Sunday, August 13, 2017

Guardrails (redux)

I’ve written before about “guardrails” in the context of marriage. Quoting Matthew 5:29, I wrote that it is up to us to know ourselves, to identify where our problem areas are, the things in life that may cause us to stray or stumble. It is up to us to build our own guardrails into our lives that keep us safe. This is best done when one is in communion with God, and aware of the plans he has for your life. I contrasted this with the religious leaders of ancient Israel. They took it upon themselves to make up some 613 rules to keep the people from breaking the commandments of God. In their case it was not self awareness, but moral superiority, a ‘holier-than-thou’ elite class setting up hoops for the masses to jump through. Well intentioned or not, it led to legalism and a narrow view of holiness. In terms of God’s commandments, it is always best to let God lead.

In terms of marriage, and especially sex there are endless discussions about what is and isn’t permissible. Reading Christian marriage blogs, the same questions come up over and over and over, people seeking guidance on where to put up the guardrails. I think this lack of clarity is due - at least in part - to the church being largely silent on the subject of sex. How often do we hear sermons on the love poetry of the Song of Solomon? Unless they are admonitions that the book is strictly allegorical, alluding to Christ and the church, never. But what if the book means exactly what it says? (There are experts that hold that it does; reverend Tommy Nelson has a 12 week study on it, breaking down the metaphors verse by verse.

Or, how many pastors dare to preach on 1 Corinthians 7:5? “Do not deprive one another except by agreement for a time to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” I’ve yet to hear a pastor expound upon this one from the pulpit, digging deep into what it means and how to live it out.

With the dearth of advice and guidance from the church, let’s look at the Word. God is actually pretty straightforward on the subject of what is and isn’t allowed. In Hebrews 13:4 Paul writes:

Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.

Here are the guardrails God puts around the marriage bed; no adultery (sex outside of marriage by married people) and no fornication (sex by unmarried people) That’s it. One could read this as “as long as the sex you are having is with your husband and wife, you’re good!” To reinforce this point, in Song of Solomon 7:13 the wife writes,

Over our doors are all choice fruits, Both new and old, which I have saved up for you, my beloved.”

Not some fruits. Not just those few fruits that some authority figure says are OK. All. Choice. Fruits. As I wrote at the outset, though we have a responsibility to set our own guardrails, so where do we turn?  In 1 Corinthians 6:12, Paul writes

All things are lawful, but not all things are beneficial.

How do we know then which things are beneficial? In marriage, with regards to what is and isn’t “OK,” it is up to each couple to make their own rules. With God’s word as the framework (no adultery or fornication) and the love verses from 1 Corinthians as a guide (patient and kind, not demanding it’s own way, not boastful, arrogant or resentful) each married couple can chart their own course towards intimacy - physical, spiritual and emotional. Likes and dislikes will change over time of course, which is why couples must keep lines of open, honest communication, and have the conversation continually - as long as both shall live.