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Sex & Marriage

  1. Is masturbation a sin?
  2. Is sex less spiritual?
  3. Can a believer marry an unbeliever?
  4. What about crosscultural marriages?
  5. Are arranged marriages better?
  6. Can the bride be elder?
  7. What about the dowry system?
  8. Is family planning wrong?
  9. Is childlessness a curse?

1. Is masturbation a sin?

There's of course no direct reference to masturbation in the Bible. But this is one of the major problems people face today, especially youngsters.

Men of God are divided in their opinion about this act of self-indulgence. Some feel that it's a safety valve or an outlet for sexual tension. They see nothing wrong in masturbation during periods of separation, illnesses and in conditions where one partner's sexual needs cannot be coped with by the other. Dr. James Dobson, America's foremost Christian family counsellor, says that this act cannot be condemned because it does not harm others and it's purely a personal matter. Others opine that masturbation is contrary to the laws of nature. David Wilkerson the Founder of Teen Challenge argues, "Uncontrolled masturbation stamps the whole personality with feelings of inferiority and guilt. Like a form of addiction, it causes some to withdraw into a fantasy world all of their own."

Because masturbation is a questionable act, my personal advice is that it should be avoided. Referring to the cravings of the body Paul testified, "I am allowed to do anything, but not everything is good for me. Even though I am allowed to do anything, I must not become a slave to anything" (1 Cor 6:12-20).

Self-control is a fruit of the Spirit that's indispensable both before and after marriage (Gal 5:22,23). Saying no to the desire to masturbate before marriage strengthens the will power and disciplines oneself in sexual behaviour. For the married, the act of masturbation is selfish. It doesn't benefit the partner (1 Cor 7:33,34).

If you have the habit of masturbating, don't feel hooked or condemn yourself. Look to God for help. Avoid suggestive pictures and tempting situations. Fill your mind with the Scriptures (Psa 119:9). Seek the fellowship of other believers. Involve in spiritual activities and social work. Don't neglect games and sports. Read good biographies. Never be lazy. Boredom leads to trouble. Be doing something positive. If you fail, don't feel guilty or ashamed. Rise again. Look to Jesus. He understands. Never give up!

2. Is sex less spiritual?

Sex is a beautiful gift from God. The physical intimacy between husband and wife was ordained by God even before sin entered the world. The man and the woman were made to become one "flesh" as husband and wife. Their physical nakedness before each other caused no shame (Gen 2:24,25).

The Bible admonishes the husband and the wife to give their bodies to each other without any reservation. It says, "The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." Except with "mutual" consent for a time, and that mainly for the purpose of giving themselves exclusively to fasting and prayer, the partners are not to refrain from the rights of marriage (1 Cor 7:4,5).

1 Corinthians 7:29-31 is often misinterpreted. This passage deals with five aspects: life partner, life's problems, life's pleasures, life's possessions and life's profits. The message is that all these are earthly and temporary, not eternal. For example, it is not wrong to weep when there's a death or loss; but we should not forget our hope of resurrection. Similarly, there's nothing wrong to buy things; but we must remember that we cannot keep them for ever and carry them to Heaven. In the same way, the husband and wife relationship is meant only for this "passing" earth. The partners won't be as husband and wife in Heaven, but they will be like angels (Mk 12:23-25).

It is a wrong idea that sex is only for procreation. Sex is created by God both for pleasure and procreation. The Bible says, "Rejoice with the wife of your youth. As a loving deer and a graceful doe, let her breasts satisfy you at all times; and always be enraptured with her love" (Prov 5:18,19). Sexual enjoyment within marriage is perfectly legitimate. Only extramarital sex is sin. In the very next verse there's a question: "For why should you, my son, be enraptured by an immoral woman?" (v20). "Marriage is honourable among all, and the bed undefiled; but fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Heb 13:4).

Paul predicted that one of the doctrines of demons in the last days would be forbiddance of marriage (1 Tim 4:1-3). These hypocritical teachers will not let God's people enjoy God's provisions but deceive them by their cloak of super-spirituality. Beware!

Who then are those "not defiled with women?" (Rev 14:4). This passage must be understood in the total Biblical context. The very word "defile" suggests sexual perversions and immorality, because God has already declared that the marriage bed is "undefiled" (Heb 13:4). The names of the twelve apostles were written on the very foundations of the wall of New Jerusalem (Rev 21:14); and most of these apostles were married and several of them took their wives with them in their missionary journeys (1 Cor 9:5). More-over, the Book of Revelation is allegoric. The word "women" in the text may also mean the ungodly world system. Therefore when the Bible so plainly teaches elsewhere in various places about the sanctity of sex within marriage, it is wrong to deduce from a single text what it does not say.

