I feel strongly impelled within today to bring to the attention of all those who are practicing, or aspiring to practice, Christian/Messianic plural marriage, the fact that marriage - whether monogamous or polygynous - may be practiced in essentially one of two ways:
In the general sense, whether marriage is a spiritual or a carnal contract, is not really an issue, for we know that one remedial function of marriage is to provide a lawful sexual outlet for those who cannot control their lustful desires and to preclude fornication (1 Corinthians 7:9). That marriage can be used in such a way is by no means denied. However, to claim that is either a normative or a spiritual use of marriage for the Christian/Messianic is to fundamentally fly in the face of Scripture. Marriage does not principally exist for those who have uncontrollable libidos.
- (1) As a spiritual sacrament; and
- (2) As a carnal indulgence.
We need to remember this whenever we think about the reason that Yahweh, our Father in Heaven, created marriage. To enter marriage simply because one craves sex - and whilst this is a thousand times better than fornicatiion and a zillion times better than adultery - is nevertheless to entirely miss the point as to why the Creator ordained marriage in the first place. For as I hope to demonstrate conclusively in this article, marriage was not created for taking but for giving.
In terms of sexual response, men and women are very different. This is something that is well known but needs to be emphasised. Steven Arterburn writes in his book, Addicted to Love (Copyright © 1991 by Servant Publications):
Whilst Arterburn sees nothing wrong in the male inclination to separate sex from the intimacy of marriage committment, it is important to state that this tendency is very much a part of the carnal nature of men and is a fundamental weakness in them. Though women, through the masculinasing effects of feminism on them, have started to learn how to make similar detachments and to imitate the men somewhat, it is not natural to their female disposition. A woman who is true to her heart will not make a distinction between sex and emotional committment. And thus when casual relationships break up, because the man is more focused on the sex aspect than the committment one, it is usually the women who are the most devastated and feel the most betrayed.
"For women, sex is interwoven with intimacy, tenderness, stability and commitment in a relationship. It is, indeed, the ultimate expression of these things. To be sure, women do experience sexual desire and gratification at the physiological level. But it is seldom divorced from these more relational and spiritual aspects.
"In men, this distinction is far more common. To be sure, men can and do experience a craving for intimacy and commitment; they can and do view sex as an expression of these things. But male sexual response can also be readily detached from other considerations and become a psychological and physiological drive in and of itself. Sense stimuli that leave women relatively unaffected - erotic pictures, to take an obvious example - can have a powerful and immediate effect on men".
Arterburn says further:
It should be obvious from this correct observation that there is a very real danger for men with sexual addictions turning to polygamy to solve them. Having met many men interested in living this principle, as well as reading their postings on bulletin boards and in clubs, as well as advertising sections, I am convinced that the vast majority of men who are interested in polygamy are pursuing it for all the wrong motives. And I am, furthremore, convinced that one of the reasons the vast majority of Christian/Messianic polygamous marriages have been such an abject failure is in large part due to this 'lust question' not being properly addressed. Men are entering polygamy in order to find a acripturally 'legal' way to fulfil sexual addictions and fantasies; and whilst I am sure many of these men simultaneously desire to create stable marriages and commit themselves to them, this carnal dichotomy is a major cause in all the heartache they and their wives experience. For any marriage - and especially a polygamous marriage - that is entered into for motives that are primarily sexual is bound to end up on the rocks at some stage unless such addictions are properly dealt with on a ministerial level and extirpated.
"The other thing to keep in mind is that sexual addiction is about lust, not love. Love is personal; lust is impersonal. Love is concrete, focused on a particular object; lust is unfocused, capable of fixing on almost any available object. Love tends toward faithfulness; lust is a wanderer. Love seeks stability; lust is short-lived and mercurial. Love is an affair of the mind and heart; lust is an affair of the emotions and the hormones. Love is a matter of giving; lust is a matter of taking.
"Both men and women are capable of both love and lust. But men seem far more prone to experiencing lust than women, and to experiencing it more intensely and more uncontrollably. This explains why the majority of sex addicts are men; sex addiction is a lust addiction. Lust is the fuel that runs the engines of addiction.
"This in turn explains why men often see no contradiction between loving their wives on the one hand, and lusting after pictures of nude women, or even prostitutes, on the other. They experience the two as separate and distinct experiences; neither seems to interfere with the other. Thus what for women are inseparably entwined - love and sex - can seem to occupy two entirely separate niches of the male psyche."
