>Well, you’ve got your Bibles open to Ephesians chapter 5 by now, and as Ben said, we’re starting a new series entitled: This is Love. And I have no idea how I’m supposed to follow that video, because some of you are still thinking about the chicken dance! As a matter of fact, I am! Okay, I’m done with that!
As we jump into this topic, I’ve already told you the title of the message is When Sex Kills Love. Before we jump into the Scripture, I just want to talk to different people who are in the room right now. If you would allow me, I need to sit down, just across the table—as if I’m at your dinner table, or we’re at Starbucks. Because there are different people in the room who are going to hear this message differently.
For some of you, what you need to hear in this message is a word of comfort and a word of grace. No matter what you have done sexually, and no matter what has been done to you sexually, here’s what you need to hear: Your sin is forgivable and God can extend grace to you. No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done. You may need to hear a word of comfort this morning.
There are others of you here, and what you need to hear is a word of warning, because what you are currently doing with sex is harmful. It’s harmful to you, it is harmful to the person you’re engaged with, and it is harmful to your relationship with God. And you need to hear a strong warning this morning, as we open God’s Word.
There are others of you today, and I’ve thought a lot about you. You are not married, and you are trying to do it right. And what you need to hear is a word of congratulations and a word of encouragement, and a word: don’t give up the battle for sexual purity! If you’re doing it right, way to go! Hang in there! There is nothing really outside of these walls that is doing you any favors in getting this right. If you’re here as a young person, you’re unmarried—then I want you to hear from God’s Word, “Way to go! You’re doing it right this morning!”
Before we open the Scripture, is there anybody here that kind of questions what the Bible actually says about sex? Do I really need to go into this at all? Does everybody just kind of understand the overarching principles? If you want to know what God says about sex, here it is in a statement: God reserves sex for married people. Is that a news flash for anybody?
Does everybody kind of understand that’s what the Bible says about sex? That’s probably not a shock to you, especially if you grew up in a church, grew up reading your Bible. But, have you ever stopped long enough to ask the question, “Why?” Well, we’re going to try to answer some of those questions. And part of the answer is this: God has designed sex to be so powerful that it will either ignite love and secure love—or, your sex can actually kill love—because God has designed sex to be so powerful.
Big Idea: Outside of covenant marriage, sex kills love.
Listen, sex is God’s idea. Before there were any prohibitions on sex, or any restrictions on sex, God said, “Sex is my idea.” I mean, God could have created babies any way He wanted to. He could have taken a piece of earwax out of you and earwax out of your partner and smashed them together and created babies. Or hatched them in eggs. I don’t know. But God created this very powerful, beautiful wonderful thing called sex.
It was His idea, and sex is not a four-letter word. God created this beautiful thing. And God wants you to experience both love and sex exactly the way that He intended it. And yet, if you don’t understand God’s view of sex or love, quite likely you will kill both, and you’ll forfeit the very thing that God wanted you to experience in all of its wonder and beauty and power.
So, we’re going to look at it here, and dive into the Scripture, and what we’re going to look at are seven ways that sex kills love when you don’t do it God’s way. We’re going to see all of them right here in Ephesians 5. We’re going to look at seven verses here this morning. We’re going to look at the first two verses of Ephesians 5, which are on the topic of love, and then the next five verses—that are on the topic of sex. Because, you can’t understand one without the other!
So, Ephesians chapter 5; I’m going to begin reading in verses 1 and 2 [ESV]. Here it says, “Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Sex kills love when…
- Love is reduced to a feeling. (v2)
Sex kills love when you reduce love to a feeling. We see it here, that we are to be imitators of God as beloved children, and then we’re commanded in verse 2 to walk in love.
Now, before we can understand those, we have to understand what love is, and what love is not. Now, if you take your definitions of love from modern music lyrics, you’re going to be confused about love—because “love is more than a feeling.” Does anybody feel the need to break into song right now? I mean, if you’re taking your definitions of love from Taylor Swift songs, you’re going to have a train wreck, okay? So, we need to understand that love is something more than a feeling.
