Contact Us

  • Phone: (509) 747-3007
  • Email:
  • Mosaic Address:
    606 West 3rd Ave., Spokane, WA 99201

Service Times

  • Sunday:  8:30 am, 10 am, 11:30 am
  • Infant through 5th grade Sunday School classes available
  • FREE Parking!



Back To List

Nov 27, 2011

Marriage Matters

Passage: 1 Corinthians 7:1-24

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Life Together--First Corinthians

Keywords: sex, sexuality, marriage, singleness


Sex in marriage is God's design for our sexuality. This message looks at how God has designed us body, soul and spirit for sexual fidelity in marriage, not sexual infidelity outside of marriage.


Marriage Matters

I Corinthians 7:1-24

November 27, 2011

INTRO:  We live in a period of time that is experiencing something totally new for Americans when it comes to one of if not THE most important life-situation factors:   marriage and singleness.  Never before in American history have so many adults chosen to be single.  Some 43% of American adults (over 18) today have not “tied the knot” of marriage. 

      Yet more single adults are cohabitating outside of marriage than ever before.  Divorce, while having fallen from its historic highs in the 1980s, is still wreaking havoc on families and couples along the full age-spectrum of life.   Nationally, roughly 40% of marriages end in divorce.  Locally that statistic is more than double standing at 84% for Spokane County. 

      Something very profound and at the same time very troubling is happening to the primary and foundational unit and institution in any culture, namely marriage. So with that backdrop of reality before us, I’d like you to do a little thinking about a couple of rather basic but not-much-talked-about questions relating to marriage, singleness and divorce.

Mixing-It-Up:  Share with a few people around you your answers to the following 2 questions:

1.)     “Why get married?” In a culture where marriage is less and less popular, why should we be encouraging people to marry?

2.)    “Why choose singleness?”

Of course, you are free to let your knowledge of God’s Word inform your answers.  But may I also encourage you to not let your answers be too “churchy”?  If you’ve had experience with marriage, singleness or divorce, talk about it honestly.  Because that’s what the Apostle Paul is going to do in today’s text of I Corinthians 7…and some of his answers may, in fact, be very down-to-earth.  J

[Appoint a scribe/secretary/note-taker in each group to record answers to each question in writing so we can post them on the weekly blog. 

Take 2 minutes on each question.  (Keep track of time)

Share results]

Today we are in Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church, chapter 7.  If you’re particularly alert today and been tracking with us over the last few months, you’ll notice that I’ve jumped over the end of chapter 6 regarding sexual immorality.  It’s not because I’m embarrassed to talk about it. I’m actually going to come back to it in January when we launch into chapters 8 and following which deal specifically with how we are to worship in the church.  Since sexual behavior has a whole lot to do with worship, I’m saving it until then. 

Suffice it to say that leading into what God is going to say through Paul in chapter 7 is a clear call and command to God’s children in 6:18 to “Flee from sexual immorality.”  Paul’s longest discussion of marriage and divorce in all of his letters to the church starts with a discussion of marriage as it relates to sexual immorality.  I’m wondering if that is where most of us started in discussion in our groups today? 

      Why is it, in such a highly sexualized and sexually immoral society such as ours is today, are we, the people of God, so timid when it comes to talking about the God-given importance of sex in marriage? In fact, it’s a subject too many Christian parents are way too squeamish about when it comes to talking with their own children about it. 

ILL:  Not long ago our daughter Joanna, who works for a crisis pregnancy clinic in L.A. speaking every week to classrooms and large groups of teens and young adults about sexual integrity, related a somewhat disturbing and sad experience she had with a very good, solid Christian family.  Knowing that Joanna talks with teens about sex virtually every day, they took her out for a bite to eat with their teenage daughter, ordered the food and promptly told their daughter, “Whatever you and Joanna talk about is between the 2 of you.  We won’t be asking you.  Have fun.”  And they walked away and sat in another part of the restaurant! 

      Joanna said it gave her a new idea of a sign she could hold up at street corners:  “Will talk about sex with your children for food.”  J

This wonderful Christian couple was so nervous about the whole topic that they couldn’t even bring themselves to say the word “sex” in front of their daughter!  Not the Apostle Paul!

