Episode 1,000 today. It should be a little out of the norm, and it is. Today we tackle a surprisingly common phenomenon, made super convenient by the technology of the smartphone. Of course we’re talking about sending nude selfies. This is part of a growing conversation in our culture.
I recently met with the assistant principal of a large public high school here in the suburbs of Minneapolis, to talk about smartphones and teens. She said to me this, I wrote it down: “In the last year, I’ve been shocked at how many kids — kids that you would never suspect — have naked pictures on their phones, private pictures sent between them and a boyfriend or girlfriend. In my job I look through a lot of phones, and when I come across those pictures, I’m simply stunned. To me, when it comes to high school students and their smartphones, this is the most surprising trend I now see.”
This is part of a much larger phenomenon, among young males specifically, who will send unsolicited nude pictures of themselves to girls, out of the blue — a disturbing new practice now well documented by journalist Nancy Jo Sales in her eye-opening book: American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. It’s a troubling book, too, and a wakeup call for any parent with a daughter who has a smartphone.
I say all of this to introduce today’s question, which comes to us from a 20-something listener named Lily. She writes: “Dear Pastor John, I’m currently in a long distance dating relationship with a fellow Christian. Lately, he has requested that I send pictures of myself nude, which I obliged. I now regret this decision. What would you say to young, unmarried Christians, who are tempted to make this same mistake?”
I think I have good biblical authority in saying on behalf of God to everyone of his children, male and female, don’t ever ask to see anyone naked except your spouse and don’t ever offer to show yourself to someone naked for erotic or sexual reasons — not medical reasons — except to your spouse.
I mean don’t do it in person and don’t do it in pictures. I will give you seven reasons for why I think I have God’s authority in saying that. I hope none of you hearing me will ever do it or ever do it again.
1. Naked and Judged
When God created man and woman, it says in Genesis 2:25, “The man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.” That guilt-free, shame-free existence came to an end when Adam and Eve sinned and their first experience after that sin was guilt and blame and shame.
In Genesis 3:7 it says, “The eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked. And they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves loincloths.” Then God had mercy on them in Genesis 3:21. It says, “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”
God’s plan for the lifting of that shame is the sacred relationship of marriage, just like marriage is the reversal of numerous elements of the curse. The freedom that we are to discover is not on stage: let’s take our clothes off in movies and on stage. It is not in a striptease joint. It is not in front of boyfriends or girlfriends. It is not in front of our phone. It is the profound respect and love and security of a covenant relationship called marriage. That is where people of the most ordinary looks can be free from shame. That is what love does.
Outside of that relationship, God treats nakedness as one of the most vivid forms of divine judgment.
Isaiah 47:3 says, “Your nakedness shall be uncovered, and your disgrace shall be seen. I will take vengeance, and I will spare no one.” Or Lamentations 1:8, “Jerusalem sinned grievously; therefore she became filthy; all who honored her despise her, for they have seen her nakedness; she herself groans and turns her face away.”
Ezekiel 16:37: “Behold, I will gather all your lovers with whom you took pleasure, all those you loved and all those you hated. I will gather them against you from every side and will uncover your nakedness to them, that they may see all your nakedness.”
In other words, nakedness in the covenant bed of marriage is a beautiful and thrilling thing for God’s children. But nakedness outside that relationship is a manifestation of divine judgment, even though we have been taught as a nation by the media, by the movie industry, and by certain notorious stars to regard nudity as a form of power and distinction and fame. “They glory in their shame,” the Bible says (Philippians 3:19).
2. What to Wear
It follows from this understanding of nakedness and clothing that the apostle Paul would say, “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control . . . with what is proper for women who profess godliness” (1 Timothy 2:9–10).
Now, all three of those words — kosmio, respectable; aidous, modesty; sōphrosunēs, self control — all three of those words, interestingly, have the connotation of thoughtful, serious use of a woman’s mind as to how to make her clothing speak about her godliness. Every woman should ask that question: How is what I wear and not wear speaking about my godliness?
Clothing is not a matter of indifference in God’s economy. It speaks about a woman’s (and a man’s) view of God and her own commitments to God and joy in God and her freedom from the manipulative maneuvers of men to get what they want.
3. Cover Up
Paul assumes in 1 Corinthians 12:23–24 that we take special care in covering the most intimate parts of our body.
He says, “On those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.” That is part of the way God has helped us live with the consequences of the fall in this sinful world.
Paul tells Timothy and, by implication, other young men, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers” —treat younger men as brothers — “older women as mothers” — and here is the key one: treat “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1–2).
Now, what does that mean? Treat younger women as sisters in all purity. It means that, until a man is married, he should let his proper treatment of his sister, his real sister, dictate the purity of his behavior with his girlfriend.
Another way to put it would be this: View the temptation to ask for nude pictures the same way you would view the temptation of incest.
5. Worthy Men
If a man asks an unmarried woman to show him her body, by definition he is unworthy of her: unworthy of her trust, her affection, and her covenant. That request that he is making, in itself, should be enough for the woman to say goodbye.
I mean this. I really mean this. Come on, women. If any woman thinks that is normal male Christian behavior, it is not. It is sick. It means he is clueless as to godliness. It means that when he gets tired of you before or after marriage, he will feel free to ask someone else to take off her clothes.
If he can’t get it in person, he will get it from the internet. And you will have told him it is okay, because you cooperated before marriage, not just in marriage. So, just settle it. If he asks, he is unworthy — period. It is over.
6. Awaking Love
In the Song of Solomon, which exults in nudity between a married man and woman, it says, more than once, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases” (Song 2:7; see also 3:5; 8:4).
That is exactly what sexually erotic pictures do that we are not supposed to do. They stir up desire that cannot be lawfully satisfied, which means they will lead to masturbation or to fornication.
I don’t know what goes on inside a woman’s head. But I can only think that it is a deformed sense of sexuality if a woman gets pleasure out of helping a man act like a thirteen-year-old boy with his masturbation. Is that really the kind of man she wants?
7. Going Public
Finally, the least important reason. It is the least important reason and may be the most compelling. To take such pictures is virtually certain that they will go public sooner or later, and you will discover what God meant by bringing judgment on yourself.
So, with God’s authority, I think I can say to both men and women: Don’t ask and don’t give such pictures.