By Olatokunbo Odunuga
I was privileged sometime ago to anchor a seminar on the family life of an eagle. Several issues were in the context of the manual, and there was no adequate time during the seminar to reflect on the issue of conjugal intimacy in the Christian home. Such a delicate issue requires adequate time to deal with, otherwise, partial dealing may leave the audience confused or give an impression of carnality or sensuality. If Paul had ‘remained’ married, he would have lived by the scriptures he wrote. And in 1 Cor. 11:1, he said imitate me… I state ‘remained’ in quote because it is a controversial issue. The general belief is that Paul was never married. The school of thought that suggested that he was probably married before his conversion based it on Phil.3: 5 and other Jewish cultural dynamics. In Jewish tradition, the condition for being a Pharisee or a Sadducee was attainment of age 30, being married and affluent. It was suggested that the wife probably passed away or as an unbeliever in Paul’s new-found Christian faith deserted Paul (Saul then). It was likely that for Paul, a man of immense intellectual status and high social standing to suddenly become a penniless desert wanderer could be too much for the wife to contain and so she departed (1 Cor. 7: 15, 2 Cor. 11:24-27). But by and large, accept or not, conceding or not to the suggestion that Paul was previously married does not accelerate or retard our pursuits of God, so it should not be a big issue. What interests me further is that throughout about 34 years’ ministry, he was not involved in any moral scandal, not even suspicion..
Let us examine a passage of scripture relevant to conjugal intimacy: 1 Cor.7:1-6, “Now getting down to the question you asked in your letter to me. First, it is a good thing to have sexual relations. Certainly, but only within a certain context. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage must be a place of mutuality, the husband seeking of satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to stand up for your rights. Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or not. Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period of time if you both agree to it; and if it’s for purpose of prayer and fasting – but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it. I’m not, understand, commanding these periods of abstinence- only providing my best counsel if you should choose them-I Cor. 7:1-6 (Message Bible). This is not from Shakespeare’s Midsummer’s Night Dream or Comedy of Errors, but from God-inspired letter to the Corinthian Church.
Before you still insist on writing off the above passage as from a comedian or a Casanova, let me give you a brief run of the profile of Eugene H. Petersen the translator of the Message Bible who went to be with the Lord recently. He was a pastor, scholar, writer and poet. He authored more than 20 books. He was Professor Emeritus of Spiritual Theology at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C.Canada. He founded Christ Our King Presbyterian Church in Bel Air, Maryland where he was the pastor for 29 years. He lived with his wife, Jan, in Montana. They have 3 children and 6 grandchildren before he passed on to glory.
The Holy Spirit needs to help us on this matter. In some segments of the Body of Christ, such discussion as this is regarded as worldly, immoral, obscenity, a crudity, a no-go area while some throw caution and decency to the wind entirely. Both extremes are to be avoided. Even during the canonicity (compilation) of the Bible, the Book of Songs of Solomon was regarded as an Antilegomena, that is, its divine inspiration was disputed by some on the panel on the ground that it was too amorous and sensual to be an inspired book.
But the elements in the above Bible passage seem unambiguous. Let us consider some distinctive features:
● The husband should give his wife her conjugal rights RSV (1 Cor. 7:3)
● Let the husband live in the intercourse of affection with his wife C.J. Conybeare Translation (1 Cor. 7:5).
● You husbands and wives, stop refusing each other what is due C. B. Williams Translation (1 Cor. 7:5).
● The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality, the husband seeking to satisfy her wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband (Message Bible) (1 Cor. 7:3).
● Marriage is not a place to stand up for your right (Message) (1 Cor. 7:3).
● Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out (Message)[ 1 Cor. 7:4.] Thank God, I’m not Conybeare, Williams or Peterson-
Sexual relationship is not supposed to be a tool of oppression, or for means of animalistic satisfaction that also requires carnal bargaining as someone had said. Bible precepts in matter of conjugal obligations are preferable to worldly precepts from the TV, erotic books or the web which only address the issue from sensual or socio-psychological perspectives p. When 1 Pet. 3:7 instructs, “Likewise ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife…..”, it is a pointer that the man should not be self-centred or inconsiderate of the wife’s fulfillment in the mutual deals. That is why it is an abnormality or an obscenity for a man to just ‘pounce’ on his spouse like a cock and before you say Jack Robinson, ‘the plane had landed’. How can a man claim to know his wife intimately without the practice of configurational exploration. Learn from Pastor Isaac who was caressing Deaconess Rebecca in Gen. 26:8.
