6 Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out,
“Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. 7 Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; 8 it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”—
for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.
9 And the angel said to me, “Write this: Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” And he said to me, “These are the true words of God.”
Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him will never be thirsty again. The water that I will give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
Perhaps you are single by choice–you want to be on your own for a while, enjoying the freedom and benefits of adulthood. Perhaps it’s not your choice, and a divorce, death, or broken relationship has propelled you back into singleness. Or maybe the opportunity for a serious relationship has never arisen. But whatever your situation, sometimes you feel lonely and long for companionship. It’s natural to desire someone with whom you can share your lifetime, and it’s easy to think, If I were married or just had some kind of relationship, then I wouldn’t be lonely. But will a change in your circumstances really solve your problem with loneliness?
A Common Experience
Unfortunately, getting married won’t protect you from loneliness; married people get lonely too. Sometimes it’s because the marriage isn’t all that great. Maybe the only thing they share is the same bed. Maybe the only thing they agree on is to avoid talking to one another. Whatever the reasons, the reality is that marriage has fallen far short of their dreams. They are lonelier now than they’ve ever been.
Even spouses in great marriages sometimes feel lonely. A young couple splits their days between work and classes, studying all night and spending their weekends serving at church. A mother struggles when her husband is away on business trips, while he spends his evenings in lonely hotel rooms. A man who has worked his entire life so he and his wife can spend their retirement traveling together now spends every moment caring for her as she slips away with Alzheimer’s. He’s committed to her, but he’s lonely.
The list of people who experience loneliness goes on and on. People change jobs and move away from family and friends. The elderly spend hours alone in nursing homes. An alcoholic finds himself living on the streets. Soldiers serving overseas miss their families. Kids go off to college. Prisoners are in isolation. Patients are confined to bed. The list includes the person living next to you. It includes you– but not just because you are single. All of us, at one time or another, experience loneliness.
Circumstances vary, but the feelings are similar. We feel isolated, vulnerable, and alone. We want to talk and be heard. We want to be known and understood; we don’t want to feel invisible. We want to be included and cared about. We desire intimacy. We want to be connected to someone.
A Flawed Strategy
So how do we remedy this loneliness? When I was a child I thought it was simple: Make one really good friend. I was a good listener, and I combined that with a decent sense of humor and a willingness to be helpful. My job was to listen, make you laugh, and help you out. Your job was to be my friend so I wouldn’t be lonely. But eventually I would upset the balance of this arrangement by asking you to help me. If you couldn’t manage it, I felt hurt. Or maybe I couldn’t get you to listen to me for ten minutes when I had already listened to you for hours. In either case, I wouldn’t dare tell you that I was hurt because you might have gotten upset with me. So I would take self-protective steps to prevent getting hurt again.
Do you see the dynamic? I work to get you to like me, but I also work to protect myself from you. I move toward you because I want your acceptance, but I back away because I want to play it safe. A tug-of-war goes on within my heart. My desire for acceptance wins one moment, self-protection the next. The result? I send out a continuous stream of mixed messages. When I am self-protective, I withdraw into myself. But then I become afraid you are (a) losing patience with me; (b) glad to be rid of me; or (c) not even noticing that I’ve withdrawn. All of these possibilities are bad, so I risk getting hurt by being nice again so you’ll still like me. Sooner or later, it all takes too much effort, and we drift apart. But eventually, loneliness gets to me, the memories fade, and I begin the cycle all over again with someone else.
I didn’t always realize that my strategies not only increased my own loneliness, but added to other people’s loneliness as well. Neither did I realize what was going on in me beneath the surface. At a very basic level I was treating my friends like objects, manipulating them so they would do what I wanted. When they let me down, I saw them as obstacles to my sense of security and belonging.
The Remedy for Loneliness
In his mercy, God didn’t leave me to endlessly repeat this cycle. He opened my eyes to this reality: it isn’t what remedies our loneliness, but who remedies it—namely, Jesus Christ, the friend of sinners.
Loneliness is a result of man’s original sin against God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:1-13). The perfect union Adam and Eve had enjoyed with God and with each other was destroyed when they chose to disobey God. Sin separated them from God and from each other. Where once there had been openness (they had been naked and unashamed), sin made for hiding (behind fig leaves and trees). Where once there had been completeness, sin made for loss. Where once there had been acceptance, sin made for rejection. Where once there had been praise, sin made for blame (“she made me do it”). Hiding. Loss. Rejection. Blame. All ingredients of loneliness. Loneliness was born at the Fall.
It is true that before sin entered the world, God had declared that it wasn’t good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18), but God was stating a fact, not voicing how Adam was feeling. At the time, Adam was enjoying perfect communion with God. Apart from God telling him, he had no way of knowing that anything more was possible. Maybe Adam began to get an inkling of it as the animals paraded past him, but it was God’s assessment that man should not be alone. This shouldn’t surprise us. After all, God created man in his image, and he is not a God who exists alone. He is one God in three persons—three who are alike, yet distinct. God wanted man to enjoy fellowship with him, but he also wanted man to enjoy the kind of fellowship God enjoys as three members of the Godhead—with others who are like us, but distinct from us. Because we are made in God’s image, we are made to be in relationship with him and with other people.
Some have implied, if not stated outright, that marriage is the solution to loneliness. But where would that leave a child who won’t have that option for years? Or a prisoner with no hope of parole? Or an elderly widow or widower? This notion suggests that one category of people is potentially exempt from loneliness, and the rest of us are just stuck with it. But that’s not true. Remember, it was a married couple who first experienced loneliness. And consider this: if marriage was God’s answer to loneliness, why won’t there be marriage in heaven? That’s kind of a trick question because actually there will be. Only it won’t be individuals who are married in heaven. It will be God’s people corporately—the church, the bride of Christ—who will finally meet the bridegroom Jesus face to face (Revelation 19:1-9).
