The Tragedy of Desiring Sex
A sermon by Coty Pinckney, Desiring God Community Church, Charlotte, NC, Sunday, 4/30/2006
Go into any grocery store this month and somewhere near the checkout counter, these words appear in large print on a magazine cover: “Orgasms Unlimited!” Pay your $5.95 and, the magazine promises, you too can find the highest possible delight in endless sexual pleasure.
Promises of sexual pleasure in exchange for money pervade our culture. We see this obviously in pornographic and near pornographic magazines and films. But we also see this in the ever-present attempts by advertisers to get us to associate certain products with sexual pleasure: NFL football, Jack Daniels whiskey, or a new aftershave lotion. Again and again and again in our daily lives, the message blares out at us: “Sex is the greatest joy! Orgasm is your highest delight!”
Given the assumed truth of this message, we see sex as vital for a fulfilled life. Making oneself attractive sexually is therefore key to happiness. So we spend billions of dollars annually not only on cosmetics and clothes but also on botox and breast enlargements. This has led to concern even among secular analysts of our culture. One psychologist writes:
The bar has gotten higher and higher for positive body images. . . . We're seeing increases in all forms of cosmetic surgery as women try to keep up with the images they see all around them. Instead of putting their money into a 401(k) or going on a vacation, many women see this kind of surgery as an investment in themselves.
An investment in themselves? Or an investment in an illusion?
So our culture is awash with the pursuit of beauty and the pursuit of sex. Is there something wrong in this?
By all means. But we must be careful to define what is wrong.
Sexual pleasure is not wrong. Human beauty is not wrong. For we just read Song of Songs 7:6:
“How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights!”
And then he goes on to describe her delights explicitly.
Here and elsewhere, the Bible describes sexual pleasure within marriage as exhilarating. Indeed, the author of Proverbs commands men to delight sexually in their wives (Proverbs 5:18-19; see sermon). So what is the problem, then, with our cultural preoccupation with sexuality?
The problem is twofold::
This is the second sermon in our five-part series on the Tragedy of Weak Desires. We began last week by noting that Christianity is not ultimately about self-denial. The Bible teaches that self-denial is a means to an end. And the end is true life. The deepest possible joy. As we read from C.S. Lewis:
If we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.
Last week we looked at money in this regard. Many see money as the means to happiness. We countered that myth with three arguments from 1 Timothy 6:
So Paul exhorts us: Flee from the love of money. Pursue righteousness. Fight the fight of faith to believe that God is the ultimate good. Take hold of the eternal life that is yours.
In preparing this sermon on sexuality, I thought about using the same outline:
These three statements are true. But in an important sense our desire for sex is even more deeply rooted than our desire for money. God created human sexuality for a specific purpose. Furthermore, after God had created everything, including human sexuality, He looked over what He had made and saw that it was very good. So in addition to warning about the destructiveness of wrong desires for sex, we need to look deeply into God’s purposes for sex; we need to understand why God made us as sexual creatures.
So this morning we’ll use a different outline:
The joy of sex within marriage is the theme of one entire book of the Bible: Song of Songs (also called Song of Solomon). We’ll look at a few verses to see how the author underlines this joy. First, chapter 1 verse 2. The wife cries out,
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine.
This is not a permissive command to a third party: “You over there, let him kiss me!” Instead, the Hebrew verb form expresses a strong desire or command: “I strongly desire his kisses,” or “He must kiss me!” The wife makes a passionate statement concerning her desire for her husband.
The husband responds in kind a few verses later:
“I compare you, my love, to a mare among Pharaoh's chariots.” (Song of Songs 1:9)
This may not sound particularly complementary to our ears. But consider: What type of horses pulled Pharaoh’s chariots? Not mares. Not geldings. But stallions. What would happen if 400 stallions are pulling chariots, when suddenly a mare walks into their midst? She immediately becomes the object of rapt attention of 400 pairs of eyes. So the husband here is saying, “You are extraordinarily attractive, my love!”
In 4:1-5, the husband describes his wife's beauty using more metaphors that seem strange to us today. He says, for example, that her eyes are like doves and her hair like a flock of goats. But he sums up this description in verse 7 with phrases used by all lovers of all cultures of all times:
You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.
