How do you relate toward people of the opposite gender? Is your behavior honorable, reflecting who you are in Christ and bestowing a blessing on those you interact with? Or are you a problematic source of temptation to them in their relationship with God?
“But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints.” (Ephesians 5:3)
After creating the first man and woman, “…God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’”(Genesis 1:28) The desire to procreate is divinely given and a necessary requirement to continuing the human race. Without it, we would not be motivated to find our “perfect someone” and would not desire intimacy with them. Yet as with everything, our sin natures take a good thing and distort it into something evil.
Each and every day most of us interact with multiple people, and these interactions affect others, for good or evil. From the moment we wake until the end of the day, as children of God, we are His representatives, either proclaiming Him to everyone we relate to, or denying Him. Yet we don’t always recognize this. We tend to see our lives are our own, to be used as we see fit. We don’t recognize that each and every time we interact with someone, we either bless them through the way we reflect Christ with our words and actions, or curse them by stirring up feelings in them they then have to struggle with and which can potentially become a source of sin.
An excellent way of thinking about this is by viewing each interaction individually and assessing its impact. Has the fact that I spoke with this person drawn them closer to God? Has something I said or did caused them to think about God or inspired them to obey Him, or in any way made their behavior more pleasing to Him? Have I faithfully reflected Christ to them? Alternately, has it been a curse? Have I tempted them? Has our interaction caused them to draw further from God, or worse, to actively indulge sin in some way? Most soberingly, on the Day of Judgment, will this person say, “Thank You, Lord, that You brought [insert your name] into my life” or, “Why Lord, did You allow [your name] to cross my path?!”
Today’s verse tells us that three things should not even be named among us, as is fitting for His people, the saints: fornication, uncleanness, and covetousness. At first glance these three do not seem homogenous—they do not necessarily seem to go together. Yet upon a closer examination we see that they really are interrelated.
Fornication is physical intimacy between persons not married to each other. It is what has for at least several generations now been increasingly viewed by our culture as “no big deal”—quite tame, as far as the world’s perception of sin goes. It has been portrayed so often in the entertainment media that we tend to no longer even raise an eyebrow upon seeing it. Yet it is very serious, indeed, in God’s eyes.
The fact is that we are uniquely and specially created. Our first relationships tend to imprint themselves upon our psyches and influence future patterns of intimacy, which is why it is God’s design they be experienced after marriage. As we more fully “know” our spouse, we are to increasingly grow toward this person to better reflect Christ’s relationship with and love for the church:
“Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself for her, that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word, that He might present her to Himself a glorious church, not having spot or wrinkle or any such thing, but that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their own wives as their own bodies; he who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as the Lord does the church. For we are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church. Nevertheless let each one of you in particular so love his own wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:25-32)
God intends for the relationship between a husband and wife to mirror Christ’s relationship with His church. In the same way Christ gave Himself for the church and nourishes it, husbands are to love their wives and be concerned with their well-being. The wife, in turn, is to respect her husband as the church reverences Christ. Having multiple relationships outside of or before marriage besmirches this image, and it desensitizes us personally to the sanctity and preciousness of the intimacy we find in marriage.
But what is uncleanness? According to word study dictionaries, it is any other kind of sinful sexual behavior other than fornication. Mankind’s imagination is great, and with the corrupting and perverting influence of sin we have come up with quite a variety of distortions of God’s intent for our procreative impulses. Our world is full of people seeking partners for activities of various kinds, but most of it is, unfortunately, a perversion of God’s perfect and beautiful plan.
It is interesting that frequently our first sexual experiences are the ones we fixate upon, and subsequently seek out and repeat. This is why it is so important that they be with our spouse after marriage, not with anyone else, or before. People who become active before marriage find it difficult to curtail their long-standing habits after marriage. Furthermore, the kind of sexual activity engaged in often influences subsequent sexual preference. Studies have shown that intimacy with older same gender individuals predisposes young people toward homosexuality. Let me repeat: first encounters are significant. Lifelong patterns are frequently begun through early experiences—so let these be within God’s plan!
The last item listed, covetousness, seems at first glance to be unrelated to fornication and uncleanness, and there are certainly aspects of it that are non-sexual in nature. Yet in the context of this verse, it is quite possible that its inclusion refers to the greediness lust can exhibit—a desire for more, or new, or different experiences—rather than being satisfied with what God has provided or will yet graciously provide.
The sooner we understand that looking at what “everyone else” is doing is not the way to determine what is right and what is wrong, the wiser we will be. Cultures differ; in different times and places different things are considered acceptable, yet God and His standard of truth do not change. “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever;” (Hebrews 13:8) He does not change based on the “spirit of the time.”
Help neither fornication, nor uncleanness, nor covetousness be named among us, as is fitting for your people. Help us, furthermore, to examine our interactions with the people in our lives and reflect You faithfully to them. Amen.