How not to talk about marriage and women

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Take a look at this tweet.

It sums up in one revolting little paragraph everything that is wrong with a certain outlook on life, a certain distortion of what God’s Word teaches.

I suspect that it arises out of a couple of misunderstandings of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7. First, in v7, Paul uses the language of “gift” to describe our different circumstances.  The assumption is that some people are given the gift of “celibacy” in other words, that mystically, they find themselves able to live without any form of sexual desire or temptation.  Meanwhile, there are others who do experience sexual desire and so, because of that desire, have the gift of marriage, in other words, they are suitably qualified for the role of being husbands (I focus on husbands here because, the focus is usually almost exclusively on men). Though, it seems that beyond having uncontrollable sexual desires, there is little discussion of the specific qualities and gifts that a man might need for marriage, not least an unselfish and sacrificial concern for his spouse. Indeed, we might suggest that the qualities required for eldership, faithfulness and self-control are the qualities needed for husbands and fathers.  These don’t seem to be available naturally to many men (we are frequently told by the world around us that we simply aren’t built for monogamy) and if most of us are honest, these are not things that we suddenly supernaturally found we had on the day of our wedding.

You see, when Paul talks about a gift here, he is simply saying that God will give us our particular circumstances.  There will be opportunities and challenges for both single and married but we should regard the situation we find ourselves in as God’s good gift to us and so seek to enjoy and make best use of that gift.  A married man will need to learn those qualities and skills required to be a good and faithful husband and father.  Along the way, the biggest lesson he will learn is about how far short he falls and how much in need of God’s grace and his wife’s forgiveness he is.  A single man may well struggle with both loneliness and lust.  He will need God’s grace for those too.  However, it is worth observing that a married man may also at times experience a sense of loneliness and may well have to battle lust.  Marriage is not a magic cure for those things.

So, the second misunderstanding I want to suggest concerns verse 9.  This is being treated as a command for what to do if you cannot control your  lusts.  If you are unable to exercise self control and either allow your thoughts to run wild, find yourself looking at porn or have an uncontrollable urge to go on Tinder and pick up  a one night stand, then you should urgently get married.  This goes against the grain of scripture and what it tells us to do with sinful desire.  We are to put sinful desires to death, we are not to excuse them or find an acceptable way to satisfy them.  So, here in 1 Corinthians 7, the context seems to be that there is a specific local situation, a crisis which is making the choice to remain single one of equal worth with marriage but for that time and seasons, it is the better option (see v 26).

 It seems more likely, looking at the text, that Paul has in view specific situations where couples have been betrothed to one another but in the light of Paul’s advice are considering delaying marriage.  Some, however will find that they cannot wait. Paul isn’t referring to general and generic passion or lust but rather a couple’s passion for one another and a desire to be together. This is a  good and godly passion/desire so that whilst it is okay for them to deny themselves for a time, it is also not sinful for them to go ahead and fulfil the godly desire of their heart.

The problem here though, is that we are not just dealing with some naïve misunderstanding of Scripture but that this is resulting in a deeply disturbing and ungodly way of thinking about both marriage and women.  So let’s be explicitly clear on this brothers.  First of all, marriage will not cure your sinful desire and selfishness though it may make you more aware of them.    We should not use marriage to fix our problems.  In fact that is to make an idol out of marriage. We look to it and to our spouse to do for us what we need Christ and the Holy Spirit to do.

Secondly, we should be deeply disturbed by the horrific language in the tweet that treats women as nothing more than interchangeable objects, like something you pick up off the shelf to meet your needs.  This is no way to think of or talk about our sisters in Christ.

The Bible offers a far better vision of both singleness and marriage.  Let’s aim for that. 

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