Recently I had a conversation with a pastor who had done a series of sermons on sex. I told him that I’ve talked with a number of people in his congregation about it and I told them that they were really enjoying the messages and finding them quite insightful. I told him because I wanted to just pass on a word of encouragement and let him know that what he was doing was a great thing.
I could tell he was grateful for the vote of confidence, but his response to me was somewhat interesting. He said, “Yeah, well. It has taken me long enough to talk about it.” (He has been in the ministry for a number of years now).
I thought, “Boy, I tackled that one in the first year and a half of my ministry!” We had a number of sermons on it when we were going through the book of Proverbs. And here we are, only 5 years into the life of our church and we are hitting it again pretty in depth!
You know, this is just one example of how the church needs a healthy balance. For a long time this was an issue that people didn’t speak about in the church. It is sad too, because our culture is so oversexed that we need solid biblical teaching on the matter. In fact, much of our ills today come from a lack of emphasis on the proper notion of sexual intimacy.
Today is Reformation Sunday and you know, this is a great topic for it. We need to think like Reformed Christians on the topic of the marriage bond.
Since it is Reformation Sunday, it is only proper that we begin with a quote from Luther, isn’t it? Luther once said the church can often be like a drunk that tries to mount a horse. You can understand the analogy that he uses when you imagine it. Here you have the inebriated fellow putting his foot in the stirrup and hoisting himself up. But because of he is so intoxicated he fails to maintain the proper balance. So what happens is that his momentum takes him flailing over the other side and down to the ground with a thud.
Luther says that this is a picture of the church. One moment she is on one side of the horse, involved in some extreme practices. Then she reacts and strives for reformation. But the balance is lost. Her momentum only causes her to topple over the horse and land in another extreme.
This is exactly what we’ve experienced with the notion of Christians and intercourse. For a long time, such teaching was repressed and seen as taboo. But what has happened? The church has had a knee jerk reaction. Things are now at the other extreme. Immorality is at high tide.
The church is always in danger of extremism. And certainly it was the case here in Corinth. For the last couple of weeks we have been dealing with the issue of purity when it comes to sexual relations. We’ve seen & heard that the Corinthian culture was a cesspool when it came to such things. It was a debauched society, and the church wasn’t much different. But in the midst of all the immorality there, there arose a group that went to the opposite extreme. And that’s what we see in this passage.
As you see from the first verse Paul begins to address some questions the Corinthians had posed to him. They wanted some clarification on the matter of celibacy. Apparently people were beginning to think that abstaining from sex was a greater form of spirituality. You can see how it works, “Sexual immorality is a terrible problem here. So let us be gone with it altogether!”
Really, we need this teaching. This is a great teaching for our day because we are at a place where we can be in danger of doing that knee jerk reaction, and many people within Christian circles already have. So it is good for us to initiate a reformation on the topic and consider the spirituality of sexual gratification. I want us to think about the Reformed view of sex.
The first thing to discuss regarding a Reformed view of sex is our sexual orientation.
I. Our sexual orientation [1-2, 6-9]
Now I recognize that when you use the word “sexual orientation” today it has to do with whether a person is a homosexual or heterosexual. That’s not what I’m talking about though. We all know that homosexuality is wrong. Paul just mentioned it in the previous verses.
When I say sexual orientation I am talking about how we are divinely oriented towards sexual intimacy. That is to say, God has worked into our system the natural desire for sexual fulfillment.
Paul brings this out a number of times throughout this passage. Look at the first verse. He says, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”
Now a lot of people have taken this verse the wrong way. They say that Paul is here pushing the single lifestyle because he says it is good. That is to twist what Paul is saying though. Paul is not saying that the single life is good in that it is a higher spiritual life or better than being married. He is saying that if you are able to do it that’s fine—i.e. if you have the gift, it is not wrong for you to remain in that state. However, that’s not the norm!
Paul is saying that typically, people who are single struggle with sexual temptation. Why is that? It is because they have hormones! And from whence came those hormones? The answer is that they came from God. That’s the way he created us! He has planted within us that desire—he gave us that orientation that longs for that intimacy. So, when you reach a certain age, you start to have those cravings.
And Paul points out that’s why God created marriage. It is because those desires that he gave you are so strong. Moreover God wants you to fulfill those desires in a way that brings you the most pleasure. That’s why Paul says at the end, if you can’t control yourself, get married. It is better to marry than to burn. God doesn’t want you to suffer. He gave you those desires for your greater happiness.