Beginning in chapter 7 of First Corinthians, Paul starts addressing specific questions the Corinthians had asked him about in an earlier letter.  It is noteworthy that out of a list of issues such as worship in the church, Christian liberty, marriage, divorce and singleness, spiritual gifts, death and the resurrection, the first question he chooses to address is the marriage and sexuality question.  I think I would have waited a lot longer to answer that question.  So much for Paul being prudish or afraid to tackle tough issues!  J

Having just finished telling God’s people that we were bought body, soul and spirit by the life and death of Jesus Christ and that we are specifically to “honor God with [our] body” (6:20), he now goes specific on us about how we can do that in regard to the sexual part of our nature. 

Read 7:1-7

Paul is responding to a question the church had sent in regard to marriage.  Verse one literally reads, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”  In the first century, that phrase is often used to speak of having sexual relations.  But Paul is going to immediately affirm sexual relations between married people (vss. 2-7).  So that cannot be what he means here.  The NIV has correctly stated the simple truth, “It is good for a man not to marry.” 

Paul isn’t making a comparison here.  He isn’t saying singleness is better or morally superior than the married state.  He is simply stating that not marrying has its own commendable considerations.  Later on, in fact (vs. 32ff), he will talk about how singleness has certain benefits in regard to the ministry of the Gospel that marriage precludes.

But right now he is addressing those who might be tempted, in a sex-saturated society, to renounce marriage altogether or hold up as superior some sort of ascetic, monastic-like viewpoint that tries to avoid contact with the opposite sex altogether.  That hasn’t worked real well for most people in the history of the church. The sexual part of our nature is so deeply a part of who we are that unless God gives a clear calling to celibacy, marriage is the biblically-preferred route in life. 

Attempting to wall ourselves off from sexual temptation has never worked real well.  God didn’t create two sexes so that we could live separate from each other;  He created man and woman to be together as companions and partners in all areas of life, including our sex life.  Our sex drive is built into our innermost being and we run from what is inside us by divine design to our peril.  [Ray Stedman, Letters to a Troubled Church, I & 2 Corinthians, p. 97.]

In fact, vs. 2 actually gives a command when it comes to marriage. The words translated “should have” in the English are an imperative, a command, not a mere permission.  Paul is saying that in the face of a culture of “so much immorality” (pl. here—“many acts of immorality), the standard, the norm, is that we should marry. 

It is rather interesting that in our culture dominated and driven by sex, marriage has fallen on such hard times.  But that is really nothing new, as this passage makes plain.  That’s why Paul has to remind the Corinthians that marriage is God’s answer to an over-sexualized culture.  Sex in marriage is certainly to be a big part of the marital equation. 

ILL:  It’s sort of like that super-strong glue you buy at the hardware store.  It come in 2 tubes.  Separately they can coexist side-by-side on the store shelf or in your workshop for a long time…and nothing happens.  Nothing sticks together.  Nothing changes. 

      But as soon as you combine the contents of those two different tubes of chemicals, watch out.  Life can get very sticky.  You can glue your fingers together.  You can bond hard-to-bond elements like metal or ceramic or glass. 

      Let’s face it:  many of us are like glass or metal when it comes to bonding.  Bonding…real emotional connection that lasts and changes how we think and live with someone else…only happens with some pretty strong relational super-glue.  If all goes well in childhood, we will naturally bond pretty tightly with our parents and siblings.  But over time and with adulthood, even that bond will weaken as the sexual attraction super-glue takes over. 

      That’s when God’s “new-and-improved” super-glue activates:  sex.   Interestingly enough, researchers have found that both the male and female brains are chemically and hormonally wired so that sexual attraction and encounters actually alter the brain chemistry and neural pathways so that we bond through sex with someone very different from us.

      In her book, The Female Brain, neuropsychiatrist and medical doctor Louann Brizendine notes that women “bond with a romantic partner once they experience the release of dopamine and oxytocin [that are] triggered by touching and the giving and receiving of sexual pleasure” (p. 71, The Female Brain, by Dr. Louann Brizendine).  That’s great…as long as it is in the safe context of marriage where a man is committed to a woman “for better or for worse, sickness and in health”, etc., etc.  The human brain actually develops the same sort of chemical addiction to one’s beloved as that of a drug addict, really. 

