What Is the Meaning of Sex?

What Is the Meaning of Sex?

by Denny Burk


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Sex was created by God for his glory. With clarity and compassion, this book sets forth the Bible’s teaching on sexuality from a complementarian perspective, dealing with controversial issues such as homosexuality and polygamy.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781433536090
Publisher: Crossway
Publication date: 10/31/2013
Pages: 272
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.70(d)

About the Author

Denny Burk (PhD, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is professor of biblical studies at Boyce College, the undergraduate arm of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He also serves as associate pastor at Kenwood Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky. Burk edits The Journal for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood and speaks and writes extensively about gender and sexuality. He keeps a popular blog at DennyBurk.com.

Read an Excerpt


Glorify God with Your Body

This is not the first book to argue that sex exists for the glory of God. Others have made the same point under the generic biblical teaching that we should do everything for the glory of God. That general command appears in texts like this one: "Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31; cf. Col. 3:17). Likewise, the apostle Peter writes about the purpose of our service to God and to one another, "Whoever speaks, is to do so as one who is speaking the utterances of God; whoever serves is to do so as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen" (1 Pet. 4:11). In these texts and elsewhere, the Bible provides general instruction about the glory of God being the purpose of all things. We should not minimize the value of these texts or the deductions we make from them — namely, that glorifying God in "all things" includes our sexuality. The purpose of this chapter, however, is to take this observation a step further — that is, to explore one particular text in which the apostle Paul explicitly connects human sexuality with the glory of God — 1 Corinthians 6:12–20. We will find that in this text Paul offers us a teleological model of ethical reflection that is rooted in the text of Scripture. Paul confronts an ethical aberration in Corinth, he brings the Old Testament to bear upon the problem, and then he exhorts his readers to use their bodies sexually for the glory of God.

The Meaning of Sex in 1 Corinthians 6:12–20

The human heart has an uncanny ability to rationalize the evil it perpetrates. This is especially the case with sexual sins. Think with me a moment about what rationalization is. To rationalize is to allow my mind to find reasons to excuse what my conscience knows is wrong. In other words, to rationalize is to commit the sin of suppressing the truth that God has revealed in order to justify the conscience (Rom. 1:18). Here is how this usually works out in our own hearts. We see something we want that we know is sin. Our desire for that particular sin becomes so intense that we begin to enumerate to ourselves the reasons that it is really not a sin after all. We convince ourselves that there is some mitigating circumstance that nullifies the clear commands of God.

Have you ever heard someone defend the practice of downloading copyrighted music illegally from the Internet? Here is how the rationalization typically goes: "Rock stars are rich and evil. Since I am poor and good, it's okay if I rip off their music from the Internet." The Bible is unambiguous in its prohibition on stealing (Ex. 20:15; Matt. 19:18; Rom. 13:9). Yet the thief wants the music so badly that he denies his conscience grounds for calling it what the Bible calls it — stealing. He does this through rationalization.

Sometimes we know a course of action is wrong, but we rationalize it as a "necessary evil" and do it anyway. Our problem is that once we assuage our conscience by calling something a necessary evil, it begins to look more and more necessary and less and less evil. The great danger of rationalizing your sin in this way is that if you suppress your conscience long enough, you eventually will not be able to tell good from evil. Every time you rationalize your sin, you harden your heart, you put a callus on your conscience, and you put your soul in mortal danger.

This is in part why the apostle Paul appeals so urgently in 1 Corinthians 6:12–20. In this text Paul addresses some of the most gifted rationalizers that ever walked the face of the earth. And these were people that Paul himself had evangelized and won to Christ (Acts 18:1–11). Paul spent a year and a half of his itinerant ministry with the Corinthians — plenty of time to develop significant relationships with them and to provide extensive instruction in the gospel (Acts 18:11). Nevertheless, after Paul left, a group of men in the church decided to consort with prostitutes. When Paul finds out, he is appalled that these men would take the "members of Christ" and make them "members of a harlot" (1 Cor. 6:15 AT). This entire paragraph, therefore, is devoted to correcting these men and their rationalization for bad behavior. We are not so different from the Corinthians. We too are prone to set aside what we know to be right based on specious rationalizing. A closer look at verses 6:12–20 shows that Paul's response to the Corinthian church addresses our rationalizations and moves us closer to understanding the ultimate meaning of sex — the glory of God. But before that, a little more background is in order.

