Browsing articles in "marriage"
Jun 11, 2012

Sex and marriage

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) exclusivelyleaving father and mother’ and b) without reserveunited 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.

May 12, 2012

Keller @google on marriage

For a one hour summary of Tim Keller’s Meaning of Marriage you can’t do better than this lecture given to the staff at the Google office in New York.

Apr 18, 2012

Church planters need to understand the pressure on their spouses.

Sheri Thomas spoke at the City to City Network Leaders Conference yesterday on church planters and their spouses. Here are a number of key points that really struck me from what was said.

1)  Planters need to understand the pressure on their spouses.

That means planters need to spend time communicating deeply with their spouses on how planting or planning to plant is impacting their marriage – both positively and negatively.

It also means planters need to be aware, up-front, of the most common causes of pressure that face spouses and to factor into both church and marriage ways of recognising them and overcoming them.

2) Ministry will always win out over family unless deliberate steps are taken to prevent it.

Ministry will always be here. Family will grow up and leave. Make family a priority for their sake and for the sake of the church. Prioritise eating together, taking good holiday, celebrating together eg birthdays, etc.

3) Plan a retreat for church planters in your network so that planters and spouses can be refreshed and encouraged together or if that is not possible try and get together as a church planting couple with another church planting couple.

4) Boundary Ambiguity is a cause of stress and tension. What is the spouses role and responsibility in a plant? Is it clear and has it been communicated to the plant? What protection of boundaries are in place with regard to space especially when it comes to using the home a lot.

5.  Role ambiguity. Just how involved does she have to be and how might that role change over time and if children are involved.

6. Isolation is an issue. Groups of church-planting spouses need the opportunity of meeting together and talking about their roles and situations

7. The greatest fear for a church planting spouse is often the fear that she cannot do it all and yet all is expected of her.

8. The marriage is the biggest thing as to whether the plant will make it or not. Therefore assessing a church planter must involve assessing the church planter spouse. The person most likely to want to pull the plug on planting is probably an overburdened  spouse.

So in order to protect the marriage in a church planting situation we need to ask:

How is the marriage functioning ?

When it comes to boundary ambiguity does she fight (ie take issue with the plant and how its impacting her in negative ways eg. gossip or even undermining her husband publically) or flight (by becoming withdrawn and isolated)? Does she recognise and want to respond to these temptations in a godly way?

What does she do with problems as they arise in church? Does she have the level of maturity to cope with this?

Is she supportive – does she believe in her church-planting husband? If she doesn’t it’s going to be very hard for them both and the plant.

Who are the people she is going to open up with? Different subjects, different depths.


Mar 20, 2012

The two problems in every marriage? You and your spouse

Finding fault, finding forgiveness – part 1

“There are two basic problems in every marriage: one is the husband and the other is the wife.” So quipped author and Church Pastor, Tim Chester.

After all how long into any marriage before we begin to realise that this is harder than we thought it would be!

There are many different factors, situations and circumstances that put pressure on any marriage but crucial to a Christian marriage is a mutual recognition that sin and failure are inevitable.

Yet, despite our theology it can be profoundly disorientating to discover that my spouse has faults I didn’t know about or expect. Somehow, at least for a time, I thought my spouse had avoided the fall.

If we are to build strong marriages we need to grasp that through our failings and faults God works out his purposes for us. They are his opportunity to manifest grace and to demonstrate his power in the weakness of a marriage between two sinners.

Three books have been particularly helpful to me in preparing to teach a seminar at our church entitled ‘finding fault, finding forgiveness’. They are When sinners Say ‘I Do’ by Dave Harvey, The Meaning of Marriage by Tim Keller and What did you expect? by Paul David Tripp.  Each of the three are biblical, insightful and honest but above all else each are optimistic about the impact that spouses can have on each other.

Keller’s book appeals to us to see our marriages as preparation for the great marriage to come between Christ and the church. Once we understand that God has given us a spouse now to change us, to make us fit for Christ, it changes the way we face up to finding fault. Keller writes;

What if you began your marriage understanding its purpose as spiritual friendship for the journey to the new creation? What if you expected marriage to be about helping each other grow out of your sins and flaws into the new self God is creating? Then…you will roll up your sleeves and get to work.

So as we get going with a short series of posts on ‘finding fault, finding forgiveness’ let’s start with five necessary insights for facing up to sin and finding opportunity in them.

A. Five realities to remember in a marriage:

1. As sinners living together in a fallen world sin and failure are inevitable.

You might think you are going to find the perfect match but no Christian should live under any such illusion. The Christian of all people should be ready to face that fact. When we do enter marriage with realistic expectations it helps us to be ready not to run from them but to embrace them as opportunity.

