Thursday, February 23, 2017

Thursday, February 16, 2017

How do I change? - The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin, Part 5

(Warning: This article should be considered “not safe for children.”)
In this series, we’re working through the issues surrounding the common sexual sin of depriving one’s spouse.  So far, we’ve established that this is indeed a sin.  We’ve also considered why it is so dangerous, and we’ve spent the last couple of articles (here and here) looking at some of the most common questions raised about this issue.  In this article, we’ll address the question, “How do I change?”
This article assumes that you’ve considered the Scriptures and realize that depriving your spouse is sinful, it is not an option for you, and you want to change.  The course of action may depend somewhat on why you’ve struggled with this sin.
It could simply be that you don’t like sex.  If that’s the case, you’re not alone.  But as you’ve seen from the material we’ve already posted, the sexual relationship, like marriage as a whole, is a forum for serving another person.  You must adopt a biblical mindset.
The key to overcoming this issue will be to allow the Scriptures to transform your mind.  There are numerous places to go in the Scriptures to meditate on the truth that life as a disciple is one of service.  In addition to the ones we’ve referred to numerous times in this series (1 Cor 7:1-5; Eph 5:22-33), perhaps the best place to go is to the Gospels and pay close attention to how selflessly Jesus gave of Himself to those in need.  He regularly served to the point of exhaustion and beyond, and He made a point to teach this to His disciples.
There is one narrative in the Gospels that is particularly helpful.  It’s the story of the feeding of the 5,000 in Luke 9.  That may seem strange given our current subject matter.  “What does the feeding of the 5,000 have to do with helping me overcome the habit of depriving my spouse?”  The feeding of the 5,000 has lessons to teach us about any area of service.  It is very relevant to the situation we’re discussing because it found Jesus in the disciples confronted with a task that, humanly-speaking, they’d rather not have done.  The Lord and His disciples were exhausted and desiring some quality time alone together, when this huge crowd crashed their plans.  The disciples wanted to send the people away to fend for themselves, but Jesus said to them, “you give them something to eat.”  The disciples were incredulous.  Their response was essentially, “that’s impossible.”  Not only were the disciples exhausted and wanting to get alone with Jesus, but they thought there was no way on earth they could feed such a huge crowd!
The following narrative shows Jesus feeding that crowd through the disciples in perhaps the least efficient way conceivable in order to make a point to the disciples that it is a blessing to serve.  Jesus had the disciples themselves deliver the food by hand to all these people – 5,000 men not including women and children.  It would have taken hours.  And what was the result?  Afterward Jesus asked the disciples, “who do you say that I am?”  Peter answered, “The Christ of God.” 
This is significant.  By serving with Christ in a less than desirable circumstance, enabled by His power, they experienced Him in a way they had not before, and they knew then who He was.   
There are numerous lessons to glean from this narrative.  First, as the Lord’s disciples, we serve.  Jesus was teaching, “we serve.  That’s what I do, and that’s what you do as my disciple.” For those who are married, it could be said that marriage is their primary place of service to the Lord and another.  There is no more immediate arena for the expression of one's role as a disciple of Jesus Christ. 
Second, we should approach all service depending upon the strength of the Lord.  That’s what the disciples did in feeding this enormous crowd.  They were right to think they did not have the ability to feed the crowd.  But Jesus did have the ability.  And He did something amazing through them.  Regarding your sexual relationship, you may think, “I can’t do this.”  That may be true, but you have an omnipotent Savior who enables you by the power of the Spirit to walk in faithfulness.  Depend upon Him and He will do through you what you thought was impossible.
Third, when we obey in the most difficult of circumstances, depending fully upon the Lord, we will enjoy a growing intimacy with and knowledge of Him.  It was after the feeding of the 5,000 that the disciples finally made the good confession about the identity of the Lord.  It was through that intimate participation with Him in His work that they came to experience Him.  This is true in every area of life.  If you will obey Him by participating with Him in serving your spouse, you’ll not only experience deeper intimacy with your spouse, but with the Lord.
Fourth, consider the great blessing it is to be used by the Lord.  What a great privilege the disciples were given to be the ones through whom He performed this great miracle.  Did you know that the feeding of the 5,000 is the only miracle of the Lord that is recorded in all four Gospels?  (Not including the resurrection, which was technically accomplished by the Father.)  Jesus allowed the disciples to participate with Him in this.  What a blessing!  Now, consider that you are THE gift that God has given to your spouse for sexual fulfillment.  He has chosen to use you and you alone to bless your spouse. 
While you are allowing the Scriptures to transform your thinking on this issue, pray.  Pray that the Spirit will help you think rightly and give you the desire to serve your spouse.  Pray that He will give you joy in serving.  And pray that He will cause you to begin to enjoy having sex with your spouse.  Based upon counseling cases I’ve had, I would say that it is likely that if you will obey the Lord with the right heart, desiring to do the godly thing, and love your spouse by serving them in this way, you’ll find yourself enjoying your sexual relationship like you haven’t in the past. 
For some people, it is not simply that sex is undesirable, but it is physically difficult or painful.  A visit to your doctor would be beneficial.  There may be things that can be done medically to improve the situation.  Also, discuss it with your spouse.  Express your desire to serve your spouse in this area and brainstorm ways to deal with the situation. 
For others, the barrier to regular sexual relations is related to trauma from the past, either you’ve been abused or your marriage has been damaged by infidelity.  Such situations don’t lend themselves to easy counsel in a blog article.  The best thing to do would be to seek biblical counseling to work through those issues.  We’ve got counselors at Providence who would be blessed to help you.  Keep in mind that in Christ we have been given all things pertaining to life and godliness.   That is, there is no issue of salvation or sanctification that cannot be addressed from the Scriptures.  Whatever you’re dealing with, there is hope and help in the Lord Jesus.  All you need to do is ask, and we’ll get you connected to a biblical counselor. 
Unless I hear from some of you with specific questions related to this issue, this will be the last article in this series.  If you do have questions, you can email them to me or ask them in the comments section below.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

