One: 1 Corinthians 7.1-7
April 14, 2013 Series: One | First Letter to the Corinthians
Topic: New Testament Passage: 1 Corinthians 7:1–7:7
Intro: Questions about sex and marriage
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul spent the first six chapters addressing the different failures that had been reported about their church. Just a few years after they were planted, the church had forgotten who they were in Christ. The growing church floundered under the pressures of the growing culture. They were dividing and competing for position in the church. They were denying the cross of Christ and following the world’s wisdom. They were questioning Paul’s authority and suing each other in court. And, as they ignored the sin in their own church, they were pursuing the sin of the world. Paul spoke hard words; words that would eventually make them cry tears of repentance.
Having dealt with all of the major failures they were hiding, Paul is now ready to move on and answer the different questions they have asked him. He had received a letter in by the hands of three young men. At least six more times, Paul will write: “Now concerning the things you wrote” referencing the issue he is responding to. More than Paul’s directness with which he answers these questions, I appreciate the fact that the Corinthians asked them. Too many Christians fail to ask enough questions of their pastor about how Biblical faith in Christ applies to our relationships, our work, our sexuality, and other aspects of our daily lives. We wrongly believe there isn’t an answer (don’t care), we wrongly assume we know the answer (don’t ask), or we wrongly exchange the world’s answers for biblical ones (don’t obey).
Chapter 7 provides some very practical, dealing with marriage, singleness, divorce, and remarriage. In chapter 6, Paul deal with regarding sexuality outside of marriage, and now he turns to addressing sexuality inside of marriage. Paul is not going to develop a complete theology of marriage here; he does that more fully in the letter to the Ephesians, specifically in chapter 5. Here, Paul speaks explicitly and practically about sex IN marriage.
V. 1-2: The placement of sex in marriage
If we’re not careful, this can become a passage of Scripture that men love and women hate because we misunderstand the role of sexuality in the marriage. Paul has already made the point that sexuality is a uniting act. In the last chapter, Paul forbid prostitution not because it was illegal to do, unnatural to desire, but because it made you ONE FLESH with someone who was not your spouse. Paul refuses to separate physical oneness from all of the other kinds of oneness bonds that are created emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. Tim Keller says, “The Bible does not counsel sexual abstinence before marriage because it has such a low view of sex, but because it has such a lofty one. The Biblical view implies that sex outside marriage is not just morally wrong but also personally harmful.”
Oneness WITH no other
Though God wants us to experience closeness with many people, God wants us to experience a unique level of oneness with one other person—your spouse. We are built for relationship, and the marriage relationship is designed by God to be that place where you are most intimately known, valued, appreciated for who you are as a person without fear of rejection. The intimacy of a covenant marriage mirrors the intimacy that Jesus has with us through the gospel—where are fully known and loved. There is nothing more beautiful, more satisfying, more nourishing, or more captivating than oneness with my bride. There is Intellectual oneness – Appreciating how she thinks about life. Emotional oneness – Understanding she feels about life. Social oneness – Observing how she interacts with others in life. Spiritual oneness – Sharing how she engages with God, church, mission. Experiential oneness – Watching how she experiences life. Even, Recreational oneness – Learning how she enjoys life. The longer I am together, the more we learn about each other, and the closer two people grow into one beautiful person.
Oneness LIKE no other
All of these things are gifts that can be withheld or fully given. Finally, there is physical oneness. The world is preoccupied with this kind of oneness, but it only offers techniques for greater physical pleasure. We don’t need new books with new ideas; we have an old book that got it write the first time. It’s dangerous to ignore God’s Word. All other aspects of oneness are equally important, but not all are as powerful. Sex is a divine tool for oneness. It is designed for more than reproduction or recreation. Sex is an invention God designed; an experience He created; a gift that belongs to Him. And He gave this gift to men and women in a covenant marriage to help them GIVE THEMSELVES fully to another. It is the most powerful self-giving tool we have to connect us deeply and renew our covenant regularly.
In his response to their first question, Paul is addressing a group of people who are promoting abstinence as a more spiritual path. Some have argued: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” Basically, in view of the tempting sexual culture they live in, some are wondering if it would be better to abstain from sex, renounce marriage for life, and otherwise stay away from the opposite sex forever. Paul says that there is nothing wrong with abstinence until marriage, even indefinitely; in some ways he will argue it is preferable (though not more spiritual). But Paul does say that, considering all the rampant adultery, prostitution, homosexuality, and sexual immortality in the culture, marriage is the preferred method to combat sexual temptation. The first thing he states is that each man should have his own wife and each wife her own husband. The second thing he states is that married people should have lots of sex for procreation, for pleasure, and for protection.
