Unforbidden fruit

Second in a six-part series on ministers and sexual conduct.

MiroslavM. Kis, Ph.D., professor of ethics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

Editorial Note: This article is the second in Ministry's six-part series on sexual conduct in the ministry. The remaining four articles will appear in the May, July, September, and November issues of this year.

You are a pastor and you are married. Are you married, just like other people, including the intimacies of marriage, physical and otherwise? Well, yes. Ministers are servants of God, and they are "shepherds of the flock." They act as prophets and priests for God's people, as teachers and spiritual leaders, and yet they are married just as others are.

Pastors and their spouses are sexual beings. The Bible informs us that sexuality is not sinful, that sex as it comes from God's hand is not sinful. It also insists that sexual misconduct, by the biblical definitions, is sin unlike any other sin.

To understand these teachings and to stand for them takes courage these days. If you take such a stand, you will have much of Christian history against you, not to mention having to confront what might be called the surrounding contemporary playboy culture.

Certain Church Fathers traced the origin of sexuality to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. There the first couple, they say, gave in to lust and sensuality. Thus their physical natures were impaired, and the resulting weaknesses have been transmitted to all their descendants, down through history.

Procreation alone, says Augustine, can justify sexual activity, and that only partially. While the Protestant Reformers insisted that sex was not inherently sinful and that celibacy is not virtuous per se, puritanism in America and during the Victorian period in Europe returned to a negative view of sex and sexuality.

To avoid temptation, women's ankles and necks were scrupulously covered, and books by authors of opposite genders could not be shelved side by side unless those who owned the books were married to each other.1

The courts of nobility in Europe bred raging promiscuity, and the population in general tended to follow suit. Closer to our time, the hippie movement of the 1960s ushered in a sexual revolution, which viewed the sex act as a purely biological function, as the sole venue for expressing one's sexuality. Proponents of these values claimed that any control over sex hampers normal human development and that men and women are natural sex objects to be used for mutual pleasure and gratification.

What does the Bible teach about appropriate attitude to sexuality and sex?

Sexuality as a dimension of human nature

1. Humans as gender-specific. "Male and female created he them" (Gen. 1:27). With these words, the Bible affirms that sexual differentiation originated at creation. This means that, in order for the image of God to be fully realized in a one-flesh unity, there must be male and female.2 But in humans nature is never autonomous or fixed like as in animals. Humans need not be under the control of their urges. They can opt for the influence of the Holy Spirit, or culture, reason, personal history, or conscience.

Consequently, human sexuality is not only biological, or a mere instinct, but a basic mark of humanness. Therein lies the crucial verity that humans must be responsible for their sexual conduct.

Evidence shows that gender distinctions deeply affect our choices and our moral reasoning. We do not have maleness or femaleness, we are male and female; we do not have sexuality, we are sexual beings.3

2. Essential incompleteness through Adam. When God created Adam He said, "It is not good for the man to be alone" (Gen. 2:18, NIV). This aloneness of Adam was not an evil in itself. Singleness is not evil. Rather, God noticed a need, an essential desire for companionship.

When He finally brought Eve to Adam, he who was but a few hours old exclaimed: "This at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh" (Gen. 2:23, RSV, emphasis supplied). A characteristic of human sexuality is that it is "never confined to the person who is driven by the urge, but rather seeks the partner. But it does not do so with the sole purpose of 'using' the other person merely as an object with which to stimulate and satisfy itself. Rather there is something in the structure of the libido4 itself that points to a two-way communication, ... for the prerequisite for the fulfillment of the pleasure is that the other person gives himself to it, that he [or she] participates."5

3. Sexuality as an integral dimension of human nature. It is not possible to separate sexuality from the rest of what is native to our humanity. That is, it can not be done without incurring serious damage to ourselves and to all others who may be involved. Human sexuality is lodged in the very temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6:18, 19), where other dimensions connect together.

The sexuality of every person is meant to act, as it were, as a "team player" within a well ordered and coherent persona. In the light of this view, the biblical understanding of human sexuality stands in radical contrast to Playboy's fabrications.

