Alfred Place Baptist Church

2:1-3 Sex and Marriage in Persia

Esther 2:1-3 “Later when the anger of King Xerxes had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her. Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, ‘Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful girls into the harem at the citadel of Susa.’”

The second chapter of the book of Esther begins with a poignant statement that after Xerxes’ drunken anger had subsided he remembered his wife Vashti. Divorce in haste; regret at leisure. Vashti had been “lovely to look at” (Esther 1:11) but she was no longer his wife. He had banned her from the marriage bed and from sharing his throne. He had kicked her out of the palace in Susa, but now he remembered her and what he had done.

From our knowledge of ancient history many scholars believe that between chapters one and two was the period of the greatest military expedition that until that point the world had ever seen. Xerxes took off, burying his guilt and grief in an unsuccessful invasion of Greece in the year 480 B.C. All the provinces in his Empire from India to Cush had to supply troops, cavalry, ships and provisions. Xerxes first demanded submission from the Greek states but they virtually all refused. So he led an expeditionary force of 180,000 men and invaded Greece. There was initial success for his armies but ultimately they were defeated. A storm destroyed the floating bridge he had ordered to be built across the Hellespont (the Dardanelles) and in his frustration he issued a bizarre command that 300 lashes be administered to the Hellespont itself, but also that the heads of the bridge-building engineers be cut off.

So, four years after that drunken banquet described in the first chapter, the demoralised Xerxes returned to Susa licking his wounds and wondering about the future. There was no beautiful Vashti waiting for him. Did his irritations and frustrations increase as the days went by? Did he prowl around his palace like an old lion? Was anyone safe whom he met in the corridors of power, even his most trustworthy counselors? Were numbers thrown into prison or tortured or executed at a whim? After years of peace and quiet with their King Xerxes far away in Greece his return to Susa was a rude awakening for the king’s attendants. They tip-toed around him, trying not to catch his eye. What had started as a domestic dispute between a husband and wife – the sort of thing every family experiences – became an international crisis that swallowed up the time and emotional energy of the leaders of the most powerful nation in the world. What a farce! Their gods and religious and moral philosophies were so impoverished that a family dispute brought the running of the Empire to a halt. Xerxes’ courtiers wrung their hands in frustration; they could see his loneliness and guilt, but what could be done? Finally, at some judicious moment, when the king seemed a little more relaxed, one of them took his life in his hands and said to him, “Your majesty, we’ve been thinking . . . Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm (and there were 127 of these) to bring all these beautiful girls into the harem at the citadel of Susa” (vv.2&3). Fortunately for the life of the servant who had made the suggestion the idea appealed to the king, and so the search for another Vashti began.

PERSIA WAS A PLACE OBSESSED WITH SEX AND BEAUTY.
Just like the world we live in so too in Persia the cure for much human unhappiness was considered to be relationships with members of the opposite sex. You see the emphasis on beauty in this chapter. Beautiful young girls were to be chosen (verses two and three) and brought to the royal harem. The harem was a large building behind high walls guarded day and night. There the lesser wives and concubines of the king lived under the authority of the king’s eunuch Hegai. It was one of the saddest places in the Persian Empire, a virtual women’s prison with its own tight structures of authority. Once a woman entered that bitter place and had slept with Xerxes she would never leave it. She wouldn’t see her parents, family, friends or visit her home town again – she had slept with a god! Many of those discarded girls would become forgotten dying an utterly anonymous death. They wouldn’t even meet the king again. That fate lay before most of them, so the pressures on them to impress Xerxes by becoming as alluring as possible were immense. Beauty treatments were given to the new girls to transform them (you can see the references to this in verses three, and nine and twelve). The treatment would last a whole year consisting of six months of oil of myrrh and six months of perfumes and cosmetics (v.12). All the women were to be subject to this prolonged makeover. An entire year living within the restricted confines of the harem also ensured that none of them could already be pregnant arriving there so that any child born would have been fathered by Xerxes. Even Esther herself, though described as being “lovely in form and features” (v.7) – you notice again the emphasis on physical appearance – was required to go through this cosmetic engineering for twelve months. Like Most people who go for cosmetic surgery today, she didn’t need it.

