Sunday, July 31, 2011

1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 - The Trap of Pornography

Opening thoughtIt was an ordinary weekday morning when Caroline first noticed how much pornography was taking over her life. With 15 minutes before she was to leave for a job interview, she opened up her laptop to print off an extra copy of her resume and there onscreen was a grab she’d saved from a pornsite.
“I remember the feeling of being sucked in, really wanting that two-minute fix, that numbness I got when I used porn,” says Caroline. “I was stressed out, and I risked being late for my interview, but I pressed play anyway and fast-forwarded it to the bit I wanted. It took two minutes.” But the relief was to be short-lived. “Afterwards I just hated myself for giving in and getting off on images that treated women like pieces of meat. But I kept going back.”
Caroline, a 21-year-old English graduate, just finished seeing a therapist to help get her porn habit under control. Caroline started watching porn out of curiosity in her mid-teens, and she and her friends used it as a graphic form of sex education. She saw nothing wrong with it, particularly as she was raised in a generation of girls for whom it was seen as hip and liberated to enjoy watching sex. According to President of Morality in Media, Patrick Trueman, the average age in which children first view pornographic material is now 11 years old.[1]
Then, as she entered a depressed job market after university, it became a form of escape, a default she turned to whenever she felt anxious or bored. “I’d be stuck at home in front of my laptop on my own all day. I’d wake up with all these ideas for the day – and end up surfing for porn, trying to distract myself, eating and then going back for more porn. No one would ever have known. But I didn’t get much done. It was like a constant battle between my sexual urges and my self-control. I’d think to myself: ‘It’s not doing any harm.’ But then I started to loathe myself for giving in and wasting so much time on it.” Caroline is not alone.
We usually think of men being in bondage to pornography, but these days women are the fastest growing group of new addicts. Women are watching – and enjoying – porn more and more, and some are finding it hard to stop. At Quit Porn Addiction, the UK’s main porn counseling service, almost one in three clients are women struggling with their own porn use. Two years ago, there were none. While more than six out of 10 women say they view web porn, one study in 2006 by the Internet Filter Review found that 17% of women describe themselves as “addicted”.[2]
And that is just the women. We all know that men have had an issue with images since the time of Job. We must be careful with statistics, but a 2003 survey from Internet Filter Review reported that 47 percent of Christians admit pornography is a major problem in their homes. Chuck Colson has called Internet pornography “Spiritual Crack Cocaine,” because of how quickly people can become addicted to it and because of how destructive it is to the human soul.
Today’s is not a pleasant subject, especially in mixed company, but if I am going to be a responsible pastor, I cannot ignore help but warn you and your family about pornography and try to give you some help to deal with it.
In our current legal and social environment, we cannot depend upon the government for restraint. We must face the reality that pornography will affect virtually every family in some way. Dr. Jason Carroll and his colleagues published a widely cited paper in the Journal of Adolescent Research that brings to light the scope of this problem. According to this paper, which reviewed data from five universities, 87 percent of college males and 31 percent of females view pornography. This data crosses all religious, educational, and social barriers.
Contextual Notes:
Thessalonica was the capital city of Macedonia, within sight of Mount Olympus, the legendary home of the Greek pantheon. With a population of over 200,000 in the first century, it was a (tax)-free city, a reward for helping Augustus gain the emperor=s mantle. Thus, Thessalonica was the largest commercial center in southeast Europe, a coastal city on the Egnation Way, the main road from Rome to the East.  Because of the city=s importance in business, there was a large Jewish population there.  Many Gentiles, frustrated with paganism, had begun attending synagogue as AGod-fearers,@ attracted to the simpler monotheism of Judaism.  Most of the Thessalonian Christians were Gentiles who had come out of idolatry (1 Thessalonians 1:9; 2:14-16). Their religious background included practices that involved gross immorality that involved the sex trafficking of women, and underage girls and boys for use by paying male customers.
Of the many truths Paul was preaching was the Return of Christ.  The Thessalonians had many questions, perhaps because of the hasty departure of Paul. The entirety of both epistles to the Thessalonians is about the Parousia, the Second Coming of Christ.
Outline of 1 Thessalonians
1.           The Model Church (1 Thessalonians 1)  (See 1 Thess. 1:7; 2 Cor. 8:1-5)
2.           The Model Discipler, Paul (1 Thessalonians 2)
3.           The Model Brother, Timothy (1 Thessalonians 3)
4.           The Model Work, Pleasing God (1 Thessalonians 4:1-12)
5.           The Lord=s Return (1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11)
6.           The Best Encouragement (1 Thessalonians 5:12-28)
In chapter 4, Paul begins the last section of his letter (“Finally,” 4:1) by reminding the believers to live to please God (4:1-2), to separate from immorality (4:3-8), love each other more than they do now (4:9-10) and do honest work (4:11-12). Why? Because Christ is coming back and will not forget any of those who have already died (4:13-17), for reunion awaits in the presence of Christ (4:18).
