Leviticus: Immoral Sexual Behavior Condemned

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on June 1, 2005

Leviticus 18:1-30

Wednesday Evening

June 1, 2005

Leviticus 18:1-30

“Immoral Sexual Behavior Condemned”

Dr. J. Ligon Duncan III

If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to
Leviticus, chapter eighteen. (Phil, we are working through the Book of
Leviticus. This summer we’re in the holiness code, so you can pray for me as you
think of me Wednesday night after Wednesday night.) And we’re in a hard passage,
as Ed has already said.

Let me outline this passage for you before we read
it, and then we’ll try and briefly explain and apply the passage.

There are four parts, at least, as we outline
Leviticus 18. The first part comes in the very first two verses.
The first
part is very much like the prologue to a covenant statement in which God
announces who He is; and the announcement of who He is supplies the motive, the
rationale, for everything else that flows following in that covenant
relationship which is being defined or described. And so the first two verses
give us that prologue to the whole chapter, which in fact supply the whole and
most important reason for the following of the way of life that is described in
the rest of the chapter. So the first portion of the chapter is in verses 1 and
2.

Then in verses 3-5, we have an explicit
declaration on God’s part that His people are not to live like the peoples of
the world, with regard to their immorality.
In other words, Israel is not
to copy the immorality of its surrounding cultures, but is to be deliberately
loyal to the moral standards of the God who has announced Himself in the first
two verses of the chapter. And so we see that in verses 3-5. And so Israel
cannot say, like the little boy, “but everybody else is doing it!” God says, “I
know everybody else is doing it. You are not to live that way.” Then in
this long section from verse 6 all the way down to verse 23, we see a catalogue
of sexual sins which are prohibited to the people of God, even though they are
commonly practiced by the cultures around them.

And then finally, fourthly, you look at verses 24
down to verse 30. You see a declaration on God’s part of the certainty of His
judgment against this kind of sexual immorality.

Let’s look to God’s word; and, before we do, let’s
ask for His help and blessing, in prayer.

Lord God, we thank You for Your word. We pray
that You would speak to our hearts by that word; that You would grip us by Your
word, Your teaching, and Your grace to believe and live Your truth. And we ask
this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Hear God’s word.

“Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, ‘Speak to the sons of Israel
and say to them, ‘I am the Lord your God. You shall not do what is done in the
land of Egypt where you lived, nor are you to do what is done in the land of
Canaan where I am bringing you; you shall not walk in their statutes. You are
to perform My judgments and keep My statutes, to live in accord with them; I am
the Lord your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a
man may live if he does them; I am the Lord.

“‘None of you shall approach any blood relative of his to uncover
nakedness; I am the Lord. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father,
that is, the nakedness of your mother. She is your mother; you are not to
uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s
wife; it is your father’s nakedness. The nakedness of your sister, either your
father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether born at home or born
outside, their nakedness you shall not uncover. The nakedness of your son’s
daughter or your daughter’s daughter, their nakedness you shall not uncover; for
their nakedness is yours. The nakedness of your father’s wife’s daughter, born
to your father, she is your sister; you shall not uncover her nakedness. You
shall not uncover the nakedness of your father’s sister; she is your father’s
blood relative. You shall not uncover the nakedness of your mother’s sister,
for she is your mother’s blood relative. You shall not uncover the nakedness of
your father’s brother; you shall not approach his wife, she is your aunt. You
shall not uncover the nakedness of your daughter-in-law, she is your son’s wife;
you shall not uncover her nakedness. You shall not uncover the nakedness of
your brother’s wife, it is your brother’s nakedness. You shall not uncover the
nakedness of a woman and of her daughter, nor shall you take her son’s daughter
or her daughter’s daughter, to uncover her nakedness; they are blood relatives.
It is lewdness. And you shall not marry a woman in addition to her sister as a
rival while she is alive, to uncover her nakedness.

