"Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous" (Hebrews 13:4).
Obviously this verse implies that there is a way to experience undefiled intimacy. Within the confines of marriage, sex is an honorable and worthwhile way to spend one's time. It's not just to be tolerated, it's to be enjoyed. With that said, it is important to consider marital intimacy further. Perhaps an illustration concerning food will show why.
When Jesus came to earth he declared all foods clean (see Mark 7:19). In the book of Acts we read of a dream that Peter had. There was all manner of animals falling from the sky and Peter was expected to eat them. Peter refused God's command, explaining that he'd never eaten anything "unclean." God rebuked Peter saying, "What God has made clean, do not call common" (Acts 10:15). So Peter learned that what once was defiled and unfit to eat had become undefiled and clean - good for food. However, just because God declared all foods clean and fit to eat, God didn't say gluttony was now an acceptable way of life.
Is sex similar to food in that sense? God has clearly stated in the Bible that all foods are undefiled, yet food can still be an idol. God has clearly stated in the Bible that intimacy within marriage is undefiled. But does being undefiled mean that it can never lead to idolatry? Just because God gives something doesn't mean one can't misuse the gift. God gives money, and that is misused all the time. Why is it important to make these distinctions? Many have perhaps never thought about these things, and can't see the use in it. The answer is simple.
God refuses to condone idolatry. His name is Jealous (Ex. 34:14), and he accepts no rivals of his glory. When one chooses to consume food in a way that God forbids (either by gluttony or abstention), food has become a functional god for that person. In a similar manner, when one chooses to engage in sex in a way that God forbids (either by gluttony or abstention), sex has become a functional god for that person. We easily accept this line of thought in matters of clear sexual immorality. Most people accept that marriage is the only proper outlet for sexual appetites.
What I'm concerned with in these last two posts is helping those who are not being sexually immoral. In the post yesterday I used the example of Morgan and Clarisse. They weren't immoral. Marriage confined their sexual appetites. However, there was an underlying low-level tension in their marriage concerning intimacy.
Morgan and Clarisse want their marriage to be happy. They don't care for conflict. And they long to be Christ-centered. Morgan wants to honor God with his desire for Clarisse - not replace God with Clarisse. And Clarisse wants to honor God by serving her husband - not replace God by serving herself. Morgan and Clarisse are concerned with being Christ-centered at a level that many don't even contemplate. And they know that the low-level tension concerning intimacy can be a sign of subtle idolatry.
In my experience in living and counseling, married couples struggle with intimacy. In addition, they are reluctant to talk about it. Often, the source of conflict is a disagreement over the frequency and level of intimacy. In the last two posts, I've tried to lay the groundwork to explore these issues. Tomorrow, we'll begin sorting through how to deal with these issues.