How is it that marriage can get us to heaven? How do we see to it that it does? Let us listen to Paul’s advice. Let us not turn away from it, but embrace it if we truly want marriage to be fulfilling.
It sounds like there were still effects of sin in the lives of those who converted. They still had to deal with great temptations and had to clear their minds of former ways of thinking. God’s ways are not easy to understand. It takes time, prayer and trust in Our Lord. So Paul is dealing with many different issues, with people who do not have much depth in the spiritual life yet. They need something more concrete, so they can get their feet grounded. Paul needs to be very practical and deal with the foundation of human nature. First off, he knows how complicated life and “marriage(s)” can be. Families today are so complicated; many children do not know who their blood father is. It is getting to be the norm, but it is not healthy or good. Paul knows he has to deal with so many things, he starts off with “a man is better off having no relations with a woman” (v1). I am sure every man has felt that way after arguing with his wife. But Paul knows that God has planted a holy desire in man to be united with his wife. We twist it around to make it an act of selfishness, instead of an act of self-giving. That is why Paul does not strictly forbid marriage, because it is holy. Now he starts to give the guidelines: one man and one woman. They are to be dedicated to each other. They are to serve each other mutually.
That is a scary thought, only if you do not trust your spouse. How many people get married today without giving this a thought. In fact, our society rejects this notion because it means complete trust and gift of self. When a couple gets married, they are giving their spouse direct authority over them. If, in your mind, that is not what you are doing, then your understanding is not marriage. Marriage is not a fluff cake; it is very serious. From that point on, what happens to them, happens to you. That is why “no man hates his own flesh” (Eph 5:29). She does not have to get back at him, it is just the nature of marriage; you are now one-flesh. You are not just giving yourself to each other physically, but spiritually. If you are contemplating marriage, who are you giving yourself to? Giving yourself away in the marital act before marriage is just as serious. You are making a spiritual bond with that person as well as physical. We cannot make the act disintegrated, separating body and soul. The other soul now has a direct affect on yours. Who are you giving yourself to? Do you really want that? So many people have been hurt by these decisions and have been affected by them for life, as said in the consent of marriage “till death do us part.” “A man is better off having no relations with a woman” (v1)!
In God’s plan, marriage and its act was to be a means of God’s very grace and love. Fear can keep you from grace. Running and hiding is not the answer. There comes a point in time when a leap of faith must be taken. That is the excitement of marriage. We just need to make sure it is reasonable. So the first practical advice is to use your head. Take care of each other. Have a concern for each other, from the will. Will the good for each other; do not rely on the emotions.
There may be times of abstinence, as Paul says, “Do not deprive one another, unless, perhaps by mutual consent for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer” (v5). This is actually what the married priests are required to do in the Eastern Church. They are to abstain for three days before they celebrate Mass. That is why the Eastern Church typically only offers Mass on Sundays, whereas the Catholic Church offers it daily because the priests are celibate. There are actually some kings and queens who have been canonized saints that practiced this. It can be a way of dedicating their marriage to God. It can be a small sacrifice, asking God to bless their marriage. But Paul does warn, “then return to each other, that Satan may not tempt you through lack of self-control” (v5). We are not souls only. In fact, God gave us our bodies as a means of giving His grace. Your body is the nature that God builds upon to give your spouse the grace they need. The gift of grace is not just a giving of things. Like Christ, it requires the sacrifice of self. God made you to be that gift of grace.