The Wedding Night
When Alicia and I got married, we spent our first night, post-wedding, in the fancy, brand-new Gaylord Hotel. Getting out of our car, we couldn’t help but feel a little awkward. Some of my groomsmen had drawn risqué pictures all over my windows, and somehow, they managed to fit condoms over my rearview mirrors. People were giving us winks and nods as we checked in – they all knew what was about to go down. Unfortunately, this knowledge did not translate to lightning-quick service. It took them SIXTY EXCRUCIATING MINUTES to finally escort us to our room. It’s a miracle we managed to keep our clothes on in the lobby. Alicia and I had waited a year-and-a-half for this moment, but that lone hour felt like an eternity by comparison.
This was the first of the Gaylord Hotels’ mishaps that day. The second was a bell boy knocking on our door, and instead of walking away, lowering his shoulder like a BATTERING RAM to break through the latch. Fortunately, he saw nothing. But after 15 years and 4 meddlesome children, I still live in fear that NO LOCK IS STRONG ENOUGH TO KEEP PEOPLE OUT.
I literally want to build a moat around my bedroom.
Today we’re going to talk about sex. And while I joke about building a moat, the reality is that sexual intimacy in marriage must be carefully guarded. More than invading bellboys and children and everyday stresses of life, what we especially have to guard against is a cultural understanding of sex that on one hand diminishes it into no big deal, or on the other hand, glorifies it as a veritable god.
Every god that’s not named Jesus will eat you alive if you center your life upon it. How many people have destroyed their lives, their marriages, and their children by making sex a god? As Christians, we have to avoid this extreme, but we also have to avoid the extreme of diminishing sex, like it’s no big deal. How can we enjoy the fullness of sexual intimacy if we don’t cherish it for the beautiful, transcendent, sacred communion that it is?
Sex is not everything, but it’s also not nothing. Only a friendship with God can help us avoid both extremes and enjoy sexual intimacy as the gift He created it to be.
Before we begin, I have one disclaimer. Today’s message is not going to be some magic bullet that cures all sex-related-issues. I fully recognize that there’s a lot of pain related to sexual intimacy. Medical issues, relational issues, physical abuse, and emotional trauma all affect our sexual satisfaction. There’s no way I can address all this in a single sermon, and that’s why we’re always talking about church as a community, where full healing and restoration can occur. Despite the limitations, I do believe today’s message can provide the framework you need for building a metaphorical moat around your love life, so it can thrive.
With that said, let’s begin with Song of Songs 4. This is King Solomon and now Queen Shulamith’s wedding night. Let’s begin with the first seven verses:
Behold, you are beautiful, my love, behold, you are beautiful! Your eyes are doves behind your veil. Your hair is like a flock of goats leaping down the slopes of Gilead. 2 Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing, all of which bear twins, and not one among them has lost its young. 3 Your lips are like a scarlet thread, and your mouth is lovely.
Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate behind your veil. 4 Your neck is like the tower of David, built in rows of stone; on it hang a thousand shields, all of them shields of warriors. 5 Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies. 6 Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. 7 You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.
One thing you’ll hear me repeat today is that sex is not just a sharing of bodies; it’s a sharing of our total being. I’ll say it again because it’s our main point: sex is not just a sharing of bodies; it’s a sharing of our total being. Today, I’ll show you four ways in which that’s true. Those four, are: Sex is total praise, sex is total passion, sex is total pleasure, and sex is total promise.
Sex is Total Praise
So let’s begin with “Sex is total praise.” It might be strange for some of us to think of sex as “praise,” but the words of praise that precede their lovemaking are meant to communicate exactly that. To make love to someone is to symbolically demonstrate, through our bodies, that we embrace that person completely—their body, their character, and their future with us. What could be a greater way to express delight in another human being than to embrace that person completely?
There’s no higher form of praise than “embrace.”
Some of Solomon’s praises for his wife’s beauty are, of course, really weird to us. If I told my wife she had goat hair, there would be no lovemaking after that. But maybe just a few comments will help us understand why this would’ve been so romantic at that time.
First of all, this was the normal language for a love song from the Ancient Near East. We’re 3000 years removed from Solomon’s culture. If Solomon was to hear John Mayer singing about his lover’s tongue being made of bubble gum, he’d be scratching his head too.
And perhaps, also, wanting to sample some bubble gum.
Second, Solomon is intentionally using metaphors she can relate to. Remember, Shulamith was a farm girl. To say her hair was like a flock of goats and that her teeth were like sheep was to use language she connected with. Shulamith would have understood it as a special compliment that her hair flowed and bounced, and that—in a day that preceded orthodontically perfected smiles—her teeth were as clean as the whitest thing she could imagine: freshly washed sheep.
By the time Solomon works through all the metaphors, he praises seven of her body parts – the number of completion – as if to say, “Your appearance is absolutely perfect.” Then he adds, “There is no flaw in you”, which has double-meaning. It refers not only to one’s appearance, but to one’s character. Solomon is moved by her flawless body, but also by her blameless heart.
