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(Last Updated: 24 Aug 2000 )
What follows is the text of a presentation I gave on the theme of Chastity. I was part of a team presenting material on the subject. My task was to look at what the Bible and the Church teaches about it. Note that this presentation is from a Catholic perspective.
My second point is this: how do we tell the difference between right and wrong? If we're standing up here saying "Chastity is right" and "living unchastely is wrong", how can we be sure that what we're saying is the truth? I've asked some of my non-Christian friends that question, because without God, I'm sure it gets pretty hard. One time I had this discussion with a friend of mine. We were talking about ethics, and how I thought some things were wrong that he thought were OK (like he admired chastity but didn't necessarily think it should apply to everyone), so I asked him, "How do you tell the difference between right and wrong?" and he said "By my feelings, by the way I feel about it" (I've found that that's pretty much what most people say in this situation). So I said "What if there's a mass murderer who goes around killing people with an axe because he feels that that is OK. Do his feelings mean that it's all right?" and my friend said "OK, right and wrong is defined by society, by what's socially acceptable." I said "What if you have a society of cannibals that eats babies? If they all do it, does that make it right?" Then he didn't say anything for a while, and ended up mumbling something about having some sort of ethical standards, like the Ten Commandments. And I thought "Hey, I don't often win arguments against this guy." Because that was my whole point: if God doesn't make the rules, who does? And it figures that God's rules are going to be a whole lot better than ours. So when it comes to things like relationships, or sex, or these other moral decisions that we have to make, should we go by what "feels good", or should we go by the Eternal Word of God?
As far as chastity goes, God's word has quite a lot to say. For a start, as I'm sure my friend was aware, chastity is one of the Ten Commandments: "You shall not commit adultery". That's pretty clear, and even more so when we realise that adultery here means any sex outside of marriage. But again, chastity is more than just that; it is a lifestyle. When Scripture talks about chastity, it doesn't just say to be chaste in your sex-life, but to be chaste in the way you look at others, to be chaste in your heart and mind, and to be chaste in your speech.
As far as looking goes, Jesus told us not to even look on another person with lust, because then we're committing adultery in our heart. Another example of this is Job, who made a covenant with his eyes not to look lustfully at a girl.
We're also told to be chaste in our hearts, like in Proverbs where it talks about the "immoral woman": "Do not lust in your heart after her beauty or let her captivate you with her eyes". (Actually, when you look at these quotes, chastity does seem to be more of a struggle for men, doesn't it?) Jesus also said "Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'".
And we are commanded to be chaste in our speech, as in Ephesians where Paul says: "But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God's holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving." It seems to me that for a lot of people these days, obscenity, foolish talk and coarse joking are just about the only way they know how to communicate.
But anyway, why does the Bible give us all this advice? God's view of sexual immorality is pretty clear. In Ephesians, it says: "For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person-such a man is an idolater-has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God."
To make the point more clearly, there are a couple of other good quotes. From Corinthians: "Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God." [For that is what you used to be...] And from Galatians: "The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
So that's reasonably serious. The commands are reinforced throughout scripture: "Do not commit adultery"; "Abstain from ... sexual immorality"; "Flee from sexual immorality"; "We should not commit sexual immorality" and so on. Chastity is a precept, a rule or command that is obviously very important to God, and what's important to God should be important to us.
Behind this concept of Chastity are at least three principles: the principles of love, of faithfulness, and of purity. And these principles are based on the character and nature of God: God is love; God is faithful; and God is pure.
Pope Paul VI wrote a letter about a lot of this stuff. It was called Humanae Vitae. This letter talks a lot about love, particularly conjugal love, between a man and a wife, because that's what chastity is all about. That's what chastity prepares us for and helps us to live out properly: a husband and a wife and total love. The Pope talked about the characteristics of this sort of love: it is fully human, so there is a spiritual side to it as well as an emotional and physical dimension; it is total, so everything is shared, and selfishness has no place; it is faithful until death; and it is fruitful, because that love can be perpetuated and demonstrated through children.
All this is tied to chastity, because as the Church teaches, "Chastity is the spiritual power which frees love from selfishness and aggression. To the degree that a person weakens chastity, his or her love becomes more and more selfish, that is, satisfying a desire for pleasure and no longer self-giving."
So chastity is self-giving, and to quote from the Catechism: "Chastity includes an apprenticeship in self-mastery which is a training in human freedom." And this is a good bit: "The alternative is clear: either man governs his passions and finds peace, or he lets himself be dominated by them and becomes unhappy." Humanae Vitae talks about how Christians in marriage are called to live this self-giving in a right personal relationship with God. Pope John Paul II has said that "At the centre of the spirituality of marriage ... lies chastity, not only as a moral virtue (formed by love), but likewise as a virtue connected with the gifts of the Holy Spirit."
In other words, in order to live chastely, we need the continuous help of the Holy Spirit, who works to make us like Christ, with His attitudes and His love. And God calls us to be like this; in Thessalonians it says: "It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God." The key point here is the first statement - "It is God's will that you should be sanctified" because, as Paul goes on to say: "For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, he who rejects this instruction does not reject man but God, who gives you his Holy Spirit."
God is calling us to take on His nature, the nature of Christ, and the Holy Spirit works in us to do this. But impurity is incompatible with the Holy Spirit. To be pure requires repentance and a constant effort to live the life of Christ. It's not always easy. God's standards are so much more demanding. But they are infinitely more rewarding. We might think be tempted to think that it is a hard thing, to live a chaste life, especially when we look at the world around us. But that is not where we are supposed to look. We are supposed to look at Christ, and as long as we're doing that, we are exactly where He wants us to be.
- Dean Mischewski
''You have heard that it was said,
'Do not commit adultery.' But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman
lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart."
- Matthew 5:27-28
"Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters
nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders ... will inherit
the kingdom of God."
- 1 Corinthians 6:9
"The acts of the sinful nature are obvious:
sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery ... and the like; ... those
who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God."
- Galatians 5:19
"parents should be aware ... that sexual
giving should also be lived out in respect for God and for his plan of
love, with fidelity, honour and generosity towards one's spouse and toward
the life which can arise from their act of love. Only in this way
can their love be an expression of charity"
- The Truth and Meaning of Human Sexuality
"At the center of the spirituality of marriage
... lies chastity, not only as a moral virtue (formed by love), but likewise
as a virtue connected with the gifts of the Holy Spirit."
- Pope John Paul II, L'Osservatore Romano, Nov 19th, 1994
- The New Bible Dictionary, (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.) 1962.
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