I Thessalonians 4:3-7 “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: …that each of you should learn to acquire a wife 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. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”
You may notice the words above are different than the ones printed in your own Bible. They are the words of the footnote in the NIV text. Without boring you with all the details of the Greek, there is an idiom here that can be interpreted a couple of ways. Literally Paul’s words say, “Each of you should learn to possess a vessel.” When not used literally, the term vessel can be used in Greek as a word to refer to your body, or it can be used as a term to refer to a wife. The context seems to point in the direction of marriage.
Paul is not condemning physical attraction or sexual desire between husband and wife. This isn’t some Victorian ethic he is promoting. But like our sexuality itself, marriage isn’t something we should approach with an attitude mostly concerned with, “What’s in it for me?” especially if what’s in it for me is mostly a matter of satisfying passionate lust. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that that is not a good foundation on which to build a marriage that will last. You may even know some marriages that seemed to be the result of little more than physical attraction and desire in the beginning, and they didn’t make it too far down the road before everything came apart. I know that I do.
So what is holy and honorable in pursuing a potential mate? Are we exploring our compatibility? Two people don’t have to be carbon copies of each other. In fact, that may be counterproductive. But do we share enough in values and interests to work together for a lifetime? Do our differences fill in for each other? Can we tolerate each other’s weaknesses and appreciate our different strengths? Do we both come to the relationship with a willingness to work, an understanding that I am here to serve another person with my life? Do we understand that marriage is a responsibility, because beyond ourselves it serves our family, our community, our church? Does the person I am considering marrying agree that the best way we can know we are meant for each other is by saying “I do” in front of God’s altar?
Would our marriage fit this description from a wise old Christian: “Two people who up until this point have been walking the path through life to heaven alone have now joined hands to walk that path together?” We sometimes refer to it as “Holy Matrimony.” Putting the relationship together with these kinds of questions and concerns in mind would be one way to approach it honorably, as God’s holy people.
Paul urges us to do this in a way that accommodates and respects our larger family of faith. “…and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him. The Lord will punish men for all such sins, as we have already told you and warned you. For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life.”
Dating and marriage are not a competitive sport, like you see on a TV show such as The Bachelor. As Christians we are part of a community. We don’t interfere in the relationships of other people, before or after they are married. And in our own dating and courting, we behave ourselves in a way that does not give offense to others. As God’s holy people, everything we do is giving a witness, whether good or bad.
The thing to remember is that we are God’s holy people. He cleansed us of our sins and rescued us from death first. He held us dear and wanted us as his very own for time without end. He did so that we might not be like the rest of the world. We fulfill a higher calling. We live a noticeably new and nobler life. In Jesus God has proclaimed us holy. Now he wants us to go and form holy marriages from holy relationships. It’s a spiritual goal worth pursuing.