are not their spouses. We must learn to a.) develop healthy boundaries, and b.) encourage good, honorable interaction.

There is a bit of a double standard here in our culture, frankly. We tell our young people that it is fine for them to flirt with, date, be romantically involved with any number of people before they are married but then, abra cadabra, when they get married they must stop flirting, stop the infatuation cycle, stop playing the field. At the least, an engagement period should be the time when a couple learns to set up exclusive, healthy boundaries with their spouse-to-be and begin to distance themselves a bit from former friends of the opposite sex.  

Since the culture we live in has fairly free-flowing relationships between the sexes, the same things that guard marriages from compromise will also guard any single from sexual compromise. In other words, avoiding being in non-public or private places with members of the opposite sex will pretty well guarantee that you don’t get involved in sexually compromising situations.

ILL: when we are counseling couples before marriage, we tell them we will ask them every time we meet whether or not they are continuing to honor each other by respecting healthy physical boundaries. If they are having difficulty keeping their hands off each other, there is a simple solution that works 100% of the time: don’t spend a lot of time together in non-public places…like a car, an apartment, a house, at the office after hours, etc.


3. Vs. 6--It is God’s will that NONE of us “transgress or wrong” each other with our sexuality.

Some versions of the Bible use the word “defraud” instead of transgress. The Greed word here is only used here this one time in the N.T. In the ancient world, this word (huperbaino) was used to mean “to cross/step over a boundary” or “to take something by force.”

            In the context of this passage in I Thess. 4, it is clear that sexual immorality crosses a boundary that God has set up. It takes from someone something that belongs only to two people who have entered into the life-long commitment of marriage. As “right” and wonderful as sexual immorality might feel, it “wrongs” or sins against God, against another person and against oneself.


4. Vs. 7—It is God’s will that ALL of us develop holy sexuality. The reality is that having sex is really only a very small portion of our sexuality as men and women. I’ll admit it’s small as a percentage of one’s 24-hour day. But, boy, it’s also very powerful! Nowhere is God asking us to deny the strength or intensity of those sexual desires or longings. In fact, I think that part of holding onto a healthy sexuality in a culture that has made sex one of its primary false gods is to acknowledge and celebrate the sexual differences God has created. To simply try and ignore or subjugate or avoid ones sexual attraction to someone seems to me to make a game of denying reality. Sexual purity, like any measure of holiness, must flourish in the realm of reality, not a denial of reality.

            So what might that “reality” look like? How about acknowledging the good and true parts of sexuality? When we find someone attractive, thanking God that our hearts and minds were made to appreciate and be attracted to beauty is an acknowledgement of reality and a reminder of the most beautiful Being of all—God. It also may help us remember that just as Satan abused and used his own beauty for sinful, selfish ends, so we can use and abuse our own God-given beauty or that of another in ways that lead us away from rather than towards God.

            Simply acknowledging the power and intensity of sexual desires can be a reminder that God has also put within us equally or even stronger desires to be like Christ, to experience the beauty of His holiness, to have an intimacy with God that no sexual intimacy, even in marriage, can match.  


Let me close by reading several thoughts I’ve run across by various Christian singles that I trust will help all of us put this battle for sanctified sexuality into better perspective.

            The first comes from man in this city who I’ve had the privilege of getting to know this past year. He’s a brother who has struggled for years with same-gender sexual attraction. And while his battle for sanctified sexuality is in that arena, many of the longings and laments are common to many unmarried Christian adults.

            In a letter entitled “A Very Intimate Conversation with God,” he sets out several questions he has for God about unfulfilled and unwelcomed desires. And while the answer God gave him was for his particular battle, it applies to anyone, regardless of their gender orientation.

            At one point in this conversation with God he laments, “But, Dad, what about the unfulfilled sexual desires of those of us with same-sex attraction…marriage is not an option for us? And why don’t You replace those desires with opposite-sex attraction, as I and so many others have begged You to do for us? I know of men and women for whom You have done this!”