We know that love is more than a feeling, because in verse 2 we’re commanded to love! Do you know what the assumption is? There are going to be some times when you don’t feel like loving. That’s when you need the command! It’s commanded because it’s assumed you’re not always going to feel it. So, love’s not a feeling.
I hear young people talk about, “I have fallen in love!” You know, it’s like they’re smitten, and it’s like there’s this gravitational pull on them, that’s pulling…and they’re falling. I try to tell young people, “Listen! You don’t fall in love! You fall into holes; you fall into drainage ditches; you fall into dog poo when you’re playing backyard football, but you don’t fall in love, alright?” You’re acting like: “I didn’t have anything to do with it. I just walked in the room and was smitten! Cupid had his arrow pointed at me! I couldn’t help myself!” Wrong!
Then couples break up. Have you ever known a couple that broke up, when twenty-four hours earlier they were all googly-eyed at each other and stuck to one another and slobbering all over each other? Or, even married couples who have been together for like twenty-five years, and they break up and you’re like, “What happened?” And they say, “Well, somewhere along the way we just fell out of love!”
You don’t fall out of love! You fall out of trees; you fall out of bed; you fall out of pickup trucks. You don’t fall in and out of love. Love is a choice. Because you have to choose to love and walk in love when sometimes you don’t feel like it.
Another mistake about love is, we think love is somehow related to sexual attraction. Listen! As a male, I am attracted to people that I am not in love with—and every man in here, and every woman in here is. Sexual attraction is not love. One of the things that’s interesting to know about the word “love,” even in this text of Scripture; when you read the word “love” in the English translation here, you need to understand that behind that English translation word “love” are three different Greek words that were all translated into our one word, “love.”
One of those Greek words is the word “eros.” It’s the word that we get our English word “erotic” from. Does that give you a hint as to what kind of love that is? That’s talking about a sexual attraction—which is not a bad thing (say “that is not a bad thing”) in the context of covenant marriage. The problem is, our culture has reduced all love down to sexual attraction.
There’s another Greek word. It’s “phileo.” It’s the word from which we get the name of our city, Philadelphia – the “city of brotherly love.” Brotherly love—see, there’s a different kind of love that brothers have for one another.
This week, I’m going to get on a plane (this afternoon), and I’m going to go out to Phoenix, and I’m going to be surrounded for three days with our Harvest senior pastors, from all over the country. We get together once a year. And do you know what’s going to happen in there? We are going to love one another!
Do you understand, it is a very healthy thing for two men to love one another? And yet, in our culture—when you talk about two men loving one another—somehow we think that has to do with sexual attraction. There’s a difference between eros (erotic love), phileo (brotherly love), and then there’s one other word. It’s the word “agape.”
That’s the one used here, and that is how God loves! 1 John 4:7—the Bible actually says God is love. And so, if God is love, don’t you think He would have the right to define what it means? And so, God says that we’re to be imitators of His love. So, in our horizontal relationships with one another, we’re to imitate His love.
And then, here at the end of verse 1, the passage says, “…as beloved children.” Sex kills love when you substitute sex for love because you are looking for love—and in exchange for feeling a moment of love, you’re willing to give sexual favor. Listen, you will stop looking for love when you understand you are already loved. We are to imitate God’s love as beloved children! I will stop looking for love as a way to be loved. I will love because I am already loved as a beloved child. So, sex kills love when love’s reduced to a feeling. There’s got to be more to it.
- When love is self-serving. (v2)
Here’s the second point: sex kills love when love is self-serving. I want you to look here in verse 2. It says, “Walk in love, [and then Paul describes how Christ has loved us] as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” So, real love, according to this passage, is an act of the will.