More Common Questions - The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin, Part 4

(Warning: This article should be considered “not safe for children.”)
In this series, we’re working through the issues surrounding the common sexual sin of depriving one’s spouse.  So far, we’ve established that this is indeed a sin.  We’ve also considered why it is so dangerous.  And last time we began to look at some of the most common questions raised about this issue.  In this article, we’ll continue with common questions.
“But my spouse never meets my needs.”  “Why should I do this for my spouse when my spouse almost never does anything for me?”  There could be many more ways of stating the same sentiment, but the basic idea is, “I don’t want to be the only one giving in this relationship.”  If you feel that way, you’re not weird.  Nobody wants to be the only one serving in a given relationship.  But just because we all feel that way doesn’t mean that it can keep us from doing what is right.
It’s possible that this question arises from yet another worldly lie about marriage and sexuality.  The lie says, “Sex is what I give in return for what I get.”  Surprisingly, there are many "Christian" marriage books that perpetuate this idea of "give in order to get."  But remember we have to train ourselves to spot and reject these lies.  We must replace them with the truth of the Word.  We’ve already noted that the Bible’s design for marriage is that it is not about self-fulfillment, but about serving someone else.  When we apply that principle to the sexual relationship, we realize that sex is not “what I give in return for what I get,” but rather it is simply “what I give.” 
There is a great country song from the 1990’s by Diamond Rio called “Meet in the Middle.”  It was back when country music wasn’t embarrassed to sound like country music.  It was a simpler time.  Anyway, the chorus is super catchy and the words are memorable:
I start walkin’ your way
You start walkin’ mine
We meet in the middle
‘Neath that old Georgia Pine
We gain a lot of ground
When we both give a little
Ain’t no road to long
When we meet in the middle.

