I recently had a conversation with my wife that simultaneously caused me to rejoice and agonize. I have asked her if she minded me sharing through a medium like this, because I felt this brief story gives a common sentiment of many women – yet also provides many men with the opportunity to instill a practice in themselves that will hopefully counteract, or at the very least, fight against the feelings their own wife may get. Not all wives are the same though, so the overarching principle I hope is conveyed is personal sanctification and honoring your wife.
We had just finished eating dinner with my mother and were driving back home for the evening with our three little ones, when we passed a group of young college girls who were running. Now, I have long made it a practice to avert my eyes when passing by women that are wearing things that are more revealing. Yet what I noticed in this particular case was that my wife was watching to see if I was looking. She got quiet and watched out of the corner of her eye to see if I would be sneak a peak. When I asked why she was suddenly so quiet, I already knew the answer. “I was looking to see if you would be looking at them,” she said. The short, but healthy conversation led to her revealing insecurity in that moment and me reassuring her that I find her all the more lovely now than when we first met.
People can argue one way or the other on whether or not they should be wearing something revealing – but that is a conversation for another post; those who know me well enough already know my convictions on this matter also. What I want to focus on here is my own responsibility to not be a lustful man, regardless of what another woman is wearing. If it so happens to be that a woman were naked in front of me, I need to, as my pastor put it, “make good friends with the ground.” I have no right to take anyone in, in that manner, save my wife whom the Lord has given me; I am to delight only in her. There is no more shameful sentiment of a male than to say, “I can look, but I can’t touch.” If you’re Christ’s and your wife’s, then you can’t do either of those things, not blamelessly, at least.
Before we go too far, let it be known that this post is not about me thinking I am sanctimonious or that this area is not a struggle for me. I am a red-blooded man like any other, however, my convictions are that the scriptures are quite clear on matters of sexuality and lust. Therefore, I let my life by guided by these convictions and I intentionally guard myself. Though at times I have failed, I instill these practices and principles based on what the scriptures teach because I want to be in a right standing before God. I do so furthermore because I believe sin has a compounding affect, one that if not dealt with, leads to more severe manifestations of that sin. God forbid I think I am immune from partaking in gross, sexual misconduct against my God and my wife. God forbid I allow myself to be controlled by my impulses rather than demonstrating the mastery over my flesh that is granted in becoming a new creation.
Scripture gives no excuses when it comes to sin. We are to give it no room to advance in our lives. Some sins are even more severe than others (1 John 5:16-17) and others still require more urgent measures (Mark 9:43-48). I am convinced that many Christians are participating in activities which are devastating to their relationships with God and their wife, even if their wives are not offended by it. So many young men watch shows which do not honor the marriage covenant and portray women in the same light that is cast by rape culture or an ideology that believes sex is nothing sacred. As an aside, I am always curious to know what the correlation of their media choices are as it relates to their difficulties with pornography and lust. I’d be willing to bet it is a fairly strong one.
Yet I also have secondary and tertiary reasons why I hold these convictions based on other scriptural commands and basic wisdom. I mentioned earlier that my wife was watching to see if I would look at these young women (I didn’t). My wife has been incredibly good to me in bearing me three, wonderful children whom the Lord has gifted us with. That takes a toll on a woman’s body and while our culture is moving in two radically different directions (i.e. stick-figures or super voluptuous women are the polar-opposite paradigms for what makes a beautiful woman these days) I am seeking to do an altogether different thing. I am seeking to love my wife whether or not she stays attractive by worldly standards.
Truthfully, I am seeking to love my wife even in those moments when she is not easy to love, because let’s be perfectly honest: we are all difficult to love, being that we sin and we sin well – and there are plenty of times she must give that same grace for me. Scripture calls me to love my wife, not on the basis of attraction; not on condition of her own attitude or obedience to the scriptures; not on the basis of how much or how often we are enjoying the benefits of marriage. I am called, regardless of what is or what is not happening, to love my wife. Part of what that looks like is maintaining a covenant with my eyes so that I do not lust after any other woman. If this means I forego being entertained, so be it. There have been plenty of shows and movies we have cut simply because they express sexual conduct that is not to be part of the Christian’s life. I am hard-pressed to think that I’ll regret these choices in the presence of Christ.
