Part 6 of a 7-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality
This is the sixth of a seven-part series on Complementarity & Mutuality. In this post, I outline the remaining 3 necessities for God-honoring sex. God-honoring complementarity provides the context for the absolute best, pleasure-filled, fulfilling sex a human being could possibly experience. It’s the winner. Bar none. Hands down.
A few months ago, I was an event with Tim and Kathy Keller at which they shared a few thoughts about their journey toward complementarity. Tim said something like this: “The Bible’s teaching on complementarity forced Kathy and me to know ourselves–and each other–at a far deeper level than we ever could have within an egalitarian framework.”
I knew exactly what he meant. Like him, I started out as a “reluctant” complementarian. I became one because as much as I would have liked to; I simply couldn’t justify the approach toward Scripture that’s necessary for an egalitarian interpretation. I thus begrudgingly accepted God’s plan for complementarity as “right” long before I perceived it as “beautiful.”
But slowly I discovered just how beautiful it is!
Wrestling with complementarity has forced me to “grow into my own skin.” It has caused me to know and embrace my God-given identity as a woman. I have become more of who I am. And I have flourished. As Tim and Kathy discovered, complementarity causes us to know ourselves—and each other—at far deeper levels than we ever could otherwise.
In the past two posts of this Complementarity and Mutuality series, I’ve been talking about the meaning of sex. Sex is the act in which a husband and wife “know” each other physically. That’s actually the term the Bible uses for sex. For example, Adam “knew” his wife and she became pregnant with Seth (Gen. 4:25).
But the “knowing” isn’t just physical. It involves “knowing” each other on every possible level—and so deeply, profoundly, and intimately, that the two truly experience what it means to be one.
Sex is a physical, temporal symbol of a supernatural, cosmic reality. Our Creator wanted us to have symbols, images and language powerful enough to convey the idea of who He is and what a relationship with Him is all about. These symbols point to profound truths about the Godhead and to Christ’s relationship with the church.
That’s why Christ’s ideal for marriage and sex is so strict. Sex exists to foreshadow the consummation of the great love story between Jesus and His Bride. It illustrates the profound “oneness” we will one day experience with Him.
In my last post I talked about the first two necessities for God-glorifying sex: a marriage covenant, and two complementary participants—one male and one female. In this post we’ll look at the remaining three necessities: mutuality, congruence, and Godwardness.
3. The Necessity of Mutuality:
Earlier in this series, I discussed the relationship between complementarity and mutuality. A complementarian relationship is not a unilateral one. It’s like a dance. Each partner is fully engaged and attuned to the movements of the other. There’s a whole lot of “one another” going on. And, the better the dance partners get at fulfilling their respective roles, the more the relationship reflects the unity and beauty of it all.
Complementarity reaches its apex in the act of sex. That’s where male-female differences are eclipsed by a profound unity. So much so, that husband and wife relinquish their separate physical “selves” (1 Cor. 7:3-4). The Bible says that the husband’s body belongs to the wife, and the wife’s to the husband. They no longer interact as two separate individuals, but as counterparts of one flesh.
Imagine what sex must have been like before sin damaged the picture. The first couple didn’t have to think about roles. Their dance was flawless. Sin hadn’t damaged their identities yet, so they intuitively got the male-female dance right. All they had to do was BE who God created them to BE. In being the man God created him to be, Adam provided that which Eve desired. In being the woman God created her to be, Eve provided that which Adam desired. Everything that the one counterpart wanted to receive was something that the other counterpart was equipped to give.
It’s this concept that the New Testament reclaims when it instructs husbands and wives to relinquish ownership and give their bodies completely to one another in the marital bed (1 Cor. 7:3-4). My body belongs to my husband. His belongs to me. It’s a paradox really, because this cross-ownership demands that both parts of our “one flesh” agree on what physically takes place. It’s my responsibility to do what my husband wants just as it is his responsibility to do what I want. Good sex requires that each discovers and fulfills what the other desires.
Thus, God-honoring sex not only reflects the epitome of complementarity, it also reflects the epitome of mutuality.
