It is better to marry than to burn...
This week, someone asked me to forward the manuscript from a sermon preached last summer here at Clearnote Church, Bloomington. Preparing it for him, I thought I'd post it here on Baylyblog because it deals with two failures quite common within our churches. Good churches have singles who purport to be singly spiritual and not in need of marriage while, privately, they're given over to impurities and immoralities. Similarly good churches have marriages in which either the husband or wife protests or actually refuses marital intimacy. He doesn't believe his marriage vow has ceded authority over his body to his spouse, nor does he submit to that authority.
So here's the manuscript. As always, what is preached is more extensive than the manuscript taken into the pulpit. And yet I hope these notes will be helpful...
From the Pulpit of Clearnote Church, Bloomington
August 21, 2011 AM
It Is Better To Marry than To Burn
Please turn with me to 1Corinthians 7:1-9. This is the Word of God, eternally true:
(1 Corinthians 7:1-9) Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 But this I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. 8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Some of the things the Apostle Paul addressed in his letter to the Corinthians were in response to news he’d heard from individuals. In chapter one, verse eleven, for instance, he speaks about their quarrels with one another that were dividing the church and he tells them he’d heard about them being quarrelsome from “Chloe’s people.”
Here he indicates that he’d also received a letter from the church and some of the things he’s addressing—particularly this section dealing with various things related to the the proper place of sex and marriage—are in response to that letter. So we see that the church had the sort of respect for the Apostle Paul that when they had questions, they were inclined to trust him for the answers.
So the reputation of the Aposstle Paul among the Corinthians was good enough for them to look to him for counsel.
Here we see one of the matters they asked him about:
1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
The church had written the Apostle Paul asking whether or not it was good for a man not to touch a woman; to stay away from a woman which is to say, not to marry. And the Apostle Paul responds, “Yes, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.”
Two things to deal with, here:
First, why the question; and second, in what way did the Apostle Paul mean that it is good for a man not to marry?
First, why the question?
At the time, there were two traditions in the Corinthian church competing against one another. One traditions was Jewish which considered marriage necessary. If a young man wasn’t married by the age of twenty, he was condemned. Marriage had been given to man by God and it was the duty of every Jewish man to get a wife and raise his family. End of story. No higher aspirations were allowed.
The other tradition was the Greek tradition of aesceticism which said that remaining single and not getting involved with a woman—not touching a woman or marrying a woman—was a more refined and disciplined and philosophical and spiritual way of life. Don’t give in to your bodily desires. Resist lust and say no to your physical and emotional weakness.
So you can imagine how this would divide a church. Some have taken a vow of celibacy and others are doing the hard work of marriage and childrearing and they have tension between them and they write the Apostle Paul asking if it’s good not to touch a woman, not to have a wife, not to marry.
So the Apostle Paul answers the question, “Yes. It’s good for a man not to touch a woman. It’s good for a man to live celibately. It’s good for a man not to marry.”
You wrote and asked and there’s your answer.
Those men and women who choose to remain single are not being irresponsible. They are not sinning. It’s good for a man not to touch a woman, and a woman not to touch a man.
And in this, let us remember that the Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, was Himself single and by His singleness, sanctified the single life.
But immediately, what the Apostle Paul gives with one hand he takes with another.
There are godly reasons for the believer to abstain from marriage, which is to say sex. But there are also ungodly reasons, and the Apostle Paul is no prude or stupid shepherd when it comes to the habits of his flock of sheep. So right away, he goes on to say:
2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
Note that word ‘but.’
On the one hand, it can be said that it is good not to touch a woman, not to have sex.
But on the other hand, it is not good to give yourself to immoralities. So even though in an absolute sense, singleness is a good, a legitimate and godly option for the believer, it’s the exception to the rule with the rule itself being that “each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.”
The good of abstaining from marriage and sexual intimacy does not trump the good of abstaining from sexual immorality. At all cost, flee sexual immorality!
It is the habit of Christian men—particularly young and callow Christian men—to have higher opinions of themselves than are warranted by the facts, and therefore to think about or vow celibacy when they do not have the gift of continence (which is to say, they aren’t able to restrain themselves from sexual immorality).
So thinking themselves very spiritual and other-worldly and pious and holy, they become wicked and give themselves to moral filth.
We see this writ large in the Roman Catholic Church through the ages where, not simply as individuals, but as an entire formal association of churches, they took a vow of celibacy on the part of their shepherds despite the fact that many, many, many of their shepherds did not and do not have the gift of continence, of abstaining from fleshly lusts and desires. So across the history of the Roman Catholic Church, we’ve seen the sort of sexual immorality on the part of its priests that we see still today. Priests and bishops and heads of seminary and archbishops and cardinals who have semi-secret lives of immoralities—and immoralities of the sort that it’s impolite to mention in public. Wicked awful filthy immoralities after taking a vow not to touch a woman.
Among Protestant Christians, the habit is a little different. Feeling the dirtiness of their sin and being ashamed of their desires, some men promise God that they will never marry. They go around telling others that marriage isn’t for them and that they are going to remain single for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Then they give themselves to moral filth—to what the Apostle Paul here refers to as “immoralities”—and having a very high commitment, they sink very, very low.
