This will be far shorter than it ought to be, and grew out of what I intended to be a reply to a comment on my comment on my wife's Facebook status related to the releasing of a movie about a number and a color (confused? I am). The gist of the question I want to answer is this: who determines what does or does not go in the bedroom?
What is sex?
Before we can address what is "okay" sexually, we have to first lay a groundwork, or perhaps better, a framework for understanding this issue in light of the Scriptures. If you read this blog very often then you're probably aware that I care a lot about what God says in His word, as I believe it is the only place we can go to find out how this life really is supposed to work.
The first question we need to ask is, "what is sex?" The first place we look in answer to that question is the opening part of Genesis:
So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” male and female he created them. (Genesis 1:27-28 ESV)
The man gave names to all livestock and to the birds of the heavens and to every beast of the field. But for Adam there was not found a helper fit for him. So the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and while he slept took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the LORD God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, “This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; because she was taken out of Man.” she shall be called Woman, Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed.(Genesis 2:20-25 ESV)
We see here in Genesis chapters one and two that sex is, at its foundation, two things:
1) a creation of God Himself. This fabulous thing called sex is God's idea. Some people, often calling themselves Christians, have tried to paint sex as bad, disgusting, or filthy. Nothing could be further from the truth. God makes man and woman naked, tells them to multiply, and calls it very good. It's His idea, He calls it very good, and who in the world am I to argue with God about that?
2) a command of God. This does need some qualification, as this command is given to a man and a wife in the context of their marriage. But part of His charge to the human race is to multiply. And being as they didn't have laboratories back in those days, there is only one way that was going to happen. [It is important to note that all biblically approved sex occurs within the context of monogamous, heterosexual marriage, a fact which deserves some longer treatment, but you can read a few of my thoughts here]
We also can look at other places in Scripture to get a glimpse of what God intends in marriage. The Lover in the Song of Solomon says,
Awake, O north wind,
and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden,
let its spices flow.
His bride comes back with this reply,
Let my beloved come to his garden,
and eat its choicest fruits.
(Song of Solomon 4:16 ESV)
If you take the time to read through the Song of Solomon, you will find an unrestrained celebration of married love, including its sexual aspect. In this book, as illustrated in the poetic quotation above, sex is shown to be a pleasurable gift from God.
Continuing on, in the epistle to the Hebrews we read the following,
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.(Hebrews 13:4 ESV)
Here we encounter the concept of the sacredness of sex. God has created the marriage bed, and it is to be held in honor among all, undefiled.
In summary, sex is a creation of God, commanded to those whom are married, but not commanded as some form of punishment, Rather, it is a beautiful and pleasurable gift, one that is to be held in high esteem among all. Sex is sacred. Sex is, in a very true sense, holy.
The Holiness of Sex
We saw above in the passage from Hebrews that God will judge the sexually immoral and the
adulterous. The assumption behind that is what we saw in Genesis, namely, that God is the creator of our bodies, and the creator of sex. As creator, He has absolute rights and authority over His creation, and thus sets the boundaries of what constitutes good, acceptable, and ethical behavior. We, of course, do not like this. Ever since our first father, Adam, took of the fruit and plunged humanity into sin (Romans 5:12-14) we have been rejecting God's authority over our lives. Thus we run headlong into all sorts of sins. Included in this sprinting away from God is a run headlong into sexual transgression. Scripture contains innumerable passages listing different kinds of sexual sins and their consequences (eg, Leviticus 18, Romans 1, Galatians 5).
As I stated above, God created sex to live and flourish inside the confines of monogamous, heterosexual marriage. I'm trying to decide if there is a more unpopular concept than that today. Definitely a top three candidate. We hate this, because all the promises the world offers for sexual enjoyment, like fresh experiences, quick hookups with hot babes, passionate lovemaking all the time...yeah, that's not the reality of marriage. You marry one person. You spend an incredible amount of time with that one person, mostly outside the bedroom. You make each other mad, irritate one another, and are quite simply: human. This complicates the matter of sex. Because what Hollywood told me was supposed to be a constant rip-each-other's clothes off passion becomes in fact a self-giving, a sacrificing my needs for the needs of another.
Don't read this wrong. Sex is absolutely the beautiful gift we said it is earlier. The exposure, the intimacy, the one flesh (Genesis 2:24) can be one of the most enjoyable things God gives us on this earth. But the joy, while including the physical pleasure that God intended, goes a whole lot deeper and past that. When God said that the man and woman became one flesh, He wasn't just saying "piece a fits into slot b." The oneness that takes place in marriage, and in the marriage bed, is one of physical, emotional, and spiritual unity.
When we remove sex from the realm of marriage, we make it a very dangerous thing. All of that exposure, intimacy, and oneness has now been offered to one who has promised me nothing in return. If I open myself up like this to my wife, I can feel safe. She has pledged to walk with me, stay with me, and love me until death parts us. Not so with another. In casting off God's law here, we cast off not a burden, but a safeguard for our soul.
I titled this section the Holiness of Sex, and you may be wondering why I am saying so little about that. The word Holy carries the idea of being set apart, and this is exactly what I'm attempting to communicate here. That God has set sex apart, in the bond of marriage, for the safety, well being, and lasting pleasure of His creatures.
So: does anything go?
So now we come to the question we set out to answer: does anything go? The answer, I believe, must be a resounding "No." There is much freedom within marriage (see again the Song of Solomon). But if we are to embrace the biblical model of marriage there are very clear principles as play. This merits a longer discussion, but because the original context focused around the idea of BDSM, I will focus on one passage in particular.
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. However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband. (Ephesians 5:25-33 ESV)
The overarching principle for husbands in all of marriage, including in sex, is simple: love your wife as Christ lived the church. How did Christ love the church? He gave Himself up for her. He never exploits her, abuses her, mistreats her, does violence to her. The gentle nature of this picture strikes me afresh as I read it even now. He washes her in the water of the word, that he might present her to Himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle. Never does He handcuff her or beat her with a whip. Never does He use His power over her to manipulate or hurt her in any way. He loves her with the kind of love that lays down His life for her. Can we not see how much more beautiful a picture this is than any love the world has to offer?
We pursue sex, as we pursue everything, in an endless drive to satisfy our lusts. We have a craving that we haven't been able to satisfy. We fantasize, and we chase those fantasies into life wherever we think we can get away with it. But the biblical picture of love, the biblical picture of sex, is utterly different. Sex was never designed to fill me up. It is a place for me to give of myself to the one I have covenanted myself to; to model the love that Christ pours into the one He covenanted Himself to, the church. This is the purpose of sex; and it places very real limits on what is "okay."