Slogans as Corinthian Excuses for Sin

Several times in this letter, Paul indicates that he has heard about slogans that the Corinthians have adopted to justify their misbehavior. Sometimes, Paul actually quotes their slogans back to them and then refutes them with gospel truth. One of the keys, therefore, to understanding Paul's argument is the ability to distinguish Paul's voice from the Corinthians'— to distinguish the Corinthian slogans from Paul's exhortation. Here are two examples to illustrate the point.

1 Corinthians 1:12–13

Slogan: "I am of Paul," and "I of Apollos," and "I of Cephas," and "I of Christ."

Paul's Response: "Has Christ been divided? Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?"

1 Corinthians 7:1–2 (AT)

Slogan: "It is good for a man not to touch a woman."

Paul's Response: "But because of immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband."

Notice that in 1:12 and in 7:1 Paul actually quotes what the Corinthians are saying, and then he refutes their words with the truth. This pattern is exactly what we have before us in verses 6:12–20. In these verses Paul stages an argument between himself and the Corinthians by quoting their slogans and then refuting them. The Corinthian well has been poisoned with serious theological error, so Paul gives them the gospel as the antidote. The Corinthians need to see the emptiness of their sloganeering excuses, and Paul is going to help them to do just that. He tells them that Christian freedom has limits (6:12), that the resurrection has implications (6:13–18a), and that sex has a purpose (6:18b–20).

Christian Freedom Has Limits (1 Corinthians 6:12)

The first Corinthian slogan appears in verse 12: "All things are lawful for me." This slogan expresses the belief that Christians are not constrained to keep the Jewish law. Paul quotes the slogan twice and immediately follows it in each case with a correction.

Slogan: "All things are lawful for me."

Paul: "But not all things are profitable."

Slogan: "All things are lawful for me."

Paul: "But I will not be mastered by anything."

On the face of it, the Corinthian slogan does not have the ring of serious theological error. As an expression of Christian freedom, "All things are lawful for me" is not at all unlike the language that Paul himself has used elsewhere to speak about the Christian's relationship to the Jewish law. Perhaps the Corinthians heard Paul say things like he said to the Romans:

For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! (Rom. 6:14–15)

Therefore, my brethren, you also were made to die to the Law through the body of Christ. ... But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound, so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter. (Rom. 7:4, 6)

So Paul is known to have told disciples that they were "not under law," that they had "died to the law," and that they had been "released from the law." It would not have been a far leap from such statements for the Corinthians to conclude that "all things are lawful for me."

But the Corinthians used this teaching in a way that Paul never intended. They turned Paul's law-free message into antinomianism and used it to justify their visits to prostitutes (v. 15). They turned Paul's gospel into a license to sin. Yet this is not what Paul means when he says that Christians are no longer under law. In fact, Paul confronts this idea as a false conclusion in Romans 6:15: "Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!" Paul says elsewhere that Christians are bound by "grace" (Rom. 6:14) to "serve" in the "Spirit" (Rom. 7:6). Paul's gospel cannot be fairly construed as a license to sin, but it looks like that is exactly what the Corinthians have done. In their minds, they can go to bed with whomever they like whenever they like because "all things are lawful for me."

The spirit of the age has not changed much from the first century to the present day. The libertinism of these Corinthians is not unlike the license that characterizes sexual mores in the post-Christian West. The sexual revolution has enabled people to cast off all restraint. Modern people are not wrestling with the Jewish law per se, but they have by and large cast off Judeo-Christian sexual norms. The prevailing idea seems to be that when it comes to sexuality, anything goes, so long as the activity is between consenting adults. There are no boundaries, no rules, just license. If it feels good, do it. Anyone who disagrees with that approach is sexually repressed and puritanical.

