THE MARRIAGE COUNSELOR
By Steve Zeisler
One evening recently I enjoyed hearing a couple from our body singing Tevya's
and Golde's duet from Fiddler on the Roof. Tevya begins by
asking his wife of 25 years,
'Golde, do you love me?'
'Do I what?'
'Do you love me?'
'The first time I met you was on our wedding day.'
'I was scared.'
'I was shy.'
'I was nervous.'
'So was I.'
'But my father and my mother said we'd learn to love each other.
So I ask you, Golde, do you love me?"
'For 25 years I've washed your clothes, cooked your meals,
cleaned your house, given you children, milked your cow.
After 25 years, why talk about love right now?'
'Do you love me?'
'For 25 years I've talked with him, fought with him, starved with him.
For 25 years my bed is his,
If that's not love, what is?'
'So you do love me!'
'I suppose I do.'
'And I suppose I love you too.
'It doesn't change a thing.
But even after 25 years, it's nice to know.'
It's fascinating to consider the viewpoint of an old-world married couple
who look at things so very differently than we do today. In this song they
tell of their decision to be committed to each other and to share their
lives together. They met for the first time on their wedding day, but that
did not deflect them one bit from the course they decided to embark on,
a marriage relationship. Love would flower later. The sense of who each
was in relation to the other, the feeling of approval and belonging, the
intimacy they would experience, all flowed out of their original decision
to give themselves to one another.
We live in a vastly different world. A recent report which has caused quite
a stir sets out the widespread dissatisfaction of women with men in the
United States. According to this report, American women are unfulfilled
and unhappy in their marriages. In almost all discussion of marriage, the
emphasis seems to be placed on how married people can feel better about
themselves and "get in touch with their feelings." The hope is
that when they have done this, only then can concerns about behavior be
discussed and remedied.
In our study from 1 Corinthians this morning we will see that the apostle
Paul, the marriage counselor whom we will be consulting, has far more in
common with Tevya and Golde than he has with modern-day theorists. His first
concern is not to discuss our feelings, or how to change them, but rather
with the kind of people we are. Will we be obedient? Will we act in the
way we should act? If we will, we may confidently expect that eventually
we will learn to feel for one another in a loving and romantic way.
Paul had been asked for his advice on a series of earthy and practical questions
which the Corinthians put to him. He will answer in the same fashion--in
practical and earthy terms. In chapter 6, Paul the theologian holds forth
on the spiritual nature of our sexuality. Our bodies are "temples of
the Holy Spirit," said Paul. We are "one spirit with Christ,"
we learned; we are "members of Christ." Thus, there is no such
thing as inconsequential sex. But in today's passage, Paul becomes the marriage
counselor, laying aside theological language, speaking as a wise brother
on a number of practical situations.
There is no one proper course for Christians to live out the fact that they
are male and female. Singleness at times is God's gift to some believers.
At times, marriage will be a believer's calling. At times, one who was once
married will have the gift of singleness. Remarriage will be God's gift
on other occasions. There is no single condition in which all Christians
As an undergraduate student, I shared a house with a number of other Christian
men. As single men, we of course had numerous discussions on women. We all
seemed to agree, however, with the notion that while it was great to have
girls as friends--and it must be equally fulfilling to be married, we agreed--how
one got from being a friend to being married was very murky territory indeed.
A friend who was a member of the Navigators told me that they were known
as the "never-daters" during their college days. In our house
we had much the same problem.
One of our group, however, loved to date. We were somewhat in awe of this
guy who obviously had progressed beyond our grade in male-female relationships.
Thus our home was the scene of a a group of young Christian American men
who were struggling in their efforts to be holy, dedicated believers. On
the other hand, some time ago I was in West Africa and I met a number of
couples there who were just like Tevya and Golde. Their marriages had been
arranged for them by their parents and they were quite content and happy
with their lives.
So there are various states which are quite proper for believers, and there
are various ways to arrive there. Our need, as Christians, is for wise and
godly counsel to help us see that God can work in our situations whether
we are single or married.
SOME TROUBLESOME ISSUES
As we have already pointed out, here in chapter 7 we find Paul answering
specific questions asked of him by certain believers in Corinth.
Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good
for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, let each man
have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.
The phrase, "it is good for a man not to touch a woman," has nothing
to do with a hug, a handshake or any other manifestation of fellowship or
friendship. Paul is here referring to sexual intercourse. It is "good"
for some, says the apostle, that they not experience intimate sexual relations.
In Corinth, as in our world today, there were certain people who, in response
to the licentious nature of the times, committed themselves to forego sex
entirely. But the trouble was they insisted on demanding the same behavior
from other believers.
Others in Corinth, however (and they too have their counterparts today),
considered it unthinkable to forego sex. They believed that there were dire
consequences in store for ascetics. Writing to Christians who were part
of the environment that gave rise to both of these ways of thinking, the
apostle says that sexual abstinence is "good" for some--but it
is not the only way.