Then 4:16 relates in poetic terms the wife’s invitation to the consummation of the marriage. Note that the garden is a metaphor for the wife’s sexual organs:
Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits.
Note the progression: She first says, “Blow upon my garden.” Then she says, “Let my beloved come to his garden.” Her garden has become his. She belongs to him completely. They are one flesh.
Once again, our word “let” can be misleading. She here is expressing strong desire or command: “Oh, how I want him to come to his garden!”
The husband responds in chapter 5 verse 1:
I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk.
And the chorus declares:
Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love!
They consummate the marriage, with overwhelming joy. Proverbs 5:19 uses a similar image to communicate being overwhelmed with sexual delight:
Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love.
There are many more selections from Song of Songs that we could look at, but you get the point. The husband is overwhelmed by her attractions. She strongly desires him. They come together joyfully, giving themselves to each other completely.
Thus, the Bible holds up sexual expression within marriage and says, “This is very good! This is to God’s glory. This reflects the character of God.” The Bible is not against sexual pleasure. Far from it. The Bible tells married couples to give themselves completely to each other for their joy and God’s glory.
Interestingly, however, Bible also holds up as joyful those who do not experience sexual pleasure. Consider two examples:
The crazy assertions of The Da Vinci Code notwithstanding, Jesus was never married. He never had sexual relations with anyone. He never let the seed of desire sprout into the sin of lust. Note: He was tempted in this way. Hebrews 4:15 tells us:
[Jesus] has been tempted in every way, just as we are — yet was without sin.
So Jesus experienced sexual temptation, but He sinned neither outwardly nor inwardly. He never had sex.
Question: Did Jesus have joy? The question answers itself.
· Does the one who tells of the great rejoicing among the angels over one sinner who repents not have joy Himself?
Jesus did not experience sex. But He had (and has) great joy.
Paul was not married according to 1 Corinthians 9:5. Possibly he was a widower. But certainly for the decades of his life that we read of in the New Testament, Paul did not have sex. Did Paul have joy?
Furthermore, this man lived out those commands. We could cite many examples, but one stands out. In Philippi, Paul and Silas were beaten, jailed, and put in stocks. Yet at midnight in this stinking prison, they were singing praises to God (Acts 16).
Paul had no outlet for sexual desire. He had no wife, at least not during the time recorded in Acts and his epistles. Yet he had great joy. And that joy was in Christ.
He states this clearly in Philippians 3:8.
I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ
We could consider other biblical characters as well as those from church history, but the point is clear: God created sex. It is very good within marriage, and the source of great joy. But sex is not necessary for joy. Sexual expression within marriage is a delightful gift. But there are other delightful gifts of God. And the gift of singleness and endurance is one of them.
This idea – that absence of sex does not mean absence of joy – enables us to understand and rightly interpret the biblical prohibitions on sex outside of marriage. So many today miss this point entirely. Upon reading of the biblical limitations on sexual expression, they think, “If I live by those limits, I won’t have joy!”
Just the opposite is true. Our desires are not too strong but too weak. The Bible teaches us about the path to true, eternal, deep, overflowing joy. The path of sex outside of marriage leads away from such joy. So the person aiming to maximize joy will abstain from sex outside marriage.
All biblical limitations on sex say: “This is wrong. This is deadly. This is the path to death.”
Furthermore, if it is wrong to lust for another, and if we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, then it must be wrong to do anything that generates lustful desires in another. This is exactly the opposite of the way many people function, trying to generate lust in others in order to exercise power over them. Thus, you must never use your sexuality as a tool, a method of exercising power, of manipulating others by your attractions.
So, let’s be clear: God gives within marriage the great gift of joy in sexual relations. Those not married also can have great joy, given by God through other gifts. Prohibitions on sexual acts and desires outside of marriage are for our joy. They are not limitations on joy.
To understand this more fully we need to discuss the third point:
C.S. Lewis helps us here also. He writes:
Pleasures are shafts of the glory as it strikes our sensibility. . . . I have tried . . . to make every pleasure into a channel of adoration. I don’t mean simply by giving thanks for it. One must of course give thanks, but I meant something different. . . .Gratitude exclaims, very properly, “How good of God to give me this.” Adoration says, “What must be the quality of that Being whose far-off and momentary coruscations are like this!” One’s mind runs back up the sunbeam to the sun.
