Today we still have romantic notions about couples who fall in love and live happily ever after. The reality is that most marriages do not last because of unfaithfulness and sexual infidelity. This should not be surprising when we consider that Scriptures already tell many stories of sexual infidelity among God’s own people. Wisdom, in the book of Proverbs, gives a strong warning to his son to avoid the adulterous woman who seeks to entice him to his eternal destruction. As believers we hear the Biblical warnings against sexual infidelity, but we also need to hear what Scripture teaches about the connection between genuine love and sexuality.
Ignored by the Church?
At a time when society openly speaks about their views on sexuality, it is important that we understand God’s wonderful design for this gift. Modern views have evolved to the point where former social boundaries on sexual relations have been removed so that for many, sex has simply become a recreational pastime. The connection between love and sexuality has been broken and the fruit of this new morality is now seen in the many revelations of inappropriate sexual behaviour. Many in our society are not shy about promoting their sexual agenda, while the church has often been quiet on the topic and afraid to talk about a biblical perspective on sexuality.
Last year, I attended a conference for pastors from many different faith backgrounds on the topic of sexuality and the lament was heard that this is a topic that is being ignored by the church. Within the church there is an element of embarrassment and shame at addressing the topic, so that Christian youth are not receiving the direction they need in the difficult social environment in which they live. If this topic is not addressed from the pulpit and by parents to their children, it leaves our youth without the spiritual defenses they need to keep themselves pure and to understand the proper relationship between love and sexuality.
Addressed by God
Although we live in an intensely sexualized society, questions surrounding love and sexuality are not new for the church. God in his wisdom already addressed this issue in the Song of Songs. This song belongs to the wisdom literature in which God gives his people practical skills for life. The book of Proverbs imparts many lessons on wise living to God’s youth, while the Song of Songs intends to help God’s people understand how a couple are to love one another. God not only commands couples to love one another, but he also reveals how that love should function in a practical way through this song.
We are comfortable to talk about God’s command to love, but feel uncomfortable when this song expresses the emotions, feelings and desires of a couple in love. In the history of the church there have been different approaches to this song. An old approach understands the song as an allegory that describes the love between God and his people, between Christ and his bride, the church. The result is that sexuality is separated from love, as if love deals with the spiritual aspects of life and sexuality belongs to the earthy, material things of life.
The spiritual is placed on a higher level than the physical so that love is good but sexual desires belong to the passions of the flesh. In this song God reveals that genuine love between a man and woman will express itself in a wonderful sexual intimacy. God reminds us that he is the author of all creation and therefore we may not make a separation between the physical and spiritual as if one is higher than the other, for they belong together. Everything God created, including human sexuality, is good and beautiful. When we separate what God has put together, then a distortion develops in our relationships.
A more modern approach among commentators is to understand the song as erotic literature. They do not think about it as pornographic literature, but the song is dealing with love as ‘eros’ to convey the beauty of the sexual relationship between a husband and wife. The song is then often used in order to justify certain kinds of sexual activity in marriage. While the song indeed describes sexual desires between the couple, yet it always does so within the context of their mutual love for each other. The danger of this newer approach is to separate the sexual aspects of life from that of love. Then we end up with the same result as the allegorical approach in which love is separated from the sexual aspect of a relationship.
The marriage relationship restored
In this song, the Lord teaches that the love relationship between a man and woman, that was destroyed by sin in the beginning, is again being restored by the Lord in the lives of his people. In the Old Testament the Lord compares his relationship with his people to that of marriage. In Ezekiel 16 the Lord describes how he found his people Israel like a newborn child who was abandoned in the field and he rescued her and took care of her, showering his love upon her. When she grew up, God entered into a covenant with her, and being faithful to his covenant he lovingly cared for her and adorned her with great splendour and riches. God himself gives the example of how a husband is to love and adorn his wife. In the New Testament Paul compares the marriage relationship to the relationship of Jesus Christ as the bridegroom to his bride, the church.
When today, Jesus Christ enters into a living covenant with his people, God restores us to the most important relationship we can imagine. As Christ restores us to a living relationship with him, at the same time he prepares us to live in a proper relationship with our spouse. Christ came to redeem us from sin that destroys every relationship on earth, in order to restore us to a living relationship with him and with one another. Therefore, in the Song of Songs, we receive this powerful testimony to God’s mighty work in restoring the marriage relationship. It is again possible for a man and woman in Christ to express, although imperfectly today, true love for one another in their sexual intimacy.