So hundreds of women were all brought to Susa and placed in the royal harem near the palace under Hegai’s eagle eye. Then one by one the women were taken to the king’s bedroom; they could take anything with them that might enhance their chances, and, as is said, he ‘slept with them.’ They had one chance to impress the king. One night at the most to win the prize of being chosen as his wife, and climbing the ladder in the pecking order of the harem, so getting their own rooms and servants. None of them could return to the king’s bedroom unless she had pleased him, and if that were the case he would learn her name and summon her (v.14). The king was looking for the illusive ‘perfect’ sensual experience, as Norman Mailer, representing the 20th century’s whole beat generation, coarsely described it, “the search for an orgasm more apocalyptic than the one which preceded it.” Love between a husband and wife reduced to that . . .

What a sordid business! Little wonder most preachers don’t preach on the book of Esther. The girls of Babylon were treated as sex objects, perfumed, rehearsed in the tastes of the king and then generally discarded for a bitter future, forbidden marriage and motherhood. Esther chapter two is a totally degrading picture, and yet it is not an unfamiliar one to us today. The Western world has made a hero out of Hugh Hefner and his Playmates and what pain this has brought into our world. If we cannot afford to bring a procession of young women into our homes for the night we can entertain their images via the world wide web or the Playboy TV channels. So the poorest person can invite them into our homes to pander to our sick fantasies day after day, and millions of men do just that. We have all become Xerxes.

Esther chapter two is a description of the degradation of the gift of sex, isn’t it? And though women come off the worst men too are destroyed by this evil mindset. What was happening in the Persian Empire was that the joining of man and women was separated from love and from child-bearing. In marriage alone union finds sanctity and meaning. So the physical act disappoints and frustrates; it’s lusted after ceaselessly, and yet it’s never what it’s cracked up to be. It can’t be because it’s been trivialized. So back in Susa another woman, and yet another woman and yet another, night after night was sent to the royal bedchamber. They were all desperately trying to please the satiated Xerxes, but they were battling with the reality that the moral and spiritual significance of the act had been destroyed by the very structures in which it was set. Mutual warm affection for the other person was missing. Knowledge of the other person was absent, and without that there could be no tender intimacy.

There is that very good reason why in the Word of God the Lord is both very positive about marriage and very negative about other kinds of sexual activity. Consider the Song of Songs. It is the divine celebration of married romantic love. You understand that the sexual act leads to children being conceived and then looked after for the next 18 years. If the sexual act was not pleasurable then would people be drawn to it knowing that after pain there followed the penalty of 18 years of parenting? So God has made desire strong and delightful, but he has hedged it about with cautions. It is designed for marriage between one person and another

Let me give you three or four foundational verses on the Christian attitude to sex and marriage.

i] Ephesians, chapter five and verses twenty-eight to thirty-three, “husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.” That is a foundational verse. Sexual union leads to a one-flesh reality. So friendships are encouraged between men and women, but regular dating only if a one-flesh marriage is in mind. Otherwise dating has no Christian justification.

ii] Hebrews chapter thirteen and verse four is another verse, “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Marriage between a man and a woman is not a lesser state than celibacy for anyone, including ministers; marriage is honoured by God. Xerxes’ abominable behaviour was utterly dishonouring to marriage and to God its designer. Xerxes’ antics were a defilement of the marriage bed, and so he spent his days and nights under the judgment of God. There is no delight living under God’s wrath. No wonder the king was a frustrated and unhappy man – just like the most of the men in our civilization today.

iii] Again, we find the same sober commentary on man’s carnality in Romans chapter one and verses twenty-one to twenty-four, which could be describing Xerxes “although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another.” What is happening in the royal palace in Susa? Degradation. Xerxes has everything he wants and yet has nothing. The poorest happily married husband and wife in his Empire have more than him. The king’s thinking is futile, his foolish heart darkened, and he has become a fool. God has given him over for the degradation of his body.

iv] Again in the first letter to the Corinthians chapter six and verses fifteen to twenty we read, “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, ‘The two will become one flesh.’ But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.” Let me explain that; the people of Corinth were saying that all the sins we commit are outside our bodies. No, says Paul, sexual sin is not like that, it is against one’s own body, and there may be others like that, drug abuse and mutilation. In sexual sin you Christians are taking the temple of the Spirit, purchased by God and destined for resurrection and you are making it a member of the body of a prostitute. You are putting it under her mastery. Every other sin is apart from the body in that sense.

