In the first post in this series I explained that while the Bible speaks clearly about how we should live, there is often freedom to apply its commands in various ways. In these second two posts I hope to give some examples of how this works. These ideas can be applied to many different biblical commands, but my intent here is to examine some of the bigger issues in conservative Christianity.
“Emotional purity” is a term often found alongside discussions of guarding your heart. It takes the clear commands of the Bible for physical purity a few steps farther. This isn’t necessarily wrong, especially as Jesus Himself said that lusting after a woman is the same sin as adultery.
However, as brought up in the Botkin’s “It’s (Not That) Complicated” the term emotional purity is one we’ve made up instead of calling things sin. It can help us to categorize certain sins and explain how purity is ultimately about the heart, but I feel that it often miscategorizes the problem and thus makes fighting for purity more difficult.
Lusting after a man or a woman isn’t wrong primarily because of your or their future spouse, as emotional purity proponents often make it to be. It’s about dishonoring God, specifically in His design for marriage, just like physical purity is. From what I have studied, the ideas behind emotional purity are wisdom and application of principles of sin and selfishness more than scripture pointing to a need to be emotionally pure.
There are a lot of other terms that are thrown around, like talking about “giving away pieces of your heart.” But we don’t lose parts of our heart or give sections of it to this person or that person. We do, however, form attachments, and sometimes those attachments are hard to break and can cause difficulties and pain.
I’ve also found that it’s easy to become so focused on being “pure” and careful with our thoughts and actions that our attention is on that and not on God and loving one another. Being pure is not a biblical focus of our relationships, especially when all we can think about is not thinking about that girl or whether or not what we did could have come across as flirtatious. There’s a time for those thoughts. They just shouldn’t be the focus. The focus should be the commands God has given to serve, encourage, and love one another.
And yes, I did just say love one another. The commands of God to love one another aren’t just girl-girl and guy-guy. They’re for all believers. That doesn’t mean you can excuse applying them to dashing Johnny and not to the elderly woman or little boy. It means you help and share your life with all of them, though it will look different for them all. Loving the opposite gender may sometimes mean holding back and not saying or doing certain things to help them keep Christ the focus. But there are also times and places to share something more personal to encourage someone, even of the opposite gender. In fact, most of the time, we can and should engage in conversation that builds up with everyone – not avoiding the opposite gender but interacting with them to encourage and build them up. This will probably look different in same-gender company than in mixed, however, mostly because it’s hard to know another person’s heart and when too much time together may becoming a distraction for either guy or girl.
One final term before we move onto courtship: guard your heart. I saved this for last, because I do believe it to be a biblical phrase. However, we often apply it just to male/female relationships and not to all of life! When “guard your heart” is used in Proverbs, it’s not “guard your heart when around women,” but “guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life.” All of our affections need guarding and checking to bring them in line with honoring God! Our hearts stray to think too highly of hobbies, jobs, possessions, and, yes, the handsome new genius at church.
Courtship is another term that gets thrown around a lot, often without clear definition, although most people have some idea in their mind of what it is. To some, courtship is practically arranged marriage. To others, it is a phase that assumes you will get married unless something comes up (almost a pre-engagement). To others it is a time of seeking God and the counsel of others to determine whether or not you should marry.
We see courtship as a way to consider the possibility of marriage in a way that keeps the focus on God and not on romance. We also think that Proverbs stresses the importance of having wise counsel, and so our parents, other older adults, and friends who knew us well were involved in our relationship. We did not assume we were going to get married but knew it was a possibility if after months of talking and praying it seemed wise and desirable. One person described the pre-marriage relationship as “more than friends, less than lovers.”
Courtship is not seeking a sign from God, but weighing character and godliness, equal yoking, and confirming interest. Emotions DO play a part! In all of life, emotions should not control us but they should not be totally disregarded, either! There may or may not be any physical contact. We chose not to have any but that doesn’t mean it’s not “courtship” if there is physical contact.
Courtship does not mean there will be no heart break. The goal isn’t no pain or that we’ll have the best marriage, but to live in a way that brings God glory. The success of a courtship isn’t measured by marriage, but by a conclusion of whether or not marriage is wise being reached in a godly way.
We don’t see it as the only way to do godly guy-girl relationships. It was the best course for us, and a course we felt was built on biblical wisdom. But we believe that someone else can take that same wisdom of having counselors, honoring one another, and taking marriage seriously and apply it differently and still be totally honoring to God.
However, there are areas that the ultra-conservatives get right and our culture just has an issue with. This shouldn’t be a surprise to us when we’re following Christ. We will stand out, and people won’t understand what we do or why we do it, no matter how much we explain it. But that said, we shouldn’t be different for the sake of being different, but because we’re obeying God.
An example of Christians “just being different” from our culture is that our culture says that believing/thinking same way as your parents is immature or that you’ve been brainwashed. But Proverbs makes it clear that listening to your parents is wise! Likewise, giving your heart to your father is a concept that is often used in Proverbs, but it’s not just for daughters – Solomon often wrote “my son, give me your heart!” Exactly what that means and looks like is not so clear, but I see it as a child going to his parents to share what’s on his mind and seek and accept their counsel.
Serving others is a similar area. The idea of giving your life for someone else’s is scoffed at by our culture, but lauded in the Bible. I often hear people criticizing older daughters of large families for being stuck as a maid, etc. and while I think families should be careful to make sure their children are free to pursue their callings and interests, as Christians we can see the worth of laying one’s life down for others, exemplified by Christ, who we are to be like.
In conclusion, the Bible speaks to how we should live in every area of life. Sometimes this is in the form of very specific commands, but other times in more general teaching that we have freedom to apply in different ways as we interact with the world around us. When we take a general teaching (parents discipling their children) and turn it into a specific command beyond that (Christians must homeschool), it often leads to legalism and a lack of grace for others. Understanding this changes how we apply God’s word to our own lives, how we explain our convictions to others, and how we live in community with people who disagree.
Ultimately, however, it should be our goal to glorify God in how we live as we rest in our justification through Christ. While our lives will look different from the world around us, we should strive to be known not for being “that big homeschooling family,” but for Christ.
For further, and in many ways more important, thoughts on this subject, read Ezra’s post from last year here.
 I think sometimes it can go too far, and can lead to immaturity if children don’t decide convictions for themselves (even though they may be the same convictions their parents have). While we can and should refer to our parents’ wisdom, I think we have to be careful to not be constantly saying “my dad says…” but make sure it’s really what we think, too – especially in controversial convictions, otherwise people think that you don’t think for yourself and would get in trouble for taking a different position than your parents.
I’m also not sure about the use of Numbers 30 to emphasize a father’s particular authority over daughters. Yes, it says that if she makes a rash vow the father can overturn it like her husband would, which does emphasize the idea of daughters being under their fathers or their husband – but I think it is often taken a bit far, mostly because it is extrapolated beyond vows to become daughters helping their fathers with businesses, etc. in the same way they might help a husband (nothing specifically wrong with that, just the way it’s talked about or put as an across the board more-than-just-a-recommendation).