“Love and Sex” – Deuteronomy 22:13-30

January 7th,  2018

Dt. 22:13-30

“Love and Sex”

Aux text: Mt 5:27-30

Call to Worship: Psalm 19:7-14


Service Orientation: God created mankind in His likeness and image.  The sexual aspect of our humanity is to reflect that image.   In all that we do we are to love as God is love.


Bible Memory Verse for the Week:  Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. — 1 Corinthians 6:16-17


Background Information:

  • Deuteronomy has in common with ANE law that marriage is comprised within patriarchal, family custom; it is contracted between fathers, and money is exchanged. Furthermore, there are similarities at the level of particular cases, where ANE law can share the basic sense of justice that is found in the OT.  The deuteronomic laws on marriage and adultery differ at a deeper level from ANE law, namely in treating marriage ultimately as a function of Israelite society, not of private jurisdiction and property.  This means, moreover, that breaches of the exclusive marriage relationship are breaches of the covenant with Yahweh.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 343)
  • These related cases are a good example of the pairing of “alternative” laws. They do not cover every conceivable possibility, such as a woman raped in the city but prevented from crying out by force or threat, or of consensual illicit intercourse “in the open country”.  The two laws almost certainly operate together to establish parameters within which wise counsel might prevail (Eichler 1987, 72).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 342)
  • Probably we are again dealing with “paradigmatic” law, that is, the detailing of specific circumstances with a view to giving judges basic principles and precedents on which to evaluate the great variety of individual cases that might come before them. (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 244)
  • (v. 13) Implied here is that the first sexual experience is not a good one. We know that the first sexual experience is usually not a good gauge of what kind of sexual life a couple will have in the future.  One has a whole lifetime to learn and improve in this area.  And research has shown that generally couples experience their most fulfilling sexual experiences many years after their wedding.  Later we will see that “wedding night blues” is not an adequate reason for breaking up the marriage (22:19).  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 514)
  • (vss. 13-19) Three features of the judicial procedures are significant. (1) They transpire before elders in the gate of the town where these people reside, suggesting that adultery is not simply a sinful act between two consenting adults.  In the kinship-based society, healthy marriages are fundamental to the health of the community, linking families that have negotiated the marital agreement in the first place.  Because the divorce sought by this man and the rumors he has spread have the potential to divide the community, elders representing the extended family units must intervene.

(2) The young woman’s parents initiate the proceedings to have their daughter’s sullied reputation cleared.  Concern for their own honor may be a factor, but this case also involves male defense of female honor.  The husband’s shaming of his wife’s honor calls for judicial intervention.  Instead of fulfilling his primary duty of securing the welfare of his wife, he has taken hostile actions against her.

(3) Whereas earlier texts had called for multiple witnesses to establish the truth in a legal case (17:6-6; 19:15), in this case material evidence is presented.  The vague reference to “proof of her virginity” in verse 14 is clarified somewhat in verse 17 with “cloth.”  Although this word normally refers to an outer garment, here it refers either to the garment worn on the night of the wedding or the bed sheet, giving evidence of the breaking of the girl’s hymen.  The accused woman may have stored the sheet in her “hope chest,” as a commemoration of the night of her first intercourse and as concrete evidence of her virginity at the time of her marriage–in case anyone should ever challenge this.  This she now produces to her father and mother as proof of her premarital purity.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 522-3)

  • (v. 14) If a husband’s charge was false, he gave an Israelite virgin a bad name, but if his accusation was true, his wife had done a disgraceful thing in Israel. Either way, the Lord viewed this as more than a private sin, to be resolved merely as a family matter.  Such sin brought consequences to God’s people as a whole.  The Lord set apart his people to be different, and this sin defiled them as well.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 203)
  • (v. 14) Echoing the narrative introduction, the man claims that he took the woman as his wife, but when he approached her to consummate the marriage, he discovered she was not a virgin. While the man does not give the evidence for his charge, he had two options, both involving blood.  If she was not menstruating or did not bleed after the first intercourse, he could conclude either that she was pregnant, or he was not the first man to have intercourse with her.  The parents’ words in verse 17 suggests the latter is the charge.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 522)
  • (v. 15) Because the matter is resolved in a public court of law, the people in the community become guarantors of the man’s good behavior. (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 523)
  • (v. 17) The city gate in those days was where legal matters were dealt with. What is this “evidence of her virginity?”  It could be a stain of blood on the sheet through the rupturing of the hymen on the wedding night.  This is troubling, as the hymens of women who are virgins sometimes get ruptured before their first sexual experience (e.g., when playing as a child).  In that case, the family would have to find another way to prove that she is a virgin.  The blood would have been a foolproof test.  This phrase translated “evidence of her virginity” could also be a translated “evidence of adolescence.”  Such evidence of adolescence would be the menstrual blood that is produced with the onset of adolescence.  In this case the parents would produce evidence of the girl’s not being pregnant through a cloth stained with recent menstrual blood.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 514-5)
  • (v. 17) The preservation of the sheet was presumably a matter of wedding ritual, the initial placing of it, its presentation and entrustment to the parents all being part of the festivities, certifying that the parents had fulfilled their part of the bargain; their daughter was indeed marriageable. (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 339)
  • (v. 18) The false accuser is subjected to corporal punishment, no doubt as an act of public demonstration that the woman was innocent. It might be thought that the law of talion should apply in this case, as it is laid down in 19:15-21 that the false witness be liable to the punishment that would befall the victim of his slander, in this case death (21; Levinson 1997, 109).  It is not clear why this is not so.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 339-40)
  • (v. 18) The severity of the punishment prescribed here is intended to be a deterrent to spreading slanderous stories about people and also a just sentence for the wrong done. Today we hardly subject to discipline people in the church who slander others.  Perhaps by adopting such disciplinary processes we can minimize the circulation of unsubstantiated slanderous stories in the church.  I think the command about false witness is one of the least kept commands among the Ten Commandments in the church today.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 515)
  • (v. 18) Alternatively, attempts have been made to find some form of talion principle in the law. Merrill (1994, 30) finds it in the prevention of his ever divorcing her.  The prevention of divorce neatly mirrors the accuser’s intention to end the marriage at once, and at the same time reverses the position of the woman, who, instead of being rejected, receives greater than usual protection.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 340)
  • (v. 19) The fine of 100 shekels, paid to the father, is twice the amount of the marriage price specified in v. 29, previously paid by the husband to the father, and which the husband must have wanted to retrieve as part of his plan (Pressler 1993, 28). There is an aspect of talion in the double restitution.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 340)
  • (v. 19) This represented an enormous sum of money at the time, since we know that David purchased the threshing floor of Araunah some centuries later for only fifty shekels of silver (2 Sm 24:24). Such a staggering fine would serve as a considerable deterrent to the man who was inclined to escape a marriage by making false assertions about his wife.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 262)
  • (v. 19) This is a very heavy fine, double the amount assessed the seducer of an unbetrothed virgin (v. 29); its purpose is to compensate the father for the slander against his daughter. But one should remember that in Deuteronomy false witness is otherwise adjudicated according to the talion principle, which would mean that since this is a capital charge (the woman, if guilty, will be stoned), he could get the death penalty (19:18-21).  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 632)
  • (vss. 20-21) In the obverse of the first case, the eventuality that the woman’s innocence cannot be proved is considered. This law serves to show the seriousness of the charge brought against the woman.  It is characterized as a “heinous thing,” or “folly,” a strong term in Hebrew (note the parallel “iniquity” in Isa 32:6).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 340)
  • (v. 21) The marriage customs reflected in this law seem still to have been in place at Jesus’ time. Mary was “pledged to be married to Joseph,” but they had not yet had sexual union.  Under the law she was Joseph’s legal wife, and so when it became apparent that she was pregnant, both of Joseph’s legal options treated Mary as a wife:  he could have had her publicly judged and stoned to death as an adulteress, or he could have quietly divorced her (Mt 1:18-21).  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 206)
  • (v. 21) The phrase “disgraceful thing” appears elsewhere in the OT, always to describe the dreadful folly of sexual sin. Jacob’s sons “were filled with grief and fury because Shechem had done a disgraceful thing” by raping their sister Dinah (Gn 34:7).  It was also a “disgraceful thing” when the wicked men of Bethlehem wanted to have homosexual sex with a traveling Levite, and when they subsequently raped his concubine (Jdg 19:23; 20:6-10), and when David’s son Amnon overpowered and raped his half sister Tamar (2 Sm 13:12).  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 202-3)
  • (v. 22) Although the Lord wanted to “purge the evil from Israel” with this law, this penalty probably wasn’t always carried out. At least one reference in the Proverbs suggests that those guilty of adultery were allowed to live, but they would face public shame and the threat of physical retaliation.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 204)
  • (v. 29) If we translate the verb modally, “and he may pay,” rather than as an imperative, “he shall pay” (NIV), the tone changes significantly. If her father accepts the bride price and agrees to accept the man as a son-in-law, then the man must fulfill all the marital duties that go with sexual intercourse.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 526)
  • (v. 29) While this penalty seems to cause damage to the victim even more than the perpetrator, it is reasonable to suggest that a condition is implied here: “assuming her willingness to marry him and her parents’ approval of the marriage.”  Such a condition would often have existed, since her violation would have marred her as a potential marriage partner in the eyes of other potential mates.  (Doug McIntosh, Holman OT Commentary: Dt, 263)
  • (v. 29) The omission to mention the possibility of the father refusing to give him his daughter for a wife, makes no essential difference. It is assumed as self-evident here, that such a right was possessed by the father.  (C.F. Keil and F. Delitzsch, Commentary on the OT Vol 1, 412)
  • (v. 29) Here a woman’s life has the potential of ruin. No one may marry her because she has been “violated.”  If she has children from this relationship, they, too, are severely handicapped.  So he has to take responsibility for his actions and marry her.  The “fifty shekels of silver” is probably the bride-price spoken of in Ex 22:16.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 519)
  • (v. 29) The laws come full circle in terms of the woman’s status. This young woman is not yet engaged, and therefore the offence against her may be made good by marriage to the man who has raped her.  The woman, having been violated, and this being known, becomes less eligible for marriage, with all the consequences of insecurity, including the financial loss to the parents.  The law therefore makes the offender liable to compensate for these things, even depriving him of the right to divorce the woman in the case of her marrying him.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 342)
  • (v. 30) This isolated law on a prohibited affinity in marriage is different in theme from the other marriage laws in the chapter, and undeveloped, in contrast to Lv 18:6-18; 20:19-21. It is probably regarded as the basic or typical law.  Specifically, it prohibits the son’s taking as wife a woman who had previously been his father’s (cf. 2 Sm 16:21-22).  The assumption is polygamous; the son’s own mother is not in question.  The father was accorded special respect in the matter of his sexual privilege, and the potential offence against this is indicated in the phrase “bring shame on,” lit. “uncover the nakedness.”  Sexual relations with a man’s wife “uncovers the nakedness” of the man, that is, exposes him to shame in his most intimate life; the offence is the more intense if committed by his sons.  The revulsion against this in Israel is expressed in the story of Noah (Gn 9:20-23).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 342-3)
  • (v. 30) Why would a man want to marry his stepmother? The answer goes beyond sexual desire.  In the ancient Near East a man demonstrated his ambition to succeed his father as head of the clan by claiming his father’s concubines.  Jacob’s oldest son Reuben slept with his father’s concubine (Gn 35:22).  Absalom slept with his father’s concubines in the sight of all Israel (2 Sm 16:22).  Adonijah tried to take his father David’s concubine Abishag as his wife (1 Kgs 2:21).  In these examples it seems that having intercourse with a father’s concubines was a way of attempting to assert leadership of the family or to demonstrate rightful succession to the father’s throne.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 207)
  • (v. 30) Reuben lost his birthright for taking his father Jacob’s concubine, Billah (1 Chr 5:1; cf. Gn 35:22; 49:3-4). (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 639-40)
  • Our interpretation, therefore, here as in principle everywhere in the Bible, involves a genuine dialogue with a text that makes social assumptions that are not the same as our own. This is not a warrant to disqualify what we read, but rather, first, to understand what it essentially communicates, and secondly, to question our own assumptions, as well as those of the text.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 344)