            “Son, I allow all humans to have unfulfilled desires in this life to remind them that this world was never intended to be their permanent home—that their deepest but often unrecognized desire for intimacy with Me can only start in this life but must wait for completion until I issue them a glorified body in heaven—where there will be no marriage. No human mind has even conceived of what is waiting up there for those who love Me, but it will be better that the world’s best [sexual experiences’.

Many people in marriage are unfulfilled sexually, and yet honor their marriage vows and their vow to Me. There are young couples who get married and on their honeymoon an accident leaves one of them paralyzed for life, unable ever to have normal sex, yet their partner remains faithful as long as both are alive.

There are many people whose sexual desires must remain unfulfilled not only to honor Me but to keep them out of prison.

Remember these things when you feel that only those like you must choose celibacy in order to honor My image in which I have created you.”

            And now, please answer this question for Me, Son: how has your struggle against homosexuality helped you spiritually? And here is his reply.

“O, Dad, more than anything else it has been what You have used to humble me—a constant reminder of how fallen and flawed I am, in order to keep me from a terminal case of pride. And You used it as a catalyst to get me to trust all of Your word including the parts that judge my wrongdoing, rather than trying to discredit Your word in order to justify my wrongdoing.

“And you have used it to sensitize me to the suffering of those with many kinds of unfulfilled desires and those with many kinds of guilt and shame, so I can better feel their pain and Your heart for their pain when I minister to them. And last and most recently and most important of all, it has been the catalyst for me finally beginning to experience the intimacy with You that I have longed for all my life. Yes, Dad, this struggle has blessed me very richly.”


With Valentine’s Day just around the corner, the Christian news publication World Magazine published an article about singleness in which it interviewed a dozen different Christian singles at different stages of their singleness. Let me share a couple of different comments that apply to our subject today.

            A women living in Los Angeles, Gina Fenwick, who has been celibate since professing Christ 12 years ago admits that she has days when it’s a fight to stay pure in a city that bombards her with erotic messages. Sometimes she’s tempted to take things into her own hands and find someone—anyone—to fill that void. But as her relationship with God grows, she’s been seeing what’s really at stake. “If I entertain these thoughts, I’m going to lose so much more than giving my body away: It’s going to impact my relationship with God, the church, and my community.”

            Another 31-year old serving in the women’s ministry at her Texas church, describes her feelings about singleness as a pendulum that swings between a pity party and being OK with where she is. She commented, “The harder struggle with singleness is not even wanting someone, but being confused as to why someone doesn’t want me….Why did no one pick me? Am I too fat? Too annoying? Is my personality bad?”

            She turned to blogging to work through these issues. In 2010 she started a series that looks at how many of the struggles of singleness—loneliness, rejection, lost dreams—are actually blessings pointing her toward Christ. Her most popular post was entitled “Blessings of Singleness #5: Lack of Physical Intimacy.” In it she asks, “Who determined what I need most? My body? Or God? Her conclusion? God “doesn’t promise to give me everything I need to never be hungry. He promises to give me everything I need to not starve to death on the road home to Him.”

            Finally, Jenilyn Sweet, 32, a Christian single in St. Louis, talks about the benefits of mixed-aged activities at church: “Getting to see married folks actively work through some of the struggles of marriage has just kind of kept reality in view.” She adds, “Being single is hard, so is being married….In no way has that deterred me or discourage me [from getting married], but it’s helped me to remember to keep marriage in its appropriate place and to not elevate it too much.” [World Magazine, Feb. 8, 2014, p. 56.]


Sanctified sex and sexuality—It’s a big growth opportunity for each of us, regardless of our gender or chapter of life. But it is also one of God’s deepest and most powerful tools in life to lead us into Christ-likeness and holiness. It may frustrate and humble us at times. It may produce an ache in our hearts or a longing in our souls that threatens to overwhelm us. But in all of that, God longs to meet us, to grow us and to sanctify us.


As I Thessalonians 4:3-7 says,

“It is God’s will that [we] should be sanctified: that [we] should avoid sexual immorality; that each of [us] should learn to control [our] own body in a way that is holy and honorable…and that in this matter no one should wrong [a] brother [or sister] or take advantage of [them]….For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”