Behind Closed Doors
Hebrews 13:4There are times when a writer knows beyond a shadow of a doubt that he doesn’t have to worry about getting the reader’s attention. Certain subjects require no gimmicks, tricks or elaborate introductions. Some subjects–there are only a few–call forth such universal interest that nothing special is needed.
This is one of those times and this is one of those subjects. I have no doubt that everyone will read every word of this chapter. In fact, I daresay this will be the most well-read chapter in the whole book.
And why not? We’re talking about sex. Just to say the word makes everyone tune in a little closer. It reminds me of the greeting card which had the word SEX in big letters on the outside. When you opened it, it read, “Now that I’ve got your attention, Happy Birthday!” I’ve noticed that people tend to have two different reactions when you talk about sex publicly. Some laugh a lot to cover their nervousness; the rest get very quiet very fast.
The truth is that everyone is interested in this subject. People think about it all the time. Anytime men talk about women or women talk about men they are discussing the subject which identifies the most basic distinction in the universe–the difference between male and female. And when little boys go “Ugh!” when little girls smile at them, they are beginning to come to grips with the great difference. Their attitudes will change, but when they grow up they will still talk about the difference.
Anything that occupies so much of our time and inspires so many different thoughts and dreams surely deserves to be addressed openly. Beyond that, I would point out that sex is a bitter battleground for many people. We live in a sex-saturated world. We turn on the TV and watch shows like Dynasty or Dallas, and we think, “That’s the way it’s supposed to be.” Our culture affects us more than we would like to admit.
Many husbands and wives struggle in their sexual relationships for a variety of reasons:
1. Sometimes there is residual guilt from past sexual misconduct. It is regrettably true that fewer and fewer couples enter marriage as virgins nowadays. The statistics on teenage sexual activity vary somewhat, but the trend is absolutely clear: Our young people are becoming sexually active at a very early age. For instance, 50% of American boys become sexually active by the age of 15. That number rises to 70% by age 19. The numbers for girls are only slightly lower. Despite all the warnings concerning the dangers of Sexually-Transmitted Diseases, too many teenagers follow the path of least resistance.
Among the many unfortunate results of that early sexual activity is that many young people enter marriage with a heavy load of guilt from their pre-marital activities. One man said he was haunted by the “Hall of Shame,” the memories of the women with whom he had slept before marrying his wife. How do you deal with that? Sometimes those memories would fill his mind even while he was making love to his wife.
There is no easy answer to that question. Those memories are part of the biblical truth that “the way of transgressors is hard.” Those who sow their wild oats at a weekend frat party will reap the harvest of painful memories for many years to come. Stolen bread may taste sweet, but it leaves a bitter aftertaste. There is a price to be paid for a few minutes of illicit pleasure.
I don’t say that as a warning, but more as a commentary on the inexorable moral law of the universe. God will not be mocked, and those who through youthful ignorance (or exuberance or whatever you want to call it) prefer to sleep together without the benefit of a lifetime commitment will live to regret that decision.
Many couples face this problem because they slept with each other before getting married. This happens quite often with young people raised in evangelical churches. Since they already know what the Bible says, they have kept themselves free from promiscuous behavior. They don’t sleep around. They have high moral standards. They intend to have a Christian marriage. They’re probably in church every Sunday. Their motives are the best. But they slept together while they were engaged.
Probably the first time it was a mistake, a true giving in to the weakness of the flesh. She cried, he felt guilty, they prayed together, and confessed their sin to God. They covenanted together never to do it again. And they didn’t. For a awhile. But human nature being what it is, and the sexual desire being so strong, and their love being so genuine, in a second moment of weakness, they did it again. It was more enjoyable this time, and they felt less guilty. But they repented again, and decided to be strong. That lasted about a week. They they did it again. And then nature took its course.
In the meantime, they are still going to church, still in pre-marital counseling, and still intending to build a Christian marriage. Eventually they get married, and from all outward appearances, their relationship is very happy. She sings in the choir, he serves as a deacon. Down they road they have children. They appear to be a model family.
Believe me, this scenario happens quite often in evangelical churches. Our young people enter marriage with a kind of Special-Use Virginity. They only sleep with each other, and only after they are engaged. So there’s no problem, right?
Wrong. God will not be mocked. Those young people enter marriage with true moral guilt because they have not lived up to God’s standards. Like invisible termites, those hidden memories eat away at the foundation of their relationship. Will the marriage collapse? Not necessarily. But unless those hidden memories are addressed, and the true moral guilt dealt with, their sexual relationship will never be all that God meant it to be.
