Emmanuel (Noel) Villarivera
“Would you rather be single and lonely or married and bored?” So asks one well-known comedian. From the world’s perspective, these are the choices when it comes to marriage and relationships. This suggests that the way to avoid both loneliness and boredom is to date but never commit to marriage. Sounds descriptive of our culture, doesn’t it?Our culture glorifies sex outside of marriage, making it the “human experience.” However the church can go the opposite pathway of disparaging sex altogether.
In an effort to condemn sexual activity outside of marriage, we throw the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. Then we are surprised to find newly married couples ill-equipped to navigate not only their wedding night but sexual intimacy in general. It is important to remember not only that the Bible forbids sex outside marriage, but that it commends sex within marriage.
Many youths growing up in the church have heard conflicting messages about sex. They’ve been told it’s immoral, something not to be discussed, and yet on their wedding night, they are expected to suddenly become experts with their only frame of reference being scenes from movies, television, or, worse yet, pornography.
I’m not saying this is the sole reason couples struggle with sexual intimacy, but pastors and counselors would be well served to see the larger framework in which we teach, instruct, and train future husbands and wives as it relates to sex.
Four Principles for God-Honoring Sexual Intimacy
Here are a series or four principles which will enable couples to have a fruitful discussion on this important issues.
- Sexual intimacy in marriage is for God’s glory.
- Sexual intimacy in marriage unites couples.
- Sexual intimacy in marriage is to be regular.
- Sexual intimacy in marriage is to be other-oriented.
Sexual Intimacy in Marriage is for God’s Glory
Ask a couple what they think God’s purpose is for sexual intimacy and you are liable to get a variety of answers: pleasure, procreation, love. Those are all true, but what is the larger vision that guides and orients sexual intimacy in marriage? What lifts married sex out of the cultural cesspool in which it so often resides?
If humanity’s raison d’être is to bring God glory through everything, then it should not surprise us that this applies to sex too. God created Adam and Eve in His image, placed them in the garden, and told them to be fruitful and multiply, bringing Him glory in everything.God not only made Adam and Eve in His image, He created them as gendered, sexual beings. People don’t exist as androgynous, sexless beings. They exist as men and as women, bringing their gendered selves into every situation they encounter. This means your sexuality is not a mistake. There is a goodness to how God created and designed man and woman.
Adam and Eve were specially created to bring their Maker the glory He deserved in every activity, in every conversation, with no dichotomy between the sacred or secular, with no division between the soul and the body, and all for God’s glory. The apostle Paul brings this concept home in his letter to the Corinthians.
In 1 Corinthians 10:31, Paul instructs them that even the most mundane of activities—eating and drinking—should be done to God’s glory. If God has a plan for our eating and drinking to be done for His glory, should it surprise us that He would provide a way for sexual intimacy to be good and glorifying too?
Earlier, Paul goes to great lengths to teach them about glorifying God with their bodies. Paul writes, “The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. . . . Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies” (1 Cor. 6:13, 19–20).
Sexual Intimacy in Marriage Unites Couples Together
Sexual intimacy in marriage unites couples together. Sexual intimacy in marriage is not only designed to bring God glory but also unites husband and wife in a one-flesh relationship.
Listen to the words of Genesis 2:22–25: “Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.’”
This intimacy between man and woman was always designed to happen within a particular context. It wasn’t supposed to happen between just anyone, but between a man and a woman committed together in a covenantal relationship with God.Tim and Kathy Keller write in their book, The Meaning of Marriage, “Indeed, sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being. Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, ‘I belong completely, permanently and exclusively to you.’ [Sex] . . . is your covenant renewal service.”
As husband and wife are joined together in marriage, something unique happens in their relationship. Two become one flesh. This union is more than just sexual intimacy.
The final phrase of Genesis 2 records for us that Adam and Eve could stand before each other completely naked but not ashamed. What a difference from the way in which couples often view sexual intimacy in marriage!
Of all the topics to be discussed in marriage, sexual intimacy is most often the one that gets shrouded in shame, secrecy, and guilt. Sex is spoken of in hushed tones and with blushing complexions. The goodness of sex is quickly obscured by the brokenness of the world and the sinful bent of our flesh.
Sexual Intimacy in Marriage is to Be Regular
Sexual intimacy is for God’s glory and serves as an embodied reminder of a couple’s one-flesh relationship. Thus, it makes sense that sexual intimacy should be a regular part of married life. To understand the biblical teaching on this topic, we must read and understand the apostle Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7:2–5:
“Each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband.
“In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps 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.”
In-depth explanations of this passage can be found in several commentaries. To understand the impact of Paul’s teaching, it’s helpful to note that Paul is seeking to combat erroneous teaching that delegitimized the role of intimacy within marriage.
Paul is replying to something the Corinthians had written to him earlier and is now seeking to correct it (“It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman”). Many scholars have noted this kind of asceticism was in the ideological air in Paul’s day.There is no hint of such asceticism in Paul’s teaching to married couples. They are to fulfill their marital duty through engaging in sexual activity together. This sexual activity is to be consistent unless both parties agree to a time of abstinence for prayer.
Paul is not explicit with a specific amount of time or frequency, but it is clear that couples should not enter lightly into a time of marital abstinence. Devoting oneself to prayer and by mutual agreement is the framework he sets up in order to help protect couples from the temptation of the evil one.
Sexual Intimacy in Marriage is to be Other-Oriented
Paul goes on in verses 3–4 to describe sexual intimacy within marriage in terms which would have probably been surprising and somewhat alarming to his readers. Neither husband nor wife possess authority over their own body.
For Paul’s female readers, this would have been downright revolutionary. Women at this time were considered the legal property of their husbands. Paul was teaching that each partner, male and female, had the right to mutual sexual relations. Nothing like this had ever been said before.
The wife is entitled to sexual relations with her husband! This mutual reciprocity completely reoriented the one-sidedness of sex for husband and wife in the first century. Both husband and wife are to give to one another; they are to willingly yield their bodies to one another.
Biblical sexual ethics fly in the face of not only first century Corinthian culture but also twenty-first century Western culture. The Bible tells us sex is not solely about you and your needs. Sex is not about self-actualization or authenticity. Sex is meant to be about bringing pleasure and love to your spouse.
When husbands and wives practice this principle in their sexual intimacy, couples tell a cruciform story of self-denial and self-sacrifice. No longer is the focus on the person and their needs, but on the other and their needs and desires.
When this sort of reciprocity is present, the opportunities for mutual pleasure, enjoyment, and joy are endless. When sex becomes less about what your spouse owes your and moves to how you can serve your spouse, sexual intimacy is completely transformed from a mere physical act to an actual display of the gospel story.
Christian Counseling for Married Couples
If you and your spouse could use some help growing in the area of sexual intimacy within your marriage or if you’re struggling with other issues in your relationship that affect this dynamic, don’t hesitate to contact me or one of the other counselors listed in the counselor directory. We would be happy to work with you.
“Snuggling”, Courtesy of Becca Tapert, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Pillow Talk”, Courtesyof Toa Heftiba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “Afterglow”, Courtesyof Toa Heftiba, Unsplash.com, CC0 License; “You and Me,” courtesy of Jared Sluyter, unsplash.com, CC0 License
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