Over the next sermons we are going to talk about marriage, and singleness, and divorce. This is a topic that is very much alive in our day, so we will slow down a bit in our sermon series and deal with these topics little more in depth. But before we do that it might be good to make a few comments.
- this is not a full-blown treatise on marriage, singleness, and divorce. I am preaching the text, not giving a theological lecture. Paul is dealing with issues that the Corinthians asked him about. So, this is not a top ten list on why to stay single, or why to get married.
- These passages show the value that the Bible places on our physical existence and on the body. A theme in this book.
- Whether we talk about singleness and marriage these sermons are for us all. Because ultimately this chapter shows marriage and singleness are not an end itself, it is a picture of the gospel and the future of all of us. In Singleness we bring the future into the present when there will be neither marriage nor giving in marriage. And Christ is all in all. And in Marriage the present points toward the future, when Christ will be married to his bride. The church needs both images.. Both married life and single life is a picture of the gospel.
Sexuality and marriage: Lay your life down for the other.
This is the second major section of the book. Chapter 7 he begins to reply to some questions that they have. Just like a church might ask advice from a professor on an issue, so they sent Paul a letter. That is why we read in verse 1, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote.” The problem is when we hear Paul addressing these matters, we only get to listen in on one side of the telephone conversation, and we can’t say for sure what is going on. What we do know is that the first verse is likely a summary of what some in Corinth were saying, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” So what some in Corinth were saying is“All sexual relations are wrong.
It seems like they had two challenges. The first was the people that said the body was not important, the spiritual is what matters. They were all in on pleasure. “The body was meant for sex, and sex for the body and God will destroy both,” they were saying. Paul addressed these people at the end of Chapter 6.
The second group were saying, no ways, we need to abstain from all pleasure. They were already living in the "kingdom come," after all. What Jesus said in Luke 20:34-36 may have fueled their glorification of celibacy even in marriage: “The people of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are considered worthy of taking part in the age to come and in the resurrection from the dead will neither marry nor be given in marriage, and they can no longer die; for they are like the angels. They are God’s children, since they are children of the resurrection.” They not only were speaking the tongues of angels (13:1), but by renouncing marriage and conjugal relations, they were living like angels.
So, the church at Corinth had two approaches to human sexuality. There were those who claimed that all things were lawful (6:12; 10:23) and indulged in a new morality of sexual freedom (cf. 5:1-2), and there were those who claimed freedom from sexuality and attempted to become celibate. The licentious and the legalist. The licentious said, “Jesus would never limit my behavior in anyway, he loves me. He will forgive me. Sin in not that serious.” The legalist expands the rule book beyond Gods good order. And instead of saying sexual intimacy is no big deal, this group says sexual intimacy is dirty. We should avoid it at all costs.
The Gospel sets us free from these extremes. The heart of this chapter where we will keep coming back to is verse 23, “You were bought with a price.” It exactly the same as the encouragement in 6:10, “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” Whatever we do whether single or married we must use our body in service to Jesus. And we can do that beautifully in marriage and singleness.
The question is now, “How does a person who has been bought, and loved by Christ respond in our relationship with each other.” The response is service. If Christ is Lord we have surrendered our body and soul to him as a living sacrifice of thankfulness, and in Him we lay our life down for others even as he has laid his life down for us. We must allow his life to consume our sin in his holiness.
So, before we begin let me remind you, Paul is not addressing marriage so much as the relationship of sex to the Christian. The reason only the sexual aspects of marriage are addressed is because that is the issue. And I might add still often the issue. People think marriage is about sexual intimacy. The world says if your partner does not satisfy you then its time to rethink you promises. But the bible tells us here it is not about getting satisfaction but laying your life down for the other person (which includes your body).
Paul’s answer to the Corinthians comment that all sexual relations is bad is found in verse 2, “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.” Considering the danger of sexual immorality (ever present in the Corinthian culture and our own), it is appropriate for husband and wife to have each other in a sexual sense. This is one of the reasons to be married. As we look there the bible, we find 5 or 6 depending on whose counting, from pleasure, to companionship, to childbearing, and now temptation.
Couples must not live celibate lives. When a couple is no longer sexually intimate, struggle will follow. It’s a fact says Paul. There is temptation all around us. Satan will use it to find a way to break that marriage.