2. Sometimes there is false guilt from inadequate teaching about biblical sexuality. This is really the opposite problem. Sometimes in our attempt to uphold high standards of morality, we have made sex seem dirty or evil. When that happens, young people enter marriage will all kinds of negative images and false information. They feel as if the sexual relationship is either A. a chore they will have put up with, like washing windows or mowing the lawn or B. an athletic event where they will be graded by how well they perform or C. something dirty and unmentionable. All three options are wrong. In fact, they couldn’t be farther from the true biblical teaching about sex.
Rightly understood, the sexual relationship is one of the best parts of marriage. It’s not the only reason to get married, but it’s a good reason. Anyone who says different hasn’t read the Bible lately. As Moses said, a man is to leave his father and mother and be “glued” to his wife. The “glue” that holds a marriage together is made up of many things—I’ve suggested seven of them in this book. A healthy sexual relationship is part of the “glue” that Moses was talking about.
Having said that, let me tell you what I am not going to talk about in this chapter. First, I am not going to talk primarily about the negative biblical warnings concerning sexual misconduct. The world has one view of sex; God has another. Part of what God has to say concerns certain unchanging standards and absolute principles of right and wrong. To pretend otherwise does not make them go away. But that is not my primary focus.
Second, I am not going to give you a series of “how-to” applications, as important and useful as that might be. In the first place, I don’t think the Bible goes into a great deal of “how-to” discussion concerning sex. It does talk about how a husband and wife should feel about each other. It also offers a useful example (in the Song of Solomon) of the way a couple should talk about their physical desires. But that’s quite different from the many “how-to” questions which the Bible (quite rightly) does not directly address. Furthermore, there are other good resources which will help you answer those questions.
For Adults Only?
This chapter is pitched at a more fundamental level. It is meant to answer the question, “How should we as Christians feel about sex in marriage?” The answer is, “We should feel the same way God does.” Therefore, we will turn to the Bible to survey what God has said on this subject. Along the way we will discover seven basic principles which summarize the biblical teaching on sex in marriage.
Is this chapter for adults only? This answer is no. There is nothing in this chapter I would not want my three boys to read. But do we not risk destroying their innocence by talking frankly about sex? That’s a fair question, and once again the answer is no. But let us not kid ourselves about how innocent our children are. In today’s world they hear many things we never heard until we were teenagers. My boys have already heard all the slang words–all of them, even the very bad ones. Children these days are exposed to much more much earlier. It won’t work to put our heads in the sand and pretend it isn’t happening. We need to deal frankly and honestly with our children and to answer their questions without being embarrassed. I think the seven principles I am about to discuss need to be shared with your children. If it raises a few questions, so much the better. After all, biblical sex education begins at home.
Principle # 1: Sex is God’s Idea (Genesis 1:27-28).
Of all the statements in this chapter, this is the most important. Sex is God’s idea. If you don’t grab that, nothing else I am going to say will ring true to you. Let me lay it out this way:
If sex is God’s idea, then it must be good and not bad.
If sex is God’s idea, then it’s okay for us to talk about it.
If sex is God’s idea, then it’s okay for us to enjoy it.
If sex is God’s idea, then when we enjoy it we are enjoying him.
If sex is God’s idea, then we don’t have to feel ashamed anymore.
Many people believe that the whole subject of sex is somehow dirty and shameful to discuss. And far too many Christians share that attitude. And many would prefer that the church never tackle this issue.
But the truth is that God thought of sex long before Hugh Hefner did. God is the one who in the beginning created mankind as male and female. Genesis 1 clearly says that. “Male and female he created them.” What it means to be man, what it means to be woman–emotionally, intellectually, physically–that difference comes from God himself. Men and women are different because God made them different.
Over 2,000 years of church history, some leaders got way off base on this. They taught that the body was essentially sinful and that marriage was at best a necessary evil. And that the sexual relationship between a man and a woman was something to be endured, not something to be enjoyed. Husbands and wives who feel that way will never enjoy their marriage the way that God intended. They will remain fearful and inhibited when God meant for them to enjoy making love with each other.
Let us be crystal clear on this fundamental point. Sex was God’s idea in the beginning. He thought of it first. He made us different so that our very differences would attract us to each other.