Contemporary readers are faced with two principal alternatives when faced with texts like Dt 22:13-30:  interpret these documents as cultural fossils of a bygone era with no relevance whatsoever for the issues that face readers today, or attempt to understand the permanent values reflected here and find contemporary ways of applying those values.  We cast our vote for the latter.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 532)


The question to be answered is . . . What is God (through Moses) trying to tell us through these laws concerning various sexual scenarios?


Answer: That sex is not just another appetite to satisfy anyway we desire.  Sex is a mystical uniting of a man and a woman that not only symbolizes but foreshadows the intimacy and unity that mankind will one day enjoy with God Himself.  Sex is so sacred that we are to protect it with the highest possible (deterrents) safeguards.


Thomas Hart observes that “our fascination with sex is closely related to our fascination with God.”  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 211)


Inside and outside the church Western culture is drowning in a sea of triviality, pettiness, banality, and silliness.  Television is trivial.  Radio is trivial.  Conversation is trivial.  Education is trivial.  Christian books are trivial.  Worship styles are trivial.  It is inevitable that the human heart, which was made to be staggered with the supremacy of Christ, but instead is drowning in a sea of banal entertainment, will reach for the best natural buzz that life can give:  sex.  (John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, 44)


Almost a century ago, G. K. Chesterton wrote that the man who knocks on the brothel door is knocking for God.  If he were writing today, he might say that the man who surfs the web for porn is surfing for God.  If nothing else, this truth means that sex is a signpost to God.  It also points us to the way He designed us as sexual beings–when we are most aligned with this design and intention, we are most powerful, complete, and fulfilled.  (Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God, 15)


God created us with sexual passion so that there would be language to describe what it means to cleave to him in love and what it means to turn away from him to others.  (John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, 28)


The Word for the Day is . . . Sex


The stunning statistic released by the U.S. government that unmarried mothers gave birth to about 40 percent of the children born in the U.S. in 2007 gives evidence of how this generation has rejected the Biblical teaching about sex and marriage.  In 1940 that figure was 3.8 percent.  Even more stunning is the statistic that 31 percent of the congregations in the U.S. would accept a member of a cohabiting unmarried couple as a lay leader.  There is a lot of legitimate concern among Christians today about the growing acceptance of homosexual lifestyles.  But I believe heterosexual sin is a far more prevalent problem in the church, and there is a corresponding lack of emphasis on this problem.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 521)


The church is a prostitute, but she is my mother.”    – St. Augustine


The narratives of the OT are punctuated with accounts of sexual crimes of all sorts.  Perhaps we should not be surprised when Canaanites like Shechem (Gn 34:2) or Tamar (Gn 38:14-19) behave immorally, but when the covenant people do so against the revealed will of God, their guilt exceeds that of those who do not have the Torah.  Although biblical narratives recognize men with remarkable moral fortitude in the face of sexual temptation (Gn 39:9), they are remarkably frank in their portrayal of the moral failures of Israel’s heroes and the individuals in their families:  the incest of Reuben, the eldest son and natural heir of Jacob (Gn 35:22); the wanton sexual immorality of Phinehas and Hopni (Eli’s sons) with female worshipers (1 Sm 2:22); David’s adulterous affair with his officer’s wife (2 Sm 11:1-27); Amnon’s rape of his sister (2 Sm 13:1-19).  As Israel’s/Judah’s demise approached, adultery was high on the lists of crimes proving the nation’s covenantal infidelity.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 528)


It is evident from these Scripture passages that the only taboos in the sex relationship are outside the bonds of marriage.  (Tim LaHaye, How to Be Happy Though Married, 62)


What is God trying to tell us through these laws concerning various sexual scenarios?:

I-  Sex is not just another appetite to be satisfied anyway we please.  (Dt 22:12-30; see also: Gn 1:26-31; 2:20-25 2:24; Sg; Hos; Mt 5:27-32; 19:1-12; 1 Cor 5-7; 2 Cor 6:14-18; Eph 5:21-33; 1 Tm 4:1-5; 6:17; Heb 13:4; Jam 1:17)


The use of “know” for sexual intercourse is a euphemism, but a suggestive one, implying something important both about knowledge and about sexuality in the biblical materials.  Knowledge is not just cognitive, but always experiential and deeply personal; and sexual intercourse is never just physiological, but always involves mystery and touches the whole person.  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Vol. 4, 433)


What I’m suggesting is that we connect our marriages with our faith in such a way that our experience in each feeds the other.  The next time you caress your spouse, think about how that caress might open up new avenues for your prayer life.  The next time you are virtually overcome by passion for your spouse, consider how you can offer yourself with equal abandon to your God.  Don’t be afraid to use all aspects of marriage–even sexual expression–to expand your prayer life.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 86-87)


Until now, efforts to accurately assess the connection between sex, love, sexual desire, sexual risk-taking, and so on with brain activity have been limited.  But with the aid of modern research techniques and technologies, scientists are confirming that sex is more than a momentary physical act.  It produces powerful, even lifelong, changes in our brains that direct and influence our future to a surprising degree.  This new neuroscience information, which has only become widely available in the last decade, has transformed the scientific discussion about sex.  (Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., MD & Freda McKissic Bush, MD, Hooked, 21)


Sex, according to the Bible, is a beautiful creation from the mind of God, covered in his moral perfection.  (Peter Jones, The God of Sex, 121)


The marriage union is the closest, most intimate of all human relationships.  Two persons may begin to think, act, feel as one.  They are able to so interpenetrate one another’s lives that they become one, a functioning unit.  Paul, quoting this verse in Eph 5:28-31, says that the relationship is to be so intimate that whatever a man does (good or evil) for his wife, he also does for himself since the two have become one flesh (person).

Even in 1 Corinthians 6, where, at first, one might think of the use of the verse as confirming the sexual aspect of marriage, a more careful reading shows otherwise.  Paul distinguishes three sorts of unions:

  1. One body (v. 16)–sexual relation with a harlot = a closer union
  2. One flesh (v. 16)–the marriage union = a closer union
  3. One spirit (v. 17)–union with Christ = the closest union

(Jay E. Adams, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible, 17)


The promises of sexual love are real but fragile.  Passion hints at a union between us that goes beyond the joining of our bodies.  But passion comes and goes.  Our lovemaking confirms that “we fit together well,” luring us to link our lives in other ways.  But to forge these links we must depend on more than the spontaneous delights of sex.  The promises sex makes are not well kept in casual encounter.  These promises need a home, a protected place in which to grow.

The Christian knows that sex finds its home in commitment.  Commitment gives passion a place to flower and be fruitful.  For many people, the form that this commitment takes is marriage.  As a legal contract, marriage is the sanctioned shape of enduring sexual commitment.  As a religious covenant, marriage is a sign and source of God’s love.  The commitments of marriage–communion, fidelity, permanence–provide a framework that can protect and purify the promises of sexual love.  (Evelyn & James Whitehead, A Sense of Sexuality, 36-37)


Because two people who marry are to be one, if either party damages, demoralizes, or degrades the other, then neither will be completely whole.  (Bryan Chapell, Each for the Other, 51)


You can get a large audience together for a strip-tease act–that is, to watch a girl undress on the stage.  Now suppose you came to a country where you could fill a theater by simply bringing a covered plate onto the stage and then slowly lifting the cover so as to let everyone see, just before the lights went out, that it contained a mutton chop or a bit of bacon, would you not think that in that country something had gone wrong with the appetite for food?  And would not anyone who had grown up in a different world think there was something equally queer about the state of the sex instinct among us?  (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, 75)


If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith.  Indeed, 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.  (C.S. Lewis quoted by John Piper; Desiring God, 88)


The inability to bond after multiple sex encounters is almost like tape that loses its stickiness after being applied and removed multiple times.  (Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., MD & Freda McKissic Bush, MD, Hooked, 42)


In reference to the sanctity of sex as the sanctity which guards the marriage institution and the proper exercise of the procreative function it is necessary to make the necessary distinctions.  The line of demarcation between virtue and vice is not a chasm but a razor’s edge.  Sex desire is not wrong and Jesus does not say so.  To cast any aspersion on sex desire is to impugn the integrity of the Creator and of his creation.  Furthermore, it is not wrong to desire to satisfy sex desire and impulse in the way God has ordained.  Indeed, sex desire is one of the considerations which induce men and women to marry.  The Scripture fully recognizes the propriety of that motive and commends marriage as the honorable and necessary outlet for sex impulse.  What is wrong is the earliest and most rudimentary desire to satisfy the impulse to the sex act outside the estate of matrimony.  It is not wrong to desire the sex act with the person who may be contemplated as spouse if and when the estate of matrimony will have been entered upon with him or her.  (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 56)


There is not the slightest suggestion here that natural sexual relations within the commitment of marriage are anything but God-given and beautiful.  We may thank God that the Song of Solomon is contained in the canon of Scripture, for there is no Victorian prudery there but rather the uninhibited delight of lovers, of bride and bridegroom in each other.  No.  The teaching of Jesus here refers to unlawful sex outside marriage, whether practiced by married or unmarried people.  He is not even forbidding us to look at a woman, but to look lustfully.  (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 87)


Historically, there have been countless attitudes about sex.  First, there is sex as a natural appetite.  This view goes something like this:  Sex, it is said, was once surrounded by taboos, but now we realize that sex is indeed like eating or like any other good and natural appetite.  That means we should feel free to fulfill the appetite when we feel the need.  And there is no reason why we shouldn’t sample a variety of cuisines and continually look for “new taste sensations.”  Forbidding the satisfaction of a natural appetite or limiting it for years is as unhealthy (and, really, as impossible) as trying to stop eating for years.