Lewis in this passage uses examples of seemingly minor pleasures that lead him to adore God: a running brook, moss on the rocks. Surely sexual pleasure should do so all the more. What must be the quality of the Being who creates and gives to His creatures the pleasure of sex in marriage? How can we adore Him?
God created sex in marriage to tell us something about Himself. What? Ephesians 5:31-32 explains part of the answer:
"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.
Paul quotes Genesis 2:24 about marriage and says: This is true of Christ and the church. Marriage is a picture of the relationship between Jesus and His church, His bride. And since sexuality is one key component of marriage, sexual expression pictures something about the relationship between Jesus and His church:
As John Piper writes:
[God’s] goal in creating human beings with personhood and passion was to make sure that there would be sexual language and sexual images that would point to the promises and the pleasures of God’s relationship to his people and our relationship to him. In other words, the ultimate reason (not the only one) why we are sexual is to make God more deeply knowable.
So our longings for sex, our longings for a good marriage, picture the longings we should have for an intimate relationship with the God of the universe. We were created to love Him, to delight in Him, to long for Him, to desire Him. We were created to cry out with the words of Psalm 73:25-26:
Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.
There is nothing on earth I desire besides God! Not even the pointers God gives us to this truth.
What is the joy behind sex? God Himself. We are sexual so that God is more deeply knowable.
Sex is a wonderful gift God created in part to give us joy in marriage, but even more importantly to help us learn about Him, to picture our right longings, our right, intense desires for Him.
Our culture has taken this good gift of God and distorted it terribly. But we must be very careful here in defining the problem. What is the problem?
Fundamentally the problem is not:
Friends: The fundamental problem is me. The fundamental problem is you.
The fundamental problem is inside you. It is deadly. And, uncontrolled, it will destroy you.
Last week we read that the desire for money is a trap, a snare, that captures us and destroys us. How much greater is the snare of the desire for sex! Sex outside of marriage looks alluring. It looks like life. It looks like joy. But that is the road to death. And many walk on it. Indeed, everyone in this room – certainly including myself - apart from the grace of God would walk down that path.
Your life is at stake, my friends. In Matthew 5, after saying that he who lusts after a woman has committed adultery with her, Jesus says:
If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. Matthew 5:29-30
Do you see how serious this is? Sexual sin is the subject of many jokes. But it is not a joke.
How can we deal with this problem?
A serious problem requires a serious solution. “Just say no” is not enough.
We must fight the desire for sex with a greater desire. Note that even in Matthew 5:29-30 Jesus appeals to desire by saying, “It is better for you.” In effect, he asks, “Are you better off with only one hand, or rotting in hell? For you joy cut off parts of your life if they lead you into temptation.”
How do we fight desire for sex with a greater desire? Those who are married: Cultivate sexual desire for your wife or husband. Channel your passion and, oh, dig the channel deep (see sermon).
But that can only take you so far. And if you are not married, that can’t take you anywhere.
So cultivate a desire for the joy behind sex – the joy available to everyone, young or old, married or unmarried. Cultivate God as your greatest joy: “Earth has nothing I desire besides you.” See the grandeur of God. Delight in the magnificence of Jesus Christ.
This is the fundamental way to fight lust: There are other ways and they are useful. But fundamentally, see the desire for sex as comparatively trivial. See it as a weak desire. And long for the deepest joy imaginable: The joy of knowing the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God of the universe.
God sent His Son to die on the cross to redeem you from all the ways that you belittle the grandeur of God. God created you to delight in Him with a longing greater than the longing of a newly married man for his wife.
So turn to Him. Treasure Him. See Jesus as King, as Supreme, as the One who is over all things. And know that by His grace you can be His precious, spotless, beloved Bride.
This sermon was preached on 4/30/06 at Desiring God Community Church in Charlotte, NC. The psychologist quote is from Mark Kaufman, “Popularity of Breast Implants Rising,” Washington Post 9/22/02. The first C.S. Lewis quote is from his sermon, “The Weight of Glory.” The second is from Chapter 27 of Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer. The John Piper quote is from “Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, Part 1,” 9/24/04, available online at http://www.desiringgod.org/library/topics/sex/sex_supremacy_christ_pt1.html . While I do not quote part 2 (preached 9/26/04), that sermon was also influential. Ben Patterson’s talk at that conference was helpful on Song of Songs 1:9.
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