Check out this teaching about intimacy and family, first shared by Equip Director Pieter Valk at Ethnos Church in New Brunswick, NJ, as part of a series titled “Sex: Naked Conversations.”
What if sex isn’t the best thing? What if the problem with focusing on sex when we teach about God’s design for our bodies is that, well, it is too focused? We need to zoom out to include more of the possibilities God has for us and frame the conversation about intimacy around the right questions: What are we really made for? What do we really need? Well, to answer those questions, to figure out what we’re made for, maybe we should start by looking at our Creator. At God.
God has made all of us to enjoy intimacy in the context of family. How do we know that? Because God is a being who enjoys intimacy in the context of family, and He created us in His image for those same things.
God put Himself in families. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit make up a family called the Trinity. The Trinity created this world, made man, gave us choice, and sent His son to live a perfect life and die on the cross for our sins so that we could be a part of His family. The Bible goes even further to establish that God is in a family and He invites us into that family by calling us, the group of people who follow Jesus, Christ’s bride and calling Jesus our groom. We’re being married into the family of God. In John 3:29, John the Baptist meets Jesus for the first time and describes himself as a guest at a wedding where Jesus is the groom and the people of God are His bride. In Ephesians 5, Paul uses an analogy of a husband and wife to teach Christ-followers to submit to God and to celebrate that we are Christ’s bride. Finally, in Revelation 19:6-9, the Apostle John describes a wedding feast at the end of time when Christ returns triumphantly to celebrate being united with His bride, the Church—that’s us!
How does God love in His family?
But God isn’t just a being in a family. The love enjoyed in the Trinity and between Christ and the Church is a particular kind of love.
First, God’s love is diverse. There is a different-ness between the persons of the Trinity—God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. And there is complementarity between Christ and His bride, the Church. In Revelation 7:9, the Apostle John describes a celebration of the diversity of God’s people: “After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne…”
Second, God’s love is intimate. The persons of the Trinity know each other perfectly and are fully known by each other. In John 17:20, Jesus speaks longingly about the Trinity when praying for His disciples: “‘My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they…be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.’” God the Father reciprocates this affection. Just after Jesus is baptized, the following happens in Matthew 3:16-17” “…At that moment heaven was opened, and [Jesus] saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.’”
Plus, Christ intimately knows and loves His people and wants them to seek out relationship with Him. 1 John 4: 7, 8, and 19 say, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. We love because he first loved us.” We can only love because God Himself is love, made us to be creatures who love, and loved us first.
Third, God’s love is life-giving. God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit made the world, filled it with plants and animals, and made us humans, together. The Trinity gave us life. And then God became man and Jesus lived and died for us so that we could have life. In John 10:10 Jesus says, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” Without Jesus, we are dead people walking. We have sinned against God, and we do not deserve to join Him in heaven. But Jesus paid the price for our sins so that we could have eternal life.
Fourth, God’s love is faithful. There is a perfect and permanent faithfulness within the Trinity and from Christ to His people. No matter what we do, God will never abandon us or withhold His love. Lamentations 3:22-23 says it this way: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; His mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is [God’s] faithfulness.”
Fifth, God’s love is sacrificial. As we’ve already mentioned, Jesus offered Himself up as a perfect sacrifice so that all of God’s children could return to Him. Paul describes Christ’s sacrifice in this way in Romans 5:6 and 8: “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly… But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
And finally, God’s love is hospitable. Ultimately, the work of creating this world and humans to fill it was an invitation into God’s family. And then God extended His arms of invitation again by dying on the cross so we could be reunited with Him.
To be clear, the Trinity is not three independent, distinct persons in the ways we think of human persons. Instead, the Trinity is one single entity in three modes of being. The Trinity is one triune God, one consciousness, one intellect, one will, one nature, one substance. And at the same time, we notice a relationality, a knowing and being known, a diversity, and a fidelity in the one triune God (John 17:20, Matthew 3:16-17, Genesis 18, Luke 10:22). While human families made up of independent, distinct human persons are different than the Trinity in significant ways, human families would do well to embody characteristics of the Trinity and welcome the ways the one triune God seeks to teach us about Himself through human family.