V. 3-4: The joy of sex in marriage
We might find it is strange that Paul has to declare that abstinence IN marriage is wrong. But for those who have been married for any length of time, we realize that the culture’s image of sexual behavior in a marriage is not entirely accurate (though many of our expectations have been shaped by that image). Additionally, time, children, illness, work, age, and the ever-changing practicalities of life often erode the healthiest of marriages through unhealthiest sex lives—assuming either was healthy to begin with. What Paul is going to argue is that sex is an indispensable part of marriage. Sex is not the final product of a healthy marriage, it is essential to a healthy marriage. Paul writes: 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
In marriage, we have rights to give.
Paul speaks of sex in the marriage as an obligation in the relationship. Sexual oneness is an obligation of covenant marriage; it is something husbands and wives owe one another. These obligations are not found in some man-made prenuptial agreement. They are obligations placed on the marriage by the one to whom marriage belongs—God. As God declares that husbands are to give wives what they are due, and wives are to give husbands what they are due. For some reasons, that always sounds better to men than it does women—as if it is a woman’s duty and a man’s privilege. Men, never ever demand sexual rights. There is nothing more destructive to a marriage than husbands (or wives) demanding sexual rights. The same goes for you women.
But there are rights to give, and these rights are mutual, valuable, and required. Within a marriage there are roles for men and there are roles for women. Each of them come their the individual responsibilities to fulfill—the health, growth, and joy in the marriage depend on it. These responsibilities must not get ignored, confused, or abused. But there are also SHARED responsibilities. Relative to sexuality, as he affirms equality in marriage he argues for mutual responsibility in sexual oneness (something entirely counter-cultural and intuitive). Paul’s focus is NOT what YOU are responsible to give—what YOU owe me. His focus as the husband or the wife is on what I AM responsible to give, WHAT I owe YOU, how I can serve you, how I can care for you, how I can love you. Sexuality is not designed as means of self-gratification—it must never be divorced from covenant oneness. When it is, all you are left is with a physical experience that can be used, abused, evaluated, and perverted will ultimately hurt one’s ability to ever commit and trust another person.
In marriage, we have also given up some rights.
Did you know that when you entered a covenant marriage you actually gave up ownership rights? In a marriage, neither the husband or the wife have exclusive rights over their own bodies. More than once I have reminded Caylin that THIS is ALL HERS…SHE OWNS IT…enjoy. Seriously, our oneness in marriage is so deep that we belong to each other. In the Song of Solomon’s, his young bride declares, “I am my beloved and He is mine.” God’s marriage covenant obligates us to give authority over our own body to another. The ruling over one another’s bodies is not a license to control your spouse sexually. Far from control, it is the mutual giving of one another as the deepest expression of love that should not be denied.
When someone lives out self-denial in marriage, there is an incomparably awesome level of God-designed oneness experienced in the relationship. The love from the Lord controls us so much that the love for this person overrides the love I have for myself. Marital oneness was not designed to have your needs met; rather, it was designed so that the meeting of that other person’s needs would more than satisfy yours. And those who experience total oneness in the relationship willingly give over authority declaring this: “I feel loved and safe enough to make myself vulnerable so that your desires may be fulfilled”. But not everyone is willing. If you feel your spouse is unwilling to fulfill this obligation for you, don’t you dare pull out 1Corinthians 7 on them. Instead, ask yourself why they don’t feel loved enough, safe enough, or free enough to give themselves to you? Then ask your spouse.
V. 5: The lack of sex in marriage
Finally, Paul speaks to those who are married who, for one reason or another, are depriving one another from the enjoying one another. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Depriving on Another wrongly
One of the most frequent causes of marital conflict is when one spouse unilaterally refuses to grant the gift of sexuality to the other. Instead of giving of themselves to the other, they withhold. Sometimes this is because they feel unloved or unsafe in their marriage; other times it is because of sexual brokenness from past relationships. Sexuality is supposed to be joy-filled seal of the covenant that enriches the relationship, but it can be easily be used like a weapon to punish or destroy it. Paul says DO NOT DEPRIVE one another, using the same word translated DEFRAUD in chapter 6 with the lawsuits. To deprive one another can mean to rob, steal, or otherwise cheat one another of intentional, frequent, and joyful sexual intimacy in marriage. Don’t believe for a second that withholding yourself like is just the leverage you need to help heal whatever brokenness there might be in the marriage. What you are doing is wrong, it is harmful.
