Redeeming Sexual Love

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Chapter 2

The differentiation between, and the union of, male and female are utterly sacred, for they echo God’s holy existence[1]. –J. Clark, M.P. Johnson, The Incarnation of God

 Purpose Statement: Created in the image of God, whether feminine or masculine, every role is teleological to reflect the Trinity in community. Explore how feminine and masculine can function in a unified community to demonstrate the nature of God.

Initially, I had a very relaxed approach to becoming a husband. Belle and I were in this together, for better or for worse. I was sure there would be times for both. However, I could not know how presumptions and past sexual experiences would prevent me from hearing my wife’s heart. Though I thought we were connecting (We were having sex after all!), my wife was hurting and lonely. Blind assumptions kept me from hearing her heart, and I failed to meet her deepest needs.

My grandfather died when my dad was four. As a result, my father’s concept of leadership in our home was textbook. He was resolute in his commitment to protect and physically provide for his family. Though my mother was affectionate, my dad’s love for his children was assumed and never expressed. So I also never observed that a husband should connect affectionately with his wife and children.

In college, I became a follower of Jesus Christ. For the first time, I experienced the freedom to seek emotional affirmation and the connection my father never offered. Accepted by God, I  no longer fear rejection. Following Jesus’ example, I began a new pattern of turning to Him as my role model for interacting and loving others.

Traditional religious views skewed my ideas for what it means to be masculine and feminine.  Regardless, while dating, our shared beliefs and sense of conviction made Mandla and my dating relationship outstanding. We valued each other and life improved by what we shared. Marriage not only seemed reasonable but beneficial. We had no way of knowing that misconceived gender roles would muddy the beauty of our relationship. Eventually, we experienced how religious conviction, unsubstantiated by Jesus’ way of life, is dangerous. 

After we married, Mandla’s expectations for our sexual relationship overshadowed the emotional connection we previously shared. I knew that physical intimacy was important. However, I believed the sum-total of my person exceeded our bedtime activity, and that’s not how married life felt. Sensing my value had been reduced to sexual exploits, I resented my husband’s pursuits.

Adding insult to injury, I believed that, abuse notwithstanding, a wife should set aside emotions and conform to her husband’s desires. Wasn’t that godly love? Commitment? And wifely submission?

This view reduced our common ground to a dogmatic tenacity to “do-the-right-thing,” no matter how badly it hurt. Without the emotional connection and mutual benefit, our relationship once offered, coping with life required defensive patterns of relating. Mandla’s adventurous pursuits no longer appealed to me. Able to compartmentalize life, his adventurous spirit forged paths to escape my unhappiness. Between us, our coping mechanisms became unpleasant cycles and emotions driving us apart.

Behavioristic approaches to resolve conflict seemed rational: “you fill my tank, and I’ll fill yours.” However, focusing on rules, roles, and routines didn’t allow for connection. Rather than growing in love, our relationship became shallow. Viewing love and affection as commodities measured by behavior, my appeals quickly turned to argument, accusation, and manipulation. Eventually, I recognized if I didn’t back off of my issues, I’d be responsible for the destruction of our marriage. Asking the Lord to show me how to fit into the life equation that suited Mandla’s life, I clung to religious misconceptions about submission and believed the problem was me. Trying to adapt, adjust, and surrender to my religious convictions, faulty notions of Biblical submission were self-defeating, and not of God.

Working through our flawed perceptions to find health in our relationship was a matter of the heart. As Mandla and I learned to walk together in a Spirit of truth about our roles and relationship, God changed the way we lived and responded to each other.

