"I feel sorry for everyone who is married." These words of mine as a teenager were not a lopsided endorsement for the gift of celibacy, but born out of disappointment and hurt from having encountered so many broken marriages. I also liked making decisions for myself and 1 Cor. 7:4 seemed like a daunting thought to me: "For the wife does not have authority over her body but her husband does." (ESV)
"My future husband should have authority over my body?!" I questioned. "What if he chooses to be harsh and unkind?"
So how on earth did I ever get married? First, I had to make an active choice to believe that God's plan in marriage is good, instead of giving way to fear. Repeatedly during our engagement, my fiancee patiently reminded me that we were "first generation" -- the first believers on both sides of our family. God had made a difference in our lives and He would make a difference in our marriage, also.
Today, 18 years later, 1 Cor. 7:4 is not scary to me anymore. Rather than reading into this verse a license for selfishness, I have come to realize that Paul means quite the opposite. The New International Version (NIV) translates it this way: "The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband." This is actually a beautiful invitation for the husband to love sacrificially. Beyond the husband's calling in Eph. 5.8 to love his wife as his own body, he is even to consider her body his own. He naturally looks out for his own physical needs for nourishment, rest, covering, shelter, comfort, and protection and would never dream of unnecessarily inflicting pain on his own body. So in giving myself to my husband I can assume that he will love my physical body as his own, looking out for my best interests.
God is concerned about our everyday lives, which makes the Bible wonderfully practical. The context of this verse is focused on our human sexuality with it's God-given drives and desires. By putting 1. Cor 7:4 into practice, we shore up our marriages against abuse on one side and neglect on the other. This verse calls us to love sacrificially and selflessly; a misinterpretation could lead to unbiblical domination or abuse, but any such misunderstanding of Paul's message should be dismissed. This is especially true since the Bible verse goes both ways: "In the same way the husband's body does not belong to him alone, but also to his wife." (1. Cor 7:4 NIV) As a wife, I am also to love my husband by longing to meet his needs, considering his body my own.
When confronted with our own human weakness in fulfilling this call to sacrificial love, we need to look to Christ for strength, just like my husband reminded his fearful fiancee many years ago: "God makes a difference."
"I can do all things through Him who gives me strength." (Phil. 4:13)