Principle # 2: Sex is God’s Gift to Mankind (Genesis 2:18).
Adam is lonely in paradise. All that God has created is before him. The animals are his to name. Eden is his playground. All the fruit he can eat is his for the taking. All his bodily needs are met. He lives in a perfect environment. Yet he is lonely.
Lonely in paradise! How can it be? The man has everything. He is the king of creation. All the animals are his to command. If he is hot, he can swim in a crystal-clear lake. If he is hungry, he can eat to his heart’s content. If he is restless, he can go exploring. If he is sleepy, he can rest on the dewy ground. If he is bored, he can tend the garden.
But if he wants to talk with someone … what will he do? He can talk to the animals, but they cannot talk back to him. Every meal must be eaten alone. Every night he must sleep alone. Every dream must be his alone. Though he lives in paradise, he must live alone.
Genesis 1 tells us that when God created the earth, he repeatedly declared that it was good. The light was good, the land and the sea were good, the vegetation was good, the stars were good, the birds and the fish were good, and the animals were good. Everything God made was good.
In all of creation, only one thing was not good. “It is not good for the man to be alone.” (Genesis 2:18) Only one detail out of a universe of incredible complexity. Everything else was perfect. But what a detail it was.
Adam was lonely. It is the one imperfection in an otherwise-perfect creation.
And God’s answer to that loneliness is a woman! Adam knew the moment he saw her that she was what he had been looking for.
Most translations of Genesis 2:23 leave out one little part of the Hebrew text. That’s the verse where Adam sees Eve and says, “This is now bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” Actually, the Hebrew text contains a little expression that means something like “At last!”
“Where Have You Been All My Life?”
I think it happened like this. Adam wakes up from a deep sleep. He’s lying on the ground. As his eyes focus, he sees Eve standing before him. She’s dressed in nothing but her birthday suit. Slowly Adam’s eyes survey Eve from bottom to top, stopping here and there to examine every unusual feature. He’s not sure who she is or what she is or where she came from. He doesn’t’ even know her name.
Only one fact is clear. She’s nothing like those animals he’s been naming. She’s not a rabbit, or a giraffe, or an elephant, or a horse, or a condor, or a gazelle. She doesn’t fit into any category he’s familiar with. In fact, he doesn’t have any category at all to put her in.
But one thing is immediately clear. She is very much like him, yet totally different. She stands up like he does, her face has similar features, but then other things are very different. Who is this person and where did she come from?
Then there is a smile, just the hint of knowing recognition. The woman is standing there, waiting for him to say something. She seems shy, yet when she smiles, it seems to Adam as if he’s known her forever. Who is she? Then a second question runs through his mind: I wonder if she knows who I am. He thinks somehow that she knows exactly who he is, but that’s impossible (isn’t it?). What a mystery! All this without a word passing between them.
A slight pause, then Adam smiles and thinks to himself, “This is what I’ve been waiting for. It’s time we got better acquainted.”
Thus did the human race begin.
What an exalted view of humanity this is. How different from the way we either trivialize sex or glorify it or try to hide it altogether. Read Genesis 2 for yourself. Adam was first dumbfounded and then delighted. Eve captivated him. He knew from the moment he saw her that she was the one for him.
What I’m saying is this: Sex is not only God’s idea; it’s also his gift to the human race. He didn’t just think it up; he gave it as his gift to mankind. Any view that sees sex as somehow less than that simply is not biblical.
Principle # 3: Sex is God’s # 1 Means of Becoming One Flesh (Genesis 2:24).
What exactly does it mean–“And the two shall become one flesh?” At the heart it is the moment when a husband and wife physically come together. At that moment, in a way unlike any other moment, they have become one. Something happens in that time and place, in that act of love and passion, which can truly be called sacred. It is something which cannot happen simply by talking together. You cannot achieve it by working side by side on the same project. It does not happen because you live in the same house. To become one flesh in the biblical sense is to do something which is absolutely unlike anything else you do in your whole life. Nothing can be compared with it. God made that act so it would stand alone. It is sacred in his eyes. It is the act of marriage.
Consider Genesis 4:1, “Adam lay with his wife Eve, and she became pregnant and gave birth to Cain.” It’s all very straightforward and easy to understand, except for one small fact. There is nothing in Hebrew that directly corresponds to the English phrase “lay with.” The Hebrew literally says, “Adam knew Eve,” a translation preserved in the King James Version. The modern translations have correctly interpreted that as a reference to the sexual relationship, but in substituting “lay with “ for “knew,” they have lost part of the meaning.
