A good friend of mine, Howard Hendricks, who is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, spends a lot of time counseling Christian people. He says one of the difficulties he discovers in marriages, Christian marriages, especially among some of the young couples associated with the seminary, is that one of the spouses, usually the wife, thinks that somehow sex is not the kind of thing a godly person would do. So when the husband has a desire for a sexual relationship, the wife holds back and thinks, “Well, you know, he’s young and immature yet. I suppose it’s the sort of thing you have to do, but maybe as he grows in the Lord, this will become less necessary.” That is a terrible thing.
Sometimes these wives say to Howard Hendricks, “Dr. Hendricks, you don’t understand. He has so much desire.” And he points out, and I think quite rightly, that that desire is given to the man by God. That is part of what makes him what he is. One of the glories of a marriage relationship is that the wife is the sole person on the face of the earth who is able to satisfy that desire in the particular man that God has given her. It is not bad; it is good. If you think it is bad and you get into a frame of mind where you say, “Well, you know, maybe a little bit of sex, but not too much, because after all, you get into trouble that way,” Paul says the opposite is the case. He says that if you begin holding back, you’ll find that there will be trouble, trouble that involves and harms somebody else.
The second issue Paul deals with is separation. Since I have begun by saying marriage is good, I will say separation is bad. In verse 10 and following Paul says, “To the married I give this command, not I but the Lord. The wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband…” In the next paragraph he talks very strongly about divorce, but here when he talks about separation, I think he is talking about something different. He is saying that separation may lead to divorce, which is why he throws in the line that there must not be divorce. But he is not necessarily saying that in every possible circumstance it can never happen.
Sometimes there are situations where separation, perhaps for a time, becomes necessary. There are situations where a wife is married to a drunken brute of a husband and her physical life is in danger, perhaps not only hers, but the health and the well being of the children also. Paul might say, although he does not explicitly say so here, that in such a situation, it might be necessary for the sake of the health of the children, and the wife as well, that there be a separation.
Paul says that separation is not the way it should to be worked out, but if it becomes necessary by virtue of circumstances, the wife is to remain unmarried, or else, by the grace of God, in time be reconciled to her husband. Even though Paul is dealing with what is quite obviously the fruit of sin in human life, he finds himself in an entirely different world of thought than the world that characterizes much of our contemporaries. People today say, “If things don’t work, well, that’s all right. Just break it off. Start over again. Nobody can expect anything to be perfect, least of all a marriage. So, if a marriage isn’t everything you want it to be, just end it.”
What Paul is saying is quite different. He says separation may become inevitable. It is a sinful world. And if it does, here is the consequence of it: If you are a Christian and you are living by the standards of God, then your alternative at this point is not remarriage to someone else, but either reconciliation to your spouse from whom you are separated, or else remaining unmarried for the rest of your life. “Oh,” people say, “How could that be? That’s impossible. How could I live that way?” Well, the answer is that if you are a Christian, God will give you the grace to do what he tells you to do.