Theological liberals tend to be more permissive of sexual sins but passionate in their opposition to social and economic injustice. Conservatives get their knickers in a twist over sexual immorality but often ignore economic exploitation to the point of oblivion. In scripture, however, both sex and labor are powerful forces that need divine regulation.
On the sixth day of creation God established both the Sabbath and marriage, making these two the oldest divine institutions. God limited work to six days of the week and circumscribed sex within an exclusive union between one man and one woman. Work and sex are both (re)productive activities God enjoins and protects.
There are, in fact, not one but two creation stories in Genesis—the first majestic, the other messy. Guess which one involves human relationships? (Duh.) When God made the sun, moon, and stars from nothing and filled the earth with living creatures, he pronounced everything “good.” But when he went back to survey his handiwork, he said something was “not good”: “It is not good that man should be alone” (2:18). The Bible doesn’t tell us why it’s not good for man to be alone. Maybe because there’s nobody who will ask for directions. Be that as it may, God’s resolve to make a “helper” for man suggests the need for a coworker more than a soulmate.
If the original purpose of woman was to assist man with his labor, then the so what? of this creation narrative is a little surprising: “Therefore, a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and they shall become one flesh” (24). God surgically removed a rib from Adam’s side, in order to create a new kind of physical union—sexual relations between man and woman. At least that’s what’s implied by “they shall become one flesh.” Woman was created to provide a suitable partner for man in both labor and sexual relations. And that partnership was supposed to last (“shall cleave unto his wife”).
Moses, the lawgiver, allowed for divorce and remarriage (Deut. 24:1-4). Jesus, who often played fast and loose with the Sabbath, did not. He said, “Whosoever shall put away his wife, and marry another, committeth adultery against her” (Mark 10:11). Legalism says follow the rules and you’ll be rewarded. Disobey them and you’ll be punished. Jesus was no legalist, yet he gave a more restrictive rule when it comes to marriage and divorce. In context he explained that this higher standard is based on God’s original purpose.
Gospel living is not about what you can get away with and still be within the legal limits. It’s about walking with God and following his plan; and that plan, according to the Bible, is to be sexually active only within the protective bonds of marriage and economically productive without exploitation or workaholism.