Category: 1 Corinthians (Page 1 of 19)

Marital Sex Prioritizes One-ness

The title of this post shines a bright light on my misguided leanings toward using alliteration in the main points of my sermons. It’s a preacher cliche, I know, but I’ve got it bad. Looking at it in print like this, “prioritizes” feels like a stretch. It probably was.

This is an important post today. This was the second most important part of Sunday’s sermon. We need to pay careful attention to this point about sex in our marriages because our culture, and in many ways our own Christian culture, doesn’t see this. Sex is where a married couple experiences and expresses their God-ordained unity and equality. Our culture — again, even our Christian culture — can put blinders on us so that we see this truth throughout the entire Bible, but we look right past it.

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except 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. I say this as a concession, not as a command.” ~1 Corinthians 7:3-6

The husband has ownership of his wife’s body. Her body belongs to him. Well, yeah. Duh. Everybody knows the husband is the head of his wife.

No! The wife also has the exact same ownership of her husband’s body. His body belongs to her. The husband owes his wife sex. And the wife owes her husband sex. You see what Paul is doing here. The marriage partners are not in a hierarchical relationship where one is over the other. There is no flow chart or chain of command in a marriage. Marriage is a relationship of mutual and equal unity and submission with each partner having equal authority over the other.

Paul does this throughout the whole chapter.

In 7:10-11, he says a wife cannot divorce her husband and the husband cannot divorce his wife. In 7:12-16, Paul says a Christian man who is married to an unbeliever must stay married to her and a Christian woman married to an unbeliever must remain married to him. In 7:32-34, he lists the pros and cons of marriage for a man and then he lists the exact same pros and cons for a woman. Paul is bending over backwards to treat husbands and wives totally and unmistakably equal. In a Christian marriage, the wife has authority over her husband. She does. She owns his body and he cannot deny her his marital obligation. In the exact same way, the husband owns the wife’s body and she cannot deny him.

That’s provocative, huh? What does this mean, that the husband and wife are completely equal?

One flesh. Unity. This is the one-ness.

The first explicit mention of sex in the Bible is in Genesis 2. It’s the same line Paul quotes in Ephesians 5 and 1 Corinthians 6.

“The Lord God made a woman from the side of the man, and he brought her to the man. The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called woman for she was taken out of man.’ For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” ~Genesis 2:22-24

When we read this, we think it’s only talking about a physical, sexual union between two bodies and two sets of body parts. But it means so much more than that. Marriage is leaving your parents and uniting with another so profoundly that the husband and wife actually become one new single person. Every aspect of the two lives are sewn together. The man and woman merge into a single, legal, social, economic, emotional, physical, spiritual unit. They give up their rights and independence. They give themselves completely to one another. And one of the most important ways that’s experienced and expressed is sexually.

Sex is the God-created way to give your entire self to your spouse. Sex is God’s way for a man and a woman to say to each other, “I belong completely and exclusively and permanently to you.” That’s why sex outside of marriage is illegitimate and opposed to the will of God. It’s not just body parts; it’s not just a casual, physical act.

If Paul were only talking about body parts, he’d say, “The one who unites himself with a prostitute unites himself with a prostitute.” No. He says don’t unite yourself with a prostitute because, remember, “the two will become one flesh.” One person. The man and woman who have sex are united at every level of their lives. Don’t unite with someone sexually unless you’re willing to unite with that person emotionally, personally, socially, economically, legally, and permanently.

Tim Keller said you could paraphrase the 1 Corinthians 6 passage like this: “Don’t you know the purpose of sex is always one flesh? To become united to another person in every area of your life. Is that what you’re seeking with the prostitute? Of course not! So don’t have sex with her!”

The priority is one-ness. The Bible repeatedly talks about the joy of the sexual union that’s meant to drive husbands and wives toward each other. The Old Testament word is “knowing” each other, which is one of the main purposes for marital sex. If all goes well, your honeymoon should be the worst sex of your life. By God’s design, intimacy grows the more you know each other. The more you learn, the closer you get, and the better it gets. Scripture tells married couples to delight in sexual union because it connects you.

