God’s Design for Sexuality
About the Guest
Author and pastor Ray Ortlund says God was intentional when He made two distinct genders. He created us male and female not just for reproduction but for the whole purpose of love and romance. There also is great brokenness in this area.
Ray OrtlundRaymond C. Ortlund Jr. is the former and founding pastor of Immanuel Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He serves as President of Renewal Ministries and as Canon Theologian in the Diocese of the Western Gulf Coast of the Anglican Church in North America.
Ray Ortlund says God was intentional when He made two distinct genders. He created us male and female not just for reproduction but for the whole purpose of love and romance.
God’s Design for Sexuality
Bob: Do you want your marriage to thrive—to be all that God intends for it to be? Pastor Ray Ortlund says, “If so, it’s time to quit posing.”
Ray: Marriage actually relaxes and becomes kind of a fun adventure together when we just admit the truth and just own up with each other and get honest. Let’s not—I need to say to Jani: “I’m so sorry I must be—I’m a disappointment to you. I know that. Let me admit that to you. I’m so sorry. What would please you? How can I be a better husband for you?” Then, she very sweetly speaks to me that way. How can that not work?
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, May 2nd. Our host is the President of FamilyLife®, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. How would your marriage be different if there was a little more transparency between the two of you? We’ll spend some time exploring that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. I was thinking I should let our listeners know that we’ll be out near the deep end of the pool today. But we’re out there with somebody who knows how to navigate you through the deep end so that you don’t—you don’t need to panic; right?
Dennis: Right. Well, this is not only a lifeguard, but he’s also a shepherd. He shepherds a local flock in Nashville, Tennessee. Ray Ortlund joins us again on FamilyLife Today. Welcome back Ray.
Ray: It’s a privilege to be here. Thank you.
Dennis: He is pastor of the Immanuel Church in Nashville and has written a book called Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel.
Ray, I just want to talk about this generation of young people—that, really, the last two or three decades has produced, coming off the college campus—that seem to be taking issue and questioning God’s original design for three things: Number one, first of all, the definition of sexuality and of gender; secondly, the definition of marriage; and third, the definition and responsibilities of husbands and wives within the marriage relationship.
This is a generation—I think, Ray, as never before—needs a book like yours, just to go back to the biblical blueprints and see what was in God’s mind, originally, when He made marriage and family. That’s really why you wrote the book; isn’t it?
Ray: Yes. What we don’t understand today, as clearly as we used to, is that, when we enter into life, we’re entering into a pre-created reality. We’re not making reality up as we go along. We’re walking into a template that exists and is marked. For example, the whole Book of Proverbs is all about how God actually made things to work. When we set that aside, it’s like trying to get healthy on junk food. It’s like cutting against the grain and trying to create beauty. It’s like trying to find our way home, but we’re on the wrong road.
The reason why it doesn’t work is that it can’t work. Reality was designed by God, and that includes human sexuality. God is not sorry He made us sexual. God is not embarrassed that He created our bodies. He is not awkward about the fact that we’re male/female—we’re sexual beings. He isn’t wishing He’d never thought of this. He’s not looking for an escape plan. He doesn’t delete our sexuality—He redeems our sexuality.
Dennis: In fact, Ray, don’t you think God was very intentional, as He begins the Bible, making it clear He made two distinct sexes, male and female, to reflect who He is to what would ultimately become a fallen earth?
Ray: That is very significant in my mind, Dennis. He created us male and female, not just for purposes of reproduction / it’s not just about plumbing and so forth. God created us male and female for the whole purpose of romance, and love, and coming together in the union of marriage; because we have parachuted into a universe where ultimate reality is romance.
Ray: Romance came down from above. God is a romantic.
Dennis: And people are trying to define romance without having the original Creator at the table.
Ray: It’s not sustainable.
Bob: People are trying to say that their definition of romance—it trumps whatever we claim God’s definition of romance is. There is a generation, Ray—that is not sure that our argument holds water. If you’re sitting down with a group of 20-year-olds today and you’re saying, “God made gender; and it’s obvious, biologically,” they say, “Well no; it’s really in my mind.” If you say, “God made us male and female for the purpose of romance,” they say, “Well, two men can love each other / two women can love each other.” How do you bring a biblical framework to a culture that says, “We get to decide”?
