Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
To those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be his holy people (i.e. “us”):
Next to the “slaves obey your masters” verse, today’s text may have some of the most misinterpreted, misapplied, and most abusive appropriations in the whole of Scripture. Here are a few of the more egregious errors:
1. Sex is bad.
2. Marriage is only a concession and necessity for those who cannot control their lustful passions.
3. Singleness is a gift.
4. Marriage is a distraction from the ministry of the gospel.
5. Celibacy is superior to marriage.
6. Women have a duty to cater to, fulfill, and even obey the sexual desires of their husbands.
And we will stop there. The Corinthians had a really distorted view of human sexuality. This is what happens when our understanding of sexuality comes primarily from biological and sociological frameworks. When we begin there we inevitably develop our theological understandings to support our biological and sociological frameworks. Paul will not have it. He begins his teaching on human sexuality with a biblical and theological framework. This leads Paul to a completely different set of holdings than he is often saddled with by ancient and modern interpreters alike.
Following are what I consider to be the biblical and theological correctives to the list above.
1. Sex is a good gift from God wherein the unity, diversity, and complementary nature of human beings is celebrated.
2. Monogamous marriage between a man and a woman is not a concession to sexual desire but a gift of the Holy Spirit.
3. Celibacy, not singleness, is a gift of the Holy Spirit. There’s a difference.
4. Rather than a distraction from the gospel, marriage creates a vocational dimension of advancing the ministry of the gospel.
5. Neither celibacy nor marriage is to be elevated over the other.
6. Marriage is not a hierarchical, power-oriented relationship. Paul takes great care here to define marriage as a mutually submissive and mutually beneficial relationship. Each belongs to the other. One cannot claim a debt on the other, yet each can assert their indebtedness to the other. In marriage, it’s always, “I owe you,” and never “You owe me.”
The big takeaways for me: Begin with divine revelation not human anthropology. The biblical vision must shape the human condition and not the other way around. Theological wisdom must set the framework in which to understand and interpret human experience and not the other way around. Many of the problems we face in the twenty-first century church can largely be attributed to getting this precisely backwards.
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Thank you for speaking so clearly and practically on these every day matters of our lives. Forgive us for exalting our human centered and earth-bound experience and disciplines over the divine revelation of your word. Forgive us for exalting the accumulation of knowledge over the pursuit of wisdom. Train me to humble myself before you that I might be taught the ways of grace and truth, of love and wisdom—in all things. I pray in Jesus name, amen.
1. In the old days, happiness and holiness were practically synonymous. Now they are largely two different things. How would you differentiate between the terms and how might your life bring them together again?
2. How are you most challenged by today’s text and reflection?
3. How do you relate to the biblical concept of mutuality in marriage as always, “I owe you,” and never “You owe me”?
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