When I think about self-control, I often think about things like anger, financial over-spending, or getting drunk. When Scripture uses the term self-control, however, it is often talking about sex.
I wondered for a long time why God is so interested in what we do in the “privacy” of our bedrooms. Now that I am older, have been married for 26 years, have three grown children, and have been pastoring for twelve years, I think I have more insight as to why it is in the Bible so often. We mess up God’s design really bad.
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 whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. 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; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies. (1 Corinthians 6:15-20 NIV)
God’s design for human sexuality is really quite beautiful. Women and men are designed differently on purpose. Men carry the seed. Women carry the egg. Women also have the womb designed as a safe place for the resulting child to grow until it can face the world as another human being. God made sex powerfully enjoyable and creatively powerful – resulting in the gift of a child. God designed human sexuality for both procreation and pleasure.
We try to separate the two. We want the pleasure without the resulting gift. This was primarily driven by men. When men go through puberty, their first experience with this process is physical pleasure. When women go through puberty, their first experience with this process makes them think they are going to die. If God made both men and women on a cycle, the human race would only continue if a man and a woman with the same cycle found each other. Instead, God gave women a cycle and designed man to be ready whenever his particular woman is ready (fertile) to make a child.
This is where the problem shows up. Men need self-control in order to be ready but not pushy. They think that since they are always ready, they should always do something about it. Rather than controlling their own bodies, men look for someone, anyone, who is willing to let them have fun. God is all for fun. After all, he designed our bodies this way. He simply has a bigger picture in mind: the continuation of the human race.
This design, then, only works when men have self-control. It also only works when a man and a woman commit to a lifetime together and then come together as husband and wife. The husband and wife enjoy the intimacy of this pleasure and it helps them have a bond that they don’t have with any other person. They also have the pleasure of receiving the gift of a child and raising that child in the training and instruction of the Lord. They participate in creation and the continuation of the human race. They begin to have a legacy that will outlast their lives.
Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Corinthians 7:5-7 NIV)
So, how about you? Do you, like the apostle Paul, have the gift of singleness: not needing sexual intimacy in your life? Do you have the pleasure of being married, enjoying intimacy with the one you have committed yourself to for life? Are you exercising, in this way, self-control?