May women are pressurised into polygamy to fulfil their husbands' sex addictions and not because either have had a 'call' from heaven to enter into it. Arterburn notes:
This guilt can lead them to accept polygamy. No polygamous marriage should be entered into because of a guilt impulse on the part of the wife. The only justification for a polygamous marriage is if:
"Understanding the way men detach lust from love helps free a wife from the most agonizing prison of all: the false belief that her husband's sex addiction is somehow her fault, that if she were only thinner, or prettier, or more glamorous, or more responsive, or more wanton in bed, her husband's need for sex would be satisfied. Many wives live under a crushing burden of guilt, believing that it is their inadequacy as women, as wives, or as lovers that has made their husbands sexually compulsive."
Entering into a Christian/Messianic polygamous marriage because the husband has a sex addiction or what he claims to be a libido that cannot be satisfied in monogamy is not only to declare that the husband's sex life is out of control but that his primary motivation is carnal rather than spiritual. And likely when this is the case, he will go to great lengths to find scriptural justification for polygamous marriage without ever addressing the real need which is deliverance ministry. No man should be entering polygamy who has major sex problems. None! And that goes for the wives too who may want extra wives to satisfy some perceived bisexual 'need'.
- (a) Husband and wife have found harmony, peace and satisfaction in their existing monogamous arrangement, on all levels including the sexual - or at the very least are working hard at achieving it - and
- (b) Yahweh has then given them a call.
This, then, as Arterburn correctly observes, is the problem:
Give a husband who has a sex addiction extra wives and he will simply want more and more wives. The root problem will not be dealt with and the real needs of the wives will not be met. The result must inevitably be a disaster.
"For many men, and especially for male sex addicts, love and lust are like two different appetites, satisfied in two different ways. Many wives believe that if they treat their husbands better, or have intercourse with them more regularly [or agree to them having extra wives - editor], the husband's addictive drives will be satisfied. This is like expecting an alcoholic to be satisfied by drinking more water. It doesn't work. The alcoholic's problem is not thirst, and is not solved by merely drinking liquid. Rather, it is only alcohol that both fuels and satisfies the compulsion. In the same way, it is not merely sex but lust that fuels the addictive behavior. The male sex addict can enjoy a wonderfully tender sexual experience with his wife and be on the prowl for lustful encounters the same day."
Arterburn's wise counsel should be heeded:
The tendency of the carnal male to separate sex from committed relationship into pure lust has to be put to death on the cross. A man who has problems with this tendency should under no circumstances enter Christian/Messianic polygamy.
"The message to wives is simple: You are not the cause of your husband's addiction, and you cannot be the cure. The problem is in him, and it is there that the battle must be fought and won. Battling this problem is not easy. You need to take care of yourself, seek out a Christian/Messianic counselor who can be supportive. Learn all you can about the problem. This will help avoid personalizing his problem onto you. Seek out a support group that can meet some personal needs as you struggle through this dilemma. Additionally, love him as toughly as he needs to be loved. Do not enable his addiction to progress and victimize more people. Be willing to do whatever it takes to help him see what he is doing and his need to stop the cycle and start recovery as soon as possible.
Having said that, this should not be taken as a licence for a wife to deny sex to her husband and so fail to meet the legitimate sexual needs which are aroused as a result of the first sexual encounter in the act of consuming the marriage. Sexual obligations remain, but should be fulfilled in the right way.
Might You Be Committing 'Adultery' With Your Wife?
I have repeatedly taught that polygamy was not designed to be for therapy, whether mental, emotional, spiritual or sexual, even though there is absolutely no doubt that a good marriage does lead to great and wonderful blessings in all four spheres. Marriage is not a sanatorium or a home for disposessed women. Marriage is an intimate union of total giving and committment forever of which sex is but one part. Its purpose is to be a model of the spiritual union that exists between Christ and His Church/Assembly (Ephesians 5:25ff). And yet hoardes of immature and carnally minded men are queuing up in the polygamy meatmarket in order to fulfil their sexual lusts and addictions. And for the most part, women, eaten by guilt or simply browbeaten with scripture, are indulging them and suffering terribly as a result. Christian/Messianic polygamy so-called has become a slaughtering ground.
I am going to suggest today - and I know this will probably create major waves in the movement - that the vast majority of those men who are entering polygamy are committing spiritual 'adultery' against their wives.
Moreover, I do not say this lightly but because of a deep burden which Yahweh has placed on my heart over the last year or two as I watch Christian polygamy degrading into a kind of modern colloseum of carnal sport. I'll now explain what I mean.