The Hebrew word means to know intimately, to know by personal experience. It is knowing that goes beyond the intellectual. It is the difference between saying, “I know George Washington” and “I know my wife.” The one I know from history; the other I know from 32 years of living together. To be more precise, I know about George Washington, but I know Marlene through and through, and she knows me the same way.
From the Boardroom to the Bedroom
What is Moses telling us by using such a quaint expression? That in the act of coming together, a man and woman know each other deeply and intimately. All is revealed; nothing is hidden. They see each other as they really are. In that moment of gentle humiliation, a man and a woman come face to face–literally eye to eye, arm to arm, and body to body–with each other. A man may be boastful or arrogant in the boardroom, but in the bedroom the truth must eventually come out. A woman may put on airs and pretend to be somebody she’s not, but the moment of truth comes when she reveals herself to a man.
I hasten on to say that knowing is more that sex. But sex is not less than knowing. There are many things you will not learn simply by jumping in bed with another person. But you will learn some things that could not be revealed any other way. It is not as if you are person who just happens to inhabit a body. You are more than your body. But you are not less than your body. When you share your body with another person, when through the dimness they see you disrobed, they have seen you in a way that no one else has ever seen you before. To come together on the marriage bed, then, is to know a person in a way unlike any other kind of knowing in all the world.
That means there is no such thing as casual sex. That’s a Hollywood myth. For better or worse, every time a man and a woman come together–whether married or not–it is anything but casual. It may be fun or pleasurable, it may be earthy and very physical, it may be accompanied by candles and soft music, it may take place in a bedroom or a hot-air balloon. The specifics don’t matter. But it is not casual. It’s serious business when a man and a woman make love.
Which is why God hates adultery so much. That is also why Paul said that when a man goes to a prostitute, even though he never sees her again, and even though it is only a one-time affair, he still establishes a one-flesh relationship with her (I Corinthians 6:16). Something permanent has been established in the eyes of God. Not a marriage, but a one-flesh relationship. And even though the man repents of his sin, the relationship still exists. Which is why there’s no such thing as an innocent affair. And no such thing as harmless adultery.
Principle # 4: Within Marriage, Sex is Holy and Good (Hebrews 13:4).
In the King James Version Hebrews 13:4 reads this way: “Marriage is honorable in all things, and the bed undefiled: But whoremongers and adulterers God will judge.” The first phrase tells us how God views marriage in general. It is an honorable estate. It is undefiled. Please understand, when God says “the bed,” he’s not talking about taking a nap! Within the confines of marriage, God says that sex is holy and good.
How important is the sexual relationship in marriage? In Deuteronomy 24:5 Moses wrote that “If a man has been recently married, he must not be sent to war or have any other duty laid on him. For one year he is to be free to stay at home and bring happiness to the wife he has married.” Did you get that? For one whole year husbands were exempted from military duty. Why? So that they could stay home and bring happiness to their new brides. That phrase “bring happiness” covers the waterfront–everything from getting to know each other to learning how to resolve conflicts to putting your finances in order to deciding when you will begin you family. But a part of it–probably a big part of it–is learning how to bring pleasure to each other on the marriage bed. That, too, is an important part of the first year of marriage.
Making Love on Futons
But it’s not always an easy thing to learn. Making love is more art than science. Anyone can master the physical details. You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure out the basic how-tos. Ah, but to become an accomplished love-maker, now that’s a different story. That takes times plus patience plus experience plus many years of building a healthy relationship outside of the bedroom.
I can remember rolling my eyes when people would tell me that sex gets better the longer you’ve been married. That sounded exactly like “Spinach is good for you” and “This hurts me more than it hurts you.” After all, what could be better than the thrill of the honeymoon? In one her columns, Judy Markey reported on a study that concluded that “five hours of vigorous swimming can give those over forty the sex life of a twenty-year old.” Her comments are right on the money:
The first thing you might want to ask yourself after reading the above is: Who wants the sex life of a twenty-year old? Consider what that tends to imply. No finesse, no seasoned moves, and a whole lot of time anguishing over the delicate issue of how to ask someone precisely where they have tested out on the old communicable disease spectrum. In addition to which twenty-year-olds think it’s real neat to make love on futons. (You Only Get Married For the First Time Once, p. 133)
Young people think they’ve cornered the market on sex. They think they invented it and they think they know more about it than anyone else. But love-making is far more than techniques or trying new positions. It’s all about gentle passion, a certain look that passes between a husband and wife, a look that no ones else sees, and if they do see it, they have no idea what it really means. Making love means thoughtfully giving yourself wholly and without reservation to another person. You just can’t do that on your honeymoon. Or to be more accurate, you can do it on a much deeper level after years or living together. Given that perspective, and within the bonds of lifetime marriage (where you shouldn’t have to worry about communicable diseases), love-making gets better as the years go by.
