Thursday, December 6, 2007

Sex and Our Heavenly Marriage

One or two more blogs and I'll be done with sex -- at least as a topic of discussion for the time being.

We've been talking about why sex is such a big deal for God. Several blogs ago I showed that sex is the "sign of the covenant" (marriage) that serves as the foundation for all of God's plans for humanity. Biblically speaking, when a person desecrates (make non-sacred) the "sign" of a covenant, they break the covenant. And, as I've argued, our culture's recreational view of sex is desecrating the sign all over the place. Many of our current social ills are the result of this.

But sex is not only a sign of the marriage covenant. The “one flesh” reality God creates through sexual intercourse is also a sign of the relationship Christ has with the Church. This adds to the sacredness of sex considerably.

Paul reveals this profound aspect of sex in Ephesians 5.

In the course of giving instruction to husbands and wives, the apostle Paul reminds them that all followers of Jesus are to submit to one another, regardless of social standing, gender or ethnicity. So, a husband and wife must submit to one another (Eph. 5:21).

Whereas marriages under the curse tend to be characterized by power games in which each party tries to rule and control the other (Gen. 3:15), Kingdom marriages are to be characterized by doing the opposite. Husbands and wives are to submit to one another. A marriage reflects the Kingdom insofar as husbands and wives are Christian – Christ-like – to one another.

Paul then appeals to the analogy of Christ and the Church as he fleshes out what mutual submission in marriage looks like in a first century context. In first century Jewish culture, husbands typically held all the power. They were the “head” of the family. So Paul tells Christian husbands how to use this culturally-given power. They’re not to enforce their will on their wives after the pattern of fallen marriages. They’re to rather use their headship to sacrificially serve their wives, after the pattern of Jesus Christ. “Husbands,” he says, “love your wives, just as Christ loved the church hand gave himself up for her” (Eph. 5:25, emphasis added).

The wife is then to respond to the husband the way the church does to Christ. As the husband sacrificially serves her, she is to reciprocate by sacrificially serving him (Eph 5:22, 24).

Paul then goes on to tell husbands they must love and care for their wives just as they love and care for their own bodies (Eph 5:28-29). And they are to do this “just as Christ does for the church, for we are members of his body” (vs.29-30).

Now, it might seem that Paul has suddenly shifted the analogy from a marriage relationship to a body relationship. But, as a matter of fact, he has not. For, as we have seen, the marriage relationship is a “one flesh” relationship. Through sexual intercourse, the couple has become “one” with each other “in body” (1 Cor 6:16).

This is why Paul concludes his teaching by once again quoting Genesis 2:24: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh” (vs. 31). And then, most remarkably, he adds, “This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church.

This profound teaching reveals that the “one flesh” relationship God intends for a husband and wife is a sign of Christ’s relationship to the church. Christ has something like a “one flesh” relationship with his church, which is his bride and therefore his body. Just as we become “one in body” with anyone we have intercourse with, so too we become “members of Christ” and are “one with him in spirit” when we submit to his reign (I Cor. 6:16-17). The profound intimacy and shared ecstasy of sexual intercourse is thus a sign of the profound intimacy and shared ecstasy of the relationship God intends for Christ and his church.

It’s vital we understand that the “one flesh” type relationship Christ has with his bride isn’t cheap. To the contrary, it's magnificently beautiful precisely because it cost Christ everything to initiate, and costs us, his bride, everything to reciprocate. Christ lays down everything for his beloved, and we the beloved respond by laying down everything for Christ.

In the same way, the “one flesh” relationship God creates between two people only properly functions as a sign of Christ’s relationship to the Church when it is costly. It’s intended only for couples who have made the ultimate sacrifice of pledging their lives to one another. When people enter into “one flesh” relationships without making this sacrifice, they cheapen the “one flesh” reality and thereby violate its meaning as a sign of Christ’s relationship with the Church.

This should help us further appreciate why sex is such a big deal to God, and why he strongly prohibits sex outside of marriage in the Bible. He’s preserving the preciousness of the symbol of Christ's relationship with the Church.

I encourage you to honor the sign! It really is a big deal!

Blessings on ya'll.