Skip to content

Singleness Is Not a Disease

February 23, 2012

In today’s society we are dealing with very different circumstances than those experienced by Old Testament (and even New Testament) society.  The Creation mandate was for man and woman to unite and multiply, and this is just what most people in Old Testament times did.  The girls would get married when they were twelve or thirteen years old, and the boys/young men when they were fifteen or sixteen.   The idea of an extended adolescence without a spouse or family was essentially nonexistent.  With very few exceptions, marriage was the norm and it happened very early in life.  On the contrary, extended adolescence and singleness well into the adult years has become very common in our culture today, with many who marry much later in life, or not at all.  Remaining unmarried is a choice for some, but for many, it is not, and the lack of a life companion can be a source of anxiety, sadness and despair.

As Christians, it is important for us to have a balanced biblical understanding of singleness, and of how to support those who are single.  This was the subject of the Ladies’ Discipleship meeting in December (sorry for the delay in posting the summary).

A Biblical Overview

Kostenberger and Jones’ book, God, Marriage, and Family was a useful resource for me as I tried to understand singleness from a biblical perspective.  The book’s summary of the Bible’s view of singleness from the time of Creation through to Eternity is particularly helpful for providing valuable insight on this important issue.  In a nutshell, it goes something like this:  At Creation, man was single only for a short time, and God said it was “not good for man to be alone”, so He created the woman, and marriage was instituted.  Throughout Old Testament times, marriage remained the norm and it was considered unfavourable to be single, particularly since God’s blessing was understood to be passed on through the bloodline.  In the New Testament, Jesus (and Paul) identified singleness as a gift/calling that provided unique advantages for service in Christ’s kingdom (see below), and since it was now abundantly clear that God’s adoption and blessings would extend beyond Abraham’s blood relatives, the importance of preserving family lines for the purpose of blessing was no longer an issue.  And finally on this time spectrum, it is important to note that in Eternity, singleness will be universal (see Christ’s teaching in Matthew 22:30). (1)

So here we are in between the “already” and the “not yet” of life before Christ’s return, and it is our job to adopt a right attitude towards singleness.  There is still a tendency in the church to treat singleness as some sort of disease (“Thirty-five and still single?  Hmm, wonder what’s wrong with her…”), or to swing to the opposite extreme where singleness and celibacy are pursued as an ultimate form of self-denial for God, which can show a genuine devotion to God, but perhaps more often proves to be nothing more than a form of works-righteousness.

Okay then, let’s get our thinking straight…

“Marriage is not the ultimate prize”

As Carolyn McCulley rightly points out on her blog, we need to stop thinking that earthly marriage is “the ultimate prize”, because even though it is wonderful, it is not the final destination.   Jesus himself tells us that in the resurrection, we will neither marry nor be given in marriage, but will be “like angels in heaven” (Matthew 22:30).  Both Jesus and Paul “affirmed the legitimacy of marriage as divinely instituted AND commended remaining unmarried for the sake of God’s kingdom on the part of those who were divinely gifted and called to do so.  Ultimately, for the unmarried, the primary need is to trust in the providence of a good and sovereign God and understand that both marriage and singleness are worthy and high callings used by God in building his church and in advancing his kingdom.” (1) (Mt 19:10-12; 1 Cor 7:6-8, 32-35).  This understanding – that both marriage and singleness are affirmed by God – is an essential means of battling the stigma that we still find attached to singleness in our churches and even sometimes in society at large.

If you are single, you likely fall into one of these three categories :  single by choice, single again (after divorce or after being widowed), or single and waiting on the Lord for a suitable spouse (and as you can likely tell, movement and overlap between categories will likely happen over one’s lifetime).  Does everyone in those categories have what the Bible calls, “the gift of singleness”?

The Gift of Singleness ( Matthew 19:10-12; 1 Corinthians 7:6-9, 32-35)

If you are single by choice (particularly if you’re single and you have no current desire to be otherwise – ie. you do not have the desire to be married, or the sexual desire that can only be satisfied in a God-honouring way by getting married)(1 Cor 7:6-9), this means that you are one of those who have the “gift of singleness”.   It is very important to understand this, because it means that not everyone who IS single has the gift of singleness!  Many have misunderstood this and have inadvertently contributed to the despair of their friends who are single but desire to be otherwise.  “You’re single – that’s a gift from God – be happy!”  Beware – a statement like that can hurt.  While it is true that we are all called to be content under any given life circumstances, it isn’t right for us to make a single person feel that they are sinning by wishing to be married.

Whatever the category of singleness one may belong to, it is important for singles to find their sufficiency in Christ and in serving Him, but unless they feel content with their singleness, it is good to continue to pray that God will provide a spouse, with the understanding that marriage is a divinely instituted pattern of human relationship (1).

How is singleness more advantageous than being married when it comes to Kingdom service?

If you are a single person, then you are in position to more fully devote yourself to  Kingdom service (1 Cor 7:32-35).  You will have more available time to read God’s word, pray for others, and serve in various roles that may not be as feasible  for those who are married (eg – missionary work, participating in church ministries and administration, event-planning, visitation, etc…).  I am a married mom of three small children, and I can assure you that even though I desire to do more acts of service, my obligations at home consume most of my waking hours, as is the case for most moms with kids at home.  This is not to suggest that singles aren’t busy people, it is just to state the fact that they will not have the time-consuming responsibilities of managing a family to juggle along with everything else in their lives.

So you’re single…how then ought you to live? 

Christian single women, whether single by choice or not, should model what is considered proper for any woman who professes godliness.  Passages like 1 Timothy 2:9-10, 1 Peter 3:3-4, Titus 2, and 1 Timothy 6:6-7, give us a good framework to start with, and what these verses say should sound pretty familiar, since we’ve covered a lot of this in previous sessions.  Just by way of brief reminder then, these passages tell us this:  The woman of God conducts herself with reverence, modesty, self-control, sexual purity, devotion to good works (she strives to bless others instead of just waiting to be blessed herself), and contentment in her circumstances.

Also important to remember is that a woman’s “helper design” doesn’t have to be (nor should it be) reserved for marriage.  Whether married or single, God made women to be supportive, nurturing and responsive to others, so consider how you might exercise these gifts in the various spheres of your life.  It doesn’t take much looking to find someone who can benefit from your care and concern.

Paul says in 1 Timothy 6:6-7,   ” But godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world [including a spouse].”   So as difficult as it may be at times, it is important that singles remain content, lest they communicate to a watching world that Jesus is not “enough” (1).  Even if a believer never marries in this present age, she is rewarded with new family in the body of Christ, and with an eternal family in the kingdom of heaven, which should be a source of great comfort and rejoicing.

As John Piper said, “Marriage and singleness both present us with unique trials and unique opportunities for our sanctification.  There will be unique rewards for each, and which is greater will not depend on whether you were married or single, but on how you responded to each.”  (from Carolyn McCulley’s post on the Girltalk blog)

As I said to the ladies who attended this session, I could have gone into a great deal more depth to address the issues related to singleness, so I realize this post does little more than scratch the surface of a subject that deserves more attention. That said, I would encourage further reading on this matter, starting with the resources listed under “References”.  I know there are many more titles and blogs out there that are worth reading, and it would be time well spent to seek those out.

But even though that concludes what I have to say to the “singles” crowd, I think it would be an oversight to conclude without addressing those who are already married.  This is an important, yet often neglected, part of the discussion when the subject of singleness comes up, and ministry opportunities can be overlooked or lost as a result.

How can those of us who are married practically minister to those who are single?  Here is a short list of things to consider, based in large part on a blog post by Carolyn McCulley:

  1. Be intentional about getting to know the singles in your midst, and show them hospitality.  Remember that not all singles are alike – there’s no certain set of assumptions you can make just because they have the “Single” label.  Some are young, some middle-aged and never married, some middle-aged and divorced, some old and never married, or old and widowed…we need to get to know them as individuals, so that we can care for them in meaningful ways.
  2. Be sensitive about the circumstances of their singleness (without being nosy) and act accordingly.  Don’t assume that all of your single friends want you to play matchmaker for them!  Some might appreciate your help with finding someone, and others won’t…and might not even be looking.  Be particularly sensitive when dealing with those who have already loved and lost – either through divorce or death.
  3. Provide discipleship and accountability.  Keeping in mind the extended period of adolescence that we see in our culture today, and the sometimes-extended periods of singleness in adulthood, this becomes especially important since individuals might be on their own for a long time (away from the oversight of their family).  Discipleship and involvement with godly friends and church groups will help to keep a woman focused on godliness.  These connections can also keep a woman accountable and provide her with wise and objective counsel should she enter into a relationship with a potential spouse.
  4. Don’t treat them like workhorses.  There is a tendency to assume that because someone is single, they must have all the time in the world.  We need to guard against assigning them too many duties just because they don’t have a spouse and children to take care of, AND we need to help them to guard against doing this to themselves!  If you can see that your single friends are overextending themselves, encourage them to be in prayer about how they can reorganize their priorities and commitments to prevent emotional, physical, and spiritual burnout.
  5. Don’t act like marriage is the ultimate goal of earthly existence.  The church is rightly concerned about society’s devaluation and dismissal of marriage and family today, and the efforts to address this issue are warranted, but we must be careful that we are not inadvertently sending the message that singleness is always inferior to being married.  We can and should rejoice with those who embrace the gift of singleness.
  6. Don’t be afraid to challenge bitterness.  Carolyn McCulley, a single woman herself, acknowledges that extended singleness can be a real form of suffering, particularly for women who know that their biological clocks are winding down and there is no hope of bearing children.  We need to be careful not to disregard the hurt that must accompany these dashed hopes.  However, if we see that a woman is allowing a root of bitterness to spring up and block her prayers to God and her fellowship and service to others, then she should be gently challenged to address this bitterness and redirect her heart towards thankfulness for the gift of salvation.
  7. Pray!  And tell them that you’re praying for them.  After making the effort to get to know your single friends, pray knowledgeably for them, and let them know you are lifting them up before the throne of grace.  When this is done tactfully, it can be a real source of encouragement.
  8. Help in practical ways.  While there are lots of things that are easier to do as a single person, there are some things that are much more challenging.  Think about what these might be, and try to serve in these areas.  Some examples:  cooking a meal for them, offering to pick up a prescription and some groceries for them when they’re sick, doing odd jobs, etc… (Remember, when you become incapacitated in some way, you usually have your husband or children right there to call upon for help, but your single friends don’t.)

That is by no means an exhaustive list, so please think creatively and be in prayer about  how you can best serve the singles in your midst.

In closing, I just want to bring us back around to Titus 2 for a moment:

    For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.
(Titus 2:11-14 ESV)

I think this is such a great passage for reminding all of us, single or married, about what needs to drive our thoughts and actions.  We have been given God’s grace and salvation, which enables us to live for him – to overcome our love of the things and ideas of the world and to live godly lives in the present age while we anticipate our blessed hope – His return, and a life with Him in Eternity.

————————————————

References:

1. Kostenberger & Jones, God, Marriage and Family (Second Edition):  Rebuilding the Biblical Foundation, 2010, Chapter on Singleness; pp. 182, 183, 196

2. http://solofemininity.blogs.com/posts/2011/11/how-to-serve-the-singles-ministry-to-unmarried-adults-in-your-local-church.html

————————

Extra Reading:

Richard and Sharon Philips, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts:  A Balanced Approach to Christian Dating

Internet articles:

Carolyn McCulley’s blog posts on singles and the church

Another Carolyn McCulley article on The Council on Biblical Manhood & Womanhood website

And another 🙂

Back to it

September 12, 2011

After  taking a break over the summer, our Ladies’ Discipleship got back into the swing of things this past Saturday.  We kicked off with our women reporting on some of the great reading they had done over the summer, covering many important and heart-probing topics such as how we can take a biblical approach to dating and other relationships, fear of man, judging others, godly beauty, pursuing heart and body purity, and doing our best (even when it’s difficult or counter-cultural) to ensure that God is being glorified to the best of our abilities in everything we do as women.  Next month, we hope to hear from a few who were unable to attend this month, and then we will resume looking at the topics on the study outline.

We will continue to meet on the 2nd Saturday of the month unless otherwise stated, so please mark those Saturdays off on your calendar and join us if you can.

Dating, Part 2: Defining who we should be, and what we should do

August 12, 2011

In May, we started to look at dating and courtship.  We defined what those terms mean in our society, and we examined the pitfalls of embracing our culture’s dating practices without measuring them up against biblical principles.

In June’s session, we started to look at how these principles apply practically when an unmarried man and an unmarried woman prepare for, and pursue, a dating/courting relationship together.  We did a cursory examination of how the Scriptures should define who we are, and what we do.

DEFINING WHO WE ARE/WHO WE SHOULD BE

“If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (1 Corinthians 5:17)

When we are Christians, we inherit Christ’s triumph over sin, and we are enabled by the Holy Spirit to resist the temptation to be self-focused instead of God-focused.  The Bible teaches us that we need to love God first, and then love others as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39).   We discussed in our last session how this is in such stark contrast to what we see in today’s dating culture.  We are encouraged (and commanded) in the Bible to be servant-hearted – to put the needs and interests of others first (Philippians 2:3,4).  But the world tells us that we should be oriented towards finding the person who will meet all of OUR needs and desires.

‘Loving God first’ means that we should be trying to glorify God with all that we are and all that we do.  When it comes to dating, this specifically means knowing who God wants us to be as women, and how He wants us to relate to men.

There is so much to learn from the Scriptures about what God wants us to be as women that we couldn’t possibly cover it in one session, so the aim here is not to be comprehensive, but to start a discussion and foster a habit of combing the Scriptures and seeking to determine how they inform our practices in everyday life.

When we gathered at our meeting, our discussion about WHO WE ARE (or WHO WE SHOULD BE) was based on several questions:

1. Why did God create the first woman?

If we look in Genesis 1:26-27, we see that God made man and woman in His own image and gave them dominion over the earth and its creatures.  In Genesis 2:18, we read that God saw that it was not good for the man to be alone, so He created the woman as a suitable helper.  So the simple answer to our question is that God created Woman to reflect His image and to be a helpful companion.  As I often say about many things, this by itself is a huge topic, and I’ll save getting into its magnitude for another time, but even a “surface-scratching” glance at this text can inform how we think and act as women.  Many women today are so incensed at the perceived negative subtext of this role assignment that they dismiss the fact that the existence and designation of women arose out of God’s goodness.  So we can choose to rage against this role because we erroneously think that God has put Woman in the inferior position by making  her a helper, OR, we can accept and embrace God’s purpose for women as being different but no less valuable than His purpose for men, and allow it to inform how we think and behave.  If we do the latter, then we need to work towards having a heart that is oriented towards glorifying God and helping others.

