Recently there has been a buzz in the Christian blogosphere about how Christians should think and talk about biblical sexuality. While much of the conversation has been helpful, even clarifying, and I’ve benefited from some of it, I haven’t seen anyone thus far take on the topic head on.
My main concern and the thrust of this article is to explore the relationship between Romans 14:13 and Ephesians 5:29 by exploring to what degree contemporary preaching and teaching on sex violates those passages and conclude by suggesting ways in which Christians can speak to one another about sex without being a hindrance to fellow believers, while faithfully communicating God’s Truth to a post-modern culture.
Romans 14:13 and Ephesians 4:29
Notice the word-play: passing judgment. Paul urges the weak to stop criticizing the strong, and the strong to cease finding fault with the weak. Both parties should decide not to place any hindrance in the way of their brothers. On the contrary—for the negative implies the positive—each group should help the other to become a more effective witness for Christ.
In view of the fact that both parties love the Lord, repose their trust in him, and wish to walk in his way, it would be wrong to hour tone another’s feelings by insisting that there be absolute unanimity with respect to every aspect of the practice of religion.
If an important religious principle is at stake, you are not going to be silent about your convictions, but in all circumstances you will observe the rule: “In all things essential unity; in doubtful (or indifferent) liberty; in all things charity”. The substance of this exhortation is certainly entirely in line with, and may even have been induced by, the teaching of Christ (Matt. 18:1-9; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 17:1-2).
Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
From a warning against the improper attitude toward material things Paul proceeds to an admonition against the improper use of the tongue, also in this case setting the positive over against the negative in the spirit of Romans 12:21, “Overcome evil with good.” Corrupt speech is that which is putrid, rotten; hence also corrupt, defiling, injurious (Matthew 15:18). We may well assume that for many years these rather recent converts to the Christian faith had been living in an impure environment, where foul conversation, at feasts and other social gatherings and parties, had been the stock in trade of everyone present. The change from this toxic environment to the pure and wholesome atmosphere of Christian fellowship must have been nothing short of revolutionary.
Even believers who are well advanced in sanctification have at times complained about the fact that it was difficult for them to cleanse their minds entirely from the words and melody of this or that curious drinking song. They hated it, fought against it, were sure at last that they had expelled it forever from their thoughts, and then suddenly there it was again, ready to plague and torture them by means of its reappearance. Thus also certain vile phrases or catch-words, sometimes even profanity, all too common in the pre-conversion period of life, have the habit in unguarded moments to barge right in and to befoul the atmosphere. Think of Simon Peter who, although a disciple of the Lord, “began to curse and to swear” when he thought that his life was in danger (Matt. 26:74).
Here, too, the only remedy, in addition to prayer, is to fill mind and heart with that which is pure and holy, in the spirit of Gal. 5:22 and Phil. 4:8-9. Accordingly, Paul continues: “but only such speech as is good for edification” that is for the “Body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12), as fits the need (literally, “edification of the necessity,” meaning: edification required by a concrete or specific need), that it may impart grace to the listeners, that is, that it may spiritually benefit them. This recalls Col. 4:6, “Let your speech always be gracious seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer each individual.”
We notice an interesting parallel between verses 25, 28, and 29. In each case the apostle urges the addressed to be a blessing for those with whom they have daily contact. Merely refraining from falsehood, stealing and corrupt speech will never do. Christianity is not a mere “don’t” religion, and believers must not be content to be mere zeros. Instead, they should copy the example of their Master, whose words were so filled with grace that the multitudes were amazed (Luke 4:22). “A word in due season, how good it is!” (Prov. 15:23).
Contemporary preaching and teaching on sexuality
Given that Paul in Romans 14:13 is concerned with Christians never putting a “stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13) and Ephesians 4:29 is with letting “no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear (Ephesians 4:29) it’s worth asking the question in light of the above exegesis of Romans 14:13 and Ephesians 4:29 is contemporary preaching and teaching on sexuality helpful or unbiblical?
Whether it’s a pastor performing a “sexperiment” on top of his church’s building and then streaming it live or pastors describing specific sex acts their congregants can perform, the contemporary evangelical obsession with sex seems to me to be unhelpful and unbalanced. Rather than being discreet about sex many preachers are flaunting what “acts” Christians can perform. By doing this the preacher has overstepped his bounds and moved from preacher to sex-therapist.
Whenever I bring this up this topic with friends I am almost immediately asked, “Why do you think such preaching is unhelpful and unbalanced?” I believe that Preachers should preach on sex and more conversation should be had on what the Bible has to say about sex within the confines of the marriage relationship. My concern is that contemporary preaching on sex is unhelpful because it often is far too graphic and leaves nothing to the imagination. This kind of preaching, teaching and writing does not follow Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:29 to let “no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” Furthermore this kind of preaching does place a “stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother” (Romans 14:13).
I am not against all talk on sex, and my goal is not to “fan the flames” of the debate, but rather to redirect and re-orient the conversation upon this one question, “Is contemporary preaching, teaching and writing on sex biblical?”
My main concern is that many preachers are more interested in preaching on controversial topics than the Word of God. The Word of God does address the topic of sex but the Bible is not a manual of “do this and do that” in the marriage bed. When the Bible speaks of Christians it calls them “saints” for a reason because they are a separate people unto the Lord God. The people of God are to reflect the holiness of God to the world. When Pastors, preachers, writers, and teachers are more interested in building a platform, selling books all in the guise of “preaching what the Bible says about sex” I don’t question their motives or sincerity but I do question why they think it is necessary to cross the line and describe sex acts.
My main concerns with this approach to ministry are 1) I don’t see it in the Bible, 2) I believe it violates Romans 14:13 and Ephesians 4:29), 3) I don’t believe it strengthens the Church, 4) pastoral, as, I believe it does a disservice to Christians and unbelievers many of whom are deeply confused about sex. Finally many of these Pastors, preachers, teachers and writers are men that I respect a great deal and have benefited from, but I am concerned that these men are more known for preaching on sex while declaring they are making much of Jesus.
The Bible has much to say about how we speak to one another. There is a reason why the Bible addresses our hearts and our words. Jesus taught, “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). 1st Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,”’
As Christians we do need to speak out against the injustices associated with pornography, but we do not need to describe the sex acts. Christians need to take great care with how we speak to one another and about our faith. Christians should speak only to edify and build up the Body of Christ. When we speak in any other way we are not reflecting the holiness of the God but rather reflecting our sin nature to the world.
Christians have been given the Gospel the most important message in the world and have been charged with transmitting that message to the ends of the world. Christians are to faithfully communicate God’s Word without compromise but I fear that today many are compromising the message by advocating a methodology of ministry that the Bible does not support. The Bible is not a book about sex but about the God-Man the Lord Jesus Christ who longs to seek and save the lost. Christians should speak on sex, but should do so as the Bible does not to sell books or to build a platform, but speak only, “for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15).
Peter with “gentleness and respect” echoes the words of Jesus (“I am gentle and humble in heart” (Matthew 11:29), whose example the believer should adopt. When we sanctify Christ in our hearts, we should exercise gentleness and respect toward all men. In our behavior we exert ourselves to demonstrate gentles toward persons who are spiritually weak (Rom. 15:1-2). In our conduct we make every effort to show honor and respect toward God and toward those whom God has placed over us (2:13-17; Rom. 13:1-7). As Christians we should strive to e models of the example Christ has set. This means that how we speak about sex matters since one day Jesus will hold us accountable for every word that we have uttered.
Christians may our words, our behavior and our very lives reflect the holiness of Christ in a world that is confused about sex. May we as God’s people speak only to build up one another in the faith, and may we never be a stumbling block to each other so that the Gospel may advance with great speed on accord of our unity in the Gospel.
Dave Jenkins is happily married to his wife, Sarah. He is a writer, editor, and speaker living in beautiful Southern Oregon. Dave is a lover of Christ, His people, the Church, and sound theology. He serves as the Executive Director of Servants of Grace Ministries, the Executive Editor of Theology for Life Magazine, the Host and Producer of Equipping You in Grace Podcast, and is a contributor to and producer of Contending for the Word. He is the author of The Word Explored: The Problem of Biblical Illiteracy and What To Do About It (House to House, 2021), The Word Matters: Defending Biblical Authority Against the Spirit of the Age (G3 Press, 2022), and Contentment: The Journey of a Lifetime (Theology for Life, 2024). You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, or read his newsletter. Dave loves to spend time with his wife, going to movies, eating at a nice restaurant, or going out for a round of golf with a good friend. He is also a voracious reader, in particular of Reformed theology, and the Puritans. You will often find him when he’s not busy with ministry reading a pile of the latest books from a wide variety of Christian publishers. Dave received his M.A.R. and M.Div through Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.