Monday, February 4, 2013

Pure Pleasure: Song of Songs

This past Sunday I got to kick off a new series at Life Bible Fellowship Church. The series is called Pure Pleasure, and it is a study of the Song of Songs. In the series, we will deal with themes of love, marriage, sex, purity, passion, communication, pursuit, masculinity and femininity, and the gospel. Below is the video from the first message of the series.

It has been enriching to prepare for this series, and I am looking forward to our church experiencing the book. Whether you attend our church or not, and whether you watch the message or not, I hope this post might be helpful.
Here are answers to three key questions that have either come up in response to the series, or have come up in preparation for it.

1. Can't a dating couple experience the joy of sex if they are really committed to each other?
The Bible is clear that sex outside of marriage is wrong. To some, this might seem archaic or unrealistic, but the solution is not to ignore or amend what the Bible says. It is easy for all of us to think that we are the exception. We are not. If God has spoken, it is not our place to say something different. We can struggle and wrestle with it, but we don't get to tell ourselves or tell others that something is okay when God says it is not.
That said, many people will hear this, shrug, and say, "Are you really saying that a committed dating couple can't experience God's good gift of sex?"
Let's break this question down.
Can an unmarried couple enjoy sex? I don't think anyone would argue that an unmarried couple can gain physical enjoyment from sex. All sin holds an appeal. Otherwise we wouldn't be tempted by it. But sin gives us a passing pleasure (Hebrews 11:25). It bring momentary joy and then brings consequences later on.
Can a dating couple really be committed to each other? As my friend Jonathan Martin likes to say, when you date, you commit to continuing to date that person until you decide to stop. The idea of a committed dating relationship is a bit of a myth. If a man is really committed to a woman, he should ask her to marry him. If he is not ready to get married, then he is not really committing to her. The same is certainly true for women.

Sex is the most intense form of intimacy. It is the way that we become most vulnerable before another person. God is not arbitrary when he reserves sex for marriage. He warns us not to waste ourselves and open ourselves up to great pain. When you enter into intense intimacy with other person, and then that other person rejects you or abandons you, it is some of the deepest main that can be experienced.
Sadly, marriage is no guarantee that we won't experience rejection or abandonment. Perhaps one of the reasons why many people see no real difference between a dating relationship and a marriage relationship is that so many people abandon their vows. When a person divorces their spouse, they break a promise. When a boyfriend abandons a girlfriend with whom he has been intimate, he doesn't break a promise. But he exploits her after she was willing to give herself to him.
None of us are the exception. God is wise and he is good. We can trust him. Any pleasure that we will experience in any sinful activity will only bring pain and regret in the long-run.

2. What can a married couple do if their physical relationship has stalled (or stopped)?
I said in my message that some people need to repent because they are having sex when they shouldn't be. The real shocker, though, is that other people need to repent because they are not having sex when they should be.
Polls consistently show that 15-20% of marriages are sexless (meaning they have sex 10 or less times each year). The point is not that married couples are compelled by God to be intimate. The point is that many married couples are not experiencing the intimacy that God intends. Sex is not the only important aspect of marriage, but it almost always serves as a barometer of the relationship. If sex has left a marriage, there is something wrong.
A One-Sided Decision. In many sexless marriages, one spouse is the keeper of the keys. In other words, one spouse wants sex and the other rejects them. The Apostle Paul warns against this in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5: "The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control."
Deeper Issues. As I said, sex is often a barometer. If either spouse is disinterested in sex, it usually means that there is hurt and alienation. If the spurned spouse simply says, "Come on, the Bible says that you're not supposed to deprive me," that will probably not be effective. Deeper issues require deeper healing.
The spouse who is withholding needs to take responsibility. Your pain is not an excuse to sin against your spouse. The spouse who is being spurned needs to take responsibility also. Chances are that you have contributed significantly to your situation. Pursue your spouse, apologize, look to set a new tone in the marriage.
On top of all of this, get counseling. Couples often wait a long time before seeking marriage counseling. Among Christians, there should be no stigma for couples seeking counseling. There is nothing to be embarrassed about. We all need help. Don't ignore issues in your marriage. Fight for it.

3. How does a book like Song of Songs relate to single people?
In all churches, there are unmarried people. Some are divorced, some are widowed, some are young singles, and some are lifelong singles. I can certainly understand how singles could be frustrated when churches seem to gear their ministries toward married couples. This can be a blind spot for churches. The Apostle Paul was very clear that the single life is not a second-class existence for believers (1 Corinthians 7). Churches should address singles and married couples.
So, what in the world does a book like Song of Songs have to say to these people? After all, Song of Songs is about marriage, sexuality, and love. Isn't this just a book for married couples?
Think Bigger. All of us always need to remember that the body of Christ is bigger than any one of us. Not every sermon that I hear is going to have direct, immediate application to my life. I may hear a sermon on a passage about modesty and struggling to see it as directly application to my struggles. But the body of Christ is bigger than me. I can celebrate the fact that the sermon will be a great and immediate benefit to many of my brothers and sisters sitting next to me. In the church, we are not called to be consumers. We are members of one another. If one member rejoices, all members rejoice together (1 Corinthians 12:26).
Trust God's Word. Song of Songs is one of the 66 books in the Bible. If we believe that God has given us the Bible, then we believe that Song of Songs is a divinely inspired gift to God's people. As 2 Timothy 3:16-17 says, all Scripture is God-breathed and useful. "All" includes Song of Songs. It has a lot to say to us about sexuality and about love, and these are issues that impact every single one of us. And even if you don't see the immediate relationship between a certain passage in God's Word and your daily life, this doesn't mean that the connection does not exist. Trust God and trust his Word.
Focus on the Gospel. The whole Bible has one message: The Gospel. God graciously saves desperate people and gives them new life. Song of Songs is about the gospel. While the love song is not an allegory of God's love, all human love is a small picture of God's amazing and unconditional love. When we read of the groom's intense affection for his bride, we are not only instructed in our own marriages. We are also instructed in Christ's deep affection for his bride, the church. When we read of the bride giving herself fully to her beloved, we are directed to God's invitation that we would entrust ourselves fully to him. We need Song of Songs because it is a part of God's story. It is not just good advice for couples; it is a picture of our need for love and it points us to the solution for that deep need.

I really look forward to continuing to walk through this book with the church. As we do so, please feel free to send out questions and points for discussion. It should be a good and lively series.

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