The last two articles have focused on strange women and the warning given to us in Proverbs 7 about how they seduce foolish men. The Bible provides two examples of such women—Miss Heresy and Miss Babylon—who are strangers to God because He does not identify with their character, attitude, or conduct.
We also saw that these two women share an attribute that helps us to apply the warning in Proverbs 7 to them: They were both sexually immoral. This time, we will examine a second common symbol that highlights another aspect of their lives—and ours.
Look again at the descriptions of Miss Heresy and Miss Babylon, and note the references to drinking and to cups:
Then one of the seven angels who had the seven bowls came and talked with me, saying to me, "Come, I will show you the judgment of the great harlot who sits on many waters, with whom the kings of the earth committed fornication, and the inhabitants of the earth were made drunk with the wine of her fornication." So he carried me away in the Spirit into the wilderness. And I saw a woman sitting on a scarlet beast which was full of names of blasphemy, having seven heads and ten horns. The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet, and adorned with gold and precious stones and pearls, having in her hand a golden cup full of abominations and the filthiness of her fornication. And on her forehead a name was written: MYSTERY, BABYLON THE GREAT, THE MOTHER OF HARLOTS AND OF THE ABOMINATIONS OF THE EARTH. I saw the woman, drunk with the blood of the saints and with the blood of the martyrs of Jesus. And when I saw her, I marveled with great amazement. (Revelation 17:1-6)
The description of the system of Miss Babylon also contains references to drinking and to drinking vessels:
After these things I saw another angel coming down from heaven, having great authority, and the earth was illuminated with his glory. And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a habitation of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage for every unclean and hated bird! For all the nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth have become rich through the abundance of her luxury." And I heard another voice from heaven saying, "Come out of her, my people, lest you share in her sins, and lest you receive of her plagues. For her sins have reached to heaven, and God has remembered her iniquities. Render to her just as she rendered to you, and repay her double according to her works; in the cup which she has mixed, mix for her double." (Revelation 18:1-6)
Both women are holding cups, within which are fornications, abominations, martyrdoms, and general filthiness. The cup symbolizes various experiences, and the people who partake of the cups of these strange women share these experiences, as well as their consequences.
Drinking of Christ's Cup
In the Garden of Gethsemane, on the night when Jesus Christ was betrayed and captured, He prayed, "O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will" (Matthew 26:39). He was asking not to have to experience what He knew was in that figurative cup.
In "Are You Drinking of the Master's Cup?" (Forerunner, March 1999), the author tells of an ancient Hebrew tradition: When a young man and woman were to be betrothed (engaged) for marriage, the groom poured wine into his cup and invited the woman to drink of it. The choice was hers: If she drank from it, she was considered betrothed to the young man. She was agreeing to experience all the things that his life entailed, the good as well as the bad. When the woman drank of the cup, she drank of the marriage covenant and accepted it. Paul refers to this when he tells the church in II Corinthians 11:2: "For I am jealous for you with godly jealousy. For I have betrothed you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ."
As Jesus sat at His last Passover with His disciples, He poured wine into His cup and blessed it, telling the disciples, "Drink from it, all of you. For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins" (Matthew 26:27-28). By literally drinking from His cup, they each accepted the terms of the New Covenant. It was a symbolic betrothal or engagement of the church, the Israel of God, to Christ. This is part of what we commemorate with each Passover service—our spiritual engagement to Christ, which will culminate with the marriage feast after He returns (Revelation 19:9).
Before we were called out of this world, we all walked according to the course of the world (Ephesians 2:2-3). We were the sons and daughters of disobedience, conducting ourselves in the lusts of the flesh, fulfilling the desires of the flesh and mind. We drank from the cups of Miss Babylon and Miss Heresy by ingesting a false religion, or drinking of the culture around us that God says is filthiness.
This is why God tells us to come out of Babylon—so that we do not share the sins in her promiscuous cup and the consequences that God promises He will pour out upon her.
