Is any sex safe? The very question prompts other questions. Are we sexually liberated or enslaved? Are we fulfilled or frustrated? In his book, Wilt Chamberlain claims he has been intimate with 20,000 women. Since making that claim he has been seen on many network television shows sharing insights from his escapades. Was he telling the truth or just seeking to increase book sales? Whatever the facts, truth or sales, his behavior and the networks giving him a platform are bothersome to me.
Magic Johnson calls a news conference and acknowledges that he has “attained the HIV AIDS virus.” Magic, sad to say, has come to the end of a progression. He is today dining at the table of consequences, by his own acknowledgement. It is to his credit that he has acknowledged that his behavior was wrong and that he has asked God to forgive him. He is trying, God bless him, to turn his plight into something positive. He is trying to speak a word of warning to others.
U.S. News and World Report in an article, “Teenage Sex, after Magic” had this to say:
“In the weeks after Magic Johnson burst onto the AIDS scene, the nation’s youth reacted first with shock, then with concern. Then from all indications, it was back to risky business as usual ….”1
This society of ours is sending our teens a very mixed signal concerning sex and the values that undergird appropriate behavior. “We sell products with sex; we use sex in movies, TV music. Then we tell students just say NO’!”2
It is the peculiar responsibility for adults to model values, and perhaps the reason we are not modeling values is because there is no consensus or agreement among us as to what the real values are. It is against this background that I want us for a moment or two to respond to the lesson of the morning.
Near the dawn of all that is, God created man in His likeness and then He made woman. The Psalmist affirms that “we are a little lower than the angels” or, as one translation beautifully puts it, “a little less than divine.” God, placing humankind at the apex of all He had created, breathed into him the breath of life and placed him in the context of joy, peace, and plenty. But something was missing! Man was alone, without companionship, without anyone to help. There was no one with whom he could share anything. Walt Disney to the contrary, man could not talk to the animals.
So God made woman. The lyrical beauty of this moment of creation still gives us a sense of wonder to read it. Adam went into a deep sleep (Genesis 2:21) and while he slept God made Eve from Adam’s rib (Genesis 2:22). The women in my family say it was definitely “prime rib.” When he woke from his dream, Adam was pleased. He said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh” (Genesis 2:23).
The expression, “this is now” in Hebrew, is an expression of delight. It is an exclamation meaning, “at last.” To translate it into language that we all can understand, Adam when he saw her said, “Wow, look at that!”3
If we will look at our lesson in some detail it is clear what God had in mind. He wanted people to have:
Companionship! In fact, the lesson states that it is “not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). Humankind, male and female, have a social dimension. God intends for us to live in community, not alone. God wanted Adam to have someone to help him.
It is also interesting to note that, in case you missed it, God made us:
Equal! In Genesis 2:20, we find the words, “there was no proper helper for the man.” It is unfortunate that this has been interpreted to mean that womankind is not equal. As a point of fact the word in Hebrew for “rib” can also be translated as “side,” so the foundational reality is that woman, in God’s creation, is the one who stands alongside man.4
There is also the obvious reality that man and woman were to have:
Excitement! Joy in another’s company! John R. Stott wrote that when Adam saw Eve he burst into biblical history’s first love poem:
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
She shall be called woman,
for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23)
Note also that God brought her to him, much like the father presents the bride to the groom in our wedding ceremony. Adam knew that she was made for him, and it brought him joy. Then we read something very important:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh” (Genesis 2:24).
Please be aware of the word “flesh” in the narrative: “this is flesh of my flesh .. they will become one flesh” is clearly referring to sex. God created sex for our joy within the framework of marriage.5
It is my belief that Scripture defines marriage in terms of heterosexual monogamy.
So I want to reaffirm that sex between a man and a woman is one of God’s finest gifts. Sex is to be exclusively within the framework of marriage — a lifelong commitment between husband and wife. The marriage covenant requires mutual consent, loyalty, and trust. Sex within the framework of that covenant should bring us joy and by the will of God hopefully will bring us children to deepen our joy.
