The seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians opens with the apostle Paul answering a question concerning marriage. These married Corinthian Christians were saying, “It is good for a man not have sexual relations with a woman.” If you have a NASB or NKJV you will see the statement, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” “Touching a woman” was a euphemism in Greek for sexual relations. We see in the Old Testament that “touching a woman” was also a Jewish euphemism for sexual relations (cf. Proverbs 6:29; Ruth 2:9; Genesis 20:6). We can further confirm that this is the right understanding because the following verses are going to give directions concerning sexual relations. So this is why most translations take the literal wording of this euphemism and makes it clear to our ears.
So what we are seeing are two extremes in the thinking of these Christians in Corinth. As we saw in chapter 6, some are saying that all things are lawful for them and the body is meant for sexual relations. Paul has condemned this thinking, teaching any sexual conduct or contact before marriage or outside of marriage is sin. Now we see the other extreme is that some are saying that all sexual relations are evil. Is it good to have no sexual relations at all? This seems to be where some of these Christians are coming from in this statement that Paul quotes.
Now, some translations do not have the quotations (which are added by the translation) which make the meaning that Paul is teaching that it is good to abstain from sexual relations with a woman. Notice the NLT in particular. “Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations” (1 Corinthians 7:1 NLT). I do not believe this can be Paul’s teaching at all because of Genesis 1-2. God made them male and female, commanded them to leave father and mother and be joined together, to become one flesh, and to be fruitful and multiply. God made our bodies and declared that he is for our bodies (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:13). Intimacy in marriage cannot be portrayed as a necessary evil. In fact, Paul will argue the opposite in this paragraph. Intimacy is a necessary good.
Intimacy of Marriage (7:2)
Paul must respond against this idea that it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. But the way Paul responds is worthy of deeper consideration. He could have said that sexual relations in marriage are not sinful, but commanded in Genesis 1:28 when God said, “Be fruitful and multiply.” Paul could have used Genesis to remind his readers that God made our bodies this way. God gave us these desires and gave us these bodies for intimacy in marriage.
But there is more that must be considered in this answer and Paul uses this as an opportunity to deal with the problem of sexual immorality that he discussed in the last paragraph. Notice that Paul says that marriage is the solution to all the sexual immorality that is occurring. Satan is using the strong weapon of sexual immorality to tempt people to sin. It is important to recognize that verse 2 is not merely saying that because of sexual immorality, get married. God has a very high view of marriage and gives many reasons for it. We see the scripture declare that marriage is how we have the blessing of children (Genesis 1:28), the place for physical intimacy (Proverbs 5:18-19; Song of Solomon), and is a reflection of the relationship between Christ and the church (Ephesians 5:23-32). Marriage also has a value benefit for maintaining sexual purity and protecting against sexual immorality. Verse 2 does not say that because of sexual immorality, get married. Rather, this is another euphemism. Most Greek scholars note that a man “having his own wife” and a woman “having her own husband” is an idiom for sexual intimacy. “Have” is a reference to sexual union. Recall earlier in this letter in 1 Corinthians 5:1 that “a man has his father’s wife” speaks of a sexual union. Some translations render this idiom more clearly so that we can see this meaning.
But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2 NIV; cf. NET)
Sexual desires are supposed to be fulfilled in marriage. God gave marriage as the proper place to fulfill our desires. Intimacy is not merely for bearing children. Nor is intimacy some necessary evil. Notice that both the man and the woman in the marriage are to enjoy the pleasure of intimacy so that temptation will be warded off.
Before we move on, we need to make two more observations. First, polygamy is prohibited in this command. Each man is to have his own wife, not wives. Each woman is to have her own husband, not husbands. Second, homosexuality is prohibited. Paul does not say that each man is to have his own man or woman. Paul does not say that each woman is to have her own man or woman. A man has a wife and a woman has a husband. Marriage is only between a man and a woman and sexual intimacy in marriage is only between a husband and a wife.
Giving in Marriage (7:3-4)
The apostle Paul continues in verse 3 that the husband has the obligation to give to his wife what she desires in intimacy. Likewise, the wife is to give to the husband what he desires in intimacy. Notice again that Paul uses his words carefully to not be so overt as to be inappropriate, but to be straightforward enough so as to be clear in what he means. The language of verse 3 speaks literally of “giving what is due” or “to give back that which is owed.” We have a God-given responsibility to give ourselves to the sexual needs of our spouse to fight against temptation and because it is the right of marriage. It is part of our proper marital expectations (which he will discuss further in a moment). Intimacy is not a necessary evil and must not be perceived this way.
Verse 4 presses this thought even further. The wife has authority over the husband’s body and the husband has authority over the wife’s body. We need to understand this when are getting married. When we marry we are giving the right over our body to our spouse. This was a liberating teaching in a Roman world where men dominated women. In both Greek and Jewish cultures, the husband was in charge of his wife in all ways, including sexually. But the husband had few, if any, obligations to his wife, unless it was to give her children. Notice how Paul breaks this male dominated idea. Both husband and wife are to give to each other. Please notice carefully, and I must stress, that this does not say that a man takes from his wife or that the woman takes from her husband. There is no taking in marriage. There is no demanding in marriage. There is no demeaning in marriage. Paul teaches us that there is supposed to be no selfishness in the physical aspects of marriage. Selfishness in marriage will destroy the marriage. This should not be a shocking idea for Christians — you are giving yourself completely in marriage.
