One of the points we have been seeking to drive home is a biblical celebration of different kinds of glories, particularly the God-given differences between men and women. The great temptation is to despise difference, to resent that others are not like us. This is sometimes because we believe we are better, a fear of difference, or resenting the glory of others.
The great antidote to resentment and envy is gratitude and honor. In his single shot at husbands, Peter instructs them to dwell with their wives according to knowledge and to honor them (1 Pet. 3:7). Peter may have a number of different things in mind, but at least one connotation of a husband “knowing” his wife is sexual (cf. Gen. 4:1). Peter does not leave it to men to guess what this kind of knowing consists of. He immediately defines it as honoring the wife as both a weaker vessel and as a co-heir of the grace of life (1 Pet. 3:7). A weaker vessel is not a vessel of lesser value. It is a vessel that requires protection and care and is made for certain purposes and not others. At the very point that a husband is tempted to be harsh or bitter with his wife, he is resenting her weakness rather than honoring it (cf. Col. 3:19). Hebrews also insists that the marriage bed be honored by all, which includes incidentally, those who are in it (Heb. 13:4). And it is honored by recognizing and delighting in the differences between male and female. We should also note that one of the other ways we honor the marriage bed is by making distinctions between male and female in more generic situations. The old customs of honoring women by holding doors, standing when they enter a room, or standing at the table waiting for them to be seated are based on the spirit of this biblical principle, and the same spirit should extend to interacting with members of the opposite sex at work, casual friendships, business trips, time alone, etc. We do not make distinctions primarily out of fear of what might happen or what people might think, but when we honor God given differences we are also putting up healthy fences and avoiding folly.
Do Not Defraud
Paul also insists that differences be honored by insisting that the husband and wife are each responsible to render to the other “due benevolence” (1 Cor. 7:3). This must take into consideration the differing needs and interests of husband and wife. But this is not primarily a question of personal needs/interests because the body of each spouse belongs to the other. This is a matter of true authority and private property (1 Cor. 7:4), such that refusing to give that “due benevolence” is a form of theft or fraud (1 Cor. 7:5). A frigid woman is sinning against her husband when she refuses him. A lazy man who only takes what he needs is pillaging his wife, treating her like a conquered enemy. Men can also defraud their wives by long business trips and work hours that do not take their wife’s frame into due consideration. Because marriage means that spouses belong to one another, the decision not to come together must be a mutual one, not a unilateral pronouncement. Paul specifically assumes that coming together is the normal operating assumption, as either party desires, exceptions being made for prayer and fasting. But this is not just a good idea. Paul says that this is spiritual warfare. Failure to honor the rights and privileges of the marriage bed is to give Satan an opportunity to break into your home (1 Cor. 7:5).
Let Her Breasts Satisfy
The Bible teaches that women are the glory of man in general, but in marriage, one woman becomes the glory of one man in particular. And this is for the purpose of delight (Pr. 5:18). This delight occurs particularly as a result of the exclusive devotion of one man and one woman (Pr. 5:15-17). This delight is necessarily diluted by other people or images, real or imagined. This delight is physical and emotional, and there are responsibilities flowing both ways between husband and wife. A man is commanded to be satisfied with his wife’s breasts at all times and to be always ravished by her love (Pr. 5:19). If God commands this, then we must first of all recognize that this is a legitimate command. And it is illegitimate for a wife to be offended by this: he’s only doing it because he’s supposed to. Don’t buy the lie that says love must be utterly spontaneous and unpremeditated. That’s a Christian heresy: God’s love was exhaustively planned and premeditated and not any less heartfelt (Eph. 1:4). Do not resent your man, if recognizing his own fallible memory, he commits to bringing you flowers on the first of every month as duly noted in his Google calendar. Secondly, this means that a wife ought not be dismissive or suspicious of her husband’s delight. It’s not weird or perverted for a husband to be really into his wife. God’s commands really are delightful. If he is manfully pursuing you, give thanks for his obedience. Third, this delight is to occur “at all times” and “always” which doesn’t leave room for Sports Illustrated Swimsuit editions or Victoria Secret catalogues or lunch breaks at Hooters. Fourth, if a man is commanded to be satisfied, this presupposes that his wife is joyfully participating. If he is ravished, it is because she is an active lover too. In fact, this is where the differing glories find their wonderful equality: God made men to delight in their wives, and He made wives to delight in being delighted in.
Grace is wonderful. Grace is an easy yoke. Grace is Sabbath rest. But grace is also hard work, spiritual warfare, and includes fear and trembling. God holds all of this together, and He holds us together so that it does not break us. This doesn’t mean it won’t ever feel like we are about to break, but it does mean that we must trust Him to hold us. One of the lies of the false gospel of sex is that it should be easy, awesome, and constantly mind-blowing. But God made the world to be all woven together, which means that you cannot divorce any part of your life from any other part. If you are single, your purity, your chastity, your contentment in your state is not unrelated to the rest of your life. It is God’s grace to you. If you are married, the hard work of learning to make love is part of a broader mosaic of learning to love one another around the table, in the back yard, all day long. It too is God’s grace to you.
[Note: The sermon audio for this sermon is available here.]