The idea is that their relationship works because they know how to meet in the middle.  I love that song…but it’s terrible relationship advice, biblically-speaking.  The whole 50/50 relationship idea is dead wrong, and yet it’s unquestioned in the minds of many Christians. 
Did Jesus meet His bride half way, pouring out half His blood and then saying, “good luck”?  Did Paul exhort husbands to love their wives as Christ loved the church and gave half of Himself up for her?  Does the church submit to Christ 50% of the time?  Does Paul exhort wives to submit to their husbands in half of the matters that come up?  Of course, not.  The husband is to follow Christ’s example of pouring himself out.  Complete service.  And the wife is to follow the example of the church by submitting in all things (Eph 5:22-27). 
The biblical picture of marriage is one of both spouses giving 100% regardless of what they are receiving.  If you take a close look at all the commands given to husbands and wives in the Scriptures, including those we’ve referred to repeatedly in this series (1 Cor 7 and Eph 5), you’ll not find any commands conditioned upon the obedience of the other spouse.  In other words, the Holy Spirit did not move the apostle to write, “husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church…as long as they are submitting to you and respecting you.”  In 1 Cor 7, the command to meet the sexual needs of the spouse is not tagged with the condition, “if your spouse is meeting your needs, too.  Otherwise, hold out on them.” 
No, you and I are called to obey the Lord no matter what our spouses do.  We are commanded by our God to give all even if our spouses give none. 
And it appears that the Lord has given us the perfect tool to help us have the right frame of mind in that kind of situation.  To the slave serving an unjust master, Paul writes, render service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man… (Eph 6:7).  Likewise, to wives he writes, wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord (Eph 5:22).  In Col 3:17, we’re told to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus….  It is right for us to think of service to our spouses as ultimately service to the Lord.  This can make it easier to serve a spouse who is disobedient and uncaring. 
But we should also recognize that love seeks the highest good of another.  Service flows out of true love.  And so serving our spouses, whether we are receiving anything or not, when we are making the conscious decision to love them, can be a source of joy and fulfillment.  There is great joy in giving, not just receiving. 

A somewhat related question could be stated this way: “There is no closeness in other parts of our relationship, so that makes our sexual relationship feel something like a business transaction.  What should I do?”
First, talk to your spouse.  Share your thoughts on the issue.  Be sure to convey that this is not an ultimatum regarding the sexual relationship – you are committed to serving your spouse in that way no matter what.  But express that you want to deepen the intimacy of your relationship by broadening it to encompass every part of your lives. 
Second, formulate a plan together.  “What can we do to grow closer?”  Make it a priority to spend time together away from electronic devices and other distractions.  If you have young kids, get a sitter regularly, and go out on dates.  If you can’t afford a sitter, make a deal with another young couple to swap sitting services so that both couples can go out.  Talk about meaningful things: share your present concerns and future hopes.  Talk about spiritual matters.  Pray together.  Do family devotions.  In short, remove the meaningless things that are getting in between you and replace them with opportunities for meaningful interaction. 
Next time, we’ll talk about what to do if you struggle with this sin and you want to change. 

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Common Questions - The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin, Part 3

