What the story says about marriage
And so, what does this story tell us about marriage? Well, everything.
(1 Cor 6:13-20) “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food”–but God will destroy them both. The body is not meant for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. 14 By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. 15 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!
16 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.” 17 But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. 18 Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. 19 Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.
In Corinth, the many pagan temples had priestesses who worshiped fertility gods through sex with those who came to worship. And it was a port city. Prostitution was not only common, it was accepted. It was how life was.
The argument was made, “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food” — surely meaning “Sex organs for sex and sex for the sex organs.” In other words, if God didn’t want us to enjoy sex, why did he make us this way? Paul responds with nine separate reasons.
First, God will destroy both sex and our earthly bodies. This is partly a threat of destruction on Judgment Day but also a reminder of who is really in charge. It’s not about autonomy!
Second, God is the giver of our bodies, and the correct understanding is “The body … for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.” Here’s the real result of this argument from design! God made our bodies, and he gets to decide how we use them. And we use them in his service. It’s not an arbitrary rule: you can’t enjoy the bodies God gave you. Rather, it’s the deeper, better: True joy is found in serving the Lord.
Third, “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also.” “Raised” is a technical term in this context, meaning “resurrect,” that is, give us a bodily resurrection. Our bodies will be redeemed by God to live with him forever in the new heavens and new earth. As Christians have bodies that will last forever, they cannot treat them with contempt, as though what happens now won’t affect what happens later. Rather, we are already spiritual beings, even though our true natures aren’t yet fully revealed (Rom 8:18). We should therefore live as spiritual beings.
Fourth, “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!” We are part of the body of Christ.
The ideas that the church is the bride of Christ and the body of Christ are, in Paul’s mind, the same reality, as the wife’s body is one with the husband’s body. And as we are Christ’s bride, we are also his body, and we must be faithful to him.
Fifth, sexual union is to become “one flesh.” This is so whether you are sleeping with your spouse or a prostitute. Either way, you’ve become one. There is a deep power at work here.
As stated in Hooked: New Science on How Casual Sex is Affecting Our Children, by Joe McIlhaney and Freda Bush, both MDs, it works like this, as summarized by Scot McKnight —
1. Dopamine is secreted in the brain and it tells those who are having consensual sex that such activity is pleasurable.
2. Oxytocin is secreted in a female’s brain that bonds the woman to the man.
3. Vasopressin is secreted in a male’s brain that bonds the man to the woman.
4. Therefore, neurochemicals are released that mold the brain through its synapses that tell each of these two people that they are in a bond of pleasure.
Add to this that teenagers’ brains are more than hyped up for molding, and dopamine is desirable and addictive, and you’ve got the makings of potential good and potential disaster. Sexual activity begins to mold the brain in the direction of both pleasure and bonding with that person.
The most alarming feature of this book for me is that sexual activity neurochemically secretes the chemicals of bonding, but the hooking up culture increasingly divorces sexual acitivity from relational commitment. This works against the natural secretions of a body and leads to potential problems for each of the couples. Humans aren’t wired, so the authors are arguing, to hook up. They are wired to love in lasting commitments. Breaking down lasting commitments works against what the brain is telling the person to be and to do. Hooking up can create young folks who break down their potential for connectivity.
We were designed for one-flesh relationships. God made us so that sex would bind us for life to our partner. When we have sex outside of marriage, we force our brains to re-interpret the messages to associate the pleasure of sex with uncommitted relationships, and we don’t easily re-wire ourselves to commit later.
Men and women who attempt casual sex become unwittingly attached to their partners and hurt when the other person refuses to commit. We can’t change our essential, created natures.
Sixth, “But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit.” When we become Christians, we commit to be united with Jesus, and so not only do our bodies belong to Jesus, so do our spirits. We are one person, one flesh, one heart. And casual sex breaks that bond. You see, you can’t separate sexuality from our feelings. It’s not a momentary pleasure that’s soon gone. It changes who we are at deep, deep levels. You can’t be in love with Jesus and in love with someone who rejects Jesus.
