Men – Stop Excusing Sexual Immorality & Love Your Wife

Men – Stop Excusing Sexual Immorality & Love Your Wife September 27, 2016

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

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  • Ian Chandler

    This is one of the few posts I’ve seen that takes an actually biblical view on sexual immorality. When Christ said that the way was narrow, He meant in every area of life. So many so-called Christians make themselves feel better because they’re “in the world but not of it.” Even worse, they rationalize their thoughts by arguing that temptation isn’t sin. But it takes a truly devoted individual to have such an exclusive view of monogamy.

    Something I’m curious to know your opinion about: Many married “Christian” men might argue that it’s acceptable to recognize other women as attractive because they are simply “appreciating beauty.” Or with your example of averting eyes: a man could be simply avoiding lust instead of eliminating it. I’m not trying to say that’s the case with you at all, but I do think some men could be fooling themselves––if they were to look, they would stumble.

    I, on the other hand, believe that recognizing attractiveness is exclusive as well. The only woman a Christian man should be attracted to is his wife. Once we see Christ, He is so loving that we can’t and don’t want to turn away, and everything else looks like garbage. I personally believe that applies to a relationship as well. What are your thoughts on that?

    • Gilsongraybert

      I tend to think most men who say things like, “I’m just admiring her beauty.” are using that as code for “I think she’s hot.” Now, I’ve been told I’m a bit of a pessimist, but I’ve also seen firsthand how that exact sentiment has demolished three marriages… or at least led to some sort of affair.

      However, I also would recognize that the way something should be (having attraction for one’s spouse alone) and how it often is (dealing with the struggle over sin) is not as clean. Not that the call to sanctification is not clear-cut, but that indwelling sin can be battled for all of one’s life. The idea is simply that one is in the act of repentance and battling that sin, rather than simply giving in every time.

      • Ian Chandler

        Grayson, I applaud your perspective immensely. It is rare to find a Christian man (or a Christian, for that matter) who holds up such a high level of devotion. God bless.

  • Rod Bristol

    If your love covenant requires looking away from the beauty of other people, honor it. However, personal policies, nobly intended and mutually agreeable as they may be, should not be projected on others as if they were the Law of God. (Remember Colossians 2:20–23.) You can appreciate your neighbor’s BMW and flower gardens without lusting after (coveting) them. Praise God for beauty: for it’s existence, for the capacity to recognize it, and for eyes to see it or ears to hear it. The awesome beauty of autumn amazes me; it’s beautiful because God gave us the capacity to see him in it.

    • Gilsongraybert

      Rod, are you trying to make it acceptable to take a woman in by giving that passage when its referent is food, drink, festivals, or adherence to the Sabbath? If you are defining “lust” as “covet,” I believe you may be projecting something onto the meaning and missing the point.

      • Rod Bristol

        Grayson, I can’t make anything acceptable or unacceptable. It’s not my job. 😉

        If “to take a woman in” means to see her beauty and thank God for it, then, in my opinion, it is acceptable. In my opinion, it’s also acceptable for a woman to admire the physique of a gorgeous athlete. If “to take a woman in” means to imagine how to possess her, how to take her in carnally, it’s wrong. It’s sin. It’s lust. It’s what David did when he watched Bathsheba bathing. (We know that because of what he did next.) If “to take a woman in” visually violates your promise to your wife, it’s wrong for you.

        Colossians 2 teaches a principle, based on specifics. Keeping rules doesn’t make one holy. Asceticism and severity to the body don’t prevent sin, such as lust. The human precepts Paul references doubtless include “super-holy” rabbinical teachings as well as the high-sounding (but wrong) philosophies of Aristotle and Plato, which were rampant in that world, and passed on to us by Christian philosophers, such as Augustine.

        In scripture, lust does mean covet, desire of what is not rightfully mine. (See Strong’s Greek #1937)

        Grace be with you!

