What’s the Point
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What’s the big deal about having sex before marriage? The statistics may surprise you! Shelby Abbott talks about being intentional with your most important human relationships.
What’s the Point
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Friday, March 5th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I'm Bob Lepine. You can find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. Whether you believe the Bible is God’s Word, or authoritative or not, there are plenty of good, practical reasons why you ought to think twice about what the culture is pedaling when it comes to dating, sex, and marriage. Stay with us.
Bob: And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I had a friend of mine, who was a pastor, who texted me the other day and said, “I’ve got a dilemma. A couple just reached out and said, ‘We’re getting married; will you marry us?’” He said, “I learned that they are living together; and I thought, ‘Okay; do I say , ‘Yes’? Do I say, ‘Maybe’? Do I say, ‘No; not until…’”
You’ve [Dave] been a pastor for years. You’ve had these—
Dave: I want to hear what you said here, Bob. You’re throwing it right to me.
Bob: I want to know, because you’ve faced this; I haven’t faced it as a pastor—you have; right?
Dave: Oh, I’ve faced it for two decades.
Bob: Yes; more often than not today, couples, who are coming to get married, have lived together prior—
Dave: Right; it’s a touchy, hard decision. This happened many times in my Detroit Lions ministry—you know, players, who weren’t followers of Christ—and they wanted to get married, and they were living together. I’m like, “Do I hold them to a standard that is a Christian standard when they are not Christians?”
Dave: “Is this decision I make going to prevent them from taking another step toward Christ?”—that’s the tension you live in; right?
Bob: I said to my friend/I said, “I don’t think there’s a one-size-fits-all answer for this. I think it’s a relational issue that you’ve got to be able to sit down—and there is an opening here to be able to talk about the bigger issue,”—which I said is not that they are living together—“The issue is: ‘Do they know what God’s Word says?’ and ‘Are they choosing to put themselves above it?’ If that’s the case, then they are headed into a lot bigger problems in their marriage.”
Ann: It’s even trickier when it’s your own family—
Ann: —or your own kids, who have decided to live together. They know you are not going to be for that, but you still want to have a relationship with your kids.
Bob: Well, there’s a new book that is addressing this subject.
Ann: I’m so glad! [Laughter]
Dave: We need a new book: “Somebody, please!”
Bob: I am too. Shelby Abbott has written on this subject, and Shelby’s been on FamilyLife Today a number of times. Shelby, welcome back.
Shelby: Thank you. It’s good to be with you guys.
Bob: This is a subject that you have had to address as you’ve been in campus ministry with Cru® for more than 21 years. Shelby’s a writer and a speaker as well.
I remember sitting with a social scientist a while back; and he said, “It used to be that this was the normal pattern for people: you date; you fall in love; you get engaged; you get married; you have sex; you have kids.
Dave: Now, you go on The Bachelor and do it all backwards?—is that—
Bob: “That was the old pattern. Today’s pattern is: you date; you have sex; you fall in love; you move in together; you have kids; you get married.”
Ann: Let’s ask Shelby, the expert: “What is the pattern today? Is that true?”
Shelby: You know, there are certain patterns that exist in the culture now that are a lot more present than they were a long time ago; but I hesitate to even say that this is what people do, because there are certain people, who—they still go the old-fashioned route—and they don’t sleep with one another before they get married.
Bob: Can we call that the biblical route, not just the old-fashioned route?—yes.
Shelby: Yes; the old, old fashioned route; yes. [Laughter] But you know, it is increasingly rare; I’d say that that’s true.
The reason that I wrote this book, though, is not necessarily to try to convince Christian people that they shouldn’t be sleeping with their boyfriend or girlfriend. This was more of a book that reaches out toward a skeptical—or, maybe, non-believing audience—or people who are already living together and help them to see that there are better solutions out there.
The majority of the research that I quote in the book is actually secular research; because the whole theory of: “You’ve got to test-drive the car before you drive it,” that’s not true at all; and this is from secular ones.
There is something I talk about in the book called “sliding, not deciding.”
