October 1, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker
Today, we’re going to deal with the struggles that some couples will have in marriage. In fact, in order to do some research for this sermon today, I started looking at counselors and the way that they deal with couples that are struggling at the midpoint of life and struggling years, or in some cases decades, into marriage.
So, here’s some recent research. This is in 2006: A team of six psychologists researched the nation. They studied the nation. These were basically mid-life marriages. -couples who have been married for 20 or 30 years, that were coming to these counselors, these professional counselors, to get advice, and they were saying, “I’m really struggling with marriage.” So, these psychologists started to survey what’s happening in America, and they noticed there’s a connection between three things, and they said, “Not only are these three things connected, but they’re sequential. When one thing happens, the next is almost always the case, which is often leading to the following case, and frankly as a pastor, I see this from time to time in my office.
Here’s what these six researchers determined: Marital instability (marriages that are on the rocks) generally will say it’s because of a low level of marital satisfaction or marital success. And then, when asked this question, many of those couples will say that low level of marital satisfaction, or marital success, is because of sexual infrequency in marriage. If you were to spin this around, it’s saying couples that are not regularly having sex (whatever regularly means for that marriage), couples that are not regularly engaged in sex will struggle with marital satisfaction, and it will inevitably lead to marriages that are on the rocks.
So, the whole reason we’re having this discussion today is because the research shows this, but the Scriptures also teach this. -that if you really want to protect your marriage, you have to make passion a priority. I’m going to give you a sentence. I’m going to ask everybody in this room (you have a space at the bottom of your notes in that worship guide or a space inside your mobile app where you can type a personal note to yourself), here’s my whole sermon in one sentence (You can fall asleep after you hear this, but I want you to hear this. Don’t miss this one statement. Here it is, y’all). Write this down:
Protect your marriage by making passion a priority.
-Because life itself will start to drain this out of your marriage. When you’re spending 23 1/2 hours a day focused on children or when you’ve got a career and the other things that are demanding your attention, if you don’t make passion a priority, life will start to suck the marrow out of your bones, and when that happens, it will challenge a married couple’s ability to remain passionate to one another.
And I’m going to add onto this equation the additional challenge, something that you learned on the playground when you’re in elementary school. All of us in this room already know this, but I think from time to time we miss the significance of this: Boys and girls are different. Can I get an amen out there? It’s true. I don’t think we really give enough of an emphasis to just how different men and women are. They’re different in physiology. They’re different in the way that their brains work. They’re emotionally different. I’m convinced they’re very different in the way that they talk. Google translate is not sophisticated enough to settle the differences in what words mean with men versus what words mean in women. They are different from one another, and perhaps one of the most challenging difficulties, if you’re not careful, will be the difference in sexual drives between the two people.
Just to set this whole thing up for you, I’ve got a little video. I think it will show you what has probably happened in your house a time or two and how challenging this might be in marriage.
You’re laughing, because it’s true. It’s true of all married people. This is just part of the struggle of living life together, and what I’m trying to say is, you live in a frantic, fast-paced world, and the lifestyle that we live itself starts to pull couples apart, so you really have to put some time and some focus into passion, or else it’s not going to be a priority, and when it stops being a priority, it can lead to big problems in marriage.
Now, this isn’t just scientific research. The Scriptures are very clear about this subject. In fact, I’m going to read a seminal passage. There’s a lot more the Bible says about this, but I think when you understand this passage, you understand all that you need to know about this issue in marriage. I’m going to read from 1st Corinthians chapter 7, and then we’re going to dissect this passage today. Here’s what the Bible teaches in 1st Corinthians 7, starting in verse one:
1 Corinthians 7:1-6
1 Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations. 2 But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. 4 The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command.
This letter was written 2,000 years ago in a very different kind of society than ours, and the great apostle Paul, perhaps one of the greatest theologians in history besides Jesus Himself is saying, “ We are surrounded by sexual temptation, so I’ve got some advice for you on how to deal with sexual temptation as a married couple.”
