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Redeemer Bible Church
Unreserved Accountability to Christ. Undeserved Acceptance from Christ.
The Christian Home, Lecture Six: The One Flesh Union Selected Scriptures Introduction So far we have seen that marriage exists for procreation and for partnership. Last week, we spent some time reflecting on the nature of the partnership and saw from Scripture that the marriage union is at its most basic level a covenantal relationship. In fact, it is the idea of covenant that establishes the relationship. Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife.” To leave father and mother and to cleave to one’s spouse is publicly to establish a new family by covenant Thus without a covenant, there is no marriage. Even if there is a sexual relationship, even if there are children between a man and a woman, even if the man and the woman cohabitate—if there is no covenant, there is no marriage. Covenant is what makes marriage, well, marriage. This is why Mary and Joseph were considered married before they ever came together sexually; it is why under the Old Covenant a man who sexually violated a betrothed woman was considered an adulterer; and it part of the reason why the sins of fornication and adultery are not to be identified with one another. And if we may make a practical observation and application, it explains how two quadriplegics may be married in the sight of God even if (for the sake of the argument) they were literally unable to “come together” as husband and wife. Sex does not equal marriage. The sex act itself does not establish a marriage. Nevertheless, as we said last time, the sexual union is a very important ingredient of a healthy marriage. Most people getting married are not quadriplegics. All things being equal, then, it seems fair to say that sex is an indispensable part of the marriage covenant. Turn with me in your Bibles to Gen 2:24: “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh.” The important phrase for this morning (as you may have guessed) is and they shall become one flesh. What can we say about the one flesh union of husband and wife? The One Flesh Union Is the Sexual Union Well, very basically, becoming one flesh refers to being united through a sexual relationship. And as you know, it happens quite literally through the sex act itself: two

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bodies become one body when man and woman come together. They literally join themselves to one another. That sex is in mind with the language of one flesh is clear even with reference to an immoral sexual union. Turn ahead to 1 Cor 6:15-16: “Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take away the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? May it never be! Or do you not know that the one who joins himself to a prostitute is one body with her? For He says, ‘The two shall become one flesh.’” Paul argues that the man who has sex with a (temple1) prostitute becomes one body with her on the grounds of Gen 2:24: the two shall become one flesh. Notice that Paul does not cite Gen 2:24 in its entirety. This lends further grounds to our claim that marriage is not established by the sex act. Engaging in sexual intercourse with a prostitute does not constitute marriage to that prostitute. Instead, it is considered an act of immorality (v 18); that is, sexual immorality or fornication. That being said, it is quite clear that Paul understands the one flesh union as a sexual union. In fact, the text teaches us by implication that the one flesh union takes place any time there is a sexual union, moral or immoral. When it happens in conjunction with a covenant between one man and one woman, it consummates a marriage; outside of marriage it is fornication or adultery. For married partners, then, sex is one of the means by which husband and wife are confirmed and nourished in their covenant. “For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh” (Gen 2:24). This leads me to another important aspect of the one flesh union. The One Flesh Union Is an Intimate Union Turn back to Gen 4:1: “Now the man had relations with his wife Eve, and she conceived and gave birth to Cain, and she said, ‘I have gotten a manchild with the help of the LORD.’” Notice that the phrase had relations is prefixed by a footnote in your NASB. The footnote tells us that the word in Hebrew is the word for knowing: the man knew his wife.2 It is not without significance that the sexual relationship of man and woman is conceived in terms of knowledge. It is a relationship of intimacy in which a man and a woman know each other in an incomparable way. The intimacy of the sexual relationship has at least three components. The first is obvious. There is physical intimacy between man and woman that is unparalleled by any other kind of human union. Bodies physically become one with each

1 2

The temple of Diana in Corinth supported upwards of a thousand prostitutes.

