Marriage and the Family - 5 - Marriage Relationships

Chapter 5

Marriage Relationships

The Word of God is both sacred and practical. In fact, it would not be sacred were it not practical. Holiness, sanctity, is for everyday life, not simply for theory and discussion. It touches every area of life. There are no closed doors behind which the influence of the Word of God and the power of the Spirit of God are not permitted to enter.

When Paul penned his letter to the Corinthians, it was intended for public reading. Red faces of embarrassment, squirming saints, downcast eyes averting contact with others - all those must have been present that Lord’s day in Corinth when the letter was read. But it was probably not when (what we refer to as) chapter 7 was read. This was the normalizing of relationships as God intended them to be. Paul, through the Spirit, was establishing God’s standard for married life. As such, we should not shy away from the needed teaching of 1 Corinthians 7. Since our society has returned to Corinthian conditions, it is just as necessary now as in the first century.

The first fives verses are what will occupy us in this chapter. Notice

Something to be Avoided

The Corinthian epistle is sometimes referred to as the epistle of four replies and four reports.

The epistle of four replies and four reports

The replies (“now concerning ,,, “ ) concerning Singleness and Marriage (ch 7), Sensitivity and Meats ( ch 8), Spirituals and Ministry (ch 12), Collections and Money (ch 16)

The reports (“It is reported ... “) Division (ch 1), Defilement (ch 5), Disputation (ch 6), Disorder (ch 11)

One of the questions to which he was replying had to do with marriage and its place in the Christian life. It may be that there were marriages which were entered into prior to conversion. Now one partner was a believer and the other an unbeliever. What was a Christian to do? Some had known desertion or threatened desertion by a spouse because of their new-found faith in Christ. How was a spouse to react? Was marriage itself wrong? Were physical relationships wrong? All these questions and others are seen as the background for the chapter before us.

Paul’s handling of marriage in his letter to the saints in Corinth differs form his handling of the same subject in Ephesians and in Colossians, as well as differing from Peter’s approach in his epistle. Paul is a realist and faces the danger of living in a society in which physical gratification is an obsession. He is not suggesting that marriage is a concession so that one avoid fornication. It is not simply that marriage is a means of satisfying natural urges and desires.

Paul’s view of marriage is higher and nobler than that. What he is addressing is the thinking of some that Christianity had brought them to a “higher” level where marriage and marital relationships were not needed. This type of thinking would lead them to eventual temptation and a fall.

It is interesting that these two apparent extremes of thinking existed side by side at Corinth: the gratification of the flesh (1 Cor 6) and the abstaining because of occupying a higher spiritual plain. Both extremes are wrong and will result in spiritual shipwreck. Paul will find a place for willing, mutual abstinence. But here he is making it clear that it is not mandated by the word of God.

Paul, speaking from his own experience and in light of the “present distress” (v 26), could see merit in avoiding marriage. But he was realistic enough to recognize that not everyone had been called to a single state. To rashly and blindly rush into a decision to remain single would open one to the temptation of fornication. So Paul advises for each man to have his own wife, and for each woman to have her own husband.

Something Absent

One of the distinctive differences between 1 Corinthians 7 and the handling of similar subjects in Ephesians 5, Colossians 3, and 1 Peter 3, is that there is no mention of headship and submission. Is this merely an accident? Is there any reason for this? Are there lessons to be learned by how the Spirit of God approaches this subject here?

The Spirit of God is teaching that in the physical relationships of marriage, in the area of intimacy between spouses, there is no submission and no headship. It is not that the husband ceases to be head. It rather that in this aspect of marriage, what is being stressed is ceding of authority each to the other. “Note that in verse 3, the husband takes the lead in rendering to the wife due benevolence; while in verse 4, the wife takes the lead in yielding authority over her body to her husband. Yet, each reciprocates to the other. As a result of marriage, each partner in the relationship willingly relinquishes authority over his/her own body, and, as a gift of immeasurable value, gives that authority to a spouse. It is a precious gift which each renders out of love to the other.

Please listen to Scripture. It is reciprocal. A husband yields to his wife; a wife yields to her husband. It is a mutual act. It is not a one-way street. It is not something which “only men” need and enjoy. It is a mutual enjoyment. These verses would teach that it is the husbands responsibility to see that his wife finds the same joy and satisfaction as he finds (see verse 3). It is not simply something he gets from his wife. The highest aspect of love, even in the act of marriage and love, is giving, not taking. If the totality of a husband’s interest is in getting, then he has missed the teaching of this chapter, and the Scripture’s teaching of what love is.