The world is filled with sex appeals everywhere. No man or woman is beyond the reach of the devil to be tempted in this area. Therefore let each man "have" his own wife, and let each woman "have" her own husband, and let them "come together again" and again and again! (1 Cor 7:2,5b).

3. Can a believer marry an unbeliever?

Marriage is a yoke. The Bible forbids unequal yoke (2 Cor 6:14). "You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together" (Dt 22:10).

Both the Old and the New Testaments strongly condemn intermarriage with unbelievers. Intermingling the "holy seed" with the unconverted is called as "trespass, transgression, iniquity and guilt" (Ezra 9:1-6). Even a widow who is a believer is not permitted to marry an unbeliever. "She is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, but ONLY to someone who is in the Lord" (1 Cor 7:39).

Even if your parents press you to marry an unbeliever, for whatever reason, you can firmly refuse. Obedience to parents also must be "in the Lord" (Eph 6:1). If you have fallen in love with an unbeliever, break the affair unless your fiance or fiancee gets genuinely converted. Beware of baptisms just for the sake of marriage!

True in some cases the unbelieving spouse gets converted after marriage. But no truth can be established from this. The Bible challenges, "How do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?" (1 Cor 7:16). Marriage is too serious a matter to take risk. If you have already made the mistake of marrying an unbeliever, you can now do nothing but pray and believe God for his or her salvation.

When young people from non-Christian background embrace the gospel, they find it extremely difficult to find suitable believing partners. Casteism is prevalent even among Christians in India. Christian leaders and pastors must voluntarily take sincere efforts to settle marriage for the non-Christian converts. Believing young people from Christian families should come forward to marry non-Christian converts. Why not? Sometimes the families of these converts may throw them out of their community. The Church should support such with all sensitivity and understanding.

4. What about crosscultural marriages?

Having a ministry to young people in a land like India, I cannot avoid this question but must address this burning issue honestly. India is not just a country but a country of countries because of its multicultural dimension. There's virtually no field here where casteism does not play a part. Marriage is one of them where cultural background is a major factor of consideration for compatibility.

The Bible nowhere discourages directly or indirectly cross-cultural marriages. The only thing it speaks against is a believer in Christ marrying an unbeliever. It challenges, "What part has a believer with an unbeliever?" (2 Cor 6:14,15). The one condition the Bible lays down for a child of God is that he or she must marry only a person who is "in the Lord." Otherwise he or she is at liberty to choose whom he or she "wishes" (1 Cor 8:39b). Abraham's plea with his servant not to go to the Canaanites to find a bride for his son Isaac but take a bride for him from his own country and kindred was not against a crosscultural marriage. Abraham did not want his son to return to the land from where God had called him out (Gen 24:1-19). God got angry with Miriam and Aaron who spoke against the crosscultural marriage of Moses (Num 12:1,9). Joseph's wife was a non-Hebrew (Gen 41:45).

Personally, while I am not against crosscultural marriages, I am not advocating them either. Because, even if the bride and the groom are from the same cultural background, there would be so many differences—temperamental, intellectual, spiritual, etc.— they would have to work on to keep their marriage work. Cultural difference will certainly be an additional stress factor. When the Bible says that there's no difference between Jew and Greek, it is relating to our salvation and standing before God. Jews are not higher than Greeks, and Greeks are not higher than Jews. But the social distinctions do not go off instantly. In the same text the Scripture says that there is neither "male nor female" in Christ! (Gal 3:28). What it then means is obvious!

When whites marry blacks or Easterners marry Westerners, in most instances, the children have identity crisis. When the mother tongue of the bride is different from that of the groom, they do not have a heart language for communication unless they are fluent in a common language. When a man from a civilized mainstream society marries a tribal girl from a hidden people group, all sorts of complications would develop after the honeymoon or even before it's over! In most of the South Indian communities the groom takes the bride to his house whereas the practice in certain northeastern States is for the groom settling in the bride's house, and be submissive to his mother-in-law!!! No wonder according to a recent opinion poll of 18-21 year olds, 84% declared they would prefer marrying within their community. (India Today, 27 Sept 1999). Such a mindset of this segment of Indian society, numbering 56 million, may sound too conservative but it is quite practical.

