In this guest post, Sarah Taras and Jon Wymer respond to Relevant Magazine’s article Is It OK for Married People to Text the Opposite Sex.
Don’t do in private what you wouldn’t do in public. It’s an important message. If we took it to heart, our communities would be better off.
Conversation Doesn’t Equate to Infidelity
It’s not helpful to assume that conversation between a woman and a man leads to sex. Would there be less sex if men and women didn’t talk? Perhaps. But while we’re stoking the fear that conversation leads to fornication, are there other values we should consider? Are we really suggesting that God’s design for creation is two genders that can’t safely talk one-on-one without making babies? Is instruction for men and women to avoid one another consistent with the message of the cross that we are united into one body?
We’ve created a whole new set of problems by teaching our fellow believers to treat every one-on-one interaction with the opposite sex as a potential sexual encounter. This is a distortion of God’s design in creation. It’s a distortion of the Jesus we meet in the Scripture, who has many important conversations with women. And it’s a distortion of the relational ethic we find in Paul, where he seems to believe that every believer, regardless of gender, lives in the mutual blessing and responsibility of the covenant community.
Intimacy and Inappropriateness
Paul, in writing his letter to the Romans, encouraged the church to embrace a group of faithful co-laborers who meant a great deal to him. This list, comprised of men and women, both married and single, were working alongside one another for the sake of the gospel, freely. Paul wraps up the greeting portion of the letter to the church by saying, “Greet one another with a holy kiss.”
If we are going to push back on acceptable forms of communication within our present culture, what are we to make of this kind of intimate greeting encouraged by the apostle? Before we glamorize those believers as being more morally upright than we are today, remember that Paul issued the same encouragement in his letters to the church at Corinth. You know, Corinth, the church that was guilty of overlooking gross immorality in their midst? Yet Paul did not pull back this instruction from them, nor did he give law-laden guidelines of how to properly handle such a greeting between the genders.
Heirs Together in Christ
Paul did give instruction for how to handle inappropriate situations that arose in the church but his solution was never separating the males from the females and telling them to avoid engaging one another. He didn’t encourage them to run away from one another in fear or have their spouses chaperone their interactions. Instead, he reminded them of how much they are loved in Christ and then encouraged them to love and respond to one another out of that love — to walk by the Spirit in faith for the benefit of the community.
Somewhere along the way, the church stopped embracing one another as co-heirs with Christ and began treating the opposite gender, primarily, as a threat. In placing purity in importance above relationships, we have cut ourselves off completely from the other half of the church body, thus forsaking God-honoring relationships with each other that are rooted in love. We have segregated the family of God to our own detriment and have hindered our ability to invest in and learn from one another. We are now obsessed with protecting ourselves from one another emotionally because we are oversexed; assuming intimacy and vulnerability can only lead to sexual immorality.
Understand that we are not arguing against wise boundaries. What we are arguing against is this idea that there is no such thing as a healthy relationship between married persons and people of the opposite gender. We’re arguing against the idea that good, beautiful, and intimate non-sexual relationships are not possible between believers of the opposite sex. Together, we are certainly arguing against living on the basis of fear rather than the basis of faith.
Affairs Don’t Begin With Texts
Affairs don’t begin with sex. They don’t begin with texts either. This is horrible logic. By this logic, single Christians should only text people of the same gender if they wish to avoid fornicating.
As Christians, with the resources of the Bible and the Gospel at hand, we ought to be more adept at deconstructing issues. Ours is fundamentally a religion of the heart. We do believe that behavior matters. But we also believe that behavior is symptomatic of belief. People don’t commit adultery because of text messaging any more than they fornicate because of text messaging. Can technology provide another pathway to what the heart wants? Sure. But don’t blame the heart on the technology.
Our fundamental problem is idolatry. What is idolatry if it is not the search for ultimate belonging and intimacy in every place except with the Creator? Wouldn’t it be better to get at the heart of the matter, rather than build a fear-based DMZ around particular technologies?
Guidelines Can Be Misguided
When the church forbids friendships between men and women and then adds legalistic rules regarding how we are to engage one another, it creates a breeding ground for lust. The “don’t touch, don’t taste, don’t handle” rules that we impose on one another in the church have never kept us from sinning against one another. Why do we continue to depend on them, thus forsaking the gospel which gave us freedom?
“If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the world, why as if you were still in the world, do you submit to regulations – Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch – according to human precepts and teachings? These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.” (Col 2:21-23.)
When we impose cheap guilt-laden law on the body of Christ, even with the best of intentions, we end up enticing the forbidden. By telling adults that they can’t interact, especially through text without a baby sitter, we turn every single encounter with one another into a brush with the forbidden. By our rules, we entice lust because we stop looking at one another as brothers and sisters in Christ who are image bearers, and instead unintentionally train ourselves to view one another as sex objects who can’t possibly keep it in our pants long enough to have a God -honoring friendship that would be edifying.
Relational Wisdom, Failure, and Forgiveness
We aren’t suggesting that the church should live apart from wisdom or even in denial that there may be times that we find a friend of the opposite sex appealing, and fall into temptation to communicate inappropriately. While we have been made righteous through Christ, and are 100% just before God by faith apart from works, we are still in this body of flesh that is sinful by it’s nature that longs for gratification, and in that place of accommodating our rebellious flesh, we will find God’s law accusatory and crushing. This is something our “no texting” guidelines can never accomplish.
“For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor … .” (1 Thess 4:2-4.)
When we are tempted to gratify our flesh in the “old ways”, we need to hear the gospel and be wooed back to our first love, Christ. The more we abide in Christ through the truth of the gospel and the Spirit’s indwelling guidance and conviction, we will desire to live in a manner worthy of the gospel, which means living appropriately with our neighbor. God’s matchless love for us pours into the lives of the people around us (it’s dynamic, it will move out from you toward others, bringing you with it).
We need to be reminded of how much love and security we have been given by God in Christ that goes far beyond what could be given in a fleeting moment of feeding our fleshly desires and we need to be reminded of the abundant forgiveness and acceptance even when we fall. Man’s regulations have never made us more morally upright, because law has no power to change the heart. That’s the work of the gospel.
The church is comprised of the beloved children of God, and because Christ gave himself up for us in love and because he loves us unconditionally, we are free to walk in that love with and toward people around us. When the truth of the gospel frees us, we begin to see people (all people) as fellow image bearers and not as a means to self-gratification. It changes the way we treat one another, both publicly and privately: bone of our bone, flesh of our flesh whom we long to love and edify.
Sarah Taras is a new author for Key Life and has a minibook coming out this year with New Growth Press. She co-hosts two podcasts: Fundyland Sees Red and Ezer Uncaged. You can find more from her at sarahtaras.com.
Dr. Jon Wymer is a combat veteran and a wanna-be crossfiitter. He works in Nebraska as a pastor in church, higher education, and military contexts. More content from Jon is available at wymer.com.