1 Corinthians 7:1-9
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is well for a man not to touch a woman.” But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 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 set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.
The Corinthians had questions about how to live as followers of Jesus. In this portion of Paul’s letter to them, he begins to address some of the specific issues they had raised. And of everything Paul wrote, his writings about sex and marriage seem to be misunderstood most often. These misunderstandings have had dangerous and painful consequences throughout history.
Worried that sex is too “earthly,” the Corinthians wonder if celibacy is the only proper lifestyle for Christians. Paul’s response is to affirm both celibacy and monogamy, depending on one’s gifts. Above all, Paul wants the Corinthians to engage in careful discernment of God’s call for them when it comes to their choices about relationships. Paul believed the Second Coming of Christ was imminent, so he encouraged singles to stay single and couples to stay coupled. Why make any big changes when Jesus is about to come back?
What must also be clarified is how shocking Paul’s prescription for mutuality within a marriage would have been. Women had long been treated as though they had no authority over their own bodies, and it was not a two-way street. So when Paul says that wives have authority over their husbands’ bodies, it’s a radical statement. While I would’ve preferred Paul to say that everyone has authority over his/her own body, that just wasn’t a concept that existed in his culture. But Paul does assert that women should have as much power in sexual relationships as men. What a profoundly important and yet frequently ignored truth! This would have been an extraordinary statement of empowerment for women in Paul’s day. Today, every Christian – male and female – must have a role in empowering women, who have historically been disempowered in the Church. Thank you, Saint Paul, for teaching this truth early on, even though we have too often failed to understand your true meaning.
God, you created each of us in your image. Bless us, and teach us to be compassionate advocates for all of your children. Help us to seek and serve you in all persons, regardless of gender, ethnicity, sexuality, class, ability, marital status, or anything else. Surround and comfort all those who have known pain and suffering because of their identity, and give us the will to strive for justice and peace among all persons. In the name of Christ, we pray. Amen.