God cares about your body and what you do with it even in marriage. It is easy to assume that a message like that is really only necessary for the wider world outside the Church. There we see plenty of sin and rebellion to God’s purposes, but this can and does happen inside marriages as well. In this sermon, I want us to look at what is God’s plan for marital intimacy. This can be uncomfortable for some, and in fact as we will see in our passage that some Christians in New Testament times just wanted to skip the whole discussion! It is clear, though, that God will not allow for that. This is something that we have to discuss.
Now, before we begin, I know that this is a very sensitive topic. A lot of people have been hurt and abused in this area and that was not ok. People have dealt with a lot of false guilt and have taken the blame for their own abuse, and that isn’t right either! You are not responsible for other people’s sin. I also know that there are those who have heard teaching from pulpits and online resources that were well-intentioned but wrong. Other resources were well-intentioned and right but people abused what they said to justify their own selfishness. We will tackle those things as they arrive. For now, I want us to look at two points this morning, Your body belongs to God and Your body belongs to your spouse.
As we look at 1 Corinthians 7, we will notice that this discussion on sexuality in marriage doesn’t arrive without context. If we look at chapter 6, I think the relevant discussion begins in verse 9. Paul warns us in no uncertain terms what sexual immorality means: not entering the kingdom of God. We cannot serve God and sexual perversity. These are things that we must not embrace. Are they things that Christians can struggle against? Yes, but the key word is struggle against. Christians don’t try to justify or rationalize our sin but repent of it. And those who do by the power of the Holy Spirit get to enjoy the comfort of verse 11. I start there because there may be some folks either here today or listening later who may walk away from this sermon saying that there is no hope for salvation here, and that isn’t true. If something we discuss here today hits home, then know that Jesus died for that sin, too. You can find forgiveness and the power to stop in Him.
As we get into verse 12, we begin to see some Corinthian rationalizations of their sin. I like the way the ESV puts their wrong words in quotes to be countered by Paul outside quotations. The Corinthians are saying, “Well, in the gospel we are free to do whatever we want!” Paul responds by saying, “Yes, the gospel frees you from the penalty of sin, but that doesn’t give you a license to sin. Jesus saves you from your sin not to your sin.” The Corinthians come back with a better, more philosophical-sounding argument: “Well, the stomach needs food, so what do you do? You eat! Why can’t we apply that logic to the rest of our bodily needs? We are just fulfilling the designs of the body.” Denny Burke, a prolific Christian writer, actually extends, correctly I think, the quotation marks to include the next phrase. The Corinthians went as far as to say, “Ah, not only are we just filling a need, God is going to destroy our bodies anyway. They are just going to rot in the dirt while we go to heaven, so what is the big deal with what we are doing with them now?” I think Burke is right because we see Paul talking in the next verse (verse 14) that God is going to raise up the body. Our bodies may die, but they aren’t going to be ultimately destroyed. Far from it! They are actually going to be resurrected and remade! God actually does care about the body. The body isn’t just some shell that is going to be tossed aside because what is on the inside counts. All of you counts! Which is why Paul goes on to say that you have been bought with a price, and that includes your body and what you do with it. Yes, the stomach was designed for food (and even that has rules to it. We can’t make our entire diet unhealthy), but your body wasn’t designed for sexual immorality. Paul then goes on to describe what we shouldn’t do with our bodies, which is a sermon unto itself, but we are going to jump right to the end of the chapter to Paul’s command to glorify God with our bodies.
Of course, the next question we have to ask is, “How do we glorify God with sex?” Didn’t we just spend a whole bunch of time going through all the ways to mess that up? You know, why not just say, “Don’t have sex. Even if you are married! The risks for sin are just too great.” That’s the Corinthian solution. The Corinthians are kinda extreme people, eh? Can we not relate? As always the Bible has the correct answer. It is not because it has the best balance; that’s actually a terrible way to do ethics. The Bible gives us what the right answer is for our sexuality. The answer is not avoidance of it, but channeling it only in marriage. In fact, God designed your sexuality for a very specific purpose, and wants you to use this gift but use it properly in its season, as we saw in our Old Testament reading in Ecclesiastes 3.
