Monday, November 08, 2010

On Sex

A topical sermon on Sex

Today we continue the topical series on the body. And sermon title that is given is from sex to happiness. We are going to talk about sex, and how it can bring you happiness. It seems like a no-brainer. Well, those who are getting laid are happy and those who are not are … well… let’s just say they are not particularly happy about it. Some of you may be thinking. “It is hard enough getting any sex, now we have to have sex theologically? What have sex got to do with Christianity anyway?” Some of you might be thinking, “Is he going to talk about sex the entire sermon? Is that even allowed in church?” Yes, I will be talking about sex. And it will be PG-16.

Sex is a sensitive topic. I think there will be many images and ideas that will be popping up in your head when I mention the word sex. We need to approach this topic carefully because your idea of sex may be very different from mine, and the furthest thing I want is for somebody to misunderstand me on this topic and go out and claim Xiaohui said “this and that”. I will try to be as open as I can, and you must try to interpret my sharing in the most positive way possible.

Sex is also a wide topic. I do not aim to answer all your queries about sex today. Neither do I claim to be a sex expert or to understand every particular sexual problem. What I aim to do today is to emphasize to you the biblical perspective on the topic, and I sincerely hope that can be a guiding light to those struggling with sexual issues.

Because Sex is a sensitive and wide topic, it has often been trimmed down to a morality issue when it is discussed in church. We sometimes talk about sexual sins but we fail to address the nature of sex and the purpose of sexuality. Other times, it is relegated into an educational lesson for youths, and we presume as adults and especially those with children understand about sex. And even those who bother to find out more, often end up with Freudian paradigms and solve their problems using psychotherapy, but we must certainly question how much of Freud’s conclusions are biblical revelation, and is psychotherapy the only solution to sexual issues.

But the church must address the issue of sex, and approach it beyond a morality problem. If it remains at a moral domain, then our directions will purely be problem solving, and instructions will be reduced to preventive measures. To those outside the Christian community, our morality has no bearings to their lives. We also believe that sex means more than a functional process for procreation. While it is true that sex often leads to procreation, the same can be said about animals, but can we say that human sex is no different from animal sex? We must speak about sex and be well informed because sexuality is a part of humanity. Being human means that we are also sexual beings. How we express ourselves on the matter of sex indicates our understanding of our relationship with the human world. The church must speak about sex because the world speaks about sex. Ideas about what the world see about sex can be found in commercials, radio, talk-shows and public policies. If we do not seriously listen to what the bible has to say about sex, then we are forced into letting the world tell us what to think about this matter that is integral to everybody’s lives. So let’s begin with the basic question “What is sex?” And my answer, which is my first point, is “Sex is a Gift of oneself.”

Point 1
Read Genesis 2:20-25
To understand sex, we need to understand the origin of masculinity and femininity. This is a familiar passage and much expounded upon in weddings. We see in the beginning that woman is a divine gift from God to man. And in reciprocating his acceptance, he is also now a gift to the woman. This is a time before the fall, and we can see the original innocence in mankind. “The man and his wife were both naked, and they felt no shame. We can see that this innocence allows for a reciprocal experience of one another. In this relationship, they learn to grasp the idea of masculinity and femininity. Here we see that in the original relationship, woman is a gift for man, and accepted by the man as a gift. In the giving of herself, the woman discovers herself through the acceptance of the man. The man in his complete acceptance of the woman has presented himself as a gift to the woman. This mutual exchange is so interconnected that the giving itself becomes accepting, and the acceptance is transformed into giving. So we can understand that in the healthiest form of man-woman relationship, man and woman are a gift to one another, and the full acceptance of the gift is expressed in a reciprocal giving of oneself in return.

Read Genesis 3:6-10
After the Fall, after eating the fruits of the knowledge of good and evil, man and woman realize their nakedness and became afraid. The opposite of the initial mutual giving and accepting is the making of the other person into an object of possession. Man and woman feel their nakedness and were afraid, because they realized they could now become an object of desire and also discovering their corrupted thought in possessing the other person. What was previously a subject of giving and accepting has now become an object of possessing and guarding against.

