How would you describe our age? Sociologists have used various labels to define the mood or mentality of the world we live in. For example, some say that an "age of anxiety" followed World War II. That era was followed by an "age of melancholy." More recently we hear terms such as the "computer age" or the "information age."
If we define an era by what people have most on their minds, the most accurate description of our time is the age of sex. None of us can remember a time when sex has been more openly flaunted with so many people obviously obsessed with the subject.
Sexual awareness has always existed. It is natural in the human mind. But today it is incessantly stimulated by sex-saturated news and entertainment media. Sexual content is not only blatantly displayed, but objects that have no sexuality are labeled as sexy-from cars to computers and beverages to body lotions.
Is this the way we should treat sexuality?
We're in a kind of sexual wilderness, lacking right directions and guidelines. Sadly, this situation has cost societies dearly in many major ways-in financial losses, health crises, marriage and family breakdowns and a lack of sexual fulfillment and happiness.
Few understand the purpose of sex. They are told that sex is an evolutionary accident. Therefore they assume that anything goes as long as it occurs between consenting adults. But that approach is naive. It is an unsubstantiated assumption that avoids candidly addressing the question of where sex and marriage came from.
The simple and often overlooked answer is that God reveals that He created both sex and marriage. His reasons for doing so are nothing short of wonderful. Ignorance of God's purpose for sex has brought about enormous problems.
Why did God create sex and marriage? Let's consider the reasons.
The first purpose
Perhaps the most obvious of God's purposes for sex and marriage is for the reproduction of the human species. Notice the first statement in the Bible about God's creation of man: "So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them" (Genesis 1:27, emphasis added throughout).
The statement that God created them male and female is the first reference to human sexuality. God created the sexes; it wasn't an evolutionary accident. (If you'd like to read proof that God exists and Darwinian evolution is but a modern-day myth, be sure to request the free booklets Life's Ultimate Question: Does God Exist? and Creation or Evolution: Does It Really Matter What You Believe?)
Next we read: "Then God blessed them, and God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it ...'" (verse 28). The statement that men and women are to reproduce is part of the blessing that God pronounces in this verse.
An air of sacredness permeates the process described here. God gave a blessing to the creation of children through a loving sexual relationship. God sanctified sexual relations between married men and women, in that the first command He gave Adam and Eve was to begin an intimate sexual relationship and reproduce!
God essentially repeats His command in Genesis 2:24, adding another crucial thought: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh." In speaking these words, God formally created the institutions of marriage and family. Since God created and commanded these relationships, marriage and the family are holy institutions, not mere creations of human society.
We see here God's obvious intent that children should be conceived and born into a family relationship, a family consisting of a husband and wife.
Historically this has been the norm. But the last several decades have produced a drastic departure from God's pattern. People have tried to redefine the family in all kinds of ways.
Make no mistake: God's Word reveals it is a serious blunder to profane sex and marriage in this way, even as societies are already experiencing the bitter fruits of people trying to do things their own way. God's reasons for creating sex include the purpose of reproduction. But His specific intent is that it should occur within the divine institution of marriage.
Part of God's plan
Though God created our sexuality and ordained sexual relations between married men and women to populate the earth, this was only the first part of God's ultimate vision for humanity. God desires to fill the earth with human beings who can eventually enter His own spirit family. The physical human family, brought about through marriage, is a model of God's spirit-composed family of the future.
God sent His Son into the world so all could eventually have eternal life through Him. "... The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). His Word reveals that "the Lord is ... not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). All men are appointed to die once (Hebrews 9:27), but afterward all who will repent of their sins can receive eternal life through a resurrection.
Those who are given life through a resurrection will be the children of God, possessing eternal spirit life, as God is spirit (John 4:24). Those who now repent, are baptized and receive God's Spirit (Acts 2:38) are actually called children of God at this time, though not yet immortal. "The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God" (Romans 8:16, King James Version).