You all know this passage. There is generally no argument that a man, who looks at a woman (who is not his wife), has committed sin. No reasonable Christian/Messianic, or even a 'moral' non-Christian, would argue this point. We also know that the word 'lust' means to 'eagerly desire' and can be both positive or negative in the original sense of the word (in modern English it has wrongly come to be exclusively used in the negative sense). We also know that the word for 'woman' may equally be translated 'wife' or 'married woman' so that if a man lusts after a married woman he is committing adultery in his heart; but equally, if he lusts after an unmarried woman he is committing fornication in his heart. Many polygamists forget that a man may not 'eagerly desire' another woman until certain biblical criteria have been met. Fornication is sexual intercourse between two unmarried people (man and woman) without having entered into marriage covenants, or between a married man and an unmarried woman. Many polygamists forget that there is such a thing as 'fornication' at all. This being so (and it is amply supported by scripture), then there can also be spiritual fornication as well as literal sexual fornication. This statement by Yah'shua (Jesus) may equally be applied to fornication. Thus it would be true to say that a man may not sexually desire until he has at least entered betrothal covenants - there must be a committment first.
"Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart" (Matthew 5:28, KJV).
Now I know that people debate as to where the 'dividing line' is drawn between a man's inner through process and his outward actions. I am going to suggest, in light of what Yah'shua (Jesus) said above, that man can lust (in the negative sense) after his own wife and sin.
It is assumed by a great many believers that a man can look at his own wife in any way he wants to and be completely 'safe' from sin. These same people also advance such ideas that so long as people are married they can do whatever they like sexually (this is the common rationale for lesbian behaviour in polygamy). But as I have clearly shown in other articles, there most definitely are rules within marriage too - both of a sexual nature and a spiritual one.
Adultery may be defined as 'the voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse'. However, Christ's words also include the phrase, "looks on a woman to lust after her". These words, we all agree, do not refer to a man's physical, outward actions in any way. They aim at the core of the heart: a man's motives, his thought life and desires (Proverbs 23:7). If our thought life is just as important as the physical realm (as it clearly is from Christ's own words) then we need to take a hard look at the far-reaching impact of Yah'shua's (Jesus') statement on lust.
Sexual intimacy is the ultimate expression of love, passion and committment between a man and a woman. It is defined as familiarity or closeness. The act of making love, or sexual intercourse, is supposed to be an outward expression of an intimate relationship. An intimate relationship is one that is personal, close, openly familiar, transparent and permanent (Ephesians 5:33 - "love you wife as yourself", i.e. intimately). The penetrating words of the marriage vow 'as long as we both shall live' or 'as long as we both shall live and throughout eternity' (depending on your belief system) drive home the commitment level implied by an intimate marriage between a man and a woman (1 Corinthians 7:10). Intimacy is saturated with oneness, honesty, and understanding that reaches across all boundaries to form the perfect physical representation of Christ's relationship to us as His Church or Messianic Community (Matthew 25:10; Revelation 19:6-8). A casual sexual relationship can never be intimate. The two are mutually exclusive in that permanent relationship, as illustrated by a marriage between a man and a woman, is, or should be, one that is intimate - close, deep, personal. A casual relationship on the other hand is comprised of an air of temporality, lack of commitment, shallowness and selfishness. The whole idea behind marriage is to become painstakingly familiar with one's spouse or spouses, to know him or her in a way that no one else does or can. An intimate relationship continues to grow deeper, tighter and more bonded over time. A casual relationship, or one that doesn't consist of the commitment level that marriage affords, can never attain the depths of understanding, oneness and sensitivity that is necessary to achieve genuine, transparent intimacy between a man and his wife or wives.
Given this understanding of intimacy, can one who has 'drifted apart' from his or her spouse in such a way that sexual intercourse is performed with an attitude of expectation or reluctance by either party, experience intimacy during love making? Genuine intimacy is done in a spirit of 'giving' as opposed to 'taking'. I would venture a guess that the couple that has lost the 'flame' of intimacy, is not experiencing intimacy in love-making, but simply physical sexual intercourse. While the woman typically gives of herself out of obligation in a situation like this, the man is virtually always in a 'taking' mode. In this situation, he typically wants to have sex and she wants to give him sex to keep him happy, or at the very least, obtain some satisfaction for herself. (The reverse scenario is, of course, possible as well, but for now we shall just look at the man's heart).
Regardless of whether a man is involved in pornography, an affair or any other type of lustful activity, let us look at just the marriage relationship for the sake of argument. If negative lust is an act of 'taking' and intimacy is a mutual act of 'giving', the above scenario seems painfully close to lust that Yah'shua (Jesus) speaks of, does it not? The man is making love to his wife in a selfish, 'taking' manner whilst she would most likely be distancing herself emotionally from the experience. In a way, the husband is not having an intimate experience with his wife as a person, but with her body alone. This being the case, could he not be commiting a kind of 'adultery' with her "in his heart"? Could he not be sinning by the act of making love with his own wife? For this is to adulterate (to debase or render impure) that which is supposed to be exalted and pure.
