Living Pure in a Gentile World
Many Christians struggle to stay pure, particularly in our increasingly sexualized world. It is a tiresome battle! This battle stirs me with compassion for especially godly young believers who are growing up in a “Gentile” (non-believing) culture. The Scriptures speak to believers in Jesus Christ as children of Abraham who are grafted into the natural (Jewish) olive tree, implying that we are no longer Gentiles. Much NT instruction focuses on how Christians are no longer to walk as they formerly did as Gentiles. One of my favorite passages on this topic is I Thessalonians 4:3-7 (KJV):
For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness.”
In verse 5, Paul exhorts believers how to conduct themselves, “not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God” (as the ESV puts it). Simply put, our "secular" world is the "Gentile" world. That world is chock full of hedonism, i.e. sensual self-indulgence.
I am greatly impressed by the intensity of the New Testament’s warnings to believers to abstain from the flaunting sexual behavior of the Gentiles. There are over 54 chapters in the NT (mostly in Paul’s epistles) that warn against continuing in Gentile sexual behavior. In I Thes. 4:1, the exhortation begins with an intense plea to continue to walk, as Paul instructed, more and more! The intensity is increased again in v.3 with the double clarifying statement that, "this is the will of God", to which Paul adds, "even your sanctification"! This is a strong admonition indicating that holiness is the essence of our being in Christ; there is no room for impurity. The call to holiness is the Christian’s primary identity as God's beloved child.
There is a very real personal dilemma for the Christian, as Gentile hedonism is in your face full force, 24/7/365! The help for victory will not come from creating a hermitage apart from the world to hide in, for if that were actually required of us, we would have to leave this world (I Cor. 5:10)! The help for victory comes from mastering the passions of our bodies (I Thes. 4:4). The call to this mastery is placed only upon the believer and not on his environment. The believer must resist temptation and also not be a source of temptation. This is where the concept of defrauding enters the picture.
I know that the term defraud, as used in I Thes. 4:6 of the KJV, may seem a bit antiquated. But its meaning is precise for the nature of the subject. Here, it is used in the sexual sense of the word. "That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any [sexual] matter". The phrase "go beyond" is the Greek word, ὑπερβαίνειν. It means “to step over, beyond, to transgress, to overstep proper limits, to trespass, overreach.” The text declares pointedly that the passion of lust has a boundary that believers can/must stay behind in order to remain holy. What is that line?
Textually, we can say that the line is crossed by any behavior that could tempt or lure another into the passion of lust. The line is also crossed by exposing oneself to temptation or to the lure by another in passion of lust. On its face, that line may seem pretty vague. However, because the Gentile culture keeps moving that line forward, the sincere believer must be thoughtful and selfless in determining where that line should be. Failure to have an adequate boundary immediately exposes the believer to passion of lust that may defraud long before one ever imagined it might occur!
As a Christian father, husband and pastor, I have had to make it clear and plain as to what behavior constitutes "going beyond and defrauding another". Defrauding is the Greek word, πλεονεκτέω, meaning to have more than one ought to have by right. In an amplified expression, the text is saying, "That no man go beyond and overstep the proper limits and defraud or take more liberty than he ought from his brother or sister in Christ in any [sexual] manner of expression". Years ago, at a meeting of a group of Christian fathers, we reckoned it this way: any behavior toward any woman before marriage that our wives today would feel inappropriate toward a woman after we are married is defrauding. Such behavior takes from a woman's future husband what exclusively belongs to him.
To teach our sons against defrauding, my wife and I began with the straightforward statement of Paul to Timothy: "...[E]ncourage...the younger women as sisters, in all purity.” (1 Timothy 5:2 ESV) Our instruction was based on the common understanding of the relationship between a brother and a sister: it never crosses a brother or sister’s mind to pursue the other in marriage. The Greek transliteration for encourage is Paraclete, which means to come alongside a sister in all purity. We applied the meaning to teach each of our children that purity means to so act toward a young woman as he would toward his own sisters. Until the attention appropriate in a thoughtful and intentional courtship/dating relationship, our sons were never to act in such a way as to give young women any reason to think that they might be “interested” in her. Even once a courtship/dating relationship had begun, we advised that they avoid physical contact with each other in any romantic way that stirs up the passion of lust. Simply put, avoid any kind of touching that your wife wouldn’t approve of once you're married!
That might seem like an unrealistically high bar to many in our loose culture today; but it is Scriptural and valid to sincere young people who have Christ-centered holiness as their aim. A little more Bible knowledge can help sharpen our understanding. In seven verses on marriage, Peter gives 6 verses of encouragement to the woman whose husband is not showing her proper attention (i.e. desire). He only gives one verse to the husband. In it he admonishes the man to dwell with his wife according to knowledge and to give honor to her as the weaker vessel and as an equal and co-heir of the grace of God. All seven verses point to the sensitivity that the woman has relating to her husband's affection and care for herself and their family. This sensitivity is the reason for crafting proper boundaries as unmarried couples.
For a man to apply such knowledge, he first must gain it! How is the wife weaker? How is she easily dishonored as the weaker vessel? And why is it so important to God that He will not answer the prayers of the husband if he refuses to honor his wife properly? And how does all this relate to the young man who is warned to avoid the flirtations of Proverbs’ classic “strange woman?” (Prov. 7) The foundational answer is given in Genesis 3:16: “To the woman he said, ‘...Your desire shall be to your husband [as a champion], but he shall rule over you.’” (Genesis 3:16 ESV). After the Fall, God added an intensive desire to the woman for her husband to be her champion in all family affairs! While that desire operates powerfully, it must be governed with knowledge and honor and the deference of equality. Yet, nevertheless, governed!
This takes us back to defrauding. The woman, both married and single, as the weaker vessel, requires thoughtful care and encouragement on the part of the man. By keeping this in mind, a single young man can avoid the improper flirtations of a woman on the one hand and be on the watchful guard of her purity on the other hand. His objective is not to “go beyond” and stir up the feminine desire by any type of singular treatment that raises the question of whether or not he is interested in her until a thoughtful and intentional (i.e. with the potential of marriage in mind) relationship is pursued!
Only a true-hearted Christian can apply this sensitivity to the practical details of day-to-day relationships. No wonder godly parents have set-up practical guidelines for their children, even in courtship/dating relationships and engagements, to help their children know how to possess their bodies in sanctification and honor.
Finally, true-hearted believers need a safe haven to talk these things through. Satan uses our thoughts to torment us and push us toward erroneous actions. Spiritual warfare requires that we take those thoughts captive. Spiritual weapons are what we need to bring every thought captive to the obedience to Christ (2 Cor. 10). Ask the Lord who you might go to, to have a safe, honest heart-to-heart talk to get all of these things out front and center for light and understanding. I am not talking about someone who may emotionally connect with you and assist you in feeling sorry for yourself, but someone who has enough spiritual maturity to get the proper perspective to help you see the big picture. Your parents? Your pastor? Other mentors? Perhaps, God may give you some wisdom from each of the above. My caution is, however, ask God to lead you so that you are not being driven by Satan’s taunting: he is hard on your case. But so he is after everyone who is seeking to walk as a faithful child of God.
Know that I am praying for you!