Seventh, Paul argues, “All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body.” How does sex sin against my own body? Some would say it’s STDs, but that’s an unlikely thought in the First Century. Rather (and this is really important), God’s rules are given to us because they are what’s best for us, even if we don’t see it. Therefore, when we break the rules, we not only sin against God but against ourselves. We hurt ourselves.
Those of us who’ve raised teenagers understand this. Who hasn’t said, “One day you’ll thank me for making you do this!” And we meant it. Well, we meant they should thank us. We don’t really expect them to remember. They are teens, after all.
We assume that if we don’t like God’s rule, the rule was given to test us or to make us miserable — rather like a 13-year old thinks. Paul is saying that this is what is best for us. It’s not that God is some Victorian prude. He loves us and knows us better than we do.
Eighth, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” This seems impossibly abstract until we remember Eden. God walked with Adam and Eve in Eden. He wants to walk with us today. And he does this by living within us through his Spirit. The Spirit’s presence tells us that has a special presence in our bodies — which should be kept holy so that we can continue in loving, intimate communion with God.
Ninth, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” And what a high price it was! The point isn’t just that Jesus died for us, but that he died so that we’d be restored to loving relationship with God. The expense of the purchase shows how valuable we are to God.
And we should see ourselves as equally valuable. And if we value ourselves and trust the God who created and is re-creating us, we’ll do it his way, because it’s the best way for us.
Anyone who’s done much counseling or dealt with the marital and sexual problems of church members will agree, I’m sure, that our members can be stupidly selfish and self-destructive when it comes to marriage and sex. They’ve not bought the Story. Most haven’t even heard the Story, and most who have, haven’t heard it taught in sexual/marital terms.
You see, we are still legalists when it comes sex. It just a bunch of rules that we don’t understand. And so we do a remarkably poor job of persuading each other to obey them. It’s sad. And it makes us very inadequate when it comes to explaining sex to a lost world that needs God.
Ultimately, it’s like this. Marriage really should be a foretaste of heaven, because heaven will be a return to the Garden where we’ll walking in intimate relationship with God and each other. And marriage done right will be the closest to this that many of us will experience in this world. But for that to happen, God has to be a part of our marriage — not as a distant enforcer of divorce law, but as partner and companion. As someone with whom we walk in the cool of the evening with our spouses.
And when God becomes a part of our marriages and thus a deeply personal part of our lives, then we’ll be different from the world, not merely because we obey a stricter moral code, but because the loves of our lives – our God and our spouse — together call us into a better way of living.
This is an excellent article. You've said what I've believed in my heart and soul for a long time. Nobody has ever explained sex/marriage/ vs sex/before marriageand/or outside marriage. before. Tjhank you. I wish I had had this knowledge when we were raising our two sons. I am 77 years old.
A very good post. You did a nice job with the text and your own reflections.
I found your blog on google and read a few of your other posts. I just added it to my News Reader. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.
God didn't create a system of legalism, but created commandments because he loves us.
God didn't create sex so we can be legalistic, but because he loves us. Like you said it's not the act that is the issue but what comes with it. Sex is intended for committed relationships, because it is the joining of two not only in the flesh but in spirit. So things like casual sex can cause spiritual ramifications. We shouldn't view it as some legalistic thing, but like all sin. It can separate us from the love of God, that is what is important. As you said, God is part of marriage.
However just because it isn't a bunch of legalistic rules, going around and trying to find loop holes to justify something like pre-marital sex or extra-marital sex just as much misses the point and only reinforces legalism.
I'm not married yet though and haven't experience that calling of God (marriage and with it sex is a calling of God as far as I'm concerned) so take me with a grain of salt if you want, but great article.
Young people like me respond to this a lot better than pre-marital sex=going to hell. The gospels were good news not bad news. God loves us that is what matters, therefore we should not misuse his gifts is a much better approach.