“Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:1–5, NASB95)
Chapter 7 marks a transition in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian believers. In the next several chapters he will address a variety of issues in answering questions that they had in a letter referenced here in chapter 7, verse 1 and which may have been delivered by those mentioned in chapter 16, verse 17, “I rejoice over the coming of Stephanas and Fortunatus and Achaicus, because they have supplied what was lacking on your part.” (1 Corinthians 16:17, NASB95) If these men did indeed deliver they letter it is reasonable to assume that they also helped Paul to more thoroughly understand the questions while likely also informing him on the other issues which he addressed in the chapters leading to this one. But how ever Paul got the letter, his information was specific enough that he not only was able to address the serous issues of the first chapters but was also able to adequately answer the questions answered in the next chapters ending probably with 11:34 where he states, “About the other things I will give directions when I come.”
In looking at any of these responses from Paul that he is addressing questions raised and the answers may not be complete in addressing the whole subject. But we also are to be mindful that when Scripture does speak to an issue it speaks to it authoritatively as the Word of God.
From the verses you can quickly gather that the subject of today’s post is going to be around the issue of sex. God designed man and woman for it. He is the authority on it, and His Word speaks authoritatively to the constraints surrounding it.
One of their questions must have been related to the issue of how to respond to the sexual depravity surrounding them. It seems to even suggest that the best response was that they might be best served to never go there in the first place with anyone and remain single and celibate. In a way it may have been a throwing the baby out with the bathwater kind of response. Paul responded to them saying, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” The term “touch a woman” was a euphemism for having sexual relations. This was in stark contrast to the cults and the practice of some for them to not engage in sex either inside or outside of marriage, and Paul told them that it was good for a man not to do this. It doesn’t mean that it could not be good to do so, but then only within the constraints that God intends.
Knowing the strength of sexual desires and the variety of sexual immorality there was a right and proper place for it, and that was in the marriage relationship. This is the place where one man and one woman have each other and they are free to really have each other in the most intimate and personal of ways. In marriage each has a responsibility to “fulfill” his or her duty to their spouse, and they are to do so with the view that the other even has authority over his or her body. It is bathed in an attitude of mutual submission as each give of themselves in love fulfilling God’s plan for marriage and the marriage bed.
These words were intended to turn the self-seeking pleasure model surrounding them upside down onto its head. What Paul was writing to them was in stark contrast to the world around them. It was one of choosing in love to give and serve as opposed to getting and being served. As such, the motive was not one of rewarding and withholding, but of freely giving. There was likely more behind this response of Paul’s considering what was happening in the world around them, but the principle remains true.
Depriving the other in marriage was not a biblical response. But even this instruction was not without qualification as we see in verse 5, “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:5, NASB95) We need the times to get away. Jesus frequently moved away from His disciples for times of prayer, and in the marriage relationship this same practice is appropriate when it comes to sex. But this was not intended to be a lengthy time as the warning following clearly indicates. It’s hard to think that a lack of self-control might be the reason to come back together, but then as it is now when we are united as one in marriage the desire to be one in sexual intimacy can be very intense. And, Paul warned them to be sensitive to their spouses and even as it were to each of their levels of spiritual maturity.
Ephesians chapter 5 contains another section on marriage. Immediately before it begins we read, “… be subject to one another in the fear of Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21, NASB95) And, it ends with, “Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.” (Ephesians 5:33, NASB95)
We do have a very real enemy in the world, and knowing that we are relational beings that find great pleasure in sexual intimacy Paul wrote to a mixed up church to help them establish good practices whether inside or outside of marriage. But clearly there is only one right and proper place for sex and that is within God’s framework of marriage. Husbands and wives are clearly to be sensitive to each other in this very important area, realizing that when we act loving and respectful toward each other we encourage one another to draw closer.