Before interacting with the controversial parts of Real Marriage, I want to set down a few more additional and preliminary thoughts. I am not addressing anyone in particular yet. But because I am going to be engaged in close pastoral reasoning in a very sensitive area, I want to reveal some of my foundational operating assumptions going into it. These are the premises I am going to be reasoning from.
If you make all the way to the end, you may enjoy a cartoon I pulled out of my file. Sorry for the quality of it — I couldn’t find a copy of it on line, so I had to take a picture of it. So then . . .
“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” (1 Thess. 4:4-5).
In this passage it is not clear to me whether by “his vessel” Paul is referring to a man’s wife, or to that man’s own body. In the former instance, Paul is urging a man to possess his wife sexually in a certain way, and with the latter meaning he is urging him to contain himself sexually in a particular way. Either way, for the purposes of my argument here, it amounts to the same thing.
So a man should possess his vessel in sanctifcation and honor. Who could be against that? But the devil is in the details. What does it mean exactly?
The first thing it means is that the mere fact of marriage does not automatically sanctify any given sexual practice. If it did, Paul would not have to urge Christian men to make a point of possessing their vessel in “sanctification and honor.” They are married men, and he is urging them to not pursue their gratification in a particular way. “Each one of you” includes all the men, and for those of them who are married, this clearly applies to the marriage bed (Heb. 13:4).
Now in this case the santification and honor is defined negatively. A Christian man must learn how to make love to his wife, and “not like those guys.” They are the outsiders, the pagans, the Gentiles who do not know God. Their manner of possessing their vessel is in the lust of concupisence. What’s that? What’s that, I mean, besides a fantastic word — concupisence, I mean. It means not in the “passion of lust” (ESV), and not in “lustful passion” (NASB). At the same time, and on the other hand, the lovers in the Song of Songs are drunk on each other’s love (Song 5:1), and quite right of them. “Go to it, kids,” about sums up the scriptural sentiment concerning them.
So we do not yet know what the distinction is exactly, but the important thing is that we now know that there is one. This means that there should be some kind of qualitative difference in how a sanctified and honorable man approaches a woman and how a man full of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life does. From the passages noted above, the difference is clearly not a difference with intensity.
Paul says here to the Christian men that they should take note of how it is done by pagans — or they could remember how they went after it when they were pagans — and not approach their wives in that way. But if the marriage bed were an all-purpose disinfectant, these exhortations would be entirely beside the point.
So if attitudes seek out cultural expression, and they do, and sexual attitudes seek out sexual cultural expression, this means there are certain things a married couple may not do. With me so far?
Now it also needs to be said, firmly and with a glare in the other direction, that “sanctification and honor” are not to be defined by Mrs. Grundy’s maiden aunt. They are to be defined by the Bible. What does the Bible celebrate, and what does the Bible prohibit? We are not left without guidance here. But those who have shushed the Bible up on sexual matters are at least in part responsible for an over-reaction if and when it comes.
This relates to the concluding point I made in my previous post. We need a hermeneutic that enables us to read our surrounding, unbelieving culture. Paul requires it here. Paul is saying that we have to look at what the pagans are doing and that we are to do something distinct from that. We have to learn how to “read” their lust, and write something different. This excludes a primnproper reading of Eph. 5:3-12 incidentally.
So to conclude (for the nonce). We don’t know where that dividing line within marriage is yet, but we do know that there is one. And secondly, we know from Scripture that we will not find out where that line is by reading the Bible, but rather by learning from the Bible how to read Gentile men.
Ah, yes, the cartoon. Again, sorry about the quality. If anybody knows where a clean copy is, feel free to send it my way.