June 20: Celibacy (no I’m not joking).

1 Corinthians 7:8. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.

7:25-28. Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.
7:32-35. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

7:38. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

Union with Christ brings with it great freedom. Christians are free to marry, and free to be single. We are free to “stay as we are.” This was Paul’s logical advice for the Corinthian believers. Why? Because your current situation is an opportunity for the Kingdom.

It is from this “stay as you are” argument that Paul makes a strong case for staying celibate. Singleness offers a greater opportunity for Kingdom service than marriage does. More time and money can be given to ministry. The single Christian can be singularly focused on the advancement of the church of Jesus. But the Christian single is also called to a celibate lifestyle.

This is a lifestyle choice that the church has failed to uphold over the years and it is one that the church must regain for the glory of God. In recent years the church has idolized marriage, making it the highest good. We have taught singles that they need to just suffer along until God reveals their soul mate. That there is “someone for everyone.” We’ve told them that “true love waits.” But “waits for what?” For marriage of course. Because isn’t marriage God’s highest good for your life? We’ve told those with same sex attraction to seek therapy, or to cover up their desires with a heterosexual marriage. Is this all because we don’t really believe as Christians what God says, that celibacy is honorable, and Christ affirming, and even better (v.38)? Do we really believe what God says about sex? Are all of our Christian arguments for celibacy rooted in law, and self-fulfillment, and achievement, or are they rooted in grace and our soul satisfying union with Christ?

You may be thinking, “Wait your serious? You really think Christians can be celibate?” Yes. And I think Paul and Jesus, and the Holy Spirit do too.

Is celibacy truly an option? Is it even practical to assume that someone can go without sex or marriage? Of course we all know that Jesus did it. But how? Was it a miracle? No. Jesus did not remain celibate by some supernatural suppression of all his sexual desires. And neither did Paul. And neither will you.

But why should we even consider celibacy? Because our beliefs matter, our choices matter, and our character matters. It is part of our witness for Christ isn’t it? How we live out our sexuality directly reveals what we believe about God, Christ, and the gospel. God gives himself completely for us. He used his freedom to give up his freedom. He became a servant not a consumer. And we are called to do the same. When we demand sexual intimacy and yet try to keep control of our lives, or keep our freedom, we live contradictory to how God relates to us and how we are to relate to each other.

Sexual intimacy without giving up your freedom to the other person will destroy trust.

OK. But how can we even begin to live a celibate life? Here’s a few thoughts that I have adapted from Jonathan Grant’s amazing book Divine Sex (one of the best books I have ever read, not just about sex).

Celibacy is possible as we embrace the spousal love of Christ.

Sex pictures the love and joy of Christ but it alone can never fully satisfy us. Learning to experience the spousal love of Jesus is what brings the greatest satisfaction. It is also important to identify the burning desire for sex as a form of idolatry. We must replace lesser desires with a greater desire for Christ.

Celibacy is possible as we embrace an alternative community (the church).

 The church must point each other towards our new identity in Christ, rather than punishing each other for our sexual pasts.
 The church must not just uphold individual moral behavior, but also communal denial of authenticity, consumerism, and radical freedom.
 Christian singles must do life in community with families and married believers who do not make an idol out of marriage and family.
 The church must not make singles to feel incomplete or abnormal.
 The church must offer deep friendships built on the character and faithfulness of God.

Celibacy is possible as we embrace a common story.

 The church needs to embrace traditions that tell the Christian narrative and that help shape our identities as Christ like image bearers.
 The church must walk together through the suffering of singleness and celibacy honestly: never denying the hardships while embracing the joy of faithfulness.
 The church must provide communities and friendships where real moral skills can be honed in real life situations.

“To live is Christ” is a call to live in selfless love for others. It is a call to freedom, yes. But it is a call to use our freedom to serve others. Celibacy is not a pitiful life. It can be a joyful, satisfying, fulfilling life of service. And celibacy is also a life of suffering. It will never be easy and there will always be failures. But the choice to suffer for the good of the cause of Christ will be rewarded by Christ a million fold when we see him face to face.

Does the idea of celibacy for single Christians seem unrealistic to you? How can the gospel and our union with Christ satisfy our hearts even more than marriage or sex? Why must it satisfy us more? Are you in a Christian community (church) that embraces celibacy as good and honorable? Does it offer spiritual friendships and a spiritual family that fills your soul?

June 19: Women As Equals In Christ.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is working hard to teach the church that their union with Christ means that they no longer have to grasp for power. Their “spirituality” in Christ does not raise or lower their status- they are both slaves and free. The amazing teaching that they (and we) are receiving about union with Christ is also meant to end any and all sorts of oppression. This includes the oppression of women. Therefore, in 1 Corinthians 7 we get some of the most radical truths in scripture, not just theological statements, but the practical and social out working of these truths in redeeming the equality of men and women.