The Responsible Role

According to Dr. Larry Crabb, zakar (Hebrew for male, Gen 1:27), reflects the masculine nature of God. Says Dr. Crabb, “zakar sees the plight of those God places in his life, remembers the God he was called to reveal, and acts in faith to reflect God’s holy heart of love. When zakar looks intently at a difficulty rather than suggesting quick solutions, he’ll recognize his inadequacy.  At his best, zakar courageously offers the presence of Christ by a compassionate and supportive response. Rejecting isolated thinking and fears of failure, “relational masculinity is revealed in a man who remembers God’s story and moves to advance its plot.”[2]

Read Genesis 2:15 to 3:19

  • From 2:15-2:18, to whom did God express His one rule that would demonstrate respect for His authority? And where was Eve when God set a standard of respectful obedience?
  • Where was Adam when the snake suggested Eve could make her own decision regarding what to eat? (3:6)

Read Romans 5:12 and 1 Timothy 2:13&14

  • Who does God hold responsible for humankind entering a sin-filled experience? 1) One man-Adam, 2) One woman- Eve, or 3) Both Adam and Eve?
  • Was Adam deceived by the snake’s words to Eve?

The Role of Sin

Eve’s sin was based on deception, while Adam’s sin was a curious though intentional disregard for God’s words. Failing to act consistently to his masculine design, Adam felt ashamed. Trust and integrity couldn’t be assumed any longer, because spiritually Adam stepped back from Eve. With Adam’s failure to take responsibility and act consistently with his masculine role, the unity of God’s image became less evident. Together he and Eve made a choice initiating the spiritual breakdown in all relationships; broken relationships are the bottom line for identifying sin.

Sin is not a judgment, but rather a state of being. Every generation has followed in Adam and Eve’s defensive posturing. Roles became confusing as misconceptions about who we are and what our relationships should look like failed to reflect God. 

Sin in me and you, is any thought, attitude, or action that causes brokenness between us. It maintains its grip through fears that prevent the unity and pleasure we might otherwise enjoy in wholesome vulnerability.

 The Role of the Adversary

Read Luke 4:1-14 and Matthew 28:18-20

  • Remembering Genesis 1:28 from RSL chapter one, to whom did God give authority over the earth?
  • From Luke 4 and remembering Genesis 3, How does God’s adversary attempt to take authority on earth?
  • Has God at any time, acknowledged the satan’s authority? (See also, Colossians 1:13)
  • From Matthew 28, ultimately, who remains the final authority? And who remains God’s choice to be “in charge” on earth?

Read Romans 5:17-19 & John 14:6

  • Is righteousness a verb, or a noun? Is righteous a verb, or an adjective?
  • Is it earned, or a gift? (5:17)
  • What is the result of true righteousness? (5:17)
  • What did John say is the way to move out of the way of death described in Romans into the way of life promised by Jesus?

God hold’s one man, Adam responsible for the sinful state of being in which we live. God held Adam and Eve accountable for individual choice: each would experience the natural consequence for their disregard of the way decisions would affect others. By indulging his curiosity, one man’s choice established the ‘self-ish’ patterns still prevalent today. Seizing the opportunity, God’s adversary didn’t hesitate to stand up when Adam stepped back.

Each of us faces similar choices as Adam and Eve. Will we relate to one another and God according to His design for what is best? Though Original Sin is a state of being, patterns in relationships and whether to settle for unhealthy interactions is still a matter of choice.

The Role of Righteousness

The satan maintains authority by personal choice. Just as one man started patterns of brokenness, the Godman established a new model for right living. Following Jesus’ way of life and relating to others, God offers a choice to rise above sin and move toward health in wholehearted relationships once again.

In a right way of life, Jesus’ refused to act defensively, when challenged by the adversary in any form. Patterning righteousness, Jesus relied on the spirit of truth and God’s written Word. Without defense, His choices in human relationships lead to death on a cross. Rather than fighting, He accepted the consequence that humans remain broken. Yet, subsequently rising from death He reminds us of His rightful authority, and that by our choice to accept God’s gift, we’re offered a way to move out of the satan’s domain by identifying with Him.

Following Jesus’ way of life that focuses on unity and understanding, He moves us toward right ways of relating that do not come naturally. Righteousness, the kind that Jesus modelled, refuses to act defensively in the hope of maintaining or establishing health in what are otherwise broken relationships. Righteousness relies on truth and seeks understanding by holding onto God’s Words and His example for us, His beloved creation.

