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1 Corinthians 7:1-9 Study Guide: The Beauty of Marriage

Community Group Study Guide — The Beauty of Marriage

1 Corinthians 7:1-9

Main idea:
Paul corrects a misunderstanding around sex in the Corinthian church where some thought it was holier to abstain even in their marriages. Instead Paul shows us that sex within marriage helps us avoid temptation, is an opportunity to give and points to a greater intimacy and oneness in new creation.

Study Information:
From this point on the book of First Corinthians will begin to address questions the Corinthians wrote to Paul in their report (1 Corinthians 1:11). The text indicates that chapters 1-6 were concerns Paul had about what he heard was going on in Corinth, primarily their division and pride. Chapters 7-16 are answers to specific questions they had for Paul and we know this because each section will begin with the words “now concerning,” beginning in 1 Corinthians 7:1. As you go through their questions you get a sense that they did not understand how the physical and spiritual connected. They seemed to have bought into Greek philosophy that said the physical was inherently inferior or even evil and the spiritual superior. Paul interacts around eat meat sacrificed to idols, the physicality of the resurrection, the need for orderly worship and the beauty of sex within marriage. It may surprise you, but there was a group in the Corinthian church that thought it was holier and more spiritual to refrain from sex with their spouse because somehow that was to entangle your life in physical things that do not last (1 Corinthians 7:1). Paul’s correction of this view shows us the beauty of sex within marriage, and Paul will actually confront the culture and challenge their views in a shocking ways. 

The Gift of Sex within Marriage:
In our last study guide we looked at Paul’s warning against sexual immorality and how sex within a mutual, exclusive, joy filled marriage build intimacy and is described as being “one-flesh.” The warning that Paul gave was based on how if we are “in Christ” then we are one with him in a way that makes sexual immorality all that more serious because we are joining the body of Christ in a way that is inappropriate and outside God’s scope for what is righteous (1 Corinthians 6:15-16). So what then is an appropriate use of our bodies sexually? Well, apparently there was a group in Corinth so concerned with avoiding sexual immorality that they added rules to God’s law and said “if sexual immorality is bad then we will not even have sex with our spouses.” This is a form of what is called “asceticism” which is the strict denial of something for “religious purposes”, even if it is a good thing. Paul gives us three reasons why sex within marriage is a gift (note that Paul will also call singleness a gift in 1 Corinthians 7:7, but more on that in a future study guide).

First, to help fight the temptation (1 Corinthians 7:1-2, 5, 8-9).
In the Garden of Eden, the Lord told humanity to be fruitful and multiple and Adam’s first words upon seeing Eve were a poetic song of how they were “one-flesh” which points to sexual intimacy. God designed sex to be pleasing and with that comes a host of temptation since our world is marked by sin. Marriage is the proper place for sexual intimacy because marriage is an exclusive, mutual, joy-filled covenant. The Corinthians, who are married, would be wise to not have the attitude that avoiding sex within marriage is more holy because that view could actually lead to more temptation. Specifically 1 Corinthians 7:2 and 5 point to this directly and this is underscored in 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 where Paul tells us that it is better to marry than to burn with passion. Some remain single throughout their lives and Paul tells us that is also a gift and leads to fruitful ministry, however many in our culture do not pursue singleness and rather avoid marriage. Many people in our culture today, even people who grow up in the church, have a negative view of marriage. Some have seen really negative views of marriage that taint our view of what the Bible teaches; others buy into our culture’s vision of self-sufficiency and self-discovery. For example, our culture tells you to be an independent person before getting married and that you should establish your career and tick off items on your bucket list and be self-sufficient before “settling down.” We’ve seen the average age of marriage climb in our society from the average age of marriage being in the early 20s to now the early 30s. Could it be that people struggle with sexual purity because they’ve bought into lies from our culture about what marriage is all about and are having to fight to be sexually pure longer than they would have 50 years ago? Many wait until they find “the one” or until they are financially set; and Paul’s advice seems to be indicating that marriage is a good gift and if you’re burning with passion it is better to marry than to feel the burn. God has designed sex to exist within marriage and one of the reasons is to help us avoid temptation towards sexual immorality. Paul does give one exception to regular sex within marriage which is a time for devoted prayer but even then he cautions us to not allow that time to be too long because Satan may tempt you (1 Corinthians 7:5). However, with all that said, the Christian life is one of practicing the fruit of the Spirit of self control and growing in our ability to deny ourselves and discipline our flesh so that we choose holiness over sin. Let’s just not forget that God has given marriage as a gift and regular sexual union will help one avoid sexual temptation. 