First, let’s go back to Paul’s letter to the Galatians and hear what he says there:

Galatians 3:28. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Equality is a foundational gospel truth for Paul. This is not the elimination of the genders, as will become evident in 1 Corinthians, but the equalizing of the genders in value, status, salvation, and union with Christ. In Christ Jesus, neither gender is greater than the other, despite what history or your culture has told you.

Let’s look at how this New Covenant reality, the equality of men and women in Christ, continues to be clarified in Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7.

7:2-4. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 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. 

In Roman marriage the man was dominant. He controlled the relationship. Marriage was not for romance or love, but for status and the gaining of property. Men “bought a wife” (a common phrase of the time). So for Paul to say that a wife’s body belongs to the husband, and that the husband’s body equally belongs to the wife would be shocking. This teaching flows from Paul’s union with Christ theology, but it also serves to prevent the oppression of women within marriage. A wife is not property. She is an equal partner to be honored, including sexually.

7:7-8. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.

Here Paul upholds singleness even for women (again shocking). This would have freed women from a patriarchal structure that considered women as property to be retained by fathers or brothers. But in Christ, a woman is free to pursue her own work in the Lord. She doesn’t need to be married or controlled by men to be used by God.

Also by telling women that they do not have to get married Paul is claiming another radical truth for his day- women are not simply the remedy for male lust. They are not just a sexual outlet. In fact, women have sexual desires too (7:3), but in Christ, both men and women can learn to control their sexual passions.

7:10-11. To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.

Paul also seeks to restrict divorce. Just like Jesus, he limits the reasons for divorce and in so doing he protects women from a system that could leave them abandoned with no social status. But at the same time, because they are in Christ, if an unbelieving spouse wants to leave you’ll be alright. Your status is in Christ and the church will take care of you.

“To live is Christ” unites men and women in Christ. The church is the new united humanity, no more divisions- racial, social, or gender. Both marriage and singleness reflect this new truth of the equality of the sexes. Women are free to marry for love (7:9), not to give a man social status or a sexual outlet. Women are also free to remain single and in so doing dedicate their service to the Lord (7:34).

And what about for men?

Men must see their Christian sisters as just that- sisters. There is no room in “to live is Christ” for oppression, harassment, or sexual assault. Men are called to live out their union with Christ by maintaining unity with our sisters in Christ, by respecting, cherishing, and mutually seeking their spiritual transformation into Christ. Men must stand with women against abuse and respond with compassion and righteousness. Whether married or single, we must see our sisters in Christ as co-equal image bearers who, together with men, complete the new humanity that Christ died to unite through the church.

Do you see women and men as equal in Christ? How can union with Christ allow you to see the opposite sex with more respect and dignity? If Paul were writing today what do you think he would say to Christian women? If you are a man, have you considered how you relate to women? Do you see them first as your sisters in Christ?

June 18: Slavery, Status, and Christ.

1 Corinthians 7:20-23. Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)  For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 

Paul is trying to show the Corinthian Christians that in Christ they have all that they need. His advice to them to “stay as you are” (v.20) is rooted in contentment and seizing the opportunities you have been given in the moment for the Kingdom of Christ. But this advice takes a little turn when it comes to slavery.

At its core slavery is evil. It was never God’s desire for humans to own each other. God is the God of liberty. But ever since the Fall of mankind, and the introduction of sin into the world, God has condescended to us and operated within many of our fallen human structures (including slavery) to guide us back gradually to his ideal. Consider Israel. Slavery was allowed but in very limited practice. Slaves were to be treated as image bearers and given rights (Sabbath rest) and opportunities for freedom (every 7th year, year of Jubilee, etc.). And if you look at how the Law required people to help the poor you could even argue that there should never be a slave in Israel.

Slavery in ancient Rome was common and complex. The slave may have been captured in conquest, or sold into slavery to avoid crippling debt. Slaves were often well educated. They served in government jobs, households, and marketplaces. Many slaves were treated fairly well. Slaves could also petition to buy their freedom. And in some cases slaves may even be adopted as sons of their master (Paul’s illustration in Galatians 3-4). Probably up to 1/3 of the population of Corinth was enslaved. So it is certain that the Corinthian church had both slave and free believers united together in Christ. Yes, it is true that slaves had no legal rights, and often slaves were abused. But slavery was deeply woven into the fabric of Roman life. And in Paul’s time, no ancient society or kingdom had ever abolished slavery (including Israel). Paul’s objective is not to start a revolution to end slavery. In fact, such advice at this time in history might prove to be very detrimental and unloving. His objective is to show us how “to live is Christ” works, even for slaves.