Another view of sex is more negative, and it has deep roots in some forms of ancient thought.  Sex is seen as part of our lower, physical nature, distinct from our higher, rational, more “spiritual” nature.  In this view, sex is a degrading, dirty thing, a necessary evil for the propagation of the human race.  This view is still very influential in the world.

Today, a third view is also prominent.  While the first view sees sex as an unavoidable drive and the second as a necessary evil, this last view sees sex as a critical form of self-expression, a way to “be yourself” and “find yourself.”  In this view, the individual may wish to use sex within marriage and to build a family, but that is up to the individual.  Sex is primarily for an individual’s fulfillment and self-realization, however he or she wishes to pursue it.  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 251-2)


Larry Crabb explained it well:  “When pleasures of any kind are used to satisfy (or at least to quiet) our crucial longings, then the craving for what only God can provide becomes a demanding tyrant driving us toward whatever relief is available.  Our god becomes our appetite.  Crucial longings meant to create a panting after God energize our addiction to whatever feels good for a moment.”  ((Larry Crabb, Inside Out, 105)  (Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God, 34-35)


Sex:  Sub-Christian views in church history:  Some of the church fathers goofed.  Irenaeus (about 180 A.D.) reported that Gnostics believed “that marriage and procreation are from Satan.”  Marcion (another heretic in the second century) spoke of the “disgusting paraphernalia of reproduction.”  Augustine (a great church leader about A.D. 300) wrote that “the gateway to hell lay between a woman’s thighs.”  Jerome (another great church leader about A.D. 300) spoke of “the bestial act of intercourse.”  He also said, “Anyone who is too passionate a lover with his own wife is himself an adulterer.”  Peter Lombard (theologian about A.D. 1100) warned “that the Holy Spirit left the room when a married couple had relations, even if for the purpose of conceiving a child.”

Fortunately, Martin Luther (about A.D. 1540) held a healthier view—that “the marital embrace might be a good posture in which to be found when Jesus returns.”  Cornelius Plantinga, Jr., said, in line with Heb 13:4—”Sex for Christians…is a joy…not a toy.  You do not play with fire.  Sex needs a context.  It needs a fireplace.”  (Jim Townsend; Hebrews: Pilgrim’s Progress or Regress?, 112)


Gifts of a loving Creator, our bodies are not barriers to grace.  If we could truly accept this, then we would know God even in the ambiguous delights of our sexuality.  -Evelyn and James Whitehead


In most animals, sexual activity is narrowly focused on reproduction.  For example, among the primates closest to humans in evolutionary development–the great apes–the female is receptive to the male’s sexual approach only during estrus, a recurring but relatively brief period of biological fertility.  Among humans, in contrast, sexual interest is not limited to reproductive periods.  A woman can experience sexual arousal throughout the menstrual cycle, not just during the limited phase when conception is possible.  Both women and men remain interested in and capable of genital behavior long after their biological fertility has come to an end.  This would seem to confirm that for the human species sex is about more than reproduction.  (Evelyn & James Whitehead, A Sense of Sexuality, 29)


II-  Sex is supposed to be a covenantal, sacred, exclusive, joyful, mystical uniting of a man and a woman that symbolizes our potential intimacy with God.  (Dt 22:12-30; see also: Gn 1:26-31; 2:20-25 2:24; Sg; Hos; Mt 5:27-32; 19:1-12; 1 Cor 5-7; 2 Cor 6:14-18; Eph 5:21-33; 1 Tm 4:1-5; 6:17; Heb 13:4; Jam 1:17)


The ancient Jewish text The Holy Letter (written by Nahmanides in the thirteenth century) sees sex as a mystical experience of meeting with God:  “Through the act [of intercourse] they become partners with God in the act of creation.  This is the mystery of what the sages said, ‘When a man unites with his wife in holiness, the Shekinah is between them in the mystery of man and woman.’”  The breadth of this statement is sobering when you consider that this shekinah glory is the same presence experienced by Moses when God met with him face-to-face (see Ex 24:15-18).  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 206)


Indeed, sex is perhaps the most powerful God-created way to help you give your entire self to another human being.  Sex is God’s appointed way for two people to reciprocally say to one another, “I belong completely, permanently, and exclusively to you.”  You must not use sex to say anything less.

So, according to the Bible, a covenant is necessary for sex.  It creates a place of security for vulnerability and intimacy.  But though a marriage covenant is necessary for sex, sex is also necessary for the maintenance of the covenant.  It is your covenant renewal service.  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 257)


Sex is sacramental because it is suggestive, reminding us not only of the mutual commitment of this couple but of our link with our Creator.  Our passionate unions resonate with that covenant of affection and fidelity that God has made with humankind.  This ability of our sexual lives to hint at God’s presence among us makes sexuality mysterious and holy.

In its fierce privacy and its unavoidable socialness, sexual life symbolizes the life of faith.  The covenant between us and God, resonating in the deepest recesses of our heart, affects all our public behavior.  The Church has long cherished the image of marriage as a compelling metaphor of its own commitment and fidelity with God.  Sex is mysterious because it is sacramental:  it can remind us of God’s passionate affection for us.  For this reason, too, sex is very good.  (Evelyn & James Whitehead, A Sense of Sexuality, 31)


To call the marriage “one flesh,” then, means that sex is understood as both a sign of that personal, legal union and a means to accomplish it.  The Bible says don’t unite with someone physically unless you are also willing to unite with the person emotionally, personally, socially, economically, and legally. Don’t become physically naked and vulnerable to the other person without becoming vulnerable in every other way, because you have given up your freedom and bound yourself in marriage.  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 256)


In his book True Sexual Morality: Recovering Biblical Standards for a Culture in Crisis, Daniel Heimback shares great wisdom on why adultery is so serious in the Bible.  I will close this chapter with some of his comments:

Without marriage, sex is simply wrong, and God takes it so seriously he makes adultery the ultimate paradigm for breaking faith with himself. . .God’s prohibition of sex outside marriage is stated so clearly and repeated so often, God seems to have taken extra steps to make sure we do not miss its importance.

The positive principles at stake seem to be that sex outside of marriage erodes and ultimately destroys the precious value of exclusivity and selflessness in the sexual relationship. . . Adulterous sex can never be exclusive and selfless.  By its very nature, adulterous sex rejects the value of keeping sex exclusive and is driven by self-centered interests that preempt our responsibility to always do what is best for others–in this case those depending on us in the areas of marriage and family life.  But the value of exclusive, selfless sex is so good that God never allows less.  He prohibits sex outside of marriage to keep us from losing what is best.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 522)


Each partner in marriage is to be most concerned not with getting sexual pleasure but with giving it.  In short, the greatest sexual pleasure should be the pleasure of seeing your spouse getting pleasure.  When you get to the place where giving arousal is the most arousing thing, you are practicing this principle.  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 267-8)


Looking at a woman lustfully does not cause a man to commit adultery in his thoughts.  He already has committed adultery in his heart.  It is not lustful looking that causes the sin in the heart, but the sin in the heart that causes lustful looking.  The lustful looking is but the expression of a heart that is already immoral and adulterous.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 303)


In marriage a man and woman are so closely joined that they become “one flesh,” which involved spiritual as well as physical oneness.  In marriage God brings a husband and wife together in a unique physical and spiritual bond that reaches to the very depths of their souls.  As God designed it, marriage is to be the welding of two people together into one unit, the blending of two minds, two wills, two sets of emotions, two spirits.  It is a bond the Lord intends to be indissoluble as long as both partners are alive.  The Lord created sex and procreation to be the fullest expression of that oneness, and the intimacies of marriage are not to be shared with any other human being.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 311)


It is this spiritual intercourse with God that is the ecstasy that is imagined and hinted at in all earthly intercourse; physical or spiritual.   And I think that is the ultimate reason why sexual passion is so strong and so different from other passion; so heavy with suggestions of profound meanings that always just elude our grasp.  I don’t think any practical need can account for it.  I don’t think any animal drive can explain it.  No animal falls in love or writes profound romantic poetry or sees sex as a symbol of ultimate meaning of life because no animal is made in the image of God.  Not just sexuality, but human sexuality is that image.   And human sexuality is a foretaste of that self-giving, losing and finding the whole self, a foretaste of that oneness and manyness that is the very life of the Trinity and the joy of the Trinity.   And that is what we long for without knowing it.  That is why we tremble to stand outside of ourselves in the other.  That is why we long to give our whole selves, body and soul, because we are images of God the sexual being. We love the other sex because God loves God.  And this early love is so passionate because heaven is full of passion, of energy, and dynamism.  That is one of the reasons God invented families.  You can’t love or hate anybody as much as your own family.  Families are full of passion.  Heaven is not boring or blasaise.  It is passionate because God is passionate.  Jesus Christ who is our window to God was not a stoic or a Scribe or a Scholar.  He was a lover.  I think we correctly deny that God has passions in a passive sense.  He is not moved or driven or conditioned by them as we are.  He cannot fall in love for the same reason the ocean cannot get wet.  He is love.  (Peter Kreeft lecture “Sex in Heaven”)


The solution takes seriously the implications for the health of society of the original charges and the extension of the woman’s guilt to the covenant community.  The court must preserve the good name of all Israelite women, but they must also act to preserve righteousness within the nation as a whole.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 524)


When two people connect, when their beings intersect as closely as two bodies during intercourse, something is poured out of one and into the other that has power to heal the soul of its deepest wounds and restore it to health.  The one who receives experiences the joy of being healed.  The one who gives knows the even greater joy of being used to heal.  Something good is in the heart of each of God’s children that is more powerful than everything bad.  It’s there, waiting to be released, to work its magic. . . . But it rarely happens.  (Larry Crabb quoted by Dallas Willard; Renovation of the Heart, 185-6)