Nevertheless, Paul refutes this "anything goes" attitude with two statements in verse 12: "Not all things are profitable. ... I will not be mastered by anything." With these words, Paul does not dismiss the idea of Christian freedom. Instead, he tweaks the Corinthian misunderstanding of freedom in order to bring it into line with the gospel. He does this by placing two limitations on freedom. In short, Paul says that Christian freedom from the law is limited by love and lordship.

Love for brothers and sisters in Christ limits Christian freedom. That limit appears in the words "not all things are profitable." What does profitability have to do with love? The word translated "profitable" does not denote profit to oneself but profit to others — in particular, to others within the body of Christ. Paul therefore is saying that Christian freedom (that which is "lawful") is limited by the obligation to build up the body of Christ. So the ethical question we have to ask ourselves is not merely, "Is this or that activity okay for me to do?" The question is, "Will this or that activity be a help or a hindrance to my brothers and sisters in Christ?" When you are contemplating the morality of any given action, you have to ask yourself not just the law question but also the love question. We must ask not only, "What would the law have me do?" but also, "What would love have me do?" Paul says elsewhere, "Owe nothing to anyone except to love one another" (Rom. 13:8). And love manifests itself in part by setting aside selfish interests that might become a hindrance to others: "Therefore let us not judge one another anymore, but rather determine this — not to put an obstacle or a stumbling block in a brother's way" (Rom. 14:13).

The lordship of Jesus Christ also limits Christian freedom because, Paul says, "I will not be mastered by anything." Any good thing can be turned into a bad thing if you make an idol out of it. The case in point for this passage is the use of the body for sex. Sex is a good thing in the eyes of God. It only becomes evil when it is idolized such that self-gratification displaces the lordship of Christ. Christians have sworn allegiance to King Jesus, and Jesus will suffer no rivals. That means that he has to be your master and that you cannot serve anyone or anything else above him.

Even though Paul said that he was no longer under the Jewish law, he was no antinomian: "To those who are without law, [I became] as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law" (1 Cor. 9:21). Paul would agree that Christians have been set free from the Jewish law. But for Paul, freedom from one master meant becoming the slave of another — Jesus. The irony of gospel liberty is that it sets us free to become a slave of Jesus. That is why Paul viewed his own life as a vehicle for living Christ's life over again. He writes: "I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave Himself up for me" (Gal. 2:20). For Paul, so-called Christian freedom had limits — love for others and the lordship of Jesus Christ. But that is not all.

The Resurrection Has Implications (1 Corinthians 6:13–18a)

The first half of verse 13 is another slogan: "Food is for the stomach, and the stomach is for food, but God will do away with both of them." The Corinthian justification for immorality consisted in two arguments: (1) teleology and (2) eschatology. Their teleological justification for immorality consisted in the observation that the human body's design reveals its purpose. This fact is no less clear with sex than it is with eating. Just as the stomach is made for food, so also sexual organs are made for sex. What could possibly be wrong with using the body according to its purpose? Paul exposes the folly of this argument with, "yet the body is not for immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord is for the body." Paul does not question that the body is made for sex (a subordinate end), but he does say that the body exists for the Lord (the ultimate end). The Corinthians had fixated on the subordinate end of the body and had missed the ultimate end of God's glory. In doing so, they misconstrued how the subordinate end must serve the ultimate end. Sex is not to be enjoyed for its own sake but for God's sake. Enjoying sex for God's sake means shunning every sexual union outside of the covenanted union of one man and one woman. Since the body exists "for the Lord," its proper use must be under the lordship of Christ. Sleeping with prostitutes is not one of the Lord's purposes for the body.