We do not encourage crosscultural marriages among the field believers in pioneer missionary work, as this hinders mass movement of people groups as communities embracing the Christian faith. But the prevalent casteism among mature Christians and in old Churches is a curse. When young people from caste Hindu families come to Christ, we must do all that's possible to find them life partners among believers of their own communities. Otherwise their family folks will become more and more hostile and bitter towards anything Christian. Social reformation is not the priority in evangelism. Otherwise Paul in his time would have compaigned against the slave trade. On the other hand to the Jews he became as a Jew and to the non-Jews as a non-Jew (1 Cor 9:20,21).

It won't please the Lord to reject a marriage proposal purely on caste consideration if other factors are satisfactory. Stern refusal to cross a culture sometimes results in marrying cousins, nephews and nieces which is unhealthy from the medical point of view. I have had the privilege of arranging several crosscultural marriages which are working well. My wife and I gave freedom to our daughter to marry from any community as long as it was in God's will.

"Thank You, Jesus, for choosing us from Gentiles to become Your bride!"

5. Are arranged marriages better?

Arranged marriages, until recently, have been normative in Indian culture. But now the number of love marriages is on the increase. Arranged marriages are an inconceivable idea for the Westerners. Even though the Eastern culture is considered to be too conservative, divorce rate is much less and family ties much stronger here. The modern young people are terribly confused over the issue.

The Bible was written in the middle-eastern culture in which marriages were mostly arranged by parents. God the Creator was the parent for Adam and Eve, and it was He who found the bride for Adam (Gen 2:22). It was Abraham who initiated the bridal hunt for his son Isaac (Gen 24:1-4). Of course there were rare instances of love marriage also, like that of Jacob (Gen 29:18-20).

When parents arrange marriages there's a tremendous advantage of their wisdom and experience of years incorporated in the choice. As long as they don't force their sons and daughters to accept their choice, this procedure is welcome. Even in the ancient times, parents gave perfect freedom to their children to accept or reject their proposal. In some Indian homes, even educated girls have no say in this matter. This is wrong. Abraham's servant was very anxious to take Rebekah to be married to Isaac. But her brother and mother said, "We will call the young woman and ask her personally" (Gen 24:56,57).

Parents must not quote Ephesians 6:1— "Children, obey your parents in the Lord"— in the matter of accepting a proposal made by them. They can suggest... recommend... encourage... and so on, but never force. A son or daughter at marriageable age is not a child but an adult and he or she must become wholly responsible for the final decision of the choice. Both the Testaments speak of this principle (1 Cor 7:39; Num 36:6).

Falling in love is not sin, but love at first sight is risky. Go slow. Consider the pros and cons. Consult your parents, trusted elders and senior Christians before giving word. Commit the matter to the Lord and wait before Him for a season. See if you have peace over the matter. If you are open and sincere, God will guide you with confirmations. If due to some reason or other, your parents don't agree, but you are assured of God's will, take time and do all that's possible to get them reconcile to the matter. Parental blessing is wonderful. Don't forget that in the Asian setting marriage brings not only two individuals but two families together. Avoid unnecessary conflicts.

Even though love marriages are becoming more and more common in India, a recent poll in some of the major cities reveals that nearly 80% of the young people prefer arranged marriages. This is encouraging. However no two young people are alike. Even within a family one child differs so much from the other. King Saul had two daughters, Merab and Michal. For the first one it was arraged marriage and for the next love marriage (1 Sam 18:19,20).

In conclusion let me give my personal opinion. Parents should sit with their grown-up sons and daughters and ask them whether they would like to make the choice themselves or have the parents make proposals. If the children opt for the first, there must be an understanding that the choice must be made known to the parents very early before making commitments. If parents would choose the candidates, they should assure the children that they would not proceed with the matter without their wholehearted consent. Whoever makes the choice, don't marry in haste lest you worry at leisure!

6. Can the bride be elder?

Eve was younger than Adam! The headship of the husband and submission on the part of the wife are naturally easier when the husband is older than the wife. But when the wife is of the same age or older, factors like the maturity of the spouses, their intelligence and experience will play a significant role for a good relationship.

Age difference is also reckoned to be an important factor for sexual compatibility between husband and wife. In India the average age of menarche is 13 years and that of menopause is 45. There's a declining sexual desire when menstruation ceases. An average boy enters puberty at 14. Most men begin to experience a slowly declining sexual function in their 50s. Therefore an age difference of about five years is considered ideal.

Men usually marry between 25 and 30 years of age and women between 20 and 25. In appearance women seem to age faster than men due to childbearing and such stressful ordeals. Medical science also does not recommend childbearing after 35.