Today we see a lot of people cohabiting without getting married.  What we said about the permanency of sexual relationships suggests that we should counsel them to marry, as now they have already entered into a key aspect of marriage.  But because sex outside marriage is sin, our counsel to such couples is to repent of their sin, live apart immediately, and prepare for marriage without having further sexual contact until their wedding day.  I understand that some who have had sexual relations should not get married for practical reasons.  What this passage says is that we must consider the sex act as something extremely serious and take responsibility for it.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 519-20)


The OT verb “to prostrate oneself” gives us room for reflection.  While we must never lapse into worshiping the created, there are those intense moments in which the unity of marriage and even the ecstasy of physical union lead you to stand in awe before another, wanting to fully offer yourself, without reservation.  When a wife says to her husband, “Take me, I’m yours,” she demonstrates a trust that whatever the husband does will be done out of love and with genuine concern and care.  It is a remarkable testimony to self-giving and to the joy of intimacy.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 84-5)


Clearly “one flesh” (1 Cor 6) means something different to Paul than mere sexual union, or Paul would be reciting a mere tautology:  “Don’t you know that when you have physical union with a prostitute you are having physical union with a prostitute?”  Obviously, Paul also understands becoming “one flesh” here to mean becoming one person.  One flesh refers to the personal union of a man and woman at all levels of their lives.  Paul, then, is decrying the monstrosity of physical oneness without all the other kinds of oneness that every sex act should mirror.”  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 258)


In a consumer relationship you relate to a vendor.  And you have a relationship as long as  the vendor is giving you a product at a good price.  But you are always looking to an upgrade.  And so you say to your vendor, “We have a relationship.  But, you better keep adjusting to me because if you don’t meet my needs, I’m out-a-here because my needs are more important than the relationship.” . . . But a covenant relationship is exactly the opposite. . . . A covenant relationship says, “I will adjust to you because I have made a promise.  And the relationship is more important than my needs.  My needs are less important than the sustenance of the relationship.”

Now if two people get into a relationship, one as a consumer and one as a covenanter; that will be bad for the covenanter; that covenant will be exploited.  (Tim Keller message “Love and Lust”)


But the problem did not end with the OT.  Jesus recognized that sexual immorality is not merely an external act; it has its roots in the heart/mind (Mt 5:27; 15:19; Mk 7:21), and he issued stern warnings against divorce and remarriage because of the adulterous consequences (Mt 5:32; 19:9; Mk 10:11-12; Lk 16:18).  Indeed with prophetic fervor he characterized his own generations as evil and adulterous (Mt 12:39; 16:4; Mk 8:38).  The seriousness of sexual immorality not only in society at large but within the early church in particular is reflected in the frequency with which notions of adultery and immorality appear in the NT letters and in the book of Revelation.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 528)


Because of sheer superior physical power, men exhibit a propensity to exploit and abuse women as if they were nothing more than household property, as disposable as sheep or oxen.  Contemporary efforts to determine and reestablish biblical ethical norms must pay attention not only to accounts of the way it was, but also to texts that seek to outline the way it should have been.  In this and many other respects, the book of Deuteronomy offers a glorious gospel, setting a trajectory of male-female relations that leads ultimately to Paul’s statements in Eph 5:25-33. . . . Given this perspective on normative patricentrism, a more balanced reading of Dt 22:13-30 [23:1] becomes possible.  This chapter reflects a high view of community, family, and human sexuality.  It runs against the grain of modern Western approaches, which tend to view human beings atomistically, as independent and self-sufficient, and which view sexual activity as personal matters and sexual sins as purely private.  Here Moses teaches modern readers that human sexuality is sacred, that the purity of marriage is to be defended at all cost, and that degeneration in these areas inevitably leads to disintegration of the family as a whole.  In a society where the rate of failed marriages is as high among church members as outsiders, Christians in particular need to hear Moses’ call for defense of the institution of marriage.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 531)


If Paul tells us that a man is not to join himself to a prostitute because his body is a holy temple–that is, if we are to use such imagery to avoid sinning–can a Christian not use the same imagery to be drawn into God’s presence in a unique way as he joins his body with his wife?  Isn’t he somehow entering God’s temple–knocking on the door of shekinah glory–when he joins himself to a fellow believer?  And isn’t this a tacit encouragement to perhaps even think about God as your body is joined with your spouse?  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 209-10)


In Christianity the ideal of chastity reaches its climax.  Lust is made as sinful as the outward act (Mt 5:27-28).  The body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.  Marriage is of God, and even symbolizes “the mystical union that is betwixt Christ and his Church.”  (George Arthur Buttrick, The Interpreter’s Bible Vol 2, 467)


Historians point out, however, that, “Paul, in effect, redefines marriage as a context for the mutual satisfying of erotic desires in contrast to the pagan philosophical idea that the purpose of marriage was the procreation of legitimate heirs who would inherit and continue the name, property and sacred rites of the family.”  In other words, Paul is telling married Christians that mutual, satisfying sexual relations must be an important part of their life together.  In fact, this passage indicates that sex should be frequent and reciprocal.  One spouse was not allowed to deny sex to the other.  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 267)


In short, according to Paul, sex with a prostitute is wrong because every sex act is supposed to be a uniting act.  Paul insists it is radically dissonant to give your body to someone to whom you will not also commit your whole life.  C. S. Lewis likened sex without marriage to tasting food without swallowing and digesting.  The analogy is apt.  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 258-59)


Men may question why they keep going back to a woman who treats them poorly or may wonder why they never seem able to feel, deep inside, a commitment to a woman after having sex partner after sex partner.  Sadly, they simply do not know that their brains are flooded with vasopressin during sexual intercourse and that this neurochemical produces a partial bond with every woman they have sex with.  They do not realize that this pattern of having sex with one woman and then breaking up and then having sex with another woman limits them to experience only one form of brain activity common to humans involved sexually–the dopamine rush of sex.  (A. Aron, H. Fisher, et al., “Reward, motivation, and emotional systems associated with early-stage intense romantic love,” Journal of Neurophysiology, 327-37)  (Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., MD & Freda McKissic Bush, MD, Hooked, 43)


We’ve seen how the brain is composed of multiple neurons, all of which are connected by synapses.  These synapses can be created, grow, or deteriorate based on our thoughts and actions.  In this manner, each person actually changes the very structure of the brain with the choices he or she makes and the behavior he or she is involved in.  (Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., MD & Freda McKissic Bush, MD, Hooked, 45)


Throughout Christian history, teachers have explored the similarities between the marital union and the various mysteries of faith that also involve a union:  Besides the Trinity there is the joining of divinity and humanity in the person of Jesus Christ; the Eucharist, in which the bread and the wine are joined to signify the body and blood of Christ; Christ’s union with his church; and other similar analogies.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 29)


Here, at a time in which women were legally considered the possession of their husbands, Paul makes the revolutionary claim that “the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.” (1 Cor 7)  “It communicates, negatively, his obligation to refrain from engaging in sexual relations with anyone other than his wife and, positively, his obligation to fulfill his marital duty to provide her with sexual pleasure and satisfaction.  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 266)


The OT pictures Yahweh as the husband of Israel.  For example, Israel and Judah are depicted as faithless sisters who play the harlot, being unfaithful to their beloved (see esp. Jer 3:1-3 and Ez 23).  The deep religious significance of such a figure is apparent when we see the close connection between idolatry and religious prostitution.  To demonstrate the faithlessness of Israel, Yahweh commanded the prophet Hosea to take a wife who had been a harlot.  Unable to break the habit of her former life, she became a living representation of Israel’s faithlessness to Yahweh.  Hosea filled the role of God, who was always willing to forgive.  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia–Volume Two, 617)


They are one flesh; therefore the one spouse does not have the exclusive mastery or authority so as to have the right unilaterally to withhold from the other when the other properly desires or solicits the conjugal act.  This does not, of course, exclude the moderation, restraint, delicacy, and modesty which ought to regulate the marital relations of the spouses; but it does explicitly forbid the one-sided resistance which has too frequently marred and disrupted marital relations.  The iniquity of this resistance and failure to cooperate in the use of the conjugal act becomes all the more reprehensible when it puts on the garb of piety.  Then it becomes contemptible piosity.  (John Murray, Principles of Conduct, 62)


If we regard ourselves merely as bodies and if we therefore want more than anything else to find some way to feel physically good, then sex is the ticket.  And the pursuit of sexual pleasure can become a strong preoccupation.  The compulsive craving for erotic excitement prevalent in our society is rooted in our denial of ourselves as real persons made for personal fellowship with God and others.  (Dr. Larry Crabb, The Marriage Builder, 91)


III-  Sex is so sacred and so significant to mankind’s well-being, we are to protect it with the highest possible (deterrents) safeguards. (Dt 22:12-30; see also: Lv 18:6-18; 20:10-11, 19-21; Nm 5:11-31; Prv 6:27-35; Ez 22:10; Mal 2:13-16;  Mt 5:27-32; 15:19; 19:1-6; Mk 7:21; 10:9; Acts 15:20-29; 21:25; Rom 1:18-32; 13:13; 1 Cor 5-7; 10:8; 2 Cor 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; Col 3:5; 1 Thess 4:3; Heb 12:16; 2 Pt 2:14; Jude 1:7; Rv 2:14, 20; 9:21; 21:8; 22:15)


It is noteworthy that the Deuteronomic formula “You must purge the evil from among you” or “from Israel” is given three times (vv. 21, 22, 24) in this series of capital offenses–an indication of the seriousness of crimes against marital fidelity.  (Frank E. Gæbelein, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Vol. 3, 138)


It would be good for us to study this passage from the background of knowing that the sins condemned here are poor substitutes to the beautiful plan God has for human sexual fulfillment.  It is because God wants people to enjoy this in the proper way and because improper ways are so harmful that God speaks so strongly against them.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 514)


Sexual intercourse is such a profound sharing of ourselves with our partner that it needs to be protected–within the covenant of a lifelong, faithful commitment.  When God’s design is followed, how freeing it is for all the persons involved!  (Marva J. Dawn, Sexual Character, 24)


Since sexual crimes are considered crimes against the fabric of the community and crimes against God, covenantal righteousness demands the purgation of the evil from the midst of Israel, which is achieved by removing the corrupting elements.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 525)


  1. D. Unwin studied 86 different societies. His findings startled many scholars, above all Unwin himself, because all 86 demonstrated a direct tie between absolute monogamy and the “expansive energy” of civilization. In other words, sexual fidelity was the single most important predictor of a society’s ascendancy. (Philip Yancey; Finding God in Unexpected Places, 17)