The eschatological rationale for immorality consisted in the observation that physical bodies ultimately give way to death. The Corinthians contend that "God will destroy both the one and the other" (AT). By that they mean that God will ultimately "destroy" the body in death. Since every person must ultimately die and lose their body to the dust, God must not care much about physical bodies. If God does not think much of the body in the age to come, then why would he care what we do with our bodies now? From this, the Corinthians concluded that the physical body figured very little in God's moral economy. Herein is the foundational error of the Corinthians — the moral irrelevance of the body. The Corinthians argued that because God allows the destruction of the physical body, it follows that the physical body is morally inconsequential. As Ben Witherington has observed, "Many Corinthian Christians apparently thought that salvation did not involve the body." The Corinthians' problem was that they had been swayed more by Plato than by Paul. They had imbibed the spirit of their age — a Hellenistic dualism that "disdained the physical world for the 'higher' knowledge and wisdom of spiritual existence." In doing so they were losing sight of the Christian hope of resurrection. But Paul attacks this logic in verse 14 with the gospel truth that death is not the ultimate end of the believer's body; resurrection is the ultimate end for the believer. To say that God destroys the body as the Corinthians had said is to miss the point of the gospel, which promises that God will not in fact destroy the body but that he will do quite the opposite: "God has both raised the Lord and will raise us up by His power" (v. 14 AT). For Paul, as surely as the Lord was raised bodily, so also shall his people be raised bodily in the age to come. The cause of both of these resurrections is God's power. The Christian is not waiting for God to destroy his body. He is waiting for God to resurrect it. To misunderstand the ultimate destiny of the body is not merely an ethical aberration but an undermining of the hope of the gospel itself. The true telos of Christians is not death but eternal life.


Excerpted from "What Is the Meaning of Sex?"
by .
Copyright © 2013 Denny Burk.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Preface 11

Introduction 19

1 Glorify God with Your Body 43

2 Glorify God with Your Hermeneutic 61

3 Glorify God with Your Marriage 87

4 Glorify God with Your Conjugal Union 111

5 Glorify God with Your Family Planning 139

6 Glorify God with Your Gender 157

7 Glorify God with Your Sexuality 185

8 Glorify God with Your Singleness 209

Conclusion 229

Bibliography 237

General Index 253

Scripture Index 257

What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

“Sexual confusion is one of the hallmarks of our age. Denny Burk steps into the midst of this confusion with a book that is as rich in theological insight as it is relevant to the challenge and the controversies of our day. We are in debt to Denny Burk for his careful thinking, practical application, and biblical conviction—all of which are on full display in this important new book.”
R. Albert Mohler Jr., President, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Questions are swirling about as to the nature of human sexuality. Denny Burk reminds us that the answers to our questions are found in Scripture. He demonstrates conclusively that human sexuality is designed to bring glory to God. God’s glory is the purpose and heartbeat of our lives, and that includes our life as sexual beings. Burk’s study is exegetically faithful, culturally aware, and filled with practical wisdom.”
Thomas R. Schreiner, James Buchanan Harrison Professor of New Testament Interpretation, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“It is ironic that the most private and intimate activity that takes place in human life—sexual intercourse—has become the most pressing public political issue of our day. This makes it imperative that Christians think clearly about this matter. In this book, Dr. Burk offers a thoughtful, clear and candid analysis of the issues. In doing so he has produced a volume which will be of great usefulness to pastors and people alike in thinking through the myriad ethical issues the church, families, and individual Christians now face.”
Carl R. Trueman, Professor of Biblical and Religious Studies, Grove City College

“Denny Burk is a Christian leader who is not afraid to take on the sexual revolution with the sword of the Spirit. His prophetic witness will help equip you to embrace what seems freakish in today’s pornotopia: the joy of sex, rightly ordered toward the glory of God.”
Russell Moore, President, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention

“This is a readable, enjoyable, practical, encouraging, wholesome, balanced, wise, refreshing, and deeply biblical approach to the ethics of human sexuality. This book is deeply needed in today’s confused society. I highly recommend it!”
Wayne Grudem, Distinguished Research Professor of Theology and Biblical Studies, Phoenix Seminary; author, Christian Ethics