This is an appropriate moment to answer a question that was submitted. It is an important question. The question is if there are acceptable or unacceptable sexual practices between husbands and wives. I hope this text shows the general answer is there is nothing that is unacceptable in marriage. Paul’s concern is that we are not giving ourselves enough in marriage to each other. We must understand that intimacy is critical in marriage because of temptation, because we have a right to each other, and we are to give ourselves to each other. But let me explain just a little bit more so that we make sure that we are clear. First, there can be no third party when marriage intimacy. Bringing in another person or pornography or something like that, even if agreed upon by both spouses, is sin. This is breaking the exclusive marriage covenant of one man and one woman. Second, all intimacy is allowed in marriage. The spouse should want to fulfill the other spouse’s needs and desires. But, in the same way, love means that a spouse will not demand the other to do something that is not desired or uncomfortable. Let me give an illustration that you can extrapolate to all areas of intimacy in marriage. She says that she has a headache that night. But in Paul’s picture, she will want to give herself to her husband anyway. And, just as important, in Paul’s picture, he will not want to ask her because she is not feeling well.
This is what the marriage should look like. Both spouses want to fulfill each other while at the same time not forcing each other into things that one does not desire. We are seeking mainly to please the other. She wants to please him, and desires to give what he desires. He wants to please her, and therefore desires to not demand of her what she finds unpleasant to give. In the same way, he wants to please her, and desires to give her what she desires. She wants to please him, and therefore desires to not demand of him what he finds unpleasant to give. I hope that helps and I don’t know how else to say that without getting more graphic, which I do not want to do.
Stop Depriving Each Other (7:5-6)
Therefore, Paul commands that spouses not deprive each other. This word “depriving” is the same word used earlier in 1 Corinthians 6:7-8 that is translated “defrauding” or “cheating.” You are cheating the other spouse or defrauding the other spouse when you withhold intimacy in marriage. You are robbing your spouse. Please notice that the apostle Paul can only conjure upon one reason why there might be a stopping of intimacy in marriage. He says “perhaps by agreement for a limited time that you may devote yourselves to prayer.” He says that he can think of one reason why intimacy would be allowed to stop and that is to be devoted to prayer. But even this, he says, must be (1) by agreement of both spouses, (2) for a limited time, (3) only for a spiritual need (not punishment or something like that), and (4) must result in coming back together again in intimacy so that Satan does not seize this as an opportunity for temptation. I hate that the number 6 is in the way of the next sentence but the beginning of verse 6 has a connecting word to the last sentence, either “but” or “now,” depending on the translation. Some translations unfortunately drop this connecting word out. It is important to see that Paul says that this is given to them as a concession and not a command. The point is that sexual intimacy must be constantly maintained in marriage. We do not deprive each other out of anger or spite or a fight.
There is an important application we need to make from this section. Separation in marriage is a sin. I have heard and seen Christians, who know that divorce is condemned, decide that they will just separate, but remain legally married. They no longer live together and pretty much do nothing together. They act divorced, but they remain legally married. They are separated. I want you to see that this is not an option. This is also a sin. Paul condemns anyone who thinks that separation is acceptable. You have not done something better by not divorcing. You are just committing a different sin. Do not deprive each other. Give yourself to each other. Recognize the problem of sexual immorality and the fight that both husbands and wives have to maintain purity.
Paul’s Gift (7:7)
This is why Paul ends this question with the words of verse 7. Paul wishes that all were like him. Some scholars suggest that Paul is saying that he wishes that all people were single like him. The NLT even reads this way. “But I wish everyone were single, just as I am” (1 Corinthians 7:7 NLT). But Paul says that everyone has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Is Paul saying that he wishes that no one was married? I do not believe so. First, if this were the case it would be the end of human existence since children are to only come through marriage. Second, God is the one who institute marriage. It was not an afterthought or a concession. Third, when the creation was completed there was only one thing that was not good. It was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). Fourth, how can Paul say that he wishes everyone were single when in this paragraph he has been praising the blessings of marriage. He has proclaimed all the benefits of marriage. He has not denigrated marriage.
What makes more sense is that Paul is saying that he wishes everyone was free from the need for sexual fulfillment like him. This would be a gift from God to not be tempted to sexual sin. Some people have that gift. Some people do not want to be married and do not have strong sexual desires that need to be fulfilled. But that is not everyone and Paul recognizes that this is a gift, not a requirement.
Marriage is given by God and must not be considered as some sort of lesser spirituality. Marriage is not bad. Marriage is not a necessary evil. Marriage is good and intimacy in marriage is good.
Marital intimacy fights against sexual immorality (7:2)
Marital intimacy is a right to be given to each other (7:3)
Marital intimacy is what we desire to give to our spouse (7:3)
Marital intimacy is where desires are fulfilled (7:4)
Marital intimacy must never be deprived (7:5)
Let us enjoy the blessing and gift of marriage that he has given to the world.