We know that, because God sent Christ—as an act of His will to love us. We know that it had to be an act of the will, because is there anything in you that would attract God to you? You were deserving of none of His love, because you’d declared war on God and acted independently of God—loving yourself—and so, as an act of God’s will, He had to send Christ to love you while you were unlovable! And do you know what He says? “Imitate that in your relationships.” Be an imitator of God. Love somebody who’s not always lovable. That’s what Christ did as Christ loved us. Real love is an act of the will.
Secondly, real love gives. Look at the passage. It says, “Christ gave Himself up for us.” You see, when you become an imitator of God, you give rather than take. But sex kills love when you use sex to take from somebody else for your own personal gratification. But, when you imitate God’s love, do you know what you give up? You give up rights, you give up comforts, and you give up independence.
Isn’t that what Christ did? He left the comforts of heaven, He left the right to receive all glory, and He came to where I was. He even gave up His independence; He subjected Himself to human hands. And when we love, what do we do? We give up independence. Now we’re interdependent upon one another. As an act of love, we’re going to work together, instead of me somehow lording it over you. And so, real love gives.
Also, real love sacrifices. Do you see it? Christ was a sacrifice to God. That means you lose a part of yourself every time you choose to love. Every time you choose to love, you’re choosing to pay a price. You’re choosing to lose your desires, lose your preferences, lose your pleasures—in order to love the object of your love. So, real love sacrifices.
Real love justifies. Do you see the phrase there: He became “a fragrant offering?” Isn’t that interesting? Jesus became a sweet-smelling fragrance to God the Father. Do you see what was happening as Christ was dying upon that cross? Do you know what He was doing? He was absorbing all your stinky-ness. And yet, as He absorbed it, He transformed it into something that was pleasurable to God.
Do you know what you do when you love somebody? You love somebody that’s got a little stink to ‘em—and you absorb their stink because you love them, and you change it—you exchange it—so that that becomes something pleasant. Love justifies, it transforms.
How of many of you, who understand salvation and understand how we become right with God (we’ve talked about this around her so often), do you understand that we are justified by faith alone, apart from works? Do you believe that? How many of you believe that?
Question for those of you who are married: If you really believe that you are justified by faith alone apart from works, why do you insist that your spouse be justified by works? Do you know why? Because you’re making love self-serving. Instead of treating them better than they deserve, instead of covering sin, we count their sin against them. Not Christ! What does He do to love us? He justifies! He turns stinky-ness into something pleasant, something that smells better than it actually is! That’s what real love does.
- When sex is detached from covenant marriage. (v3)
Here’s the third thing: Sex kills love when sex is detached from covenant marriage. Look at Ephesians 5:3. He says, “But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.” You see, there is a whole “junk drawer” of sexual activity that is off-limits for saints. And it, basically, is all sexual activity outside of heterosexual marriage. That includes lust, that includes pornography, that includes immorality, fornication, adultery, rape, polygamy, prostitution, “friends with benefits,” pedophilia, incest, bisexuality or homosexuality.
Any sexual activity outside of covenant marriage is off-limits for those who have submitted themselves to Christ. Why? Because God wants you to walk in love! God has given sex as a vehicle for two married people to walk in love. But when two people who are not married engage in any sexual activity, you don’t walk “in” love—you walk “on” love—and you kill love! And so, God has reserved sexual activity for those in covenant marriage.
What is covenant marriage? It’s a big word, theological word—what does that mean? It simply means that because love is hard to measure and define (is it a feeling; what is it?), God says, “We need something on record to know when two people are establishing covenant love” because it’s supposed to be exclusive, with one person for one lifetime—right?
And so, there’s the covenant, and we go to a lot of trouble to declare the covenant. We file paperwork down at the courthouse, and we invite everybody we’ve ever known—and serve cake, and spend thousands of dollars and get dressed up–all for the purpose of hearing this exchange of promises. We buy precious metals and put them on body parts to announce to the world: “I belong to someone!” That is covenant marriage, and it is in that context that God says, “Enjoy all of it!”