Read Matthew 20:28 and Ephesians 5:23

  • From Matthew 20, what one word that describes the pattern Jesus began that leads toward healthy relationships?
  • And from Ephesians 5, what does God say is the role of the husband?

God began the creation of humanity with men, and it was to the man God directly laid down the rules. The Bible identifies the husband as the head of the home and that via the first husband’s failure to lead in what God said was right, he surrendered his authority to the satan, opposed to God. Living in his domain, we perpetuate division and brokenness, the state of Original Sin.  

Still, Adam wasn’t required or even asked to compensate for his failure. Ultimately, Jesus made restitution for the broken patterns of relationship (sin) we’ve inherited. Serving others, Jesus’ model for life requires engaging people God brings across our path.  In the flesh and blood details of daily life, man needed then and still needs now, another. By God’s design, zakar actively serves someone who is also willing to help.

 The Supporting Role

  • God created Adam from the dust of the ground. Where did Eve come from? Adam’s head? His side? His gut? Back? Appendages? (Genesis 2:21)
  • What did God have in mind when He created Eve? What was her role? (Genesis 2:18 & 20)

The Hebrew word for a suitable helper is ezer, and refers to a “strong helper.” It is the same word Moses used to name his son, Eliezer, because, he said, “God …was my help and delivered me.” An ezer is not any kind of helper, but a strong one to secure success.[3]

God took Eve from Adam’s side to place her physically next to him in life. He knew Adam’s strengths, and weaknesses; and He knew that he would be better equipped to negotiate life with a partner/helper at his side.

In keeping with this calling, femininity also demonstrates something about God’s nature. Dr. Crabb (2013) notes that the strong helper is neqebah, who reveals the relational nature of God. Neqebah discloses God’s invitational beauty. By prioritizing relationships, neqebah opens her heart and is irresistibly attractive (p. 42 & 73).

The giftedness of women can’t be generalized. However, neqebah is intuitive and insightful according to her talents and capabilities. The feminine nature, like God’s, drives women to respond and connect. In strength, neqebah acts instinctively to help, and give insight into relationships. And in a healthy marriage, neqebah responds naturally, willingly, and powerfully to zakar, when standing, an equal partner, at his side.

Equal? …Yet Complimentary!

 Living with a view that merges the equal (egalitarian) yet complementary roles of men and women, unveils the essence of unity in zakar and neqebah that reflects God’s Triunity.  As God designed relationships, combining feminine and masculine perspectives, human sexuality offers a holistic view that is spiritual. God, our Father, and Creator; Jesus, the Son, and Savior; by the essence of His Holy Spirit, complement one another. Together, they function equally and are One.

Genesis 1, the Spirit hovered, before God Spoke. John 1 expands our understanding of that day, telling us that nothing came into being without Jesus, who was also present. Each member of the Trinity was vital to accomplish God’s work of creation, and they continue to submit and value one another, acting as One.  

We often focus on the masculine pronouns which reference God, yet we overlook that a part of God’s nature embraces something of femininity. The Hebrew word for God’s Spirit, used 378 times in the Old Testament, is a feminine noun. Likewise, the Aramaic word for Spirit, Ruach, the word Jesus would have used when speaking of the Holy Spirit is a feminine noun. Jesus identified with the emotions of women, even comparing Himself to a mother hen gathering her chicks (Luke 13:34). There is nothing ungodly about femininity!

Created in God’s image, men and women have equal needs and desires, that run passionately through our being. Though complimenting one another, male and female passions take very different forms. Both are vital and must be valued equally for a relationship to be mutually beneficial and reflect the Trinity.

