The Marriage Box
17 Nov 13
This Touching Base is a useful tool for small group discussion, personal reflection or in a one-on-one conversation. We believe that if the Sunday teaching is discussed outside of the morning services, it will be an opportunity to go deeper and build healthy community because God's Word needs to be discussed in community.
Answer the following:
How has your life been positively impacted by a healthy marriage?
How has your life been negatively impacted by an unhealthy marriage?
Would you agree that marriage is no private affair? The health or sickness of a marriage can impact a family, community, church and beyond.
Today we are looking at marriage. The reason this issue comes up in our text is because the Corinthians raised it. This is important to note. Paul is addressing a specific scenario, at a specific time in history with unique nuanced issues that will shape what Paul says and does not say. I say this so you don’t think that what Paul says is biased or unfair; remember he is speaking into a specific situation. He is not saying everything but only what needs to be said for this situation at this time.
Text: 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 (supporting texts 29-31, 36-38; see comments below)
Big Idea: One Flesh Means Both Invest!
V.1 Note that they raised the issue. Also note what Paul says about what is good for a man. Now why might he say such a thing? Remember he is speaking into a specific situation. Check out v.25-29.
Note this practical advice (v.25) in light of the unique situation - the Neronian persecution was just around the corner. The winds were blowing, and he knew the climate of Rome was not believer-friendly. There had even been a beating in the synagogue (see Act 18).
He also believes that it is also good for a man to marry (v.7b, 28). He is endorsing both singleness and marriage that are ultimately determined by gifting and calling. Yet he also shows his hand on what he would prefer (v.7a, 38).
V.2 Wow… is anyone aghast at what he has just said? Does it sound like he has just reduced marriage to some kind of relief valve?
If you want to take Paul out of context you could make Paul sound like a pig. But if you want to be fair with Paul, read Ephesians 5, where he likens marriage to our union with Christ (v.25), or read what he just wrote in chapter 6 showing his high regard for marriage. I like Paul because he is perhaps being more honest than the church has been – he knows we have sexual appetites, drives, passions and that marriage is the safe, healthy place for that to be expressed- if your gift is not celibacy, that is. The Corinthians’ alternative was prostitutes!
So how does Paul develop the big idea? Remember this idea of “one flesh” was raised earlier in 6:16.
He raises the issue of duty in marriage on both spouses’ parts (v.32-35). Note the various aspects of this word. Note that he uses the word “duty” because some were neglecting their duty (v.5a) in marriage so he is wanting to strongly make his point.
1. Duty is a work word (v.3)
One writer has said “Love is hard work. I would carry it one step further. It is the hardest work I know of, work from which you are never entitled to take a vacation. You take on burdens and cares. You inherit problems. You have to feel beyond yourself. You have to think of things other than yourself. Your responsibilities are now multiplied, and you are trusted with greater commitments. You see the easiest part of marriage is the wedding day.” (Ravi Zacharias)
Discuss if you are doing this in a small group.
2. Duty is an other-centered word (v.3)
As a group, discuss the marriage box above:
- How full is your Marriage Box?
- Would your spouse see the box as being more or less full than you would see it?
- What are some great ways your spouse invests in the Marriage Box?
- Denis de Rougemont said “Why should neurotic, selfish, immature people suddenly become angels when they fall in love…?” How does this truth affect the marriage box?
3. Duty is an intimacy word (v.4)
Here’s the bottom line - the wife has the duty to provide sexual satisfaction to the husband AND the husband has the duty to provide sexual pleasure to the wife. Men in that culture needed to hear this loud and clear - One Flesh Means Both Invest!!!
Paul is putting sexuality on a higher plane than one may find in most cultures, including the church, where sex is often seen as the husband’s privilege and the wife’s obligation. However, Paul is saying something radical and very biblical (one flesh). There is mutual authority, privilege and responsibility in the sexual aspect of the relationship. One flesh means both invest.
The view of the Roman culture in which the Corinthians lived (remember that Paul is speaking to a heavily gentile populated audience) was that men were to take wives in order to have legal heirs, while sexual pleasure, if it was to be sought at all, would typically be found outside the marriage.
Now let me highlight three things that worked against what Paul was saying to them:
a. Consumer Sex
Consumer sex is self-seeking. The “duty” that Paul is talking about is self-giving.
The view of the day by men was, “Mistresses we keep for the sake of pleasure, concubines for the daily care of the body, but wives to bear us legitimate children.” Sounds kind of consumerist to me.
For many men in Paul’s day, and for many today, their first and very defining sexual encounter was, and is, consumer driven. Note the following quote from Alicia, a junior at Duke, who explained with sad honesty: “From the time I lost my virginity until now, it’s only been the guy getting pleasure…. More guys have had sex with me than I have sex with them…” The Ring Makes All The Difference - page 110
Note: When monogamy is not the rule - either in polygamous or in sexually-unrestrained cultures – “women become the objects to be collected and used by men.” The Ring Makes all the difference page 122
This was happening in Corinth like today.
What other evidences of consumer sex do you see in culture?
b. Outside, Inside
Some Christians had gotten the idea that being single and celibate was more “spiritual” than being married, and they disparaged marriage entirely. Some Gentiles, in reacting to the sexual sins of their past, came to look on celibacy not only as the ideal state, but the only truly Godly state. So married wives and husbands were depriving their partners of sexual intimacy (see v.5a). They had an “outside, inside” problem:
They had problems in bed because they had problems outside of the bed.