Some wish to relegate these matters to conscience or personal liberty, but the reality of texts like 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 give us no room to make such an argument. Lord willing, I’ll have the opportunity to preach on this passage in the coming months and I can promise you that the exegetical, historical, and contextual information of this passage alone is altogether frightening to me, given how many people I know that continue to make justification for watching certain things. The context of this passage speaks to the will of God, in this instance, being that they conduct themselves in a manner consistent with holiness and sanctification in order to please God. More clearly, Paul is telling them that the will of God for them is that they do this by being sanctified, that is, set apart, from their pagan neighbors in respect to the sexual ethic.
The content of this being four-part: that you flee sexual immorality, that you possess your own vessel (what I believe to be a euphemism for one’s privates) in sanctification and honor, by way of negative command – not in a manner consistent with the Gentiles who do not know God, and that you do not defraud your brother in this matter, for the Lord is the avenger of all these things. All of these points are subordinate to the main clause: the apostle’s exhortation to the Thessalonians that they walk and please God by way of the commandments previously given to them, which is broken down in the following context of the passage. The motif is set among examples we can draw from Old Testament texts (i.e. God being the avenger of all these things; the Gentiles who do not know God; the parallels between invoking the name of Christ and OT passages where we find the phrase “Thus says the LORD”) and specifically highlights the nature of those who do not know God. The idea of lustful passion here conveys similar connotations to a primal, uncontrollable nature that expresses itself in some form of sexual immorality that is opposed to God’s own standard – not simply by way of unlawful disobedience to the Mosaic Law, but by a broad, categorical definition of sexual immorality that encompasses far more than the obvious sins that come to mind.
The end of this passage though leaves us with two things that are set in stark contrast with one another. The first being that the one who is rejecting this is not rejecting man, but God and that this is the same God who is giving His Spirit to you. The second being that those who do know God are not like this simply because they have been brought into a new way of living; they exist in the realm of sanctification and have been made clean, rather than existing in the realm of the unclean. These two realms of existence are at complete odds with one another and will never intersect. For this reason, there ought not be a hint of sexual immorality among them. This all brings the passage to close with a rejoinder to remind the reader of that process of sanctification, abiding in obedience (thereby not quenching the Spirit), and also the means by which one does this (sanctification being both a work of the Holy Spirit and of man walking in those good deeds).
My third reason is that my son is also watching me. I wish to train him what it looks like to be a real man who owns his sin, loves his wife, and bases attraction toward his potential wife by the quality of her soul and disposition toward God rather than just the way she looks. In reality, we all have things which draw our attractions, but I am hopeful my son doesn’t learn what I had to learn the hard way. Rather, I wish for him to embrace from a young age that beauty and charm is deceptive, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. Beyond this, I want him to learn what it actually looks like to love a woman by the standards of scripture. I want him to learn how to flee from the adulterer whose allure leads one down into Sheol. Let him choose lady wisdom over lady folly, who gains the favor foolish young men by way of her body’s appeal. Yet most importantly, I want him to understand that these things are not part of the Christian’s life and cannot be. How pitiful would it be that I cry out to my son for his soul – yet all the while my own foolish soul is in bondage of the harlot whose household is death?
Love almost always starts with a measure of lust toward that person; you just wind up making it right and honoring to God by abiding in obedience to the scriptures by getting married and abiding in a proper sexual ethic – but it doesn’t stop there. This involves even more than being reserved for your wife sexually, it involves the beauty of laying your life down for her each day in service for her edification. You protect her in all ways possible, not simply from other men who wish to do her harm, but from yourself. You hold her as your cherished wife, not resenting that process which happens to all people: we get old, ugly, and wrinkly. You cherish her because she fears the Lord and maintains a gentle and a quiet spirit, which are well pleasing to Him. You cherish her by leading her, and that leading looks quite like dying to self continually.
That’s what Complementarianism is at its finest – and if more of us men got this rather than making excuses about our own sinful habits, our wives would benefit all the more and people might start seeing it for the beautiful thing it actually is. It is designed to protect and cause her to flourish richly in God’s design for marriage, not for objectifying or denigrating her, or other women. You don’t do it for praise from her or anyone else, or merely when she’s looking. You suck it up, get tough on yourself, and love her regardless of whether or not you see the benefit. You work your butt off each and every day, come home and help with the kids and household, lead her in a loving manner toward Christ so that in you, she might see Him more clearly. The idea is one of leading through meekness, which to rob my pastor of yet another gem of wisdom, is strength; it is simply strength under control.
Featured Image: Old Couple by Marcel Oosterwijk; CC 2.0