February 8, 1981 (Morning)
Bethlehem Baptist Church
John Piper, Pastor
SEX AND THE SINGLE PERSON
If the Bible addresses an issue with unrelenting frequency and urgency, and if that issue is
one of the strongest natural forces in the world today, then ministers of the Word of God are
obligated sooner or later to declare God's will on that issue. The sexual life of the unmarried
person (we will talk about married people next week) is of great concern to God. Even those
of you who have not entrusted yourselves to Christ for salvation and do not love God, even
you are obligated to obey what God has to say about your sexual desires. Though you rebel
against his ownership you are God's. He made you and has an absolute right to tell you what
is good for you. He sent Jesus Christ into the world to overcome your rebellion and to make
peace by the blood of His cross. And my prayer at the very outset is that you might turn from
your rebellion and unbelief and disobedience, and that you might trust Christ for forgiveness
and live for the glory of God.
Then I would be able to say to everyone in this room,
Do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit, within you, which you
have from God? You are not your own; you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your
body (1 Corinthians 6:19,20).
O, what an offensive word to our rebel human nature. The body in which you dwell is not
yours to do with simply as you please. God bought your body from the curse of sin by the
payment of His own son, and now your body should serve one all-encompassing purpose:
"Glorify, God in your body." As Paul said in Romans 6:12-14,
Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal bodies to make you obey their passions. Do
not yield yourselves to sin as instruments of wickedness, but yield yourselves to God as
people who have been brought from death to life, and your bodily parts to God as
instruments of righteousness. For sin will have no dominion over you for you are not under
law but under grace.
God is concerned about what you do with your body. He created them, He bought them,
He owns them, He indwells them, and what we do with them demonstrates to the world who
our Lord is. If I were to stop here with this general admonition, our consciences would give us
some guidance in specific cases, say, of whether we should smoke or drink or use drugs or
overeat or never exercise, or get too little sleep or engage in sexual relations outside
marriage or masturbate or wear enticing clothing or other things that misuse or abuse the
body. But what our consciences approve and disapprove of is not always an accurate guide
to what God approves of. Therefore, the Bible goes beyond the general admonition, "Glorify
God in your body," to the more specific guidance, especially in the matter of sexual desires.
So I aim to be more specific, too.
The question I want to start with is this: Why did God invent sexual desire? Before I try to
answer that question from Scripture, let me define sexual desire. First of all, I am not
including homosexual desires. Until I have a chance to preach on homosexuality I'll just say
three things about it: 1) If you are here and homosexual, I pray that you will not feel driven
away, but will stay and seek help. 2) The practice of homosexuality is sin; it is contrary to
God's revealed will. 3) Homosexual desires, like many other kinds of desires, are abnormal
and those who have them should seek through prayer, fellowship and Christian counseling to
be changed. It is not easy but it is possible.
When I ask the question why God created sexual desire, I have in mind that normal
craving for sexual stimulation and intimacy that begins with early adolescence and continues,
for some it seems, indefinitely, but for many mellows out into a less visceral craving but
nevertheless real desire for personal and bodily intimacy. I acknowledge that in these years
of sexual desire there are many people with very vigorous, and people with very mild, sexual
desires. I don't mean to treat anyone along this continuum as better or worse than another.
When I speak of those with sexual desires I refer to the vast majority of people who from their
early adolescence have to deal one way or another with God-given sexual appetite.
Now, why did He create it? Let m give one brief answer and one expanded answer. The
brief answer comes from Genesis 1:27,28, "God created man in His own image, in the image
of God He created him; male and female He created them. And God blessed them and God
said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it."' Since sexual desire
aims finally at consummation in sexual intercourse, and sexual intercourse is the means that
man and woman have of multiplying and filling the earth, therefore, I infer that one of the
reasons God created us with sexual desire is to see to it that mankind would indeed fill the
earth with people. And for some people procreation of children is the only justification for
seeking gratification of sexual desires. But we will see in more detail next week, when we
talk about sexual relations in marriage, that the apostle Paul has quite a different view.
A second answer to the question why God created sexual desire is found I believe, in 1
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by
giving heed to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons through the pretensions of liars
whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and enjoin abstinence from foods which
God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For
everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with
thanksgiving, for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
In this text Paul is trying to help Timothy know what to say when false teachers arise (and
there were some already at Ephesus) who teach that gratification of sexual appetite in
marriage and the gratification of appetite for food should be cut back as far as possible. That
means abstinence from marriage altogether and avoid unnecessary foods. It is no accident
that Paul mentions marriage and eating together here and then treats them as one problem.