We were made for image-bearing intimacy.
So God enjoys intimacy in the context of family, and that love is characterized by diversity, intimacy, giving life, faithfulness, sacrifice, and hospitality. What does that have to do with what we made for? With what we need?
“‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.’ So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
That’s what God said in Genesis 1:26-27 when He created the first humans. We are made in His image. We are imitations, designed to be like God. That’s a big deal, and there’s so much we can learn from that. If we were designed to imitate God, then the nature of God can teach us about ourselves. If we’re unsure what we were made for—what we need—one way to figure that out is by looking at what God values, how He relates to the people around Him. So if God enjoys intimacy in the context of family, maybe we are made for those same things, because we are made in His image.
We were made for image-bearing family.
Because we were created in God’s image, we were created for this same kind of intimacy in the context of family. We are all made for diverse, intimate, life-giving relationships that are marked by faithfulness, sacrifice, and hospitality. Our sexuality is our need for those things. We all need relationships, to know and be known, to give and receive love.
Plus, we are all created to enjoy this within the context of family. But when I say family, I don’t just mean married people and kids. In Matthew 12:46-50, Jesus subverts our understanding of family, rejecting familial ties based solely on biology and instead establishing that Christian family is bound by the blood of Christ:
“While he was still speaking to the crowds, his mother and his brothers were standing outside, wanting to speak to him. Someone told him, ‘Look, your mother and your brothers are standing outside, wanting to speak to you.’ But to the one who had told him this, Jesus replied, ‘Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?’ And pointing to his disciples, he said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.’”
Jesus defines Christian family as a small community of Christians who live life together and embody the gospel for each other. From the beginning, families made up of God’s children were intended to imitate the love within the Trinity and between God and His people: to bear the image of that love. The love found in families was intended to be intimate, faithful, sacrificial, diverse, live-giving, and hospitable, embodying God’s love in beautiful ways.
We don’t need romance, sex, or marriage, and that is good news.
We don’t actually need romance or marriage or sex to meet our needs for intimacy. The Bible never promises marriage or sex to people who follow God, and nowhere does God say we need marriage or sex to be whole, happy people. Yes, we have physical and emotional needs. And yes, romance and sex are one way we can fill those, but not the only ways. Let me explain.
One way to think about our needs for connection is to imagine a set of buckets that need to be filled with water. Each of the buckets represent a kind of intimacy we need. God made us mind, body, and spirit, so we need connection on an emotional level, intellectual level, physical level, and spiritual level. When I say emotional intimacy, I mean having conversations that help you connect with gladness or fear or anger or sadness inside of you, and where you notice some of those same things in others. When I say intellectual intimacy, I mean exchanging and exploring ideas with another person. When I say physical intimacy, I mean a hug, holding hands, sitting next to each other on the couch, putting your arm around someone’s shoulder, and yes, kissing and cuddling and sex. When I say spiritual intimacy, I mean connecting in a way that makes you feel more connected to God, by talking about spiritual things, reading Scripture together, or worshipping together.
Imagine four buckets, one labeled “emotional,” the second labeled “intellectual,” the third labeled “physical,” and the fourth labeled “spiritual.” Now some would argue that there is a fifth bucket labeled “sexual.” That we all need sexual intimacy to be whole, and if we don’t get it, we will feel empty.
But I know plenty of people who have never had sex and who are full adults. They share with me that they have vibrant social lives, rich intimacy, and a satisfying experience of community. That’s been true in my own life. The healthy emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual intimacy I have experienced in friendships has been much more satisfying than the broken physical intimacy I have experienced in the past.