What Husband Wish Their Wives Knew, What Wives Wish Their Husband Knew
Once when I was speaking at a retreat for newly-married couples (mostly in their mid-twenties), I asked the husbands to write down the three things they thought women most needed to know about sex. I also asked the wives to write down the three things they thought men most needed to know about sex.
The responses were revealing. The following answers are typical of the things the husbands thought their wives needed to know:
Men shouldn’t always initiate sex.Contrast those answers with the following typical responses of the wives:
Smelling good is important.
Don’t feel you have to go strictly by the book.
Understand the difference between a man’s and a woman’s sex drive.
That a man needs to do it more.
Realize that men are not just animals.
Men are more physically-oriented than women are
When to wear a negligee
Don’t be afraid to make the advance yourself
Time and feeling has to be right
Creativity is important
I am really concerned about giving her pleasure.
Put aside all other worries and problems for a period of time.
Relax and enjoy it. Don’t do it out of a sense of duty.
More is better!
Sex is not as important to me as she may think.
Time and feeling has to be right.
To be spontaneous, e.g., in the kitchen.
Men have headaches too.
More often, more often, more often.
What type of atmosphere gets her husband excited (outdoors, candlelight, etc.)
Their sexual relationship is dependent on the fullness of the rest of their relationship.
Women need to feel loved and wanted before sex.
Just hold me.
Touch is very important to a woman.
A woman needs to feel loved for herself as well as for her body.
Women like gentleness.
Women do not respond after the husband has been unreasonable or abusive previously.
Wives must want to make love before it can begin to happen.
A Christian marriage can have a sensual and erotic sex life.
Everytime you make love it should be for love and nothing else.
It is difficult for a woman to respond at a moment’s notice.
It really does matter where you are.
Sex and small children often don’t go together well.
Setting the mood is as important as the act itself.
When women are too tired to make love, that is not a sign of rejection of the husband.
Talk to me first.
Women need time to change moods.
Hugging and kissing can be an end in itself.
Need to brush teeth early in the morning.
Right after a stressful day is not a good time.
It starts way in advance of the physical part. It starts with talks, handholding, etc, early in the day or even days earlier.
It is confidential–not to be “shared” with others in public conversation.
Sex is more than just “the act.”
Time spent together in recreational activities would help. All time spent together should not revolve around sex.
Be romantic, and we’ll all be happier and more satisfied.
An Art, Not a Science
Several useful conclusions can be drawn for these responses. The most obvious is that there is a big difference between the way men and women think about sex. As these responses make clear, men tend to focus on the act itself, while women are much more sensitive to the surrounding context. The men want the women to know how important the act is, while the women want the men to understand that making love is more than intercourse.
Someone may read those words and feel like true communication is hopeless. “He said … She said … He wants … She wants … He likes … She likes.” But do not despair. Men and women are “wired” differently by God. And that difference is one reason why marriage will never go out of style. We are perennially fascinated by the opposite sex–like us in so many ways, and yet tantalizingly different in others.
That leads to a second observation. Achieving harmony in the sexual area is the work of a lifetime. Since men and women start from such different perspectives, it’s no wonder that husbands feel deprived and wives feel pressured. How can men and women bridge the gap? Talking helps. So does having a good sense of humor. Patience counts. Reading good books on understanding the differences between men and women might give you some insight.
Mostly it takes time to get to know each other. The young couples who responded to my survey were promised anonymity. It would have been difficult (if not impossible) for many of them to say the things they wrote down. Remember, making love is an art, not a science, and since all great art takes years to produce, no one should be surprised that it takes a few years for a couple to learn how to please each other in this area.
Principle # 5: Sex is to be a Normal and Regular
Part of Marriage (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
I Corinthians 7 is the longest statement on marriage in the New Testament. Verses 3-5 discuss the importance of the sexual relationship. Paul lays down the basic principle this way: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.” (3) Did you notice the word “duty?” That’s a very strong way to put it. The husband has a duty to meet his wife’s sexual needs. And the wife has a duty to meet her husband’s sexual needs.