I. Put your spouse’s needs first
We’re going to do our best to try to break this phrase, or this paragraph, apart and to look deeply at what he is really teaching us in marriage about the frequency that we should be having sex with one another, and here’s the first thing I think I’d like you to write down as you follow along in the notes today: Put your spouse’s needs first.
That’s essentially what we’re reading from the Bible today. Your body doesn’t belong only to you; it belongs to your wife. And your body doesn’t belong only to you; it belongs also to your husband. It’s a gift from God for you to enjoy within the confines of marriage. I think if you were to summarize this, Paul would say, “Don’t be selfish physically in marriage.”
1 Corinthians 7:1-3
1 Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations. But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs.
Here’s how he starts this paragraph again. -starting in verse 1: “Now regarding the question you asked in your letter…” So, here’s the truth: There is a letter that Paul is responding to. We don’t have a record of this letter, so we don’t know exactly the question that was asked, but the question had some kind of sexual nature to it. He says, “If you’re not married, you should be abstaining from sex.” That’s what he says next. “Yes, it’s good to abstain from sexual relations, but if you’re married, now we have to look at this differently.”
Whatever the issue was -and we know by reading the two books of Corinthians together, there were big issues in this church. -Some of those issues were sexual issues. Some of those issues were spiritual issues, but some of those issues were both sexual and spiritual at the same time. This church is jacked up. ‘So messed up in fact, that they can’t figure things out on their own. The great apostle Paul has been preaching and planting churches and moving on, and this church is so messed up in this area, that they decide, “We’re going to write a letter back to the founder the church, back to the father of the church, and we’re going to ask his advice on this question, because we don’t know where to go. We don’t know how to answer this question.” And the question is about sex in marriage.
Paul is giving some just general good advice when it comes to sex in marriage. Paul is basically saying today, “Be generous with your body in the marriage relationship. If you’re not married, then be pure with your body.”
Now, I’m speaking from experience, because for almost 20 years, I’ve been teaching yearly marriage conferences, and I’ve heard this statement repeatedly for almost 20 years. I’m going to ask you to strike a statement from your vocabulary and never ever use it again. In the confines of the Christian marriage, don’t ever use this statement: “I will give you sex if…
It doesn’t matter what comes next after “if”. When you use this phrase within Christian marriage, you’re manipulating this good, gracious gift that God has given a married couple. In fact, what you’re doing is, you’re prostituting sex to get something, and you’re being selfish when it comes to sex. You’re trying to get something out of your spouse, and you’re using sex as a weapon to get something from them.
And maybe you’ve made the mistake of using that sentence in the past. If that’s you, please strike this from your vocabulary, and don’t use it anymore, because what the apostle Paul is teaching us today is, there is a frequency that a couple should enjoy. There’s a frequency that a couple should settle on together, and if you’re using sex as a weapon, you’re abusing this good, this gracious gift of God. The Bible is teaching us today, put your spouse’s needs first. Put them before you, and you’ll find that this area starts to become a lot less problematic in marriage.
II. Give away authority over your body
Here’s the next thing the Bible is teaching us today: In reality, in a Christian marriage, you don’t have total control over your body. In fact, as a Christian, you don’t have any control over your body. It is the Lord Jesus Christ that decides what to do and how it’s done with your body, and your spouse also has a vote in this.
The man who is not sexually satisfied, often is dangerous. The man who is, generally speaking, sexually satisfied is productive and healthy. But guys, listen carefully to what I’m going to say. The lady who is not sexually satisfied in marriage, she is missing something incredibly important to who she is as a person. The woman who is sexually satisfied, often that woman has self-confidence; that woman projects that she is valued and loved to the people that see her. She shows the world, “I know my husband loves me. He shows me that he loves me.”