Second, sex within marriage is an opportunity to give to your spouse (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
Many treat sex as an opportunity to receive rather than to give. God has designed sex as a way to serve one’s spouse. Notice in 1 Corinthians 7:3 that the husband and wife each “give” to the other their conjugal rights. We are wired by sin to take rather than to give. Husband and wife are each to put the others needs before their own. This is not a verse to be abused, the moment you start demanding your “rights” you know you have a deeper root issue to deal with. Sex should be pleasurable and always a gift given rather than something taken, even within marriage, we are to treat each other with gentleness and respect as image bearers of God. 

Notice though Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 7:4, “for the wife does not have authority over her own body, the husband does…” No one in the ancient world would have disagreed with that statement. It was a patriarchal world where women were seen as property which is why so many Greco-Roman men would visit a prostitute on a whim, have a girlfriend on the side and see their wife as just a means to an heir. Yet, you have to see this in the text, Paul doesn’t stop with that statement. He continues, “Likewise, the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” This would have been a counter cultural statement! No one in the ancient world, apart from a Christian, would have given that much power of authority to a woman. God elevates the position of women in scripture by saying that they have equal rights in the bedroom and that neither one should see themselves as the owner of the other, but rather both have a measure of authority (Paul’s wording!) So sex is a gift to give because husband belongs to wife and wife belongs to husband and each can serve the other in their marriages in this practical way. 

Finally, sex within marriage is a symbol of one-ness.
The reason the husband and wife belong each to the other is because of their “one-ness” (1 Corinthians 6:16, 7:4). In the creation account God tells us that a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife and become one-flesh (Genesis 2:24-25). Sex within marriage pictures this one-ness and is used by God to build commitment, selflessness and intimacy in that marriage. 

In many ways sex is actually a depiction of our union with Christ. It is not natural to think this way because many of us still struggle with thinking that sex, even within marriage, with some guilt or as something physical and not spiritual. However, Paul’s point is that sex is more than a physical action. In his discussion in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Paul hopped back and forth between talking about marital unions and union with Christ. Likewise, when Jesus is asked about marriage in New Creation/Heaven he tells the Sadducees that people will not be given or received in marriage (Matthew 22:23-33). Why not? Because marriage and sex within marriage is a picture of intimacy that will be fulfilled in a way that we cannot possibly imagine in eternity where we will be sinless in God’s presence because Jesus came not to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45). This union we share with our spouse on this side of eternity is just a picture of a greater union and a greater intimacy that we cannot really fathom.

To conclude, sex within marriage is a gift given by God. Christians are protective about sexual ethics because we have a high view of sex. It it is something to be protected and guarded and when we either chase our passions/desires or become ascetics and avoid a good gift we end up mistreating what God has given (1 Corinthians 6:12-20, 7:1-9). 

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 7:1-9

What kind of impressions did you grow up with about marriage? Were they most positive or negative? Would Paul calling it a gift have surmised you? (see 1 Corinthians 7:7)

What are some of the reasons Paul gives us for having a high view of sexual intimacy? Do you think that the world understands why Christians have a different sexual ethic than our culture?

How does this passage of scripture uplift women in a way that the ancient world did not?

If all this is true, what are some ways we can point to the gospel in our marriages?