I recently heard a pastor say that once Delilah put Samson on her laps, she could obtain anything from him. It means that the man in Samson was delighted by the locus. What is wrong with a couple that are legitimately joined together before God, learning such lesson from them and adopting it under sanctification? There is no sane husband who will not be delighted in resting on her beloved wife’s lap. The people of the world do certain things in unholy association that endeared them to each other. Those of you who are about 60 and above can recollect the hey days of Skeeter Davis, Helen Shapiro, Diana Ross, Millicent Small, Elvis Prestley, Cliff Richards, Sam Cooke, Otis Redding, Marvin Gaye, Harry Belafonte etc. Their “soul” (not spiritual ) music were generally sentimental not actually as unholy or immoral as what we have nowadays. Their songs had a way of touching the fine sentiments of friends and endearing them to each other. The songs of David affected Saul positively-1 Sam 16: 23.
Romanticism is not forbidden in the Christian home. Otherwise how do you explain, Prov. 5: 16,19-” And may you rejoice in the wife of your youth and may her breasts satisfy you always, may you ever be captivated by her love”. Imagine the romantic scenery of Solomon and his Shunnamite woman in Songs of Solomon. Let us see a typical-one Songs of Solomon 4:7-11.
“You are altogether beautiful, my darling
And there is no blemish in you
You have made my heart beat faster, my sister, my bride
You have made my heart beat faster with a single glance of your eyes
How beautiful is your love, my sister, my bride
How much better is your love than wine
Your lips, my bride, drip honey
Honey and milk are under your tongue”.
You will be amazed at Songs of Solomon 1: 13, 4 :6; 7: 8, 7, 8. So what prevents a couple from singing endearing songs, especially the Psalms and Songs of Solomon to each other within the confines of the home. But many of us including this writer are generally too “spiritual”
The wise counsels we had been analysing from 1 Cor. 7 are for our good. When Paul says in verse 5 that Satan has an ingenious way to tempt us, he foresaw that the matter of sexuality can be a strategic point for the enemy to strike. And he does not spare when he sees a loop- hole. That was why each day of creation, God saw that it was good, except at the end of the second day because that was when the expanse of the air and water- the respective abodes of the fallen angels and demons, which are agents of the devil and the instigators of domestic and conjugal woes were created.
The devil waits for opportune time (Lk. 4: 13) to manipulate the fall of a man (or woman) into sexual mess. He is delighted when a woman is the uncooperative type, when either of them is away from home for many weeks (or even months), when the man (ministers in particular) find himself amidst matured women, when the woman is pregnant, when the man is sick or when couples are advanced in age etc. I recall that at a stage of my career in Government, my support staff- secretary, her assistant, accountant, office executives, office attendants were all women-six of them were in my ante-rooms. Some married, some single, some divorced and in their thirties to forties. One of the ladies had to wait every day till any time I closed. I did not need to be an Agabus or Ahithophel to know that a few of them were ‘starved’, and hence sitting ducks. For six years, it was God’s grace and great exercise of self-control that upheld me. Now imagine, if a person, say an unbeliever, or un-helped believer have to contend with an incalcitrant wife. He would just be swinging like pendulum into the willing embraces of usually younger, may be prettier Delilah’s.
In citing my own experience; I may not have anointing to raise the dead but I could discern the signs and body languages. Now, concerning the pregnant wife. Pregnancy is not an infirmity, so it should not completely check-mate conjugal intimacy. It is even hinted that it facilitates smooth delivery of babies. One may seek medical counsel on the convenient periods as the stages of pregnancy progress. And of course, age is just a figure, a number, not an infirmity. Sexual act in legitimately married couples is a communion, not just an animalistic child-producing venture. Hence the communion is till death do them part.
Abraham was 100 years old while Sarah was nearly 90 when they were still cohabiting. The bible did not tell us that Sarah’s pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit or by “immaculate conception” A woman needs to pray for grace to be available. There had been instances of men in their seventies, even supposed believers who lack self-control, take on other young women when their wives threw in the towel. I counseled a superintendent of a church sometime ago, who had put away his first wife. He was about 70 and the second wife about 30.