(Warning: This article should be considered “not safe for children.”)
In this series, we’re working through the issues surrounding the common sexual sin of depriving one’s spouse.  The first article established the biblical basis for considering this  a sexual sin.  The second article explored some of the reasons that this sin is so dangerous.  Now, we’re going to begin to consider some common questions and special situations.
A common question about this issue is “does this mean I can never say, ‘no’?”  This question could be answered in a couple of ways depending upon who is asking it.  If the person asking the question is someone who habitually says no, then the above is not really the most honest way to phrase the question.  A more honest way to phrase the question would be, “does this mean I can’t always say, ‘no’?”  This questioner may not be looking for true guidance for obedience, but an excuse to justify habitual disobedience.  To that questioner, we should suggest starting with a different question, one that begins with a desire to obey: “How can I change?”  We’ll address that question later in the series.
To the person who is not in the habit of saying no, but who knows that there are times when saying yes is difficult because of health reasons, fatigue, or other circumstances, the question could be answered differently: Discuss this with your spouse.  If your spouse realizes that the vast majority of the time, even when you’d rather not do it and even when you don’t feel well, you accommodate that desire, he or she should be willing to wait a few hours or so until you’re feeling better or until circumstances improve. 
We should also note that “this isn’t the best time” or “can we wait until [fill in the blank]?” is not the same thing as “no.”  All of us who are married, especially those with children, know that there are times that are simply inopportune.  1 Corinthians 7 does not give one spouse the right to demand immediate interaction from the other.  Asking to wait until a more opportune time is perfectly reasonable.  However, keep in mind that such an opportune time needs to be found quickly – if at all possible within hours, not days – otherwise, we’re losing the sense of 1 Corinthians 7, which teaches us that one reason for making this a priority is to avoid sexual temptation. 
A related issue/question could be phrased in a number of different ways, but could be boiled down to this: “My spouse and I are just on very different schedules.”  It’s quite common for work schedules to cause a situation where one spouse is exhausted when the other is not and vice versa.  In some marriages it may not be due to work schedules, but simply that an early bird married a night owl.  The result is that their respective times of sexual desire seldom coincide and frustration ensues. 
What to do?  First, let’s reject the lies that Hollywood and literature have sold us.  One such lie is that fulfilling sexuality is inherently spontaneous.  A closely related cousin is that fulfilling sexuality can only take place when both spouses desire it.  We naturally infer from these statements that non-spontaneous sexuality is unfulfilling and therefore not good, and sexuality that derives from one non-amorous spouse seeking to serve an amorous spouse is unfulfilling and therefore not good.  These are LIES.  Lies, lies, lies. 
Second, consider some counsel that from the world’s perspective is completely counter-intuitive: schedule it.  I’m serious.  Talk about when are the best times for you and your spouse to come together and plan on it.  The things that people intentionally make time for usually end up getting done.  The things that they do not plan for often do not.  Other things crowd them out by using up all available time and energy. 
If you think about your personal devotional life, you’ll see that this is true.  If you do not intentionally set aside time to spend with the Lord, but instead wait until a spontaneous moment presents itself, you’ll likely go days, weeks, or months without cracking a bible or engaging in concentrated prayer.  The same goes for many other activities in our lives.
If you find that one of you is always too tired, consider scheduling it.  Communication is paramount.  Find those times when fatigue is not such an issue and plan on it.  If necessary, remove other things from your life or move your schedule around.  Again, this is something that must be a priority.  Let’s face it – there are a lot of things that we spend our time and energy on that are not commanded in Scripture.  We cannot allow those things to crowd out the things that are commanded in Scripture.  The sexual relationship in marriage is one of those things.  
“Scheduling” doesn’t have to mean putting it on the calendar weeks ahead of time.  It could mean that kind of foresight, but it could also mean telling your spouse a few hours in advance that you’d like to come together.  There are numerous benefits to this kind of planning.  First, it can help your spouse prepare mentally, physically, and spiritually.  Second, it can allow you both to arrange for some uninterrupted time together.  Third, it demonstrates that you both have made it a priority and therefore care for one another and for the Lord. 
In the next article, we’ll consider other questions like, “Why should I do this for my spouse when my spouse does very little if anything for me?” 

Thursday, January 26, 2017

"Is it really that dangerous?" The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin, Pt 2

