TEXT : 1 Corinthians 7:1-5
TITLE : PRINCIPLES FOR MARRIAGE
As we make progress in our exposition of 1 Corinthians we come now to the matters of marriage , singleness and divorce. Today we will confine ourselves only to matters of marriage .
7:1a : “ Now concerning the matters about which you wrote …”
In this text Paul deals with a number of specific issues that were raised by a letter that he had received from the people in Corinth .
The phrase “ now concerning…” occurs here and in 7:25 (concerning the unmarried or engaged) ; in 8:1 (concerning food offered to idols) ; in 12:1 (concerning spiritual gifts) ; in 16:1 (concerning the collection for the church in Jerusalem) ; and in 16:8 ( concerning Apollos ).
Coming back to 7:1 , here is the matter at hand : Paul has apparently been asked a question about sexual abstinence in marriage . You may think that this is a rather odd question to ask , but when you take time to consider some of the cultural issues behind this question you get to appreciate Paul’s answer . More than that , we will be able to learn timeless biblical principles concerning marital sexuality .
Allow me to remind you once again what was happening at Corinth : This is a spiritually gifted church, particularly in the area of knowledge and speech ( 1:5) . They prophesy, they speak in tongues but there is blatant sexual immorality in the church - so bad that such behaviour is not even common among the pagans ( 5:1). Some of this congregation seemed to go to the so called “sacred prostitutes” that would descend every night from the temple of Aphrodite on a hill called the Acrocorinth into the city of Corinth . You can read about this in 6:15-18. Furthermore , they have so much quarreling and arguing among each other (1:11) that they do not even stop short at dragging each other to court ( 1 Cor 6) . Indeed 1 & 2 Corinthians are letters that must be often read by every pastor/ elder of a church - if not to remind themselves to thank God that things are not so bad in their church after all . Things are very messy in Corinth, and I thank God for this perspective, not because we approve of the spiritual mess , but because of the reality that surrounds the work of the church . We must remember that a church in this state has every reason to fear for its future existence , for the Lord of the church may easily remove His lampstand ( Rev. 2 &3) from them , as indeed has eventually happened in Corinth . Pray for the future of our church, brothers and sisters . Pray that your children will have a God fearing , Christ centered church to belong to one day . They are not thickly sown !
I have reminded you often that spiritual decay creeps in to the church very much quicker than we would think . And we are learning that one of the chief problems was that the Corinthians were so man centered ( 1:12-13) so that the gospel of Christ was emptied of its power (1:17). I constantly remind you that where Christ is not at the center, things steadily move towards a state of disorder. Christ is the glue that holds us together ; He unifies us ; He gives us one heart and one mind , one doctrine and one unified spiritual vision .
7:1b Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations (literally ‘ touch’) with a woman.”
It seems as if they are using something that Paul has taught them previously, but they have somehow distorted that statement , as people sometimes tend to do. It appears as if they have been saying : It is good for husbands and wives to abstain from sexual relations within their marriages. The question is this : where did they get this idea from?
At this point it is useful to remind ourselves of the philosophies and cultures of the Greeks in those days , and the way in which Christians sometimes either reacted to that culture or bought into ( compromised) their culture . Remember that the Greeks where a nation deeply influenced by philosophers . Greek philosophy has deeply impacted Western civilization . Great names like Plato and Socrates and Aristotle continue to shape the modern world of thought .
How do you think the Corinthian Christians ( who were at this stage not Christ centered) would react to their sex crazed environment ? We don’t have to guess , we are shown this in this letter . They returned to their ‘ default mode’ ; they returned to the worldly thought patterns which dominated their society and their minds .
(i) Some would go with the Epicurean philosophers . The Epicurean philosophers taught that matter was not important ; the spirit was . And so you can do what you want with your body . Their philosophy is embodied in 6:12 ff and 1 Cor 15:32ff
(ii) Others would go with the Ascetic philosophers who taught that abstinence from physical pleasures ( food , drink , sex etc. ) was a virtue . To them the body was very important , for they saw the body as the key to their soul . “Discipline the body”, they said , “ will help you to remain spiritually focused . Therefore have as little to do with physical pleasure as possible so that you can stay focused on the spiritual .” And of course, they do have a point . The problem is that they pushed the point to far - particularly here in the matter of marital sexuality . Unfortunately the church in history has often promoted an ascetic view of marital sexuality. Clement, a leading bishop in the Church from Alexandria (Africa) , wrote around 200 A.D., “The man who has taken a wife in order to have children should also practice continence, not even seeking pleasure from his own wife, whom he ought to love, but with honorable and moderate desire having but one intention, children.”
Before his conversion , Augustine ( born 354 AD) , one of the most influential theologians of the church , struggled much with sexual immorality. He wrote a book called “The city of God “ and in Book 14 and Chapter 16 he writes that sexual passion is an unfortunate experience because it “paralyzes deliberate thought” and he expresses the desire that “ if only procreation could occur without it” . In one sense one must sympathise with his view here . If you have been driven so powerfully by sexual passions as he was , you don’t want to fall into the same trap , and for this reason you can fall into another kind of excess .
