“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time.”
1 Corinthians 7:3-5a
I have a precious memory from my honeymoon that has challenged and encouraged me in the area of intimacy in my marriage, and I would like to share it with you. Lee and I spent our honeymoon in a quaint little cabin in the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee. It was about fifteen miles from town and overlooked a beautiful scenic picture, creek and all. On the third or fourth evening of our honeymoon, I was sitting in the porch swing on the balcony overlooking the water. There was a bit of a chill in the air and the sound of water rushing underneath me was musical. I had my open Bible lying in my lap, and a praise melody on my lips.
It wasn’t a “formal” time of devotions. I was simply enjoying the peace and thanking the Lord for the wonderful new life He had given to me. I was thanking Him for the wonderful husband who I now fell asleep with each night and rose to greet each morning. I was thanking Him for the honor of being Mrs. Lee Brinckley as I smiled down at my shiny new wedding band. I remembered the joy of being a bride and the swell of elation that had filled me as I walked down the aisle towards Lee. I recalled the smile etched on Lee’s face, the pride I saw there, the excitement and anticipation in his eyes, and the love that was evident by the gentle touch of his hand.
Then, as I sat on that swing, my mind began to wander to the Bride of Christ. For the first time ever I had a whole new perspective on those parables. I now knew what it was like to be a bride, and I wanted to filter my emotions and my experience into those stories from Jesus. As I did this, a new truth dawned on me that left me speechless. I heard the Lord gently whispering to me, “The intimacy, the closeness, the oneness that you have now experienced with your earthly husband is the same intimacy and oneness that you will share with me when I come to receive my Bride.” The vision of my wedding day returned except this time, I saw the Lord waiting at the altar. It was His smile, His pride, His excitement and anticipation that I saw etched on my Groom’s face, and I was left nothing short of amazed.
It was then that I knew what the institution of marriage meant. I had heard the words taught, but now I understood. Marriage serves many practical purposes, but above all marriage is to mirror the relationship that Christ has with His Church, His Bride. The sweet joy and elation, the intimacy and oneness, and the solidity of commitment were to demonstrate to me all that the Lord desires of His own Bride and all that He wishes to lavish on her.
I want us to take a different approach to the topic of sex and intimacy in marriage. I do not want to necessarily talk in detail about the need for it, the obligations that we have to our spouses, or steps to take to achieve it. I want us to talk about the purity, the beauty, the sweetness and the privilege of intimacy with our husbands. I want us to take an unabashed look at the act of sex and the state of intimacy through the eyes of our savior and not see a dirty thing, not see a means simply of procreation, and not see one more thing on our checklist to being “good wives”, but I want us to see it rather as the beautiful imagery that it was intended to be. I would like to remember the closeness and joy that come from abiding with our Lord and apply similar principals to the earthly correlation of that relationship.
Genesis 2:24 says, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Earlier in Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them (Adam and Eve) and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number,” and in verse 31 it goes on to read, “God saw all that he had made and it was very good.” I think the first thing that we need to realize is that God created sex. He instituted marriage and the intimacy that would only come between a husband and wife. He not only created it, but He found it to be very good. Martha Peace in her book The Excellent Wife 1 states, “The sexual bond between husband and wife is a gift from God for the enjoyment of physical intimacy and the procreation of life. All that God created is good, and physical intimacy between husband and wife is no exception. It is the world that has twisted and perverted what God intended to be holy and righteous.” (emphasis added)
God created sex and intimacy in marriage for our enjoyment and pleasure. He created the desires and blesses the act of sexual intercourse with the inheritance of children. Proverbs 5:18,19 reads, “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love.” The King James Version of this verse says to be ravished by her love. Those are strong, passionate exhortations in the Word of God regarding sex and intimacy within marriage.
Song of Solomon is a beautiful tale of a man and his wife, covering their relationship from the days of courtship until their old age. I have heard this book preached and taught as an allegorical account of the love between God and Israel, Christ and the Church. I have also heard it taught as simply an exquisite song celebrating the powerful and diverse love between husband and wife. I, personally, believe it can be both. I do not think that it is possible to separate the love and intimacy between husband and wife from the relationship that we as believers – members of the Bride of Christ – are to have with the Lord. Although the acts of intimacy manifest themselves in various forms in those respective relationships, the levels of intimacy are to be the same.
Let us take a look at some passages from Song and Solomon and I encourage you to read each Scripture through both views. Let us see the joy and passion, the ecstasy and pleasure we are intended to maintain with our husbands, but let also see the depth of Lord’s love and desire for intimacy with us as well.
The first lines of this book read, “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth – for your love is more delightful than wine.” Verse 2 This tale begins with the intense longing of a woman for the closeness of her lover. Her longing and delight were not the sinful utterances of an unholy woman. They were expressions of love flowing from a noble heart within the context God designed for those longings to be fulfilled.
