The engagement period (1)

Posted by on Jul 5, 2014 in Blog: Doing sex God’s way

This is first of a series of blogs on the engagement period. If you are engaged – or planning to get engaged, this is for you.

These are sections from our book “The Best Sex for Life” available from the CEP store.

songofsolomonWhat does this time between the diamond ring and wedding band involve?

Is it just a time for planning the wedding ceremony? How many bridesmaids should you have? Who will be groomsmen? There are many things to organise, such as the hall, the catering, the music and the perfect wedding gown … and don’t forget the church service.

Wait – it’s about making sure you start off with all the niceties of married life. Make it a long engagement. You save money for car, a house. Wait till you can furnish it. The start saving for the wedding gown, the reception.

Or perhaps, as a couple, you decide that you need to check out whether you can really stand to be together day in and day out. The engagement period becomes a ‘try before you buy’ time; a sort of semi-commitment, a quasi-contract. You move in together and join the cohabitation couples’ club.

What about sex? Maybe you have been sexually active as a couple, but have kept it a secret. Now you feel you can legitimately continue and be public about it. After all, everyone’s doing it. And you are planning to get married soon.

Or maybe you have kept yourselves pure; all you’ve done is hold hands, or maybe kiss and cuddle. Now you wonder: does being engaged give you a license to move into deeper levels of sexual intimacy? You know the Bible says sexual intimacy is to be reserved for marriage. But you are committed to each other to the cost of an expensive diamond ring. So maybe you should push the boundaries of physical intimacy.

Does the Bible teach us anything about how a couple should behave in the engagement period?

The Bible does not give us clear directions for male–female relationships in the engagement period. This is probably because, in biblical times, marriages were arranged by parents and there was no specific engagement period where a couple prepared for marriage. And premarital sex, called fornication, was taboo anyway.

There are, however, a few instances in the Bible where we encounter the circumstances of a man and woman ‘pledged to be married’.

In the Old Testament we read of laws surrounding virgins and those pledged to be married. Exodus 22:16 refers to the social responsibility that follows sexual intercourse:

If a man seduces a virgin who is not pledged to be married and sleeps with her, he must pay the bride-price, and she shall be his wife. (Exodus 22:16)

In biblical times, being ‘pledged to be married’ was seen as being legally married, but not yet in a sexually-consummated union. The sexual union was so important that men were to be sent home from battle to consummate the relationship (Deuteronomy 20:7).

The perfect example of behaviour in a couple pledged to be married comes from the New Testament. Yes, the story of Joseph and Mary. In Matthew 1:18–19 we read of Joseph’s response to the news that his fiancée is pregnant—and clearly not by him. But he must have loved her heaps because the Bible tell us that he ‘did not want to expose her to public disgrace,’ and therefore decided to divorce her quietly.

But once the angel explained God’s plan to him, Joseph acted differently. He married her. And had the self-control to not make love to her till her son Jesus was born (Matthew 1:24–25).

Here we see a man who loved his betrothed deeply. He loved her even when he thought that she had been sexually unfaithful to him. He had the chance to protect himself, and expose Mary to public scorn, but he didn’t. In this messy situation, he did what he could to protect her. Then, once Joseph knew God’s plan for the unborn baby, he demonstrated total obedience and sexual self-control. Joseph was faithful—faithful to Mary and to God’s commands. Think about it: this was the kind of reliable, caring, protecting character to whom God entrusted his only begotten Son. God the Father considered Joseph worthy, and trusted him in the role of earthly father, to nurture Jesus.

Here we learn broad biblical principles. But how do these work out in our times? Come back for more…