Lest you think this is burdensome, Paul puts the matter in perspective in verse 4: “The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.” Your body isn’t yours alone. When you got married, you gave your body to someone else. It’s still yours, but not yours alone. Now it also belongs to your mate. Husbands, your wife has a claim on your body. Wives, your husband has a claim on your body.
When we discussed this principle in our Community Group, there was a lot of laughter and a few crazy comments. But one of the men said something very profound. He said that when you give yourself physically to your wife, you are performing a ministry to her. And the same when a wife gives herself to her husband. She is ministering just as surely as if she were to bind up his wounds after an accident. It is no less a ministry because it happens under the covers. It is no less a ministry because no one else sees it. It is no less a ministry just because both of you enjoy it. It is a ministry in the eyes of God.
An “Under-the-Covers” Ministry
It is a ministry in at least four ways: First, it meets the need for physical release that God built into each man and each woman. When I Corinthians 7:9 says, “It is better to marry than burn,” the reference is not to the fires of hell, but to the fires of passion. Marriage serves as a legitimate release for the fires of sexual desire.
Second, it builds intimacy as you share yourself physically with another person. Oftentimes married couples will find that they actually get along better after they have made love. They find it easier to talk to each other, easier to share their inner feelings, easier to face the problems of life. It’s hard to stay far apart emotionally when you come together physically. This is not to say that sex is the answer to marital difficulties. But in a basically healthy marriage, making love makes things better.
Third, it reaffirms your absolute commitment to your mate. It’s like standing at the altar all over again and saying, “I will give myself to you and to you alone.” We all give so much of ourselves to other people–we give time, we give advice, we give physical assistance, we give money, we give them a smile or a pat on the back or a hug or some stern words of warning. We spend our days giving out to hundreds of different people. But there is one thing we give to one person only. That one thing is the most sacred gift of all. It is given in secret, behind closed doors, seen only by God and that other person. No one else knows about the gift. The gift is more than sex. The gift is you, expressed through the giving of your body. When you give the gift, you serve the other person by reaffirming your commitment to them.
Fourth, you minister through love-making by building up your partner’s self-esteem. It’s a tough world out there, and nobody has it very easy. A lot of men feel like Cliff from the TV show Cheers, who said, “It’s a dog-eat-dog world, and I’m wearing Milkbone underwear.” Many wives go through life feeling inadequate because they have to balance being a mother and a wife and a career woman. If things aren’t going well at work (for him or for her), where will he (or she) find solace and comfort? If not at home, then where? When things are tough, making love sends a message that says, “I still love you. You’re number one in my book.” If a husband can’t win anywhere else, he wants to know that he’s still a winner in the bedroom. If a wife feels put down at her job and unappreciated by her children, there ought to be one private place where she can relax, be herself, and feel deeply loved and protected. In that sacred place, she can be ministered to by her husband even as she ministers to him.
That is a profound and exalted view of what happens when a man and a woman come together. And it is a thousand miles removed from the world’s view, which is essentially self-gratification through a purely physical act.
It is because a husband and a wife can minister to each other in this way that Paul counsels against being apart for too long. Verse 5 says, “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” This is a very practical piece of advice. Couples would do well to schedule times when they can come together in exactly the sense Paul is talking about. Many men in particular have experienced Satan’s temptations because they have been apart from their wives too long.
Principle # 6: A Healthy Sexual Relationship Builds a Strong Marriage and Protects Against Immorality (Proverbs 5:18-20).
These verses seem to put it all together in one package. Proverbs 5 is essentially a warning against adultery. Solomon warns his young son to beware of any woman who would lead him into sexual sin. She promises a good time but her path leads only to shame and destruction. In the midst of these solemn words, he describes the joy of married love. His message is eternally important, but never more so than in the present day, when we live in a sex-crazed culture. Here is his advice to his young son. “May your fountain ever be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer–may her breasts satisfy you always, and may you ever be captivated by her love. Why be captivated, my son, by an adulteress? Why embrace the bosom of another man’s wife?”
There you have the whole case for marital faithfulness. Stay home and enjoy your wife. She’s young, she’s beautiful, and she’s yours. Don’t be a fool and look at some other woman. Enjoy the wife you have. Let her body satisfy you. Be intoxicated with her love.