To us it may seem bizarre, it not downright crude, to ask newlyweds publicly to display the bloody bed sheets after their first night together as husband and wife.  In ancient societies, however, this seems to have been customary, as it still is in some parts of the world.  Great importance was attached to the bride’s being a virgin.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 201-2)


The Savior God was vitally interested in his gift of marriage, and he gave laws to protect that gift in a world where polygamy, cruelty, and mistrust were far too common.  God still wants to protect his good gift of marriage today in a world where people react to permissiveness and unfaithfulness with a casual shrug of the shoulders.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 207)


Sadly, today, we have too many situations of men having their “fun” with women by exploiting them sexually without any intention of a permanent commitment.  They move away when they get tired of the woman.  And the woman is deeply hurt as she was hoping for a permanent relationship.  This would have been the case then, too.  Such actions are not tolerated in the Bible.  Along with the sex act go many responsibilities because, as we saw in our discussion of the seventh command (Dt 5:180, two bodies have been permanently united.  The Bible intends that union be for life.  To have sex just for fun without taking on the accompanying responsibilities is a despicable act of wickedly exploiting a woman and cheapening one of life’s most valued treasures.  This must not be tolerated.  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 519)


If there is a habit which can be seduction to evil, if there is an association which can be the cause of wrongdoing, if there is a pleasure which could turn out to be our ruin, then that thing must be surgically excised from our life.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 148)


Obviously getting rid of harmful influences will not change a corrupt heart into a pure heart.  Outward acts cannot produce inner benefits.  But just as the outward act of adultery reflects a heart that is already adulterous, the outward act of forsaking whatever is harmful reflects a heart that hungers and thirsts for righteousness.  That outward act is effective protection, because it comes from a heart that seeks to do God’s will instead of its own.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 305)


What then does Jesus mean?  Just this:  we are to deal drastically with sin.  We must not pamper it, flirt with it, enjoy nibbling a little of it around the edges.  We are to hate it, crush it, dig it out.  “Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:  sexual immorality, impurity, lost, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5).  Paul adds, “Because of these, the wrath of God is coming” (Col 3:6)–just as Jesus in Mt 5:29f. threatens with hell all those who will not deal drastically with sin.  (D. A. Carson, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, 47)


Sin, being a very destructive force, must not be pampered.  It must be “put to death” (Col 3:5).  Temptation should be flung aside immediately and decisively.  Dillydallying is deadly.  Halfway measures work havoc.  The surgery must be radical.  Right at this very moment and without any vacillation the obscene book should be burned, the scandalous picture destroyed, the soul-destroying film condemned, the sinister yet very intimate social tie broken, and the baneful habit discarded.  In the struggle against sin the believer must fight hard.  (William Hendriksen, New Testament Commentary: Matthew, 303)


Paul further elaborates the Adam-Eve typology in Eph. 5:22-31, and he interprets the “mystery” of Gn 2:24 (“the two shall become one flesh”) as a reference to Christ and His Church (Eph 5:32), thereby implying that the union of the first couple (as well as all subsequent monogamous unions) foreshadows the marriage of Christ and His Church (Chavesse, 75).  (Geoffrey W. Bromiley, The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia–Volume One, 547)


Such a law protects women, who in many cultures are vulnerable to cruel husbands.  An example of this cruelty is seen in the scandalous incidence of “dowry deaths” (often by burning) of young brides in India.  When husbands and in-laws want more in material goods or favors than the bride’s family can afford, the bride is abused and even killed, freeing the man to remarry and gain another dowry.  Thousands of such deaths happen every year, but they are rarely investigated or prosecuted with any success.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 243-4)


God can make incompatible people happy.  However, for all this to make sense, we must first bring back to the thinking of Christians the utmost importance of commitment as a key Christian value.  Jesus said, “What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate” (Mt 19:6).  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 517)


Adultery hurt the innocent spouses and damaged the family unit, so basic to the good of the nation.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 204)


If we do not consciously and purposefully control what is around us, where we go, what we do, what we watch and read, the company we keep, and the conversations we have, then those things will control us.  And what we cannot control we should discard without hesitation.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 305)


Anger and sexual lust are two of the most powerful influences on mankind.  The person who gives them reign will soon find that he is more controlled than in control.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 300)


The terminology of 5:28 is quite clear if we will but attend to it, and many translations do get it right.  The Greek preposition pros and the dative case are used here.  The wording refers to looking at a woman with the purpose of desiring her.  That is, we desire to desire.  We indulge and cultivate desiring because we enjoy fantasizing about sex with the one seen.  Desiring sex is the purpose for which we are looking.

Another NT passage very graphically speaks of those who have “eyes full of adultery” (2 Pt 2:14).  These are people who, when they see a sexually attractive person, do not see the person but see themselves sexually engaging him or her.  They see adultery occurring in their imagination.  Such a condition is one we can and should avoid.  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 165)


Here (Mt 5:27-32) Jesus makes a great and a surgical demand, he insists that anything which is a cause of, or a seduction to, sin should be completely cut out of life.  (William Barclay, The Daily Study Bible Series: Gospel of Matthew, 148)


Jesus’ point is that we should be willing to give up whatever is necessary, even the most cherished things we possess, if doing that will help protect us from evil.  Nothing is so valuable as to be worth preserving at the expense of righteousness.  This strong message is obviously not to be interpreted in a wooden, literal way so that the Lord appears to be advocating mutilation.  Mutilation will not cleanse the heart.  The intent of these words is simply to call for dramatic severing of the sinful impulses in us which push us to evil action (cf. Mt 18:8-9).  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 304)


The punishment for premarital adultery is severe:  shameful death by stoning at the entrance to the woman’s father’s house, because she committed fornication while still at home.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 524)


Since marriages in Israel were generally patrilocal, Moses’ demand that “the men of her town” rather then the men of the town where she and her husband lived is remarkable.  This forces the community that hosted the sinful acts to come to terms with the crime.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 524)


Together, these expressions highlight the heinousness and the communal implications of sexual crimes and declare Moses’ main concern–to maintain a holy community of faith before Yahweh.  Radical surgery is required to remove those who flaunt contempt for the covenant by promiscuous behavior.  Young men and women are to keep themselves pure for their spouse.  (Daniel I. Block, The NIV Application Commentary: Dt, 524)


The guilt of the young woman falls by implication on her family, as the place of execution is the door of the family’s house.  The repetition of “father’s house” stresses the point.  The association of the woman’s sin with the father’s house is complex: the family shares in the woman’s guilt, since the parents have wittingly or unwittingly given her in marriage although she was not marriageable; it suffers the shame of her condemnation; and it participates (willingly or not) in the reprobation of the sinful offspring, as it did in the case of the rebellious son (21:18-21).  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 340-1)


The execution at the hands of the men of the city shows that the sin was an offence against all Israel, and this is reinforced by the formulaic last phrase (cf. 21:21b).  Only in Israel was sexual intercourse before marriage punishable in this way.  (J. G. McConville, Apollos OT Commentary: Dt, 341)


Among the Moroccan Jews much is made of the girl’s virginity being confirmed at the first intercourse.  The bridal couple enters the chamber after the wedding ceremony, and not long after, one hears at the entrance “the cry of joy. . . confirming the virginity of the young girl” (Ben-Ami 1974, 54).  The same is true among Kurdish Jews (Shai 1974, 260, 262).  Here the groom’s mother and sister-in-law wait outside the entrance to the bridal chamber to receive the bloodstained garment, after which the groom’s mother displays it for all to see before turning it over to the bride’s mother, who also calls in neighbors to inspect it.  Driver, a century earlier, cited among Arabs of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine the custom of parents publicly displaying a wedding garment to relatives and friends.  (Jack R. Lundbom, Deuteronomy, A Commentary, 630-1)


“In human records there is no instance of a society retaining its energy after a complete new generation has inherited a tradition which does not insist on pre-nuptial and post-nuptial continence.”  -J. D. Unwin

…For Roman, Greek, Sumerian, Moorish, Babylonian, and Anglo-Saxon civilizations, Unwin had several hundred years of history to draw on.  He found with no exceptions that these societies flourished, culturally and geographically, during eras that valued sexual fidelity.  Inevitably, sexual mores would loosen and the societies would subsequently decline, only to rise again when they returned to more rigid sexual standards.(Philip Yancey; Finding God in Unexpected Places, 17)


This law also sheds a bit of light on Nathan’s conversation with David after David committed adultery with Bathsheba.  “I have sinned against the LORD,” David confessed, to which Nathan replied, “The LORD has taken away your sin.  You are not going to die” (2 Sm 12:13).  Although David was Israel’s king, he couldn’t put himself above God’s laws.  He knew he deserved to die, but in his grace the Lord commuted David’s life sentence.  The consequences of David’s sin, however, served as a chastisement on him for the rest of his life.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 204-5)


Modern readers have sometimes misunderstood this law, arguing that it excuses, even encourages a man to “claim” a bride by raping her.  God’s intention, however, was quite different.  He wanted to put men on notice:  While a man may be tempted strongly to indulge a fleeting sexual desire, this law reminded him that to give in to temptation carried lifetime consequences for him and for her.  (Mark E. Braun, The People’s Bible: Dt, 206-7)


The custom of exchanges of money and other gifts between families in the context of marital arrangements is widespread in many cultures and is usually a part of the cementing of relationships and investing in the stability and permanence of the new union.  (Christopher J. H. Wright, Understanding the Bible Commentary Series: Dt, 246)


The legal responsibility of defending the young woman fell on her parents.  They had to produce evidence of her virginity at the time of marriage.  This evidence would be a blood-stained cloth or bedsheet from the wedding night.  The parents were to make this evidence public before the elders of the city (vv. 15-17), who then were to pronounce a threefold judgment upon the man.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 245)


There is no such thing as a “casual affair.”  One need only read the statistics concerning abortions, sexually transmitted diseases, and government assistance for unwed mothers to realize that private sexual sins quickly become public matters of concern.  (John C. Maxwell, The Preacher’s Commentary, Dt, 246)


Throughout the NT, prohibitions against sexual immorality are every bit as clear as those of the Old.  “Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals” will inherit the Kingdom of God (1 Cor 6:9; cf. Gal 5:19-21; Rv 2:22).  “Fornicators and adulterers God will judge” (Heb 13:4).  Regardless of how much a couple may care for each other and be deeply in love, sexual relations outside of marriage are forbidden.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 302)


