In the apostle Paul’s first letter to the church of Corinth, in the seventh chapter, he addresses various issues surrounding sex and marriage. From what his audience had said and from his response, something was definitely not right. The section opens up with a radical declaration, a statement of desperation:
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” (v.1)
And mid-way through this part of his letter, Paul writes:
I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (vv. 26-27)
What could have happened that the men of Corinth would declare that sex with women was a bad thing and Paul to urge his male readers to avoid divorce and marriage?
Paul explains his motives when he states:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided … (vv.32-34)
So, a man marrying would actually move away from serving the Lord, the very creator of marriage itself. In the beginning, God declared that being alone was not good for a man and that the marital union He had created was good. Solomon states that finding a wife is a good thing and a married man receives favor from God. Yet, Paul says that if a man marries, he is not focused on pleasing God, but pleasing his wife. For the Christian woman, pleasing God should be pleasing to the wife, but apparently in Corinth a man could not please the Lord without displeasing his wife, which caused his energies to be divided between two loyalties.
What happened to marriage in Corinth?
I have argued that Paul was dealing with same problem that men are dealing with today. Women are empowered, liberated, and operating in state of entitled equality. Men were attempting to live as Christ would have them, as responsible leaders in their homes, churches, and societies, but they were finding a culture of women who refused to submit to male authority and who did not value marital fidelity, same as today.
And like many men today, the men of Corinth declared that celibacy and abandoning marriage was the only answer. Paul, knowing that men are sexual creatures and would not be able to contain their natural desires was concerned that Christian men would be pulled into the hook-up and pick-up culture of the times, same as it is today. Even in the midst of this confusion, he advises men to marry if they cannot keep celibate.
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (v. 2)
Thomas Paine, writing about the American Revolution, wrote, “These are the times that try men’s souls.” He is right. In a state where the biblical ordering of sex and marriage is being confused and in many cases simply ignored it is important for Christian men not to lose faith. This too will pass and God can and has always worked order from chaos.