Chastity and Charity.
Two words rarely used anymore and seldom used together. Chastity, the state of avoidance of sexual sins, especially abstaining from sexual intercourse before or outside of marriage. And charity, in general, an attitude of kindness and understanding towards others or simply defined as love or concern for others.
Both of these virtues are important Christian pursuits in the necessary development of Christian character. But I do believe one of these virtues, when lived out properly and consistently, will inevitably lead to the other.
Some of the traditional Christian views of sexual restraint (chastity) have been labeled “out-dated” and simply inapplicable to our modernized society. Unfortunately, the Christian response is usually to express more clearly what the Bible says about sexual sins and to lay down the law of manmade chastity rules which often times makes the Church look more Platonic (i.e., the physical is bad) than Christian.
The Bible lays out a much better way to chastity and it is not through more manmade rules and restrictions about human sexuality. It is first found in the words of the inventor of sex, God, and then it is lived out in and through charity.
But first things first, and this should make us very happy, God is very much for sex! As I said, he invented it, every part of the process and every pleasurable sensation.
The Bible is Pro-Sex.
Too often the tone of Christian teaching on sex is negative, focusing on what we shouldn't do rather than on understanding the purpose and proper place of sex. We must first understand the positive before we can make sense of the negatives.
The Bible is pro-sex (e.g. 1 Cor. 7:3-5; Proverbs 5:19; Song of Songs 1:2-4; Song of Songs 4:16) and until you see this, and understand why, the negatives won’t make any sense. In a nutshell, the Bible teaches that God created sex as a way for you to say to one person, “I belong to you completely, exclusively, and permanently” (Tim Keller). God commands that we would be delighted by sex within the context of the commitment of marriage (Prov 5:18-19). Because many Christians have a platonic view of sex, the church often has a prudish or separatist attitude toward sex.
But the Bible’s teaching is very pro-sex.
The Bible is very pro-physical.
Here’s a couple passages which reveal the Bible’s “pro-sex” stance:
“A loving doe, a graceful deer— may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.”
~ Proverbs 5:19
“The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
~ 1 Corinthians 7:3-5
In the Old Testament Love Poem, Song of Songs, the bridegroom begins by saying,
“You have stolen my heart, my sister, my bride; you have stolen my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. How delightful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much more pleasing is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your perfume than any spice! Your lips drop sweetness as the honeycomb, my bride; milk and honey are under your tongue. The fragrance of your garments is like that of Lebanon. You are a garden locked up, my sister, my bride; you are a spring enclosed, a sealed fountain.”
~ Song of Songs 4:9–12
And his bride responds,
"I have taken off my dress, how can I put it on again? I have washed my feet, how can I dirty them again? "My beloved extended his hand through the opening, and my feelings were aroused for him.”
~ Song of Songs 5:3-4
“My lover has gone down to his garden, to the beds of spices, to browse in the gardens and to gather lilies. I am my lover’s and my lover is mine; he browses among the lilies.”
~ Song of Songs 6:2–3
(What many modern-day readers do not gathering from the text are the Hebrew and Ancient Near Eastern Poetic euphemisms. In this case, the garden and fountain are highly erotic images. “…The focus may well be on the ultimate place of lovemaking, the woman’s vagina….she is not a garden or fountain open to every passer-by; she is rather a locked garden, a sealed fountain.” ~ Tremper Longman, NIC Song of Songs)
Understanding the Difference Between Good Sex and Bad Sex.
In 1st Corinthians 7, the Apostle Paul encourages spouses to give of themselves sexually to their spouse. Contrary to what many think, the Bible does not support a platonic view human sexuality; it is very much pro-sex.
However, Paul does state that sexual immorality should be resisted and abstained from.
1 Corinthians 6:18
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.
Now, the word he uses for sexual immorality is “porneia” which was a word with a broad meaning. (See Mt 5:32; 15:19; 19:9; Mk 7:21; Jn 8:41; Ac 15:20; 1Co 6:18; 7:2; 2Co 12:21; Gal 5:19; Eph 5:3; 1Th 4:3.) It denotes any kind of illegitimate sexual intercourse or relationship and it is typically translated in the NIV as “sexual immorality.”
In this particular passage “sexual immorality” is most definitely referring to any sexual act outside of the parameters of a marriage between a husband and a wife (see 1 Cor. 6:12 – 7:7) and we are told to “flee” from it – to have nothing to do with it! Why?
