How far is too far?
Maybe, when thinking about the relationship between men and women, you've asked yourself, 'How far is too far?'.
Is it OK to hold hands with someone?
Is kissing OK?
What about “heavy petting” (such an odd phrase!)?
Well, this [article] isn't going to answer those questions!
The reason for this is that the question 'How far is too far?' is not the right question to ask. I'll try and explain.
My guess is that it wouldn't have been unusual to hear a Jew ask the question, 'How far is too far?' (cf. Luke 10:29). The Jews we brought up in a society where they had particular laws to keep: laws about what they wore, what the ate, what to do with their money, etc. These laws were holy and good (Rom. 7;12) and gave people guidance in their life (Ps. 19:7-8). And the New Testament says this about them:
We know that the law is good if one uses it properly. We also know that law is made not for the righteous but for lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious; for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers, for adulterers and perverts, for slave traders and liars and perjurers – and for whatever else is contrary to the sound doctrine that conforms to the glorious gospel of the blessed God, which he entrusted to me. [1 Tim. 1:8-11]
Notice what it says in verse 9: the law is not for righteous people, it's for people who are unholy. Initially, that sounded a little odd to me (surely the law would be for people who were holy, because they keep it, right?). But then, wonderfully, on two separate occasions relatively close together, I heard two people – Mark...and Phil... – independently teaching about this and it cleared it up no end. Basically, people who are going to do the wrong thing need laws – the laws are there to stop them from doing the wrong thing. Righteous people don't need law because they aren't going to do the wrong thing. Perhaps a person hates somebody else, so they prepare to kill them…but then they hear that it's against the law to kill someone, so they refrain – they needed the law to stop them from doing wrong.
An illustration that both Mark and Phil gave when explaining this was that of a boundary: the law is like a hedge or a wall around a garden. Outside this garden it's dangerous: there are horrible people, dangerous animals, loneliness, frustration and darkness. Inside the garden, there's fun and love and light. At the centre, God lives. There are some people who, although they are in the garden, have an unhealthy tendency to want to leave the garden, to wander away from God. Thankfully, God caused a hedge to grow around the garden so that, when people think of straying off into the coldness outside, they can't – the hedge stops them. The idea is for the people to eventually realise the goodness that's in the garden and want to stay. When this happens, when the people want to stay, the dark place outside the garden is no longer an attraction at all, and the hedge isn't even a consideration. What the people now think about is God, who's in the centre of the garden, and who provides love and warmth and fulfilment (Ps. 16:11). The law was this hedge: it stopped some of the people who would have like to have done the wrong thing from doing the wrong thing. But the law, which is on the edge of the garden, is not the most important thing. The most important thing is God, who's at the centre.
If our focus is on questions like 'How far is too far?', it's like we're focusing on the hedge – we're in the garden, but we're looking at the boundary, trying to see how far into the darkness the hedge will flex if we push it. Rather, we should turn around from the hedge and put our focus on God instead, who's at the centre of the garden. The closer we get to God, the further away from the hedge (and the darkness) we get, and the less we'll be interested in questions like, 'How far is too far?'. Rather, we'll be interested in doing the best for other people, including our girl/boyfriend. We won't want to see how “far” we can go; rather, we'll see how much care we can show.
To return to the person who had hate in their heart for a moment: even though that person didn't murder someone (the law stopped them from doing it) they still has the hate in their heart; if it wasn't for the law, they'd be an actual murderer, so they can be described as a murderer still (1 Tim. 1:9; compare Jesus' words in Mat. 5:21-22) – in the words of 1 Timothy 1:9, they are unholy. The only thing that stopped them was the law (and so, the law is good!), but they are still unholy because they have hate in their heart (and it's the heart that God's interested in: 1 Sam. 16:7; 1 Chron. 28:9). As we've just been saying with reference to getting closer to God, a more excellent way is to live by the teaching that 'conforms to the glorious good news of the blessed God' (1 Tim. 1:10-11) – a more excellent way to live is to 'live a life of love' (Eph. 5:2) because when we have love in our hearts (instead of hate or lust or selfishness), when we love people we won't want to do them any harm.
…love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "Do not commit adultery," "Do not murder," "Do not steal," "Do not covet," and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. [Rom. 13:8-10]
So, questions of “law”, like 'How far is too far?', are the wrong questions to ask. They both focus on the “hedge”, the boundary, instead of on God, and, perhaps more worryingly, they might also (but not always) reveal a heart that's unholy, a heart of lust that, if it wasn't for a “law”, a rule, would go as far as it liked, all the way.
As Christians, people who follow Christ, our focus should be on Christ, following his example of love: should live a life of care and respect for others, desiring to keep them (and ourselves) emotionally and physically pure and safe.
Edited by luke, 21 November 2011 - 01:55 PM.