Have you ever noticed that whenever the subject comes around to sex, the words, “flesh”, “body”, “world” or “worldly” come up? A commenter on Tony Jones’ blog post “Premarital Sex – Maybe It’s Not So Bad” said “Stop lowering the bar for Christian men. No one has died because they couldn’t masturbate. The world says that it’s a biological need to masturbate…. the world says that it’s ok to have sex before marriage. God calls Christians to live to a higher standard than the world.” Then, he cited Romans 8:13, which says “If you live on the basis of selfishness, you are going to die. But if you put to death the actions of the body with the Spirit, you will live.” Here’s a little tidbit for you chew on: what if Paul wasn’t talking about sex?
Granted, at least some of the time he was talking about sex or sexual matters. People think we live in a sexually charged time today but, in some ways, it doesn’t hold a candle to the Greco-Roman world of Paul’s time. Vicki Leon says in Greco-Roman Sex: Wilder and Weirder Than Ours, people in those days “readily admitted to a rainbow of sensual pleasures–guilt-free. I dug deeper, discovering a plethora of things they were crazy about: buttock worship, for one. Aphrodisiacs. And anti-aphrodisiacs. X-rated celebrity antics”. On the surface, it’s sounds rather similar to the present day. But, as I wrote in It’s a Control Thing, it was “an incredibly unequal culture in which those with power and status were free to do whatever they pleased sexually as long as their partner was of a lower status or class” where they readily engaged in “practices like pederasty, prostitution (sacred and otherwise) and sexual slavery”. As you can see, comparing sex today to sex in Paul’s day makes little sense.
That’s not to say I’m okay with today’s sexual climate. When it comes to sex, we live in a world of extremes. On one end, sex is used to sell everything from fast food (Hardees/Carl’s Jr) to underwear (Victoria’s Secret). On the other, there’s the evangelical world and its obsession with virginity and modesty. Is it any wonder we’re screwed up when it comes to sex?
Even though it seems to permeate every level of our culture, does that mean we should relate everything in the Bible to sex? I’m probably overstating the case with that last statement, but sometimes it seems that way; especially when the words of Paul are applied in this manner. I can’t help thinking that maybe, just maybe, when Paul talked about “flesh” and “body” and “world” he wasn’t just talking about sex. Instead, what if he was talking about selfishness, oppression, or the multitude of other ways we don’t love our neighbors? Could it be that? Probably, but it’s a lot easier (and a lot more fun) to judge others over sexual matters.