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Hot sex in God’s temple

by on May 22, 2014

Adam and EveHad to preach three weeks on sex lately, we’re following 1 Corinthians chapter by chapter. Of course the best chapter is 7, on good sex. We have rarely talked about this at our church, so I’m guessing that may be true for others also. Thought you might like to have a read.

I called the talk, Hot Sex in God’s Temple. Here’s what I said: 

A world obsessed with sex, where you could find pornographic images on every street corner. A world where marriage was often considered the unexciting venue for child bearing: while outside of the home, there was a whole world of passion just waiting to be explored. Explored primarily by men. A world where there were no limits, you could indulge them your fantasies. Men could use and abuse women to satisfy their appetites. 

And in this overheated sexual climate, a little Christian church is struggling to find its way. Some are slipping back into the promiscuous practices of their neighbours. Others are saying:  sex is dirty. It’s not something a holy person would do.

Are we describing the city of Corinth which Paul wrote this letter to – or are we describing our own setting, in our modern world? It could be either, they are so similar. 

Paul has painted a startling vision for this struggling Christian community: they are joined to Christ, the Holy Spirit has taken their bodies and united them to Christ to become members of his body. They have become temples of the Holy Spirit. But some were saying, sex is dirty. If we are to stay holy, we’re better of staying celebate. And they’re arguing about this. So they write to the apostle Paul about it. “Here is what some of us are thinking”: v.1 It is good for a man not to have sex with a woman. 

Paul has warned about sexual sin, but now they want to know, is there a positive place for sex, for believers whose bodies are holy? If our bodies are joined to Christ and members of his body, is there any room for sex at all?

Later in the history of the church, the answer given was a clear ‘No’. Sex was grubby, Christians should avoid it. Better to go and live in a monastery. Holiness meant celibacy. Even today, some branches of the church see celibacy as vital for all leaders. People in the church often feel worried about sex. It’s been a taboo subject.

Well, the apostle is happy to talk about sex. Let’s see how he answers this question about celibacy.

Paul starts by quoting what the Corinthians wrote to him: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Scholars agree that this word ‘to touch’ means to have passionate sex with. This is sex for gratifying desire. In the Greek world, at Corinth, this was something men did – outside the marriage. Their wife was there to provide an heir, she was to be dignified. You didn’t go looking for hot sex from your wife. Men were expected to fulfil their desires outside the home. See the way it’s phrased: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. Sex was something a man did to a woman: a one way business, where she’s giving and he’s taking. He uses her for his pleasure. 

No wonder some of the Christians were saying, that’s a grubby business. The whole sex thing is fraught with danger. Why not avoid it altogether. Be celibate. Even married people can be celibate. Just abstain. 

Paul’s reply might have come as a bit of a shock: v.2 but because there is sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 

You guys”, he says, “are living in a place that’s awash with sex. It’s all around you, it’s going to affect you. Promiscuous behaviour has already crept in to your church. Don’t pretend you can get away from this. You are going to feel the force of sexual desire no matter what you do.”

That’s a healthy dose of realism isn’t it. It’s true for us too. We in the church try to avoid this subject of sex. But it’s in our faces. If we think we can escape sexual desire just by hiding from it, we’re kidding ourselves. For many people celibacy is not a realistic option, and pretending it is, has caused terrible damage.

But Paul says, the place to express those desires, the right place to find sexual pleasure, is with your wife  –  When Paul says a man should have his wife, he doesn’t mean find a wife, get married. No, he’s talking to the married men: he means have sexual intimacy with your wife. “All of those desires that you men go looking elsewhere to fulfil, that passionate sex” – Paul says, “that is why God gave you this woman”. That whole greek approach where marriage is just about childbearing, and hot sex is dirty stuff that has to be kept in the brothels – Paul busts that up. Sexual passion belongs in the holy temple of God which is your body – and your wife’s body. As members of Christ’s body, we are right to give and receive sexual pleasure – at home. We shouldn’t turn this into something dirty and shameful that has to happen in the gutter. 

Wow. At Corinth this would mean a sexual revolution. And for us too. I don’t know about you, but I grew up on a diet of TV and movies and songs where, for sex to be exciting, it had to happen ‘out there’. Outside the marriage, outside the home, with a stranger or someone else’s wife, or whatever. Hot sex was dirty sex. Just like at Corinth. So I’ve got a lot to unlearn – if sexual desire belongs in God’s temple.

So tell us Paul, what does it mean for sex to be holy and not dirty or immoral? What’s the alternative to celibacy? Paul spells out exactly what that means. Firstly, an end to the use and abuse mindset, where sex is something he does to her. v.2 ‘Each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.’  This is different! Not only his sexual desires to take care of, but hers also. The woman is acknowledged to be a sexual being, able to give and receive pleasure and enjoy intimacy. She’s not just an object. What she wants matters just as much as what the man wants. And it’s not shameful for the woman to have these sexual desires, this is what holy women have. Women who are united to Jesus.