Read Genesis 4:1
Now that we understand what is the original ideal for Man and Woman relationship and what is the opposite of the original design, we can now go on to comprehend what is sex in the theological understanding. In the original Hebrew language “Adam lay with his wife” is literally translated as “Adam knew his wife.” Sex is knowing and for the other partner, the giving of knowledge. From the beginning of creation, man and woman are called to become one flesh. This calling continues even after the fall, but we must understand its ideal and original intention from before the fall. Certainly part of this calling consist of the need for procreation and hence to be fruitful and multiply. But sex has to move beyond the basic understanding of biological reproduction because it is about a union that is so close that becoming one flesh has been defined as knowledge. In Luke 1:34, Mary says “How shall this be, since I know not man?” Thus, this knowing is not just for man but also for woman. Sex is knowing and the giving of knowledge. What is this knowledge? It is the awareness of the meaning of one’s sexuality. In the becoming of the one flesh, the man understands the meaning of his masculinity and he gives himself as a man to the woman. At the same time, he receives the meaning of femininity from the woman and accepts and welcomes it as a man. Let me repeat this from the perspective of a woman. In sex, the woman understands the meaning of her femininity and she gives herself as a woman to the man. At the same time, she receives the meaning of masculinity form the man and accepts and welcomes it as a woman. During the union, man and woman become one flesh, and understand their humanity and sexuality through their body. This can only be achieved when there is true giving of the person and true acceptance of one another. Sex is knowing because both man and woman is part of a self-revelation process. This is sex in its ideal form and it should be the natural process in a healthy man-woman relationship. So to repeat the first point: Sex is a Gift of oneself.

I will be talking about the practical applications in my conclusion. But before I proceed to the next point, I would have to have a short time of reflection on the first point. Firstly, if we look at the way sex is expressed in the mass media today, how much of it conveys this mutual giving of one another during sex? More often than not, woman are portrayed as sexual objects to be used for sexual needs, rather than to be understood as sexual beings. With the increasing spending power of woman today, man has also been marketed as sexual objects based on looks, physique and power. The day you see people as objects of sexual desire rather than human beings of God’s creation, that is the day you have experienced the effects of the fall, and you will have fear in you instead of openness. Secondly, do you see yourself as a sexual object or a person to be known? This has a lot to do with the way you dress and your mannerism and the way you relate with others. You are not a woman based on how many man want to have sex with you, and similarly you are not a man based on how many woman you can bed. Your sexuality is God-given, and how much your sexuality is magnified is based on the kind sex you and your partner has. Lastly, which brings me to my final reflection. Based on such a theological understanding of sex, what kind of sex should you have? It should be a process of giving and accepting. You convey your sexuality through sex and you know yourself and your partner more through his/her giving as well. There should not be thoughts of possession or manipulation, but sharing and communication. Sex should make you realize that you and your partner has become one flesh.

Point 2
Our first point is that sex is a Gift and hence it is not to be taken lightly. However, with the strong emphasis on avoidance of sexual sins in church, many may have swung over to the other extreme. They see sex as dirty and unholy and should be abstained unless for purposes of procreation. These people glorify virginity and the deterrence of sex in marriage as a spiritual discipline. This is similarly unbiblical and unwise. And this is my second point: Sex is good and must be expressed in passion.

Read Song of Songs 4:16-5:1
The passage we have just read is a description of sex that occurred after a wedding. The entire book is filled with passages of passion and love. The groom has great admiration for the bride and the bride has great yearnings for the groom. The mood of the songs and tone of the language used clearly indicate that sexual love is a thing of great beauty and sex is an activity that enriches human life. The book teaches that love and sex are good. This is a message that is drastically different from those who think that sex is a unholy activity. This book shows that loving God with one’s heart and soul and loving a member of the opposite sex with one’s heart and flesh are not opposed to one another. The one who stays away from sex is not holier than the sexually active husband or wife. This book shows us that sex and love can be filled with passion and desire. Passion is the emphasis that the book wants to convey. References to sexual acts are fairly rare and usually indirect. However, the fervent desire that the couple have for each other is direct and blatant. Sex should not be a monotonous task for childbearing purposes. It can be one that is expressed through passion and yearning for each other. The north wind and south wind indicate the stormy night that the sex resembles. And the groom entering the beautiful garden indicates the magical setting of the union. Sex is respected as something to be enjoyed in the bible. But the enjoyment can only be appreciated within the limits of a covenant.