Paul will now go on to refer to the alternative, which is Christian marriage.
Singleness is fine, says Paul, but so is marriage. "Because of immoralities,
let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband."
If you choose to "touch a woman" (in the sense of verse 1), one
righteous option stands in contrast to various "immor-alities."
All other sexual relationships, whether with mistresses, adulterers, prostitutes,
etc., are immoral. The only option left for someone who chooses to physically
express his or her sexuality is marriage to one mate. How earthy and practical
are the apostle's words!
STRAIGHT TALK ON SEX
In verse 3 and following, the apostle will now proceed to answer the questions
of those who have partaken of the gift of Christian marriage.
Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also
the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body,
but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority
over over his own body; but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except
by agreement for a time that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come
together again lest Satan tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
But this I say by way of concession, not of command.
I believe Paul was once married. It is therefore safe to say that he is
not writing here as a theoretical observer, as it were, of marriage. Although
it is obvious from this and others of his writings that he was not married
during the years of his Christian ministry, as a one-time member of the
Sanhedrin of the Jews, marriage would have been a requirement for him. Some
have felt that the apostle's wife abandoned him when he came to faith in
Christ. He later speaks in this chapter of an unbelieving spouse who will
not consent to live with his mate. That, perhaps, was an experience which
he himself suffered. In any case, Paul is quite at home writing about sex
The apostle's first word of counsel is that husbands and wives should agree
that each has authority over the other's body. There is no discussion in
these passages of the privileges of marriage. Rather, what we are given
is counsel on what are our responsibilities in marriage. The husband must
fulfill his responsibility to be his wife's lover and she must be the same
for him. The husband does not have authority over his own body, but the
wife does; the wife does not have authority over her own body, the husband
We must make the point immediately that the apostle is not referring to
unhealthy marriages where perversion of sexual expression is practiced,
or where violence or sexual dominance are forced upon mates. To women who
find themselves subject to such kinds of abuse, the statement, "the
wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does,"
is a terrifying thing. The apostle, rather, is offering counsel to Christian
couples who have healthy physical desires but who are self-centered and
selfish in their sexual expression.
Here Paul shares some very practical, down-to-earth counsel. "Your
bodies," he is saying, "are for the purpose of giving your partner
pleasure. You don't even have authority over your bodies anymore. They are
for the delight and response of your mates. Stop focusing on having your
own desires met."
Notice how evenhanded is the apostle's counsel. This is remarkable advice
given the fact that Paul was writing in the first century. How undeserved
is the charge often heard today that he was a male chauvinist! His word
applies equally to men and women.
Is your spouse becoming more fulfilled, more free and more joyful in your
mutual sexual expression? Is that your goal? Certain practical implications
follow naturally from this. All of our tensions and stresses, psychologists
have noted, show up in our sexual expression. Arguments, fears, anger and
frustrations will restrict one's freedom to respond and to enjoy sexual
intimacy. In his counsel to married people to use their bodies to fulfill
their partners therefore, the apostle thrusts upon married couples the task
of solving their other problems.
To ensure your mate's sexual fulfillment, it is necessary to talk, to listen,
to know, to understand and spend time with him or her. In order to do what
the apostle Paul commands here, husbands and wives need to be willing to
learn all the other wisdom that makes marriage function and flourish. In
this pithy word of advice to married couples, the apostle is opening the
door to his readers' learning to be lovers at every level, because one thing
is contingent upon the other. Paul's counsel requires one to listen, to
communicate, to be sensitive, in order to give the gift that one is commanded
If sex has become lifeless and perfunctory, this is the answer. If the passion
has disappeared from marriage, it is restored by making godly choices. We
can choose to see and long for beauty or strength in someone whom we have
come to take for granted. Such choices lead to developing again an inner
response that will allow physical passion to develop.
So when they agree with the word of Scripture that they give their bodies
to each other, husbands and wives must thereby ensure that they are already
working on all the other problems they face in their relationships.
In verse 5 the apostle holds that there are times when, for the sake of
spiritual growth, husbands and wives should devote themselves to prayer.
At times we may decide to not answer the telephone, prepare food, or interact
with others. We deliberately decide to shut out all sensory input in order
to spend time with the Lord. This is an appropriate element of the rhythm
of life. Afterwards, we can resume our responsibilities as husband or wife.
Our lives should have a rhythm of times spent alone with the Lord, and time
spent in responsible living together.
Paul is an extremely wise counselor. He is aware that this decision to forego
marital relations may be used merely as an excuse. That is why he directs
that any such decision must be made by mutual consent. Thus a spouse may
not suddenly decide to become spiritually-minded and push aside his or her
mate. That would be to take advantage of a spiritual directive and make
it an excuse for wrong behavior. Jesus castigated the scribes and Pharisees
for neglecting to support their parents because they claimed to have given
their money to God. They were availing themselves of this ruse so as to
avoid their responsibilities.
