Sex Should be Sacrificial
Watching the music videos on MTV, you’d get the idea that sex is all about taking. But as soon as you get involved with another real, flesh and blood, human being, you discover that for any relationship to succeed it requires at least as much giving as taking. In fact, what the Bible calls us to is the giving of complete sacrifice.
I have already argued that sex should be fruitful and faithful, and this means it is something that should be kept exclusively for marriage. That sex should also be sacrificial raises the stakes on this even higher.
According to the Bible, marriage should be a place where we experience God’s mercy and grace, and it is also the setting in which we are to display mercy and grace to another. The model scripture gives to us for this kind of marriage is the relationship between Christ and the church:
Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no-one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church – for we are members of his body. For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. This is a profound mystery – but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Eph 5:25-33)
In Christ’s relationship with the church there is a complete and total giving. Jesus gave himself for the church – he went to the cross for her; he sacrificed himself for her; he died for her. What is extraordinary about this passage in Ephesians is the way it says that the way Christ acted is the way husbands should act towards their wives. It is made very clear. Husbands are to love their wives just as Christ loved the church. Just like Jesus sacrificed himself for his church, husbands are to sacrifice themselves for their wives.
This is the model for human marriage – it is about sacrifice. This is very different from how people often approach relationships. Our culture conditions us to think about ourselves and our own happiness and rights. Jesus teaches us to sacrifice.
Sacrifice is absolute. It is life and death. It is an unconditional giving of ourselves. It is an unreserved entrusting of ourselves to another person. It is on this basis that we should enter into marriage. People get married for all sorts of different reasons: because of romantic love; because of lust; because it is “the right thing to do”; because the woman has got pregnant… There is greater or lesser validity to all these reasons but when a Christian enters marriage the primary reason should be a determination to serve another person completely for the rest of their life.
And this isn’t a one way street. The focus in Ephesians 5 is on the way a husband is to love his wife, but the wife is also to respect her husband. Just as the church honours Jesus, so a wife should honour her husband, and that kind of respect requires sacrifice too.
Understanding this has a profound impact upon how we approach sex. What should be obvious is that sex is not meant to be about self-assertion. Sex too often is a selfish thing. When we talk about sex we too often talk about “our needs.” And sex too often is about power – the politics of the bedroom – as husband and wife either demand, offer, or refuse sex as a means of control and manipulation.
Sex in marriage should not to be like this. Rather than being demanding, sex should be sacrificial – an offering to one another. This sacrificial offering raises sex from the level of being purely biological and makes it spiritual. It becomes an act in which husband and wife seek out one another’s souls as well as one another’s bodies. It becomes an act in which the “one flesh” bond between husband and wife is affirmed and strengthened. It becomes something which once again truly enjoys the blessing of God. Sacrificial sex is life affirming. It is good, holy and pure. Sacrificial sex is not merely a physical act – it is a complete giving of one to another. It is truly becoming one flesh.
This is how sex should be, and that means that sex is something that should only take place within marriage. A sexual relationship is a serious thing. It is meant to involve a lifelong pursuit of one another. It is meant to be exclusive – between one man and one woman, until death.
And we see in Ephesians 5 the particular things husband and wife are to offer one another if they are to reflect the relationship between Christ and the church. In verse 33 it says that the husband must love his wife and the wife must respect her husband. These are the fundamental emotional requirements of a successful marriage. For a wife the most devastating thing she could hear her husband say is, “I respect you but I don’t love you,” while the most devastating thing a husband could hear from his wife is, “I love you but I don’t respect you.” Wives need to know the unconditional, tender, strong love of their husbands, and husbands need to know the genuine respect of their wives.
This is important when it comes to sex because an unloved wife will not be a liberated lover. And a disrespected husband is not going to have any confidence in bed.
Sex is meant to be sacrificial. It is to reflect the relationship between Christ and his church. It is only within marriage that such a relationship can exist – a relationship that is exclusive, life-long, and entirely self-giving.