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© 2004 by R W Glenn

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other, which is why even in light of the proper marriage roles that Paul can say in 1 Cor 7:4: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” Second, sexual intimacy involves emotional intimacy. It is an act of communication (in the older sense of the term); an act of communion through which husband and wife bond with one another emotionally. In the one flesh marriage relationship, husband and wife may come to know one another completely. All of who they are is shared in the one flesh union. Finally, the sexual union is a spiritually intimate union. This in part explains Paul’s use of the intimacy of our union with Christ as the ground for forbidding our union with prostitutes in 1 Corinthians 6. In addition, when Jesus reflects on the indissoluble union of marriage in Matthew 19, he makes his claim on the basis of marriage in its entirety, covenant and consummation: “‘FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Matt 19:5-6). In fact, the one flesh intimacy has been designed by God to illustrate the oneness between Christ and the church. Ephesians 5:31-32 says, “FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church.” So then, the one flesh union of Gen 2:24 is the union of husband to wife through a sexual union. In addition, the significance of the sexual union is not found merely in the physical union. When two people come together sexually there is a deeper joining, a greater level of intimacy at the emotional and spiritual levels as well. God Designed Sex for Marriage Alone Now although there are many implications of this text for the sexual relationship, we may reduce them to this: God designed sex for marriage alone. Now then, let’s parse the sentence, “God designed sex for marriage alone” by looking first at this: God designed sex. This means that sex is not something inherently evil; indeed, sex is something that God instituted for married life even before the fall. And the purity of the sexual union could not be more manifest than in v 25. Read it with me: And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. Sex is God’s idea! Therefore it must be a good thing. More than that, sex must be a holy thing. Turn in your Bibles to Heb 13:4: “Marriage is to be held in honor among all, and the marriage bed is to be undefiled; for fornicators and adulterers God will judge.” That the Lord can demand that the marriage bed be undefiled strongly indicates that the marriage bed is already holy. What defile it are extramarital relationships: fornication

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and adultery. Sex itself is not dirty. It is not something that inhibits one’s spiritual growth. You will not be holier if you abstain from sexual relations with your spouse. The idea that the sex act is defiling is likely what prompted some of the Apostle Paul’s teaching concerning marital sex in 1 Cor 7:1-9. Turn there with me. This passage is very instructive on the holiness and appropriateness of sex in marriage. There are at least two points of significance in this connection. The first is that sex in marriage can work to prevent immorality. Verse 2 says because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. And the end of v 9 tells us that it is better to marry than to burn with passion. Clearly, then, sex is not something that in itself is defiling for the Christian. The second (and I think exciting) point is that sex in marriage is actually commanded of believers. Notice 7:3: The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. Sex should be understood as a husband and wife’s duty to one another. Verse 3 sets forth the command in no uncertain terms. In fact, sex is referred to by circumlocution as fulfilling one’s duty to one’s spouse. Later, in v 5, the commands to stop depriving one another and come together again are both imperatives. Christian couples do not have the right to deprive one another sexually. They must be engaging in sex. Additionally, their sex must be provided “on demand.” Notice v 4: The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Man and wife have equal authority over each other’s bodies to have at their command. Sex is a genderblind marital entitlement. The frequency of sexual relations is implied in 7:5 and again in v 9. Let’s take them in turn. Look first at 7:5: Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say that this implies frequency because married couples must have sex at least so as not to be tempted to sin. Though this certainly differs for each of us at varying stages of our lives and marriages, it seems fair to say that long term abstinence is prohibited. Now jump down to 7:9: But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. I would suggest that this verse at least implies that married couples should come together often enough to prevent burning with passion. Sex is meant to be a regular feature of married life. Nevertheless, there appear to be circumstances in which a married couple may abstain. Notice again v 5: Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so

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that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. There are certain conditions under which a husband and wife may abstain from sexual relations. The purpose for the abstinence is prayer. Thus the only appropriate abstinence for married couples is a kind of sexual fast. In fasting, we give up what is lawful in order to devote ourselves to Christ. But according to Paul the fast can only be held if two conditions are met: (1) it must have mutual consent; in other words, it cannot be unilaterally imposed (except by agreement); and (2) the couple must agree on the length of the fast (for a time). If there are circumstances under which one or the other partner during the fast lacks self-control, and begins “burning” before the allotted time, the fast must end, the couple must come together. For in this situation, the benefits of the fast are far outweighed by the temptations of the devil. So then, it should be abundantly clear that sex is not something that is at all unholy or profane. It is a healthy, holy feature of godly wedded life. Indeed, it is failing to have sexual relations with one another that can be detrimental to our pursuit of holiness. One of the places married couples pursue their holiness together is in their bed. What makes sex evil is when it is put in the hands of men and women in rebellion against God. Since the fall we have an uncanny ability instantly to turn that which is holy and righteous and good into filth. Sex is no different. This leads us to the rest of the sentence we developed by implication from Gen 2:24. God designed sex for marriage alone. Marriage is the only appropriate venue for a sexual relationship. On the basis of this we can say that homosexuality is forbidden; for as we have learned, marriage is between a man and a woman. We can also say that polyamory is forbidden; for marriage is between one man and one woman. And we can say that bestiality is forbidden; for marriage is between a human male and a human female. But aside from these rather obvious perversions of God-honoring sexual practices, there are other sexual threats to the marriage bed as well. Turn back to Heb 13:4. Notice what it lists as threats to holy sex: adultery and fornication. Adultery refers to sexual relationships that break the marriage covenant. And fornication can refer generally to any other extramarital (often premarital) sexual relationship. Sexual immorality and adultery are routinely denounced in Scripture. First Corinthians 6:9-10 says, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” First Thessalonians 4:3-5 says,

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For this is the will of God, your sanctification; that is, that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each of you know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor, not in lustful passion, like the Gentiles who do not know God and that no man transgress and defraud his brother in the matter because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.

