Holy Sex

Several years ago I was talking with the man who was repairing my car, and he mentioned that he had a girlfriend. I asked him how they met and how long they’d been together. He said that she lived in another state and they had just met in an internet chat room. I was thinking, Oh please, like there is any chance of this ever going anywhere.

Today, eight years later, they are happily married with two kids.

But back to the start of my story. They began “dating,” and then she packed up and moved to our city to be near him. They decided to get married, I agreed to do the ceremony, and we all agreed that my wife and I would do the premarital counseling.

In one of the sessions, we were talking about serving our spouses and taking care of their needs and putting them first, and he said, “I just don’t know if I can do this.” We began to probe as to why the discussion, which seemed so clear, was so hard for him. After some discussion and questions and probing, he finally said that he knew what the problem was.

“I just love mountain biking.”

Which wasn’t exactly what we were expecting him to say.

As we began to sort it out, he said that he was terrified that if he got married, his wife might not let him buy new mountain-bike gear and ride the trails near where they were going to live.

As always, this is really about that.

The word that came to my mind at that moment was the word submit. Not her submitting to him.

Him submitting to her.

He didn’t know if he could submit. Because submitting is serious. Submitting is difficult.

And it’s the only hope a marriage has.

I’m aware that I am using a volatile word here, one that’s been used to cause great harm to women and consequently marriages and even men. The danger is that in reaction to the abuses and distortions of an idea, we’ll reject it completely. And in the process miss out on the good of it, the worth of it, the truth of it. The word submit occurs only a couple of times in the Bible, most notably in the letter to the Ephesians, chapter 5. The section begins in verse 21 with the command, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

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The word submit is the Greek word hupotasso, and it’s actually two words stuck together: the word upo, which means “under,” and the word tasso, which is translated “to place in order.” To submit means “to place yourself under, to give allegiance to, to tend to the needs of, to be responsive to.” Some scholars believe it originated as a military term, in the sense that when soldiers submit, they place themselves under their commanding officer. The passage says we are to place ourselves under one another out of reverence, or respect, for Christ. This reference to Jesus calls us to follow his example, his sacrifice, his giving his life for ours. As it’s written in the book of John, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son.”104 At the heart of the worldview of a Christian is the simple truth that people are worth dying for.

I was in New York City last week and took some friends to see Ground Zero. It’s hard to explain what it’s like to be there. A haunting sadness seems to linger in the air. But the actual site where the towers collapsed is not the most powerful thing for me about visiting the site. What moves me is to walk several blocks in any direction and pass the firehouses, where there are memorials to the firefighters from those neighborhood stations who lost their lives climbing up the towers to save people. Why do the flowers and plaques and mementos out on the sidewalk stir us like they do? Why do we hear stories of people risking their lives to save others and we often tear up, even if we don’t know any of the people involved?

Because people are worth dying for. We know it to be true deep in our bones. And when we see someone actually do it, it’s overwhelming.

Jesus said in one of his teachings that there’s no greater love a person can have than to lay down their life for another. We know this to be true.

People are worth dying for.

The You’s are Plural

So the teaching of the passage in Ephesians is to love and serve the people around you, placing their needs ahead of your own, out of respect and reverence for Jesus, who gave his life for us, the ultimate act of love and sacrifice. Die to yourselves, so that others can live. Like Jesus.

This passage is being written to a church, to a group of people. The “you” here is plural, meaning many people are being addressed with these words. This church is being taught how to live together in such a way that when people observe their lives together, they will see what Jesus is like.

In Greek, the passage continues with verse 22: “Wives, to your husbands as to the Lord.”


Adapted from Sex God by Rob Bell.

Copyright © 2006 by Rob Bell, published by Zondervan, used with permission.

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