This must not be, commands the Apostle Paul:
1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
Which is to say that touching a woman is required if you can’t keep yourself from touching a woman. If you do not have the gift of continence or celibacy, don’t overestimate your charisms—your gifts from the Holy Spirit—and try to be more spiritual than others, ending up much, much less spiritual than anyone.
We have seen before that the Corinthian church was dogged by sexual immorality. They lived in the midst of a grossly immoral city and had themselves drunk from the town well and were themselves given over to gross sexual immorality. They had a man in their midst who was married to his father’s wife and they were proud—that’s how bad things had become in the Corinthian church!
So yes, there’s nothing wrong with celibacy, with not touching a woman. In fact, it is good.
But because of immoralities, each or every man is to have his own wife, and each or every woman is to have her own husband.
There is the exception of singleness and the rule of marriage. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you should be single when you have not been given the gift of singleness.
And as immoralities are rampant among the single who need to take a wife and touch her, so immoralities are rampant among the married who need to touch their wife or their husband.
The dangers of sexual immoralities are among the married, also.
Married men and women are not to abstain from sex, but to give themselves to one another in sexual intimacy and union.
3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
Note the word ‘must.’
The husband “must fulfill his duty to his wife.”
And in the same way, the wife must fulfill her duty to her husband.
If it’s wrong and bad and evil and dirty for the single man to take a vow of celibacy and proceed to give himself to sexual immorality of a private nature while publicly claiming to be single and holy, it’s even more perverse for a man or woman who is married to use holiness and asceticism and piety and Bible reading and prayer and “going on retreat” as a means of selling his own good reputation among others while giving himself to every form of dirtiness and shame and perversity and wickedness in private.
No! Don’t be more holy, more sanctified than you are. Be humble and fulfill your duty to your wife. Be humble and fulfill your duty to your husband.
And this is not “may” or “might” or “can” or “should” or “is permitted to,” but this is “must.”
This is a command.
3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
Then the Apostle Paul goes on and opens up the sort of temptations and sins the Corinthian believers had fallen into:
4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
This is the place to go in Scripture for a statement of the woman’s authority over man, and specifically the wife’s authority over the husband. God commands it!
Concerning the body, the wife does not have authority over her own headache and private devotions and holy and set apart body devoted only to God and having nothing to do with her husband and his dirty desires. But also, the husband does not have authority over his own headache and tiredness and different sleep schedule and prayer life and great self-discipline and business trips.
Marriage is the two becoming one in mind, soul, and body. To marry is to give over authority over one’s own body to one’s spouse, says the Apostle Paul. Any discussion of so-called “marital rape” must start with this declaration from God. Neither husbands nor wives are to manipulate or force themselves on one another, and yet each has authority over the other’s body, sexually, and this is a very serious matter that must be obeyed by husbands and wives.
Marriage is a contract by which the man ceases to have absolute authority over his own body concerning sexual intimacy. He now belongs—his body belongs—to his wife and he is to fulfill his duty to her. He is to submit to her authority over marital intimacy. She is his boss over the marriage bed and he is her boss over the marriage bed.
Concerning sexual intimacy, there is perfect equivalence between the man and his wife, the woman and her husband. She has authority over his body and he has authority over her body.
To put it bluntly, because of immoralities, the man is to get a wife and touch her and the woman is to get a husband and touch him.
Because of immoralities, the man is to get married and submit to the authority of his wife over his body and the woman is to get married and submit to the authority of her husband over her body.
But, this authority is not to be used to justify immoralities. It is to be used to flee immoralities! It is to be used to develop purity.
There is not to be authority exercised and submitted to that leads to sin. The marriage bed is to be kept pure, as Scripture says, “hating even the garment polluted by the flesh” (Jude 16).
The marriage bed is for purity, not filth. No husband’s or wife’s authority is to be submitted to in sin.
But also, no husband or wife is to refuse to submit to their spouse’s authority over their body under pretense of higher holiness. Which is to say, sex is not dirty. Sex is not sinful. Sex is not a lower function that truly spiritual men and women repudiate.
Sex is good. Beautiful. Right.
But the marriage bed is not just for purity, but also for love. For kindness. For affection. For tenderness.
So how can we talk about exercising and submitting to authority while at the same time we talk about kindness and affection and tenderness?
Because as continence fails, so also kindness and tenderness and love fail.
The man who doesn’t have the gift of celibacy must marry.
The woman who won’t be intimate with her husband simply because she loves him must be intimate with him because he has authority over her body. Her body belongs to him—that is the meaning of marriage.
He may not refuse to give her children and she may not refuse to give him love.
Or she may not refuse to give him children and he may not refuse to give her love.
If lovemaking won’t come from kindness and affection, it must come from the demand of the one who has authority over your body—namely, your husband or wife.
Spiritual is as spiritual does. Godly is as godly does. Holiness is as holiness does.
Marriage is as marriage does. Love is as love does.
We are not aerie spirits but bones and flesh and blood.
Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But this I say by way of concession, not of command. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. - 1Corinthians 7:5-7