The husband should fulfil his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
1 Corinthians 7:3-5 (NIV)
Read: 1 Corinthians 7:1-16
Consider: At the beginning of 1 Corinthians 7 Paul begins to deal with a number of questions raised by the Corinthians in a letter they sent to him (the letter itself is lost). We will look at the three sections of this chapter separately in the next few posts.
Firstly, Paul addresses the question of whether or not it was good to have sexual relations. This might seem an odd question at first, but it becomes clearer when you realise that false teachers were probably teaching the Corinthians that anything to do with the body was inherently bad (asceticism) and should be avoided. Paul is quick to point out that because of the temptation to sexual immorality, marriage provides a stable environment for a man and woman to express intimacy for each other. Don’t be confused by the idea of the wife yielding to her husband, or the husband yielding to his wife. This is not about passive submission to another person’s will and desires.
Listen to how Eugene Peterson renders this passage in The Message: Now, getting down to the questions you asked in your letter to me. First, Is it a good thing to have sexual relations? Certainly—but only within a certain context. It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to ‘stand up for your rights.’ Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period of time if you both agree to it, and if it’s for the purposes of prayer and fasting—but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it. I’m not, understand, commanding these periods of abstinence—only providing my best counsel if you should choose them (1 Corinthians 7:1-6).
Can you see that sex within marriage is not a matter of either the husband or wife’s rights, but of one partner seeking to satisfy the other person’s needs. It is always good to remember that intimacy is about much more than sex. Paul also tells the Corinthians that abstaining from sexual relations should only be for a limited time and primarily to allow the couple to devote their energies to prayer. He recognises that the sex drive is very powerful and can easily be used by Satan to pull a Christian (married or unmarried) down.
Pray: Father, we pray for those who are married that they would take time to focus on their partner’s needs. We pray for strong Christian marriages where Christ is at the centre of the relationship. Amen