There’s a fascinating, difficult to translate Scripture that could forever change your marriage. It could even give your attitude both to pleasure and to God a major shake-up. Few people hearing of it for the first time would guess it is in the Bible. We’ll dive into the deep end of this passage, then quickly move on.
Here’s the NASB’s attempt to bring to you this astounding Scripture:
. . . rejoice in the wife of your youth . . .
Let her breasts satisfy you at all times;
be exhilarated always with her love. (Proverbs 5:18-19)
The original Hebrew is so strongly worded that in grasping for suitable words, a renowned Bible scholar decided that even the expression “love-ecstasy” was not intense enough (Reference).
“Be exhilarated always with her love”
The word here rendered “exhilarated” usually means either to be intoxicated, or to go astray, to be deceived. The link between these diverse meanings is that normal, rational behavior has been over-ridden. Be it alcohol, passion, enticement, or foolishness, something has so overwhelmed a person that cautious, controlled thinking has gone out the window.
This passage is saying, within the sanctity of marriage deliberately intensify your passions until you can hardly think straight; regularly so inflame your feelings for your partner that you lose control. Husbands are instructed to bring themselves to the point where they are driven by desire for their wives; to so incite their passions that they are continually mesmerized by their wives’ sensual charms.
“Ever be captivated by her love,” says the NIV.
“Always be transported with delight . . .” is how the Amplified Bible puts it, and it renders the very same word in the next verse “be infatuated.”
“Let her breasts satisfy you at all times”
The word translated “satisfy” usually means to be saturated or to drink one’s fill; to have one’s desire fully satisfied. This line therefore seems to be saying Drink your fill of marital pleasure; continually find total satisfaction in your wife. According to a highly esteemed Hebrew dictionary, even this word can sometimes mean to be intoxicated. I haven’t found undeniable proof of that meaning in Scripture, but it would be ludicrous for me to imply I could match wits with Hebrew scholars. Moreover, since the word often means to drink to the full, it’s easy to imagine how it could sometimes be used to imply drunkenness. If so, for the original readers, the close proximity of this word to the one we examined above would presumably have intensified the thought of delirium (Reference).
James Moffatt translated the last two lines:
let her breasts give you rapture,
let her love ever ravish you.
“Cool it!” is what one might have expected God to say. Instead, God’s Word urges each married man to make a continual effort to get intoxicated on his wife’s love. It goes way beyond saying don’t commit adultery. It virtually tells husbands, Go overboard; get as high as you possibly can, as often as you can. Continually stir up your passions so that you find your wife’s delights overwhelmingly seductive. It’s saying don’t merely let nature take its course; get so focused on her, so enamored by her that she blows the circuits of your brain.
Already this is beginning to sound impossible to some readers, so we need to take a few seconds to examine our source of information. We are delving into the words of Solomon, a man whom Scripture says had unique wisdom. Intellectually, he stood head and shoulders above everyone else. Far more significantly, however, we are reading the Word of God. Unlike Solomon’s normal experience, he had locked into God, received divine insight, and was supernaturally guided as he expressed the specific truth God wants humanity to grasp. We are reading the revelation of Almighty God, the One who not only has infinite intelligence and is the Creator of sex, but the very Person who designed and made you and knows every molecule in your body and every thought that has ever passed through your head. He alone knows precisely your potential and your every limitation.
Suppose you buy a new car. After a few months, you finally get around to looking at the manufacturer’s manual. You are astounded to read the speed the book says the car is capable of. You have never pushed the car to its limits but the figure seems incredible. The truth is that your car is capable of what the book says, or you have every right to keep hounding the manufacturer until he makes your car able to reach those speeds.
You can come with this degree of confidence – and greater – to the Scripture we are seeking to understand.
We need to explore more of this fascinating Scripture, but we cannot proceed before helping those readers who feel hurt and offended by the very concept. Tragically, these dear people have been so deluded by fiction that they believe it should not be necessary to almost force oneself to feel passionate about one’s wife. Some shrink from even admitting to themselves that they must stir themselves up because they fear that proves they have an inferior marriage and/or wife.
Like sex, marriage was God’s invention. In this Scripture, the One who made it all is telling us to delight in our marriage partner. If the foolishness of romantic fiction were correct, God was wasting his breath. There would be no need for such an instruction. At most, the Lord would merely say, ‘Follow your heart.’ Obviously, the One who knows everything there is to know about the perfect marriage has a different opinion to some of us.
One final matter before plunging back into this Scripture: I am writing as if your partner enjoys marital relations. Tragically, this is often not the case. If one’s partner finds sex traumatic, one’s marital and spiritual obligation is the opposite of what we have been saying – to control one’s urges, not stir them up. If your partner rarely finds sex enjoyable, please go straight to When Marital Relations are a Short-Cut to Hell.)