That’s why the Bible does not allow married couples to abstain from sex. He calls on both the husbands and wives to fulfill their marital duty or, literally, the original Greek is more like give what is owed. Do not deprive or defraud, don’t cheat your spouse of what is rightfully hers or his. It’s something each partner owes to the other. So it should never be used as a bribe or a reward for good behavior or something you withhold as a threat or punishment. We joke about making somebody sleep on the couch or we say so-and-so is in the doghouse. No! That’s not right! Now, you don’t insist on sex on demand. Each spouse must be sensitive to the emotional and physical state of the other. But one partner can’t consistently try to get out of it.

The only exception Paul allows — he says this is a concession, he doesn’t like it — is if both spouses agree together to abstain from sex for a limited time for the sake of an unusually concentrated period of communion with the Lord. Maybe a retreat, maybe fasting, maybe concentrated prayer — something big and unusual. But then they should come right back together. It’s a concession, he says, not a command. The Bible does not allow marriage without sex, not even if both spouses want it. Because marriage without sex is not marriage. It’s something, but it’s not marriage.

Couples who have settled into a sexless marriage, in which they’re just living together like roommates, have given up on God’s plan for strengthening their union. Your sex life is, in a lot of ways, of course, your business. But your sex life is for the purpose of making your marriage stronger, making your love deeper, and making your commitments richer. That means your children are dependent on your sex life. Trust me, they don’t want to hear about it. But they’re depending on it. Your church is also dependent upon your sex life, although we don’t want to hear about it, either.


At the halfway point of the season, the Cowboys are 5-3 and do not have a win against a team with a winning record. They lost to the 1-7 Cardinals! How good can they be?!?

The easiest part of their schedule is coming up now with games against the Giants, Carolina, Washington, and Seattle. After that, it’s Philly, Buffalo, Miami, Detroit, and Washington. If Dallas has any chance at all of catching the Eagles in the NFC East, don’t they have to sweep these next four?



Marital Sex Proclaims the Gospel

“He who unites himself with the Lord unites with him in spirit.” ~1 Corinthians 6:17

How could we possibly understand what it means for two to become one? For two separate people to be completely united together? How could we ever comprehend what Jesus means when he says he is united with us? And that all of us will be one just like the Father is in Christ and Christ is in his Father and that he is in us? How could we ever understand that?

Well, our God has come up with this thing that involves a covenant and promises and vows and an ongoing unifying experience between the two in the covenant that’s mind-blowing.

Sex is what unites together two promise-making people into a life-giving covenant union before God and the whole world.

When the prophet Malachi talks about marriage, he says, “Has not the Lord made them one? In flesh and spirit, they are his” (2:15). Sex outside the marriage vows distorts the Gospel and proclaims a false God. An idol. That’s why the Scriptures everywhere use the words adultery and idolatry as synonyms. It’s the same thing. A false Gospel. A different God.

Paul says the one who joins himself to a prostitute joins Christ to that prostitute because sex is a joining together of both bodies and spirits. Sex outside of the marriage vows and commitments is a sin. It’s a sin against your own body. And it’s not like smoking cigarettes or eating too many cheese fries where you’re hurting only yourself. For Christians, your body is not your own. It’s a temple of God’s Spirit. Sex without marriage or outside your marriage desecrates God’s temple, something set apart by God to declare God’s love and faithfulness. Something holy is being used for something unholy, something that is contrary to the Gospel itself.

C.S. Lewis said sex without marriage is like tasting food without swallowing it or digesting it. It’s empty and hollow. It’s shallow and dead. And ultimately defeats the purpose. Sex in our marriages proclaims the unity we share with God in Christ by his covenant of faithfulness and love.


I was supposed to be in Dallas today with my whole family for the Aerosmith farewell concert at American Airlines Center. It’s been postponed indefinitely because of Steven Tyler’s fractured larynx, suffered in early September on the first leg of the tour. The tour has been postponed until next year — no new dates are set yet — while Tyler receives the “best medical care in the world.” The apology from the band’s front man on the Aerosmith website says we all need to be patient.

I’m not sure if it helps or adds to my anxiety, but here’s an old video of Dream On.

The 2:30 mark makes it obvious as to how Tyler might have fractured his larynx.



Marital Sex Prevents Temptation

A recent Dartmouth study found that having sex at least once a week gives you the same happiness boost as receiving a $50,000 raise at work. So, if you and your spouse feel like you’re not making enough money, I’ve got at least one suggestion.

