Marriage and Sexual Purity
I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
On Sundays, I will be using this space as an opportunity to reflect publicly on the sermon presented.
Today, Ashok Nachnani1 preached through 1 Corinthians 6:12–7:7. Since Paul speaks throughout this section (even across a topic change) about issues related to sexual (im)morality, Ashok, tackled the whole passage together.2 He broke the text down into three major points:
- Flee sexual immorality.
- Embrace marriage as a protection against sexual immorality.
- Recognize that both marriage and singleness/celibacy are gifts from God.
Ashok spent the greatest amount of time addressing the first issue—and he did an excellent job of it. Sexual immorality is a hot-button topic in our culture, and it is easy to talk too much, too harshly, too little, or too passively about it; I think Ashok hit the right balance of preaching both the sinfulness of sexual immorality and the glorious power of God’s grace in Christ. That is precisely the balance that we must always strive for, whatever the topic, and all the more so in areas where our culture is particularly sensitive.
A few gems that particularly stood out to me:
- Sexual immorality is like a terrible house guest who promises to come for a short, pleasant visit—and instead sticks around indefinitely, destroying everything along the way.
- Following Matt Chandler: “It is okay not to be okay. It is not okay to stay that way.” The gospel, Ashok reminded us, is for people who are not okay, and we need to welcome people however broken they are. At the same time, the gospel calls us to be transformed—not to remain in that same state of brokenness forever without change.
- Ashok pointed out that the world tells teens that God made a beautiful garden, and promptly fenced off the nicest part with barbed wire, intimating that extramarital sex is worth violating God’s will. This is, he pointed out, not exactly a new lie… just a repetion of the oldest lie.
- All of us face temptation in the area of sexuality—whether heterosexual or homosexual. As such, Christians who do not experience same-sex attraction can (at least to some extent) and need to empathize much more with the struggles of their brothers and sisters who do experience same-sex attraction. We must not treat homosexual practice as any worse than any other kind of extramarital sexual practice, but recognize instead that all of us are tempted and fallible in precisely this area, though not in precisely the same ways. For all of us, the call is to place our identity not in our sexuality but in Christ himself—a hard call, but one we are empowered to walk out by the Holy Spirit.3
- Marriage has many good purposes, including procreation, imaging Christ to the world, and sanctifying us—but Paul makes it clear that, among those many other purposes, it also helps us avoid sexual immorality. That was no less significant a help to the Corinthians than it is to us.
- Marital sex is not about using your spouse for your own satisfaction, but about giving yourself to your spouse for his/her good pleasure.
- When considering the gifts of marriage and singleness (and here Ashok was speaking particularly to singles), do not forget who the gift-giver is. He gives no gift out of spite, or ignorance of what is best for us; the gift of singleness is therefore a good thing, however it may feel at the time.
- Trust God to give you all you need.4
It is always tempting, when dealing with hard sin issues, to either gloss over them or to spend the entire time hammering on that issue. What believers (and non-believers!) need, though, is to hear both the deadly cost of sin, and the price that has already been paid for it. I was blessed today, because Ashok showed us the cost of sexual immorality and showed us the beautiful work of Christ in atoning for any and all our sexual immorality. Hallelujah.
I am also translating the sermon passage from Greek whenever applicable sometime Saturday or Sunday morning for my own profit; I will supply these translations, with some brief commentary, at the end of my reflections in case anyone is curious and wants to see my progress.
All is permissible to me, but all is not helpful to me; all is permissible to me but I will not be mastered by anything. “Food is for the stomach and the stomach for food,” but God will do away with both. But the body is not for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. Now God both raised the Lord and will raise us by his own power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? So then, a member of Christ cannot become a member of a prosititute, can he? By no means! Or do you not know that the one who is united with a prostitue is one flesh with her? For it says, “The two will become one flesh.” But the one who is united with the Lord is one spirit with him. Flee sexual immorality! Every sin which a person does is outside his body, but the one who commits sexual immorality sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you have been bought with a price—so then glorify God in your bodies!
Now concerning that which you wrote, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman”— On account of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. The husband is to give what he owes to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but her husband does; and likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but his wife does. Do not hold back from each other—unless by mutual consent for a time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again—that Satan may not tempt you by your lack of self-control. And I say this as a concession, not as a command—now I wish all men to be even as I myself am, but each one his own gift from God: one of this sort, and another of that.
“All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food”—and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us up by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.” But he who is joined to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to 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 limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
“I have the right to do anything,” you say—but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything”—but I will not be mastered by anything. You say, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food, and God will destroy them both.” The body, however, is not meant for sexual immorality but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said, “The two will become one flesh.” But whoever is united with the Lord is one with him in spirit.
Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.
Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
As with last week’s section, the translations overlap substantially. For the most part, the language—both the vocabulary and the syntax—in 1 Corinthians is fairly straightforward. To wit: I was able to translate this passage while only having to look up about five words, and with little to no confusion on the grammar. Even granting that it is a familiar passage, this is pretty straightforward.
Between the NIV and the ESV, I slightly prefer the ESV’s rendering; the NIV (somewhat unusually) adds a lot of interpretive material throughout the text in this case. While the NIV aims for a smoother reading, for the most part it doesn’t add nearly as much interpretation as it does here. The editors are trying to make the consensus interpretation of the otherwise somewhat confusing text apparent: Paul is apparently quoting the Corinthians and then responding to their ideas or questions, so the NIV adds, “You say…” throughout. This is a somewhat reasonable attempt to bring across the semantics of the text, but it’s not a choice I’m particularly comfortable with, because it adds a great deal that simply isn’t present in the original. To be sure, moves like this are inevitable; the question is simply a matter of extent.
On the other hand, the translators of the ESV made a few odd choices of its own. First, the way they chose to word the conclusion of the first paragraph (“Now as a concession, not a command, I say this”) is neither very good English nor even representative of the word order in the original Greek. (My translation represents the word order much more accurately.) In cases like this, the traditional—i.e. the King James Version—reading is usually to blame for odd wordings in modern English, but here the KJV worded it much more like we would. In short, I have no idea why the editors of the ESV made that move. Second, unlike my translation or the NIV, they chose to supply “it is written” before introducing the quote from Genesis—but for a translation that proclaims its aim as using, as often as possible, the same words in English for the same words in Greek, this is strange. The word is not “written,” but “said”; in this case, the NIV is more literal than the ESV.
Again, on the whole I prefer the ESV’s rendering here, but only by a hair. The NIV removes a lot of ambiguity that makes the passage more confusing, but it does so by adding in a great deal of extra material. This is the balance every translation has to juggle constantly, and again, we see that each does better in some areas than in others.
- And you thought “Thabiti Anyabwile” was hard to figure out by reading alone. Ha! ↩
- This was a good plan—as I’ve mentioned before, I think taking longer sections generally makes for better preaching. ↩
- I strongly recommend listening to the sermon for this section alone. Ashok nailed it in both content and tone; I hope to be as graciously articulate as him on hard subjects at some point in the future. ↩
- Though this came as part of Ashok’s comments to singles in particular, it is worth bearing in mind no matter what the circumstances. ↩