How does this look when we’re dating/courting?  In short, it looks like a woman who is more concerned to help and encourage the man in her life (in God-glorifying ways) than she is about meeting her own needs and desires.  This doesn’t mean she doesn’t take care of herself – it means she is at least as “others-focused” as she is self-focused.

(**Please remember that we are considering womanhood right now in the context of relationships with men, but this does not mean that a woman has no godly value outside of a relationship with the opposite sex.  A woman can certainly beam with God’s likeness and exercise her God-given gift of helpfulness without being married.  We will consider what godly womanhood for the single person looks like in future sessions)

2. What are some qualities of women that are valued and praised in the Bible?

Again I’ll say there’s no way we could cover what the Bible says about godly womanhood in one little paragraph or post, but we can at least whet our appetites.  The Bible mentions many attributes of the godly woman:  She is gracious (Pr 11:16), of noble character (Pr 12:4), industrious (works hard with a positive attitude), diligent, devoted, and not idle or lazy (Pr 31).  She enables the productiveness of others by serving them, and is engaged in activity/business that will benefit the family (Pr 31).  She is concerned for the poor, is always prepared, appreciates things of beauty, contributes to her husband’s success, is trustworthy, and does not fear the future (Pr 31).  She is kindhearted, strong, and dignified (Pr 31).  She fears the Lord (Pr 31).  She adorns herself respectably with modesty and self-control (which, among other things, helps her to love her brother in Christ by not causing him to stumble into sexual immorality), and with good works (1 Tim 2:9; 1 Pe 3).  She is reverent, kind and pure (Titus 2).  She has a gentle and quiet spirit (1 Pe 3) (ie. she handles herself with grace and composure; she does not act in self-assertion or self-interest, but in reliance on God to provide)(1).  Etc.

Wow!  Who can live up to that?!?!  Well, by God’s grace we are enabled to become that woman, but it does not happen magically overnight, and it cannot be done unless we surrender to the claim that God has on our lives as Christians.  If we believe that God is the God of every area of our lives, then it is our job to know who He wants us to be, and to strive to become what we are in Christ.  So I encourage you (and myself), to search the Scriptures for what God says is of value in a woman, and then pray that He will enable you to change in areas where you may be falling short.

3. The Bible further helps us to define godly womanhood by giving us pictures of ungodly womanhood.  What are the undesirable characteristics we should be avoiding or rooting out of our lives if we are striving to be godly women?  

 The ungodly woman has abandoned a godly way of being (Pr 2:17).  She is given to flirting/manipulating/ flattering/smooth-talking to get her way (Pr 2:16; 5; 6:24, 25;7).  She is a provocative dresser, and she uses her beauty as a weapon instead of a gift (Pr 6:25; 7)(1).  She is wily of heart, loud, wayward, seductive, and lacking in discretion (Pr 7).  A woman of poor character brings shame on her husband (Pr 12:4).  She nags and quarrels (she is argumentative, critical and bitter) (Pr 21:9; 25:24; 27:15,16).  She emphasizes her external appearance more than godly character (1 Tim 2:9; 1 Pe 3:3).  Proverbs reminds the wise man that external beauty is skin deep and vain (Pr 11:22; Pr 31:30).  If you are relying primarily on your charm and your beauty to attract a man, understand that you are setting out to be the kind of woman whom Proverbs specifically advises the godly man to avoid.

As we discussed in our last session, a biblical view of dating/courting will dictate that the main purpose of entering a relationship with a man is to determine whether or not you should marry him.  With that in mind, if you are someone who has this season of life ahead of you, let me encourage you to explore what God’s Word has to say about how wives should relate to their husbands so that you can cultivate appropriate habits and attitudes.  Several of the passages already mentioned do refer to wives, but the Bible has much more to say about how wives and husbands should relate to one another:

4. What are the New Testament passages that help to define the relationship between husband and wife, and how should that inform your dating relationships?

The resounding command to wives in the New Testament is to be submissive to their husbands.  Ephesian  5:22 says, Wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord, for the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church.  Colossians 3:18 says, Wives submit to your husbands, as is fitting to the Lord.  In 1 Peter 3:1,2, we read, Wives be subject to your own husbands so that even if some do not obey the word they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct.  1 Corinthians  7 talks about how the wife’s body belongs to her husband, and his body belongs to her, which tells us that even in the realm of sexual intimacy, the wife is to be concerned more about the needs and desires of her husband than she is about her own.

How does all of that inform the dating relationship or the courtship?  Does a woman have to submit to the man whom she is dating?  No.  She is not his wife, and therefore is not bound by that command.  However, I would say that if the relationship is leading towards marriage, and she does not feel that she could submit to, and respect, his leadership, then marriage either needs to be put on the back burner until she feels she can comfortably exist under his headship, or the relationship needs to end.

The four questions and answers laid out above are by no means fully representative of God’s vision for womanhood (or wifehood), but hopefully you can at least see that the Bible does have a lot to say about who we should be as women of God.  And as we strive to become godly women, we are doing two things:  1. Glorifying God, and 2. Becoming the kind of women who will be properly considered desirable by godly men.

Knowing what characterizes a godly man is also important for any woman who wants to marry.  Searching the Scriptures to discover God’s design for men will be necessary to equip a woman to discern whether or not a particular man will be a suitable partner for a God-glorifying union.  As you prepare your heart for a relationship, familiarize yourself with how God’s Word defines a wise, God-fearing man, and how husbands are to treat their wives.

Not sure where to go for that?  The book of Proverbs is a good starting place.  Proverbs describes many qualities and attitudes of the wise man.  For example, it says that the one who listens to and heeds God’s Word is blessed (Pr. 2, 3), which, in the context of dating/courtship, means that it is of primary importance that your man be a Christian who positions his prayer life, his Bible reading, and his worship of God at the top of his priority list.  If that is in place, then these other godly qualities should follow:  diligence (he is hard-working, not a sluggard…so if the one who catches your eye is 25 years old and thinks it’s fine to live rent-free in his parents’ basement playing video games all day instead of trying to make it on his own, think twice!)(Pr.6, 10, 24), integrity (he is honest and ethical in his personal and business relationships)(Pr. 2, ,6, 10, 11), self-control (he is slow to anger; he is actively engaged in guarding sexual purity)(Pr. 14:29; Pr. 4-7), kindness/gentleness (Pr. 15:1,4), humility (Pr. 8, 11), etc…

If a guy has the makings of a godly husband, then he must be a man who demonstrates the potential to love you as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (Eph 5).  He will love you and not be harsh with you (Col 3:19).  He will be able to show you understanding (1 Pet 3:7).  He will show initiative and leadership in your relationship.    

No, you won’t find that kind of guy standing on every street corner!  This a rare breed for sure, but rarity often goes hand in hand with value, so have the patience to wait for a guy who shows some evidence of godliness as the Bible describes it.   But also remember this:  when you find your diamond, he might still be in the rough.  Whenever you’re tempted to be overly critical of a guy who doesn’t seem to have “the whole package”, don’t forget that you’re not so perfect yourself!  You are both redeemed sinners experiencing ongoing transformation by the Holy Spirit.  If you both have a genuine desire to pursue holiness in the light of God’s grace, then you have something to work with.

SO THEN, WHAT DO YOU ACTUALLY DO WHEN IT COMES TIME TO DATE/COURT?

  1. Know when you’re ready for dating/courtship At the very least, you should be at a place in your life where marriage would be a feasible and desirable outcome of a relationship.
  2. If you are ready, carefully consider how you can place yourself in situations conducive to meeting godly men (church, Christian retreats, conferences, etc…).  This does not mean it is advisable to “church-hop”.  You can’t make assumptions about a guy just because he goes to “a” church.  It takes time to understand whether a church is good and sound, and your main criterion for a suitable church should NOT be the number of eligible bachelors in attendance!  If we believe in the sovereignty of God in all things, then this is an area we can practice what we believe.
  3. Observe gender roles as God has defined them (2).  If you are interested in someone, pray for wisdom, guidance and patience, make yourself available/accessible (ie. ensure, in a nonaggressive way, that your paths will actually cross from time to time)…and then let him initiate. (True, this is very difficult in today’s world full of passive guys and assertive women, but God is sovereign and faithful, and if you are meant to marry a certain guy, and he possesses the godly qualities he should have as a potential husband, then he will step up). 
  4. If you enter a relationship – cultivate friendship, fellowship and romance in ways that will not encourage intimacy (emotional or physical) before commitment (2).  Do your best to spend minimal time alone together, especially at night in a room with a couch or a bed.  I believe it was Wayne Mack who said, “The best marriages are friendships caught on fire”.  Spend due time in the friendship phase; learn how to communicate.  Listen more than you talk.  It is much easier to gather information objectively before you get all starry-eyed and physically involved.  Premature physical involvement can cloud judgment, create emotional bonds that are not easily or painlessly broken (a problem if the relationship ends), and push you down the slippery slope to sinful behaviours.
  5. As much as possible, conduct all phases of the relationship with your parents and/or other spiritual mentors as overseers (2).  This gives you access to wisdom, insight, and objectivity that you may not have on your own. Don’t be afraid to ask for your parents’ or your pastor’s (or his wife’s) advice.  Countless many have made choices they wish they hadn’t made, and might not have made if they had sought and heeded wise counsel from godly parents and mentors.  You may not like what you hear, but if it aligns with the Scriptures, you would do well to listen
  6. Have a mutually agreed upon plan for pursuing sexual purity (2).  Commit to having the self-discipline necessary to guard the marriage bed, and expect the man to show leadership in this area.  It may be an uncomfortable exercise, but it is wise to make a point of mutually “drawing your line” before anything happens.  And don’t make the foolish mistake of giving more of yourself physically in order to secure a commitment from him.
  7. Evaluate as you go.  If you know he’s not “the one”, end the relationship as soon as possible (2). If things are going well, continue, but pace yourself to avoid becoming overly emotionally invested too soon.  Don’t act married when you’re not. Guard yourself emotionally by being careful not to engage in emotionally weighty conversations prematurely – in particular, avoid talking presumptively about your future together as a couple, about your future intimacy, or about anything you would wish you hadn’t shared if that person ended up dropping out of your life (2).
  8. Let the man initiate the “define the relationship” conversation.  If he is showing healthy, godly leadership, he will take the initiative to discuss the commitment level of the relationship (1).
  9. Remember who you are.  It is easy as a relationship progresses to get lost in the wonder of it all, and become so absorbed with the other person that your tendency is to (inadvertently) shift your focus from glorifying God to glorifying your relationship.  If all of your confidence, faith, joy, comfort, love and honour is resting in your relationship with a man instead of your relationship with God, it is time to recognize the idolatry in your life, and return God to the number one place in your heart.  This doesn’t mean that you need to break off the relationship – it means you need to keep your heart in check at all times, and do what you need to do to love the Lord your God with all your heart, and put no other gods before Him (Ex. 20:3).

Think you might be ready for engagement?  There are many things that should be considered as you contemplate this step, but that won’t be addressed here.  Lord-willing, we will look into that more in the fall.

WHAT SHOULD WE DO AS PARENTS OF DATING/COURTING DAUGHTERS (OR SONS)?

  1. Set a good example As parents, we should strive to be the kind of person we would encourage our child to be, or have, as a spouse.  Continue to date your spouse in marriage and model the kind of servant love in your marriage relationship that defines Christian relationships.
  2. Do family worship  Be in the Word consistently as a family, and be deliberate about pointing out what the Scriptures say about God’s design for men, women, marriage and family.  Wise counsel about relationships, as well as proper sex education, is found all over the Scriptures, particularly in the book of Proverbs.
  3. Don’t be unreasonable  Nobody is 100% sanctified, so we shouldn’t assume a relationship is irredeemable  just because it, and the people involved, fall short of perfection.
  4. Don’t force marriage  Don’t let your preferences dominate to the extent that you force an unhappy union.  Don’t force a bad union in an attempt to prevent or minimize fornication.
  5. Pray unceasingly!

(Above points borrowed from an online sermon)

There is much more that could be said on this topic, but this is where we left off in our meeting, and so it will also be where I’ll conclude this post.  There are some good books out there if you’re interested in learning more about a biblical perspective on dating/courtship, and I would highly recommend Richard and Sharon Phillips’ book, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts: Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating as a current, balanced, gospel-rich treatment of  this subject.

Finally, if you are someone who reads a post like this, sighs (or groans), and thinks, “That’s all well and good for the people who haven’t already blown it, but I’ve dated dozens of guys and I’ve crossed the intimacy line more times than I’d care to count.  So what about me?”  This is what I would say to you:  We serve an amazing God of grace who is willing to forgive us of our past, and to remove our transgressions from us as far as the east is from the west (Ps 103:12).  His grace is sufficient for you.  His mercies are new every morning (Lam 3:23).  Embrace the Truth of the gospel, and don’t let the guilt of past transgressions rob you of future joys. (A helpful read on this can be found in Joshua Harris’ book, Boy Meets Girl:  Chapter 10:  “WHEN YOUR PAST COMES KNOCKING:  How You Can Face Past Sexual Sin and Experience God’s Forgiveness”).

As complicated and as challenging as this whole relationship thing can be, I think it is worth closing with a reminder that the guiding principle with dating/courtship, as with all of life, can be summed up in one very simple statement:  “Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.” (1 Cor 10:31).  When we apply this to its fullest extent, the right path will become clear to us.  Not necessarily easy, but clear.

References:

  1. Richard & Sharon Phillips, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts: Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating, 2006; (pp. 102, 100, 130)
  2. Joshua Harris, Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship, 2005; (chapters 5, 7, 8, 9, 10)
  3. ESV Study Bible

On Dating…

May 26, 2011

As Christians, what should a relationship between an unmarried man and an unmarried woman look like?  Should we date?  Should we court?  Is dating wrong and courting right (or vice versa)?  What is the purpose of male-female relationships before marriage?