Do you hear what I’m saying here? True spirituality is not consist in thinking that these desires are sinful and pleading with God to take these desires away. God has given us sexual desires. A person is not to be considered a monster when they have these yearnings.
Too often I have heard Christians talk about how we shouldn’t even have the desire for sexual intimacy until we are married and if we do then that young person is sinning. And this has lead to too many of our young people becoming mixed up and living in so much frustration
To say such a thing is not true. To say that that we shouldn’t even have those feelings is to devote the good things of God to the devil. I’m serious, that kind of notion give the devil a creative power that he doesn’t really possess. It is to say that somehow Satan zapped us and planted those desires in us so that he could tempt us and torment us. That can’t be true though. Satan doesn’t have that power. He can’t create anything. He can only tempt us to twist or abuse the good things that God has created.
Do you remember what happened after God created Eve? Do you remember what happened when she and Adam met? Adam didn’t go up and shake her hand and say, “Hi I’m Adam. Nice to meet you. Can you help me change the oil in the tractor?” No! Adam was immediately spell bound when he laid eyes on her. The tractor was the last thing on his mind. As a matter of fact, he sang a song: “This is at last bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!” Why do you think he said, “This is at last”? It was because he was very happy to see her! Evidently, he was longing for some deeper companionship that he couldn’t get from the rest of the animals.
Now don’t think that I am saying that Adam was lusting. Of course he wasn’t. He was still in his upright state. The desires he had were pure and they were good because that’s the way God had made them. That same orientation has continued on down to today.
So we all need to recognize that God has given us an orientation towards sexual intimacy. He was the one who built those passions into our system. That’s why he says that every man should have his girl and every woman his guy, unless he has the gift—that is the gift of celibacy as mentions in verse 6.
I don’t know if I need to mention or not that this is why the Roman Catholic Church has so many problems with its clergy. There are so many pedophiles and perverts there because they make their priests take a vow of celibacy. But that’s a vow top which they cannot live up. To even take the vow is to defy our divine design. It is to open the door to all kinds of sexual immorality.
They think they are being so spiritual though, don’t they? I’m going to be married to the church and I am therefore renouncing all women. That’s not spiritual. That is unspiritual.
If you don’t mind me doing so, I’ll quote from Martin Luther again. Luther said that true holiness consists in taking up your daily duties before God. He said there is nothing more holy than a man who digs a ditch, a woman who changes a diaper, or a young couple who engages in sexual intercourse.
Why did he think that? It is because those are the kinds of things that please God. God is pleased when we start thinking this way. Or perhaps a better way to say it is, “God is pleased when we start acting this way.” Because he has created us to be sexually oriented creatures and he has created marriage for the gratification of the desires he has placed in us.
Being that we are on the topic we can easily transition to our second point. Now that we’ve talked about our orientation towards sexual intimacy, we can talk about our obligations regarding sexual intimacy.
II. Our obligations regarding sexual intimacy
Paul is very direct here. He tells us that if and when we get married, we are duty bound to satisfy the desires our spouse. Look at what he says. In verse 3 he says, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights,” and vice versa. And he even gives the reason, “you body is not your own.” As Alistair Beg says, when you get married, your spouse becomes an equal shareholder!
Then he goes on to reiterate what he has just said with even stronger language. He says, “Do not deprive one another.” There is to be no withholding going on, unless it is agreed upon. And even then, Paul limits how long you should abstain. It should be for a limited time, he says! And as soon as the time is up, you should come together again.
A lot of people think that the puritans were a bunch of prudes. But that is not true though. The puritans had a very high view of sex, and they did a good job of teaching on this subject—to the point where most of us would blush. They preached that a husband and wife were to keep the marriage bed hot. That was the title of an actual sermon in those days! “Keep the marriage bed hot!” They took the subject seriously.
In a sermon on this topic one puritan said that our spouse is to be considered “a playfellow who has come to make our age merry.” Think about that! A play fellow!
All this is to say that the puritans understood the reformed view of sex and they emphasized the fact that we are divinely obligated to be not just husbands and wives, but lovers of the most erotic type. As a matter of fact, there is one instance recorded where a man was put under church discipline because he was not attempting to gratify the physical desires of his wife! I would also go so far as to say that if your spouse is not providing for you, you may have the right to divorce. That would be the grounds of sexual immorality and desertion.
