How is chastity lived out within marriage?

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How is chastity lived out within marriage?

Sep 01, 2008 |Candice Watters
Question

My fiancé and I both listen to your podcast and read the blogs and articles on a pretty frequent basis, and both of us were wondering a bit about something that was addressed in a recent show.

You mentioned that chastity isn't only about abstinence outside of marriage, but it's also something that you bring into the marriage with you. It was a brief mention, but my fiancé and I are curious about what this looks like and how chastity is lived out within marriage. Could you take some time and address this in the future?

Answer

What is chastity? My dad used to tell us kids that the master bedroom was Mom's and his "holy of holies." We didn't fully understand at the time what he meant, but we knew enough to know it was special. Off limits to us. Looking back, I like the way they kept a space reserved just for them. It was private. And on occasions when I'd need to be in there, I always felt a little like a trespasser.

Living chaste within marriage means not doing anything to violate that sacred space — whether with another person (adultery), with your mind (pornography/fantasy), or even with one another. It's all about honor.

Chastity sounds like an old fashioned virtue. I suspect most of us, upon hearing the phrase, "she's a chaste young woman," might define it as "she's not having sex." But chastity goes beyond abstinence. Far beyond. That's why we can say we believe it's a welcome — even essential — virtue in strong marriages.

The 1828 edition of Webster's Dictionary defines chastity in marriage as being "true to the marriage bed," and in language as "pure; genuine; uncorrupt; free from barbarous words and phrases, and from quaint, affected, extravagant expressions."

Chastity applies to marrieds as well as singles. For those of you who are still single, there are great benefits to being chaste now, both in the present as well as the future. As Dawn Eden writes in Thrill of the Chaste,

"... people who marry without understanding chastity are stunted. It will be hard for them to grow together as they should, because they have yet to develop spiritual gifts that are best nurtured before marriage — like patience, faithfulness, and self-control.... Chastity is a lifelong discipline, based on the understanding of the nature of sexual intimacy — what sex is and what it's for."

So what is sex? Properly understood it's the physical and spiritual union of man and woman (Matthew 19:5, Ephesians 5:31). And what is it for? Unity, intimacy and procreation. According to J. Budziszewski, marital intimacy is "more than one-flesh unity; it's what sanctifies one-flesh unity. The act of marriage is the entrance into a divinely blessed and covenantally-sealed procreative partnership."

Hebrews 13:4 says, "Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral." That doesn't just mean we're only to have sex with our mate, but that what kind of sex we have, and how we go about having it matters.

In an old Boundless article, J. Budziszewski answered the question "What does sexual purity mean within marriage? Can you step out of line with sex within marriage?" To which he replied,

I think you're asking, "Is it OK for married couples to do anything whatsoever with each other?" No, even within marriage there is such a thing as stepping out of line.

God invented male and female, sex and marriage, for at least three purposes. One is to unite the couple in a deep, permanent, trusting and self-giving bond. Another is to have children and bring them up to love the Lord. The third is to make the couple a living symbol of the sacrificial love of Christ for the Church and the Church's adoring response.

Purity means that married people may have sex only with each other, and only in ways that honor and celebrate these three purposes. Anything that dishonors them is impure, grieves God and ultimately hurts even the spouses themselves. A few examples are having sex in ways that hurt or humiliate, refusing sex out of spite, making selfishly excessive demands for sex, refusing the gift of children, and pretending that the spouse is someone else.

Sex within marriage is capable of meeting needs that each spouse has, but ironically, it does so best when the emphasis is not the self, and selfish needs, but the other. The more selfless husband and wife are, the more fully the sexual act satisfies. Paul tells us to give selflessly.

The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:4-5).

In contrast, lust is all about gratifying the self. Lust is a sin within marriage as much as it is outside it — even lust for your spouse. That's because lust is the objectification of another. And people, beings made in the image of their Creator, aren't objects. As believers, we're called to honor one another. It's a misconception that as long as you wait till you're married, any and every mode of sexual expression is legit. Romans 12:9-10 says, "Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves." That's no less true in marriage than in among believers in the church.

I pray this will give you and your husband lots to ponder as you strive to honor one another and the Lord with your marriage.

Sincerely,
CANDICE WATTERS

Copyright 2008 Candice Watters. All rights reserved.

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