Hebrews 2:10 tells us that God's ultimate purpose is to bring "many sons [and daughters, 2 Corinthians 6:18] to glory." This "glory" will include immortal spirit life as children of God.
God designed human reproduction through sex as a means to populate the earth. But His eventual intent is to bring as many of the billions who have been born-those who will repent-into His family as spiritual children. In a sense He, too, is reproducing Himself.
Therefore, we can see that reproduction of human beings has two purposes-to give physical life now to our posterity and to provide the potential for many children of God to receive eternal spirit life.
The human process of reproduction is a physical type, a model, if you will, of what God is doing on the spiritual level. This grand design is the marvelous purpose God is working out on earth.
This plan is sometimes referred to in the Bible as the "mystery" of the Kingdom of God. It is a mystery because only a tiny minority of humanity presently understands it, the majority being ignorant of what the Bible reveals on the subject. (You can learn much more by requesting our free booklet What Is Your Destiny?)
Showing love in marriage
Sex in the human and animal kingdoms serves the purpose of reproduction, but in virtually all animal species reproduction is the only purpose. In observing the habits of higher animals, we can see that, except for those periods in the female's cycle when she is susceptible to fertilization through the sexual act, only a very few species of animals ever engage in sexual intercourse at all.
With human beings, however, sexual interest between men and women isn't restricted to the woman's fertility period, either on a monthly basis or over the life of the human being. Typically humans develop a strong interest in sex beginning at least by puberty and may, if they remain healthy, stay sexually active long after their reproductive years.
God created a continuing sexual interest and sexual appeal in human beings. This in itself is a healthy trait of the human mind and is triggered by hormones that God designed the body to produce.
But why? God created this sustained interest in sex as a means for men and women to express love in marriage.
This is one of the great purposes for sex that many have failed to understand. A look at history reveals that we're no further along in understanding this aspect of God's design than were many bygone cultures.
Some men in ancient Greece seem to have viewed marriage with distaste and submitted to it primarily to have a housekeeper and produce progeny. The idea of having deep love for one's wife seems to have appeared foreign to many Greek men. Demosthenes, the Greek orator of the fourth century B.C., illustrated his opinion of the low social status of wives this way: "Mistresses we keep for pleasure, concubines for daily attendance upon our persons and wives to bear us legitimate children and be our housekeepers" (quoted by Morton Hunt, The Natural History of Love, 1994, p. 25).
Marriage and sex in the Roman Empire bore many similarities to Greece. Money and power were often motives for marriage. "Roman love as it emerged in the second and first centuries B.C. involved a variety of possible unions, all of them outside of marriage. The only illegal one was adultery, but up-to-date Romans favored it above all others, regarding it much as modern man regards cheating on his income-tax return" (Hunt, pp. 66-67).
The degeneration of sex and family life contributed significantly to the decline and eventual collapse of the empire.
Distorted views of sex and marriage
Some of the leaders in the early centuries of the Christian religion advocated views that caused marriage and sex to be held in low regard. Augustine, of the fourth century, wrote: "I have decided that there is nothing I should avoid so much as marriage. I know nothing which brings the manly mind down from the heights more than a woman's caresses and that joining of bodies without which one cannot have a wife" (Christian History, 2000, Vol. 19, Issue 3, p. 36).
Augustine made this comment shortly after his conversion. Eventually he rose to a high position in the Catholic Church, and it wasn't long before his views and those of others resulted in marriage and sex being regarded as a less-honorable state than celibacy. The church came to erroneously teach that the sole purpose of sex was reproduction.
But was this all that God intended? Certainly not! God designed the male and female bodies to provide pleasure in marriage. Regrettably, one of the tragic results of distorted religious views stipulating that sex was given solely for reproduction was that it often caused enormous guilt in married couples who engaged in sexual behavior as an expression of their love for each other, as God intended.