Dr. Robert J. Collins published in the American Medical Association Journal the results of his research on coeds attending Midwestern universities.  He stated that 80% of the young women who had sex before marriage hoped that the premarital sex would lead to marriage with their sexual partner.  80% of them!  But only 12% of the men involved in the sexual activity had the same expectation—suggesting, once more, that men by nature tend to be more promiscuous and that women have a tendency toward monogamy.  Given these widely divergent expectations, who is to say no harm was being done?  Who is to say that if a young female student looking for love and relationship and commitment is pressured into a sexual relationship, only to be disappointed in her hopes, there will not be deep, deep harm done to her?  And who is prepared to say that the young man, having deceived the young woman and cheated her out of something precious, has not damaged his own credibility and masculinity?  If there is any truth at all in the old adage Men give intimacy to get sex, and women give sex to get intimacy, you don’t need to have a Ph.D. in psychology to see the possibilities for harm in premarital sexual relationships. (Stuart Briscoe; Choices for a Lifetime, 106)


An individual who is sexually involved, then breaks up and then is sexually involved again, and who repeats this cycle again and again is in danger of negative emotional consequences.  People who behave in this manner are acting against, almost fighting against, the way they are made to function.  When connectedness and bonding form and then are quickly broken and replaced with another sexual relationship, it often actually causes damage to the brain’s natural connecting or bonding mechanism.  (Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., MD & Freda McKissic Bush, MD, Hooked, 105)


To be right sexually before God is to be precisely as Job was.  It is to be the kind of person who has a detailed and established practice of not engaging his or her bodily parts and perceptions, thoughts, and desires in activities of sexual trifling, dalliance, and titillation.  It is to be the kind of person whose feet, eyes, hands, heart, and all the rest simply walk within the good policy that he or she has adopted because of the knowledge that it is good and right.  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 160)


The careless heart is an easy prey to Satan in the hour of temptation; his principal batteries are raised against the heart; if he wins that, he wins all, for it commands the whole man:  and alas! how easy a conquest is a neglected heart!  It is not more difficult to surprise such a heart, than for an enemy to enter that city whose gates are opened and unguarded.  It is the watchful heart that discovers and suppresses the temptation before it comes to its strength.  (John Flavel, Keeping the Heart, 33)


Let me elaborate and so interpret Jesus’ teaching:  “If your eye causes you to sin because temptation comes to you through your eyes (objects you see), then pluck out your eyes and flung them away, and were now blind and so could not see the objects which previously caused you to sin.  Again, if your hand or foot causes you to sin, because temptation comes to you through your hands (things you do) or your feet (places you visit), then cut them off.  That is:  don’t do it!  Don’t go!  Behave as if you had actually cut off your hands and feet, and had flung them away, and were now crippled and so could not do the things or visit the places which previously caused you to sin.”  That is the means of “mortification.”  (John R.W. Stott, The Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 89)


What you think about is ultimately what you become.  What we once called “the power of positive thinking” is increasingly backed by scientific evidence.  The more attention your brain pays to a given input, the stronger and more elaborately it will be wired and retained in the brain.  When we give our attention and focus to good things, like peace, joy, and self-control, our brains rewire themselves in a way that allows us to experience those good things.  Wouldn’t it make sense, then, to be intentional about what we give ourselves to?  (Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God, 135)


God gave a standard of morality to His people, Israel.  God-given morality has always been a blessing to any nation.  Any nation that has broken over at this point has gone down.  When I think of this, and when I think of the condition of my country, I weep.  Under God’s law to Israel, a person guilty of adultery was stoned to death, whether man or woman.  If we did that here in Southern California, there would be so many rock piles it would be impossible to drive a car through this part of the country.  (J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible with J. Vernon McGee, Vol 1, 588)


Worship Point:  The God of all creation, the God who is infinite in power, knowledge, wisdom, and Who loves beyond our understanding wants to be intimate with us.  Worship the God of the Universe who created sex so we might have a foretaste of the powerful, pleasurable, and intimate relationship we can one day enjoy with Him. (Mt Sinai marriage covenant; Dt 7:9; Sng of Sol.; Isa 50:1; 54:4-6; 61:10; 62:5; Jer 2:20; ch 3; Ez ch 16; ch 23; Hosea; 2 Cor 11:1-6; Eph 5:21-33)


Every time a church family gathers for worship, we come as idolaters or recovering idolaters.  We all fight allegiances to someone or something other than God that make a claim on our lives.  To pretend otherwise is to be naive and unprepared for the serious work of realignment we need.  (Mark Labberton, The Dangerous Act of Worship, 62)


WHEN WE sin, we are in essence saying to God:  I love what this other thing does for me more than what YOU do for me God.   We are like a spouse who is found in adultery with another lover.   Repentance can only be seen properly when we see ourselves as an adulterer going back to our faithful mate when we have sought the arms of another.


The “one flesh” status  during intercourse of a married man and woman married in a covenant relationship, is eschatologically symbolic of God’s desire to be one with mankind.  Any perversion of that symbol is blasphemous to God’s nature and His relationship with mankind. (Gn 2:24; Mt 19:3-9; Mk 10:2-12; Jn 17; 1 Cor 6:12-19; Eph 5:21-33)  — Pastor Keith


BRIDE (OF CHRIST):  A term used in the NT to refer metaphorically to the Church, with Christ as the bridegroom (2 Cor 11:2; Rv 19:7; 21:2, 9; 22:17).  In the OT Israel is sometimes referred to as the wife of Jehovah (Isa 54:6; Ez 16:8; Hos 2:19, 20).  The figure is used to show how close God intends the relationship between Him and His people to be.  Disloyalty to Him is called harlotry.  (Merrill C. Tenny, The Zondervan Pictorial Encyclopedia of the Bible–Volume One, 655)


No worship could be more pleasing or acceptable to God than the worship of marital love, of two lives being played out against one another in a covenant of loving cooperation.  (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage, 26)


Theologian Christopher West remarked, “If the body and sex are meant to proclaim our union with God, and if there is an enemy who wants to separate us from God, what do you think he is going to attack?  If we want to know what is most sacred in this world, all we need do is look at what is most violently profaned.” (Christopher West, Theology of the Body for Beginners, 11)


I think it is virtually impossible to read this and then honestly say that knowing God, as God intends to be known by his people in the new covenant, simply means mental awareness or understanding or acquaintance with God.  Not in a million years is that what “knowing God” means here.  This is the knowing of a lover, not a scholar.  A scholar can be a lover.  But a scholar–or a pastor–doesn’t know God until he is a lover.  You can know about God by research; but until the researcher is ravished by what he sees, he doesn’t know God for who he really is.  And that is one great reason why many pastors can become so impure.  They don’t know God–the true, massive, glorious, gracious, biblical God.  The humble intimacy and brokenhearted ecstasy–giving fire to the facts–is not there.  (John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, 32)


The intertwined relationship of sexuality and spirituality is emphasized throughout the Scriptures by the frequency with which God uses sexual images to admonish Israel. Rebukes for “going awhoring after other gods” occur almost twenty times in the First Testament, revealing the interconnection between making sexual intercourse an idol and giving our love promiscuously to any of a mutiplicity of other gods.  (Marva J. Dawn, Sexual Character, 58)


The older Christian wedding vows contained these amazing words:  “With my body, I thee worship.”  Maybe our forefathers weren’t so prudish after all; maybe they understood sex far better than we do.  To give yourself over to another, passionately and nakedly, to adore that person body, soul, and spirit—we know there is something special, even sacramental about sex.  (John Eldredge; The Journey of Desire, 134)


The gigantic secret of the joy of sex is this:  Sex is good because the God who created sex is good.  And God is glorified greatly when we receive his gift with thanksgiving and enjoy it the way he meant for it to be enjoyed.  (John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, 55)


Is there any other activity at all in which an adult man and woman may engage together (apart from worship) that is actually more childlike, more clean and pure, more natural and wholesome and unequivocally right than is the act of making love?  For if worship is the deepest available form of communion with God (and especially that particular act of worship known as Communion), then surely sex is the deepest communion that is possible between human beings, and as such is something absolutely essential (in more than a biological or procreative way) to the survival of the race.  (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage, 146)


Why do we say that marriage is the most deeply covenantal relationship?  It is because marriage has both strong horizontal and vertical aspects to it.  In Mal 2:14, a man is told that his spouse “is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant” (cf. Ezek 16:8).  Prv 2:17 describes a wayward wife who has “left the partner of her youth, and ignored the covenant she made before God.”  The covenant made between a husband and a wife is done “before God” and therefore with God as well as the spouse.  To break faith with your spouse is to break faith with God at the same time.  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 86)


We need to further explore the power of human love to feed our divine love.  Rather than seeing marriage as a cosmic competitor with heaven, we can embrace it as a school of faith.  Maximus the confessor (580-662) observed that the love we have for God and the love we have for others are not two distinct loves, but “two aspects of a single total love.”  Jesus suggested the same thing, when in response to a question about the “greatest” commandment he declared that there is not just one, but two–not only must we love God, but also our neighbors.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 267)


Covetousness is desiring something so much that you lose your contentment in God.

The opposite of covetousness is contentment in God.  When contentment in God decreases, covetousness for gain increases.  That’s why Paul says in Col 3:5 (RSV) that covetousness is idolatry.  “Put to death what is earthly in you; fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  It’s idolatry because the contentment that the heart should be getting from God, it starts to get from something else.”  (John Piper, Future Grace, 221)


Exodus begins with the God of compassion, the God of justice, hearing the cry of slaves in Egypt and setting out to do something about it. God sends a man named Moses to rescue them, and it’s through Moses that God makes four promises to these slaves.

“I will take you out.”

“I will rescue you.”

“I will redeem you.”

“I will take you to me.”

There’s a reason why these four promises are so significant–they’re the promises a Jewish groom makes to a Jewish bride. This is wedding language. Somebody hearing this story in its original context would realize that some sort of marriage is going to take place.  (Rob Bell; Sex God, pgs.131-2)


It is worth noting that the specific forms of idolatry common to the Graeco-Roman world, and to other ancient cultures, centered in exaggerations of human sexuality and fertility.  A quick look at most museums of antiquity will reveal cases filled with figurines characterized by exaggerated genitalia.  Many are explicitly pornographic, as the power of sex has been transformed into an idol and object of worship.  This is an insight of inestimable theological significance.  (John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, 121)


We were made to worship.  If we don’t grow in our worship of God, we will descend to worship something or someone else–power, money, our reputation, a sports team–it could be anything.  In the same way, if we are not creating in our marriage–if we are not filling our souls with the meaning that comes from doing what we were made to do–we will become dissatisfied very quickly.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 242-43)


A wife who is 85% faithful to her husband is not faithful at all. There is no such thing as part-time loyalty to Jesus Christ.  —Vance Havner


Because we become like what we worship; for us to worship or focus on any idol other than God will end up perverting our love for only God is agape love.