So you can see that the Bible would scorn Xerxes’ actions and find them degrading. Where is the degradation? I will tell you; lust, in contrast to love, is always exploitive. It is always selfish; it desecrates sex because it wrenches away the physical act from the context of life-long love. The King’s lust simply violated the personality of each of the girls whom he took into his bed. It treated each one of them not as an end but as a means, a means of gratifying the fleeting fading appetites of the king.

We are living in a society where the experience of love is often made synonymous with the act of copulation. What is tender, and holy, and loving, and sublime is degraded to the level of the animal. You put a dish of food in front of an animal and it devours it. You put a bowl of water and it drinks. You bring a mate and it copulates. T.S. Eliot in his poem Sweeney Agonistes in a vivid phrase describes how the mystery of married love has been demolished;

Birth, and copulation, and death,
That’s all the facts when you come to brass tacks,
Birth, and copulation, and death.

“Mere ‘sex’, and that’s all. Nothing much. Nothing to get excited about.” Do you remember from the opening chapter of the Bible that all the animals as well as man were created on the sixth day from the dust of the earth, and that in many things there are similarities between us and the humbler creation. God doesn’t spread diversity unnecessarily, and so you can take the heart or heart-valves of a sheep or a pig and transplant them into a human being’s heart. We are that alike physically; we are genetically almost identical; we share a similar nervous and sensory system to the animals. But man is also unique in being made in the image of God, and that makes a tremendous and eternal difference. If we saw a pig wallowing in deep mud we wouldn’t be shocked, or if we saw a dog smelling the backside of another dog we might glance away, but we know that’s what dogs do. But if we saw a person acting in those ways we’d be horrified because we are made in the image of God. Man has a sense of beauty, of modesty, of shame. Man is capable of self-control. A man might lay down his life for a friend. Parents will deny themselves food for the sake of their children.

You’ve heard people claim that sex is just as uncontrollable as a cold, and that man is helpless in the face of it. What utter folly! The human spirit – even in people who are not Christians – is able to control natural desires; it can tame wild animals; it can practice patience. However, if the prevailing philosophy or religion of our day is saying that modesty and self-control and purity are not virtues at all, but vices that need to be mocked and destroyed, and if that sensual religion evangelizes and effectively educates a whole civilization to go ahead and do what they want to do – except to “remember to use contraceptives” – then we are in a terrible state. If it teaches that you have the right to fulfil your urges at any time, and that not to do so could lead to all kinds of neuroses and complexes which could damage the development of your personality then we face an increasingly fearful future. If it teaches that the union of a man and a woman is only an act of pleasure like sharing a bar of chocolate then we are living at one of the darkest times in the history of man. If this religion teaches that it is valuable for men and women to go to bed together because only thus can they know one another then our civilization is in a damnable state indeed. We are living at an animal level and that contradicts the destiny which God has intended for us, in fact we are worse than the animal. Look what is happening in Africa, millions are dead through promiscuity causing AIDS.

If you had been invited to a wedding and at the reception you were seeking to dissuade an acquaintance from drinking any more alcohol you might say to him, “Be a man now. You’ve had enough, come and sit down and talk to me.” We appeal to the fact that he is a man not an animal. This man bears the divine likeness. But if you saw a crocodile swimming up to a teenager in a river, you wouldn’t say to the crocodile, “Come on! Be a crocodile!” A crocodile is acting according to its instincts in killing and eating; it is obeying the voice of its own carnivorous nature, but men and women are not dominated by the voice of their own desires and hungers. We are made by God and for God. We are made for a new heavens and a new earth which will be righteous and holy and loving.

I guess it is possible to gather a large audience of men to watch a stripper undressing on a stage, and today even a crowd of women on a hen night will gather to watch a group of men taking off their clothes. What is this? Imagine a civilization in which you could fill a hall by secretly placing a plate of food under a silver cover, and then under a cardboard box, under a white sheet, under a tapestry, until finally one by one, as the music played, you removed the covers so that everyone could finally see as the music reached a crescendo . . . a succulent pork chop, and a mountain of steaming rice, and a pile of green peas with a lump of butter, and a silver jug of hot gravy, and everyone in the room went wild, rising to their feet at the sight, grunting, gasping, chanting and applauding. Wouldn’t you conclude that there was something wrong with that civilization’s appetite for food?