        • Gilsongraybert

          Ok, I’m through Greek by this point, but this is common in all languages. The same word can be used to different effect and meaning – this is precisely the same thing that is happening hear. While lust may carry that connotation, the context defines a specific usage carrying also a pejorative, sexual connotation, and usage is not every gloss that is offered at the end of the day. I appreciate the desire you have to go to the Greek – but I would recommend learning the language if you are able to. If anything, It will change the way you read the bible (for the better). Not mandated to know the scriptures, of course, but if using the Greek, it is good to know it.

          Secondly, I fail to really see the difference between the lines you are trying to draw. I understand what you are saying – I think you are just drawing a line where there isn’t one in scripture. I would sincerely like to meet the man who is able to demarcate that line in his soul, appreciating the beauty of a woman’s body, without crossing that line. On an intellectual level – the idea is not horribly wrong (there is nothing inherently sinful or wrong about the body, but it is indeed a beautiful and good creation), but on a practical level where man is sown in sin, especially in a culture that is so obsessed with sex, I have no clue how one could possibly think that a good idea. Again, I would like to see the correlation between those who would say the same thing, and their difficulties with porn and lust.

          • Rod Bristol

            Of course, words are shaded by their context. In English, we generally say “lust” when the object of inordinate desire is power or sex. Acting on different kinds of inordinate desires causes different kinds of damage. Lying, stealing a car, embezzling funds, or defrauding an elderly person doesn’t harm people in the same way as rape or adultery.

            Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. 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 1:13–15 (ESV)

            The line I’m drawing is between enjoying the sight of a beautiful body and lusting for it. Beauty is a gift of God. Lust dishonors the person by planning or imagining possession of her body. Scripture does not connect seeing and lusting, except through an impure heart. If enjoying the sight of a beautiful body automatically produces lust, the problem is not the beautiful body, Jesus said that lust comes from an unclean heart. (Mark 7:14-23) (Arousal is not lust, even if somebody said it is.) If the heart is inclined to lust, the heart will lust after a woman in a burka, unless her dude escort looks really scary.

            Christian men should stop blaming women for their impure thoughts. Every man I know who was caught in sexual immorality said, “She seduced me.” That’s so lame!

            Peace!

          • Gilsongraybert

            If you agree words are shaded by their context – then let that happen with this! The point of bringing the Greek to the forefront is simply to say it is inappropriate for you to equate the two glosses in every scenario the word is used; it has been highlighted as an exegetical fallacy by scholars for a reason. Having a sexual connotation to lusting, when the conversation is explicitly about the sexual ethic, should be automatically assumed. What you are suggesting is a misnomer because that gloss simply doesn’t work in this context.

            “Arousal is not lust” will be the source of many problems. No one mentioned anything about it being completely the fault of the seductress – though I believe Solomon might say she has a part to play. This is not removing culpability from the man, who will surely be held to account for his own sin – but surely, a seductress has a vital role and is not blameless. I’m not precisely sure what any of that has to do with the fact that I said you are trying to draw a neat little line between arousal and lust.

            Especially when you consider the corpus of biblical lit. (See Galatians 5:19). Sexual immorality (porneia – which quite a broad term to begin with), then sensuality (which is also quite broad), and then impurity (which again, is fairly broad). All three of these assume a sexual meaning and point to the idea that there is not to be a hint of sexual immorality in the believers life.

            Again, I am hard-pressed to find the man who has demarcated that line so perfectly so as to separate his arousal from his lust. I mean, it is a common dictionary term that refers, in this context, to sexual excitement. Words have a meaning and you don’t just get to make the definition up as you please.

            You seem to have drunken deeply from a Freudian well and assumed your own definition of terms, as well as a subjective place to draw out that proverbial line of yours.

          • Rod Bristol

            I don’t equate every gloss of a given word. However it’s truly arbitrary to separate the meanings as far as you suggest or to conflate a range of words referring to related ideas into one meaning that applies everywhere any of the words appears. Lots of serious Bible students (yes, even those who can read Greek) see inordinate desire as the core meaning of ἐπιθυμέω and its relatives. Yes, the scripture uses a range of words to refer to various aspects of sexual pollution. They are not synonyms, but they are revolting, more-so when put in the same list. I don’t see how that impinges on what Jesus said about lust.