Gospel Application:  This promise of an intimate relationship with God could never be possible without the work of Christ.  Christ, the perfect lover, can change our hearts so that we can not only enjoy a future intimacy with God but we can also enjoy the best possible intimacy here on earth with our spouse.   (Jn 1:4; 3:15-16, 36; 5:39-40; 10:10, 28; 11:25; 14:6; 17:2-3; 20:31; Acts 3:15; 1 Tm 6:19; 2 Tm 1:1, 9-10; 1 Pt 3:7; 1 Jn 5:11-13, 20)


We know that the days of severe punishment for extramarital sex are over, and under the new covenant sinners can receive forgiveness for their sins and start a new life, knowing that God has not only forgiven but has also forgotten their sins (Jer 31:34).  A woman who had lived a very promiscuous life exclaimed after her conversion, “In God’s sight, I am a virgin.”  That is how her finance should regard her before marrying her.  Some are calling this “second-time virginity.”  It is significant that of the five women mentioned in Jesus’ genealogy, except for Ruth and Mary, three were adulterers (Mt 1:1-16).  (Ajith Fernando, Preaching the Word: Dt, 521)


If a husband is not secure in his relationship with his Savior–if a man needs to have control over another to have some confidence in himself–then he cannot love as God requires.  Christ’s love is our relational fuel.  If our spiritual lives are running on empty, then we will inevitably suck energy from the life of our marriages.  Men who assert or confirm their manhood by the psychological, physical, or sexual control of their spouses actually reveal deep insecurities of the soul that leech personal esteem from the misery of others.  Until the certainty of God’s approval fills the wells of need in a man’s heart, he will always be tempted to drain life from others, including those nearest and dearest to him.  (Bryan Chapell, Each for the Other, 70-71)


To those who submit gladly to the truth of God about themselves as sinners, and about Christ as the Savior, and about the Holy Spirit as the Sanctifer, and about God the Father as Creator–to them sex and food are sanctified.  That is, they are pure.  They are not unclean idols competing for our affections, which belong supremely to God.  They are instead pure partners in the revelation of God’s glory.  They are beams of his goodness along which the pure in heart see God (Mt 5:8).  (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, 189)


Indeed, the attempt to solve the problem of right sexual behavior by a law or laws that govern specific behaviors is what Jesus is addressing in Mt 5:29-30:  “If your right eye makes you sin, gouge it out and fling it from you.  Better that one of your bodily parts rot than that your whole body rot in gehenna” (v. 29).  And likewise for your right hand (v. 30).

Jesus is saying that if you think that laws can eliminate being wrong you would, to be consistent, cut off your hand or gouge out your eye so that you could not possibly do the acts the law forbids.  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 167)


Marriage is recognized throughout the world, in nearly all cultures, as the only means of establishing a blood relationship with someone outside of one’s immediate consanguineous family.  It is a true joining in blood, through a solemn exchange of promises, of two beings who were not previously related.  And in this way it bears an uncanny correspondence to the new relationship which comes about between man and God through the promises of faith sealed by the blood of Christ.  For by bleeding for us, God in His Son Jesus solemnly joined Himself to humanity, enabling Christians to become His Own blood relatives and thus inheritors of His Kingdom.  Nothing, therefore is stronger than blood and covenant, for these have been the Lord’s Own means for bringing the human race into relationship with Himself.  (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage, 180)


Fellowship with the Father and the Son, that intimate, holy, and unceasing communion, is the reason for man’s creation.  That fellowship has been restored to us in Christ Jesus. (Andrew Murray, Receiving Power from God, 42)


John Boys, a Puritan divine, said, “The best way to reconcile two disagreeing families is to make some marriage between them:  even so, the Word became flesh and dwelt among us in the world that He might hereby make our peace, reconciling man to God.  By this happy match the Son of God is become the Son of Man, even flesh of our flesh and bone of our bones.”  (John Boys, The Golden Treasury of Puritan Quotations, 47)


Adam and Christ each had a bride.  The bride of Adam was Eve, the bride of Christ is the Church.  The Lord caused a deep sleep to fall upon Adam, and took from his side a rib, out of which He formed the woman to be his companion.  The Lord Jesus Christ was put to death on the cross, and in that sleep of death one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear.  Out of the wound came blood and water, but out of that wounded side of Christ also came the bride of the Lord Jesus Christ.  For you and I are thus taken from the side of Christ.  Oh, how wonderful!  As Eve came out of the side of Adam, so you and I come out of the side of Christ!  (Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Grace, 55)


We cannot successfully demand the love of a woman or the love of God.  We have to wait.  And just as a woman’s heart is melted when she encounters in us weakness accompanied by our humble admission of it, so God’s heart is melted and he is most tender and gracious to us when he encounters in us weakness accompanied by our humble admission of it.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 49)


Usually the only thing lacking for overt action is the occasion.  When the heart is ready, the action will occur as occasion offers.  Just as the thief is the person who would steal if circumstances were right, so the adulterer is the one who would have wrongful sex if the circumstances were right.  Usually that means if he or she could be sure it would not be found out.  This is what Jesus calls “adultery in the heart.”  In it, the person is not caring for, but using, the other.  The condition is wrong even though sexual relations do not occur.  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 161)


In the first century, generally a young woman would be married in her early teens, often at thirteen or fourteen.  It would become known that she was not “of age,” and her father would entertain offers from the fathers of young men who were interested in marrying her.  If the fathers agreed on the terms of the marriage, there would be a celebration to honor the couple and announce their engagement.  At this celebration, the groom would offer the young girl a cup of wine to drink.

But she didn’t have to drink it.

She can reject the cup.  She can say no to his offer of marriage.  Even though everything has already been arranged, she can still say no.  It’s up to her.

Can you imagine the pressure on the young fella?

Here is everybody you love the most, friends and parents and relatives, gathered in a room, watching to see if she will accept the cup.

If she says yes, the groom gives a sort of prepared speech about their future together.

Because if she takes the cup and drinks from it, that only means that they are engaged. They aren’t married yet.  Something still has to happen.

Or to be more precise, something has to be built.

If she says yes, then the groom goes home and begins building an addition onto his family’s home. This is where he and his bride will start their new family together. And so he works and works and works, building a place that they can call home. And here’s the interesting part:  he doesn’t know when he’s going to finish.  Because he doesn’t have the final say on whether it’s ready.  That’s his father’s decision.  And so his father periodically inspects his work, looking to see if the quality of what the son is building properly honors his future bride.  The father has considerations as well.  If he has many sons, and they’ve all built additions, then his house is getting quite large.  There are many rooms in it.  This was called an insula, a large multifamily dwelling.  If the father had built his addition onto his father’s house, then by now, several generations later, this is a large dwelling with rooms for a lot of people.

Back to the story.

The future bride is at home, learning how to run a household.  She also doesn’t know when the work will be done, so she’s prepared herself for a date that’s coming, she just doesn’t know when.

And then the day comes.  The father inspects and tells the son that it’s time.  So the son gets his friends, and they set out for her house to get her.  But how will he know what room is hers?

He’ll know because she has filled her lamp with oil each night and set it in the window, so that when he comes, he’ll know which room is hers.

And so he goes to get her, and they gather their friends and family, and there’s a giant procession back to his house, where the party starts.

And so when she takes the glass of wine at their engagement party and drinks from it, the groom says to her:  “My father’s house has plenty of room; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you?  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.  You know the way to the place where I am going.”

Does his speech sound familiar?  This is what Jesus says to his disciples in Jn 14:2-4.

When Jesus wants to assure his followers that they’re going to be okay, that their future is secure, that they shouldn’t let their hearts be troubled, he uses the wedding metaphor.

They would have known exactly what he was talking about.  They would have heard the groom’s speech growing up, the ones who were married would have given it to their brides, and they would have taken part in numerous wedding celebrations.  (Rob Bell; Sex God, 169-71)


If you dismember your body to the point where you could never murder or even look hatefully at another, never commit adultery or even look to lust, your heart could still be full of anger, contempt, and obsessive desire for what is wrong, no matter how thoroughly stifled or suppressed it may be.  “From within, out of the heart of men, the thoughts of evil proceed:  fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, acts of greed and iniquity, as well as deceit, lewdness, the envious glare, blasphemy, arrogance and foolishness–all of these evils come from inside and pollute the person” (Mk 7:21-23).  (Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy, 167-8)


The entire book of Hosea is a picture of God’s forgiving and patient love for Israel, dramatized by Hosea’s forgiving and patient love for his wife, Gomer.  Gomer prostituted herself, forsook Hosea, and was unfaithful to him in every possible way.  But the heart of the story is that Hosea was faithful and forgiving no matter what she did, just as God is faithful and forgiving no matter what His people do.  God looks on the union of husband and wife in the same way He looks on the union of Himself with believers.  And the way of God should be the way of His people–to love, forgive, draw back, and seek to restore the partner who is willing to be restored.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 314)


“Christ is the faithful One.  We are the ones who slip into flirtation and then into adultery with the world.  We are loved by Christ Jesus, but we are drawn aside by our desires and seduced from our love of Christ.  Such a seduction is the worst of all transgressions since it is the sin against the love of Christ.  He is faithful to the end, loving us when we were unlovely, and taking us through all steps of our wandering to the place of redemption and final attachment to himself forever.  (James Montgomery Boice, The Sermon on the Mount, 128)


The way Jesus loves is the diametric opposite from how sexual sin works.  Whether flagrant or atmospheric, whether physical or imaginary, sexual sin is hate.  It misuses people.  Jesus’ love treasures and serves our sexual purity.  We misuse God’s gift of sexuality when we do not treasure and serve the sexual purity of others.  We degrade ourselves and degrade others.  As Jesus starts to rearrange how you treat people, you are becoming a qualitatively different kind of person.  (John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, 103)


What Solomon’s wife is telling is a truth about marital passion.  The more purified my character, the more attractive I am to my spouse–and the more responsive she’ll be to me as a result.  (Gary Smalley with John Trent, Love is a Decision, 151)


Our romantic relationship may never be called the “Song of Songs,” but we can still sing the chorus with gusto.  And a clear stanza from that very helpful song reads, “If you want to raise the passion level in your marriage–increase the purity of your character.”  (Gary Smalley with John Trent, Love is a Decision, 153)


Spiritual Challenge:  Work to negate the perverted and corrupting influence of our culture that has made sex just another appetite to be satisfied anyway we please.  Endeavor to embrace the mind of Christ and regard sex as the covenantal, divine, exclusive, joyful, mystical, powerful intimacy with another that was given to foreshadow our future intimacy with God Himself.  (Mt Sinai marriage covenant; Dt 7:9; Sng of Sol.; Isa 50:1; 54:4-6; 61:10; 62:5; Jer 2:20; ch 3; Ez ch 16; ch 23; Hosea; Mt 19:1-6; 1 Cor 5-7; 2 Cor 11:1-6;  Eph 5:21-33; Col 3:5)


Sexuality is designed by God as a way to know God in Christ more fully; and that knowing God in Christ more fully is designed as a way of guarding and guiding our sexuality.  Or to put it negatively:  all misuses of our sexuality distort the true knowledge of Christ; and all misuses of our sexuality derive from not having the true knowledge of Christ.  (John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, 16)


God created human beings in his image–“male and female he created them” (Gn 1:27)–with capacities for intense sexual pleasure and with a calling to commitment in marriage and continence in singleness.  And his 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.  The language and imagery of sexuality are the most graphic and most powerful that the Bible uses to describe the relationship between God and his people–both positively (when we are faithful) and negatively (when we are not).  (John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, 26)


All misuses of our sexuality distort the true knowledge of Christ.  And, in the second place, all misuses of our sexuality derive from not having the true knowledge of Christ.

