Lord's Day Liturgy

Cute Covenant Couples

Marriage is God’s institution, and it is glorious. The marriage bed is God’s gift, and it is honorable. More marriage, more sex, more cute covenant couples (C3), more kids, is all more blessing. But the Lord who blesses those who fear Him avenges those who trespass on sexual property that isn’t theirs.

There are other sins, too. But sexual sins are specifically called out from others as “against (one’s) own body” (1 Corinthians 6:18). They damage us, they have a unique set of consequences, and in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8 they are judged by the Lord.

This will be the last exhortation in this mini-series on how trespassers will be prosecuted. God’s will is our sanctification, namely that we abstain from sexual immorality, that we do not transgress and defraud our brothers, and it’s not just because of personal or community issues. We ought to be concerned about this matter:

because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore, whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to you. (verses 6b-8)

It really is the Avenger, the One who attends to what is right. The Lord takes action against those who have caused harm or injustice.

We’ve been called not to hook up, but to be holy. We’ve been called not to play around with sexual mud pies, but to enjoy the pleasures of purity. We’ve been called to submit our God-given physical and emotional and sexual desires and abilities to God Himself. He cares. Don’t disregard God.

Lord's Day Liturgy

A Brotherly Metaphor

In this series of exhortations to confessions I think we need two more looks into the mirror of 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8, so one more after this one.

Here is the cornerstone of the Bible’s teaching on how Christians of different genders are to treat each other. This applies to older, married men and women, but especially in this paragraph about God’s will for the unmarried-but-looking. Paul’s premise for not trespassing or defrauding is that we are family.

that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter

There are at least two parts of this premise. The first part relates to the fact that we should have great affection for and respect toward each other in the family of God. We should watch against temptations to hurt or sin against our brothers, and especially in this context, against the future spouses of those we relate to now.

But the second part of this premise, which is perhaps not as obvious here in verse 6 alone, is that in this family, a young man should treat a young lady as his sister. Remember 1 Timothy 5:1-2: “the younger women as sisters in all purity!

Guys, she is your sister. “Oh, but that is just a metaphor.” So true. And what is that metaphor for? It is a metaphor to illustrate the purity, the protection, and the honor to be pursued in the relationship.

For sake of a narrative illustration, how would you react if I defended my sister against a bully who was attacking her? You would say that’s right, indeed, it was my duty. But what if you heard that I had taken advantage of my sister, or had molested her in any way? You would most certainly say that is gross. It would be wrong no matter who it was, but especially so for a brother.

What is helping us not be conformed to this world in our sexual morality? The stories that entertain us today work against God’s will for our sanctification as brothers and sisters in Christ. The dating system is designed to pair up people and excite romantic passion from the start. It’s goal is to move a couple out from under the watchful eye of parents and other authorities so that boys and girls can start acting like more than siblings…and to start acting like they are spouses. It doesn’t end up well very often. Don’t awaken that love before it’s time.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Our Own

Last week we considered Paul’s prohibition of trespassing and defrauding in 1 Thessalonians 4:6. The analogy relates to property. We asked what is the owned property? The answer is one’s body and passions, parts and heart. We should also ask, Who is the proper owner of the property? The owner of your passion? The owner of your date’s passion? A couple observations point out it’s not you.

If you were the owner of your passion:

  • You could give it away whenever you wanted
  • You could give it away to whoever you wanted

The implications of 1 Corinthians 7:1-4 are unmistakable. The proper owner of your passion is your spouse (or, for parents talking to their kids, the kid’s future spouse.) And the proper owner of your partner’s passion is THEIR FUTURE SPOUSE. Just because someone is willing to give you their heart doesn’t mean it’s theirs to give in the first place.

I suppose, if it were even possible, you could time travel into the future and find out who your date’s future spouse was going to be and you could ask for their permission. But what your question sound like? Would you ask the future spouse if they minded if you…held hands? Hugged? Kissed? Fondled? Would you ask them if they minded you just being best friends? Sharing the intimate thoughts of your hearts with each other?

This is what I mean when I talk about “giving your heart away.” When God brings a spouse to you in His timing, what will you need to tell them? How much will you have given away, to how many other people? Will you have regrets about where you directed your affections? Will you take memories with you that you didn’t need to?

