(1 Corinthians 7:1-5)
This whole chapter is devoted to matters of marriage and principles that should guide certain aspects of married life. This first part focuses upon temptations to immorality and overcoming them in marriage, but I do not want to specifically look at those issues.
What I noted as I read these first few verses, as well as most of the rest of the chapter, is the level of equality Paul shows exists, or should exist in a marriage.
Too often we see marriages depicted where the husband stands supreme and the wife is subservient. Even in many of the old laws the wife in a marriage was considered more as a chattel than an equal partner in the marriage, and under many of the old laws of the land all that the wife owned belonged to the husband, but the reverse was not true.
The subtext of Paul's message here is quite different for it does not differentiate the roles of men and women in marriage but makes them equal partners in the marriage, as it should be.
The first verse in this section shows us that the Corinthian church were concerned over how to treat the matter of sexual relations. Look at this verse:
1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (1 Corinthians 7:1)
The Corinthians were specifically asking Paul about whether celibacy was a good thing or not. Why this issue came up is not indicated. Perhaps they knew that Paul had never married and so believe that celibacy was to be esteemed to make one closer to God, or maybe someone considered or was teaching that celibacy was a good way of life to follow.
Whatever the reason it was a matter that they had some confusion over and needed Paul's guidance.
However we see Paul's immediate response to this issue in verses 2 and 3 saying:
2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.
Paul is NOT advocating celibacy but rather that if any person is tempted to sexual immorality, then they should be married. As an aside this is certainly a lesson that some churches who promote celibacy in their priesthoods should listen to. It is evident that forcing celibacy in the priesthood has contributed to many of the sexual aberrations we have seen in recent years.
God did not create man and woman to live apart. God created man and woman to be joined together as husband and wife, to love one another and to support each other and to have children. As God said, “The two shall become one.” When a man and woman come together in marriage they DO become one; they become unified in mind, body and spirit. At least they do when the marriage is one in God.
So it is clear here that celibacy was not something to be desired unless the person is able to keep their sexual lusts and passions under control, which Paul discusses later in this chapter. But for those who have strong passions and desires, it is best that they marry so that the temptations to sexual immorality can be quashed.
Equality in Marriage
Now we also see in this section that when a man and woman do marry, neither partner is deemed superior over the other. This principle can be seen beginning in verse 3 and for the rest of this section as we see here.
3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. – (1 Corinthians 7:1-5)
First we see in verse 3 that within the marriage, neither partner should refuse the other partner their conjugal rights. The wife should not refuse her husband nor the husband the wife. Both husband and wife are equal partners in this matter and have equal rights.
It is out of love for their partner that they should willingly come together for the sake of their partners.
However I would also add that love means they will each be receptive to the moods and feelings of their partner and not force the matter if their partner is unwilling, unwell or unable to come together for some reason. Love means being perceptive to the other partner's feelings and considering their specific needs as the situation merits.
Paul goes on in verse 4 showing that the authority over the body of each partner belongs to their partner. It is not the man in charge, but the wife has authority over the husbands body and the husband has authority over the wifes body.
Thus again we see they are equal in marriage. Neither partner should have the upper hand in the bedroom in a marriage, but both are to be considered equal.
The point of this equality is so that neither partner is driven to sexual immorality because their passions are not being fulfilled at home. That is the worst thing that could ever happen for it would destroy the marriage as well as their Christians walk. You only have to look at how adultery in this world has destroyed marriages, families and friendships to see the truth of this matter.
In verse 5 we see that if a husband and wife do choose to forgo sexual relations for a time for any reason, then it must be by agreement between the two. One party should not deprive the other nor vice versa. By agreement a husband and wife may choose to remain apart, but not for too long lest they are tempted to sexual immorality.
And in doing this by “agreement” we again see the principle of equality in the marriage. Both parties must work together and agree together on the period of celibacy, but then also agree on when it should end so that there is no temptation. They are both equal in this decision making.
So we see in these few verses a tremendous insight into how the Lord and Paul saw the workings of a marriage, as well as his thoughts on celibacy.
Man was made for woman and woman for man. They were meant to be together as equal partners in marriage and not to dominate one over the other. This is how a marriage works, especially when it is operating in the love of God where our concerns are for the feelings of our partner before our own. When we approach marriage in this way, then it becomes a solid foundation for a successful marriage.