Moffatt weakened his translation by entirely omitting an expression found in the Hebrew text. As recognized by other Bible versions, to make the translation complete we would have to render it:
let her breasts give you rapture at all times,
let her love ever [or always] ravish you.
As originally penned, the verse emphasizes that this infatuation with one’s spouse should be continual. This is true not only throughout the years, but throughout the day. It applies as much to when one’s wife is absent as when she is present. Job resolved that he would never look with desire at any woman other than his wife (Job 31:1). Obviously, to keep his vow this attitude had to dominate his behavior not only when his wife was near, but whenever any woman was in sight.
True godliness is always positive. Far more than failing to break the commandments, true godliness is the pursuit of love and goodness. It’s not just dodging the world’s filthy stains, it’s glowing with the beauty of Christ. Married people’s sexual obligation is not merely to avoid promiscuity; it’s to do everything in their power to delight in their partner. Viewed from another angle, God’s way to fight temptation is not merely by avoiding the negative, but, wherever applicable, by excelling in the positive.
Yes, be ho-hum about a sex siren’s pose. Find the latest assortment of “beauties” as insipid as dishwater, but banish the slightest trace of a “been there, done that” attitude towards the wife you’ve seen a thousand times. Find unclad super models as bland as raw potatoes, but thrill at the intimacy of your wife letting you see her hair in curlers. Let Miss Universe have a crocodile smile, plucked chicken skin and ostrich legs, but tingle at the thought of holding the hand that wears your ring. Let your heart skip to the moon at the sight of stretch marks caused by your baby.
That’s God’s challenge.
If you demand a supporting Scripture to confirm that you are not staking your understanding on just one Bible text, you will find it in God referring to Ezekiel’s wife as being the delight of Ezekiel’s eyes (Ezekiel 24:16). And we have already mentioned Job. Here is the exact quote:
Job 31:1,9-12 “I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl . . . If my heart has been enticed by a woman, or if I have lurked at my neighbor’s door, then may my wife grind another man’s grain, and may other men sleep with her. For that would have been shameful, a sin to be judged. It is a fire that burns to Destruction . . .” (Emphasis mine.)
Paula put it this way:
I long ago stopped thinking of the man I married as my “husband,” in the sense of someone to be taken for granted. He is my heart-throb, my lover. I treat him as I were young and single and he were the spunk I wanted desperately to win over; as if I were trying to entice the man of my dreams to marry me.
Paula counseled a new Christian battling temptation to be unfaithful to his wife:
If you channel your sexual energies toward your wife, the enemy will back off. Years ago, my husband went outside of our marriage to satisfy his lust. He won me back through romance and laughter. He sought to become my friend again. I did not make it easy for him. In fact, I resisted strongly but he followed Scripture’s admonition, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up” (Galatians 6:9). Like most women, I turned out be a push-over for romance. My husband said that if it crossed his mind to make a sexy phone call to another woman, he called me instead. He began to map my curves in his mind and told the enemy that this is the only woman he desired. This is amazing when you consider I weighed more than 250 pounds (114 kilos) at the time!
God is both our role model and the Fount of true love. The God who loves even his enemies keeps on loving, regardless of whether the objects of his love are deserving of it. He finds them lovable because he is loving, not because others find them desirable. He loves not because of who people are, but because of who he is. His love is driven not by what is in them but by what is in him – unlimited love.
Love keeps giving. It never gives up. “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1Corinthians 13:7 – RSV). In other words, true love believes in the person and thinks the best and highest of the beloved. Love is blind to faults (“covers over a multitude of sins” – 1 Peter 4:8: James 5:20). It sees desirability and beauty and perfection where no one else sees it. Love keeps praising the beloved and keeps seeking new things in the beloved to admire and delight in.
Consider Brenda, a pregnant woman eagerly anticipating motherhood, which she expects will be hard, tiring work and yet exciting and fulfilling. She gives birth to a beautiful baby who, as far as babies go, is perfect in every way. But Brenda has Post-Natal Depression. The anticipated excitement vanishes. The unfortunate problem is not with the baby. The problem – in this case a medical condition – is within Brenda. This is what it is like with people bored with their partner. The problem is not with the partner. The problem is within the person who is bored. It is true that a change of partner would temporarily transform the situation, but this only masks the problem. It is like a woman with a sickness – perhaps a gall stone – that results in certain foods making her feel unwell. She will feel better with a change of diet, but the sickness is in no way cured. The problem is with her, not with the previous diet, and if the cause of the problem is not dealt with, it will only worsen. In time, not even the new diet will mask the problem.