“ Also you shall not approach a woman to uncover her nakedness
during her menstrual impurity. And you shall not have intercourse with your
neighbor’s wife, to be defiled with her. Neither shall you give any of your
offspring to offer them to Molech, nor shall you profane the name of your God; I
am the Lord. You shall not lie with a male as one lies with a female; it is an
abomination. Also you shall not have intercourse with any animal to be defiled
with it, nor shall any woman stand before an animal to mate with it; it is a
perversion.

“‘Do not defile yourselves by any of these things; for by all these
the nations which I am casting out before you have become defiled. For the land
has become defiled, therefore I have visited its punishment upon it, so the land
has spewed out its inhabitants. But as for you, you are to keep My statutes and
My judgments, and shall not do any of these abominations, neither the native,
nor the alien who sojourns among you; (for the men of the land who have been
before you have done all these abominations, and the land has become defiled);
so that the land may not spew you out, should you defile it, as it has spewed
out the nation which has been before you. For whoever does any of these
abominations, those persons who dos o shall be cut off from among their people.
Thus you are to keep My charge, that you do not practice any of the abominable
customs which have been practiced before you, so as not to defile yourselves
with them; I am the Lord your God.’”

Amen. And thus ends this reading of God’s holy, inspired,
and inerrant word. May He write its eternal truth upon our hearts.

I want to say very briefly tonight about this long
and convicting, and sobering and somewhat embarrassing passage to read aloud,
especially in mixed company, especially in an intergenerational group like
tonight, that it is God’s word. And so it is meant for our profit, for our
instruction, for our growth in grace and our living in righteousness. And so
there are four things that I want to draw to your attention, and the first is
the motivation for Christian living…the motivation for Christian living.

In this passage, in verses 1 and 2, God gives an
absolute motivation for ethical behavior to His people
–His ancient people,
Israel, and His new people, the people of the new covenant–all those who rest
and trust in Jesus Christ, whether they be Jew or Greek or slave or free, or
male or female, from whatever tribe or tongue or nation–He gives the standard
for the motivation for our life before God. He argues in verses 1 and 2 that
God’s people are to live this way because–how does He put it?–“I am the Lord
your God.”

You know, the Bible actually gives us many
legitimate biblical motivations for why we do what we do. Did you hear Phil in
his report say one of the things that motivates him is thankfulness to Jesus?
That’s clearly a biblical motivation. We find that all over the New Testament.
In fact, I would argue it’s almost impossible for a Christian to eradicate that
motive entirely from any motivation we have for doing anything in life. It’s
sort of [woven] in there with everything else that we do, but the Bible gives
various legitimate motivations. And of course, there are also illegitimate
motivations in life.

You know, the older I get and the more I think about
why I do what I do, the more illegitimate motivations I see sneaking into why I
do what I do. Very often I may do the right thing for the wrong reason. I may
have a very selfish and self-interested reason for doing something that is right
– and it looks right in your eyes, but the reason that I do it ( God knows my
heart) may not be the pure motivation, the pure reason that He would have me do
it in the word. And so we need to think a little bit about why we do what we do.

I. The God-motivation for
Christian ethics — Live this way because I am your God.

One very obvious motivation for why we do, why we
obey, why we love the word of God, why we obey the directives of the word of God
is because of gratitude. We’re grateful to God because of His mercy to us. We
may be motivated by a realization of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ to us.
In fact, Jesus makes it clear, doesn’t He, that those who have received mercy
will be merciful because of the mercy they’ve received. And so the grace of God
motivates our graciousness.

But you know, one of the great motivations that we
learn sometimes in our very earliest childhood is “because I said so!” Ever had
your Mom tell you that?

“Well, why do I have to take out the trash?”

“Because I said so.”

And you know what God is saying here,
fundamentally, to the children of Israel? ‘The reason that you are to live this
way is because I am the Lord your God.’
Notice that it is an objective
motivation.

It’s very interesting. In reading some of Ford Vox,
this fellow who’s just invented his own new religion over in Birmingham,
Alabama (by the way, what a rotten place to invent a free-thinking atheistic
religion! I mean, he ought to move to San Francisco! You know, in Birmingham
they’ve got Baptist churches on every corner, and they serve waffles and eat
normal things. He needs to move to San Francisco or some other more exciting
place to start a free-thinking religion)…but, one of the interesting things
that he said in his writings was, “We don’t want to do what is right because
some god told us to do what is right; we want to do what is right because we
feel
that it is right.”

