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Friday, August 04, 2017


I know, the title looks like click bait. I mean, sex sells, right? But this is about what the Bible has to say. And the Bible has more than a few things to say about sex. You know, things like "not before marriage" and "not with anyone other than your spouse in marriage" and such. No two people of the same sex. No family members. No animals. All sorts of things. In fact, sometimes too much. (Seriously, that "no animals" thing was something I'd just rather not even have heard about.) We all know this. When it comes to sex, God is some sort of cosmic killjoy.

If you think it ends there, however, you're missing something. Even in marriage, the Bible has something to say about sex. Paul's first letter to the church at Corinth says what might be considered some startling things.
The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Co 7:3-5)
"Yeah, sure, so?" I can hear it now. But take a good look at what it says.

First, one of the primary purposes of marriage is found in the verse just before the passage above. "Because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." (1 Cor 7:2) One of the God-breathed purposes of marriage, then, is to prevent sexual immorality. If you aren't tempted to any sort of sexual immorality, that's one less reason to marry. All the rest of us ...

So the rest of the passage in view here is specifically related to preventing sexual immorality. From this perspective, sex is not optional in marriage. It is mandatory. It is part of the design. It is interesting, then, that Paul speaks first to husbands. He should "give to his wife her conjugal rights." In the Old Testament, the term was "marriage rights" (Exo 21:10). It is part of the obligations of the husband to give his wife the sexual relations she needs. The sexual relations that she needs. Now, come on, guys. You know what I'm saying. That romance stuff. The gushy stuff. The holding hands, candle-lit dinners, smooching ... the kinds of things she needs. So while guys are quick to jump on the next phrase -- "Yeah, the wife is supposed to give the husband his conjugal rights" -- we're equally quick to ignore this one. (And, I suppose, to be fair, wives are quick to protest that second one. "Men! They're all alike.")

The next one is more difficult to grasp. We are taught by our parents, by our culture, by our own self-centered natures that our bodies are our own. It is the battle cry of the pro-abortion folk that women's bodies are their own. It is the fundamental basis for everything from pink, blue, and purple hair coloring to tattoos and body piercing -- "I am my own person. My body is my own." And God says here through Paul, "No ... no it's not." Believers wishing to follow Christ will have to admit that all we have and are belongs to God. You recall, for instance, that Paul says that we are crucified with Christ, and the life we live now is Christ who lives in us (Gal 2:20). Elsewhere we see "You were bought with a price, so glorify God in your body." (1 Cor 6:20) We do not belong to ourselves. Our bodies do not belong to us. And this text makes it abundantly clear that, while in general our bodies belong to God, in marriage our bodies are also owned by our spouses.

You think it's different, don't you? You think you have a secret sex life. Maybe it's porn or an affair. You think that your private thoughts about it, your little (or big) fantasies, perhaps just some stolen moments alone are your own. You do so against the Word of God. Your body does not belong to you. For the married, it belongs to God and to your spouse. He or she has to rule on what you do with it.

In marriage, then, the husband's duty is not to find the sexual pleasure he seeks in his wife, but to provide to his wife what she wants from him. The wife's duty is not to do as she pleases in the bedroom, but to provide for her husband what he wants from her. "Oh, now, see? What if he's asking from her things she should not do?" Well, now we're back to the first one, aren't we? "Husbands, your body does not belong to you." He is supposed to be giving to her what she needs, including compassion, empathy, support, comfort, honor ... you get the idea. In the area of sex, men are typically seen as and even prone to be the violators, but it turns out that it's both sides, because neither of us tend to live like our bodies are not our own.

Scripture is clear. Sex in marriage isn't optional. It is foundational. But it isn't self-centered and it is premised on the notion that we don't own our own bodies. In cases where a couple might separate for a time for spiritual purposes, even that is tightly regulated to a brief time "so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." It's not minor. It is one of the key purposes of marriage.

Now, of course, I'm not going to examine this with you further. That is up to you. "Am I doing what this says?" That's your question for yourself. "Am I properly aware of this purpose of marriage and seeking to satisfy it?" That's up to you to answer. "Do I even know what my spouse needs from me in the bedroom?" Maybe you should find out. I would argue, however, that a marital sex life based on these principles would be anything but boring or coercive. So much for God as a cosmic killjoy. Turns out that He thinks highly of sex. After all, He designed it for His purposes (plural) and commands it for the married. Good sex is biblical. Unfortunately, our world has so twisted sex as to almost entirely obscure what "good sex" is -- an other-centered gift between husband and wife.


Marshal Art said...

Not to quibble...because who am I if not one who will not quibble...but I'm not seeing a mandate to have sex. I see a way to have sex that is not prohibited, while yet regulated as being subordinate to the needs of the spouse (as such I agree with your use of the word "need" in the arrangement, but with a somewhat different emphasis). Thus, the mandate is to be prepared to "give it up" as it were on the terms of or for the benefit of the spouse primarily. As such, as regards the human desire for sexual gratification, the mandate is to marry so that one's indulgence isn't immoral. That is to say, sex is darn near a given, typically, once one is married so that no mandate to engage in it is necessary

What say you to this understanding?

Stan said...

I would, of course, disagree given what I've already written on the text.

Stan said...

I suppose there could be exceptions.

Marshal Art said...

With what aspect of my comment do you find disagreeable?

Stan said...

"I'm not seeing a mandate to have sex."

Marshal Art said...

Again, there's nothing in any of the verses you've presented that suggest such a mandate. The mandate, to use that term, is to submit to the spouse, not that each MUST come together to have sex. I would reiterate that the few would enter into marriage and NOT have sex or choose to avoid having sex, so a mandate doesn't seem logical. It would be like having a mandate to eat or breathe. Unnecessary. At least no such mandate appears in any of the verses you've presented. One could point to Genesis for something that could be said to be a mandate, but still it seems a redundant and unnecessary.

Stan said...

Yes, I understood your point. However, your position comes from a modern perspective and the perspective in biblical times was "Marriage is for procreation" and "No woman alive would NOT want to have a child", so husbands are commanded to give their wives their conjugal rights and wives are commanded not to withhold sex from their husbands. Your "doesn't seem logical" works in today's world where "marriage" long ago lost its "for procreation" definition.

But, as I said, I suppose there could be exceptions.

David said...

How is the first sentence of the verse not a mandate? Unless you're defining "conjugal" as something else. Plus, just because it's something assumed to be done doesn't mean it doesn't need saying. You'd assume a husband loving his wife would be a given, but we're still commanded to do it. Why? Because it doesn't always happen.