It’s powerful what this can do in marriage. It’s destructive what happens to marriage when it doesn’t, when it’s not handled well. So again, let me remind you what 1 Corinthians chapter 7 is saying to us today. Verse 4 says it’s not really your body; you don’t get to call all of the shots anymore. Now your spouse has a vote. Verse 4 says this:
1 Corinthians 7:4
The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.
This [the first phrase] was popular teaching in Paul’s day. Many marriages functioned like that 2,000 years ago when the apostle Paul writes this letter, but what he says next was highly unusual 2,000 years ago. [the second phrase] That was shocking when the apostle Paul wrote this statement 2,000 years ago, but ‘you know what? Most Bible scholars believe this verse right here comes directly from the Old Testament. They believe Paul is interpreting God’s law when He met with the people of Israel on Mount Sinai, when He gave His law to the nation of Israel, and many people believe Paul is explaining what the Old Testament says explicitly in Exodus chapter 21.
Let me tell you what the Bible says in 2 verses from Exodus chapter 21 (verses 10 and 11), God’s speaking to the nation of Israel with an audible voice from Mount Sinai, giving His law to His nation, and here’s what the Bible says:
If a man who has married a slave wife takes another wife for himself, he must not neglect the rights of the first wife to food, clothing, and sexual intimacy. 11 If he fails in any of these three obligations, she may leave as a free woman without making any payment.
The Bible makes it very explicit. -the right to food, the right to clothing, and the right to sexual intimacy. This is verse 10. Verse 11 makes it even more clear.
He broke his obligation in marriage if he didn’t give her his body, if he didn’t do his duty to this woman in marriage. Thousands of years ago in ancient history, that would’ve been scandalous; that would’ve been shocking. -that the Bible is giving women this kind of authority, this kind of power in marriage. Literally, the Bible is teaching us in verse 4 today, “Husbands, you have a duty to your wives. Wives, you have a duty to your husbands, and if you fail to do that duty, you leave them vulnerable.”
What the Bible is teaching today is, it’s not just your body anymore. That body belongs to the Lord Jesus Christ first and foremost, but your spouse also has some authority over your body, and now, your body belongs to two people in Christian marriage.
I’m going to say something in his room that’s going to offend some people. You’ll just have to hear me in love, because it’s true. Men, your wife has every right to give you some suggestions, some recommendations, about the way that you look or about your personal appearance. -about your personal hygiene. And don’t give her that, “Hey, you’re acting like my mother” approach, because really, this is her body as well as your body. So, she has every right to say, “This needs to change. You really need to take better care of yourself. You really need to groom yourself better or take better care of your personal hygiene, because when I’m with you in public, this says something about me like it says something about you.
And ladies, your husband has every right to say to you something about the way that you look or about what you weigh or about how you dress, because that’s not just your body; it’s also his body, and when you’re in public, you are demonstrating something about us, not just about you. These are the implications for what the Bible is teaching us here in 1st Corinthians chapter 7.
III. Set aside time for your spouse
Here’s the other thing that the Bible tells us today: If you’re not careful, life is going the squeeze this out of you, so you have to set aside time for your spouse. You have to make this a priority, and here’s how Paul says it again, starting in verse 5:
1 Corinthians 7:5-6
Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command.
Like in the Old Testament, there were times where God would meet with His people, and before He met with His people, He would ask His people to remain sexually pure for just a couple of days to purify themselves and make themselves ready for God to meet with them. Paul takes this idea into the New Testament, “Don’t stop having sex with each other regularly (whatever that means for you) unless you both agree together for a limited period of time and for the purposes of pursuing Jesus more. That’s an acceptable reason to stop having sex with each other for a short period of time and then when that event or that season is over within marriage, then it’s time for you two to come back together and to be intimate with one another sexually.”
In verse 6, I need to be honest with you. Paul is saying, “Look, this isn’t a command from God. I’m just giving you wise advice when it comes to marriage. This is a concession, not a command from the Lord. This is good for your marriage. This would be healthy for your marriage.”
