Holy Sex (Song of Songs 8:5-7)

God loves sex

Big Idea: God is pro-sex. He made it to be joyful, more than physical, and powerful.

We’re beginning what seems to be a very strange series today: God Loves Sex. I have to admit that this reminds me a story that has nothing to do with sex, thankfully. I was roofing our old house with my brothers. The pitch of the roof was steep, and I was terrified that one of them would fall off. At one point, my oldest brother was perched right on the edge of the roof. He asked, “Is my back touching the main electrical wire?” You know, the one that carries all the electricity into the house. We looked and said, “Yes, you are.” He was fine, by the way, but it was a moment that I imagined someone getting cooked and knocked off our roof.

It feels a little like this today. As we talk about sex — in church! — it feels like we’re perched right at the edge of the roof, and touching a live wire that could zap us if we’re not careful.

There’s a reason for this as we think about sex at different levels: Sex is powerful and intense. It is both beautiful and powerful, maybe even dangerous. It’s like this across all cultures, and it’s been this way through all of history. Sex is powerful.

But sex is also complicated. Because sex is so powerful, it impacts us in very significant ways. And because we live in a broken world, and we’re imperfect people, all of us are complicated when it comes to sex. We have histories. We have hurts and regrets, and some of them are deep. We have longings. We want to love and be loved, and we know something of the beauty and power of sex, but we’ve also been hurt. We want to enjoy the beauty of this powerful part of our lives, and we also need understanding for our complicated feelings. And we also need healing.

Not only that, but we’re taught all kinds of things about sex every day. We live in a sex-crazed world. It’s in TV, movies, music, and greeting cards. It’s in our conversations. Sadly, it’s also been trampled and abused through things pornography, sexual abuse, human trafficking. It’s a huge part of our culture

Sex is powerful, we are complicated, and it’s all over culture. Then to top it off — what are we doing talking about it in church? Couldn’t we talk about something else, for Pete’s sake?

I get it. But we have to talk about it, especially in church. You can’t avoid being sexual, so we have to figure out how to be sexual in the right way, so we can truly flourish. I agree with Tim Keller, who says that sex and spirituality overlap in a powerful way.

As you may know, Tim Keller pastors a church in New York. He was once asked to identify a few obstacles to revival in the contemporary church. Drawing on his experience in Manhattan, Keller started with one issue: the fact that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other.

Keller illustrated the point by talking about a tactic, one that he admitted was almost too unkind to use, that an old college pastor associate of his used when catching up with college students who were home from school. He’d ask them to grab coffee with him to catch up on life. When he’d ask about their spiritual lives, they’d often hem and haw, talking about the difficulties and doubts now that they’d taken a little philosophy, or maybe a science class or two, and how it all started to shake the foundations. They had started to struggle with their faith. At that point, he’d look at them and ask one question, “So who have you been sleeping with?” Shocked, their faces would inevitably fall and say something like “How did you know?” Keller pointed out that it’s a pretty easy bet that when you have a kid coming home with questions about evolution or philosophy, or some such issue, the prior issue is a troubled conscience.

Keller concludes that if the Church is going to see serious spiritual renewal, especially among the younger generations, we need to present an alternative view of sex that is beautiful, but different than the one offered in the dominant cultural narratives; a view of sexuality that affirms its goodness while placing it within God’s intended framework.

So that’s our goal in this series: to present an alternate view of sex that’s beautiful, but different from the one offered in the dominant cultural narratives. We want to bring holiness and sexuality together.

So today, I have only one goal and one action I’d like you to take.

One Goal

Here’s my goal: to show you that holiness and sexuality go together; that God loves sex. You can be holy and highly sexual at the same time. Contrary to what we normally think, the two go together very well. Sex is not only physical, but it is profoundly spiritual. Not only can holiness and sexuality go together, they must go together if we are going to truly flourish.