Plus, the Bible doesn’t teach that we need sex or marriage to be whole people. Quite the opposite. Jesus didn’t have sex. Paul was committed to celibacy. Many of the mothers and fathers of the Church have been celibate. And Jesus says that in Heaven, there won’t be any more marriage or sex. In Matthew 22:30, He says this: “At the resurrection people will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” It doesn’t make too much sense that our Savior was celibate or that we will all be celibate in heaven if marriage and sex are necessary to be fully human.
Instead, there are four intimacy buckets. Emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual. God provides a good chunk of our spiritual intimacy. Those who are married will partially fill each of those buckets with the intimacy from their marriage. But, even if you’re married, God and your spouse alone won’t fill your intimacy needs buckets. You will still need emotional intimacy, intellectual intimacy, physical intimacy, and spiritual intimacy from friendship.
And that’s good news!
That’s good news for single people. If either a call from God or circumstances lead you to a life without romance, marriage, or sex, you can still fill your buckets. You can still meet your emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual intimacy needs in healthy ways through friendship.
That’s good news for married people. Trying to squeeze all of your intimacy needs out of God and your spouse is a good recipe for divorce. But since you don’t need romance or sex to fill any of your intimacy need buckets, you can meet the rest of your intimacy needs through intimate friendship.
Some loneliness is unavoidable, but we can still enjoy life-giving intimacy.
None of us will meet our intimacy needs fully and finally in this lifetime. Isaiah 59:2 says that our sins, our imperfection, our unwise choices have separated us from God and each other. Because this world is broken and we are broken, we can only ever connect with God and each other imperfectly. There’s this distance because of brokenness that we can never cross. Some amount of loneliness is a part of life. It is unavoidable.
So should we just give up and stop trying to connect in healthy ways? No! For starters, even if we can’t meet all of our needs fully and finally, we can still get a lot of what we need. We can still enjoy rich, satisfying intimacy with God and other people in this life. And second, if we don’t meet our intimacy needs in healthy ways, the broken parts of our soul and mind tend to reach out for destructive and unsatisfying shortcuts.
Have you noticed that? When you ignore your need for community and connection and try to go at it alone, you end up making unwise decisions later. Lust, objectification, masturbation, pornography, dating apps, meaningless hookups, and adultery all become more difficult to resist. If we try to meet our intimacy needs in those broken ways, we won’t fill our buckets. We just kick them over, and it makes a mess. Instead, we need to actively work to meet our intimacy needs in healthy ways. We need to be intentional about seeking out intimate friendship with others and proactively meet our needs.
Why follow God’s wisdom?
Why follow God’s wisdom about intimacy and family? God seems to have a lot of rules for how we should seek out intimacy and family. Living your life according to that wisdom seems inconvenient. Why follow God’s wisdom?
If we believe that a god exists, if we believe that god is the God of the Bible, and if we believe that God knows what is best for us—if we really believe all of those things, we would be fools not to follow God’s wisdom.
If Lebron James was your basketball coach and you ignored his advice about how to become a better basketball player, you’d be a fool!
How much better advice does God have about the ways to enjoy the most goodness and beauty and meaning in this life? Trust Him!
We have been designed, by God, for specific purposes. That matters. We shouldn’t be surprised that when we allow ourselves to live in ways we weren’t designed to, we get hurt. We shouldn’t be surprised that when we use romance, marriage, and sex contrary to God’s design, it brings pain to our lives.
If God’s wisdom is best for us, following His teachings will save us from unnecessary pain of figuring out the best paths through trial and error. Plus, God’s wisdom will lead us to the deepest experiences of joy and purpose and true pleasure in this life.
So, go do what you were created to do! Enjoy intimacy in the context of family. And trust that God knows the best ways for you to seek those out.
Is your church a place where both single and married people find deep intimacy in the context of family? Our mission is to help churches become that kind of place. Reach out to us today to learn how Equip can partner with your church to offer everyone intimacy and family.