[This post is part of a series covering eight little known theological truths about the Christian’s body]
“The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights…. For… the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does…. You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men” (1 Corinthians 7:3-4, 23).
If you look at this passage in context, you’ll notice I took out the wife’s commands. I did this because we men tend to focus on the fact that our wives are supposed to give us our conjugal rights. We generally don’t give much thought to what we are called to do.
I think this is primarily because it is found in the context of marital intimacy. Typically husbands have little trouble being ready for sex. But I want to look at this passage a little differently.
This passage does not mean that when it comes to your sex life she is the head and in every other area you are the head. Rather, Paul builds his case on a universal, unqualified statement: “the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
In the context he is specifically addressing marital intimacy, but he draws from a universal principle to make his specific point. What I want to do is look at what the universal principle means.
In previous posts we looked at how it is best to view the term “body” as a perspective on your whole earthly existence rather than just your physical members. So lets look at what a wife’s authority over her husband’s body looks like in this universal, perspectival way.
Authority implies both control and presence.
Authority is the right to control. I don’t mean the control of a puppet master, but rather the control of love. What you truly love controls you. You will inevitably seek to please whatever you love. Whatever you are trying to please is what you truly love. Your wife’s right is that she be your controlling love, the one you are seeking to please.
Presence is required in order to judge whether or not you are under that controlling love. Not that your wife has to follow you everywhere. Rather she is with you in spirit; you can hear her voice in your head. You know her well enough that you know what would please her. She is deeply a part of you and in that sense goes with you wherever you go.
In every decision and thought of the day, not just direct service to her
When you lift your head up in the morning there are an infinite number of directions you could travel that day. As a Christian, your options are narrowed by what would fit with who God is and who God has made you to be in Christ.
As a husband, that is narrowed even more by what would fit with who your wife is and what would benefit her the most. Every step you take each day ought to be filtered through that lens, even when you are nowhere near your wife. She has authority over your own body (including thoughts, actions, and desires).
Or to put it visually…
This can be a bit confusing at first, but it is worth taking the time to study.
Some things to notice:
- You never go outside of what is pleasing to God or commanded by him.
- You only go outside what is pleasing to your wife if it is commanded by God.
- There are a ton of things that are pleasing to God that is not fitting to do because they are not pleasing to your wife (Dont worry, you’ll get to do most of them in heaven)
- The only circles that define boundaries are God’s and your wife’s
What about male headship?
This adherence to her authority over your body is neither an abdication of your role as head or a sentence of slavery. Rather it is a picture of what God himself does for you. Romans 8:28 says that all things work together for your good. That means in everything God does he considers what is best for you before he decides to do it! He is not giving up his headship in doing this. In fact, it is an integral part of what it means to be a head, considering the body.
But you will never be able to do this until you see that it is what Jesus did for you. When you read the Gospels you see Jesus constantly being interrupted from his plans by his people. Yet he always joyfully did what was best for his bride and not his own body. The welfare of his bride had authority (under God) over everything he did. That is what led him to the cross.
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