In the fifth and final sermon from our True Love Waits series, the goal is to help students understand the pledge we are asking them to consider making. We look one more time at what the Bible has to say about living lives of sexual purity, and then we break down the True Love Waits pledge to see that it really is a reflection of Biblical values. The service ends with an invitation to prayerfully make a True Love Waits commitment and to communicate that they made that pledge by turning in a commitment card.
As usual, after the jump you will find a summary of the lesson as well as a fill-in-the-blank outline master and sermon audio. Also include is a sample of our True Love Waits commitment cards and the parent’s letters that we send to the parents of students who make first time commitments, as well as those renewing their commitments, inviting them to take part in the True Love Waits ring ceremony.
This lesson in the series fits my typical preaching style a little better than many of the rest. So many of the TLW sermons are topical, which is OK, even necessary, but I much prefer to live in a single passage of Scripture for a while and let it speak to us. This sermon does just that. The passage of Scripture we consider at length? 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8:
3God wants you to be holy and to stay away from sexual sins. 4He wants each of you to learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable. 5Don’t use your body for sexual sin like the people who do not know God. 6Also, do not wrong or cheat another Christian in this way. The Lord will punish people who do those things as we have already told you and warned you. 7God called us to be holy and does not want us to live in sin. 8So the person who refuses to obey this teaching is disobeying God, not simply a human teaching. And God is the One who gives us his Holy Spirit. (New Century Version, emphasis added)
Because of a translation issue we’ll get into later, I also print the first two verses from the Living Bible as well:
For God wants you to be holy and pure, and to keep clear of all sexual sin so that each of you will marry in holiness and honor. (1 Thessalonians 4:3-4, TLB)
First I have students mark the words “to be holy” in verses 3 and 7. This text from Paul teaches the same thing we’ve been saying in this series from the very beginning: the primary issue is chastity, not virginity. If we settle the issue of chastity/purity/holiness, the issue of remaining a virgin will take care of itself. Yet even if we remain a virgin until marriage, but fail to live lives of holiness, we will fall short of God’s best for our lives. If fact, this is so important Paul says it twice.
But notice that in verse 7-8 Paul goes on to point out two important things about living lives of holiness. First, holiness is impossible if we continue to live in sin. There has to be a break with our old way of life, and a new way of living must become the norm. Second, this isn’t possible without the help of God’s Holy Spirit. We can’t do this on our own. Fortunately God gives us His Holy Spirit to help us do what we alone cannot.
The second thing I have students highlight in their text is the phrase “stay away from sexual sins” in verse 3. Just because the primary issue is chastity doesn’t mean that virginity isn’t an issue too. Holiness will lead us to live a life free from sexual sins. And notice, Paul doesn’t just say to stay away from sex; he says to stay away from all sexual sins — obscenity, pornography, lust — all sexual sins.
Now for the translation issue. The third thing I have students mark in their text is the phrase “control your own body” in verse 4 of the NCV passage. Then we drop down to the Living Bible and mark the phrase “marry in holiness and honor.” Two pretty different ways to translate the same verse. The divergence in translations comes from the fact that Paul here uses a cliche and those always prove difficult to translate. The more literal translations don’t even try. The NASB, for example translates verse four “that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.”
The phrase the NCV translates “learn self control” and that the Living Bible translates “marry” literally means “to aquire one’s vessel.” Paul says God wants us to get hold of our amphoras, but what does that mean?
Some have pointed out that Paul uses this same word for vessel in the famous “jars of clay” passage in 2 Corinthians 4:7 as a metaphor for our human bodies. Perhaps Paul is using the metaphor in the same way here, saying in his own unique way that God wants us to get hold of ourselves, hence the translation “learn self-control.”
Others point out that the word translated “aquire” really does mean to aquire, not so much to posess or control. And once we’re born it’s hard to imagine someone learning to acquire their body; you’re pretty stuck with the one you’re born with. However, when one considers that the word vessel was used by rabbinical writers as a metaphor for one’s wife. And 1 Peter 3:7 speaks of a wife as a vessel. So could Paul really mean that God wants us to get married in holiness in honor?
