Cross Centered Marriage (1Corinthians 7)



If you were stuck in the ocean and surrounded by saltwater, the worse thing you could do would be to drink from the ocean. Your body may thirst but the saltwater would not help but only harm your body. In fact, drinking saltwater would only increase your dehydration and cause your body’s organs to breakdown and fail.  The ocean would appear as a massive mockery daring you to drink and lead you to death.

In America we are surrounded by an ocean that will not quench our thirst. It is the ocean of sexual immorality that is not helping but harming us. Sex has become America’s drug of choice to which it is obsessed and addicted. Our culture has reduced sex as mere human recreation rather than a divine reality to symbolize the unity and community of God. Sex is viewed as mere seduction rather than as a seal of the marriage covenant.

In sum, sex has both a physical and spiritual purpose for the marriage relationship. In examining 1Corinthians 7 one can better understand the purpose of sex within the marriage relationship.

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EXAMINE               1Corinthians 7         Cross Centered Marriage

We have seen that the city of Corinth was sick with sin and soaked with seduction. In the previous chapter, Paul addressed a circumstance of immorality where a man had sexual relations with his step-mother. Paul noted this was not only ungodly but unthinkable even among unbelievers. The Corinthians were proud and permissive towards such sin and Paul admonished them. They were to “flee sexual immorality” (6:18) and glorify God with their bodies (6:20).

The fact that there was so much perversion led the Corinthians to abstain from sex at all costs.

1Cor 7:1 “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”

Yet, Paul also wanted to help them to see that sex is not sinful but sacred.

The Bible is a book about marriage (and sex).[1]

–          In the beginning of the Bible, God creates a marriage and commands sexual reproduction (Gen 1:27-28; 2:23-24; 9:1).

–          One of the central themes of the Bible is God’s relationship with His people, which marriage becomes a metaphor (Isaiah 62:5b; Hosea 2:16, 19a; Matthew 9:15; 25:1-13; 1Corinthians 7:17; Ephesians 5:32; even John 14:2-3 is groom to bride language).

–          One book of the Bible is entirely devoted to celebrating the marriage relationship (Song of Solomon).

–          In the Bible the sins of the sexually broken have a prevalent role in the plan of God’s redemption (Genesis 3:16; Gen 18-19; Exodus 20:14; Judges 13-16; 2Samuel 11; 2Kings 11:3-13; Hosea; Matthew 1:18-25; 5:27-32; Romans 1:21-24; 1Corinthians 6:9-20; 1Thessalonians 4:1-8; Hebrews 13:4; Revelation 17).

–          At the end of the Bible, God consummates a marriage between Christ and His Bride, the Church (Revelation 19:6-7, 9; 21:2).


So, how do we glorify God with our bodies in marriage? What is a cross-centered marriage? 1Cor 7:1-9

A cross-centered marriage values God over fallen human gratification (1Cor 7:2, 9).

Paul had an eternal perspective of life. He remembered Jesus’ teachings that there will be no earthly marriage in heaven (Matthew 22:30). Marriage is not ultimate, God is. Therefore, we must remember that marriage (and sex) are gifts of God to be enjoyed but not worshiped.

So, Paul states that singleness is preferred because it keeps a person focused and freed from anxieties of family life (7:32). But, if a person cannot focus on the Lord and is tempted to sin sexually then they are free to marry – a man his own wife, a woman her own husband (7:2); “For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (7:9).

µ     Marriage is meant to be a protection against sexual immorality.

  • Yet, temptation still exists.
    • à God calls you to reinvest sexual desire into your spouse.

If you are single and unmarried:

à Pursue godly relationships & marriage; men treat women as sisters, women treat men as brothers until God leads to more (1Timoth 5:2).

à Patience is preparation. Waiting is not passive but active. God is calling you to prepare in character, communication & competency skills to serve a spouse in God’s timing.

Proverbs 4:23 “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.”

If you are already married:

à We sustain faithful marriage. Marriage is not easy, especially pursuing godliness in marriage.

–          – > Pray conflicts will lead to healthy communication and spiritual growth.

–          – > Pray love and friendship will not fade but will flame with increasing passion between spouses.

–          – > Pray God will be the foundation and center of the relationship and not selfish gratification.


