Paul On Marriage — The First Corinthians Sermon

I’m not feeling real well today, so I’ve cut-and-pasted some quotes for the previous two posts, and this one, my own words, will be shorter than usual.

Your sigh of relief is noted.

Anyway, it never ceases to amaze me how infrequently Paul’s discourse on marital mutuality in 1 Corinthians 7:1-16 is referred to in Christian weddings. It’s Ephesians 5 almost all of the time. And that’s usually with precious little emphasis on the mutual submission of v. 21, and focus instead on a difficult metaphor in v. 25-32 that, if taken to its literal, logical conclusion WITHOUT the benefit of a proper hermeneutic, would have the priesthood of the wife and her conformation to the character of her Savior mediated by her husband.

Bad Gospel there, folks, and a risky way to start a young couple on the road to a Christian marriage.

But if you study what Paul says in 1 Corinthians, you come away with two conclusions after his discussion of marriage. One is that Christian marriage has mutuality and sacrifice as its defining characteristics; there are eight distinct “points of symmetry” in husband-wife relationships just between 7:2-16. This steady drumbeat of mutuality is inescapable and eternal, and to avoid it in favor of the murkier passages in Ephesians 5 doesn’t make for a good foundation on which to build a truly Biblical message. It’s a great way to buttress a complementarian one, though. And you know, that might just be the point.

The second conclusion, from chapter 7:25-38, is that marriage is NOT an imperative, contrary to what the Wilsonistas would have you believe. In fact, Paul suggests — and, granted, with a more immediate eschatological perspective than we now employ — that the believer would be better off not married. That “the last days” have lasted longer than Paul would’ve expected doesn’t negate his message, and that’s that not all called to marry, and those who don’t are freer, in most circumstances, to work for the Lord. I praise God for the pastoral ministry of my 50-year-old single friend Lupita, and I praise God as well that she didn’t, contrary to the advice of Nancy Wilson, focus her younger years hoping for marriage and preparing for it by amassing a proper collection of table linens.

I have now officiated at two weddings, and my message has been for both that the Author of marriage has given us a pattern of how to live in it, and an example in Christ Jesus of how to love while in it. First Corinthians provides the minister a wonderful source of marital teaching and encouragement, as does Ephesians 5, properly understood. I long for the day when these precious portraits of intimate marital mutuality become the standard for Christian marriages, which God intends, and not the obfuscatory and imbalanced rendering of Ephesians 5 that too many ministers fall back on.

Which is not what God intends, because Yahweh is not a God of confusion, selfishness, inequality, or anything else not in keeping with the Divine character, for which our praises ring out and our marriages, if they occur, glorify him.

2 Responses to “Paul On Marriage — The First Corinthians Sermon”

  1. Unknown says:

    Keely,
    In reading your post on 1 Corinthians 7, I struggle to see your application. Perhaps you could clarify.
    My understanding of your post is that you take Paul’s teaching on sexual purity and the benefit/costs of marriage in I Cor 7 as a balance to the text in Gal 5, where Paul teaches on marital roles, love and respect. Am I correct?
    As I have studied these two passages, both are being written to churches in an emerging Christian cultures. As such, there are frequent admonitions to the Greeks in these epistles to leave behind their former ways and to be inwardly and outwardly transformed; mind and body, evidenced through their redeemed relationships.
    Paul’s emphasis in 1 Cor 5-7 deals with “the body” (soma) and its role in our spiritual walk. It matters how we eat (6:13), and particularly who we have sex with (6:15+). This was quite important, as the Greeks thought in mind/body dualistic terms, and the new Christians needed a holistic understanding. Clearly something was broken if a man was married to his MIL (1 Cor 5). Paul opines that the optimal condition for people in ministry, especially during troubled times, was to remain celibate (7: 7, 35, 40).
    Next, Paul provides a logical argument for the necessity of marriage, especially shocking to our modern ears. He states that there is a problem with “immorality” (7:2), and that people will “burn with passion” (7:9). The solution? Marriage, where the wife has the right of the husband’s body, and vice-versa. Sex in marriage satisfies desires and enables believers to avoid immorality (7:5).
    This is where you lose me; I agree that there is “mutuality” (your word) in 1 Cor 7 in the sharing of bodies. But how does this change the distinct and “complementary” (a word you dislike) roles found in the relationship of marriage, as described in Eph 5? Both texts clearly discuss marriage, but the emphasis and line of thought in Eph 5 is quite different.
    In essence, 1 Cor 7 basically makes allowance for sex in marriage to avoid sin through collateral claims, whereas Eph 5 describes a mutual sacrificial blessing through the complementary exhortations to love and respect, and roles of headship and yielding. I think that it’s been well summarized elsewhere—Distinct in role, equal in value. This is why Eph 5 remains a beautiful text for the wedding, while 1 Cor 7 more often has a role in marriage counseling (where couples are withholding).
    I’m sure that I just invited a storm of typing with that last paragraph. Your previous blog posts quite cover your belief that Eph 5 is “murky,” with alternate greek word meanings and such. We clearly will disagree on that point ‘til kingdom come. Instead, I am looking to know more about why you take 1 Cor 7 to apply in its context to more than just sex and fidelity.
    Thanks for your response. Sorry your feeling poorly ~Get better 

  2. Thanks for your comments. Once again, though, I’m going to point out that I really prefer to engage with people who use their names, not remain “unknown” or “anonymous.” Nonetheless, your tone was respectful and while I’m a bit puzzled by your arguments, I’d like to take some time — just a day or two, no worries — to craft a response. I’ll then put your comment “above the fold,” as they say, and address it more prominently. (I assume you mean Ephesians 5, not Galatians 5, in your first paragraph; I will also disagree with your contention that ch. 7 deals primarily with marital sex, and correct your view on 7:9, which does not state that people “will burn with passion,” but instead says that IF they cannot control themselves — that is, IF they burn with passion — then marriage is advisable. The condition here is vital to the application and I’m wondering why you maintain otherwise).

    More coming!

    Keely

    May I ask why you don’t use your name? This is something I really don’t understand.

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