You see, I think the apostle Paul knew something about the difference between men and women. Scientifically proven, on average (I’m going to speak in generalities here, which means some of you in this room, this isn’t you. Others of you in this room, this absolutely is true of you or your marriage), scientifically speaking, all over the world, the average man on the planet thinks about sex about 33 times a day. Some men think about it more often; some men think about it less, but on average, about 33 times a day, sex comes across an average man’s mind.
The same research looking at women: the average woman (not in America, but on the plant) thinks about sex once a day. -which means in your house, ladies, you’re going to think, “All that guy ever thinks about is sex, because he thinks about it 33 times more a day than you do, and guys, what’s probably going through your mind is, “That woman never thinks about sex, has no interest in sex whatsoever, because she thinks about it 33 times less a day than you do.” And every person is different, which means when you bring two different people together in marriage, you’re going to have to figure out what is good, what is normal, what is healthy for you two as a couple, and then you set a goal, and you try to make this a priority, which means one of you is probably not having sex as often as you’d like, and one of you is probably having sex more often that you would like, but you’re doing this to protect your spouse and to set this as a priority in marriage. It’s important. It’s very important.
Let me wrap up with this. This is something that I’ve seen regularly in counseling with married couples. They’ve been married for 20, 25, or 30 years and the first couple of years were a struggle, because they were trying to figure out how to live with each other. Then, children came along and they were infants, and it was consuming every minute of their relationship, and that became a struggle. Then, at about the 25 to 35-year mark, it gets really hard again in marriage.
Here’s what happens: Husbands will say, “My wife put the children first in our marriage, and for their entire lives, all of her attention was focused on them, and now the children are grown and they’re out of the house and we don’t know how to live with each other anymore. In other words, children were the glue that was holding this marriage together, and when children left, the glue came apart and the marriage struggled.
Or ladies will say this: My husband’s got a career. He works hard. He spends a lot of time away from the home, and then instead of coming home when he’s off work, he goes to hang out with the boys. He’s got these hobbies, and he’s always hanging out with his boys like he’s still in a fraternity in college, and I feel like I don’t mean anything to him. After years of this, she sets down the law and says, “You need to show me that I come before your friends and your hobbies, and if you don’t show me that, I’m out of here.” And he sits there wondering, “Where did this come from?” -because for most of his marriage, he’s been putting her third or fourth or fifth in his life, and she’s sick of living like that. And now, he’s got to figure out an entirely new way of living to show his wife that she really does (besides the Lord Jesus Christ), she really does come second.
I’m asking you to put yourself and your spouse together in a relationship where you two come from two different backgrounds, two different walks of life, two different families and you’re two different genders, and chances are, what’s frequent enough for her is not frequent enough for him or vice versa. As a couple, you have to figure out how to have sex regularly, so that your spouse is not vulnerable to an affair. What I’m trying to teach us today is, you don’t have all of the authority anymore in your life. When you got married, you gave up some of that authority; you gave it to your spouse. And if you’re a follower of Jesus Christ, you give ultimate authority, you give all authority over to Him. He decides how you’re supposed to live your life, not you.
• I need to get my heart right before I can get my marriage right. This morning I asked Jesus to transform my heart for the first time.
– I have allowed time to take a toll on passion in my marriage. This week I will make passion a priority in marriage.
+ With God’s help, I will make my marriage passionate for a lifetime.
- How long did it take for the “honeymoon” phase of your marriage to end? What happened to the marriage that caused you to no longer act like newlyweds?
- If someone took a look at your calendar, what would they say got most of your time last week?
- Why is it so hard to put someone else’s needs first in a relationship? What prevents us from being totally selfless?
- When you get married, you give over some authority of your body to your spouse.
- Give an example of an appropriate exercise of authority over your spouse’s body.
- Give an example of what an abuse of that authority might look like.
- Ask your spouse, “Is it ‘exciting’ being married to me?” Listen honestly to his/her answer.
- Give your spouse some suggestions of what you would like to spend time doing together in the future.
- Pray about your priorities this week.