Whatever labels or methods we use, as Christians we must test our relationships in the same way we are called to test everything else in life:  Does my conduct glorify God, and, am I striving to align everything I think, say, and do with the principles laid out for me in His Word?

In our study of pre-marital relationships, we will first explore some definitions, then some problems, and finally we will look at how we can practically apply biblical principles to these relationships.  These are important principles to understand for young and old(er) alike!  If you are starting into your teen years, you can think of this as early heart preparation for relationships down the road.  If you are currently in a relationship, this will hopefully serve as a helpful guide.  If you are recovering from a failed relationship (or several), this may clarify your understanding of why your relationship(s) didn’t work, and how you can move forward in wisdom.  If you are a mom, this can help you to help your children when they face the challenges and blessings of relating to the opposite sex before marriage.

Definitions:

To make this a little easier, I’ve defined the three terms that will be most pertinent to this discussion by addressing the five W’s.  Who is involved and who initiates the relationship?  What is involved?  Where is this relationship taking place?  When in life does it happen?  And, finally – why is it done?  Keep in mind as you look at the comparisons that with the exception of the “Marriage” definition, these are descriptions of what is going on out there, not prescriptions.  We will delve more into what is considered advisable (by biblical standards), and what is not, a little later on.

  “Modern Dating” Courtship Marriage
Who *single man and woman (although in our culture it could also be two women getting together, or two men); either one may initiate *single man and woman, and their families; the man initiates the relationship by asking the woman’s father for permission to “court” her *one man and one woman; the man leads by proposing marriage and then acting as the head of his wife and family, so that he might fulfill his call to love as Christ loved the church
What *a method of introduction and of getting to know one another romantically by means of going out together as a couple; often involves some degree of sexual (and emotional) involvement in the absence of any lasting commitment; may or may not be considered an “exclusive” relationship *a “suitor” woos/courts a woman he considers to be a potential wife by first seeking the father’s permission and then getting to know her within a controlled environment (ie- with some degree of supervision and guidance, ideally from parents, but also from other spiritual mentors) *the two covenant (promise) to be forever joined together in a union reflective of the oneness of the Holy Trinity, and of Christ’s relationship with His church; the relationship is consummated and sealed when the two unite together as one flesh in sexual intimacy
Where *usually outside of the family’s home and oversight; may or may not be in the company of others *often in the family and/or church setting; minimal “alone time” *the wedding takes place in the presence of God, the church, family and friends
When *whenever the two parties want to – it is not considered necessary to be anywhere close to contemplating marriage, therefore it is not unusual for dating to start in the early teens *when the two parties involved are ready to consider marriage [for the man this means that he is in a position where he can support (or can accurately forecast when he will be able to support) a wife and family] *when the couple is ready and able (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically, monetarily) to “leave and cleave”
Why *may be for the purpose of finding a spouse, or may be purely “recreational” *for the purpose of pursuing marriage under the counsel of the leadership provided by family and/or church *to serve one another in honour and obedience to the Lord who ordained marriage as a good and necessary institution for any who are inclined towards it (ie. Those who desire a relationship with the opposite sex)

(1)

There you have a bare-bones comparison of dating and courtship as those terms are generally understood in today’s culture.  What is also important to understand is that “dating” is actually a relatively recent convention.  The concept of dating as we know it didn’t really gain momentum until the 20th century.  There seem to be differing opinions regarding when this system was adopted, but several sources talk about dating being introduced in the last decade of the 1800’s. According to one historian, the word “date” was likely originally used as a lower-class slang word for making an appointment with a prostitute, but then the idea of a young man and woman dating gained wider acceptance in the early 1900’s as more and more lower class singles coupled up in the public sphere (a culturally and monetarily driven departure from the practice of courting in the family parlor) (2).

Dating saw a steady increase in popularity against the backdrop of many significant political and cultural changes, including: the increased value placed on romantic love (a product of the Victorian era), the increase in circulation and influence of women’s magazines, the common use of the telephone, the common use of the automobile (which took dating farther from home and afforded the opportunity for back seat sexual exploration), the rise of feminism and the sexual revolution, the proliferation of the first mass-market pornographic magazines, the advent of birth control (which diminished the pressure to marry as a means of satisfying sexual urges) and legalized abortion (which allowed a woman to get rid of those unexpected, out-of-wedlock pregnancies), and laws providing for no-fault divorce (which allowed for the dissolution of marriage without requiring any evidence of a breach of the marital vows) (2, 3).

There were certainly other factors and events that had a hand in making dating what is today, but the ones mentioned above have unquestionably played a major role in reshaping gender roles, sexuality, and marriage in our culture.  We now live in a society where it is commonplace to enjoy the benefits of marriage without being married.  The moral consciousness of the general public has gone from acknowledging marriage as the only proper context for sexual intimacy, to openly endorsing the practice of “hooking up and shacking up” to enjoy pleasure in the absence of binding commitment, and the consequences are grave.

We will examine the problems of this modern dating system in a moment, but first, a brief note about courtship and marriage.  Courtship (from which dating evolved) has been revisited with great enthusiasm in recent years by Christians who have come to the realization that modern dating philosophy is at odds with biblical principles in a number of ways.  In some circles, courtship is heralded as the only biblical route from singlehood to marriage.   While I would tend to agree that many aspects of the courtship model do uphold biblical principles, I think it is dangerous to become dogmatic about it being the only right way.  While courtship may provide some with the most godly means of moving towards engagement and marriage, it is unlikely to work well for everyone.  For example, what does the courtship model have to say to the person with unbelieving parents, or parents who are deceased?  Although ideally marriage would happen earlier in life, in a culture where people are marrying later, how does the courtship model work for the single who has been out living on his or her own (away from family) for many years?  As much as we might like to have a step-by-step process that fits everyone perfectly when it comes to this subject, there isn’t one.  Of primary importance is understanding the purpose of the process, and using biblical principles to navigate the way.

That brings us to the question:  what is the purpose of the process?  Enter the marriage definition.  Some folks might have been wondering why I chose to include a definition of marriage when we’re talking about dating.  I hope the reason is obvious.  We need to understand the biblical definition of marriage because when we’re talking about Christian male-female relationships, this must be the ultimate goal.  Why?  Because marriage is the only biblically sanctioned male-female intimate relationship.  If you’re not looking for marriage, but you are looking for a date, I’d encourage you to carefully examine your reasons for doing so.

So, what does the Bible say about dating and courting?  Nothing, and everything (4).  You will not find either of those terms in the Bible.  In the time of the Old and New Testaments, marriages were arranged by the families of the two parties involved.  Does this mean that the only right way to get a mate is through arranged marriage?  No.  It isn’t sin to go against what Abraham did – it is sin to go against God’s law (5).  God’s law doesn’t specifically define the pre-marital relationship between a man and a woman, nor does it provide detailed instructions that are guaranteed to lead two unacquainted singles to the doorstep of a happy marriage.  In that sense, this is an area of liberty, but it is NOT liberty to sin! (5)  It is our job to determine how to conduct ourselves in a way that complies with biblical principles, and these principles are spelled out for us in God’s Word, as we will see.

Let’s start by identifying what modern dating philosophy tells us about male-female relationships, and how that message does or does not fall in line with biblical principles:

1. The purpose of modern dating is to find the right person for me – someone who will meet all of my needs and desires. (1)

It’s all about “me”!  This is a very self-centered approach – an approach which essentially makes the relationship all about nourishing each other’s idols (the things we love and worship more than we love and worship God)(4); one person wants sex (fornication is all about self-satisfaction apart from marriage; it is not loving – rather it robs a woman of her virginity [and a man of his], it robs a man of a virgin bride, and it disregards God’s ideal)(6), another person wants to be loved, another craves the attention of someone with status.  It can be about materialism, or control, or  not wanting to be alone, or any number of other things – but the goal is to find someone who will meet all of the needs and desires on “the checklist”.  The goal is to find compatibility, which in worldly terms is nothing more than finding a person who worships the same idols as you do, or at least someone whose idols don’t conflict with yours (4).  By contrast, a biblical approach is not about finding the right person, it’s about being the right person to serve my future spouse’s needs, and being a God-glorifying husband or wife.  Love is about ministry and service to others (1).  

“Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?”  And [Jesus] said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the great and first commandment.  And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Mat 22:36-40)

Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.  Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. (Phil 2:3,4)

2. In modern dating, intimacy (emotional and physical) precedes commitment (1).

Modern dating assumes that you need to get to know a person more deeply than anyone else in the world to figure out whether or not you should be together (1).  It assumes a high level of emotional involvement and some level of physical involvement (1).  In Biblical dating, both emotional and sexual intimacy come only after a commitment is in place.   Sexual intimacy is meant to be enjoyed only within the security of the covenant relationship of marriage.  As Josh Harris puts it, “The joy of intimacy is the reward of commitment” (7).  We have explored at length in our sessions on purity why God has ordained for this intimacy to remain within the confines of marriage.  We are wired to become attached to one another the more intimate we become, and to become intimately involved with  several partners is to face the inevitable pain that comes when the bond is broken, and to carry that pain with you to subsequent relationships.  (For a sampling of Scripture verses that address sexual immorality, click on these:  I Cor 6, 7I Thess 4, Eph 5).

3. The modern dating approach tells us that the way to figure out whether or not I want to marry someone is to act like we are married, and if we don’t like it, we move on (1)

Modern dating tells us we should “try before we buy”.  My husband had a friend who insisted that it was a mistake for him not to live with his girlfriend before committing to marriage, because the last thing you’d want to do is lock into a relationship with someone who isn’t easy to live with, or worse, isn’t good in bed!  This friend’s advice was very reflective of prevailing attitudes, and I am thankful for a man who did not buy into this ungodly way of thinking.

I’m sure it’s no shock to you that cohabitation has been on the rise in recent  years.  I heard some sobering statistics quoted in a sermon I heard recently, one of which indicated that in America, 40% of kids are at some point living in a home where the adults are cohabitating (3).  In other words, almost half of the kids in America have parents who either got divorced and then lived common-law with someone else, or were never married at all.  And one of the supposed goals of this practice of cohabitation is to become as certain as possible that marriage is the right move and that it will last.  But the interesting and sad reality is this:  statistics are showing that instead of increasing their chances of having a better marriage, those who live common-law before they marry are actually more likely to divorce (3).

That brings me to a point I have run into more than once in my readings which I think is so true:  modern dating is better training for divorce than it is for marriage (8).  Why?  Because when you date someone and things don’t go as you had hoped, you just get out and find someone new.  Relationships have become like cars.  You buy one that strikes your fancy and you enjoy the ride, but when it starts showing signs of trouble and requires you to invest too much time, effort and money, you trade it in for a new one.   If this is how we train for marriage, is it any wonder that 50% of marriages end in divorce, or that there are so many instances of adultery?

We’ve already explored how God feels about sexual immorality and promiscuity.  And I want to remind you here that He has also made His feelings clear about divorce:  God’s ideal is for marriage to be lasting.   Jesus says in Matthew 19:8, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so.  Malachi 2:16  says, “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her, says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”  The context of this passage concerns the men of Israel who were disobeying God by divorcing their wives in favour of pursuing foreign women.  It is true that divorce is sanctioned under very narrowly defined circumstances – we can see that in Jesus’ teachings in the New Testament – but “falling out of love” isn’t one of them.  While dating is not a covenant relationship and therefore is not bound by the same laws and promises, it does encourage a habit of falling in and out of love, or at least a more casual attitude about starting and ending relationships than we would want to foster as we look towards marriage.

4.  Modern dating philosophy assumes there will be several intimate romantic relationships in a person’s life before marriage (1)

This is true isn’t it?  We see it on the sitcoms, in the movies, everywhere.  If you’re a teen, you probably even hear it in the hallways at school – something is wrong with you if you haven’t had several sexual partners by the time you reach your late teens.  And if you don’t have a boyfriend, or aren’t “hooking up” regularly, people assume it’s because you CAN’T attract anyone, because it would just be too crazy for a person to actually WANT it that way!  But the biblical way – as we’ve examined time and time again – is to have the goal of being intimate with only one person – your spouse.  And if you haven’t arrived at the stage of life where you’re ready to consider marriage, then you also haven’t arrived at the stage of life where you should be entering into any kind of romantic relationship.

5.  Modern dating tends to be egalitarian (no differences between men and women in spiritual or emotional “wiring” or God-given roles) (1)

This could be an entire session all on its own, but we will just discuss it briefly so that we understand how this differs from the biblical viewpoint.  Modern dating tells us we are all equal.  Male and female roles are interchangeable.  We live in a society where a woman can initiate the relationship, call all the shots, open her own car door, order the meals, pay for the dates, be the sexual aggressor, keep her own last name in marriage, have her own bank account, and go out to work while her husband stays at home to take care of the children.  I’m not here to tell you that all of those things are absolutely wrong, or that feminism hasn’t had any positive effects on womens’ rights and their place in society, but I am going to tell you that there is A LOT of very unbiblical thought and practice that has arisen in the wake of feminism.  This has cropped up peripherally in a number of the resources I’ve read, and I’ve been shocked at just how much of the feminist line I had adopted for myself without even thinking it through biblically.

Here’s the reality in a nutshell:  God made man and woman in His image – BOTH in His image.  He said it was very good!  Adam came first and Eve came second as a necessary helper.  This is the God-ordained order of things (see Gen 2:18).  God gave men and women different roles and there’s nothing wrong with that.  He made the husband the head of his wife and his family, but that doesn’t mean He made the wife inferior, it just means she was given a different role to play.  If we want to join the masses who shudder every time the word “submission” is mentioned, then we might as well be sneering at our Saviour who made himself a perfect model of submission when He laid down His life for sinners like you and me, according to His Father’s will.  If He had decided to adopt today’s prevalent attitude about submission, there would be no salvation.

Still thinking of this as archaic and unprogressive?  Practically speaking, let me ask you this:  Are you more likely to have a smooth drive from point A to point B in a car where there are two people in the driver’s seat, or in a car where there is one person in the driver’s seat and one in the passenger’s seat?  They may both have the ability to drive, but it will not go well if both of them try to do it at the same time.  If one sticks to the role of driver, and one to the role of passenger, it is much more likely that you’ll reach your destination unscathed.