Key Truth: Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 to warn believers that sexual immorality entices a believer to give up self-control, to take advantage of others and be impure, taking one’s honor, bringing punishment, and insulting our Lord.
All the eye candy you need.
Key Application: Today I want to show you what God’s Word says about the trap of pornography.
Pray and Read:  1 Thessalonians 4:3-8
Sermon Points:
1.   Pornography entices you to give up self-control, thus stealing your honor (1 Thess. 4:3-5)
2.   Pornography entices you to take advantage of others, thus ordering your punishment (1 Thess. 4:6)
3.   Pornography entices you to be impure, thus insulting your Savior (1 Thess. 4:7-8)

Exposition:   Note well,
a.   The Greek porneias here encompasses all sex sins which holiness demands the Christian reject. Resisting the temptation enables us to develop self-control. God is holy and those who belong to Him should be holy.
b.   There is some modest language here that makes the text perhaps a little cloudy but clear on its general meaning. Lit. “to have/possess/gain control of his vessel/instrument/body” (1 Thess. 4:4; 1 Peter 1:15; 1 Cor. 7:34; Heb. 12:14). Vessel could be his own body or, as in rabbinical literature, his wife, living with her in honor and holiness.
c.   1 Thess. 4:5 – Christian behavior is contrasted with the heathens’ (Jer. 10:25; Psalm 79:6; Rom. 1:18-25), marked with passionate lust (1 Thess 2:17) implying active and violent.
d.   APPLICATION: The one who masters his body through the power of the Holy Spirit has real freedom. The person who is driven by his glands acts like an animal rather than a human being, and loses touch with his real self by indulging in sexual sin.
a.   Believers should not take advantage of others or abuse them for one’s own satisfaction (1 Cor. 6:15, 19).
b.   Pornography has become the sex education venue for the majority of the next generation, an internet candy store, and it teaches that sex is physically and emotionally harmless, with no negative consequences. Men and women are mere visual drugs to be used and discarded, and sex is solely for personal pleasure. The truth, of course, it that those who actually perform sexually to make the pornography are consumed and discarded by pornographers; they are "throwaway people," as Dr. C. Everett Koop called them.
c.   APPLICATION: How do you think pornographers get their subjects? Normal women and men do not start off in life wanting to be filmed for porn on the internet or videos or magazines. Many of those have been sexually trafficked and are being forced under threat of murder to do the things they do. My wife and I worked with UN CIVPOL sexually trafficking girls from North Africa in Liberia, and they had to act happy or they would disappear. All sexual looseness including pornography represents an act of injustice to someone other than the two parties concerned. Even adultery is an obvious violation of the rights of another person (not involved), but the same principle applies to pre-marital promiscuity, for the impure person cannot bring to the marriage a virginity which is due your spouse. Pornography, even though often by yourself, is a violation of the person you are watching, who is often trafficked and forced to look like she likes what she is doing.
a.   Three reasons are given here to encourage purity. First, God’s judgment (1 Thess. 4:6), now and in the last Day (2 Cor. 5:10). Second, God has a moral purpose in effectually calling a person (1 Thess. 4:7). Third, impurity contemptuously ignores the indwelling of the Holy Spirit whom God gives (continuously) to the believer, who died for and redeemed him (1 Thess. 4:8).
b.   APPLICATION:  Let me warn you about curiosity. Pornography will not teach you anything. It is fantasy. Let me warn that using pornography almost always leads to action in some form or another. Neurologists now tell us that pornography destroys relationships, scar your mind. Donald L. Hilton, Jr., in an article entitled, “Slave Master: How Pornography Drugs & Changes Your Brain,” Salvo 13 (Summer 2010), “Biologically the brain is affected by pornography and other sexual addictions… On the outside is the cerebral cortex, a layer of nerve cells that carry conscious, volitional thought. In the front, over the eyes, are the frontal lobes. These areas are important in judgment, and, if the brain were a car, the frontal lobes would be the brakes. These lobes have important connections to the pleasure pathways, so pleasure can be controlled. In the center of the brain is the nucleus accumbens. This almond-sized area is a key pleasure reward center, and when activated by dopamine and other neurotransmitters, it causes us to value and desire pleasure rewards. Dopamine is essential for humans to desire and value appropriate pleasure in life. It helps incentivize us to eat, procreate, or to win a game. Overuse of the dopamine reward system causes addiction.  Compulsive use decreases the amount of dopamine in the pleasure areas available for use, and the dopamine-producing cells and receptors and the frontal lobe of the brain atrophy, or shrink, resetting of "pleasure thermostat" to a "new normal."
