When my wife, Jill, and I were dating in college, we went with a group on a hayride. After the hayride, I wrote Jill a note. We were in love, and in pre-cell phone and internet days, we wrote actual letters and cards.
We were attending a Christian college in Arkansas and were in the same Bible class. In that Bible class we learned that the whole “love your neighbor” thing Jesus taught came from Leviticus. When Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” he was quoting from Leviticus 19:18!
This was a significant revelation to me, and I wanted to quote this Leviticus passage in my love note to Jill. I was in the student center finishing the note, and I didn’t have my Bible, but I thought I remembered the scripture reference.
So I signed my name and wrote the reference, “Leviticus 18:19,” sealed the note and mailed it to Jill.
Jill received the note, we continued in love and bliss, and then many months later Jill brought up my note in conversation as we walked along a campus sidewalk.
“You remember a note you wrote me one time after a hayride?”
“Sure, but we’ve written each other a lot of letters and cards. Why are you bringing that one up?”
“Well,” she said with a grin, I want to show you something. “You wrote this verse, ‘Leviticus 18:19’ on my note when you signed it, and I know what you were trying to write—that scripture about loving our neighbor from Leviticus 19:18—but you transposed the verse numbers. Read this.” She handed me her Bible, opened to Leviticus 18:19 that I had inadvertently referenced.
Here is what Leviticus 18:19 says: “You must not go near a woman to have sex with her during her monthly period.”
I fell over, stunned! We laughed until we cried. Jill had been slightly embarrassed for me, enough that it took some time for her to point out my mistake. Ha! Funny, after three decades together, it now takes no time at all to point out my mistakes! Still, I’m blessed my then girlfriend stuck with me and eventually decided to marry me, even after such a gaffe!
Here in this section of Leviticus I was attempting to quote from, are two very different kinds of texts. Here we find the famous passage Jesus quotes: Leviticus 19:18, “Forget about the bad things that people do to you. You must not try to get even. Love your neighbor as you love yourself. I am Yahweh” (Leviticus 19:18, IEB). But the same section includes passages as intimate, sexual, and personal in nature as the one I referenced in the note to Jill!
From here on out, you may want to double check scripture references. Do you trust me now?
Beginning with the sexual act that creates another life, Israel is to be holy. Immediately following this introduction to separation from Egypt and Canaan and their ways, comes a litany of prohibitions about sexual perversions, starting with the general and becoming more and more specific and grotesque, including beastiality and giving children in prostitution and even sacrifice.
“Keep my decrees and laws, for the man who obeys them will live by them. I am the Lord” (18:5).
Interestingly, verse 6 ends with “I am the Lord.” This says something about the nature of God. God cares about and gives parameters for sexual life. Sexual relations with a close relative is opposed to the nature of God (18:7-18).
The connection between the prohibitions and the practices of Egypt and Canaan is clear in 18:24-30: “Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled” (18:24). The land itself was defiled and with additional graphic language, verse 28 says the land will vomit you out if you practice these things. In another recurrent conditional statement, “such persons must be cut off from their people.”
Let’s come back to my opening story and sexuality today. I really got mixed up between those scripture references and ended up in some pretty sensitive territory in Leviticus 18. But I discovered something many people have never even read in the Bible, that God cares about sex, sets boundaries and “clean” and “unclean” ways for sexual activity.
I want to encourage you to read two pieces by friends, Sara Barton, and Richard Beck, related to what is called “purity culture” and how we conceive of clean and unclean today, particularly in relation to sex for our purposes in this blog.
I’ve known people who have gone to jail for sexually abusing a minor. In one case, a man was raised in a Christian home, but he had never read texts like Leviticus about sexual perversions. His Christian parents never mentioned Leviticus to him, and his church never read these texts about perversions, many of which he decided to indulge in during his life before prison time.
When he was in prison, he read Leviticus and wondered aloud what life may have been like if he had a more clear separation in mind about what was appropriate and inappropriate, or in the language of the world of Leviticus, “clean and unclean.”
The church must be more open to talking about sexual ethics, healing for those who have been abused, sexual healing for those in abusive relationships, learn how to pray healing prayers for people who have been deeply wounded by sexual perversions, abuse, and shame from those abuses. Others might say that they experienced an over emphasis on sexual ethics and this has left them with shame and in need of a different sort of healing. The following prayer is for many who have been wounded and not healed by sex.
This prayer is for the person reading this blog who wants to pray about what it means for individuals and communities to emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically healthy and whole. lease join me in praying this prayer for yourself and others.
Lord, You know how any people feel confused and concerned about sexuality. In your wisdom, you created us with sexuality as a central part of our being. You know what’s good and right for us, and we look to you for guidance as we live out this part of our lives.
Our Creator, You know that some people might see something online and attracted to the sexuality of the image. You know how this speaks to a longing for something you should be filling and not filled by objectifying another human being. Lord, heal our sexual lives in relation to technology.
Our Savior Jesus, You know that many people suffer with guilt and shame because of lust, masturbation, pornography, perverse thoughts, affairs online or physical or emotionally, things chosen and things perpetrated on people. Our sexuality needs to be healed, restored. We ask for your saving power in our lives, help us to have a right relationship with guilt and free us of the power of unhealthy shame.
God, You know that many are sexually frustrated and feel deprived. Some are unmarried and faithful to abstinence and celibacy, others are not. This prayer is for those situations and many other unique situations we find ourselves in, recognizing that living whole lives is important to all of us, and honestly, we are confused about what that means sometimes. The Bible talks about purity and defiling oneself sexually, but we as a culture are confused about what that means nowadays. Help us through the power of your Holy Spirit in our communities to understand your desire for us.
Lord, You know that homosexuality is very controversial among your people, and you know that there are many people of faith who are LGBTQ+ and many are hurting. There are also many people of faith who do not want to talk about homosexuality and do not want to associate with people who are LGBTQ. When we talk about sex, we don’t want to cause anyone more pain. So we simply ask, please help both heterosexual people and homosexual people understand how to walk in faithfulness in You. Help us to love one another.
Closing this prayer, we ask You for direction from your Holy Spirit about how to be sexually holy and in right relationship with you and others. Lord, bring us all sexual healing!
In the Name of Jesus the Wounded Healer, Amen
Greg Taylor preaches for The Journey: A New Generation Church of Christ in Tulsa, OK. Greg’s wife, Jill, teaches math at Broken Arrow High School and Tulsa Community College. Greg and Jill have three adult children, Ashley, Anna, and Jacob. Greg is the author of many books, including his latest co-authored with Randy Harris, Daring Faith: Meeting Jesus in the Book of John.