Tuesday, January 11, 2011

One flesh: God's design for sex in marriage

Last Sunday morning, I preached on a delicate subject, but one pastors cannot be silent on: sexual intimacy in marriage. I did my best to be discreet and appropriate for a broad audience, yet not shy away from what the Bible teaches on this subject. We had some recording problems, so I thought I'd attach the full manuscript below...

“One Flesh: God’s Design for Marriage, Part Two”
1 Corinthians 7:3-6
Pastor Stephen Jones
Sunday, January 9, 2011

You’ve probably heard of Corrie Ten Boom. She and her family were Christians living in Holland during World War II, and are best known for hiding Jews from the Nazis. Eventually, her family was taken to a concentration camp, where her sister and father both died. I highly recommend her book The Hiding Place, which you can find in our church library. It's a beautiful story of God's providence in the midst of chaos and suffering.

In that book, she recounts the train rides she would sometimes take with her dad – a time she always cherished.
Oftentimes I would use the trip home to bring up things that were troubling me, since anything I asked at home was promptly answered by the aunts. Once – I must have been ten or eleven – I asked Father about a poem we had read as school the winter before. One line had described ‘a young man whose face was not shadowed by sexsin.’ I had been far too shy to ask the teacher what it meant, and Mama had blushed scarlet when I consulted her. In those days just after the turn of the century, sex was never discussed, even at home. So the line had stuck in my head. ‘Sex,’ I was pretty sure, meant whether you were a boy or a girl, and ‘sin’ made Tante Jans very angry, but what the two together meant I could not imagine. And so, seated next to Father in the train compartment, I suddenly asked, ‘Father, what is sexsin?’
He turned to look at me, as he always did when answering a question, but to my surprise he said nothing. At last he stood up, lifted his traveling case from the rack over our heads, and set it on the floor.
‘Will you carry it off the train, Corrie?’ he said.
I stood up and tugged at it. It was crammed with the watches and spare parts he had purchased that morning.
‘It’s too heavy,’ I said.
‘Yes,’ he said. ‘And it would be a pretty poor father who would ask his little girl to carry such a load. It’s the same way, Corrie, with knowledge. Some knowledge is too heavy for children. When you are older and stronger you can bear it. For now you must trust me to carry it for you.’
And I was satisfied. More than satisfied – wonderfully at peace. There were answers to this and all my hard questions – for now I was content to leave them in my father’s keeping.
Certainly, there is some knowledge too heavy for children to bear. But eventually, we have a duty to discuss with both children and adults what God says on every matter of life, including physical intimacy and marital relations. We dare not let the world do all the talking and set the moral standards in this area.

This morning, we’re going to have such a discussion. We are studying through the book of 1 Corinthians, and this morning, we arrive at chapter 7 verse 3, where Paul teaches on the subject of sex. Because of this, our conversation this morning will be somewhat explicit, though I plan to go no further than the Scriptures themselves.

It’s not my intent to shock you, or to talk dirty, or to make you feel uncomfortable in any way. But I do have a responsibility to preach the whole council of God, and believe God could use this text in a mighty way to teach our singles what they need to prepare for, to strengthen the marriages in our church, and even to heal any marriages who are hurting and broken right now.

I’ll tell you up front, this is a message for mature audiences. I’m thinking teenage and older. If your children are listening with you this morning, I’ll let you decide if your children are mature enough to listen. If you are hesitant at all, you may want to listen for yourself first, then share the recording with them later. We have a children’s church program going on right now over in Bldg. C, and you’re more than welcome to take your children over there -- even if they’re above grade school level. This is totally a parental decision. None of us will judge you for stepping out. I want you to do whatever you think is best.

The passage

For the rest of us, please turn to 1 Corinthians chapter 7, if you haven’t done so already. You’ll remember that last week, we began a sermon series on chapter 7 which I’ve entitled “One Flesh: God’s design for marriage.” We were challenged to make a New Year’s Resolution before God to improve our marriages in 2011. We looked briefly at the theme of purity. That is, one of the purposes of marriage, and reasons why it is good for many to get married, is to remain sexually pure, not giving into the temptation of sexual sin. You’ll notice that again as I begin reading in verse 1...

