It is time to attempt answers to another collection of questions from my Ask Me Anything feature. This week’s questions concern the Proverbs 31 woman, sex that doesn’t go all the way, abstinence during times of separation, the great cloud of witnesses, and pursuing your vocation.
Looking over Proverbs 31, something came to mind. You see her busy with worldly concerns, but you don’t see her reading the Bible/Torah, talking about God, praying, or witnessing. Since this is held up to be the ideal for wives, I have a question: Why isn’t she pursuing religious issues and why aren’t they even mentioned?
To be honest, I don’t know, but it’s certainly an interesting observation and one that stands in stark contrast to how we tend to instruct women today. I will leave the question here in the hope that someone chooses to answer it elsewhere.
I agree with just about the whole thing, and scoff (or grieve) at the dumb things people say at funerals. But the belief that “He’s looking down at us” is certainly supported by Hebrews 12:1, don’t you think?
Hebrews 12:1 says this: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us…” It is not a novel interpretation to suggest that this great cloud of witnesses is actually watching and witnessing the lives of believers today. However, it is not one I find as compelling as interpreting it something like this: “Therefore, since it’s like we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses.” In other words, we have the example of those who have gone on before and it’s like they are a crowd who is watching and cheering us on and, even better, showing us how we are to live.
I like how Edgar Andrews puts it:
Their ‘witness’ as spectators suggests that we ourselves are under observation as we pursue our own ‘work of faith, labour of love and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1 Thess. 1:3). Lane points out that ‘The participle … “surrounded by” particularly suggests that they are witnesses to our efforts’, while the Living Bible’s paraphrase reads; ‘since we have such a huge crowd of men of faith watching us from the grandstands’ (apparently forgetting that women also feature in Hebrews 11!).
However, we must not take this too literally. While our own ‘work of faith’ is most certainly performed ‘in the sight of our God and Father’ (1 Thess. 1:3), we need not assume that the faithful dead are actually watching our every action (a somewhat alarming idea). Rather, it is as if they were spectators—people whose expectations would be disappointed if we failed to emulate their exploits in the arena of faith.
Likewise, while the ESV Study Bible admits the possibility that “they may now be watching or ‘witnessing’ believers’ lives,” it, too, states, “nowhere else does the NT envisage saints in heaven watching saints on earth, nor does it encourage Christians ever to pray to these believers in heaven or to ask for their prayers.”
I have been wondering if many of your newer readers are aware of your series on the best Bible commentaries. Perhaps you could share them again.
I’m not sure, actually. So here it is: The Best Commentaries on Each Book of the Bible.
Before my wife and I were married she developed a very serious physical problem in her lower back. Her doctor recommended that she absolutely not have children until the back issues were significantly different with the risk of doing serious permanent damage to her back. With that in mind, we haven’t had “normal” sex in our first two years of marriage. What I mean by that is we haven’t had penetrative intercourse. We have performed our own ways of achieving pleasure instead. We both agreed this is what is best. My wife has told me that she is glad that we have done it this way and does not feel like we made any mistakes. Every time I read an article on Christians and sex, I never hear of couples doing anything like this. I definitely do not want to be sinning, but I would think caring about my wife’s physical health would trump any “normal” thing we do as far as sex goes. Am I wrong in thinking this way?
One thing I’d want to clarify is this: “We have performed our own ways of achieving pleasure instead.” This could be read to mean the two of you are each pleasuring yourselves, perhaps even in isolation from the other. What I hope and believe it means is that you are pleasuring one another and making this a mutual experience. If that is the case, I believe you are honoring God. I believe he is pleased with how you are adapting to a physical infirmity. God is honored when couples enjoy sexual intimacy, not merely when they have full-on penetrative sexual intercourse. While we don’t want to butcher the Song of Solomon by equating each line with a specific sexual act, at the very least it demonstrates a couple finding many and creative ways to enjoy and to pleasure one another. God not only allows us such freedom, but invites us to enjoy it.
I think we all need to be careful with notions of “normalcy” when it comes to sex. Sure, every couple would love to think that every X days they will be able to have a wonderful, mutually-satisfying, passionate encounter. And I suppose we are all prone to think that every other couple experiences such bliss. But real-life has its ways of interfering with such dreams. Just about every couple goes through periods, and sometimes very long periods, where they instead have to merely “make do.” They know that sexual activity is commanded by God and an integral part of a healthy marriage, but for whatever reason, they cannot go “all the way.” In such cases, or even just for the sake of fun and variety, there is nothing in the Bible that would keep them from doing whatever else they both find desirable and pleasurable. See the next question and answer for some more guidelines and perhaps read this article: Keep On Learning to Dance.
In the article you indicated that men should not masturbate. But what if you are in the military and away from your wife for about a year? What are your thoughts on that situation?
There are some questions we need to grapple with that the Bible does not directly address, and this is one of them. That said, the Bible is not silent either, and there are principles we can draw upon.
First, you have no right to do what your spouse forbids or what your spouse is unaware of. When you married, you gave the rights over your body to your wife, so you have no right to experience sexual pleasure apart from her knowledge and assent. “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” (1 Corinthians 7:4). You are not allowed to have a secret or solo sex life.
