Called to Ministry?
What’s Sex Got to Do With It?
By Cheryl Taylor
So you sense God may be calling you into ministry. Did you know the choices you make now will impact your future ministry? One of those choices is the decision to save sexual activity for marriage. First Timothy 3 lists qualifications for church leaders, and the prerequisites include self-control and being above reproach. One tangible evidence of these qualities is the pursuit of sexual purity.
The importance of sexual integrity for leaders is dramatically illustrated in the stories of David and Joseph. These young men both had the call of God on their lives, yet each chose to respond to sexual temptation in different ways.
Remember David? While still a boy tending his father’s sheep, he was anointed to be the next king of Israel. At the height of his career, however, he saw beautiful Bathsheba and caved into sexual temptation. From that point on he faced a series of consequences that haunted him until his dying day. An overwhelming sense of guilt, the death of his baby, broken family relationships, and ultimately the fall of his kingdom all came as a result of his decision. Yes, God forgave him and he was restored to leadership, but he still reaped the natural consequences of his actions.
Joseph, too, had a call on his life. When he was a young man, God gave him a dream revealing his future role as a leader of God’s people. When faced with sexual temptation, Joseph chose a different course of action from David. Remember when Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph? He was a slave, and she the first lady. He could have definitely worked this to his advantage. Yet, what did he do? Joseph turned and fled. From that point he rose to one of the top leadership positions in Egypt, and God used him to save the Israelites.
You, too, can choose to pursue the path of sexual purity. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable … For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:3–8).
Some young people assume, If I can somehow just make it until I get married, then I won’t have to worry about sexual temptation anymore. Wrong. Sexual temptation does not stop simply because you have walked down an aisle and said, “I do.” Not only will you still face sexual temptation, but the stakes will be greater —your marriage relationship. The good news, however, is that the foundations you establish now will carry into — and strengthen ¾your future marriage and ministry. You will be equipped to help a world that desperately needs to understand God’s game plan for sexual integrity.
Why Wait? Reasons For Pursuing Purity
Young people today are bombarded with sexual temptation from all sides, and often the moral standard is gray. Our sexually saturated culture has made sex bigger than life; love has been reduced to lust, intimacy has become synonymous with sex, and sex is seen as merely a physical act. In this culture, sexual permissiveness, media, friends, and our bodies all seem to be screaming, Just do it. At times we may wonder if it is really worth it to wait. What is the advantage of purity? Consider the following seven reasons why waiting is in your best interest.
Waiting is a spiritual act of worship
“Flee from sexual immorality. … Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, … Therefore honor God with you body” (1 Corinthians 6:18–20). As Paul wrote these words, he understood that a temple is not just a building, but it is a place where God dwells. We are special and sacred because God lives in us through His Spirit. Wherever we go, whatever we do ¾ it all reflects on God. Suddenly, the dividing wall we use to divide our lives into sacred and secular is gone. We cannot compartmentalize our lives into church/spiritual stuff and regular/daily life stuff. Paul says, if we are Christians, it is all God’s stuff. Our thinking regarding sexual purity must begin here. All of life, public and private, spiritual and sexual, is part of our worship to God. This is why Paul said that our bodies are living sacrifices — our spiritual worship (Romans 12:1,2). You already practice the spiritual disciplines of prayer and Bible reading, why not add the spiritual discipline of chastity?
Waiting honors God’s plan for sex
“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable” (1 Thessalonians 4:3,4). Sex is not for people who are ready. Sex is not for people who are in love. Sex is for people who are married. Why? Because sex is not just physical; it is relational. It is to be reserved for the committed relationship of marriage.
God created us with sexual desire, and within the proper boundaries it is a beautiful thing to be shared and enjoyed by a husband and wife. Problems arise, however, when we go outside biblical boundaries, trying to meet legitimate needs in illegitimate ways. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6:18, “He who sins sexually sins against his own body.” When we commit sexual sins, we hurt ourselves. We damage the potential for a satisfying sexual relationship with a marriage partner down the road. We rob our future spouse of intimacy as well. God intended for husbands and wives to become “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). Yet, with every premarital sexual encounter, we decrease the significance of sex with our future partner; the oneness factor is damaged before it even exists.1 How much of your future spouse’s wedding gift are you willing to give away to the person you are now dating?