And Eph 5:3-5 takes sexual immorality so seriously that we are not even permitted to joke about it:
But immorality or any impurity or greed must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints; and there must be no filthiness and silly talk, or coarse jesting, which are not fitting, but rather giving of thanks. For this you know with certainty, that no immoral or impure person or covetous man, who is an idolater, has an inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God.

Sex outside of marriage is profane and therefore is absolutely forbidden. I should add that this should be understood to include pornography as well. Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT ADULTERY’; but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” This should also eliminate masturbation from the list of extramarital sexual options as well. Any sexual behavior outside of marriage defiles the marriage bed. And as we have seen, God takes such behavior very seriously. He is the avenger in these things; he will judge the adulterer and fornicator; adulterers and fornicators will not inherit the kingdom of God. And the reason why the Lord takes these threats to the marriage bed so seriously is that ultimately they work to undermine the relation between Christ and the church. If a husband lusts after another woman, what is he communicating about Christ’s relationship to the church? He is impugning the faithfulness of her covenant Lord. If a wife commits adultery with another man, what is she communicating about the church’s relationship to Christ? She is bringing blemish upon the holy bride of the risen Christ. So then, what have we learned? Sex within marriage is beautiful and holy; sex outside of marriage is ugly and profane. God designed sex for marriage alone. Now we may ask this: What are the purposes of sex within marriage? This is a helpful question because it will give us direction for our sex lives. If we can have some sense of the reason for its institution, then we can more accurately infer its proper use for ourselves. The Purposes of Sex within Marriage So, what are the purposes of sex within marriage? Well, we can discern at least two. The first is obvious. Sex is for purposes of procreation. Do you remember Gen 1:28? “God blessed them; and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue

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it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” We are fruitful and we multiply and we fill the earth by engaging in sexual relations. This then is another reason for excluding extramarital sexual relationships. God intended children to be raised with mother and father in the stability of a loving, Godcentered, Christ-exalting home. In addition, it is another powerful argument excluding masturbation; for masturbation by definition cannot result in the production of offspring.3 But procreation is not the only purpose for sex in marriage. God gave us sex for our pleasure. Turn with me first to Prov 5:15-20:
Drink water from your own cistern And fresh water from your own well. 16 Should your springs be dispersed abroad, Streams of water in the streets? 17 Let them be yours alone And not for strangers with you. 18 Let your fountain be blessed, And rejoice in the wife of your youth. 19 As a loving hind and a graceful doe, Let her breasts satisfy you at all times; Be exhilarated always with her love. 20 For why should you, my son, be exhilarated with an adulteress And embrace the bosom of a foreigner?