God Wants Married People to be Good at Sex
Fashion, and all sorts of influences outside our control, shape our perception of what is attractive and desirable in a partner. These influences usually dominate people’s sex lives. It is clear from Scripture, however, that there is no need for this. Through Christ we can decide what we find captivating. We can gather all the firepower of sex and, like a guided missile, lock on to our partner’s coordinates, so that, fleeting distractions aside, our passions are always and only targeted at our partner. If we have let ourselves lapse into wrong habits – such as becoming addicted to porn or sinful fantasy or solo sex – undoing the damage will demand much effort, but if we end bad behavior and persistently reprogram our minds, progress will be made.
The way of the world is for you to love a woman because you find her physically desirable. God’s way is the reverse: for you to find a woman physically desirable because you love her. You love her not because of spontaneous feelings that assault you but because marriage means you have committed yourself to love her for life. Therefore you don’t permit your passion to slide. You continually stir up your feelings for her.
Initially, attraction to a person releases chemicals into our blood stream, giving us a pronounced high. This is divinely designed to give us the initial push, but we are then expected to put in the effort to maintain the momentum. Many of us are like a child on a tricycle, too lazy to peddle and expecting to be pushed all the time. There can be no virtue in merely being driven by chemicals in our body. And as you know, God is into virtue in a big way. Moreover, Scripture keeps stressing patience/persistence as being of immense importance to anyone who would go God’s way.
Galatians 6:9 Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.
2 Thessalonians 3:13 And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.
Romans 2:7 To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life.
You finding beautiful those features of your wife’s body than almost every other man would find beautiful is of only moderate value. It might bond you to her, but it does little to bond her to you. It does nothing to set you apart from other men in her eyes. It is your reaction to the less popularly attractive parts of her body that can cause her to bond with you in a way that no ordinary man ever could.
Scars, wrinkles, cellulite, stretch marks, flabby tummy or any other parts of your wife’s body that would make her cringe if seen by a stranger, can be particularly precious to a marriage. Parts of her that other men might find unattractive are the very parts that, if you are smart, give you the edge over all other men and have the exciting potential to unlock passion within your wife that you never thought you would ever see. You should not just tolerate those parts, but treasure and adore them as unique and endearing features of the woman you love. Moreover, more than any sexual gymnastics, these parts empower you to prove yourself a truly great lover.
In a world where even top photographic models – the envy of millions – are forever being plastered with makeup and attacked with airbrushes, those aspects of your wife’s body that she is tempted to resent are your unique opportunity to boost the woman you love – something anyone with genuine love longs to do – and give her great boldness in being intimate with you.
Regardless of whether a put-down focuses on her physical appearance or something else about her, to do anything that lowers your wife’s self-esteem is an act of stupidity that will injure your sex life as much as stabbing your own genitals. And the injury could take years to heal.
The world almost measures a man’s virility by how many women he gets high on. In contrast to the world’s delusions, the Inventor of sex reveals that the extent to which a man is attracted to women other than his wife is a measure of how sexually dysfunctional he is. A man’s sexual prowess should be measured by how much more his wife excites him than any other woman. If he thinks he needs a younger, sexier partner, it’s because he is sexually inadequate. He is like someone pathetically drawn to loud, gaudy objects because his foolishly abused senses have grown too dim to appreciate real beauty. Chances are he is prematurely becoming a spent force sexually because he has squandered his sexuality on immorality. His decadent stupidity need not be blatant, physical unfaithfulness. Stealing pleasure from thoughts and sights he has no right to indulge in has ruined his appetite sexually. The devastation of this sinful folly could well be irreversible. This man’s only hope is that God is merciful to the repentant and that God loves the slighted wife.
Worldliness is not, of course, the only possible cause of sexual difficulties. Merely growing older has a significant effect. For men, the decline usually begins from their mid-twenties, just as athletes begin to decline. Medical conditions or clinical depression or stress can devastate one’s sex drive. With any decline can come the temptation to bolster one’s flagging desires the wrong way and/or mistakenly blame one’s partner. For instance, some men troubled by impotence experience a temporary revival with a new partner, but it is short-lived. This phenomenon is rather like how an injured person in a dangerous situation might temporarily lose consciousness of his injury and do things he would not normally do, but it is not long before this extraordinary situation fades and he discovers the injury is still very much with him.
If you are getting bored with your partner, it’s probably because you were divinely designed for variety. Our Maker’s intention is not, of course, that we go the way of the fool by seeking a new partner, but that we break monotony by using the intelligence and creativity he has endowed us with. A highly predictable, minimal effort routine is expected of animals. You, of course, belong in an entirely different class. As far as we know, of everything in the entire universe ever made to mate, we are by far the most sophisticated; God’s crowning jewel. From you is expected something truly worthy of the term lovemaking; a celebration of marital love and sensitivity extending far beyond a physical act. It’s like meal preparation, in that doing the bare minimum produces food that is bland, boring and always the same. Pour enough care and imagination into the task, however, and all the sameness and dullness disappears. You are made to love your partner with not just your animal instincts, but with the height of your intellect. You are divinely designed to express to your partner the depth of your feelings by pouring your love and intelligence and creativity into preparing, as it were, a rich variety of five course gourmet meals of romance. Let lovemaking regularly degenerate into merely a physical act – a mindless, predicable bread and water event – and of course you’ll get bored; but blame your laziness, not your partner.