Ray: Well, the sexual revolution is very effective and very successful in its propaganda.
We’re not here, as Christians, to say to anybody, “I told you so,” when they find themselves experiencing the pain on the other side of the sexual revolution. We’re not here to point the finger. I’m a sexual sinner. I became a sexual sinner when I entered puberty. If sin were the color blue, everything about me would be, at least, some tint of blue. It’s just running through my veins—I can’t escape it! I’m not a sexual sinner in the sense that I’m living in an adulterous relationship. Sin just touches everything that I am all the time. Right now, as I’m speaking, that’s how pervasive it is. So, I can’t look at anybody else and say, “I’m better than you are.”
Ray: I can’t look at anybody else and say, “I would never do that.” Of course, I would do it. Every sin I’ve ever seen, I’ve either thought about or I felt that kind of impulse, at some level.
So, we’re all in this together—we’re all cut out of the same bolt of cloth. We’re not here to be above anybody else. We are here to receive the wounded from the sexual revolution and welcome them into our churches / welcome them into our homes—
Dennis: That’s right.
Ray: —as fellow sinners and sufferers and bring them to Jesus.
Dennis: If anyone in this culture has a welcome mat that works, it ought to be the church—
Ray: Amen. I really believe that.
Dennis: —because our Savior died for broken people to redeem them from the penalty of sin and to bring them into a right relationship with God and with one another. People are looking today for companionship—they’re looking for community.
Bob: Well, the reason we’re in the place we’re in today is the same reason that Adam and Eve wound up in the place that they wound up—is a lie sounded good—they said, “Let’s try that.”
We’re in the same place because people have stood up and said: “What the Bible says is repressive. What the Bible says isn’t fully human. Here’s the right way to live your sexuality out. Here’s the right way to express your love for one another.” We’ve all kind of said, “Well, that sounds good.” Now, we’re outside the Garden as a result; right?
Ray: Yes. In this area of human sexuality—manhood, and womanhood, and so forth—the brokenness in that area of life is so personal and so tenderly felt / there’s so much shame involved.
Ray: We can suppress for a while, but it’s really—there is deep pain. I think we, as representatives of Jesus—He was so tender with sexual sinners, and He was so severe with the Pharisees. He said to the woman caught in the very act of adultery: “Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.”
He gave her her life back.
Right now, there are listening to us, people who are carrying around regret / they’re carrying around shame. They’re thinking: “Why did I do that? If only I could relive that moment.” I think what all three of us would want to say to them: “There is a friend on high who understands. He is not waiting to bring the hammer down on you. He just wants to put His arm around your shoulder. He’s saying to you today, ‘Tell Me everything and let Me help you.’”
Dennis: I think back to the story you told on an earlier broadcast of how you met your bride and how you popped the question. She said, “Let me think about it.” After she thought and prayed about it for 20 minutes, she said “Yes!” Then months later, you began your journey together. What were some of the first lessons you remember learning, Ray?
Ray: Oh boy; yes.
Dennis: Again, just being honest and authentic—this is where life makes up its mind. It is as two imperfect people begin the journey of marriage together. As you told me before we came in here, marriage is a profoundly powerful sanctifying tool. It points out our shortcomings and begins to help the image of Christ to emerge from our lives.
Ray: Dennis, I’ll never forget a really poignant moment with Jani seven years in. I was so selfish. Guys, I never chose to be selfish; I just didn’t know how not to be. It was just the reality—
Dennis: [Laughter] I was getting ready to correct you. Oh yes, you did—you were always choosing. [Laughter]
Ray: So, I was giving too much attention, and time, and emotion to everything but my family. I was taking them for granted. I was really excited about work. In fact, I was excited about ministry. I found more significance—I’m embarrassed to admit this—I found more significance outside my home than with my wife and children that God had given me. I was so oblivious.
Jani had a significant conversation with me one day. She did not go into hysterics. She did not threaten, and she didn’t yell at me. But she said very quietly and very calmly one day—that’s how I could listen / she flew in under my radar—she said: “The children and I will always love you. We’re not sure we’ll always have you.” That got my attention. In that moment, in God’s mercy, the words landed on me precisely because she was gentle and respectful. I had no basis for pushing back. I knew she was right. I knew, in that moment, I had to rethink my life. I had to make some changes. In God’s mercy, I did and we never looked back. It just got better.