Ever since the Fall, men and women have been cursed with a power struggle for leadership. In Genesis 3:16b God says to Eve, “Your desire shall be for your husband, and he shall rule over you.”  What He’s saying is this:  Eve will now want to assert herself over her husband, and her husband will have a distorted desire to rule over his wife (versus the caring leadership he was called to pre-Fall) (4).  That struggle has remained strong through the ages, and seems even more amplified now.  But let’s remember, it is the result of sin, and as Christians, we are no longer slaves to the sinful nature.

So, biblically speaking – it is the man’s job to lead in a relationship.  It is his job to initiate – although since women are called to be helpers, it would not be wrong to “help him notice you”, as long as you go about it the right way.  If the woman does all of the initiating and leading in a relationship, then she shouldn’t be surprised or upset when the man doesn’t step up to the plate.  So many women are full of complaints about men who won’t initiate, make decisions, or provide general leadership for their families, and yet this is the very result we are enabling if we are always seeking to have the power in the relationship.  It is good for the man to provide for his family, so don’t be afraid to let him exercise his providing skills by picking up the tab at the restaurant!  (No, that doesn’t mean you can never pay).  Let him show you he can make wise decisions, and can stand behind them.  Allowing the man to lead does not make you less of a woman, or less of a person – it is God’s natural ordering of things for our good.

Now, you might be thinking to yourself, “That’s all well and good, but where can I find one of these leadership-minded men?  None of the men I know are like that!”  I agree.  I think it has become harder than ever to find a guy who has embraced the call to biblical manhood, and the spiritual leadership required, but they do exist!  I know because I am blessed to be married to one.  If you can find a man who is trusting in Jesus Christ and wholeheartedly believes that “every word of God proves true” , then there is hope that he will answer his call to lead in a godly manner.

6.  Modern dating tends to assume that your relationship will grow by spending a great deal of time together – mostly alone – with no need of outside counsel or accountability (1).

Firstly – what are you more likely to do when you’re alone with a guy rather than being with him in a group?  I think we’ve visited the sexual temptation and immorality issue enough in past sessions (and earlier in this one) that we don’t need to flesh it out again.  Suffice it to say, if we are pursuing holiness, and we understand how strong sexual temptation can be in the heat of the moment, it is unwise to think that spending a lot of time alone together won’t lead us to a place we shouldn’t go.   

Secondly – this model disregards the role of the parents or other spiritual mentors in helping to determine whether or not a relationship is worth pursuing.  In Bible times it was the job of the father to protect his daughter and ensure the preservation of her virginity until she was given in marriage to a man chosen and approved by him.  We don’t live in Old Testament times, but parents are still responsible for their children while they are at home.  Many passages of Scripture, particularly in Proverbs, warn children of the folly of disregarding godly instruction (“Hear, my son, your father’s instruction,and forsake not your mother’s teaching.” Pr 1:8) Eph 6:2,3 says “Honor your father and mother… that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” .  Those who are older are generally to be considered wiser and able to provide counsel to those who are younger, so today’s model of dating that leaves all of the decisions in the hands of the lovestruck girl and guy is a relinquishment of the role of parents and their wisdom in relation to one of the most important decisions their child will ever make.

There is a lot more that could be said about the areas of concern with today’s dating practices, but what has been discussed here ought to be enough to communicate the idea that Christians need to tread very carefully when it comes to dating.

Many would argue that they know people who have gone through the whole dating process, maybe even with a number of different guys, and have ended up in a fabulous godly marriage, seemingly unscarred by previous relationships.  And that may be true.  But that doesn’t mean it’s the best course of action.

Let me put it to you this way:   Let’s say you’re trying to go somewhere by plane.  There are two planes going to your destination –  one that arrives with a crash landing, and one that will land safely.  On which plane would you rather be?

The answer is obvious in that scenario, right?  Of course you’d choose the safer way – the way that will ensure the preservation of your life.  People survive plane crashes, but that is the exception, not the rule.  In the same way, recreational dating can lead to happy and God-honouring marriages in the end, but it is far more probable that the world’s way of dating will be more destructive than it is edifying (8).

Given what we’ve studied in this session, what is a good working definition of “Biblical Dating” (for lack of a better term)?  Biblical dating is the process by which a Christian woman and a Christian man, both of whom are at a stage of life in which they are free to marry, get to know one another in ways that promote purity of heart and of body, with the intent of determining whether or not they would be well-suited to serving God and one another in the covenant of marriage.   This determination is made under the guidance of wisdom and counsel given to them by their parents and/or other spiritual mentors.

There is only one essential ingredient for every Christian relationship, and from it, every other principle springs forth:  obedience to God’s word.  Jesus said “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”  (John 14:15).  Without this kind of obedience from both parties, the kind of relationship that would be pleasing to God cannot be expected, nor is it possible.  If you are reading this and you are grieving over your failures in this area, take heart!  The good news of the Gospel is free to those who believe. “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

Final Thought

Before you can be one half of a couple aspiring to obey God’s Word, you must first be an individual aspiring to obey God’s Word.  Before you can be an individual aspiring to obey God’s Word, you must first be familiar with God’s Word.  In order to be familiar with God’s Word, you must first read God’s word, and hear it preached.

(At our June meeting, we will be looking at how the biblical principles mentioned here work themselves out in actual practice.    You can check back in mid-June for the summary post of that meeting).

————————————————————–

References:

1. Scott Croft, Biblical Dating – An Introduction, 2006   http://www.boundless.org/2005/articles/a0001401.cfm

2. Beth Bailey, From Front Porch to Back Seat, 1989

3. Mark Driscoll,  Dating (sermon), Oct 9, 2009

4. Richard & Sharon Phillips, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts, 2006

5. Michael Philips, [Sermon on Dating], 2000

6. Brian Watts, Dating vs. Courtship, The King’s Community Church 1996

7. Joshua Harris, I Kissed Dating Goodbye, 2003

8. Steve Wilson, The Dating Dilemma (sermon), 2004

ESV Study Bible

Modesty: Wearing a Heart For God

April 12, 2011
tags:

Modesty is a subject dreaded by many.  It’s another one of those areas of Christianity where we expect to get saddled with a long list of rules – rules that tell us exactly what is too short, too low-cut, too tight, etc.  As Christians we feel a sense of obligation to such rules, but left unchecked our flesh seems to do whatever it can to bend them.  Just as it is with sexual purity, quite often when it comes to modesty, the tendency is to ask the question, “What can I get away with?”, when instead we should be asking, “How can I best glorify God in this area of my life?”  The rules are important, but they are onerous and easily broken if we’re not really invested in the reasons for keeping them, and if our efforts are not enabled by the Holy Spirit.  In our session on Saturday, we looked beyond the hemline to the heart (1).

As we have discussed in previous months, our external behaviours are the outworkings of what is going on in our hearts.  When it comes to the subject of dress, if the heart behind the clothes is truly in pursuit of holiness, it will be concerned to honour God, honour the fellow believer, and be a testimony to the world.  The main goal will not be to draw attention to oneself, but to glorify God.  As C.J. Mahaney puts it, “Modesty is humility in dress” (1).

In order to provide a helpful background for this discussion, let’s briefly remind ourselves of why we wear clothes.  (Read Genesis 2 and 3).  Genesis 2:25 says that Adam and Eve were naked and they were not ashamed.  That was before the Fall.  After they disobeyed God, their “eyes were opened” and they became ashamed of their nakedness.  They tried to cover themselves with loincloths made of fig leaves, but even with these coverings, they still felt they could not show themselves before God when He drew near in the garden, so they hid from His presence.

Then comes the interesting part that we need to remember when we’re talking about modesty.  When God called them out of hiding and saw them, did He say, “Why have you covered up?  I created you naked, so take those silly fig leaves off and enjoy your nakedness again!”  No.  Instead, God made the first blood sacrifice in order to make better clothes for them – garments of skins.  He acknowledged the shameful state they were in as a result of their sin, and He mercifully covered them (does this sound a bit like something He did again later in human History?).  This gives us two important points to remember as we consider how we clothe ourselves:  1. It is God’s will that we, as fallen human beings, be clothed to cover our nakedness, and 2.  Clothing is a symbol of God’s mercy (2).

You may hear people say, “Hey – we were born naked – it’s nothing to be ashamed of!”  And they might even acknowledge God and say, “This is how God made me and I’m proud to show it off.”  But as we have just seen, God requires us to cover our nakedness (except at obvious times when we wouldn’t be clothed – like for bathing, or for the marriage bed), so when we don’t cover up sufficiently, we are going against His will.

John Piper said it well:

Those who wish to reverse this divine decision in search of the primal innocence of the Garden of Eden are putting the cart before the horse.  Until all sin is gone from our souls and from the world, being clothed is God’s will for a witness to our fall.  Taking your clothes off does not put you back into pre-Fall paradise; it puts you into post-Fall shame.  That’s God’s will.  It’s why modesty is a crucial post-Fall virtue.”(2)

So, we need to wear clothes, but what does the Bible say about what to wear?  Well – it doesn’t give us an itemized list of what should be in our wardrobes, but it does provide us with guidelines for decision-making.  Let’s take a careful look at 1 Timothy 2:9,10 (and 1 Peter 3:3,4) to see how we should be adorning ourselves.

“…women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” (1 Tim 2:9,10)

“Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.” (1 Pet 3:3,4)

If this is your first time reading those verses, you might be thinking, “Are you serious?!  I can’t do my hair nicely or put jewelry on?  I can only buy cheap clothes?  Am I to do nothing to enhance my appearance at all?”  That’s not what these verses are saying.  A look at their context will help us to understand them better.

Paul states in 1 Timothy 3:14,15 that he is writing this letter to address how the children of God ought to behave in the church setting.  Why?  Because they (the Ephesians) were not behaving within the church setting in the areas addressed.  He first speaks about the men, saying they must stop poisoning their worship with anger and quarreling, and then he focuses his attention on the women, essentially telling them they should not be flaunting their wealth, beauty or sensuality.  These female worshipers were imitating the dress of women in the Roman court, and of prostitutes, and in so doing, they were causing great distraction during worship.  Those flaunting wealth would braid jewels and gold into their hair, and dress in extravagant garments, drawing great attention to themselves.  Those imitating prostitutes would arrive in provocative attire, again attracting the attention of those around them.  So the women to whom Paul is referring were coming to church displaying either an association with the wealthy or with the sexually immoral.  They were associating more with what the world valued than with what ought to have been valued by the children of God as they gathered to worship Him.  They were proudly putting undue emphasis on their external appearance, instead of concerning themselves with the state of their hearts and the hearts of their fellow worshipers (1,5).

That is what prompted Paul to articulate how women should adorn and carry themselves for the glory of God.  The Greek word kosmos, which is translated into the word “adorn”, basically means order, or to put in order (2,3,5).  Paul is talking about how a woman ought to order, arrange and present herself as a worshiper of the one true God.

Paul says that women should adorn themselves with respectable apparel.  There is some question among translators and commentators as to whether the original text is talking about physical apparel (clothing), or a woman’s attitude/demeanour.  Whatever the case may be, it is clear from the text in 1 Timothy (and perhaps even more clear when we look at the supporting passage authored by Peter) that Paul is saying that women need to focus less on their external appearance and more on their character, and that the former needs to align properly with the latter.

The Greek word that is translated as “respectable” is a descriptive form of kosmos.  It conveys the idea that our clothing and/or our demeanour should reflect and be in harmony with the orderliness of our whole being (2).  In other words:  if we are Christians, our external appearance and behaviour should be in conformity with a heart for God.  It should identify us as belonging to Him, not to the world.

Our clothes need to fit our character first and foremost (so dressing like a prostitute, or as someone who values their possessions more than God, is not o.k.).  But they also need to fit us in many other ways.  They need to fit our bodies and our femininity.  They should be in keeping with what our husbands find attractive and acceptable.  They should fit our age and stage of life.  They should fit our needs and our budget.  They should fit the time, place and occasion.  All of these things should be taken into consideration as we decide whether or not a particular item of clothing suits and reflects us well (2).

Something worthy of note is that Paul’s overall message can be applied to those who put undue emphasis on their appearance as well as those who neglect it.  It corrects the extravagant, the seductive and the frumpy dresser.  Many people wrongly assume that dressing respectably and modestly undermines beauty, but it is important to remember that God created beauty, and He delights in His creation!  The Bible does not tell us that we can’t wear nice clothes, jewelry and makeup.  The Proverbs 31 woman dressed in fine clothing (31:22).  The wife in Song of Solomon wore beautiful jewelry (1:10).  Striving to humbly model beauty with our appearance is a means of glorifying God, whereas striving to flaunt our beauty is a means of glorifying self.

Paul goes on to say that women should adorn themselves with modesty and self-control.  The word that is translated into the English word modesty is based on the Greek word for shame and disgrace (2,3,5).  It is a blend of modesty and humility, but is often translated as modesty.   “It suggests shame, but also a corresponding sense of reverence and honour toward rightful authority.  It’s the opposite of insolence, imprudence, disrespect, or audacity.” (2)

What does this mean as it relates to our clothing?  It means that we dress with a reverence to God, instead of an attitude of defiance.  We do not dress with the purpose of drawing attention to ourselves.  Wearing clothes that reveal or honour our nakedness instead of honouring God’s will to cover ourselves up is defiant and self-focused.  If you like to show a lot of leg, a lot of shoulder, a lot of back, and/or a lot of cleavage, this is speaking to you.  Choosing clothes that are provocative or seductive does not show respect to God, the Gospel or our Christian brothers.  It would not be an exaggeration to say that such a way of dressing could be categorized as a “hint of sexual immorality“, as was discussed in the last session.  As we have discussed before, our brothers in Christ are not immune to temptation and lust, so if we want to love and serve them as we ought, then we should do our utmost to dress in a way that will not lead their eyes and minds astray.  This is not to say that women are to be held responsible when men do succumb to lust, but to unnecessarily dress in a way that leads them into temptation would be contrary to the kind of servant’s heart we are called to have as Christians.  Does this mean you might have to refrain from purchasing many of today’s popular fashions?  Absolutely.  Being modest means being more concerned about exalting Christ than about keeping up with the latest trends.  We readily lose sight of the fact that we are supposed to look different from the world.

There are three basic questions we can ask ourselves when we’re trying to determine if our clothing is modest or not.