With the number of arranged marriages on the decrease, boys and girls choose their partners in the campuses, workspots and from among their peers. Unlike olden times, girls also spend five to seven years in college after they are 17. Due to these social changes, the age difference between spouses nowadays seems to be small.

The Bible is not explicitly against a man marrying someone elder to him. The younger brothers of the husband marrying his widow for the sake of procreation was commonplace. In one instance a man's sixth younger brother married his widow! (Mt 22:24-26).

In certain sections of the Indian society a girl has to earn atleast for five years to supplement her father's savings towards the huge expenses of a traditional marriage. Several non-Christian girl converts get their marriages inordinately delayed because of problems within their own communities, and that Christian boys marry too early or they are unwilling to marry an older girl convert. Christian boys should relax the age factor for such cases. The ideal condition may not always be the best. My wife is one year elder to me, and that has not been a major problem.

7. What about the dowry system?

The groom's parents demanding large sums of money from the bride's people is a social evil that every fairminded citizen and faithful Christian must fight against. In spite of the Anti-dowry Bill passed by the Government, the dowry system is not cracked yet. Newspapers still report of bride-burning due to torturous demands of husbands and in-laws. What should be the Christian stand on this crucial issue?

In the ancient Middle East, a man was expected to make a gift to his bride's father (Gen 34:12). The word "dowry" thus originally meant "bride-price!" But today it's the groom-price! The bride-price was not always paid in money. Jacob worked for seven years in order to marry Laban's daughter Rachel (Gen 29:18). King Saul urged David to marry his daughter, saying he wanted "no other price for the bride" than evidence that David had killed a hundred Philistines (1 Sam 18:25). The bride was also given gifts by her father, which she brought into the marriage. Laban gave women servants to his daughters (Gen 29:24,29). Caleb gave a field and water springs to his daughter (Josh 15:17-19). The groom also gave gifts to the bride (Gen 24:53). Christ loved His bride the Church and gave Himself for it (Eph 5:25). The Father God who gave Christ the Bridegroom to us does not withhold any good thing from us (Rom 8:32).

When money transaction becomes a major factor in marriage, all sorts of evil will creep in. Money does matter but it does not matter for Christ-centred marriages. Many a Christian young man has missed God's best in the choice of his life-partner because he has yielded to the pressure from his parents to make money in the marriage deal. It's not cash or complexion but character that lasts (Prov 31:30). Boys must have the backbone to resist parental pressures. Throwing the entire blame on parents is not manliness.

In some circles the major chunk of properties goes to the boys, and the girls are treated as step children. This again is a violation of spiritual principles and the law of equal rights. When parents treat both boys and girls alike, it will be a major step in the eradication of the dowry system.

Both my wife and I had anti-dowry convictions and we wanted our marriage to be a testimony to it. But she was proposed to me when I had just finished my studies. I studied under a loan scholarship and my parents had nil bank balance. So my daddy asked her parents if they could wait because I had not started earning and there was no money even to buy a wedding suit. To this her father replied that they were interested in the boy and not the job. And he voluntarily gave Rs.20,000/- to my parents towards the wedding expenses. I thank God for my parents who got satisfied with this amount in those days (1970) when the dowry offers for a rankholding Engineering postgraduate ran to lakhs. However I was not happy about this transaction. After marriage I told my father-in-law that I would repay this amount to him in course of time from my earnings. He answered, "The amount was neither big nor demanded. It's the minimum I could have done to help your parents in the wedding expenses. You can go with a clear conscience."

In the repentance messages preached by late Brother N. Daniel of the Laymen's Evangelical Fellowship, Chennai, in the fifties he often condemned the dowry system. In response many husbands either returned the amount to their in-laws or settled the matter with them in order to get right with God and with men. Modern pulpits hardly address social evils. On the other hand there are pastors who bless the dowry amount so they get one-tenth of it. Shame!

Instead of standing on formalities, the richer party must help the other family conduct the marriage decently. Pushing the less affluent family into heavy debts is not Christian. If we Christians would not set up an example, who else will?

8. Is family planning wrong?

Family planning is of recent origin. Therefore one cannot find a direct teaching in the Bible on this subject. Considering the general principles of parenthood laid down in the Scriptures, we must evolve guidelines for today's context.

God told Adam and Eve to be fruitful and to multiply to fill the earth (Gen 1:28). This was a specific command given to the first couple when the earth was empty! But today several countries like India are overcrowded! Christians like other citizens have a moral responsibility to cooperate with the government to restrict population growth and thus solve the related problems.

