Sexuality. In the previous article, we considered some related basics of God’s design for marriage. This week, we consider a few common concerns and (more importantly) the underlying beliefs and desires that often accompany them. Because they’re good questions that deserve good answers, I’m giving two pages to them. As usual, this week’s video will look at our broader topic in a specific text.
How much sexual intimacy is okay before marriage? Three times, the Bible’s book on sensuality and sexuality in marriage encourages waiting for this kind of love, “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem . . . do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.” (Song of Solomon 2:7, 3:5, and 8:4) In the first two verses, she adds “by the gazelles or does of the field”. In Scripture, these animals are always referenced literally or metaphorically for vulnerability and speed. It’s a picture of carefully and slowly nurturing potential love because it’s easily hurt and could quickly bolt. In contrast, the question above is often asked by those who want to rush intimacy. Many times, that’s because they’ve already enjoyed what they view as harmless affections: looking at each other or others in revealing clothing, touching erogenous areas, prolonged and passionate kissing, or even more. So, now they burn for more. At least four truths of the gospel should guide us here: 1) We cannot fully trust our physical desires (Prov 3:5-6 and 28:26, Jer 17:5-9, Gal 5:16-17, Eph 4:17-24, Phil 3:17-21, etc.). 2) Sexual desire always wants to be ‘one flesh’ (Gen 2:24, 1 Cor 6:16). 3) Those who rush into intimacy do so from a heart that is quick to satisfy self or to take another captive, so we can be relatively sure the future of such relationships would a high-risk for unfaithfulness (Lamentations 4:1-2, all of Hosea, 2 Timothy 3:1-9, etc.). And 4) true, godly love manifested by the Holy Spirit will primarily serve God, not self or even others as a ‘god’ (John 15:13, 1 Cor 13:4-7, Gal 5:22-23, 1 John 2:15-17). If we ever push or cave to please self or another instead of waiting for God, it’s a bad sign (Proverbs 5:1-23).
What makes any specific behavior in marital sex ‘good’ or ‘bad’? Remember last week’s notes: God designed marital sex to reflect the Trinity in unity, delight, purity, structure, and life-giving. So, actions that violate any of these by relational, physical, emotional, or psychological harm should never be demanded or even subtly pressed over time. If a practice doesn’t clearly violate God’s image, yield to the spouse with the weaker conscience to encourage them (Rom 14:13-23, 1 Cor 6:12ff and 8:12).
Is birth control wrong (since it violates “life-giving”)? That might depend on the motivation. God’s command to “fill the earth” in Genesis 1:28 is not only quantitative. It’s qualitative: multiplying God’s image of sacrificial love by teaching our children and others to love Him by trusting and obeying Him (Matt 28:18-20). The Bible is clear that God does not enable everyone to have many children or even any children (Judges 11:34, Matt 19:10-12, Luke 9:38, etc.). The belief that any practice hindering pregnancy is wrong comes from Genesis 38. But read it. God killed Onan because he only wanted sex with Tamar and refused to provide her an heir so her deceased husband’s property would go to her. More significantly, God was not primarily guaranteeing her physical life but the spiritual life of all His future children. Notice that Genesis 38 seems to be a parenthetical thought in an otherwise smooth flow about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph’s lives from Genesis 12-50. This ‘misplaced’ chapter takes our eyes off Joseph (introduced in Genesis 37 to be God’s savior for physical life at the time) and refocuses us on the unlovely lineage of Judah through Tamar, the lineage of Jesus as the perfect Savior of many broken people (see Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, etc. in Matthew 1:1-17) by trusting Him to be His spiritual descendants for eternity. See Galatians 4:21-31 for a similar picture.
Why can’t spouses choose their own ways to express sexual love? We can . . . within the few good boundaries that reflect His image. Remember, Man’s first and basic rebellion was our desire for moral independence from God by the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil (Gen 2:15-3:7). The tree of Life (Gen 2:9) shows that God calls us to live with Him and each other forever in paradise, trusting Him for our knowledge of good and evil. In fact, He gives only a few themes of sexual prohibitions in Leviticus 18-20. The Song of Solomon alludes to other great freedoms in passionate marital love.
Is pornography or masturbation wrong (i.e., pleasing self sexually)? One of the implied beliefs here is that sexual pleasure can be merely physical and individual, even though Genesis 1-2, Matthew 22:37-40, etc. remind us that God created us as a spirit in a body for relationships. Still, rather than answer the question directly with clear warnings of Matthew 5:28, 2 Timothy 3:4, etc. let’s reflect on a simple truism: we strengthen whatever we practice, and we weaken whatever we neglect. Compare James 1:12-18 to 2 Peter 1:1-15. Both passages remind us that, for better or worse, our actions in the moment lead to habits that can lead to our ruin or blessing, depending on our path. Too often, we focus only on our immediate desire. Throughout the Bible, God calls His people to wait for Him, and we can be encouraged that He waits for His Bride, too. (Ezekiel 16, Hosea, Revelation 21-22, etc.)
Why would God give two spouses radically different desires or abilities to have sex? There are often two underlying beliefs here: 1) My spouse doesn’t want to have sex with me because they don’t love me, and/or 2) they want sex all the time because they just want to please themselves. I’ve heard the explicit question and implied beliefs so many times from counselees, I suspect it’s more the norm than an exception. As I’ve referenced in other questions above and below, God’s Word is honest about the brokenness of our bodies and desires in this life. Even godly passions in marriage as described in the Song of Solomon can burn, be fickle or even numb in one spouse or both. Listen to 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 like one end of a phone conversation. You’ll hear Paul speaking to people with such struggles that we still face. Better yet, read Ecclesiastes 12:1-8, and you’ll be reminded of two related truths: we must delight in God for eternity because everything here is slowly failing. Lastly, remember that our real hope of joy is through Christ in God’s love for His Bride. (Matthew 25:1-13)
If marriage reflects the Trinity, why did Jesus say there is no marriage after death (Matthew 22:30)? There are a couple of possibilities. 1) He may have been answering the Pharisees’ misunderstanding, much as John the Baptist answered the Pharisees that he was not Elijah (John 1:21) even though Jesus told others that John had come as Elijah (Matthew 11:13-14 and 17:12). John was answering their misunderstanding of Elijah’s literal return, not as one “in the spirit of Elijah” (Luke 1:17). Why would John do this? The context reveals that the Pharisees viewed wives as the husbands’ property instead of fellow image-bearers of God. But at least this: 2) The comparison to angels (and their implied relationships) is emphasizing that their situation there is far better than anything we have in marriage here. Exactly what that will be like is not completely described in Scripture. But, if one of this life’s most precious treasures is used to pave the streets of Paradise (Revelation 21:21), we can
be sure that eternity with Christ will better than anything we can imagine here. (1 Cor 2:9, 2 Cor 4:17)
Before watching the video on 1 Corinthians 7 and marital sexuality, consider the following for discussion.
* What is a common sexual concern around you, and what are you doing differently to live for Christ?
* Which of the biblical references/explanations above was most helpful to you for your marriage?
* Given these definitions of biblical marriage, why are we called to same-sex mentoring? (Titus 2:1-7)
You can see other articles and the embedded videos in this series here.