With the background of our creation, within the framework of this sacred covenant, and in the midst of the moral muddle all about us, I want to say three things. First, the reality is that:
I. We Are Reaping the Harvest of our Sexual Misbehavior!
According to Psychology Today, 11.5 million teenagers have had sexual intercourse. Of unmarried women ages 15-19, 27% have never used any method of birth control …. four of every ten sexually active women become pregnant before they turned 20 years old …. nearly half of the estimated twenty million sexually transmitted disease patients are under age 25!6 Ten to 24-year-olds accounted for 62% of gonorrhea cases and 40% of syphilis cases in a recent year.7 Today, 32% of those persons who marry have had six or more sexual partners.8
Now the unspoken horror that nags at the mind of many young people and parents alike is AIDS. When we come to discuss this horror, a terminal disease, we know better than we are doing. There is no ignorance of AIDS in this society. Newsweek magazine alone has had eleven cover articles on AIDS. Lectures on “safe sex” now start in some schools at the fourth grade level. In fact, Newsweek asserts, “Almost no one is ignorant of AIDS in this country.”9
I suspect that there are people in this congregation who in their moments of quietness have to be wondering and worrying whether their behavior has, in fact, planted AIDS into their bodies, and whether or not in their sexual behavior they have infected other people. When it comes to the question of sexually transmitted diseases and knowledge, the bottom line is this, “Our knowledge is excellent, our behavior is abysmal.”10
Listen to a letter written by an 18 year old:
“I am 18 years old, and I am petrified that I have AIDS. It is not that I live in New York or Chicago where AIDS runs rampant; in fact where I live may not even be on the map! It is the fact that I have had eight sexual partners in the past year, from all backgrounds. I thought nothing of it at the time; I was just sowing “wild oats” … a year in my life when I took leave of my senses … now I’ll be wondering about that year for perhaps fifteen more ….”11
I want to speak now compassionately and bluntly to the parents of this congregation. The sex education classes you are relying on in the school have no value content; they are designed to teach prevention of sexually transmitted diseases and how to prevent an unwanted pregnancy. Only in rare instances is there any instruction as to “ABSTINENCE!” The only place you can get that is at church.
The devastating harvest of our sexual misconduct is all about us and I deal with it every day of my life. Now that prompts me to come to a second and essential question:
II. Is Any Sex Safe?
I object to the terminology “safe sex” because what it really means is sex without any value development. What it really means is how to prevent disease and how to keep from getting pregnant. This terminology “safe sex” conveys, I think, five dangerous and harmful ideas. It says, first, that “safe sex” is achievable; second, that everybody is doing it; third, that responsible adults expect them to do it; fourth, that it is a good thing; and fifth, that their peers know that they know these things. All of that breeds, in my judgment, promiscuity. These are very destructive messages to be sending to our kids.
Is any sex safe? The answer is yes — within the framework of a lifetime, monogamous relationship called marriage, where both partners are loyal and faithful to one another; where both are working at the relationship in an atmosphere of love.
Even in marriage, sex involves respect for your partner and responsibility for the relationship. It involves the most tender feelings and vulnerability. There is no such thing in marriage as sex without responsibility. A marriage can become abusive and manipulative at the point of sexual expression.
What we need is to be practicing and modeling boundaries. When boundaries are removed people seem to get into a state of confusion, and they become insecure because there is a confusion as to expectation. They seem to say, “Let me know if I am right or wrong. I can live with the rules, but please let me know what the rules are.” That is what is happening today — there is no consensus on what the rules are. And that’s partly the responsibility of the church. We have not been as clear as we should have been in many instances in our teachings and in our practices. These rules of right and wrong should be taught, but they should be taught positively, not negatively. When you do it positively, you say to people, “I have what I think might bring you greater happiness.”
You have to start value development with your children early. Be positive about it and, for God’s sake and your children’s sake, be consistent! Say to your children, “I want to share something with you that God would like for us to do, to be, that will bring you great happiness” and the church must be very clear about the message we are sending.
The overwhelming evidence is that most parents simply refuse, ignore, and fail to communicate with their kids about sex. This is either out of a sense of moral uncertainty of their own, or out of the erroneous assumption that they are getting all the facts at school or somewhere else.
Listen to some feedback from kids about what they want:
I wish my parents had canned the stork story and fairy tale explanations and told me the truth.
I wish my parents had sat me down and told me about sex instead of just saying “Don’t [don’t, don’t].”
I wish that my parents had talked to me about sex ….
I wish my parents had been more open about sex and not treated it as a big dark secret to be discovered and experienced after marriage.
I wish they had told me not to feel so inhibited about my body.
I wish my parents spoke to me more about birth control and let me know that in trouble I could turn to them.
I wish Mom had told me [something] ….”12
We are aware in this society of ours that we have misinterpreted the meaning of Freedom. Freedom is not to do as we please — that’s slavery — but to do as we should. That’s where freedom comes — to operate out of a foundation of the values that never age. The Christian church has allowed others to paint the walk of holiness in colors of dark gray and black, instead of bright blue and joy.
