Is sex a gift or a burden for Christians?

Photo of smiling man giving a present to pensive young woman

Sex is a gift of God, and not unlike God’s gift of salvation, God meant for us to accept and use this gift.  And also like God’s gift of salvation, many people refuse to open or fully use the gift of sex that God has given them.

But what about the gift of celibacy?

It is true that some men and women are given the rare gift of celibacy. It is impossible to have both the gift of celibacy and the gift of sexual desire at the same time, either you have one or the other as these two gifts would be contradictory toward one another.

Christ talked about celibacy in book of Matthew:

11 But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.
12 For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother’s womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

Matthew 19:11-12(KJV)

Paul speaks of his celibacy here as a gift that not all people have:

7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

I Corinthians 7:7(KJV)

In both instances, whether Christ is speaking in Matthew or through the words of his Apostle Paul, Celibacy is seen exactly the same. It is a gift of God. Christ talks about men being born that way, in other words asexual, with no sex drive whatsoever.  Some men were made that way by other men (literally having surgery performed to their genitals) but others made themselves Eunuchs (celibate) for the Kingdom of God.

We must be clear though – that as Christ said, this is something given by God.

What is the gift of celibacy to be used for?

Celibacy is to be used in the service of God.  This is clear from both Matthew and I Corinthians.  People who choose to be celibate for selfish reasons, so they don’t have to put up with spouse or children are missing the point of Biblical celibacy.

Celibacy is the exception to God’s command, not the norm

God’s commands regarding marriage and sexuality are found in these passages:

26 And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them.
28 And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

Genesis 1:26-28

God’s first command to the first man and woman was to have sex! How else can you be fruitful and multiply without having sex? Some Christians over the centuries have tried to argue that sex, or least sexual pleasure came about after the fall, not before the fall.  But nowhere in the entirety of the Scriptures is this idea supported and it is a completely false doctrine.

God’s norm is for man and woman to marry, and have children together, lots of children. The gift of celibacy has been rarely given by God, and provides an exception to his command to be fruitful and multiply.  It in no way, diminishes marriage, or sexuality.
Where is sex called a gift of God?

Even by the God of thy father, who shall help thee; and by the Almighty, who shall bless thee with blessings of heaven above, blessings of the deep that lieth under, blessings of the breasts, and of the womb:

Genesis 49:25(KJV)

Breasts in the scriptures refer to two things.  They can refer to the motherly nurturing of children, but they can also refer to the sexuality of woman, or to sexuality in general. In the case of Genesis 49:25, Jacob is giving a blessing to his son Joseph, and telling him of all the ways God would bless him. Breasts refer to a women’s sexuality (and yes they were polygynous, so he was not talking about one wife – Jacob, the man who blessed Joseph here, had 4 wives). The womb, here referred to his wife(s) having many children.

The sexual blessings of a woman’s breasts are also addressed in Proverbs 6:

18 Let thy fountain be blessed: and rejoice with the wife of thy youth.
19 Let her be as the loving hind and pleasant roe; let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love.

Proverbs 5:18-19(KJV)

Again in I Samuel we see wives (yes plural) as gifts from God:

7 And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
8 And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
9 Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the LORD, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.

I Samuel 12:7-9(KJV)

In I Samuel we see that God, speaking directly through his prophet Nathan, tells David of all the wonderful blessings and gifts God had given David. He gave him all of Saul’s possessions, as well as his wives. Yet even though God had given David many wives, he went and stole the one wife of one his greatest servants and had him murdered.

David’s sin was not in having sexual desire, or many wives, or even wanting another wife. His sin was not even in appreciating Bathsheba’s beauty, but it was in his covetous thoughts which eventually led him to adultery and then murder.

Often times I will talk about differing between sexual desire, arousal and lust (which is covetousness). I have stated many places on this blog, that simple sexual arousal by the site of a beautiful woman, whether married or unmarried is not sin.  I stand by that statement.

However I think it is worthwhile to note that one must still be careful when it comes to married women, especially if those married women are women we work with, or we know or have regular access to. While it is not a sin to become aroused by their beauty, if we do not control that arousal, if we become obsessed, then it can quickly lead to lustful (covetous) thoughts which are then sinful.

Finally I won’t quote from the Song of Songs, but the entire book illustrates how a man and woman’s bodies are gifts to each other from God.  They go part, by part, examining how much of a gift their bodies are to one another.

These passages all demonstrate that sex is truly a gift from God, not a curse or a burden.

Since a gift is something that is freely given, can’t a couple decide not to open it?

While it is true that a gift is something that is freely given, and also freely received, sometimes there are consequences to us not receiving and using gifts.

In the matter of salvation, God freely offers us the gift of salvation through his Son, Jesus Christ. We have the choice to open and fully accept Christ in our hearts and lives, or to reject him. If we reject God’s gift of salvation, then one day we will stand before the judgment, having nothing to cover our sins and we will be cast into hell.