2. ‘Everyone’s marriage becomes something they didn’t intend it to be.’

Paul Tripp’s observation is both obvious and yet profound. There is always an element of disappointment as well as frustration in a marriage which is flawed. When two sinners commit to spending their lives together it’s the marriage itself that will face challenges.

3. ‘Patterns of sin and failure in marriage must be met with patterns of confession and forgiveness.’

Paul Tripp again on the very way we overcome the corrosive affect of sin in a marriage relationship.Being quick to confess our sin and quick to forgive each other’s sin are necessary to building a strong marriage.

4. When we live this way real transformation is possible in a marriage.

So many marriages are damaged by our unwillingness to ‘find fault’ or to ‘find forgiveness’ but when patterns of mutual confession and mutual forgiveness begin to embed themselves in a marriage real change happens

5. None of this is possible without the gospel that supplies this power to confess and this power to forgive.

In future posts we’ll see that the ability to confess sin, freely and willingly and the power to forgive sin lie not in us but in the gospel and who we are in Christ.

The last word goes to Tim Keller:

I don’t know of anything more necessary in marriage than the ability to forgive, fully, freely, unpunishingly, from the heart.


Mar 12, 2012

When I Don’t Feel Love for My Spouse

Great article by Steve Cornell. Does not say everything that would need to be said in such a situation but is a very helpful starting point.










(HT: Tony Lane)

Mar 9, 2012

Marriage cannot only be a commitment between two people who love each other – part 1

Ask a friend for a definition of marriage and you might expect something like this

‘Marriage is an expression of love in which two people make an exclusive commitment to one another.’

Or  maybe something like

‘a private arrangement between parties committed to love’

If that is what marriage is what possible reason could there be for anyone objecting to same-sex marriage? It would be as discriminatory as telling a couple they could not marry because they came from different countries or they had different coloured skin.

It’s working from such a definition of marriage that gay lobbyists (and an increasing number of the population including politians and a prime minister) argue that same-sex marriage is simply a matter of equality.  The argument goes that there can be no rational reason to resist the implementation of same-sex marriage legislation and therefore what lies behind the resistance of ‘traditionalists’ is nothing more than prejudice. Those who oppose a change in the law are now almost without thought regarded as simply  intolerant, bigoted and homophobic.

But what if the kind of definitions we’ve considered are not a sufficient definition for marriage. What if marriage by definition means more than a loving commitment? What then?

Much of the debate about same-sex marriage has centred around attitudes towards gay people when really the debate needs to centre around the question ‘what is marriage’? How we define marriage is absolutely crucial to whether or not it is appropriate to legislate for same-sex marriage.

By far the most helpful book on the subject  is David Blackenhorn’s  The Future of Marriage. For the record Blackenhorn is no homophobe.  He states quite clearly that what is at stake is not ‘good versus bad, enlightened versus reactionary. The real conflict is between one good and another: the equal dignity of real persons and the worth of homosexual love, versus flourishing of children. On each side, the threat to something important is real.’

Blackenhorn’s book demonstrates that marriage cannot only mean a commitment between two people who love each other. He writes:

‘Defining marriage as essentially a private emotional relationship obscures a large piece of reality…’


Because Blackenhorn points out that marriage exists for a bigger purpose, it always has. Marriage is a social institution that has been designed primarily for the purpose of raising children. He writes ‘Childrearing is probably the single most important social need that marriage is designed to meet, but there are numerous others as well.’

Three important statements then with which to finish this introductory post

1.  That children (at least the biological possibility of children even if sadly frustrated by infertility) are central to the definition of marriage is a reality recognised by former Home Secretary Jack Straw MP back in 2000 when he introduced legislation for same-sex civil partnerships:

“I’m a very strong supporter of gay rights and treating people the same regardless of their sexual preference – but marriage has a different purpose.  Marriage is about a union for the procreation of children, which by definition can only happen between a heterosexual couple. So I see no circumstances in which we would ever bring forward proposals for so-called gay marriages.”

2. The interconnectedness of marriage and children  is also enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article 16.

  • (1) Men and women of full age, without any limitation due to race, nationality or religion, have the right to marry and to found a family. They are entitled to equal rights as to marriage, during marriage and at its dissolution.
  • (2) Marriage shall be entered into only with the free and full consent of the intending spouses.
  • (3) The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the State.

