Part 5 of a 7-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality
This is the fifth of a seven-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality. Christ’s ideal for sex is exceedingly stringent. So stringent, that it left his disciples’ jaws dropping on the floor. In this post, I’ll explain the first two of five necessities for God-Glorifying sex.
As I mentioned in Part 4 of my Complementarity & Mutuality series, God created manhood, womanhood, marriage and sex because He wanted us to have symbols, images and language powerful enough to convey the idea of who He is and what a relationship with Him is all about. These symbols point to profound truths about the Godhead and to Christ’s relationship with the church.
To recap, sex symbolizes covenant fulfillment. When a husband and wife have sex, they testify to the existence of their God-ordained marriage covenant, and also point to the time when Christ the Bridegroom and His Bride will come together in fulfillment of the New Covenant. God takes marriage and sex very, very seriously. The symbolic aspect of sex explains why Scripture is so adamant that we get our sexual conduct right (1 Cor. 6:13-20).
A Jaw-Dropping Standard
The standard that Jesus outlined for marriage and sex was exceedingly stringent. He went far beyond the mores and customs of His day. Jesus insisted on sexual chastity before marriage, sexual fidelity after marriage, and a marriage covenant involving a lifelong commitment between one man and one woman with no thought of divorce. (Matthew 19:4-12)
The disciples were shocked.
So shocked, that one of them stammered something like this . . . “Whoa! If that’s the gig, then it’s better for us guys to remain virgins and never get married.” Jesus acknowledged that for the sake of the Kingdom, some people would do just that—but for everyone else, God’s ideal for marriage (and sexual conduct) was crystal clear.
The disciples balked at Christ’s standard. And if that was the case back then, when folks generally supported the idea of sex being confined to a life-long heterosexual marriage, how much more offensive do you think His ideal is to modern ears, when sexual freedom and gender fluidity is the prescribed norm?
In this post, I want to talk about the ideal that Scripture upholds for sex. I know that some people will find Christ’s ideal offensive. In fact, I think that if we were to truly grasp the implications of His teaching, it would undoubtedly leave all of our jaws dropping on the floor—just as it did His disciples’.
Aiming for the Ideal
In a sex-saturated world, broken by sin, the Bible’s ideal is difficult to attain. There is no room for self-righteousness here. We are all sinners. Each one of us is sexually broken to one extent or another. I am. And you are too. We all need Christ to sanctify our hearts, minds, bodies, sexual behaviors and inclinations so that our sexuality increasingly conforms to God’s intent for it.
Though we may never fully attain it, though we fail (aren’t you glad for grace?), though some may painfully struggle with questions of sexual identity for their entire lives, and though some have not experienced the marital union to be the blessing it was intended to be, it is nonetheless important that believers understand, faithfully communicate, and aim for God’s ideal for sex as outlined in Scripture.
Indeed, I believe that apart from the Word of God and the power of God’s Holy Spirit working in a life redeemed by Jesus, we have no hope of becoming sexually whole. For me, failing to present the ideal would be like failing to throw a buoy to someone who is thrashing around and drowning at sea. It would be cruel and uncompassionate.
The Lord wants Christians to experience great sex. He doesn’t want us to settle for impure—dirty, common, ordinary—sex. He wants our sexual conduct to become more and more pure, that is: clean, uncommon, and extraordinary, set apart (1 Thess. 4:1-8). Scripture tells us that we do with our bodies is important. Sex exists for the purpose of glorifying God. “So glorify God in your body.” (1 Cor. 6:13-20).
Five Necessities for God-Glorifying Sex
We are all story tellers. The fact that God created two sexes, male and female, tells a story. What we do with our bodies tells a story. The big picture about sex informs us that there are five things that are necessary for sex to tell the story in the way that Scripture upholds as the ideal: 1) a marriage covenant, 2) complementarity, 3) mutuality, 4) congruence, and 5) Godwardness.
1. The necessity of a marriage covenant:
Sex symbolizes covenant fulfillment. If you have sex with someone you’re not married to, you tell a lie with your body. Your body testifies that a spiritual, supernatural and legal joining has taken place, when in fact it hasn’t. Not only that, your behavior also tells a lie about God and the nature of His covenant. You throw mud at the supernatural storyline that your body was created to honor. According to the Bible, the only sex that faithfully tells God’s covenant story is sex that takes place within a marriage covenant. Not “I’m-just having-a-fling” sex. Not co-habiting sex. Not “I’m engaged” sex. Not “I’m-so-in-love-it-doesn’t-matter” sex. According to the Bible, marital sex is the only sex that glorifies God.
2. The necessity of complementarity:
God’s story is about the union of two complementary entities who fit together like pieces of a puzzle. God-glorifying sex requires the coming together of one male body and one female body. Physical complementarity is a necessity. The parallel images I sketched out in my last post demonstrate why.
Which brings up a critical point: Complementarians believe that the physical differences between male and female speak to who God created us to BE. They address our core ontological identities. Complementarity is more about who you ARE than it is about what you DO. If you try to reduce complementarity to a “he-does-this-and-she-does-that” list, you will get it wrong.
Putting Words to the Mystery
Complementarians try to put words to the great mystery that male and female are complementary expressions of the image of God. What it means to be a male means something profoundly different than what it means to be a female. The difference goes far beyond our physical plumbing to touch on something that God wired into the very depth of our beings. I struggle to find words that are big enough, bold enough, and beautiful enough to communicate this truth. To reduce the multiple dimensions, color, depth, and mystery of the male-female dance to a string of flat letters and spaces spewed out line-by-line on a page is like trying to paint a replica of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Ceiling with a black Crayola marker that’s running low on ink. It’s a nearly impossible task. This is a truth that is more easily perceived than explained.
Both man and woman bring the totality of who they are into the marriage bed. In the act of sex they connect as counterparts on every possible level—physical, emotional, and spiritual. God designed the two pieces to fit. It’s the complementarity that facilitates a perfect union.
Though I hesitate to state the obvious, all heterosexual sex is fundamentally “complementary” in nature.
The Union of Complementary Beings
So, to answer Rachel Held Evan’s question, “Are authority and submission an erotic necessity for God-honoring sex?” No. Absolutely not, if you’re defining those terms as something a husband and wife “do” (for example, he’s on top/she’s on the bottom)—but in a way, yes, if you’re alluding to the essence of who they “are” as male and female.
Sex is the union of two complementary beings—a male, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to lovingly and self-sacrificially bestow and give, and a female, who God created with a physical, emotional, psychological, and spiritual bent to actively and joyfully welcome and receive. Remember my illustration of trying to paint the Sistine Chapel Ceiling with a black Crayola marker running low on ink? “Authority” and “submission” are flat-lettered, black-and-white words that hint at, but are woefully inadequate to express the color, depth, wonder, and mystery of who God has created us to be as male and female.
A man is at no time more “manly” and woman is at no time more “womanly” than in the act of sex. (Sex as God intended it, that is.) His body “gives” in a way that hers can’t. Her body “receives” in a way that his can’t. Sex is where complementarity reaches its apex and is eclipsed by the “oneness” that ensues at the joining of the counterparts. It is the place where complementarity and mutuality kiss.
In my next post, I’ll answer some more questions and talk about the remaining three necessities for God-glorifying sex: mutuality, congruence, and Godwardness.
This Post is Part of a 7-Part Series
Are authority and submission an erotic necessity? Does complementarity create one-way relationships? Is sex something a man does to a woman? Those were the hot questions that prompted this 7-part series on complementarity and mutuality. You can browse through the articles on the post slider below, or head over to see all the posts in the series.