1 Corinthians 7:1-5
Mutuality in Christian Marriage
Before we begin I should point something out that sheds light on this letter that Paul writes to the church at Corinth. First, it was not really his “first” letter. I did not draw attention to it before but in 5:9, Paul writes, “I wrote to you in my letter…,” referring to one he had written the church at some earlier time. And now we have 7:1 beginning, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote….” In other words, when we read 1 Corinthians, we are actually catching the conversation in midstream. In 5:9, Paul is responding to something the Corinthians apparently misunderstood in his previous letter; in 7:1, he is answering a question they asked in a letter they sent him in response to that prior letter. I mention this only to point out how Scripture bears witness to real occurrences, real conversations, and real problems; it is not an ancient book addressing ethereal topics.
If the problem in our last passage were men who thought they could frequent prostitutes out of a mistaken idea that bodies don’t matter, the problem in chapter seven is the opposite: those who think that the body is evil and must be denied and disciplined so that people may develop the “spiritual life.” So this faction in the church wrote to Paul that “it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman,” literally, “not to touch a woman” (a euphemistic way of speaking of sexual relations), and that even within marriage! Paul counters this with “each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband,” and, moreover, that each should give to the other their “conjugal rights.” Furthermore, the wife is not master over her own body but the husband; but even more revolutionary for that time, the husband is neither master over his own body but the wife. (My wife likes me clean-cut and shaven, so that’s the way I look.)
C. S. Lewis imagines in his Screwtape Letters that one reason why Satan rebelled against the Almighty was his disgust over the creation of this hybrid called “man” consisting of both a body and a soul. Yes, we inhabit that place in the chain of being between the irrational brutes and the angels, God taking from one the material body and from the other the invisible spirit and melding the two into one new being—an embodied spirit—man. Moreover, God made man male and female able to enjoy many things bodily, not the least of which is intimacy. But God has relegated this blessing to marriage, for one reason to check immorality, but better yet to deepen the spiritual relationship between husband and wife by this very personal union. And God commands that this union be mutual and regular.