Christ has taught us to count the cost before "building" a tower or "battling" against an enemy (Lk 14:28-31). Should we not count the cost before "bearing" children also? There are atleast three aspects each couple must consider while deciding on the size of their family—

First, health considerations. The husband should be very considerate towards the health of the wife, the weaker vessel (1 Pet 3:7). For him it is a pleasure, but for her each childbirth is an ordeal (Gen 3:16). The health of most women in modern times is permanently impaired if they bear more than two or three children. Medical advice should be respected.

Next is economical considerations. Majority of us belong to middle or lower income groups. Days are very expensive. More the number of children, less the share for each child (2 Cor 12:14b). Bringing forth children beyond one's means, saying "God will somehow provide," is an act of sheer irresponsibility.

Thirdly, the time considerations. Ours is a busy world. To make both ends meet, the husband as the breadwinner and the wife as the jamwinner have to work so many hours each day, outside and inside home (Prov 31:13,24). Unless both father and mother give sufficient and quality time to each child, they are failing in their parental responsibility (1 Tim 3:4,12; Tit 1:6; 2:4). No doubt children are a heritage from the Lord and are like olive plants all around the table! (Psa 127:3; 128:3). But is the man able to find time to sit leisurely with the children each day around the table? If not, let him not quote the above passage, please!

Jesus and Paul spoke of those who voluntarily remain unmarried for the sake of the Kingdom (Mt 19:12; 1 Cor 7:32-35). So also there can be those who voluntarily keep the size of their families small so they can give more time, money and energy to the Kingdom. Why not?

One of the passages used against family planning is Genesis 38:8,10. God got angry with Onan not because he emitted on the ground but he failed in his duty of a husband's brother (Dt 25:5-10). Onan played a hypocrite and cheated Tamar and Judah.

There are those who are against artificial methods of birth control but do practise natural methods. This is also family planning! Notwithstanding, the latter leads to psychological problems. Still others fight tooth and nail against family planning but become wiser after bearing more!

When we thus say that there is nothing in the Scripture against family planning, we don't condone abortion. Once the embryo is formed, it is life.

Many sincere believers and preachers hold a different view on family planning than what's presented here. I respect it. Disputes don't edify. Each couple must prayerfully decide what's best for them.

9. Is childlessness a curse?

"Children are a heritage from the Lord" (Psa 127:3). But for reasons we cannot understand, several godly couples don't have children.

When they saw a man born blind, the disciples asked Jesus, "Who sinned, this man or his parents?" Jesus answered, "Neither this man nor his parents sinned, but that the works of God should be revealed in him" (Jn 9:1-3). Let not childless couples condemn themselves. Barrenness is a physical defect just like blindness or deafness.

The abundance of cases of barrenness in the Bible comes as an encouragement to those who go childless. Abraham was childless when God called him. Nowhere the Bible indicates that he was under a curse till God gave him a son. Isaac was a God-blessed man but he was childless for twenty years (Gen 25:11,20,26).

Childless couples should not become desperate but deal with the situation positively. Keep on believing like Abraham and Sarah (Rom 4:19-21; Heb 11:11). Keep on praying like Rachel (Gen 30:22) and Hannah (1 Sam 1:15). Keep on walking with God and serving Him like Zacharias and Elizabeth (Lk 1:6-8). The Lord in His own time in His own way shall make His promises good.

Both husband and wife should have a medical check-up. But before investigations, they should agree that one would not blame the other. If the defect is in the wife, the husband must shower on her extra love like Elkanah (1 Sam 1:5). If the problem lies with the husband, the wife should reaffirm her respect for him. Don't give place to anger and bitterness but take everything to God in prayer (Gen 30:1,2; 1 Sam 1:10).

Should the condition be medically untreatable, as the couple continues to believe God for a miracle, they can adopt a baby. Time should not be wasted. There are so many unwanted children who need a home. It honours God when these angelic little ones are helped (Mt 18:10; Mk 10:14). Several women conceive after they adopt a child, perhaps due to hormonal changes or that God honours their noble act. It's an added blessing! In a world where parentless children outnumber childless couples, adoption is the best option, both socially and spiritually.

If husband and wife cannot agree on adoption, they can give more time for the things of God and beget spiritual children (Isa 54:1,4; Gal 4:27). They need not weep over their reproach. Everytime someone enquires, it will be like an arrow piercing through. But God's grace will be sufficient.

"Indeed the days are coming in which they will say, Blessed are the barren!" (Lk 23:29).


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