Last Sunday afternoon, I began research on this particular sermon. As a matter of fact, all week long, I’ve been doing research on this particular subject. You see, in June I’m going to turn fifty! (I thought there would be gasps at that particular moment. You were not impressed by that?) I’m gonna have my fiftieth birthday, and a few weeks ago, Andrea asked me, “I want to make this special; I want to do something. We’ve gotta have some big party or something. . .What do you want to do? Do you want a big present or something?” I said, “Aaah, I don’t want anything like that,” and she said, “Oh, come on! There’s got to be something!”
Well, I had heard—this organization that Andrea and I speak with, FamilyLife (we go do Weekend to Remember marriage getaways for couples. We’re doing one very soon in Kalamazoo, if you want to come with us, that’d be great!—last weekend in March, first weekend in April). Anyway, we speak for this organization.
FamilyLife also hosts a cruise. What they do is, they lease a Carnival cruise ship, and everybody on the boat is married. The purpose of the whole cruise is to celebrate marriage and build marriage, and so there are sessions and there’s teaching. We’ve never gone on this cruise—really never thought we would—never really made arrangements.
But a couple weeks ago, when Andrea asked, “What do you want to do?”—I was like, “Aww, it would be cool, someday, to go on that.” The next day, Bob Lepine walks up to Andrea and says, “Hey, if you can get to New Orleans, I’ll get you on the boat!” Really? So, I said, “That would be a great place to do research on this particular topic!” So, Andrea and I—last Sunday—flew down to New Orleans, we got on the boat, and we have been on the boat all week long. We got back at ten o’clock last night, and we have been doing research.
In the middle of the Gulf of Mexico, I had this thought: “You know what? I suspect there is some sexual activity going on, on this boat!” Three-thousand married couples, committed to covenant marriage, believers putting themselves under the teaching of Scripture. This is incredible! And I also had this thought: You know what? There may not be any sexual sin within hundreds of miles of this boat! Where else on the planet could that be occurring? You have sexual activity without sexual sin!
That’s covenant marriage. And the reason why God reserves sex for marriage is because sex is so powerful. You should never give yourself to someone sexually who is unwilling to give themselves to you emotionally, socially, economically, legally, spiritually, permanently and exclusively. And when you do, sex kills love.
God has designed sex as this incredibly powerful adhesive! Frankie and Brienne, come up here for a second. This is Frankie and Brienne. Are you all married? How long? Eight years. Let me show you how this works. I love this couple! They’re growing in Christ, they’ve got a great testimony.
How many of you use duct tape to fix things? How many of you have something duct-taped, right now, in your home that you fixed, with all your of engineering skills? You didn’t get the engineering degree from Purdue, but you’ve got duct tape—that’s all you need, right? Well, let me show you the purpose for sex, and why God reserves sex for married people. Because this is what sex does [Pastor Trent duct tapes Frankie and Brienne together.]
Sex is designed by God to make you stick to each other! You see, in your brain, God has put chemicals: oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine. And when you engage in sexual activity, those chemicals wash over your brain that actually stick you to the person with whom you are having sex. You say, “Well, that’s not why I use sex! I’m just having a good time!” Yeah—you know what your problem is? When you take that adhesive and you plaster it to something—and then you unplaster it from something–when you stick it to somebody, and you say, “Okay, we’re going to stick it to somebody else now,”—every time you do that, what happens to the adhesive? You reduce the adhesive.
And so, God wants to use sex for that purpose, but when you use it over and over—every time you stick it and unstick it to a different person…and by the way, it doesn’t have to be a person…every time you do, it loses some of its stickiness. And so, here you are all of a sudden, twenty-five years later, “I think it’s time to get married and settle down!”—and you try to use sex for its intended purpose, and you realize, “Why isn’t this working the way it should? Why isn’t…?” You see, what’s happened is—you’ve used it for its unintended purpose and it’s lost its power to make you stick.