The Roman Catholic church upholds that view today to a large extent. Their theology of sexuality focuses mainly on procreation. We remember also that she requires her priests to remain celibate . Asceticism appear to continue here .
It appears then that there were people in Corinth that were coming from different perspectives . Some denied themselves physical pleasures ; others indulged .
It is the former view ( asceticism) that is being addressed here .
What is the biblical answer to this ?
7:2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality. [ lit. because of fornications-Gr. porneias- plural ] each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband…
We have seen that some of the Corinthians were already beyond the stage of temptation , for some of them were engaged in fornications ( see Ch 5 ; 6:15ff) . Others who were married were seeing sexuality as the ‘root of all evil’ and therefore tried to abstain from marital sex .
Both positions are unbalanced and unbiblical . Fornications are contrary to God’s revealed will , and celibacy in a marriage context presents real risk.
How Christians resist sexual immorality :
(i) Get married, and get married to a Christian partner . Marriage is the answer to fornication , but as a Christian make sure that you are not unequally yoked ( 2 Cor 6:14) . Since sex outside of the marriage covenant is not according to God’s will and purpose for your life, you must prayerfully seek a Christian partner . If this is not God’s will for you , you will receive grace for remaining single . We will consider this D.V. next week .
(ii) 7:3 : If you are married you are permitted to enjoy marital sex . “The husband should not refuse his wife her conjugal rights ( lit good will – Gr euonia) , and likewise the wife to her husband. “ . One way to avoid marital unfaithfulness is for husbands and wives to have physical relations with one another. Marital sexuality is a gift from God, not only for procreation, as some of the old church fathers thought , but it is also a legitimate gift of enjoyment from God . Please note that we speak of marriage ( a covenantal relationship) as the only legitimate context in which sex should occur . All other attempts at fulfilling ones sexual needs carry no blessing from God . Our society is currently paying dearly for this disobedience.
(iii) 7:4 : Consider that marital sex is a mutual duty in the spirit of biblical love: Paul makes the point “ … 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.” No wife or husband can say - this is my body ; I do with it as I please . By virtue of marriage they have an obligation to one another . They are one flesh (Gen 2:24) . This unity presupposes sensitivity to one another . You cannot treat your spouse as an object but as a partner to love and cherish. The biblical principle of marital sexuality is based on self giving , consideration and ‘other centered’ love . As soon as marital love turns into self centered , demanding , inconsiderate lust it looses its heart . And no wonder that so many marriages are unfulfilled in this area . For couples who have problems with their marital sex I have one advice: meditate and practice 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 !
7:5 : Paul does however make one concession about marital sex : 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.
Paul concedes that it is possible for a couple to want to set apart a time of fasting from sex ( just as they would from food) in order to obtain answers to their prayer . Again , note that Paul warns them that this should be done with utmost wisdom and for a limited time , so that they should not be tempted by Satan in this area. Surely, this is a practical reminder to husbands and wives that they ought to be very sensitive to each other in this area .
SUMMARY : What do we learn from this ?
- Sexual relations are integral to marriage. We saw that some of the Corinthians and the teachers of the early Christian Church had by and large trouble with marital sex for the purpose of marriage enrichment . It was thought necessary for conceiving children, but to be avoided when not being engaged in for that purpose. The biblical view however is that marital sex is essential for promoting love and well-being in a marriage. Sexual relations are good and even necessary in a healthy marriage.
- Beware of pride in this area . Do not overestimate your own power to overcome temptation in this area ( see 1 Cor 10:12,13). In order to overcome temptation you need a solid biblical doctrine of sex and you need to engage in continual prayer for help . The Corinthians did not manifest a biblical understanding of the doctrine of sexuality . Many of them had become casualties in this area . Many people in our day are casualties in this area .
- This passage really challenges us to understand marriage in the light of Christ’s kingdom values. Marital sex only becomes successful once husbands and wives view it as a ministry to one another. It is not self centered . It is not about a man’s physical needs ; it is not about the woman’s need to feel secure . It is about serving God and others , and so if you are in a marriage where your husband is not a Christian do what you can for God’s sake and for your husband’s sake within moral and biblical principles.
- Remember that according to Eph 5:31,32 your marriage union is a mirror of Christ and His church . The husband and wife become one flesh, and Christ and the church become one body . There is the analogy , and so we observe that Paul teaches husbands to treat their wives as Christ treats the Church, his bride. Our union with Christ is likened to a marriage, and it is to be entered into with real commitment and with real expectation to experience the joys and the sorrows, the pleasures and the sufferings that go into any meaningful, life-long marriage. So , you are called to make your marriage a good reflection of that spiritual marriage between Christ and his Bride. Most people do not understand that there is a spiritual union with Christ. They regard their adherence to Christ and His church in a very loose way . In other words, they regard it as people regard modern marriage. But when we see our bodies as belonging to Christ , then we would truly worship Him with our bodies – and the result : God gets all the glory ! That is what a biblical marriage is all about .