The conclusion from this is that this is not an area in which demands and ultimatums are made. This is not an area where a husband rules and “uses” his wife. If so, he is not giving her “due benevolence” but treating her as his possession.

A corollary of this which is searching and vital to stress in our culture, is that, if in marriage there is a yielding of one’s body to a spouse, then prior to marriage no one has a right to any part of a person’s body for their own gratification. Please forgive the plain speech, but this is vital in a permissive and pleasure bent society where self-gratification is the only standard by which men, and at times women, move.

Something Abhorrent

In light of the sacred nature which God attaches to even physical marital relationships, it becomes obvious that there are certain things which must grieve Him when seen in this sphere. How often physical intimacy is used as a tool to manipulate. It can be used as a tool to punish a spouse for perceived wrongs in other areas. If so, this is not only sinning against a spouse but against God. His command is that you no longer have “authority” over your own body but have willingly relinquished that in marriage. The offending spouse is doing just the opposite.

This is not something to be used to manipulate a spouse into recognizing wrongs; it not something to punish another with as the ultimate “weapon” in your arsenal. These all point to weakness in the most crucial area of marriage- communication. It is a weakness in communication which leads to vain desperate attempts to be “heard” by other means. But all of these games and schemes only compound the problem and add layers upon layers to the depth of the communication problem. It intensifies the problem rather than alleviating it.

Mutuality, honesty, sensitivity, and respect are the ingredients which Paul, by the Spirit, emphasizes as he deals with this aspect of married life. Anything which compromises these values, anything which hints of disrespect, insensitivity, game-playing, bring grief to the heart of God and potential harm to a marriage relationship.

Something Allowed

But what if spiritual demands and needs create the possibility that a couple may be apart and that these normal relationships may not be possible? What if the demands of spiritual burden so occupy a couple that they cannot engage in physical relationships? Paul recognizes this may happen. In our own day, those who carry the gospel to other places have made this sacrifice. Elders who visit and who must prepare for meetings, as well as carry the burden of the ministry and teaching for an assembly, know something of this. Mothers with a large family who must care for them from sunrise to sunset and who are exhausted as a result of being a mother with a Scripture-born burden for her children know this. Is this wrong?

Paul deals with these contingencies by applying the same principle which has pervaded the first four verses. That principle is the principle of mutual consent. “ ... except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer ... “ If there is mutual consent and understanding, if there is a willingness to allow the demands of spiritual things to have a special place for a period of time, then Paul sees value to it. But it must be “by consent” or it will lead to temptation.

Far from being a tool used to manipulate or an instrument of retaliation, this is something which yields, not to self-interest and control, but to a burden which the Spirit of God has placed upon a couple and which they recognize must, for a short time, take priority.

Something Averted

But Paul has one final comment to make in his handling of this most personal area of marriage. If there is consent to abstain from normal relationships, it should only be “for a time” and not something indefinite. He warns that there is a danger to prolonged abstinence and also to unilateral abstinence. It must be by mutual consent and only for a time. Into this personal and intimate aspect of marriage, a fiendish foe may well intrude. “Lest Satan tempt you ... for your incontinency.”

The lessons here are sobering. There is nothing too sacred for Satan to exploit. There is no one too special for Satan to tempt. There is nothing too sinister for Satan to use. He is a malicious foe. In the highest of spiritual exercises, entailing the most unnatural of sacrifices, he is able to find a footing to attack the believer. He will use every opportunity and every perceived weakness to bring down a saint who is useful for God. He will attack Job, not only through his family, but through his wife. He will attack Peter at an unguarded moment by the fire. He tried to attack the Lord when physical hunger must have been intense.

Paul wisely warns against a lack of sensitivity to each other. Just as mutuality should be the fabric of this aspect of marriage, likewise sensitivity to each other is vital. An appreciation for each other’s physical well-being, fatigue, emotional distractions, need for appreciation, of being loved and delighted in - all of this is vital to the marriage relationship. Paul is sensitizing us, perhaps men requiring it more than women, to the necessity of being responsive to the needs of another.

These truths are vital for us each to grasp when we realize that a failure here has a direct bearing on our spiritual lives, and is also a reflection of our spiritual condition. The teaching of 1 Corinthians 7, while personal and not collective or doctrinal, is no less important than the teaching of 1 Corinthians 11. Each chapter is the handiwork of the Spirit of God and the unfolding of the mind of God. May we have grace to accept it, even if it is far different from cultural norms.