I ask you, wouldn’t some visitors from outer space be perplexed seeing the way sex is used to sell such things as cars, furniture and food – the photo of a bimbo being used to attract people to the product being sold? Wouldn’t they be shocked at women becoming commercialized objects at that level? Are women like chimpanzees selling PG Tips tea bags? Are they at that level? Advertising is so cynical and calculated and exploitative. Today sex is everywhere, and even radio programmes like the Archers – let alone TV and CD’s – have more references to sexual aberrations. So wouldn’t these Extra Terrestrials as they got out of their flying saucers and examined our civilization shake their little green heads with amazement at such perplexing perversions? Of course I am saying that we Christians are the aliens and the strangers in the world today. We feel we’re not at home. We shake our heads with shock at the conversations of 13 year olds. We ourselves are not unaffected by the fact of sexual instincts being inflamed to make money out of them, to sell newspapers especially on Sundays, and by access to porn sites on the web. Pray for us! Pray for Christian leaders. And what an abuse of hundreds of thousands of women! What foolish women to allow themselves to live in such a world. Some are trapped and that is grievous, but many choose it. What a price women must pay when modesty and purity and faithfulness are mocked.

Would you want to live in the Persia that is described in Esther chapters one and two? Are you yet unpersuaded by my arguments? Do you still protest, “yes, but . . . sex is in a mess because it isn’t taught in school and it is all hushed up.” Not so. It has been talked and written about and taught in schools for the last fifty years yet it is still in a mess. You say, “yes, but . . . sex is nothing to be ashamed of . . .” but there is nothing to be ashamed of in enjoying your food but if a whole civilization found food the main interest in life, and spent their evenings smacking their lips and dribbling over pictures of food then that would be a sick and perverse civilization. You say, “Yes, but . . . sex is natural and normal.” But if you give in to every one of your inflated desires then that is going to lead to disease, jealousy, lies, divorce, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, concealment. It will lead to everything that is the reverse of good humour, and happiness, and being frank and honest with those whom you depend upon the most and those you love the most. You say, “Yes, but . . . sexual purity is impossible.” Then how have millions of mere Christians succeeded in being pure before marriage, and faithful within it? It is not as if they were being asked to climb Everest, or run a four minute mile, or get a first class honours degree, or obtain a Victoria Cross, or win an Olympic gold medal. Not at all. Humble Christian men and women – without number – have kept their marriage vows as part of presenting their lives to God day by day.

Xerxes’ advisers set him up for this ugly enterprise to make him feel better about losing his wife Vashti. They believed that sex with many young women would be the surest way for the king to regain his happiness. They were fools, cheats and liars, and they were the smartest people in Persia. Many leaders in our society think just like them in the western world today. We must all be persuaded of this fact that happiness is never gained by its direct pursuit, and every wise person quickly learns that. You cannot pick’n’mix a selection of happinesses from Woolworths. You cannot give an order to someone to make it for you. Happiness is always a by-product. If you say, “I am going for happiness,” you are chasing the pot at the end of the rainbow. Happiness for Xerxes would have been found in first going to Vashti, and bowing in humble apology before her, confessing he had ‘done her wrong’ and asking her for her pardon. No happiness for Xerxes was possible until he had done that.

CHRISTIANS LIVING IN PERSIA WERE SADLY INFLUENCED BY ITS VALUES.

One of the saddest persons in this chapter is an Old Testament Jehovahist named Mordecai. He is the first believer in the Lord we meet in this book. We can build up our picture of this man in a number of ways, for example, that his name is actually a Babylonian name – though by our 21st century through the Bible it has become sanctified and respectable. When I was a boy going to a Welsh language church with my father at Bethania, Dowlais, there was a leading deacon in the congregation whose name was Mr. Mordecai Evans. He was a school teacher and a bachelor, and his responsibility was to make the announcements in the church during the morning and evening services. Long before I discovered that this name was derived from someone who appeared in the book of Esther I would look with respect at this righteous Welshman standing in the pulpit for three minutes graciously giving the congregation the intimations for the coming week.

