Nothing New Under the Sun
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. –Ecclesiastes 1:9
According to the CDC, exactly 1 out of every 2 marriages in the United States will end not at death, when brides and grooms vow they will part, but with divorce. Even for first-time brides and grooms, they have a nearly 40% chance of divorcing. Numerous books, some movies, and at least one theatrical production is devoted to the idea that the American culture has fallen from its supposed godly roots in its distant past, and they cite this high divorce rate as proof. But no culture, let alone America’s, has started with a godly culture. Even Israel, God’s chosen nation, as soon as it received God’s law in Exodus 24:3, had committed idolatry with their golden calf in Exodus 32 before Moses came down from Mt. Sinai with the tablets of the law. Even those who had seen God’s judgment on the Egyptians, who had seen God’s salvation through the Red Sea, chose idolatry, both in this incident at Mt. Sinai, and later at the edge of the promised land (Numbers 14:1-4). Their latter idolatry proved final and fully fatal; for this rebellion God refused to let them enter the promised land (vv. 28-30). The writer of Hebrews attests that the first generation of Israelites was eternally lost in Hebrews 3:18-19; 4:9-11.
And to whom did he swear that they would not enter his rest, but to those who were disobedient? So we see that they were unable to enter because of unbelief. … So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his. Let us therefore strive to enter that rest, so that no one may fall by the same sort of disobedience.
These verses indicate that the Israelites were unable to enter not only the physical rest of Canaan but also the eternal rest of heaven. If God’s own chosen nation was sinful from the beginning, how can we claim that our nation, born out of a non-biblical rebellion (Romans 13:1-7), has been righteous even for a moment?
The point I am getting at is this: sexual sin is nothing new. Divorce rates may be higher, but spouses have been cheating on each other since biblical times. The Greek poet Horace, writing mere decades before the First Coming of Christ, writes in his Odes, Book III Poem 6, “Moral Decadence” (trans. A. S. Kline):
Our age, fertile in its wickedness, has first
defiled the marriage bed, our offspring, and homes:
disaster’s stream has flowed from this source
through the people and the fatherland.
The young girl early takes delight in learning
Greek dances, in being dressed with all the arts,
and soon meditates sinful affairs,
with every fibre of her new being:
later at her husband’s dinners she searches
for younger lovers, doesn’t mind to whom she
grants all her swift illicit pleasures
when the lights are far removed, but she rises,
openly, when ordered to do so, and not
without her husband’s knowledge, whether it’s for
some peddler, or Spanish ship’s captain,
an extravagant buyer of her shame.
What do the harmful days not render less?
Worse than our grandparents’ generation, our
parents’ then produced us, even worse,
and soon to bear still more sinful children.
Well could his culture as well as ours heed the warning in Hebrews 13:4—”Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” In his commentary on Hebrews, William L. Lane quotes this same poem before provding his own insightful comments:
The awesome prospect of the final judgment throws into high relief the ultimate importance of respect for marriage and for sexual integrity. They represent aspects of the pursuit of holiness that are foundational to the worship of God. (p. 517)
And Jesus details how we are to show “respect for marriage and for sexual integrity” in Matthew 5:27-32. There, Jesus equates respect for marriage and for sexual integrity with abstaining from lust and divorce, for lust is adultery, and divorce results in adultery if one lies with a divorced man or woman.
Past cultures sidestepped Jesus’ teachings on marriage and sexual integrity by hiding their sexual sins with secret affairs and clandestine meetings under the cover of night. Our culture is not doing anything new; it is merely doing these sexually immoral acts in broad daylight and without any sense of shame. Paul’s words in Romans 1:28-32 about sinful society was applicable just as much in his day as it is in ours:
And since they did not see fit to acknowledge God, God gave them up to a debased mind to do what ought not to be done. They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless. Though they know God’s righteous decree that those who practice such things deserve to die, they not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.
Sexual sin is nothing new. Sexual immorality has been around since before the Flood in Genesis 6. Homosexuality, fornication, and adultery have all been present for millennia. The only difference is that these things are now done openly and in broad daylight. We ought not beseech our country to come back to God; communist and socialist ideas have been too-readily adopted (if unwillingly) by the American church. We cannot change a country corporally before we can change it individually. Our country’s moral decadence, while a problem, is not our country’s biggest problem. Our country’s biggest problem is the lostness of its citizens individually. God does not command societal reform; God commands evangelism and discipleship (Matthew 28:18-20). By his grace, let’s be about his work of spreading the gospel and tending to its growth … one individual at a time.
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