Wednesday, September 15, 2010


TEXT :  1  Corinthians 7:1-5 
DATE PREACHED  :  The  Lord's Day ,  12th September 2010

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 ?
  1. 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.
  2.  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 . 
  3. 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.
  4.  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 .

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