Affairs Don’t Start with Texts

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.

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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.

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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.

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69 Responses to Affairs Don’t Start with Texts

  1. Bev Murrill says:

    I have written on this issue also, in regard to the subject of mentoring. This is a fine article. Thanks so much.

  2. deelmo says:

    “Don’t do in private what you wouldn’t do in public.” <<< This. If a person knows in their heart what is right, their mind will make their body follow. IMHO, Billy Graham had it wrong. It was so concerned about 'appearances' but yet gave the 'appearance' that he was afraid of himself, afraid he couldn't control himself. And therefore lost out on half the knowledge that humanity had to offer, because he wouldn't even talk to women one on one without a 'witness'. We don't need a 'witness' if our hearts are in the right place. God knows what in our heart. Because nothing is done in 'private' as far as God is concerned.

    • Ian says:

      It is sensible for someone in ministry to have a witness or partner in that ministry and meeting so the perception or appearance is not questionable. People other than the one ministering, like Billy Graham, also may have other intentions, potentially being devious even. I’m not arguing specifically for or against Billy Graham but pointing out the aspect of perspective. I’ve heard stories of high profile pastors choosing to avoid situations so that the potential perception would not be misconstrued.

      Also, even though “a person knows in the heart what is right” doesn’t mean temptation doesn’t happen. That goes in hand with being cautious and wise in approaching a scenario where you know of a weakness the devil may or may not exploit. Agreed, self-control is called for, regardless of where you are. We’re all growing and learning.

    • Sarah Taras says:

      “gave the appearance he was afraid of himself” … lol! That’s interesting, isn’t it? As believers the law has been written on our hearts… we will always justify crossing lines if we want to. But again, man’s rules are weak and powerless to change the heart. I think we run to them because it gives us a sense of control… but what on earth do we do when those rules fail us? You’re right, God does see our hearts and he will always expose things because he is a loving, attentive Father.

      • Monika says:

        I think he wisely kept himself from false accusations that could have been very scandalous. I think public men are well advised to keep his rules. He does not appear scared. He appears shrewd, and difficult to victimize. Kudos to him. And this does not mean he was not able to develop good relationships with women, just that he wasn’t alone with them.

    • Deelmo, Thanks for dropping by and commenting! Yes, all this. I do think there is still a place for wisdom. We are not arguing against making wise decisions based on particular situations. We are arguing that conversations shouldn’t be framed ahead of time as sexually explosive, as if it can’t be helped and so conversation is to be avoided.

  3. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    This is a great post – thanks so much Sarah and Jon, and Tim too of course!

  4. Oh look, another iteration of “Is it okay to ___________?”
    http://davidmschell.com/does-jesus-mind/

    • Guy says:

      Oh look, another sassy, Christian blogger who has no real desire to add to the conversation (because he or she has already said it all), but leaves a comment regardless in hopes of siphoning some small amount of traffic to his or her own blog.

      • Tim says:

        Guy, David’s link is welcome here. It’s a good post and adds to the discussion. His snark is directed to the Relevant article, not Sarah and Jon.

    • Ian says:

      Thanks for sharing the blog.

      1 Corinthians 6:12 All things are lawful for me, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be mastered by anything.

      1 Corinthians 10:31 All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable. All things are lawful, but not all things edify.

    • There’s nothing new under the sun. Thanks for taking the time to comment, David!

  5. Headless Unicorn Guy says:

    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.

    Type example St Augustine, specifically his personal baggage. In his younger Manichaean days, a total horndog. As a Christian saint, a cloistered celibate. In neither case did he ever have an opportunity to interact with women as people; only (before) as sex objects or (after) as Forbidden Fruit.

    When I said this on another blog, one of the replies likened Augustine to “an ex-smoker turned militant anti-smoker”. i.e. self-treating his own problem by going full-honk in the opposite direction.

