I recently preached a few sermons through 1 Corinthians 7. Singleness and marriage are the obvious big themes of this chapter.
As I found for myself, a quick first read of the chapter may leave you also a little perplexed.
At first read, you too will perhaps pick up three seemingly different guidelines Paul seems to give married couples.
Let me first lay out these three seemingly conflicting words of counsel that Paul has to offer.
First, Paul commands husbands and wives not to deny each other their conjugal rights. The husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. And vice-versa (1 Cor. 7:3-4).
There is a context to this. The culture in the city of Corinth at that time was highly promiscuous. Some in the church overreacted to this. They concluded that sex, even within marriage, was undesirable, or at least unhelpful for spiritual growth. Abstinence in marriage was better, they may have argued.
I wondered with amusement if some husband or wife had sent a desperate SOS to Paul.
Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, among other things, correcting this wrong call for abstinence within marriage. I am sure many were relieved to read Paul’s counsel.
Second, a few verses down the line, Paul does permit married couples to deny one another for a season.
Do this by mutual agreement, so you can both devote yourselves to prayer, Paul had argued (1 Cor. 7:5).
Well, if you feel this is only a minor shift in stance, wait till you see what Paul said next in this chapter.
“This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none.” (1 Cor. 7:29)
Obviously, Paul’s third guidance seems to be very different from his first.
Why This Earthly Marriage Is Only a Fly-by
It was in reconciling these three seemingly conflicting (but not) advice to married couples that I found a fresh and beautiful way to reflect on my own marriage.
I have been married for 22 years. But reflecting on this chapter over and over again these past few weeks has really helped me see this earthly marriage more clearly.
I spent a while weighing all three pieces of Paul’s wisdom. So which one of these is correct? Which one of these should married couples apply in their lives?
This illustration may sound far-fetched. But it was a small piece of space-ship science from the movie Interstellar that helped me reconcile Paul’s three seemingly differing statements.
In many movies and in real life, spacecraft often use the gravitational pull of a nearby planet to propel or sling-shot themselves through great distances in space.
A spacecraft is first directed behind a planet so it is pulled in by its gravity. Having gathered momentum, it then speeds off, but at a different angle, using the planet’s gravity as the power to catapult across vast distances.
The spacecraft must get close enough to the planet, but not too close.
If it gets too close to the planet, it will be pulled in by the planet’s gravity and will be grounded there forever. But getting just close enough will give it enough momentum to sling-shot to another destination far, far away in space.
This earthly marriage is like a planet that a spaceship uses to sling-shot to another destination.
This earthly marriage is a mere fly-by.
The eternal destination is our wedding to the Lamb of God.
We must come just close enough to our earthly marriage so we are directed to our eternal bridegroom. But not so close that we are sucked in forever.
Paul’s three seemingly differing guidelines are an invitation to live our marriages like this. Not seeing this earthly marriage as the final destination, but as something that propels us to our eternal marriage with Christ.
When I realised that this earthly marriage is just a fly-by, then all three of Paul’s seemingly differing statements are reconciled, pointing me to the incredible hope of the gospel.
Jesus is not just a messiah. He is our bridegroom messiah.
And this earthly marriage is but a sling-shot that propels us toward our eternal wedding to the Lamb of God.