God wants you to experience sex in all of its power and all of its purpose! Do you appreciate this couple? Give them a hand. Now, listen! If you are not yet married, you say, “But I have these desires, and I want to stick to somebody.” Sex is reserved for that purpose—to stick you to one person for one lifetime.
I want you to imagine, somewhere out there, there is a place out there somewhere—there is a hotel room where, one day, I assume you want to cross the threshold and enjoy some special activity with the person with whom you are forming this covenant marriage. You’re going to, at some point, meet a person and you’re going to propose marriage, and you’re going to buy a ring and you’re going to reserve a church or a chapel. You’re going to reserve a preacher or a pastor, you’re going to reserve a cake and reserve a dress and reserve a tux. At some point you’re going to start planning the honeymoon. You’re going to make some reservations—in a stateroom on a cruise—or a hotel room or a resort. You’re going to make that reservation.
Now, listen, after all of the “I do’s” have been said, after all of the pictures have been taken, you’re eventually going to arrive at that hotel room that you have reserved. What if you get to the hotel room, and they have actually given your hotel room to someone else? Would you protest? “Now, wait just a minute!! I’ve been planning this for a long time! I called ahead! I reserved this room!”
Can I say something to you? If you’re going to all the trouble to reserve the room—because of all that you want to go on in that room—could I just suggest you might want to reserve your body for that day, as well? What’s more important…your body or the room? God reserves sex for those in covenant marriage? Why? Because He doesn’t want you to kill love with sex.
- When sexual sin is something I tolerate and laugh at. (v4)
Here’s the fourth thing: Sex kills love when sexual sin is something I tolerate or laugh at.
Look at verses 4 and 5: “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.”
Verse 4 talks about not even talking about this in a way that diminishes its value—not even joking about this. And yet, why is it that the object of almost every stand-up comedian’s material is this subject? Listen, this goes way beyond not just having sex with a person. It has to do with the way you use your mouth, the way you use your eyes, the way that you use your brain: to reserve this activity (and even in your thinking) for one person with whom you are in covenant relationship.
A couple of weeks ago, there was a man in our church who approached me. He said, “Hey, I’ve got four tickets to the Notre Dame basketball game! I’m looking for people to go with me. Would you come?” I was like, “Absolutely!” And we got Micah and another buddy, and we all showed up at the Notre Dame game. They had a good game and they won.
You know, there are these commercial breaks that ESPN has to take every now and then, so you’ve got like this three-minute break. When that happens, the Notre Dame cheerleaders run out onto the floor. So, were we are, four men of the church sitting in the stands. What do you do at that point? I’m there sitting thinking, “You know what? I have a better chance of not sinning if I look somewhere else.”
And so, I just kind of started looking around; I tried looking at the scoreboard, but it’s got that Jumbotron right there, and I thought “That’s not going to work!” So, I’m looking over here and up at the ceiling or whatever. I’m thinking, “I’m not being legalistic, but…what do people think? I wonder what my friends think here; I’m the pastor, and they’re probably thinking, ‘Now I’ve got to look away” or whatever.
And then, right next to me I hear the friend who invited me to the game. He said, “You know, they’ve changed these LED lights since the last time I’ve been here!” “Alright, dude! You’re not looking either! Knuckle-bump!” You know? The NIV translates this verse this way: “But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality…” because that’s how seriously God takes this subject. Because He wants you to experience sex in all its fullness, in all of its power, He doesn’t want you to kill love.
- When sex becomes an idol of my worship. (v5)
When sex becomes an idol of my worship, sex kills love.
It’s interesting, here in verse 5 the Bible mentions an “idolater.” What’s an idolater? Is he talking about idolatry? I thought he was talking about immorality? Do you see he makes the connection? What is an idol? An idolater is someone who worships a created thing rather than the Creator. And if you have a sex problem, you have a worship problem. You are so fixated on God’s creation, you are missing out on the Creator. You’re an idolater! You love sex more than you love God, and you’ve become an idolater. That’s when sex kills love.
