What is love? What is sex?

When someone asks us: What is love? he/she wants information about love between a young man and a girl, or between a man and wife, and not love in general, such as love to God and your neighbour, etc. Our reply is therefore limited to love in marriage or romantic love.

 We can understand quite well when an African asks this question. Old cultural customs, in some cases, required that the parents choose a wife for their son. The young man and the girl were usually satisfied with each other and accepted one another without asking questions. They knew nothing about "Western" love, and did not worry about it. Marriage was regarded as a contract between families. The groom and his family paid the bridesprice called lobola or bogadi and the bride in return had to give birth to children for the husband's family.

 Western culture and Christianity, based on Biblical teaching, brought the concept of Christian love. We did, of course, sometimes find that some young people, inspired by a "force" which they could not define, chose their own loved ones. We find something of this kind, for example in the Zulu custom called ukubaleka or ukuganisela, where the girl runs away to her boyfriend's parents, or in ukuthwala where the young man abducts the girl of his choice and forces a marriage contract.

 Many Africans have accepted the Biblical marriage in our changing society today. They know the Bible says: "Husbands love your wives" (Ephesians 5:25). Men ought to love their wives just as they love their own bodies (Ephesians 5:28). Titus 2:3-4: The older women "must teach what is good, in order to train the younger women to love their husbands."

 Now they ask: What is this love? Love which, they say, is the bond which binds people together in marriage. The modern media have changed this "love" into a caricature. That is why the word "love" means "sex" to many people.

 What love is not

 If you read 2 Samuel 13:1-20 with me, you will hear the tragic story of Tamar. Amnon, her half-brother, said these words to his friend Jonadab: "I am in love with Tamar." Jonadab, a shrewd man, gave him instructions. He had to pretend to be ill and to request that Tamar come and prepare two cakes in the form of hearts in his house. (There is something ironical in the "heartlike" cakes - a symbol of love?) Read the whole story. He raped her (forced her to have sex with him). Then his "love" changed into hate. Amnon did not love Tamar. Love never acts like that. Amnon loved only himself and desired the physical beauty of Tamar's body. When he had finished his abominable deed, her physical attractions vanished in his eyes and he chased her out of the house. That is not love. That is sexual roguery.

 What is love then?

 We find details about the love of God in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. This kind of Godly love must be present in every Christian love-relationship. It must be the main element. It starts when a young man and a young woman feel strongly attracted to each other. The danger that it may be mere physical attraction is always there. She admires him, his appearance, his power, his manners, his whole personality. He likes her, her face, her body, her behaviour - Oh! everything she does is too wonderful for him. Perhaps he can say, like Amnon, "I am in love with her!" But to merely "be in love" does not last very long. If the excitement and romance wears off, it dies like the flame of a candle. Many a marriage has ended in divorce too early because it was built on "I fell in love" only. Love is a gift of God - a permanent relationship.

 True love is patient and also accepts the faults or imperfections of the beloved. It is friendly and will never insult the other. It is not selfish. It is happy when the loved one achieves something praiseworthy. It is not conceited and ill mannered. A man who wants a girl's honour in exchange for the fulfilment of his sexual drive acts like Amnon. That is why the great test whether it is love or not, is to ask yourself these questions: "Am I really unselfish? Do I really intend to spend my whole life with my life partner? To always seek his/her happiness before my own? To forgive his/her mistakes or imperfections?" To act in such a way that he/she can always proudly confess: "That is my loved one"? Yes, always to do as the Bible says, to cleave to him/her (Genesis 2:24) until death do us part. To have mutual respect.

 What is sex?

 When God instituted marriage, he clearly stated the order in which his command in Genesis 1:28 "have many children" should be performed. We read in Genesis 2:24: "That is why a man

 leaves his father and mother and
is united with his wife and
they become one."

 A man

 1. leaves his father and mother. He has found someone who is very, very important to him. He wants to live with her for the rest of his life (this applies to the girl too). Then the second step:

 2. is united - that is when they get married. But then the last word:

 3. they become one. That is when they, already married, become one in the sex act. This is a gift of God. This is not sin. This is sex in its proper place, and not confined to intercourse to beget children or for pleasure only.

 But in our times sin and the devil have robbed sex of its holiness and purity. Sex is advertised on TV programmes, in bioscopes, magazines, books and in advertisements as the most important human enjoyment. Women sell their bodies on the streets to any man who is willing to pay what they charge.

 Young people reckon that the first thing to do when they fall in love with someone, is to get under the blankets "to become one". The gift of God in marriage is abused in many ways. The gift of sex is changed into sin.

 Then we haven't even mentioned the terrible things about which Paul spoke in Romans 1:18-28 (Please read it now). Sex alone is not love. Sex must be seen in the context of marriage as one of God's wonderful gifts of love. Outside marriage, sex is always sin. And this sin is the cause of the plight of thousands of "fatherless" children in our cities and towns, and the unhappiness of scores and scores of unmarried mothers, beautiful intelligent girls who lost the honour God bestowed on them: their purity. Teenage pregnancies is a serious social problem.

 Sex without love is a "devil". Some of the most dreaded diseases, like AIDS, are spread by uncontrolled sex outside of marriage. That which God intended to be his children's most enjoyable experience, becomes their greatest enemy. It always pays to listen to God and obey Him. If you haven't done so, please study Biblecor's popular course: Love, Sex and the Bible. It will help you tremendously.