If you're a married man, don't go anywhere. And ladies, stay where you are. This message applies to you as well.
The title refers to perhaps one of the most eye-opening discussions on purity I've ever heard in my life: Sex and the Single Man, which took place at the 2004 Desiring God National Conference. No, I was not in attendance, but I listened to it online. And before reading any further, I highly encourage you to listen to this message now by clicking here.
This was a panel discussion/lecture hosted by Mark Dever and it features some skilled marksmanship in being able to pinpoint our tendencies to be unholy with the opposite sex. While the message starts out talking about the obvious, ("Don't have sex until you are married,") it concludes by slaying the not-so-obvious sins, and I must confess, I was convicted. Some of the discussion in the not-so-obvious section includes how we have a tendency to put off marriage because for self-serving reasons. For example, we may have been blessed with the most wonderful partner in the world, but we string them along because we want to see if there is someone better out there. (Busted! I have done this.) Fraudulent behavior is also discussed (busted again!) as well as wanting to know every single shred of information about the other person down to the last detail before you are willing to trust them. (Once, twice, three times guilty!) The common denominator in all this behavior is selfishness. We are primarily looking out for number one in all of these examples.
These principles are relevant to both the single person and the married person. Singles need to practice fidelity now. Loyalty and faithfulness are not virtues that one receives as a gift on one's wedding day. And although these are disciplines that must be cultivated before marriage, they must continually be fine-tuned far into a married couple's golden years. I would like to take this time to expand a little bit on what Dever and the rest of the panelists discussed in this session.
First, what is modesty? Ask any Christian what modesty is and they'll probably provide an answer that involves clothing. Is this really all that modesty is? What else could it be? Well, let me offer you this scenario:
How would you feel if your significant other dressed in such a way that not one inch of skin was visible below the neck, yet they flirted with every member of the opposite sex that paid attention to them? What if every time your significant other opened his/her mouth, they had a funny story about the time they and a member of the opposite sex had a grand time doing this or that?
Whether you are married or single, male or female, my guess is after a while you probably wouldn't be very impressed over how much fabric was wrapped around this person. The fact that they dress modestly is completely negated by their behavior. This is because modesty is not simply about how one dresses. Rather, modesty is an attitude that is reflected in one's behavior -- and it should be practiced by both women and men alike. So here are three minor adjustments you can make, in addition to minding the way you dress, to practice modesty in your behavior with the opposite sex:
1. Limit the time you spend with a member of the opposite sex who is not a) your spouse; or b) someone with whom you are pursuing the possibility of a courtship. If you are married this is obvious. But if you are single, it may not be so obvious -- however it is still very important. You want to demonstrate now that you are capable of being loyal, faithful, and committed. The way you behave as a single is the primary indicator of how you will behave as a spouse. For example, last year, I had a wonderful man pursue me for awhile who had been badly betrayed in a past relationship. It was a real treat for me to be able to tell this man, "You are the only person I talk to and spend time with like this." We never progressed to an official courtship, but it was still a joy for me to provide him with that sense of security. It is also a good practice for me to develop now, so when I am called to a marital union, I will not have as difficult a time "forsaking all others."
2. Ask yourself, do I really need 400 "friends?" It is important to be mindful of how we come across regarding the number of opposite sex "friends" we have, both in person and online. Take MySpace, for example. I do not personally have a MySpace account, however, I do belong to other online communities and I have seen how one's behavior on websites like MySpace can be detrimental to one's character and Christian walk. It is probably not a good idea to have a majority of one's top "friends" on MySpace to be of the opposite sex. This is important for both married people and single people. When we have dozens of attractive people on our Friends List, it can poison the mind of your current (or future) spouse. Current spouses naturally may become insecure and wonder where your fidelity is. Prospective spouses may also feel insecure, as though they must compete with all the beautiful women or attractive men on your MySpace page. Prospective spouses may ask, "Will I also have to compete with these friends after we're married?"