c.   In this addictive state, the person must act out in addiction to boost the dopamine levels just to feel normal. As desensitization continues, stronger and stronger stimuli are required to boost the dopamine. In the case of narcotic addiction, the addicted person must increase the amount of the drug to get the same high. In pornography addiction, progressively more shocking images are required to stimulate the person. As the frontal lobe shrinks, there is a decline in the brain’s judgment and causes the person to become impaired in his ability to process the consequences of acting out in addiction. Addiction scientists and neurosurgeons have noted a similarity in the behavior of addicted persons to the behavior of patients with frontal brain damage. These patients thoughtlessly engage in activities with little regard to the consequences. They are compulsive, becoming fixated on certain objects or behaviors, and have to have them, no matter what. They have sudden and unpredictable mood swings, and exhibit impaired judgment.
d.   A study published in 2007 of persons exhibiting severe sexual addiction produced almost identical results to the cocaine, methamphetamine, and obesity studies. (Encouragingly, two studies also show a return to more normal frontal lobe volumes with time in recovery.) This damage, as well as frontal lobe damage, can be shown with brain scans, such as functional MRI, PET, and SPECT scans. Dr. Norman Doidge, a neurologist at Columbia, in his book The Brain That Changes Itself, describes how pornography causes re-wiring of the neural circuits. He notes that in a study of men viewing internet pornography, the men looked “uncannily" like rats pushing the lever to receive cocaine in the experimental Skinner boxes. Like the addicted rats, the men were desperately seeking the next fix, clicking the mouse just as the rats pushed the lever.
e.   Oxytocin and vasopressin are other important hormones in the brain with regard to physically performing sexually. Studies show that oxytocin is also important in increasing trust in humans, in emotional bonding between sexual mates, and in parental bonding. We are wired to bond to the object of our sexuality. A frequent side effect is that it also dramatically reduces their capacity to love (e.g., it results in a marked dissociation of sex from friendship, affection, caring, and other normal healthy emotions and traits which help marital relationships). Their sexual side becomes in a sense dehumanized. Many of them develop an "alien ego state" (or dark side), whose core is antisocial lust devoid of most values.
f.    Pornographers promise healthy pleasure, but what they often deliver is addiction, and an eventual decrease in pleasure. “Porn impotence," where the man experiences sexuality preferentially with porn instead of a woman, is a real and growing phenomenon. As fisherman know, it is important to keep the drag loose just after hooking the fish, when it still has a lot of fight. As the fish tires, though, we tighten the drag and increase the resistance. In this way the fish is reeled into the boat and netted. Similarly, pornography is a triple hook, consisting of affects on the brain’s frontal lobe, dopamine downgrading, and oxytocin/vasopressin bonding. Each of these hooks is powerful, and they are synergistic. Pornography sets its hooks very quickly and deeply, and as the addiction progresses, it progressively tightens the dopamine drag until there is no more play in the line. The person is drawn ever closer to the boat, and the waiting net.
g.   Pornography is the fabric used to weave a tapestry of sexual permissiveness that undermines the very foundation of society. Biologically, it destroys the ability of a population to sustain itself. The author Tom Wolfe said, "The bigger pornography gets, the lower the birthrate becomes." In the 1950s every country now in the European Union had a fertility rate above the 2.1 needed to sustain a population. Now none of them do, and several are at or near the 1.3 rate called the "lowest low fertility," from which it is virtually impossible to recover. It was in the late 1960s and early 1970s that this decline began, which corresponds precisely with the dawning of the sexual revolution. There is a direct correlation between the growing cultural dominance of the sexual revolution and the diminishing birthrate, and while causation may not be proven, it is strongly supported by the effect of pornography.[3]
  1. Spiritual components: The real reason porn is so destructive and so easily brings a person into captivity is that it uses multiple strategies to enslave a person, and each are defiling in their application. It is hard to know how to fight something when you do not know what you are fighting or what their strategy is. What you need to know is that once you start trafficking in porn, you are dealing directly with demonic forces and personalities.
  2. First and most obvious, it uses immorality, which the Bible says is defiling and which is a generational sin. And 1 Cor. 6:19 tells us that sexual sin is not just a sin done to another person, it is a sin done to one’s own self. Several places in the first eight chapters of Proverbs make it clear that immorality has a strategy to kill, to destroy.