The real solution to loneliness lies not in marriage, but in our union with Christ, which leads to our union with one another. When God created Eve, he created marriage; but more than that, he created community.
Marriage is a form of community, perhaps its most basic and elemental form. Community requires people coming together. In marriage it happens literally. Community usually involves the group expanding. In marriage this happens by bearing children. But God’s plans are always bigger and better than ours.
When God called Abram to follow him, he told him that his descendants would outnumber the grains of sand on the seashore and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through him (Genesis 12:1-3; 13:16). God always had in mind a community made up of those from every tribe and language and people and nation. But the Israelites, Abram’s descendants, were so caught up in being the chosen race that they overlooked that part.
Even today we’re not much different. We’re big on family, but we tend to think of it narrowly—as in our own personal, nuclear families. Yet when Jesus was told that his mother and brothers wanted to speak to him, he said, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers? . . . Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother” (Matthew 12:48, 50). Jesus was redefining and enlarging the meaning of family. It’s still based on blood—but it’s his shed blood.
When you look at Genesis 2 through the lens of Jesus’ work on the cross, you will be blown away. Yes, it’s wonderful that a husband and wife become one flesh; but it’s even more wonderful that Christians comprise the body of Christ, so connected with each other that if one part suffers, we all suffer. If one part is honored, we are all honored. It’s incredible for a husband and wife to come together, to be fruitful and multiply; but it’s even more incredible that Christ grows and multiplies his kingdom by sending flawed people like us to “go and make disciples of all nations” (Matthew 28:19). It must have been fantastic for Adam and Eve to be naked yet unashamed with each other; but it’s even more fantastic that Jesus has washed away our sin, and we now stand clothed in his righteousness! We don’t need to hide behind fig leaves when our sin is exposed. Now we can confess our sins to one another.
This is what Jesus has done for us. He went to the cross, betrayed and deserted by his friends. As he hung there, becoming saturated with our sin, even his Father had to turn away from him. Has there ever been a lonelier moment? Adam and Eve hid among the trees because of their sin, but Jesus hung naked and exposed on a tree because of our sin. Adam and Eve were guilty, yet tried to pass the blame. Jesus was completely innocent, yet he took our blame on himself. Jesus was rejected by his Father so we could be accepted. He gave up everything so God might lavish his blessings on us. Because of Jesus’ love for his Father—and their love for us—Jesus hung on the cross until he died. By paying the penalty for our sin, he reversed the effects of the Fall and turned the tide on loneliness.
Loneliness Can Be Relieved
Do the effects of sin still linger? Of course. Loneliness will not be eliminated until we get to heaven. But in Jesus Christ and through his work, change is possible. Loneliness can be eased for us and by us. When I tried to handle it on my own, I did not understand that I needed to love people rather than fear them or use them. Through my counseling classes and Ed Welch’s book, When People Are Big and God Is Small, God helped me to identify what was going on in my heart and repent of it.
Have I arrived? Certainly not. Ask anyone who knows me. But now, at least, I know how to pray, “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
I encourage you to ask the Lord to show you where you intensify your own loneliness and, even more importantly, the loneliness of others. For instance, some of us consider ourselves introverted or shy. To us, there’s nothing more intimidating than starting a conversation. What a great opportunity for a heart check! Ask yourself what’s holding you back. Fear of rejection? Fear of being embarrassed? You may be surprised to discover that it’s actually pride: You don’t want anyone to discover your flaws. Or maybe you don’t want to be seen talking to someone “like that.” There are lots of possibilities. Ask God to show you.
Maybe you are extroverted and outgoing. It is easy for you to talk to people you’ve never met before. In fact, you talk and talk and no one else can get a word in edgewise! What’s going on? Pride? Do you love to impress people with how smart or funny you are? Or perhaps it’s fear. You’re afraid of silence or of being alone. Ask God to show you.
Whatever you might find when God shows you your heart, remember that God wants to change you—and me—to make us more like him, more like the people he created us to be. When we surrender ourselves to him and let him work in us, amazing things happen. First, our relationship with him deepens. We find ourselves actually relating to him rather than just referring to our relationship with him. That kind of change certainly reduces our loneliness.
Changed Priorities and Perspectives
God also changes our priorities. Rather than being self-absorbed, we become more focused on others. If your goal is to solve your loneliness, you will end up using people as I did. But when you “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33, ESV) you will end up loving people. Along the way you’ll discover that you’re just not as lonely as you used to be. In fact, you may find you’re not lonely at all.
How might these changed priorities play out in your life? It might mean that you notice the aloneness of others—and instead of waiting for an invitation you invite a single-parent family over for dinner. It could mean reaching out to an elderly couple and helping them with the more strenuous household chores. Or perhaps you could run errands with someone else. We all have errands to run, so why not make it a social occasion?
You may be thinking, I’m too busy as it is. I don’t have time for that! But when you take these kinds of steps, relationships develop. Your perspective changes and you find that certain activities don’t seem as important as they used to. You may also find many times that double benefits occur. Having a family over for dinner gives you the opportunity to have fun with the kids, which also gives their parents a break. As you help the elderly couple with household chores, they share with you the wisdom of their years. When you run errands with someone else, you wind up helping each other with other mundane tasks, and that makes them easier and more enjoyable for both of you.
What are some other ways to move toward people? Let’s take a look at three:
1. Look and see.
How many people cross our paths every day? Shop clerks, bank tellers, trash collectors, neighbors, people we pass on the street, or those who sit behind us in church services week after week. All these people blend into the background of our busy lives. We give them a nod, but that’s it. Have we looked at them and seen them as people God has put in our paths to love, even in the simplest ways?
God sees us and watches over us. Remember Hagar in Genesis 16? Sarah could not conceive Abraham’s child, so she decided that Hagar her maidservant should bear Abraham a son. When Hagar conceived and Ishmael was born, Hagar treated Sarah with contempt. Sarah reacted by driving Hagar into the desert. Surprisingly, the angel of the Lord followed Hagar and spoke with her. Hagar was amazed! She said, “You are the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13). Hagar, a slave woman, was not invisible to God. Should anyone now be “invisible” to us?
In Luke 7 Jesus was on his way to the town of Nain with his disciples. A large crowd followed them. Amid all the activity, Jesus saw a grieving mother and his heart went out to her. He stopped to comfort her and restored her dead son back to life. The Gospels are filled with accounts of Jesus seeing hungry, lost, hurting people and reaching out to meet their needs. How are we going to minister to a world full of lonely people if we haven’t first looked to see them?
Something else we can do to move toward people is to listen to them—listen well. We serve a God who knows our every thought. He knows our words before they even reach our tongues, yet he encourages us to talk to him. When we do, he listens. Why? Because he wants us to relate to him, as a child to his father. How do we know he listens? Because Scripture records conversations he had with people—conversations that included give-and-take dialog between God and Abraham, Moses, Job, and many others. The Lord of the universe listens to us too.
If God cares enough to listen to us, how can we not care enough to listen to others? Listen not only to the words they say, but listen also for what they mean. Notice what their tone of voice, facial expressions, and body language are communicating. Listening well requires us to take a genuine interest in others. It also requires patience and wisdom that come only by the work of God’s Spirit in us.
Touch can ease the loneliness of others. This is a sensitive subject since we live in a society where practically everything has been sexualized. Even Christians are prone to read all kinds of things into innocent actions. I’m not naїve; I know that sinful touching occurs even within the church. However, the correct response is not to avoid touching or to be paralyzed by fear of lawsuits. Rather, the church should be a place where we treat one another as family members with “absolute purity” (1 Timothy 5:1-2).
Jesus didn’t just talk to the people he healed. He touched them, and he let them touch him, too. Those who have been physically or sexually abused should be able to find comfort and healing not only in the words they hear at church, but also in the touch they receive—touch that conveys nothing more or less than kindness. Do we want to be sensitive to people’s experiences and wise in the way we go about it? Absolutely! But we don’t want to overcompensate by never reaching out with a touch at all. When someone has been deprived of touch or hurt by inappropriate touch, it is wonderful to see her respond with joy when she is touched in kindness with the love of Christ.
Scripture tells us to love one another (John 13:34). Next in line on the “one another” list is “greet one another with a holy kiss” (Romans 16:16). If that’s a little too much for you, how about offering a handshake, a pat on the back, a touch on the forearm, or maybe a hug? God created us with skin that is sensitive to touch, and he declared everything he created to be good. We, as the body of Christ, can offer his touch to lonely, hurting people.
A Community of Oneness with Christ
These suggestions are ways we can individually image Christ in a lonely world. But what can happen when people as a group decide to live out their oneness with Christ and each other? I once belonged to a church where the leadership didn’t want to just profess that Christ was the head of the Church; they wanted to practice it. They reasoned that Christ wouldn’t lead some of them one way and the rest another, any more than we would tell one leg to walk right and the other left. They believed that he would lead them all in the same direction, so they agreed to submit first to Christ and then to each other. That meant decisions had to be unanimous, not decided by majority or consensus. And unanimity meant that everyone truly believed in and agreed upon the direction God was leading them. This is radical oneness.
One of the first things that needed to change was the way the church leadership conducted their meetings. Rather than opening with a brief devotional and prayer for the congregation, they began studying the Bible together and praying for themselves, repenting of their sins, and interceding for each other. Then they prayed for the congregation. Many were gifted businessmen who knew how to argue their positions and get their way, but this was a “whole new ball game.” They had to die to themselves and their agendas to seek the mind of Christ. They had to really listen to each other, not just wait until someone stopped talking so they could speak their piece. God trained them in patience, humility, and forbearance with one another. They learned to appreciate each other’s God-given gifts and perspectives. They developed a deep affection and respect for each other. They had begun by agreeing to a philosophy of ministry, but God knit their hearts together in love as they sought the mind of Christ.
At times there would be one or two who thought things should go one way, while the rest felt otherwise. They would pray and wait until they were all of one mind. Sometimes the many ended up agreeing with the few. At other times the few eventually agreed with the many. But rather than being frustrated by the process, thinking, We’ve wasted so much time. Why couldn’t you have agreed with us in the first place? the leadership recognized that the delay was actually God’s mercy to them. He had prevented them from moving ahead prematurely.
Sometimes the process was slow and painful. But something astounding happened! They not only learned to act as one, they also became one. The Holy Spirit enabled them to live out of their union with him to a degree they never had before. Their hearts were exposed and changed. They related to one another in new ways. Do you see the progression? Change in individual hearts led to change within the leadership, which then spread out into the congregation itself. God was growing and strengthening the church in a way that was faster and better than anything they could have done by their human efforts.
It didn’t end there. Transformed members of the congregation reached into their neighborhoods, touching lives like never before. Those outside the church noticed and responded to the invitations of their neighbors. Others just showed up at church out of curiosity. In time, the makeover within the congregation resulted in a change in the makeup of the congregation. Men wearing Brooks Brothers’ suits sat shoulder to shoulder with people in tee shirts and jeans.
Obviously, everyone involved was still only a sinner saved by God’s grace. Problems continued to arise that needed addressing. But nothing diminished the joy of witnessing firsthand an incredible answer to Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23:
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 also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me….I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.
Whether we are single or married, we will experience loneliness in this fallen world. But God wants to enter into our loneliness and transform it. He unites us to himself and each other in Jesus as we submit our lives to him; and he calls us to enter into the loneliness of those around us. I look forward to the day when we will be delivered completely from loneliness to oneness with him.
[About the author
JAYNE V. CLARK, M.A.R., is a counselor with over eighteen years of experience, a frequent retreat and conference speaker, and the author of many counseling articles.]
Women who are into ANRs are very lactation and nursing-friendly. They tend to have overwhelming maternal instincts and want to nurse everyone– baby, husband, other women’s babies, sick adults, and so on. They’re really caring and have a deep-seated desire to show this care through their milk production. Most Adult Nursing women won’t mind being wet nurses– both to babies and adults who need it for therapeutic reasons.
It’s the intimacy that scares people away from ANRs.
Extreme intimacy is a terrifying novelty to citizens of a fallen world.
Being deeply intimate and vulnerable with another human being on such a level is too much, and touches a nerve. It’s taboo.
But I’ll tell you who should be afraid of intimacy with you. It’s a three times holy God, the One in whose face you spit everyday, yet who still invaded your world and died for you. The One who invaded your very cells and tissues though he originally found them disgusting and completely contrary to his nature. The One who is too holy to comprehend and can’t stand the sight of sin. It is he who should be afraid of being intimate with a sinner like you. Your rebellious body is alien and foreign to a holy God. He should be terrified of being anywhere near you. God is so holy, he’d rather touch dirt than sinners like you and I.
“Then the anger of the LORD was aroused against Uzza, and He struck him because he put his hand to the ark; and he died there before God” (1 Chronicles 13:10).
“He who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’a nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’b ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’c ”
“I [… believe] that the man is the head of the household and his woman should take care of him.”
— woman who says she loves to cook
Breastfeeding your husband is not a way to baby him. It’s a way to honor him.
“[…]wives must accept the authority of your husbands. Then, even if some refuse to obey the Good News, your godly lives will speak to them without any words. They will be won over 2by observing your pure and reverent lives. […] 5This is how the holy women of old made themselves beautiful. They put their trust in God and accepted the authority of their husbands. 6For instance, Sarah obeyed her husband, Abraham, and called him her master. You are her daughters when you do what is right without fear of what your husbands might do.”
If you struggle with intrusive mental images of ANRs, then “think often that Christ suffered agony for your purity. Fight image with image. Christ crying in agony.”
Christ gave Himself for us, that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself a people for His own possession, zealous for good deeds.
1 Peter 1:18; 2:24:
You were not redeemed with perishable things like silver or gold from your futile way of life inherited from your forefathers, [but with the precious blood of Christ]. He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.
1 Corinthians 5:15:
He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.
How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled under foot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?
47 The man brought me back to the entrance to the temple, and I saw water(A) coming out from under the threshold of the temple toward the east (for the temple faced east). The water was coming down from under the south side of the temple, south of the altar.(B)2 He then brought me out through the north gate(C) and led me around the outside to the outer gate facing east, and the water was trickling from the south side.
3 As the man went eastward with a measuring line(D) in his hand, he measured off a thousand cubits[a] and then led me through water that was ankle-deep. 4 He measured off another thousand cubits and led me through water that was knee-deep. He measured off another thousand and led me through water that was up to the waist. 5 He measured off another thousand, but now it was a river(E) that I could not cross, because the water had risen and was deep enough to swim in—a river that no one could cross.(F)6 He asked me, “Son of man, do you see this?”
Then he led me back to the bank of the river. 7 When I arrived there, I saw a great number of trees on each side of the river.(G)8 He said to me, “This water flows toward the eastern region and goes down into the Arabah,[b](H) where it enters the Dead Sea. When it empties into the sea, the salty water there becomes fresh.(I)9 Swarms of living creatures will live wherever the river flows. There will be large numbers of fish, because this water flows there and makes the salt water fresh; so where the river flows everything will live.(J)10 Fishermen(K) will stand along the shore; from En Gedi(L) to En Eglaim there will be places for spreading nets.(M) The fish will be of many kinds(N)—like the fish of the Mediterranean Sea.(O)11 But the swamps and marshes will not become fresh; they will be left for salt.(P)12 Fruit trees of all kinds will grow on both banks of the river.(Q) Their leaves will not wither, nor will their fruit(R) fail. Every month they will bear fruit, because the water from the sanctuary(S) flows to them. Their fruit will serve for food and their leaves for healing.(T)”
The Boundaries of the Land
13 This is what the Sovereign Lord says: “These are the boundaries(U) of the land that you will divide among the twelve tribes of Israel as their inheritance, with two portions for Joseph.(V)
21 “You are to distribute this land among yourselves according to the tribes of Israel. 22 You are to allot it as an inheritance(AJ) for yourselves and for the foreigners(AK) residing among you and who have children. You are to consider them as native-born Israelites; along with you they are to be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.(AL)23 In whatever tribe a foreigner resides, there you are to give them their inheritance,” declares the Sovereign Lord.(AM)
According to 1 Corinthians 7, it’s not “when do we have sex?”, it’s “when don’t we have sex?”
— friend from an old church
God wants married couples to be so enraptured in love for each other that they can’t bear the thought of being apart. The physical expression of the one-flesh union must be a priority in a marriage, according to the title passage, and many similar passages in Scripture.
There is a fountain filled with blood, Drawn from Immanuel’s veins, And sinners plunged beneath that flood Lose all their guilty stains: Lose all their guilty stains, Lose all their guilty stains; And sinners plunged beneath that flood Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see That fountain in His day; And there have I, though vile as he, Washed all my sins away: Washed all my sins away, Washed all my sins away; And there have I, though vile as he, Washed all my sins away.
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood Shall never lose its pow’r, Till all the ransomed church of God Are safe, to sin no more: Are safe, to sin no more, Are safe, to sin no more; Till all the ransomed church of God Are safe, to sin no more.
E’er since by faith I saw the stream Thy flowing wounds supply, Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die: And shall be till I die, And shall be till I die; Redeeming love has been my theme, And shall be till I die.
When this poor, lisping, stamm’ring tongue Lies silent in the grave, Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save: I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save, I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save; Then in a nobler, sweeter song, I’ll sing Thy pow’r to save.
12 For just as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. 13 For in one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—Jews or Greeks, slaves[d] or free—and all were made to drink of one Spirit.
14 For the body does not consist of one member but of many. 15 If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 16 And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. 17 If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? 18 But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. 19 If all were a single member, where would the body be? 20 As it is, there are many parts,[e] yet one body.
21 The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,” nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.” 22 On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, 23 and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, 24 which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, 25 that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. 26 If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together.
27 Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. 28 And God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues. 29 Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? 30 Do all possess gifts of healing? Do all speak with tongues? Do all interpret? 31 But earnestly desire the higher gifts.
And I will show you a still more excellent way.
1 Corinthians 12:13 For the contextual rendering of the Greek word doulos, see Preface
No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.
— 1 Corinthians 9:27
NIV Study Bible notes:
I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave. Here Paul uses the figure of boxing to represent the Christian life. He does not aimlessly beat the air, but he severely disciplines his own body in serving Christ. not be disqualified for the prize. Paul realizes that he must with rigor serve the Lord and battle against sin. If he fails in this, he may be excluded from the reward (see 3:10 – 15).
12 “I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. 13 You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! 16 Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.”[a]17 But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.[b]
18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 19 Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
6:12 “I have the right to do anything.” Paul is quoting some in the Corinthian congregation who boasted that they had had a right to do anything they pleased (see v. 13; 7:1; 10:23 […]). The apostle counters by observing that such “freedom” of action may not benefit the Christian. not be mastered by anything. One may become enslaved by those actions in which one “freely” chooses to indulge.
6:13“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” Paul quotes some Corinthians again who were claiming that as the physical acts of eating and digesting food have no bearing on one’s inner spiritual life, so the physical act of promiscuous sexual activity does not affect one’s spiritual life. The body … is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord. Some Corinthians claimed that there was no resurrection of the body (15:12), so it did not matter what one did with it. Paul here declares the dignity of the human body: It is intended for the Lord and will be raised. Although granting that food and the stomach are transitory, Paul denies that what one does with one’s body is unimportant. This is particularly true of the use of sex, which the Lord has appointed for use in the man-woman relationship in marriage (see 7:2 – 5; cf. Heb. 13:4).
6:14God raised the Lord … us also. As an illustration of God’s high regard for the body, Paul cites the resurrection of Christ’s body and, eventually, of the believer’s body (see 15: 51 – 53; 1 Th 4:16 – 17). A body destined for resurrection should not be used for immorality.
6:15members of Christ. See 12:27. It is not merely the spirit that is a member of Christ’s body; it is the whole person, consisting of spirit and body. This fact gives dignity to the human body.
6:16one with her in body. In a sexual relationship the two bodies become one (cf. Ge 2:24; Mt 19:4 – 5), and a new human being may emerge from the sexual union. Sexual relations outside the marriage bond are a gross perversion of the divinely established marriage union.
6:17 one with him in spirit. There is a higher union than the marriage bond: the believer’s spiritual union with Christ, which is the perfect model for the kind of unity that should mark the marriage relationship (cf. Eph 5:21 – 33 […])
6:18Flee. The Greek for this imperative may suggest that one must continually run from sexual sinning (advice particularly needed in Corinth). Cf. Ge 39:12; 2 Ti 2:22. whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. The body is a temple of the Holy Spirit (v. 19); thus to use it in prostitution (see notes on Ge 20:9; Ex 34:15) disgraces God’s temple.
6:19 your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit. Cf. note on 3:16. Their bodies are therefore sacred and are to be treated as sacred (holy). Christians should also realize that by the Spirit’s presence and power they can be helped against such sins as sexual immorality (Ro 8:9). not your own. Cf. 1 Pe 2:9 […].
6:20 bought at a price. See 7:23 […]. honor God with your bodies. Cf. 10:31; Ro 6:12 – 13 […].
17“Then you will know(A) that I, the Lord your God,(B)
dwell in Zion,(C) my holy hill.(D) Jerusalem will be holy;(E) never again will foreigners invade her.(F)
18 “In that day the mountains will drip new wine,(G) and the hills will flow with milk;(H) all the ravines of Judah will run with water.(I) A fountain will flow out of the Lord’s house(J) and will water the valley of acacias.[a](K) 19 But Egypt(L) will be desolate, Edom(M) a desert waste, because of violence(N) done to the people of Judah, in whose land they shed innocent blood. 20 Judah will be inhabited forever(O) and Jerusalem through all generations. 21 Shall I leave their innocent blood unavenged?(P) No, I will not.(Q)”
I once counseled a man who Had been involved in a series of sex crimes. He had been caught, arrested, and indicted by the time his lawyer referred him to me. A believer in his late fifties, he was a widower with several children who lived out of state. At the time the sex crimes were committed, his wife had been dead for about ten years.
The marriage had been very troubled. There had been fights and he’d been thrown out of the house. His wife had been hospitalized on a number of occasions for depression. During those times the couple obviously had no sexual involvement, and the man told me that he had had several affairs while his wife had been unvailable sexually. He seemed to think that made them less objectionable.
This man also told me that he had had several exploratory homosexual relationships, prior to his marriage, in his late teens and early twenties. During his marriage and after his wife’s death, he had had a very close relationship with his daughter, so intense that I thought perhaps there had been some incestuous things going on, but he said no. However, it was clear that his daughter had functioned in other ways as a sorrogate spouse for him. When she was in her thirties, she decided to move away. Approximately a year after that, he began sexual involvements with two teenage boys.
Sexual Immorality as “Cheating”
This man’s story illustrates two ways of thinking about sexual sin. The first is what I call sexual immorality as a way of “cheating.” Typically, we think of cheating in terms of having an affair with somebody who is not your spouse. My meaning here is a little different. Ephesians 5:31-32 reads:
“For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.
Scripture is very clear that God intends marriage to be an expression or a metaphor for our relationship with Christ. It is intended to mirror the profound, mysterious, spiritual union that takes place when we come into our relationship with him. Paul states in Galatians 2 that in some sense we’ve been united with Christ. Christ has become part of us; we’ve been indwelt by his Spirit. Clearly, it’s a mystical and spiritual union for which human vocabulary falls short.
Marriage is intended to picture that relationship as an expression of intense companionship and intimacy. Scripture says that two become one. And God says that sexuality in a marriage relationship is supposed to be an expression of that companionship, an expression and consequence of that intimacy.
In 1 Corinthians 6:15-17, Paul is talking about sexual immorality:
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
Sexuality is a way of physically identifying and experiencing oneness. In my opinion, sexuality is supposed to be the expression of a oneness that already exists. Interestingly, the world reverses that. It says that if you want to experience oneness, you have sex with someone. God says “No.” You have oneness first, and your sex has meaning only when it expresses a unity that already exists. Sexual union never produces intimacy; it only enhances it. Or perhaps, in some sense, completes it.
Sex Without Intimacy
The desire for sex in a relationship that otherwise lacks intimacy is one of the most common complaints in marriage. A husband comes looking for affection, while his wife complains that he never talks, he doesn’t listen, and he spends his “down” time in front of the television. “But he always seems to come alive when we go to bed,” she notes. Sometimes she will consent to sex, but then gives in to resentment. If this husband thinks that snuggling in bed will draw his wife close to him, to him, he is making a critical mistake. The sex may impact him positively, but it won’t produce the communion that his wife longs for and that God prescribes for marriage. God always says that sexuality is supposed to be an expression of a communion that already exists.
I call the behavior of my sex offender counselee “cheating” because his whole sexual life–his marriage, his extramarital affairs, and even the deviant sexual behavior he exhibited–was his attempt to experience sex without intimacy. He was lazy. He didn’t want to strive for intimacy in his relationships. He didn’t want to strive for it in his relationship with his wife; hence, the adultery. He found his intimacy in a convenient relationship with his daughter, which God says is no place for him to have it. I believe that is one of the reasons his daughter moved away. This man was a cheater. God had laid out a plan, and he ignored that plan to do things his own way.
As I worked with him, I asked about the possibility of getting remarried. He said, “Well, I just don’t want another marriage to turn out like my first one.” That’s understandable, but what was he really saying? He was saying, “I don’t want to work at intimacy. I want the consequences of sexuality, but I don’t want to achieve it in the way God designs it.” After his daughter left, this man began to attach himself to two kids who lived nearby. They began to serve this cheating purpose in his life.
Any time you see a person engage in illicit sexual behavior, you can be sure that he or she is a cheater. He wants sexual gratification without intimacy. That means that when you’re trying to help someone who comes with a problem of pornography, a sexual problem in the marriage relationship, or even an involvement in a bizarre and perverted form of sexuality, at root he doesn’t want to experience sexuality in the context for which God designed it. This person must be confronted with God’s program, and that program is intimacy.
Self-Centeredness and Sex
When you are trying to help people who have problems with pornography, one thing you have to understand is that pornography has a very simple goal. That goal is masturbation. When someone produces a pornographic movie or magazine (in an industry obviously targeted towards men), the goal is masturbation. But more than that, the goal of the pornography and the masturbation is to create a substitute for intimacy.
Masturbation is sex with yourself. If I’m having sex with myself, I don’t have to invest myself in another person. People who are “addicted” to pornography aren’t so much addicted to lurid material as they are addicted to self-centeredness. They’re committed to serving themselves, to doing whatever they can to find a convenient way not to die to self, which is the nature of companionship in a relationship.
The self-centeredness shows up in many different ways. For example, there are some pedophiles who view even preadolescent children as adult sexual partners. In these instances they don’t think, “I want to have sex with a child.” Instead they see the child as their sexual, physical, and emotional equal. To do otherwise would be to de-center, to not see everything through the lens of their own experience. That is dying to self, that’s intimacy, that’s companionship, that’s loving somebody else, which is precisely what these individuals are unwilling to do.
Scripture offers the very best model for understanding this kind of sexual sin. The psychological literature offers countless explanations for these behaviors that are all designed not to end up focusing on you. They are designed to end up preoccupied with your history, your traumatic experiences, and your mother. They are not designed to end up with you.
But scripture always focuses on the heart. Because God plans sexuality to be an expression of oneness, any form of sexual perversion is a perversion of God’s plan of intimacy. Whether you are trying to help a person whose sexual behavior makes you physically ill or someone with “garden variety” sexual problems in marriage, the problems always go back to the image of intimacy because that is the root of God’s intention for sexuality. Genesis 2:18–“It is not good for the man to be alone”–means that your most basic goal is to teach this person to die to self and to love others more than himself or herself.
Intimacy or Addiction?
While counseling the man I described earlier, I received a phone call from his attorney. The attorney was a believer and sympathetic to biblical counseling, but he wanted his client to attend a sex addicts clinic in the belief that the judge would then give him a lighter sentence. I believed that the man was no longer a threat. He seemed well grounded at that point and I did not want to see him go to jail. I believed he had repented and that he was doing some good work in counseling. So I agreed.
What a mistake! He didn’t go to jail, but in order to get a favorable sentence, he had to label himself as a sex addict and withdraw from other relationships until he was “cured.” As a consequence, my prescription for this man backfired. I wanted him to pursue legitimate intimacy in the context of marriage for the first time in his life. But because of the sex addict label, he was isolated from everyone–except other sex addicts. The court’s goal was to keep him out of any meaningful relationship–the very root of the problem. My new challenge was to figure out how to implement the things I knew he needed when everything I wanted him to do is what the court didn’t want him to do.
Sexual Immorality as “Drifting”
The second aspect of sexual immorality is “drift,” which is what I call a history of the heart. Let me give you an illustration.
When I was seventeen, I decided to buy my first pornographic magazine. This was a fearsome thing to me. I remember going to the local drugstore that had a little magazine section. I waited and watched to make sure nobody was looking. I picked up the magazine and rolled it up so you couldn’t see what it was. Then I stood around and wandered back and forth until I screwed up the courage to pay for it. Just as I walked towards the counter, the man behind the counter left and a woman took his place. I quickly turned around. I must have spent forty-five minutes in that store trying to buy that magazine–but I did manage to buy it. As time passed, I bought a few more.
Then I noticed something. I wasn’t rolling up the magazine any more. I just picked it up, walk to the counter, and bought it! As a matter of fact, I started buying two. I still bought them only when the man was there. But after a while, I didn’t care who was behind the counter. Eventually I was even able to chat with the woman when I paid for the magazines.
A Shifting Comfort Zone
People start out in what I call a baseline comfort zone in the way they deal with their own sin. God says that the nature of sin is such that as we continue to sin, as we continue to quench the Spirit, as we continue to seer our consciences, what was originally a very uncomfortable thing to do becomes comfortable. We begin to drift as we compromise. We started at one point and it was a terrible, anxiety-provoking experience. But because of our lust, our desire, our heart set against God, after a while this reaction fades. We are in a new comfort zone. And after awhile, if we do not repent, we drift even further.
As we do, we simultaneously move further and further away from God. Interestingly, the Scriptures describe the impact of our sin on the Holy Spirit in emotionally intimate terms. It is not just human beings who are hurt by our sin! Believers are reminded and warned not to insult the Spirit (Hebrews 10:28-29); not to quench the spirit (1 Thess. 5:19-22); and not to provoke or grieve the Spirit (Ephesians 4:29-32). Clearly, God takes our sin personally. The images of grieving and quenching the Holy Spirit suggest that a repetitive pattern of sin, in this case sexual sin, will separate, distance, or at least influence the Spirit’s ministry to the individual. At least objectively, if not in fact, the comeback from bondage is tougher and sometimes more dramatic; the danger is greater; and the kind of faith necessary to move out of the pit seems more difficult to come by. The lesson of the Prodigal Son teaches us that God is thrilled to receive us back as our hearts turn toward him (Luke 15:20). But how much better it is not to go away at all!
Anytime you minister to somebody with a sexual problem, especially somebody with what we’d consider a severe or deviant sexual problem, that person has a history of sin in that area. Nobody gets up in the morning and says “I don’t have anything to do today. I think I’ll go expose myself! I was headed to the mall anyway.” We never leap into extreme forms of sin. We always drift into them. Thus, you should assume that the person has a lengthy history of immorality that he will be reluctant to reveal to you.
Typically, when you ask such persons what they did, they will tell you. But when you ask, “What else did you do? What led up to that?,” they will answer, “I didn’t do anything else.” You wait. “What else did you do?” “I didn’t do anything. That’s it.” Don’t believe them. Keep asking. This is the nature of the sinful, human heart. Invariably as you spend time with the person, you begin to see a history of compromise in his life that makes the last thing not a leap but a baby step. In terms of sexual sin, he had already drifted far away from God’s standards. Sinful “drift” is like going to the beach and falling asleep on a raft. All of a sudden your sleep is disturbed by the lifeguard’s whistle. You ask yourself What idiot is he whistling at? You look up, and it’s you! You hadn’t planned it, but suddenly everybody on the beach looks like a little dot because you’ve drifted way out to sea. That’s the way sin works. Sin always has a history. But remember that God also has a history with our hearts.
God’s History with Our Hearts
That history is called our sanctification, the process by which believers’ hearts and lives become more and more like Christ’s (Eph. 4:22-24). Sanctification is both positionally complete and dynamically progressive. It is complete because the process is based on Christ’s finished work on the cross, which removes our sins and gives us the righteousness of christ (2 Cor. 5:21). It is dynamically progressive because our new status in Christ becomes a daily reality as we follow Christ by faith and allow the Holy Spirit to change our hearts (Titus 2:11-14).
As the following Scripture passages make clear, the Spirit uses the Word of God in that process. Psalm 119:9-11 reads, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word. I seek you with all my heart; do not let me stray from your commands. I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.” In John 17:14-19 Jesus prays to the Father,
“I have given them your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world. My prayer is not that you would take them out of the world but that you would protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of of it. Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world. For them I sanctify myself, that they too may be truly sanctified.”
The person who drifts lives in a heart world of compromise and immorality. He is continually thinking his own thoughts and scheming his schemes. But the believer is called to sanctify himself by meditating on the Word of God. The book of James tells us that there is an important distinction between the temptation that may lead to that may lead the heart into sexual sin (James 1:14) and the sin itself. Men and women who battle with sexual sin are wise to strengthen their hearts against the power of a specific temptation. How? By a general, baseline obedience to the Word of God. This obedience rests on a deep confidence that Christ’s death has not only delivered them from the sin that tempts them, but will also give them the strength to put it to death in their lives (Rom. 8:11-14). This is God’s solution to the sexual sins that trouble and torment many.
This is why the Bible doesn’t have anything specific to say about masturbation. It doesn’t need to. The problem with masturbation isn’t masturbation but the condition of a person’s heart. Masturbation is merely one expression of that condition. Scripture is not inadequate, as someone would say, because it doesn’t spell out a step-by-step formula for dealing with it. God says that if my heart is kept pure by continually meditating on the Word in the context of God’s sanctifying work, I will have the power to overcome the temptations that lead to indulgence, pornography, and masturbation.
Problem-Centered or Heart-Centered?
Most people seek help in counseling because they are problem-centered. They’re asking for a technique to prevent them from engaging in a certain behavior. They are hoping for a crash course to help them utilize God to overcome a particular sin. Their desire for a quick solution may be understandable, but there’s no technique, no mechanism–psychological, spiritual, or otherwise–that will prevent you from indulging in pornography or masturbation. What we need is God’s sanctifying Word continually at work in our lives.
But when God’s sanctifying Word has not been steadily at work in people, they will discover in a crisis that they’re not equipped to deal with their sin. They hope to find a solution that bypasses the ongoing work of the Spirit through the Word. In essence they say, “Quick! I need a little bit of God! I’m really in trouble here.”
As as a friend, discipler, or counselor, you can’t give people something that God slowly perfects day by day. However, you can offer them biblical guidance, your prayers, and your support as a member of the body of Christ–all of which they need, and all of which will be helpful. What they really need is the wisdom of Christ that changes their hearts, which comes when God applies his word to their lives and they respond in faith and obedience. In the midst of a crisis, you can encourage the beginning of that process.
“Set Apart” for God or the World
As we deal with the problem of sexual sin, it is important to acknowledge another factor at work. What the Bible calls “the world” is a system of values and beliefs that aggressively seeks control of your heart. The world also has (if I can use this expression) a “sanctifying” influence, in the sense that the world seeks to set us apart for itself in contrast to God’s desire to set us apart for himself. A person who comes seeking help for sexual sins is a person who has been “set apart” by the world, who has allowed himself to continually indulge in the things presented to him by the world.
We must return to the biblical fact that sexuality is a spiritual act; it’s not primarily physical. It always involves the person’s spirit, either in accord with the will of God, communing with the Holy Spirit, or in rebellion against that will, trying to push the Holy Spirit out of the way.
In contrast, the world presents sexuality as a biological act in what I call a hydraulic model of pressure. We often hear about people having “sexual tension.” We are told that their sexual tension will build up and that when they have sex, their sexual tension is released. After a while it builds up until it is again released. When the pressure is building, the world implies that we are powerless to resist. Sometimes, even Christians think that way and misquote 1 Corinthians 7:1-8 to bolster their argument that marriage is a provision for passion: “Paul says it’s better to marry than to burn.”
But as many married men have discovered, the flesh is insatiable. It does not operate on the principle of tension release. The human heart is insatiably pursuing evil. As Jeremiah 17:9 summarizes, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.” That is the problem sexual sin reveals and God’s Word addresses. We need to have our hearts continually sanctified before God.
In that sense, everywhere I look in scripture I see the issue of porneia addressed, the issues of masturbation, pornography, sexual perversion, child molestation, pedophilia, and all the other things people getting to. The Bible does have a lot to say about them, but not from a technique standpoint; the issue is not psychological techniques. The issue is that God intended sexuality to be an expression of communion and intimacy. It’s a metaphor for our relationship with Christ. We seem to find all manner of ways to avoid that reality.
Sexuality is primarily a spiritual act, not a biological one. It’s not a problem of dealing with our drives but of sanctifying our hearts. When you seek to help people, you want to keep that in the forefront of their minds. Often, when people come for help, they are terribly disappointed with a biblical approach because they want a solution that doesn’t require them to subject their wills to the Holy Spirit. Simply put, their approach to the problem is the problem.
But Christians who have committed themselves by faith to obey God’s Word are strengthening themselves spiritually through that obedience. Like well-conditioned athletes, they will be better equipped and empowered to resist the specific enemy or desire, because they have submitted their hearts to the work of the Spirit. As they allow him to complete Christ’s redemptive work in their lives, they can affirm what the psalmist says: if I hide God’s Word in my heart, I will not sin against him.
Jeffrey S. Black is associate pastor at Calvary Chapel in Philadelphia and an adjunct faculty member of the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation’s School of Biblical Counseling in Glenside, Pennsylvania.