Dennis: What about the guy, who is defensive, who—his wife says that to him, he goes: “Wait! Let me show you my—
Dennis: —“my calendar here. I’m here. I’m for you—bringing home the bacon. I’m taking care of you.” I think a guy’s ego gets in the way sometimes of his family—and his accomplishments.
Ray: Well, so many times in my life, Dennis, when I have not listened, it’s because I needed to feel some more pain first that would help me listen.
Ray: I wish this weren’t true. Wouldn’t it be great if we listened the first time, without more pain? But sometimes the only way I’ll pay attention is if I suffer a little more. God, in His kindness, is willing to be patient and take us there.
If a guy is listening right now, and he’s thinking that, I would just say: “You can jeopardize everything that you’re going to care about the most, 20 years from now. Or you can invest in those very treasures that you have in your hands right now; and 20 years from now, it’s going to be great!”
Bob: We’re talking with Ray Ortlund, who’s written a book called Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel.
I’ve always been fascinated, Ray, by the fact that the first thing that happens after Adam and Eve disobey God is that they start to turn on one another.
Bob: When God comes to Adam and says, “What happened here?”—he throws Eve right under the bus and says, “She’s the problem.” Then he blames God, right on the backside of that: “You gave me a defective model.” We’re good at saying, “I’m not to blame here”; aren’t we?
Ray: Yes. We’re all really good at finger pointing. Isn’t it amazing?—the world is a mess, and it’s nobody’s fault. [Laughter] We’re all so righteous.
Marriage actually relaxes and becomes kind of a fun adventure together when we just admit the truth, and just own up with each other and get honest. Let’s not—I need to say to Jani: “I’m so sorry. I must be—I’m a disappointment to you.
“I know that. Let me admit that to you. I’m so sorry. What would please you? How can I be a better husband for you?” Then, she very sweetly speaks to me that way. How can that not work?
Dennis: So, Ray, you’ve been married 45 years.
Dennis: Have you ever had a dark season? I’m not talking about a dark moment—you’ve had plenty of dark moments.
Dennis: Have you ever had a dark season in your marriage and family?—even in the midst of doing ministry, where you’re leading a church—doing great things for God / being used by Him—where you were going home and it just was testing your covenant / testing your commitment?
Ray: Ten years ago, right now, we were in a dark season; but in God’s mercy, Dennis, Jani and I were allies together in it. We went through an extremely difficult season of personal suffering about ten years ago. If Jani had not been there for me, I don’t think I could have made it through.
I was incapable during that season—it was not a moment, as you say / it was a season—I was incapable of experiencing what we mean by the English word, encouragement.
But with Jani—what she brought to me during that time—I was so deeply dependent upon her to an extent that was embarrassing / I’m trying to make it up to her now. She—by her encouragement, by her care, by her listening, by her patience, her gentleness / her sort of non-corrective presence—at least, kept me from sinking lower. That was a big deal.
Some of our listeners, right now, are just going through unbelievable suffering. They are in the most profound anguish. That can be the greatest season in your entire marriage. That is when the pressures of life, the buffetings of life, and the sufferings of life can draw you together with a tenderness you’ve never known before.
Some of us—maybe our marriages are not as profound as they could be because life has been too good to us; but, when we suffer—oh my goodness—to have a partner, a friend, an ally when it seems as though the whole world is against us.
Dennis: But speak to this for a moment, because those same sufferings can build a wedge between a husband and a wife. And because we suffer differently, as male and female, and absorb challenges differently—
Dennis: —we don’t merge together / we can be repelled by one another.
Ray: Yes. Something that Genesis, Chapter 3, has helped me understand / Genesis 2 and 3 has helped me understand is this—inside every man—I mean, God created Adam first and gave him a mission—gave him a job to do / a mountain to climb. But we’re all fallen men—we’re enfeebled with sin, and mortality, and weakness.
Inside every guy is a self-doubt that says: “But will I fulfill my mission? Am I man enough? Am I actually going to meet the challenge of my existence, or am I going to fail?”
A wise wife will understand that self-doubt is way down inside her husband. She will, by her words and actions every day communicate: “Honey, I believe in you. By God’s grace, you can do this baby! I’m for you.” That confidence will breathe life into a man.