      The good doctor says, “The brain circuits that are activated when we are in love match those of the drug addict desperately craving the next fix.  The amygdale—the brain’s fear-alert system—and the anterior cingulated cortex—the brain’s worrying and critical thinking system—are turned way down…” in love making.  “It is much the same thing that happens when people take Ecstasy…” 

      But what happens when that relationship is broken, when sexual encounters end in rejection?  Men end up 4 times more likely to commit suicide than women while women usually sink into depression.  Rejection, it turns out, actually hurts like physical pain because it triggers the same circuits [physical pain does] in the brain.  Brain scans of people who have just been jilted by their beloveds also show the chemical shift from the high activity of romantic love to the flat biochemistry of loss and grief” (pp. 75-76).

      When we treat sex as casual, something that can be done with multiple partners, the bonding-and-breaking cycle it sets in motion plays havoc with our psyche, not to mention our souls.       

      What a coincidence (!) that our chemical, biological and neurological make-up as men and women corresponds precisely with what Paul says:  if you’re single, stay celibate.  You will avoid immorality and the hurt that it is sure to bring, hurt that has been hard-wired into you by God himself.    

      But if you’re married, stay faithful…and enjoy lots of sex! J  I didn’t say it; Paul did!  Argue with him…and God…if that bothers you!  That’s precisely what vss. 3-5 are saying.  (Read again.)

Here is another serious problem with the sexual attitudes in our culture.  As Jim Anderson reminded us several weeks ago, everything in advertising treats sexuality as a power to be used to get other people to do what we want them to do, not as a gift with which to serve one other person, your spouse, for life.

  • Sex is used to sell everything from cars to clothes.
  • Sex is portrayed as essential to every human relationship from business to espionage. 
  • We’re flooded with sex everywhere from “Sex in the City” to the suburbs, the schools and the supermarkets. 

God’s plan for marriage and sexuality is that sex be something that requires you to be other-focussed and centered NOT self-centered and gratifying.  But in our culture, sex is all about getting what you want, when you want it, with whomever you want it. Sex, according to God’s word here, is to be something that teaches us to learn to love another person so much that we do not even see our own bodies as belonging to us primarily and to our spouse secondarily.  Rather, Christian sexuality sees one’s whole life, including one’s body, as something that can be given to another as a gift. 

      Sex, says God, is never to be used as a weapon.  Neither is it something that we are entitled to demand from our spouse.  Both demonstrate the self-centeredness of the withholder and the demander. 

      There is a beautiful reciprocity in marital sex as God designed it.  A husband and wife need each other to minister to their God-given sexual desires.  Sex as God designed it to be experiences is not self-sex; it is selfless and unselfish sex.  It is learning to give of oneself in ways that speak respect, value, tenderness, safety, security, permanence and pleasure to the other person in our marriage bond. 

ILL:  A marriage group Sandy and I are a part of has been reading through two companion books by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn called For Women Only and For Men Only.  Their research-based treatment of a number of critical areas of marital life is both refreshing and humorous.  Listen to just a couple of them.

      Shaunti starts her chapter to women about men and sex this way.  Entitled “Sex Changes Everything:  Why Sex Unlocks a Man’s Emotions (and Guess Who Holds the Key?),” she says,

      “On each [of the 1,000] survey[s] and in my random interviews around the country, an urgent theme emerged:  Men want more sex than they are getting.  And what’s more, they believe that the woman who love them don’t seem to realize that this is a crisis—not only for the man, but for the relationship.”