Read Song of Songs 8:6-7
We see that the couple passionately in love is bound by a covenant. It is in this covenant that their love is expressed. The woman’s name is sealed on the man and hence she demands his complete faithfulness. She is entitled to claim this faithfulness because such love, the bond of one flesh, is exclusive and jealous. This love is like death which is inescapable. The sex that they have experienced makes their love permanent. This covenant they share does not allow for rivalry and infidelity. This exclusivity indicates the seriousness of entering this relationship. So we see that the book calls for passion and yearning in a relationship. However it is not without its morality. Firstly, the relationship must be between a man and a woman. And secondly, this is a relationship in marriage and does not allow for unfaithfulness. Within such boundaries, we must allow for passion of love in the relationship. This passion that demands faithfulness is also a shield to unfaithfulness. If we make sex emotionless, it will only open doors to lust outside of the relationship. So this is my second point: Sex is good and must be expressed in passion.

Let us have a time of reflection on the second point before I conclude. Firstly, we turn to the ideas about sex in the media world. Modern culture has great difficulty in seeing marriage as a promising setting for romance and passion. In current fiction and movies, hot passionate love is always found in an extramarital setting. We need to get rid of this myth that is pervading our society, that it is the forbidden fruit that taste the best. Passionate love for your wife is possible and sex with her can be better than the sweet young thing that don’t know the real you. Yearning and desire for your domesticated husband is possible, and he can be as attractive as the playboys that disrespect the sanctity of marriage. Secondly, do thoughts of sex make you uncomfortable and avoiding it make you think you are more holy? Sex is an activity respected in the Bible, and not only is it a important element in marriage, it is to be enjoyed by the couple. It strengthens the bond that the couple have for each other and it is a shield against temptations outside of the covenant. Lastly, based on this biblical understanding of sex, what kind of sex should you have? For those who are unmarried, there can be no sex. The Bible is clear that sex is between a man and a woman and is expressed in a marriage. I am not saying this because I am standing on a moral high ground, but simply because I understand what is sex and love. This expression of love demands faithfulness and it consumes your very being. Is this not the sex that is worth waiting for? For those who are married, bring love and passion back into your marriage. The yearning for one another must always be in your heart and mutual admiration must continue long after your wedding night. If you need tips on how to improve your romantic life, buy a good commentary on the Song of Songs.

Before I conclude, I wish to share something as a food for thought. Friday morning as I was driving to work, I was listening to Class 95. They were talking about faithfulness in marriage. The female DJ says she feels that it is better to marry a man who has sown his wild oats before marriage. The reason is that since he has experienced every thing, he will be faithful when he is married because he will not wonder what the outside world is like. The male DJ agrees with her, and says that if not for his religious conviction, he would have done the same. From the call-ins from listeners and previous experiences, I have reasons to believe that this is a prevailing thought. Sexual experiences with multiple partners are considered good to the outside world, and in this case even good for protecting a marriage. This is such an irony.

This brings me to my conclusion. I will use a Star-wars analogy for sex. Sex has a light side and a dark side. The dark side has many attractions with many attractions like multiple partners, illicit relationships, pornography and so on. But the satisfaction is temporal, and every time the “high” is over, you need to go further to get the next “high”. If you go down that road, it is doomed to failure and depression. But Sex has a light side, and it is the one given by God and highlighted today. It seems like a tough road because it requires faithfulness, communication and reflection. It is about giving and openness and becoming vulnerable at times. However, you will find that this satisfaction is eternal because through sex in this way, you will find and appreciate your true humanity and discover a partner of a lifetime. If you go down this road, you will find happiness.


blogpastor said...

Way to go. Did you get emails or feedback critical or wary of dealing with the topic in public?

Sze Zeng said...

Hi SHWong,

This is an urgent topic which the church cannot stop emphasizing in these days! It's good that you take the lead to talk about this in your church.

I think the church has to continue to talk about sex. It's good if there is an annual conference or seminar that invite experts to talk about latest studies about this and how Christianity relates to it.

SHWong said...

I am dumping my old sermons in my blog because our church website only has the sermons up til 2008. This sermon was delivered in 2006. I remembered it did created a slight stir because I did deliver it rather blatantly, instead of using lots of euphemisms.

The most memorable comment was "Oh, he's only talking about passion (during sex) because he is just married (only 4 years)."

blogpastor said...

I did one before and it did invoke a comment or two. The use of euphemisms seems to help them cope with the taboo of talking about sex from the pulpit. One thing for sure, its a surefire way to get everyone's attention, including youths.