What scriptures teach that fasting and/or refraining from sex during a fast, and/or denying oneself lovemaking with your spouse? I am a newlywed and my husband told me that when a person fasts he/she cannot have sexual relations. You must deny your flesh of all pleasures. Is it true? What scriptures back this up?
There are two previous questions dealing with fasting that may be of interest. The first one is entitled, “When fasting, how often do you pray?” and the second one is, “What does fasting include?” It is important to remember that fasting involves denying oneself only food and sometimes water. Now we will discover if the Bible teaches that is okay to make love when fasting. That is, can you have physical relations with your wife while fasting or can you make love with your husband while fasting?
God’s Commands About Sex
In both the Old and New Testaments, God rarely commands couples to avoid sexual relations. It is amazing that God has warned us to not do many things, but He rarely warns or commands married couples to stop having sex. One of the few occasions in which God commanded men to abstain from sexual relations is found in Exodus 19:15. It was for the purpose of worshiping God. In 1 Corinthians 7:5, couples can abstain for the purpose of prayer, but only if both agree! In Leviticus 15:19; 18:19, 24; 20:18 and Ezekiel 18:5-6; 22:10, husbands were told to not have sexual relations with their wives when they are in their menstrual period. These are the only times that God prohibits sexual intercourse or states that it is okay for couples to not have sex. God never commands a couple to not make love when fasting.
God Encourages Husbands and Wives To Have Sex
In fact, the apostle Paul warns couples to do just the opposite. God wants married couples to have sex. A great example of this truth is found in the Song of Solomon which describes courtship, marriage, the wedding night and marriage between a man and a woman. In chapter 4, which is the wedding night, the entire chapter is devoted to a graphic and sensuous, yet figurative description of sexual intercourse. God wants married couples to have sexual relations.
Apparently, some Christians in the city of Corinth thought there was virtue in avoiding sexual relations with one’s spouse. It may be that some spouses did not want to have sex. Maybe one or both of the spouses thought it was good to regularly avoid sexual relations. God did not agree that was a good idea. Listen to what Paul had to say.
But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 (NASB)
Notice that Paul says there is only one reason to not have sexual relations. It is for the purpose of prayer – for a short period of time. That is, God does not want wives or husbands to regularly refuse to have sexual relations, and Paul says to stop it! That is sin! The Greek word for “duty” is opheile and it literally refers to a debt or something that one person owes another person. This means that God has a different view of the sexual relationship between husband and wife than our culture or world. God’s message through Paul is not accepted by many today. The message is simple. Your body belongs to your spouse! You do not have control of it when it comes to sex. If one spouse wants to have sex, then the other spouse should willingly choose to enjoy the time together.
Today many people declare that they have the right to control their bodies, but God does not agree when it comes to sexual relations within marriage. A spouse does not have “authority” over his/her body. It belongs to his/her spouse. A husband’s body belongs to his wife and the wife’s body belongs to her husband. Now Paul does not mean that a husband or a wife can demand that the spouse “make love” from morning until evening or at any time he or she wants. This does not mean one spouse can sexually abuse their spouse. It is important to understand that Paul is establishing a principle – an attitude of cooperation when it comes to sex. There is no place for sexual abuse, nor is there any room for excuses between spouses to avoid sexual relations. If one spouse is “not up to having sex” then that spouse needs to say when he/she will be ready for “love making.” Both need to be understanding and cooperative with one another.
Sexual Desire of Husbands and Wives
Many believe that only men have a strong desire for sexual relations, but that is not true. Generally, men do have the greater desire, but both men and women crave sex – some more than others and to greater degrees at different times in life. Most counselors know that most women crave sex, but less than men. Some even have a greater desire for sex than their husband.
