Marriage and Sex - Page 3 of 7 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
Beginning here and through verse 6, we have the principle of mutual sexual responsibility in marriage. “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with mutual consent for a time, so that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment.”
Instead of a man not to touch a woman, within marriage, a husband must render to his wife the affection due her. It is wrong for him to withhold affection from his wife. The affection due her is an important phrase; since Paul meant this to apply to every Christian marriage; it shows that every wife is due affection from her husband. Paul doesn't think only the young or pretty or submissive wives are due affection; every wife is due affection because she is a wife of a Christian man!
If a husband is having sexual relations with his wife, but without true affection for her, he is not giving his wife what she is due. Affection also reminds us that when a couple is unable—for physical or other reasons—to have a complete sexual relationship, they can still have an affectionate relationship, and in this way, fulfill God's purpose for these commands. The sexual relationship of married couples, far from being wrong, is a lawful and necessary function of Christian marriage. This verse establishes the idea that "Among some of the Corinthians there existed an exaggerated spiritualistic tendency which threatened to injure conjugal relations." There existed a view among those who practiced abstinence that sexual relations were in and of themselves wicked, or evil. In contrast, the wife is not to withhold marital affection from her husband. Paul strongly puts forth the idea that there is a mutual sexual responsibility in marriage; the husband has obligations towards his wife, and the wife has obligations towards her husband. “Render to his wife” places the emphasis on giving, on "I owe you" instead of "you owe me." In God's heart, sex is put on a much higher level than merely being the husband's privilege and the wife's duty.
The husband owes his wife love, tenderness, kindness, care, provision, and protection; though here it seems the apostle is chiefly, if not solely, referring to what is called, "her marriage duty" (Exodus 21:10), as distinct from providing food and raiment for her; and the Jewish doctors will tell us what that means: one says, it is "the use of the marriage bed"; and, another says "it is to lie with her", according to the way of all the earth. And so the phrase here, "due benevolence", is a euphemism that means the act of sexual intercourse; which is an act of love and affection between married partners, and a sign of mutual benevolence; it began by divine ordination, and it is a debt due to those who are married. The Jewish doctors have fixed and established various precepts concerning the performance of this conjugal debt: and the apostle may be influenced by the rules and customs which he obtained from his nation.
Few persons are at a loss for the meaning of this verse, and the context is sufficiently clear. Some have rendered the words, rightly, “Let the husband render unto the wife matrimonial debt…or conjugal duty”; it is that which a wife owes to her husband, and the husband to his wife; and which they must mutually render, because if they fail to do so, alienation of affection will be the inevitable consequence, and this has lead one or both parties to enter into an adulterous relationship. In such cases the wife has to blame herself for the infidelity of her husband, and the husband for that of his wife. What miserable conditions have been created within families by a wife or a husband pretending to be wiser than the apostle, and too holy and spiritual to keep the commandments of God! Conversely, in a marriage where the sensuous impulses are being controlled and placed under religious sanctions the marriage is refined and purified; and instead of being the source of countless curses to mankind, the marriage becomes a condition for their continuance and an element in their peace, because it has been placed under the blessing of God and of his church.
"Let them not imagine that there is any virtue in living separate from each other, as if they were in a state of celibacy."--Doddridge. They are bound to each other; in every way they are to show kindness, and to seek to promote the happiness and purity of each other. There is a great deal of delicacy used here by Paul, and his expression is removed as far as possible from the grossness of heathen writers. His meaning is plain; but instead of using a word to express it which would be indelicate and offensive, he uses one which is not indelicate in the slightest degree; the word he uses is” benevolence” (eunoian), which stands for kindness, good-will, and affection. And by the use of the word "due" (ofeilomenhn), he reminds them of the sacredness of their vow, and of the fact that in person, possessions, and in every respect, they belong to each other. It was apparently necessary to give this instruction, because the opposing view might have been regarded as proper by many, who would have supposed there was special virtue and merit in living separate from each other;--facts have shown that many have held to such an idea;--but it was not possible to give this rule with more delicacy than Paul has done.
4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
The wife hath not power of her own body,
This statement by the apostle is a paradox: She hath not power over her own body, and yet it is her own. A wife does NOT have the power (permission, authority, or the right) to refuse her husband the use of her body; or to prostitute it to another man. The woman that would do such a thing is either naive or a fool. It would be petty to attribute her conduct to any other cause than weakness or foolishness. It should NOT be said of her: She does not love her husband; or she loves someone else better than her husband; or she makes deceitful claims to have a nonexistent holiness, which is unsupported by Scripture or common sense. In fact, neither of them has any authority to refuse what the other has a matrimonial right to demand. By the marriage covenant that power, in this respect, is transferred to the husband. The oneness of body in which marriage places husband and wife explains this. The one complements the other. Neither without the other realizes the perfect ideal of mankind.
It may be assumed that Paul delivered such teachings as this, not through any love for the subject, but because all kinds of unnatural and immoral proposals were being advocated by those who promoted abstinence and the "super-spirituals" among the Corinthians. The equality of husband and wife in the marriage partnership is in the foreground here. Neither partner in marriage was to subscribe to any form of "sexless" behavior, because there was a positive duty that each owed the other in marriage. The wife does not have authority over her own body: In fact, these obligations are so concrete, it could be said that the wife's body does not even belong to her, but her husband. The same principle is true of the husband's body in regard to his wife; and partners in a marriage no longer have the right to an autonomous existence: “But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord…But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife” (1 Cor 7:32-33; KJV). "The things of the Lord" are the things of religion. An unmarried person is not distracted by the cares of this life; his time is not immersed in the concerns of a family. He can give his main attention to the things of religion. Paul's teaching showed that this was the course which he preferred; and showed also that in some instances it was lawful and proper for a man to remain unmarried. But the Divine commandment—“God blessed them and said, “Be fertile, increase in number, fill the earth, and be its master…” (Gen 1:28; GW)—and the commendation bestowed upon marriage everywhere in the Scriptures, show that it was not God’s plan that celibacy should be rule, instead of the exception. Consequently, it is sin to sexually reject one’s partner!