I wrote a reflection about how Christianity is not anti-sex and I was blown away by the number of people who responded positively, and by the number of people that read it.
In just two days that reflection became the most read item I have written on Faith Reflections.
As I wrote last week, we as a church are engaging in a sermon series about Jesus, the bible and sexuality and one of the core things that is coming through in that series and also in what we wrote about last week is that the bible puts forward a completely different story about sexuality than the world does.
Unfortunately the story the world believes the church tells is that sex is something that should be avoided at all costs, and many Christians believe that is what the bible says… its not.
Sex is celebrated and encouraged in the bible. It was fascinating for me to study the Song of Songs at seminary and realise just how graphic and erotic those poems are.
Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard who are authors of an otherwise fairly boring textbook called An Introduction to the Old Testament point out that
The Song of Songs… is a canonical corrective to the perversion of sexuality. It reminds us that sex is good and pleasurable. It is not evil when enjoyed within the parameters of marriage. Thus, most of the Song is a celebration of physical lovemaking. Furthermore, Schwab has reminded us that there is what he calls a cautionary note in the Song. This side of heaven intimate relationships will not be untroubled, and some of the poems (see 5: 2– 6:3) show that love can bring pain as well as joy
As I pointed out last week though, the bible points out what all honest people already know: good sex is a side effect of giving up your own agenda and putting someone else before you.
The other thing that I pointed out last week was the lie we tend to believe: that human beings have a physical need for sex. We all have a need for intimacy, but buying into the lie that the sex drive is a physical need like the need for food or water, leads to all kinds of problems.
One of the big problems for Christians though, happens when we pretend that the sex drive isn’t real. It is. All kinds of damage has been done by people who are not honest about their sexual impulses.
Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 7:5, that the reason Husbands and Wives should only rarely abstain from the physical act of sex is so that Satan won’t be able to tempt them because of their lack of self control.
He also says that the main reason he would encourage people to get married is:
If they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust
(1 Corinthians 7:9 NLT)
Later on he says:
But if a man thinks that he’s treating his fiancée improperly and will inevitably give in to his passion, let him marry her as he wishes. It is not a sin
(1 Corinthians 7:36 NLT)
Paul is assuming a level of honesty in the community where people don’t have to pretend not to have sexual desire, but clearly he is saying that the act of sex is to only happen within the context of marriage.
The heart of Paul’s message is the understanding that sex is a profound thing that affects body, soul and spirit and is that act by which two people become “one flesh” (see last weeks reflection for more on this).
Again, as I pointed out last week, our sexuality is to be governed by the principal that Jesus spelled out over and over again: That if we seek first our own needs we will lose our lives, but if we are willing to give up our own agenda for His agenda we will find our lives.
That’s all very well, but what if your sex drive is not able to be expressed inside of marriage?
What is interesting is that Paul elevates singleness as a better thing than marriage. He says:
I wish everyone were single, just as I am
(1 Corinthians 7:7 NLT)
Later on, he points out that:
33 But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. 34 His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband
(1 Corinthians 7:33-34 NLT)
When Paul talks about a single person being more able to serve God, he is actually identifying a truth that psychologists would not understand until the 20th Century.
It is possible for our sex drive to be re-directed and act as the fuel for other things. If there is a purpose in your life bigger than your own needs then your sex drive can be sublimated.
The Changing Minds website defines Sublimation as:
Sublimation is the transformation of unwanted impulses into something less harmful. This can simply be a distracting release or may be a constructive and valuable piece of work.
When we are faced with the dissonance of uncomfortable thoughts, we create psychic energy. This has to go somewhere. Sublimation channels this energy away from destructive acts and into something that is socially acceptable and/or creatively effective.
What sublimation requires though, is a committment to something other than your own needs.
Paul introduces the whole discussion about sexuality in Chapter two by asserting that our bodies “were made for the Lord.” At the heart of the Christian sexual ethic is the idea that Paul keeps coming back to: that we were made for more than simple self gratification.
In Ephesians 2:10 Paul asserts that:
For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
The real question of healthy sexuality is discovering “the good things he planned for us”, discovering a purpose for our lives, and in that context sexuality finds its right place as a source of energy and creativity.
At the end of his frank discussion about sex, Paul ends at the place he started:
I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible
(1 Corinthians 7:35 NLT)
For Paul the heart of the question of sexuality is not about sex, but what it means to be free to respond to Jesus.