(Warning: This article could be considered “not safe for children.”)
In the first article of this series, we introduced the topic of a widely practiced, but seldom discussed sexual sin – depriving one’s spouse.  If you missed that article you can find it here.  In this article, let’s consider why this sexual sin is so dangerous.
First, depriving one’s spouse adopts the world’s rules for the use of God’s good gift.  This never turns out well.  God designed, created, and is Lord over marriage and sexuality.  He has designed them to work in a particular way.  When they are used in ways contrary to God’s design, it leads inevitably to heartache.  For example, according to God’s Word, the only appropriate context for sexual activity is the monogamous marriage of a man and woman.  When sexual activity takes place outside of that context, all kinds of problems ensue.  (Examples from Genesis alone: Gen16:1-6; 19:1-29; 19:30-38; 29:1-24; 34:1-31; 38:1-30; 35:22 [cf. 49:1-4]). 
In addition to that contextual boundary, God’s plan is for marriage/sexuality to be other-centered or service-oriented.  We learned this from 1 Cor 7:1-5 in our last article, but it is also the overarching picture derived from the Christ/Church depiction of marriage in Eph 5:22-33.  I am here to serve, is the God-intended attitude for every husband and every wife.  Regarding the sexual relationship, that attitude should take the form of, my sexual energy exists for the pleasure of my spouse.  That is why God gave it to me (1 Cor 7:3-4).
To deprive one’s spouse is to assume that the opposite is true, which is that my sexual energy exists for my pleasure.  This is the message that the world propagates.  It is the message that the world received from the god of this world, a message he first preached in the garden of Eden (Gen 3:1-7).  God gave boundaries for Adam and Eve in the garden, boundaries for their good lest they die.  The serpent contradicted God, questioned His motive, and accused Him of withholding something good.  By this, he introduced a new ethic, prefer yourself. Don’t listen to God. Do what you want.  And of course, following the devil’s rule in God’s world was disastrous.
The same principle applies in marital sexuality.  God has designed it to work one way, but when we bring in the world’s perverted ethic, difficulty follows. The sexual relationship in that case will not be a neutral component of the marriage, causing neither good nor bad.  Rather, that gift of sexuality will create frustration and strife instead of bliss and unity.  Bank on it. 
A second danger is that this sexual self-centeredness will permeate the rest of the marriage so that the whole atmosphere of the home will be one of self-fulfillment (the world’s ideal) rather than selfless service (God’s ideal).  Much of what is written above could be repeated here.  We cannot adopt the world’s thinking on marriage as a whole and expect marriage to function as God created it.  The world’s thinking on marriage is antithetical to God’s design.  If we think that we can quarantine self-centeredness to the sexual area of the marriage but have loving, selfless service in every other area, we are mistaken.  Do you know why?  Because this is a heart issue.  And the heart that says, “no” in the bedroom is the heart that you take with you into the living room and kitchen and everywhere else.    
A third danger is the danger most explicitly mentioned in 1 Cor 7:1-5: depriving one another can lead to sexual temptation.  Paul begins in v2 by writing, …but because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have is own wife and each woman her own husband.  Remember that the Corinthians were under the mistaken impression that ALL abstinence was good, including within marriage!  The apostle corrects this by teaching that marriage is part of God’s remedy for sexual temptation. 
So he commands sexual activity in marriage in v3 and forbids depriving one another in v5, after which he gives the reason for these commands: so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 
In the original language, all the verbs and pronouns there are plural.  So Paul is teaching that when we deprive our spouses, we put ourselves and our spouses in harm’s way.  We are either creating an atmosphere conducive to sexual temptation or exacerbating temptation that already exists.  We ought not be surprised then if a different sexual sin, either ours or our spouse’s, rocks the marriage.
When a husband or wife commits adultery or becomes involved with pornography or some other sexual sin – sometimes it is the case that that person’s spouse deprived them of sexual relations, exacerbating the sexual temptation.  Does that mean that the depriver is responsible for the sin of the adulterer?  Certainly not.  No one causes another to sin.  (And many people deprive their spouses without their spouses then giving into sexual temptation.  Therefore, putting a stumbling block in front of someone is not synonymous with causing them to sin.)  But I do believe that Paul would say that the depriver is guilty of the depriver’s sin – the sin of withholding sexual relations and thereby putting a stumbling block in front of the spouse.  In those cases, there have been two sexual sins, not one.  Some people may be troubled or even angered by this paragraph. I would just ask you to read 1 Cor 7:1-5 again and see if these things are not so.  When we deprive our spouses, we invite danger. 
Please understand, I don’t write these things to trouble those who have been hurt by the sexual sin of a spouse, but to warn all of us of the danger of depriving our spouses.  This is not a small thing.  We must treat it with seriousness.  
It is also not my intention to imply that the only reason to avoid any particular sin is the danger is poses to us.  The first and best reason to hate and kill any sin is that we love God.  That He tells us to do something or not do something should be good enough for us.  This issue should be no different.
“So, does that mean I can never say, ‘no’?”  This question and others will be considered next time, Lord willing.  Until then, if this is a sin you struggle with, prayerfully think about the dangers discussed here.  The Lord has designed good things for you.  And His commands regarding this area of marriage are for your good.  You can trust Him. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