We have an expression of that wonderful relationship in the beginning when God made the woman, Eve, and gave her to the man, Adam. It is often said that Adam wrote the first love song when he saw Eve and said, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman, for she was taken out of the man.” Adam’s heart went out to Eve, for he saw in the woman one just like himself, flesh of his flesh and yet she was different, for she was a woman taken from the man. God worked in Adam and Eve’s heart a mutual attraction for each other, so that the man was united with his wife, and they became one flesh.
In the beginning it was perfectly natural for the man and woman to have a sexual attraction for one another. Scripture then gives this commentary, they were “both naked, and they felt no shame.” They feel no shame for all their thoughts and feelings were pure and without a hint of sin. They did not need to hide anything from one another, including their bodies, for they loved each other with perfect love.
Sin’s distortion of God’s gift
Sexuality is a powerful emotion through which men and women become attracted to each other. It is a wonderful gift by which a boy and girl seek each other and desire to become one. But when sin entered the world, this gift became distorted, so that people used it to satisfy their own sinful passions rather than seeking to serve their spouse out of love.
Our society treats sexuality as an emotion that is meant for our own personal pleasure. Since I am a sexual person, therefore I can use my sexuality in any way that gives personal satisfaction. Youth are taught that they can experiment with their sexuality outside of marriage for their own personal enjoyment. For that reason, pornography is no longer considered evil, for people are just exploring their own sexuality for their own personal pleasure.
The most serious problem with this approach is that God did not give us the gift of sexuality for our own personal pleasure, but this gift is to be enjoyed in a marriage relationship. While God’s gifts are always a source of much pleasure in our life, yet God does not give us his gifts for our own selfish pleasure but to serve him and to serve our neighbour. When Adam first saw the woman that God gave him in paradise, his heart went out to her and his desire was to serve her. Eve trusted that Adam loved her with his whole heart and that he would treat her with the utmost respect. The gift of sexuality can only be enjoyed in a relationship in which husband and wife are totally open to one another, because they can trust each other enough to share the deepest thoughts and feelings of the heart.
That became impossible after Adam and Eve fell into sin, for their eyes were opened, and they realized they were naked. Suddenly shame entered into the relationship. We experience shame only when we are guilty of inappropriate or sinful behaviour. When Adam and Eve sinned, their eyes were opened to their sin and it negatively affected their relationship. Now they have shameful thoughts and feelings deep in their heart that have a negative impact on the relationship. The result of sin is that husbands and wives, in their selfishness, hurt one another, and it causes resentment and anger against one another. When anger and resentment grows against one another, every aspect of our relationship is impacted, including sexual intimacy. In the place of sexual intimacy, people resort to fulfil their sexual desires by seeking intimacy in another relationship or fulfill their desire through porn.
In the Song of Songs, God encourages us by showing that it is again possible for a husband and wife to enjoy a loving relationship in which they can deeply love and respect one another and mutually enjoy his gift of sexuality. The goal of sin is to destroy relationships, but the work of Christ is to restore relationships. Sin destroys our relationship with God, but Christ came to restore our relationship with his heavenly Father. He does that by exposing the dark secrets of our heart and offering us his atoning sacrifice to cover those sins in the sight of God. The gospel message is a message of hope, for Christ came to deliver us from our bondage to sin.
Christ makes it possible for us to deal with our shame. Our natural instinct when we feel shame is to cover up our sin, for we do not want to expose our shame to others, and perhaps least of all to our spouse. When we come to know Christ, it becomes impossible to continue to hide our shame, for through his gospel Christ exposes the shame in our heart. The gospel teaches us to own up to our sins and seek God’s forgiveness. We can now deal with the deep and the dark secrets of the heart. We can now bring them before the holy throne of God and therefore it is also possible to speak about our dark secrets to those who have been hurt by the sinful attitudes in our heart.
Intimacy with God is only possible when you open your heart to the Lord. We can open our heart and lay before the Holy One our daily struggle with sin because we trust God to be compassionate and loving for the sake of his Son, Jesus Christ. He will not reject me because of my sins, but he welcomes me with open arms when I seek his forgiveness and love. On the basis of his love and mercy, the Lord God reveals in the Song of Songs, that a man and woman can again experience a wonderful intimacy in their marriage. The Song is realistic. There will be troubles, there will be struggles, but when we truly submit ourselves to Christ, husband and wife will continually search each other out, and become vulnerable by opening their hearts to one another, seeking to support and encourage each other out of their love, a love that they have first experienced in Christ Jesus.
This article was originally published by Clarion and is reprinted with permission and presented with slightly different spacing.