Shelby: Many couples just say, “It just kind of happened. We just didn’t really talk about it, but my toothbrush was over there. Then I just decided to stay one night, and then I went and grabbed some clothes. Now, I have my own drawer; and now, I…”—blah, blah, blah. There’s like lots of things that they don’t really talk about; it just kind of happened.
Ann: Well, one of things you said—which I thought, “Oh man! If I were a woman, I would want to know this”; because you say—
Dave: If you were a woman—you are! [Laughter]
Ann: No; I’m saying, “If I were a young/if I were a young, single woman, I would want to know this.” You talk about how women are more likely to view living together as a step toward marriage; you know, like, “Oh, this is just the natural thing; we’ll live together, and then we’ll get married.” But you also said men are more likely to see it as a test of the relationship and, maybe, even postpone the commitment.
Ann: Those are two different things here. I think, “Oh, we need to protect ourselves, and know what the future is, to know what the intent is behind this living-together space.”
Shelby: Yes; there is lack of communication that often happens in the sliding, and not deciding. They just kind of assume that the other person thinks the same thing about why they are moving in together, and they couldn’t be more wrong about it.
I read this one thing about a girl, who was living with her boyfriend—I think it was five years—and then they ended up breaking up. She confessed/she was like, “I felt like I was on a multi-year tryout to be his wife, and he just would never actually do it.” He was getting what he wanted; and ultimately, if he didn’t want it anymore—they weren’t married—so he could just ditch it.
Ann: That riles me up!
Shelby: It’s so sad.
Ann: I’m like, “Oh, you deserve so much better than that.”
Shelby: Yes; of course; yes. Of course, she does.
Bob: My daughter and her, then, boyfriend were living in New York when they were dating; and my daughter was working for a company there. She announced her engagement and shared with everybody. Somehow, in the conversation about the engagement and they were getting married, it came out that they were not living together. People were incredulous that there was such a thing—two people getting married, who aren’t living together—it is so much the cultural norm that it was kind of like, “Look, a black swan out on the lawn”; right? [Laughter]
Shelby: Yes; I remember when Rachel, my wife, and I got engaged; and then we got married. We were unapologetic to talk to people about the fact that both of us were virgins when we got married. My, then, brother-in-law—my sister’s husband at the time—he just could not fathom—
Shelby: —the fact that I was 29, and I had never had sex. He just could not understand it. I really was like a unicorn to him. [Laughter] It just didn’t make any sense at all, but it was incredibly impactful in his life. It was—it was definitely one of those noteworthy things that goes—“I never thought this was possible; yet, here I see an example of this. There has got to be something to this Jesus guy that I just don’t get.”
Bob: Now, I remember, Shelby, being at a Weekend to Remember® marriage getaway. A young man came up to me after the engaged session. He said, “I work at this place with these guys, and I’m engaged to my girlfriend. I’ve told them that we’ve not slept together; and my friends are like, ‘Are you out of your mind? You’re going to buy the car without a test drive? I mean, what if you guys are not sexually compatible? What are you going to do then?’”
He’s tossing it to me and saying, “Do I need to worry about whether we are sexually compatible?” I said, “She’s a woman; right?”
Shelby: Yes; exactly. [Laughter]
Bob: “Yes.” I said, “You are, by God’s design, sexually compatible. You were made to be sexually compatible. That doesn’t mean there won’t be some hiccups along the way, and you might have to get help along the way; but trust me, testing out the merchandise is not the way to figure out whether you’re going to have an enduring, lifelong, thriving marriage.”
Shelby: Exactly. The illustration I use in the book is a sexy topic of paper products to talk about sex. [Laughter] I went/yes, I talked about how the culture tends to view sex like you’re a Post-it note or a sticky note—you just stick to this person here for a time; and then you peel away, and you stick to this person; you peel away, and you stick to this person—to find out what works for you. But sex wasn’t designed to be like that. It is more meant to be like an envelope. When you use an envelope, it’s meant to be used once. You seal it, and then it stays sealed. If you ever try to open it, and then reuse it again, it’s destroyed.
