Since we began our doctrinal series, we have also been reading through the Epistle of 1 Timothy at the beginning of our services. First Timothy deals a lot with doctrine, and I’d like you to turn with me to 1 Timothy 3:14. This is probably the clearest purpose statement we get for the letter. This is Paul’s main motivation for writing to Timothy. First Timothy 3:14-15.
This is architectural imagery. The church is the institution which has been charged by God to uphold, protect, and defend the truth of God. Why? Because truth is under attack. Look at chapter 4, verse 1. 1 Tim 4:1-2.
There are so many important doctrines that Paul might have mentioned here, but notice the specific issue Paul brings up here. 1 Tim 4:3-5.
What is Paul talking about? He’s talking about people who were going around teaching others that you could be made more holy or more acceptable to God by denying your body of good things that God created for us to enjoy and to be thankful for.
He lists two examples. He mentions food. And he mentions marriage. Obviously, there are some kinds of food that are not that enjoyable. And the same is true with some aspects of marriage. But there are those foods and those aspects of marriage that are particularly delightful. And it is those delightful aspects of marriage that we are going to be focusing on today. And I think it’s appropriate since today is Valentine’s Day.
The particularly delightful part about marriage that I’m talking about is Romance.
Romance can be a tricky word to define, but it’s usually accompanied by words like adventure, excitement, love, excitement, and passion. Is this really part of what God intended for us to experience?
The world’s answer, I think you know, is an unqualified YES. Enjoy any kind of relationship with any other person. It’s part of your freedom. It’s part of your liberty. This world will tell you that sex is the highest of human relationships. It is what makes a marriage great. It is the ultimate measurement of a good marriage. There have even been people advocating this kind of thing in the name of religion or in the name of Jesus.
Turn with me to Galatians 5. The letter of Galatians explains the freedom we have in Christ, but it reminds us that this freedom is not a freedom to pursue whatever kind of life we want. Gal 5:13.
And Paul goes on to describe some of the activities that are a product of the sinful flesh. Gal 5:19-21.
Our culture has no problem with these things. In fact, they are celebrated. All sorts of sexual immorality, outside of God’s standard are held up as things we should pursue or emulate. People are basically giving themselves over to whatever physical pleasure they can come up with. And God says: If that’s your life, you will not enter into the kingdom of God.
But is that all the Bible has to say about sex? Is there a biblical teaching on romance or intimacy? The answer is YES. And it’s clear. It’s so sad when something like this becomes a taboo issue in a family or a church. People are made aware of the wrong answer, but they’re never told what the right answer is. They have to come up with it themselves.
Many people get the idea that emotional or physical romantic intimacy is sinful or immoral. So they live with either an unfulfilled desire or a false guilt. One pastor and author commented how he once had to counsel a couple who was living with guilt because they had been intimate on a Sunday. Where did they get the idea that was wrong? Probably from the silence on the issue.
If a parent says nothing to their child about it, where is the kid going to get his formation from? How is he going to form his view on the subject? That same pastor commented on how big a difference there is at times between how a dad teaches his son to ride a bike and how some dads teach their sons about sex. He said it’s like taking your boy to the top of a hill with a busy intersection down below. And all you say to them is: “Good luck, son! Remember to use the brakes.” Absolute negligence.
And this topic isn’t important for dads and moms. It’s important for all of us. Because we all play a part in encouraging others in the church, and reminding them about the truth of God.
So where can we go for some biblical answers on the topic of sex or romance? For starters you can go to Genesis 2. Verse 18 tells us about God’s plan for a man and a woman. Gen 2:18.
This tells us that God created the woman to be a perfect companion to the man. Marriage is about companionship. God brought all the animals to Adam and Adam realized he was alone. And God didn’t give Adam a mom or a brother. He gave him a wife. Man’s best friend is not a dog. It is his wife. That’s why verses like Proverbs 2:17 or Malachi 2:14 refer to a wife as a companion, a intimate friend.
And Adam’s response to meeting Eve is one of joy and excitement. Gen 2:23-25.
This is God’s design for a man and a wife. Marriage is not a human invention. It’s a divine institution. And the basis of that union is a commitment, a vow. The man cleaves or “holds fast” to his wife. And one of the outflows of that union is romantic, physical intimacy. God designed it that way. In fact, Genesis 1:31 says it was very good.
Throughout the Bible one of the ways this physical and sexual intimacy is described is with the verb “to know.” This is because it’s not just a physical union. It’s an intimate knowledge of one another. And maybe the clearest message we get about this kind of intimacy is that it is reserved only for a husband and his wife. It is exclusive. And the results of breaking that exclusivity are horrendous.
We’re not going to trace that today, but one of the clearest expression of this in the Old Testament is the seventh commandment. You shall not commit adultery. This was so serious that the penalty was death. God’s standard, though, was not just external it was internal. So when Jesus comes along in Matthew 5, he says, it doesn’t matter whether you’re married or not. If a man even looks at another woman with lust he has committed adultery in his heart. Husband and wife are to have a relationship of joy and delight. But it is an exclusive relationship.