Inside a woman / a wife—it’s a different question. There’s another kind of self-doubt. God created Eve for Adam. Inside that wife’s heart is the question: “Will he go the distance with me, or will he cast me off? Am I the one he really wants, or is he wishing he were married to somebody else?”
Dennis: Bottom line—she’s wondering if she’s loved.
Bob: —and “Will you still love me tomorrow?”
Ray: That’s right. A wise husband will understand that’s just down there, inside his precious wife. He will want to spend his life speaking into that question / answering that question very gently and reassuringly every day by his actions and words, saying: “Oh babe, you’re the one I want. I can’t imagine my life without you. I’m excited about the future, with us side by side. I want you so close to me.” When a wife hears that reassurance from her husband, she feels prized / she feels significant because she is.
When a man experiences respect, he construes that / he experiences that as love. When a wife is prized and valued, she experiences that as love.
Bob: I want to go back to your dark season though; because in the midst of it, you didn’t have a lot of reserve to be pouring out much of anything toward Jani.
You were hobbled / you were emotionally wounded. She had to recognize, in the midst of that—she was feeling pain herself—
Bob: —but she had to put her own pain aside and say, “What’s more important to me, in this moment, is that I love and serve my husband in the midst of his pain than I enter into and embrace my own pain.” She kind of forgot about herself and loved you through it.
I’m just thinking of how many couples, in the midst of darkness, become so self-absorbed of what they’re feeling, we forgot what the other persons feeling and how God’s put us together to serve one another.
Ray: I think what Jani understood is that God Himself had sent her on a mission in life that included this season. God was not surprised by it. His plan was not knocked off course by this. She was not there by accident—she was there on a mission, sent by the Lord.
She was sustained by His grace, in order to sustain me.
A friend of ours, during that time, suggested something to us that meant so much—it really worked. He said: “Ask the Lord for a verse of Scripture / a promise that resonates with both of your hearts. Make that verse the theme of your life until you get out of all this mess.” The Lord led us to 1 Peter 5:10: “And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you into His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” God used that verse to breathe hope into both of us. It totally worked.
Bob: And ten years later, has the God of all comfort restored?
Ray: Oh my goodness. Well, as I was saying earlier guys, I’m embarrassed at how kind God has been. He has absolutely poured out his restoring mercies on us. I feel so cared for / so thought about.
This is ridiculous—I know I totally don’t deserve this. God has been so faithful.
Bob: I think of couples, Dennis—who, in the slough of despond,—
Bob: —cannot see a future / they’ve lost hope for a future. When, if they can just persevere, there’s a bright day ahead.
Dennis: And a part of the bright day is two strong-willed, broken people humbling themselves before God in prayer. Just before I came in to the studio, I had a little conversation with Barbara. She was discouraged about a matter. We’re not talking about a season here / we’re talking about a moment; okay? I told her, in that phone conversation, “Let’s just pray here for a second.” You could hear it in her voice—it brightened at the end of the conversation, after we prayed together. I think we underestimate our need to take these small matters and large matters before God, when we find ourselves in dark moments or dark seasons so the perseverance—
—Bob, that you spoke about—has a chance to germinate and take root.
Bob: But that hope comes when we know the God who is the God of hope.
Bob: That’s what I love about the book you’ve written, Ray—is you keep pointing us in that direction—understanding the goodness of God in the gift of marriage. The book Ray has written is called Marriage and the Mystery of the Gospel. It’s a book that we’ve got in our FamilyLife Today Resource Center. If you’re interested in a copy, order online at FamilyLifeToday.com; or call 1-800-FL-TODAY to get a copy of the book. Again, the website to order online is FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call 1-800-358-6329. That’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
You know, this is the time of year for a lot of families / a lot of our families, where things get busy. School is starting to wrap up. Graduation is coming up for seniors. There are summer trips, summer vacations, or maybe a summer job that’s ahead for some of our children. This is just a time of the year when all of us find ourselves adjusting to a different season.
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Tomorrow, we want to talk about the unique assignment that God gives husbands in marriage and the unique assignment that God gives to wives. And those assignments are different / they’re distinct. We’ll talk more about that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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