Author John White has penned some lines — he was thinking about the word “holiness’ and wrote down the images that came to his mind:
hollow eye gauntness
long robes
no sex
no jokes ….
frequent cold baths
hours of prayer
wild rocky deserts
getting up at 4 a.m.
clean fingernails
stained glass
self humiliation”13
He sees “holiness” as some kind of ascetic, remote, hermit-like life of loneliness and sacrifice. Holiness can involve all of that, but there is one essential thing missing: JOY! God expects us to experience life with joy! When He had created everything, He said it is good and then He rested. Why? Because He felt good about it all, there was a sense of contentment in His heart — satisfaction, joy!
III. All Sexual Involvement Carries Responsibility!
It carries responsibility for your partner. No one has the right to use another person as a convenience. We are persons, not things. We are not inanimate objects. We are persons with feelings, created in the image of God. We need to be asking ourselves some questions:
“… are you hurting the other person? Are you exploiting the other person? Are you being honest with the other person? Are you breaking the commandment to love God and to love your neighbor?”14
All sexual involvement carries responsibility for the other person, and all sexual involvement makes us vulnerable. It is the exposure of oneself totally to another in a context of intimacy where we can be easily hurt. God help any of us who trample upon another person on that holy ground.
Sex is more than a physical act; it involves us spiritually. Sex must be expressed within the framework of a permanent commitment, a covenant of marriage between two persons. Our bodies can never become really one unless there is spiritual oneness. A British theologian said, “Sex is to marriage what the sacraments are to Christianity: the physical expression of spiritual reality.”
Even in marriage you have to work to not exploit your partner, for marriage involves mutual closeness, and willing vulnerability out of love.
I am no paragon of virtue. I am, like you, a sinner saved by grace. As I grow older, I am far less interested in justice for myself than I am for mercy for myself. I would have to echo in my own life what is reported to be the last words of John Newton, who wrote the words to the great hymn, “Amazing Grace.” When he had entered that final voyage that leads home he said, “My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things: I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great saviour.”15
When I met with the Confirmation Class last November, they had a list of questions they wanted to ask me. One of the early questions on the list was, “Dr. Harrington, did you have sex before marriage?” That’s a pretty big question for a 12-year-old to ask his preacher!
I was distracted by other questions, and never did answer that question. I have since felt bad about not answering. The fact is: NO! I did not have sex with anyone before marriage. Thirty-five years ago Sara and I came to our marriage having before us the joy of discovery, which I believe is what God intended. Sara is the only one for me. The questions that flood your mind are obvious — “Are you ever tempted?” Of course I am. I pray each day that God will keep me strong and pure — loyal and faithful not only to my calling, but to my loved ones, my daughters, my grandchildren, and all of you! And I can tell you that the weight of all that is immense.
I commend to you by the grace of Christ a walk in holiness. If you have fallen, failed, as all of us do — listen to these words from a godly Bishop:
“There is no situation so chaotic that God cannot, from that situation, create something that is surpassingly good. He did it at the creation. He did it at the cross. He is doing it today!”16
So, take heart, my friends, take hold! And keep the faith.
1. U.S. News and World Report, December 16, 1991, p. 90, “Teenage Sex, after Magic,” article from interviews by Marc Silver and David Bowermaster.
2. Ibid., p. 90.
3. Genesis, The Communicator’s Commentary. D. Stuart Briscoe, General Editor, Lloyd J. Ogilvie, (Word Book Publishers, Waco, TX, 1987), p. 52.
4. John Stott, Decisive Issues Facing Christians Today (Fleming H. Revell Company, Old Tappan, NJ, 1990), p. 345.
5. Ibid., pp. 345-346.
6. Jerry Johnson, Going All The Way (Word Books, Waco, TX, 1988), p. 10.
7. Ibid., p. 10.
8. Source unknown.
9. Newsweek, December 9, 1991, article “Safer Sex.”
10. Ibid., p. 55.
11. Tim Stafford, The Sexual Christian (Victor Books, Wheaton, IL, 1989), p. 9.
12. Sol Gordon and Judith Gordon, Raising A Child Conservatively In A Sexually Permissive World (Simon and Shuster, New York, 1983), pp. 68-69.
13. John White, The Fight (Intervarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL, 1976).
14. Westheimer and Liebermann, Sex and Morality, pp. 111-112.
15. Ruth Bell Graham, Prodigals and Those Who Love Them (Focus on the Family Publishing, Colorado Springs, CO, 1991), p. 32.
16. Ibid., p. 39.

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