Although the faithful wife is used as an illustration for Lady Wisdom here in Proverbs, the fundamental principles on which the metaphor is based are rooted in reality. The writer is saying “Just as you are exhilarated in the love of your wife, be exhilarated in the Lady called Wisdom. And just as it is foolish to be exhilarated with an adulteress, so it is foolish to be exhilarated in the lies of Lady Folly.” So then, clearly a man ought to rejoice in the wife of his youth, he ought to enjoy the satisfaction of her breasts, and he ought to be drunk with her love. This is pretty vivid, is it not? Well, there’s more to come—much more. Turn ahead to Song of Solomon. Here we have Scripture’s erotic love poem. That’s right, Scripture’s erotic love poem. And it is full of language indicating the pleasures of married sex cf. Cant 1:2-3, 13-14, 16; 2:3; 4:1-16; 5:2-4, 16:
May he kiss me with the kisses of his mouth! For your love is better than wine. 3 "Your oils have a pleasing fragrance, Your name is like purified oil; Therefore the maidens love you….My beloved is to me a pouch of myrrh Which lies all night between my breasts. 14 "My beloved is to me a cluster of henna blossoms In the vineyards of Engedi….How handsome you are, my beloved, And so pleasant! Indeed, our couch is luxuriant! (Cant 1:2-3, 13-14, 16). Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest, So is my beloved among the young men. In his shade I took great delight and sat down, And his fruit was sweet to my taste (Cant 2:3).
I do not mean to absolutize an injunction against masturbation; for there may be situations in which masturbation is lawful. Take, for example, couples struggling with infertility. In order to perform artificial insemination, a sample of the man’s semen is necessary.
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How beautiful you are, my darling, How beautiful you are! Your eyes are like doves behind your veil; Your hair is like a flock of goats That have descended from Mount Gilead. 2 "Your teeth are like a flock of newly shorn ewes Which have come up from their washing, All of which bear twins, And not one among them has lost her young. 3 "Your lips are like a scarlet thread, And your mouth is lovely. Your temples are like a slice of a pomegranate Behind your veil. 4 "Your neck is like the tower of David, Built with rows of stones On which are hung a thousand shields, All the round shields of the mighty men. 5 "Your two breasts are like two fawns, Twins of a gazelle Which feed among the lilies. 6 "Until the cool of the day When the shadows flee away, I will go my way to the mountain of myrrh And to the hill of frankincense. 7 "You are altogether beautiful, my darling, And there is no blemish in you. 8 "Come with me from Lebanon, my bride, May you come with me from Lebanon. Journey down from the summit of Amana, From the summit of Senir and Hermon, From the dens of lions, From the mountains of leopards. 9 "You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride; You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes, With a single strand of your necklace. 10 "How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, And the fragrance of your oils Than all kinds of spices! 11 "Your lips, my bride, drip honey; Honey and milk are under your tongue, And the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. 12 "A garden locked is my sister, my bride, A rock garden locked, a spring sealed up. 13 "Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates With choice fruits, henna with nard plants, 14 Nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, With all the trees of frankincense, Myrrh and aloes, along with all the finest spices. 15 "You are a garden spring, A well of fresh water, And streams flowing from Lebanon." 16 "Awake, O north wind, And come, wind of the south; Make my garden breathe out fragrance, Let its spices be wafted abroad. May my beloved come into his garden And eat its choice fruits!” (Cant 4:1-16). I was asleep but my heart was awake. A voice! My beloved was knocking: 'Open to me, my sister, my darling, My dove, my perfect one! For my head is drenched with dew, My locks with the damp of the night.' 3 "I have taken off my dress, How can I put it on again? I have washed my feet, How can I dirty them again? 4 "My beloved extended his hand through the opening, And my feelings were aroused for him….His mouth is full of sweetness. And he is wholly desirable. This is my beloved and this is my friend, O daughters of Jerusalem (Cant 5:2-4, 16).

Oh, there is so much to learn from Solomon’s song! Look especially at 7:1-9. In vv 1-2 we see that the woman’s lover is drawn to her entire body: How beautiful are your feet in sandals, O prince’s daughter! The curves of your hips are like jewels, The work of the hands of an artist. Your navel is like a round goblet Which never lacks mixed wine; Your belly is like a heap of wheat Fenced about with lilies. Feet, hips, navel—everything. One writer hits it right on the mark when he says, “It is obviously lawful for a godly husband to admire, kiss, taste, and caress his wife wherever he pleases.”4

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Douglas Wilson, Reforming Marriage (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 1995), 107.

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Notice vv 7-9: “Your stature is like a palm tree, And your breasts are like its clusters. I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree, I will take hold of its fruit stalks.’ Oh, may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, And the fragrance of your breath like apples, And your mouth like the best wine!’” “It goes down smoothly for my beloved, Flowing gently through the lips of those who fall asleep.” The husband depicts his wife as a palm tree that he ascends that he might enjoy her breasts which are akin to its choice fruit. He wants to take hold of its fruit stalks. And he cannot wait to feel the clusters of her vine and to smell the fragrance of her breath and to taste the wine of her mouth. The woman in the same way is pleased to be such a tree, and delights in being such delicious wine for her beloved. I quote Douglas Wilson again, “As Christian lovers, our enjoyment of lovemaking should be deep and lasting. The joy of sex, about which the world knows very little, is a gift to us from God. Because God is good to us, the man gives and receives, and the woman receives and gives, tremendous pleasure.”5 It is proper for married couples to anticipate, to celebrate, and to drink deeply of their sexual union in marriage. It is not at all shameful; it is wonderful. Sex is for our pleasure. And yet, with all that we have seen about the joy of sex from the pages of Scripture, many married Christian couples do not enjoy sex like they should. For many, it has become drudgery rather than a delight. Next time we will look at what often hinders healthy sex for married couples and how we might overcome those hurdles.

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5

Ibid., 108.

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