That’s not a bad reason for doing whatever is necessary to make sure you and your spouse are enjoying regular and frequent sex together. But we find more and better reasons in the Scriptures. We explored a lot of what I’m posting this week in our sermon yesterday at GCR. I’m writing in this space in order to elaborate a bit where time restricted me on Sunday.

Today’s reason for more regular and frequent sex within your marriage is that it helps prevent temptation.

“Since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband… Do not deprive each other except 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.” ~1 Corinthians 7:2-5

This is probably the most obvious reason. A husband and wife should be having sex often enough so that neither of them is frustrated or tempted. You’re trying to avoid the conditions that might allow the devil to get a foothold. We’re not just battling the pull of biology here, we’re fighting against Satan’s attacks on our marriages. And ongoing marital sexuality is a key way to fight. One way for a husband and wife to fight the devil is to have more sex.

Don’t think you and your spouse are not vulnerable to that kind of temptation or that neither of you is susceptible to committing adultery. It happens to godly people all the time! A husband and wife need to be honest about those temptations  and fight them together. There should be an openness to confess to your spouse when you are tempted. You notice you’re mentally drifting or you’re noticing somebody else or you’re becoming emotionally connected to somebody else. The other spouse shouldn’t be shocked that his or her partner is being tempted. Every single marriage gets tested! All of them!

If your marriage is a declaration of the Gospel, if your marriage proclaims the love and faithfulness of God to the world, why would you expect the devil to leave it alone? Confessing it to each other and talking openly about it breaks the power of the secret drama where adultery thrives. Don’t be offended at your spouse’s temptation. That’s a sign of pride. It’s also a sign of pride if you say you’ve never been tempted.

All the studies are consistently showing that married couples are engaging in sex together on average only about two to three times per month. Given the countless opportunities in our world today to satisfy our desires illicitly, the Bible’s instructions to guard against temptation still seem appropriate. Paul’s words are, “Since there is so much immorality.” Well, there still is.

That’s a pretty good reason for regular and frequent sex in your marriage. There are more and better reasons to explore today and through the rest of the week.


Philadelphia Eagles hang on to beat Dallas 28-23 in thriller

The Cowboys had a 1st down at the Eagles six yard line with 27 seconds to play. The next five plays went like this:

False Start (11 yard line)
Sack (22 yard line)
Incomplete Pass
Delay of Game (27 yard line)
Completion Short of the Goal Line as Time Expired

The Cowboys were inside the Eagles 30 yard line four times in the 4th quarter, three separate times inside the 10 yard line, and they came away with a total of six points. Dallas could have kicked a field goal there at the end to win the game, but McCarthy went for it on 4th and goal on the previous possession instead of taking the points, putting the Cowboys down five points at the end instead of two. McCarthy elected a two-point try on an earlier touchdown instead of taking the PAT, which means Dallas could have kicked a field goal at the end to tie. Yes, it was a close loss to the division-leading Iggles. But only because McCarthy is the Cowboys head coach.

Dallas is 0-4 in their last four trips to San Francisco and Philly. And about as far away from being a contender as California is from Pennsylvania.




Prophesy: Discern the Word They Heard

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy. For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people, but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort.” ~1 Corinthians 14:1-3

What do you do when that person shows up and says, “I have a word for you from the Lord?” You didn’t expect it, you weren’t asking for it, but a brother or sister in Christ says, “God told me to tell you…” or “God put it on my heart to say…”  How do you discern the word they heard? Let me suggest four questions to ask about the message this well-meaning Christian gives you. How do you know if it’s really from God?

Well, does it lift up Jesus as Lord? The Holy Spirit of Christ will always point to the lordship of Christ.

“No one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, ‘Jesus be cursed,’ and no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit.” ~1 Corinthians 12:3

Remember, there’s more than one voice out there seeking your attention. Any word from anyone that diminishes Jesus or questions his deity or his humanity, any word that reduces the sufficiency of his atonement, any word that questions his uniqueness as the one and only way to the Father – that message is not from God. The voice of God will always exalt his Son as Lord.

Does it hold up Jesus’ Gospel of grace? This is a very important question. Some people want to share words of encouragement or teaching with you, but these words speak to a form of legalistic slavery. The church in Galatia was being upset and divided by a word that was confirming Jesus as Lord, but was also wanting to add circumcision to the Gospel. Any news that undermines the Good News of grace and freedom in Christ, any news that puts an emphasis on human works and rules over freedom and grace in Jesus – that is not from God.

