I know Paul teaches couples in committed relationships to marry if they are having trouble with staying pure (1 Corinthians 7:9). This verse seems to suggest that if both parties are struggling, then they should marry. But what if only one person is struggling? More specifically, what if only the man is having trouble controlling his sexual desires toward his partner? Does 1 Corinthians 7:9 still apply in this situation? Or should the man just find ways to better control his desires? In this way, isn't he honoring his loved one by not pressuring her into marrying ahead of her desired timing? What should the couple do? I hope you can help me in this matter.
Thanks for writing. Your question deals with some potentially competing scriptural principles. It's a bit tough to answer the question of "what should a particular couple do?" without knowing specifics of the situation, but let me lay out some principles and see where that takes us based on the information in your question.
First, you're correct that 1 Corinthians 7 tells us "because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband" (verse 2) and that believers should marry "if they cannot exercise self-control" rather than "burn[ing] with passion" (verse 9). The chapter also says that within marriage, the
husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control (1 Corinthians 7:3-5).
Without delving into the issues of "marriage vs. singleness" elsewhere in the chapter that don't really apply to your question, it's clear from 1 Corinthians 7 that one of God's good purposes for marriage — both in considering whether to marry and within marriage — is protecting the sexual purity of husband and wife to the glory of God. If neither you nor your girlfriend believes you are called to singleness and celibacy, then maintaining sexual purity is a totally legitimate reason to pursue marriage and even to move up the marriage timetable.
That said, the Bible also calls all of us toward sexual purity and away from sexual immorality, both as singles and once we are married. First Corinthians 6:18-20 strongly admonishes us to
flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.
First Thessalonians 4:3-5 and 7 tells us that it is God's will for all of us to "abstain from sexual immorality; [and] that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God... For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness." And 1 Timothy 5:2 especially instructs us as men to treat women who are not our wives as sisters in Christ (as mothers and sisters), "in all purity" (NIV "absolute purity"). Finally, Ephesians 5:25-27 makes clear that the duty of a husband is to sacrifice himself for his wife's spiritual good:
Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.
So how do these principles interact? You implied in your question that you may be struggling with sexual purity, but it's not as big an issue for your girlfriend. The question of the moment is what you mean by "having trouble controlling [your] sexual desires toward [your] partner." To be blunt, if you mean by that phrase that you are in the throes of a regular, active addiction to pornography, or that you have pushed or are pushing your girlfriend into sexual sin (which, as I've written, I believe any sexual activity outside of marriage to be) then you should consider whether you are ready to marry.
As a husband, you will regularly be called to sacrifice your own desires to build your wife up spiritually (Ephesians 5:25-27). If, as a boyfriend, you are regularly acting selfishly on such an important issue to the spiritual and emotional detriment of your girlfriend, it should give you (and her) real pause about whether you are ready for the responsibilities of biblical headship — much less on an accelerated timetable.
On the other hand, we live under the grace of the Gospel, and we know that sinless perfection in any realm of our Christian lives is not a prerequisite for marriageability (thank you, Lord!). Let’s say you are genuinely struggling against sexual temptation — with regular accountability and other common sense steps in place, and with some regular measure of victory — and the only question for you and your girlfriend is timing of marriage. If you are generally suggesting a faster timetable toward marriage or an earlier date in order to guard your (and also probably her) sexual purity, that very well may be a good idea. This would be especially true if her reasons for wanting to wait are less than entirely biblical (like, "I always wanted a June wedding even if it means we have to wait eight more months to be married"). It is almost always the wiser course to prioritize godliness and marriage above logistics or secular preferences.
Well. There are a lot of "ifs" in this advice, but hopefully these principles will help you think this issue through. Talk to a godly married person or couple who knows you and/or your girlfriend and your situation well, and think about these principles as you make a specific decision. I will pray for the Lord to give both of you wisdom.
For His glory,
Copyright 2014 Scott Croft. All rights reserved.