7:5 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.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
You may or may not be surprised to know how many couples treat each other as a resource to be exploited and use sex as a bargaining chip. Many say and feel they would never be a prostitute yet they treat their marriage as a prostitution business. The only difference is they only have one client. Some feel marriage should be 50/50. What they mean by that is that everything is an exchange. I will do this if you do this. It is bad enough to bargain over money or chores and responsibilities but it is really sick when sex is used as a bargaining chip. I knew a husband who literally had to pay his own wife for sex.
Now remember the situation in Corinth. Sex was misused and abused and prostitution was beyond common. Now imagine a scenario where a former prostitute becomes a Christian and marries a man who has also become a Christian but uses to frequent prostitutes. How healthy is their view of sex? Both see it as a commodity. Both see it as a means of self-gratification always for his benefit.
It would be very easy, even natural for them to slip into a pattern of married prostitution. She hates sex because it's just a job from which she receives none of the Godly benefits that are part of healthy wholesome sex. He loves the self-gratification but is not receiving the real benefits either. So both are empty sexually. He's trying to seek fulfillment in having more sex and she would rather not have sex at all. What happens? Bargaining. She deprives him unless he does something for her. He resents having to pay for he believed would be free when they got married and suddenly life partners have become business partners of the toxic variety. What do you think will happen when someone else comes along who is willing to gratify his self-centered sexual desires for free?
Clearly such a scenario is not what God had in mind when He designed us to be sexual beings.
Imagine for a moment if God loved us like we too often "love" each other. imagine if the rising of the sun was dependent on our faithfulness to God. imagine if the rain only came when God was satisfied that we were "doing our part" in our relationship with Him. The Bible says and reality confirms that God sends the sun to shine on the just and the unjust and the rain falls on the good and the evil. Love, true love is a constant. It never varies.
Now can you see why Paul is giving the counsel he is giving? If sex is nothing but a means of self-gratification or a bargaining chip in a game of exploitation it is far better to remain alone. You will not bring happiness to yourself or anyone else by entering a relationship based on what you can take. However if your desire for sex is out of control and you remain single you will end up in an even worse mess. Clearly the real solution is to be healed so that you are not a destructive mess.
This brings us to the heart of Paul’s counsel. When a couple marries they must never be alone in that relationship if it is to be truly successful. Paul says there is a time to spend apart but only if that time is used for fasting and prayer. Here is the place of healing. Here is the place where the One who loves truly without exploitation or conditions can begin to show us what love really is. She does not want sex. She needs love but when she withholds sex for a price she is destroying his love for her. He thinks he wants sex but he feels just as empty afterwards because he needs love and doesn't even know it. As long as he treats her as a means to gratify himself he will never fill the emptiness that sex only gratified for a very short time.
In such a toxic battle the very act that God designed to make two people become one becomes the very battleground that will destroy them.
God is love and love is the sacrifice of self for the benefit of another. Love keeps no records. Love is not a competition or an exchange. Love is learned in the school of Christ. Love is learned through fasting and prayer. Love is learned when Jesus is the center of our lives. Love is learned when we stand at the cross screaming "Crucify Him!" only to hear "Forgive them Father they know not what they do."
In our relationships we often know not what we do. We are empty and broken and looking for another person to heal and fill us. How can they when they are just as empty and broken? Jesus wants her and him to find their healing in Him and then practice learning to love on each other.
If you find your marriage to be some kind of toxic exchange that looks more like prostitution or a cold war than a mutually loving refuge in the midst of a broken world you need Jesus. He will teach you the rest.