One good piece of advice here, for people who want to be married: never marry someone you hope to change. Eyes of love can always say, “There is no flaw in you.” Not because there are literally no flaws. Remember chapter 1—Shulamith has the leathery skin of a peasant girl. But when you truly love somebody, you love them as they ARE, not as you WISH THEY WERE. I’m reminded of the #1 hit by John Legend, “All of me”:
“All of me / Loves all of you / All your curves and all your edges / all your perfect imperfections.”
When you truly love someone, even their imperfections are perfect… to you. Like a child who loves his one-eyed teddy more than a brand-new fancy one, love sees flaws as beauty marks. If you find yourself no longer attracted to your spouse, this is usually not a physical problem, but a relational problem. Just ask Tiger Woods, who married a gorgeous Supermodel, but still needed 1000 more. If you don’t have love, no amount of sex or good looks will ever be enough. The true secret to great lovemaking is not perfect bodies, despite what our world would say. The true secret to great lovemaking is… love. Solomon is so in love that he can’t help but praise her with words and embrace. Sex is not just a sharing of bodies; it’s a sharing of our total being. Sex is total praise.
Sex is Total Passion
Second, Sex is Total Passion. When I say that sex is total passion, I’m not suggesting that it is constant emotional euphoria. In reality, every single time one makes love – whether it’s agreeing on a timing, or fulfilling a partners’ needs and desires – sex is just as much an act of service as it is a euphoric experience. What I intend to say by “sex is total passion” is that it’s not just physical; it’s emotional – a sharing of our total being.
Now, let’s read verses 8-10: 8 Come with me from Lebanon, my bride; come with me from Lebanon. Depart[b] from the peak of Amana, from the peak of Senir and Hermon, from the dens of lions, from the mountains of leopards. 9 You have captivated my heart, my sister, my bride; you have captivated my heart with one glance of your eyes, with one jewel of your necklace. 10 How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride! How much better is your love than wine, and the fragrance of your oils than any spice!
In verse 8, Solomon appeals for Shulamith to come out from her place of fear and insecurity, which is represented by the mention of a foreign territory (Lebanon), threatening mountains, and dangerous creatures. Why she feels anxious, we’re not told—perhaps it’s the flaws in her skin or her former life as a farm girl or the sheer fact that it’s her first time—regardless of the reason, one thing it shows us is that sex is not just physical, it’s emotional.
I remember being in the 8th grade, telling my friend Kenny that when I got married, I was going to have sex five times a day. A few days after telling him that, he invited me to a Rangers game because his mom’s company reserved a huge block for their employees and friends. When I showed up at the game, one of the moms—a stranger I had never met—turned around and said in a loud voice from three rows down, “Are you the one who’s going to have sex with your wife five times a day?” An entire section of the Ballpark erupted in laughter.
Needless to say, I came into marriage with some pretty high expectations.
What I didn’t anticipate were the way emotional factors affect everyone’s love life: working through conflicts, traumas, stress, changes in our body, our partner, our relationship. If emotional intimacy suffers, sexual intimacy suffers too. The world tells us that great sex is about great technique, but it’s really about great trust. Because trust is the bridge that our hearts can cross over.
Now, back to the passage: After gushing his own heart (“you have captivated my heart”), he gushes over her gushing heart (“how beautiful is your love”). It’s not just her appearance or character, but her love that moves his heart to love. Sex is physical, but it’s also emotional.
Bodies and Hearts
There’s a strange idea in our culture that you can give your body away without giving your heart. But where do we get this?
A sad and little-known fact would appear to contradict this: 2/3 of men who visit prostitutes are repeat customers, and ¼ of them have over 100 encounters with the same woman. If sex was just about “parts” but not “hearts” why wouldn’t men seek the greatest variety?
The answer is: Oxytocin.
A few weeks ago, I talked about Dopamine—the Pleasure Hormone, that’s released when you’re falling in love (and also, making love). Oxytocin is often called, the “Love” or “Bonding” Hormone. It’s released in massive quantities during intercourse, creating emotional bonds. It’s not that we can’t cognitively resist this, but we’re working against nature when we do, allowing just a little part of our heart to die. On the flip side, men who revisit the same prostitute show by their behavior that—in their attempt to connect physically with a woman—they inadvertently connected emotionally also.
You can’t give away your body without also giving away your heart.
Outside of marriage, this should lead to great caution: who wants to give their heart away to a stranger or acquaintance? Within marriage it should lead to great lovemaking: who better to give your heart to than someone who’s given their heart, body, and future to you? Sex is total passion. It’s not just a sharing of bodies; it’s a sharing of our total being.
Sex is Total Pleasure
Now, let’s move to number three: Sex is Total Pleasure. To see this, let’s continue reading from verse 11, through the first verse of chapter 1.
Your lips drip nectar, my bride; honey and milk are under your tongue; the fragrance of your garments is like the fragrance of Lebanon. 12 A garden locked is my sister, my bride, a spring locked, a fountain sealed. 13 Your shoots are an orchard of pomegranates with all choicest fruits, henna with nard, 14 nard and saffron, calamus and cinnamon, with all trees of frankincense, myrrh and aloes, with all choice spices—15 a garden fountain, a well of living water, and flowing streams from Lebanon. 16 Awake, O north wind, and come, O south wind! Blow upon my garden, let its spices flow. Let my beloved come to his garden, and eat its choicest fruits. 1I came to my garden, my sister, my bride, I gathered my myrrh with my spice, I ate my honeycomb with my honey, I drank my wine with my milk. Eat friends, drink, and be drunk with love.”
