Towards a Theology of Sex, pt 2. This is taken from a two part sermon series we did a couple of years ago and owes much to Ben Patterson.
I'll post more this week on why I'm posting this now, what I hope Evergreen people and others here and what I hope nobody hears...
When sex takes the form of a search for something, “are you the one? Will you give me what I need?” the search for love and unconditional acceptance, or even just the search for release, it breaks us even further.
But when sex comes as an expression of something that’s been found, as a living expression of the unconditional, never-ending acceptance that a husband and wife have promised one another, then it can become very much a part of putting us back together again…
Last week, we walked through Scripture from the beginning to the end, all of it drawing out the idea that sex is designed to paint a picture. In that it makes a man and a woman ONE, it points to the community and oneness of God Himself… but even more, it points to a future event. A wedding. We say the whole point of the Gospel is a redeemed community living in a renewed creation in relationship with the Triune God. Sex is meant to point to the culmination of all of that, in Rev 19- the marriage between Christ and His Church. So in a very real way, sex paints a picture of the Gospel. And we want to paint the picture rightly- we are all sexual beings, and how we live out that sexuality either draws the picture rightly, or smears it, mars the work of art, the picture that God has been painting in Scripture, in our lives and in our lovemaking since the beginning. Last week, after Andrea painted a beautiful picture of a couple embracing, we messed it up. We smeared it, painted over it, marred and distorted it.
But if the Good News is good news at all, it’s Good News even in this- we all have messed up and God is able to take our mistakes and redeem them, that is, bring something good out of them. No sin, even if it covers years of your life, puts you in a category beyond the reach of God’s grace. We can start at anytime to participate in painting the right image- in allowing every area of our life, even our sexuality to point people to God. All the time we spent discussing the picture sex is meant to paint gives us the context to read the words of Paul in 1 Cor when he says…
1 Cor 6:18- 7:7
18Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
1Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 2But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The 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. 5Do 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. 6I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
Now- what do you see here? What grabs your attention from this passage?
Paul wrote this in the context of persecution- people being arrested and even killed for being Christians- so his idea about it being better to remain single needs to be read in that context. (But as an aside- those who say that everyone should get, must get married? Not from this passage or even the words of Jesus, but that’s a different sermon…) Paul, who was single, gave us some good instruction on sex- no doubt. But, he is a bit clinical- it’s a good thing, you should each make sure the other is getting their needs met, you belong first to God, and then to your spouse- so filter everything through that…
But he lacks a bit of, uh, poetry… in the way he talks about this. For that, let’s go back to the Song of Songs. So if you have a Bible, open it up to the Song of Songs and let’s get it on… uh, let’s get on with it.
Tucked in among the Law and the Prophets and the Gospels is this tiny little book- all through Scripture, sex is seen, particularly in the Old Testament in light of boundaries, how to live within the covenant of God in the area of our sexuality. There’s not a whole lot of indication about whether or not it’s meant to be… fun.
That’s where the Song of Songs comes in. If you’ve read it, you know, this is eros, it is sex without shame, and it tells us very clearly- sex is meant to be fun. No… "Fun" doesn't do it justice- it's meant to be both a return to the garden- that place where the man and the woman are naked and unashamed before each other- because there are no others. These two- for this moment, their own little universe. Oneness.
Just look how it starts: VS 1:1-2
1 This is Solomon’s song of songs, more wonderful than any other.
2 Kiss me and kiss me again,
for your love is sweeter than wine.
“Kiss me again and again- your caresses, your love (the English softens it, literally, your lovemaking) leaves me drunker than wine.” Now, that’s a great start. This first part is the young woman speaking to her young husband, and she’s bit insecure about her looks, she says my skin got too dark out in the sun, I’ve been working in the vineyards and haven’t really been able to take better care of my appearance… And her young husband says:
VS 9 (NIV)
9 I liken you, my darling, to a mare
harnessed to one of the chariots of Pharaoh.
Now, guys… that’s probably NOT one you want to try tonight…
But catch the metaphor… There were no mares, no female horses harnessed to the chariots. But let’s try it from the NLT VS 9 (NLT)
9 You are as exciting, my darling,
as a mare among Pharaoh’s stallions.
See what he’s saying? You may think you aren’t that beautiful… but do you know what you do to me? It’s like a mare walking into a corral of stallions. Any of you ever been around horses? The effect of a mare on stallions? It's not pretty but it sure is dramatic... That’s the effect that she has on him and …that’s in the Bible, folks.