I want to show you this by looking at a book of the Bible called Song of Songs. You should stop right there and let the reality sink in: there’s a whole book of the Bible that is completely devoted to the topic of sex and passion. God cares about this so much that he included a whole book of the Bible that deals with this topic.

So let me tell you about this book. Somebody’s called it the invisible book, because you hardly ever hear anyone teach or preach about it. It was written as part of the Hebrew Scriptures. It’s called the Song of Songs because that’s a Hebrew way of saying it’s the best song out of all the songs that exist. It’s in part of the Bible that is called the Writings or wisdom literature, the part that covers how to live and think well as God’s people.

It’s a book of poetry. In particular, it’s a collection of related erotic love poems. It’s so sizzling that some have considered it too dangerous for young people to read. Others have felt so uncomfortable with the sexuality in this book that they’ve allegorized it, and said it’s not really about the romantic and sexual love between a couple, as much as it’s a picture of God’s love for his people.

There is some truth to this position. Human love is a reflection of God’s love for this people. But it’s a mistake to desexualize this book, and to miss the romance and sexuality that it celebrates. I believe that the best way to approach it is not as an allegory, and not as a unified story, but as a book of individual songs and poems about sex and love.

And although it’s about love, it’s mostly about sex. It’s not that the sexual desire in this book is separate from love. But that love is expressed mostly in a desire for physical touch. The poems celebrate desire, physical beauty, depict sexual scenes, and talk about the glory of sex.

The book is written to give us a model of godly sex. We’re supposed to read this book and say, “Okay! This is what I can experience in my life.” It’s a book that helps us imagine what holy sexuality can look like. It even gives us a window into the problems that arise even when we pursue holy sexuality. It shows us that God has a lot to say about sex, and that he sees it as good. Who better to teach us about sex than the one who invented it, and who knows us very well — and who cares for us deeply?

I want to look at the passage that we just read today as a case study. It gives us a window into what holy sexuality looks like. It’s probably the key passage, the literary climax, of the whole book. It gives us a window into what it’s all about. Let’s read it again. We’re going to focus on Song of Songs 8:5-7:

Who is that coming up from the wilderness,
leaning on her beloved?
Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in labor with you;
there she who bore you was in labor.
Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the LORD.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.

This takes us right to the heart of the whole book. Here’s what I want us to see from this passage. We’ll see just three things, and then I’ll ask you to take one action.

God made sex for joy.

The end of verse 5 says:

Under the apple tree I awakened you.
There your mother was in labor with you;
there she who bore you was in labor.

The woman in this passage is speaking to her lover, and recounting a scene of lovemaking. The apple tree is significant. The apple tree has been used in this book, and in other literature, as an erotic image. It’s a place that provides shade and cover, and privacy. It’s also a symbol of fertility.

And what happens there is pretty steamy. She says that she aroused him under the apple tree. This is a little strange to our ears, but it’s the same place where the man (her lover) had been conceived. There’s really a hint of procreation here, perhaps that she even wants to get pregnant, but it’s only a hint.

But you get the message here that God approves of joyful sex. He loves that this couple has found a place to be tender and intimate together. They are having sex for the joy of it. God is not prudish about sex. There should be exuberance, joyful exuberance. God approves of it. If you read through the Scripture, especially the Song of Songs, you get a lot that tells you that God made sex for our joy.

Then we also see:

God made sex to be more than physical.

Verse 6 says:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
as a seal upon your arm...

You have to know what “seal” means. You would mark something with a seal to claim it as your own. Here, the woman asks the man to allow her to own him, to give himself to her totally and completely. She wants his heart to be sealed. She wants his inner being. She wants his personality. She wants to know what makes him tick. She also wants his arm, his actions. She wants him inside and out. She wants all of him. She wants his body and soul, to pronounce their love for each other.