Sexual intimacy is powerful for good or for evil, and so God has given it a very specific place in our lives – only inside the God-given covenant of marriage. It is like fire in your home, you have a special place for it, you don’t start fires in the middle of the house, it will burn the house down. You start fire inside a fireplace, and then it warms up the whole house. So sexual intimacy has been given a very specific place in the home of our life, and that is in the covenant of marriage. If it is enjoyed outside of that it will burn a house down. But a fireplace that that never has a fire in it makes for a cold house. So, a marriage in which sexual intimacy is not enjoyed grows cold. Satan will do all he can to get young couples to sleep together before marriage, and do all he can to have married couples not sleep together.
That is why the command comes in verse 3 and 4, “The husband should give to his wife conjugal right, 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.”
It’s a command to live out the calling to which God has called you as a married person. Paul means that husbands and wives should continue in sexual relations.
And when we read this, we get hung up on the first part of verse 4. The Bible is not politically correct. But for the culture at that time, it was not verse 4a that was shocking, but 4b. This was new. Revolutionary. Completely shocking. That the man would submit his body in service of his wife. That she was worthy of affection, and care, and attention. That marriage was not for his own selfish purposes, but so that he might learn how to be Christ to her. This kind of servanthood of the man to the wife is found nowhere else in that society. Nowhere were women elevated in society like in Paul’s letters. No longer were they expected to compete for their husband’s attention, there husbands were commanded to do so. They were to honor Christ with their lives, by submitting to their wives. This is why Paul says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”
So said in other words, The husband cannot abuse the wife, for his body is no longer his own to use as he wills without her consent; the wife cannot opt out of intimacy permanently, for her body, similarly, is not hers.
This text is so counter cultural and its important the feel it.Sexual intamcy is not about your satisfaction first and foremost, but about service! We are to approach sexual intimacy as service. Even here we must live out our union in Christ.
It is the opposite of everything that the world says sex is about. The world says it is all about me. My pleasure. My sense of lust. My desire. Sex for the world needs to be erotic or it is not sex. But for the Christian sexual intimacy is deeply theological. as one theologian explains, “Sex gives us subjectively a foretaste of heaven, of the self-forgetting, self-transcending, self-giving that we were made for.”
It must be a love of the gospel, and of our understanding of what God has given us that drives us to intimacy. It is the love of Christ, not the lust of the world that is the foundation of the marriage bed. Satan would love nothing more than to tear this picture of marriage apart. Therefore in the very next verse Satan is mentioned, “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.”
Satan will do all he can to attack anything that is good, and beautiful and true! Particularly something which can so powerfully show the love of Christ! That is why the only reason Paul gives for celibacy is prayer, and then only for a time. Have you ever as a married couple give yourself over to prayer? What this text again highlights is the foremost importance of prayer in married life, and secondly the importance of intimacy. In Marriage God comes first.
If you are struggling in your marriage today, maybe it is time to sit down with your spouse and pray that your God would re orient you marriage so that it might be a marriage of service, of self-giving in Christ.
Now let me conclude with a few things. First: This is not an excuse for manipulation, abuse. NOT EVER. Remember you are not your own. You are BOTH laying your life down for the other. This is not about demanding the other to lay down your life for you so that you can take advantage. Then you are using the Scriptures in the opposite way then what it means, and you will be judged.
Second this means being intentional in marriage. Satan quickly makes life too busy. So that we can all find many excuses that we can’t sleep with our spouse. Remember Paul does not give busyness here as an excuse although for a season that may be the case. The one reason he gives is prayer, by mutual agreement, and then only for a time, because of the rampant sexuality that was prevalent at that time.
Finally, let me remind you again, sexuality is only a part of marriage. It happens to be the part the Bible deals with here.
Finally, not only is it a part of marriage, but it is also just a part of who we are. We must never elevate sexual intimacy as the end or goal. It is pointing to something better more beautiful – our union with Christ. it is pointing to the gospel.
The problem is the world has substituted sex for God, the good news is sexual liberation. And so rather then find their idenety in christ who is the good news, they must find their identity in their sexuality Bruce Marshall wrote, “The young man who rings the bell at the brothel is unconsciously looking for God.” Maybe we have done that in the church when it comes to marriage.
The point Paul is making is that whether you are male or female, married or single, slave or free you should live your vocation faithfully as one who has been bought by the Lord. Marriage nor singleness must ever define who we are. Christ does. Our union with Christ defines all our relationships. Married or unmarried. In both our bodies belong to the Lord, in both we are sacrificing ourselves. Next week we will look more at this when we dive further into this chapter.