I was counseling with a 25 year old guy one day at the church. (I am a pastor for those of you who didn’t know.) He was a leader and relatively new husband of about two years. I have a lot of respect for him. He was the kind of guy you want your daughter to marry; good looking, chivalrous, godly, kind, funny, and personable. On the outside, everything looked great… until I dug a little deeper.
I was asking him some routine questions about his marriage and finally got to the question, “How’s your sex life?” At that question, he shifted a bit in his seat. He eyes darted to the door, probably subconsciously, looking for a way out of that answer. Things got a little awkward.
Finally, he broke the ice. “Well, to be honest Matt, not great.” I probed a little more to see if there was pornography, a past of abuse, or any of the common reasons for a stalled out sex life. Nothing. So I pressed him a little more.
“It’s none of that.” he said. “Honestly, it’s just hard for me. For 23 years I was told in the church how bad sex was and to not do it. I was told to run from it and to abstain. I was told all the reasons why this is a bad thing… and then suddenly I get married and I am supposed to flip the switch and now it’s ok? It’s just still hard for me, even after two years. I still feel kind of guilty.” And then it hit me.
People, especially Christians, don’t have a good understanding of what sex is or how to view it properly.
So what exactly is a good working definition for sex or how are we supposed to approach it? Culture’s functional definition is that sex is a physical act with another adult for pleasure and fun. There is a nonchalant-ness to sex, like “it’s just sex. What’s the big deal?” The church’s definition is not much better as it basically builds upon culture’s definition of this being a physical act, but simply adds rules and parameters to church it up a bit, like to only have sex in marriage and by saying things like, “It’s real purpose is for procreation”.
But when we open up the Scriptures, it seems like both of these definitions fall short of what we see. The Bible gives us an alternative and far more beautiful way to view sex that simply transcends both of these working definitions.
As John Mark Comer describes it, the Bible depicts sex with a Hebrew word אֶחָד “echad” and pairs it with the word flesh to characterize sex as the act of becoming “one flesh”. The idea is that two people come together literally become echad, one entity, that is fused together at the deepest level. It is more than just a physical connection. It is more than just pleasure. It is more than simply a martial duty to consummate a marriage. It is a much higher view of sex than culture’s view, which is merely physical. It is the intermingling of both body and spirit. Two people mystically and literally becoming one.
And sex is the reaffirmation of this echad in a marriage. It’s the way these two people enjoy and express love for one another again and again. Sex becomes this beautiful reminder of this deep unity and intimate bond between two people.
And this is where the definition matters, because inside of a marriage, this is an amazing way to connect and stay intimately connected. But outside of marriage, we see this partial representation of echad where there is a predominant focus on self-pleasure, which can lead to a dehumanization or objectification of others in this selfish pursuit and goal of sexual gratification. And whether it was a one night stand or even the end of a longer term relationship, when you walk away from a sexual partner, it is as if you tear that echad and a part of you is lost. Do this enough times, and it feels like you have lost a large part of yourself, hence the empty feeling that we have after a sexual partner is no longer one in your life.
In marriage (and honestly in general), “we need a higher view of sex than what our culture has to offer and we need to get back to the mysterious, beautiful, powerful reality of what happens when a man and a woman make love!” We need to be able to recognize that there is more to it than the physicality. God set this up to give us pleasure and joy and to connect on the deepest level possible with another human being.
So couples, celebrate this! Enjoy sex! Let the good gift from God draw you near to each other and draw near to Him.
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*Props to John Mark Comer for his working definition of sex in the latter half of this post. You can see a clip of his thoughts on this at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bF_5wbmrEsc