It is in this background that the laws on sexual morality appear. Their setting is freedom for humanity, and these laws were given within a new culture of respect for all creation. That is, environmentalism is part of the new vision that God gave. It’s about respecting the way creation works, and carrying on life within this creation that is both sustainable and which tends towards the flourishing of all things.
It wasn’t God’s purpose just to set up a spiritual system of worship. His purposes are tied to the creation he made, and to his love for that creation and for all who inhabit it, people and animal life. The purposes of God are a holistic program of renewal and wholeness.
Though God initially brought these lessons to us by the law, the law wasn’t intended to be the way in which this life should conquer our hearts and world. God would have to demonstrate this life himself, by his own self-giving, to set our hearts free from the paganism that infects us all.
So the early church went out into the Roman world, set free to love. A love for God and what he had done for them; a love for each other and the value of all human life; a love for their enemies, to live for restoration, rather than condemnation; and a love for the natural environment.
After creation, God rested, signifying the peaceful fulfilment of the creation project. This sabbath rest became an important theme of the law. Israel were told to rest the seventh day. Their land was to be given rest every seven years and slaves were to be freed. The sabbath was incorporated into other laws, like the Jubilee, which occurred every fifty years, after seven agricultural sabbaths. This was to return land to its original owners, and all debts were to be forgiven.
The Jubilee was meant to be a magnificent rehabilitation from the effects of an abusive economy. Sabbath was also reflected in all laws which led Israel to care for the poor, and look after the refugee. The Sabbath was incorporated into laws prohibiting Israel from having a king, and limiting the accumulation of weapons and prohibiting a standing army. Helping the dispossessed was to be Israel’s way of peace. Care and contentment, not commercialism and war, gives the land rest.
All these laws were aimed at giving the creation wholeness and shalom by caring for the land and people. The sabbath was against harmful, predatorial social and economic practices, and for the liberty and wellbeing of the environment. As such, laws about sexual immorality were part of this sabbath principle, setting creation in order, to function for people’s security and good.
The point of sabbath: God loves his creation and desires to dwell in it with us. This is the aim of the gospel, as we see fulfilled in Revelation 21-22. The purpose is that this sabbath rules our heart, meaning that in an age of hedonism, our understanding of love has a focus on the common good. Sabbath means taking time to stop and to examine the ways we have allowed our lives to be conformed to this world.