Second, if either spouse has an uneasy or accusing conscience, you must not do it. “For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Or, as Luther said, to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. We must carefully and biblically inform our consciences, but never ignore or violate them.
Third, sex is meant to be a mutual act, not an individual one. The purpose of sex is not simply to achieve some physical release but to enjoy physical, emotional, spiritual, and relational intimacy with a God-given spouse. This cannot be achieved through masturbation. In fact, masturbation does the opposite. It enforces and increases isolation rather than relationship.
Fourth, the grace of God is sufficient to protect against all sexual sin. In other words, with the help of the Holy Spirit, a man and his wife can endure a year-long separation and not sin. It’s possible for those who take hold of his grace.
Well and good. But what about geographic separation? What do we do with the “do not deprive one another” of 1 Corinthians 7 when a husband and wife are forced apart? I would be leery to lay down a law of total abstinence and give it the weight of biblical authority. I just don’t see the Bible addressing this with enough clarity to risk binding another person’s conscience. So perhaps each couple will need to address the question on their own, and I hope they would address it in line with the four points I’ve just listed. Perhaps a couple can establish some means of intimacy even from afar. I’d strongly recommend that not involve videos or photos or other electronic images that may be seen by others. This may be a good issue for a couple to discuss not only with one another but with a pastor or another couple.
Your article entitled “Pursue Your Vocation” is very relevant to me right now. I am a father of four children under eight years of age. We are a single-income, upper-middle class family. I lost my medical sales job just before I turned 40 and think I might be experiencing a mid-life crisis of sorts. I am struggling to know what to do next. I want a passion, a purpose, a vocation, but I don’t know what it is. As you mentioned in your article, it has led to an idleness that has made me a sitting duck for lust. Perhaps the problem is that I tend to over-spiritualize these things and believe I need a sign or a clear movement of the Holy Spirit in my heart to move forward. One day I want to be an entrepreneur, the next I want to be a missionary. I am an aimless wonderer. I’ve actually been stuck in this pattern for far longer than since I lost my job—perhaps even 10 years. I am losing hope.
I’ve long found that some men respond best when spoken to in a gentle and encouraging way. On the other hand, some men respond best when they receive the verbal equivalent of a swift kick to the backside. I don’t know you, so can’t ascertain which is most fitting. Perhaps I’ll try both.
I am 40 and, in that way, well-familiar with the thoughts that can come at mid-life. Like you, I sometimes wonder if I’m doing the right thing or the best thing with my life. Like you, I sometimes wonder if I’ve really done or ever will do anything of lasting value. Like you, I sometimes wonder if I’m missing out on what I’m really meant to do. So I understand.
For all that, I don’t think it’s realistic to expect we will receive some mystical calling from God telling us to do one thing or another. God has gifted us with wisdom and insight, he has gifted us with the Holy Spirit, he has gifted us with godly spouses and pastors. We have all we need to consider who we are, what options are available to us, and what paths we ought to pursue.
I’d encourage you to study 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 to see the priorities of sexual purity, commitment to the local church, and hard work in the life of the Christian. These are basic Christian priorities, yet it seems they are not ones you have mastered. This passage assures us that all work is noble. Paul does not rate missionary or pastoral work as being higher than manual labor. Rather, he commends “working with your own hands.” Of course he himself was a tent-maker who labored in a regular job to provide for his own needs. He did not consider such work useless or beneath him.
Work hard, love your family, control your sexuality, and you will be living a meaningful life that is pleasing to God.
And now let me try from the other angle.
Let me assure you that God has not called you to be a missionary. I know because he doesn’t call aimless, lust-consumed men to that work. In fact, that’s the very last thing the global church needs. Before God calls a man to public ministry he calls him to private holiness. If you are unwilling to be holy, you are unsuited for ministry. Because you are unwilling to work and allowing yourself to dwell in lust, there is no way you are meant to be a missionary.
What God has called you to, though, is your own family. He calls you to provide for your wife and children. He calls for you to provide for them financially, and to lead them in holiness. I don’t know all of your circumstances, but it sounds to me like you are not working now and probably aren’t trying too hard to remedy the situation. Be warned: “If anyone is not willing to work, let him not eat,” says Paul. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” These words should have you shaking in your boots if you are listlessly, half-heartedly pursuing a new job or not pursuing a job at all. Get off the couch and work! Get up and work hard to find a job. Idleness ought to be a disgrace to the Christian man.
You say you want a passion. That’s great! Develop a passion for holiness. In fact, if you become passionate for holiness and pursue it with all you’ve got, I have a feeling that these other issues will remedy themselves in short order. The man who is passionate for holiness can do any job, endure any trial, live through any circumstance, and rejoice through it all.
What blogging apps do you recommend? I’m going to begin a blog. I have a WordPress account setup, but are their apps you use for blogging that you recommend?
WordPress is as good as it gets when it comes to a blogging platform. The only other thing you need is an app to do your writing. I highly recommend Ulysses, Byword, and various other distraction-free apps that are far superior to Word for simply getting words out of your brain and onto a screen. But mostly, just write. After all, writers write.