Monday, November 26, 2018

Sexual Autonomy vs. Sexual Fidelity

The Bible's teachings on sexual matters are under particular pressure today. Not only are they attacked and ridiculed, but alternative approaches are subtly and not-so-subtly promoted throughout our culture. This culture tends to shape our ideas, sensibilities, and habits, and unless Christians purposefully understand what the Bible says about the issue, they will find themselves swept away with the current. This will be the first in a series of three posts on sexual matters as they are handled in the book of Proverbs. Here we will begin by looking at a general view of sexual intimacy.

Who is sovereign over your body?
The popular approach today is that of expressive individualism. This view can be summarized with the phrase: “my body, my choice.” It teaches you to do whatever feels right as long as it doesn’t coerce another person. It teaches you that anything is right if there is mutual consent between adults. You should do anything you want with your body. You ought not get into a situation that restricts you. You need to express your own choices and desires without any obligations or pressure from others. You are sovereign. We can call this sexual autonomy - you make up the law for yourself.

This view is not argued as much as it is taught and celebrated. In an age where God has little relevance, autonomy makes sense. It sounds better than some other person or tradition or government deciding what to do with your body. Yet, it is not without problems. The emphasis on freedom means that there is minimal obligation - your feelings are preeminent. There is no fidelity or reliability with this view since personal preferences change. Broken relationships, frustration, insecurity, single parents, and fatherless children are the results. Consent is not commitment, but commitment and reliability is necessary for trust, and trust is necessary for intimacy. This casual approach to sexuality also does not account for how it give you the habit of being self-centered in your approach to other people. This framework of personal sovereignty does not fit with how sexuality and relationships are intended to work.

Biblically, you are not sovereign over your body. Proverbs 5:21 reminds us that “a man's ways are before the eyes of the LORD, and he ponders all his paths.” God is the one who evaluates and judges your actions. You are not sovereign your body or soul. Only God is sovereign. He is the Creator of all. He designed humanity. For Christians, He has the additional right of redemption. He has purchased believers from sin and death and made them His temple. You are not your own. You were bought with a price. You must use your body as He intended and as He directs. You must not do whatever feels right. You must respect His boundaries - both because He is sovereign and because He places the boundaries in good places.

But don’t we have some authority over our body? In a sense, but let us ask it in a different way:

Who is responsible for your body?
Who is responsible? You or others? If that is the question, then yes, you are responsible. It is your body. You have a stewardship over it, and other people must respect that. You are responsible to care for your body, to defend it, to glorify God with it, to serve Him with it, to use it as He intended. You should not blame others for what you decide to do with your body. Proverbs 5-7 give strong exhortations to the young man to resist temptation - he is held to be responsible to make the wise choice.

Yet, others do have a responsibility to be helpful. Some Christians claim they have no responsibility to clothe themselves in a way that will help you not lust. They point out that you are responsible for your own thoughts and actions, and that you cannot blame them - which is true. But that does not mean that they have no responsibility to you. We all have a responsibility not only to govern our own bodies, but also to avoid leading others into sin and to encourage them to be holy (Prov. 12:26, 16:29, 27:5-6, 9). “The seventh commandment requireth the preservation of our own and our neighbor’s chastity, in heart, speech, and behavior” (Westminster Shorter Catechism, Q. 71).

To whom should you give your body?
In Proverbs 5-7 a contrast appears between “the wife of your youth” and the “strange” or “foreign” woman. What the ESV translates as the “adulteress” is literally a “foreign woman” and the “forbidden” woman is literally the “strange woman” (in the sense that she is a “stranger”). The ESV is correct to point out that the woman is not literally a foreign woman, but an adulteress or harlot. But the author is pointing out that this woman is foreign and a stranger to you. She does not belong to you and you do not belong to her. She stands in contrast with “the wife of your youth” (Prov. 5:18). In ancient Israel it was typical to marry young, and so the wife would then have literally been the wife of your youth. But regardless of whether you were married young or not, what is being emphasized is long-term commitment. She is not a passing acquaintance, she is not just your current crush, she is your wife - you will share a history together, you commit to remain steadfast through think and thin, you will become old friends. Proverbs 2:17 describes a spouse as the companion of your youth, God’s covenant being the bond between the two of you. Your body is precious - it is not meant for a stranger. We ought not to gamble our body, risking it to a stranger who may come and go. It is only meant to be given to your companion by covenant.

Sexual desire and intimacy is designed for a binding covenant relationship of companionship and love, namely, marriage. It is designed for a context of security and reliability founded not on merely feeling or preference, but on lifelong commitment through thick and thin to give yourselves to one another. It is in this context that the trust necessary for love and intimacy can flourish. Proverbs 31:10–11 says, “An excellent wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain.” The husband and wife unite their fortunes and work together to lead their household in different ways for their common good. This is the ideal context for raising children. Sexual union is a sign and seal of this broader life-uniting union, celebrating it and strengthening it. To use sexual intimacy outside this context perverts it from its intended use.

So our ideal is not sexual autonomy, but rather sexual fidelity - remaining faithful to God’s intent for our bodies and reserving sexual intimacy to a context of covenant fidelity in marriage. Sexual union is meant to be an aspect of a larger and covenanted union of life.


Continue this series here:
Motives to Sexual Fidelity (Part 2)
Directions for the Pursuit of Sexual Fidelity (Part 3)

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