The cost of this type of love is so high that it’s in the same league as the reward. Early in your relationship, the effort and emotional cost was so great that you were probably relieved to discover after your honeymoon that you could get away with less. For instance, when seeking a partner, men in desperation often do highly unnatural, embarrassing, groveling things that women find romantic – demeaning things that turn women on and turn men’s stomachs. Little wonder that men are happy to let this fall away. The problem is that a less costly relationship is a less rewarding relationship. Yes, you can lower the price, but in so doing you diminish the returns. What we get out is proportional to what we put in.
The exciting thing to note is that we have been examining God’s desires for married couples. Our Lord is not the kill-joy so many people imagine. He is not only the Inventor of sex and the world’s greatest authority on the subject, he is the One for whom nothing is impossible. When it comes to creativity and mind-blowing excitement, he is the ultimate; able to do far beyond what we could dare dream. And this exciting, all-powerful God who created sensual pleasure loves you. We talk so often about God’s love that the implications rarely hit home. We recognize that God’s love is greater than that of any parent. Well wouldn’t any normal parent want their child to thoroughly enjoy marital relations when they grow up? If God doesn’t value sexual pleasure, why did he create it? Your loving Lord wants to be involved in your sex life, not to dampen your pleasure, but to bring you to new heights of fulfillment.
The other side to this is that since God wants it, we can be sure that the enemy of our souls does not want it. Even this is good news, because once we realize what is happening we have in Christ the spiritual resources to break free.
Since we have a spiritual enemy who wants to destroy our marriage, it is inevitable that at some time or another every Christian will find himself strongly drawn to someone other than his marriage partner. When this spiritual assault happens, the feelings will seem to be your own, but they are not from you at all. They are feelings put on you by an external, deceptive, evil power to tempt you. Of course, you will find the temptation enticing. It would not be temptation if you didn’t. Even Jesus was tempted in every way like we are. The Deceiver would be delighted to have you go on a guilt trip over feelings that say nothing about your heart but are entirely his doing. See through the delusion. Refuse to believe that the feelings are how you really feel towards the person. Temptation is spiritual rape. In this case, it is like being immobilized and sexually assaulted – forced to experience sexual feelings against one’s will.
What often fools us about the demonic is that evil spirits usually exploit and aggravate a weakness that we already have. We are therefore likely to conclude that the pressures we suffer are entirely because of ourselves and not realize the role that evil spirits are playing in inflaming the situation.
We must be careful not to knowingly expose ourselves to temptation, nor to think ourselves beyond certain temptations. A married woman met up with an old high school flame, whom she had not seen for over twenty years. She began witnessing to him. This seems highly commendable, except for a peculiar thing that had happened some time previously. For no apparent reason, the Lord had told her not to witness to former boyfriends. So despite her noble intentions, by witnessing to this man she was stepping out of the will of God and out of his protective covering. She was giving license to the enemy to attack her. Soon she found herself assaulted by astoundingly intense feelings towards this man. It was beyond anything she had ever previously experienced. “Like being high on drugs . . . like walking through hell . . . a viselike grip on the inside,” is how she described it. She took the right action. She told her husband and she broke off contact with this man.
To her dismay, the feelings continued to rage within her. A couple of days later, despite expecting to travel to work by public transport, she found herself driving to work. On the way home, she prayed out loud about the situation that was greatly disturbing her. Then she found herself doing something she would probably have been too embarrassed to do at that volume even at home, much less in public transport. There being no cars around, at the top of her voice she rebuked the devil, commanding him to leave her. From that moment she had a significant breakthrough.
Such victories are wonderful, but the enemy does not give up easily. Even after such a spiritual breakthrough a person must, wherever possible, ban all contact with the source of temptation and remain vigilant and nip in the bud any attempt demons might make to re-enter. Nevertheless, by maintaining this attitude we are safe.
When Your Partner’s Desires are Less Than Yours
(If this does not apply to you, you might prefer to skip to the next section: Harnessing the Power of Sex.)
If your wife shows less interest in sex than you, let your desires drive you to become a more skilled lover. Don’t just focus on the grand finale, but on romancing your partner and gradually stirring her passion.
Show genuine interest in your partner’s entire person, not just her anatomy. Learn how to romance, seduce and entice your partner. Spend some time and prayer dreaming up romantic things such as thinking of things you admire about your wife and telling her in love notes. One possibility is to buy romantic greeting cards and one by one over many weeks, put them where she will find them. Maybe one on her pillow. Another time, in her underwear drawer. Another, in somewhere that she’s likely to find at work, such as her briefcase. Ideally, keep it up forever. As well as choosing appropriate cards, try to write something caring, and romantic on each them. Maybe sometimes with a love note include a box of chocolates or sweets. If your partner wouldn’t feel humiliated by it, consider sending her some flowers at work, perhaps with a note saying, “Miss you.” Constantly think of ways to build your wife’s self-esteem, while ensuring that all you say is very sincere.