In marriage sex works very much the same way. While not having sex will not kill any person, not having sex often times kills a marriage. I completely reject Christian programs whether in books or in print that encourage married couples to go 60 and sometimes 90 days or more without having sex.

Paul is clear, that sex should only be withheld for a SHORT TIME, and only by mutual consent:

3 The husband should meet his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should do the same for her husband. 4 The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Don’t refuse to meet each other’s needs unless you both agree for a short period of time to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come back together again so that Satan might not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.

I Corinthians 7:3-5(CEB)

Even within the context of a polygynous relationship, God made sure to protect the sexual rights of a man’s wives when he took other wives:
10 If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights.

Exodus 21:10(NASB)

Some Christian programs fail to recognize that sex was a critical part of God’s design for marriage. Asking a couple not to have sex for 60 to 90 days simply for the sake of “working on the marriage”  is like asking a couple to work on their marriage by not talking to each other for 60 to 90 days.

While I don’t agree with everything in the book, I think a great Christian book that argues for more sex to help improve marriages rather than less sex is found here:

http://thesexperiment.com/about-sexperiment

There is no arguing with that fact that God has given us sex as a gift, and it is a gift that he commands to be opened (“be fruitful and multiply” and “let her breasts satisfy thee at all times; and be thou ravished always with her love”).
But what about Military couples or others who are forced to be apart for long lengths of time?

There are sometimes that a couple may have to be physically apart due to HIS occupation. I do not agree with a woman having a job or a career that takes her away from the home for any length of time. A woman’s place is in the home, take caring of her family and supporting her husband in his career.

However some men are called to military service or other important endeavors that will sometimes separate them from their wives. We need to make sure that the reasons for these things are just and right.

For instance some men may be truck drivers and have to be away for weeks or a month at a time. Still others may be pilots that are away for a week or so at a time. Business men may have to travel often.
The military is the most noble of occupations that requires distances between married couples. My heart goes out to every married military couple that has to deal with this issue.

In these cases, or sometimes becomes of medical reasons, sex has to stop. Does this mean the couple does not still have a marriage? Of course not. But even though they cannot physically consummate their sexual love, they need to communicate with one another their desire to do so as soon as they possibly can.

Sex after being apart for a while can be fantastic! I have experienced this with my wife after travelling for business. But does that mean we should purposefully abstain even when we are together for the thrill of waiting? I think not. The Scriptures do not support such behavior except for short times of prayer and fasting and it has to be my mutual consent of both parties.

But since sex is temporary, is it really that important?

Some Christians throughout the centuries have tried to present sexuality as a curse or as a burden to born in this life.  Still others try to say that since it is temporary, that we must not to place a high value in it, especially within the context of marriage.

I would ask these people these questions then:
1.    Since raising children is temporary and for this world only, is it unimportant that we do our best in being good parents to our children?
2.    Since the parent child relationship is temporary, does it matter if we look after the welfare our parents in their old age?
3.    Since our jobs in this world are temporary, why does it matter how well we perform at them?
4.    Aside from sexuality being temporary, marriage is also temporary and for this world. So why does it matter how good of a spouse we are if marriage is temporary?
5.    Nations are temporary, God will one day do away with all of them. So why does it matter how good of citizens we are, or what positive influence we play in our society?

The reality is that many of the things in this world are temporary and will pass away, the Bible makes this clear in several passages. While on the one hand, the Bible warns us not to become ensnared or overpowered by temporary things of this world, on the other hand it commands us to live in this world and be a part of it.

God commands us to be good parents.
God commands us to be good citizens.
God commands us to be good employees.
God commands us to be good spouses – and part of being a good spouse is making full use of the gift of sex that God has given us. So in essence, we are commanded to be the best lover to our spouse that we can be.  What are best is will be different for each person, but regardless we are commanded to do our best toward our spouse within our marriage.

Conclusion

I have not talked a lot about the difference between sexual desire and the physical act of sex between a man and woman here.  But you will find many posts on this site that do help to make that distinction.
I will simply say this about sexual desire.  Sexual desire is no different than the desire for food. God could have given us no sense of smell, and no visual attraction to food whatsoever. But he did give us this desire, and it is not only meant for us to eventually eat, but also to enjoy in the moments or hours before we eat.

In the same way, sexual desire is given as a gift to be enjoyed before we actually physically have sex with another person within the bounds of marriage. It is the same as picturing how great your wife’s meatloaf will be when you get home from work.  You can just imagine the smell of it, the look of it and the taste of it.

The entire book of Song of Songs is entirely about sexual anticipation, sexual desire.
I will demonstrate time and time again on this blog that it is not wrong for single people to experience and enjoy sexual desire for someone of the opposite sex, or even to masturbate after being aroused. Just do a search on the home page for masturbation and you will find articles on this subject.

I hope you will check out many of the other posts on this site that go into more detail on various issues of sexuality from a Christian perspective. I also hope you will at least come away from this post knowing firmly in your heart, that sex is a gift from God and not a curse. Sex is a gift that is meant to be opened and enjoyed.

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