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Sex: past, present and future - Genesis 2:18-25

This is a sermon by Melvin Tinker from the evening service on 10th May 2015.

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For many years now sociologists have spoken about the eroticization of Western Society. That is, at almost every level we have simply become saturated with sex. 50 odd years ago the publication of D.H. Lawrence’s novel, ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ was sufficient to scandalize the nation into bringing about a court action to ban its publication. Now it appears on prime time TV and no one bats and eyelid. Similarly with advertising, we are told, ‘sex sells’. Even government reports are required to be ‘sexed up’ at times. And now there is the internet. In the United States pornography brings in more income than illicit drugs, alcohol and the entertainment industries combined. The internet hosts 420 million pages of pornographic material and 260 new porn sites are launched every day. This is our world.

 

Now tonight I want us to take a step back so that we can think about the subject of sex in the light of the Scriptures as a whole. This means that we will be getting to grips with some very important beliefs about sex -what it is and what it is for. Some of us are single, some engaged, some married, some wrestling with aspects of our sexuality. Some of us may feel we have pretty well got it together, but all of us- if we are going to live God’s way in God’s world- really do need to get these beliefs clear in our minds. So let me try and map out what the Bible has to say under three headings: Sex and the Big Picture; Sex and the Present World and Sex and the Redeemed Future.

 

Sex and the Big Picture

Here the a question: what is sex for? You may say, the answer is obvious- it’s for pleasure and procreation- having fun and making families. That is not quite what I mean. From a Biblical standpoint, considered within the wider perspective of God’s purpose for the world, what is sex for? 

 

Perhaps we can get more easily to the answer if we ask the bigger question of which this is just a part: what is anything for? The apostle Paul in Romans 14:7 tells us: ‘None of us lives for himself alone and none of us dies to himself alone. If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die you the Lord. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For this very reason, Christ dies and returned to life so that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living.’ Life and existence and everything that goes to make up that has to do with ‘living unto the Lord’. And so in the section on sex which Paul penned in 1 Corinthians 6, he concludes his treatment with these words: ‘Therefore, honour God with your body.’ So it is all to do with honouring, glorifying, doing things unto the Lord- that is what sex is for. The question is: how?

 

To answer that question we need to go back to God’s design plan in creation.

 

Sometimes when discussing matters of sexuality, for instance the issue of homosexuality, the objection is raised by the one with same sex-attraction; ‘But this is normal for me, this is who I am’ as if that settles the matter. But to say that something is normal is not the same thing as saying it is proper. To claim something is acting normally is a matter of statistics, to say something is acting properly is a matter of design plan and purpose. For example, I might say that Scott’s car is acting normally when it requires three turns of the ignition key to get it going- that is normal for Scott’s car. But that is not what the manufacturer had in mind when the car was designed; it is simply not acting properly. But in order to know what is the proper way men and women are to express their sexuality we have to have access to the great Designer’s plan. And that, of course is what the Bible provides. This is expressed in a variety of ways including the fact that the world is built according to wisdom- Proverbs 3:19, “The LORD by wisdom founded the earth; by understanding he established the heavens.” When God brought the universe into being, he did so according to the blueprint called wisdom. In other words, the world is constructed in a particular way to achieve certain ends intended by the Maker. This not only includes the material order of the universe but the moral order too. To go with the flow of wisdom, the way God made things and intended things to run is not inhibiting, it is freedom. It is when we run counter to that, as when a man decides to throw away the instruction manual to a sophisticated hi fi system and decide to go it alone, that one is inviting trouble.

 

Foundational to our understanding of God’s purpose in sex, according to both Jesus and Paul [1] is Genesis 2:24, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh”  I guess God could have chosen all sorts of ways to ensure the propagation of the human species, but the implication here is that he created us as sexual beings whose sexuality is to be expressed only in the exclusive, permanent, social, and sexual union of one man with one woman, publicly pledged and recognized by society in what is called marriage. Implicit within this idea of ‘leaving and cleaving’ is that of making a promise. The Bible’s word for it is covenant, which is the background to another key passage -Malachi 2:14, ‘The Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth….she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant.’ This idea might well contrast to this verse written in a Hallmark card: ‘I can’t promise forever. But I can promise you today.’ What we have in those two contrasting statements are two mutually exclusive views of love. There is Hallmark love, the love of the 21st century, unsure, ephemeral, here today and who knows about tomorrow? It is a love which breeds insecurity for it places us at the mercy of the emotional highs or lows of the other person-they fall in love and they fall out of love. Not so the love of the wedding service. When the groom and bride say ‘I will’ to each other, they don’t mean ‘I think you are the best looking babe or the beefiest hunk in the whole wide world!’ They are not so much paying the other person a compliment as making a personal commitment -I will be true to you. And it is within the security of that relationship, publically pledged and publically acknowledged that sex is to take place.