So Mordecai was a Babylonian name; the process of assimilation into Persian society had begun at his birth. What is more significant about the Mordecai of the book of Esther is that he was there in the citadel of Susa itself. I believe we are to infer from verse six that his great-grandfather, Kish, was the first of his family to be taken into exile in Babylon in 597 with King Jehoiachim. That was a hundred years before Xerxes succeeded to the throne. So his family had been immersed in these worldly non-Jehovahist values for over a century. We also know that almost fifty years earlier Cyrus the Great had declared that the Jews could return to their homeland, yet here was Mordecai, an Old Testament Christian who had no desire at all to return to Jerusalem, living at the very heart of heathendom

Again, Mordecai had clearly become very much a part of that society. We gather that he had been appointed to be a Persian magistrate because we are told in verse nineteen that he was “sitting at the king’s gate.” This expression occurs five times in this book. In Babylon the ‘gate’ was the place where justice was dispensed. It was not necessarily near the gate to the city, but some fairly substantial and fortified area. The particular gate mentioned in this chapter seems to have been an important one near the king’s own palace. So Mordecai was a magistrate in sitting, hearing various disputes.

Again, we are told that Mordecai was acting as a foster or adoptive father to his cousin Hadassah. She had been orphaned and he had taken her in and raised her as if she were his own child. Hadassah is a Hebrew name while ‘Esther’ is a Persian name derived from the Persian word meaning ‘star’ or ‘Ishtar’ the Babylonian goddess of love.

So when the search for the beautiful virgins in the empire began Esther was picked up in the sweep, and somehow she was taken to the king’s palace. I think we have every reason to believe that this was without any protest from Mordecai. He made no attempt to prevent her being taken from him to the harem to become one of the candidates for the new queen, quite the reverse. In fact the advice he gave her was not to jeopardize her position at all by letting people know that she was an Old Testament believer (v.20). I suppose that if she had told them that she was a Jew that information would have immediately disqualified her from becoming Queen. She could have walked out and back home, but Mordecai forbade her to reveal “her nationality and family background” (v.10). So by her dress and language she was indistinguishable from all the other women who entered the harem and submitted themselves to a Babylonian make-over. She was a symbol of all that was wrong with the Old Testament people of God at that time. They blended in with their neighbours so much so that it was impossible to distinguish them from unbelievers by any of their enthusiasms let alone their morals or a weekly pattern of life; no Sabbath rest there. The prophet Isaiah had spoken thus of them warning of the certain exile that lay ahead, “They have harps and lyres at their banquets, tambourines and flutes and wine, but they have no regard for the deeds of the LORD, no respect for the work of his hands. Therefore my people will go into exile . . .” (Is. 5:12&13).

Esther immediately became a favourite of the eunuch in charge and not only Hegai’s favourite but of everyone in the harem. If they had voted who was to be thrown out of the house one by one she would have survived to the very last one. So she settled down to become the very best member of the harem that there’d ever been; she’d be a Christian concubine! She followed Hegai’s instructions as to the best ways to please Xerxes to the very letter. We are not told how – was it by lavishly dressing or by a very simple garb? But finally she became the new queen; Xerxes set a crown on her head, proclaimed a holiday through his empire, gave gifts to all his friends at his marriage to his wonderful new wife, and there was another great banquet. Eating and drinking was their life! Any excuse for it! And from the plain reading of this chapter marrying this ogre Xerxes is exactly what Mordecai wanted. Incredible! Surely she was not the only Old Testament believer to be selected and taken to the harem, and yet from the large Jewish community there was no protest, no days of prayer and fasting for the safe return of their girls.