1 Corinthians 7:1–9 (HCSB) About the things you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have relations with a woman.” But because of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. A husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband. A wife does not have authority over her own body, but her husband does. Equally, a husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not deprive one another—except when you agree, for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all people were just like me. But each has his own gift from God, one this and another that. I say to the unmarried and to widows: It is good for them if they remain as I am. But if they do not have self-control, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with desire.

Let’s pray. Father, we thank you for your Word this morning, and that it speaks to every matter of life and godliness. Help us, as Your Word says, to put to death whatever is worldly: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desire, and greed, which is idolatry. Help us put away all anger, wrath, malice, slander, and filthy language from our mouths. Help us put off the old man with his practices, and fully put on the new man, who is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of our Creator. Let us approach Your Word this morning not with a morbid curiosity for what is sinful, but with a sincere desire to know You better and more fully serve our spouse. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

This morning, we move on to our second theme of marriage, which is pleasure. The text I have read just makes clear that God has designed for a husband and wife to be united in heart, mind, and yes, even in body. There are two points to our outline. First, we’ll look at the exhortation in verses 3-5. Then we’ll close by seeing one exception, in verses 5-6.

The Exhortation: Please Your Mate (vv. 3-5a)

God’s Word teaches that one of the main purposes of marriage is for a husband or wife to bring pleasure to one another. God intends for you to love your spouse by taking a genuine interest in their desires and stepping out of your own comfort zone, so to speak, to serve them, meet their needs, and express selfless love to them.

This is true in every area of live, but particularly here in the area of sex. You have a duty before God to have sex together. Paul says this in several different ways.

In verse 3, Paul says, that a husband is to “fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband.” It is very clear that Paul is speaking of sex within marriage. God commands a husband and wife to know each other in the fullest sense of the word and enjoy physical intimacy. But Paul goes on.

In verse 4, Paul states, “A wife does not have authority over her own body, but her husband does.” Paul very quickly follows this statement up, lest we think a woman is somehow to be a doormat or be barked at, but saying, “Equally, a husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does.”

In short, your spouse now has authority over your body. When you exchanged marriage vows, you gave up all personal rights and demands. When I said “I do” to my wife, I was saying I no longer have authority over my decisions. I no longer have authority over my finances. I no longer have authority over the color scheme in our house. I no longer have authority over my goals and ambitions in life. And I no longer have authority over my body. That has been given over to my wife.

In marriage, God now intends for your body to be a source of pleasure for your spouse. It would be wrong for you to demand sex from your spouse, because your body is no longer your own. But it would be equally wrong for you to withhold sex from your spouse. You must each be mindful of the needs and desires of the other. I believe this is the principle Paul teaches over in Ephesians 5 as well, where husbands use their God-given authority to love and serve their wives, and wives respond by showing submission and respect to their husbands.

In verse five, Paul gives this exhortation one more time. “Do not deprive one another,” he says. Or we could literally translate it, “Stop depriving one another!” since that is apparently what some of the Corinthians were doing, thinking it was somehow more spiritual to abstain from sex between husband and wife. But Paul says just the opposite. It’s not more spiritual. It’s actually sinful!

Paul concludes this verse by saying, even if you pause momentarily for prayer, you are to come together again; otherwise, Satan may take advantage of this moment of weakness, and tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

From these verses, we learn that sex between a husband and wife is not merely an option. It is not a suggestion. It is not a necessary evil to create offspring. It is a good thing, and it is a duty. But it is more than a duty. It is intended by God to be a privilege, a joy, and a pleasure!

Supporting Scriptures

Let’s look at a few other Scriptures that teach on this subject.

In Genesis 2:23, right after God has created a wife for Adam, he declares with his pulse pounding, “This one, at last, is bone of my bone, and flesh of my flesh; this one will be called woman, for she was taken from man!” Shortly after, it says that they “became one flesh” and that they were “naked, yet felt no shame.” God created Adam to need Eve, and Eve to perfectly complement Adam. In every way, they were to be united together and enjoy complete intimacy. This was God’s design.

