I’m preaching through a series on the 10 commandments at City Church at the moment and last night we tackled the thorny issue of sex under the heading of the 7th commandment. Below is a slightly expanded version of the first part of the sermon.
I don’t know what invention of the past 100 years has done most to change the very way in which we live. You could make a case for TV, the personal computer, the jet airplane but I wonder whether the real answer is the contraceptive pill because it has revolutionised our attitude to sex.
Sex is now – if we want it to be — something purely for recreation rather than procreation. It has for women in particular become a means sexual liberation.
So in our western culture sex is essentially now thought of as a bodily appetite to be indulged. We have lap-dancing clubs in our city-centres, brothels in the same communities as our students and pornography in our bedrooms. Women’s magazines run lead stories on how to perfect sex technique, some men’s magazines are little more than ‘soft’ porn and in the past week Birmingham’s gay pride march was officially listed as part of the City council’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.
We’ve never lived in a more openly sex-mad society but as J.John has noted ‘the problem in our sex-saturated society is not that we think too much about sex, but that we think about it so poorly.’
It might be easy to think that Christianity, by contrast, is anti-sex and looking back through the history of the church there have been times when that has been the case. At best sex has been thought of as a necessary evil. One book I read on the subject this week made the point that the excesses of the Catholic church that kick-started the protestant revolution included a list of holy days on which sex was prohibited that numbered 183 days a year!
Clearly the track record of the church has not been good and yet when we read the Bible we certainly don’t find it speaking negatively about sex one entire book, the song of songs is given over to a celebration of romantic love.
In one talk tonight I can’t possibly say everything but I want to start with
A. The setting of the 7th commandment – God’s purpose for sex
In the Bible we discover that sex is a God-given gift. He is the one who has made us sexual beings. He invented sex and he intended it for pleasure. Sexual desire is therefore proper and natural and God even wrote a book about it in the Bible called Song of Songs. So no Christian should feel embarrassed by the subject.
But sex also has a context. Sex is a God-given gift for a God-given purpose — God intended sex to be a sign and a seal of the union of two lives.
In Genesis 2:24 we discover that marriage is the act of giving ourselves to another a) exclusively ‘leaving father and mother’ and b) without reserve ‘united to his wife’. Sex is then the bodily expression of that union ‘and they will become one flesh’.
Sex is therefore the body-language of marriage. One writer has said;
To be naked with another person is a symbolic demonstration of perfect honesty, perfect trust, perfect giving and commitment. It is one of the key ways in which we experience loving faithfulness in a total relationship
No wonder then that the Bible not only permits sex in marriage but actively encourages Christians to keep sex alive in marriage.
In Proverbs 5:19 we read
may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.
19 A loving doe, a graceful deer —
may her breasts satisfy you always,
may you ever be captivated by her love.
And then Paul in 1 Cor. 7:3-5 reminds Christians that they should not abstain from sex within marriage.
Michelle Weiner Davis in a book entitled The sex-starved marriage has written ‘sex is an extremely important part of marriage, it offers couples opportunities to give and receive physical pleasure through which they connect emotionally and spiritually. It builds closeness, intimacy, and a sense of partnership. It defines their relationship as different from all others. Sex is a powerful tie that binds.’
And this is why sex belongs in marriage. You see it really does do something to us when we seek to separate the physical intimacy of sex from the context of marriage.
Tim Keller in the meaning of marriage writes:
Unless you deliberately disable it, or through practice you numb the original impulse, sex makes you feel personally interwoven and joined to another human being, as you are literally physically joined.
So to protect yourself against the pain of giving your heart to someone who might not be there in the morning you disconnect the physical act of sex from the emotional intimacy it is designed to breed. And now here’s the problem – if you’ve practised that disconnect – if you have disabled it – what happens when one day you get married? There is a real danger that sex in marriage will not be able to do what it is designed to do.
Tim Keller expresses it this way ‘sex outside of marriage eventually works backwards, making you less able to commit and trust another person.’
All of the statistical evidence shows that when we separate sex from marriage through pre-marital sex we bring that delayed baggage into marriage. Meg Jay a clinical pschologist has written a remarkable chapter entitled the co-habitation effect in The Defining Decade: Why your twenties matter – and how to make the most of them
Living with someone may have benefits, but approximating marriage is not necessarily one of them.
She gives an example of one woman who describes her cohabiting relationship
‘A year of two into it, I started wondering what we were doing. Everything about it was fuzzy. That fuzziness ended up being the most frustration part. I felt like I was on this multiyear, never-ending audition to be his wife. That made me really insecure. There was a lot of game-playing and arguing. I never felt like he was really committed to me. I still don’t obviously.’
Jay concludes: Couples who ‘live together first’ are actually less satisfied with their marriages and more likely to divorce than couples who do not. This is what sociologists call the cohabitation effect.
Quite simply the more sex outside of marriage in a society the shorter the marriages in that same society become.
So sex is a God-given gift for a God-given purpose
In the next post why God has given the 7th commandment and how we break it.
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