This is pretty strong stuff. It would have been surprising in that day for a woman to come on so aggressively to a man. But it points to a deeper reality: sex isn’t just sex. It’s part of a bigger, wholehearted, loyal commitment to each other. Sex isn’t just a mingling of bodies; it’s a mingling of souls. The Bible later teaches (in 1 Corinthians 7) that there’s a mutuality to this relationship: the husband and the wife belong to each other. In sex and in marriage, you give yourself — all of you — to the other person.

I was looking for quotes about sex this week, which is pretty dangerous, and I came across this one:

In a perfect world, you could [have sex with] people without giving them a piece of your heart. And every glittering kiss and every touch of flesh is another shard of heart you’ll never see again. (Neil Gaiman)

There’s something to this. Sex isn’t just sex. It’s goes deep. There’s no such thing as casual sex. Sex is much more than physical. It goes to the deepest levels. It involves body and soul.

So, God made sex for joy, and he made it to be more than physical. One more observation:

God made sex to be powerful.

Read, and really feel, the second part of verse 6 and then verse 7:

for love is strong as death,
jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
the very flame of the LORD.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can floods drown it.
If a man offered for love
all the wealth of his house,
he would be utterly despised.

Do you feel it? Nothing — not even death — is as strong as love. And jealousy — a single-minded devotion to another person that demands exclusivity — are like flashes of fire. It’s here that God’s name shows up for the first time. This single-minded love is called “the very flame of the LORD.”

There are only two times in the Bible that jealousy is seen as a good thing: when God is jealous for us, and when spouses are jealous for each other. In both cases, it’s healthy. Tremper Longman explains:

Humans can have only one God. If they worship another, it triggers God’s jealousy. God’s jealousy is an energy that tries to rescue the relationship. Similarly, a man and a woman can have only one spouse. If there is a threat to that relationship, then jealousy is a proper emotion. All this is because so much hangs on the integrity of the relationship. It is so basic, so deep, that it stirs up strong emotions and passions.

So the fire burns. It’s white-hot. Water can’t quench hit; floods can’t drown it; it’s more powerful and valuable than wealth. Love is stronger than anything that’s known. It’s powerful and of inestimable value.

That’s why we need caution around love. Verse 4 is a caution that comes up a few times:

I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
that you not stir up or awaken love
until it pleases.
(Song of Solomon 8:4)

Sex is so wonderful and powerful, the book warns, that we should avoid the danger of entering into a sexual relationship prematurely or impulsively.

God made sex for joy. He made it to be more than just physical. And he made it to be powerful.

In many ways, sex is a window into the transcendent. I love how one book puts it:

Sexual desire is not so much the desire for orgasm as it is the desire to be caught up in the sensuality of beauty that transcends the here and now for a timeless, undivided, unsoiled innocence. (Dan Allender and Tremper Longman, God Loves Sex)

Sex is a foretaste of what we all really want, and one day will be ours: to know and be known; to be utterly loved; to be united to another. It may sound strange, but I think this statement is right: “Sex is a foretaste of what it’s going to be like to know God in heaven” (Tim Keller).

One Action

I mentioned that I want you to take one action today. The action is simple but maybe a little hard for us. I want you to bring this part of your life before God. All of it: your hurts, your longings, your joys, your fears. We’re going to talk about some of these later. But today: Bring it all to Jesus.

We all have something to bring. God understands the twists and the turns of our lives, the joys and the failures. And it’s important that we bring this area to the One who knows us, and who sent his Son to die for us to redeem every part of us, including the sexual.

A book I read has these words, and I’ll close with them:

Holiness is not our achievement; it is a gift from our holy God. No one is sexually holy— married, single, gay, straight, or celibate— but we are gifted with holiness just as we are with faith. It is not our work but the gift of God. We must then approach the gift of sexual holiness with fear and trembling, knowing that our sin cannot cause us to be discarded, nor can it turn him from seeing us as his beloved…
No one is sexually perfect, and our stains, flaws, and failures are used by God to intensify our surprise and wonder and to increase our gratitude for how his perfect love cannot be thwarted by our imperfection. (Allender and Longman, God Loves Sex).
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada