The Philosophy of Sex

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Harrison Jones is teaching in a secondary school in Mbarara, Uganda, and is involved in many ministries in the area, including developing businesses, sports, Bible studies, fellowships, and a film group. Before moving to Uganda, Harrison worked as high school teacher, and volunteered as a Young Life and youth group leader.
Covering sex in youth ministries – it’s always a fun night.  The awkward squirms and breaking-ice moments will have the kids thinking for days.  For many of the students in the room, these sorts of discussions are the first time they have ever heard sex talked about in an intelligent way.  Most kids don’t know what “philosophy” means, but little do they know they have no philosophy on sex because the world never does either.  It’s always treated as the elephant in the room everyone knows about and is likely to feed, pet, and have fun with, but you don’t actually use your brain when it comes to sex, right?  If you did, that might mean you won’t be having sex right away if you actually think about it.

Talking about sex in youth ministries (from Sunday school to youth group to high school fellowships) is vital, but it is not the gospel and should not come first in our curriculum plans.  It is a major stone in life that students leave unturned and often have so many questions about; however, if the gospel is not clear in our ministries and we aren’t sure that the students could repeat it back to us first, I believe we have no business moving on to sex.  Paul obviously sees the life-giving worldview-changing heart-saving gospel of Christ as a priority (1 Cor. 15), even in a church that was so backwards sexually that they were having sex with their mothers and Gentiles were judging them for it.  It is very tempting for us in ministry to see a problem in our local culture and want to focus our time applying a spiritual ‘Band-Aid’.  

But if you have ever watched ‘House’ or a good medical TV show, you’ll know that the symptom is not the same as the source of the disease. A broken sexuality is something to weep over in our teenagers, but if we think we will fix it by quoting Hebrews 13 or 1 Corinthians 6 to them, we’re mistaken.  Paul says that we have no ability to keep the law apart from Christ, who perfectly kept the law.  Our disease is bigger than teenagers watching provocative movies, listening to sex-dripping rap music, or of course having sexual encounters before marriage.  Our disease is that we’re separated from God spiritually, and until we receive Christ’s grace, we won’t be reconnected to the only power that can pull us out of our sin.  Often churches can move on to practical living without considering how the gospel is the empowerment for that: suddenly we will find ourselves teaching moral-deism (how to be a good person), not Christ, and with that comes a large percentage of people leaving the church because white-knuckle self discipline only lasts so long.  (Watch this short clip from Matt Chandler for more on Reaching the De-churched)

All that said, if the gospel is clear in your youth ministry, kids can awaken to wisdom on sexual matters at a very young age.  You can have an amazing platform for wisdom as a youth leader in light of how the gospel helps us to understand everything about ourselves, especially that we were created to have sex but the best sex is in a married, loving relationship. It’s not that we’re Puritan 2.0’s, not allowed to talk about sex, and it’s not that we’re heathens, thinking about it all the time. Christians should be happily in the middle: feeling comfortable talking about sex openly but knowing that it has its fences.

Too often we believe that pleasure is not on the menu for Christians, or if it is, it’s like you’re swearing and getting away with something. The truth is, scripture holds pleasure in high regard, even to the point of hedonism, and only condemns the perversion of our pleasure.

Romans 1 says it well: we suppress the truth because of our desire for pleasure (v. 18). Often kids know what’s true or what they should do, but they (and we) easily lose grip on those convictions because culture tells us we should love pleasure the most. Look no further than Las Vegas and every spin-off movie that portrays that kind of life-style: pleasure is the holy grail. Romans 1:25 says that we tend to worship the created creature rather than the Creator. Sex becomes what we worship – something every boy draws in his school notebook and finds on the internet, and I can’t speak from the girls’ perspective, but I assume it’s on their minds too.

Did you know God says we should love pleasure the most too? I love that the Bible fights fire with fire. The idea of Christian Hedonism is that God is out for our ultimate pleasure, just like the world is. But he says “my pleasure is better than the world because it’s more than pleasure, it’s joy.” We have the opportunity to ask students: what’s the difference between instant gratification (short pleasure) and lasting happiness (joy)? Which would you prefer? How have you experienced the two? We also can fit in bits of testimony: we all have bad habits that give us quick pleasure, but they come at a cost. Mention the ways God has been good to you in giving you joy, helping you to leave emptiness and find meaning and those amazing days when you know you’re not wasting your life.

Side note: I’m not saying that seeking pleasure is our ultimate good, but seeking the ultimate good – God’s will – leads to more pleasure. Some people are inclined to believe that Christians are supposed to seek God’s will as a sacrifice, which means we never pursue our own pleasure because that’s selfish and isn’t what a missionary would do. No wonder people can be bored with the church or never want to step foot inside. But that’s an incorrect interpretation of Rom 12. It’s not a living sacrifice that leads us to obligation, duty, and rainy days, but a giving up of cheap pleasure (sitting in the mud of sin) for the ultimate pleasure of having purpose (a holiday at the sea – see C.S. Lewis, Weight of Glory).

For the married youth ministers among us, it’s another great idea to use our own marriages as a platform. I hope that we have the kinds of marriages where we don’t make the spouse out to be the god or goddess, but that they are an arrow that points to the true God worthy of worship. And that the love we need and grew up pining for as teenagers is the love of God – it’s the same love that we experience and find in our partner. It’s all wrapped up together. Which is why the last thing I will recommend is that you should have a Valentine’s day party in your youth group and just pass out “God is love” hearts instead.

At the end of the day, we all want relationships because we all need love. Youth leaders have an amazing opportunity to show kids that God is the source of that love, and technically, he is all we ever need because he brings the relationships and joy to us. Kids can so easily find their identity in being able to attract the opposite sex or in making people laugh before they even know what “identity” means. Getting them to realize they have an idol like that is a tall order – in fact it’s impossible if God is not speaking to them. So as youth leaders, we can’t forget to be praying that God would speak to the kids. We can’t do this ourselves.

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