Here is Mordecai, a believer who had spent his life in the kingdom of another god and so he had started to think like the worshippers of that god. Of course he is concerned for Esther and loves her; we are told that he hung around outside the harem every single day to get the news and gossip. How was she doing? But his concern was larger than for Esther’s well being. It was the survival of Jehovahism. It was how to gain protection for himself and his people as the Persians grew increasingly envious of their influence and prosperity. Mordecai concluded that it would be by one of them marrying into the royal family. You remember how this whole mentality destroyed King Solomon, how he married hundreds of daughters of the surrounding kings. He began to think as the surrounding heathen did, that the way for peace and security would be by dynastic marriages, but of course his wives and concubines brought their gods and values with them and it compromised Solomon fearfully. Neither Solomon nor Mordecai nor most of the Jews were entrusting themselves to the Lord of hosts. There was no faith that if they would only turn from their unbelief and cry mightily to the Lord he would always protect and keep them, surrounding them by the invisible hosts of heaven, the chariots and horsemen of fire.

Mordecai encouraged his own foster daughter to get this evil man as her husband. It seems to us incredible. We would have hidden her away like little Anne Frank wouldn’t we? There were express prohibitions about Jehovahists marrying the worshippers of Baal and Molech and Dagon, but what was the law of God to a Mordecai who was compromising having lived all his life in this kingdom of darkness? At best the words of the prophets were a valuable tradition, but not a living entity. Mordecai like so many of these believers in Babylon had a form of godliness, but they knew nothing of the power of God to keep all who trusted in him. They didn’t long for that whereas the Lord who is his people’s Shepherd and Shield should have been their hope and confidence; “If we trust in God he will protect us even when we are surrounded by our foes. He will spread a table for us in the presence of our enemies and cause our cups to run over.” Such confidence was far from Mordecai alas. He had begun to play fast and loose with the only things that matter, the things of God. What a beautiful, loving, powerful King we have. The Lord Jesus delights to protect and keep us. Not Xerxes. Never Xerxes. Jesus Christ must be your Sovereign Protector or you are defenceless in Persia.

Are there not ominous ways in which the church of God in our day has taken up the values of the world in which it lives to protect itself from the disdain of its opponents and obtain growth? Paul has to remind the Corinthians that the weapons of our warfare are not carnal. They are spiritual weapons and so they are mighty through God to the pulling down of Babylonian strongholds. Every other ploy will destroy us.

3. HOW TO OVERCOME PERSIAN VALUES IN YOUR OWN LIFE.

Let me give you four or five guidelines in closing of how to overcome the carnal temptations of Babylon;

i] Set Christ Ever Before You.

The Apostle Paul was motivated by this to progress in the Christian life. He says, “Christ’s love compels us” (2 Cors. 5:14). Al Martin says, “If you were to see Paul through a normal day spending his energies and his faculties in self-sacrificing service for the Lord Jesus and for the sake of the souls of men, and at the close of that day you were to watch him drop exhausted to his place of rest, and you were to say to him, ‘Paul, what is it that drives you with what seems to the world this almost insane passion to preach the gospel, to rescue men as brands from the burning, to establish men in the truth as you write your letters, to give yourself to the formation and the edification of the churches ?‘, he would say, ‘If you want to know in a simple statement the secret of what drives me, it is this: The love of Christ holds me in its grip, it compels me to work like this, that is, Christ’s love for me, the fact that I stand in constant amaze­ment that the Son of God loved me and gave himself for me.’ This was the gospel motive which drove him with far more zeal to resist sin than any legal motive could ever drive a man.”

ii] Know how your enemies operate.

As a believer I have to be seriously on my guard not to be indoctrinated and conditioned by these pagan views of sex and marriage. If you have to enter a dark cellar, you don’t simply rush in blindly. You move carefully, inch by inch, feeling your way cautiously until your eyes gradually become used to the dark. If you are crossing a minefield you first get a map which locates the position of every mine. So you become acquainted with your enemy. I have tried to answer in this message the most common arguments current today attacking the Christian attitude to sex and marriage. God has told us all about this in the Bible, so sit under the best ministry you can, and read the Bible and wise books on marriage and sex which, thank God, are freely available. Build up a trusting relationship with your pastor. You know he wont jump down your throat at your own struggles and falls because he is human too. Know how sin works; it can lie in wait at the door of our beloved’s waiting for us, but it can also sow ideas and thoughts in our minds with ourselves hardly being aware of them. It is trying to brainwash us very carefully and gradually. What is the first thing a thief does when he sets out to break into your house? He begins by cutting the wires of the burglar alarm. So sin first destroys whatever links my alarm box, that is, my conscience, has with the Bible to render me spiritually comatose, insensitive to sin. If sin can make me impervious to the injunctions of the Word of God, of the pulpit, and of my parents then those three of my most powerful bodyguards are down and out. Be on guard and prevent the devil introducing those pagan views of sex into your mind and into the core of your love life. Let’s be on our guard against this; let’s watch; let’s be wide awake.

iii] Rest them by the Grace of God.

