Replacing ‘Defrauding’

The principle of defrauding often plays a central role in courtship frameworks. While I tend to agree with the conclusions, I do take issue with how they are derived from 1 Thess 4:3-6. To look at this I’ve taken quotes from elders at my church who have written articles for at various times that include references to that passage. While the differences may reflect differences between their current opinions, they may also represent progression of thought within the group as a whole.

Matt Schmucker’s teaching about defrauding was a precursor to the core seminars on courtship. In this article Schmucker writes (emphasis and bracketed comment mine):

Second, Christian men are called to protect their sisters in Christ, not take advantage of them. Consider 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6 (NIV):

It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the heathen, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him.

Where the NIV says, “no one should wrong his brother or take advantage of him,” the NASB says, “no one should defraud.” [NASB translates the NIV’s “wrong” as “defraud”.] Defraud means “to deprive of something by deception or fraud.”

What do I mean by defrauding in this context? Simply put, a man defrauds a woman when, by his words or actions, he promises the benefits of marriage to a woman he either has no intention of marrying or if he does, has no way of finally knowing that he will. The four authors of this chapter often speak on this topic because we know that brothers in Christ in our church and yours are defrauding (taking advantage of) sisters in Christ, and as the apostle James says, “My brothers, these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10).

Executives from the corporate giants Enron and WorldCom were recently on trial for fraud. They had painted a picture of business health, growth, and prosperity when in fact it was all false. The single men in our churches must be encouraged to ask themselves, “in your relationships with single women, are you painting a false picture and committing fraud?” What may be considered innocent — holding hands, putting an arm around her in the pew, some “light” kissing, long talks over Starbucks coffee — all send the message to a sister that reads, “You’re mine.” Single men must be careful here. A Christian woman is first and foremost a sister in the Lord. I trust none of us would do anything inappropriate with our own flesh-and-blood sisters. How much more a sister in the Lord! She may or may not become the man’s wife. But she will always be a sister. Her heart, the “wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23, NIV), must be guarded as if it were the man’s own!

This follows the way Scott Croft has argued regarding defrauding in the core seminars that he has developed and taught. In his articles (1, 2, 3) he defines defrauding as “implying a relationship or commitment by your words or conduct that does not actually exist”, “implying a marriage-level commitment where one does not exist” and “to imply a commitment that does not exist by committing acts with someone that are appropriate only in the context of a particular relationship (i.e., marriage) in order to satisfy my own ‘passionate lust.'”

The passage is primarily about sexual immorality, but there is also a valid application to inappropriate behaviour beyond that. However, the concern with the primary application is surely the sinfulness of the physical act itself, not deception and hence an equivalent interpretation is required for secondary applications. Looking into the Greek, it seems to me that the passage is about going beyond what is appropriate and so gaining an advantage at the other person’s expense. This is basically the meaning of fraud, but without the explicit reference to deception, though obviously deception could still be a factor.

Scott said after writing on defrauding that “Now, one obvious
counterargument to the point I intend to make is that the Scriptures
I’ve cited above just beg the question of whether kissing and other
sexual activity violate those passages.” This illustrates another problem with the concept of defrauding. It says that you shouldn’t do things that imply marriage if you’re not married, but does not explain how to determine that something implies marriage. For example, why does holding hands imply marriage? I don’t even know what the concept of implying marriage means. While I can see how actions said to imply marriage are bad in themselves, not knowing what it means, I don’t understand how implying marriage constitutes wronging the other person. Surely understanding why its wrong makes it easier to obey.

Michael Lawrence’s approach avoids these problems. In the boundless article where he considers 1 Thess 4:6 he doesn’t mention defrauding, but he comes to the same conclusions in a different way by focusing on taking advantage instead.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:6, Paul warns the Thessalonian Christians against “taking advantage” of their brothers or sisters. The larger context in the first eight verses makes clear that what Paul primarily has in view is sexual immorality, in which you take from one another a physical intimacy not rightfully yours.

But the text also suggests that there are other ways you can take advantage of one another in a dating relationship. And one of the primary ways men do this is to elicit and enjoy all the benefits of unending companionship and emotional intimacy with their girlfriends without ever committing to the covenant relationship of marriage.

He goes on to refer to the cost of emotional and spiritual wear and tear caused by inappropriate intimacy. He also contrasts not “taking advantage” with the positive teaching to love one another (Scott in his 3rd article has more on this).

The issue regarding what is appropriate intimacy seems to be this. Intimacy carries with it risk, in terms of temptation, distrust and also emotional pain if the relationship ends. It limits the benefits of other uses of time. On the other hand, certain forms of intimacy play a role in moving a relationship along towards potential marriage and intimacy is also created by things that are good in themselves, such as in serving one another or doing ministry together. There needs to be a balance. This takes wisdom, including counsel from others. It depends on the individuals involved and the circumstances. The concept of defrauding, as best as I can tell, is designed to forbid behaviour that creates unnecessary intimacy, but I believe that it is more effective and biblical to address the issue directly.

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