Waiting results in a more satisfying sex life in marriage
God is not just trying to keep you from having fun. In fact, just the opposite is true. God created sex. Don’t you think that the One who created sex knows best how the gift was to be used? (Better than any Seventeen columnist or MTV relational guru?) In the Book of Deuteronomy, God says, “I know your kids will come to you one day and ask the reason for all the rules. You tell them that I made the rules so they will prosper” (Deuteronomy 6:20–25, my paraphrase). This is so true in the area of sex. Some of today’s most liberal studies reveal that people who wait to have sex enjoy it the most. It is not those you see portrayed on television; on the contrary, it is the faithful married partners who are having the most fun with sex. They do not wake up in the morning wondering if the person will still be there, or if they have an STD.
What do you gain by remaining pure that is better than what you give up? Intimacy. “Purity paves the way for intimacy. Impurity, on the other hand, erodes the capacity to experience intimacy ¾ and consequently diminishes the satisfaction of sex.”2 When we save sex for marriage, God blesses it, and this includes making it more fun.
Waiting prevents a progression from which it is difficult to backtrack
When you flirt with sexual sin, it may start out small, but it will grow. The further you go, the further you will want to go; this is how God wired our bodies. “When you feed an appetite, it will increase its intensity. Short of intercourse, there is no ‘ultimate’ satisfaction. Human bodies were designed to go ‘all the way.’ The only way to keep your sexual appetite in check is not to feed it.”3 In addition, the further you go, the harder it is to go back. Once you cross a line it will usually progress from there. You will find yourself thinking, Well, I’ve done that, and there’s no way I can take it back, so what difference does it make if I do it again? Why let yourself get started down that track?
Waiting protects you from emotional and relational problems
Young adults are often warned about the physical consequences of sexual activity (pregnancy, HIV, and STDs), yet few are warning you about the emotional and relational consequences. Three out of four teens who lost their virginity said they wished they had waited. They become bogged down with feelings of guilt, shame, low self-esteem, self-hatred, and spiritual bondage. Many carry this emotional baggage into adulthood and may punish themselves for their pasts by not letting themselves enjoy sex in marriage. Others have trouble establishing meaningful relationships because they have disconnected sex and love. The world’s advice is simply, “Wear a condom.” Yet, condoms do nothing to block the mental and emotional consequences of sexual sin. A condom cannot erase a memory, remove guilt, restore a reputation, repair self-esteem, or re-establish sensitivity and obedience to the Spirit.4
Waiting is a sign of your submission to God’s will
How you handle your love life as a young person is a big test of whether you will follow God’s clear commands. If you regularly choose to resist God’s will ¾ for your love life or any other part of life, then seeking more of His will is pointless. To be an effective Christian leader, you must be able to say, “I am willing to do God’s will — whatever it is.” Jesus said, “Whoever serves me must follow me” (John 12:26). If you make that one decision to submit in all things, every other decision becomes clearer and easier.
Waiting enables you to serve as a model for others
“Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12, emphasis added). Church leaders labor in a profession in which character is critical. Scripture states that pastors are called to serve as models in the church and as examples to the flock (1 Peter 5:3). When we demonstrate to the community what it means to live in integrity, we fulfill this biblical mandate. What a privilege we have to model God’s best to a world that needs to know there is another way. Now is the best time to do this. Carpe diem.
Wait Training: Strategies For Pursuing Purity
You may be thinking, Sure, I have the desire to be pure, but let’s get real. In today’s world how can I do this? The good news is that you have options other than to simply kiss dating goodbye, but it will take effort and discipline on your part. Staying pure is not a passive activity, but the pain of discipline is far easier than the pain of regret. Here are biblical principles that can assist you in making wise choices to remain sexually pure.
Determine in your heart your desire to remain pure
Remember the story of Daniel? As a young boy in the king’s court, surrounded by temptations forbidden to the Israelites, he resolved in his heart to remain pure (Daniel 1:8). It is foundational to determine to remain pure, and know why. If you do not really believe it matters, then you will not stand up under the pressure. Temptation is strong; you will need a higher allegiance than emotion to navigate it. The key here is to do this ahead of time. If you wait until the heat of the moment, your ability to think clearly is clouded and all perspective is lost.
One exercise to help you determine in your heart is to consider the consequences. Visualize the grief on your Lord’s face each time you sin against Him. Visualize yourself having to tell the person you will marry that you have not saved yourself for him or her. Visualize yourself telling your parents and pastor that you have gotten your girlfriend pregnant. Visualize yourself living the rest of your life with an STD. Develop your own personal list of consequences, and you will begin to think twice.
Establish ground rules
Job was said to be righteous before God. In fact, he was the only man in the whole earth who was. What was the key to his remaining pure? It is seen when he declared: “I have made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl” (Job 31:1). He had clearly defined ground rules.