Now, let me tell you what, my friends – I don’t want
you to do what is right because you simply “feel” that it is right. Because,
let me tell you, what you feel is right may not be what Person “B” feels is
right; and it may not be what I know is right. I want there to be something
more substantial as a motivation for doing what you ought to do than “feeling”
that it is right
. And isn’t it interesting that that’s exactly what God
gives His people here? He says, ‘Let me tell you at the outset, here’s why
you’re going to do what I’m going to tell you to do. It’s because I’m God.’
It’s the ultimate divine ‘Because I told you – that’s why you’re going to do
it.’ “Because I’m God” – there’s your Argument No. 1 why to live this way:
“Because I’m God.”

Now, you notice that at the end of that argument
there’s no counter-reply! “Because I’m God.” That’s it. That ends the
discussion. That’s why you’re going to live this way. “Because I’m God. I am the
Lord your God.” Boy, what a great lesson for us to learn! The God-motivation
for Christian living — we live this way because He is the Lord our God.

II. It is our life that shows our
allegiance to God.

Secondly, if you look at verses 3-5, notice
that it is stressed that our life, rather than merely our words, our claims, our
professions…it is our life that shows our allegiance to God. God is
saying in verses 3-5, ‘Keeping my commands, even when you are counter-cultural,
even when you are out of step with the cultures in which you live, that is what
shows who truly trusts in Me. That is what shows who truly loves Me. That is
what shows who is truly loyal to Me. Professing Me with your lips is not what
ultimately shows that you love Me, that you worship Me, that you’re loyal to
Me. It’s the way you live. That’s what evidences, that’s what manifests, that’s
what shows that you’re My people.’

“You shall not do what is done in the land of Egypt…nor what is
done in the land of Canaan… You shall not walk in their statutes. You are to
perform My judgments, My statutes, to live in accord with them. I am the Lord
your God. So you shall keep My statutes and My judgments, by which a man may
live if he does them; I am the Lord.”

And so God is saying to us that living the way He teaches
us to live in the word, that is the way we manifest that we love Him, we trust
in Him, we worship Him, we’re loyal to Him.

That is not the way, by the way, that we
are saved. If it were, we would all be going to hell. It is, however, the way
we manifest that we have been saved by His grace. The way you show you’ve been
saved by grace, the way you show that you belong to God, the way that you show
that you love God, is you live His word.

Now, that’s so vitally important for us as we embark
in this particular area, my friends, because it has become commonplace even in
our conservative culture to assume that many, many Christians, especially young
people, will be true Christians and yet live at odds with the sexual morality
which is defined here in Leviticus 18. In other words, it will be assumed that
one can be a true believer in the Lord Jesus Christ, and that you can live in
sexual immorality. And you can see that God is not allowing that option here.

The point is not that a person has to be perfect to
be a Christian; the point is not that there is no forgiveness for sin; it is
simply that the Bible, from Old Testament to New, from Moses to Paul, won’t let
you create a third category of Christian: the Christian who lives in blatant,
unrepentant defiance of God’s will. The pagan, good Christian, and the
Christian who lives in blatant defiance of God’s will — you won’t find that
category in the Scripture. And that means, my friends, that as a body, as a
gathered body of believers, we need to exhort one another to stand with God, to
stand with Christ, to stand with the Scripture in our living and press home the
urgency of that in the area of sexual purity to our young people.

Now, friends, many of our young people are either at
or just coming back from what is called “First Week,” and many of our own young
people may well have been involved in sexual immorality. It should not be
so, and we should care about it, because we’re people of The Book.

III. Sexual purity is a part of
living for God

Thirdly, look at verses 6-23. In this brutally
honest and blunt section, notice how God makes it clear that sexual purity is a
part of living for God. It’s a part of living with God. It’s a part of being a
believer in the one true God.

