1 Corinthians 7:1-5. Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 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. 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.
In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul turns to answering specific questions he received from the Corinthian believers. The first one concerns marriage and sexual relations within marriage. Remember, the Corinthians are operating from the Greek logic of a body/spirit divide. To them only the spirit matters, the body is non-eternal, base, or even bad. In chapter 6 this led to an attitude of sexual license. But here in chapter 7 it produces and attitude of “spiritual” asceticism. “All sex is bad, even in marriage. Right?”
But as we have already seen in 1 Corinthians 6, our union with Christ elevates the purpose of our bodies (they are Christ’s “members”), and it proves the connection of our spirit to our body (joining bodily/sexually is joining spiritually). So now, once again, we see that union with Christ has a profound impact on all of life, including how we view sex within marriage, and the equality of men and women.
Paul’s answer to the question is light years ahead of its time. Marriage is about faithfulness. Husband’s and wive’s bodies belong to each other. Sexual pleasure can and should be mutual. Sex is the equal right of both the husband and the wife. Sexual celibacy (even for men) should be the standard. Love is the guiding force in married sex- serving each other. And no where does he connect the purpose of married sex to procreation. Biological fruitfulness is replaced with spiritual fruitfulness (that you may devote yourselves to prayer).
The amazing truth that we see in Paul’s response to their question is that union with Christ applies equally to both men and women. Both are the new creation and worthy of mutual love and respect. Both have a body which will be resurrected one day and therefore should be honored today. Neither, in marriage, has exclusive rights over their own body. Therefore, no more using sex as a power grab.
Also we see that union with Christ demands that sexual intimacy be limited to heterosexual, covenant (marriage) relationships. Can heterosexual married sex go bad? Can it be used to control and manipulate? Can it even be hurtful and demeaning? Of course. And it often is. But it is still the only kind of sex that has the power and ability to reflect the image of the Trinity. It is the only redeemable sex. It is the only sex that has the glimmer of potential to strengthen the other person’s whole self, rather than bring harm. It is the only sex that can be completely about giving rather than getting.
Some may ask, can’t homosexual sex demonstrate a level of caring and whole life intimacy? Can’t it be connected to commitment? Of course it can. But in its denial of the natural purpose of the body, it denies the glory of the body and in so doing also denies the connection of body and spirit. In denying that male and female differences serve a purpose, it forfeits the ability to reflect the unity and diversity of the Trinity. And in making sexuality an identity it naturally tends towards self fulfillment rather than self sacrifice. This is why Paul lists its practice in 6:9 as one which denies the identity of the new creation.
“To live is Christ” is a your new identity. Christ is your life. Not your sexuality, or your spouse or your good or spiritual marriage. When Christ is our life, sex can take its proper place. Now Christ’s life in us produces the cruciform life of self sacrifice. In marriage this includes mutual love and respect in all areas including our sex lives. Yes, this can be a difficult teaching, especially in our busy lives or where there is hurt and the need for healing in a marriage. But two Christians united to Christ and joined in the covenant of marriage to one another must seek to maintain whole life union- body, soul, spirit. Marriage (like singleness) images the Trinity and our union with Christ in unique ways. And sex within marriage strengthens that union and thus that image. Sex in marriage is meant to be a glorious and joyful expression of that union (Song of Songs). For those of you who are married Christians reading this I pray that you can realize the higher purpose of your sexual relationship. If it is joyless, I pray that you will take courage and forsake pride and get help. Today won’t you start by doing what Paul said you should do when not having sex: pray.
If you are married, how can your marriage reflect union with Christ even in your sexuality? Does your sex life reflect mutual love, respect, caring, and giving? How can you (not your spouse) change this? How does your union with Christ allow sex to be a way to give rather than a way to get?