 

But going back to Genesis we need to place that verse about male and female becoming one flesh in its wider setting if we are going to really understand what sex is for. The context is set for us by Genesis 1:27-31 where human beings are presented as the pinnacle of God’s act of creation being made as male and female in his image who are blessed and commanded to be… fruitful and increase in number. Why? So that they can fill the earth, bring it under control and rule over everything under God. How we are made-in ‘God’s image’- ‘male and female’- is linked to what we were made for- to rule the earth. This is the way Christopher Ash helpfully puts it: ‘Human sexuality is to be understood within this matrix of meaning, encompassing human dignity (in the image of God) and human task (exercising dominion). Within the Order of Creation, humankind is placed uniquely with a dual orientation. On the one hand, towards the Creator, humankind is given moral responsibility; on the other, towards creation, they are entrusted with a task. Holding these together is the key to the purpose of sex.’

 

Now we are very close to answering the question: ‘why sex?’ because in Genesis 1 with the climax of the Sabbath day when God is pleased with what he has made we are pointed in the direction of why there is anything at all. John Calvin sums up the purpose like this: “After the world was created, man was placed in it as in a theatre, that he, beholding above him and beneath the wonderful works of God, might reverently adore their Author”.   In other words, the whole of creation is the theatre of God’s glory and everything in it is meant to reflect back to him that glory in praise- including sex. On the more general point, John Piper says this: ‘The created universe is all about glory. The deepest longing of the human heart and the deepest meaning of heaven and earth are summed up in this: the glory of God. The universe was made to show it, and we were made to see it and savour it. Nothing less will do.’ So sex somehow is meant to show God’s glory and in it we are to savour his glory. That I know may sound like an outrageous thing to say, but I think it is biblical. How might this be so? Let’s turn again to Genesis 2 and verse 18.

 

This section of Genesis begins with a portrait of a world that is badly in need of a gardener: “there was no human being to work the ground” (2:6) God makes Adam in (2:7) because the world needs a gardener, namely, someone to steward and care for it. The general picture we have of man in the park is of a Priest-King. He is a King who is to rule his little domain. But he is also a priest in that his work in the divine sanctuary of the garden is meant to be an act of worship. And it is in this setting we are told in verse 18 that God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” The natural reading is not that Adam experienced relational loneliness, although that may well be there too, but rather that he had been entrusted with a task that was too big for him to do all by himself. And so God goes on to say, “I will make a helper.” The term ‘helper’[2] doesn’t mean skivvy. It implies someone who assists and encourages making up for something which is lacking. God in Scripture is described as a helper [3] It also carries the idea of a helper matching man’s ‘eminence’[4]. It is therefore a position of great standing and privilege.

 

So in what way will the woman help with the task? Genesis 2 doesn’t specifically tell us. But it is natural to include the procreation and nurture of children, which has been underscored in Genesis 1 where humankind has been given the blessing and exhortation to “be fruitful and multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” So presumably one way the woman helps the man is by enabling the procreation, birth, and nurture of children. Not only is the park too big for Adam to look after on his own; it is too big for Adam and Eve to look after on their own- let alone the rest of the earth!  Here is again is Christopher Ash, ‘Genesis 1 and 2 suggest to us that both the procreational and the relational purposes of sex come under the wider purpose of serving God by caring for his world. There is certainly delight and intimacy in Genesis 2:32. Here is a natural and innocent affirmation of sexual desire and delight, of nakedness untouched by shame. But this delight is not an end in itself. On the contrary, here is delight with a shared purpose, intimacy with a common goal, and companionship in a task that expands beyond the boundaries of the couple’s relationship on its own. As we rejoice with the lovers in the garden, we must not forget that there is work to be done. The garden needs tilling, weeding, watching. The purpose of sex is not ultimately their mutual delight, wonderful though that is. It is that the woman should be just the helper the man needs so that together they may serve and watch the garden.’ I would extend this further by saying it is in serving God this way that we glorify God and so fulfil our reason for being on this earth.

 

So more specifically, how might sex serve and glorify God?

 

One way, as we have seen, is by having children and nurturing them in the knowledge of God so that they can serve him too. This means not only using whatever gifts they have where God has placed them in his providence, but this side of the fall, proclaiming the Gospel so that God’s original intention of having the earth filled and subdued will be achieved through people coming under the Lordship of his Son. If God chooses to bless us with children as Christians I would hope that our prayer for them is not simply that they will be healthy, but they will be active committed Christian believers.

 

Secondly, sex has a bonding effect between husband and wife and is part of the nurturing of each other in togetherness, so that in the ‘theatre of God’s glory’ they will function well together and so display before the world God’s intention for a good marriage. This is implied in the ‘cleaving.’ In the Greek translation of the Old Testament (LXX) a word is used normally meaning ‘glue’. Well-functioning couples serving the Lord are a good thing and good sex helps with that.

