Question:

My friend wants to know if it is ok to go swimming where there are boys? I asked Daddy and he says he did not think that was right and I do not do that. I told my friend, but she still does.


Answer:

To answer your question, we need to define exactly what the issue is with mixed swimming. First, it is not a question of whether boys and girls can participate in the same activity. There are plenty of sports and activities where both men and women participate. For example, I do Tae Kwon Do. There are both men and women, boys and girls, in the same class and in tournaments. In many activities once adolescence is reached boys and girls will separate into different divisions because men and women have different levels of strength. To make fair competition, men will compete with men and women with women. However, this is not the usual objection raised against boys and girls swimming together. Second, it is not a question of whether swimming is a proper activity for a Christian to engage. There is nothing inherently immoral about swimming. If you look at why people object to boys and girls swimming together, the objection always revolves around the bathing suits worn.

Keeping Yourself Covered

Paul once compared Christians to different parts of a human body. In his discussion, he made this comment: "And those members of the body which we think to be less honorable, on these we bestow greater honor; and our unpresentable parts have greater modesty, but our presentable parts have no need. But God composed the body, having given greater honor to that part which lacks it" (I Corinthians 12:23-24). There are parts of our bodies which can be openly displayed, but there are other parts which is not seemly to be seen in public.

The reason for this dates all the way back to the creation. When Adam and Eve were first created they walked around naked (Genesis 2:25). Their lack of concern over their lack of clothing was an indication of their innocence. It was just like a small child who thinks nothing of running around naked after a bath. However, sin entered the world and Adam and Eve received the knowledge of good and evil. Suddenly, their opinion about themselves changed. "Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made themselves coverings" (Genesis 3:7). In an attempt to solve their embarrassment of being naked, Adam and Eve wove fig leafs together into belts. I don't know if you ever seen fig leaves, but they are about six to eight inches in length. To help imagine what their belts covered, spread your hand out as wide as you can. The distance between the tip of your thumb and the tip of your little finger is about the length of a fig leaf. Now put the tip of your thumb at your waist and see how much of your body would have been covered by this belt. This should help explain what happened next. "And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden. Then the LORD God called to Adam and said to him, "Where are you?" So he said, "I heard Your voice in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; and I hid myself." " (Genesis 3:8-10). Even though Adam and Eve had a "garment" on, they still felt naked. Just imagine wearing a fig leaf belt and nothing else. What happens if you have to bend over? Or worse, what happens if there was a breeze? Perhaps you can understand why Adam and Eve hid.

After declaring the consequences of their sin, God made Adam and Eve proper clothing. "Also for Adam and his wife the LORD God made tunics of skin, and clothed them" (Genesis 3:21). A tunic is a long shirt that reaches from the shoulders to the knees. With a tunic, Adam and Eve were no longer naked.

A short skirt is too little clothing and a tunic is adequate clothing, but where is the boundary between too little and too much? To help understand this better, let us look at the clothing required for priests. God required that His altar not be placed up high. "Nor shall you go up by steps to My altar, that your nakedness may not be exposed on it" (Exodus 20:26). Even though the priests wore tunics, it might be possible for a worshiper below to see underneath the tunic; hence, the restriction that the altar remain low to the ground. To further prevent possible problems, the priests were also required to wear linen britches underneath their tunics. "And you shall make for them linen trousers to cover their nakedness; they shall reach from the waist to the thighs. They shall be on Aaron and on his sons when they come into the tabernacle of meeting, or when they come near the altar to minister in the holy place, that they do not incur iniquity and die. It shall be a statute forever to him and his descendants after him" (Exodus 28:42-43). The length of these britches ran from the waist to the thighs. In the Hebrew, this would mean that the thighs were also covered. In other words, the britches were knee-length shorts.

For women, we can turn to another passage to see what areas of the body were considered to be private. "I made you thrive like a plant in the field; and you grew, matured, and became very beautiful. Your breasts were formed, your hair grew, but you were naked and bare" (Ezekiel 16:7). Hence, in addition to the genital area, a woman's breast were to be covered.

Any exposure of private areas was considered to be an act of shame or embarrassment."I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire, that you may be rich; and white garments, that you may be clothed, that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and anoint your eyes with eye salve, that you may see" (Revelation 3:18). This directly contradicts the naturalists who claim there is nothing shameful about the naked human body. In fact, God used the shame of nakedness as a symbol of punishment. "Come down and sit in the dust, O virgin daughter of Babylon; sit on the ground without a throne, O daughter of the Chaldeans! For you shall no more be called tender and delicate. Take the millstones and grind meal. Remove your veil, take off the skirt, uncover the thigh, pass through the rivers. Your nakedness shall be uncovered, yes, your shame will be seen; I will take vengeance, and I will not arbitrate with a man" (Isaiah 47:1-3).

Herein lies a major problem in our world. We willfully forget the concept of shame. Our entertainment -- movies, television shows, radio, books, etc. -- have been pushing the edges of propriety. When a person sees little to no clothing on people day after day, it becomes ingrained in their minds that it must be "normal." We are not the first society to experience this. "Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down," says the LORD" (Jeremiah 6:15). The Israelites were so used to sinful behavior that it did not make them blush anymore to see it or to participate in it. As Christians we do not want to fall into this trap. When a Christian dresses, she should do so with a knowledge of shame. "In like manner also, that the women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with propriety and moderation, not with braided hair or gold or pearls or costly clothing" (I Timothy 2:9). The word translated "propriety" in this verse comes from the Greek word aidos. The Greek word means having downcast eyes in bashfulness. In other words, it means having a sense of shame.