            We don’t know how much Jesus taught using the Greek language and how much he said in Aramaic. In any case, the gospels tell the story in Greek. We believe they tell it with integrity, At Matthew 5:28, Jesus said something equivalent to the English, “…everyone who looks at a woman “with lustful intent” (ESV) or “lustfully” (NIV) or “with lust” (NASB) has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Surely he spoke so his disciples could understand. He (Jesus and/or Matthew) uses ἐπιθυμῆσαι to name what a man should not do when he looks at a woman. The Septuagint version of the OT, the version used by Jesus and his disciples, at Exodus 20:17 uses ἐπιθυμήσεις to name what one should not do toward his neighbor’s wife. The disciples would have had a hard time not understanding that Jesus was referring to the Tenth Commandment, making it spiritually equivalent to the Seventh.

            If you ask around, you may find more men who know the difference between the God-given, automatic, physiological response of a man’s body to a woman and the unholy enterprise of desiring to use her or take her. Many people talk as if a male becomes an automaton when he gets a sexual urge. This awful idea goads some guys on to disaster and assails others with false guilt. Just like drowsiness or hunger, sexual arousal can be redirected, deferred, or even repressed (Freudian enough?). Arousal can be fanned into a flame of lust, or it can be set aside for later, as in after we get married and after the chores are done and until both spouses are ready. Any man who can’t or won’t direct his thoughts to the good needs to grow up. Even many unbelievers have the good sense to control themselves!

            One of our problems as Christians is that we shut ourselves up into “echo chambers,” where everybody we hear agrees with us. Just look around at how deeply embedded people are in their “tribes.”

            The fact that extreme Islamists severely obscure the appearance of women does not imply that bare faces are a hint of sexual immorality. The fact that some Christians cover women’s hair does not imply that beautiful, windblown hair is a hint of sexual immorality. The fact that some Christians cover women’s ankles does not imply that bare ankles are a hint of sexual immorality. One person’s scruples do not define morality for anybody else. We all have good reasons for our scruples, but it is dangerous to apply them to others.

            God is not necessarily most honored by the strictest application of scripture. Jesus provoked his contemporaries by transgressing rules they thought were really holy. They killed him because they thought he was leading God’s people astray. (John 7:12, 47)

            Thanks for taking the scriptures seriously!

          • Gilsongraybert

            Rod, I’m genuinely still waiting for your scripture based reasoning to support your argument. It makes rational sense – that is not what has held me back from understanding your opinion. The question is what you are grounding it in, and it seems at this point it is highly subjective rather than objective and prescriptive, which doesn’t quite jive with what scriptures were already brought to focus. If each man is doing what is right in his own eyes with regard to the sexual ethic in practical application to lust, how is that actually applied. It seems you are trying to bring the locus to “Christian freedom” rather than where it actually is, and again, trying to draw a line between a physiological response and the motives of the heart (and then arguing contrary later by saying even an unbeliever has control over himself). It seems those two statements are opposed to one another, and it also hints of gnostic ideas in separating the natural response of one’a body from the position of the soul. Would it not be more appropriate to think in like matter of one’a speech (what comes out of a man)?

          • Rod Bristol

            I’m not sure which of my points you think are not supported by scripture. I’ll recap a few.

            1. Personal preferences don’t qualify as legitimate doctrine for the church. Doctrine that goes beyond plain scripture discourages believers and raises barriers to belief in the gospel. I cited Colossians 2:20–23 to make that point. Here, I’ll pile on 1 Corinthians 9:19-23; 10:23-33 (pausing at v. 29); and Romans 14:1-15:7.

            2. I disagree with the implication (maybe you meant it to be more of an assertion) in your article that a man who enjoys looking at a woman, who is not his wife, is practicing immorality. I cited Jesus’ words on the matter in Matthew 5:18. The word of contention in the passage is translated “lust” in most English versions. The same word is also translated “covet” in other passages. You can see for yourself that the same Greek word in the version of the OT that Jesus and the disciples read is translated “covet” in most English versions at Exodus 20:17. Jesus did not forbid looking. He did not forbid looking with pleasure. He forbade looking at a woman as a thing. He forbade looking at a woman as something to be acquired, used, stolen, or disrespected. He forbade looking at a woman with immoral desire.