If you wonder about the propriety of that statement, I encourage you to read the Song of Solomon. It contains the Bible’s most detailed description of romantic love between a man and a woman. It is sensual yet pure, frank yet chaste, erotic yet ennobling. According to tradition, the rabbis would not let single men under the age of 30 read it because it was too arousing. That’s hardly our problem today. If anything, the Song of Solomon seems obscure because we don’t understand the picturesque language.
Consider these words of Solomon as he addresses his beloved:How beautiful you are, my darling! Oh, how beautiful! Your eyes behind veil are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats descending from Mount Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn, coming up from the washing. Each of them has its twin; not one of them is alone. Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon; your mouth is lovely … Your neck is like a tower of David … Your two breasts are like two fawns … All beautiful you are, my darling, there is no flaw in you. (4:1-3, 4, 5, 7)
You don’t really need to know a thing about goat-herding to sense the power of his words. This is sensual, erotic language, expressed in powerful poetic images. Yet it is pure and chaste. Solomon has noticed his beloved’s body; his eyes have feasted upon its beauty. There is nothing cheap or tawdry about it. It is the precise opposite of modern-day pornography which degrades women by turning them into objects to be used and then thrown away.
Is it possible for a marriage to be truly God-centered and yet have a sexual relationship that is sensual and erotic? Absolutely. The fact that we have a problem with that formulation says more about us than it does about the Bible. We have allowed the world to drag sex down into the mud. As a result, we feel uncomfortable about God-centered sensuality. And yet that is exactly what we encounter in the Song of Solomon.
Come Into My Garden
Consider one other section. These are the words of the Shulamite maiden on their wedding night:Awake, north wind, and come, south wind! Blow on my garden, that its fragrance may spread abroad. Let my lover come into his garden and taste its choice fruits. (4:16)
Solomon now replies to her words of invitation:I have come into my garden, my sister, my bride; I have gathered my myrrh with my spice. I have eaten my honeycomb and my honey; I have drunk my wine and my milk. (5:1)
Do you know what these two verses describe? The picture the consummation of the marriage relationship on the wedding night. Go back and read it again. Read between the lines, ponder the images, think about the words being used. Can you picture the scene? No, not the physical scene of Solomon and the Shulamite. The words don’t lead in that direction. But can you feel the power of the moment? Yes, indeed, for these are words which evoke deep and powerful emotions.
The words are pure and clean, the pictures simple and even pastoral. Yet they perfectly describe the coming together of a man and woman for the very first time.
This is love-making from God’s point of view. It is holy, and pure, and clean, and good. It is also sensual and erotic. Let me say it again. This is God-centered sensuality. It ought to be the goal of every married couple.
Would you like to rejuvenate your love life? Here’s a good place to begin. Read the Song of Solomon out loud together. It will do wonders for your appreciation of the Bible and of your mate. You’ll appreciate the Bible more because you’ll discover how practical it really is. You’ll appreciate your mate more as you speak to him (or her) through the inspired words of Scripture.
How does a wife keep her husband satisfied? God has given you a way. Men, how do you stay satisfied? Solomon–who had great experience in this area–spelled it out. Enjoy your wife. And not just her cooking, either.
Principle # 7: Sex in Marriage is Like Eden All Over Again (Genesis 2:25).
For the final principle we return to Genesis 2. In the final verse before the account of the Fall, we have this description of what marriage was like for Adam and Eve. “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame.” This is what marriage was meant to be in the beginning.
In Chapter 1 I mentioned this verse and said that nakedness is the blessing we can hardly endure. Because sin has fouled things up so badly, it’s hard even to think about nakedness. Would what it be like if we went to church this Sunday and found everyone naked? It’s hard even to think in those terms. As we move on past Genesis 2 in the unfolding story of the Bible, nakedness comes to represent shame and disgrace.
But it was not so in the beginning. And it is not so in the marriage relationship. When a man and a woman come together on the marriage bed they are recovering some of the innocence of Eden. Not only that, they are seeing the image of God as it was meant to be seen. They are seeing the solid grandeur of the human body as it comes from the hand of the Creator. That is no small thing. It is a reverse of the curse of sin. And it can only happen in the bonds of covenant marriage.
For far too long we have bought into the world’s view that the reason for sex is simply personal gratification. Or the truncated view that sex is simply for procreation. Neither view expresses the full biblical picture. The real truth is that on the marriage bed we are recapturing the innocence and purity of Eden. In that shining moment, we are, like Adam and Eve–naked and not ashamed.