  3. Second, it is an addiction, which is also generational in nature and defiling to oneself as well. Addictions are hard to break because most people do not realize an important strategy that they use to bring down a person. Addictions such as, say, nicotine, are able to stay around because there is the bondage to the nicotine, but back of it is a general bondage of addiction. That bondage to addiction is also generational, so you see addiction move through a family, but the addictions don’t all have to be the same. It might be alcohol with one person, work with another, gambling with another, eating with another, exercise with another, pornography with another. If you do not break and remove the bondage to addiction in your prayer time, another addiction will develop, either the same one or another.
  4. Third, it uses guilt. We are talking profound guilt that keeps you from telling anyone, guilt that makes you keep the sin a secret. Guilt that communicates threats if you tell anyone. Guilt that cripples your ability to spend time with the Lord so that He can cleanse you. Guilt that turns you away from prayer and reading of Scripture in the presence of Jesus where your freedom lies. The enemy knows the Scripture, too, and twists its authority, that a cord of three strands, immorality, addictions, and guilt, is not easily broken (Eccles. 4:12).
  5. How do you know if you are in spiritual bondage to porn? The issue boils down to control. Can you control yourself in this area? If you ran across something disgusting once on a google search, then that’s one thing, but if you go looking for it, using the yellow pages or the search engines, then you probably have an issue. If you find yourself like the woman in the introduction, needing to get a quick 2 minute fix before heading out, then you have a problem. If you have a favorite porn site, if you go looking for it regularly online, if you visit the video stores on 301, if have been using your phone for sexting, if you have a PO box you use to receive magazines or videos, if you have images or videos saved on your computer or your phone in a secret place, if you have the deluxe channel lineup so that you can watch certain channels late at night, if you are plagued with images about porn while doing regular things like brushing your teeth, balancing your checkbook, changing the oil, listening to this sermon, then you have a problem. If you want to break free from these defiling things, listen carefully.
  6. Here is the way to overcome enslavement to porn. I say all the following assuming that you have already trusted Christ as your Lord and Savior and belong to him. If you don’t, then you must commit your life to Christ and his eternal safety before any of this other is durable.
                    i.    First of all, you need to confess your sin to the Lord, your spouse, and/or someone you trust like an accountability partner. James 5:16 tells us to confess our sins to each another and pray for one another in order to receive healing. 1 John 1:9 tells us that if we will confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
                  ii.    Second, you need to renounce your sin, turning away from it, and committing to leave it. Jesus called on people to repent for the kingdom of heaven is near (Mark 1:15). You must make a commitment to leave porn behind. Then there are other practical steps to take after you do the third thing. The third thing is what some might call a little strange, but if you don’t do it, you will find that you only cleaned the house but did not throw out your vandals, and if you don’t throw your vandals out, they will tear your house up again, perhaps worse the next time.
                iii.    The third thing you must do is, on the basis of your confession and repentance, you must command them to leave, not ask, but command them. If you are in Christ, then you have spiritual authority over the devil. Perhaps asking someone to pray with you would be good. I will be happy to pray with you. If you don’t want to come to me, I can connect you to another counselor in another town. Command pornography to leave you. Command lust to leave you. Command addictions to leave you. If you have confessed, repented, and renounced and then command them, “By the authority of Jesus Christ who bought me, I command you to leave me now, and I forbid you to return,” they must leave. At this point you have improved your situation by giving yourself back the control to make a decision about temptation on your own without the influence of enslaving beings.
  1. Now you can dismiss what I’ve said as some kind of hocus pocus if you want. Fine with me. I have done heavy duty prayer ministry with people as needed for 15 years. You go study the Scripture on the subject of deliverance ministry and pray with people and see what conclusions you come to. Then I won’t have to stand here and argue my point.
  2. Now it is time to be practical. Put the computer in a public place. Cancel your PO box and TV and mailing subscriptions. Throw out, destroy, delete all the videos and images you have hidden in a closet, a drawer, or a file. Give your spouse or your parents complete access to your computer, your smartphone, and reading and viewing material. Install software like Covenant Eyes or BSecure online to let them or an accountable friend get an email each month with every website you have visited that month so they can trace your steps online.
  3. Be grace-filled b/c of devastating guilt. There is freedom from your debilitating guilt. Romans 8:1 says that “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” The blood of Jesus washes away all the guilt. Spend some time in the Scripture. Pray Psalm 51. Let the grace of Christ wash you clean from the guilt.
  4. Power of the Gospel will wash and make you whiter than snow. It is only the power of the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross that can overcome this bondage.
Invitation: While we must continue to fight the good fight legally and societally, we are way beyond avoidance as our only defense. Pornography wants you, it wants your husband or wife, it wants your son and daughter, your grandchildren, and your in-laws. It doesn’t share well, and it doesn’t leave easily. It is a cruel master, and seeks more slaves. Won't you run to Christ now?

[3] This article is a must-read. Donald L. Hilton, Jr., in Salvo 13 (Summer 2010),