I recently read a post by John Piper that calls 1 Corinthians 7 “paradoxical counsel to married couples”. However, as I read further on into the post, he says that it’s the husband who has the power to solve this problem,
“The leadership of the husband is defined by Paul not mainly as demanding his rights but as laying down his life for the good of his wife (Ephesians 5:25). Therefore, the predominant resolution of the sexual paradox is that the husband gently and tenderly takes the lead in seeking to maximize his wife’s pleasure, taking her longings deeply into account, rather than pressuring her to adapt to his.”
I find the idea of any paradox intriguing and even more so because it’s about sex. As I was reading his post, two questions kept popping up for me. First: Is this really a paradox? And second: If it is, why is it only the husband who can resolve it; there are two people in a marriage?
At a first read, 1 Corinthians 7:2-4 could sound like a confusing D/s script. The wife’s the dominant she’s got the authority over her husband, he’s the submissive. No wait, that’s wrong, it’s the wife that’s the submissive, the husband has the authority …
… back and forth the verses read.
It does seem confusing yet I know that’s never God’s intention with us. Also, I’m convinced He’s got good reasons for revealing information to us the way that he does. So, what’s the reason?
Is The Husband Really More Effective?
While John Piper’s interpretation that a godly man, through his role of husband is able to break the paradox – isn’t it just as true, that a godly woman through her role as a wife, possessing equal ability from the same Holy Spirit, could also break the paradox?
Wouldn’t equality indicate that the influence found in the role of a wife would be just as powerful as the strength found in the role of a husband? Influence and power are completely different kinds of abilities, but that doesn’t make the wife’s influence any less effective in solving the paradox.
Yes, for sure, God fitted the husband’s position with the responsibility to lead in the hierarchy, so he should go first, but it rarely happens that way. The truth is, due to immaturity from brokenness and living in a world that’s wrecked beyond repair; it takes our whole lives to grow up – not just husbands but also us wives.
The Real World Experience
I think most Christians would agree that John Piper is a well-developed believer and a pretty mature husband, so I mean no disrespect. I agree with him when he says that stalemates in marriage “are real life.” But, when he presents that there’s only one solution — and that it’s found, only in the husband’s role, he’s omitting the possibility that the wife’s role might be just as valid to solve this paradox.
It’s confusing for some wives to hear that this paradox can only be solved by the husband. The reality for some wives, is that their husbands don’t have the maturity to recognize that they’re the head and bear the responsibility of leadership. To those wives, a one-sided solution is a completely unworkable proposition.
Sacrificially Serving the Lord
There’s an alternative for wives when their husbands won’t step up to the responsibility of leadership – it’s just not a popular alternative: Biblical Wifely Submission. It’s sad that postmodernism doesn’t understand the power that submission wields. In marriage we can’t just sit in a state of perpetual “stalemate” without devolving into a toxic mess – it will inevitably lead to divorce.
When the husband is more mature, then the solution of, “laying down his life for the good of his wife ” will work. This is commonly known as servant-leader. In John Piper’s example, it’s the husband that’s more mature, which makes him capable of leading with a servant’s heart.
On the other hand, when the wife is the more mature spouse, she will act fully within her role of wife and be willing to sacrifice herself to break the stalemate. The wife will be “ laying down her life for the good of her husband…” As the more mature spouse, she is just as capable of submitting with a servant’s heart.
How would it look if the wife was more mature? Let’s stick with the original application that John Piper used, but instead, giving equal ability to the wife:
“The leadership submission of the husband wife is defined by Paul not mainly as demanding his her rights but as laying down his her life for the good of his her wife husband (Ephesians 5:25 24). Therefore, the predominant an equal resolution of the sexual paradox is that the husband wife gently respectfully and tenderly willingly takes gives the lead in seeking to maximize his her wife’s husband’s pleasure, taking her his longings deeply into account, rather than pressuring her him to adapt to his hers.”
Competition of Self-sacrifice
At the end of his post, John Piper concludes,
“It is resolved in the mystery of love that discovers even here, when our physical pleasure is more prominent than anywhere else, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). There is a holy and humble and self-sacrificing competition to make the other maximally glad. The logical stalemate is broken by the miracle of grace: With God all things are possible.”
He’s saying that the paradox is solved by the correct leadership of the husband — what I’m saying, is that it can also be solved by the correct submission of the wife. It’s not a competition or a race for the role of who will lead and who will submit…it’s a competition of who fulfils their own role first. The question is, Who will go first in this competition of self-sacrificing?
Clear to See
Often, this verse is erroneously quoted as some kind of baseline for mutual submission – the removal of all power and authority. A cursory read makes it look like there’s absence of power — it seems like one statement cancels out the other:
- the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. He owes her.
- the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. She owes him.
I don’t think God’s intended outcome is mutual submission, a stalemate or confusion; I think the intention is to sift the heart of a person, through a relationship of the closest proximity – one flesh, to expose their heart. It’s an example of a verse that enables the selfish spouse enough rope to hang their flesh (Romans 12:19-21), and the mature spouse (or perhaps, the less selfish one) an opportunity to grow in a bit more grace.
Ask the Lord to show you if your the one with the noose around your neck. Or, if you’ve been humble enough to submit by laying down your life for the good of your husband.
Part 2: Sex Paradox? Maybe Not