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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?”