You should have seen some of the looks I got when I told the congregation I was going to talk about sex. For as long as I can remember (which isn’t very long comparatively speaking) the topic of sex has been more than a little taboo in the Church. To be sure, sex is a very personal and intimate topic that should be discussed with utmost care and sensitivity. However, as our culture has become more and more sexualized we Christians have tended more towards the head-in-the-sand approach. It is as if we think if we ignore it, it will go away. We have done an outstanding job at rejecting the world’s version of human sexuality, but we have failed to replace it with a godly, biblical picture of sex. My aim in this post is to help paint that picture as I understand it from the Bible.
First let’s try to understand where we are in our culture. Everything…I mean everything, is sexualized. Fast food establishments use scantily clad women to sell hamburgers. The “50 Shades” series is pitched as a love story but is nothing more than thinly disguised pornography that exults sexual perversion and abusive behavior. Hollywood normalizes this type of thing and then seems absolutely befuddled when accusations of sexual harassment and abuse erupt from their own ranks. “How could this happen?” I wonder.
There is a $97 billion worldwide pornography industry, $12 billion of which comes from the United States. 4.6 billion hours of porn was downloaded from one…ONE website. There is nothing left to shock us and unless you are on the cutting edge of the culture’s model of sex you are ridiculed. Children are exposed to all things sexual at a younger and younger age and parents must be extraordinarily careful if they have any concern for giving their kids a real, authentic understanding of sex.
The situation was no less grim in first century Corinth. The city was known as a hotbed of immorality where to “Corinthianize” was to turn someone into a sexual deviant. Many scholars believe that the statements in 1 Corinthians 6:12-13, “Everything is permissible for me,” and “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food,” are axioms that Paul modifies to express the truth in contrast to the world’s lie. Based on what we know of the Corinthians church (that sexual immorality was a significant problem) it may well have been that their belief was, “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food, and the body is for sex and sex is for the body.” If a church member sleeping with his step-mother (5:1) was somehow permissible then the use of cult prostitutes was probably well within the range of their moral sensibilities.
Paul then reminds the Corinthian Christians of several things; the body actually belongs to the Lord, the body that belongs to Christ has no business with a prostitute, we should flee sexual immorality, and we were bought with a price. Therefore, we should glorify God with our bodies. In other words, run as far and as fast as you can from the world’s version of sex and sexuality. As I already stated, this is where we tend to stop as modern Christians. “Sex bad. No fun. Only to make babies.”
As a young man growing up, my experience in church was that sex was presented as something shameful. Something you ran from because it was sinful and dirty. But this isn’t what the Bible teaches us, at least not about legitimate sex. Need we look into Song of Solomon? Thankfully, Paul not only repealed the world’s model of sexuality in 1 Corinthians 6, but he also laid a foundation for beautiful, godly sex in 1 Corinthians 7. Without going into full detail I want to outline what I see as some foundational truths about God’s design for sex from this passage.
In 7:1 Paul again reiterates the necessity of rejecting the world’s version of sex. He writes, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman (NASB).” Now, that sounds about like the version of sex I was presented in middle-school. However, if we look a little deeper we find that “touching a woman” was a euphemism for having sex with a woman or as the CSB translates it, “use a woman for sex.” That, Paul says, is something the Christ-follower must reject because it is contrary to God’s design. Let’s now turn to three foundational elements of beautiful, godly sex that allows the Christian to “glorify God” with his or her body.
Benevolent dominion – If I wanted to describe the cultural concept of sex in one word it would “selfish.” Sex is all about my desires, my needs, and my pleasure without thought to any consequences whatsoever. God’s design, on the other hand, is that our sexuality, like all the other areas of our life, is a place to express selflessness. This doesn’t mean we hole up somewhere and take a vow of chastity, but it does mean we should have our spouse’s best interest in mind – even in the bedroom. Gary Thomas (Sacred Marriage) was the first person I remember saying we should try to “be a blessing” to our spouse in the bedroom. That is miles away from the selfish image of sex from the culture. We see this in 1 Corinthians 7:3 which says, “A husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband (CSB).” The key word here is “duty” and I don’t know about you but that doesn’t have the ring of passionate love to it. The word translated “duty” literally means “benevolence” (see the KJV), “good thought” or “well-minded.” Our thoughts should be focused on our spouse when it comes to sexuality. Furthermore, verse 4 says that we do not have authority over our own bodies, the authority lies with our spouse. One way this can be understood is as dominion. To have dominion is not only to rule over something or someone, but also to care for it, just like the mandate given to Adam and Eve by God. Therefore, our physical intimacy as husband and wife should be marked by benevolent dominion. This is utterly contrary to all of the talk in our culture about “my body.” If you are a Christian your body is for the glory of the Lord. If you are a married Christian your body belongs to the Lord and your spouse.
Equality – One inescapable truth found in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 is that there is equality between the husband and the wife in matters of sexuality. Here we find the words “likewise” and “in the same way” which are translated from homoios, from which we get all kinds of words such as “homogeneous.” It basically means “the same.” What can be said about the husband is equally true for the wife. That is, both spouses are to act with benevolent rule over the other, and neither spouse has total authority over their own bodies any more. Why? Because they “become one flesh.” This is no way negates the biblical teaching about different roles in the family (that the husband is the head of the family and so forth). Different roles should not be understood to mean different value and I believe that is where we have strayed throughout history. The Bible is abundantly clear that men and women were both created in the image of God, and as such are of equal value and dignity before him. This equality should be evident in the most intimate physical moments of our lives together.
Holiness – This should come as refreshing news. Godly sex is designed to help effect holiness in our lives. In the 1 Corinthians passage this truth is seen in verse 2 and 5. Since there is rampant sexual immorality the Corinthian Christian couples should be enjoying their own spouses. Furthermore, they should not abstain from physical intimacy within marriage except for agreed upon periods of prayer. Why? So that Satan will not be given a foothold of temptation in their lives. The role of marriage (and therefore physical intimacy within marriage) in personal holiness is seen beautifully in Ephesians 5. There we are taught that husbands are supposed to show the same benevolent dominion over their wives as Christ showed the church, “to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word (Eph. 5:26).” As my wife so aptly pointed out, sexual temptation is one that God has given us a very practical means of withstanding – enjoy your spouse so that you will not be tempted by sexual immorality. How about that, you can help your spouse on his or her journey toward godliness by enjoying physical intimacy with them.
Benevolent dominion, equality, and holiness. Those are three key, foundational elements to a biblical view of sex based on 1 Corinthians 7. Is there more to the picture? Absolutely! God has given us a beautiful picture of his design for human physical intimacy in his Word. Are you trying to live out God’s design for sexuality in your life? Are the three qualities mentioned here part of your biblical view of sex? As Christians living in an evermore sexualized culture it is vital that we maintain, and project God’s design for us – even in the bedroom.