MySpace and other online communities aside, it is also probably not going to serve your current or future spouse to have numerous stories that involve your opposite sex friends. For a woman to continually talk about men and say things like "I don't have many girlfriends. I just get along with men much better," is a sign of something else going on much deeper under the surface. Try to be sensitive to a current or prospective spouse by making them feel as secure in your fidelity as possible. The best way to do this is not give them a reason to feel insecure in the first place. For some of us, that means dying to self and distancing ourselves from those opposite sex relationships that we know would be hurtful to a current or prospective spouse.
3. Do not give into the temptation to "put yourself out there". While I think it is totally appropriate to be about the Lord's business and put yourself in the path of other godly people, even for the purposes of finding a future spouse, we can easily become confused when we "play the field". I'll give you an example to explain what I mean by this.
I have a male friend who once said to me, "I just don't know which woman to pursue. One has godly qualities, but so does the other. Then a third one comes along. What do I do? I am afraid to pick the wrong one." What this young man is expressing is once again that sneaky tendency toward self-service. This man is more focused on choosing the right one for him, rather than being the right one for her. And so he is afraid that once he marries, he may later realize he made the wrong "choice." When we open ourselves up to too many people of the opposite sex, we open ourselves up to confusion. The Bible says that God is not a God of confusion. If we trust God for our spouse, He will provide. Someone once said "The safest place on earth is in God's will." It's true. If we take our hands off the situation, we will have no trouble discerning who God's choice of a marriage partner is. But when we start getting to know this one, that one, and all their friends, the choice becomes very difficult. Do you want to someday say to your husband, "The only one I spent time really getting to know was you," or do you want to someday say to your husband, "The only ones I spent time really getting to know were you, Jack, Bill, Tom, Joe, Frank, Steve, Charlie, Hector, Snake, The Johnson Twins, and Larry?"
Here is a true story that also illustrates this point: I had a female friend who met a lot of men on MySpace. It seemed every month, she was spending time with a different man. One day, she asked my opinion about this, and I told her that not only was she creating confusion for herself, she was also not trusting God. In addition, she was forming a reputation for herself as someone who seemed a little "boy crazy". I asked her, "Do you want to someday say to your husband, The only one I spent time really getting to know was you, or do you want to someday say to your husband, The only ones I spent time really getting to know were you, Jack, Bill, Tom, Joe, Frank, Steve, Charlie, Hector, Snake, The Johnson Twins, and Larry?" She immediately understood my point. She deleted her MySpace account (I told her this was unnecessary -- but she didn't know how to stop herself from being tempted to talk to all these men if she didn't). And would you believe, about two weeks later she met her husband! That may not have happened if she continued to allow herself to be confused by the company of so many men.
Married people may not be consciously "putting themselves out there," but they can still subconsciously put themselves in these situations. Think about the numerous times a married person has declared that they want to get a divorce simply because they "feel" that they love someone new: "Things haven't been good between us for awhile, and I have discovered I have feelings for Biff -- I'm sorry, but I'm leaving you." How does something like this happen? I think that in the same manner that singles struggle with confusion in the examples above, a married person can also become "confused." Marriage vows are not about feelings. A marriage is more than a commitment -- it is a covenant, and it is "for better, for worse". When we forget that, we put our marriages in danger the moment we hit one of those "for worse" times. Instead of remaining true to the covenant, we begin "venting" to an outsider of the opposite sex. Then we begin to develop feelings we shouldn't. Those feelings become confusing . . . and again, confusion is not from God!
1 Thessalonians 4:3 says, For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality. What is sexual immorality? It is not just a matter of fornication. Simply put, it is any sexual behavior that is wrong. Many people forget that flirting is sexual behavior. Emotional bonding with the opposite sex is sexual behavior. And unfortunately these things are often exercised in immoral ways. We are so blind to the many sinful, depraved thoughts and behaviors that reside in our hearts. It really does take examining ourselves against the backdrop of a holy God to see just how wrong and potentially hurtful our "innocent" behavior can be to both others and ourselves.
Although the audio recording is titled, "Sex and the Single Man," do not be fooled. The wisdom in this discussion is a valuable gem for anybody, male or female, married or single. Do yourself a favor and give it a listen. You'll be glad you did!