            The tone of your article suggests you are among the group that speaks as if erections are sinful, I pointed out, for clarity, that arousal is not lust. You have every right to feel guilty when you are sexually aroused. You also have every right to thank God for erections, since he invented them. You don’t have authority to shame anybody else.

            You have every right to look at the ground, shield your eyes, move to a desert island, or “If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out.” You don’t have authority to impose your opinions on others. You don’t have authority to shame any woman for what she chooses to wear or what skin she chooses to show. Again, I refer to Paul’s admonitions cited above, as well as others you surely know.

            I do believe in Christian freedom. Jesus sets us free, not to indulge every desire, but to become what God made us to be. But asceticism is not freedom in Christ. (Colossians 2:20-24)

            Ask anyone you meet if they see a difference between a physiological response and motives of the heart. I have trouble understanding why you can’t draw a line between them. Believers and unbelievers modulate their thinking and their actions every day. People sleep less than their body might prefer; they eat less; and they focus their minds on what is necessary and shut down inappropriate responses. Millions of people. Every day. Taking control of one’s body is contrary to the permissive branch of Gnosticism. Asceticism follows the restrictive branch of Gnosticism.

            Paul obviously advocates good behavior, despite plenty of temptations in 1 Thessalonians 4:4-5. Yes, one bad behavior Paul warns against is lust. Again, that word should be understood the way Jesus and Paul understood it, not inflated like the Talmud inflates certain points of the Law of Moses.

            I don’t have a proof text against what I see as your misunderstanding. One needs to look at the whole picture.

            “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” 2 Corinthians 3:17

          • Gilsongraybert

            Why do you seem to think forms of sexual immorality are personal preferences? That is specifically what I am asking you to provide some grounds for, to which you’ve only twisted scripture to do so. Christian freedom does not entail disobedience or impurity. The problem is that I see the cry of “legalism” when something like this comes up, when in reality it isn’t. You’ve simply inserted your case, ad extra, and gone contrary to common secular definitions. The burden of proof is on you to properly exegete passages and provide evidence that you, out of all common dictionaries, now have a proper definition of arousal. You’ve failed to do that, and decried this as asceticism, which is a red-herring to the actual argument at hand. Now, either provide some sort of proof that your definition is accurate, and then provide a means to show that you are not reading into the text your preconceived definition of “arousal” which goes contrary to a common definition in literally every dictionary.

          • Rod Bristol

            Dear Grayson,

            I really do want to be your friend and brother.

            Exodus 20:17, in the Greek version used by Jesus, and Matthew 5:28 use the SAME Greek word to name what a man should not do toward a woman. Generations of Bible translators have used the English words lust and covet in these passages. I am NOT twisting anything.

            I’ve looked at several “legitimate” English dictionaries. None of them equate arousal and lust. Arousal is not desire. Desire is a choice. Arousal is involuntary.

            Christian freedom is freedom FROM compulsions, not license to indulge every whim. Christian freedom is also freedom from judgement by human opinion. That’s abundantly clear from Paul’s writings.

            The actual “argument at hand” is that you are attempting to impose an ascetic preference as if it is a standard of morality. You are accusing men who enjoy the beauty of women (plural) of immorality. The burden of exegetical proof is on you.

            If any of this is unclear, please review my previous comments in this thread.

            I think I’ve said enough. Thanks for the conversation.

          • Gilsongraybert

            Rod, nothing has been unclear by way of comprehension throughout this entire conversation, I merely meant that I don’t quite “get” the justification that happens when one expresses what you do. Yes – enjoying the beauty of a woman and becoming aroused is morally wrong. That is quite clear from the text and to say otherwise practically separates the body from the soul and leaves one to be controlled by impulse rather than having mastery over the body. You can call it whatever you wish; in the end it is simply making excuse for indulging sexual immorality.