Or how about this? SS 2:3
3 Like the finest apple tree in the orchard
is my lover among other young men.
I sit in his delightful shade
and taste his delicious fruit.
You get that this isn’t really about the fact that she thinks he grows great apples, right? “Like the finest apple tree in the orchard is my lover among the other young men.” Hmmm. “I delight to sit in his shade and his fruit is sweet to the taste.” Yeah. That’s in the Bible, folks.
How many of you, if you grew up going to church, as a child sang “He takes me to His banqueting table, His banner over me is love”?
VS 2:4 (Niv)
4 He has taken me to the banquet hall,
and his banner over me is love.
The whole banner thing- it’s a military metaphor- probably meant to picture the ferocity of his love. But catch it-
2:4 (NLT) –
4 He escorts me to the banquet hall;
it’s obvious how much he loves me.
To her, when he initiates lovemaking, it’s like a banquet. All these good things laid out to taste and enjoy. And how long does a banquet last??
Guys- if you’ve only got one or two moves, here you go- this is what to aim for. The ecstasy of their lovemaking was like a banquet, a party that went all night…
VS 5 Strengthen me with raisin cakes,
refresh me with apples,
for I am weak with love.
I love this- raisins and apples were thought to have aphrodisiac properties. She says:
VS 6 His left arm is under my head,
and his right arm embraces me.
Literally, His left arm is under my head and his right arm caresses me. Think about it. No, on second thought- don't think about it. Wait till later.
But now, look what she says:
VS 2: 7 Promise me, O women of Jerusalem,
by the gazelles and wild deer,
not to awaken love until the time is right.
Now- when we want someone to promise something we say- swear on the Bible, or put your hand on the constitution, swear on something that matters… The gazelles and the wild deer? If you read the rest of the book, you’ll see- these are sexual metaphors as well. She invites her lover to her mountain-like countours while she compares her breasts to fawns... So what is she saying?
She charges restraint in the very name of the things that excite her- for the sake of sex, we must restrain sex until the time is right, until the place is right... We’ll come back to that. Look at-
2:16- “My lover is mine and I am his”- we’ll come back to that as well. “He feeds among the lilies”- another sexual metaphor “before the dawn breezes blow”… may this last all night and may you, like a young stag or gazelle climbing the mountains enjoy my mountains, the contours and clefts of my body.
Does he take up her invitation? Yes… He notices each and every part of her body, all of its mystery and wonder. Sometimes we laugh at this next part- it seems a little silly. But think about it. He’s moving his eyes up and down the wonderland of her body, noticing everything…
1 How beautiful are your sandaled feet,
O queenly maiden.
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
the work of a skilled craftsman.
2 Your navel is perfectly formed
like a goblet filled with mixed wine.
Between your thighs lies a mound of wheat
bordered with lilies.
3 Your breasts are like two fawns,
twin fawns of a gazelle.
4 Your neck is as beautiful as an ivory tower.
Your eyes are like the sparkling pools in Heshbon
by the gate of Bath-rabbim.
Your nose is as fine as the tower of Lebanon
5 Your head is as majestic as Mount Carmel,
and the sheen of your hair radiates royalty.
The king is held captive by its tresses.
6 Oh, how beautiful you are!
How pleasing, my love, how full of delights!
7 You are slender like a palm tree,
and your breasts are like its clusters of fruit.
8 I said, “I will climb the palm tree
and take hold of its fruit.”
May your breasts be like grape clusters,
and the fragrance of your breath like apples.
And you thought Steve Miller came up with “I really love your peaches, wanna shake your tree.” No… that’s Bible.
May your kisses be as exciting as the best wine, flowing gently over lips and teeth.
10 I am my lover’s,
and he claims me as his own.
11 Come, my love, let us go out to the fields
and spend the night among the wildflowers.[b]
12 Let us get up early and go to the vineyards
to see if the grapevines have budded,
if the blossoms have opened,
and if the pomegranates have bloomed.
There I will give you my love.
13 There the mandrakes give off their fragrance,
and the finest fruits are at our door,
new delights as well as old,
which I have saved for you, my lover.
"Which I have saved for you"
Do you see why it was so charged, so erotic for them? Because he was hers and no other’s and she his and no other’s…
Sex is good because the God who thought it up and gave it to us as a gift and as a picture of something even deeper and eternal is good- and that God is thanked, is glorified, is appreciated when we receive His gift and use it the way He intended and designed... and enjoy it the way He meant it to be enjoyed.