Paul goes on in verse 2 to show why the Corinthians are wrong to take a prudish attitude about sex. Contrary to their thinking, sexless marriages don’t lead away from sin, but can actually set up for sin. As an aside, God did not design marriage because people couldn’t control themselves. Remember, marriage was created in the Garden when sexual passions were perfectly in control. As Calvin put it, for those who need and desire marriage, this is something that they need to do. They have a desire for sex, and that should be fulfilled in the marriage context where it is not only allowed but encouraged! Read the Song of Solomon! God looks favorably on this.
So this wraps up our first point. God tells you what you can and cannot do with your body because He has a plan for that part of you, too. God actually wants you to experience your sexuality which is why He has created a beautiful institution of marriage that ultimately points to the gospel. Sexual expression is confined to this single institution. That is the only place that God allows for this. Sexuality requires a covenant.
But now what is this business about this second point that I have: Your body belongs to your spouse. Isn’t this setting up inevitable abuse? How can God be saying that spouses own each other’s bodies? Well, let’s take a look at this passage very, VERY carefully. We don’t have to be careful because it is unclear what God is saying. We have to be careful and very precise because people have taken these commands and horribly abused them within their marriages. This passage does not teach sex-on-demand. This passage does not teach that only one spouse gets pleasure and the other doesn’t. This passage teaches that married sex is mutual giving and mutual satisfaction. Let’s unpack that.
The first thing we need to notice is how unexpected this command would be. Paul begins by saying that the husband has to give his wife her conjugal rights. This would not have been the expectation. The cultural assumption at the time was that the husband could expect that his rights to intimacy would be fulfilled regardless of what his wife thought (CITE). That would have been the expectation, and where Biblical Christianity hasn’t gotten into a culture yet that is still the expectation. The husband gets whatever he wants without any regard for how his wife feels about it. That is not the position of the Bible. It begins by saying, husbands, you have to fulfill her conjugal desires, and yes, wives are to do the same for their husbands. Husbands and wives are given, in the words of one commentator, “absolute equality in this matter” (Morris).
Paul goes on in even stronger terms. Each spouse owns the other’s body. The husband is not allowed to just force himself onto his wife. It is not his body to do that with. That kind of behavior isn’t Biblical, and it’s also illegal. It is still considered rape even if it happens in marriage, by the way, in all 50 states. Why isn’t it Biblical? Because the husband does not own his body. He cannot force himself onto his wife with his body because it is not his body to use in that way. The wife has Biblical authority over that. A wife is not allowed to do this either because her body is owned by her husband. We cannot force each other into something sexual that we don’t want to do. That is not allowed by God.
However, depriving each other of sex without mutual agreement isn’t allowed either. Look at what it says in verse 5. Paul allows for interruptions of this aspect of married life for the purposes of prayer (though this isn't the only reason) and even that only by mutual agreement. It is for a set time, and then the couple is to return to the normal course of things. I think the stress here needs to be on the mutual agreement. I don’t think we are supposed take away from this that prayer is the only reason to mutually agree to suspend marital relations. I think that recovery from surgery or childbirth, sickness, or other similar categories qualify for this. The phrase to not deny does not mean that one can never say no (The Great Sex Rescue). But it is saying that whatever the reason is for the “no” needs to be resolved so that marital relations can continue. If there is terrible pain during intimacy, as many ladies experience, especially early on in marriage, steps need to be taken to resolve said pain. It isn’t supposed to hurt, and there are medical steps that can be taken to help with that. Know that sometimes these treatments take a significant amount of time, especially if it has been painful for years, but treatment is available.
Paul gives the reason for this is so that either party won’t be as tempted towards sexual sin. Very often, this comes across in our explanations of these verses as a threat: “Satisfy your spouse or else they’ll go out and sin, and it’s kinda your fault!” Let’s be clear here, everyone is responsible for their own sin. Husbands are not allowed to blame their wives’ unwillingness for their porn usage. If you log on to porn, that is your fault alone. You are responsible for your own reactions to people even if it is a response to sinful actions. Jesus being led to the cross was absolutely being sinned against, yet He opened not His mouth. This didn’t give an allowance to sin. Notice even how God handed out punishments in Genesis 3. God didn’t say, “Eve, because your husband listened to you, now childbirth is going to be painful.” He punished her based on her sin, not giving her the blame for Adam’s sin. Adam did the blame thing. God did not. Is it sinful to deny sexual relations constantly for no real reason and not taking any steps to resolve the problem or offer any alternatives to satisfy the spouse? Yes, but that doesn’t give the other spouse permission to sin in response.