But why would they put a man under discipline for such matters? It is because they understood this teaching right here. They understood that God commands us to keep the marriage bed hot. And if there is one thing that we need today it is a red hot Reformed understanding of intimate love.
Do you know why there is so much infidelity today? There are a lot of reasons, but part of it is because people are not obeying what God says here. A man or a woman are not having their desires satisfied. As a result, they are looking to other places to find that gratification. It is as Calvin said in his commentary; the remedy for fornication is a right teaching regarding the marriage.
As I said, there are a lot of other factors, but that is one. Let’s just pose a scenario. Think about it this way. A man and a woman get married. Rather than following the Biblical ideal, the woman takes a job. She wants to find her fulfillment in her occupation and the newlywed couple can earn a lot of money. Already you see that their priorities are not right.
So each morning the two wake up, make their lunches together, and then they head out for work. After 9 hours of being on the job they come home. Then they have the rest of the day together. The first few years go along just fine. They are happy and they end up having a couple of kids together. But that’s when life starts getting rough. Now, after a long day at work—dealing with the hassles of a grumpy boss and grouchy clients—the couple comes home to two incredibly demanding kids. Both are already exhausted, the wife probably more so because she is the weaker vessel. But they both then have to pour more energy into the kids. After finally getting them calmed down and settled down into bed, they collapse into bed themselves. All energies for any other sort of extracurricular activities is gone, particularly of the woman.
With a lifestyle like that, it is not going to be long before one is going to start looking to find other wells from which to drink.
That is just one scenario. A million more could be posed. What is important to understand here is that a woman’s focus should be on fulfilling her man’s desires. The man should be focused on being everything that a woman wants.
Your goal as a couple is twofold. We know that God commands us to keep the marriage bed pure. That’s a no brainer. But it should also be our goal to (as the puritans said) to keep the marriage bed hot. As a matter of fact, we keep it pure by keeping it hot.
We make the joke sometimes about people come to church twice a year, on Christmas and Easter. But there are marriages that operate on that principle too. Along comes Valentine’s Day and the anniversary and, well, we got to muster up the strength. You know that I’m exaggerating so some degree here. But you understand what I’m getting at. That can be the mindset we have. But that is sinful. That’s not the way we are to be.
You should ask yourself, “If the thermostat were kept in our bedroom, would that affect the rest of the house?” Now if you answer that question by saying things get pretty cold in that section of your house, there is something very wrong.
Yes, that’s right. It is wrong. It is sin. These are divine commands and if you stand in opposition to them you are rebelling against God. As a matter of fact, I will go so far as to say that if you are a good husband or wife in every other way, yet you do not fulfill these obligations, then you are not a good spouse at all because this is the ultimate expression of love.
If you would, allow me one more quote from Martin Luther. In the book, “A Rhapsody of Love and Spirituality” David Fekete puts outlines Luther’s view of love. And he deals quite a bit with the notion of sex. Luther is quoted as saying this,
“Conjugal excels all other forms of love. The love towards one’s spouse burns like a fire and seeks nothing but the person of the spouse. It says, “I do not desire what is yours, I desire neither silver nor gold, I desire neither this nor that; I desire you yourself; I desire you entirely, or not at all. All other love seeks something else than the person of the loved one. Conjugal love alone wants the entire person of the loved one himself.”
If you need any more proof, just go and read the book of Song of Songs. There in that book you see to people who are enraptured with each other. Their love finds its fullest expression in their union.
And yes, this passage does find its fulfillment in Christ. The intimacy of the marital union finds a correlation in our union with Christ. Christ said in his high priestly prayer, “I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them." There could be no better expression of closeness or love than that. There is a oneness and union that is beautiful, and it is replicated in the union that we have in the context of the marriage bond.
So here in lies the essence of true spirituality. True spirituality does not consist simply in sitting in a corner of your house all by yourself with a bible in your lap. It may involve that from time to time. You need also to realize that being off by yourself may sometimes be a direct revolt against true spirituality.
God has ignited within us the fires of passion, and he calls us to let that love bloom and blaze with passionate strength. His design is that we kindle these embers of love by seeking out one with whom we can share these desires and likewise make merry.
Ultimately, the Reformed view of sex provides a trinity of pleasure. We gratify our own God given desires and those desires of our beloved. And ultimately, God himself is pleased. For he delights when his law is obeyed, and he receives the greatest pleasure when his children delight themselves in each other.
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Matt is blessed to be a husband, father, and pastor in Ashland, Ohio.