1 Corinthians 7:1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. (NKJV)
In this passage the Apostle Paul follows up on the previous two chapters where he frequently addresses sexual immorality. He gives us God’s sanctioned remedy for sexual immorality.
Previously Paul has written to the first century believers in the church at Corinth, Greece that our bodies are not for sexual immorality but are for the Lord (1 Cor. 6: 13b). The bodies of Christians belong to the Lord, not to themselves. We are “members of Christ” (1 Cor. 6:15a). Every Christian is a member of the body of Christ. Since our bodies belong to the Lord, He, and only He, has the right to determine how they should be used.
Paul begins this passage by explaining why he is addressing this issue at this time. He is responding to a question from someone in the church (v. 1a).
Paul then begins on the subject itself with the statement that “It is good” if men and women do not have sexual relations at all (v. 1b). This is a position that Paul has adopted for himself and it has allowed him to solely focus on the Lord.
However, Paul admits that his position, while “it is good”, may not be for everyone. Since the sin of sexual immorality is so prevalent, God commands “let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband” (v. 2). It is a recognition by God that the human need for sex is so strong that it is almost impossible to ignore. Therefore, God would rather have us marry than to almost certainly fall into the sexual immorality of sex outside of marriage.
So, God’s commandment is to “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (v. 3). Since the context here is that of sexual relations the proper interpretation of the word “affection” written here is affection within sexual relations.
God, who owns our bodies, then grants the husband and wife “authority” over each other’s bodies in regard to the matter of sexual relations (v. 4). In the context of the Bible as a whole, this authority has limits.
Previously in this letter Paul wrote “Our bodies are not for sexual immorality” (v. 6:13) and “your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit” (v. 6:19). It is clear that we should cause no harm to come to our bodies, or to the bodies of those over whom we have authority. They belong to God and we should be good stewards of them.
As part of this authority God commands “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (v. 5). God makes it clear that married couples should not deprive one another of regular sexual relations except for the exclusive purpose of “fasting and prayer” for “a time”, and even then only by mutual consent.
The Rabbis of the time required that marriage partners have regular sexual relations with one another generally on Friday night, which was the Sabbath. They also taught that sexual abstinence within marriage was allowable for fasting and prayer for generally one or two weeks for those other than clergy, who may continue for up to thirty days.
Paul then concludes this passage with the statement: “But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment”. There are some who believe that this means that the “commandments” of this passage are only “concessions”.
However, Paul does not allow for this interpretation for this passage, or for any of his writings unless he specifically says so, when he later writes: “If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (! Cor. 14:37). He is telling those who teach that what he writes are commandments from the Lord Jesus, unless otherwise stated.
So proper interpretation of verse six applies it only to verse five and not to the entire passage. The “concession” is that God allows for sexual abstinence in marriage for a period of time under specific circumstances, but He does not command it. We are not commanded to abstain from sexual relations while praying and fasting. The commands of the rest of the passage still stand on their own.
God hates divorce (Mal. 2:16). He calls us to avoid divorce. One of the major causes for divorce today is poor sexual relations within the marriage. God never calls us without equipping us. In this passage He equips us on how to avoid divorce in many cases.
Online Bible Commentary