Formerly, we were slaves to sin and its consequences. Now, under the New Covenant, we drink from Christ's cup and agree to His terms. This frees us from the penalty of sin as well as making us responsible to remain faithful to this spiritual engagement.
Paul warns us that God is jealous toward His people, and that they must choose to whom they will be loyal: "You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons; you cannot partake of the Lord's table and of the table of demons. Or do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He?" (I Corinthians 10:21-22).
It is plain that we must make a choice: We either drink of the cup of Christ and remain faithful to our commitment, or we drink of the cup of demons and the sinful system they rule. These two cups are mutually exclusive. We cannot have both!
If we have drunk from Christ's cup, can we continue to sip from the cup of this world's culture or its false religious system? Can we drink of His cup, accepting His proposal for marriage, and still have intimate interactions with Miss Babylon or Miss Heresy? Even in our morally debased secular world, this would be grounds for nullifying that covenant of future marriage.
Possessing Our Vessel
The Bible is full of warnings about fornication and promiscuity, and it is worthwhile to see just how far this principle reaches:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification [God's will is that we be holy, pure, and set apart]: that you should abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you should know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor . . . (I Thessalonians 4:3-4).
The phrase "possess his own vessel" can mean a number of different things.
First, the visual imagery corresponds to the theme of being faithful to a cup—to the marriage commitment we have made. It could be translated, "that each of you should know how to be faithful to his covenant in sanctification and honor."
Second, this phrase refers to self-control, specifically of one's own body. The New International Version translates this verse as, "that each of you should learn to control his own body in a way that is holy and honorable." Paul, in instructing the entire church—both male and female, married and single—shows it is the duty of all to preserve purity with regard to relationships.
Third, this verse refers to the way one acts with regard to a spouse, present or future. The Revised Standard Version translates this as "that each one of you know how to take a wife for himself in holiness and honor." I Peter 3:7 likewise refers to the wife as a weaker vessel to which husbands are commanded to give honor.
Continuing in I Thessalonians 4:5-8:
. . . not in passion of lust [longing after something that is forbidden], like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one should take advantage of and defraud his brother in this matter, because the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also forewarned you and testified. For God did not call us to uncleanness, but in holiness. Therefore he who rejects this does not reject man, but God, who has also given us His Holy Spirit.
Verse 6 includes the curious word "defraud." To get the full understanding of what Paul is teaching here, we have to examine part of the God-plane ideal of the male/female relationship.
God's ideal in this is that there is one (and only one) man for each woman, and one (and only one) woman for each man. It is very clear that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16); He hates the breaking of that covenant, as well as the emotional pain that accompanies it, the scars that the children will have to bear, etc. As loathsome as divorce is to Him, however, sexual immorality is one of the reasons He gives for allowing divorce. He repeatedly warns against promiscuity, and He is very explicit that sex and everything that it involves are only allowable between two people who have made the commitment to each other for the duration of their physical lives.
Seeing I Thessalonians 4:3-8 in this light, part of our responsibility as Christians is purity within our relationships. We are responsible to control ourselves ("possess his vessel") in an honorable way without lust or wrong desire. We also have to make sure we do not "go beyond"—cross the line—and defraud or cheat anyone in this matter.
The essence of what Paul is saying here is that even before a man is married, he can cheat his future spouse out of something! A man can be cheated out of the experience of completely sharing himself with a woman, who is in turn completely sharing herself with him, in a way neither of them has experienced before. Even if a man is not yet married, in essence he already "belongs" to the woman that he will eventually marry, and vice versa for the woman. Even when not married, we have to conduct ourselves as though we are!
It is clear, then, that a man's body belongs to his spouse— whether current or future. This is the principle behind the many warnings against physical promiscuity. But it can go even further than that:
Imagine a young man who is determined to remain physically pure, and yet shares the rest of himself—his emotions, specifically—with every girl he meets. Every girl in the county knows his hopes, fears, dreams, the innermost workings of his mind. When he marries, he will have shared everything about himself except his body. How would his wife feel, knowing that all the other girls had already "experienced" him in all but the sexual act?
