In a previous post, 4 Principles in Talking to Your Kids About Sex, the fourth principle was “Teach Not Just the Biology but Also the Theology of Sex”. Perhaps that's a topic for adults to review from time to time for the sake of our own hearts. The broader culture we live in has a very different answer for the purpose of sex, and sadly many young people who claim to know Christ have not adopted what scripture teaches about sexuality. The depth of their understanding of sex is limited to, “The church says don't do it.” We must do better than teaching our children that sex isn't just something that God allows us to do because we can't help ourselves and He merely tolerates it. It was His idea, but it's only good on His terms.
In his book What Is the Meaning of Sex?, Denny Burk identifies four subordinate purposes of sex (which he adopted from Dennis Hollinger's book of a similar title). We will look at each and attempt to break them down to language a child could understand in sections titled You Can Say.
1. Consummation of Marriage
A wedding may be the public announcement of a man and a woman committing to each other, yet the marriage is ratified through sexual union. In other words sex “makes it official”, like a signature on a contract. The “two shall become one flesh” language in Genesis 2:24 certainly entails sexual union.
You can say:
“People have different ways of making promises. Mommy and Daddy signed a paper that says we promise to pay the bank (or whatever) for our house/car, etc. Sex is a way for a man and woman to make a promise to be husband and wife to only each other. It's a way to show that they are one.”
“Then God said, 'Let us make man in our image, after our likeness...And God blessed them. And God said to them, 'Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.'” (Genesis 1:26, 28 ESV)
God's intent in creation was to rule the world through the people made in His image. If they were to subdue the earth they would have to fill it with more glory-spreading image bearers. God designed sex as the means by which humans would fill the earth.
You can say:
“If you went to someone's house and there was a room full of trophies, you'd probably think, 'Wow. This person is great at sports'. The trophies say something about their skills.
In a way, people are like God's trophies. We were made in His image which means we are made to show what God is like and how great He is. His greatness is called 'glory'. The more people there are, the more God's glory is shown on the earth and people are more able to do the job God gave them to do. This is why God loves it when a husband and wife have babies. God invented sex as the way for people to have babies.”
3. Expression of Love
Burk writes, “Just as sex consummates marriage, so also it serves as the ongoing affirmation of the husband and wife's unique love for one another.”1 Its a way to communicate, “I'm still committed to you in every way.” There are multiple times in the Song of Solomon where the word “love” is used for sexual union (2:7, 3:5, 8:4). The apostle Paul exhorts husbands to “Love your wives as Christ loves the church.” (Eph 5:25). He goes on to explain how the one-flesh union between a man and a woman is a mysterious reflection of Christ and the church (5:32).
You can say:
“People have different ways to showing love and friendship to each other. Some friends have secret handshakes. Sex is like a secret handshake between a man and his wife. They love each other so much that sex is a way they celebrate and show each other how much joy they have for being together.”
Pleasure is a powerful motivator that helps us accomplish the previous three purposes of sex. "Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love" (Proverbs 5:18-19 ESV). The ESV Study Bible note on this verse says:
Proverbs calls unabashedly for seeking fulfillment in the sexual intimacy of marriage as the relational context where these desires are rightly fostered for the enjoyment and good of both husband and wife. 2
Christopher Ash points out:
Sexual attraction, desire and delight were as well known and accepted then [in biblical times] as now...The whole metaphorical structure of the Lord's marriage to his people would have been evacuated of meaning if it were not so. 3
A friend of mine shared with me a bit of humor in what it was like when he explained sex to his son. The boy asked, “Dad, do I have to do it more than once?” My friend replied, “Oh, Honey. Trust me, you'll want to.”
You can say:
“At your age, you may not understand why anyone would want to have sex, but someday you'll understand. It's something God gave us to enjoy. But like a lot of other things, it must be enjoyed in the right way. Like ice cream. If you have too much of it, you get a bellyache. It must be enjoyed in the right way. You don't start a book at the middle or the end. It must be enjoyed in the right way. God created sex for husbands and wives and it is to be enjoyed only in marriage. Any other way goes against God's good design.”
The Ultimate Purpose
All of these purposes are subordinate purposes that point to an ultimate purpose. What these subordinate purposes accomplish, the creation of new image-bearers, delighting in God's good gifts and reflecting Christ and the church all point to the ultimate purpose of sex: the glory of God. The answer to the first question of the shorter Westminster Catechism summarizes the biblical teaching when it states “The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.” So in general our lives are to glorify God ("So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" 1 Cor 10:31 ESV), but specifically this is also true of sex. Paul warns the Corinthians to not unite with prostitutes. "You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body." (1 Cor 6:19-20 ESV). Burk writes, “In context, body is a metonymy for the use of the body for sex. In essence, Paul calls on the Corinthians to glorify God with their sex.”4
What we learn from all of this is that God's design and purpose is that sex is to be between one man and one woman who are united through marriage ultimately for His glory. Any sexual act or attitude outside of this context is what the Bible calls porneia or sexual immorality which includes fornication, adultery, homosexuality, bestiality etc.
We must do better as parents than offering a “Don't do that, it's bad” theology of sex or even avoiding the conversation altogether. We need to teach our children why the Bible's vision for sex is better than any of the world's parodies. If they understand the deeper meaning of it and its purpose, perhaps they'll avoid these pitfalls and truly learn to glorify God in their bodies.
1. Denny Burk, What Is the Meaning of Sex? (Wheaton, Ill: Crossway 2013) , 36.
2. ESV Study Bible (Wheaton Ill: Crossway 2008)
3. Christopher Ash, Marriage: Sex in the Service of God (Vancouver British Columbia: Regent College Publishing 2003), 186
4. Burk, What is the Meaning of Sex?, 57