In this catalogue of prohibitions, you
will notice that every manner of fornication and adultery is prohibited; every
manner of incest is prohibited; every manner of homosexuality and bestiality is
prohibited; child sacrifice for the sake of fertility rites, which was so common
in Canaanite culture, is prohibited.
All these various sexual
immoralities, all these immoral sexual behaviors are condemned.

You know, we have lived for a long time in a world
that says your private world and your public world do not need to match. You
can be a perfectly productive citizen in the public world, and you can live
however you want in your private world. And isn’t it interesting that God says,
‘That is not the way with My children. They are integrated. They are whole.
They’re the same inside as they are the outside.’

And notice as well — isn’t it interesting, my
friends? — that these prohibitions…you know, some people get on the Book of
Proverbs because the Proverbs seem to blame women for immorality. Notice where
the exhortation is placed in this passage. Consistently it is placed to the
men. “You shall not do this…you shall not do this” …against women. There
is, of course, the prohibition against bestiality and against homosexuality, but
the bulk of the crimes that are forbidden here are crimes of men against women,
in circumstances where men can wrongfully use their power. And isn’t it
interesting, God says, ‘Not in My people, you don’t!’

So often we work with Christians who have been
crippled in their own ability to appreciate the glory of the goodness of the
heavenly Father because of their experience of an earthly father who did not
manifest the glory and goodness of the heavenly Father. And isn’t it interesting
that God is saying, ‘That’s not what men are going to look like in My culture.
In My culture, men are going to act towards women with care; they’re going to
treat them with dignity as those who have been made in the image of God; they
are not going to use them as objects of their gratification. They’re going to
manifest in their relationships, even in their sexual relationships…they are
going to manifest, they are going to image, they’re going to reflect the glory
of who I am.’

Isn’t it interesting that He does that? But He also
requires that we be privately and publicly an integrated, godly, righteous
person. He won’t let us off the hook to act one way in public and another way —
even in this very intimate, discreet, usually hidden part of our private world —
He will not allow that to happen.

My friends, don’t think that these sorts of things,
as shocking as they are to hear read aloud in Lowe Hall on a Wednesday night at
First Presbyterian Church, don’t think that these are uncommon issues in
Mississippi. They’re not. There’s not one thing in this list that those of you
who’ve been involved in counseling for any amount of time have not seen, and
seen regularly, in Mississippi. These are not things….I mean, isn’t it
interesting that Moses is having to write these things to people who heard
God
speak the Ten Commandments?! So, don’t be surprised that there are
problems in our own culture. There are.

IV. Sexual abominations and
immorality will bring God’s judgment.

Finally, notice that God makes it clear that
participation in these sexual abominations, in these immoralities, will bring
His judgment. At one level, Moses is explaining the work of Israel in cleaning
the Canaanites out of Canaan. Have you ever struggled with that? How in the
world can God send His people in to commit genocide against whole populations of
peoples who have occupied this land of Canaan long before the people of God came
there? How can God do that? How is that right? Well, Moses is actually
explaining that to you. Their sin had become so odious in God’s sight that He,
as it were, had appointed another purge like He did in the days of Noah. It’s a
horrific thought, isn’t it? But that’s what Moses is saying: that God’s
judgment will justly fall on those who practice those abominations. It’s not
surprising, is it, that if you chart the history of civilizations, when
civilizations degenerate into these kinds of abominations, it is not long before
they disappear. We’re seeing it in our own culture today, as we’ve seen it in
Western Europe, and as we’ve seen it in other parts of the world. God will
bring judgment. Paul confirms that, doesn’t he, in Romans, chapter one. The
Lord will not suffer to be mocked in His universal standards of right and wrong.

God bless His word to us, to respond in faith and
obedience. Let’s pray.

Lord God, thank You for Your word. Teach us by
it; humble us before it; use it in our hearts and lives, that we might live
before You and with one another in a way that honors the truth that You are the
Lord our God. We ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.

Would you stand for God’s blessing — and
then, Phil and Marsha, come up front so folks can greet you.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God the
Father and our Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

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