For more ideas, see How to increase your wife’s sexual responsiveness.
(Wives should read: How holy wives express marital love: Smashing inhibitions and misconceptions.)
In many ways, the best resource you will ever find on the subject is your wife. Seek to know her desires with greater detail and accuracy than you have ever known before. Ask such things as, “Which expressions of my love really stand out in your memory?” Encourage your wife to share her wildest romantic dreams, fantasies, longings. Allow her several days for half-forgotten longings to surface. She might have been pre-occupied with other pressures for so long that your wife might genuinely not be able to think of any. Suggest she start daydreaming over the next few weeks about what things would be a real turn on. Encourage her to keep within the bounds of what she thinks is moral, but not within the bounds of what she imagines to be the limits of what you would be willing to do. Try to make as many as possible of those fantasies become reality.
Don’t resent your partner’s apparent coldness. Wouldn’t anyone want to enjoy more pleasure if they felt capable of it? Rather than feel annoyed, feel compassion. In addition to improving your sensitivity and romantic skills, keep seeking God and prayerfully researching the subject. Is your wife stressed, tired, depressed, have a medical problem? Is she too embarrassed to admit to a problem or too unaware of medical options to seek help? Could she have suffered sexual abuse in her past? (The average man has almost no conception of what a devastating effect this typically has on a woman’s sexuality. It is not something that will disappear by not thinking about it and the traumatic results can last for decades.) As you keep exploring every possible avenue, note what is happening: sex is driving you to care more deeply about your partner. Isn’t that exactly what it’s meant to do?
I don’t promise a quick resolution to the problem. I promise, however, that if you let your urges act as reminders of how precious your wife is, and how worthy she is of your devotion and expressed loved, much good will flow.
Harnessing the Power of Sex
Almost all Christians have some area in their lives in which they are tempted to dishonor God by sinfully indulging themselves. I beg you not to twist my words as license for that. The proverb we have been examining is wedged into a passage warning against adultery (Proverbs 5:3-20). So Scripture is talking about maximizing the pleasures of marital love, primarily as an antidote to unfaithfulness, and most certainly not as an excuse for unfaithfulness, nor even self-indulgence.
According to Proverbs, constantly directing your passions exclusively towards your marriage partner is one of God’s loving, practical solutions to the catastrophe we call immorality. The apostle Paul takes up this thought, reaches the same conclusion, and uncovers some significant implications.
He begins by saying:
1 Corinthians 7:2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.
The avoidance of immorality is the only reason Paul cites for marriage. It would be too great a leap to conclude that in God’s sight it’s the only valid reason for marriage, but at the very least, it’s clear that in God’s eyes, protection from immorality is a primary reason for marriage. A selfish refusal to do what one can to meet a partner’s sexual cravings is therefore a grave offense against one’s sacred marital duty.
Let’s delve deeper into Paul’s thinking. He has some eye-opening insights.
The verse following the one just quoted is rendered by the Amplified Bible, “The husband should give his wife her conjugal rights . . . and likewise the wife to her husband.” This is an unfortunate choice of words. For “conjugal rights,” substitute the literal translation, “the payment of what is due.” The emphasis is not on your rights. The emphasis is on your obligations – how much you continually owe your partner. We need to get the spirit of this deep into our own spirits because it stands in stark contrast to the world’s brainwashing. It is vital that we take our focus off anything we would like our partner to do for us. Instead, we should preoccupy ourselves with our obligations to our partner.
1 Corinthians 7:3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. (4) 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
This is saying that when it comes to lovemaking, a husband is just as duty-bound to submit to his wife’s desires, as she is to his. This is quite startling, given the times Scripture says a husband is the head of his wife and that she should submit to him (1 Corinthians 11:3; Ephesians 5:22-24; Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1,5,6). It’s as if Scripture gives such priority to the importance of both partners’ sexual desires being fully satisfied, that it demands an almost re-writing of the rules. Let’s continue this quoting 1 Corinthians 7 for another example:
1 Corinthians 7:3 Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Ponder the significance of both partners having to feel comfortable about it before Scripture approves even brief abstinence for the highest motives. This means that if one partner wants to plunge deeply into prayer, and the other wants a bit of sexual fun, God’s Word – I hope you are sitting – says the wishes of the one wanting sex must take priority. That’s staggering! In this case, God requires sexuality to take precedence over spirituality. It is clear that God takes exceptionally seriously our marital obligation to do everything we can to ensure our partner’s sexual yearnings are fully met.