Read Colossians 3:1-10

  • What happens when we set our minds on the things above and set aside our earthly nature to put on a new self? _______________________________________ (vs. 10)

Renewing God’s image sets aside those things which divide and, draws us together to reflect the Trinity according to Original design. In marriage, my strong points are not my husband’s, nor his mine. Honoring one another’s strengths, we operate as a spiritual unit that is personally fulfilling and socially beneficial. Philosopher, Peter Kreeft (1990) says, “[A godly view of sexuality does not deny] the obvious rational truth that the sexes are equal in value (as the chauvinist does) nor the equally obvious instinctive truth that they are innately different (as the egalitarian does). It revels in both, and in their difference: Vive’ la difference!” (Kindle loc. 1479)

Moving away from our feminine and masculine design suppresses the image of God, which nevertheless remains. Just as for Adam and Eve, shame emerges when sexuality and spirituality juxtapose. In division, we lose sight of the completeness of God’s image that compliments and is equally valuable in both genders. Men without impact and women without connection feel inadequate and ashamed. Battling notions that “I am no good,” shame cannot be reasoned away. Failing to act meaningfully, masculine men feel inferior. Either withdrawing or seeking to make an impact without connection, zakar fails to live up to his potential. Feminine women find value in heart connection. Outside of wholehearted relationships, neqebah also struggles with low self-worth and shame.

To heal and refute shameful narrations that have intruded on the human experience requires acknowledging and believing the truth about God, and me: Created in His Image, I am valuable and loved despite what is broken. Truth integrates what is spiritual with what is sexual: my sexuality reflects something of God’s passionate nature. Driven to be masculine and feminine, we’ll connect in unity when we equally value and complement one another as God designed.

The Single’s Role

Zakar and neqebah are not limited to husbands and wives. Single people are no less sexual than those who are married; they also long to connect and make an impact. That unmarried people continually process their singlehood is a natural consequence of God’s broken design. Longing for a sense of the unity they were created to enjoy, many singles struggle to settle into their role. Though the Bible does not frequently address the issue of singleness, God is not silent on the topic.

Read 1 Corinthians 7:1-35

  • Which is preferable according to the apostle Paul? ☐Marriage      ☐To Remain Single (vs. 1, 7&8, 26)
  • Why should an unmarried person seek a spouse? (vs. 7-9)
  • What happens when a person burns in their desire to find a spouse? (vs. 7-9)
  • To burn is to be consumed. If a person is being consumed by a certain issue where is his or her focus? ☐On God          ☐On meeting personal needs that focus on self
  • According to this passage, what is God’s desire for our mental focus, whether married, single, slave or free? What is God’s priority above sexual expression in marriage? (vs. 5 & 35)
  • From 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, why is a single person more able to focus on serving God?

The Bible encourages singles to engage by serving God in the fellowship of wholehearted community. He acknowledges singleness is not for everyone, but a gift. God’s priority is to focus our mental energies on Him. He wants all of us to serve Him by serving others.

God designed sexual intimacy and marriage because it provides a Biblical picture of the Gospel. This Biblical Picture doesn’t require sexual activity to be real. Physical intimacy in marriage reflects the unity of Christ and the Church; it is a compelling picture with sacred implications. Furthermore, Jesus was a single male with a holistic view of God’s plan. No less sexual than you and I, Jesus’ integrated view of spirituality and sexuality perfected the Image of God in the flesh. Remaining a celibate male, He awaits uniting with His bride at the appointed time. Marital status does not sway this truth! Jesus’ marriage to the Church is the ultimate union to which marriage in the flesh should point.

The fulfilment in sexual intimacy that never dies happens in a covenant relationship when a couple commits themselves to the tedious process of moving beyond a ‘self-ish’ perspective to understand the other’s experience. However, regarding people from their point of view is genuine compassion and the way of life Jesus modelled, wholeheartedly, while single! In marriage, physical intimacy facilitates unity by creating circumstances that, to be fulfilling, require focusing on the other to understand and meaningfully address driving needs. In the reality of limited perspectives, drives become a means to motivate compassion and experience grace such as the Gospel offers: undeserved favor. We all fail. Every lasting relationship, even in marriage, is an undeserved gift of grace and mutual respect for God’s image in a broken vessel.

