Notice that Jesus does not blame the woman for how the man thinks of her. Jesus is very plainly making the point that men can control their thoughts. But this does not mean that women aren’t accountable for how they dress or for flirting with men they cannot have.
After all, a woman who loves her neighbor would not want to tempt men to sin — even if it’s ultimately that man’s choice. Why tempt him at all? Why be selfish?
I pity any minister or eldership that needs to confront women in their church about how they dress. Women can be incredibly defensive about their clothing choices — and unspeakably naive about how their clothing affects the men around them.
Now, there are some churches where the leadership is so caught up in legalism that they make foolish demands on women. But in the vast majority of cases, the reason the leadership is objecting to how a woman dresses is because the men are complaining — because they don’t wish to be tempted or distracted. They find the woman’s revealing dress a problem for their own obedience to God and are asking for help. A woman who refuses is acting in an unspeakably selfish way.
In other words, if you don’t think your clothing is inappropriate and the men do, the men are right. After all, it’s the men who best know how men react to a woman’s clothing.
Some women were so restricted by the church they grew up in or by overly conservative parents that, having become adults, they act out their childhood frustrations by dressing provocatively — or by dressing their daughters this way. And that does not make it right.
Give your elders a break and honor their instructions. If you doubt their conclusions, find some men who aren’t afraid to tell you the truth and ask them. Most men will answer honestly.
The woman’s words
The scriptures teach —
(Pro 5:3-4 ESV) 3 For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, 4 but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword.
I suspect that far more adulteries are committed due to a woman’s speech than her clothing. Every elder and every minister should read Shirley Glass’s NOT “Just Friends”: Rebuilding Trust and Recovering Your Sanity After Infidelity. Glass is a Christian counselor, and she explains that nowadays fthe vast majority of affairs arise because a man (or woman) made friends with a woman (or man) in which he developed an emotional bond through sharing his life in a way that should have happened with his spouse.
From the Introduction —
Surprisingly, the infidelity that I’m seeing these days is of a new sort. It’s not between people who are intentionally seeking thrills, as is commonly believed. The new infidelity is between people who unwittingly form deep, passionate connections before realizing that they’ve crossed the line from platonic friendship into romantic love. Eighty-two percent of the unfaithful partners I’ve treated have had an affair with someone who was, at first, “just a friend.” Well-intentioned people who had not planned to stray are not only betraying their partners but also their own beliefs and moral values, provoking inner crises as well as marital ones. …
The significant news about these new affairs–and what is different from the affairs of previous generations–is that they originate as peer relationships. People who truly are initially just friends or just friendly colleagues slowly move onto the slippery slope of infidelity. In the new infidelity, secret emotional intimacy is the first warning sign of impending betrayal. Yet, most people don’t recognize it as such or see what they’ve gotten themselves into until they’ve become physically intimate.
Most people mistakenly think it is possible to prevent affairs by being loving and dedicated to one’s partner. I call this the “Prevention Myth,” because there is no evidence to support it. My experience as a marital therapist and infidelity researcher has shown me that simply being a loving partner does not necessarily insure your marriage against affairs. You also have to exercise awareness of the appropriate boundaries at work and in your friendships. …
In the new infidelity, however, affairs do not have to be sexual. Some, such as Internet affairs, are primarily emotional. The most devastating extramarital involvements engage heart, mind, and body. And this is the kind of affair that is becoming more common. Today’s affairs are more frequent and more serious than they used to be because more men are getting emotionally involved, and more women are getting sexually involved.
These are called “emotional affairs,” not because they are affairs that touch the emotions but because these are relationships based on an emotional connection that is just as wrong as a sexual relationship. That is, the husband should not be engaged in certain kinds of conversations with a woman not his wife — and vice versa. His deepest emotional bond and hence his deepest conversations should be with his wife. And when another woman allows herself to take on the role of his wife as confidant and emotional support, physical adultery will soon follow.
For the man, this is a different kind of “lust.” It’s not desiring the woman as a sex object, but desiring her to fill an emotional need that should come only from his wife. He is using her just the same — taking from her something he’s not allowed to have. He “lusts” after her sympathy and listening ear — which soon turns to sexual attraction.
This will be astounding to many wives, who desperately want their husbands to open up to them emotionally and find their husbands unwilling to do so. And I’m no counselor or psychiatrist. Every marriage is different. But all wives need to learn how to be a safe place for her husband to share his anxieties and fears. If a husband tells his wife that he’s afraid of being laid off, and the wife become inconsolable or blames the husband for not working hard enough or vents for half an hour in bitter anger, her husband will go looking for a better listener.
If the husband chooses a male friend for this purpose, that would be a really good thing. And this is one reason I encourage the formation of accountability groups — groups of three or four men (or women, but not both) who meet weekly to share their lives in light of the scripture and to help each other be the man God wants him to be. The formation of more such groups would doubtlessly dramatically reduce the number of affairs and divorces in our churches.
The problem arises when the man feels uncomfortable sharing with his wife and has no male friends he can talk to at this level — and this is an extremely common situation. If he then finds a woman to be his “work wife,” as some say, trouble is just over the horizon.
What’s the solution? Again, I’m well outside of my expertise, but I would think along these lines —
* Marriage classes in which wives are coached to be better listeners — likely with no men present. It’s hard for men to find other men to talk to in today’s society.
* And the same arrangement for husbands. Women more easily share their feelings with other women. Nonetheless, every spouse needs a spouse who can listen supportively and without judgment.
* Encourage the formation of accountability groups — not to be confused with “small groups” for Bible study or fellowship. Accountability groups will study the Bible, but they cannot be bigger than four — the size of a breakfast or lunch table. Men struggle to share their feelings at all. It’s just not going to happen in a larger group. And they can’t do canned lessons based on the sermon. It has to be material about how to live for Jesus.
* Warn the congregation about the temptation to create work-spouses. Be plain-spoken. Have the young children removed from the audience for children’s worship and then discuss adultery and sexual infidelity unambiguously. Avoid euphemisms. Set an example for how to talk about these things appropriately without a hint of Victorianism. Call sex “sex.” The church will be very grateful for both the lesson, the clear language, and the honesty.
* Encourage men to become friends of other men who listen — even if not in an accountability group. In fact, many men would prefer to do their talking over a fishing pole. That would be excellent, provided his friends encourages him to make Jesus-centered choices.
* Coach the elders and ministerial staff on how to see the warning signs of a dangerous male-female friendship. In fact, this temptation will be especially strong for ministers, because women will find in them a man who will listen and sympathize, often unlike their husbands. This is one reason so many ministers have succumbed to adultery. They make great friends for female members.
And this is why male ministers may not have these kinds of relationships and why strict rules are needed limiting counseling of women by male ministers. Men can be just as foolishly naive as women when it comes to thinking, “We’re ‘just friends’ even though I enjoy spending time with her much more than my wife.”
* In short, educate your members and provide solutions, not just warnings and condemnations.
PS — I’ve never heard a sermon along these lines. Ever. But then I’ve only been going to church for 60 years.