Read Galatians 5:13-21

“Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” (Colossians 3:5 NRSV)


In his letter to the church in Galatia, the Apostle Paul is writing to a community that is divided over the issue of male circumcision: should new Gentile followers of Jesus be counted as a part of the Jewish covenant without being circumcised, or should they have to be circumcised just as all of the Jews are circumcised. Being that Christianity at the time wasn’t a religion, but a sect of Judaism, this was a VITALLY IMPORTANT question. While Paul is opposed to making Gentiles be circumcised, he also is against divisive behavior regardless of which side it is coming from. In response to this division, Paul describes to the Galatian church what he calls, “the works of the flesh.”

THE WORKS OF THE FLESH: Fornication. Oh boy, nothing like starting off the list of sinful works than with the biggie of fornication! Hey Paul, why don’t you just cut to the chase! We all know, or should know, what fornication is. It is the act of having a sexual relationship with someone outside of a marital covenant. Fornication is an umbrella word that houses more specific words underneath it; words such as adultery and promiscuity. For Paul, the idea of having sex in any context outside of the marital covenant was against his Jewish sensibilities; however, it was not necessarily outside the sensibilities of his Gentile audience. Paul was adamant that sex was meant to be shared between a LOVING and MARRIED couple.

In light of past history, as well as a more scientific understanding of human sexuality, fornication has become a loaded word for us in the twenty-first century. Since the time of Paul, we have 2,000 years of history that we need to be aware of. While we certainly want to honor and respect Paul’s warning against fornication, we also don’t want to fall into the trap of becoming like one of the Puritanical finger pointers of Hester Prynne in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter.” What’s more, while sexual immorality (aka promiscuity and adultery) is certainly what Paul is referring to, we all have participated in a fornication of a different kind at one point or another. And that is what I would like to focus on.

According to Christian theology, we Christians are in union (aka marriage) with Christ our Lord. What this means is that we are joined in a spiritually intimate relationship with Christ and, as it is within a marital covenant, we are called to remain faithful to Christ just as he is faithful to us. Faithfulness means that we will give of ourselves wholly to Christ just as spouses give of themselves to each other…meaning that we will live and breathe the risen Christ in all we do and/or say. We will feed the hungry, heal the sick, visit the imprisoned, take care of the “least of these,” avoid judgment, seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God. When we fail to do these things, and are pulled away by the attitudes and behaviors of this world, we are d in a spiritual sense.

Just as God has been faithful to us, so to we are being called to remain faithful to God. Straying from our purpose of serving others to self-centered living is but one of the ways we end up fornicating in a world set on fornication. The word fornicate, I am sure, makes most of us squirm around uncomfortably…and it should. Let us strive to remain faithful to God and what God is calling us to do. Let us strive to model our lives after that of Jesus’ life. Let us all model a life of bold compassion, love, peacemaking, service, respect, stewardship, radical hospitality, and self-sacrifice. Then we will be sure to steer clear of the pitfall of spiritual fornication.

“The essence of immorality is the tendency to make an exception of myself.” – Jane Addams

Lord, purify and sanctify me. Keep me from straying from your all-encompassing love. Amen.

Leave a Reply