There is one church service I particularly recall, for all the wrong reasons. The sermon was on Song of Songs 4, in which the ‘Lover’ is admiring his ‘Beloved’. The passage makes pretty graphic reference to her physical appearance, and to his physical desire for her. Now, we do know that Song of Songs is also a picture of Jesus’ love for His church – the same parallel we see in Ephesians 5:22-33. But there is more – we are also meant to hear God’s teaching on physical desire within marriage. Yet in that sermon the preacher was clearly embarrassed by the physical references and obviously skipped over the references and teaching on sexual intimacy. It was as though God had never created such a thing as sex, and certainly didn’t allow any talk of sex within church!
God designed marriage so that a man and a woman might come together exclusively to one another for life and that a key part of this is physical intimacy. And God called all of this “very good”
Yet the truth is that God designed marriage so that a man and a woman might come together exclusively to one another for life and that a key part of this is physical intimacy. And God called all of this “very good” (Gen 1:27-31, 2:24-25). In fact, the Bible gives us at least four purposes for sexual intimacy:
1. It is intended for intimacy (Gen 2:24-25)
The character of our married relationship is to be “naked with no shame” – a picture of no barriers, nothing coming in between, total unity of heart, mind, soul and body. They are to become “one flesh”, so united that the two become one (in Christ this is in effect three becoming one, man and woman joined by His Spirit). And so, physically, in becoming “one flesh” the act of sexual union is the joyful and liberating physical expression of oneness, the intimacy God wants to work in every Christian married couple.
2. It is intended for pleasure (Prov 5:18-19)
The idea of physical intimacy as something one endures is far from God’s design. The wisdom of God expressed in Proverbs tells “my son” to “rejoice in the wife of your youth”, telling him to find pleasure in her appearance, satisfaction in their intimacy, and to be captivated by her love. And, of course, what is said to the man in the married relationship applies equally to the woman too. Sex is not merely a reproductive process, nor merely a way we ‘feel loved’, but a place of pleasure.
Sex is not merely a reproductive process, nor merely a way we ‘feel loved’, but a place of pleasure.
3. It is intended for procreation (Gen 1:28)
The reality is that we are to “be fruitful and multiply”, as God in His providence enables. Sometimes church teaching from scripture has seemed to emphasise this aspect of physical intimacy only. But that is not biblical teaching – God holds all of four purposes mentioned here together perfectly.
4. It is intended for protection (1 Cor 7:2-5)
It is rarely mentioned in church circles that marriage does not switch off desires for those beyond our marriage partner. That is part of our fallen nature, a part which we must ‘put to death’ (Col 3:5) along with all other sinful desire. But, for those who are married, God helps us within our marriage: God calls us to life-long physical satisfaction with our marriage partner so that we do not need to look elsewhere.
The world seeks to divorce these purposes. It elevates pleasure, de-emphasising or ignoring the other three. Sadly, prudish church teaching has done something similar, elevating procreation and de-emphasising or ignoring the other three purposes.
But God has provided physical intimacy for our good as we rejoice in this gift within our marriages, allowing it to fulfil all four purposes. And as we do so, we bring Him glory as we demonstrate that Godly marriage is indeed “very good”.