The Corinthian Christians had some questions about marriage. Don’t we all? Paul doesn’t give as many answers as I’d like to see. Most of us would like to see every possible scenario neatly laid out on paper so that we know exactly how to deal with any situation. God’s word is both much simpler and much more difficult than that. When in doubt, live in love. That’s not often easy and sometimes not fun. We can’t do it on our own, but as Jesus Christ is formed within us, we begin to live in love more and more automatically because it is the personality of the person we’re becoming. In this post, I’ll cover 1 Corinthians 7:1-9.
The Corinthians have finally wandered into a saying that is only half wrong: “It is good for a man not to have relations with a woman.” Paul replies, “Well, yes, but . . . .” Celebacy is a good thing, but it isn’t everyone’s gift as much as Paul himself might like it to be, particularly in the climate of persecution they were living in at the time. Paul acknowledges the potency of the human sex drive and also seems to think that this particular human need is a good reason to have a spouse.
Paul does specify male to female relationships here. The Corinthians, who lived in Greece’s city of “love” where nearly everything sexual was acceptable, needed to have Paul offer them a specific definition of marriage just as we do today.
In typical style, the Corinthians were ready to take things too far. From gross sexual impropriety in the earlier parts of Paul’s letter, they have now over-reacted into wondering whether sex in marriage might be inappropriate. There were, apparently, quite a mix of people in Corinth. Paul tells not only wives, but likewise husbands, to fulfill their marital duties (that means sexual relations, but you knew that) to one another. The wife not having authority over her own body was probably not a new concept in first century Corinth, but then Paul goes and drops a bombshell (well, if they had bombshells back then). The husband does not have authority over his body either, but the wife does. I wonder how that went over? We still struggle with that one to this day in some circles.
Paul recommends against abstention from sex in marriage except by mutual agreement and for a limited time for special devotion to prayer, after which the couple must resume normal relations to avoid temptation. You know, I’ve never heard of anyone fasting from sex (in Christianity). Maybe it’s just not a thing you talk about. We don’t fast much from food, either, though. It’s an interesting idea.
Paul still believes celebacy is the best course–I have to chuckle at him, bragging up his personal gift. But then, there is something to be said for having no one to please in one’s life but God. I used to think that it was so very sad for a woman to remain unmarried and “alone”. Don’t misunderstand–I love my husband and thank God for him all the time (well, almost all the time). But celebacy is a good gift. And a woman or a man who is devoted to God is never alone. On the other hand, marriage does help to rub away at our rough edges. 😉
Paul recommends to the single and widowed that they do not marry. However, he concedes that, if they long for marriage and intimate relations, they should marry. Odd that Paul felt no need to grow the church by procreation. Apparently, evangelism was working pretty well for the early Christians.
In the next section of this chapter, Paul talks more about marriage, giving some guidelines for Christians in various situations. I’ll talk about that in my next post.
God’s Graceful Love to you,