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Article on self-gratification By Setting Captives Free Executive Director, Shon Bruellman

Q: I am married and at times need to travel for work. I have heard that gratifying my flesh during those times is helpful, as long as I get permission from my spouse and think only of her. Are there circumstances when I am away from my spouse that masturbation is OK? I have found that when I relieve my flesh in this way that it often just makes things more difficult and tempting, so I am leaning toward "No" but just wanted to get your thoughts on this one.

A: This is a good question! This type of counsel sounds good and biblical at first but, when we look to the Word for guidance, I think we will come to a different conclusion about just how helpful this is.

For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. Romans 8:5 (ESV)

Self-gratification in any circumstance fixes the mind on the desires of the flesh instead of setting our minds on the things of God. Indulging the flesh in any situation while not in the presence of one's spouse is always sin, because it does not come from faith. I cannot believe the promises of God to supply my every need (Phil. 4:19), to make a way out of every temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13), to keep me from falling (Jude 24), and also have sex with myself at the same time. Self-gratification says, "Christ is not enough to satisfy me; I must satisfy myself." Why is the standard for purity any different for a married man when he is away from his wife for a week, month, etc., than for a single man who is called to live a celibate life for years on end?

22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. 24 And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Galatians 5:22-24 (ESV)

Taking up our cross and being crucified means sacrificing our flesh, not gratifying it. It means dying to self, not living to please the flesh when the flesh is calling out for pleasure in areas that God has deemed off limits. The cross shows us that we are not to "relieve the pressure" but endure to the point of shedding blood.

1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. Colossians 3:1-25 (ESV)

Stating that self-gratification is acceptable "under certain circumstances" is a denial of the cross of Jesus Christ and it is not "setting our minds on things above." The truth of the matter is that it is so much easier to totally crucify than to attempt to control, because it is a very slippery slope once we start trying to determine when it is acceptable to gratify the sexual desires within my flesh.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. Galatians 5:16 (ESV)

Self-gratification when I am alone and away from my spouse is nothing more than "gratification of the desires of the flesh" and the Word says that when we are walking with God we will not please the flesh.

13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it. 14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 1 Corinthians 10:13-14 (ESV)

This Scripture does not say, "When you are away from your wife for a period of time God has given you the 'gift' of self-gratification to release those desires." No, it says "When tempted to bow down and indulge those sexual desires, trust God and He will give you the grace to bear up under the burning" and then goes on to say, "Don't give in to those temptations, because it is idolatry."

1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman." 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. 1 Corinthians 7:1-40 (ESV)

Here is a passage of Scripture that outlines the boundaries of intimacy, that it is between a husband and wife who are physically in the presence of one another, because verse 5 state, "then come together again..." In verse 9 it states that "those who cannot exercise self control should marry." What for? Does the act of marriage remove temptation and remove the burning in the flesh? Of course not, it's speaking of sex within the marriage between the husband and wife; not self-gratification in private. This passage deals with temptation, conjugal rights, and marriage, lest one burn in his passions. One would need to jump through all sorts of exegetical hoops to make say anything about getting permission from a spouse to have sex with himself while away on a trip, or gratifying the flesh in this way when at home and feeling tempted.

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (ESV)

Would someone who gratifies his flesh in this manner say to a brother or stand up during testimony time in church and say, "I am soooo thankful for the gift of self-gratification, and I just give God all the praise and glory for it?" I would honestly doubt it.

Even if a man is able to concentrate only on thoughts of his wife while indulging the flesh (and that is a huge "if" because, in the state of arousal, the enemy often tries to throw other images or thoughts into the mind), it is not truly his wife he is thinking of; he is creating a fantasy in which his wife is the "star." That image in his mind is not his wife; it is a mental picture, and nothing more than an object to lust after in order to have an orgasm. How does that bring glory to God?

I received this from a pastor, who is a student:

God has done amazing things in me. I don't ever want to fall to the sexual sin of porn or masturbation again, and that is why I have come here to Setting Captives Free. Doing a lesson every day is keeping me accountable in my thoughts daily, and I am grateful for that. A dirty shepherd is most likely going to produce defective sheep, and I don't want to let God down in the responsibility He has granted me.

This man recognizes that any form of sexual impurity in his life potentially makes him "dirty," and he wants it all gone from his life.

I hope you are able to see that Scripture is far from silent on the issue of sexual self-gratification, and the dangers of it in any situation. It is a selfish act that does not trust God to deliver one from temptation; it does not show honor to the wife in that her husband would contain his passion until they are reunited, and it is "taking matters into our own hands" with regards to dealing with the burning of the flesh.

Shon Bruellman
Executive Director

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