When a man leaves his father and mother, and takes a wife, one of the purposes God had for this was the creation and nurture of godly seed. As we mentioned when we considered this, it is one purpose of the marriage union, but it is not the only one. We come now to consider the purpose of marriage in a fallen world.
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hat not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment (1 Cor. 7:2-6).
Paul has advised the Corinthian Christians against marriage for the time being. He did this because of the “present distress” (vv. 26-29). It is one thing to deny Christ or they throw you to the lions and quite another to deny Christ or they throw your wife and children to the lions. Paul wanted the Christians of his generation to “travel light.” But even so, certain things were more important, sexual purity among them. One of the purposes of marriage is to avoid fornication, and this valuable function is provided for both sexes (v. 2). But just getting married will not result in this unless the privilege is used (v. 3). Paul begins with mutual benevolence (v. 3) and moves on to the exercise of authority (v. 4). Both the husband and wife are called to give, and both are given permission to require. To live in any other way is identified by Paul as a species of fraud (v. 5). A short time of sexual abstinence in marriage is permissible (v. 7), but only for a time and with mutual consent (v. 6).
This kind of hard-headed pastoral advice conflicts with some forms of sentimental romanticism. This makes it sound like the Christian approach to sexual relations is a question of mere duty and pragmatic quenching of biological desire, rather than the natural result of soaring heights of emotional and spontaneous feelings for one another. Well, yes. Although we might quarrel with the use of words like mere to describe this, we have to remember that we live in the world God made, and not in the fictional worlds we have sometimes made. Now of course there is a way that some people have of “using” others that is morally reprehensible, but let us not get overly scrupulous. “For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet” (Rom. 1:26-27). When we use one another in a way contrary to God’s law, the end result is that we use one another up. But when we remember the natural use of the woman, and the natural use of the man, the results are usually very pleasant. All of this is in the context of love, which is the summary of the law and the prophets.
As a downstream result of some Victorian pedestal setting, a common assumption in the Christian world is that (generally speaking) men have sexual problems, and that (generally speaking) women do not. Women are somehow thought to be mysteriously above it all, or at least Christian women are thought to be above it all. “Women are bulletproof, but guys struggle,” or so the thinking goes. But notice that in our text, Paul does not break it out that way. The marriage bed is given to protect men and women both from sexual temptation, and living a certain way within marriage is designed to protect men and women both from temptation.
Morality and Moralism:
The problem we face in the conservative church can be seen in sermons like this one. “What about the children?” we worry. Let us consider the question this way. Is the book of Leviticus PG-13? Is the Song of Solomon an R? What preconditions had to be fulfilled in order for Christians to start worrying about whether Bible passages were a good influence on their children?
The world does not hesitate to bombard your children with lascivious thoughts, images, commericals, suggestions, and if you successfully hide in the woods for twenty years during their upbringing, their great grandfather Adam will successful bombard them with all the same things.
We are called to sexual discipleship, not sexual neutrality, or sexual diffidence. This means teaching on it. Jesus said that part of the Great Commission involved teaching obedience to everything that He taught, and He was not at all silent on this subject. We have every right to expect the church to be a moral place. We should shudder at the prospect of it becoming a moralistic place.
Honored Among All:
We are not told to keep the marriage bed pure by hiding the facts concerning it from one another, or pretending that this is not a very important aspect of our humanity. We are told to keep the marriage bed pure by honoring it. “Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled: but whoremongers and adulterers God will judge” (Heb. 13:4).
Everything is connected. If this is the one sermon in this series that someone seeks to apply, the results will not be encouraging for him. But if these things are considered in the context of everything else, and we avoid perfectionism, we will find that God gave us the blessing of marriage for a reason. One of God’s means for helping us deal with sexual temptation is called sexual relations. There is nothing mysterious about it. This cannot be understood in isolation, but it needs to be understood.
The danger is that in discussions between husbands and wives on this subject, men usually offend (sinfully) and women are usually offended (sinfully). The two important elements to remember in preparing for the natural use of marriage are honesty and honor.