Is it wise to counsel a dating couple in fellowship not to sit together in the assembly meetings?
Some valuable wisdom may underlie this advice, but it does sound like the kind of rule that some religious groups have handed down for generations. Such traditions can create a religious hypocrisy (Mark 7:6-8). Rather than making rules, why not apply Biblical principles?
Being in love is a wonderful blessing, part of the Lord’s gracious provision for the human family (Gen 2:24; Eph 5:31-33). It is part of the normal development of the spiritually-significant relationship of marriage (5:25, 28). It is therefore not a foreign intruder into a spiritual life. A couple’s behavior, however, should reflect their concern for their testimony before the world. Paul says, “Give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all” (Rom 12:17, ESV). Another principle comes from Paul’s pen, “Flee youthful passions” (2 Ti 2:22 ESV). Considering these principles, a couple is well-advised to limit public displays of affection to fit comfortably within acceptable standards among believers. The world’s standards in courting are not relevant (Rom 12:2).
A principle that relates to all our assembly gatherings comes from the Lord’s words, “For where two or three are gathered together unto My name, there am I in the midst of them” (Mat 18:20 JND). In all our meetings, we are in the Lord’s presence. Although the assembly is on earth, our place of worship and prayer is in heaven, in the immediate sanctuary of God’s holy presence (Heb 10:19, 20). We enjoy an intimate relationship with our Father, but the standards of holiness in the presence of God have not changed. The same holy creatures Isaiah saw crying “Holy, holy, holy” in God’s presence (Isa 6:3) have not changed their occupation at the conclusion of this present age (Rev 4:8). When God’s presence among men was introduced (Exo 25:8; 40:34, 35), God maintained the standard of behavior in His presence. Nadab and Abihu offered “strange fire” before the Lord (Lev 10:1), apparently acting with a lack of self-control (v 9). God maintained a distinction between “common” behavior and behavior in His holy presence (v 10). In our irreverent age, we need the reminder of the Scriptures on this matter. Being preoccupied with others while in the holiest of all is not suitable. Whether or not a couple sits together, they can easily become more aware of each other’s presence than of the presence of God.
Biblical principles do not establish a rule about couples sitting together. They do, however, instruct courting couples and all of us that we must seek the Lord’s help so that God has His proper place of undistracted honor and occupation when we meet together. Lacking the self-control needed so that God is first in our thoughts and desires dishonors Him. We all need a greater awareness of God’s presence and of the holiness that is fitting there.
What is the significance of “Likewise” in 1 Peter 3:7?
Peter uses this word three times in his first epistle. The third use is “Likewise, ye younger, submit yourselves unto the elder” (5:5). As the overseers submit to the Chief Shepherd in doing the work He entrusted to them, so the younger are to submit to older believers. This is the Lord’s arrangement; it is done because of submission to Him and for His approval.
The other two uses of “likewise” in the epistle are in chapter three. The chapter begins, “Likewise, ye wives, be in subjection to your own husbands.” This links this section of the chapter with the previous chapter. At its conclusion, chapter two highlights the suffering of the Lord Jesus which was inflicted unjustly, but which brought us such great blessing because the Sufferer trusted His God (vv 22-25). This is our pattern to follow (v 22). Earlier in the chapter believers are suffering wrongfully, but as they act in a godly way, blessing results. Now chapter three focuses specifically on a believing wife with an unbelieving husband. Through no fault of her own, she may suffer rejection, but she is to continue, as Sara did, to trust in the Lord and submit to her husband. She expects that her “well-doing” will be used by God for the blessing of her husband.
Most commentators take the “likewise” that begins the next paragraph addressed to husbands to merely balance the message to wives and continue the exhortation within the domestic sphere of marriage. Typically, they understand “as heirs together of the grace of life” to mean that the husband and wife share together in salvation, the grace of spiritual life. They may also understand “your prayers” to refer to the prayers of the husband and wife.
A difficulty with this view is that “likewise” in verse one and here in verse seven links this passage back to the truth in chapter two. The context is suffering wrongfully, which hopefully doesn’t apply to husbands in a Christian marriage. Giving honor to a believing wife “as unto the weaker vessel” hardly qualifies as suffering, or especially suffering wrongfully. The thought of submission which runs through chapter two hardly seems evident here either.
If we understand “the grace of life” to be a description of the exalted state of marriage, this may help. Christianity exalts marriage – whether involving believers or unbelievers – to a higher level. Marriage is a unique provision of God for the good (Gen 2:18) of the human family. It has the possibility of involving the highest experience of love known in human relationships (Eph 5:25-32). Christianity teaches that marriage has the potential of being the “crowning grace” of life. In addition, since the teaching addresses husbands, is it not likely that “your prayers” are the prayers of the husband? Why should the failure of a husband to properly honor his believing wife hinder his wife’s prayers?
The full potential of marriage is within the reach of a believing couple. If the believing husbands in this verse are living with unbelieving wives, just as the believing wives, in the previous verses, are living with an unbelieving spouse, what an encouragement to them! God has handed these husbands the possibility that their marriages will rise to their full potential if they show Christian grace and consideration. Thus honoring a wife who rejects the gospel and perhaps appears to reject her own husband can only be the result of submission to the Lord. In so doing, he will cooperate with the Lord in seeing his prayers answered in His wife’s salvation.