Let’s tackle a surprisingly common phenomenon, made super convenient by the technology of the smartphone. Of course we’re talking about sending nude selfies. This is part of a growing conversation in our culture. I recently met with the assistant principle of a large public high school here in the suburbs of Minneapolis to talk about smartphones and teens. She said to me this, I wrote it down: “In the last year, I’ve been shocked at how many kids—kids that you would never suspect—have naked pictures on their phones, private pictures sent between them and a boyfriend or girlfriend. In my job I look through a lot of phones, and when I come across those pictures, I’m simply stunned. To me, when it comes to high school students and their smartphones, this is the most surprising trend I now see.”
This is part of a much larger phenomenon, among young males specifically, who will send unsolicited nude pictures of themselves to girls, out of the blue—a disturbing new practice now well documented by journalist Nancy Jo Sales in her eye-opening book: American Girls: Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers. It’s a troubling book, too, and a wakeup call for any parent with a daughter who has a smartphone.
How This Question Came Up:
I say all of this to introduce today’s question, which comes to us from a 20-something listener named Lily. She writes: “Dear Pastor John, I’m currently in a long distance dating relationship with a fellow Christian. Lately, he has requested that I send pictures of myself nude, which I obliged. I now regret this decision. What would you say to young, unmarried Christians who are tempted to make this same mistake?”
I think I have good biblical authority in saying on behalf of God to every one of his children, male and female, don’t ever ask to see anyone naked except your spouse and don’t ever offer to show yourself to someone naked for erotic or sexual reasons (not medical reasons) except to your spouse. And I mean don’t do it in person and don’t do it in pictures. And I will give you seven reasons for why I think I have God’s authority in saying that. And I hope none of you hearing me will ever do it or ever do it again.
1. When God created man and woman, it says in Genesis 2:25. It says, “The Lord God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.”
God’s plan for the lifting of that shame is the sacred relationship of marriage, just like marriage is the reversal of numerous elements of the curse. The freedom that we are to discover is not on stage: Let’s take our clothes off in movies and on stage. It is not in a striptease joint. It is not in front of boyfriends or girlfriends. It is not in front of our phone. It is the profound respect and love and security of a covenant relationship called marriage. That is where people of the most ordinary looks can be free from shame. That is what love does.
Outside of that relationship, God treats nakedness as one of the most vivid forms of divine judgment. Isaiah 47:3). That is number one.
2. It follows from this understanding of nakedness and clothing that the apostle Paul would say, “Women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control…with what is proper for women who profess godliness” (1 Timothy 2:9–10). Now, all three of those words—kosmio, respectable; aidous, modesty; sophrosunes, self control—all three of those words, interestingly, have the connotation of thoughtful, serious use of a woman’s mind as to how to make her clothing speak about her godliness. Every woman should ask that question: How is what I wear and not wear speaking about my godliness? Clothing is not a matter of indifference in God’s economy. It speaks about a woman’s (and a man’s) view of God and her own commitments to God and joy in God and her freedom from the manipulative maneuvers of men to get what they want. That is number two.
3. Paul assumes in 1 Corinthians 12:23–24 that we take special care in covering the most intimate parts of our body. He says, “On those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require.” That is part of the way God has helped us live with the consequences of the fall in this sinful world.
4. Paul tells Timothy and, by implication, other young men, “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers”—treat younger men as brothers—“older women as mothers”—and here is the key one: Treat “younger women as sisters, in all purity” (1 Timothy 5:1–2). Now, what does that mean? Treat younger women as sisters in all purity. It means that, until a man is married, he should let his proper treatment of his sister, his real sister, dictate the purity of his behavior with his girlfriend. Another way to put it would be this: View the temptation to ask for nude selfies the same way you would view the temptation of incest.