Before we get to our main passage for today, look at Genesis 26. Here we have Isaac who, because of a famine in the land, travelled to the land of King Abimelech, the king of the Philistines. Gen 26:1-8.
The most literal translation is laughing, but you could also translate it sporting or playing with his wife. They were evidently having some fun together. But we quickly realize that this was not an ordinary kind of fun. Because it was this kind of fun that made Abimelech say: “Ah ha! She is your wife!” And that’s why the NASB translates it as “caressing his wife.” Whatever Abimelech saw it was making them smile or giggle, but it also something that everyone knew was reserved for marriage alone.
Listen, you all need to know this. Physical, romantic intimacy is fun. God designed it like that. But, in His design, He reserved it for marriage alone. With that being said, I’d like you to turn to a “not so familiar” book called the Song of Solomon. It’s after Psalms. After Proverbs. After Ecclesiastes. Before Isaiah and Jeremiah.
God says that physical, romantic intimacy is intended only for marriage. But that doesn’t mean it was intended to be boring. God’s design for a man and a woman was that, in the context of marriage, they experience a relationship of delight and fun and excitement. A relationship of romance.
Some of you may not fully embrace this idea, but the joy of romance, the joy of sexual intimacy, and the joy of authentic companionship is part of God’ blessing and design. And the place we see this most clearly is in the Song of Solomon.
This book has been at the center of some controversy for centuries. And the biggest problem has been with people seeking to misinterpret its meaning. It’s a love song between a man and woman, but many have tried to turn it into something else.
On one side, you have groups who were so scared about dealing with romance and intimacy that they reinterpret the book into a love song between God and His people. Marriage does point us to the relationship between Christ and the church, but the primary purpose of the book is to celebrate and promote the wonderful relationship between a man and his wife.
On the other hand, you have people who use the book to portray the same message as the world. They turn it into some kind of instruction manual for sexual intimacy. In the name of Christ they propagate a pornographic message by twisting the meaning of the Scripture.
That’s not what the Song of Solomon is. It’s a love poem. A love song between King Solomon and his wife, the Shunammite woman. The book is not so much about instruction as it is about a celebration. It’s a picture of what God intended for a marriage relationship. It’s a divinely inspired love son. It’s the Song of songs, the greatest song Solomon wrote.
And the book is filled with all sorts of references to nature and food, which highlight the joy and excitement and wonder.
Chapters 1–3, like any good love story are filled with beautiful conversation and personal chemistry. There is this kind of playful conversation with a little bit of tension as well.
Your Bible probably has little titles throughout the book letting you know who is talking. First, it’s the girl that talks. She wants her husband. She desires him. You’ve also got a chorus that chimes in now and then, adding to the joy. And then you have the man declaring how beautiful the woman is and how much he desires her as well. In chapter 2, verse 2 he says to her: Sgs 2:2
He’s saying: There is no one like you. No one can be compared to you. But through all this, take notice, there is restraint. Look at chapter 2, verse 7. This is the woman talking now. She is surrounded by her friends, and listen to what she says. Sgs 2:7.
What does that mean for us? What do we learn about Romance? This means that Romance has a time and a place. Romance requires restraint. I hope most of you who are married understand this, but I also hope those of you who are single get this too.
You see, one common idea with those who are dating is that these feelings naturally grow and blossom. And they’re so good and so fun and so exhilarating that you need to just let them develop. But God says: Yes, they are good. But they need to be restrained. And how do you restrain romance? How do fight against all those thrilling emotions when that other person glances over at you? Or when you’re up late texting each other for hours?
This passage shows us how. She involved her friends. These daughters of Jerusalem are the other girls in the village. And they help in two big ways. First, they affirm her. They are there to say: Ya, he’s a good man. Second, they are there not just for affirmation, but for accountability. She’s asking for their help. “Keep me grounded! Don’t let these sparks turn into a fire! Fire is good, but there’s a time and a place. And right now, it’s not the time for a fire.” Do not stir up or awaken love until it’s time. And we know from the rest of Scripture that it isn’t time, until you’re married.
Don’t believe the message that dating is supposed to be a thrilling relationship and then marriage is all the boring stuff. No! That’s not what God wants. He wants you to enjoy the thrill of romance, but He has designed it to be enjoyed in the context of a marriage. Don’t cheapen that. You need to restrain yourself physically and even emotionally. You will save yourself a lot of heartache if you can learn to restrain yourself right now.
If you want wisdom in this area, talk to your parents. Talk to your friends. What steps can I take to restrain myself physically and emotionally? Am I too involved in this relationship? Is this an obsession? Or is it a God-honoring relationship that is moving toward a joyful marriage?
You need restraint. And it’s so important that the woman echoes it again in chapter 3, verse 5. Sgs 3:5.
But eventually, the time is right. The wedding takes place and a couple is united as man and wife. And at the center of this book are the words of Solomon describing his joy and delight in the woman God gave him. Look at chapter 4. Sgs 4:1a.