For singles, physical intimacy without commitment loses its motivation for graceful respect. The Gospel is alienated from the sexual experience when one’s focus on self, displaces the need for grace and respect. Singles not only honor God by waiting for a commitment of marriage, but they also demonstrate there is solidarity in Gospel truth! Becoming one in a committed marriage on earth reflects the eternal promise God has made to us!

Lives change when we serve God by serving others. Marital status, or even the choice to be sexually active, is not what makes a person sexual. In her book, Redeeming Sex, Debra Hirsch (2015) points out that “all of our sexual/relational needs can be summed up in two essential desires or longings… our social sexuality and our genital sexuality. Implicit in each of these is what we might experience as the longing to be completed in the other.” (pg. 51) She states further that, “while expressions of genital sexuality can be divorced from the engagement with another person (e.g., masturbation, self-stimulation, etc.), in its ideal expression sexuality is about relational engagement with another.” (pg. 67)

Human sexuality should not imply physical intimacy, but rather relational engagement. Whatever feminine and masculine qualities you and I have, God delights when we use them as Jesus did, to bless others. For a single person, Godly sexual intimacy (outside of marriage) means expressing their passionate strengths and building unity, in community, while honoring that the place for physical intimacy is inside of marriage. Respecting God’s design for the sexual relationship, in and outside of marriage, creates an environment where physical and spiritual intimacy reflects our Triune God. By failing to keep physical intimacy in its proper place, we cannot enjoy the spiritual intimacy of God’s design.

Most Christian communities don’t value singleness in the way the Bible suggests. Too often, social circles focus on self and nuclear families and fail to appreciate the unmarried people in their communities. For many to be single is to be lonely; this should never be! Theologian T. F. Torrance (1984) said, “Those who are not married do not exist outside the inter-personal structure of human being. [Rather, unmarried people] …have a positive inter-personal role to play within the man-woman complementarity of human society” (p. 5). By God’s plan, unmarried people are an essential part of life!

When communities value singles, they too are drawn into the community and reflect God’s design more completely. Valuing others, as the Trinity, prevents isolation. Neglect and a narrow view of God’s plan create feelings of loneliness. Supportive communities grow and flourish because God promises to be a part (1 Corinthians 7:26-35, Matthew 18:20). All of us benefit as we encourage single people, and create space for them to live meaningfully, as God builds His Church (John 13:35).

Trinitarian Roles

The Bible indicates God is one; yet, clearly delineates He is Father, Son, and Spirit. Unified, yet passionately different, our One God functions in three distinct roles. Theologians Clark and Johnson (2015) state, “the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit are distinctive persons each with His own communicable properties, …they dwell in one another, not only with one another in such an intimate way …that their individual characteristics instead of dividing them from one another unite them indivisibly together” (p. 66-67). Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane illustrates this. As you read the passage, observe that Jesus’ desire was timeless, for everyone who would follow Him.

Read John 17

  • What phrases do you read that demonstrates how you and I or other multiples should live as one? Look for those places where “we” become a unit and exist as one with another.

In His prayer, Jesus indicates the image of the Trinity has less to do with operating as a threesome, but rather living wholeheartedly with others. His prayer is for all, that “they” a community would “be one.” The intimacy of knowing and connecting in love characterizes God. Jesus is “in the Father,” who is “in Jesus,” and He wants all to be a part of that unit as well. To “be one” in our relationships is a completion of God’s work, a reflection of Him/Them -The Trinity.

The Apostle Paul was led by the Holy Spirit to clarify how this love should look in his letter to the people of Philippi. We’ll call this Trinitarian Love because it reflects the loving connectedness of our God. In Philippians chapter two, there are several elements vital to Trinitarian Love.

Read Philippians 2:1-8 to dentify interactions that are vital for many of us to live as one:

  • Verse 1-2 Identify 6 emotional interactions foundational to unity
  • Verse 2 …intent on _____________________________________
  • Verse 3 …regard one another ______________________________
  • Verse 8 …He ___________________ ____________________ by ____________________ _________________________ to the point of death….