Because the issue is really bodily pleasure, unnecessary bodily pleasure , whether through
sexual stimulation or through eating food. The false teachers said, "Cut bodily pleasure to the
minimum that will allow you to live."
Paul's response to this ascetic teaching is very plain in verses 4 and 5:
Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with
thanksgiving; for then it is consecrated by the word of God and prayer.
Why did God create sexual desire and sexual intercourse to satisfy it, why did God create
hunger and food to satisfy it? Verse 3 gives a very straightforward answer: "God created
(these things) to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth." All
the unnecessary, innocent pleasures of life (and there are thousands of them) were created
by God to be occasions for thanksgiving to God by those who believe and know the truth. The
reason God created sexual desire and the event of sexual intercourse to satisfy it is not
merely to fill the earth with people, but also to give another unique and exquisite occasion for
the ascent of thanks from two hearts full of gratitude for God's gift of sexuality.
And let us not be deceived by the world. This gift was designed for believers and no one
else. Look at verse 3, "God created these things to be received with thanksgiving by those
who believe." By its very design it can only be for believers, because it is designed as an
occasion for thanksgiving. But those who do not "know the truth" - the truth, namely, that
God is the giver of all good gifts and worthy to be glorified and thanked -- those who hold
down this truth (Romans 1:18, 25) and do not trust in God cannot satisfy their sexual desires
according to the design of God. All their sexual behavior is sin because it does not spring
from faith in God (Romans 14:23) and does not result in thanks to God. Sexual pleasure
belongs rightfully only to believers. All others are thieves and robbers. Don't ever let the world
deceive you into thinking that we Christians are trying to borrow and purify a limited amount
of the world's pleasure. God created sexual pleasure for His subjects alone and the world has
rebelled against Him and stolen His gifts and corrupted them and debased them and turned
them into weapons of destruction and laughed at those who remain faithful to the King and
use His gifts according to His word. But we will not be deceived. The gift is ours and we will
consecrate it, that is, we will keep it pure, as Paul says in verse five, "by the word of God and
Since we believe that God designed sexual desire and that He gave it to us for our good
(otherwise we wouldn't give thanks), we infer something that is completely reasonable,
namely, that God knows how each of His creatures can make the most of this desire and
that, therefore, His word is an infallible guide to maximum sexual fulfillment. I said this is a
reasonable inference. Only so if you really trust God. The world will laugh its head off at the
thought that Biblical restraints make for maximum sex. But if we believe that God is good
and that in Christ He has forgiven all our sins, then we must believe that His words of
guidance on sexual matters will bring us the greatest possible fulfillment, even if it means
Now, what are His words of guidance to those who are not married? The Greek word from
which we get "pornography" is porneia. In the New Testament porneia is translated as
"fornication," "unchastity" or "immorality." Generally (though not always) it refers to sexual
promiscuity of unmarried people. In Matthew 15:19 Jesus says, "Out of the heart come evil
thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, etc." Here it stands side by side with adultery,
adultery being the specific sin of sexual unfaithfulness in marriage and fornication being the
more general word covering illicit sexual relations for person who are not married.
The New Testament as well as the Old condemns fornication, or sexual intercourse
outside marriage, as sin. In Galatians 5:19, Paul lists it with the works of the flesh. In 2
Corinthians 12:21 he is ready to weep over those who have not repented of this sin. In
Ephesians 5:3 he says fornication should never have to be named among Christians. In
Colossians 3:5 fornication is first on Paul's list of things we should put to death in ourselves.
And in Revelation 9:21 it is listed with murder, sorcery and theft as things a hardened people
would not repent of.
In 1 Corinthians 7:2 Paul says,
Because of temptation to immorality (i.e., fornication) each man should have his own
wife and each woman her own husband.
Then he goes on in verses 8 and 9:
To the unmarried (men and women) and to the widows I say it is well for them to remain
single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to
marry than to be aflame with passion.