The (un)Acceptable Sexual Sin

(This article could be considered “not safe for children.”  I’m not sure there are any children/teens who read this blog, but if your children do, you might want to read this first, before giving them the green light.)
When we think about sexual sin and its potential to destroy a marriage, most of us immediately assume that the sexual sin in view is pornography, adultery, or some other extra-marital perversion.  Certainly, those sins have laid waste to their share of marriages.  We’ve all seen it.  But I challenge you to consider that there is another sexual sin that plagues marriages perhaps even more pervasively than these.  It is a sin that is most likely not even considered a sexual sin by most people. And though we are warned against it and its dangers in God’s word, some may not even consider it a sin at all.  For this reason, it may be the most insidious sexual sin out there.
First of all, what is a sexual sin?  It is any violation of God’s standards for sexual conduct.  There are sins of commission – doing what God forbids.  And there are sins of omission – failing to do what God commands.  As we will see from the Scriptures, the sin I’m referring to is both a sexual sin of commission and a sexual sin of omission.
First Corinthians 7 is a goldmine for sexual and marital ethics in the New Testament.  “Should I marry and if so, when?”  “Is divorce biblical? If so, in what circumstances?”  “If I marry, whom may I marry?”  “Should sexual desire be a factor in my decision to marry or not marry?”  First Corinthians 7 answers these questions and a host of others. 
It begins by addressing an erroneous view held by some in the Corinthian church that abstaining from sex, even within marriage, was a virtue: Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" (1Cor 7:1).
So, beginning in v2, Paul shows that abstinence is intended outside of marriage, but is sinful inside of marriage. He writes, But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband (1Cor 7:2).  We know from other passages, like Eph5:22ff, that the ultimate purpose of marriage is to serve as a living picture of the relationship between Christ and the church.  But here we find that another purpose, a perhaps more immediately practical purpose, is to provide an appropriate context for sexual activity. 
From Genesis 2 on, we see that marital sexuality is a blessing from God.  It pleases Him for husbands and wives to enjoy their sexual union.  Conversely, sexual activity outside of marriage is universally sinful.  So the idea of the Corinthians, that it might be virtuous for married people to not have sexual relations, is backward.  And v2 corrects this idea by assuming again what is taught from the beginning of the Bible: sex outside of marriage is sinful and is to be avoided, but sin inside of marriage is blessed and is to be pursued.  But v2 goes further by teaching that sexual activity in marriage is a godly means of fighting sexual temptation. 
Paul continues in v3: The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband (1Cor 7:3).  Quite simply, this is a command to have sex with one’s spouse.  The Holman Christian Standard Bible reads, A husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife…  The New English Translation: A husband should give to his wife her sexual rights…  The most woodenly literal translation would be, “the husband must pay to the wife the obligation, and the wife to the husband.” 
All of these translations are good and pick up the sense of the text.  This verse assumes that a wife has a right to have sex with her husband, and it explicitly commands the husband to fulfill the wife’s right.  And vice-versa.  Now, what we assume from this verse – that one spouse has a right to have sex with the other spouse – we don’t have to assume for long because the apostle makes that truth explicit in the following verse:
For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does (1Cor 7:4).
This is startlingly counter-cultural in our modern context.  Our culture tells individuals that sexuality is ONLY about self-fulfillment and you are the master of your own sexuality.  Further, marriage itself is about self-fulfillment.  But this is precisely backward.  Now, what Paul writes in 1 Cor 7 may feel backward to us, but we must realize this is only because we’ve been indoctrinated by a culture ruled by the god of this world.  It is that indoctrination that is backward.  Right thinking about marriage is that it is about serving another and sexuality is about bringing pleasure to another.  Period.  This other-centeredness of marriage is clear from the picture of Christ and the church in Eph 5:22-33.  Christ gave Himself up for the church and the church submits to Christ.  This is intended to be reflected in marriage.  That is the right way to think about marriage and sexuality.
