Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.
Obeying God’s Commands for Sex
But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7:2-5ESV
Today we continue our study Question 138 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “What are the duties required in the seventh commandment?” The third part of the answer states, “The duties required in the seventh commandment are… marriage by those that have not the gift of continency; conjugal love, and cohabitation… .” Last week we examined our responsibility to guard ourselves and others from the temptation to unchaste thoughts and actions. Today we consider the duty that God requires of some people: that they get married, and that they live like they are married!
If you search for the top things married couples fight over, sex is almost always either number one or number two (money is the only other topic in the same ballpark). This sad fact demonstrates what sin has done to God’s good world. The most intimate, pleasurable, and loving activity created by God in order to bring his image-bearers together as two persons becoming one flesh, delighting in one another; has instead become the one thing that most often drives them apart, causing them to be angry with and even to hate one another. God created sex. Sex done God’s way is good. It is honoring and glorifying to God, and good and beneficial for man. Yet like every other activity that calls for obedience to God, our sinful natures only pervert and corrupt God’s good gifts. Sinful man would steal from God the satisfaction he craves with no regard to God’s honor and glory, nor even to being grateful (Rom. 1:21). Still, God is holy. He will not allow man to do evil and thrive in it. Therefore, today’s world is being torn apart by sexual sin.
Yet how simple is the solution and cure to the many evils caused by sexual sin? If just one generation of mankind would keep the four verses from 1 Corinthians at the head of this article, the vast majority of sex related murders, suicides, rapes, thefts, jealousies, dissensions, gossip, pornography, perversions, neglect, and abuses of every kind would disappear from the human race! Not to mention how many diseases, viruses, and many kinds of mental afflictions and illnesses that would quickly fade.
Here again we see the clarity of the Westminster Divines in discerning God’s good will for mankind. Notice first how marriage is a duty to all those who do not have the gift of continency. The gift of continency refers to being able to control sexual desires & passions to the point where you are not struggling with sexual sin, even though you have no spouse with which to legitimately satisfy those desires. If this is NOT you, then it is your duty to get married, for marriage is the only place where those desires can be legitimately expressed. Here, make sure you are not being deceived by the world’s view of marriage. The world likes to promote the fairy tale that there is one perfect person for you out there and that is the only person you are supposed to marry or else you have messed up your whole life. This falsehood has caused much pain and loneliness for many. The fact is that marriage is about commitment. As a Christian you can make a marriage work with any other Christian of the opposite sex. If you do not have the gift of continency, it is your duty to be seeking out such a marriage.
The second and third duties are “conjugal love and cohabitation.” Conjugal refers to two objects that are made to be joined together. Plainly stated the sexual organs of one man and one woman are created by God to join together. Here the Catechism is teaching that married people are commanded by God to have sex together and also to live together. The passage from Corinthians goes much further and actually forbids either partner in the marriage from NOT having sex with their spouse. Even if they both agree to refrain from intercourse, they are only allowed by God to do so for a time, and then only to give themselves to prayer! How good is God to give us the gift of sex. How wisely has He regulated it. If only we would listen to Him.