      “Why on earth is it a crisis?  After all, a lot of other legitimate needs get in the way.  Like sleep.  Isn’t sex just a primal, biological urge that he really should be able to do without?  Well…no.  For your husband, sex is more than just a physical need.  Lack of sex is as emotionally serious to him as, say, his sudden silence would be to you, were he simply to stop communicating with you.”  [pp. 91-92, For Women Only, by Shaunti Feldhahn]

      She goes on to talk about how often men feel isolated and burdened by secret feelings of inadequacy.  We go into the ring every day and fight the fight, one that often leaves us often feeling very lonely, very isolated and wondering if we are really loved by anyone despite our inadequacies and weaknesses.  Sexual intimacy gives a man confidence about a whole lot of life outside the bedroom.  Lack of being desired by the woman we love feels like incredible rejection—rejection not of the moment or of sex but of who we are

Jeff Feldhahn has some advice for men on this score too.  First, most women simply have a lower level of desire for sex…and it has nothing to do with our desirability. Impossible as it is for a man to find his wife very desirable and not begin to think sexually about her, guess what guys?  News flash:  women’s brains don’t work like men’s!  She can be passionately in love with you, respect you and desire to be with you…and not be thinking about sex.  Absolutely amazing, isn’t it!  J 

      Her mind functions like a computer with multiple programs open and running on the desktop all at the same time.  Her mind is literally jumping from an interaction she had with the oldest child that day to the phone call from a friend to the bills that she needs to talk with you about to the look you gave her when you left this morning. 

      And women, we’re not lying when you ask us, “So what are you thinking about?” and we say, “Oh, nothing.”  We really can run on “screen-saver” mode  through a lot of life!  How else do you explain our love of fishing and hunting?  J

      But back to marital sex!  Men, for our wives, sex starts in their hearts.  A woman’s physical ability to respond to a man sexually is tied to how she feels emotionally about him at the moment. If she’s not feeling anything in her heart, her body’s sex switches are all the way over on “OFF.”  The bad news is that if you’ve not been kind or gentle or loving to her this morning, good luck tonight in the bedroom!

      The good news is every other room of the house and every other moment of the day holds great potential!  Doing even little things that make her feel happy and close to you will often impact her entire day. 

      Giving her a little more emotional attention, showing little gestures of love during the day be it through an email or a text or a short phone call, or putting the remote down, the computer aside or the paper on the counter and listening with your face and eyes can all be deposits in the love-bank of your wife.  Hug her just to hug her.  Help around the house because you want to lighten her load.  Cleaning the bathroom, doing the dishes or helping with the laundry may be the most romantic thing you can do in a day.

O.K.  Back to the text of I Cor. 7.  In vs. 5, Paul says that the only things that should interrupt this mutual giving of ourselves to our spouse is a mutual agreement to spend a set and short period of time in some form of personal prayer retreat cultivating our intimacy with God.  When the hearts of both a husband and a wife are truly engaged with the heart of God, I can guarantee you that their sex life will not suffer; it will be better than ever. 

      I know that because of what I know about God.  God’s heart is always about intimacy of relationship.  Just as God is triune—God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit—so we are triune:  spirit, soul and body.  It is impossible for us to love God more while loving our spouse less.  It is impossible to get closer to God without being drawn body, soul and spirit closer to our spouse. 

      Oh, we can do more service to God and not become more intimate with our spouse.  We can engage in a hundred spiritual disciplines and practices that look good but don’t change our hearts and thus don’t draw us closer to our spouses.  We can teach and preach and perform at the top of our chosen career game and still not love our spouses better.  But God knows that the most transformational marriage retreat we can have is a spiritual retreat in which we truly encounter God and he encounters us. 

Paul ends this introductory section on marriage by affirming again that both the married state and the single state are often choices we get to make, BOTH of which can be and are in the will of God. Vs. 6 makes it clear that marriage is not a command for every person just as singleness is not a command.  Both are gifts (charismata), the same word Paul uses later on when he talks about “spiritual gifts” in chapter 12-14. 

      Paul at this time is evidently single. It is highly likely that he was not single his entire life.  Jewish men were expected to marry and beget children (according to the Mishnah, Yeb. 6:6).  Paul may well have been a member of the Sanhedrin according to Acts 26:10 where he talks about having authority from the chief priests to arrest and throw in prison Christians.  He even speaks of “casting his vote” against them in sentencing them to death.  One had to be married to be a member of the Sanhedrin. 

      So what happened to Paul’s wife?  We simply don’t know.  But the options are pretty limited.  She either had died by the time Paul wrote this OR they had divorced.  It is very possible that if Paul was such a zealot for the Jewish faith that his wife might have been equally so.  His radical and completely unexpected conversion to Christ may not have moved her to faith in Jesus.  She may have been one of those unbelieving spouses he talks about later who chose not to stick with her now very zealous believing Christian husband. 