That’s where I’m trying to get at it. The way that sex was designed is supposed to be in a marriage context with one person; because eventually, a sticky note loses its stickiness. You start to become numb to the idea that sex is a beautiful thing if you don’t do it the way that God has called you to do it.
Ann: Dave and I were doing a Weekend to Remember conference, back when we had an engaged session. We talk about why God says to not have premarital sex before marriage and just God’s design for marriage. This woman came up to me afterwards—and she was older—and she said, “Hey, my boyfriend and I have been living together for 15 years, and we have three kids; they are getting a little bit older. We are so excited, because we’ve given Jesus our lives this weekend. As we sat in the engaged session, we realized, ‘Oh! God doesn’t want us to have sex before we are married’; so we’ve decided to move out.
Ann: “We’re so excited to have this conversation with our kids of why we are moving out, because they are going to think it’s the craziest thing they’ve ever heard; but we’re not going to have sex, and we’re going to get married in a month.” She’s like, “We can’t wait to begin this new legacy.”
Shelby: That’s amazing.
Ann: But I mean, I was like, “Whoa!” She could have said, “Oh, we’ve been together
15 years”; you know? Jesus—I think when we have this encounter with Him—He does radical things in our lives that can seem foolish to people; but man, it is something that changes every aspect of our lives.
Bob: I’ll tell you a similar story. There is a podcast here if our listeners would like to listen; they can go to FamilyLifeToday.com. I had a conversation, years ago, with a couple who had come to one of our Weekend to Remember getaways. They were living together at the time. We challenged them not to continue having sex before they got married.
To hear their story later, they had grown up in the church; they had met one another on a mission’s trip—a long term/a 9-month’s mission’s trip—they’d started having sex while they were on the mission’s trip. When they got back home, they moved in together into his parents’ house. They said, “Nobody ever said anything to us about this being wrong until we went to the pastor at the church we were going to and we said, ‘We’d like to help with the three- and four-year-olds.’ The pastor said, ‘Um, well, we’ve got this deal. You guys aren’t married, and you are living together; you can’t do that.’” They’re like, “Well, what’s the deal?” They did not understand that there was anything about this, biblically.
They come to the Weekend to Remember. They hear us challenge people: “Don’t have sex before you get married. If you’re having sex, stop having sex before you get married.” The husband-to-be is convicted. He goes to his fiancé; and he says, “I think we need to do this, and stop having sex, until we get married.”
Here is what she heard, Shelby. She heard him saying, “I am breaking up with you”; because in her mind, if he was going to stop having sex with her, the relationship was not going to survive.
Bob: She thought, “The only reason you want to be with me, or a primary reason why you want to be with me, is so that you can have sex with me. If now you’re not going to do that, you’ll fall away.” She was saying, “No! We’ve got to keep having sex,”—
Bob: —because she wanted to keep the relationship there.
Well, he held firm; they parted. They got married, and then wound up teaching the pre-marrieds at their church, eventually, taking them through the Art of Marriage® [video series] and showing them: “This is how it is supposed to be by God’s design.”
It is just fascinating to me that there are people in the culture, who have never heard that the Bible says there is a better way than to live together.
Shelby: That’s a beautiful story; I love hearing that. It’s a testament to what the culture thinks about what a romantic relationship is supposed to be in the first place. Most people go into it, and they just kind of intuitively think: “This is about me. What can you do for me?” “How can you make me feel?” “How can you improve my reputation?” “How can you provide me with pleasure?” “How can you bend to my will and serve me?”
But when we are changed at the heart level, and Christ comes in and replaces our heart of stone with a heart of flesh, we can look at a romantic relationship—from the very initial stages, of just being attracted to one another, all the way up through marriage—as: “It’s not about me; it’s about how I can serve you and care for you.” When you think about it, it changes the total dynamic of what a relationship is supposed to be like. When you’re thinking specifically about the area of sex, it’s like, “Well, I want to do you a service here by not offending God and being the right type of godly man”—or—“godly woman to make sure that I can let you know that I care for you by not touching you.”