  6. Pastor Bob says:

    What is the purpose in communicating?
    How about as it applies a specific peron?
    Are we wise enough to recognize a potential problem?
    Will you/we listen to concerned friends?
    If friends will not be acknowledged, and their words thought overall – how does on expect to hear GOD?

  7. Angie says:

    “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.” Thanks for hosting the article, Tim, and Jon and Sara for tackling the subject. May the Church turn from treating the neighboring gender as a threat and recover its familial consciousness.

  8. Lea says:

    “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.”

    Thank you! This is it in a nutshell. Desiring God even had an article the other day worrying that same sex friendships would get too close and turn into sex. I suppose we could all just live in a cave like hermits or never talk to anyone who isn’t family, but I hardly think that’s necessary.

    • Sarah Taras says:

      Lea, I saw that DG article come out as I was working with Jon on this one! My goodness how crazy! We are so terrified of our sexuality that we aren’t even allowed to have friends now!!!! *face palm*

    • Jennwith2ns says:

      Yikes. Not necessary…OR biblical/godly. How the heck is Christ’s Body supposed to do anything if it’s (again?) in pieces all over the place?

    • Lea, Let’s just admit some corners of Christianity are letting their systematic theology make them a little nutso. God has not given us a spirit of fear.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      “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.”

      A trope you only find in two places:
      Pornography and Christian Purity Culture.
      (And I figure the two have more in common than either is willing to admit.)

  9. Esperanza says:

    “Man’s regulations have never made us more morally upright, because law has no power to change the heart. ”

    “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. ”

    Yes–freedom to and freedom to not. The core of this seems to be the motivation: fear or love?

    Great points, thank you!

  10. Lucie Winborne says:

    “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.”

    I couldn’t help picturing the Duggars and their parent-supervised texts between adult children and future spouses of same.

  11. Jennwith2ns says:

    “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?” So true, and such a helpful quote for an interaction I was having this very afternoon. Thanks for this whole article.

  12. Thanks for this great response. It’s a real struggle for women in ministry when our male colleagues (the vast majority of our colleagues) won’t engage with us out of fear.

    • Kelly, My experience is that this is a two-way street. We could all benefit from more wisdom and focus on relationship, less framing everything as if sexual sin is bound to happen.

  13. Good points, although slightly American…I think my main reason for being careful in meeting women on their own is the possibility of later allegations of sexual harassment. If it’s my word against hers, who will the police believe? And you don’t want to suspect such deviousness from fellow believers, but sometimes it happens anyway, sadly.

    • From the way you state that rhetorical question, “If it’s my word against hers, who will the police believe?”, it sounds as if you mean “her” is the obvious answer — but it’s certainly not obvious to me.

      Also, if a man’s primary reason for not meeting a woman alone is so that she can’t falsely accuse him of sexual harassment, then I think SHE’S also better off not meeting that man alone.. Men (Christian or non) do sometimes sexually harass women (Christian or non). The potential for “deviousness” — or worse — goes both ways.

      • Tim says:

        Well said, Jeannie. If a man sees every woman as a potential threat then it’s best he not be aline with them for their sakes as much (if not more) as his.

        • Lea says:

          “If a man sees every woman as a potential threat then it’s best he not be aline with them for their sakes as much (if not more) as his.”

          1. It’s sort of interesting to me that men in church seem to be more worried about ‘false’ accusations of sexual assault than women are of actually being assaulted. I bet the actual numbers would show the real danger is a bit reversed.

          And, 2. I often see ‘don’t eat lunch with a woman alone’ on these lists and I fail to see how a public lunch could lead to an accusation of assault, so I’m not buying that particular explanation.

        • Tim says:

          I agree on both points, Lea.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        All it takes is for you (or someone you know) to get burned by a false accusation once. Especially in these times of Trial by Media and Trial by Social Media. Then the shields go up and stay up.

    • David, What do you mean by “slightly American”? There’s certainly a place for wisdom, but “wisdom” easily becomes a label for fear. God has not given us a spirit of fear.

