Two Sundays ago, I preached on the Great Commission and said that Discipleship will mean challenging people about things they don’t want to be challenged about. I said
“Teaching people to obey Christ will mean being willing to challenge and correct. You will not always be popular. In fact, you will often be unpopular for it. You will have to say deeply uncomfortable things to people
‘No, you cannot date a non-Christian’
‘I know you will find this hard but God calls you to stay with your husband/wife through good times and bad and not give up on your marriage.’
‘You must wait until you are married before you share a bed together.’
‘What you are doing/saying is dishonest. You need to fess up and tell the truth even if it will make life awkward for you.’
‘What you just told those three people in your small group ‘in confidence for prayer’ was in fact gossip and it has to stop.’
And we could go on. Each time, you will be challenging people about difficult things. You will be concerned about the danger of legalism, that they just try to follow some rules. They will be overwhelmed thinking that it is impossible to change…”
I thought it would be useful to pick up on a couple of those statements and explain a bit more about why they are important to discipleship. As soon as we challenge believers about things like dating, sex and relationships, we are going to be accused of “laying down the Law” and if we are challenged on those things then we are going to feel like we are being subject to Legalism.
Here I want to deal with the whole question of dating and sex.
What the Bible teaches about sex before marriage
We can’t talk about sex Biblically without talking about marriage. In the Old Testament, the idea is so ingrained that you leave your family to be united with your spouse at a specific time that when someone is found to have had sex before marriage then the expectation is that you quickly make amends by paying the bridal price and getting married.
“If a man seduces a virgin who is not engaged to anyone and has sex with her, he must pay the customary bride price and marry her. 17 But if her father refuses to let him marry her, the man must still pay him an amount equal to the bride price of a virgin.”
In 1 Corinthians 7:1-2, the choice is made absolutely clear between faithful marriage and complete abstinence.
“Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations.[a] 2 But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.”
Marriage is to be honoured and protected.
4 Give honour to marriage, and remain faithful to one another in marriage. God will surely judge people who are immoral and those who commit adultery.”
Note here the distinction between adultery where someone is unfaithful and pursues sex with someone outside of their marriage and sexual immorality referring to sexual relatinos outside of marriage in general, regardless of whether either party is already married to someone else.
So the Bible calls us to be faithful in marriage and to wait until we are married before engaging in sexual relationships.
Here’s four reasons why this is particularly challenging.
- When you are falling in love with someone then you will be drawn to them physically. At times, sexual intimacy will feel impossible to resist. By the way, we assume that this is something for teenagers and young people in their 20s who are doe eyed and head over heels in love, however the challenge is as real for more mature people.
- The world around us has detached sexual pleasure from its place in marriage. The pressure is on to conform to our culture
- The World’s wisdom goes on to teach us that sexual compatibility is essential to a lasting relationship and so before you rush into a life-long commitment you must make sure you are compatibile.
A question of compatibility
Actually, that third point is very important and I’d like to take a little bit of time to deal with the issue of compatibility. You see, whilst we might balk at the crassness of “Try before you buy” language I think there is an extent to which we buy into the whole compatibility fear issue. This happens because:
We have bought into a Disney type, romanticised view of relationships where each of us is looking out for our one perfect partner.
So, a lot of people live in fear that either they will never meet the perfect person (or miss them because they did not know what they were looking for) or that they will end up trapped in a less than ideal relationship with someone who was never right for them.
Tim Keller cuts through the romanticsed fairy tale virw in the Meaning of Marriage when he says “You never marry the right person.” Did you get that. You won’t or you didn’t marry Mr Right or Mrs perfect. This is because
- – Anything that is worthwhile and has value will take patience and hard work. We should not assume that love will just come easily. It is worth working for.
- – You marry someone who will change -and so will you
This happens in the context of a messy and fallen world so that:
“Over the years you will got through seasons in which you have to learn to love a person who you didn’t marry, who is something of a stranger. You will have to make changes that you don’t want to make, and so will your spouse. The journey may eventually take you into a strong tender, joyful marriage. But it is not because you married the perfectly compatible person. That person doesn’t exist.”