So, the sexual passion and intimacy of your date, your boyfriend, your girlfriend, whatever, is NOT YOUR PROPERTY.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Not Trespassing on Sexual Passion and Parts

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:

  1. What is the owned property?
  2. 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.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Man’s Chief Blessing

God’s will is that we abstain from sexual immorality. There are numerous sins in this category, though I think Paul especially had in mind sex before marriage based on the transgressing and defrauding a brother comment in verse 6. But one thing all the sexual and gender corruption and confusion have in common is a wrong view of God.

Each one should have possession of his body and a priority on holiness and honor “not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (1 Thessalonians 4:5).

Here the Gentiles/unbelievers have replaced theology proper with an alternative philosophy. Knowing God keeps things in order. He shows us what and who and when and how much to love. Those who know God do not despise the body God gave us, but those who do not know God often serve their body as god. Christians do not devalue sexual desire (at least not when we’re consistent with God’s Word, for example, Proverbs 5:18-19), but if we do not know God then sexual desire leads us like an ox to the slaughter (Proverbs 7:22-23).

The Bible, and even the law itself, are more than rules, the Dos and Do Nots. Revelation enables us to know God and to enjoy Him and it turns the lights on so that we can see what is truly pleasurable and truly fruitful. Knowing God is knowing what is better. Man’s chief end is also man’s chief blessing. Christian, God has called you to know Him and the blessings of holiness.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Adorned in Holiness and Honor

God desires the sanctification of our flesh, that is, we are called to glorify God in our bodies (see 1 Corinthians 6:20). One part of sanctification is to abstain from sexual immorality, though that states it negatively; it’s what we should avoid. There are more negatives in 1 Thessalonians 4:3-8: not living out of lust like Gentiles, not defrauding our brother, not disregarding God. But we often think about sanctification as the Do Nots, when there is as much about looking good.

The reason for immodesty (especially as related to sexual immorality) may include pride, but that’s a pride typically rooted in insecurity, or even just inability to see what is better, what’s more attractive. When we hear someone say, “How did she get out of the house looking like that?” we could interpret that has, “Why doesn’t anyone care about her?” That sort of care would not make her look worse.

Paul does require self-control in verse 4: “that each one of you know how to control his own body.” No dad? No excuse. Perverted culture? That makes it harder, and more important, not impossible.

But the self-control fits with the proper self-image (and this is what fathers, parents, church can model and teach). The entirety of verse 4 says: “that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor.” Holiness is special. Honor is valuable. Saints, that’s you.

I think about it like this for young ladies, though there’s application from a few angles for the guys. My daughters are like precious diamonds set in rings of gold. I’m responsible for protecting them, in process of finding someone better to value and protect them. I’m looking for a guy who’s got an idea of what he’s getting.

So I don’t let any dude come into the store, so to speak, and take the jewelry out for fun time around town. There’s no commitment. I’m looking for an honorable man. And if he’s holy and honorable, he won’t ask to play around with what he won’t pay for. This is expensive stuff we’re dealing with.

Holiness and honor includes what a person avoids, but they’re shown off in how a person is adorned.

Dads, teach your daughters about their honor and value. Moms, teach your daughters true adornment. Young ladies, don’t act pretentious, but as precious (see also 1 Peter 3:4). Young men, be self-controlled, and desire the splendor of holiness as much as you desire the security of a good job.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Intentional Distance

In my mind there is a life-and-death difference in current usage between the words avoid and abstain. When I was a young kid, my dad took me to a lot of high school football and basketball games, and at halftime he always found the smokers and lit his pipe. I was just a kid, so I stood with him. I was around it, but had no interest in joining in. I abstained from smoking.

That said, I don’t go anywhere near pits of rattle snakes. I’m not interested in them, and getting too close would be a killer. So I avoid those places.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:3 Paul told the Christians that God’s will was for their sanctification, and in this context sanctification meant: “that you abstain from sexual immortality.” We should understand that with more intentional distance than merely non-participation. The word in verse 3 has the idea of get some distance from, keep away from, avoid contact with.

We use the phrase “fight sin” sometimes, and that’s alright. But when it comes to sexual sins we’re not told to fight but to flee. “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18).

