Marriage, Singleness, and Human Flourishing for Everyone (2 Corinthians 7)

How do we flourish as sexual beings in a permissive culture?

Remember that some in Corinth thought that sexual fulfillment came not from marital sex but from sex with prostitutes, and that others thought that we’d all be better off without sex. Paul doesn’t like either view. He’s neither “anything goes” nor is he a prude. Rather, he believes that sex in marriage is beautiful. It’s a good option, but it’s not about you.

 

Big Idea: Flourish regardless of your marital status or sexual activity by trusting God and finding your contentment in him.

If I had a least favorite verse in the Bible growing up, it may have been this one (in the New King James Version): “Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1).

I don’t have to explain why I didn’t like this verse, do I? It seemed a little anti-sex and left me a bit confused.

It would have helped if I had understood that Paul is dealing with something that some of the Corinthians had said. The Corinthian culture was very hedonistic. Some members of the church were visiting prostitutes because that was socially acceptable. Married men often took mistresses as sexual partners and confidants. They didn’t expect marriage to be the place for sexual fulfillment.

In response, some overreacted. They wrote to Paul and basically said, “Since sex is causing so many problems, I guess it’s better not to have sex.” Paul writes and says — quoting a different version:

Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (1 Corinthians 7:1)

In other words, it’s not Paul that is arguing that sex is bad. He’s responding to a church with competing beliefs: some saying that they want lots of good sex no matter how they get it, and others who saw sex as bad and something to be avoided. He’s writing to a diverse church with different sexual views and practices, as well as different marital statuses. In other words, he’s writing to people just like us. He’s confronting two views:

  • one that sex is just an appetite, and that it’s perfectly natural to have sex with people when you need it, you want it;
  • and the opposite view, that sex is dirty and defiling, and you should stay away from it at all costs.

He helps us see that both views are wrong, and he points us to a better way.

The question is a key one: How do we flourish as sexual beings in a permissive culture? And his answer couldn’t be more important for us today. How do we live well as followers of Jesus in a world with a lot of options when it comes to sex, very few taboos, and competing messages, even from Christians?

Today’s passage is going to help us. It’s practical, realistic, and clear. It has something to say to all of us regardless of our marital and sexual status.

Here are the three main lessons.

Sex in Marriage Is Beautiful — but It’s Not About You

Remember that some in Corinth thought that sexual fulfillment came not from marital sex but from sex with prostitutes, and that others thought that we’d all be better off without sex. Paul doesn’t like either view. He’s neither “anything goes” nor is he a prude. Rather, he believes that sex in marriage is beautiful. It’s a good option, but it’s not about you.

The world gives us unlimited sexual options, but not all of those choices lead to our flourishing and freedom. Many lead to bondage, pain, and brokenness. Paul points us to God’s design for our flourishing.

The place to satisfy your sexual desires is marriage. “But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2). Paul says that married men and women have a way to avoid sexual temptation in a sexual culture: focus all of your sexual attention on your spouse. There’s so much wisdom here.

If you are married, you have a place to fulfill your sexual desires. The Bible says: go for it. In fact, as we’re going to see in a moment, it warns you against neglecting this part of your marital life. Hebrews 13:4says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.” If you are married, channel all your sexual energy and focus into your marriage. All of it. You will face lots of temptations to look elsewhere, but don’t give in.

But we need a fuller picture. If we aren’t careful, we’ll start to see our partners as a means to meet our needs. Paul intends the opposite. Marriage and sex is an opportunity not to please ourselves, but to please the other and give them what they need. Listen to what he says in verses 3 to 5 in the New Living Translation:

The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.

Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:3–5)

Satan uses sexual desire. Your job, if you are married, is to give yourself completely to the other for theirgood. God intends your marriage to be a God-giving, self-sacrificial relationship of faithfulness and love, a relationship of mutuality and service.

Is the Bible against sex? Not at all! If you are married, pursue sexual fulfillment in marriage, figuring out how to have regular sex that is not about meeting your own desires but serving each other joyfully and sacrificially. It’s a radical view of both sex and marriage that we must recover today.

If you’re married, what drives your intimacy? Whose need are you most focused on? Ask God to show you more of your spouse’s needs for intimacy and sex.

Before we move on, a quick word to couples who aren’t married. Verse 36 says, “If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin.” The stakes are high. Paul speaks of singles who burn with passion in verse 9. Paul could be just talking about the fires of passion. He could be talking about being consumed in judgment by sexual sin. Sex outside of marriage is not an option. The only valid options for believers are singleness with self-control or marriage.

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