How Christ and the Church Form the Model for Marriage and Sex

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Intimacy in marriage. The one-flesh experience most Jesus-followers are looking for when they say “I do.” OK, you have physical drives that lead to sex. Your head knows intimacy is about more than a physical act. But it’s hard to get there when dealing with the messiness of the real-life union of two sinners. What you use as a model for marriage and sex matters.

Paul wrote, “”Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.” (Ephesians 5:31-32)

As Matt and Laurie Krieg talk about in their book Impossible Marriage, we’ve gotten this backwards. We’ve usually taken this Scripture to mean that our experience of sex and marriage tells us something about Christ and the church. But what Paul is really saying is that it starts with Christ and the church. What we believe about marriage needs to be based on what we know about God more than on our experience.

To clarify, sex and intimacy are related in marriage, but are by no means the same. God designed sex and intimacy and covenant marriage to exist together, and evil has so often broken up that three-stranded cord.

But as God designed things, what does Christ and the church tell us about intimacy? About marriage? About sex? Here are a few things.

Giving, not Getting

If you know anything about Jesus, about the gospel, you know He came as God’s gift to humankind out of His overwhelming nature of love. (John 3:16) A free gift, not based on our worthiness or our response. He doesn’t take back the gift when we mess up or when things get difficult. He gave Himself in a covenant to us forever.

How different so many marriages are from that extravagant giving perspective. How opposed to that paradigm is the way many people approach sex and marriage. “If you keep making me feel good, I’ll stick around.” “You’re obligated to give your body to me; it’s my right.” That way of seeing sex makes it all about me.

And that’s the exact opposite of Christ and the church, the exact opposite of how God designed marriage and sex to be.

When spouses both seek to help each other experience pleasure and to thrive, not only in sex but in all of marriage, beautiful things happen. You’re not looking for what you can get, but you’re giving yourself to your partner as Christ gave Himself to the church.

Imperfectly Perfect

The union of Christ and His church is not an immediately perfect thing. It’s a process. And He sticks with us along the way. He’s patient, encouraging, challenging, relentless in His pursuit of our good at any expense to Himself. Yes, the result will be an eternal Bride that is glorious beyond all description. (See Ephesians 5:25-27) But it’s messy along the way.

When a young couple about to get married recently asked me for a word of advice, I said, “Your wedding night is not the end; it’s the beginning. The first act of making love is not the culmination; it’s the start of building oneness. Be committed to the process.”

If you’ve been married longer than a few hours or days you know it’s a messy process. Keep working on your oneness. God designed your union, as Peter Scazzero says in Emotionally Healthy Discipleship, to be a sign and a wonder to the world of who God is and what He does. That’s not because it’s easy; it’s precisely because a healthy godly marriage is so impossible that only with God can it ever come to be.

Whole-Person Intimacy

When Christ gave Himself for the Church He gave all of Himself. The kingdom of God that He came proclaiming impacts every dimension of who Christ is and who we are; physical, emotional, relational, spiritual. Jesus came healing, teaching, and preaching; body, soul, and spirit. (Matthew 4:23, 9:35)

Jesus gave His body in becoming a human being and being crucified, forever carrying the marks of His suffering in His glorified body. He gave His mind and emotions, extravagantly teaching truth and vulnerably allowing Himself to be impacted by humans and human feelings. Spiritually He invites us into union with Himself in the deepest parts of our being.

God designed intimacy in marriage to be like that. We are human beings with a fleshly body; giving yourselves to each other in sexual pleasure is mirroring how Jesus gave His body for us. It’s the same in emotional connection; being vulnerable, seeking your spouse’s heart. Spiritually that oneness comes in prayer and in seeking God’s purpose for not only each of you individually, but His purpose for your union as a couple.

What About Your Marriage?

Does all that sound good but impossible? Yes, it is impossible. No wonder the disciples responded to Jesus, “If that’s the way it is, then better not to marry!” (See Matthew 19:10)

This is one more place in which what Jesus said is true: “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Matthew 19:26)

So based on Ephesians 5, if you’re a husband, are you being as Christ to your wife, laying down your life for her? Are you the kind of person who is becoming worthy of being respected?

And if you’re a wife, are you being to your husband as followers of Jesus are called to be to Him? Are you becoming a person worthy of having your husband lay down his life for you?

If your spouse is not on this journey with you, if your marriage is toxic or traumatizing, if you struggle with codependency, you’re not alone. Sometimes this requires walking away; Jesus did that when people would not accept Him. Sometimes it means setting hard boundaries. Get some help.

Regardless of your marriage challenges right now, a most helpful question to ask is, “Who does God need me to be to my spouse in this season?”

Let Christ and the church be your model for marriage and sex.

Your Turn: How closely, or not closely, has Christ and the church been your model for marriage and sex? Do you need to change your understanding? Leave a comment below.

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