- because porneia takes something that is beautiful and makes it ugly – it perverts good, biblical sex
- because porneia perverts the unifying/uniting power and true purpose of sexual intercourse
- because porneia is all about self
Sex is Beautiful Because it Displays Our Union with Christ.
This is where I have found the platonic tendencies of many Christians come to light. It seems very odd, even discomforting to some, that the New Testament often compares the relationship between husband and wife with the relationship between Christ and his followers (e.g. Rom. 7:1-6; Eph. 5:22-33). The sexual and marital analogies (e.g. “the two will be become one flesh”) express a very intimate union and connection between husband and wife and Christ and the church.
Some pastors, scholars, and other people smarter than me have put it this way, sex was invented by God to give us a foretaste of the ecstasy we will experience when we see Christ face to face and enter into a union with him. Sex is a signpost; it’s showing us what we are really longing for – our eternal union with Christ in the New Heavens and New Earth. This is what John spoke of when he mentioned the Marriage Feast of the lamb in Revelation 19.
Sex is beautiful because the sexual union between a husband and wife is a signpost for something even better – the union we were made for, us and Christ. Sex is only ugly and hurtful when it us misused. (See below.)
Biblical sex is beautiful.
Sex is Life-Uniting.
In I Cor. 6:16, Paul states a very profound reason way people should abstain from sex outside of marriage - “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.’”
I once heard Tim Keller refer to sex as a “unitive act….It is a way of cementing and enabling relationships of complete oneness... It is God's appointed way to say to another person, I belong completely and exclusively to you." As God designed it, sex is a non-verbal communication to say: I belong totally to only you. It’s non-verbal communication saying: we are one-flesh, one organism, one person, spiritually, socially, emotionally, intellectually, economically, in every way.
And, for those who have had sex outside of marriage, you know this is true because that's how you felt when you first had sex; you felt such a strong (premature) connection between the both of you, almost like you would if you were married. Premarital and/or extra-marital sex violates the intrinsic meaning of sex.
The problem with sex outside of marriage is that it performs “a life-uniting act without a life-uniting intent,” and thus you violate the intrinsic meaning of sex. Sex is a way to say I am completely yours; but if you are having “porneia” (sex outside of marriage) you are using sex to say something else, namely, “I don't love you enough to marry you, because if I marry you, I put myself at your mercy, what's wrong in your life become wrong in mine.” Commitment like this is really scary to most of us which is why we live in a culture that wants the freedom of having sex without any consequences. This is why we live with our boyfriends, why we use condoms, or have “friends with benefits.” But, like it or not, there is no such thing as “porneia” without consequences because of how God has made us. Sex only works with total openness and vulnerability. Again, Keller puts it this way, “physical nakedness without total nakedness violates the meaning/purpose of sex.”
Marriage is to be a human covenant; and sex in marriage is a type of covenant renewal ceremony in which you say "I am completely yours." The Bible often uses the Hebrew "yada" (which is often translated “to know”) for sexual relations and intercourse in marriage, because sex is about relational and emotional oneness not just physical oneness or penetration.
On a side note, this is why most sexual problems in marriage are really relationship problems at their root.
Sex is Giving as well as Receiving.
Speaking about sex in marriage, Paul says, “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other….” In sex, we are to be charitable – to give of our self to our spouse and focus on their pleasure - not just our own gratification. In other words, sex is to be a celebration of the marital union of relational, emotional, and physical oneness; ultimately it is to be an act of mutual self-donation, not individual self-gratification.
Couples who have sex without trying to pleasure their spouse are basically participating in mutual-masturbation. And ultimately, if this is not addressed, sex will actually drive a wedge of disappointment, separation, and hurt between the two spouses instead of unifying them.
This is why charity is fundamentally important to not only refraining from sinful sex outside of marriage, but it also necessary for a healthy and satisfying sexual relationship within marriage.
And this is also why masturbation is fundamentally wrong; it focuses only on self pleasure and completely ignores the needs, personhoods, brokenness, etc… of the people they are fantasizing about. A charitable attitude towards others will lead you away from using others as object for one’s self-pleasure and will also lead us to the biblical realization that the unifying purpose of sexual arousement and pleasure is meant to be shared between two people who are supposed to be truly unified – a husband and wife.
Charity. It’s an old-fashioned word, but a necessary attitude of the heart if we are to live the lives of sexual restraint and sexual pleasure we were all called to.