The command to have sex with one’s spouse is grounded in the truth of v4 that there is a cross-ownership of sexuality that takes place in marriage.  The idea expressed in v4 is that the husband’s sexuality does not belong to him.  It exists for the pleasure of his wife; she owns it.  Likewise, the wife’s sexuality does not belong to her.  It exists for the pleasure of her husband; he owns it. (By the way, this why masturbation is sinful.  In masturbation, you use sexual energy that does not belong to you for your own pleasure.  It violates the other-centered, Christ-and-the-Church design of marriage and sexuality.)
So Paul has given the positive command – have sexual relations with your spouse.  Then in v5 he continues by forbidding not having relations with your spouse: Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1Cor 7:5).
The negative command here is “do not deprive one another.”  “Deprive” is a word that deserves some thought.  It means to withhold something that is necessary.  In this context, it means to withhold something from someone to which they have a rightful claim, keeping back something that belongs to them.  Don’t do this, he writes.  If you’re going to abstain, it needs to be by agreement, for the purpose of prayer; and it needs to be temporary, otherwise you’re defeating the purpose that he began his argument with – you’re flirting with temptation. 
This means that when deciding whether or not to have sex with one’s spouse, the appropriate internal question to consider is not, “do I want to or feel like it?”, but rather, “does my spouse want to?”  Some people have the mistaken idea that a couple should only have relations when they both desire it at the same time.  This is wrong.  According to 1 Corinthians 7, they should do it anytime either one of them desires it.  Otherwise, they are depriving the spouse of something that belongs to them and they are exacerbating potential sexual temptation.
This teaching is part of God’s standard for sexuality in marriage.  We have it stated as a command (v3) and as a prohibition (v5).  To violate the command is a sin of omission.  To violate the prohibition is a sin of commission.  To deprive one’s spouse of sexual relations is sexual sin.  And if it is a pattern, it is habitual sexual sin.
And we’re not playing cheap word games by calling it sexual sin.  To violate God’s standard for sexuality is an inherently sexual sin.  It is to misuse God’s good gift of sexuality.  For some reason, this particular sexual sin does not carry the stigma of other sexual sin.  However, it is no less sinful.  And it can wreak havoc on a marriage.
Some may be thinking that this is a hit piece aimed exclusively at wives.  Not true.  Please consider that Paul addresses the husband first – “the husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights…”.  Paul is not just using a rhetorical device here.  There are men who deprive their wives.  In fact, I have counseled as many married couples in which the husband was depriving the wife as I have where the situation was reversed.  We must not adopt the assumptions of our culture.  Similarly, we should not assume that pornography is only a male problem.  It isn’t. 
As with any topic, things get more complicated when we start to talk about real life situations.  So I know that there are objections out there.  I want to deal with those.  There are also caveats that I would add to what has been written here.  There are special situations.  I want to present those as well.  I also want to discuss why this sin is so dangerous.  Further, I’d like to offer suggestions for killing this sin.  But I’ll save those for the next articles in the series. 
For now, consider that to deprive your spouse of sexual relations is sexual sin.  Perhaps you are in the habit of doing so.  Recognize that the only way forward begins with confession and repentance.  Confess and repent to the Lord and your spouse.  And believe that in Christ there is hope and help to change.  More on that to come.
If you have comments/questions pertaining to this article, you can leave them anonymously in the comment section.  No comments are automatically published.  I’m the only one who will see them and you don’t have to leave your name.  But your thoughts/questions may help make the other articles in this series more helpful to others.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