Wow! The whole male dominated culture of the greeks just got blown away. But what about our culture, where girls and women are objectified, treated as objects for men’s sexual gratification? Sexual exploitation of women is an epidemic. I’m not just talking about sex trafficking, I’m talking about the way our daughters are treated, what is projected in the media every day. If we are going to stand against that, we are going to need to say what Paul says here: ‘Each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.’ Christian sex is a two way thing, it’s shared. 

But Paul has more to say about how sex belongs in the holy body of Christ. Let’s stick with him. The man and woman he has in mind, they are not off doing this sex in secret. No this man and woman have stood up in public and said, we are entering into a sexual relationship. This is a good thing from God and we embrace it. We are not ashamed. This man and woman have got married. It’s not just ‘each woman should have a man’, it’s ‘each woman should have her husband.’

Rule 1 about sex in our culture is that it’s a private matter. But friends, privacy very easily means secrecy, and along with secrecy comes abuse and exploitation and shame and fear and slavery. That’s what sex does to so many people: it brings shame  and harm, and traps them.

Christian sex is out in the open, in public. It’s the Adam and Eve story: ‘The man and woman were both naked, and the were not ashamed.’ It’s done in the light, not in the dark. It’s full of courage and confidence and celebration. And so this is how sex functions as a holy thing, not an immoral thing:. v.2 but because their is sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

You might remember back in the last chapter, Paul has already said that in marriage the two are joined to be one flesh just like we are joined to Christ, to belong to his body. So this public openness about being in a sexual relationship, it becomes a picture of the Christian gospel. God is bringing unity about as he takes all the diversity and hostility of our world and reunites and reconciles it all under Jesus – that’s the gospel. And that unity is now being modelled, as a man and a woman, two very different creatures!!, publically acknowledge: ‘we are being joined together in a sexual relationship to become one flesh’. And so sex belongs in God’s holy temple. 

I am tempted to stop on that beautiful note, because the last thing Paul says about holy sex is not going to be popular. It’s about possession and duty. v.3 “The husband should fulfil his debt to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”

The very essence of good sex, according to our Western culture, is that it’s all about feelings. Everyone should be totally free to do whatever they feel like. No obligation, no compulsion. I will have sex with her just as long as it makes me feel good, then I will leave her. 

But Paul recognises that this ‘feelings’ approach is still one directional. It’s still me using you to gratify myself. It’s about getting what I want – not about giving her what she wants. 

So Paul introduces the idea of commitment. Wow, that’s a dirty word in modern talk about sex. But for Paul, for this to be two-way, mutual, for this to be real love, we have to give ourselves to each other. That means I need to think about her sexual needs, not my own, and she needs to think about mine. It’s not about how I feel, it’s about living together in giving and receiving. Paul is not saying ‘you can demand sex from your wife or husband’ – quite the opposite. He is saying, don’t think of your body as something for you – it’s for her. It’s for him. He needs your sexual love. She needs your sexual love. That is the debt Paul tells us to fulfil. v.5 Do not deprive each other. 

Notice just how two-way this is. Every greek man would have agreed with the first bit about the wife not having authority over her own body. But then Paul dares to reverse it: the man doesn’t have authority over his body, the wife does. And with those words, the world changed. Sex becomes something quite different from the male sport it was.  This sex is between two people who belong to each other.

Considering Paul was a single man, he has a very rich view of sex, doesn’t he! God has designed sex to have a special and important place in his temple, in the bodies of his people, As we are joined to Christ’s own body. We sometimes say, Sex is only for inside marriage. But Paul would say, ‘Sex needs marriage – and marriages need sex.’

He is teaching that a loving marriage needs regular sex. It’s part of the love language of every marriage, it’s part of caring for each other and suppyling each others’ needs. Don’t deprive each other of what rightly belongs to you. Each other’s intimacy. Your marriage needs it in order to survive.

And its true isn’t it. So often when we hear about a family torn apart by an affair, adultery, it turns out that for a long time, the marriage had lost intimacy. The husband and wife were depriving each other. And in the end, there’s an affair. And the family is destroyed. Paul is a realist: he knows marriage needs sex to stay healthy and faithful. If you’re married, take Paul’s advice: keep giving yourself to each other. There are so many ways we can get pushed apart in our marriages, things go cold, and we shut down on each other. It so easily happens. Paul says, you need to keep giving yourself if you want your marriage to last. 

Unmarried people, don’t settle for the grubby distortion that says sex is all about me, about my feelings, my pleasure, my gratificaiton, I’ll do it in secret, and only while its fun. That way lies only shame and hurt and slavery. Exploiting others and being exploited by them. Don’t follow that path.

No, Sex is such a good thing, when it’s a two-way, mutual commitment, when it’s about giving to each other in self-denying love and trust. Sex becomes a beautiful picture of how Christ is with his people, laying down his life in commitment to them. It’s such a good thing, it deserves to be out in the open, it deserves to be celebrated.

From → General

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