2014 Lent 15

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I Corinthians 7:1-9

Today’s passage is another one of those where I really end up arguing with Paul more than siding with him.  And it’s all about sex.  (Or is it?)  For that reason alone, I’ll leave it up to your imagination, mostly, about how and where I might disagree with him (and encourage you to take up your own disagreements with the apostle).  But there is one matter I want to bring to light.

Paul encourages a man “not to touch a woman.”  This word, “touch,” is universally understood by biblical scholars to be a euphemism for “turn on sexually.”  So, in other words, Paul encourages men not to turn women on sexually.  And it’s not a particular statement, as if it applies merely to a class of men, or to an individual–something like, “Unmarried, adolescent guys, don’t do anything to turn on girls your age”–but a general statement, applicable to all men.  That means unmarried adolescents, yeah.  But it also includes boys, middle-aged men, old guys, and every man in between, married or not.

Whahuh?

So, countering with the ad ridiculum again, to apply Paul’s logic to the nth degree–that all men stop touching all women in any way that turns them on and thus all men stop having sex with all women–would result in the end of humanity.  Personally, I can’t go there.  Just sayin’.

But apparently Paul can’t either, or at least he anticipates my counter-argument, for he then says (albeit in inverted order), “I wish all were as I myself am” (implying a guy who doesn’t turn women on); “but because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.”

So I think what Paul’s getting at here is that monogamy is actually a good thing, suggesting that promiscuity is a bad thing.  Well, sure!  Who wouldn’t agree with that?  Even the Augustan morality of the empire supported this idea through and through.

But, just to be sure we know what he means, Paul clarifies: “The husband should give to his wife conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband . . .  Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”  (These are exact quotations, people, straight out of the NRSV!)  This clarification causes a few issues for me.

For now it sounds like the only reason for a couple to marry is lust-management, that a couple will be having sex constantly and continuously except for the occasional agreed upon break for prayer.  (One has to wonder about the prayers here, whether the wife would feign spiritual just to get her husband off her back: “Gee, honey, I really should go pray now.”  But this would be less than true and therefore hypocritical.  Anyway, here’s one of those places where your imagination can run amok.)

On the flip-side, the other message here is that sex is the main (and maybe the only) reason to get married in the first place.

Now I don’t know about you, but as for me, I want to argue a bit with all this.  Let’s at least go back to that monogamy bit.  To spend a life with one person, showing extreme loyalty and faithfulness, allowing yourself to trust another human soul completely, giving of yourself in ways you can give to no other person, loving a neighbor unlike any other neighbor; and, if God so wills, to raise a family with that neighbor, showing your children by example what it means to offer yourself completely to another person in a lifelong relationship–these all sound like pretty dang good reasons to me for a couple to marry.

And I haven’t even mentioned sex!

But for Paul, and unfortunately for too many youth leaders across the country, marriage apparently is little more than lust-management: a means of having sex without it being sinful.

So, to return to a question brought up a few days ago, in that passage about exiling the sexually immoral stepson, again I’m not sure church leaders should make a campaign out of ridding the church of pew-sitters who push sexual boundaries.  I’m not sure that’s Christ-like.  In fact, I’m rather sure that Jesus Christ interacted with sexually promiscuous persons.  This didn’t somehow make him promiscuous, did it?  Just so, our churches will not become hotbeds of sleaze by opening our doors to those with a looser morality than we are comfortable with.

Anyway, enough about sex–for now.

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