  1. Do these clothes cover me up? (2) (Make sure the answer is yes for ALL positions!  Stand up, reach up, reach down, bend over, twist around, sit down…if your clothes are still covering you during and after all of that- they’re good!  If your shirt is modest when you’re upright but gapes open when you bend over, then put a hand over the neckline of your shirt whenever you have to bend over, to keep it from revealing your chest.  If you have a great blouse but it has a very low neckline – wear a camisole or a nice undershirt as a first layer to cover what the outer shirt doesn’t.  You could also use a scarf to make an otherwise immodest outfit acceptable.  There are many creative suggestions for making your clothes work in a way that is attractive and God-honouring.)
  2. Do these clothes showcase my underlying nakedness? (2) Modesty is about more than just covering up.  You might be covered from head to toe with clothing, but if some or all parts of your outfit are skin-tight or see-through, you’re not leaving much to the imagination.  The people around you won’t have to work very hard to figure out what you look like naked.  You are showcasing your nakedness when you reveal too much skin, and when you overly accentuate your body through your clothes.
  3. Could the way I look in these clothes tempt my brothers in Christ towards lust? You may think this has already been covered by the first two questions, and it has to a great extent, but one thing that we need to remember is that we are not men, and we don’t think like men.  As unpopular as this may be, one way to gain a better sense of whether or not your clothing could be a stumbling block for your Christian brothers is to consult with your husband, or if you are younger, consult with your dad.  Something you think is really cute and completely harmless might send a guy’s mind into the gutter, so as hard as it may be, ask the guys for advice, and heed it.  One young man with a heart for purity said this, “When I see a girl provocatively dressed, I think to myself, ‘She probably doesn’t know that 101 guys are going to devour her in their minds today'”(1).  Let’s bring ourselves into the know, and use the information wisely.

(I should note here that it’s not just our Christian brothers who can be led astray by our dress.  We can also lead our sisters astray – not necessarily by tempting them to lust, but by tempting them to dress immodestly.  Christian moms, aunts, sisters, friends – beware.  Many eyes are watching you and looking to you as a godly example).

Is it easy to find clothing that is attractive and yet modest?  Not very.  Today’s sensualizing fashion industry leaves us with relatively few affordable choices, but they can be found, and it is our responsibility as women of God to make the effort to choose our wardrobe (and guide our daughters’) with all of these principles in mind.

In addition to modesty, Paul says we must adorn ourselves with self-control.  The idea communicated in the Greek is that we should be of sober mind, curbing our desires and impulses, being temperate and restrained (1,2,3,5,).  This is a way of reinforcing what has already been mentioned.  It means that when it comes to how we present ourselves we don’t give in to our desires if they are inconsistent with holiness.  We don’t allow trendiness to drive our decision-making process.  We don’t buy that shirt or those shoes just to fit in with our friends.  We don’t spend excessive amounts of money unnecessarily.  Instead, we show restraint for the purpose of exalting God and not ourselves (1).

Paul wraps up these verses by saying that a woman who professes godliness adorns herself with good works, and the hidden person of the heart.  In other words, it is our character and the good we do in obedience to Christ that makes us attractive – far more than our outward appearance.  1 Samuel 16:7 says, “For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.

If you are a young woman desiring to be married, you may be out there thinking, “But if I do all of this, how will I ever get a guy to marry me if I’m in competition with all of these other women who are strutting their stuff?”  The answer is simple.  Truly godly guys are going to be looking for godly character in a woman.  If a guy is most attracted to you for your looks, then he’s attracted to something that will eventually fade.  If he’s attracted to your character, and you dedicate yourself to growing in godliness, then he’s attracted to something that will only increase in greatness over time.  What do you want the foundation of your relationship to be?  Something that will crumble, or something that will get stronger with each passing year?

In summary, let me encourage you to ask yourself these questions:  Why do you dress the way you dress?  What is the heart motive behind your wardrobe choices?  Is your intent to show grace and beauty, to show a humble heart dedicated to honouring God?  Or is it to draw attention to yourself – to flaunt your beauty, allure men, or show that you belong to the “in crowd”?  Do you want your clothing to win the favour of men or of God?

We need to be cultivating our character and submitting everything, including our appearance, to Christ.  C.J. Mahaney sums it up well:

There’s an inseparable link between your heart and your clothes.  Your clothes say something about your attitude.  If they don’t express a heart that is humble, that desires to please God, that longs to serve others, that’s modest, that exercises self-control, then change must begin in the heart. (1)

————————————-

Ladies Discipleship – Session 9 Handout – Modesty – April 9th 2011 (includes a “Modesty checklist”)

_____________________________________________

References:

1.        C.J. Mahaney, Wordliness:  Resisting the Seduction of a Fallen World, 2008; pp. 117-138

2.        Mary Kassian, Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, 2010: pp.105-107

3.        Online Greek Lexicon

4.        ESV Study Bible

5.        John MacArthur, God’s High Calling For Women, Part 1 – sermon on 1 Timothy 2:9; summarized in Bible Study format here: http://www.gtycanada.org/Resources/Study+Guides/40-5152_Gods-High-Calling-for-Women

Other Resources:

Lydia Brownback, Purity: A Godly Woman’s Adornment, 2010

Lauren Winner, Real Sex, 2005

Sexual Purity (Part 2): Not Even a Hint…

March 8, 2011

After gaining a deeper understanding last month of the reasons why sexual purity is to be valued and upheld, we turned our attention in this month’s session to defining sexual immorality and the issues surrounding it.  I acknowledged to the women at the study, and will reiterate here, that this is a particularly challenging and sensitive topic, but one that is vitally important to address.  The lack of concern about sexual purity in our culture, and more importantly, in the church, has far-reaching consequences.  It has destructive effects on individuals, marriages, families, the church body, and the world around us.  This post may seem more like a book than a summary, but as I have found so many of the illustrations and perspectives in my readings on this topic to be helpful, paring it down has been difficult.

One word of warning: this is a topic that can easily become entangled in the trappings of legalism, and so we must tread carefully, lest we forget that the grace of God is freely offered through Jesus Christ to any who find themselves on a wayward path.

In Titus 2, Paul writes that the older women are to teach the younger women to be pure (in heart and body).  It is clear from the larger passage that Paul is referring to younger women who are already married.  I point this out because I think we often think of sexual purity in terms of remaining a virgin before marriage, but we need to remember that it is just as important for married women to be purposeful in pursuing sexual purity as it is for those who are single.  Having said that, while this particular passage may not specifically address singles, we know from multiple other passages of Scripture that every one of us (regardless of marital status) is required to adhere to this high standard of holiness in the sexual realm.  No one is exempt, and so this post will address all of us – wives, moms, and daughters alike.

To open up our session last Saturday, we watched the Casting Crowns music video for the song “Slow Fade”.  Whether the music is to your taste or not, the message of the song is loud and clear, and is sadly reflective of a common reality.

(clicking on the video will redirect you to view it on YouTube;  alternatively you can go here if you’d rather just read the lyrics)

Songwriter (and Youth Pastor) Mark Hall was motivated to create the album “The Altar and the Door” when a disturbing afternoon of reading through some of the MySpace pages of young people in his church revealed an obvious trend of double-mindedness among them. “Mark’s heart sank as he read their messages to the world, truths about themselves that didn’t gel with the truth they embraced at church.” (1)

Recognizing this double-mindedness to be more than just a problem with the younger demographic, Hall wrote the song “Slow Fade” based on what he referred to as “the spreading cancer of moral failure in the fathers of this generation”(1).  In the video we see a husband gradually compromise his way into an adulterous relationship that ends up shattering his marriage and family.  Hall explains:

People don’t crumble in a day. You don’t fall, you fade.  In your mind, there’s that pride that says “I’d never do that”… but you don’t just do it, it’s a slow series of compromises, little ones that go there eventually, until you’re sitting in a place you’d never go, doing something you’d never do… and yet the way you’re living totally makes sense to you somehow because you’re so numb. (1)

There is great truth to that.  While temptations may come suddenly, our sin does not – it is the culmination of a process that has been brewing in our hearts and minds over time.  It is the gradual abandonment of the Truth in favour of whatever lies appear to align best with our desires.

But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death. (James 1:14,15)

So how do we stop ourselves from heading down this slippery slope?  My husband often quotes Oliver Cromwell who said to his men as they went into battle, “Put your trust in God, and keep your powder dry”.  Gunpowder doesn’t work when it gets wet, so what he was telling his men was that they needed to put their faith in God to help them, but they also needed to be responsible and properly equip themselves to fight.  Similarly, when we face sexual temptations, we can trust that God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) It is God’s promise to us that He will give us a way out, but it is our responsibility to take it.   We cannot be passive and expect to stay out of trouble.

Randy Alcorn opens his book The Purity Principle with an illustration about this very thing.  He talks about a man who came to him for counseling because he was mad at God for not preventing him from committing adultery with a female coworker.  The man was upset that despite praying earnestly that he would not fall into this sin, it had happened anyway.  Alcorn’s probings quickly revealed that these prayers were the ONLY measure this man had taken to prevent the affair.  He had not shared the struggle with his wife and he had continued to go out with the “other woman” for lunch every day.  He had failed miserably at “keeping his powder dry” (2).

1 Corinthians 6:18 says, Flee from sexual immorality.” (Sexual immorality is defined as all extra-martial sexual activity – pre-marital sex/fornication, adultery, homosexuality, prostitution, pornography, child abuse, incest, bestiality)(3).  We are not told that it is okay to brush up against it or flirt with it, and we are not told to casually walk away from it.  We are commanded to FLEE!  When you’re told to flee from something, it means that whatever that something is has the power to do great harm to you and you’d be wise to run away as quickly as possible.  That is certainly the case with sexual immorality.  Just as fire – something that is good, necessary, and beautiful within its proper boundaries – can lead to horrendous destruction when it breaks free of its boundaries, the wonderful gift of sex can lead to great pain and devastation when it is taken out of its intended context of marriage (2).

As if “fleeing” isn’t a hard enough command to follow, Ephesians 5:3 says that, “among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality” (NIV).  That does not mean that we prudishly avoid the whole subject of sex.  It means that we must not consent or passively comply in any way (word, thought or deed) to sexual permissiveness among Christians, since this would be inconsistent with the holiness God requires of us (3).

So what does a “hint” look like in our world today?  It’s not much of an exaggeration to say that we can barely go anywhere without being bombarded by images and sounds that can easily lead to hinting.  Just look at the billboards, the magazine racks at the grocery checkout, storefronts, clothing displays, TV shows, commercials, music videos, movies, many kinds of dance, internet ads, sultry Facebook profile pictures, the pervasive presence of pornography, etc.  Listen to the most popular song lyrics, the conversations around the water cooler at the office, the chatter in the school locker rooms and playgrounds, and even the teaching in the classrooms.   We live in a sex-saturated culture where everything right down to your pasta and your chewing gum has been sensualized.

Have you taken a recent look at statistics about pornography?  According to one source, 42.7% of all internet users view porn (that’s over 102 million people).  You’ve probably heard it said that porn is “every man’s struggle”, but did you know that 28% of visitors to porn sites are women?  Clearly it isn’t just men who struggle.  If you need evidence that viewing porn is a very popular pass-time, I’d say the fact that it is a $13 billion industry that beats out the combined revenues of the top technology companies is pretty convincing (4).  Porn has been around for ages, but the advent of the internet eliminated the need for embarrassing trips to the store, so that now anyone who wants it is only one click away from “enjoying” unlimited supplies of soul-slaying images in the privacy and comfort of their own home.  Even the most innocent net surfer can accidentally navigate his or her way into temptation before very long.

How do we, as Christians, live in a society like this and successfully ensure that there is not even a hint of sexual immorality among us?  No one is about to argue that it’s easy.  It isn’t.  Living a biblically pure lifestyle is very counter-cultural.  If you’re looking for a way to fit in, this is not it!  Eliminating the “hints”and the more blatantly immoral behaviours from our lives may require some seriously radical changes (we’ll explore that down the page a little).  But if you’re tempted to just forget about making any changes and stick with the status quo instead, it might be worth reminding yourself of a few things:

  • First – remember what we discussed last time – sex was always meant to be wonderful, but the full beauty of it can only be realized when it is saved for a heterosexual marital relationship.
  • Second – remember that if you are a believer, your body is not your own to use as you please – you were bought with a price and are a member of Christ, a temple of the Holy Spirit.
  • Third – The Bible is very clear that those who persist in sexual sin with no evidence of repentance will, “have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God” (Ephesians 5:5), and that such people are openly disregarding not man, but God (1 Thessalonians 4:8).  Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honour among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”

So then, what do we need to do?  I think that to be really convinced of some of the more drastic measures that might be necessary to fulfill the “not even a hint” requirement, we need to understand the process that leads to sin.  We’ve already touched on how sin is the culminating act that results from a progressive compromise of the Truth in our hearts.  But where does that actually start?

It gets in through our senses.

Lust is fed by whatever we’ve deposited in our brains that it can get its claws on.  What’s in our brains is what we’ve allowed in through our senses.  The images and words in our minds must come either from specific things our eyes have seen and ears have heard or an imaginative conglomerate of such input.(2)

Once we allow this input through the sensory gateway, it fosters our thoughts, and our thoughts, in turn, lead to “actions, habits, character and destiny” (2)

CONTROL WHAT GOES IN (what we see, hear and in turn, think)

So, our first practical defense against sexual temptation and sin is to follow the advice of the old Sunday School song:  “Oh be careful little eyes what you see….Oh be careful little ears what you hear.”   We need to limit the bad inputs, and choose God-honouring ones instead.  Psalm 119:37 says, Turn my eyes from looking at worthless things; and give me life in your ways. As someone from our group correctly pointed out, we don’t have control over everything we see and hear – we are often inadvertently exposed to sexualized images and sound bites.  But we do have control over what we intentionally watch and listen to, and that’s where we may need to make some changes.  If, for example, you know that looking at a certain magazine/book/website/TV show/movie tends to focus your thoughts on sex in an ungodly way, or if it has the potential to incline you to become gradually more accepting of something that is clearly unacceptable according to the Bible, then don’t look at it.  If something leads you to fantasize in a sexual way, cut it out.