Please do not interpret what I am saying here to mean that physical desire for one's spouse is sinful or lustful (in the negative sense) for I am absolutely not saying that. What I am saying is that no matter how legal a relationship is as far as the letter of the law is concerned does not necessarily mean that a relationship exists as far as the spirit is concerned. We all ought to know what legalism is. We know that we cannot be saved through obedience to the Torah (Law) but only by faith in Christ which subsequently leads us to obey Torah out of our love for Him. This is why we at this ministry utterly reject the doctrine of most of the other Christian polygamy ministries who say that you do not have a proper marriage until you have had sexual intercourse! Marriage in its essence is spiritual with a physical component - the 'component' doesn't make it a marriage. What would these people say of two invalids who are paralysed from the waste downwards who enter covenants of marriage but are in no possible way able to consummate the marriage sexually? Shall we say that they are not married? And yet this is what most of the other ministries would have us believe because they are able only to see the letter of the Torah (Law) and are blind to the spiritual. As a consequence of this, their whole theology of marriage is inverted and reduced to a physical level.
Listening to the arguments in defence of deviant practices in marriage by some polygamists you would think that they have never ever heard of the spiritual. But this is why Yahweh, our Elohim (God), instituted the ordinance of BETROTHAL, which is marriage without sex, to preceed full marriage and sexual consummation. Our allegorical relationship to Christ at this time is BETROTHAL for the consummation is to be in heaven, a future event. And if we are in a betrothed relationship with the Messiah now, ought not our marriages begin in such a way too? Ought not there to be an intimate knowing on the mental, emotional and spiritual levels before sexual consummation? To this question I and my wives answer a resounding 'Yes!' And yet what do we hear? We hear not only legalistic forms of Christian/Messianic polygamy but recently a foul and carnal doctrine (admittedly from a non-polygamist source) which says we should consummate a marriage before entering covenants of commitment! This is what happens when souls are led by their own fallen lusts and claim it is the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) speaking.
And so I state most emphatically: a physical desire in marriage that is the result of a growing intimacy between a husband and wife, is not only appropriate but is also an essential component of intimacy. We are physical creatures to be sure and Yahweh has created us with hormones and sensitivity to physical stimuli that affect our emotions, desires and often, our very decisions. But that is not all we are, and it is by no means the most important part, though this will rarely be conceded by those who are carnal and unredeemed in Christ. With this in mind, it is important to understand the distinction between physical desire purely for the sake of physical satisfaction in marriage (whether to please one another or not) and a healthy, godly intimacy that desires, with our every fibre, to please our spouse in the deepest ways possible. Where the line is crossed is when a man or woman begins to desire sex for the mere pleasure of the act itself. When this occurs, the boundaries between desire to please one another and the desire to please oneself become blurred and indiscernable - and lust can begin invading a marriage when this condition exists.
It must also be noted that sex, when approached outside the careful bounds of intimacy, can lead to an unhealthy 'manipulation' of one's spouse through withholding physical intimacy from him or her in an effort to change some condition that exists in the relationship. Yahweh expressly warns against this and gives us instruction that we ought to refrain from physical intimacy with one another (in marriage) only with mutual consent for a period of time, "to pray and fast" (1 Corinthians 7:5). Conversely, this is not to necessarily say that a wife must subject herself to the will of her husband whenever he is desirous of her physically (or vice versa) though as a matter of principle, because of her positioning in the relationship, she is supposed to submit to him in all things (Ephesians 5:22-24). Nor does this suggest that there are times in a marriage, when either party is living in sin, that withholding physical intimacy isn't appropriate or necessary. Sensitivity to one another's needs and desires is a result of the restraint, consideration and devotion that intimacy offers.
The purpose of my sharing these thoughts with you today is not to necessarily say that husbands are guilty of lusting after their wives and to thus initiate some some sort of inquisition, but rather to underline the fact that Christ places a heavy emphasis on the realm of thought, motive and desire. It should be obvious in looking both at how many contemporary Christian/Messianic polygamous marriages are contracted, and the way that they are lived, that the emphasis is all wrong - what else should one conclude when, for example, a man meets a woman on-line, talks to her for 3-4 days, and then proposes marriage to her? What kind of level of spiritual intimacy can there possibly be in that? Granted, Yahweh may in certain extraordinary circumstnces arrange marriages in such a fashion, but I am not convinced that the majority of believers have that kind of spiritual sensitivity or are able to adequately disentangle personal desires and ambitions from the impress of the Spirit. My considerable experience as a minister tells me that without an investment of time and an intimate spiritual knowing that must precede Betrothal, marriages will end up carnal and possibly not survive the revelation that intimacy brings, namely, that those so bonded may find themselves utterly incompatible and out of Yahweh's will.