So what is Paul’s advice to slaves?

Do not be concerned about it – The Christian slave should not be obsessed over their low social status as a slave. You are free in Christ. Therefore, your eternal state does not hinge upon your earthly freedom.

But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. – But Paul does say that if you have the opportunity for freedom then grab it! 

do not become bondservants of men. – Paul also tells Christians not to sell themselves into slavery. He recognizes that slavery is not God’s ideal. The church should take care of its family so that none feel the need to enslave themselves.

OK, what does all of this have to do with union with Christ?

You were bought with a price.

You are not your own. You belong to the Lord. You are free so that you can be Christ’s bondservant. Christ is your master. You are not free to choose what part of Christ’s law of love you will obey or not obey. And yet this bondage to Christ is true freedom. We are finally alive and human again.

If you are a slave- rejoice, you are free in Christ! If you are free- be humble, you are Christ’s slave. No Christian is truly enslaved and no Christian is free. In Christ, we are all free and bondservant, at the same time.

Galatians 5:13. For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve (bondservant/slave) one another. 

If both slavery and freedom can image Christ, then what does this tell us about our social status today? Our choice of career? Our choice of where we live? Our choice of where our kids go to school? If the highest aim is love, then how does that completely change how we see social status and self-fulfillment?

“To live is Christ” means that we can serve Christ no matter what our social status. Free or slave, married or single, Jew or Gentile. All offer opportunities and challenges. Today we tend to consider all changes in our lives in terms of self-fulfillment. The career you choose is most likely rooted to some degree to your desire for self-fulfillment. But is that what the indwelling Christ would have motivate us? Of course the slave might find freedom to be more satisfying and self-fulfilling. But should he run away or start a revolt in the master’s household to achieve this? Is it possible the the satisfaction of Christ could be enough? Is it possible that even slavery afforded unique opportunities for the gospel?

Could it be that your situation, although it might feel like slavery, might be a unique kingdom opportunity for Christ? Are you constantly trying to find self fulfillment in a change in circumstance? Or are you finding that more and more Christ is satisfying you?

Note: Many have read Paul’s words as a defense of slavery. In American history passages such as these were used to justify the enslavement of Africans in a system of chattel slavery. This slavery in America’s past was far more evil on many levels than the slavery of Paul’s day. In fact, the idea of kidnapping others into slavery was expressly forbidden by God (Exodus 21:16). Paul is not defending or endorsing slavery at all. In fact, he is putting into place a theology rooted in Christ that when truly implemented by the church would seek to abolish slavery in the name of Christ. The theology of union with Christ would equalize the slave and the master and this reality, over time, should end slavery (much like God’s law for Israel, over time, should have ended slavery).

June 17: Your Situation is an Opportunity.

1 Corinthians 7:17-24. Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

So here’s one of the most important truths we must grasp concerning our union with Christ: “To live is Christ” does not change your earthly situation. Nor, does it make changing your earthly situation your highest objective. In fact, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. Your situation is an opportunity.

We’ve already seen Paul applying this to widowhood, singleness, and marriage. He will also mention circumcision (religious upbringing) and slavery (social status) above. But to be clear, Paul is not simply saying “always stay as you are.” No. The single Christian can get married. The married Christian can become single (divorce in the case of abandonment, see 7:12-16). The slave should gain their freedom if possible.

What Paul is saying is that the Christian, indwelt by Christ, can do all things through Christ (Philippians 4:13). You can thrive in whatever earthly circumstance you find yourself. Single or married. Slave or free. Churched or unchurched. It doesn’t matter. Christ can live out his life through you in any reality. So changing your situation is not your primary objective as a Christian. Your primary objective is to image Christ.

There is a trap that many of us fall into every day. We are easily discontented with our current reality so we seek to change it in the name of self improvement. But in the process are we failing to see the opportunity God has given to us in the moment? Is our desire for “greener grass” really just a grasp for power or control? This is what we see happening in Corinth. Much of what Paul is still combating in this letter is really the Corinthian’s desire to prove their “spirituality” or their desire to gain a higher social status. Or just a desire for something “more.”

  • A Christian widow getting married? Not if it’s just to gain status.
  • Divorcing a non-Christian spouse? Not if it’s just to prove your spirituality. If they will stay, then stay married.
  • Gentile believer getting circumcised? Not if only to fit in with the spiritual Jews.
  • Jewish believer surgically covering up their circumcision (yes that was a thing)? Not if it’s only a way to gain influence in the Gentile market place.

And then there’s slavery. We will return to that topic tomorrow for there is much to think through together.