I wonder if perhaps Paul doesn’t intentionally use this ambiguous metaphor for what it communicates. It’s obvious that God wants us to get married in holiness and honor. But it’s equally true that in order to one day marry in honor, we must learn how to control ourselves now.
And this is why holiness is so important. You can’t control yourself if you let your appetites rule your life. We discover this in verse 5, and note it by marking the phrase “Don’t use your body for sexual sin.“ Here Paul literally commands us to avoid lustful passions, getting so caught up in our desires that we let what we want order what we do.
Finally we mark the phrase “do not wrong or cheat another Christian” in verse 6. The last thing Paul teaches in this passage is that sexual sin is not just a sin against God and against our future, sexual sins are sins against other people as well. When we sin sexually before we marry, we sin against our future spouse by cheating them out of our purity. We also sin against their future spouse by violating the purity of their marriage. And finally we sin against our future children by weakening the relationship we have with our future spouse. (Remember the duct tape?)
So, keeping in mind all the things that Paul says about living lives of sexual purity, let’s take a closer look at the True Love Waits pledge and what it requires of us. The True Love Waits Pledge says:
Believing that true love waits, I make a commitment to God, myself, my family, my friends, my future mate, and my future children to a lifetime of purity including sexual abstinence from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.
I want students to notice a few things about this. First, this is a commitment based on true love. It’s not a commitment based on fear. We’ve tried to be honest about the consequences of violating God’s plan. But we’re not trying to scare them out of sex. That doesn’t work with students; teenagers have a profound sense of “it won’t happen to me.” Nor is this decision based on shame. Throughout we’ve worked hard to portray sex as positive, one of the good and perfect things that come from our Father above.
But do you remember everything we said about our incredible birthright of true love? We’re asking students to value their birthright so highly that they refuse to profane it. The TLW pledge is grounded in our belief in the value of True Love.
Second, notice to whom this commitment is made. This isn’t just a commitment to ourselves. It is a commitment to the God who wants the very best for us. It is a commitment to our family and friends, to be an example of what it means to live a life of purity. In keeping with what Paul says about not cheating others by sinning sexually, this is a commitment to our future spouse and future children. In short, the TLW pledge is a commitment based on love made to the people in our life whom we love the most.
Third, notice that the True Love Waits pledge has two parts, there is a forever commitment, and a for-now commitment.
The forever commitment of the TLW pledge is a commitment to a life of purity. We’re not just promising to remain pure until we get married. We’re promising that even in the context of marriage we will still live lives of faithfulness and purity. Recently I had the privilege to attend the wedding of one of the very first teens to move through this True Love Waits series with me. Years ago she made a True Love Waits pledge. And just this last summer, as she was getting married, she gave her purity ring to her new husband as a symbol of the way she saved herself for him. But that wasn’t all. They actually made a True Love Waits pledge to each other, pledging that they would continue to honor each other by living lives of purity.
The for-now commitment is a pledge to sexual abstinence “from this day until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.” Chastity for life, virginity until I get married.
Notice the pledge to abstinence has a start date: “from this day.” Sadly, you will probably have teens who have already failed in the area of sexual temptations. And having failed once, there is a very real tendency to give in to future temptations because their virginity has been lost. But the True Love Waits pledge is a commitment anyone can make. Because it doesn’t make promises about things you can’t change like the past. It only pledges what you will do from this day forward.
And notice the pledge to abstinence has an ending date” “until the day I enter a biblical marriage relationship.” That’s good news too. You’re not pledging to skip sex forever. Like Esau, the choice isn’t to trade away your birthright or never ever get a bowl of stew. You’re only promising to wait until the right time so sex can be the incredible gift God meant for it to be. But I also emphasize again, the deadline isn’t “until I’m older” or “until I’m really in love.” It’s “until I’m married.”