In the second place I, as a believer, have to struggle to the death against this sinful view of things. Think of Joseph; when Potiphar’s wife wished to seduce him (we read of it in Genesis 39) he persisted in saying “No!” resolutely. How did he reason? That it was a sin, a great sin. It would have been a sin against his fellow-man for Joseph to have capitulated and taken the place of her husband. If a man and woman have an affair, they shouldn’t assume that because they love one another they also have a right to give their bodies to one another or have access to one another’s bodies. God doesn’t give you that right before marriage. Until God has joined you in matrimony, then every sexual act dishonours the other as a human being.

Joseph also said “No!” because this would have been an evil deed against himself. Paul wrote to the Corinthians: “Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body” (I Cor. 6:18). Then the apostle asks, “ . . . Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own”. Know that verse and know its power in your life in the struggle

But Joseph also spoke his resounding no because it would have been a sin against God. How can I do this great evil and sin in the sight of God? Unchastity in the first and last instance is a sin against God and his commandments. David also realised this when, after commiting the sin with Bathsheba, he lamented: “Against thee, and thee only, have I sinned . . .” (Psalm 51:6). Let’s be keenly aware of this always in our struggle against temptation. Fight against it. Put it to death. Show it no mercy. It destroyed the reputation of David and many others known and loved by us.

iv] Flee from them.

In the third place, as a believer meeting powerful temptations to sin I am constantly called upon not just to think about the words I’m hearing and debate them with the Christian alternatives, but to flee from those seductions. Paul wrote to Timothy: “But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness . . .” (1 Tim. 6:11). This Joseph also did. When the woman didn’t wish to accept “No” for an answer and openly pulled him to her, Joseph left his cloak in her grip and got out. He was determined not to fall. Who has won a battle with hot temptation by mere words? Fleeing from it is not just our duty, it makes good sense. Let not the strongest Christian think that he is capable of withstanding temptation through his own strength. “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” (1 Cor. 10:12). We might have to flee from the room where there’s the computer, or from a magazine, or get out of the pub or club or dance hall, from the “friends” with impure attitudes, from the party. If you should discover that your friend’s interest in you is purely a sexual one then you should break off the relationship. Flee, even at the cost of heartbreak and suffering.

v] Cry to God about them.

Above all else we have to pray. We sing this chorus in the hymn, “Yield not to temptation:”

“Ask the Saviour to help you
Comfort, strengthen and keep you
He is willing to aid you,
He will carry you through.” (Horatio Palmer 1834-1907)

When Daniel lived in Persia where did he get the moral courage to defy Nebuchadnezzer and to decline his food and drink? Where did Daniel get the strength of self-denial to eat only vegetables and drink water all that time, while the table of the king was always groaning under the most delectable food and drink which Babylon could offer at the time? There is only one answer: Daniel fell to his knees three times a day and prayed to his God, praising him for his power and glory and grace(Daniel 6:11). So let’s take our weapons, the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God, and let’s pray to the Holy Ghost on every occasion (Eph. 6:17, 18) pleading this promise: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13).

There are two kings and one alone you can serve, Xerxes or Jesus Christ. There are two examples you can follow, Xerxes’ or Jesus’. There is one kingdom in which you can spend your days, Babylon or the Living God’s. You have to choose. This day you are going to make a choice. A choice is unavoidable. You are going to go on living in the kingdom of darkness where the flesh reigns, or you are going to leave it by the power of the Spirit and cry to the King to let you be translated into his blessed and glorious Kingdom to live there for ever. A man who had long served kings like Xerxes and paid for it by being put to death cried to this King in the last hours of their lives, “Jesus, remember me when you come in your Kingdom.” Pray that prayer when you are dying. “But I don’t know when I’ll die,” you protest. True. Then pray it now and go on praying until you know God has answered you.

February 11, 2007 GEOFF THOMAS