Brothers and Sisters II: Audience

We have a problem in our relationships.  If you’re single, you’ve likely struggled with this problem.  If you’re married, I could show you how you have the same issue. When it comes to relational intelligence, we stink.  I’ve mentioned several reasons for this in previous posts using K-I-S-S-I-N-G as a doorway for discussion.  My most recent post (of a similar name) pointed out that our married relational problems oftentimes stem from our pre-married relational conduct.  In other words, once you’re married, you’re playing like you practiced.

Last time, we looked at the first of three aspects of living as brothers and sisters.  Authority had to do with the playbook; the rulebook.  It’s a fair question: how do you know when you’re doing it right?

Should you kiss?  How do you know?

Should you stop your hands at hers or are her other parts within the limit?  How do you know?

Should you open up your hopes and dreams to him even though you only recently met?  How do you know?

What are the answers to the “how do you know?” questions? This is authority’s question.  Many would say, “whatever both people agree on.”  That’s the standard answer, I’d agree.  What if the two parties don’t agree?  Who is right?  Does she win or does he?  How do you arbitrate?  Most often I think the answer lingers at “whatever I feel comfortable with.”  Our “default” setting is me.  What if “me” is not right?

If I choose the wrong authority, and, therefore, the wrong standards, then at least two people are in for some trouble.  Also last time, I asserted that many Christians default to this standard and in so doing basically claim that the Bible has nothing to say to us.  That’s a serious issue as well: what else are we willing to say is outside of the reach of the Bible?

Why do we do this?  Christian, why do you turn away from the Bible’s guidance in your relationships?

Audience.  I think it has to do with audience. Now, how you answer these questions of authority reflect your intended audience.  What I mean is “who are you trying to please?”  You know what I mean by this.  Have you ever done a job for a co-worker or a friend and done something similar for a boss or authority figure?  Isn’t there a slight (or more) up-tick in quality for the latter rather than the former?  Especially when bonuses are at stake?

Who are they?  The audiences, I mean.  For whom do you do what you do?  It’s pretty simple, actually.  Whoever sits on your heart’s throne – who’s opinion matters most to you – is your audience.  Whatever rule book he (she) uses, you use.  We do all things for a reason and that reason is always a person.  Who’s the person?  Who are the choices?  There’s “me,” and “God.”  That’s it.  In other words, you do what you do either for your own good, glory and gain or for God’s.

This is seen in many places:

The Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:2-17)

The Two Great Commandments (Matthew 22:37-40)

The Royal Law (James 2:8)

The Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)

The Only-Love-Matters (Galatians 5:6)

The Act-Like Men (1 Corinthians 16:14).

In these passages we are repeatedly directed first to God and then to others; never to ourselves.  There are only three personal actors in the universe and it is strange that never are we told to act only for our own good.  But we are regularly (repeatedly) told to act for God’s and for others.

In the Bible in 2 Corinthians 5, Paul tells us that we should live in such a way (by faith: 5:7) as Christ is pleased (5:9), “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please Him [Christ].”  Christians know what this is like – but we all do, really.  We all live for whoever or whatever is most important to us – our treasure drives our heart (Matthew 6:21).

Christians would say that Christ is our audience.  I would believe any Christian (at first) who made this claim.  But the issue is not so simple (says Jeremiah).  Let’s backtrack a little: say you are in a relationship with a girl (guy).  Whoever is involved competes for the title “audience.”  By that I mean the one who sits on the heart’s throne.  If you’re trying to impress her, you’ll do whatever she wants because you want her to think much of you (you’re the audience).  Her approval, affection, attentiveness – whatever – is what you long for, so you’ll shape your behavior so that you’ll get what you want.

The other way to do this relationship is that God would be the audience.  It would be for His pleasure, for the good of His church, according to His plan and His rules.  This foundational commitment is found in places like 1 Corinthians 10:31 or Colossians 3:23.

How do you know for which audience you are living?  What rules are you using?  Audience starts with authority, but you already knew that.

Brothers and sisters, not husbands and wives Part I

Religious people should act differently than non-religious people.  Among the reasons people engage in the religious cultus is the effect is has on living.  Seems logical, right?  Active participation in a set of practices motivated by unique beliefs should mark people A as different than people B.  Clearly, Christians should be marked by a specific set of behaviors and those behaviors should set them apart from others.

Alas, one look at a barna.org survey or article in any major newspaper will reveal that in the area of relationships (marriage preeminently) there is little to no difference between professing Christians and non-Christians.  The challenges in accurately defining “Christian,” notwithstanding, we who make claims to follow Christ don’t demonstrate our faith skillfully in relationships.  Here are excerpts from data from such a survey found at ReligiousTolerance.org

Religion % have been divorced
Jews 30%
Born-again Christians 27%
Other Christians 24%
Atheists, Agnostics 21%

More specifically:

Denomination (in order of decreasing divorce rate)

% who have been divorced

Non-denominational ** 34%
Baptists 29%
Mainline Protestants 25%
Mormons 24%
Catholics 21%
Lutherans 21%

And what about region?

Area % are or have been divorced
South 27%
Midwest 27%
West 26%
Northeast 19%

So much for the “Bible Belt” having any effect….Divorce, premarital sex, extra-marital sex, hostility, coldness, late-marriage divorces, etc. mark Christian Marriage.  This is pathetic, sad and hypocritical.

Why is it that way?  What are the reasons for these startling statistics?

Of course, the diagnosis is complicated.  But, as a student of young professing-Christians adults I tend to believe part of the problem is a poorly-managed pre-married relational life. By this I mean the period of time we spent dating, pre-engaged and then engaged.