There’s a commercial on TV in which two girls are gawking at one of the Twilight movies because the camera is stayed on a shirtless guy’s flawless set of abs (they call it the “abs scene”).  That may seem innocent enough – it’s not like he’s totally naked, right?  Well, I would argue that there is a problem here.  These girls are drooling at the sight of this guy, and the whole movie (and series) is causing them to set up a completely unrealistic vision in their minds about the kind of relationship they hope to find for themselves.  Is it o.k. that countless girls and women wish they could climb into bed with vampire Edward Cullen?  Is it realistic to think that a married woman who spends her free time watching soap operas and reading romance novels won’t ever compare her own life to the drama, passion, and glamour they portray and conclude that she is missing out on something?  Do you ever wish your husband or boyfriend had a “totally buffed” body instead of the one he has?  Consider how you found out what a buffed body looked like in the first place.  Would it be easier for you to accept, love, and be loyal to your husband if you didn’t have these air-brushed images and ideals to compare him to?  Author Lydia Brownback says, “The seed of impurity is a discontented heart, and out of it spring rebellion, darkness, relational destruction, and misery” (5).  A great deal of discontentment comes when we start comparing ourselves (and our spouses) to others, and measuring our lives against the media’s portrayal of what life ought to be.

We can be very casual about what we allow ourselves to read and watch, but we are deceiving ourselves if we believe we are immune to these strong influences.  Randy Alcorn writes this:

Suppose I said, “There’s a great-looking girl down the street.  Let’s go look through her window and watch her undress, then pose for us naked, from the waist up.  Then this girl and her boyfriend will get into a car and have sex – let’s listen and watch the windows steam up!”

You’d be shocked.  You’d think, What a pervert!

But suppose instead I said, “Hey, come on over.  Let’s watch Titanic.”

Christians recommend this movie, church youth groups view it together, and many have shown it in their homes.  Yet the movie contains precisely the scenes I described.

So, as our young men lust after the girl on the screen, our young women are trained in how to get a man’s attention.

How does something so shocking and shameful somehow become acceptable because we watch it through a television instead of a window?  In terms of the lasting effects on our minds and morals, what’s the difference? (2)

Alcorn points out how popular culture has become a great ally to the enemy as he pursues his objective of normalizing evil.  Proverbs 8:13 tells us that to fear the Lord is to hate evil, and the question begs to be asked,  If we are entertaining ourselves with evil – amusing ourselves with impurity – are we hating it? (2)

I love a good romantic comedy or drama as much as the next person, so it frustrates me to no end how so many of these movies portray pre-marital sex, promiscuity, and even adultery as normal and acceptable sexual practices.  I’m not here to tell you that you can’t watch any more romances, but if you find your eyes fixed on the characters’ bodies, and/or you sense yourself hoping that they will crawl into bed together despite the fact that they’re not married, or that someone in the movie will leave their spouse for the character you like better, then it’s time to turn it off.  Does that disqualify a lot of TV shows and movies from our viewing libraries?  Yes.  Does that seem to be overly drastic, and unnecessary?  We might think so, but perhaps we need to be reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew when he addresses the sexual sin of adultery:

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:28-30)

Jesus is using an overstatement here to emphasize His point:  Sexual sin is serious.  Even just thinking about it is serious.  We are to take radical measures to avoid it and root it out.  I’d say ejecting the DVD or closing the browser doesn’t seem like too much to ask when you consider it in that light.  If you want to think of it in another way, use this as a guide when you’re watching something:  Does what I’m watching send a message that supports my Christian witness to my friends and family?  Would I want my children to imitate what is being shown (or alluded to) on the screen?  Our books, music selections, even our conversations with friends, can be put to the same kind of test.

Controlling what enters our hearts and minds isn’t just about avoiding evil, it’s also about intentionally choosing what is good.  Be sure to read and understand the Scriptures every day.  Make family worship a daily priority in your home, and corporate worship your main priority on Sundays.  Read books and websites that line up with what the Scriptures teach.  Listen to sermons and edifying music.  Spend time with Christian friends and mentors.  Go to Christian conferences, retreats, and other functions where you know that you and your family will be spiritually nourished with sound doctrine.  Marvel at God’s blessings.  Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” (Philippians 4:8) This is a huge and indispensable part of equipping ourselves for this battle.

CONTROL WHAT GOES OUT (what we say and do)

Controlling what we allow into our minds can be much easier than controlling what we allow our bodies to do.  We still have a responsibility to curb our behaviours, but it can become very difficult, particularly if we allow our bodies to start making the decisions.

A short neuroscience lesson might be helpful here.  The autonomic nervous system (ANS) is regulated by the hypothalamus and controls sexual stimulation (6).  Our sexuality operates on a positive feedback loop, meaning that each stimulation is designed to make you desire the next step (7).  The same stimulus that starts a slow ANS response in a woman might send a man’s ANS into overdrive (eg. open-mouthed kissing); think crock pot versus microwave (6).  The more stimulated you become, the more the ANS takes over and throws your mind out of the driver’s seat.  Whether you’re a woman or a man, “once you let your body cross the line, it will neither know nor care about your Christian convictions.”  (2).

It is also worth mentioning that the brain’s emotional pathways are very actively engaged during the neural activity that occurs during sex, and the accompanying biochemical reactions work towards enhancing one’s attachment to, and desire for, whomever (or whatever) is involved in that sexual experience (if you want to explore this, check out the roles of dopamine and oxytocin) (6; Wikipedia).  As much as people may want to believe that sex can be a no-strings-attached experience, our body chemistry says otherwise.

All of this being so, you can see how important it is to stay far away from “the line”.  The way this works out in practice may look different for different people, but we all need to be asking ourselves the same questions when we set our boundaries. 

  1. Will I be able to keep my thoughts pure in this situation?  (Will the other person/people involved be able to do the same?)
  2. Will/can this situation lead to behaviour that will make my body (or his) crave more sexual contact (ie. kick the ANS into overdrive)?  (6)
  3. Will/can this act (or thought) establish “habits and expectations that may ultimately prove destructive to [godly] marital sexuality”? (8) 
  4. Does my sexual conduct glorify God and “tell the story”? (refer to previous post).

Let’s look at an example that came up during our group discussion:  What about your teenager spending time alone with a friend of the opposite sex in her bedroom with the door closed?  Will that situation lead to trouble?   Not necessarily.  Can it?  Absolutely.  What is going on in their thoughts that prompts them to close the door?  With the door closed, the degree of accountability goes way down.  What if both of them end up sitting on the bed because there’s nowhere else to sit?  What if they end up horizontal and start making out?  Even if they don’t end up having intercourse, they may progress through many elements of foreplay, and foreplay is meant to prepare the body for the “final act”(and since the final act is meant only for marriage, then whatever “starts your engines” should also be saved for the marriage bed).  Will whatever happens on the bed prove destructive to marital sexuality?  It sure can.  If some of the inevitable emotional attachments that accompany sexual activity form and then get broken, that teenager may carry the associated “baggage” with her into her marriage.  Any sexual encounter she has that is not with whomever she ultimately ends up marrying will be deposited into her memory bank for comparison.  What if she really enjoys it and she ends up marrying someone else down the road who can’t excite her in the same way? She will be discontent – a feeling that can lay the groundwork for adultery.  What if she doesn’t like it, and she assumes that her experience is an accurate representation of what sex is supposed to be, and based on that decides it’s not worth guarding.  What if this experience, (whether or not she enjoyed it), sets the stage for a pattern of “fooling around” with lots of other people, and he/she decides that promiscuity is preferable to marriage?  If she’s a Christian, what does this experience do to her witness to the other person?  We could go on and on with the potential consequences, but I think that gives us an idea of the kind of thoughtful analysis that needs to be applied to these situations.  It may seem like overkill, but we need to be diligent if we are truly committed to honouring God’s design.

Whatever your scenario is, if you ask those questions and the answers in any way suggest that by putting yourself in that situation you might be setting yourself up for even a hint of sexual immorality, then you know where you need to draw your line.

Try applying those questions to the following (which are often erroneously considered acceptable among Christians):  Two friends (guy and girl, or man and woman) are into “sexting” but they refrain from getting physical when they’re together.  A girlfriend and boyfriend are having oral sex regularly, but are being very careful to abstain from having intercourse because they are concerned not to lose their virginity before they get married.  In an effort to be pure, a young woman turns to masturbation as a sexual outlet while she waits for her soul mate to come along.

Those might be pretty easy to work through (or maybe they aren’t!), but what about these:  An engaged couple, who will not be married until a year from now because of work and financial circumstances, enter into a sexual relationship, rationalizing that they love each other and will be married soon anyway.  A married woman regularly talks to her male co-worker about the problems in her marriage.  A woman is just friends with a guy and regularly hangs out with him alone.  A happily married couple occasionally looks at porn magazines together in order to spice up their sex life.  A woman who has been married for many years is tired of having sex and resists most of her husband’s sexual advances.

We need to ask ourselves these tough questions, not just for ourselves but for our children.  As mothers we have a critical role to play, particularly in how our daughters understand and develop their sexuality.  We need to have things figured out for ourselves, or at least know how to, before we can effectively guide them in a godly way.

When we are not careful to guard our minds and bodies, we will reap the consequences.  Some of these consequences are physical in nature – like unwanted pregnancies and STD’s.  Most of the lasting consequences, however, are emotional and relational in nature.  Here is a sampling, in addition to what has already been mentioned:

  • Porn, erotic novels and sexting (most of which lead to fantasizing) can significantly reduce your passion for true yada sex (sex becomes a solo activity that is easier, more immediately gratifying, and more convenient than relationships with real, imperfect people) (6).
  • Porn addiction is correlated with an increased incidence of depression, infidelity, divorce, financial difficulties, and job loss (4).
  • When you have sex outside of marriage, your body makes a commitment whether you do or not, which automatically means you’ll have less to give when you do marry (6).
  • Engaging in some sexual activity but stopping short of the final act leaves some people unable to fully enjoy the final act when it is eventually allowed (6).
  • Premarital sex can be quite exciting, but that excitement often hinges on the unpredictability and drama of it (will we “hook up” or won’t we?), so when a person enters marriage and no longer gets to enjoy the “thrill of the chase”, he or she is disappointed and may go looking outside of their marriage for some of the excitement they once knew (8).
  • The American Psychological Association links early sexual activity by girls with an inability to enjoy a healthy adult sex life and points to a greater preoccupation with and dislike for their bodies. (6)
  • If you participate in sexually immoral practices, you negatively affect your relationship with God, and your Christian witness to the world around you.  We are to be different from the world, and yet, “Surveys indicate that the sexual morality of today’s Christians has become almost indistinguishable from that of non-Christians.  It’s often impossible to discern where the world ends and the church begins….An unholy world will never be won to Christ by an unholy church.” (2)

Sexual immorality is a killer of Christian lives and marriages.  We poison ourselves daily, a little at a time.  This novel, that TV show, this movie, that magazine, this calendar, that glance, this flirtatious comment, that quiet assent to a dirty story.

This arsenic of the soul poisons us gradually, so we don’t feel much different than yesterday, but we’ve become very different than we were five years ago. (2)

We have a choice to make:  do we drink the poison or the Living Water?  Do we follow our own ways and settle for something that falls far short of God’s ideal, or do we obey the commandments of our Lord and enjoy the blessings that come to those who honour Him with their heart, soul, mind and body?  Jesus said this in Luke 6:46-49:

Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? Everyone who comes to me and hears my words and does them, I will show you what he is like: he is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock. And when a flood arose, the stream broke against that house and could not shake it, because it had been well built. But the one who hears and does not do them is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. When the stream broke against it, immediately it fell, and the ruin of that house was great.

Let us do all that we can to have unshakable convictions founded on the Word of God when it comes to our sexual purity.  It is a very tough road, to be sure, but a journey well worth taking.  Ephesians 2:3 tells us that “we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind “, but as believers we are called to put off the old self (Ephesians 4:17-24), and we are equipped for success by Christ himself, who is gracious to sanctify us and to forgive us when we stumble.

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works. (Titus 2:11-14)

—————————————

References:

1. http://www.castingcrowns.com/content/music

2. Randy Alcorn, The Purity Principle: God’s safeguards for life’s dangerous trails, 2003; pp.9,10;27;42;41;61,62;63;72,73;24;49

3. Harry Uprichard, Ephesians (An EP Commentary), 2004; p.277

4. Porn in America Infographic: http://www.skitzone.com/2011/porn-addiction-in-america-infographic/

5. Lydia Brownback, Purity: A godly woman’s adornment, 2010; p.99

6. Dannah Gresh, What are you waiting for? The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex, 2011; p.112;112;40-42,114;112;36,84;47;47;47

7. Richard & Sharon Phillips, Holding Hands, Holding Hearts:  Recovering a Biblical View of Christian Dating, 2006; p.149

8. Lauren F. Winner, Real Sex:  The naked truth about chastity, 2005; p.118;119

ESV Study Bible

Sexual Purity: Two “Why’s” That Can Make us Wise

February 14, 2011

When we think of rules, we don’t always think of them fondly.  Our first instinct probably isn’t to think, “I LOVE rules.”   But when it comes to sexual purity for Christians, we’re often looking for a list of rules.  What are we allowed to do and what are we not allowed to do?  How far is too far?  It’s tempting to just dive into this topic with that as the starting point:  What is sexual immorality, and what do we need to do to avoid it?  Well, there’s nothing inherently wrong with the content of that approach – those are things we need to know – but if the desired outcome is godly sexual purity, then I think it would be helpful to begin somewhere else.

Consider this scenario:  There are two rooms in separate areas of a large building that have curtains instead of doors.  Both rooms are filled with the finest of jewels.   The owner of the jewels is always present in the building but nonetheless wishes to have each of these rooms closely guarded, since there is a lot of foot traffic through the building on a day-to-day basis, and a curtain does little to deter thieves.  He posts one guard per room, and tells each of them to stand outside of the curtain until he tells them they are relieved of their duty.  Before the owner leaves them to their assignment, he promises that each guard will receive the contents of the room he is protecting as payment for his service, if he fulfills his duty.  Only one of the guards knows what lies behind the curtain.

The owner leaves to attend to other business and does not return until two days later.  He finds only one guard left standing.

Which guard do you think was still at his post?  Why?  What do you think happened to the unguarded valuables?