This is such a picture of joy and wonder and delight and amazement and intimacy. He calls her “my love.” He tells her she is beautiful. Husbands, do you talk to your wife with this kind of affection? Do you praise her like this? And this is not just some kind of generic praise. Solomon goes on to mention parts of her body and compare them to the beauty of nature.
Sgs 4:1b. Her eyes are beautiful. They convey innocence and grace. Her black hair is flowing and shimmering.
Sgs 4:2. In contrast to her dark hair, her teeth are clean and white. And she has all of them, which wasn’t common back then.
Sgs 4:3. He is amazed by the color of her lips and the shape of her mouth. The blush on her cheeks remind him of the beautiful glow of a pomegranate.
Sgs 4:4. Her neck conveys strength. Her necklaces shimmered like the shields of a mighty army. Skip over to verse 7.
Sgs 4:7. Is he speaking literally? No. He’s describing how she makes him feel. Later on in 6:9 he calls her “my perfect one.”
And he compares the delight in his wife with the delight of amazing food and beautiful aromatic spices. She is, to him, his own private garden filled with delight and joy. And his heart is racing with excitement. Sgs 4:9-16a.
When the wind blows into a garden then you can enjoy all the beautiful smells and colors. And Solomon here is saying: I want to enjoy all of you.
And the woman responds by giving of herself. She picks up the imagery and says: Sgs 4:16b.
And so the husband partakes, and he delights the way we delight in chocolate or candy. He compares it to the joy of wine or honey. Sgs 5:1a.
And the chorus ends this section with a final verse. Sgs 5:1b.
God wanted us to feel this thrill, this excitement. He wanted us to pursue this kind of relationship in a marriage. It was part of his good creation. But it doesn’t happen by itself. It happens because two people humble themselves and serve one another.
Husbands, when was the last time you praised your wife with beautiful word? When was the last time you gave her a compliment? What kind of eyes are you using to look at her?
Wives, do you anticipate being with your husband? Do you think about him during the day? You can read chapter 5, verses 10-16, and see how this bride praises her husband as well.
Men and women, how much effort do you put into being attractive for your spouse? Not attractive for the world, but for your spouse. The sights and the smells here are all thrilling, not repulsive. For some of you men, this probably means you need to shower a little more. Or use some deodorant.
Marriage is not intended by God to be stale or boring. But it can become so because we stop using romantic words. You stop viewing our spouse as the best of the best. You stop thinking about him or her as someone God has given to you as a gift. You stop putting your best foot forward. And you stop making our partner feel secure and satisfied.
God intends for you to enjoy all of what marriage provides. So enjoy your marriage. Marriage is about more than just not getting a divorce. It includes a romantic intimacy that is emotional and physical. Pursue your spouse with words and with physical expressions of affection. Don’t’ wait for the other person. It starts with you serving and loving your spouse to the glory of God.
Parents, talk to your kids about romance. Teach your children about intimacy, service, humility, and joy. Talk to them about restraint and the joy of serving their spouse. Talk to them about the joy of romance. God created it to be part of a marriage. It’s not the biggest part. It’s not the most important part. But it’s a fun part. It’s part of God’s good gifts. So prepare them for it.
For you single people, we’ve already talked about restraint. But the message of the Song of Solomon also means that you need to pursue marriage. Young men, get married. Don’t be like the prodigal son, who’s hunger led him to long for the garbage. Use the desire God gives you to move you toward finding a job, finding a girl, and getting married. Don’t be ashamed about the feelings God gives you, but learn to control them. Restrain them and then let them drive you to love and serve and pursue your wife.
God gave you desires so that they could be fulfilled in marriage. And yet we are living in a culture that hates marriage. We value dating more than getting married. We need to obey the words of Hebrews 13:4: Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled.
Ladies, one specific application for you is purity. Not just in conduct but in appearance. Learn to be modest. It was only in marriage that this husband could enjoy the curves of his wife. They were especially for him. Consider that the next time you think: “This is a great pair of jeans! Or a great dress! Or a great swimsuit! Or a great set of workout clothes.” What does God say about it? God wants us clothed in righteousness. Don’t use clothes to manipulate others. Don’t use clothes to get attention or show off. We don’t want lines and slits that draw men’s eyes in a sensual way. Save your body for your husband. And that includes what you let others see.
I have one final thing I’d like to add. And I say this because Valentine’s Day and romance can also be a very difficult topic for single people. You think about a marriage. You think about a family, and you think: What if I never have that? And the temptation can be to feel bitter instead of helping others enhance their joy.
I’d like to end with one final passage, starting in Isaiah 56:4. God is promising joy. God is promising unity. And He is anticipating those who would feel left out. And He is especially thinking of the eunuchs, those who would never experience the full joy of marriage or a family. Isaiah 56:4-5.
Please the Lord. Hold fast your covenant with God. And God will reward you. Don’t fix your eyes on a wife or a husband. Don’t fix your eyes on marriage. Fix your eyes on what marriage points to. On the promise of God of an eternal, joyful relationship between Christ and His pure bride.
Let’s let everything we do, whether in a marriage or outside a marriage, be to the glory of Christ.
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