Thus, husbands and wives should abstain from sexual relations only by mutual
consent--and then only for a time, says the apostle, "lest Satan tempt
you because of your lack of self-control." Paul is not only referring
to sexual temptations, but temptation to bitterness, anger and resentment.
As days, perhaps weeks and months go by, feelings of rejection can lead
to such temptations, thereby giving Satan a foothold for further damage.
This is why Paul suggests that, after a time, couples "come together
It is by concession, not command, says the apostle, that he shares these
things. Here again, Paul is conceding that all people are not called to
THE GIFT OF SINGLENESS
Having dealt with marriage, Paul now turns to the other alternative available,
that of singleness. Verse 7:
Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each
man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.
But I say to the unmarried and to the widows that it is good for them if
they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry;
for it is better to marry than to burn.
Singleness, like marriage, is also a gift from God. As is the case with
spiritual gifts, this gift is given by his sovereign hand. Both are perfectly
legitimate and blessed options. Our assignment from God, which is always
appropriate for us, will increasingly seem to be so. We will be enabled
to appreciate it and rejoice in it.
What needs work, the apostle is pointing out, is the condition of being
single and unhappy because of it. Paul will later point out that the state
of being single is of particular advantage for Christians as they will then
have far more time for Christian activities. But it is always inappropriate
to be unmarried and miserable because of it. It is wrong for singles to
have their every experience tainted with frustration because of their singleness.
Furthermore, Paul's reference "it is better to marry than to burn,"
is not merely speaking of physical desires. He has already declared that
Christians should flee immorality. Christians can say no to improper sexual
expression. They have the freedom in Christ to do so. Here Paul is referring
to the longing, the desire, not just the physical desire, but the emotional
longing for intimacy, for family, for all that goes with having a partner
in life. For some singles, that kind of attitude can become a consuming
fire, an idol in their lives.
Paul's advice to singles who in his words "do not have self-control,"
may seem obvious and not helpful: "let them marry," he counsels.
"Sure," replies the lonely single, "that's what I've been
trying to do for years." But the apostle's advice here is not at all
unlike his word to married couples in verse 3. The simple command to act
requires one to probe and learn in many areas of life previously ignored.
The lesson that must be learned, of course, is why the "burning"
single person is not already married. What have they not yet discovered
about themselves? Are they suffering under some fear that they could have
conquered in Christ? Is there an arrogance about them which they are unaware
of which they must work on so that in time they too will find partners suited
to them? Some singles are unrealistic in the high standards which they demand
of potential spouses. Others have yet to learn how unfulfilling is the singleminded
pursuit of career advancement and material success.
Singles who take to heart the apostolic assignment therefore, and who want
to be married, must ask themselves, and their brothers and sisters in Christ,
what it is about them that needs changing so that they may indeed enter
into the married state. If they determine to do this, all the energy which
they formerly put into feeling miserable and unthankful for their circumstances
can now be channeled toward the positive direction of what they themselves
can do to change.
Our assignment in life, whether married or single, is a gift from God. Singleness
is a wonderful gift. If that is God's choice for you, you need never apologize
for it. It is perfectly appropriate to remain single throughout your life.
And it's also perfectly appropriate to be married. That too is a wonderful
gift from God.
"...you are not your own...," said the apostle at the end of chapter
6, "...you have been bought with a price: therefore glorify God in
your body." Here in chapter 7 he counsels married people that their
bodies are not their own, they belong to their spouses. The pattern which
Paul establishes contradicts everything we see and hear in the world around.
Our bodies are our own, we hear. We should not deny them any pleasure, but
give ourselves to enjoyment so as to have our needs met. But Scripture says
a flat no to this kind of thinking. Our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit
and we exist to serve God. And, if we are married, our bodies are to give
pleasure and joy to our spouses.
The sooner we stop thinking that our sexuality is designed solely to give
us pleasure, the wiser and more grown up we will become. Emotional pleasure,
character, inner health and appreciation do not just happen overnight, despite
what we read and hear. It is wiser to obey and to grow.
Perhaps we too one day will be able to song, along with Tevya, "Do
you love me?" That is when we will realize, following a lifetime of
serving one another, that there was more love manifest that we ever thought
we would experience. We have created something beautiful together. Because
of the choices we made we were allowed to have certain experiences. God
gives the joy of everything we had hoped for, whether married or single,
to those who were committed to doing what was right for his sake.
Catalog No. 4067
1 Corinthians 7:1-9
November 22, 1987
Copyright © 1987 Discovery
Publishing, a ministry of Peninsula
Bible Church. This data file is the sole property of Discovery Publishing,
a ministry of Peninsula Bible Church. It may be copied only in its entirety
for circulation freely without charge. All copies of this data file must
contain the above copyright notice. This data file may not be copied in
part, edited, revised, copied for resale or incorporated in any commercial
publications, recordings, broadcasts, performances, displays or other products
offered for sale, without the written permission of Discovery Publishing.
Requests for permission should be made in writing and addressed to Discovery
Publishing, 3505 Middlefield Rd. Palo Alto, CA. 94306-3695.