It is very important to understand what it looks like to be sexually pure, and how to flee from sexual immorality, but until we appreciate the value of what we are protecting, we are much more likely to fail in our attempts to remain pure in a God-glorifying way.  Without that understanding, we will be more likely to let down our guard, and the treasure will be stolen away by those who are not meant to have it.

So let’s start with WHY # 1:  Why do we have sex?

Author Mary Kassian sums it up well in the following video (it’s well-worth watching all 9 minutes):

Sex is the act of consummation that seals the marriage covenant; it is binding and beautiful.  Within marriage, it is to be enjoyed not just as a means of procreation, but also as a means of achieving deep intimacy and mutual pleasure.  The “one flesh” union within marriage (which is not just physical, but moral, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual)(1), was designed to mirror the glorious relationship between Christ and His redeemed people, the Church (Ephesians 5:31,32).  It was designed to “tell the story”, as Kassian puts it.

Christ gave Himself up so that he could “sanctify [his bride, the church]…that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish” (Ephesians 5:26a, 27).  In other words, Christ wanted His Bride to be pure.  If earthly marriage is to mirror  this relationship, and we are women seeking to do our part to paint this picture, then shouldn’t we be striving to fit that same description?

Does that seem impossible?  It is – if we’re trying to do it in our own strength.  Something to keep in mind is that the first marriage was made before man fell into sin.  You may find yourself in a place of deep regret for having fallen short of God’s ideal, but take heart!  All of us have fallen short – if not by committing sexual sin, then in other ways (see Romans 3:23) .  But right there within those verses of Ephesians, we are reminded that Christ is the One who sanctifies, and washes His people clean.  Whatever your past history looks like, He is able to cleanse you.  “As far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us.” (Psalm 103:12).  You were not equipped for godly purity when you were born, but you are equipped when you’re born again.

Let me take you on a little side trail here.  As I was reading in preparation for this session, I learned about ancient Jewish wedding customs, and it made me appreciate how the use of marriage as an illustration of the relationship between Christ and His Church would have been a powerful aid for understanding in the people of Jesus’ day.  In the Jewish tradition, a man’s bride was chosen by his father, and then he and his bride-to-be were betrothed (engaged).  The man had to pay a price for his bride – something of great value (like livestock, land, silver, gold, labour).  A marriage contract was then written up, and in it the bride was promised that her groom would meet all of her needs (at this point, they were considered legally married). The bride then went through a ritual washing in water, which was to symbolize her turning away from former things and starting a new life with her beloved.  The groom had to return to his father’s house to build new living quarters for himself and his bride, and while he was gone, the bride was to eagerly prepare herself for his return, not knowing exactly when that would be.  She was to keep an oil lamp burning constantly until his return, which would be a sign to him of her readiness.  The groom would come back as soon as his father was satisfied that the new living quarters were completed, which could have taken quite some time.  He would shout out to announce his arrival, and she was expected to be ready to go with him, even if it was the middle of the night.  The groom would then take her away to the new living quarters where they would consummate their marriage.  The bride’s virginity was very important – to such an extent that proof of her purity was presented to her family after the consummation act.  After seven days of the couple being alone together, the wedding feast began! (2)(3)

Do you see the parallels here?

It is our heavenly Father (who is also Christ’s Father),  who draws His people to Christ, the Bridegroom (“No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him” John 6:44).  Christ had to pay the ultimate price for His Bride – His own life!  After He did this, the covenant was in place between Him and his Bride, and by His redemptive work on the cross, He sanctified her, and washed her clean (Ephesians 5:26).  He then returned to His Father’s side in Heaven, to prepare a place for His Bride (“In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.” John 14: 2,3).  The Bride, the Church, is now in her waiting period.  Just as the Jewish bride did not know when her beloved would return, neither do we know when Christ will return. (“But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only.” Matthew 24:36). We are called to be ready for Him, and when He comes, we will be resurrected in body and united with Him, and the greatest Wedding Feast of all time will take place.

Hallelujah!
For the Lord our God
the Almighty reigns.
Let us rejoice and exult
and give him the glory,
for the marriage of the Lamb has come,
and his Bride has made herself ready;
it was granted her to clothe herself
with fine linen, bright and pure”—

for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.

And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” (Revelation 19:6-9)

Isn’t the picture clearer now?  Isn’t it amazing?!   If we can even begin to understand this, we will see how important it is to strive to be a pure bride so that our marriage can come closer to reflecting this wonderful truth.

Do you see now how sex is so much more than meets the eye?  It was never meant to be just a mindless, physical act.  It was meant to be much, much more.  Do you know that the Hebrew word used in the Bible for sex between a husband and his wife is “yada”, which means, “to know”?  Here’s another place where that word is used: Psalm 139 says, “You have searched me and you know [yada] me… Before a word is on my tongue, you know [yada] it completely… Search me, O God, and know [yada] my heart” (4).  That is deep knowing!  It’s true that the context is different here than when a man yada‘s his wife, but I think the unavoidable truth revealed by this word choice is that sex in its proper marital context was intended to help us to know, and be known, in a profound way (5).  It connects us at the deepest level to another person, and it teaches us something about God.  As John Piper put it:

The ultimate reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable. (6)

Is it any wonder that Satan is so determined to wreak havoc in this area of our lives?

WHY #2:  Why ought we to glorify God in our bodies?

If you read 1 Corinthians 6:13-20, the answer to this question is very clear.   As believers, our bodies are “members of Christ” (v. 15).  We are one spirit with the Lord (v.17).  Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit (v.19).  We are not our own, for we have been “bought with a price” (vv.19,20).  And so, we are to glorify God in our bodies.

What does it mean when Paul says, “you were bought with a price”?  Yes, the answer should be pretty obvious, at least to the believer.  We were purchased with the blood of Christ.  That’s a pretty high price, wouldn’t you say?  Glorifying God with our bodies doesn’t seem like a lot to ask in the face of that kind of sacrifice, and yet we still seem to struggle to live this out.   I read a powerful illustration of this on a blog recently, and I want to present it here (paraphrased and with some modifications):

Consider this:

You are the mother of a teenage girl who is beautiful and pure.  One day, she decides that she doesn’t like your rules anymore, and she runs away to a foreign land so that she can experience the world.  After some time, you receive word that she has been captured and sold as a slave.  It becomes your sole focus to rescue her.  You go to this foreign land, and when you get there, you realize that everyone around you is afraid of your daughter’s captors, and no one will assist you in your search.  You look for her by yourself, and at long last you find her.  She is confined to a room with only one guard, so you take him out with a swift blow to the head, but he manages to shoot you as he collapses.  Bleeding out, you use your body to thrust open the door, and with your dying breath you cry out to your daughter, “You’re free now!  Go home – I have paid your way”.  And as the last sign of life slips away from you, your daughter yawns, and says, “Home?  Why would I want to go home?  I’m happy where I am.  I would rather stay here.”

Unbelievable, right?!?  How could she act that way towards you, after everything you did to rescue her?!

If only we would be just as incensed at our own failure to live our lives in a way that exudes gratitude to the One who died for us.  But we’re not incensed.  Each time we choose our own way instead of God’s way, we’re just like that girl.  We’re saying, “Jesus, I know you died for me, and gave everything up for me so that I could have something infinitely better than what I have now, but I’m pretty happy here in my sin, and I’m not really interested in changing.  I will do whatever I want with my life, and my body.  But thanks anyway.”

Let it not be so!  He died for us.  Is anything too much for Him to ask?  No! “So glorify God in your body” (v.20).

Now that we know the God-intended purpose of sex, and the reason for glorifying God in our bodies, how must we act?  Is sex something we should take lightly?

Ask yourself these questions: Does my sexual conduct “tell the story”?  Do I treat my body as a temple of the Holy Spirit?  Do I conduct myself in a way that honours the One who bought me with His own blood?  If not, fear not!  He is gracious and will grant the power to change to anyone who will humbly come to Him, and trust in Him alone.

With this basic understanding of WHY we have sex, and WHY we must glorify God in our bodies, the WHAT (what is allowed and not allowed) should be much easier to determine and follow with the help of the Holy Spirit.  It should also be very clear to us by now that much of what we see and hear about sex in our culture is not in keeping with God’s ideal.  In our next session we’ll look at how this works out practically in our lives, and we’ll explore the blessings of sexual purity and the consequences of sexual immorality.

Session 7 Purity Handout – Feb 12, 2011

Background Reading/References:

Girls Gone Wise Video Book Blog: http://www.girlsgonewise.com/book-blog-10-how-far-is-too-far/

Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, Mary Kassian, 2010

(2) And the Bride Wore White: Seven Secrets to Sexual Purity, Dannah Gresh, 1999

(3) http://www.mayimhayim.org/JewishWedding.htm (***this is helpful for understanding more about ancient Jewish wedding traditions, however some of the Scriptural interpretations of the parallels to Christ and the Church are at odds with other, more biblically sound, resources – read with discernment***)

(4) Hebrew lexicon on http://www.Bibletools.org

(5) What are you waiting for?  The One Thing No One Ever Tells You About Sex, Dannah Gresh, 2011

http://www.ccef.org/sex-marriage-how-far-too-far

(5) Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, John Piper and Justin Taylor, 2005

http://www.truewoman.com/?id=189

Commentaries:

The Pillar New Testament Commentary – The Letter to the Ephesians, Peter T. O’Brien, 1999

(1) Genesis Vol.1 , John D. Currid, 2004

ESV Study Bible notes

(Please, I encourage you to be “Berean” in your reading.  Test everything against what the Scriptures say, including this blog and the listed resources.  Quite often, a resource is bang on for the most part, but may have bits and pieces that we can’t completely reconcile with the Scriptures.  I will always do my best to be faithful to the Word in what I write here, but it is still the responsibility of the reader to be satisfied in their own mind that it ‘measures up’, before believing it to be true.  Thank you.)

Purity: A Matter of the Heart

January 9, 2011
tags:

According to the Study Outline, we were due this week to start studying areas of particular relevance to “Unmarried Women”, however I chose to change the order around a little and address the topic of purity first.  As always, the journey I’ve been on while preparing for this study has been both enlightening and convicting.  I will not be able to do it justice here, but I’ll do my best to give the essence of what was discussed in the session we had on Saturday.

What is purity? It’s not a word we always hear in today’s culture.  We hear it more often in Christian circles, but it is often referring specifically to sexual purity.  I’ll admit, when we first set out on this walk through Titus 2, I figured that when we got to the part about being pure, we’d be looking primarily at sexual morality.  But as I started to do more reading, of the Bible and of some helpful expositions, I found that purity is about much more than what we do with our bodies – it is first and foremost an orientation of the heart.

Lydia Brownback puts it this way in her book Purity: A Godly Woman’s Adornment:

“To be pure is to be single-minded.  It is to have a single goal, a single focus, and a single purpose for ourselves and our lives.  That is biblical purity, and from it springs moral behaviour – the good we do with our bodies.  At its core, purity is having a heart for the Lord that isn’t watered down or polluted by lesser things.” (p.9)

So purity actually works from the inside out, not the other way around.  We may think we’re pursuing purity just by cleaning up our act, but the reality is – we can perform “clean” actions without any love for God at all, and that is not godly purity.  When I was a teenager, I led a pretty moral life.  I tried really hard to be good – to be “pure” (according to my understanding at the time).  I stayed out of trouble, and I was known as someone who stayed out of trouble.  But I still struggled, and I knew I wasn’t perfect.  My youth group leader asked me one night if I thought I was going to heaven.  I thought about it, and said, “No – I don’t think so… I’m not good enough.”  Since I had already professed to be a Christian, I think my answer came as a surprise to him, so he immediately opened his Bible to show me several passages of Scripture that helped me to understand that apart from Jesus Christ, we all fall short of the glory of God and stand helpless before Him, but that when we are truly trusting in Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord, we are covered by His redeeming work on the cross.  Over a period of time, I realized that I had been working really hard to pursue “purity” by working on my moral behaviour, and it was good enough to win the approval of my earthly authorities (parents, teachers, coaches, church members), but it wasn’t good enough to win the approval of my God (since even our best works are as “filthy rags” before Him, and it is Christ’s righteousness that earns our way into heaven, not our own).  A further realization was that the approval of those around me was all I was really after anyway.  Looking like I was doing it to be a better Christian was just part of winning favour in the eyes of the people I cherished.  It had little or nothing to do with having a heart for the Lord.  For our outward displays of moral behaviour to “count” before God, they have to originate from a wholehearted love for Him.

How do we cultivate that kind of single-mindedness and wholeheartedness?  Well, there’s no question that it cannot be done solely in our strength, or without the presence of the Holy Spirit.  But we don’t just sit back and let God do all the work either, so what should we be doing?  First and foremost, we need to be reading God’s word:  “How can a young man keep his way pure?  By guarding it according to your word. With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments! I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.”(Psalm 119:9-11).  This is where the battle for purity is won or lost.  We will not love God, or desire to honour Him with our whole being, if we don’t even know Him.  And we won’t know Him if we don’t even crack the spine of the Book that contains everything there is to know about Him and His requirements.

Think about someone you love deeply.  How did you come to love and cherish that person?  Before you could even begin to love that person, you had to have some form of interaction with them, right?  An introduction, a chat, an e-mail, a “friend request”, a phone call?  And how did your love deepen?  You kept communicating with that person, and listening to them.  You invested time and effort in them, and they in you.  How well would that relationship go if the calls and e-mails became less frequent, and the time spent together dropped off to nothing, and you each started going about your daily lives as if the other person didn’t exist?  Those wouldn’t exactly be the best conditions for love to flourish.  Is it so different with God?  Can we expect our love for Him to grow when we’re not spending any time with Him, not reading His “letter” to us, and not talking to Him?  No.  And yet we often make a choice to treat Him in just that way.

For many it can be a struggle to stay consistent in their devotions.  Although this inconsistency may be discouraging, it can also provide an impetus to change by way of revealing the contrast that exists between our conduct when we are in the Word and our conduct when we are not in the Word.   When we are reading, praying, and hiding God’s word in our hearts, we are far better equipped to flee the temptations to sin that we face on a daily basis.  When we’re not drawing near to God, we are much more likely to sin.  It’s really very simple to see the connection, and yet still so hard sometimes to stay consistent.  And even when we are consistent, the orientation of our heart can still be off base .