Lewis Smedes summarizes this holistic view through three succinct points: "(1) The sexuality of every person is meant to be woven into the whole character of that person and integrated into his [or her] quest for human values. (2) The sexuality of every person is meant to be an urge toward and a means of expressing a deep personal relationship with another person. (3) The sexuality of every person is meant to move him [or her] toward a hetero sexual union of committed love."6

The sexual act and sexuality

While other creatures possess sexuality, humans are unique in this regard in several ways.

1. Marriage union. The main expression of human sexuality, and thus the sex act, is nestled within the covenant relationship where God is a witness (Mal. 2:14). He made it so that a human being, at a certain moment in life, normally leaves his or her parents and "cleaves" to their spouse. This union of the two as partners has the potential of such intense closeness and intimacy that Scripture calls it the "one flesh" union (Gen. 2:24).

There is no other arena of connectivity, no other context, in which the two genders are challenged to be as free to drop their guard and become vulnerable as there is within the marriage relationship. Neither is there any event or human interaction where the totality of a person is involved and open in the same way as in marital intimacy. Marriage partners do not "do" love, they do not "make" love, they experience what God has made for the two of them exclusively.

2. Marriage and sex. Sexual intimacy in marriage is a mysterious divine gift of which God is highly mindful and jealous. There are reasons for His sensitivity about these things:

  • The Genesis account states clearly that God Himself became involved in matchmaking. It is He who created Eve especially for her husband, He who brought her to where Adam slept peacefully, and He who witnessed their first rendezvous (Gen. 2: 22).
  • God is the One to whom the marriage partners promise their permanent faithfulness and love no matter what— "for better or for worse." It is also He who watches over our promises to Him and to one another (Mal. 2:13-16).
  • God's willingness to become so directly and actively engaged in human marriage creates a sense of security: "A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a garden locked, a fountain sealed" (Song of Solomon 4:12, RSV).
  •  Within the sanctuary of this exclusive, permanent, mutual devotion under God, the married man and woman can enjoy a deepening friend ship and innocent joys. But it must remain an exclusive relationship.

Adam had several more ribs from which he might well have contributed if two or more women had been contemplated. Having two women might have been seen to double the possibilities of happiness. But God knows best: "I will make him a helper [singular]" (Gen.

2:18, RSV). No doubt, we are made for monogamy.

  • Our hearts and minds have but a limited capacity to give themselves. They are made, it seems, to handle only one person when it comes to the level of intimacy implied in the biblical model of married love. After that, it seems, our capacity for reaching satisfying levels of true intimacy are compromised, and our combined private identity is dissipated.7

This is what happens when we follow our urges and share our intimacy with someone other than our spouse. At first we lose our innocence, and after that we begin losing ourselves. The more we and our relationships are determined by instinct, that is, the more polygamous we are,8 the further we wander from an authentic human quality of life.

  • In marriage, innocence and romance are at home with one another. At times, one or two may be lost in busyness, neglect, or the stresses of life, but then we badly miss them.
  • There is no better cradle, no warmer place, no more reliable shelter where children can bud and blossom than under the shadow of a solid and deep parental marriage.

3. Sublimation. Yet, it must be remembered that sexuality in humans is bigger than sex and that "having sex" is not the only expression of sexuality. In fact, the need for sexual intimacy can be expressed in ways other than a sex act, in what might be described as sublimation.

The Roman Catholic requirement of celibacy is not a merely negative standard, which expects of priests, monks, and nuns to repress their sexual urge. We find here a carefully crafted pedagogy of sublimation, which attempts to transform sexual energies into religious energy. The practice of meditation in the form of mystical love and, perhaps, also the veneration of Mary are hardly conceivable without this background of a sublimated eros.9

The pursuit of art (Goethe), a sense of divine calling (Paul), or a strong dedication to the service of the poor and wretched masses (Mother Teresa) are but a few examples of voluntary sublimation. In addition, tragedies or debilitating long illnesses may mandate abstinence from any sexual encounter for the spouses. I know of many such silent heroes and heroines whose love grows deeper and higher with every day, as they give humble service to their loved one who cannot express their love in return. And lest we think otherwise, many live rich and productive lives.