Don’t lose sight in those sobering words of the wonderful hope that “a strong tender, joyful marriage” is possible but don’t try and find it through the fairytale.
A second reason why we buy into the compatibility myth is because:
We are thinking about relationships in contract terms where we partner up with someone in order to get something out of it for me.
In other words, sin causes us to be selfish. I expect sexual fulfilment, the best cooking, stimulating conversation, a comfortable house to live in, clever, polite, talented children etc and I expect my spouse to deliver those things to me. Why? Well, very simply because I’m worth it and I deserve it. Oh, and I’ve used the more obviously “worldly” desires here but I think we can do the same with more spiritualised examples.
At some point, we just need to be direct with ourselves and each other and say “Get over yourself.” Or, as the apostle Paul would put it
“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Ephesians 5:21).
I should not go into marriage expecting everything to be worked out for me and for my spouse to meet my needs. Indeed, if I look to them for satisfaction, fulfilment etc then I place a heavy, unfair burden on then and I risk an idolatrous relationship. Rather, as Keller argues in his book, we go into the marriage on the basis of having already received God’s lavious grace poured out on our lives.
Don’t put the cart before the horse
Quite often I’ve heard the reasoning go something like this. “Sex is an incredible gift from God and he really wants you to enjoy it. However, there’s a right time and place to enjoy it -and that is in marriage.”
Now, to some extent that’s not a bad reason but I think it falls short. It has got things the wrong way around. Sex is the gift and whilst we are to enjoy it in marriage, the primary focus is on “when do I get to unwrap the present I’ve been desperately looking forward to.”
Here are two “present” examples to help us see this. The first one is of the child walking into the lounge on Christmas morning and seeing their presents around the tree. Their eyes are on one big present wrapped in shiny paper. That’s all they care about and so they can’t really enjoy opening all the other presents until they get to that one. To take it further, suppose that actually the big present isn’t the one that has cost the most, wasn’t the primary present that his parents bought him. Suppose that present lies neglected in a corner, unopened.
The second example is of a child opening their big present. It’s some kind of electronic device. Their dad says to them “You’ll need this too.” It’s a smaller package. They unwrap it to find a set of batteries. In our reasoning, we treat sex as the present and marriage as the batteries that enable us to enjoy the gift. But what if marriage is the present and sex is more like the batteries.
God gives us this incredible gift of marriage. It’s something to be enjoyed. This is actually a gift both to the couple and to the wider church. You see, in marriage we are meant to serve God’s purposes. One of the subsidiary gifts that God gives to help us enjoy and fulfil the purposes of our marriage is sexual union.
The commitment question
In our last article, we saw that marriage locks us in to a faithful relationship. This helps us to see a very practical reason for why we should wait until marriage. Sex makes us exposed and vulnerable to our partner. Sex draws us into precious and fragile intimacy. Sex is risky. Going into sex on the basis that if the other person or the experience does not match up then I will quit once again is dangerous and destructive.
When you get married, you commit to that person “For richer, for poorer. For better for worse. In sickness and in health. Until death do us part.” In other words, I don’t give up, opt out, walk away if the sex does not meet my expectation. Sex seals a covenant union.
Finally, when we say no to temptation we act as witnesses to the Gospel. We say that we trust God through his Holy Spirit to come and fill us to enable us to resist temptation and to bear the fruit of the Spirit which includes self-control.
 We’ve already published articles on dating a non-Christian and marriage and divorce. Check out https://faithroots.net/2017/06/26/can-a-christian-date-a-non-christian/ and https://faithroots.net/2017/07/20/why-marriage-is-permanent/
 Exodus 22:16-17.
 1 Corinthians 7:2,
 Hewbrews 13:4.
 Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 37.
 Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 37.
 Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 38.
 Tim Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 39.