Understanding the Deeper Purposes of Sex

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On the whole, human beings are fascinated with sex—men and women, young and old, Christians, atheists, and everyone in between. In all cultures, throughout all of history, sexual desire has been one of the greatest motivators of the human will. Men and women throw away their families, houses, money, and land in order to be sexually satisfied. Some are addicted to it. Wars have been fought over it. We compose songs about it, make movies about it, and write stories about it. And this preoccupation with sex is not simply a facet of our fallen nature. Even one whole book of the Bible (the Song of Solomon) is dedicated to celebrating the sexual relationship between the husband and wife.

But have you ever wondered why all the fuss? Why did God create us as sexual people in the first place? He was obviously not tied to a need for sexual reproduction in order to propagate the species. He just as easily could have created humans as asexual creatures that reproduce like amoebas.

Until we understand why God created sex, we will never sufficiently make sense of His commands regarding sexual purity, for His commands always relate to His purposes.

Christ and the church

Ephesians 5:24-32 pointedly describes the sexual relationship within marriage as an image of the spiritual relationship between Christ and the church. As you read the passage, note carefully the significance of the last sentence (verse 32) within its context:

Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands. Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish. In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, because we are members of his body. “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.

In this passage Paul is discussing the relational dynamics of Christian marriage. And as he gives instruction to husbands and wives about how they are to treat one other, he draws a tight parallel between human marriage and Christ’s relationship with the church. The way Christ treats the church, Paul tells us, serves as the pattern for the way in which a husband is to treat his wife. And the way the church relates to Christ is the way a wife is to relate to her husband.

But why is this? By what logic does Paul ask husbands and wives to relate to one another as Christ and the church? The answer is found in verse 32. Human marriage, Paul tells us, “refers to Christ and the church.” In other words, marriage is a “type” of Christ’s relationship to the church. Drawing upon the ancient marriage formula of Genesis 2:24, Paul reveals a mystery (i.e., a previously hidden truth): Sexual oneness within marriage was created by God to serve as a foreshadowing of the spiritual oneness that would exist between Christ and His church. As the great church father Augustine once wrote, “It is of Christ and the Church that it is most truly said, ‘the two shall be one flesh.'”

From Paul’s comments in Ephesians we can see that when a man and a woman come together sexually, in some mysterious way they become one in their flesh (see also 1 Corinthians 6:16). Something profound occurs through sexual intercourse. The marriage union is not simply a legal union or a social union, a financial union or a familial union, but rather a union of bodies, a sharing of physical life. Through sex, two people are joined together in the deepest and most wonderful way—so much so that they are said to become one. This is why sexual intercourse is rightly said to “consummate” a marriage.

Marriage is more than sex, but it’s not less than sex. In fact, in the ancient biblical world, sexual union was the primary means by which a man and woman married each other (see, for example, the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah in Genesis 24:67). Unlike today, religious clergy of the ancient world did not create a marriage through a formal pronouncement; rather the act of sex itself created the marriage. Thus, a healthy marriage relationship is the living out of the union that is established through sexual intercourse. (This is why a sexual relationship that occurs outside the context of a marriage relationship is so emotionally destructive. The act of sex, which is meant to initiate and sustain a permanent union of marriage, is broken apart and divorced from its very purpose.)

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Source: FamilyLife.com | Gerald Hiestand and Jay Thomas