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1 Now, about what you wrote: “It’s good for a man not to have sex with a woman.” 2 Each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband because of sexual immorality. 3 The husband should meet his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should do the same for her husband. 4 The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Don’t refuse to meet each other’s needs unless you both agree for a short period of time to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come back together again so that Satan might not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I’m saying this to give you permission; it’s not a command. 7 I wish all people were like me, but each has a particular gift from God: one has this gift, and another has that one.
8 I’m telling those who are single and widows that it’s good for them to stay single like me. 9 But if they can’t control themselves, they should get married, because it’s better to marry than to burn with passion.
The apostle Paul was single, celibate—and contented. (He saw that as one of his spiritual gifts—verse 7.) But his converts in Corinth had sent him serious questions about sexuality and marriage. His answers showed that he saw value in limiting sexual expression to committed relationships, a boundary the Greek and Roman cultures largely ignored. But he clearly saw mutual enjoyment of sex as a good thing when it expressed and strengthened mutual commitment and trust.
• In Corinth, a wide-open seaport city, “sacred” prostitutes (estimates vary from 100 to 1000) came down each night from the Temple of Aphrodite (Greek goddess of “love”) to work the streets. Despite differences, what are some ways that city’s culture and environment resembled today’s? How did this setting give special force to Paul’s words about each person’s sexual activity caring for a partner’s needs, not merely their own wishes?
• Some readers think Paul was “anti-women.” But verses 3-4 said “authority” should happen only in a reciprocal relationship built on mutuality (cf. also 1 Thessalonians 4:3-6, Ephesians 5:21). What does it look like for a couple to “have authority” over each other’s bodies? Have any bad experiences or fears made it hard for you to build and trust mutuality in a relationship? How can trust, mutual submission and shared authority create a stronger bond in an intimate relationship?
Lord God, you created us with—well, hormones. But you also made us able to direct those potent urges in ways that serve love, not self-gratification. Whatever my stage or station in life, lead me to that pathway. Amen
When I was asked to write for the insights blog this week, I was thrilled. I consider it an honor to have my name among all the talented individuals who contribute here—many of them friends and mentors of mine. I hastily agreed to reflect on this Scripture before even taking a look at it. That joke was clearly on me!
I did a quick poll of some friends, and it turns out this Scripture makes many recoil. Not a single one of them was jealous that I got to reflect on this particular passage. Dan you imagine?! One of them, though, wisely pointed out to me that when a Scripture causes us to recoil, that is something that demands further investigation. As a feminist and an Enneagram eight (ie: a challenger, a rebel with a cause, a gut reactor), when I read the phrase “the wife doesn’t have authority over her own body,” red flags and alarm bells start blaring in my mind. Having authority and control of your body is a basic human right, a right that tragically is taken from women and men far too often in our world. Even in a relationship context, this concept of one spouse’s body “belonging” to the other can lead to destructive and abusive actions. It begs the question, what does Paul mean by “authority” here? Does meeting your partner’s needs mean sacrificing your own?
The obvious answer is that your partner having authority over your body means that they alone get to share sexual intimacy with you. When two people are in a committed relationship they have both promised to only have sex with each other. Therefore their partner is the only one who has the right (or “authority”) to connect and be with them in that way. I think this is very true, but it does not quite capture the full picture of what Paul is hinting at here.
The word “authority” used here is the Greek word exousia. It is the same word used in Matthew 7 when the crowds talked about Jesus speaking as one who had “authority.” It is the same word again in Mark 6, when Jesus gives the disciples authority to drive out demons in his name. The word carries with it the idea of “delegated authority”–a kind of responsibility for what you have been given authority over. It’s used in context of governments and rulers as well. A good ruler does not think of what they have dominion or authority over as a license to do whatever they want. Instead, the ruler is responsible for anything they are given authority over. The disciples had a responsibility to use the authority they had been given to show love to others and to talk about Jesus, and Jesus only used his authority to love and teach others about God’s love.
When this passage says spouses have authority over each other, it is saying each partner in the relationship has a responsibility to the other to take care of them and their body. When you get into a committed relationship, you are surrendering yourself to the other person. You trust them to care for your body, yes sexually, but in every other way also. You promise to do the same. You promise that your behavior and care for the other person will let them know “surrender is safe here.” From this commitment comes a deep trust and connection, unique and incredibly special. When both partners surrender themselves and their own needs to each other and each of them accepts the authority for the other’s body with great responsibility, a truly beautiful relationship forms. An intimate relationship that is built this way is full of trust, deep commitment, lots of fun, and a great love that shines between them and to everyone around them.