Do you read Bible passages such as these and find yourself feeling embarrassed?
'How beautiful and pleasant you are, O loved one, with all your delights! Your stature is like a palm tree, and your breasts are like its clusters. I say I will climb the palm tree and lay hold of its fruit. Oh may your breasts be like clusters of the vine, and the scent of your breath like apples, and your mouth like the best wine.' (Song of Solomon 7:6-9)
In 1 Timothy 4:1-5, Paul confronts certain ascetic, pleasure-renouncing false teachers who believed that sex in marriage and eating foods freely were not the way that Christians should use their bodies. And Paul called these false teachings demonic.
'Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, who forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods...' (v1-3)
That’s the false teaching. Now here’s Paul’s response, starting in the middle of verse 3:
'that [that is, the marriage and the food] God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.' (v3-5)
For those who know the truth of the gospel, and who revel in the word of God concerning the all-satisfying glory of God, and who pray (Hallowed be your name!), and who dedicate everything to God, the sex of marriage and the pleasures of food are made holy—that is, sex and food are set apart from the sinful use of the world, and made pure and precious and beautiful by participation in the goodness of God.
So we are not supposed to be embarrassed by the forthright sensuality of sexual love in marriage as the Bible portrays it—sometimes graphically:
'Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths.' (Proverbs 5:18-21)
It is no shame that ‘a man’s ways are before…the Lord’ as his wife’s breasts fill him at all times with delight. This is why God made her that way—and made him with those desires. In fact, that this delight in her is ‘before’ the Lord points to the truth that all our joy in what God has made is meant to be a delight in God. There is something of his glory in all the glories of the world. We are not meant to revel in his creation instead of him or more than him but because of him, and because there is something of him in all that is good and beautiful. The heavens are telling the glory of God. We are to see it. And worship him. So it is with the breasts of our wives. Those breasts are telling us about the glory of God, the goodness of God, the beauty of God, and more. We are to see it and worship him as we enjoy them.
The heavens are telling the glory of God. We are to see it. And worship him. So it is with the breasts of our wives.
The Song of Solomon is in the Bible, among other reasons, to make sure that we take seriously the exquisite physical pleasures between a bride and a groom as a picture of Christ and his Church. The point is not that we nullify the physical pleasures of this Song by seeing only a portrayal of Christ and the Church. To be sure, we are to see Christ and the Church in the relationship of the Song of Solomon in the way Paul sees it in Ephesians 5:22-33. But the danger is that we only see the metaphorical dimension, not the physical one. Instead, we should let the Song stun us, that the kind of relationship God designed between man and woman as the image of the covenant-keeping pleasures between Christ and his Church can be described with words like these from husband to bride:
'Your two breasts are like two fawns, twins of a gazelle, that graze among the lilies. Until the day breathes and the shadows flee, I will go away to the mountain of myrrh and the hill of frankincense. You are altogether beautiful, my love; there is no flaw in you.' (Song of Solomon 4:5-7)
Read these descriptions, look at your husband or wife—and worship God.
John Piper (@JohnPiper) is founder and teacher of desiringGod.org and chancellor of Bethlehem College and Seminary. For 33 years, he served as pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota. He is author of more than 50 books.
This article has been adapted from the new book Living in the Light: Money, Sex and Power by John Piper. Find out more, order the book and sign up for free devotional readings at www.livinginthelight-book.com