 

Thirdly, God is served and so glorified in sex in that it acts as a mirror to the world of the relationship between God and his people- “as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you” (Is 62:5), ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and the two will become one flesh.’ This is a profound mystery-but I am talking about Christ and the church.’ (Eph 5:31-32). To quote one author: ‘The faithful love of husband and wife serves God by providing in this world a visible image of the love God has for his people and their answering love. God wants this kind of relationship to display one of the ways in which the invisible God becomes visible in his world. When a couple devotes time and energy to nurturing their own love for each other, paradoxically they may also be serving God, if they love one another with the longing that their love will begin to approximate the love between God and his people.’ (Ash)

 

So the way God has designed and set things up in terms of creation, both material and moral, is linked to the purpose he intends, namely, procreation, nurturing, praise and declaring the Gospel.

 

Sex in the Present World

That was God’s design plan, but is that plan operating now as originally intended? In Romans 8:20, the apostle Paul tells us that the whole of creation was subject to frustration by God, but in hope that the creation will one day be liberated from its bondage to decay brought about into the glorious freedom of the sons of God.(vv 20-21). In other words, Creation is no longer ordered according to God’s good design, it is disordered due to sin. This includes sex.

 

Frustration in sex occurs at a number of different levels and in a number of different ways.

 

There may be a long period before marriage- that can be frustrating. Some never marry. Others are widowed young. Many experience same-sex desire in some measure for a time, and for some these same-sex desires intensify and stay with them for a long time, maybe a lifetime. Most people experience sexual desire towards not one, but many other people. Married people experience frustrations and disappointments in the sexual intimacy of their marriage relationships through physical and mental illness. Even those whose sexual relationships are mostly satisfying and on the whole God-honouring will nonetheless experience adulterous or pornographic desires. Many who wish to have children will find those desires frustrated by involuntary childlessness. Others have children, but the children get ill and die, or the children disappoint by rebelling against Christ. In so many different ways sexual disorder appears within and amongst us all.

 

One of the greatest pressures is substituting sex for God. This is not surprising given the close link between God’s intentions and sex, but it is disastrous nonetheless. One author writes, ‘It is an ironic thought that just at the moment when some thinkers are heralding the advent of the perfect marriage based on full satisfaction of the sexual, emotional and creative needs of both husband and wife, the proportion of marital breakdowns . . . is rising rapidly’[5] . This is because sex is being expected to bear a weight it was never meant to bear, in other words, it has become idolatrous.

 

To a greater or lesser extent we all have disordered sexual desires; the first step is recognising them as such and then to admit we all have problems.

 

The second step is to hold on to the doctrine of Creation in which God as the Sovereign Creator also enables a Christian to believe that in his Providence the state I find myself in at the moment- maybe single, maybe married to an unresponsive spouse or whatever it may be, is no accident. God still reigns, he still cares and we are called to trust and obey.

 

Thirdly, we believe that the Gospel is good news of real change, ‘The grace of God teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, while we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good Titus 2:12-14).  There is no promise that this will necessarily be an easy process in the area of our sexuality than in any other area of our fallen nature, but the promise is there and that is why we need to be part of a fellowship whereby we can help each other and hold each other accountable as we are filled with God’s Spirit.

 

Finally, Sex and the redeemed future

 

Christians are always looking to the future. They know this world with its mix of the good, the bad and the ugly, even in the arena of sex, is not all that there is or will be- the best is yet to come. Yes, the whole of creation, including the sexual element, is groaning as in the pains of childbirth (there is an interesting sexual metaphor) right up to the present time says Paul (Romans 8:22). But we are people of hope as we look to a glorious future-our liberation, including, if you will, our sexual liberation. You see, even back in Genesis 2 with the garden and the wedding, within the full sweep of Scripture we are being pointed forward to another garden and another wedding indeed, another priest-king who comes for his bride. That garden is Gethsemane; the Priest-King is Jesus who offered his whole being as a sacrifice- a sacrifice which was to be completed on a hill- Golgotha. It was there out of his wounded side that God brought forth his bride- the Church. All that we need, he has promised he will provide, for if we are trusting in Christ, we are his ‘bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh’ loved with an everlasting love (Ephesians 5:22-33). The church is his glory and that which God had purposed from eternity will be fulfilled- the dwelling of God with his people- Revelation 21: 1 ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.’ As the bride on her wedding day shares the glory of her husband, the church shares the glory of her Saviour. All the passion and intensity of love which we see portrayed, for example in the Song of Songs, will be surpassed when Christian believers as the Bride of Christ encounter the bridegroom on that day. John Piper is quite explicit about the role sex has in pointing us towards this: ‘Just as the heavens are telling the glory of God’s power and beauty, so sexual climax is telling the glory of immeasurable delights that we will have with Christ in the age to come. There will be no marriage there. But what marriage meant will be there. And the pleasures of marriage, ten-to-the-millionth power, will be there.’

 

 This means that everyone can have a wedding day by coming to the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us pray.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


[1] Matthew 19:5; Ephesians 5:31

[2] ezer

[3] Psalm 33:20

[4] Note the qualifying term kenegado- ‘fit’ for the man

[5]  L. Stone, ‘The Family, Sex and Marriage in England, 1500–1800’ (London: Pelican, 1979), 427.

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