Depriving One Another Rightly
While telling the Corinthians that abstinence in marriage is wrong, he cracks the door in order to tell them that there are times when it may be right to take a pause for the cause. It is wrong to independently are arbitrarily withhold sexual intimacy from your spouse—doing so only harms the one flesh that you both are. Yet, Paul does say that husbands and wives may abstain from sexual intimacy for a time. But there are certain rules implied and stated (Important, many deprive for a lot reasons—some very understandable—but few do it biblically. How often do we ask ourselves, what does the Bible say about this?):
First, there needs to be a conversation about sexuality. When was the last time you talked about sex with your spouse? Your spouse is the one with whom you must be able to have transparent conversations about everything. God has given you a spouse, a best friend, a companion, an ally, a partner, a co-worker, a lover, who is to know EVERYTHING there is to know about you—even sexual expectations or disappointments. God’s word speaks honorably and frankly about sexuality, so you should to whether you are newly married or old frisky. The conversation never ceases, it only changes. This is essential for creating of oneness.
Second, there is an agreement about sexuality. With more conversation, you may decide that your relationship would be best served to abstain sexually for a time. This is a shared agreement not a unilateral decision by one person. Imagine the kind of confusing message this sends a spouse when ONE decides to deprive and there has been absolutely no conversation as to why? The enemy will play the hearts and minds of both men and women. Men will feel disrespected, women unloved, and the marriage will slowly fall into resentment, jealousy, or worse. Agreement is essential for cultivating oneness.
Third, there is a commitment to prayer about sexuality. As you are abstaining, you are praying for something. This is not prayer for your job, your kids, or your Aunt Matilda’s bunion; it is prayer for you’re a restored relationship. Payer is an active dependence on God. It is believing that any work can do to fix your marriage is insignificant when compared to what God can do. And it is only a commitment when the quality of your prayers is greater than the quantity of your complaints, lectures, and arguments. In essence, you pursue oneness with Christ so that you can restore the oneness with your spouse.
Finally, there is a plan about sexuality. A time of abstinence in marriage must never be indefinite. There needs to be plan to return to a regular rhythm of sexual intimacy. Paul states that the time of abstention is to be limited. Months and months without sexual intimacy will do harm to the marriage. The sexual appetite will find satisfaction in something—there are too many temptations that cause us to lose control of our minds and bodies. The sexual union is an act of covenant renewal that protects our oneness. Husbands and wives, you were given to each other to protect one another’s purity. Men must lead in this, and women must help them lead.
V 6-7 CONCLUSION: Different Gifts
6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. All gifts from God are good when used according to His design. Each has his own gift from God. Some are given the gift of marriage and others are given the gift of singleness. But both the single and the married have been given the gift of sexuality and they have abused it. Drawing from his Corinthian experience in New York, Keller recently suggested that one of the biggest obstacles to repentance for revival in the Church is not deep philosophy or arguments about evolution. One of the greatest obstacles for repentance and joy is that almost all singles outside the Church and a majority inside the Church are sleeping with each other. I would agree. And I would add that our maturity as a church is hindered by singles having too much unbiblical sex (any) and married couples not having enough good old fashioned joy-filled biblical sex.
By divine design, sexual intimacy is one of those needs we cannot control or satisfy alone. We need another to minister to us. Beyond the physical, single or married, reveals to us that we have heart-level needs cannot fulfill in ourselves. We cannot save ourselves. We cannot fix ourselves. We cannot heal ourselves. We need Jesus to minister to us, to give us that which we need. Jesus calls us to be one with him so that we can experience oneness with others. And this will require that you deny yourself, deny your feelings, resist your intellect objections, and accept that God’s ways are not only right but they are good.
Apart from Jesus, there is no joy or fulfillment in this life. Sexuality will not be a gift from Jesus that blesses you, it will remain a god that controls you and leads you away from Jesus. And whether you are married or single, true joy and fulfillment comes from the same person, Jesus. If you're single it comes from Jesus directly. If you are married, it also comes from Jesus acting through your spouse indirectly. The presence of sexual dissatisfaction means the absence of Jesus in the life of the individual or couple. According to Ephesians 5, marriage and all that goes with it, mysteriously displays Jesus relationship to His bride, the church. Fixing or healing our sexual brokenness comes from drawing closer to Jesus to abide in his love. John 15.7-117 If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. 8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. 9 As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. 10 If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love. 11 These things I have spoken to you, that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be full.