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Physical Intimacy and the Single Man

Single men must know now that what they do prior to marriage is not inconsequential to what happens in marriage. They will reap what they sow.

I have been married for 16 years and have four children. Here are several questions I want you to consider:

  • Do you think it would be acceptable or unacceptable for me, a married man, to have sex with a woman who is not my wife?
  • Do you think it would be acceptable or unacceptable for me to kiss, caress and fondle a woman who is not my wife (something short of intercourse)?
  • Do you think it would be acceptable or unacceptable for me to have a meal with a woman not my wife and engage in extended conversation about each other’s lives (likes/dislikes/struggles/pasts)?

If you answered “unacceptable” to three out of the three, or even two out of the three questions — “yes, it would be unacceptable for you as a married man to do those things” — I want to suggest that a double standard may exist in your mind. Many people who answer “unacceptable” with regard to me, as a married man, would not say “unacceptable” for the single man.

Let me give you four reasons why physical intimacy with a woman — at any level — to whom one is not married is potentially fraudulent, dangerous and just as unacceptable for a man prior to marriage as it is after marriage.

1. We are made in the image of God.

First, as we have already seen, we are made in the image of God, and everything we are and do images, or represents, God. Therefore, we should be careful in what we do with our bodies. This is particularly true for the Christian, who has been united to Christ who is the perfect image of God. As Paul writes:

Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20, NIV)

Now to the male reader who says, “Lying with a prostitute is a black-and-white issue, and of course I would never do that,” allow me to reply: You are missing the point. Being bought at a price by God should compel you to honor Him with everything you have and with everything you are, including your body. You are an image-bearer. And if you are a Christian, you are a name-bearer. Are you bearing well the image and name of a holy God by the way you conduct your relationships with the opposite sex?

2. We are called to protect, not take advantage of, our sisters in Christ.

Christian men are called to protect their sisters in Christ, not take advantage of them. Consider 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 (NIV):

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.

Where the NIV says, “No one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him,” the NASB says, “no one should defraud.” Defraud means “to deprive of something by deception or fraud.”

What do I mean by defrauding in this context? Simply put, a man defrauds a woman when, by his words or actions, he promises the benefits of marriage to a woman he either has no intention of marrying or if he does, has no way of finally knowing that he will. The four authors of this chapter often speak on this topic because we know that brothers in Christ in our church and yours are defrauding (taking advantage of) sisters in Christ, and as the apostle James says, “My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10).

Executives from the corporate giants Enron and WorldCom were once on trial for fraud. They had painted a picture of business health, growth and prosperity when in fact it was all false. The single men in our churches must be encouraged to ask themselves, In my relationships with single women, am I painting a false picture and committing fraud? What may be considered innocent — holding hands, putting an arm around her in the pew, some “light” kissing, long talks over Starbucks coffee — all send the message to a sister that reads, “You’re mine.” Single men must be careful here. A Christian woman is first and foremost a sister in the Lord. I trust none of us would do anything inappropriate with our own flesh-and-blood sisters. How much more a sister in the Lord! She may or may not become the man’s wife. But she will always be a sister. Her heart, the “wellspring of life” (Proverbs 4:23, NIV), must be guarded as if it were the man’s own.

Statistically speaking, a single man should recognize that any single woman with whom he speaks will probably be someone’s wife, and he will probably be someone’s husband — maybe each others, maybe not. So there should be no difference in standards of physical intimacy between the single man’s conduct with a single woman and my standards as an already married man. Single men must conduct themselves in a way that will not result in embarrassment or shame in the future.

3. We need to guard our eyes and hearts and bodies for marriage.

Single men need to guard their eyes and hearts and bodies for marriage. “For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life” (1 Thessalonians 4:7, NIV). A person will not fully know how critical this is until marriage, but trust us old married guys and know that what is done with the eyes, heart and body before marriage matters. Too many times we have seen a Christian man and woman fall in love, get engaged and then discover, during pre-marriage counseling, that their past relationships are no small factor. Too often, past physical relationships become impediments in the marriage bed.

We do not want a brother standing at the altar on his wedding day looking at his beautiful bride only to imagine behind her the boys and men who took advantage of her and robbed her of the trust and confidence that she now needs for her husband. We do not want a sister standing at the altar on her wedding day looking at her handsome groom only to imagine behind him a string of relationships with girls and women he failed to honor, and knowing that images in his head from pornography use and past flings may stick with him for a long time.

If I have just described you, you may have a painful road ahead of you, but our God is a great deliverer. The grace of God displayed in the shed blood of Christ on Calvary is more than sufficient not only to forgive you of past sins but to fit you for offering the comfort you have received to others, whether you eventually marry or not. If you have failed or are failing in this area, then remember your calling and resolve to stop now and prepare yourself for marriage. Guard your eyes and heart and body.

4. We need to make good deposits in the Marriage Bank.

We need to make good deposits in the Marriage Bank. What do I mean? The wedding day is the formal ceremony used to charter, if you will, a new bank, the Marriage Bank. Both deposits and withdrawals will be made at this bank. Men will make deposits with their actions of holy living, faithfulness, gentleness, compassion, strength, prayerfulness, and washing their wives in the Word. And wives will draw on those deposits. They draw trust, confidence and faith.

What most men do not understand is, although the Marriage Bank is not officially open till the wedding day, deposits can be made early. The husband who goes into the workplace among attractive, unbelieving women may find that his wife will be tempted to doubt his fidelity because of how he treated her when she was not his wife. Or, he will find she trusts him because he was so careful to protect her when she was not his wife — emotionally, spiritually and physically.

To the single reader, then, let me encourage you to live now in light of the future you desire. Treat all women in a way that ensures, when doubt arises, that the one woman you do marry will be able to draw confidence and faith from the pre-marriage deposits you made through prayerfulness and holy living.

In short, single men must know now that what they do prior to marriage is not inconsequential to what happens in marriage. They will reap what they sow. So they must decide now to sow well. The short-term pleasure of physical intimacy outside of marriage must not be allowed to damage the prospects for long-term joy inside marriage.

From Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, John Piper and Justin Taylor editors, copyright 2005, pages 141-145. Used by permission of Crossway Books, a ministry of Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois 60187, Download for personal use only.

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About the Author

Matt Schmucker

Matt Schmucker serves in a dual capacity as the Director of 9Marks and as an elder at Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. He has spent more than 10 years in nonprofit work and church administration.

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