- When sexual sin excludes me from God’s kingdom. (v5-6)
Sex kills love when sexual sin excludes me from God’s kingdom. Serious as a heart attack, right now!
Did you see what it says there in verses 5 and 6? Here’s the warning: “You [can] be sure of this [No question—God hasn’t changed His position on this, God hasn’t weakened His standard], that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience.” Do you get it? Sexual immorality invites the wrath of God! There will be some people in hell because they would not repent of sexual immorality. That’s how serious this is!
Now, does that mean if you’ve ever stepped out of bounds in this area you’re going to hell? No. It may make your life feel like hell. We’ve already talked about how every sin can be forgiven, but you have to—have to—bring your sexuality under the Lordship of Jesus Christ! You can’t say, “I want heaven—and I want unbridled sex in this lifetime,” and have them both. If you refuse to submit to Jesus as king of your sex life, you will forfeit God’s kingdom in the next life. Serious as a heart attack! Eternal consequences for those who will not give up this sin. They would rather have sex in this life than heaven in the next.
- When I walk with the wrong partners (v7)
Sex kills love when I walk with the wrong partners.
Look at Ephesians 5:7: “Therefore do not become partners with them.” We’ve already said the world is doing no favors in this area. Hollywood wants to partner with you; your friends at school want to partner with you; there will be boys and girls, men and women, who want to be sexual partners with you. Don’t partner with them! That doesn’t mean you have to live alone! You will either, by default, choose the wrong partners—or you will, within intention, choose the right partners. Here’s the good news! We’re creating an environment—at Harvest Bible Chapel—of people who want to get this area right.
If you’re a single person here, this is a community where—you know what?—we’re all headed in the same direction on this, and we’re going to get this right. We’re going to honor God with our sex life. We’re not going to kill love, we’re going to experience love and sex in God’s timing, in the right context. If you’re a married person here today, and you’ve stepped out of bounds in this area—there’s flirting going on, and there’s an emotional affair or a physical affair, or maybe you’ve got a porn thing that’s hooked your heart? Listen! This is a place where you have partners, and they are going to help you get this right. And your best partner is the one with whom you are in covenant relationship.
For some of you, you need to get honest with your marriage partner about where you’re at in this area. There are others of you who have dating partners or sexual partners, and the application of this message is, “You need to break that relationship—today! Do not be partners with them! Be partners with us, and let’s all get it right together.”
I’m going to ask you to bow your heads, close your eyes. I said at the beginning of this message: some people need to hear a word of grace, no matter where you’ve been, no matter what you’ve done, no matter what’s been done to you. There’s grace, there are fresh starts, new beginnings! Why? Because Christ loved you so much, He gave Himself for sexual sinners like you and me. If you will confess and repent and trust Christ for forgiveness today, He stands ready to forgive, to heal, to restore, to renew—no matter what’s happened.
Some of you need a word of warning. You are so far out of bounds on this, and you know in the quietest moments—it’s killing you! It’s killing your relationship with God, it’s killing your relationship with others. Today, you need to repent. Maybe today, for the first time, you say, “You know what? I really have never submitted my sexuality to Christ as King.” Right here, right now, why don’t you tell Him that? “Lord, I’m bringing all of that under Your Lordship. I don’t want to miss out on your kingdom! I want You as my King! I’ve been an idolater. I’ve worshipped the creation rather than the Creator and, God, I’ve missed out on so much that you want to give to me.” I’m going to pray right now. Would you just pray along with me?
Father, today, thank You for Your Word. Even in Your Word You said that we’re to replace all of this sexual immorality with thanksgiving. Lord, thank You for Your plan; thank You for my gender; thank You for forgiveness. Thank You for this church, for partners who want to partner with me to honor You. And Lord, I want to ask You today to give me fresh forgiveness. Purify my heart! Cleanse, renew, forgive.