We are fascinated with seeing God in nature and the mountains and the trees... and I love that the Song of Songs takes those metaphors and points us in a different direction: do you want to see the glory of God? Don't just look at the contours and heights of the mountains, look at the contours of your wife, your husband, where he or she rises and falls and see the glory of God- see what God has given you- the image of God sitting next to you, sharing your bed with you…
The NT says- "Whatever you do, do it for the glory of God." Is there any doubt after reading all of this that you can make love to the Glory of God, that you can express joy and appreciation and satisfaction in His great, good gift to us?
And pretty clearly- if it's possible to make love to the glory of God, it's also possible to do it in the other direction... sex that is not to the glory of God is sex that mars the picture that He's trying to paint.
So, make love. Make love well. Get good at it. It’s a skill, so practice…
Every once in awhile you meet those old married couples who still love each other and who don’t mind talking about it. And if you are brave enough to ask and they are open enough they’ll tell you- it gets better. Contrary to what some say, the more you make love to your husband or wife, the better it gets.
Whether you are married or single, keeping yourself for the one you either have married or will marry allows the rest of your years together be an exploration of this thought- “I am my lover’s and he is mine” or “she is mine.”
I can hardly think of a better way to say thank you to God for the good gift of sex than to enjoy it often and enjoy it well.
But Bob… I'm 30, I'm single... Yeah… let’s talk about that.
You probably don’t need me to tell you, or maybe you do: you are not incomplete because you are single. You are not waiting for your real life to begin. In fact, aside from the freedom in sexuality that marriage brings, it is in almost every other way restricting. If you are single, you have more freedom now than you will ever have. So how are you using it?
We all go through different stages of life- young, older, single, married, kids… And we are always either looking ahead or looking backwards, wishing for the next stage or longing for past ones. I’m single, I wish I wasn’t. I’m dating- wish we could get married. I’m married, I wish we could afford to buy a house and have kids. We have kids and this is really hard- I miss being single, or- when are they going to grow up and move away?
We waste so much of our lives because we spend them looking forward, looking backwards, and rarely learning to do the stage of life we are at well; To do singleness well, to do dating well, married with or without kids well…
This is a touchy issue, but I think the answer lies in seeing that as a single person, it’s not so much sex that you want, though you want that too- it’s what sex brings and represents- a closeness and togetherness. Sex is ultimately about more than the act of copulation, right? And if that is true, the good news is, even if you find yourself single when you’d rather be married, in many ways, you can have what sex is all about. You can find in community a closeness, a sense of caring and being cared for, of being accepted. And here’s the thing- you get all these single people together and you’d think- this is a dangerous thing- all this pent up sexual energy. Should you as single people repress all that energy? No! Far from it. Use it.
Rob Bell talks about this in Sex God, a book I highly recommend that you get. He’s talking about Paul’s command that those who steal should steal no longer, but do something useful with their hands. And he says because of the energy and adrenline that came from stealing it’s not enough to just say “don’t steal.” Paul recognized that- that’s why he added “but do something good.” Bell says (read pg 82- 84)
A community full of single people? That’s a community that can do something- a community that has energy to spare, the desire and the energy to connect with each other, the energy and desire to work on what sex is just a piece of- the putting back together of a world that is torn apart by our sin and selfishness. If we want to be good stewards of our sexuality, it means not just making love well as married people, but as a whole community being the kind of community that makes it easier- not more difficult for those of us who are single. Being the kind of community that offers acceptance, unconditionally, that is physical in its expression of love- giving hugs, appropriate touch, safe closeness… true friendships.
The big question of our lives is: am I loved, am I accepted? And some people, in a rush to have that question answered give themselves over and over to this one and to that one, hoping that maybe this time it will be different. If I show you all of me, let you behind the walls, show you things I won’t show anyone else… will you still love me? It’s the question we ask each other and the question we ask God- and whether it’s from a lover or from God, it’s what we’re dying for- unconditional, total acceptance. That’s why a marriage and sex is always about something bigger than itself. Two people by unconditionally loving each other and all of each other, showing in flesh and blood what God is like- His unconditional love for us, His unconditional love of ALL of us. Which is why sex without the total commitment of marriage- without the saying of the words- “richer, poorer, sickness, health, hell or high water it doesn’t matter-I love you. I will never leave you or forsake you”- unless and until we’ve said that, sex makes no sense.
Adultery, pornography… When sex takes the form of a search for something, “are you the one? Will you give me what I need?” the search for love and unconditional acceptance, or even just the search for release, it breaks us even further.
