A church in Florida recently promoted a 30-day emphasis during which married couples were encouraged to have sexual relations on a daily basis as a way of strengthening their marriages. Conversely, singles were encouraged to practice abstinence over the same period of time.

We’ve come a long way from the suspicions regarding the body and anything associated with “the flesh” of some early Christians. Origen went so far as to have himself emasculated to avoid the “lust of the flesh.” Augustine taught that concupiscence (or lust) was involved even in sexual union within marriage and, thus, only allowed it for the purpose of procreation.

Somewhere between our culture’s self-absorbed obsession with sex and sexuality and the ambivalence of some Christians towards anything sexual is a fully orbed biblical view of marriage that includes the kind of mutual submission and sacrificial love Christ demonstrates for his bride – the church. Paul says that “this [marriage] is a great mystery and I am applying it to Christ and the church” (Eph. 5:21-33, NRSV). The ideal of a Christian marriage is to be a living demonstration of the unconditional love of Christ for His church.

Embracing Mystery

What is the uniqueness of personhood? Are we simply conditioned by culture and genetics to respond to every whim of desire or is there “something more”? Biblically, the “something more” that sets humankind apart for all the rest of the created order is that we are to express the imago dei.

But what does it mean to be created in the image of God? “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27). In other words, the image of God is expressed in a relational dynamic. It takes both male and female to fully express what God is like.

We should not be surprised at this. The Christian doctrine of the Trinity teaches, in part, that the fundamental relationship within the Godhead is a “divine dance.” When we come into union with Christ we are invited into that eternal and divine dance. This is a mystery that is expressed by Word and Table in worship. It is also a mystery that is expressed in the intimacy of marriage.

Idolatry and Adultery

Frequently the prophetic witness of the Hebrew scriptures judge God’s covenant people for their unfaithfulness to YHWH and liken it to marital infidelity. The prophet Hosea lives a parable of God’s continued seeking of His unfaithful bride, Israel. The problem of “meat offered to idols” in the New Testament is the association of capricious sexual expression as a form of worship in various mystery religions.

Idolatry as adultery is not an accidental image. Our relationship with God is the most fundamental fellowship we humans are capable of experiencing. From the Genesis 2 creation account it is obvious that we are not created to be alone (separated from God or one another). Husband and wife are to complement and complete one another.

True intimacy is never about “me” – it is always about “the other.” It takes the kind of love described in 1 Corinthians 13 to form any relationship of lasting value. Contrary to contemporary romanticism agape love is not a feeling over which we have no control. Rather it is made up of a thousand little daily choices to live in and express God’s love.

The power of unconditional love is vital for the church (local and universal); Jesus says that our love for one another is to model his love for us and is the great apologia for the fact that he was sent from God.

A Christian home is more than a dwelling where all profess personal faith in Christ. A truly Christian home is one where Christ is indeed Lord of all. Unconditional love is essential for Christian marriage and all other family relationships, deep friendships and even showing hospitality to strangers. We are created for a depth of relationship that our merely using one another as a means to temporary pleasures and selfish ends will not sustain.

Proclaim God’s Good News

In spite of all the cultural messages to the contrary, the locus of human identity is not fundamentally expressed in our sexuality. We are created for God and in God we live and move and have our being.

But God has created us as sexual beings. We are enjoined to “leave and cleave” in forming a Christian marriage. Yes, some aspects of Christian tradition have practiced an extreme asceticism that appears to deny this value. Efforts to allegorize the Song of Solomon, for example, demonstrate both Jewish and Christian interpretive uneasiness with this very powerful love poem celebrating sexual intimacy.

Jesus honored marriage by performing his first miracle at a wedding party. He also sought to discourage divorce in much stronger terms than traditional Jewish interpretation. He warns about the destructive effects of lust in the heart. But he also recognizes a temporal limit to the marriage relationship. Jesus was fully human – but his self-expression was unfallen. Hence women and men of varying moral and social backgrounds felt “welcomed” in his presence.

