1 Corinthians 7:8-9. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
The Corinthian church wasn’t too different from the modern American church. They like spirituality but not all the rules. They wanted freedom but not the boundary of real love.
They also adopted the culture’s view of sexuality, but Paul will challenge their thinking and raise the world’s understanding of sexuality as he connects it to Christ himself. That is what he’s been doing since chapter 6. He is showing us how the indwelling life of Christ by the Spirit changes everything, including sexuality, often with very radical statements. Like this one:
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.
It is good to remain single?
No culture on earth at Paul’s time would have given this advice. Eastern cultures idolized family. The Old Covenant was no different. God ordained marriage. God commanded us to be fruitful and multiply. God built his Kingdom (Israel) through a married, procreating, family. So remain single? No way.
But Paul doesn’t uphold singleness and then demean marriage. Notice in verse 9 how he tells those who are single to marry if they cannot control their passion for one another. Wow. Paul has just released us from an obligation to get married, but then tells us to get married if we are in a relationship where we are passionate for the other person. So no more need for arranged marriages? Nope. So marry for love? Yep.
Now notice what he doesn’t say. He doesn’t tell them to engage in all kinds of premarital sex to satisfy their passions because those desires are just an appetite. Nope again. He already covered all that back in 1 Corinthians 6.
1 Corinthians 6:16-17. Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
“One flesh” must mean much more than just a physical union, in fact it signifies a whole life union. Sex is supposed to reflect a covenant unity, and ultimately our union with Christ. When we say “sex with a prostitute is wrong because it is not for love, but premarital sex in a loving relationship is not wrong,” we are thinking from a worldview that equates love with self fulfillment. But the Bible sees sex as the complete giving of the self (psychological, emotional, spiritual, and physical).
Just as our union with Christ is his giving of his entire self to us, so our sexuality should reflect this same level of self giving. Therefore any premarital sex fails to be loving because it fails to give of the whole self through the covenant. Premarital sex, co-habitation, hooking up, these all leave the door cracked open. No matter how much we call it love, it fails to be love if the door of escape is left open. In the end, this thing that looks like love is actually destructive to our very souls. It creates a gaping wound that thankfully Christ can still heal, although not without much pain.
In traditional cultures you abstained from premarital sex because it hurt the family legacy. In modern western culture, abstaining from premarital sex is seen as an assault against personal fulfillment and identity. In Christ, abstaining from premarital and extra-marital sex reflects our satisfaction with our union with Christ and it strengthens the Church and community as an act of selfless love.
OK, so premarital sex dishonors our union with Christ, it fails to create a whole life commitment, it doesn’t reflect our marriage to Christ, it hurts the community, and the church, and demeans marriage itself. But what is “premarital sex?” How far can I go and still be OK?
That’s the wrong question.
Most people, including Christians, see relational commitment and sexual intimacy existing on a sliding scale. “The more committed we are the further we can go, as long as it’s not too far.” Unmarried Christian couples experience increased sexual intimacy and say “This is great because at least its not sex.” Married people experience increased sexual intimacy and call it “foreplay.” They say, “This is great because it is part of sex.” But we must see sexual intimacy, not as a reward for increased commitment, but as a sign of the marriage covenant.
So the question isn’t “how far can I go?” The question is what is the meaning and purpose of sex? And more importantly how does it relate to Christ? We aren’t trying to tip toe up to a line without getting caught or dance on a cliff’s edge without falling off. We are trying to let Christ satisfy and sanctify us.
“To live is Christ” makes you a whole being. Body, soul, spirit. This means that sexuality is part of who you are, and at the same time it is not all that you are. Christ is. And he alone can satisfy you. Not sex. And definitely not premarital sex.
What has been your view of premarital sex? Is it in line with God’s view? How can union with Christ help you resist sexual temptation? How is sexual purity an act of true love?