Published at patheos.com/blogs/spiritchatter on August 1, 2013
I’ve been thinking about sex lately. No, that’s not right.
I’ve had sex on my mind a lot lately. No, that won’t do, either.
I’m preoccupied with sex lately. Goodness, that’s even worse.
So let me put it this way. A friend who’s in-the-know told me that 60% of all high school graduates have had sex, while 30% of all ninth-graders have had sex. That’s a lot of sex, and it got me thinking.
I’m old enough to know these kids aren’t mature enough to make love even when they have sex. Their frontal lobes are far less-developed, certainly less active, than their penises and vaginas.
A therapist friend who is a sexpert—really, that’s her job, sex therapy—has put it this way: You’re not ready for sex until you’re ready to share your bank account with someone. Okay, so these high school kids don’t have bank accounts worth a hoot—and certainly not worth a hooter—but you get the point. Sex, meaningful sex, is about intimacy, commitment, care. It’s not just rollicking in the back seat of a car.
I was talking with my college-age daughter about this just last night. I explained, in a completely unscientific way, that I can see why so many men and women are unfaithful in marriage. Discipline doesn’t just drop from the sky on our wedding day. Discipline begins early on. The ability to say “This, not that,” is something we trainto do. Train early. Train often. Then maybe, just maybe, when we are in a long-term marriage, we can be disciplined in saying, “this woman” or “this man,” but not “that one,” however beautiful or handsome or flirtatious he or she may be.
Discipline isn’t the whole story. Inspiration is too. Catch a glimpse of the indispensability of inspiration for sexual fidelity in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians. Paul presses Christians to be holy, in particular by abstaining from “fornication” and “lustful passion” (1 Thessalonians 4:3, 5).
This sounds so old-fashioned. It smacks of fire-and-brimstone Christianity. It’s not. This is a bit of Realpolitik for a sex-obsessed society. Hard-nosed, even slightly hard-assed, advice about how to make sure other parts of your body don’t become hard when and where they shouldn’t.
To help you get over the yuck! factor of words such as “fornication” and “lustful passions,” read Eugene Peterson’s translation in The Message:
One final word, friends. We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance. You know the guidelines we laid out for you from the Master Jesus. God wants you to live a pure life.
Keep yourselves from sexual promiscuity.
Learn to appreciate and give dignity to your body, not abusing it, as is so common among those who know nothing of God.
Paul is dead serious about this, so he writes,
If you disregard this advice, you’re not offending your neighbors; you’re rejecting God, who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit.
Rejecting God with bad sex. Strong stuff. And it’s written oddly, isn’t it? “Who is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit.” The English here is odd because Paul’s Greek is off kilter. Normally Paul says, “God sent the Holy Spirit to you.” The usual verb:send. The usual tense: past. Here, in this letter, things are different.
It’s easy to explain the verb, “give” (or “making you a gift”) because Paul is playing a riff on the vision of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, where the expression, “give my spirit into …” occurs. So he writes give rather than send.
But why the present tense, “God is making you a gift of his Holy Spirit” rather than “God gave you the Spirit?” After all, didn’t God give the Spirit to the Thessalonians when they believed?
Yes, but the difficulty of sexual control compels Paul to tweak his typical use of tenses. Instead of telling the Thessalonians to be holy because God “gave the Holy Spirit in them,” Paul uses the present tense: God is making you a gift of the Holy Spirit.” There may have been a conversion in the past (1 Thessalonians 1:5-6), and there may be the hope of resurrection in the future (1 Thessalonians 4:13-18). At the moment, however, the gritty struggle for sexual faithfulness is grounded in the ongoing gift of God’s Holy Spirit into the inner being of believers. Nothing less can keep us holy. Nothing.
The Holy Spirit’s about sex. To keep us sexually faithful, moment by moment, day in and day out, year to year, God gives—recurrently, repeatedly, constantly, currently—a Holy Spirit into us.
Good sex is a matter of discipline, which can’t start early enough because, hope as we might, sexual fidelity doesn’t drop from the sky. Good sex—love-making—is also a matter of inspiration, which takes place because “God is making us a gift of the Holy Spirit.” That is why sex, done right, is, as Paul put it, part of a living, spirited dance.