The point I want to take from these verses is that, according to Scripture, all sexual
intercourse before marriage is immoral. There are many man-centered moralists today who
admit that indiscriminate sexual relations are wrong but who argue that, when a couple is
engaged or has a deep friendship, then things are different and sexual relations are a
legitimate expression of love. But the Biblical view cannot be stretched to cover that
concession. Paul considers the possibility that a couple may be aflame with passion for each
other and his one and only release from continence is marriage: "If they cannot exercise self-
control they should marry!" God not only created sexual desire but He also created the
perfect sphere for its gratification, marriage. And any attempt to alter His design is not only
immoral before God but destructive of personal relations and individual fulfillment.
This raises the next question: Why did God command that we find gratification for our
sexual desires only in marriage? To the best of my knowledge God does not give us a direct
answer to this question in His word, nor is He obligated to. Sometimes God leaves the
wisdom of His commands for us to discover by experience. Those who disobey Him discover
it through tragedy. Those who obey discover it through patience and joy.
The way I have tried to understand God's wisdom and love in limiting sexual intercourse to
marriage is by asking, "What is it that distinguishes marriage from all other heterosexual
relations?" The Biblical answer to that question is that marriage is distinguished from other
chosen relationships by its permanence. Marriage is a commitment made for a lifetime, till
death do us part. 1 Corinthians 7:39,
A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If the husband dies, she is free to
be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
There is no other relationship between a man and a woman requiring that kind of
permanent commitment. Therefore, in marriage God has designed a unique and stable and
lasting relation for our most intimate expression of love. I believe experience confirms that
something good and beautiful is lost from our sexual intimacy in marriage if we gave
ourselves away outside that union. God can forgive that sin, but the scar He does not
remove. The act will never be the same again. There is an inexpressible deepening of the
union of marriage, which God intended, when a husband and wife can lie beside each other in
perfect peace and freedom and say, "What I have just given you I have never given to
another." I speak to those for whom it is not too late: Do not throw that away.
I find it helpful to use the analogy of Jesus' words in Matthew 7:6, "Don't cast your pearls
before swine." It is possible to debase the truth by dispensing it willy-nilly. There are some
truths that are too precious to be discussed in hostile, worldly settings. That's the way it is
with our bodies, too. Nobody dispenses his bodily affections indiscriminately. You don't
shake hands with all the people you nod to. You don't hug all the people you shake hands
with. You don't kiss all the people you hug. And I would argue that there is a pearl of great
value, d pearl of emotional, spiritual, physical intimacy which can only be placed in one
container without being debased and ruined, and that is the strong, permanent velvet-lined
case of marriage. The unique, personal, sexual fulfillment in the permanence of marriage for
those who have kept themselves pure is one of the best explanations for why God limited the
gratification of sexual desires to marriage.
The implication of all this for the single person with average sexual desires is not easy.
Even if a person gets married in his early twenties he is confronted with a preceding decade
of sexual stress. And for those who remain single, whether by choice or not, the problem of
handling sexual desires continues much longer. What help can we give to these people,
among whom I include everybody from thirteen years on up who is unmarried and yet feels
desires for sexual stimulation and gratification? My main burden for you in this category is
that you glorify God in your bodies by keeping yourself free from any enslavement except to
God. In Romans 6:16 Paul said,
Do you not know that if you yield yourselves to anyone as obedient slaves you are
slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin, which leads to death, or of obedience, which
leads to righteousness?
And in 1 Corinthians 6:12 the proud Corinthian libertines said, "All things are lawful for
me," but Paul responded, "Yet I will not be enslaved by anything." The meaning of that little
interchange is that it is possible to be enslaved in the name of freedom. That is the situation
in the world today. In the name of sexual freedom we are a nation enslaved to our sexual
cravings. If you want to know what a nation is hooked on, just observe what the media
masters use to get and hold our attention. Sex sells everything. It sells movies, cars,
furniture, clothes, booze, news, cigarettes, and sporting gear. Sex sells because we are a
nation enslaved to the second, third and fourth look at the body in the picture. But it shall not
be so among you, because you have been set free from sin and are now enslaved to God.
Therefore, glorify God by keeping yourself free from the enslaving forces of the world.
