I think part of the reason that we don’t often have more “programs” in Circle of Hope is because the thing we do is relational, it’s incarnational, it’s based on dialogue.
I’m afraid the body of Christ hasn’t functioned this way all of the time. I think we think that rules and policy, not dialogue, is what tidies us up.
But when we don’t created common agreements based on mutual understanding, we create rules, which can be rebelled against in a nonpersonal way. But if we were to create an agreement that we mutually agree upon in a specific relationship, we only then rebel against each other—which I think is personal.
The bona fide example of this is perhaps the rule about fornication. People who grew up in a Christian household are probably familiar with this phrase: don’t have sex until you’re married.
I think that’s a good rule. But I think it has several problems.
1) It speaks to a negative. It doesn’t tell you what to do, it tells you what you can’t do.
2) It doesn’t really offer a “why.” From the moment a child learns about the word “why,” it seems like he or sure is constantly asking that question. Adults do it moreso and for good reason.
3) It lacks definition. So it’s up to the interpreter to wade through the emotionally complex issue, and often times we don’t create a safe place to talk about it before we get into serious relationships.
In Mark 10, Jesus is asked “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife? (verse 2)” He uses the question to make several points.
1) Both men and women can suffer from sexual immorality. This is applicable to our cultura because we certainly think of men who have a lot of sex with many partners differently than we do women who are doing the same thing. And so for the sake of mutual respect, we must make sure that we are not “objectively” viewing the issue—sex is about more than just sex, right? There is a difference between a handshake and sex.
2) Sex unites you. Jesus lays out the framework that becomes the root of the rule in question. The man and woman came from one flesh, and in sex, they become one flesh again.
3) Marriage is eternal. The act of sexual oneness is enforced by the idea of marriage—there are all sorts ways that people have culturally gotten married—but they involve to a degree a detachment from the family of original and starting a new house and family. This partnership that’s formed is eternal.
The basic framework that Jesus is working with is that sex is uniting and marriage is forever.
Jesus is saying the emotional connection that we have with someone with whom we have sex is incredibly meaningful. Perhaps, it is helpful for couples who are in a serious relationship, who are also having sex, to just know that they are married and to declare it. It’s good to call it what it is. Let’s not mince words because we’re afraid of a commitment or afraid of admitting we’re having sex. Let’s try to work it out with Jesus.
With that as the basics of our framework, the question of when sex is sex is more complex. You might have wondered “how far” you can go with your partner.
I don’t think creating a new set of rules to combat the one that might make you feel guilty now is appropriate, but I think it’s appropriate to have some sort of a reality check.
It’s interesting because people who are “guilty” of having sex before they are married, and people who free to have sex within their marriage seem to trend toward defining things differently.
On one hand, if “it just goes in” and that’s it, and you’re trying not to have sex—a weight of guilt might be placed upon you because you think you definitely just had sex. On the other hand, if you are married, and “it goes in,” well I’m not sure if you’d call that sex, almost ever.
Of course, other kinds of stimulation that cause orgasms that two people are engaging in is may not seen as sex. But if that kind of stuff is happening in a marriage regularly, it’s doubtful that the couple would declare that they are not having sex.
And so, we connect back to Jesus’ point, sex isn’t just sex. Sex isn’t just about penetration, it’s not just about orgasms, it’s about an intimate and emotional connection. A foot massage is never just a foot massage. It means something.
Sex is not just a physical exchange of fluids. It’s more than that. It has meaning. Your desire to do it, is indicative of that. It’s natural, it’s human, but it’s also emotional and spiritual. That’s what Jesus is talking about.
So, when we know that, we might realize that the reasons we want to have sex are bigger than just physical gratification. It is so often about love and intimacy and connection. So before you have sex to try and solve your loneliness and your lack of connection—make real connections with Jesus, your community, and with real people. Relate to God and have a fulfillment rooted in him. Express it in community.
The boundaries you set with your girlfriend or boyfriend or whomever else should span across sex and into things like sharing money together, sleeping over, cohabitating, and even relating emotionally and spiritually. Especially if you aren’t sure that marriage is inevitable for you, it makes sense for some boundaries to be respected—rather than pushed.
The thing we can probably agree on is that people are having sex before they really know what they are getting into. At the same time, people who are virtually married, aren’t sure how to navigate their sexual relationship without also shelling out the big bucks for the wedding and the ring. So be self-aware and mindful of what you can handle, and if you’re married, get married!