Then, having looked at the pledge and all it means, we pass out commitment cards. We ask students to prayerfully consider making a True Love Waits commitment, and to let us know if they do so we can invite them to be a part of the ring ceremony. We do everything in our power to avoid making this a peer pressure thing. We want real, genuine commitments, not just teens going through the motions. There’s no come down front and turn in your card, it’s drop it off in the back sometime between now and when you leave. We even tell students that if they don’t want to make the commitment, they can fill out the card while their friends are watching and then just not turn it in. It might sound like we’re promoting hypocrisy, but in fact we’re attempting to do just the opposite. We want every student’s card to reflect a real, personal commitment.
Since we do this series on a cycle, we always have students who made a commitment in the past present. But that’s OK. We acknowledge that there is a world of difference between committing to purity when you’re an awkward sixth grader and renewing that commitment as a High School junior who’s been going out with the same girl for eight months. There is a place on the card to indicate that this is a re-commitment, and there is a place in our True Love Waits ceremony for students who are reaffirming their commitment to come forward and stand as witnesses encouraging those who are making first time pledges.
The commitment cards are divided into two parts. One side has name and address info and they turn this part in so we can contact parents about the ring ceremony. The other side has the pledge along with a place for their signature and date. They take this side home as a reminder of their commitment. See the additional resources section at the end of this post for examples of our commitment cards.
The True Love Waits Ring Ceremony
Our True Love Waits ring ceremony is simple, yet meaningful. It is designed to be a part of the prayer time in our congregation’s morning worship service and is led by our Senior Pastor.
When a student turns in a commitment card we send their parents one of two letters. The first is to the parents of those making a first time commitment, and the second is sent to those reaffirming past pledges. Both letters thank them for letting us play a part in the spiritual upbringing of their children and provide information about the time and place for our ring ceremony. We explain the pledge and indicate their child’s commitment. Inviting parents to take part in the ceremony, we provide some suggestions as to what they can get their children as a token of their pledge. Finally, it includes contact information so they can ask any questions they may have. Check out the additional resources section at the end of the post for samples of our parents’ letters.
And here is the ceremony itself. As I said, our Senior Pastor leads the ceremony, and he typically asks me to pray for students and their families at the close of the ceremony.
First we ask those students who have made a True Love Waits pledge in the past and who are still living out those promises to come forward. This is an opportunity for you to reaffirm that commitment, and to stand here as an encouragement and as witness to those students who are making a first time commitment this morning.
(Have students come forward.)
Next we want to invite all those students who this morning are making a first time True Love Waits commitment to come forward, along with their parents or the caring adults who are here to stand with them this morning.
(Have first time students come forward.)
Students, you’ve already made your pledge, but we want to affirm your commitment publicly this morning. So please, repeat the True Love Waits pledge after me:
Believing that true love waits,
I make a commitment
to God, to myself,
to my family and my friends
to my future mate and my future children,
to a lifetime of purity
including sexual abstinence
from this day
until I enter a Biblical marriage relationship.
Parents and adults, by your presence here this morning you are pledging to stand by these students in the commitment they are making this morning. You are pledging that by your words and by your actions you will be an example and an encouragement to these students. If you will do this, please say “We will.”
And Church, you are here not only to witness these pledges today but to pledge your support to these students as well. Will you also be examples of what it means to live lives of purity and faithfulness for these students? If so, say “We will.”
(Have students and families gather around the altar for prayer)
- Here are copies of our True Love Waits Commitment Cards either as a pdf or as a jpg file (sized to fit three to a standard letter sized page, with 0″ margins).
- Here are copies of our True Love Waits Parents’ Letters both for first-time pledges and for recommitments.
- Here is a copy of our fill-in-the-blank outline master.
- Listen to a recording of this lesson being taught as part of our 2010 TLW series here.
- And while you’re at it, if you’d like, you can also subscribe to our podcast either on iTunes or via RSS.