“Denny Burk has produced an elegant, comprehensive, and highly instructive book on human sexuality, as understood biblically, ethically, and theologically. Every pastor and seminary professor could benefit much from reading and interacting with the lucid discussions he offers, and all Christians will find here enormous help in thinking through the meaning of sexuality from a solid biblical perspective. This book will serve the church for decades to come in providing its sane and wise guidance.”
Bruce A. Ware, T. Rupert and Lucille Coleman Professor of Christian Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary

“This is a welcomed addition to a subject humans can never think about or talk about enough! It is biblically and theologically faithful, but it is also quite practical. All the ‘hot button’ issues are addressed fairly and comprehensively. Pastor-theologians will especially appreciate this fine treatment of an issue the Bible clearly addresses and our culture has hopelessly confused.”
Daniel L. Akin, President, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary

“We live in a culture saturated in sexual immorality. The church can only properly address this culture when our ministry is drawn from the deep well of sound doctrine. Denny Burk draws water from this well and serves it up for Christians to drink. His book is richly biblical and profoundly relevant, and so serves as a reliable guide to the challenging questions of sexual ethics facing us today. If you want to understand these complexities and help others to do the same, then this book is for you.”
Heath Lambert, Associate Pastor, First Baptist Church of Jacksonville; Executive Director, Association of Certified Biblical Counselors; author, A Theology of Biblical Counseling and Finally Free

“In a day of twisted thinking on marriage, gender, and sex, Dr. Burk gives us scripturally grounded, biblically solid, scholarly, practical insights into the intimate moments of life that should bring glory to God and the fulfillment of his beautiful plan.”
Mac Brunson, Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church Jacksonville, Jacksonville, Florida

“Responding to the song of the Sirens, our culture steers to dash itself to death on the rocks of sexual sin. In this book, Denny Burk shows the way to the mast of biblical truth and urges us to lash ourselves to it. Read this book. Stop your ears. Turn from deadly sirens to the Lord Christ. Live.”
James M. Hamilton Jr., Professor of Biblical Theology, The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary; author, God’s Glory in Salvation through Judgment

“Dr. Burk has made a groundbreaking contribution to the modern debate on sexuality. He presents the biblical view of sex and demolishes current attempts to misrepresent the same. His application of biblical truth to contemporary cultural issues in sexuality is crystal clear. Whether a Christian pastor or believer, this volume will be your go-to book for help in engaging the changing sexual landscape.”
Jerry Vines, Pastor-Emeritus, First Baptist Church of Jacksonville, Florida; two-time President, Southern Baptist Convention

“Denny Burk is one of evangelicalism’s brightest young minds, and he brings that mind to bear in What Is the Meaning of Sex? This book is a thorough, biblical, and judicious engagement of all things sexual. Burk biblically rebuts the sexual spirit of the age and equips the reader to confront the pressing cultural and ethical issues associated therewith. I wish every student in my seminary would read this.”
Jason K. Allen, President, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary

“Clear writing, thoughtful arguments, wise positions, courageous countercultural stand. I learned some things I didn't know and honed what I did. Denny is a skilled Bible interpreter and shrewd critic of politics and culture.”
Andy Naselli, Associate Professor of Systematic Theology and New Testament, Bethlehem College & Seminary

“Denny Burk is a true sexual revolutionary—not a revolutionary defined by 1960s standards, of course, but a revolutionary against the spirit of today’s sexual zeitgeist, which is marked by sexual confusion and brokenness. Denny calls us away from an Eisenhower-era sexual Puritanism and toward a view of biblical sexual ethics—patterned after the gospel—that connects us to Jesus’s cross and resurrection. Anyone familiar with Denny’s blogging will know his seamless arguments and elegant prose, a treat this book amplifies. And like his blogging, Denny tackles today’s toughest issues with biblical grit.”
Andrew T. Walker, Director of Policy Studies, The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission

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