Chapter 2:16,17 reads, “My lover is mine and I am his; he browses among the lilies. Until the day breaks and the shadows flee, turn, my lover and be like a gazelle or like a young stag on the rugged hills.” Chapter 7:7-10 continues the praise and intensity of both the Beloved (wife) and the Lover (husband), “Your stature is like that of the palm, and your breasts like clusters of fruit. I said, ‘I will climb the palm tree; I will take hold of its fruit.’ May your breasts be like the clusters of the vine, the fragrance of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine. May the wine go straight to my lover, flowing gently over lips and teeth. I belong to my lover and his desire is for me.”
If we can begin to grasp God’s desire for us to enjoy such pleasure with our spouses and also to realize the correlation between our earthly relationship and our heavenly one, then we will experience true freedom, joy and delight in intimacy. It will no longer be an obligation just as spending time in intimate communion with the Lord is not an obligation but rather a privilege, an honor. It will no longer be a duty or simply a means of procreation, just as abiding with Jesus is not about bearing fruit, but rather about knowing Him more. Children are a blessing that the Lord has chosen to give us through intimacy with one another and fruit is born in our lives with Christ as a result of the act of abiding, but the fruit and the children cannot be the motivation for performing those tasks. Our motivation and participation in intimacy with our husbands and with our Lord should come from a heart of pure love and desire for oneness.
If we can view sex and intimacy in marriage as the Lord does then we will be able to experience all that the Lord had originally intended for a husband and wife to enjoy. We will also begin to understand the depth of the Lord’s love for us and the anticipation with which He waits to receive His own precious bride. Let us rejoice and proclaim with the Beloved, “I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. He has taken me to the banquet hall, and his banner over me is love.” Song of Solomon 2:3b-4
The Real World …
Now that we perhaps have a new angle on sex and intimacy in our marriages, let us take a look at the practical details. How can we be excellent wives in the area of intimacy with our husbands?
Understand the purpose of intimacy in a marriage. We need to realize that God instituted sex and intimacy within the context of marriage with specific purposes in mind. In order to completely enjoy sex we must understand and appreciate each of those purposes.
Procreation – In Genesis 1:28, “God blessed them and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number;” God created intercourse between a man and woman to fulfill the practical need to fill the earth. What an incredible honor! God could have chosen to simply pluck babies from a bush or to have a stork deliver them to us, but instead He chose to allow us to partner with Him in the creation of life. Do not view this purpose as merely a means to an end, but rather as the awesome privilege it is – partnership with the Almighty God!
Pleasure – God created men and women with innate sexual drives. He intended for those desires to met and enjoyed within the context of marriage. Sex in and of itself is not sinful or dirty. Within God’s context of marriage, it is beautiful and holy unto the Lord. Let me remind you of the intense exhortations in Proverbs 5:18,19, “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth. A loving doe, a graceful deer – may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated (ravished) by her love.”
Imagery – I believe that the Lord wanted a tangible representation of the intimacy and oneness that He desires to have with His Bride. “I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Revelation 21:2
Do not limit intimacy to sex alone. Never lose your joy for cuddling. Holding hands, back rubs, and simply snuggling on the couch are just as vital to a healthy marriage as a regular sex life. Many people feel that these things only accompany the newness of romance, but it does not have to be so. Of course with the passing of time, these may take more of a conscious effort, but it does not mean that they have to disappear altogether. Never lose the pure enjoyment of being close to your loved one.
Do not limit intimacy to cuddling alone. Be careful not to fall toward the opposite end of the spectrum where you make efforts to hold hands, but allow the sex to disappear. In his book What Husbands Wish their Wives Knew about Men 2, Patrick Morley says, “A man wants and needs an active romantic life. A husband needs physical love in the same way a wife needs emotional love. A husband needs sexual gratification in the same way a wife needs routine acts of kindness.” Understand your husband’s needs and take practical steps to meet those legitimate needs.
Be creative. Be willing to communicate with your spouse about things that you both enjoy or would like to add to your intimate expressions. Do a study on Song of Solomon together and revel in the passion they carry for one another.
Learn to appreciate macaroni and cheese. Nancy Wilson in her book The Fruit of Her Hands 3 says it this way, “Sometimes you will have to work harder to “feel like it”. It is not always necessary to consult your feelings anyway. I have sometimes compared sex to a meal. Every night cannot be steak and lobster. Some nights it’s just macaroni and cheese. But a good cook can make that macaroni and cheese a real treat!” Be sure to have “steak and lobster”, but also learn to appreciate the macaroni and cheese dinners.
Enjoy your husband, let him enjoy you, and celebrate the gift of intimacy within the marriage that the Lord has given to you. Make time and put effort into keeping this aspect of your marriage healthy and thriving into your ripe old age.