In Proverbs 5, God says that men are to “Drink water from your own cistern, water flowing from your own well…Let your fountain be blessed, and take pleasure in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful fawn— let her breasts always satisfy you; be lost in her love forever” (vv. 15, 18-19). Notice the words that describe our marital duty: drink, blessed, pleasure, satisfy, be lost in her love. The one flesh sexual union is to satisfy and bring mutual pleasure to both husband and wife, and as we saw last week, is a great preventative to sexual immorality.

But without a doubt, the Bible’s most exhaustive treatment of this subject is found in the book called the Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs. I firmly reject the idea that this is an allegory of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church. No, this should be taken at face value. It is a beautiful love letter between Solomon and his bride, the Shulamite (6:13). It is every bit as inspired by God as any other part of the Scriptures. Listen to these words, the sexual overtones, how they describe one another’s bodies, the use of all the senses, and the holy delight between a husband and wife…

Song of Solomon 4:1–7 How beautiful you are, my darling. How very beautiful! Behind your veil, your eyes are doves. Your hair is like a flock of goats streaming down Mount Gilead. Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn sheep coming up from washing, each one having a twin, and not one missing. Your lips are like a scarlet cord, and your mouth is lovely. Behind your veil, your brow is like a slice of pomegranate. Your neck is like the tower of David, constructed in layers. A thousand bucklers are hung on it— all of them shields of warriors. Your breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that feed among the lilies. Before the day breaks and the shadows flee, I will make my way to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. You are absolutely beautiful, my darling, with no imperfection in you.

Song of Solomon 5:1–2 I have come to my garden—my sister, my bride. I gather my myrrh with my spices. I eat my honeycomb with my honey. I drink my wine with my milk. [And now, the narrator steps in, who is likely God Himself bride and bridegroom to enjoy one another.] Eat, friends! Drink, be intoxicated with love!

Song of Solomon 7:6–13 [The husband begins] How beautiful you are and how pleasant, my love, with such delights! Your stature is like a palm tree; your breasts are clusters of fruit. I said, “I will climb the palm tree and take hold of its fruit.” May your breasts be like clusters of grapes, and the fragrance of your breath like apricots. Your mouth is like fine wine— flowing smoothly for my love gliding past my lips and teeth! [Then the wife responds] I belong to my love, and his desire is for me. Come, my love, let’s go to the field; let’s spend the night among the henna blossoms. Let’s go early to the vineyards; let’s see if the vine has budded, if the blossom has opened, if the pomegranates are in bloom. There I will give you my love. The mandrakes give off a fragrance, and at our doors is every delicacy— new as well as old. I have treasured them up for you, my love.


I hope you can see from 1 Corinthians 7 and these supporting texts that sex in marriage is intended by God to be pure, passionate, pleasing, intoxicating, and exclusive. I assure you, it is far more satisfying than any kinds of sex this world has to offer. Young people, don’t let the world pawn its cheap wares off on you! God’s design of pure sex between a husband and wife is so much more fulfilling.

How should a husband and wife apply this biblical truth? Dr. Ed Wheat, in his excellent book Intended for Pleasure, says, “The union of marriage frees the couple to enjoy their bodies in whatever ways are most pleasing, provided that both are being pleased. Without restrictions (other than selfish acts that hurt the partner or evoke distaste), the couple should feel free to experiment and to ‘know’ each other in the most intimate sense possible. Love involves close bodily contact and the pleasure of seeing, touching, and enjoying all the senses. Let this be your guide in love play” (p. 82)

One of these things this means is that a husband and wife must understand their spouse’s physiological differences. As they say, “men are from Mars, and women are from Venus.” In reality, all of us are from Earth, but God clearly created man and woman to be different and complementary. One of the ways men and women are different is in their sexuality. They respond differently. They get excited differently. They have different desires and expectations. One person described a woman’s body like a crockpot, slowly heating up, while a man’s body is more like a microwave, excited and heated almost instantly! We must be learners of our spouse and see how we can bring them maximum pleasure.

I’ve included in your handout this morning an application section, which I would strongly urge you to use this week.