  14. Pingback: Affairs Don’t Start with Texts - The Aquila Report

  15. Pingback: Affairs Don’t Start with Texts – via guest authors at Tim’s blog – Christian Pundit

  16. matthewbeech27 says:

    Before I say this let me put a disclaimer, I am in no way trying to be argumentative, I am asking these questions looking for genuine answers.

    How would this play into the idea of not even giving the appearance of impropriety (and I do know that 1 Tim 5:22 isn’t talking about this but rather avoid any form of sin), especially considering recent scandals? Maybe prudence would dictate that we simply avoid any possibility of even giving the image of impropriety, considering the modern state of evangelicalism.

    Second, what about being a stumbling block? If someone in the church thinks it’s a dangerous (or sinful) act? Or even if the person that would be texting feels it would be wrong to communicate 1:1 with a person of the opposite sex? Or if it would cause a weaker brother to engage in such a manner as to cause temptation (even if it only goes so far as his lusting after someone)? Of course, we could list hypothetical scenarios all day.

    • Tim says:

      On your third question, if it’s a problem for the participant then don’t do it until you’ve matured. On the others, I think they are examples of how fear leads to rule making which leads to legalism.

      I can come up with enough possibilities of someone thinking you are giving an appearance of impropriety that the only way to avoid it is for you to never leave your house. Paul was not cautioning people to live that way.

      • matthewbeech27 says:

        That’s kind of what I was thinking as well. We can take the whole idea of the appearance impropriety to legalistic extents.

        Personally, my avoiding being alone with any woman or kids at all comes from a fear of being accused of something I didn’t do. That is a sin I have to work through considering that the accusations we’ve seen over the past 10 years or so have all been true.

        • I agree with Tim’s points, and thought that was adequate response. Enough to scratch your itch, Matthew?

        • matthewbeech27 says:

          Tim absolutely answered what I was asking about! Consider the itch scratched. I appreciate the thoughtful responses, it definitely helps me clarify my thoughts.

  17. I held mine and my husbands’ male friends’ hand in the dark while I was married once, does that count as being really bad? (He had just separated from his wife and I had no intention of anything other than holding his hand – he was having the kind of thoughts that we don’t really want alive people to have and it was just one of those ‘seems right in the moment’ things). Sometimes, in irder to honour an image bearer, of either gender, I will use metaphors for ‘I think that you’re very cool’, but it doesn’t mean that I, necessarily, have sexual intentions. I could go without sex forever, if need be. And should I not use words like ‘couple’, lest someone get sexually-aroused by it??? It brings this song to mind: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xMaE6toi4mk

  18. Kyle Knapp says:

    I like the article, EXCEPT…

    “Don’t do in private what you wouldn’t do in public”…
    … is ridiculous. There are LOTS of things we wouldn’t do in public that are perfectly acceptable to do in private. (Getting undressed, using the toilet, having sex, for example)

    • Tim says:

      I took that line to delineate a reasonable line. It’s not that you should poop in public. Everyone knows everyone else poops. It’s doing wrong things that you don’t want others to find out about that this post refers to.

  19. My 2 cents: In the Christian journey or trajectory of: Evangelism then Discipleship and Fellowship/Teamwork, I personally believe doing the face-to-face work of Evangelism is not gender-specific, however, doing face-to-face Discipleship is (men-to-men and women-to-women), (as in Titus, men teaching men, women with women). Doing fellowship or teamwork is a mixed gender activity but it is important to stay focused on the mission. It is healthy for even Christian youth to begin to do this mission-focused teamwork as they learn to work with each other as Christian brothers and sisters, and stay focused on the mission, instead of themselves or each other.

    • BTW, I believe Jesus modeled this Christian walk. He evangelized everyone (the woman at the well), discipled only men – the 12, and then teamed with all believers, such as the family of Mary & Martha & Lazarus. Throughout the rest of the NT the same.

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