This K-I-S-S-I-N-G or PDA blog thread has been aimed at this issue.  And this particular post strikes close to the heart of the relational problems.  The character of our pre-married relational life is most often marred by the fact that we don’t view each other as brothers and sisters but rather trial-husbands and trial-wives.

As a result, this relational time is marked by “dating divorces.”  How do you know if you have had a “dating divorce” or if what you’re watching in your close friend is a dating divorce?  By how it has or will end.    In other words, you can gauge the biblical character of a relationship by how it ends.  If a “break-up” is like a quasi-divorce in many ways, then the man and the woman treated each other like spouses during the relationship rather than like siblings.

A quasi-divorce would include things like great anger at each other, follow on depression, arguing over material things, indulgent addictive behavior, rushed follow-on relationships, no communication, or splintering among friend groups along “party” lines.

Many (most) Christian dating relationships-in-progress look like marriages with minor modifications:

  • Unrestrained physical touch save (usually) only sexual intercourse
  • Vigorous exclusion of other people and relationships
  • Baring of all secrets, thoughts, and desires
  • Intense dependence
  • Presence of jealousy
  • Practice of marriage roles: heads and helpers

Many operate on the “test drive the car before you buy” theory.  On Chicago public educator who, with her fiance, waited until their wedding day to kiss (gasp!), replied, “You can’t take the car out of the parking lot until you pay for it.”  Nice.

If many of our marriage problems find their roots in our pre-married relational life, then we should be more concerned about doing that part of our life right.  Right.  What makes a relationship between a non-married man and non-married woman “right?”  Let’s consider three things: authority, audience and approach.

Authority.  The appropriate constellation of questions to ask regards the regulation of such relationships: what standards are they using?

  • What is the relational playbook being used?
  • What is informing the conduct of such relationships?
  • Where are the rules written down for them?

We don’t do anything without rules, folks.  Whether they’re explicit or not we follow some set of rules.  It could be what you grew up seeing in your parents.  Maybe you’ve had “satisfying” relationships in the past and you’re just trying to do current ones that way.  Some search through the myriad of self-help relational books you can find at any Christian bookstore.  Oprah, Dr. Phil, Judge Judy, Joyce Meyer, Joel Osteen…the list of celebrity “experts” is limitless.  Peers also provide rules – whatever my group is doing, I do.

We do all of this – Christians, now – because in some sense we believe the Bible doesn’t provide any relevant guide (save “No Sex”) for us.  Or worse, we won’t follow what the Bible does say.

Since this is part I of this particular topic, why don’t you take a minute and write down what you think the Bible says regarding non-married, heterosexual relationships.  What instructions does the Bible give to you?  How do you understand verses like 2 Timothy 3:16-17 relative to relationships?

Wait to Smooch – #2

I am pleased with some of the comment-traffic that this is generating.  What is interesting is that many think PDA (pre-marital displays of affection) are really conscience issues.  I find that to be an interesting (and potentially significant) piece of feedback.  Of course, I am open to such argumentation.  However, I drive on in explaining my reasons for suggesting that PDA is likely not appropriate (I’m thinking about the conscience stuff, truly).

I have developed a reason that I didn’t at first list.  (Is this breaking the rules?  No, wait, I make these rules here…)

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.  The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights and likewise the wife to her husband.  For the wife does not have authority over her own body but the husband does.  Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body but the wife does.  Do not deprive one another…so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

1 Corinthians 7:2-5

This passage is about marital sexuality from a context of ownership.  In marriage, Paul says one of the constraints on our sexual expression is that our bodies are not our own but our spouses.  And as such we are not free to use them as we please in any form of sexual immorality.  Marriage is a fence to help keep us holy in this way.

A (short and incomplete) detour.  What about the impulse to have sexual relations?  What is that for?  Are they just physiological, biological or organic?  I believe these impulses exist in us because of our built-in connectedness (we were built to be plural: Genesis 2:18 [with the opposite sex]; 3:8 [with God]).  God designed us to be together and not alone.  He gave us these impulses as a means to draw us to another in marriage.  But that’s not all.  These are, in some sense, sacramental (thanks, CC), in that they represent something else.  They seem to exist not just for our horizontal relational trajectory but for our vertical one as well: they are designed to remind us that He is our Ultimate source of satisfaction and connectedness (did anyone read Psalm 34:8??).  They are supposed to draw us near to Him.  And, this is especially true if one is single.  It is, however, also true when one is married.

Back to the Corinthian passage: what about the unmarried?  Who “owns” the unmarried Christian’s body?  What fence does he or she have?  Is there a comparable ownership principle for their protection from Satan?  Yes.  Christ owns his or her body.  He is the Husband (2 Corinthians 11:2-3; James 4:4-6; Revelation 21:2) and it is to Him that unmarrieds should go with their impulses of connectedness (read: PDA) so they too have a means to avoid the lure of Satan instead of to another single person.  (By the way, isn’t it interesting that in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, in referring to lust, said that to lust was to commit adultery?  He didn’t specify that He was talking to married folks – without understanding our status as married-to-Christ-even-if-unmarried-to-a-spouse this wouldn’t make sense for a single person; they could even go so far as to say “this doesn’t apply to me.”)

Does Christ’s ownership of Christian’s bodies preclude PDA?  Has He built into us a means to keep us from Satan that we undo when we engage in PDA?  Is it taking His ownership seriously when we engage in PDA?

These questions must be answered.