3) Sexual Morality: Paul's perspective

2.2.3 The novelty of Paul’s perspective on sexual morality

But if Paul shares with the Old Testament and with Judaism the conviction that sexual immorality represents a situation of alienation from God, we must not for that reaon suppose that the perspective in which he saw it was identical with theirs.p.94
But for Paul, sexual immorality is only one manifestation… of the σάρξ [flesh] (cf. Gal 5:19f), which is the root-cause of all alienation, for it wars continuously against the Spirit (cf. Gal 5:17; Rom 8:6), is intent on ‘enmity towards God’ and does not, indeed cannot. ‘submit to God’s Law’”p.94

Man’s alienation from God “consists in his attachement to self… that is, an attempt on man’s part to put himself in the place of God by making himself the focus and criterion of his own existence. It is this orientation on self that alienates man from God.”p.95

And so the reason that Paul insists so emphatically on the need for sexual purity is not “because he wishes to identify christian holiness with sexual purity, but simply because he regards sexual immorality as the most blatant manifestation (in the Gentile world) of man’s radical egoism.”p.95 There is a parallel in the theological realm with the severity of his warnings against the self-justification of the judaizers. Both errors are rooted in self.

This explains “…the remarkable fact that sexual immorality is often put in opposition to christian love in Paul’s letters…”p.95, for example in the passage we have been considering in 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12. Another example would be Gal 5:16f where the antithesis is between:

  • the works of the flesh: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these
  • the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control

Because we are told that “And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.”

Other examples may be found in Col 3:5f where we are told to:

  • Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry… anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth… Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices
  • Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.

The contast is particularly strong in Ephesians:

  • Eph 5:2f (ESV)
    1. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
    2. But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.
    3. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving.
    4. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.
    5. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.
    6. Therefore do not associate with them;
    7. for at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light

Updated 2009-10-20 (build:62) by Andrew Fountain