We, too, need to have clearly established boundaries. Develop a concrete list of activities that cause you, or someone else, to desire things you cannot righteously fulfill. Assuming you will be tempted to go further than you choose, how intense do you want that temptation to be? Where you draw the line determines the intensity of the temptation. Where you draw the line will determine the nature of the consequences once that line has been crossed.
Guys are more visually oriented, so determine what kinds of things should or should not be viewed. Girls may be more intimacy oriented, so they must decide what kinds of books can be read, or chat rooms visited on the Internet. As you establish ground rules, consider the ramifications of given activities in question. Will they result in growing in Christlikeness and building up others, or will they tear you down? Is it feeding the flesh or feeding the spirit? As you go about your relationships, remember that ground rules may be different for different people. Do not pressure someone to violate his or her convictions just because you may be comfortable with it. This is not love; this is selfish desire.
How far is too far?
In the process of establishing boundaries, at some point most Christian young people ask the question, “How far is too far?” Interestingly, many of them already have a mental line in the sand that holds sexual intercourse to be the only real taboo. A common trend is to speak of technical virginity, claiming if it’s not penetration, it’s not fornication.
Rather than drawing a line in the sand, one should be asking a completely different question. The question should not be, How far can I go? but What can I do to make sure I don’t go too far? The Bible says, “Be very careful, then, how you live — not as unwise but as wise.” Appropriate questions, then, are: What is the wise thing for me to do in my pursuit of righteousness? and What can I do to experience God’s best in my future marriage? Each phase of intimacy that you save for your spouse is a bank account of pleasure that will pay dividends “till death do you part.”
Make choices to limit your level of sexual temptation
Rather than getting set up for temptation, try not to get in the situation in the first place. Take active steps to get out of the hot spot. If you know you are easily tempted in a certain area, do not go to those places, view those materials, or hang around those people that cause you to be tempted. For example, if you are easily tempted with Internet pornography, keep the computer in an open area of your home, do not use the computer after the family has gone to bed, and do not have an iPod or cell phone with video capabilities. Ask a friend to periodically check the sites visited to provide accountability, and place a virtual accountability program on your computer. (See sidebar Safe Surfing Resource List.)
When faced with sexual temptation, do a 180
Remember how Joseph fled from sexual temptation? You can do the same. First Corinthians 10:13 states: “When you are tempted, he will provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” Notice it says, “When you are tempted.” The Bible assumes you will face temptation. Temptation in and of itself is not the problem. How you choose to respond is the key. Fortunately, when faced with temptation, there is an escape route — an exit door. It may require you to change the TV channel, leave the movie theater, close a book or magazine, log off the Internet, avert your eyes, finish the date early, or whatever else is necessary. You cannot continually feed your sexual appetite and expect to stay sexually pure.
A great motivator to flee in times of temptation is to rehearse your list of consequences that would result from committing sexual sin. In a tangible and personal way, it brings home God’s unchanging law of choice and consequence, cutting through the fog of rationalization and filling your heart with the healthy motivating fear of God.
Another good way to gain victory is to confess your struggles with someone. Are you fortunate enough to have someone in your life who loves you enough to regularly ask the questions of accountability? Picture yourself having to tell that person you failed, and amazingly the temptation will often go away. A secret revealed loses its power. If you do not have an accountability partner already, begin cultivating a relationship with someone who will hold you accountable.
Should you make a poor choice, repent and start fresh
Some may feel called to ministry, yet they are struggling because of some things in their past of which they are not proud. They may be wondering if God can still use them. When God forgives, He chooses to remember our sin no more. He will not hold it against us. While you may still experience the natural consequences of your choices, in God’s eyes you have a fresh starting point. You can choose purity, from this day forward. It is never too late to do the right thing. If you have truly repented, this will be your desire, for repent means turn and go the other way. Vow not to do it again and pray with David, “Create in me a pure heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10).
Conclusion: It’s Your Call
While God only calls some to full-time ministry, He calls everyone to sexual purity. I challenge you to regularly renew your commitment to personal purity in every aspect of your life. Choose to pursue God’s best for your life. If you keep your heart tender to God’s calling, you will do great things for God, no matter where and how He chooses to use you.
1. Andy Stanley and Stuart Hall, The Seven Checkpoints (West Monroe, La.: Howard Publishing, Co., 2001), 84,85.
2. Ibid., 81.
3. Ibid., 94.
4. Ibid., 91.