Tuesday, April 9, 2024

Asceticism and Marriage (1 Corinthians 7:3-7)

"Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time" (1 Cor. 7:5).

Asceticism was a common practice in the Hellenistic world of the early church. It was practiced by Christians and non-Christians alike. From Paul’s comments to the Corinthians, it seems that this philosophy of extreme self-denial had infiltrated some of their marriage relationships. It is quite possible that husbands were denying sexual intimacy with their wives for ascetic purposes, and wives were denying their husbands their due for the same reason. Paul condemns this practice, but not without making allowances in the marriage relationship. Husbands and wives may certainly set aside times when they do not engage in sexual intimacy for the purposes of prayer and fasting, but only if it is agreed upon by both. If the husband does not want to be separate for a period of time, the wife must not deny her husband his need for intimacy. Likewise, the husband must not deny his wife.

The reason Paul gives for this mutual consent is that neither party in the marriage contract has a right to separate from the other. This is because the husband does not have authority over his own body, and the wife does not have authority over her own body. The two have become one flesh. They are not independent of each other, but are unified even as we are unified with Christ. The marriage union is an intimate contract between two parities that have given up themselves for the other. Paul, therefore, maintains that the husband and wife must come together again eventually because that is the essence of their union. They are not like him and others who are called to be celibate, but they are called to serve the needs of each other. You cannot live as an ascetic in the marriage relationship. This can be certainly applied at all levels of the relationship.

According to Hodge, “this is a concession not a commandment” refers to Paul’s entire teaching on marriage. Marriage, the intimate union of two people, is permitted, not commanded. This would be directed to those who made marriage mandatory. Paul says that while marriage is not commanded, he wished that all men were gifted as he was for they would be free to serve the Lord in ways that the married person is not. But that not being case, each should act according to the gifts that God has given him.

If you are married or thinking about getting married, meditate on today’s passage. What does it mean to live in a dependent relationship? If you are married, ask your spouse if there are any ways that you are denying them their due either physically, emotionally, spiritually, financially, intellectually, or socially.