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In 1 Timothy 4:1–5, Paul confronts certain ascetic false teachers who believed that sex in marriage and eating foods freely were at best for second-class Christianity. Paul called these false teachings demonic.
First, the false teaching, as Paul summarizes it in verses 1–2 and the first part of verse 3:
Then, Paul’s response, starting in the middle of verse 3:
For those who know the truth of the gospel and who revel in the word of God concerning the all-satisfying glory of God, and who pray (Hallowed by your name!) and dedicate everything to God, the sex of marriage and the pleasures of food are made holy — that is, they are set apart from the sinful use of the world and made pure and precious and beautiful by participation in the goodness of God.
Unembarrassed by the Bible
We are not supposed to be embarrassed by the forthright sensuality of sexual love in marriage as the Bible portrays it — sometimes graphically.
It is no shame that “a man’s ways are before the Lord” as her breasts fill him at all times with delight. This is why God made her that way and him that way. In fact, that this delight in her is “before” the Lord — in the presence of the Lord — points to the truth that all our joy in what God has made is meant to be a delight in God. There is something of his glory in all the glories of the world.
We are not meant to revel in his creation instead of him or more than in him but because of him, and because there is something of him in all that is good and beautiful. The heavens are telling the glory of God. We are to see it. And worship him. So it is with the breasts of our wives. The breasts are telling the glory of God, the goodness of God, the beauty of God, and more. We are to see it. And worship him.
Let the Song Stun You
The Song of Solomon is in the Bible, among other reasons, to make sure that we take seriously the exquisite physical pleasures between a bride and a groom as a picture of Christ and his Church. The point is not that we nullify the physical pleasures of this Song by seeing it as a full-color image of Ephesians 5:22–33. The point is that we let the Song stun us that God would design such a relationship between man and woman — from the beginning — as the image of the covenant-keeping pleasures between Christ and his church.
This is part of what Paul had in mind in 1 Timothy 4:3–5, when he said, “God created [food and sex] to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. . . . It is made holy by the word of God and prayer.” Sex is for “those who believe and know the truth.”
The Pleasures of Sex Are for Christians
We might lose sight of this, since Hollywood has ripped the curtains off the sacred marriage bed and turned a luxuriant, holy pleasure into a cheap spectator sport. We might be tempted to think that, since sex is so sinfully misused and is so universally undermining to the all-satisfying beauty of Christ’s holiness, maybe we Christians should have nothing to do with it.
Paul says the opposite. It is the world that has stolen what belongs to believers. Sex belongs to Christians. Because sex belongs to God. “God created it to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth.” If it is used by those who do not believe and know the truth, it is prostituted. They have exchanged the glory of God for images. They have torn sex from its God-appointed place in the orbit of marriage. But they do not know what they are doing. And the price they will pay in this life and the next is incalculable.
The pleasures of sex are meant for believers. They are designed for their greatest expression by the children of God. He saves his richest gifts for his children. And as we enjoy his gift of sex, we say, by our covenant faithfulness to our spouse, that God is greater than sex. And the pleasures of sex are themselves an overflow of God’s own goodness. This pleasure is less than what we will know fully in him at his right hand. And in it, we taste something of his very exquisiteness.
When the preciousness and pleasures of Christ are supreme, all dimensions of sex, including experiencing pleasure, seeking pleasure, giving pleasure, and abstinence frompleasure, will all find their biblical and Christ-exalting expression.
Everything God made is good. Everything is for the sake of worship and love. And this is true both in the feasting and the fasting. In the sexual union and in abstinence. Sex is made for the glory of Christ — for the Christ-exalting glory of covenant-keeping faithfulness in marriage, and for the glory of Christ-exalting chastity in singleness. It is always good. Sex is always an occasion to show that the Giver of sex is better than sex.
I wrote two chapters on singleness in This Momentary Marriage in which I try to work out the implications of how the sexuality of a non-married follower of Christ is meant to work out for the glory of God.