That being said, it is not helpful to ignore reality, either. Paul is not making this up as a reason to not neglect each other; he is writing under the inspiration of the Spirit. The people that this passage applies to, namely married people, by definition don’t have the gift of celibacy. So to deprive them consistently isn’t helping. We often focus on one spouse over another, but the reality is that both spouses have emotional as well as sexual desires. We both need to attend to both and not assume that we are meeting these needs. Let’s be frank here, husbands, if you are just running in and out of this process with little regard whether or not she has been satisfied physically and emotionally, you are not obeying this verse. If you are impatient or just trying to rush through “her part” so you can get to yours, that’s depriving. Ladies, same admonition. We tend to think that guys are all about the physical, and emotional connection doesn’t matter, but that’s not true (The Great Sex Rescue). Have you seen a husband whose wife genuinely loves and respects him? That’s a confident man. Have you seen a wife whose husband adores and cares for her? That’s a confident lady.
I want to back up and look at the big picture, as we draw to a close here. Now, you gotta pay attention here. If you don’t listen to this next part, everything that I have just said is going to leave you with an eternal power struggle of who has to give in to the other person’s wants in a downward spiral towards bitterness. Ok? Do I have your attention? Good.
The ONLY way this passage (really any Bible passage) is going to work is if you both are motivated by the gospel. For this to work the best, both of you have a role here. The purpose of sex is not ultimately your pleasure, though that is a part of it. It is ultimately about God’s glory (Burke). When we spend time with our spouses in total vulnerability and both working towards mutual joy, emotionally and physically, intimacy becomes a garden of security from the rest of the world and points to the joy of heaven (Burke). Not to say that heaven is a place of sex, but a place of fully being known and yet loved. If we treat sex as something that we get something out of rather than a place to give into, we are not glorifying God with it. We are glorifying ourselves with it. Sex is another part of our lives where we want to give God glory, and we want to glorify Him as best as we can. That doesn’t happen when we are being abusive to our spouse. If that is happening to you, you are not required to allow your spouse to sin. It is not kind of you to let them commit wrong against you and God. Let the church help. On the other side of the coin, glorifying God in our sex life isn’t happening if it isn’t there. A sex life that gives (not takes) is what God intends.
If you have had issues with that, you are not alone. If you are here today saying, “Oh, I wish I could be comfortable in this, but you have no idea what has happened to me.” And you are right, I don’t. I had a wonderful upbringing that didn’t include what happens to about twenty percent of the population. I was never abused. But if the stats are correct, about a quarter of you (men and women) have been abused in some way in the past. If that’s you, God sees you. And He wants to invite you and your spouse together to walk down a road of healing. It doesn’t have to stay this way. Will it require work, sacrifice, love, grace, and understanding on both spouses in the marriage potentially for years? Yes. But in my preparation for this sermon, I read many accounts of couples who did just that and found wonderful healing. It’s possible in Jesus. He invites you to bring to Him your brokenness and let Him work on it.
Sex is a beautiful gift. Don’t leave it behind. Christ died for your sins. He rose again from the dead. If you have put your trust in Him, you are going to heaven, the place of real joy that sex is only a shadow of. God calls you to be unselfish and loving to your spouse, both of you. And this applies everywhere in the house, not just the bedroom. If you are really selfish everywhere else in your life, you are being selfish there, I guarantee you. If you have an angle in everything else, you have an angle there. Give it up. Surrender to Jesus. Be another’s. Glorify God. Everything else will change.
Finally, if there is anything here that has been confusing or you still have questions, please come see me. Trust me, I’ve heard before. And if I have never heard that one before, I’ve got friends in counseling departments who truly have heard it all and can help. You are not alone in this, Jesus cares about you.