Big Idea: Honor God with your sexuality and marital status.
Few topics touch us more than sexuality and marriage.
Sex and marriage are powder kegs. They touch on some of the most intimate parts of who we are. We have a lot in common, but our stories are unique.
- Some of us have witnessed happy marriages. Some of us have not.
- Some of us are in happy marriages. Some of us are not.
- Some of us are single and are content in our singleness. Others are single and long to be married.
- Some of us have been deeply wounded by the actions of others, or how others — including in the church — have talked about things like sex, purity, singleness, and marriage.
So I want to approach the topic of sexuality and marriage with a lot of care as we look at this passage today.
Just a note as we begin.
This passage is not a comprehensive manual on marriage and singleness. There’s a lot of truth here that we need to listen to and apply, but it’s not the only passage we need to examine in the Bible.
In fact, it’s written to deal with a particular concern in Corinth. We read what the concern is in verse 1: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.’”
We’ve already seen that some in Corinth believed that sex was no big deal. It’s just something that you do with your body. Last week, Nathan helped us sort this out. He pointed out that what we do with our bodies is very important to God. Your body matters because it belongs to God.
But that leaves a question. What do we do with our sexual desires, especially in a world with a lot of conflicting messages of sexuality? It it okay to have sex? Does following Jesus mean that sex somehow becomes less important or even something that you don’t do anymore?
This passage teaches us three important things we need to know. Are you ready? Here’s the first.
God is very pro-sex within the boundary of marriage (7:1-5).
Just a little background. God is very pro-sex. In fact, the first sermon series we ever did in this church on sex was called “God Loves Sex.” Sex was God’s idea. He invented it. He includes celebrations of sexuality within the Bible. He gave us the desire for sex. He made it pleasurable. Sex is a God-given gift.
Paul tackles the sex-is-bad philosophy head-on and actually says to enjoy sex. In fact, he says in verses 3 to 5 that sex within marriage should be mutual, generous, and frequent. I want you to see how shocking this would have been. Read verse 4: “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.” Nobody back then said that kind of thing. Husbands: you have a responsibility to care for needs of your wife. Sex isn’t just about your satisfaction. In a very patriarchal society, Paul is giving a very generous and pro-sex message within marriage.
But why the focus on marriage? It seems shocking and restrictive, then and now, to say that we should wait until marriage to enjoy sex. Paul is not saying that if you’ve had sex outside of marriage, that you are somehow inferior or that you’ve ruined your life. He’s already said in the previous chapter that if you’ve come to Christ, you were “washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (1 Corinthians 6:11). Paul’s not putting anyone down here. What he’s saying is that God designed sex to work within the boundaries and safety of a lifelong, committed relationship for our own good.
The reason why is because sex is not just meant to be a physical act. It’s meant to be part of giving one’s whole life to another. I love what Tim and Kathy Keller write:
The startling sex ethic of the early Christians was that sex is both a sign and a means for that total self-giving, and that it must not be used for any other purpose. To engage in sex for any other reason was to misunderstand it. Granting access to our physical bodies must be accompanied by the opening of our whole lives to each other through a lifelong marriage covenant. Only in that situation, the early Christians taught, does sex become the unitive and fulfilling act it was meant to be.
Or as Mark Clark puts it:
We should never get naked and vulnerable with a person only physically without getting naked and vulnerable with them in every other way: socially, economically, geographically, spiritually, and emotionally. To do anything else will always end in catastrophe.
God is very pro-sex. But sex is so powerful that he puts boundaries around it for our own good. After all, marriage is meant to reflect the self-giving love of Jesus for his church. He gave everything for us. Our marriages are meant to reflect that, and sex is one part of that.
That’s why Scripture warns so often against sexual immorality, not because sex isn’t good, but because it is a gift that’s meant to be protected.
So that’s the first thing we see in this passage. If you’ve been taught that sex is dirty, and that God is opposed to your sexuality, or that if you’re done if you’ve failed in this area, all of that is untrue. God is very pro-sex, redeems sexual sinners, and has put boundaries around the enjoyment of sex for our own good.
If you want sex, the Corinthian culture said have at it. Have it with whoever you want. Some overly spiritual people said to stop having sex. Paul says something totally different: have lots of sex within the boundaries of marriage. In fact, in verse 9 he says that a sexual appetite is a valid reason to pursue marriage. God is very pro-sex within the boundaries of marriage.
Here’s the second thing we see in this passage.
Sex is good, but sex and marriage aren’t everything.
If sex is good, we should all get married and have lots of sex, right? Not so fast, Paul says. Sex and marriage are not everything. Jesus, the most perfect human being who ever lived, was single and did not have sex. And so Paul makes a compelling case in this passage that if you are single, you are not second class. In fact, singleness has some advantages over being married. It’s a very valid option for your life.
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. (7:8)
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. (7:32-35)
It’s not wrong to pursue marriage, but sex and marriage aren’t everything. It’s just as valid and maybe even better for you to remain single. Your marital status isn’t the most important thing about you. Your identity as a son or daughter of God is the most important thing about you.
Verse 26 talks about “the present distress.” We don’t know for sure what Paul was talking about. We know that there were food shortages in the Mediterranean around that time. It could be that, given the crisis, it wasn’t a particularly good time to be married. Whatever the case, Paul holds out the idea that singleness is not second class. It actually comes with some advantages over being married, namely the ability to devote more time and energy to serving God.
In fact, the overarching principle seems to be to remain in whatever situation you find yourself in. Read verse 17: “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.” Let God use you right now in the situation in which he’s placed you. Make the most of your current situation. If you’re single, glorify God as a single. Get married if you want, but you don’t have to. If you’re married, stay married. Whatever situation you find yourself in right now, aim to glorify God right where you are.
God is very pro-sex within the context of marriage, but sex and marriage aren’t everything. Here’s the third thing this passage teaches us:
The most important thing is that you honor God with your sexuality and marital status.
If marriage and sex are good but optional, and singleness is also a valid option, what is the point of this passage? It’s twofold.
First, it’s to teach you that whatever your situation you’re in right now, you’re called to obey God with your sexuality and marriage status.
- If you’re married, focus all your sexual energy on your spouse and serve your spouse with your sexuality (7:2-3).
- If you’re single but want sex, consider marriage (7:9, 36)
- If you’re married, don’t divorce (7:11).
- If you’re a believer married to an unbeliever, aim to be a godly influence on your spouse. (7:16)
- If you’re single, use your freedom as a single to serve the Lord (7:31-25).
- If you are a believer and want to get married, marry another believer — someone who is “in the Lord” (7:39)
It really doesn’t matter whether you’re married or not. What matters is that you submit your marital status and sexuality to God. I love how Sam Allberry puts it: “The issue is not whether this path or that path is better, whether singleness or marriage would bring me more good. The issue is God and whether I will plunge myself into him, trusting him every day.”
God cares about all of your life, including your sexuality and your marriage or singleness. If you’ve failed in this area — and who hasn’t — there is more than enough grace in Jesus to cover any failure. He calls us to avoid our culture’s messages about sex and to learn from him, because he designed sex. He wants us to find our meaning not in our sexuality or marital status but in Jesus, to show to the world that he, “not sex or any temporary physical pleasure, is our ultimate satisfaction” (Mark Clark).
Lord, this is such a sensitive topic. Thank you for creating us as relational creatures. Thank you for the gift of sex and marriage. Forgive us when we’ve failed. Heal us where we’ve been broken. Help us to find in you grace and satisfaction and meaning. And help us to submit our sexuality and marital status to you. In Jesus’ name, Amen.