Sexual sin

Given the divine origin of sexuality, its incredible power, and God's concern to guard human sexuality and keep it intact, how is it that such a pure and beautiful gift becomes the seed bed of some of the most lethal transgression? The Bible is remarkably consistent in pointing out that human sexuality expressed outside of marriage turns into a malignant spring of sin. In short, extramarital sex has a way of dehumanizing people.

The first adulterous affair reported in the Bible (Gen. 19:30-38) illustrates the nature of and effect of the extramarital affair. Several points merit our attention:

1. Lot's daughters engaged their father in physical/biological sex while he was under the influence of alcohol. He was deprived of his freedom of choice. The "rape" by his daughters happened outside the exclusive and permanent covenant of marriage. Lot was used in these events as a mere tool to fulfill his daughters' plans. The intercourse evidently had almost none of the truly human dimension nor any of the divinely designed characteristics of authentic human sexuality.

When this happens, the otherwise integrated self becomes divided. The human descends to the level of a biology dominated nature that breaches the essential laws of humanness, the law that calls and challenges a person to live every moment in transcendence over mere nature.10

When sex happens on the basis of infatuation, passion, romantic love, or outside the covenant of marriage, the God-intended union cannot happen because fragmentary selves cannot engage in a total self-giving. What is missing is a "diaconic" element, the matter of one human serving the other out of responsible love.11 In short, love "does not seek its own" (1 Cor. 13:5, NASB).

Marriages rooted in erotic desire alone tend to drive people outside of marriage for love once the flame of passion has turned into the ashes of resentment.12

While Christian theology and ethics must draw a proper distinction between agape and ems, it must guard against creating an unbridgeable hiatus between the two. A proper connection between the agape and ems will help prevent the abandoned physical side of sex from fragmenting the human self. An overextension of eras leads to instinctual and exploitative sex. Hence the need for agape to include other specifically human motives when it comes to the complete bouquet of human intimacy.

This is what the Seventh-day- Adventist doctrine of indivisible wholeness of human nature implies. Any segregation into a "higher" and "lower" nature with no connection between them leads either to indifference toward the elemental realm or to its demonization.13

A cultivation of consciousness where God's presence is welcome in any aspect of our marital life will prove to be the strongest defense against adultery and sexual misconduct.

The unique character of sexual sin

Every sin is equally sinful. Cultural opinions and the variety of distinctions drawn by speculative theologies have no biblical warrant. God is intolerant toward all sin. But how is it with sexual sin?

In 1 Corinthians 6:18 Paul writes: "Flee immorality [pomeia]. Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body [soma], but the immoral man [o de porneion] sins against his own body" (NASB).14 Most commentators agree that here Paul singles out sexual sin as a sui generic category and in doing so presents five arguments against fornication and adultery:

1. The first argument is found in verse 13. Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food, but the parallel reasoning that immorality is made for body and the body for immorality does not hold true. Sex is not simply a function of human physiology in the way digestion is.

2. In the second argument found in verse 14, Paul maintains that it is not right that the body should be given up to sexual pollution because a Christian has been raised from death with Christ, and should therefore live in harmony with his glorified body.

3. Paul's third argument (verse 15) insists that we are members of a body that has Christ as the head. Thus when we allow our body to act apart from Christ's impulses, we are in violation of this connective reality.

4. The fourth argument is the most forceful of the five. To begin with, Paul issues a command, "Flee immorality." Albert Barnes comments, "Man should escape from it; he should not stay to reason about it; to debate the matter; or even to contend with his propensities, and try the strength of his virtue. There are some sins that a man can resist; some about which he can reason with out danger of pollution. But this is a sin [sexual sin] where a man is safe only when he flies; free from pollution only when he refuses to entertain a thought of it; secure when he seeks victory by flight, and conquest by retreat."15

But Paul does not rest his case on his apostolic authority alone. He gives a reason for the command to flee: "Every other sin that a man commits is outside the body, but the immoral man sins against his own body" (verse 18).