The apostle’s sympathy for the partner for whom it is too much effort to miss sex for a little while for the sake of God, is all the more remarkable when we consider that Paul denied himself sexually and in almost every other conceivable way, year after year after year. Here is a man who repeatedly had his flesh flayed for the sake of Christ. He is so passionate about putting devotion to the Lord above every other consideration that he refused to marry. He is astoundingly tough on himself, and yet, under the Spirit’s sway, see how soft he becomes in what he expects of others.
No matter how good it might be to be tough on ourselves, we greatly need this tenderness towards our marriage partner’s vulnerability. Or, looked at another way, we need Paul’s God-given awareness of just how high the stakes are. Who of us is truly aware of the price of one slip-up? We dare not take risks with temptation. “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall,” warned Paul a little further on in the same letter. Complacency is deadly.
Remember Simon Peter; so certain he’d never deny his Lord. If we, who live inside our minds and bodies 24 hours a day, can still fail to correctly gauge our own susceptibility to temptation, what chance have we of accurately guessing the danger our partner faces?
We should desperately plead for God to protect us from placing burdens of self-control upon our partners that make us ever so slightly like the Jews condemned by Jesus when he said,
Luke 11:46 Woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.
A pastor who was spearheading a significant breakthrough in an ethnic community, confided that his marriage was floundering. Overcome by the need in the community, Pastor Rob would have a guilt attack whenever he spent time with his family. “With millions of Christians at God’s disposal,” I reminded him, “our Lord has only to whisper, and suddenly your community would be the focus of more evangelistic effort than you could ever equal. No evangelist is indispensable. Your marriage role, however, is far more serious. God cannot give your wife another husband – unless he kills you.”
How offended this devout man of God would have been had I suggested he had been cheating on his wife. Pastor Rob loved God far too much to consider such a thing! And yet that’s what Scripture says he was doing. He was cheating her, not because of his involvement with other women, but because of this lack of involvement with the woman God had entrusted to him. “Defraud ye not one the other except it be with consent for a time . . .” is the KJV rendering of 1 Corinthians 7:5, and “defraud” is the exact meaning of the original Greek. This dedicated man had been defrauding, or cheating, his wife out of what was rightfully hers, and worsening his offense by using the name of God to complete the con job. Although tragically oblivious to what he was doing, he was short-changing a woman of God and having the audacity to say that it was for God’s sake that he was ripping her off.
It is notable that we usually associate marital cheating solely with having sex with another person, whereas Scripture thinks in terms of not doing enough to satisfy the needs of one’s partner. As we have already seen, we tend to think we meet our moral obligation by avoiding adultery, but God expects far more.
Your Special Gift
Married people have the unique privilege of being able to lower their partner’s susceptibility to sexual temptation. They can lovingly use their own bodies to shield their partners from the fiery darts of the enemy. No one else on earth can provide this unique type of spiritual protection. I guess no protection is foolproof, but Scripture highly regards this type.
Suppose middle-aged Bill considers himself too spiritual to give his wife Janet as much attention as she longs for. Sleazy Sam tries to seduce Janet. Had Bill been fulfilling his duty as a loving husband, Janet would not have found Sleazy’s advances tempting. Because of Bill’s lack of consideration, however, Janet finds herself longing for things that Sleazy seems to offer. This makes Sleazy quite a temptation. Janet is entirely responsible for how she handles this temptation. Nevertheless, the existence of the temptation is Bill’s doing. Bill’s lack of consideration might have caused Janet to feel drawn to Sleazy even without Sleazy’s encouragement. So Bill is even more the cause of the temptation than is Sleazy. That makes clean-living Bill at least as guilty of violating the sanctity of their marriage as anyone trying to seduce his wife.
Hopefully, Janet will defeat the temptation, to her eternal glory. But to Bill’s eternal shame, he abandoned his post as his wife’s spiritual protector. Like every husband and wife, he was meant to use his God-given abilities to shield his partner from this specific type of spiritual attack. He is accountable to God, like a watchman who slept on duty. Temptations will come, but woe to him who causes them, warned Jesus (Matthew 18:6-7).
Suppose a highly desirable woman were captivated by my looks (stop laughing) and were intent on seducing me. I believe I would have an excellent chance of resisting her wiles (especially since she’ll grow mysteriously cold the instant she finds her glasses). Nevertheless, if I knew her intentions I would refuse to be alone with her because I consider it morally wrong to knowingly expose oneself to temptation. Likewise, each couple must be most cautious about exposing either of them to temptation.
