7:1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me:
It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.
Mercy mercy mercy. This passage has been twisted in so many directions by so many people it's hard to know where to begin. Rather than try and untangle all the misinterpretations how about we just look at what it actually says.
First let's admit what we don't know. Paul is now responding to a letter we will never see. We don't know what they asked him or why. We can only guess and that's irresponsible at best. What we do know is that Corinth was decimated by sexual immorality. Some of the pagan religions revolved around sexual immorality. There were temples in ancient Babylon where young girls had to serve for a year as a temple prostitute as part of her religious service. Completely sick. What I can tell you for certain is that warped sexuality warps a person emotionally and completely distorts their sense of boundaries. The younger it happens the deeper the effects. Those effects carry on into the rest of their lives. Girls learn that giving their bodies is a way to create a connection and have some sense of worth to a man. Often a woman who has been violated sexually will seem very desirous of sex at the beginning of a relationship but once she feels secure will withdraw sexually because sex for her is not about love, it's a transaction. All of this may not even be understood by her. All she knows is that sex was never connected with love or bonding, it was always a transaction. Therefore it has no place in a love relationship. Warped eh? Let me illustrate. I have met many sexually broken people. For them sex as a beautiful consummation of a lifetime committed relationship is a foreign concept. To speak of sex as making love is like speaking a foreign language. It has ever only been lust and often the lust of another and they the helpless victim or the recipient of payment for services rendered. Hardly material for positive thoughts toward sex.
I apologize for being so blunt but if we are to understand this passage at all we must be honest with the context. These people were sexually violated as a culture. The fairy tale of happily ever after with prince charming was way off their radar.
Paul begins with a radical statement. He says it's a glorious thing (literal translation) for a man to never touch a woman. Why would he say that? God didn't need to make sex enjoyable but He did. It was designed by God to be the most powerful experience two humans can have. He knew the risks. He knew the abuse that would come. He did it anyway. That alone speaks to the power and purpose of our sexuality. There are creatures in nature that can procreate by themselves. God designed us as we are for a purpose. That purpose was so destroyed in Corinth that Paul’s first counsel was to see being celibate as a glorious option. He wanted them to understand that sex is not mandatory. For those violated and misused sexually this is great news.
There is another side too. I have a colleague who spent significant time in a foreign country. I will leave it at that. The culture there was highly sexualized. The people were taught to believe that if a man did not have sex every day he would die. They were also taught it was a sin to have sex with a woman during her period so during that time other women in the tribe had to "fill in" for her so her husband wouldn't die.
Paul wanted everyone to understand sex is not a need. It has become a growing belief in our supposedly enlightened western world that sex is a need on par with food, water, and oxygen. This is clearly untrue. Sex is a privilege for the purpose of deepening the bond between a husband and wife. We can die from too much sex or unsafe sex but never from no sex.
Paul is not finished. He knows the score. Sex is pleasurable and those who have had sex and enjoyed it want more. Keep ever in mind that this counsel is for sexually experienced and sexually warped people. He is basically running damage control. He wishes they would choose celibacy. It is the shortest and quickest route to sexual healing. However if that is not feasible he counsels monogamy. Get married and be faithful to one person.
This is where his counsel gets radical. All over this globe in varying degrees sex is falsely construed as a need men have that women must supply. There are even cultures that teach women it is a sin for them to enjoy sex even with their husbands. Paul dispenses with all of this foolishness quickly and decisively. He speaks of sex within marriage on completely equal terms. For most cultures and especially the male dominated Jewish culture this is radical stuff. Women have the same sexual rights and privileges men have! For those who think the Bible is pro men, you are not paying attention. Sure it is full of cultures that were very much pro men but whenever God gets to speak on the subject of men and women it is always equal. In fact if anything men are to be the servants of women because we are to love our wives as Jesus loved the church (us) and Jesus lived to serve even to the point of death. That’s what love is - serving others, giving, helping, sharing, etc...
We'll continue this radical teaching tomorrow. It sounds weird to some of us because we are perhaps fortunate enough to not have been in their situation. We can still draw principles from it though. See you tomorrow. :)