I conclude that when two people who love God come together in the marriage relationship, that coming together is not just for them. It is also for God. And that act of coming together not only gives them pleasure; it also gives him pleasure. That coming together is part of what it means to glorify God with your body.
Worshiping God on the Marriage Bed
In that sense, this coming together is not only good and holy, it is not only right in God’s eyes, it is not only sacred, it is also an act of worship in the truest sense. For worship is more than what happens on Sunday morning. Worship in the biblical sense is everything we do that glorifies God. Was it not Jesus himself who said, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these my brethren, you have done it unto me.” (Matthew 25:40) When we give a cup of cold water to a thirsty man, we are really giving it to Jesus. Likewise, when we give ourselves completely to the one we love, we are really giving ourselves to God.
Most of us have known Romans 12:1 for years. You probably learned it in Sunday School when you were a child. “Present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable, which is your spiritual sacrifice of worship.” Usually we think of that verse as applying only to “religious” things, like deciding to be a missionary in Africa or dedicating our lives for fulltime Christian service. I suggest that it also applies to the bedroom. A kind of living sacrifice takes place there, too. In the best of moments, what happens behind closed doors is a spiritual sacrifice of worship. And it, too, is holy and acceptable in the sight of God.
It is no doubt significant that our Lord’s first miracle was performed at a wedding feast in Cana of Galilee. By that one act, our Lord forever sanctified the institution of marriage. But not just the institution is sanctified. So is the act of marriage itself. It is holy and pure and good. When we truly believe that, we will not be ashamed to invite Him into our bedroom. And He will not be ashamed to come.
Questions for Thought and Discussion
1. Why do some Christians feel uncomfortable talking about sex? List both the good reasons and bad reasons why this topic is difficult for us to discuss.
2. Think back to your growing-up years. Where did you first learn about sex? Who explained “the birds and the bees” to you? Do you agree that “biblical sex education begins at home?”
3. How would answer someone who said, “I don’t think Christians should talk about sex?”
4. What does Hebrews 13:4 tell us about God’s attitude toward sex within marriage? What warning does this verse contain?
5. Read I Corinthians 7:1-5. What does these verses teach about the sexual relationship? What “duty” do husbands and wives have toward each other? Do husbands have a right to demand that wives do their “duty?” In what ways is love-making a “ministry” that you offer to your husband or wife?
6. Study the list of “Things Wives Need to Know” and “Things Husbands Need to Know” about sex. Which ones seem most important to you? Why? If you are doing a group study, read the lists out loud, commenting on the appropriateness of each suggestion. What conclusions do you draw about the basic differences between men and women in the area of sex? Can you think of any others to add?
7. Read Song of Solomon 5:10-16; 7:1-10. The first passage is the woman’s description of her husband. The second is the husband’s description of his wife. How does it make you feel to find such passages in the Bible? What can we learn about displaying affection within marriage from these verses?
8. This chapter suggests that sex is one of God’s good gifts to the human race. List as many purposes as you can think of for the sexual relationship between a husband and wife.
9. How do you react to the following statement: “The coming together of a husband and wife on the marriage bed is an act of worship in the truest sense.” How does that broaden your understanding of worship? How does that broaden your understanding of the sexual relationship within a truly Christian marriage?
Exploring the Song of Solomon
This project accomplishes two goals: First, it introduces you to one of the most fascinating books in the Bible. Second, it will liven up your personal time together.
In order to do this project, you need a modern translation which divides up the text of Song of Solomon into the proper speaking parts. The NIV, for instance, has “The Beloved,” “The Lover,” and “The Friends.” The Beloved is a Shulamite maiden, the Lover is Solomon, and the Friends are personal acquaintances who know both of them very well.
Assuming that you have a Bible which identifies the speaking parts, the project is as follows:
1. Read the Song of Solomon together out loud. The husband reads the part of the Lover and the wife reads the part of the Beloved. Both read the part of the Friends.
2. This project should be done in private, preferably in a romantic setting since the Song of Solomon is a very romantic book.
3. Take your time and enjoy reading your part. You’ll be surprised at the frankness and sensuality of the text.
4. Don’t worry if you don’t make it through the whole book. If you feel inspired to stop along the way, by all means do so. That’s probably a sign that the Song of Solomon is having its intended effect.
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