Is it wise for a girlfriend and boyfriend to travel together? Stay in the same hotel? Should they? It’s a question we get regularly. And this time from a young woman. “Hello, Pastor John. My boyfriend and I plan to leave in three weeks for a trip we scheduled five months ago. My mother said she fears for us and for the temptations that could arise during the trip. I have assured her that while we have fallen into temptation in the past, we have desperately sought God and other Christian counsel to confront that pattern, and that we truly have laid it at the foot of the cross. After discussing this respectfully and in full, we concluded that all would be fine.
“Today my mother again confronted me and tells me that she believes we are dishonoring God, even though we will be staying in separate rooms the entire week. While I am frustrated, I also do not want to dishonor my parents’ wishes. I’m troubled in wondering if we are dishonoring God by traveling together before marriage.”
You know, I’ve thought about this question, and I’ve got ideas that I’m going to give in just a minute. But just by listening to you, Tony, read the question again, I get my back up about this guy. I mean, I’m being asked what to say to the young woman, and I’ll say it, but as you read it, I just want to say, “Guy, come on. Come on. Show your respect for this mom. Save this trip.” Okay — that’s enough of that. Let me get to my answer.
Let me give you three reasons from the Bible why I think the ethical instincts of your mother are right. I think it’s unwise for an unmarried couple to take a trip like this together — and not only unwise, but contrary to three biblical guidelines. First, let me suggest why I think this is even an issue between you and your mother.
“Some temptations are to be avoided, not just resisted.”
Probably fifty years ago, like when I was 20 years old, taking a three-week trip as an unmarried couple would have been more unthinkable than it is today. Now, why is that? For two reasons at least.
One is that sex outside of marriage is considered normal today by the world. Avoiding situations where it might more easily happen is pointless in the wider culture. There is less cultural support for the conviction that such trips are unwise. That’s the first reason it’s even an issue — cultural change like that (which is not a healthy change).
The other reason is that, for fifty years, there has been a growing pressure culturally to treat men and women as though they were the same, which means that it should be just as legitimate to take a trip with a young woman as it is with a young man. Otherwise, it’s unjust.
Now, I regard both of these cultural transformations as tragic, and leading toward much sin and much sorrow, hurt, and damage in all kinds of ways and relations. It requires a strong confidence and courage for a young person to swim against such cultural tides. I hope that you will be that kind of strong, confident, courageous person, and I hope this boyfriend will be as well. So that’s the setting. That’s the setting that I think creates the present conflict.
Now, here are three biblical teachings that I think should cause you not to take that trip and save it for when you’re married.
First, God has created the human body and mind in such a way that those who are in love desire very strongly to touch each other and move toward sexual climax together. That’s normal; it’s inevitable that that desire would happen. God has made provision for the joy of that relationship and satisfaction in marriage and nowhere else.
You have already discovered — you said so — that extended time together, especially in private, makes those desires very strong. They’ve led you already into sexual activity you regret. If you love to please the Lord in purity of mind and body, here’s the guidance that God gives from Romans 13:14: “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” That term make no provision means don’t put yourself in an unnecessary position that will likely stir up desires that you cannot control.
“The desires of the body have a huge power over the mind and the will to make you think and will foolishly.”
If you say, “Oh, we can control them,” I would remind you of two things. One is that God warns us that desires are deceitful (Ephesians 4:22). They’re deceitful, and sin is deceitful (Hebrews 3:13). This means that the desires of the body have a huge power over the mind and the will to make you think and will foolishly. That’s their power. Some temptations, therefore, are to be avoided, not just resisted.
God could indeed catch Jesus if he jumped off the temple, right (Luke 4:9–12)? He could. It would have been easy, easy, easy. God can do that just like he could keep you from fornication. Jesus said to Satan, “I’m not going to jump. Period.” His reason was what yours should be. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Luke 4:12). God could, if he willed, keep you pure on such a trip, but his warnings are such that you should say, “I’m not going to put the Lord to the test on this one.” That’s number one.
A Watching World
Here’s the second biblical teaching that should cause you to save this trip for when you’re married. Most of the people in the world, both religious and irreligious, assume that if you are traveling together, you will sleep together. Most who see you will not even know you have separate rooms, and the others will think that separate rooms are not going to keep you from sleeping together. After all, for most young people today, sex before marriage is normal. They would see you as just fitting in. That’s what they would assume.
Biblically informed people will assume you’re careless, if not sinning. Non-biblical people, ones you should care about a lot, will assume you are having sex. That’s what they’re going to assume. There’s no other way they can think about you as they watch you.
Here’s what God says about these kinds of observations from the world. He says, “Walk properly before outsiders” (1 Thessalonians 4:12). That word properly (Greek euschēmonōs) is a very interesting word. It means uprightly, properly, fittingly, suitably. Or, “Give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Romans 12:17). Or, “We aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man” (2 Corinthians 8:21).
If you love Christ more than the fun of such trip, and you want your lives to speak clearly about his standards of purity, I don’t think you will prioritize this trip over your commitment to communicate clearly the beauty of Christ’s standards of purity. That trip does not communicate that.
Protecting the Weak
Third, by taking this trip or not taking it, you weaken or strengthen the standards of other Christians, especially younger ones who may be even weaker than you are and are looking for more justification to do what you’re about to do. Paul says, “If food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble” (1 Corinthians 8:13).
“The issue is not rights. The issue is love, purity, and whether you will participate in a destructive cultural pattern.”
Now, how much more would he avoid a three-week trip that will further normalize a practice that most people will simply not be able to carry out with sexual purity? Let me say that again. How much more would Paul say, “I’m not going to take a three-week trip that will further normalize a practice that most people will simply not be able to carry out with sexual purity”? Do you have a right to take this trip in your Christian freedom? Probably. “That’s just not the issue,” Paul would say.
“We put no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry” (2 Corinthians 6:3). For Paul, this meant not doing things that he had every right to do. The issue is not rights. The issue is love and purity and whether you will participate in a cultural pattern that is destruction in the long run.
Because of those three biblical teachings, I think your mother’s moral instincts about this trip are right. I would encourage you to save the joy of that kind of extended togetherness for marriage. You won’t regret it.