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.
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?