The church is known for its odd vocabulary. We have words like sanctification, transubstantiation, ordination, and evangelical that most people never use. We also have other words and phrases like saved, I was led, I sensed, and mission that have distinctly different meanings within Christendom than they do outside the church. We also have a weird dynamic with other words. For example, in most churches, sex is a four letter word.
I wrote last about how the Gospel transforms us and that it changes the way we understand things, namely love. Too often in our culture, love is equated with sex. Because of this, the church has taken a defensive stand against sex and has historically preached the dangers, risks, and abuses of sex as a deterrent, and in the process has neglected the beauty of it. The Gospel has never been about “stop that evil behavior.” It has always been about “take off the old self with its deceitful desires, and put on the new self created to be like Christ.” We cannot simply tell people they must suppress a God-given desire without explaining the God given gift and intent of that desire. Sex is a gift from God. If we abuse it, there are certainly horrible consequences. When we honor God with the gift, the blessing is indescribable.
“For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” Our fear of sex has diminished the intent of this passage. When read at a wedding it is usually explained that the man and woman are to become as one unit — united in purpose and will, but this is not what is meant by “one flesh.” God’s command was to multiply and subdue the earth. “One flesh” refers to sex. The relational aspect of this unity is addressed in the leaving of parents and the joining with the wife. The physical aspect is the “one flesh.” God has intended that man and wife (one man and one woman united in marriage) enjoy their unity and consummate it through physical intercourse.
Our culture has stripped away the unity and seeks only the pleasure of sex. This has left us starved for meaning and value because real love (which we talked about last time) is absent and only instinct remains. This has reduced sex to a self-serving act and isolated us emotionally, psychologically, and spiritually and left us longing for real affection but never knowing where to find it. Sex is had absent of love and outside the sheltered harbor of a committed, covenant relationship and has left many hearts wounded, lost, and malnourished in its wake. This was not God’s intent, it is the result of our own sin. Sex is meant to be beautiful and fulfilling, and within that context of commitment and covenant, it is. Man and woman each are partial image bearers of God. In their union they reflect a more complete image. This is what makes marriage sacred. Through sexual union, that unity is social, emotional, intellectual, spiritual, and physical. This is what honors God.
In his letter to the Corinthian church, Paul counsels husbands and wives not to deprive one another of sexual relations (1 Corinthians 7). The only exception is so that the two may seek God prayerfully. Our union with God is the only thing that supersedes our union with our spouse. This can never be used as a tool to force one or the other to have sex. That mentality is contrary to true love. It is flesh-driven and selfish. True love is considerate. It does declare, however, that sex is a safeguard. Corinth was the epicenter of a diverse culture. There were many socially acceptable customs regarding sex. There was even pagan worship that revolved around sex. It’s no different in our culture where sex sells everything from beer to sports, to cars and soft drinks. We are bombarded with provocative images that tempt us to lust. Lust is a selfish desire that dehumanizes others. Pornography and prostitution are the apex of a lust-driven society, and human trafficking is the illegitimate child of these evil industries and the perverted hearts that crave them. Healthy, loving sex in the safety of a marriage relationship guards our hearts and defends us against lust (1 Corinthians 7:5). The union, and the care and closeness within that union — expressed fully through physical intercourse — protects the hearts of husband and wife.
Sex is a pleasure that fulfills us. When treated casually, it drains us. When treated honorably, there is no greater satisfaction. In sexual union, the husband offers his wife his strength and expresses his desire for her, and she in turn offers her emotion and affection, demonstrating trust. When the marriage suffers and there is tension between husband and wife, sex can do more harm than good. There is distance and sex becomes a duty, an obligation, a concession; it is tolerated or even resented and serves to divide rather than unite. Sex is meant to be the fruition of love, commitment, and unity. It is something for the unmarried to look forward to as they look forward to wholly united with a God-honoring spouse, and it is something for the married to enjoy. It is meant to satisfy us and honor God — in our marriage and also rough our marriage — building a powerful union between husband and wife. Sex should be honored in the church, not feared and slandered.
“Therefore, if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” Treat sex in marriage as an offering to God. I don’t mean you have to turn it into a formal worship service, but do not enter into that sacred union when there is something between you and your spouse. They are not a device to satisfy your urge, they are your equal partner. As Paul counseled, deny your urge for a time, to pray together and reconcile, and then come back to a sweet and edifying union. If you have rushed ahead of God and used sex to satisfy lust, know that you are wounding your heart, and the hearts of others. Seek forgiveness and bear fruit in keeping with repentance in full reliance on God. Be renewed and “seek first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added to you as well.”