But when sex comes as an expression of something that’s been found, as a living expression of the unconditional, never-ending acceptance that a husband and wife have promised one another, then it can become very much a part of putting us back together again… And that’s why the Song of Songs says: VS 8:4
Promise me, O women of Jerusalem,
not to awaken love until the time is right.
All of this and only 1 warning in the whole book- because of it's meaning, its depth- because of its beauty- keep it where it belongs... let it be the picture it is meant to be. She says to him: In the name of sex itself, don't arouse me until it's the right time, until we are married and can give ourselves to this... And she says to all the young women- for the sake of sex itself- keep it under wraps until the right time.
I was a virgin, like a wall;
now my breasts are like towers.
When my lover looks at me,
he is delighted with what he sees.
She says in VS 12, “My vineyard is mine to give.” And not to put too fine a point on it, she could only say that because of what she said in vs 10.
“Bob- I'm really surprised- This sounds so old school- I thought this was a progressive, postmodern community that wouldn't be so hung up on these things.”
Well... the truth is, I care too much about you to tell you anything other than what I've tried to lay out these last two weeks- I know it's difficult to be single. I was single until I was 32. I understand we are sexual beings... But I understand something else too- I know that much of what often expresses itself as sexual longing in us is really longing for something else- for intimacy with someone, for touch, for community and the feeling of being cared for- and ultimately for God Himself.
So single people- let me say this- don't despair and don't give in. The best place, the place where much, though not all of, your longings will be fulfilled is here- in the community that points you towards Jesus. The community that gives each other attention and appropriate touch and the feeling of being cared for. It's not a substitute, but it does make it possible to do what a lot of people say is impossible- and that's to live life as both a sexual being and a Christ follower who honors God with his or her sexuality- while single, and when and if, when married.
But Bob- I'm homosexual and what you are saying doesn't seem to leave me with a healthy avenue for sexual satisfaction. Yes, that is a huge issue, one we can't even begin to do justice to in this format. But it needs to be talked about- and not necessarily in front of a bunch of people for whom the issue is only academic- but one on one... So if that's your struggle, I'd love to talk to you. Find me, call me, drop me a note- I want to talk to you and start untangling some of these issues with you.
But Bob- we've already blown it. We've had sex, we're living together, I’ve given myself to too many people- what should we do/what should I do. Again- a bigger issue than we can deal with in this venue- But I want to talk to you about it- without judgment, without condemning you- but I do think it's something that needs to be talked about and I'd love to sit down with you and do that.
Here it is, people- When we have sex- we don't just make love. We make our world. This is a sacred act- meant for our pleasure and the world's good. It has the power to change the world inside you and the world around you and so it matters. We need to treat it like the divine gift it is. We need to take it seriously and we need to see the divine art inherent in it and realize that in our sexuality we do one of two things- we either help paint the picture of Jesus, His self-sacrificial laying down of self or... we mar it- we blur it- we begin to paint our own distorted image.
Divorce sex from commitment- and by commitment I mean commitment- not the faux commitment of relationship without promises, without vows... and it becomes about something other than what it was created for, something other than self-sacrifice. It becomes simply a means of getting my needs met, an ever increasing craving for an ever-diminishing pleasure.
The quality of our lives does not consist of the great experiences we have but in the depth of commitments we make. We find ourselves as we give ourselves away- Jesus said as much, and so does the Song of Songs when it says "I am my lover's and he is mine- Come my love let us go out to the fields and spend the night among the wildflowers. There I will give you my love- new delights as well as old which I have saved for you, my lover."
A lifetime of making love well can also be a means by which God forms and shapes us- because in waiting we learn discipline & self-control and in giving ourselves fully, finally to that person who we marry, God shapes us by teaching us to listen, to care, to pay attention and to submit to each other... Sex is part of your (excuse the theology word here) your sanctification. It's part of the process of God making you holy, God making you like Him, like Jesus, the ultimate servant as you learn to serve the needs of your wife, of your husband.
Back to what Paul said at the very beginning this morning- glorify God in your bodies.
Paint the picture that God means to paint in your sexuality- both as a single person and as a married one. If you are here today and you call yourself a Christ follower, then let even your sexuality tell the story of the Gospel- of the one who gave up everything in total commitment to us, and Who is waiting for that day when He will look at us like a Groom seeing His bride come down the aisle and even as He sets the world right and makes everything bad come untrue, will draw us fully and finally into relationship with Him- one that because of that total commitment to you and to me, will last forever.
Let your sexuality point you, point others, and point the world towards Jesus.