“We get up in the morning and read our Bible and practice outward obedience, but we are pouring as much if not more of our time and energy into comfort, pleasure, success, and being loved by people.  When it comes right down to it, we want God, but we want what other people have too.” (Brownback, p.15)

Isn’t this so true?  We want to have it both ways – we want to have one foot in the Kingdom and the other foot in the world, so that we can be sure we’re not depriving ourselves of anything.  I read a blog post entitled Choosing to Stay in the Pit, and in it Erin Davis commented on the rescue of the 33 Chilean miners who had been horrendously trapped underground for 69 days. She said this:

“Would any of  [the miners] decide that life in the pit might just be better than life on the surface and head back down the shaft just to be sure?

Would any of them trade freedom for captivity or light for darkness?

I don’t think so.

And yet that is what so many of us do.  As I’ve watched the rescued miners, I’ve been struck by how often we choose the pit of sin. We know it isn’t what’s best for us. We get that sin ultimately leads to bondage and that Christ died to set us free, but we make the choice to head back down the shaft toward sin just to make sure we’re not missing out on anything.

When we know God’s truth but choose not to believe it … when we read His Word but opt not to apply it to our lives … when we dabble with sin and imagine we won’t get caught, we are exchanging our freedom for captivity.”

We cannot pursue God and the purity He requires while we are also embracing the world.  When we do that, we are what the Bible calls “double-minded”, and it should go without saying that we cannot be single-minded (as we are called to be) and double-minded at the same time.  Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God?  Therefore, whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God…Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.  Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts you double-minded (James 4:4,8).

The world would have us believe that choosing to follow the Lord is foolish, and that it requires adherence to a long list of rules that leave no room for joy or pleasure.  But the opposite is true.

“When God calls on you to pursue purity, you are not being asked to do what will deprive you of joy.  In fact, you are being called to do what will bring you the greatest joy!  To choose purity is to put yourself under God’s blessing” (Alcorn,  p.23).

God is our creator and knows our inmost being.  He knows what will bring us good and what will do us harm.  He has set moral boundaries in place for our protection, not for our misery.  Randy Alcorn uses this helpful illustration:

“A smart traveler doesn’t curse guardrails.  He doesn’t whine, ‘That guardrail dented my fender!’  He looks over the cliff, sees demolished autos, and thanks God for guardrails.  God’s guardrails are His moral laws.  They stand between us and destruction.  They are there not to punish or deprive us, but to protect us” (Alcorn,  p.28).

There’s no disputing the fact that living a life of purity is not easy, but hopefully by now we can see that it is, for those who are children of God (or desire to be), both necessary and well worth the cost.  The wonderful news is that God himself equips us to pursue purity:  “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire.” (2 Peter 1:3,4)

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.” (Titus 2:11-14)

The world may entice us and lure us by our own desires, but as the Bible says, the pleasures of sin are “fleeting”, while the joy of knowing the Lord is everlasting (James 1:14-15; Hebrews 11:25).  “The world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” (I John 2:17)

 

(For more of the Scripture references explored at our meeting, as well as some helpful quotations, please see the session handout here:  Women’s Discipleship – Session 6 Purity – Jan 8 2011 )

********************************************

 

References:

Purity: A Godly Woman’s Adornment, by Lydia Brownback, 2010.

The Purity Principle:  God’s Safeguards for Life’s Dangerous Trails, by Randy Alcorn, 2003.

Lies Young Women Believe blog post:  http://www.liesyoungwomenbelieve.com/index.php?id=600

Gently Restore, and Go and Be Reconciled

December 13, 2010

At Saturday’s Women’s Discipleship meeting we discussed the last 2 “G’s” of Gospel peacemaking as they are described in Ken Sande’s book, The Peacemaker.   We again worked off of the handout that was given out in October (it can be viewed by clicking on the link to it a couple of posts back).

Last time, we dealt with how we must examine ourselves and our own contributions to conflicts with others before we turn our focus outward.  At this meeting we talked about what we are called to do once we’ve addressed our own heart and actions, and we find that there is still sin on someone else’s part that needs to be confronted.  This step requires wisdom, humility and gentleness, otherwise it can quickly end up escalating the conflict instead of resolving it.  Sande gives the example of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well, highlighting how He did not use direct confrontation by dropping the hammers of the law, but rather used the indirect approach to accomplish His purposes in that situation.  It is clear in the passage (John 4:7-30) that Jesus was well aware of the details of this woman’s life, but He didn’t strike up the conversation by saying, “Woman – I know you have had 5 husbands and are now with someone who isn’t your husband.  You adulteress!  You are a terrible sinner!  Have you no respect for the law of your Father in heaven? “.  No, instead Jesus shared this good news with her: “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty forever.  The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”.  This secured the interest of the woman, and Jesus went on to engage her in a dialogue that eventually revealed her sin.  This goes to show that we can be just as effective, or even more effective, with a gentler approach that prompts the other person to initiate some form of self-assessment regarding the matter, than if we just come at them “bluntly describing  their wrongs” .  It also shows us that Jesus’ main concern was to bring the light of the gospel into the darkness of the woman’s heart.

The apostle Paul was also skilled in this regard.  He had to bring many sin issues to the attention of the recipients of his New Testament letters, but he started out by greeting them graciously with a reminder of the wonderful gift of forgiveness and gospel hope that they had been given.  He reminded the Corinthians of their identity in Christ, and of His enabling power, before going on to deal with the divisions and terrible sins in the church.  His letters to the Galatians, Colossians and Ephesians begin with long and detailed descriptions of God’s redemptive plan that would have served to encourage the people and motivate them to conform more to the image of Christ.  As Sande says in the book, “What a marvelous way to set the stage for repentance and change!…As [the indicated passages] show, when we need to talk to others about their faults, we should ask for God’s help to resist our tendency to hammer people into submission by dwelling on their failures.  Of course, we sometimes need to show them where they have sinned and fallen short of God’s ways.  But that should not be the primary focus of our words, because judgment inevitably discourages.  With God’s help we can instead offer hope by drawing attention to the wonderful news that God has forgiven our sins through Christ and is eager to help us change our ways.” (pg 164)  As Ken Sande wraps up this section on Bringing Hope through the Gospel (in the chapter “Speak the Truth in Love”), he makes this important observation about himself: “…I realized that I could not consistently weave the gospel into my conversations with others until the gospel was woven deeply into my own heart.  God showed me that I am a natural ‘law speaker’; I bring judgment much more easily than I bring grace.  When I saw this, I began praying for God to give me a major heart change, to make the gospel central to everything I think, say, and do.”  I’m sure there are many of us who can identify with this and need to pray that same prayer.  I know that’s the case for me.

Well, I could go on and on, but this would just turn into a not-so-brief summary of Sande’s book, so I shall try to give just a taste of some of Sande’s remaining points on these two G’s.  Sande goes on in the “Speak the Truth in Love” chapter to outline some very important aspects of effective communication, starting with active listening.  A key verse that I need to keep in my mind and heart more and more is this, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19).  If we listen first, and do it well, we may even discover that what we had planned to bring forward to the other party as being sinful on their part, was actually not what it seemed at all.  The listening part may reveal to you that it was all just one big misunderstanding, and that no ill-intent was ever there to begin with.  But if there’s still something left to be said, we must use our tongue wisely, be charitable and loving, and not talk down to the person in a self-righteous manner.  We must choose a good time and place for discussion, and do our very best to meet in person.  In this day and age, it can be very tempting to deal with problems by e-mailing or texting, instead of talking.  I know that for myself, I can pull my thoughts together far better in an e-mail than I can when just talking in person.  But we must remember that the recipient of an e-mail or a text can interpret our message with the tone of their choosing, and it may not match our intended tone.  What you mean in jest might be taken quite personally, or conversely, what you mean to be taken very seriously, could be taken quite lightly.  Or the “love” part of “speaking the truth in love” might appear to the other person to be missing.  I may fumble around and grope for words when I speak to someone in person, but at least by their response I can tell if they’re understanding me, and I have the immediate opportunity to make a correction if they have taken something the wrong way.  So while there is definitely a place for e-mails and texts, we should tread carefully.

Going to someone to address a conflict is step 2 in “the Matthew 18 process” of conflict resolution.  The first step is to overlook the offense if possible (ie. when the offense has not created a wall between you, and has not “caused serious harm to God’s reputation, to others, or to the offender”).  If it is not possible, then we go to step 2 where we talk in private, approaching in the ways addressed above.  “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother” (Mt 18:15)  Step 3 is where we have to take it before one or two others who can help to mediate, if talking it out one on one was not successful, “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses” (Mt 18:16).  The fourth step, taking it before the church, happens when all other steps have failed and the offending party requires church discipline, “If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector” (Mt 18:17).  (For more details about the latter stages in the process, please see the book).

The last “G”, Go and Be Reconciled, has to do with forgiveness.  The question we must ask ourselves is this:  “How can I demonstrate the forgiveness of God and encourage a reasonable solution to this conflict?”  As Christians we are called to forgive as we have been forgiven:  “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” (Col 3:12,13)  This is a tall order when we consider what God’s forgiveness looks like:

“For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Jer 31:34b)

“As far as the east is from the west,so far does he remove our transgressions from us. (Ps 103:12)

“If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?  But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. (Ps 130:3-4)

“Through forgiveness God tears down the walls that our sins have built, and he opens the way for a renewed relationship with him.  This is exactly what we must do if we are to forgive as the Lord forgives us:  We must release the person who has wronged us from the penalty of being separated from us.  We must not hold wrongs against others, not think about the wrongs, and not punish others for them.  Therefore, forgiveness may be described as a decision to make four promises:

“I will not dwell on this incident.”

“I will not bring up this incident again and use it against you.”

“I will not talk to others about this incident.”

“I will not let this incident stand between us or hinder our personal relationship.”

(The Peacemaker, pg 209)

Or as summarized in The Young Peacemaker for children:  “Good thought, Hurt you not, Gossip never, Friends forever”.

Forgiveness sure isn’t easy, but it’s necessary because God told us it’s necessary.  If we are the undeserving recipients of God’s amazing and infinite grace in His forgiveness of our many sins, then who are we to withhold such grace and forgiveness from others?

“For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (Mt 6:14,15)

Glorify God, and Get the Log Out of Your Own Eye

November 6, 2010

My original intention for today’s Women’s Discipleship gathering was to finish the summary of “the 4 G’s” of Gospel peacemaking (based on Ken Sande’s book The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict).  Well, as is often the case, we did not get as far as I thought we might…but that’s not a bad thing!  We discussed how we, as Christians, are to approach conflict opportunistically, addressing each conflict in a way that glorifies God, serves others, and causes us to grow to be more like Christ.  These opportunities give rise to the four basic principles (G’s) of peacemaking.

Today we looked at the first two G’s:  “Glorify God”, and “Get the log out of your own eye”.

The question we need to ask ourselves for the first “G” is, “How can I please and honour God in this conflict?”

We can glorify God by trusting Him, obeying Him, imitating Him and acknowledging Him:

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” (Proverbs 3:5-7)

“[Jesus said] ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.'” (John 14:15)

“By this my father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” (John 15:8)

“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.  And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:1,2)

“…for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13)

Point to ponder:  If we are not glorifying God, we’re glorifying someone or something else.

The question we need to ask ourselves for the second “G” is, “How can I show Jesus’ work in me by taking responsibility for my contribution to the conflict?”

This is the hard part!  Who among us enjoys facing her own sin?  I know I don’t.

Matthew 7:3-5 says, “Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?  Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye’, when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye”.

It is our responsibility to examine ourselves first, before we turn our focus outward.  What are the logs in your eye?  Have you had a sinful attitude that has led to, or escalated, a conflict unnecessarily?  Negative thoughts, oversensitivity and a critical spirit can make a mountain out of a mole hill in a hurry.  What about your words?  We use our tongue as a weapon when we grumble, complain, use reckless words, speak falsely, gossip, slander, speak idly, etc…  “[The human tongue] is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.  With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God.  From the same mouth come blessing and cursing.  My brothers, these things ought not to be so.” (James 3:8b-10).

And what about your actions?  Are you guilty of any of these sins in your situation:  uncontrolled anger, bitterness, vengeance, evil/malicious thoughts, sexual immorality, substance abuse, laziness, defensiveness, self-justification, stubbornness, resistance to godly advice, greed, deficient work, withholding mercy and forgiveness, improper concessions, compulsive behaviour, breaking your word, misusing authority, rebelling against authority, failing to treat others as you want to be treated?  And have any idols influenced your behaviour:  lusts of the flesh, pride, love of money, fear of others/reputation, good things that you want too much?  We need to answer these questions in order to understand how our own sin has contributed to our conflicts.  And when we have examined ourselves thoroughly, and have identified our degree of responsibility for the conflict, it’s time to…confess.

Confession is hard, and requires true humility, but it is a very crucial step towards resolution and reconciliation.  Consider Ken Sande’s 7 A’s of confession the next time you have to confess your sin and apologize to an offended party (whether it is your husband, mom, dad, brother, sister, friend, co-worker, etc…):

1. Address Everyone Involved (God first, then everyone else)

2. Avoid “If, But, Maybe” (Apologies that include these words are token apologies that enable the offender to get away without really acknowledging any wrongdoing on their part)

3. Admit Specifically (Communicates that you are taking ownership of exactly what you did wrong – both against God and against the other party)

4. Acknowledge the Hurt (eg. “You must have felt embarrassed when I said those things”.  Means you have considered the other person beyond yourself)

5. Accept the Consequences (Adds credibility to your confession if you do not resist the consequences of your actions)

6. Alter your Behaviour (Don’t just admit your wrong, but identify the areas you will prayerfully address to prevent this sin from happening again)

7. Ask for Forgiveness [and Allow for time] (Remember, it may take time for someone to forgive you of a serious offense – don’t try to guilt them into forgiving you right away)

I have really appreciated Ken Sande’s book.  Much of what you see in this post is borrowed and paraphrased from that book.  If you haven’t read it, I would strongly recommend that you add it to your reading list.  It would be well worth the investment of time and money.

To see the handout that was used in today’s session, please see the post from November 5th, and click on the link to the October 2nd/November 6th handout.

Stay tuned for the next session (Dec 11) and its summary, which will address the last two “G’s”: Gently Restore, and Go and be reconciled.