By Samuel Clough
I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 7:35 (ESV)
2 Corinthians 7 contains Paul’s well known views on sexuality and marriage. Paul begins by stating his opinion that it would be better for more individuals to be single as he was so that they could be wholly devoted to the Lord. For Paul, there was an urgency to prepare for the Day of the Lord, so it was completely natural that he would exhort believers to lay aside anything that could potentially divert their focus from preparing for, and laboring in light of, that day.
At the same time that Paul advocates for his lifestyle, he also validates marriage by specifically addressing the sexual component of marriage. This is unique because usually when addressing behavior that is unhelpful for the church, Paul simply exhorts the saints to lay it aside or, simply put, stop it. However, in the case of sexuality, Paul’s logic throughout the chapter affirms sexuality and it would be fair to summarize Paul’s argument as being that celibacy is advantageous, but if an individual’s desire is too strong then it is appropriate to marriage in order to have an outlet for that desire.
This tells us what we already know which is that there is something very unique about sexual desire. I am not quite sure we understand fully the sexual desire, the uniqueness of it, or God’s ultimate purpose in it. I also fear our present society is so sexualized that it could be almost impossible for us to come to a full, proper understanding of sexuality which properly recognizes its power and God’s gift in it while also refusing to allow it to become an obsessive and compulsive thing.
Regardless, in the midst of Paul’s clear instructions on sexuality we are prone to miss Paul’s primary point. Paul’s ultimate directive on sexuality and marriage is that one should choose the path which enables them to be most devoted to Jesus. Paul argues this point by initially saying he believes it best to be fully dedicated to the Lord without being engaged in marriage or sexuality and then shifting that argument by saying that if an individual’s desire is too strong and overwhelms them that they should marry so that they can express that desire.
What is Paul’s point? Paul’s point is clear. Sexuality and marriage are to be lived out in such as a way as enable each individual to best devote themselves to Jesus. For some, this means receiving the gift to abstain and, in so doing, devoting themselves completely to Jesus. For others, whose sexual desire is too strong, it means marrying so they can express that desire and have their hearts free to love Jesus more deeply then if they were constantly bound up by desire. Ultimately, neither way is sin and the way we choose to live should be based on what enables us to be most devoted to Jesus.
While Paul’s conclusions affirm, and validate, the incredible strength of sexual desire, I wonder if we truly approach marriage and sexuality with Paul’s ultimate value system? In our sexuality, whether abstaining or indulging, are we choosing the path that allows us the greatest measure of devotion to Jesus?
Whether we pursue marriage or a celibate life is a decision to be worked out before the Lord. However, what is critical is that we express our sexuality in a way that deepens devotion to Jesus. Sexuality is not just an isolated experience or desire. It is a part of us and therefore should be managed and expressed so that we can be most dedicated to Jesus and live for the glory of God. As we consider sexual issues, let us no longer make it primarily an issue or marriage or not marriage or one thing or another, but let us, like Paul, make the primary issue devotion to Jesus.
Given that most choose to marry, I would extend Paul’s logic by saying to those that have chosen to indulge in sexuality should evaluate their sexuality in light of what strengthens their devotion to Jesus. Our culture is so sexualized that sexuality has no longer become simple, even for believers. For those that marry, you must realize that sexuality is not divorced from the rest of your person. Set your heart when considering sexual matters to choose the path that leads your and your spouse into the deepest level of devotion to Jesus. Like Paul, let’s make the primary issue, not the sex act, but rather our devotion to Jesus in all things. How glorious it is when men and women choose every in every are of life, whether food, drink, vocation, education, or sexuality, the path that frees their heart to be most devoted to Jesus and experience the deep joy of being properly related to God.