In the same way, imagine a young lady who remains physically pure but shares her emotions with all the young men she meets. She will have shared parts of her innermost being, things that really belong to her future husband. This is one reason why God tells us, "Keep [guard] your heart with all diligence" (Proverbs 4:23)!
It is just as easy to be emotionally promiscuous as physically promiscuous, if not more so. And the dangers are significant: continually forming emotional bonds, only later to break them; make them again with someone else, then break them; make them, break them. It will not take long before emotional calluses begin to develop, and a person is unwilling to share him/herself anymore because of the inevitable pain that results. When these calluses develop, it is very difficult for any future relationship to be anywhere near as fulfilling as what God intends.
I Thessalonians 4:6 begins to take on an even deeper meaning when we consider that a basic definition of the word "defraud" is "to promise something one cannot or does not intend to deliver." Today, many practice flirting. Along the same lines as emotional promiscuity, this kind of defrauding promises—either blatantly guaranteeing or merely appearing to—one's emotions, commitment, affections, etc., without meaning to or being able to follow through. Flirting gives the appearance of interest, or it may even be genuine interest, where one cannot follow through with his "promises."
In the modern game of flirting, for example, a young man may behave in a manner that does not match up with his true intent. If he is demonstrating in his actions that a certain girl is the one (and only one) for him, yet is unprepared or refuses to follow through with that process, the girl has been defrauded or cheated. The man has been "promising" an emotional bond without following through. No wonder the Bible says, "Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing" (Proverbs 31:30)!
If we consider that individually we belong to our present or future spouse (physically and emotionally), we can see that certain actions are far from the ideal. That is, if it is inappropriate for a man to interact with a woman in a certain way if he were married to another, it is most likely still inappropriate even if he is not yet married.
Higher Spiritual Stakes
This same principle applies on the spiritual level, and the stakes are much higher. Proverbs 19:14 tells us that a prudent (sensible, understanding) wife is a gift from God. When we apply this to the New Covenant church, it reiterates that it is God that chooses who will be a part of the Bride for His Son. God the Father will be faithful to provide a wife that is prudent, sensible, etc., for His Son.
We each have this opportunity to be part of this perfect Bride that God is preparing for His Son. We have already drunk of the wine of betrothal, and now we are in the process of preparing to be the perfect mate. We do not have to worry about finding the perfect mate—God has already seen to that!
As mentioned before, Proverbs 4:23 tells us to "guard our heart," to keep a tight reign on our affections, because our affections—the things we are interested in—have a tremendous impact on our direction in life.
Our responsibility now is to reject the other cups that we are offered. We have to ignore Miss Babylon's advances, with her suggestive glances, appealing and revealing clothing, and promises of fulfillment in "living for the moment." We have to ignore the seemingly warm and appealing invitations from Miss Heresy, as she offers us shortcuts to where we want to go.
We are currently engaged to be married in a spiritual sense, but we must act as if the wedding has already passed, and we are now living faithfully with our Spouse. We cannot make promises or suggestions to this world that we are interested in her ways. We cannot act as if we see eye-to-eye with the mainstream religion. We cannot flirt with the ideas, attitudes, philosophies, and values of this world's system, nor can we take clandestine sips from these other cups. We have a God who is jealous over us, and He will not tolerate unfaithfulness.
There is a happy ending:
Then I looked, and behold, a Lamb standing on Mount Zion, and with Him one hundred and forty-four thousand [the Bride of Christ], having His Father's name written on their foreheads. . . . These are the ones who were not defiled with women, for they are virgins [they were faithful to their Husband, even before they were married]. These are the ones who follow the Lamb wherever He goes. These were redeemed from among men, being firstfruits to God and to the Lamb. And in their mouth was found no deceit, for they are without fault before the throne of God. (Revelation 14:1, 4-5)
The Bride of Christ does not commit to one thing and then fool around on the side. Her word is sure and dependable.
We have each shared this cup of betrothal. If we remain faithful to it, we will have a place at the Wedding Supper of the finest wedding that will ever take place.