I’ve told guys this/I’m like, “If you can’t keep your hands off your girlfriend—let’s say you, one day, decide to get engaged; and you get married—and you decide to go on a business trip, two or three years into your marriage. Is your wife going to trust you on that business trip?” Or if you have the ability, in the future, to control yourself like you did in the past: “My wife is never going to think that I’m doing something; because I was with her for three years,—
Shelby: —“and I kept my hands off her.
Shelby: “I have much care and consideration for her: as someone, who is dating her; as someone, who is engaged to her; and as someone, who is married to her. She can trust me completely, because I kept my hands off her in the past.”
Bob: The way I’ve said that to couples is: “If you are not married, and you are having sex together, here is what you know about each other: ‘You are both willing to have sex with somebody you are not married to.’ So why do we think, in the future, you’re going to decide, all of a sudden, ‘Now, I am unwilling to have sex with people’—
Bob: —“‘that I am not married to’? I mean, is a switch going to flip or something?”
Dave: I know for me—you know I didn’t become a follower of Christ until my junior year in college—early in my Christian walk, I was presented now this biblical model of purity/sexual purity. I thought it was the dumbest thing ever heard; like, “What?!” I also—I don’t remember ever seeing a Christian—
Dave: —obey that; so my question was: “Why?!”
I love/Shelby, in the book, says: “Well, here is some data that backs up why God would say, ‘Prevent this until you are married.’ Here is some data: your chance of divorce is going to be higher if you live together; your chance of having an affair, after you’re married, is going to be higher if you are having sex before you get married.” It’s like, “Oh my goodness! So God has our best interest in mind!”
Dave: So it isn’t: “I [God] just don’t want you to enjoy this. I actually know better. I love you; I’m trying to protect you and give you the best life possible. Just obey Me, and you will see the fruit come later.”
Ann: I was going to read one of those stats; it said: “Those who had cohabitated two or more times in their life before marriage were 15 percentage points more likely to have been either emotionally, sexually, or electronically unfaithful to their spouse than those who did not cohabitate.” I mean, to put the data with that is compelling; it makes you stop and really think through your choices.
Shelby: Yes; I mean, we know, when the hormones kick in, people—especially people who don’t have Jesus—they are just going to do what they are going to do. But one of the things that I wanted to aim with this book, specifically, is to kind of metaphorically put a rock in their shoe. If you ever had a rock in your shoe, you just can’t keep walking with it in there; it just constantly bothers you.
My hope is that with this—providing, of course, biblical evidence for this but, also, legitimate secular research—that they will have a rock in their shoe; and they will not be able to stop thinking about it to the point that they go, “I need to make some better decisions here.” That’s—that was really my goal—to, really, help them to understand that Christ is the solution.
Bob: How do I give a copy of this book to somebody without them interpreting that as: “Oh, you are just judging me; and you’re self-righteous.” I mean, I’m thinking of people that I go, “This would be helpful.” How do I give them a copy without them thinking I’m a jerk?
Bob: Stumped you there; didn’t we?
Shelby: Yes; I think that relationship is important. One of the things that we wanted to do, when I wrote this, is that we wanted to pass them out like Tic Tac® s; we wanted to give them to as many people as possible. It’s a short read—it’s not very, very long—but it really is aimed to be a clear and concise dagger of information that cuts right to the heart of it. There is humor in there as well. I tried to write it so that it’s incredibly readable for younger people; but handing it to them, the title of the book really gets at the heart of why there is a good argument/a good apologetic for marriage and against living together.
I think, since it’s so permeated in our culture, as we’ve been talking about—that it’s just a natural thing that people think—challenging that in a way that makes people go, “Hmm, that’s interesting.” I don’t know how people are going to hand it out to other people; but hopefully, they would do it in a spirit of love and caring for people and saying, “Hey, have you ever thought about considering a different option?” I think that that question, in and of itself, is compelling enough to open a little book and read through it.
Dave: I sat down with a couple, decades ago; and they were living together. I was assigned to do their wedding in probably three to four months. They share with me—and first time I met them, Scott and Jessica—they said, “Hey, we’re so excited; we just gave our lives to Christ.” I go, “What?” “Yes; in a premarital counseling thing you have set up here at your church. We never understood the gospel. We’re so excited; we gave our lives to Christ. Man, we’re going back to our home…”
I realized they were living together. I remember sitting there, thinking, “Hmm? Do I tell them?”
