God’s Word for You
1 Corinthians 7:5-6 Do not deprive each other
by Pastor Timothy Smith on Friday, January 27, 2023
5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan does not tempt you through lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command.
Paul’s thought about the marriage bed continues: Could there be a time when a couple would deprive one another of intimacy on purpose? Besides certain times such as during a woman’s period (Leviticus 18:19, 20:18) or while her body recovers from childbirth, or when either of them recovers from various illnesses or surgery, Paul conceives of a couple abstaining from intimacy for a religious purpose. Devoting oneself to prayer for hours or even days at a time might possibly happen. Some manuscripts of this passage also add “fasting” to the phrase “so you may devote yourselves to prayer.” Fasting for days at a time or during certain days of the week (Luke 18:12) is an observation that comes and goes in Christianity. It is not commanded by the Scriptures, but because it is mentioned there are those who try it to learn about disciplining the body in order to focus the mind and the heart. Jesus did not command anyone to fast, but he cautioned that if or when you might fast, it should be a private matter, not something you tell everyone about. So he says in the Sermon on the Mount, “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show that they are fasting. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father who is unseen” (Matthew 6:16-18).
In addition, some couples choose to avoid intimacy during pregnancy (although neither physicians nor the Scriptures even suggest such an avoidance), or during certain festivals. In Luther’s time, couples sometimes made an avoidance on Christmas Eve or other holidays. So while Paul is not very enthusiastic about this concession, he allows for it. When married people refuse one another, their reasons are in the best of times going to be physical (fatigue, pain) but also the plague of sin in the world (anger, disagreements, and the like). But he wants them to know that “excessive spirituality” is not a valid reason except for a very limited time.
The point, of course, is not to make such an observation of abstinence continue very long, and to agree on the time limit so that neither partner in the marriage will be tempted because of their body’s demands. No one rules their own body (verse 4) and the body does not willingly obey any laws; even less so things that are not commanded. So just as fasting is actually broken for the sake of the body when water is permitted, or a little food after sunset (for “fasting” really means to eat and drink in moderation, not to give it up entirely), so it is also wise to permit intimacy even when other things are being avoided, or to agree on the time when intimacy might be resumed. Paul’s concern is that sexual sins must be avoided, and the marriage must be managed to help rather than harm or hinder this goal.
For when God explains that in marriage, “they will become one flesh,” he means that they should be together: one in agreement, one in purpose, one in home; one in all things. They should not be distant in their thoughts, desires, dreams, or the direction of their life. They should not be distant in worship, either, but united, so that they can pray together, and do all things together.
This passage has a broader application. Just as husbands and wives do not want to give one another any opportunities for sin because of a lack of self-control, so also all of us should watch out for one another’s weaknesses. And especially when it comes to one another’s marriages, we must always support the marriages of the people around us and never become a wedge that might split a marriage apart, not only on account of our actions, but even with our words and our very thoughts. The thoughts come out in words and even in the subtle body language we communicate with. You may not like your sister-in-law, but she is your brother’s beloved wife. Do not come between them. Do not be a burden on their time, or churn up moments in the past that might cause hurt or pain, or that might strain their love and commitment. Do not be so high and mighty in your own eyes that you dare to say, “If their marriage is strong, it can survive my words.” Those are the devil’s words in your throat. Beware that he doesn’t shove worse things there that you will never be rid of!
Respect, support, and encourage marriages in your life; especially your own. It is a little reflection of our love for Christ, and our eternal bond with him. How blessed are those who say: “I trust in your unfailing love” (Psalm 13:5).
Pastor Timothy Smith