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Using Self-Control to Moderate Sexual Desires
Self-Control Word Study, Lesson 5
When it comes to self-control, the Bible focuses on two areas of passion or desire that often get us into trouble: sex and alcohol. We’ll talk about sex this week and alcohol next week.
Sex seems to be a point of status for many people. For adolescents, being a virgin seems to be something shameful rather than something to be proud of. Young adults often brag about how many people they’ve had sex with. Married adults often think nothing of cheating on their spouse. The Bible clearly warns against these actions:
1 Corinthians 6:18 – Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body.
Hebrews 13:4 – Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.
If the Bible clearly warns against sexual immorality, why is it still such a temptation? Like we mentioned in Lesson 2, Satan is waiting for someone that he can devour (1 Peter 5:8), and sex looks good from the outside and feels good on the inside. It’s easy for people to get carried away because of that, so Satan uses it as a prime opportunity to make you focus on your own self-indulgence rather than practicing self-control.
When it comes to sex and self-control, the Bible covers several situations:
Christians vs. non-Christians
Let’s look at each of these, starting with the general comparison between Christians and non-Christians.
To help you process your thoughts as you go throughout this lesson, a reflection journal sheet is available. You can access it by clicking here.
Christians vs. Non-Christians
In 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, Paul talks about God’s plan for our sexuality:
It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins, as we told you and warned you before. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit.
If you are a Christian, your responsibility is to have self-control, especially when it comes to sexual matters. The Greek word here is ktaomai, which has the connotation of having mastery over something. You are to have mastery over your own body and not to take advantage of anyone else. Paul contrasts the behavior of the Christian here with the “pagans” (non-Christians), who are only concerned about their own sexual self-indulgence. This impure sexual activity is an outward sign of an inward problem, namely, rejection of God.
So, what is the right way to use your sexuality? The passage in 1 Thessalonians 4 doesn’t really talk about sex as it pertains to marriage, but many other places in the Bible do. 1 Corinthians 7:9 addresses this issue in a general way for all those who are unmarried:
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Later in 1 Corinthians 7:36-38, Paul addresses those who are specifically engaged (but still unmarried):
If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.
It's clear in these passages that sex is intended to be within the covenant of marriage. If you have self-control and don’t want to marry or have sex, then don’t marry. But if you burn with passion and a desire for sex, get married FIRST so that those sexual acts are within God’s will. As a Christian, your responsibility is to evaluate yourself in this area and make a decision that pleases God.
Interestingly, even though these two passages are in the same letter, Paul uses two different words for control here. In verse 9, he uses the word enkrateuomai, which generally means to possess the power of self-control. In this same letter by Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:25, enkrateuomai is used in the context of strict training for an athletic competition. In contrast, he uses the word exousia in verse 37, which generally has the context of power or authority. Together, these verses indicate that if you cannot train your body or exert power over your own body to not have sex, then you need to marry so that you will not sin against God.
The Bible clearly addresses the importance of reserving sex for marriage in verses such as Hebrews 13:4 above and in the 10 Commandments, where it talks about not committing adultery (Exodus 20:14). However, these verses aren’t really based in the context of self-control. So where does the Bible specifically address the concept of sex in marriage as it relates to self-control? Interestingly, it’s in the context of NOT having sex in marriage. 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 says:
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
If you are married, sex is a good and natural thing. Spouses give up their authority over their body in order to please each other. Interestingly, the Greek word for “authority” here is exousiazō, which is related to exousia used in verse 37 above. So in an unmarried state, Christians are to maintain self-control, or authority over their own body, so they don’t sin. In a married state, this authority is turned over to the spouse. This act of entrusting the spouse with their sexual needs helps them have self-control over their sexual desires so that they maintain purity in their relationship with each other.
In contrast, depriving your spouse of sex can lead you down the path to sexual immorality. Satan will attack you with the temptation to seek sex elsewhere, and if you don’t have self-control, you will likely give in. The word used here for lack of self-control is akrasia, the same word we discussed in Lesson 1 that is translated self-indulgence elsewhere. Here, it has the connotation of indulging in lustfulness.
Whether you are married or unmarried, self-control has a place in the discussion about your sexual activity. If you are unmarried, are you maintaining self-control so that you don’t pursue sex outside of marriage? Or do you burn with such passion that you have sex with everyone you date? If you feel the burning need to have sex, then focus on pursuing a relationship that will lead toward marriage. Remember, God’s priority is to get married FIRST before having sex.
If you are married, examine your sex life with your spouse. Do you trust each other with your sexuality and find fulfillment in your relationship? Or do you use sex as a way to control or deprive each other, potentially leading to adultery and sexual immorality? If you see red flags in your sex life, now is the time to start mending your relationship.
Whew. That was an intense one. Thanks for sticking through it to the end. Next week we’ll take the subject of self-control and alcohol. Hope to see you there!
To help you process your thoughts as you go throughout this lesson, a reflection journal sheet is available. Journal sheets can be downloaded and used now or later. They can be printed and filled in by hand or saved and filled out electronically.
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