If I could get teenagers to wrestle well with one verse on how to think about their relationships with the opposite sex on their way toward pursuing a spouse, it would be 1 Thessalonians 4:6. Especially as parents think about the implications of just one verse, it would change a lot in what they allow/promote as “cute” and how they’d talk to and train their young people.
We’ve already seen that abstaining from sexual immorality is God’s will. It requires that we know how to control our bodies in holiness and honor and that we don’t live like unbelievers in the passion of lust. And then we get to verse 6.
that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. (1 Thessalonians 4:6 ESV)
Paul prohibits two sins (though they overlap in meaning to some degree): 1) Trespassing and 2) Defrauding.
The first word transgress means “to go beyond, to trespass, to cross over a boundary onto property that is not your own.” With the negative it has the force “that there be no going beyond.” See the sign with big letters, “NO TRESPASSING!”
The second word wrong (“defraud” NAS; “exploit” NRSV) means “to gain more than one is due, to take advantage of, to embezzle, to cheat, to exploit.” The verb itself does not indicate the nature of the wrong being done, but the idea of selfish and self-seeking fraud is involved.
Trespassing is going somewhere that isn’t yours, defrauding is taking something that isn’t yours.
These two metaphors depend on the idea of property.
And I think that there are two questions that beg an answer:
- What is the owned property?
- Who is the proper owner of this property?
Let’s answer the first one for now.
The easiest and most obvious answer to what is the property is the “body.” This is a good answer (see in 1 Corinthians 7:4 where married people are told, the husband has authority over his wife’s body and the wife has authority over her husband’s body). Based on this, I think it is fair to say that the owned property in question includes a person’s body.
But if we stop there we’re stuck at externals. I wonder if a better answer for what the owned property would be a person’s sexual passion. God’s will is not just an issue of physical purity, but of emotional purity. It isn’t just guarding your parts, but guarding your heart.
If one of God’s purposes for male/female sexuality is intimacy (in addition to procreation and pleasure), and if intimacy comes through shared passion, then the parts are just a means to an end. And do we not think that God is interested in preserving the purity of an experience of your soul much more than an extremity of your body? Obviously, yes.
If that isn’t true, then you could experience whatever level of sexual passion you wanted so long as the parts didn’t come into contact. There are a lot of Christians who play around here and give very little concern to crossing lines of emotional intimacy before marriage. The owned property is sexual passion, both yours and your partners, and then expressed through the body. The will of God includes not trespassing on, or cheating feelings out of, what isn’t yours.
More to come on this.