Dave: Because the other couples that I had actually challenged, most of them, looked at me and said, “Okay; I’m going to go somewhere else and get married. I’m not going to get married here”; you know? I hesitated for a second; I said, “Well, let me show God’s plan.”
I showed them something they had never heard—and I’d never heard it for a long time—it’s what you said earlier, Shelby, about you think you are having sex with somebody. It’s like a Post-it note: “It’s no big deal; I just move on.” No, actually, what you’re doing is you’re giving a part of your soul away. God says, “I want to protect your soul.”
Here is what I said/I said this—anyway, I’m not going through exactly what I said—but I laid out a biblical plan for sexual purity. They both looked at me; and I thought, “Oh, here it comes. They’re going to go, ;You’re nuts, dude! This is crazy.’” I remember they looked at each other; they looked at me, and they said, “We’re going to do this. Nobody has ever told us this. That makes so much sense.” And they go, “We can’t afford it, financially. I don’t know how we’re going to do this, but we’re going to honor God.” I go, “Really?!”
Dave: They go, “Yes!” They walked out all excited; and I thought, “I wonder if they’ll follow through.” They followed through; they got married. I mean, I’ll never forget this—two years later, I get this call—they said, “Hey, we’re pregnant; and we’re naming our baby boy Dave because you were the first one to speak the truth to us, and we’ve never been able to thank you.”
Shelby: That’s amazing.
Dave: This little guy now is a teenager. You know, obviously, sometimes, they don’t respond; and they get mad at you. Other times, it’s going to change a legacy.
Shelby: That’s beautiful; I love that story.
Bob: Shelby, thank you for this conversation. Thanks for the book called What’s the Point?
We hope listeners will join us, and buy a bunch of these, and hand them out—like Tic Tacs—right? [Laughter] That’s what we want them to do.
Shelby: If people have Tic Tacs this day and age. [Laughter]
Bob: You can go to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, to get more information about Shelby’s book, What’s the Point?: Asking the Right Questions about Living Together and Marriage. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to order copies, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to find out how to order. Again, the website is FamilyLifeToday.com; the phone number to call is 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
David Robbins, who is the president of FamilyLife®, is here with us in the studio. David, our listeners have had a chance today to hear from a teammate/from Shelby Abbott. He is, increasingly, a key part of what God is doing through the ministry of FamilyLife.
David: We’ve had him as a guest on FamilyLife Today before, but this is the first time he has been a guest on FamilyLife Today as a part of the FamilyLife team. He is a fairly new addition to the FamilyLife team as the lead writer and contributor for next generation resources. As you likely are aware, GenZers are entering adulthood with different presuppositions about marriage, and whether to marry, and why marriage even exists. We are so grateful to have Shelby, as a thought leader, to engage this space; because at FamilyLife, we are about helping effectively develop godly families, generation after generation.
We are committed to the timeless truth of Scripture while speaking in a compelling and needed way to the cultural moment we are in. We believe in the institution of marriage that God designed for His glory and for our good. I’m really excited to bring you this resource, What’s the Point?, and introduce you to Shelby as another member of the team God is raising up, here, at FamilyLife. We are encouraged and committed to help the next generation of marriages/of families and are so thankful for the ways you play a part in that.
Bob: Well, we sure are. A quick word of thanks to those of you who pray for us and those of you who financially support this mission. You make all that we do at FamilyLife possible, and we are indeed grateful for you. Thank you, David.
We hope you have a great weekend. Hope you and your family are able to worship together in your local church this weekend, and I hope you can join us on Monday when we’re going to hear from Dave Wilson about what real, biblical manhood looks like—not toxic masculinity—biblical masculinity. We’re also going to share with you about our plans for February of 2022 to be back sailing on the Love Like You Mean It® marriage cruise and how you can reserve a stateroom for the cruise. All of that comes up Monday. I hope you can join us.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch. We got some help from our friend, Bruce Goff, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. Have a great weekend. We will see you Monday for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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