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A Theology of Sexuality and its Abuse: Creation, Evil, and the Relational Ecosystem, Part 2, by Andrew J. Schmutzer

The New Order for the Redeemed

Moral order in sexuality has always been required of God’s people, in any age. So it is significant to see how tightly Paul connects the Thessalonians’ sexual ethics (1 Thess 4:3–8) with Christian love (4:9–12), and their future hope (4:13–5:11). The Dionysaic *fertility cult of their day was not their hope for a sure afterlife. Why should the Thessalonian Christians not participate in the sexual mores of their culture, because Paul claims that the Christians “are part of the eschatologically restored people of God,”172 the fulfillment of Jer 31:31–34, with God’s law now written on their hearts. Inscribed hearts is an upgrade from decorated doorways.

God’s law that set his people apart in Moses’ time still requires the Christians of Paul’s day to distinguish themselves in their sexual behavior. Drawing on established texts of sexual conduct (Lev 18:1–30; cf. Ezek 22:9b–11), Paul exhorts a largely Gentile audience to “a holy life” (1 Thess 4:7).173 Holiness is more prominent in 1 Thessalonians than anywhere else in Paul and, empowered by the Holy Spirit (4:8), practically embraces all of one’s life (5:23).174 They must stand apart from their society in their sexual activity, controlling their sexual urges.175 Believers recognize that the body is “a gift from God through which we can manifest our Christian discipleship and obedience to the Lordship of Christ in the public, visible world. Thereby accepting Christ as Lord becomes communicable and credible, which it would not be if it were merely an ‘inner’ or ‘private’ matter.”176 This critiques “my sex life” mentality. So Paul warns them that “no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister” (4:6a). Because sin still pollutes communities, holiness is still required and “evidenced in sexual purity.”177

The foundation for sexual ethics is doing God’s will (Rom 12:1–2; 1 Cor 6:20; Eph 6:6). The ground for sexual conduct “is their status as part of the eschatologically restored people of God predicted by the prophets.”178 The believer’s new identity stems from their “new humanity ‘in Christ’ [that] provides new creation and new corporate solidarity. Thus evil forces in the world are more powerful than isolated individuals.”179 The Christian community is to be morally preserving. As Thielman states, “Their relationships should not be characterized by exploitative sex but by a quality of love that signifies the eschatological work of God in their hearts … God has chosen them to belong to his society.”180 So for the believer, the body is to be used to communicate what Christian service and futurity means.181 Moral order is necessary for believers who are awaiting the full arrival of their new creation.

Conclusion

Among other things, understanding biblical sexuality means our expectations are not only rooted in the Creator’s designs but we are also deeply aware of the fractured portrait of sexuality. We must acknowledge that Scripture’s intention contrasts sharply with lived-experience, but biblical guidance is also given because of sexual corruption. To minister to the sexually abused, it is not enough to affirm “original sin” as some kind of theological escape clause. Instead, we must actively engage the “actual sin” of their violation. Solidarity with the abused requires a vulnerable empathy.

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Category: Fall 2013, Ministry, Pneuma Review

About the Author: Andrew J. Schmutzer, Ph.D., is a Professor of Biblical Studies at Moody Bible Institute (Chicago, IL). He regularly writes and speaks about sexual abuse from a theological perspective, to help equip churches to care for the abused in their midst. Andrew is the editor of the collaborative book, The Long Journey Home: Understanding and Ministering to the Sexually Abused (Wipf & Stock, 2011), a contributor to numerous books including Finding Our Way Through the Traffick: Exploring the Complexities of a Christian Response to Sexual Exploitation and Sex Trafficking (Regnum Books, 2017), The Moody Handbook of Preaching (Moody, 2008), Naming Our Abuse: God's Pathways to Healing for Male Sexual Abuse Survivors (Kregel, 2016), Between Pain and Grace: A Biblical Theology of Suffering (Moody, 2016), and Genesis: See Our Story Begin (NLT Study Series). He is one of the editors of The Psalms: Language for All Seasons of the Soul (Moody, 2013), and author of Be Fruitful and Multiply: A Crux of Thematic Repetition in Genesis 1-11 (Wipf & Stock, 2009). He can be reached at aschmutz@moody.edu.

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