Sex is such a great and sensitive thing that you will not be able to sweep these problems under the rug.
What are outside-of-the-bed problems that can impact sexual intimacy? (unforgiveness, self-doubt, anger, fear…?)
c. Sexual History
In Corinth there were, possibly, people in the church who had been married up to 20 times. There were men who had slept with dozens of prostitutes. Now they are married and suppose to be monogamous and investing in each other. How might sexual history hinder the big idea, One Flesh Means Both Invest?
Think of Alicia from Duke, how might her sexual history make a healthy sex life with her future husband challenging?
Corinth had it all! They were three for three.
Oh, and just in case any are thinking, “this is why I want to test drive the vehicle before marriage”, think again.
Professor Jay Teachman of Western Washington University:
“One of the most clearly defined correlates of cohabitation is an increased risk of marital dissolution. ….he notes that cohabitation increases the possibility of divorce by as much as 50 percent. He even calls cohabitation one of the most ‘robust predictors of marital dissolution’- making living together first one of the worst things you can do for your marriage. Teachman also warns that even premarital sex by itself is associated with an increased risk of marital disruption, though at lower rates than living together before marriage.” The Ring Makes All The Difference
4. Duty is a safety word (v.5, 6)
I am running out of trees so I will be short: Note there is to be mutual agreement on abstention. The woman is not a piece of chattel, which was the common view of the day in many circles.
Goliath was big, ugly and smelly, but it only took one well-placed stone to bring him down.
For some marriages that well-placed stone is in the marriage bed. Unresolved issues, unspoken hurts, the acceptance of unhealthy habits, patterns that are normalized in a marriage, all this the enemy sees and seizes upon. Unhealthy sexual relations can be the exact spot where the enemy throws the stone. One well-placed stone can fell a marriage. How safe is your marriage in the context of (v.5,6)?
If you are married I would challenge you to work through this TB as a couple.
If you are single but one day plan to be married, think about how you can best prepare now for a healthy vital sexual relationship with your marriage partner.
If you don`t fit into the above two categories, let this TB remind you of how important it is to pray for married people in the church. Healthy marriages are a labor of love that greatly benefit from a praying community.
Remember there is way more to marriage than sex, but Paul in answering their questions needed to address this key aspect of marriage.
If interested in joining or starting a small group contact email@example.com
Commentary on supporting texts for our main text (7:1-9)
7:29–31. The second reason Paul felt the single state was advantageous was the potential it offered for detachment from temporal situations. The phrase the time is short referred to the Lord’s return (cf. Rom. 13:11), but it was also a summary philosophy of life for Paul who lived not for the temporary but for the eternal (cf. 2 Cor. 4:18). This detachment from temporal matters should characterize all Christians but it was more complex for the married (cf. Mark 13:12) for whom, nonetheless, devotion to their Lord should occupy first place in life (Luke 14:26). Paul certainly was not recommending abandoning marital duties (cf. 1 Cor. 7:3–5).
Instead he was calling for a commitment to eternal matters and a corresponding detachment from the institutions, values, and substance of this world which was passing away (v. 31). Such a commitment was more easily made and enacted by a single person.
Lowery, D. K. (1985). 1 Corinthians. (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Eds.)The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books
7:36–38. The interpretation and translation of this passage is difficult, as the alternate marginal translation indicates. The issue revolves around whether the indefinite pronoun anyone (v. 36) refers to a father or to a prospective bridegroom. The NIV translators, following most modern commentators, have adopted the latter point of view but have included the traditional interpretation in the margin. The strength of the bride groom view lies in the fact that it permits a consistent subject for the verbs used throughout the passage, a strength which the NIV translators forfeited by making the virgin the subject of the phrase getting along in years. This decision was possibly prompted by the need to explain why the bridegroom might be thought to act improperly (i.e., his delay in consummating the marriage may, with her advancing age, adversely affect her chance of ever getting married). The bridegroom view, however, faces a lexical difficulty in the meaning of two verbs (gameō and gamizō) for marriage. In order to sustain the bridegroom view it is necessary to understand the terms as virtual synonyms, meaning “to marry.” But gamizō usually means “give in marriage,” and gameō means simply “marry,” as these words do in the other New Testament passages where they occur together (Matt. 24:38; Mark 12:25). This distinction in meaning continued to be recognized even in the second century (Apollonius Dyscolus, Syntax 3. 153). So it seems that the marginal reading is to be preferred.
Paul, then, gave advice to a father who in the first-century culture exercised great decision-making authority in matters affecting his family. A father may have decided that his daughter should not marry, possibly due to reasons similar to those Paul had mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:25–34. But in coming to this decision, the father had not reckoned with the fact that his daughter might not be able to remain single. She might not possess the gift of celibacy (v. 7). If so, Paul recommended that the father should not feel obligated to hold to his previous commitment but instead let his daughter marry. However, the father should feel free to follow through on his conviction to keep his daughter single (v. 37) if three conditions were met: (a) He had a settled and firm conviction about the propriety of her celibacy. (b) He was in a position where he was free to exercise his authority, that is, he was not a slave in which case the master could determine the daughter’s destiny. (c) He was under no compulsion from evidence which suggested that his daughter was not able to remain single but required marriage instead. If these conditions were met, then the father did well not to give her in marriage.
Lowery, D. K. (1985). 1 Corinthians. (J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck, Eds.)The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.