Blackenhorn comments:

‘Here we see six important ideas. Marriage is intrinsically linked to children. Men and women have equal rights in marriage. Marriage requires the spouses’ free consent. The natural family is society’s basic group unit. The institution of the family deserves protection. And, marriage is a fundamental human right.

The key point is that each of these ideas is connected to all the others. Freedom is linked to solidarity. Marriage is linked to family. Rights imply responsibility…Together, these six ideas are not perfect and do not tell us everything about marriage, but they ably suggest marriage’s fundamental shape and public purpose.’

3. Finally, that marriage is above all else for the purpose of children has been recognised across all cultures and at all times.

Blackenhorn after presenting a raft of evidence on how marriage has functioned through-out the world writes:

‘Across cultures, marriage is above all a procreative institution. It is nothing less than the culturally constructed linchpin of all human family and kinship systems. Marriage brings together biologically unrelated persons to produce the next generation, create fatherhood as a social role for men, and radically expand the reach and possibility of kinship ties. It brings together the two sexes in such a way that each child is born with two parents, a mother and a father, who are legally and jointly responsible for the child.’

Now the question we must turn to next is does anything about the way in which marriage has traditionally functioned suggest that we should not redefine it now.  What is at stake in a redefinition of marriage and should a society have any concerns?


Mar 4, 2012

No Government has the moral authority to dismantle the universally understood meaning of marriage

Cardinal Keith O’Brien, Britain’s most senior Catholic, sets out his defence for marriage over against those who seek to redefine it in today’s Telegraph



Feb 20, 2012

Play your part in protecting marriage in the UK – c4m

Feb 17, 2012

Why shouldn’t I have more than 1 wife? (& 9 other arguments against same-sex marriage)

Updated: the post on which my blog-post depends appears to no-longer be available

How should Christians respond to arguments in favour of same-sex marriage? There are many advocates for a change in the law to permit gay couples to marry.  After all the argument goes ‘equality should mean equality’.

Peter Saunders chair of the Christian Medical Fellowship has written a blog post outlining Ten reasons not to legalise same sex marriage check it out and think it through for yourself.

Most persuasive for me is argument 9 – Redefining marriage will not stop with same sex marriage

After all  ‘Equality is equality is equality’ is surely the foundation for the argument in favour of a change in the law to recognise same-sex marriage. IF equality is equality and IF we are to be free from ‘intolerant, bigoted, discriminatory and hateful’ positions in the debate I wonder whether advocates of a change in the law think that

1) a man should be legally able to marry his sister?
2) 3 or more parties should be free to enter into a marriage arrangement?
3) a muslim should be permitted under British law to have 3 or 4 or more wives?

Having rejected historical or biological arguments in favour of the ‘equality’ argument it seems only logical that those in favour of same-sex arguments will also be in favour of all sorts of marriage ‘arrangements’ between consenting adults.

If anyone can suggest otherwise I’d be happy to hear from them.

Feb 15, 2012

Marriage or singleness and Christian ministry? How do we decide – part 1

An interesting post by Chris Wiles on being a single Christian on Valentine’s day prompted me to offer up some material on marriage, singleness and Christian ministry. A second post will follow on some of the practical outworkings on the issues faced by married’s and single’s in ministry situations.

1. Biblical models of marriage and singleness in the Bible

a. Marriage

  • The Apostles – 1 Cor. 9:5
  • Priscilla & Aquilla – Romans 16:3
  • Typical situation of a church elder – 1 Tim. 3. 2-5

b. Single

  • Jesus, Paul

2. Does the New Testament offer any advice on whether marriage or singleness is better for Christian ministry?

a.  Genesis 2, Ephesians 5:22-33, 1 Tim.3:2-5

Marriage is a gift from God to be enjoyed. Companionship, procreation.

Christians, through marriage, have opportunity to model to the world God’s ultimate purpose of the heavenly marriage between Christ and the church.  Given that the majority of people in a local church congregation will be married a church minister has opportunity to model to the church, and to a watching world, Christian marriage and through marriage point people to Christ.

Marriage is a privilege, blessing and gospel opportunity!

b. 1 Corinthians 7 – a brief overview

1 Cor. 7:1 should follow the ESV translation

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good  for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’

Some at Corinth seem to have been following the Greek practice of celibacy and considering themselves more spiritual for doing so. They were possibly also using Paul’s celibacy to justify their own attitude to sex and marriage.

In Chapter 7 Paul wants to defend the value of singleness without defending their rationale for it.

The theme of Chapter Seven can be summed up as ‘remain in the situation in which God called you’ v.8, 17,20,24,26,40. i.e. Be content with who you are in Christ.

