How Far Is Too Far?

Can a man carry fire next to his chest and his clothes not be burned? Or can one walk on hot coals and his feet not be scorched?” (Prov. 6:27–28).

- Proverbs 6:27–28

Reformed theology, Dr. R.C. Sproul reminds us, recognizes two sources of revelation. Special revelation, the kind we find in Scripture, is familiar to us, but it is easy to forget that the Lord reveals Himself in creation as well (Ps. 19). We can also look to the natural order to reveal the Creator, but we must be careful as our understanding of the universe is not infallible. Yet when we look at the world through the lens of biblical teaching, we can find principles for living coram Deo (that is, living holy lives in order to please God).

Dr. Sproul recommends looking to the physical realm when singles ask: “How far is too far?” Men and women from all cultures recognize the same primary erogenous zones, and so stimulation of these areas would violate the biblical teaching against fornication (Eph. 5:3), at least in spirit, if the couple is not married. No matter the protests to the contrary, even unregenerate persons usually recognize when a line has been crossed.

Looking at creation through the lens of Scripture is also helpful for married couples. The Lord’s first act of grace after the fall was to cover Adam and Eve’s embarrassment and shame (3:21). This shows us that God does not find these feelings desirable (except of course when they are necessary to produce repentance). Thus, demanding anything in the marriage bed that one’s spouse finds demeaning, embarrassing, or shameful would violate the spirit of God’s law.

In addition to these “good and necessary consequences” we draw from nature and Scripture (WCF 1.6), the general principle of wisdom is essential when dealing with these matters. Today’s passage tells us we cannot hope to get too close to fire and not be burned. In other words, we must be careful not to put ourselves into situations in which we might make the first step toward a clear violation of Scripture. For example, dating couples should not engage in a practice not clearly condemned in God’s Word if it makes the flames of passion burn too hotly. Or, a married person must not think himself immune to the temptation of adultery if he spends a lot of time with someone of the opposite sex who is not his spouse.

Coram Deo

Some of us who are married may think it innocuous to flirt with an attractive co-worker, but we ought know an “innocent” cup of coffee or conversation can be the first step towards disaster. We might think it okay to spend hours alone with somebody of the opposite sex, but we ought to know doing so on a regular basis might set us up for a fall. Whether single or married, we must use wisdom in our relationships with the opposite sex.

Passages for Further Study

Gen. 39:1–12
2 Sam. 11
1 Cor. 10:12
James 4:7

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