Or to put it one more way:  all sexual corruption serves to conceal the true knowledge of Christ, but the true knowledge of Christ serves to prevent sexual corruption.  (John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, 26)


Your sexuality is an intense battle because it is the arena where God desires to demonstrate who He is and what He’s like.  Through sexual intercourse, God desires to demonstrate what communion with Him is meant to be.  It’s the taste of the intimacy we crave.  (Michael John Cusick, Surfing for God, 113)


Therefore what Paul is teaching us here is that the proper use of physical pleasures in sex and food is that they send our hearts Godward with the joy of gratitude that finds its firmest ground in the goodness of God himself, not in his gifts.  This means that if, in the providence of God, these gifts are ever taken away–perhaps by the death of a spouse or the demand for a feeding tube–the deepest joy that we had through them will not be taken away, because God is still good (see Hab 3:17-18).  (John Piper, When I Don’t Desire God, p. 187)


The Fall distorted and perverted the marriage relationship.  Henceforth the wife’s “desire” for her husband would not longer be the desire to help but the desire to control–the same desire that sin had for Cain (see Gn 4:7, where the identical Hebrew construction is used).  For the man’s part, his “rule” over his wife henceforth would be one of stern control, in opposition to her desire to control him.  At the Fall the battle of the sexes began, and women’s liberation and male chauvinism have ever since been clouding and corrupting the divine plan for marriage.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 312)


Yes, it is difficult to love your spouse.  But if you truly want to love God, look right now at the ring on your left hand, commit yourself to exploring anew what that ring represents, and love passionately, crazily, enduringly the fleshly person who put it there.

It just may be one of the most spiritual things you can do.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 51)


Anyone who promotes abstinence from marriage on the basis that all sexual expression is evil of “paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons” (see 1 Tm 4:1-3).  Speaking of the marriage relationship, Paul commands, “Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband…Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1 Cor 7:3, 5).  Sexual expression not only is a thrilling privilege but an obligation of marriage.  (John MacArthur, The MacArthur NT Commentary: Matthew 1-7, 301)


Knowing the supremacy of Christ enlarges the soul so that sex and its little thrills become as small as they really are.  Little souls make little lusts have great power.  The soul, as it were, expands to encompass the magnitude of its treasure.  The human soul was made to see and savor the supremacy of Christ.  Nothing else is big enough to enlarge the soul as God intended and make little lusts lose their power.  (John Piper, Justin Taylor, Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, 43-4)


I read somewhere that the ability of a couple to express anger well can do wonders for their sex life.  It’s true, it’s true.  It seems there can be no warm fuzzies without their opposite (cold pricklies?).  Both anger and tenderness are forms of passion.  As is prayer.  God doesn’t mind our anger.  He even relishes it, if it drives us to Him instead of away from Him.  Better an outburst than a theologically correct and spiritually pallid rationale, and a dangling conversation.

No wonder we can get so bored with prayer.  God is bored too.  He wants to engage our hearts, not just our brains. (Ben Patterson; Leadership, Spring 1999, 120)


Let me put this succinctly:  We can learn to use the sex drive to groom our character.  Out of a need to be intimate with their wives, husbands may learn to show tenderness and empathy.  Wives may use physical intimacy to help capture their husbands’ interest emotionally.  Emotionally.  Idealistically, we would seek opportunities to grow because that’s what we’re called to do as Christians.  Realistically, it doesn’t hurt to have such a physical need pushing us in that same direction of growing in character.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 220)


The improvement of our graces depends on the keeping of our hearts.  I never knew grace to thrive in a careless soul.  (John Flavel, Keeping the Heart, 32)


The right attitude is important for both husband and wife.  The first thing to recognize is that the act of marriage (technically called coitus) is good.  It was designed by God for man’s good.  It could well be described as the most sublime expression of love between two people when limited to the bonds of marriage.  Because of the fact that taboos are properly put on the act of marriage during the teen-age and courtship years, Christian girls sometimes hesitate to enter enthusiastically into the relationship after marriage.  (Tim LaHaye, How to Be Happy Though Married, 61-62)


One of the reasons we believe in our culture that sex should always and only be the result of great passion is that so many people today have learned how to have sex outside of marriage, and this is a very different experience than having sex inside it.  Outside of marriage, sex is accompanied by a desire to impress or entice someone.  It is something like the thrill of the hunt.  When you are seeking to draw in someone you don’t know, it injects risk, uncertainty, and pressure to the lovemaking that quickens the heartbeat and stirs the emotions.  If “great sex” is defined in this way, then marriage–the “piece of paper”–will indeed stifle that particular kind of thrill.  But this defines sexual sizzle in terms that would be impossible to maintain in any case.  The fact is that “the thrill of the hunt” is not the only kind of thrill or passion available, nor is it the best.  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 82)


We need to be able to “see” in nakedness what God intended us to see in it:  the glory of His presence in the world, the highest expression of what He Himself looks like, the very form that He assumed when He visited the earth in person.  Can we not detect His Own paint still wet on our skins, and the marks of His fingers imprinted in our ears, in our eye sockets, on our lips and on our genitals?  Only when we perceive that these poor bodies of ours are the natural (as opposed to supernatural) expression of God’s glory, so that nakedness is as close as most of us will ever get to seeing God in the flesh, only then can we begin to understand also that sex is the closest thing (next to the Eucharist) to touching Him.  (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage, 146-7)


One recent study of sexually active adolescents illustrates that sexual activity has more ramifications beyond the physical.  The study showed that both boys and girls who have had sex are three times more likely to be depressed than their friends who are still virgins.  The study accounted for other factors in the lives of the young people, ensuring an accurate comparison with their peers.  The girls who became sexually active were three times more likely to have attempted suicide as their virgin friends, while the sexually active boys were fully seven times more likely to have attempted suicide.  (Joe S. McIlhaney, Jr., MD & Freda McKissic Bush, MD, Hooked, 20)


So What?:  If we fail to get this right, we fail to understand our relationship with God properly.  The Bible is loaded with marriage and sexual language to symbolize our relationship with God.  If we get the symbol wrong we will get the reality wrong.


Sex is glorious.  We would know that even if we didn’t have the Bible.  Sex leads us to words of adoration–it literally evokes shouts of joy and praise.  Through the Bible, we know why this is true.  John 17 tells us that from all eternity, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have been adoring and glorifying each other, living in high devotion to each other, pouring love and joy into one another’s hearts continually (cf. Jn 1:18; 17:5, 21, 24-25).  Sex between a man and a woman points to the love between the Father and the Son (1 Cor 11:3).  It is a reflection of the joyous self-giving and pleasure of love within the very life of the triune God.

Sex is glorious not only because it reflects the joy of the Trinity but also because it points to the eternal delight of soul that we will have in heaven, in our loving relationships with God and one another.  Rom 7:1ff tells us that the best marriages are pointers to the deep, infinitely fulfilling, and final union we will have with Christ in love.  (Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage, 270-1)


I wonder if it isn’t possible for the marriage relationship to reawaken this humility within us.  If we experience a shadow of this surrender before a sinful human being during a sexual encounter, can we not learn to offer ourselves equally unreservedly to a perfectly loving and absolutely benevolent God?  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 86)


The Christian Way—The Christian says, “Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists.   A baby feels hunger:  well, there is such a thing as food.   A duckling wants to swim:  well, there is such a thing as water.   Men feel sexual desire:  well, there is such a thing as sex.  If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.  If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud.  Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing.  If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings, and on the other, never to mistake them for the something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.  I must keep alive in myself the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death; I must never let it get snowed under or turned aside; I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and to help others do the same.  (C. S. Lewis; Mere Christianity, 120)


Love is the total willingness to be owned.  (Mike Mason, The Mystery of Marriage, 107)


If a bridegroom on his wedding night sat down to negotiate terms of infidelity—“OK, you’ve guaranteed the future by promising to stick with me regardless.  Just how far can I go with other women?  Can I hug them?  Kiss them?  Go to bed with them?  How often?  How many?—we would call such a husband a fraud, a pathologically sick man.  If he approaches marriage that way, he will never learn the meaning of true love.  And if a Christian approaches forgiveness the same way—“Let’s see, God has promised forgiveness in advance.  What can I get away with?  How far can I push it?”—that Christian will end up equally impoverished.  Paul’s response says it all:  “God forbid!” (Philip Yancey;  Finding God in Unexpected Places, 186)


One of these early thinkers, Augustine (A.D. 354-430), suggested that there are three benefits of marriage:  offspring, faith (fidelity), and sacrament.  Of the three benefits, he clearly points to the latter (sacrament) as the greatest.  This is because it is possible to be married without either offspring or faith, but it is not possible to be (still) married without indissolubility, which is what a sacrament points toward.  As long as a couple is married, they continue to display–however imperfectly–the ongoing commitment between Christ and his church.  Thus, simply “sticking it out” becomes vitally important.  (Gary Thomas, Sacred Marriage, 31)

 God is more intimate to me than I am to myself.  —David Schindler







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