I understand that the narrative arc with Joseph in Genesis 39 is ultimately about God getting His man in place to spare Israel for sake of there being an Israel from which Jesus would be born generations later. But on the ground level, it illustrates that it is better to be naked fleeing from sin than have all your clothes on committing it. Of course fleeing with your clothes is better still.

Joseph was where he needed to be for work but, when temptation found him, he took off. We ought not seek out temptation locations. We should avoid triggers, certain persons or places, apps, screens/pics/videos, times, situations. It is God’s will that we do so.

Lord's Day Liturgy

Cute Is Not Enough

You know how when you’re in significant pain, that’s all you think about? And you tell yourself that if/when you get out of that pain, you will remember what it was like when you were in pain, and you will be extra thankful. But then the Lord relieves your pain, and you get about your work again, and you forget how bad it was. That’s how it is with a lot of things when we’re not in the middle of them, or in not the middle of helping/counseling/equipping someone who is.

When it comes to being single (and I’m not necessarily equating pain with singleness, though singleness does have challenges/burden), and especially single in a community that has a lot of spouses, and that talks about the family and the household, and maybe even more especially when single in a broader culture that loves to make sexual immorality seem like an identity, a status symbol, the “good life,” things are hard.

What do you do? There are a number of things, and I’m focusing on Paul’s instructions in 1 Thessalonians 4, that God’s will doesn’t change no matter the challenges.

For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; 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. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you. (1 Thessalonians 4:3–8, ESV)

This is addressed to the church, including married people, but it seems especially important for those who aren’t yet.

Sanctified sexuality is personal—that each one know how to control his own body. It is communal—that no one transgress and defraud his brother; how you behave affect the rest of the body. And it is theological, as in, a concern to God who has sent His Spirit to dwell in us—the Lord is the avenger in these things.

Christian, your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit; you are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God with your sexuality. Glorify God in your consecrated contentment while praying and waiting for God to provide a spouse. Glorify God in any relationship as you pursue finding out if you should be his/her spouse.

Parents, you also glorify God as you encourage your kids to be holy. It is part of our parental responsibility to help our kids acknowledge that as they pursue a good and God-given thing there are more important things than being “cute.” Maybe the couple is cute, but are they holy? They are not their own to do with whatever they want, nor are they their boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s property. They are the Lord’s first. Grandparents, too, can help as we think generationally about God’s will being sanctification.

Lord's Day Liturgy

The Opposite Sex and Sanctification

When we communicate we don’t just say words at a target, we share meaning through the words. Communication starts with what’s common between persons, what is shared. Even the phrase “speaking the same language” does double duty, not only in reference to using the same dialect but also to working with the same definitions. Conflicts often happen because the parties have a verbal disagreement; each person thinks differently about the same word.

In pre-marital counseling I always encourage couples to read a book or listen to a series about finances, not because I think they need to slavishly put all their money in envelopes, but so they learn to share the same vocabulary. What does it mean to be generous? Is $1.00 given out of every $10 more than she’s ever thought about giving before, or does generous mean only keeping the $1? The discussion gets them on the same spreadsheet, so to speak.

In a Christian community we share Christ. In Christ we live and move and have our being. That said, we not only have different gifts to serve one another as part of His Body, we have different expectations, different perspectives, different backgrounds, and different ideas about some community practices.

Our church community thinks marriage and family is great. We generally want our young men and young women to look forward to, and prepare for, if/when the Lord would bless them with those responsibilities. And yet, the community is made up of many families, and not all fathers talk the same way or share the same vision for getting their kids hooked up in covenant (which, even that phrase, means something different to a pagan these days).

There are a variety of approaches to the leave and cleave process, and spectrums from narrow to loose. And yet there are some principles that we should all know and agree on. When it comes to knowing God’s will, more than finding His will for your (or your child’s) spouse is recognizing His will for your (and your child’s) sanctification. “This is the will of God, your sanctification” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). We’re supposed to share a desire to please God in our walk (1 Thessalonians 4:1).

For the next few weeks we’re going to consider sanctification in community relationships between the opposite sex. This is a subject for all of us, whether you’re in a dating relationship or wish you were, or you fancy yourself a matchmaker, or you’re a friend to a courting couple, or you have a father’s responsibility. “God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness.” Amen.