What does 1 Corinthians 7:9–“it is better to marry than to burn with passion”–mean?
I was blown away by the comments last Friday when we were talking about the gatekeeping phenomenon that many women feel, when we think that the boy is the accelerator when it comes to physical contact, and the girl must be the brakes (as one commenter put it so well). That can have repercussions once we’re married, because girls can be so used to that role, and so used to being hyper vigilant, that they have a hard time experiencing what’s actually happening in their bodies.
That’s a big part of what we’re writing in The Great Sex Rescue, which is due in at the publishers on Friday. I’ve been doing basically nothing but eating, sleeping, and writing this book. Rebecca and I spent twelve hours on FaceTime yesterday hammering out the last edits on four chapters (including the gatekeeping one).
Usually I’m ahead on the blog, but I’m just not right now. So I’m writing about things I’m thinking, off the top of my head (like Tiger King!), and I thought I’d comment on some things that were in the comments last week.
One comment thread was talking about how, if you are finding it hard to keep your hands off each other, you should just marry, rather than playing gatekeeper for an extended time. So I thought we could explore what Paul was talking about with that verse.
1. It is better to marry than to burn is talking about huge lifestyle issues, not one particular state of being right now
The issue that Paul is debating in that verse and the one around it is whether or not people should marry. He’s talking about how single people are able to devote themselves 100% to God, as Paul was able to do, and this was a good thing. If you were able to do that, you should.
But then he said, “but if you really can’t, then you should marry.” Some people, you see, are cut out to be single. They don’t have a strong sex drive, or they can channel it somewhere else.
Some people, though, do have strong sex drives, and to try to be single and sold out 100% for God’s work would actually not work very well. They’d spend so much emotional and mental energy trying to get over their strong sexual drive, that they really wouldn’t be able to dedicate themselves totally for God’s work. In those cases, it’s better to marry. Get married, so that the sexual drive is taken care of, and then you can dedicate yourself to God’s work as a married person.
2. That means that the “burning” Paul was thinking about long term sexual frustration, not occasional lust issues
Some people read this passage and think, “If I am sexually frustrated and I am single, I am somehow doing something wrong.” But that wasn’t what Paul was saying. He was contrasting the single life with married life. He wasn’t trying to imply that sexual frustration is morally bad and needs to be fixed, and you should feel badly about it. He was just saying, “hey, if you’re sexually frustrated all the time, the single life probably isn’t for you. It’s okay to aim to get married rather than deciding to stay single.”
So no one should feel guilty if they are single and sexually frustrated. That wasn’t what Paul was talking about.
3. Deciding to marry is still a deliberate act
Here’s where people often read way too much into this passage: So a couple is dating, and the hormones are running wild, and they’re finding it very hard to resist. Well, Paul said it was better to marry than to burn, so I guess that means we should get married!
But Paul is not saying, when you are burning with passion, you should marry. He was saying that if you’re someone with a high sex drive, you should aim to be married rather than aim to be single.
So don’t feel as if you’ve sinned by becoming sexually frustrated with someone, and don’t feel that if you are sexually frustrated with someone you’re dating, you now must marry them.
You still must be wise. None of this instruction means we should marry flippantly.
I was reviewing Tim Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage for our Great Sex Rescue book project, and it scored in the top middle of the pack. It had some things that we found iffy, but many things that were very good. But one of his points that he was making is that we look for mates all wrong. We’ll go into a room, and scan for the people who automatically attract us, and then we’ll talk to them to see if there’s a spark and if we’re interested in them.
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But in doing so, we write off 70-80% of the room. And often sexual attraction grows out of a deep friendship. Since it’s friendship that keeps your marriage together, it’s better to find people you are friends with and see if a spark grows (that’s my story with Keith! We were best friends for a year and a half before we started dating).
So look for friendship, not just attraction. Don’t marry in haste just because there’s attraction or sexual frustration. That’s not what Paul says at all.
Okay, with me so far? Two more things.
4. If you are going to marry, though, marry quickly
If you’ve found that friend with whom you have a spark; if you’re sure you’re going to marry; if you’re heading in that direction and you know this is a wise choice for you–then marry quickly. Long engagements aren’t wise. Sometimes they may be necessary, but in general, shorter engagements are to be preferred.
I think both my girls had about 6-7 month engagements, and that worked well for us. They dated for long enough before that that they knew for certain they were getting married, and at that point, let’s just get it done!
And one last one:
5. Burning is a big reason for marrying. So if you’re not burning, that could be an issue.
Sometimes we focus so much on being “holy” that we forget that you should be physically attracted to the person you marry, and you should find it hard to keep your hands off of them. We want to be pure so badly that we can almost be proud of ourselves for not being physically attracted to the person we’re going to marry, because we’ve so suppressed our sex drive.
But Paul is saying in this passage that if you are able to stay single, then stay single! But if you aren’t, then marry.
He’s expecting that those who marry will burn with passion.
I know that many women don’t have high libidos, or have so suppressed their sex drives that they don’t feel much of anything. But if you honestly don’t, if you aren’t burning at all, that likely is something to look into before the wedding. Read The Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex and understand that sex is not shameful. Take our Honeymoon Course that talks about what arousal should be like.
Talk to professional, licensed counselors if you have to if you’ve never had any sexual feelings at all. But realize that sex will be, and should be, a big part of your marriage. God never meant for us to turn of our sex drives. So let’s make sure that we do have one before we choose to marry!
What do you think of my five points about “it’s better to marry than to burn?” #5 is the one I’m having the hardest time articulating well. Do you agree with it? Disagree with it? Let’s talk in the comments!