If you are married, then take a deep breath, pray for courage and loving honesty, and then set aside a couple hours to ask your spouse these questions:
  • Non-sexual: What’s something I’ve done in the past month that encouraged you? That irritated you? What are some free activities you enjoy doing together? Activities that cost money? What concerns do you have that I seem uninterested in? (It’s important to start with questions like these, because our sexual relationship tends to mirror the overall health and communication of our marriage in other areas)
  • Sexual: How satisfied are you with our sexual relationship? How often would you like to have marital relations? What words, touches, and positions do you enjoy the most? What do you enjoy the least? What could I do both before bed and in bed to bring you greater pleasure?
If single, be careful not to spend too much time fantasizing over these questions. Tuck them away for the time when God may give you a spouse. And take time to ask, what is your duty to God right now regarding sex? (We will unpack the subject of singleness together next week)

If you’d like to learn more about this subject and how you can grow to serve your spouse and bring them pleasure, here are some recommended resources:
  • Intended for Pleasure, by Dr. Ed Wheat and his wife Gaye. This is probably the single best volume on the subject, written by a biblical counselor who is also a family physician. The pastor who did our premarital counseling advised us to look through this book the week before we got married.
  • Intimate Issues, by Linda Dillow & Lorraine Pintus. This book takes the subject from a female perspective, helping a wife to better understand her body and how to love her husband.
  • God on Sex, by Daniel Akin, who is President of Southeaster Theological Seminary. This is an exposition through the Song of Solomon with many helpful principles and lighthearted moments.
  • Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God, by C.J. Mahaney. This is probably the shortest of the four books, and is geared toward the husband, helping him put sex in a bigger perspective and learning better how to love and romance his wife.
Now, some of you may be asking, what about medical issues (during/after pregnancy, bodies age and hormones change, medication you’re taking, always tired)? This will make it more difficult to serve your spouse. But it does not remove your responsibility to know their desires and meet their needs. Don’t be afraid to talk to your doctor and seek professional medical help too.

What if my spouse doesn’t want to talk? Pray for them. Be gentle and patient. Maybe wait a week or two, then graciously bring up the subject. Maybe say something like, “Honey, do you remember that sermon we heard a couple weeks ago on sex? We still haven’t had a chance to discuss it, and I’d really appreciate if we could. I want to know how I can love and serve you better, and for you to know how you can help me.”

Two of the most difficult areas of communication in a marriage are money and sex. I’ve tried to break the ice and breach the subject today, so please take advantage of this and discuss the issue together.

The Exception: Prayer for a Moment (5b-6)

We’ve established that physical oneness and sexual intimacy is a duty between husband and wife. God’s design is for a husband to please his wife, and for a wife to please her husband. In our closing moments, let’s look at the one exception Paul gives.

1 Corinthians 7:5 “Do not deprive one another – except when you agree, for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
There may be a time when it is better to abstain from sex, but notice that it is only by mutual consent, and it is only very temporary in nature. This is not a command, but an option. It may be the ‘concession’ Paul refers to in verse 6.

There are certain occasions in life, for the sake of repentance of devotion to Christ, when it is appropriate to give up certain earthly pleasures. This could be “fasting” from food, drink, some other pleasure, or even sex.
What this might look like practically, is agreeing for a week that you will not have sexual relations, but instead will use that time for praying. It would probably even be best to do that praying together. But then, at the end of that time, you promptly come back together, with a renewed love and anticipation of your time together.

Notice what reasons are NOT okay to abstain from sex. It is not because you are too tired. Or because you don’t feel like it. And certainly not as a bargaining chip to get something you want, or to punish your spouse for something they did. The only legitimate reason to abstain from sex is for a momentary time of greater devotion to God.


God has designed for a husband and wife to be united in heart, mind, and body. God created sex, and it is only pure and satisfying when done His way.

God created the anatomy of a male and female to be different and complementary. He created man and woman so they would perfectly fit together respond to one another, enjoy one another, and become one flesh in the truest sense of the word.

In 2011, may we improve our marriages by loving our spouse and serving their unique physical and sexual needs, for the glory of God and for greater unity in our marriages.

1 comment:

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