Now, does the dress typically selected for swimming meet the criteria of having a sense of shame. Does it adequately cover the private parts of the body. Does it prevent exposure of those private areas? Is it so tight that even though covered the private areas are still outlined? Do the private areas remain private when the suit is wet? Does the suit display a knowledge of what is shameful? I love to swim, but finding a proper bathing suit that met Christian propriety took quite a while. Christian standards are just not fashionable.

Limiting Exposure

Even if we manage to find something to wear that all would consider decent, there is another facet of this problem we need to address. Just because I dress decently doesn't mean that others will follow suit. Peter warns, "Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation" (I Peter 2:11-12). The word "lust" means a very strong desire. It is usually used in the negative sense, as in a strong desire for something that is unlawful. Since Christian are not supposed to be citizens of this world, we are to avoid situations which stimulate fleshly lusts. Or, to put it more bluntly, Christians are to avoid situations that arouses the body's desire for sex when it would be wrong for that sexual act to take place. Paul gives a similar warning. "Let us walk properly, as in the day, not in revelry and drunkenness, not in lewdness and lust, not in strife and envy. But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:13-14). Temptation is hard enough to battle without wading right into the middle of it.

Hence, we must consider swimming in mixed company from both directions. We must not select garments for their sex appeal as it is improper for a Christian to arouse the passion for sex in another person. Yet, at the same time we need to avoid situations where we will be seeing things that stimulate our own desires for something we cannot rightfully have.

The problem of lust is a particularly difficult problem for young people. "Flee also youthful lusts; but pursue righteousness, faith, love, peace with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart" (II Timothy 2:22). Youth is a time when sexual desires first awaken and rapidly build to strong urges. Yet, young people have limited experience in resisting the wiles of the devil. Far too often young people are convinced that they cannot fall into the trap of sin because it hasn't happen so far, so "obviously" it won't happen in the future. Such an attitude is widespread and very dangerous.

Jesus warned, "You have heard that it was said to those of old, 'You shall not commit adultery.' But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (Matthew 5:27-28). Sin is not restricted to actual act. Sin can take place when a person desires to commit the act in his heart. It is not wrong to see a woman and remark that she is attractive or to see a man and comment on how handsome he is. But it is a completely different matter to see a man or a woman and wonder what it would be like to have sex with him or her. Sex is restricted to the married only (Hebrews 13:4). As Christians we are to keep our minds on pure things, not sinful things. "Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy -- meditate on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

So, when considering whether to swim with boys and girls present, even if you have selected proper attire for yourself, you need to decide if you will be exposed to seeing others who are improperly clothed. Repeated exposure to sin makes us numb to its presence; it no longer bothers our conscience. Like getting burned too often, we lose feeling for what is too hot to handle (I Timothy 4:2). We certainly do not want to become calloused to sin. "This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness" (Ephesians 4:17-24).

Swimming or Fooling Around?

Finally, we need to address the fact that few people swim when they go swimming. I know people who go to the pool and never get wet. The pool area is simply where they choose to get a tan and since the pool area allows people to wear very little clothing, they find it a convenient place to get the maximum tan coverage. Even those who enter the pool spend more time playing games than working on their back strokes.

Considering how little clothing is worn in the pool, is it proper for boys and girls to place hands on each other? Often bathing suits cover less than most people's undergarments. And yet, many parents would be very upset to see their children rough housing with members of the opposite sex while wearing nothing but their undergarments. However, the same scenario is carried out in public at a pool and suddenly it becomes acceptable. It doesn't make much sense when you look at it this way. We find excuses for bad behaviors because of the situations in which it takes place, but right and wrong isn't defined by the situation.

For example, some will excuse poor behavior because it is done out in the open. What possible harm can come from such public display? However, when look at the sins that Israel was guilty of committing, God charged, "The look on their countenance witnesses against them, and they declare their sin as Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to their soul! For they have brought evil upon themselves" (Isaiah 3:9). The fact that they did not hide their sins was a worse charge against them. The fact that they did not hide their sins meant the sins no longer bothered their conscience -- a fact that God said could be seen in the expressions on their faces.

No, as Christians we need to walk the proper path. "Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern. For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame -- who set their mind on earthly things. For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself" (Philippians 3:17-21). There is no such thing as a little bit of sin. "Your glorying is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?" (I Corinthians 5:6). Paul used this illustration to warn about sin spreading within a church from member to member. Yet, sin works the same way within a Christian as well. Sin rarely is stopped at just one sin. It multiplies like disease out of control.

Instead, it is time that all Christians live a transformed life. "Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time in the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God. For we have spent enough of our past lifetime in doing the will of the Gentiles--when we walked in lewdness, lusts, drunkenness, revelries, drinking parties, and abominable idolatries. In regard to these, they think it strange that you do not run with them in the same flood of dissipation, speaking evil of you. They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead" (I Peter 4:1-5).

April 3, 2013