“Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry” (Colossians 3:5 ESV).
Colossians 3:5 offers several examples of the types of inappropriate behaviors that have no place in the lives of those who claim to follow Christ. With this in mind, let’s consider the first item given to us in the passage quoted above.
The phrase “sexual immorality” is derived from the word porneia in the original language of this verse. As you might suspect, “porneia” serves as the foundation for the modern-day concept of “pornography.” In Biblical terms, this word is associated with various forms of inappropriate sexual conduct. These behaviors would include adulterous relationships, sexual relationships between unmarried couples, and same-sex relationships, among others. Jesus later expanded this definition to include internal expressions of sexual immorality as well (see Matthew 5:27-28).
In a general sense, the idea of “sexual immorality” encompasses any type of sexual activity that exceeds God’s intent for human relationships. Jesus identified that intent with a reference to the creation account given to us in the Biblical book of Genesis…
“…at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate'” (Mark 10:6-9 NIV).
Its important to note that Jesus directed our attention to God’s design for sexual expression within this quotation from the Gospel of Mark. He established those parameters through these references to Genesis 1:27 and Genesis 2:24: a monogamous relationship initiated by God between one man and one woman who are legally and exclusively committed to one another as husband and wife. Physical relationships that fall outside these Scriptural parameters come under the general definition of “sexual immorality.”
While this standard is often ignored, rejected, or ridiculed today, it may come as a surprise to learn that this is nothing new. In fact, God’s model for human sexual relationships was as foreign to the social customs of first-century Colossae as it is today in much of our 21st century world. As one author observes…
“Chastity was the one completely new virtue which Christianity brought into the world. In the ancient world sexual relationships before marriage and outside marriage were the normal and accepted practice. The sexual appetite was regarded as a thing to be gratified, not to be controlled. That is an attitude which is not unfamiliar today…” (1)
(1) Barclay, William. “Commentary on Colossians 3”. “William Barclay’s Daily Study Bible”. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dsb/colossians-2.html 1956-1959.