“To live is Christ” is contentment. It is knowing that in whatever situation I am in I can serve Christ because Christ is serving me from the inside out. Union with Christ is never the minimizing of a hard circumstance, but it is hope and joy within that circumstance. It is seeing life as opportunity, not biding time until the next big thing appears. The Kingdom is in you. Bring it to the world wherever you may be.

“To live is Christ” also eliminates all envy and contempt. Union with Christ makes the slave and the freedman equal in Christ. Circumcised and uncircumcised. Single and married. All can rejoice because they are both elevated and humbled by Christ.

Do you tend to make the best of things or do you spend most of your time thinking about “what might have been?” Are you able to pursue the important thing in life (imaging Christ) over the “urgent” thing in life (changing a circumstance)? How does your union with Christ empower you to use your current situation for his glory and honor? Do you tend to envy other people’s situations or look down on others because of their situation? Are you finding that you are able to see all Christians as equal in Christ?

June 16: Premarital Sex. Or Christ.

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. 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?

June 15: The Gift of Singleness.

1 Corinthians 7:6-7. Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.

The implications of our union with Christ are not just for the married. Every Christian is equally united to Christ, and every Christian has all of Christ. Therefore both marriage and singleness are a gift (charisma or grace) from God (v.7).

Singleness is a freely bestowed gift from Christ? Yes. Therefore it is to be honored as much as marriage. I wish that all the married Christians could embrace this truth. Singleness is good and honorable. Is it stressful and strained? Yes. But so is marriage. And Christ sustains every believer. The idolatry of marriage must be cast down by the church. We must stop seeing marriage as a higher good than singleness. Stop setting up your single friends. Stop praying for them to get married. Stop looking down on them as “out of God’s will” or having some sort of social disease.

Gifts from God are special means of grace that allow us to serve the church body. Gifts are always for the building up of the church. If you are single then you have the gift of singleness at least for this season of your life. The question you must ask is “how can I uniquely serve Christ’s church during this season?”

If you are thinking, “I’m lonely so I don’t have the gift.” No. If you are single you have the gift. It is a grace from God that sustains you in singleness. If you feel like a failure because you are not married, then you have given in to the idolatry of marriage. If you are having sex without marriage, you are giving in to the idolatry of self. God’s grace can overcome both of these idols.

Any relationship can become an idol, but in marriage it is far easier for the spouse to become an idol. Marriage is meant to be both possession and service, but it easily becomes predominately possessive and the spouse can quickly replace Jesus. Or if the marriage is bad we tend to think “my life would be better if my marriage was better.” The single person is able to have a greater number of relationships and thus avoid some of the pitfalls of relational idolatry that come with marriage.

Our culture honors “expressive individualism.” That is, determining who you are and then learning to actualize that version of your “best self.” For some this means staying single in order to achieve complete independence and self actualization. For others marriage is the path to this self actualization, but only as long as your spouse doesn’t get in the way of your self expression. Both of these are actually self destructive and not what “to live is Christ” is all about.

The indwelling life of Christ allows the single person to see spiritual formation and growing into the likeness of Christ as the greatest personal good. Rather than self expression we desire the expression of Christ through the self. And singleness uniquely expresses Christ (as does marriage of course). But how?

Singleness expresses the open love of Christ. The Christian single is free to form all kinds of relationships with all kinds of people. In so doing they can spread the love of Christ in a broader way.

Singleness expresses the beauty and glory of Christ. Christian singleness and sexual purity is only possible when Christ becomes the most glorious and beautiful thing in a persons’s life. The faithful and celibate Christian single has declared that Christ is their greatest love. Without this belief they may be single and celibate, but they will also be miserable.

Singleness expresses faith in a future with Christ. The faithful and joyful Christian single must believe that their greatest pleasure lies in the future in the presence of Christ himself.

Singleness expresses the necessity and commitment of the body of Christ. In fact, I would go so far as to say without the church faithful and joyful Christian singleness would be an impossible fantasy. But through the church the single believer can find love, acceptance, honor, dependency and interdependency. They can find a family.

“To live is Christ” makes singleness not just bearable but purposeful. Christ in you means that you are on a mission of love, and singleness opens up the possibilities to truly love others through the giving of the self, not in sexual intimacy, but in spiritual intimacy. Beyond this, Christ in you, empowers this self giving love as a single Christian by making Christ your lover, family, and savior. Take heart, for this is what he truly is, and he will be faithful to you ’til the end.

Do you see your singleness as a curse or a gift? How can union with Christ change your perspective on singleness? How can you begin to use your singleness to bless and grow the church? Have you unwittingly embraced the idolatry of marriage? Do you see your single friends as lacking? Do you uphold singleness as being as honorable as marriage? What attitudes about singleness and marriage do you need to confess and change?

June 14: Marriage, Sex, and Union with Christ.

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?