It's long been a common practice among men to manipulate women just to obtain sexual favors from them. Women in turn manipulate men so they can get something in return. Sadly, this practice is still common even in the relationship between some husbands and wives. When such selfish attitudes persist in a marriage, at least one and possibly both mates use sex to get something, even if it is nothing more than sensual gratification, rather than to give and express love. Genuine love, as God designed it, is an act of giving. In marriage it is cherishing one's mate. It is an eagerness to please, help and encourage.
As we noted earlier, God's first command recorded in the Bible is that man should "be fruitful and multiply" (Genesis 1:28). In Genesis 2:24 we see another command: that, after leaving the families of their birth and forming their own family through marriage, they should "become one flesh" (verse 24). God's directive that they should become one flesh means specifically that they should become one through sexual union, although the expression also has spiritual implications affecting every aspect of married life.
Next the Bible states that "they were both naked, the man and his wife, and were not ashamed" (verse 25). This shows that the sexual relationship, as God created it, was intended as completely pure and wholesome. In Hebrew, the language of the Old Testament, sexual intercourse is described as "knowing." This is because there is no more intimate act than the sexual act, and, by its nature, it can greatly enhance understanding of one another's emotions and feelings and promote exquisite companionship and unity.
Some have mistakenly believed that, after Adam and Eve sinned, purity was removed from marital relations. This is refuted by many scriptures supporting marriage, including Jesus' reaffirmation in Matthew 19:4-6 that men and women should marry and become one flesh.
Sex: designed to express love
That sex is a means of expressing love is made plain in Paul's epistle to the Ephesians. "Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church, and gave Himself for her,... that she should be holy and without blemish. So husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies ... For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh" (Ephesians 5:25-31).
What does Paul say is the purpose of marriage and of becoming one flesh through sex? The purpose is love.
Sex, like any gift of God, can be misused. The tendency among human beings through the ages has been to succumb to the pull of sex appetites outside the bounds of marriage.
However, this is a misuse of the gift of sex that God clearly labels as sin. Many in society see no harm in premarital or extramarital sex. But the Bible calls these actions fornication and adultery, offenses serious enough to deserve the death penalty (Leviticus 20:10; compare Romans 6:23). The Seventh Commandment (Exodus 20:14) forbids such behavior, and the Bible states elsewhere that "fornicators and adulterers God will judge" (Hebrews 13:4).
Many are aware that marriage should be a relationship built on love. One thing many people do not realize is that the relationship between a husband and wife should provide a mirror image of the loving relationship between Christ and His Church. After speaking of a man and his wife becoming one flesh in Ephesians 5:31, Paul said, "This is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church" (verse 32).
Jesus Christ had a totally self-sacrificing love for the Church, a love so deep that He died for her. Marriage is supposed to be a picture of this great love. Human marriage is imperfect, to be sure. Nevertheless Jesus' love for the Church is the kind of loving relationship marriage is intended to portray.
In the physical realm a man and woman become one flesh in marriage. In a Christian's relationship with Christ, he or she becomes spiritually "joined to the Lord [and] is one spirit with Him" (1 Corinthians 6:17). The genuinely loving "one flesh" relationship of marriage parallels the close "one spirit" relationship we are to have with Christ.
Paul calls this marvelous truth a "great mystery." The word for "great" in Greek is mega. It expresses the magnitude or the profound nature of the mystery. It is called a mystery because so few understand this truth.
When we comprehend God's incredibly high view of marriage as revealed in the Bible, it should inspire us to treasure marriage as never before. We should commit ourselves to continually improving our marriages, striving for a relationship that seeks to emulate-on the human level-the deep, timeless love Christ has for the Church.
We should also strive to be completely faithful to our husband or wife in mind and body. No one should ever become one flesh with anyone else but his or her marriage partner. This alone produces a wholesome relationship fit to engender and rear healthy and happy children (see Malachi 2:15). This alone produces the kind of marriage and family life God wants us to experience. GN