Marriage is a unique relationship. The sexual union between a husband and wife is the only tangible difference between it and all other human relationships. God describes this unique relationship as "one flesh" and the impact it has runs much deeper than we yet understand. We can see the devastating results all around us of breaking the sacredness of our sexuality but the science behind it remains a mystery.
In the only document God ever wrote with His own finger He highlights both the oneness and equality of marriage. In describing the Sabbath He tells us we are not to work on that special day. He writes as addressing the heads of the family unit. He said "Neither you, nor your son, nor your daughter, nor your man servant, nor your maid servant" etc... Each gender is specifically addressed because God knows us. He knew if He said only son and male servant, we would have made the woman do all the work. However in a patriarchal society dominated by men God did not say "Neither you nor your wife, nor your son..." In fact when He wrote "Neither you, nor your son..." the 'you' is singular. God, in the very heart of the only document He ever wrote for us addresses husbands and wives as "you" in the singular - one flesh.
Paul carries that truth right into the bedroom in fully equal terms. It would have been nothing for him to say that a woman's body belongs to her husband in that culture. However to flip it around and say the same applies the other way was radical indeed. The principles run deep though. Marriage is the complete sacrifice of self to another. It is a human experience designed to teach us what God wants with us. Our time, our decisions, our money etc... none of it is ours from the moment we pledge our lives to another. Their needs and desires must come before our own and vice versa. In no other human relationship is there the potential for such oneness, such vulnerability, such openness. When either partner withholds anything, sexually or otherwise it creates walls and a sense of betrayal. The relationship is wounded and a continual pattern of betrayal will eventually kill the oneness.
There are two great marriage killers. One is entering the relationship with a selfish motive, seeking someone to meet your own needs. The other and much more significant one is entering the marriage having already given yourself to others beforehand.
Whether Paul fully realized it or not he was advocating celibacy for the people in Corinth and speaking of marriage in terms of containing lust because they were sexually broken. Sex for them was a pursuit of self-gratification rather than the sacred bonding and mutual giving it was meant to be. They needed healing and the best way was celibacy. The next best way was a monogamous relationship based on giving rather than taking.
We'll continue tomorrow...