4. The Necessity of Congruence
Some people think that “anything goes” with regards to consensual sexual behavior in the privacy of a couple’s bedroom. But I don’t think that’s the case. The fourth necessity of God-glorifying sex is congruence. That means that what a husband and wife do sexually needs to sync or line-up with Christ’s character and the story-line of His cosmic romance. Mutual agreement isn’t the final determiner for the appropriateness of any given sexual behavior. If something is “ in-congruent” with the story-line of the gospel, a couple shouldn’t be doing it. It doesn’t glorify God.
Say a couple agrees to view porn movies together, or to engage in BDSM. They do so in the confines of their bedroom, and for the purpose of charging up their sex life. Is their behavior congruent with the story of the covenant love between Christ and church? Is it appropriate for the Church to fill her mind with images of other lovers? Is Christ sadistic or masochistic towards His Bride? Does He put her in bondage?
The answer to these questions is “no.” The image is in-congruent The physical symbol isn’t true to the spiritual reality to which it points. The Church shouldn’t be thinking of outside lovers. Christ doesn’t put His Bride in bondage. Therefore, choosing to engage in such behavior doesn’t glorify God.
5. The Necessity of Godwardness
The final and overarching necessity for God-glorifying sex is “Godwardness.” By that, I mean understanding that your sexuality (and the rest of life) is ultimately not about you, but about reflecting truths about your Creator-Redeemer. You are not your own. Your life is not your own. Your sexuality is not your own. It has been “bought with a price.” As a Christian, you have an obligation to use your body in a manner that honors God, and to refrain from using it in a way that dishonors Him. Scripture says,
“Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:18–20, ESV)
A Godward mentality shapes and informs our sexual conduct. It challenges married men to tenderly love, romance, and pursue their wives. It challenges married women to love, respect and respond to their husbands. It challenges singles to honor the gospel story through sexual continence. It challenges all of us to strive for increasingly higher standards of sexual purity. (1 Thess. 4:1-8) It also challenges us to keep dealing with the sin in our lives, and aim for ever-increasing Christ-likeness.
When I work at desiring my husband and being desirable for him, I honor the gospel story. Godward sexuality is far more than following a set of rules for moral conduct. Having a Godward mindset informs and transforms me from the inside out, enabling me to embrace the fullness and joy of my God-given sexuality, and to live in a way that honors Jesus.
With the 5 Necessities of God-glorifying sex as a back-drop, let me quickly answer Rachel’s remaining questions:
“What does it mean to carry male-female roles over into the marriage bed?”
It means that male and female physically come together as husband and wife (in a covenant union), as perfect counterparts (the apex of complementarity), give the totality of who they to one another (the apex of mutuality), and momentarily have their sense of “self” eclipsed by the ecstasy of a one flesh union (which is a physical foreshadowing of the coming spiritual consummation between Christ and the Church). There is no prescribed check-list of behavior. However, the guiding principle is that they honor the gospel story.
“What makes complementarian sex different from egalitarian sex?”
On a purely physical level, there may be no difference between how a given complementarian and egalitarian couple have sex. However, if one’s engagement and enjoyment of sex truly is – for the most part – “between the ears,” then a deep appreciation for and understanding of the ultimate purpose of male-female complementarity will make a profound difference in a person’s sex life. If I cherish the true meaning of sex, I will be eager to engage in it in a God-honoring way. I will long to unite with my husband physically to symbolically honor my spiritual longing for Christ. I believe that a complementarian mindset makes a wife feel more passionate, engaged, sexy, and erotic towards her husband than a mindset that does not appreciate or understand the reason for the God-given differences between male and female. A Godward focus for sex makes marital sex more meaningful and desirable. God-honoring complementarity provides the context for the absolute best pleasure-filled fulfilling sex a human being could possibly experience. It’s the winner. Bar none. Hands down.
In my next post, I’ll wrap up this series on Complementarity and Mutuality, and talk about the importance of “not losing sight of the forest for the trees.”