I have ten words of counsel for persons who are not married but who have to deal with
sexual desires. Some of these have a masculine orientation because I know the male
temptation firsthand but not the female. Some are do's and some are don'ts but all aim to be
positive in that they are intended to help you preserve your freedom from any enslavement but
First, do not seek regular sexual gratification through masturbation, that is, the stimulation
of your own self to sexual orgasm or climax. Masturbation does not solve sexual pressure for
very long, it tends to become habitual, it produces guilt, and it contradicts the God-given
design of sexuality. Our bodies and desires were designed for the sexual union of persons
and masturbation contradicts that design. But perhaps worst of all, masturbation is inevitably
accompanied and enabled by sexual fantasies in the mind which we would not allow
ourselves in reality and so we become like the Pharisees: well scrubbed on the outside but
inside full of perversions.
Second, do not seek sexual satisfaction through touching or being touched by another
person even if you stop short of sexual intercourse. Everyone knows that intimate touching is
the prelude and preparation for sexual intercourse and therefore it belongs where that event
belongs, namely, in marriage. Where the permanent commitment that characterizes marriage
is missing, caressing becomes depersonalized manipulation; it turns the other's body into a
masturbation device to get a private physical thrill. God made us in such a way that if we try
to turn that moment of touching into a personal, spiritual expression of love, we are not able
to do it without making promises of faithfulness. Implicit in our hearts at that moment is the
statement: You may touch me because you have promised never to leave me nor forsake
me. You may have me because you are me. We are so made that we cry out for
permanence when giving away our most intimate gifts. They belong in marriage.
Third, avoid unnecessary sexual stimulation. It doesn't take any brains to know that there
are enough X-rated movie houses and adult bookstores in this city to keep a person livid 24
hours a day. To visit these crummy places is temptation enough. But the real test is what
you do with the more legitimate sources of sexual stimulation. PG movies, Time magazine,
the newspaper, television, drugstore magazine racks, rock music lyrics. In our society you
cannot escape sexual stimulation, but you can refuse to seek it. And you can avoid it often
when you see it coming. This is the great test of whether we are enslaved or free -- can we
say no to the slave driver in our bodies who wants us to keep on looking and keep on lusting.
Fourth, when the stimulation comes and the desire starts to rise perform a very conscious
act of transfer onto Christ. I wish I had learned this much earlier in my life. While riding down
the road, if some billboard or marquee puts a desire into my mind for some illegitimate sexual
pleasure, I take that desire and say, "Jesus, you are my Lord and my God, and my greatest
desire is to know and love and obey you, so this desire is really for you. I take it from your
competitor, I purge it and I direct it to you. Thank you for freeing me from the bondage of sin."
It is remarkable what control we can gain over the direction our desires take, if we really long
to please Christ.
Fifth, pray that God would give you, in ever-increasing strength, a longing to know and love
and obey Him above all else. I read a sermon once entitled, "The Expulsive Power of a New
Affection." The point was, there is no better way to overcome a bad desire than to push it out
with a new one. It is in prayer that we summon the divine help to produce in us that new
desire for God.
Sixth, bathe your mind in God's word. Jesus prayed, "Sanctify them in the truth. Your
word is truth" (John 17:17). There is nothing that renews the mind and enables it to assess
things God's way like regular meditation on the word of God. The person who does not arm
himself with the Sword of the Spirit (Ephesians 6:17) is going to lose in the battle for his or
Seventh, keep yourself busy, and when it is time for leisure, choose things that are pure,
lovely, gracious, excellent, worthy of praise (Philippians 4:8). Idleness in a world like ours is
asking for trouble. It is much harder for sexual temptation to gain a foothold when we are
busy at some productive task. And if you need some fresh air, walk in a park not down
Eight, don't spend too much time alone. Be with Christian people often. Don't forsake the
assembling of yourselves together but encourage one another, stir each other up to love and
good works. Talk of your struggles with trusted friends, pray for each other and hold each
Ninth, strive to think of all people, especially people of the opposite sex, in relation to
eternity. It is not easy to fantasize about a person if you think about the eternal torment they
may shortly be suffering in Hell because of their unbelief. Nor is it easy to disrobe in your
imagination a person you know to be an eternal sister or brother in Christ. Paul said in 2
Corinthians 5:16, "From now on we know no one according to the flesh." We view everybody
from God's eternal perspective.
Finally, resolve to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and He will add to
you everything you need sexually. It may be a spouse. It may be the grace and freedom to
be single and pure and content. That is up to God. Ours is to seek the Kingdom. Or to put it
another way, our all-consuming passion must be to glorify God in our bodies by keeping
ourselves free from every enslavement but one: the joyful, fulfilling slavery to God.
© COPYRIGHT John Piper