Were you married when you became a Christian? Then stay married, even if your spouse is an unbeliever.  This is command of the Lord v.10-11

Were you a widow(er) or unmarried?  Then Paul’s advice is that it is best to stay unmarried, as he himself is. v.8.

Please notice that to those who are married Paul issues a command from the Lord but to the singles Paul does not use commands but rather offers guidance.  He chooses not to speak with the full force of his apostolic authority but with words of advice.

Gordon Fee in his commentary on 1 Corinthians writes:

‘Paul’s argument takes on a character of its own, quite unlike anything else in his extant letters.  He begins with a caution, that what is about to be said, even though he thinks it trustworthy, is less than a command of the Lord; it is his ‘opinion’ (v.25). The argument is then laced with ‘I think’ (36), ‘I am sparing you’ (28), ‘I wish’ (32), ‘I say this for your own good’ (35), ‘let him do as he wishes’ (36), ‘he shall do well’ (37).  Whatever else this is not your standard Paul.’


c. Why does Paul seem to prefer singleness?

i) Eschatological perspective – Christ is coming soon vv.26-29

This is almost certainly what Paul is referring to in vv.26-29 as the present crisis v.26 and again in v.29 when he comments that the appointed time is very short. If Christ is coming soon then there is an urgency about the Lord’s work and we must be free from the grip of the world’s values e.g. Pursuing the things the world chases after – spouse, 2.4 kids, nice house, car and dog!

ii) Those who are married inevitably have divided interests. v.28, 32-24.

Family life is hard work and requires time and effort to sustain.  Being single enables an undivided service of Christ.

d. Is it less spiritual for Christians to seek to be married?

No. Twice Paul affirms that if you marry you are not sinning v.28, 36

Paul also recognizes that God gifts people differently. He gives a marriage partner to some and not to others. v.7.  If you are married, thank God for your partner. If you are single thank God for that too! Both are gifts from God.

Paul is concerned that we seek the Kingdom of God first, c.f. Matt.6:31-33, and not get hung up on marriage.  However if a suitable marriage partner comes along and we wish to marry then we are free to do so.

e. Conclusion.

‘Ultimately, however, it is our freedom to marry or not which Paul emphasizes time and again. .. As such, we  should regard singleness (whether short or long term) as an available option and, since we all start out single, we should approach life form the point of view of seeking the Kingdom of God, not the end of our singleness, as our priority.’

John Richardson in God, Sex and Marriage




f. Application

  • First things first. Seek to serve Christ where you are!
  • Don’t idolize either marriage or singleness.
  • Don’t consider yourself superior because of your status e.g. ‘smug married’s or ‘single for the gospel’.
  • If looking for a potential marriage partner ask:

‘Will this person I am thinking of going out with / marrying help or hinder me in the work of the gospel?’  ‘Will I help them?’

  • If you are thinking about starting a relationship look to go out with someone more godly than you.
  • Consider life goals i.e. how, where and when you might serve in say 10 years time when thinking about marriage.


g. Can I know today which gift I have been given by God?

Not necessarily.   John Stott helpfully comments in an interview with Al Hsu at the end of his book Singleness

In spite of rumours to the contrary, I have never taken a solemn vow or heroic decision to remain single! On the contrary, during my twenties and thirties, like most people, I was expecting to marry one day. In fact, during this period I twice began to develop a relationship with a lady who I thought might be God’s choice of life partner for me. But when the time came to make a decision, I can best explain it by saying that I lacked an assurance from God that he meant me to go forward. So I drew back. And when that happened twice, I naturally began to believe that God meant me to remain single. I’m now seventy-six and well and truly ‘on the shelf’! Looking back, with the benefits of hindsight, I think I know why. I could never have travelled or written as extensively as I have done if I had had the responsibilities of a wife and family.

It should also be noted that some people long to be married and yet for various reasons never do. This must be seen as God’s sovereign gift for them.


Some good books to read on the broader issues of marriage, singleness and the gospel:

Ash, Christopher, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God, Leicester: IVP, 2003

Ash, Christopher, Married for God, Leicester: IVP, 2007

Farmer, Andrew, The Rich Single Life, Sovereign Grace Ministries, 1998

Hsu, Al. The Single Issue, Leicester: IVP, 1997

McCulley, Carolyn, ‘Did I Kiss Marriage Goodbye?’ Sovereign Grace Ministries, 2004

Richardson, John. God, Sex and Marriage – Guidance from 1 Corinthians 7, MPA Books, 1995

Good commentaries on 1 Corinthians!



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