Here is something that until it is tried sounds off-the-planet (and yes, like everything in love, there is a slight risk that your partner will consider it weird) but it can prove amazingly powerful and healing. Ironically, those who most squirm at this suggestion are the very ones who stand to gain most from it. Your partner’s intimate parts are an important part of the body that the Holy Lord created and declared to be good and has chosen to inhabit as his holy temple. They are also a vital part of your marital union. Everyone sees your wife’s eyes, but her intimate parts belong uniquely to your marriage. The most casual reader of the Bible’s Song of Solomon knows how much breasts feature in the lover’s conversation (eight times in this short book). The legs, thighs, feet and navel are also praised. Being highly poetical, the song has depths that are less obvious, but it seems to contain praise of the loved one’s genitals, such as referring to them as an exquisite garden. With all this in mind, assign endearing names to your partner’s private parts, and use the names regularly. I suggest very uplifting names, such as Beautiful, Precious, Perfect, or whatever. And sometimes talk directly to each private part, expressing aloud your love for it as if it were a person. For example, you might name a particular part of your loved one’s body, Sweetheart and say to it, “How I thank God for you, Sweetheart! How exquisitely beautiful you are. You’re just perfect. I love you with all my heart.” Then continue like this, verbally expressing love to this precious part of your loved one.
This act of tenderness affirms to your wife the importance of a part of her that she can tempted to feel slight shame about and yet plays a key role in marriage. Directly speaking to it as a person (rather than as a mere object of beauty, like a painting, or of function, like a can opener) somehow adds to the warmth and fosters within the loved one a feeling of deep acceptance.
Many people find it profoundly moving and liberating to be on the receiving end of such love, and it deeply bonds them to their partner. It can give the hearer new confidence and vaporize marital inhibitions. Of course, people without the slightest hang-up can find it an endearing and beautifully intimate expression of love, but for those who have suffered past sexual abuse or feeling of sexual inadequacy (and there can be a deeply buried aspect of this in your partner that you are unaware of) more healing might take place in a few minutes of such lovemaking than in years of counseling.
When discussing this webpage with a friend, she mentioned couples choosing to “stir up marital passion” by viewing R-rated movies together. Like me, my friend was appalled at the thought. I had never considered the possibility of anyone misinterpreting this webpage as license for anything like that. It is utterly contrary to the spirit of this webpage to expose oneself to sexual excitement outside of marriage in order to climax in marriage. Sex is divinely intended to bind a husband and wife together. Seeing R-rated movies breaks that uniqueness of that bond and begins to forge an extramarital bond because it arouses within viewers sexual feelings that, to some extent at least, are focused not on one’s marriage partner, but on an actor. Remember righteous Job, who refused to “look” at another woman. Additionally, such things as soft porn have the strong potential for lowering your appreciation of not only your partner’s body, but also her sexual performance. Even the bodies of movie stars are often not good enough for directors and shots of other people’s bodies are cleverly substituted, and, of course, the sexual performance is a total fabrication. Another disturbing quandary is a Christian getting pleasure out of actors breaking God's heart by sinning. Often these actors sin not only by what they do to each other but also by portraying sex outside marriage as being desirable. How perverted it would be for a Christian to be so far from the heartbeat of God as to find pleasure in something that deeply pains the holy Lord.
More than Sex
To avoid making this webpage too cumbersome, it has a much narrower focus than I would have preferred. Nevertheless, I feel duty-bound to emphasize in a few words that marital obligations and joys extend far beyond sex. It is not easy for men to grasp how different to themselves are their wives’ priorities and emotional needs. Numbers of men find it almost incomprehensible that for many women such things as remembering birthdays can rival sex in holding a marriage together. To make this a little more intelligible to men, I’ll put it this way: a would-be adulterer would have a much higher than normal chance of sinfully sweeping a woman off her feet if that woman felt taken for granted by her husband. Anything that weakens the marriage bond – even an annoying habit – is significant.
Gary Chapman identifies what he calls five basic love languages:
A partner could put enormous effort into expressing love, only for much of it to be wasted because the language is essentially meaningless to the other person. Often this can continue for years without the couple realizing what is happening.
And it is even more complex than there being a mere five different languages. To briefly illustrate I’ll give some personal examples.
Whereas to many people the words “I love you,” are of immense importance, and some people long to hear them repeated every day, to me the words are so shallow and open to a thousand interpretations as to be virtually meaningless. I wouldn’t mind if I never heard the words. In contrast, words of praise are extremely important to me.
I find the giving and receiving of presents not only hollow, but often down right offensive (when it means the person continues to misunderstand or refuses to acknowledge my objections to receiving gifts).
I once dated a woman for whom one of the most meaningful expressions of love was me putting my arm around her while we were both absorbed in something else. She wanted me to waste some of the precious time we had together by going to movies or watching television together. I found this almost insulting. To me, love means doing all we can to give each other our undivided attention.
It’s not a question of who is “right;” the point is that people differ wildly as to what expressions of love are deeply meaningful to them, and we must recognize this if we are to truly live these Scriptural principles we’ve been examining.