Of the many alternative interpretations of this passage, two complementary variants seem most accepted. One track argues that Paul is addressing another of the Corinthian slogans which claims that since sin belongs to a spiritual realm, and acts of sex are purely a function of the body, humans can relax all controls over their sexuality.16

Paul stands firmly against this reasoning, insisting on the contrary, that this sin defiles the entire person (soma), the physical dimension included.17 This has several important implications.

First, in sexual sin the essential integrity of the human being is dam aged since "Not only the sex organs but the whole personality is involved in the sex relationship; thus human sexual sin goes to the very root of our being. The whole man and the whole woman are affected as the well-known phrase from Genesis has it—'they shall be one flesh'" (Gen. 2:24).

Sex is not a part of the human being as are the feet, hands, or stomach. It determines much more, involving the heart, mind, and attitude. "A human being is a male or female and in the sex act, masculinity and femininity are revealed.... In free love there is a union of the flesh, but not as the Bible means it. Spirit is not associated with the flesh; there is a disintegration of personality."18

Second, a damaged personhood creates cravings for completeness by pursuing other similar experiences, which in turn result in an ever-increasing cheapening of the person's self- respect.

The "further we remove ourselves from the realm of the personal and the more we move into the realm of purely phys ical and psychic reactions, the more we remove ourselves from the dimension of the 'once for all' and move into the dimension of the general and inter changeable."19

Finally, a wounded person injures other innocent and legitimate relation ships in his/her search for personal fulfillment. So Paul insists: "Flee immorality." The final argument in verse 19 reminds Paul's readers that our body is the shrine of the Holy Spirit,20 and there fore, when we sin sexually, we are attempting to force the Third Person of the Trinity to cohabit with our sin. And that is a serious matter indeed.

A minister and his or her spouse are created as male and female. Far from being shameful or sinful in itself, sexual ity is a marvelous, God-given aspect of humanness. God recommends it (Gen. 2:24) and Paul treats it as a matter of married right (1 Cor. 7:3). Within the covenant of marriage, sexuality offers to a married couple the possibility of a sex ual intimacy, an experience with a potential of becoming one of the most articulate expressions of the deepest human love and unity.

1 G. R. Taylor, Sex in History (New York: Vangard, 1954), 214, 215.

2 K. Earth, Church Dogmatics (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1961), 01/4:118.

3 Lisa S. CaMl, Between the Sexes (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985), 90; and Carol Gilligan, In a Different Voice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1982).

4 A psychic energy mostly sexual in nature. It Junctions as a motivating force, as a life instinct opposing the fear of death (Freud). It affects all the activities and relationships of human life.

5 Helmut Thielicke, The Ethics of Sex (Grand Rapids, Mich : Baker, 1975), 46.

6 Lewis Smedes, Sex for Christians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Fierdmans, 1994), 29

7 C. Baroni, "Pourquoi sommes nous monogames?" in L'lnfidelite Pourquoi? ed. et al., C. Baroni (Nyon: Edition Lynx, 1970), 42-49.-

8 Thielicke, 40.

9 Ibid., 57.

10 Ibid., 48.

11 Ibid.

12 Smedes, 171.

13 Thielicke, 49.

14 The word "immoral" in English translations is not used here in technically ethical sense of the word where stealing and lying is immoral behavior. Here it is used more causally referring specifically to a sexual sin, rendering the Greek term porneia.

15 Albert Barnes, Notes on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1953), 106.

16 See Gordon Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987), 261, 262.

17 See "Body" in Colin Brown, gen. ed. Dictionary of New Testament Theology (Grand Rapids, Mich : Zondervan, 1979).

18 Gaston Deluz, A Companion to First Corinthians (London: Darton, Longman Sc Todd, 1963), 74, 75.

19 Thielicke, 39.

20 See SDA Bible Commentary (Hagerstown, Md.: Review and Herald Pub Assn., 1980), 6:700-703.

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MiroslavM. Kis, Ph.D., professor of ethics at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, Andrews University, Berrien Springs, Michigan.

March 2004

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