This is a sensitive and delicate subject; nevertheless it must be addressed, especially for the sake of our younger believers and their testimony. Never before have we lived in a day when, like the apostle Paul we can say, ‘Redeeming the time, because the days are evil’, Eph. 5. 16. We can hardly find words to describe the depths that we now have reached in sexual immorality. Unfortunately, the Government holds the viewpoint that the best way to handle sin is to legalize it; homosexuality, pornography, divorce; and if the statistics are correct, and we have no reason to doubt them, the United Kingdom has the highest divorce rate and the most children born out of wedlock of any Western country. And what affects the world at large, in time creeps in among God’s people! This is well illustrated in Israel’s history. They had not to ‘be reckoned among the nations’, Num. 23. 9, yet they became influenced by those same nations and compromised their separate, sanctified position. Believers have to remain separate from the world, 2 Cor. 6. 14, and the filthiness of the flesh, 2 Cor. 7. 1; they must not to be conformed to the world either, Rom. 12. 2; but must bring ‘into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ’, 2 Cor. 10. 5, always ‘thinking on those things that are pure’, Phil. 4. 8.
The sacredness of marriage and human sexual relationships
The Hebrew epistle states, ‘Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge’, Heb. 13. 4. Sexual relationships and intercourse outside marriage are sinful and heinous in the eyes of God, yet within marriage, the sexual relationship is one of the most blessed in human experience. It is Paul again who writes, ‘the wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency’, 1 Cor. 7. 5. These verses need no exposition, being concise and clear that sexual relations within marriage are not an option, but an expression of love at the deepest level, and form a beautiful bond between husband and wife. God’s intention for marriage is that it should be permanent and the sexual relationships within it pure. The Bible forbids extra-marital sex as it does casualsex relationships. God’s original plan for marriage did not allow for either divorce or celibacy. Christians are not to forsake or deny their spouses in sexual relations, see 1 Cor. 7. 12-13; again, ‘Defraud ye not one another’, 1 Cor. 7. 5. This is an emphatic command, for sexual relations between husband and wife are God-ordained. The only scriptural exception for abstinence from sexual relationships is temporary in nature, and by mutual consent, ‘except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer’, 1 Cor. 7. 4.
We see then from the above scriptures that abstaining from sexual relations may be only for a short while, and by mutual agreement, with a specific timeframe and purpose – that of fasting and prayer. Fasting puts the flesh out; prayer brings God in, cf. Neh. 1. 4. When such an urgent time period of prayer is past, normal sexual relations should be resumed. Husbands and wives can then ‘come together again’, 1 Cor. 7. 5. The reason for quickly resuming sexual relations is ‘that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency’, 1 Cor. 7. 5. When the time of concentrated prayer is over, sexual relations should resume as a guard against falling into temptation.
Marriage: that which is lawful, that which is unlawful
Saints in a local church – and it is to them that Paul is writing, 1 Cor. 1. 2, – should marry ‘only in the Lord’, 1 Cor. 7. 39, for it is a great evil to transgress against God to marry strange wives, Neh. 13. 27. God also forbids marrying someone, ‘near of kin’ to uncover their nakedness, Lev. 18. 6. The same chapter warns against unlawful marriage, which in the eyes of God is an abomination. The Westminster Confession of Faith bears out scripture here. It states that marriage ought not to be within the degrees of consanguinity or affinity forbidden in the word of God, nor can such uncertain marriages ever be made lawful by any law of man, (Ch. 24, para. 4.) Cohabiting, lesbianism, and homosexuality, are all clearly condemned in the Bible. ‘For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature … and likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves the recompense of their error which is meet’, Rom. 1. 26-27. From these verses we can see clearly that there is no such thing as a ‘Christian’ homosexual, and on this account we have no difficulty in the matter of non-reception.
Marriage is a contract for life
‘What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder’, Mark 10. 9. Marriage vows and promises are to hold until death us do part. They do not become invalid by so-called ‘falling out of love’. The marriage covenant is broken only when one of the partners dies, so no circumstance other than death can break the bond. ‘The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth, but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord’, 1 Cor. 7. 39. Some appeal to the ‘exception clause’, but that is handled most clearly in the books, What God Hath Joined (edited by Tom Wilson and William Banks, published by Gospel Tract Publications, 2005, Glasgow), and Modern Trends In Morality (by Dr. William McBride, published by Gospel Tract Publications, 2005, Glasgow).
As saints in testimony we believe that in Christian morality, which includes the subject of this article, human sexual relationships should always yield obedience to God’s command. ‘Godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come’, 1 Tim. 4. 8. Scriptures such as 1 Timothy 4 verse 8 and 1 Corinthians 7 are full of practical instructions on human sexual relationships for, 1) unmarried men, 2) widows, 3) married and unmarried women, and set out guidelines and practical considerations in regard to human sexual relationships as well as marriage.
From a biblical viewpoint we need to establish what is ‘scriptural’ in human sexual relationships within marriage and unscriptural outside it. Pre-marital intercourse is ‘fornication’, and extra-marital sex is ‘adultery’. ‘Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? Be not deceived: neither fornicators nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of thems-elves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God’, 1 Cor. 6. 9-10. These verses are solemn and sober, pertinent and practical regarding those who will inherit the kingdom of God. ‘Now the body is not for fornication, but for the Lord’, 1 Cor. 6. 13. ‘Flee fornication. What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God’s’, 1 Cor. 6. 18- 20. ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery’, Exod. 20. 14. God here demands chastity and purity, which the Lord Jesus Christ ratified in Matt. 5. 28 where we read, ‘But I say unto you, that whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart’.
It is God’s will that believers of both sexes in the assemblies should live clean lives, for those who would bear the vessels of the Lord ‘must be clean’, Isa. 52. 11. It is more important in the eyes of God to be clean than clever. It was J. N. DARBY who stated ‘an assembly can continue without clever men but not without clean men’. Brethren have to treat ‘the elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters with all purity’, 1 Tim. 5. 2. That is, in matters of sexual relationships, we who are brethren have to treat spiritual mothers and sisters as we would treat even our physical mother and sisters, keeping ourselves pure, 1 Tim. 5. 22, ‘For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication. That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour’, 1 Thess. 4. 3-4. The biblical formula for purity among the saints is no sexual relationships – or sexual arousal that leads to it – outside of marriage. If a married person engages in sexual relations with anyone but his or her marriage partner; that is adultery. If a single person engages in sexual relations; that is fornication.
In concluding, it is in the area of human sexual relationships that so many have failed and should be an example to us, 1 Cor. 10. 11; Rom. 15. 4.
Each of the above failed in the matter of human sexual relationships, and should be a warning to us. ‘Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall’, 1 Cor. 10. 12. Let us be like Job who, with regard to his eyes said, ‘I made a covenant with mine eyes; why then should I think upon a maid?’ Job 31. 1; and like Jacob, a man with controlled hands, he ‘guided them wittingly’, ‘Gen. 48. 14; again, Jacob had controlled feet, ‘he gathered up his feet into the bed’, Gen. 49. 33. ‘Make straight paths for your feet’, says the writer to the Hebrews, Heb. 12. 13, and as the Proverb maker has it, ‘There be three things which are too wonderful for me, yea, four which I know not’, one of them is ‘the way of a man with a maid’, Prov. 30. 18-19.