Both sexes may find this tiny webpage helpful:
A common cause of men failing to perceive their wives’ needs
Obviously this webpage focuses on the sexual side of marriage. In another (True Love) I touch on the issue of romantic feelings. There is clearly very much more to a good marriage than sex and romance, and if the other aspects are neglected, sex and romance will suffer anyhow. However, a major reason for this webseries is to explode the common myth that sexual and romantic feelings are largely beyond our control. We are tempted to think that we are stuck with the fact that either the “chemistry” is there or it isn’t. It is undeniable that when we are with someone we hardly know, sexual feelings often spontaneously erupt. This is a manifestation of what might be loosely thought of as the animal side of us. But to maintain these feelings year after year with the same partner takes qualities that distinguishes us from animals – intelligence, creativity and moral and spiritual values, not least of which is will-power. Love is clearly a key, but the love of 1 Corinthians 13, not the “love” of Playboy Magazine or Mills and Boon’s books – the love that moves you to serve, not the love that effortlessly makes your heart thump.
Upon supposedly reaching adulthood by having a particular birthday, young people are usually congratulated. I find this peculiar. In most cases it takes no great achievement to stay alive for a certain number of years. Reaching that many years of marriage, however, is truly worthy of congratulations. It is a genuine achievement that has not just the potential for earthly reward, but eternal reward because of the spiritual qualities it takes, including overcoming temptation, plus all of the fruit of the Spirit.
Marriage is a wonderfully complex and vast domain. In contrast, this webseries is a very limited and shallow glimpse at just a couple of aspects of marriage. This is unfortunate because looking at these aspects in isolation creates serious distortions. With the authority of more than forty years of faithfulness to the one husband, Bobbie bares her heart:
I think too much emphasis is sometimes placed on how to improve a couple’s sex life instead of identifying and correcting the root of the problem, if one exists. Whatever happens in the bedroom is usually a direct reflection on what is taking place in the rest of the couple’s life, including outside stressors such as work pressures, illness, family problems, and so on. Communication is vital. You have to know your mate well enough to sometimes look behind the words being spoken to find the true meaning of what is trying to be communicated. If a husband is continually putting his wife down verbally or being abusive in any way, I can guarantee that the wife will not be as responsive as he wants her to be. She cannot automatically turn off the impact of the harsh words and abusive behavior when the lights go off. If a couple has developed the kind of relationship where each is as concerned about the other’s feelings and needs as much as they are about their own feelings and needs, this same love and concern for each other will be carried into the bedroom. In most cases the passion will then come naturally.
The one thing that is becoming more evident than ever to me is that no matter how long you have been together, you cannot get away with taking your marriage or each other for granted. You must never stop putting effort into your marriage and continuing to work on the relationship. It broke my heart to hear of one couple who had divorced after more than fifty years of marriage. Another couple I know of divorced after forty years of marriage and devastated the whole family. The wife has never recovered.
I believe the reason the divorce rate is so high is that people give up too quickly. They no longer look at a marriage as a lifetime contract which may occasionally run into snags that must be worked out. When a major problem hits they just bail out and fancifully assume they can find a problem-free relationship with someone else. I doubt there is any marriage – no matter how strong – that has not at one time or other experienced trials so difficult that they could have easily called it quits. If they stay in the boat and weather the storm together they will eventually look back and be glad they did not give up.
Fire brings comforting warmth, or destruction, depending on whether it is under control. Likewise sexual passion enriches or impoverishes, heals or harms, depending on how it is controlled. It reaches its highest potential only when fully submitted to the Lordship of Christ, the One through whom this precious gift was created and entrusted to us. I refer not to obeying a set of rules but yielding to the whispers of the most wonderful Person in the universe and using his gift to express his heart – which has always been to glorify his Father and display selfless love and faithfulness.
The Story so Far
Sexuality and romantic attraction are each a wild stallion that can be tamed to become a faithful friend. Let it run wild and you are in grave danger of a tragic fall. Abuse it and it might even be trample you to death. Treat it wisely, however, and it will serve you well. Harness its power and it will take you to wonders that others only dream about.
In creating sexual pleasure, God was displaying the magnitude of his love by entrusting to humanity a precious and powerful force for good.
He was also taking a great risk.
Evil finds particular delight in twisting into something that weakens the marriage bond the very thing God intended as marital glue. It delights in seizing the precious gift designed to bind a man and wife together and perverting it into a force that draws a person away from hisr marriage partner into the real or imagined arms of an intruder.
God’s way for us to resist the cheapening of the gift is to treasure it even more. His plan is for marrieds to counter-attack, not by suppressing the gift – as it were, burying the talent – but by us more than ever investing the entire treasure in our partner.
Our loving Father is the author of pleasure. It is only the deadly illusion of pleasure – the cheap thrill you pay for forever – that breaks his heart. Find the genuine article, and honor the Giver by enjoying the gift to the full.