Is there a virtue in abstaining from sexual intimacy in a Christian marriage?

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Sexual intimacy

The apostle Paul addressed the topic of abstaining from sexual intimacy in a Christian marriage when he wrote his first epistle to the Corinthian Church. He taught, “Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 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” (1 Corinthians 7:3,4).

This passage shows that the very nature of marriage implies that the giving or withholding of the marriage privilege should not be dictated to the will of either party. Each has a claim to marital rights; always, however, with the divine order that the Lord is to be honored in all things. “Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God”  (1 Corinthians 10:31).

Paul wrote, “do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and you are not your own? For you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body ]and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19, 20).

Therefore, the Christian will not allow the privilege granted him by marriage to become a reason for breaking the command to present his body without blemish to the Lord (Romans 12:1). The body must be kept under the rule of a sound mind.

Abstinence for a limited time

Believers are taught that they must not deprive one another of the sexual intimacy of marriage, except for a limited time, in specific situations and by mutual consent. “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” (1 Corinthians 7:5).

There should be mutual agreement for temporary abstention from intimate relations in order to practice special religious activity. This doesn’t in any way teach asceticism in married life.  And this counsel doesn’t mean that such abstinence is needed in order to have regular daily seasons of prayer, but only that it is allowed to practice when one has the need of a period of “fasting and prayer.” An example of that is found in Exodus 19:14, 15, when Moses asked the people to abstain from sexual activity for a season of prayer.

In addition, Paul does not teach the obligation of married couples to practice periods of physical abstinence by mutual agreement. He simply teaches that if they so desire, they are free to enter into such an arrangement. The Lord doesn’t command them to abstain (1 Corinthians 7:6).

The reason for the mutually planned period of abstinence to end, is that the husband and wife should go back to the normal activities of married life in order to avoid sexual misbehavior. Marriage protects the purity of the family; hence any effort to practice long periods of abstention from physical relations between husband and wife would tend to remove the protection against fornication that is established by marriage.

In His service,

BibleAsk Team

This answer is also available in: Español

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