A cross-centered marriage values selfless service over personal authority/rights (1Cor 7:3-4)

Paul affirms that marriage is a means to overcome sexual temptation. He goes further to say that temptation will not be removed but marriage still takes deliberate focus and effort. Further, marriage is not one-sided but requires both spouses to surrender and serve each other.

The husband should sacrifice and give conjugal rights [due benevolence], and likewise the wife to her husband. Yes, there is a command for the spouses to have sex – but it is more than that. Due benevolence is the same word in Ephesians 6:7 where Paul commands an employee to render service with good will toward his boss.

µ     No doubt Paul had in mind faithful monogamy in marriage.

µ     But more, Paul had in mind surrendering personal authority/rights for the sake of serving your spouse. This would have been revolutionary in this culture bc men often viewed women as property and marriage as protection for a man’s inheritance, yet Paul is saying a satisfying marriage is one of selfless service.

à Husbands are to sacrifice. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her… husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. For no one ever hated his own flesh but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” (Ephesians 5:25, 28

–          Husbands, you are to lead by sacrificing. Be a living sacrifice for the Lord, and then sacrifice your desires and demands to show love to your wife. This does not mean becoming a Ray Romano or Homer Simpson. It means you help your family to see Jesus through your words and deeds.

–          Husbands, you are to lead by serving. When things go well, give the credit to your spouse. When things are challenging, take the responsibility and initiative to problem solve.

Men, remember sacrifice and service is the measure of marriage, not sex.

à Wives are to submit. “as the church submits to Christ, so also wives submit to their husbands… let the wife see that she respects her husband” (Ephesians 5:24, 33)

–          Wives, you are to submit by serving as your husband’s complement. As the lovers in Song of Solomon sang, “I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine (SoS 6:3)”, so shall it be your song. Sexual fulfillment in the bonds of marriage is a wonderful – and dare I say worshipful – blessing to each other.

1Cor 7:5 Deprival is to be limited for sake of spiritual focus, but then come together again!

Elizabeth Elliot writes, “Who of us, given the chance to arrange the world to our liking, would have had the powers of imagination… the courage of the Creator when He conceived the idea of sex? We cannot suppose that He overlooked the potentialities, the pitfalls, the high risks that would accompany it. He saw them all. And He made a woman, suitable, fit in every way, for man.”[2]

Robert Farrar Capon, “The bed is the heart of the home, the arena of love, the seedbed of life, and the one constant point of meeting. It is the place where, night by night, forgiveness and fair speech return that the sun may not go down on our wrath; where the perfunctory kiss and the entirely ceremonial pat on the backside become unction and grace. It is the oldest, friendliest thing in anybody’s marriage, the first used and the last left, and no one can praise it enough.”[3]

–          Wives, you are to submit by serving as your husband’s counterpart. A husband cannot function without a wife, by design men need a helper (Gen 2:20)!  Wives are influential counterparts and partners to their husband and family life (cf. Proverbs 31:10-31). This means that the dozens (hundreds? thousands?) of large tasks and little things that you do are not insignificant. You (and he) are called to do the mundane to the glory of God (1Corinthians 10:31).

Jesus tells us essentially a great marriage comes from humble service
“Whoever would be great among you must be servant” (Mark 10:45)

Paul echoes the sentiment:
“Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Php 2:3)


In closing, these principles for marriage are good. But marriage is not ultimate, God is. When God created Adam, his problem was that he was alone, not lonely. Adam was not lonely because he was created to be in relationship with God.

We are all created for this purpose, which marriage is a symbol of – our relationship with Jesus Christ.

–          Marriage, regardless of how healthy, cannot fulfill your every longing.

–          Your spouse will disappoint you.

–          Singleness may feel like freedom to you but in reality you are enslaved to you. We are finite. God is infinite. We need God.

All things [life, relationships, marriage] were created by Him and for Him (Colossians 1:16)

God loves you. God seeks to be your friend and has defined love & friendship by the measure of the gospel, His sacrifice on the cross (John 15:13; Romans 5:8).

[1] Section adapted from Ben Patterson “The Goodness of Sex and the Glory of God” in Sex and the Supremacy of Christ, eds. John Piper & Justin Taylor, pp 49-50.

[2] Elizabeth Elliot, Let Me Be A Woman, 1976, pp.152-153.

[3] Robert Farrar Capon, quoted in Debra Evans, The Mystery of Womanhood, 1987, p.265.

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