It’s essential for our understanding of Trinitarian relationships to observe how our Triune God acts within His distinct roles. African theologian S.W. Kunhiyop (2008) says that “Because of their different roles, the persons of the Trinity often act as if one is subordinate to another” (p. 52). The Father sent the Son, and the Son always acted in submission to the Father’s will (John 14:28 & 31). The Spirit led Jesus (Luke 2:27, 4:1, 14, 10:21), and God sent the Spirit at Jesus’ bidding (John 14:16 & 25). From Genesis 1:2 and John chapter one, we know that the Spirit of God initiated, and God created, yet without Jesus, none of it would have materialized.

Read Matthew 26:36-39 which accounts Jesus’ prayer prior to his arrest in Gethsemene

  • What did Jesus say that demonstrates the severity of this submission of the Godhead?
  • When you read from Philippians chapter 2, did you notice what Paul said about Jesus’ opinion of Himself within the Trinity in verse 6?

Though Jesus was “one with the Father” (John 10:30) and equal to Him, He lived in submission to Him. Likewise, men and women to reflect God’s nature will co-exist in equal yet complementary roles.  From Philippians chapter two, we observe that following Jesus’ example, in unity we’ll complement and value others to rise above the ‘self-ish’ point of view that dominates our perspective.

 Conclusion

Traditional views for the roles of men and women based on behavior instead of connection, neglect the interplay of strengths represented by our diverse natures. Failing to image God, the mutual affection Belle and Mandla shared became allusive when their roles focused on behavior instead of strengthening one another by prioritizing the other. Without mutual understanding and value, their drives created distance and mistrust instead of intimacy and safety. Pursuing relationships as Jesus did, we are privileged to glimpse Triunity. Knowing His equality with God, Jesus served God and man and encourages us to do the same. Taking off the ‘self-ish’ point of view that focuses on behavior and colors our view, Jesus leads us to value and complement another’s perspective, to the glory of our Triune God.

God called men to roles of responsibility within their families and communities. They are to provide for and give leadership to those in their authority. However, women are equally important. Drawing on their gifts and strengths, men should value the perspectives women offer. God has placed women in homes and communities to give insight and guidance. In unity, zakar and neqebah create space for a holistic point of view. Complementing one another in the way of the Trinity is a choice first made at a personal level, which then impacts the community.

Valuing our sexuality and God-given roles begins in our homes, then extends to others in our circles of influence. Married or single, together, men and women are more discerning and productive than they could be alone. Living and loving within Trinitarian roles, God identified the creation of humankind as “very good,” because the completion of His great work, and God’s image, is most evident when zakar and neqebah function together: one as He is one!

Time for Reflection

  • Who shaped your views of feminity and masculinity? Were their roles defined or ambiguous? Did they conflict or complement the opposite sex? Did these function in mutual respect and value, or rely on clearly defined hierarchies?
  • Whether in social groups, congregations, or with family members, roles are fulfilling when there is unity and intimacy such as the Trinity enjoys. What can you do to develop this kind of unity?
  • Can you define your God-given role?
  • Do you lean toward an egalitarian or complementarian view of men and women? What would it take to embrace them both?
  • Are you content with your role in life? What circumstances affect your contentment?
  • What do you enjoy most about your role?
  • If you are struggling with your role, can you identify what is most discouraging?

[1] Clark, J; Johnson, M.P. (2015). The Incarnation of God: The Mystery of the Gospel as the Foundation of Evangelical Theology. Wheaton. Crossway. Kindle Edition. (p. 219).

[2] Crabb, L. (2013). Fully Alive, A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes.Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks. (pp. 77-123).

[3] Crabb, L. (2013). Fully Alive, A Biblical Vision of Gender That Frees Men and Women to Live Beyond Stereotypes.Grand Rapids, MI: BakerBooks. (p. 52).

Unpublished work. Copyright 2022, Greg and Carlene Seghers