First of all, let’s talk about what’s happening. When Solomon says she’s a garden locked up and a fountain sealed, he’s talking about her virginity. When she says, “Awake O north and south winds, blow on my garden,” she’s referring back to the verses that said, “Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.” Now is the time that love pleases. She invites her lover to drink deeply of love and taste its choicest fruit. And not only that. When we get to 5:1, we notice that it’s not just her speaking. It’s someone else: “Eat, friends, drink, and be drunk with love.”
Who in the world would be present while Solomon and Shulamith made love for the first time? Were her friends a bunch of creepers? Was there a gallery in the balcony above, cheering them on? Of course not. This is the only time in the song where God speaks. And what is He saying? “Indulge yourself.” God intends sex to be not just for procreation, but for total pleasure.
Now, let’s zoom in on verse 11: “Milk and honey are under your tongue”. How do you think Solomon discovered what was under his bride’s tongue? I used to joke with the teenagers when I gave a sex-ed talk that before there was ever French Kissing, there was Hebrew Kissing! When Solomon says “milk and honey are under your tongue,” it’s a biblical allusion to Israel’s Promised Land, which is frequently characterized as a land flowing with milk and honey.
John Mayer says your body is a Wonder Land, but Solomon says your tongue is a Promised Land. Sex is total pleasure.
Sex is Total Promise
Now for the last one: Sex is total promise. Sex is total promise.
Before this moment, the word “garden” is not once used in the song, but suddenly, in the exact moment that lovemaking commences, “garden” is used five times in six verses. Why? It’s another biblical allusion. This time, not to Israel’s Promised Land paradise, but to Adam and Eve’s garden paradise. There, the first marriage covenant was formed through sexual union, in those words you hear at every wedding: “Man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
Marriage is our garden paradise, and sex is how we taste the fruits therein.
Healthy marriages need more than communication; they need communion. A tasting of the fruit, an experience of the other, a nearly out-of-body experience that, ironically, employs most intimately the use of our bodies. Sex is a beyond-words experience that no words can fully capture. Every act of married sex is like a private wedding ceremony, a re-enactment of wedding vows, a re-sealing of the promises once made before God and man. Sex is total promise.
But why? Why did God make sex “the act” that seals and re-seals the promise? Just think of the symbolism. Right after the verse you hear at every wedding comes the verse you hear at no weddings: “They were both naked and unashamed.” This means that Adam and Eve were completely vulnerable before each other—not just physically, but mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. In the act of sex, the removal of clothes is a removal of every wall and barrier, where we are totally vulnerable, and yet because of our lifelong covenant, it’s a safe vulnerability. Not that of exposure, leading to shame, but that of disclosure, leading to intimacy. Through physical embrace, we privately cement the bond that was once made in public. In sharing our bodies, we share our total being.
This is the beauty of sex as God designed it, within the shelter of a lifelong promise.
Sex is designed by God to be a return to that original garden paradise, where they were naked and unashamed, where there was full disclosure, and full embracing. Sex is paradise in the midst of our pain. It’s a garden in the midst of our wilderness. It’s the Promised Land that answers our Exile.
Isn’t that 1000 times more beautiful than “sex is nothing,” or “sex is god”? Sex is neither nothing, nor everything. It is a gift from God—beautiful, transcendent, and sacred.
A Warning and an Encouragement
Without a doubt, the most common question I’ve received throughout this series is about King Solomon. Solomon seems an unlikely character to be telling us about pure married love and sex. After beginning his life with a pious and passionate love for God, he literally left God for sex with 1000 women. How can we possibly receive counsel from such a delinquent?
The message we receive depends upon the timing in which this Book was written. Since we don’t know the timing, it’s worthy to consider both messages: one, a warning; the other, an encouragement.
If Solomon and Shulamith’s love story occurred at the beginning of his life, then it serves as a warning that the most pure and beautiful of loves can be destroyed if we turn sex into a god or diminish it into just another activity. If their love story occurred at the end of his life, Solomon spares us the details of how this played out for his other wives. But even then, there’s an encouragement: no matter how broken you are sexually, maritally, or spiritually, God’s grace is TOTAL.
And I mean, TOTAL.
So total, that when you and I chased “paradise” in the arms of 1000 different lovers, Jesus left paradise to chase after us. On the Cross, He gave us His body in total nakedness. Total vulnerability. In pouring out His blood, He gave us His heart—spilled forth generously for the forgiveness of sins.
Three days later, He rose again and He gave us the promise that one day He will return for us, His bride, He’ll wipe away every tear, and He’ll renew this world to become a total paradise. Until then, He offers the same vow I offered to my bride on our wedding day: Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.
What can we offer in return for such total grace?
Our highest form of praise is total embrace.