How the Pursuit of Happiness Can Rob Me of Joy

I’ve been overwhelmed recently by a wave of acquaintances, all professing believers, who have modified or abandoned certain biblical convictions for the sake of personal happiness.  There is the pastor who divorced his wife in order to embrace a homosexual lifestyle and “find Jesus” in the gay community.  There is a pastor’s wife who abandoned her faithful husband and children in favor of the freedom of a single lifestyle.  There is a woman who is divorcing her chronically ill husband because she desires to be cared for rather than to serve as a caretaker. 
All of these people are tied to the same conservative Christian community and should know better.  They do know better.  But how is it that they have each walked away from obvious biblical principles?  It seems that they have bought the lie, created long ago but perpetuated by our culture, the Hollywood ideal, and even the founding documents of this country, that “I deserve to be happy.”  And that conviction, fueled by the selfish human heart and prodded along by the evil one and this complicit world, begins to override all other previously closely held convictions, including biblical inerrancy and till-death-do-us-part.
In each of these situations, certainly there was great difficulty and anguish. There was initially the desire to fight to do the right thing.  The pastor struggling with same-sex attraction resolved to kill that compulsion.  The wife of the chronically ill husband sought to serve well.  But somewhere along the way, fuel for the fight was expended, and right and wrong became confused with happiness and unhappiness. 
At its root, the problem is a misidentification of the source and nature of happiness.  It stems from wrong thinking regarding who knows best what is good for us.  Left to ourselves, our definition of what is good for us will always stray from God’s definition, which is what is truly good for us.  Therefore, when influences outside of biblical truth, including the fantasies of the entertainment world, the examples of unbelieving friends and family, and even our own perception of our circumstances, begin to overwhelm our pattern of thinking, it’s a very short walk from “I’m fighting this” to “I deserve this.”
Discerning believers must keep in mind that frequently the idea I want to be happy is just a sanitized, justified version of I want my sin.  It is shorthand for I want to be happy outside of God and what He has declared to be good for me.  And if you listen closely to this culture and its disciples within the nominal church, you can hear echoes of Eden: "Did God actually say, 'You shall not eat of any tree in the garden'?"  Behind that first sin was the newborn conviction of a right to autonomy from God and the lie that a personal brand of happiness could exist there.  In spite of the knowledge of God’s good law, when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate… (Gen 3:1, 6).
And what did she lose, she and her husband?  They lost God.  Ironically, they lost the source of true happiness.  For their sin, they were removed from His presence (Gen 3:22-24). 
The psalmist captures for us the true import of that loss by how he describes the value of God’s presence and the heartache of those who chase other brands of happiness, other gods:
I say to the LORD, "You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you."…The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply…The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.  The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance…I have set the LORD always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.  Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure…You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psa 16)
The Lord Himself is the source of true joy and happiness.  There can be no happiness apart from His presence and an unfettered relationship with Him.  But as the scene in the garden shows, we cannot embrace our sin and Him at the same time.  Thankfully, within that third chapter of Genesis, God promised a provision for the defeat of sin and the reconciliation of God to man.  He promised a seed, who would crush the head of the serpent, that seed being Christ (Gen 3:15; Heb2:14-15).  Christ died to save us from the tyranny of the pursuit of “happiness” and its penalty, hell, in order that we might be returned to the true source of happiness, God.
When people who profess to be believers turn from God in Christ, the true source of happiness, so that they might pursue personal pleasures and comforts outside of Him, they repeat the sin of the garden, and come perilously close to what the writer of Hebrews describes as trampling underfoot the Son of God and profaning the blood of the covenant by which He was sanctified, outraging the Spirit of grace (Heb 10:26-31).  They sell their birthright for a bowl of stew (Gen 25:29-34; Heb 12:14-17).  The horrible irony is that their “happiness” can only lead to misery.
What a sad poverty to cast aside this great gospel in favor of the isolation from which the Son died and was raised to rescue us.  How blind to prefer that slavery simply because our flesh and the world and the devil have convinced us that because it seems easier it must be better.  When we see people falling for that lie, when we feel ourselves being tugged by it, we should view it in the context of a serpent lying to a woman in a garden, convincing her that what God has said is good is bad and what is bad is good.  We should understand that the result is not happiness but misery, not life but death. 
And consider that the thorns in the flesh represented by our battles with sin and our difficult circumstances are the very vehicles through which we may experience true joy in the strength of Christ at work in us.  Those who walk away from the difficult in favor of worldly happiness forfeit the surpassing joy of saying with Paul, “I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, harships, persecutions, and calamities.  For when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:9-10).  The truth is that the strength of Christ is absent from those who follow after the happiness of the world.  They will never know the joy of weakness strengthened by Christ.
When we are looking for happiness in things outside of God, we are in danger of falling for a lie.  Let’s pay much closer attention to the influences in our lives.  We must guard our hearts and minds by filling them with the truth of the Scriptures, investing ourselves in meaningful conversations with other believers for the purpose of stirring one another up to love and good works, and praying that the Spirit would assist us in watching for the dangers posed by our flesh, the world, and the evil one.