About 40 years ago, I came across a former colleague in the university who was about to get married. He was 30 years old and the fiancé about 18. He told me with smiles that he deliberately chose a young woman so that by the time he gets old, the wife would still be able to cope with his demands. This smart guy was forward planning, at least in his carnal sense. But what is the guarantee that their due to the substantial age gap, she would not be playing “corner kicks” with younger men in 20 years’ time unless she becomes genuinely converted.
I have a word for you couples whose spouses are abroad. Either you dismantle what had separated you or one of you travel across as often as convenient. For now let us temporarily set aside Galatians 5: 24, based on what had been witnessed in contemporary times and cast a glance at 1 Timothy 5: 24, “Remember that some men even PASTORS, lead sinful lives and everyone knows it…”[Living Bible ]. Let me say it loud. Many of our people over there, based on testimonies received are generally nominal. Many of them cannot visit Antioch today and be called Christians (Acts 11: 26). About 50 years ago, Leonard Ravenhill said USA was dying while UK was dead spiritually. Since many of those people over there are generally bread and butter Christians and for such, sex can be a matter. As a wife with your spouse overseas, your knees must be friendly with the floor in regular prayers for him.
But there are couples living under the same roof who are not much different from couples on either side of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Some brothers often deliberately avoid to see the nakedness of their wives, because they know that if they are aroused, the “holy” Rev. (Mrs.) may dash their expectations. On the other hand, a sister complained to me that for over 9 months, her husband, a Bible collegian, had been denying her. One night she deliberately went to bed naked. The “anointed” brother came to the bedroom, saw the stark naked wife, he hissed like a snake and went to sleep in the sitting room. The sister later told me that the doctor had advised her that she needed to have intercourse often for her stomach pains to be relieved. Some of these doctors can be wonderful. I hope the doctor was not hinting his own availability.
I have since been wondering what are the fate of nuns who don’t marry at all?. Just as some years back, a doctor told me to advise a single lady close to me to look for any man in the interim to have intercourse with so that the growth of her fibroid could be check-mated. That scenario of the hissing husband was even a child’s play compared to a lady friend whose unbeliever husband deliberately deprived for over 15 years. For a period of time, I had to keep on encouraging her prayerfully, because she came to the Lord at my instance. But let me mention in passing that such defrauding husbands (or wives) praying to God are merely wasting their time because they are living in continual disobedience of God’s command. People who rely on them for prayers or intercession are very unfortunate!
It is high time our Christian couples realized that every other thing, such as feeding, giving gifts, money, keeping the home etc that you think you are doing, he or she can receive (if not better) outside the home except the extra-marital sex which is divinely forbidden. When we were in the world, our friends used to share with us the better service they were enjoying from their sin-partners. About 44 years ago, a senior colleague was telling us his plans to go abroad on holidays. Because we knew the man very well that he wouldn’t go on holidays alone, one of us, Sumbo Fashola asked him if he would be going with his wife, he retorted “Ori mi yi ni”? meaning, “Am I crazy”? He had an alluring “sin-partner” lined up for the trip. On a serious note, it could be that such men are receiving better treatment or “services” outside the home.
How do we explain the issue of a senior, elderly minister in a church, well-known to me, who sent his legal wife away and took another woman? When confronted by the overseer of the ministry, he responded, “please sir, do not threaten me with hell-fire. Hell cannot be worse than what I had been going through for years with her (the legal wife)”. Alas, it seems it could be the fear of perdition that keeps many spouses together! Another colleague who later became a judge shared with us that each time he visited his sin-partner, it was always a new towel etc she would put in the bathroom for him. These may sound somewhat carnal but not all Christian husbands can have the endurance of Job, John Wesley, John Fletcher, Joseph Alleine or Jonathan Swift.
The man lacking in self-control, who went to bed with his father’s maybe young wife in 1 Cor. 5: 1-5 was in the church, not a worshipper in Sango or Egungun’s temple. It is a matter of the heart condition. All said and done, the Holy Spirit, I pray, will constantly minister to us in our quest to be excellent husbands and excellent wives within the privacy of the other rooms. And the Lord will re-establish the homes where children of God have been sentenced to the life of married spinsters and married bachelors with occasional paroles. May we obtain grace to live the Pauline counsels in his epistles. Amen! Shalom-