Does it flow from a Christ-like life? No matter how gifted the person might be, the Bible never exalts giftedness over character. A person who hears and speaks words from Jesus should bear the fruit of Christ in his or her own life.

“Watch out for false prophets… By their fruit you will recognize them… A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit.” ~Matthew 7:15-17

If someone tells you they’ve got a word from the Lord for you, and your first thought is, “I don’t know about that,” because of the kind of person he or she is, you’re on to something. If that person is a known liar or a gossip, if that person is a busybody or lacks self control, if that person is divisive or ungrateful, that person is not speaking for our God.

Finally, does it build up the Body of Christ? Remember, prophesy is given to us by God to strengthen, encourage, and comfort his people, the Church. Prophesy is not about discovering the mysteries of the end times or predicting the future. It’s not for judging or condemning anyone. It’s intended by God to build up disciples of Jesus. So any words that discourage, insult, criticize, or divide should not be excused with the “God told me” trump card. And they shouldn’t be considered as potentially from the Lord.

“Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit.” ~Ephesians 4:29-30

Interesting, huh? 1 Thessalonians 5:19-21 says you’re quenching the Spirit when you tell people they can’t speak words from God. Ephesians 4 says you grieve the Spirit when you speak words that are ugly or hurtful and claim that God gave them to you.

We need to take care of God’s gifts. And the Bible says one of his greatest gifts is prophesy.



Prophesy: Shutting It Down

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.” ~1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

We know that one of the ways we hear God is through other people. Other Christians, indwelled by God’s Holy Spirit, receive a word, get a nudge, feel a call, or otherwise hear a message from the Lord and then feel compelled to share that message with you or with me. What a blessing from God! What a great joy and benefit for all of us, to receive and to give strength, encouragement, and comfort straight from the Lord (1 Corinthians 14:3).

So why do we need the warning? If prophesy is such a blessing to the Church, why does Paul say, “Do not treat prophesies with contempt?” Don’t scoff at prophesy. Don’t blow it off. Why?

Because the sad reality is that when the gift is misused, we shut the whole thing down.

Yes, it’s true that some people will use “God told me” or “The Lord has placed it on my heart” as the ultimate trump card to push their own agenda. “The Lord told me…” How do you respond to that? Or push back? Sometimes people use God’s name to promote their own name or their own agenda. They use “God has placed this on my heart” to give more weight or credibility to their own personal opinions.

We’ve seen the abuse. I think about Oral Roberts who told his church and a national TV audience in 1987 the Lord told him he needed to collect $8-million dollars or he would die. “I’m asking you to help extend my life. We’re at the point where God’s going to call Oral Roberts home.” He collected $9.1 million in a matter of weeks. Of course, that approach doesn’t really work in Churches of Christ. If the preacher’s life is on the line, we’d be taking money out of the plate.

We’ve seen this kind of abuse. Maybe you’ve experienced something like this first hand.

But here’s the mistake we make. Whenever somebody abuses a freedom or gift from God, our tendency is to overreact and shut it down. We’re not going to use that gift or engage that practice anymore. We’ve done that with all kinds of things.

There are ways to dance that are lewd and crude and altogether unholy. So lots of Christians have decided that all dancing in sin. Nobody can dance. Even though the Bible says there is a time to dance. There’s a time to dance just for the sheer joy of it. There are ways to dance that express gratitude and serve as a worship and praise to God.

Lots of people drink too much and get drunk and make a mess of their families and even the community in which they live. So lots of Christians have said it’s wrong to drink any kind of alcohol in any amount in any circumstance. Period. Even though the Bible is clear that wine is a gift from God.

If we see the misuse of a gift from God or we experience the abuse of one of God’s freedoms, a lot of the time we will come up with rules so we don’t use that gift at all. Scripture never tells us to do that. The Bible never corrects abuse by commanding disuse. The Bible corrects abuse by teaching proper use. Every time.

The most obvious examples are in 1 Corinthians.

The Christians in Corinth are not sharing their food at the Lord’s Supper. Some people are getting drunk while other people are going hungry. The rich people are getting stuffed and the poor people are getting left out. But Paul doesn’t say stop eating together. He says when you eat together, do it like this…

Some women in the church are disrupting the service, interrupting the speakers and not taking turns. But Paul doesn’t tell the women to praying and prophesying in the assembly. He says when women pray and prophesy during worship, do it this way…

Same thing with tongues. He doesn’t say stop. He says when you speak in tongues, you should do it like this…

Same thing with prophesy.

“Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” ~1 Corinthians 14:29

You should not be offended if you’ve heard something from the Lord and, when you share it with somebody, they want to carefully consider whether it really is from God. That’s what they’re supposed to do!

But just because somebody shares a word from the Lord and we don’t know if it really is a word from the Lord doesn’t mean we need to get rid of all prophesy. Whatever you call it, the receiving and sharing of messages from God is a gift from God to “strengthen, encourage, and comfort” the Church. So how do we do it in a healthy, God-honoring way?

A word of prophesy should always be given humbly.

“We know in part and we prophesy in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9).

Don’t say, “God told me to tell you such-and-such, thus saith the Lord!” Instead, say something like, “I think the Lord might be saying such-and-such. I would encourage you to pray and read the Bible and have a conversation with someone else and seek some confirmation on this from God.”

When you see something brand new in your Bible, something you’ve never noticed before, you pay attention to it. You honor it and thank God for it. When you hear something in a song, when you receive something from a teacher, when you are inspired by something from a sermon or a  book, you thank God for it. When a fellow Christ-follower says to you, “The Lord has told me…” or “God is pushing me to tell you…” don’t ignore it. Don’t scoff at it or blow it off. Don’t hold that in contempt or quench the Spirit’s fire. Receive it. Carefully and prayerfully consider it. And thank God for his wonderful gift.



Prophesy: A Gift to the Church

“Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophesies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good.”  ~1 Thessalonians 5:19-21

What is the Bible calling a prophesy? And why does the Church need this kind of warning about it? Whatever is happening in this passage, the Bible says it needs to be tested. But it doesn’t need to be disregarded. It needs to be respected.

If we’re going to talk about prophesy and use the word, we should probably define it first. So let me take an honest stab at it here. Paul’s not talking about new and/or authoritative revelation. And he’s not talking about predicting the future. A New Testament definition is something like this: a divine confirmation of God’s will and God’s Word to encourage the Church. This is the way prophesy is described in every single list of spiritual gifts in the New Testament – by the way, prophesy is the only gift that’s mentioned in every list. Prophesy is a message of encouragement that comes from God, delivered through one of his people. That’s what the Bible is talking about in 1 Corinthians 14:

“Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophesy.” ~1 Corinthians 14:1

Why does Scripture want us to eagerly desire the gift of prophesy? What’s so great about prophesy?

“For anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God. Indeed, no one understands him; he utters mysteries with his spirit. But everyone who prophesies speaks to people for their strengthening, encouragement, and comfort. The one who speaks in a tongue edifies himself, but the one who prophesies edifies the Church.” ~1 Corinthians 14:2-4

The Holy Spirit gift of prophesy is one of the great blessings of living in these last days. Before Christ, not every man and woman had the gift of the Holy Spirit, not every child of God had the capacity to hear God’s voice and speak truth from God to others. Moses said, “I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them!” (Numbers 11:29) Well, now we can. All of us. All Christians have the blessed gift of the indwelling Spirit, so all Christians have the capacity to hear God and share with others what we hear.

The key to understanding the gift is knowing that prophesy is intended by God to strengthen, encourage, and comfort the disciples of Christ. It’s not a divine revelation that is equal in authority to Scripture. It is divine exhortation/encouragement that comes from God to build up the Church. Do we still need that today? As old Joe Malone used to say, “Shades of reason, neighbor! To ask the question is to answer it!” (I think he would say it every Sunday.)

Yes! For a Church of Jesus Christ, prophesy is not optional; it is essential.

What are you hearing right now from God? What are you hearing through his Word or during prayer or in worship? What is God saying to you through an article you’ve read or a conversation you’ve had with a friend or a good book you’ve just finished? Now, how are you going to share that with another follower of Jesus to encourage her or to comfort him or give him strength?

That’s prophesy. You might call it something else. Maybe you’re nervous about the word “prophesy” because of how it’s used in other places. But this is how the Bible uses the word and instructs about the gift. Whatever you call it, the Church can’t live without it.


Oh, yeah, the Stars are playing tonight. Sigh.


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