Paul’s teaching on marriage is sometimes misconstrued to reflect a preference for celibacy over marriage. His views outlined in 1 Corinthians 7 indicate that “conjugal rights” are reserved for marriage. He even warns spouses “do not deprive one another” except by mutual agreement for specific times of religious devotion. He does indicate that singleness is preferred when one is able to exercise self-control. But even this admonition must be understood in the light of Paul’s expectation of the imminent return of the Lord.

The writer of Hebrews places marriage in the context of mutual love and hospitality and exhorts “let the marriage bed be kept undefiled; for God will judge fornicators [those who have sexual relations outside the covenant of marriage] and adulterers [those who violate their marriage vows]” (Hebrews 13:4). Jesus teaches that lust in the heart is in fact the sin of adultery. This is an especially powerful concept in a postmodern society overwhelmed by moral and sexual relativism.

We should distinguish between fleeting thoughts and a pattern of thinking. Luther said, “You can’t keep the birds from flying over your head, but you can keep them from making a nest in your hair.”

Preaching on issues related to the home, marriage and sexual ethics is of vital importance if we are to declare the whole counsel of God. Most people don’t need more information about sex – there are plenty of resources that focus on physiological information and the mechanics and technique of the sexual act.

What our parishioners need to hear is a biblical and doctrinally sound basis for human identity and purpose in life. We need to underscore that God is the creator of all and gives only good gifts to His children. Sexual identity and expression are among those good gifts. It is only in our fallenness that these become dehumanizing and destructive.

Thanks be to God, through Christ’s death, burial and resurrection we are redeemed from the curse of the Fall. Therefore, it is appropriate for couples to have conversation about and develop greater sensitivity to intimacy in all its expressions and experiences.

We must be direct in addressing the destructive “principalities and powers” we face. Specifically, the internet and other technologies make it possible to bring pornography into our homes in ways unimagined by earlier generations. And we should not underestimate the impact of the cafeteria of deviant sexual options available in the laissez-faire amorality of the Western world.

Virtual sex, voyeurism and the vile fruit associated with this epidemic are anything but the “victimless crimes” of an overly indulgent and narcissistic culture. Any pastoral counselor knows the damaging and damning effects to self-esteem, healthy relationships and fellowship with God fostered by theses “idols” of lust.

We need to talk honestly with our adolescents and other singles about the powerful and confusing drives and desires faced. We need to assist one another in critiquing music, culture and fashion and, with specific emphasis, help all to “flee youthful lusts” through the development of a healthy and holistic Christian spirituality.

We need to celebrate marriage. But we need to be honest. There is no such thing as a perfect marriage. We are not always expected to be “happy” but we are called to faithfulness – which has been described as “a long obedience in the same direction.” Such faithfulness is true for our relationship with God and it is true for any deep and lasting relationship between husband and wife.

We must also continue to proclaim God’s love and grace for those who have failed in their marriages or fallen morally in other ways. While we must encourage marriage as a lifetime commitment we should not disparage or discourage those already divorced. With the Apostle we should proclaim that Christ came to save sinners “of whom I am the foremost” (1 Timothy 1:15).

The Bible does not blink at labeling various sexual practices as sin but sexual sins are not elevated to a status greater than other kinds of sin. Jesus offered both forgiveness and an encouragement to live differently to an adulteress dragged before him by the self-righteous religious legalists of his day. We can do no better than to follow His example.

he church is not a haven for those already fully sanctified, it is a hospital for us sinners. And the Gospel cure must be administered over a lifetime – for only in eternity will we be finally and fully cured of the curse of sin.

A noted pastor observed, “When my wife and I married, we knew that ‘the two shall become one’ and spent the first ten years of our marriage fighting over which one we would become.” The truth is that the “one” that emerges in the intimacy of marriage is not the denial of our individuality or uniqueness or the merging of separate selves. The mystery is that in union with one another before God we are part of creating something larger than ourselves – a oneness that is new and profoundly more that anything we could become alone. 

Share This On: