|But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. — 1 John 1:7
An actress who once had one of the most popular shows on cable television wrote a sex manual with her husband, praising him as an “artist” and liberally sharing the delight the two of them experienced in bed.
Barely a year after the book came out, the actress announced that she and her husband had separated. Later, the two divorced.
Couples won’t save their marriages by becoming athletes in bed. They won’t stave off divorce by increasing their income. They won’t find that having children will reinvigorate a dead marriage. All these efforts have been tried and found wanting, because what most frustrated marriages lack is what the Bible calls fellowship.
I know, fellowship sounds like a pretty mundane word. How can fellowship ever hope to compete with sex?
It doesn’t have to. That’s the beauty of Christian marriage: we can completely embrace the intoxicating pleasure of physical passion, while also appreciating the profound but quieter fulfillment of fellowship.
God made us social beings, and a lot of couples do “social” things: go out to dinner, watch a movie or television, take a vacation, and, yes, have sex. But these social things fall short of the biblical meaning of fellowship. What often gets left behind is the deeply meaningful interaction between two believers, both filled with the Holy Spirit, who encourage each other by their mutual passion for God and who use their God-given spiritual gifts to build each other up as together they seek first the kingdom of God.
This is the heart of biblical fellowship. It is sharing spiritual struggles, being open to loving confrontation and rebuke, and submitting ourselves to the correction of God’s Word, appropriately applied. It is praying for and with each other. It is encouraging each other to fully use the gifts God has given us, testifying to the risen Christ through his work in our bodies. It is cultivating together an increased passion for God. Such a fellowship will maintain loyalty between the peaks of physical passion.
I have been married for almost two decades now, and the longer I’m married, the more convinced I become that my primary relation- ship with Lisa — even above being married to her — is as her brother in Christ. This is an eternal bond we’ll share for the next ten million years (and beyond). As her brother in the Lord, I am committed to her well-being, even apart from how we are doing in our marriage. I want the best for her. I want her to grow in holiness — not so my life will be easier (God’s work in her may, in fact, inconvenience me), but so she will surrender to God’s will for her life.
When our marriages have an empty spiritual core, we put too much emphasis on things that can’t sustain or nurture a marriage – like sex. Sex is a wonderful gift, but it can’t fill an empty spiritual core. The emphasis we place on it can be almost comical. Here’s an example: Lisa and I love to go on walks in the woods; it’s one of our favorite things to do together. It would never occur to me after such a walk to immediately pelt Lisa with the question, “So, was that an especially good walk?”
“What are you talking about?”
“Well, was that walk as good for you as it was for me?”
“Gary, have you lost your mind?”
“I want to know! Was that walk better than the last walk? Was it maybe the best walk you’ve ever had?”
Such talk would cheapen an activity we greatly enjoy doing together, and it would put absurd pressure on each episode.
Without a strong spiritual core, we give certain activities an emphasis they don’t deserve, while ignoring the things that really do create long-term intimacy.
Improving your skills in bed may have its place, but good sex alone won’t create a good marriage, and good sex doesn’t necessarily — by any means — lead to better fellowship. On the other hand, strong fellowship almost always leads to better sex. Sex is, inherently, a spiritual activity, even though it is expressed in very physical terms. In his book Sex, Romance, and the Glory of God, C. J. Mahaney puts it this way:
When Carolyn and I are behind closed doors and locked in a passionate embrace, that moment is either enhanced or diminished by how well I have been leading in the area of loving communica- tion. So, to talk about romantic communication and creativity is not to delay talking about sex. It is to talk about what makes for the best sex. Communication and sex are inseparable. It’s not as though sex is one thing and communication is something else. Life doesn’t divide up into neat little compartments like that, especially in the oneness of marriage. It’s all one thing.
Most of us don’t need to spice up our marriages so much as we need to dig deeper in the Lord. Are you asking your sexual relation- ship to compensate for a lack of spiritual intimacy? That’s backwards! Spend some time this week thinking about how the two of you can better express what it means to be a brother and sister in the Lord. How can you pray for each other? How can you share more honestly and more intimately? How can you encourage each other in your individual passion for God?
Nothing else on this earth rivals the inner satisfaction of a relationship built on biblical fellowship.