So can a spouse be guilty of commiting adultery with another spouse? I am forced to conclude, yes, it is possible - if by 'adultery' one means to debase or render unholy - it does happen, and it is happening with greater frequency. However, I also believe that this determination needs to be ascertained by a conscientious examination of one's marriage through a close walk with the Lord Yah'shua (Jesus) and communication with one's spouse(s).
We know that Yahweh judges a man according to his heart (Jeremiah 17:10), and not his outward, visible actions alone. This being so, ought we not to take careful inventory of our minds? We must keep a prayerful eye on the pulse of our thought life, our motives, our desires. It is the breeding ground for sin. Sin always starts with a simple decision - not an action. Actions always follow the mind and the heart, not the other way round. Temptation will be with us always; how we respond to it from the first thought that passes through our mind will determine the outcome. As a man thinks in his heart, so is he (Proverbs 23:7).
My concern, as always, is that we do not lose our spiritual focus. I know some will accuse me of having a 'Greco-Roman' mind set with respect to sex simply because I refuse to acknowledge their excesses. My view is, in any case, entirely rooted in Hebrew thought and practice. I believe that sex is good, healthy and desirable, but that Yahweh has not given us the right to use it indiscriminately, even within marriage. There are rules to be observed and considerations to be regarded in that holy estate too. Marriage - and particularly polygamy which is a kind of 'super marriage' requiring much more diligence in observing Yahweh's Torah (Law) and closely listening to the Spirit - is first and foremost a spiritual institution given that we might understand and unite with the mystery that Paul speaks of (Ephesians 5:32). Marriage is not a gift to the party (or parties) entering it, but to the other(s). Thus marriage to me ought to be Yahweh's gift to my wives through me, and marriage to them ought to be Yahweh's gift to me through them. Marriage does not exist for what we can 'get' out of it but what we can 'give' to it, because it is a representation of the Marriage of the Lamb. It is supposed to be a living dynamic of the ultimate in spirituality, not a means of gratifying carnal lust. It's physical component - sex - is not the cake itself but the icing on the top.
If you have a sexual addiction and are trying to enter polygamy, drop the latter like a hot potato. If you are already in polygamy and have a sexual addiction, now is the time get counselling and urgently so. Do not delay! If you are looking at your marriage partner(s) as an object of sex-lust and not soul-intimacy in Christ, get right with Elohim (God) quickly. Abstain, by mutual consent, from sex for a season and devote yourself to prayer and fasting until you have overcome the flesh and are once more (or maybe even for the first time) centred in the Spirit. But whatever you do, don't let sexual sin fester because it only gets worse, often ending up in domestic violence. And don't just push it to one side - root it up completely by taking it to the foot of the Cross and crucifying it.
Once these problems have been dealt with, other problem areas will start resolving themselves as well. A woman who is treated as a sex-object will feel of little intrinsic value and this will provoke the sins of jealosy and comparison relative to her sister-wives. Once a woman feels that she is valued for who she is in her soul and not just her body, she will stop trying to score on some arbitrary scale. She will then come to realise that there is no objective metric for 'someone better' and will start relaxing and stop competing.
The moment one sin area is dealt with, others which derive from it will start sorting themselves out too. Confronting and dealing with sin in marriage pays handsome dividends. As sex for sex's own sake is expunged, so the sexual relationship becomes enriched through greater intimacy between the inner man and woman. Then sex can assume its rightful place in the divine hierarchy of soul values without being stigmatised or repressed. It then becomes an expression of a beautiful intimate spiritual reality instead of an object of self and ultimately of destruction.
A lot of Christian/Messianic polygamists are in major denial over the spiritual dimension of sex because they are so hung up on the external and the letter of Torah (Law). I have noticed that Messianics are particularly prone to this error (and I can say that as a Messianic myself). As always we must head for the core and grasp that which is most important, which in the Christian/Messianic paradigm is always love. Whatever would detract from that love might be said to be sinful and harmful.
May Yahweh our Father in Heaven bless us as we closely examine the impulses and motives behind our marriage relationships and help us all attain that ideal which is echad union in love.
1. Steven Arterburn, M.Ed., Addicted to Love (Servant Publications: 1991)
2. Fal Romans, Adultery with Your Wife? (Webpage article)