It is quite likely that Paul’s “gift of singleness” was not something he chose.  Yet it was certainly something that by this time he had grown to embrace and appreciate.  At the time of writing, in fact, he sees it as having such advantages that he wishes “all men were as” he was, single (vs. 7). 

Why is it that when we are single, all we can think about is getting married?  And for too many married people, all they seem to want is to return to the single life?  Perhaps it is time that, married or single, we come to embrace the “giftedness” of each station in life?  Perhaps it is time that we stop thinking of our marital status as so much of OUR choice and start embracing it more as GOD’S choice…His GIFT for this season of life? 

The reality is that both “gifts” have personal growth at the core of each of them.  Singleness has certain things to teach us about ourselves, about life and about God that married life will probably not teach us.  There are struggles with loneliness that God can use to drive us into himself more deeply than marriage can do.  There are lifestyle issues that allow us to experience Christ in ways that married life and raising a family cannot do.  They are not better or worse, harder or easier, than the growth that may come to us in marriage. 

      And they are often given to us at God’s discretion, in his timing.  We may spend longer in the single life than we ever anticipated…or marriage may never become God’s choice for us.  We are still the possessors of a true “gift” from God. 

      We may find ourselves widowed hardly before we’ve even adjusted to marriage.  Or we may lose the love of our life just when we are truly experiencing what it is to be “one” and have to face life feeling like half of us has died.  It is still God’s “gift.” 

And then there is the marriage.  In Paul’s day…and in so much of the world before the 20th century…marriage was not the choice of two birds madly in love, free to choose their own spouses.  Marriages were arranged.  Spouses were chosen by parents and family.  Marriage happened at very young ages.  Little thought was given to compatibility.  You were a woman.  He was a man.  What more compatibility is needed?  J

      If you think married people feel “trapped” or “helpless” in a marriage today, think again.  The “gift” of marriage to many both then and now can appear to be more like that one gift nobody wants at the end of a white elephant gift exchange. 

      Might it possibly be that some of life’s best gifts don’t come in just the packages we want?  Might it be that marriage, just like singleness, has things to teach us that cannot be learned anywhere else in life to the degree that marriage demands?  Why are we so often discontent with the gift God gives, wanting to exchange it for something different rather than unwrap it day by day to find what God wants to give us IN that gift? 

God is in both gifts—singleness and marriage.  It matters little when those gifts are given…or when they are taken away.  What matters is that we find the Giver of those gifts and the blessings that each gift holds. 

Maybe that is why 60% of second marriages after a divorce also end in divorce. 

Maybe that is why so many singles today are going from relationship to relationship, avoiding marriage like the plague, just living together and feeling more confused and frustrated about the opposite sex than ever. 

Maybe that is why more and more people are looking for happiness in non-heterosexual, non-traditional relationships? 

Our rejection of God’s gifts always comes with its own consequences. Whether it is the gift of eternal life offered through faith in Jesus Christ or the gift of singleness or marriage offered throughout life, to reject God’s gifts leaves us with only our own resources and choices. 

      But to embrace them, strange and unbidden as they may seem, can lead to a richness of life we never imagined.  And they can lead us to a knowledge of Christ we would never have experienced had we gotten just what we wanted just when we wanted it. 


  • My friend Jerry —God’s gift of marriage and singleness have come and gone twice in his life.  Each has enriched him and the Body of Christ in amazing ways.    
  • The same is true of my good friend and counselor Rich.  His first wife died of breast cancer before he met Christ.  His second wife I knew.  He was married to her for 12 years and then watched God take her and give him singleness for the second time.  His third wife was my office manager and assistant for 14 years.  She has lost a sister and mother to cancer and has another sister who is a cancer survivor.  Sort of a unique “gift” for God to give a man who has abandonment issues because he never met his own father who survived WWII as a flyer but was killed days after the war ended in an accident while flying a routine reconnaissance mission over Allied territory.  Yet Rich is helping hundreds of people learn to handle life as it is…God’s sometime strange “gift” to people needing to grow up yet more in Jesus.