When a man does not want sexual relationships, there is usually something medically wrong with him or there is an emotional situation with his wife. If a medical reason is suspected, your husband may want to see a doctor for a check-up, consultation, and help. Sometimes the issue is an emotional problem between the man and his wife. He may not enjoy sexual relations with his wife for one or more reasons. An open and frank discussion or a written letter between the spouses may help to bring understanding as to why he is struggling. This is a difficult subject for many couples to talk about and so it should be done with love, kindness, compassion, and tenderness. The goal needs to be, “Is there a reason you do not want to make love with me?” The answer can be difficult to accept. But both spouses need to be ready to change.
Make Love When Fasting
We have discovered that God wants couples to make love or to have sex when fasting. Married couples need to remember that it is a sin to avoid sexual relations, except for a short time to devote yourselves to prayer and when the wife is in her menstrual period. Notice the duration is only for a short time. Fasting is not a reason to avoid sex. Therefore, fasting from sex is permitted only for a short time for the purpose of prayer or if the wife is in her menstrual period. Therefore, make love when fasting and make love as much as you desire! In Genesis 1:28 God commands couples to have sex — “be fruitful and multiply.” The Song of Solomon teaches us that the couple described in the book enjoyed one another sexually on many occasions, even outdoors in a vineyard (Song of Solomon 7:10-13).
Next, what type of fast pleases God? The answer is found in Isaiah 58:6-9 which teaches us that God is more interested in our righteousness, that is our obedience, than not eating food or drinking water. Here is the passage.
“Is this not the fast which I choose,
To loosen the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the bands of the yoke,
And to let the oppressed go free
And break every yoke?
Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry
And bring the homeless poor into the house;
When you see the naked, to cover him;
And not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
Then your light will break out like the dawn,
And your recovery will speedily spring forth;
And your righteousness will go before you;
The glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
You will cry, and He will say, ‘Here I am.’”
Isaiah 58:6-9 (NASB)
In the verses (Isaiah 58:3-5) before this passage, God rebukes the nation of Israel for their sinful external behavior during their fasting. Their fasting was only a ritual because God could see that they had wrong motives and treated others horribly. Then starting in verse 6 God reveals that the fast He approves is one in which we have godly hearts and our righteous acts will include treating others with love. The message is that God is more interested in our love for Him and love for others than in our not eating and drinking. Fasting should be a reflection of one’s heart. Fasting should only occur as an expression of a serious heart when seeking the Lord’s will through prayer (Isaiah 58:9; Acts 13:3; 14:3). Therefore, loving one’s spouse and not denying her or him the pleasure of sexual activity is a godly act. It is showing love toward others. Fasting is about self-denial for a short time while one seeks God’s will about some matter. Therefore, make love when fasting! Sex between a husband and wife is commanded by God.
God wants married couples to have healthy, enjoyable, and satisfying sexual relations on a regular basis. Many husbands and wives engage in sexual foreplay and intercourse an average of two to three times per week when they are younger and once a week when they are older. These numbers can be higher when they are younger and when they are past seventy the numbers may drop. God has told us in 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 that couples may avoid having sexual relations for the purpose of prayer but only for a brief period of time. Any spouse who frequently wants to “fast” to avoid sexual relations is disobeying God. Does God mean that a couple should ignore medical advice about having sexual relations or should avoid sexual relations when one of them is sick or recovering from a medical procedure? The answer is no. 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 is not promoting abuse in marriage. However, to deny your spouse sexual relations without a biblical reason is another form of sexual abuse. God has said that a spouse does not own his/her body; it belongs to your partner! God designed marital sex!
The following article is recommended, “What does the Bible say about foreplay and sex in marriage?” Also, check out the suggested links below.
1. Gleason L. Archer. Encyclopedia of Bible Difficulties, Zondervan Publishing House. 1982. p. 37
2. Sir Lancelot Brenton. The Septuagint With Apocrypha, Henrickson Publishers. 1851. p. 710
3. Danker and Bauer. Greek-Lexicon of the New Testament, University of Chicago press. 1957. p. 725
Suggested Links:What does fasting include?
When fasting, how often do you pray?
Willing To Humble Yourself?
Is fasting going without food?
Alms, Prayer, and Fasting
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Is masturbation a sin in marriage?
Porneia Definition — What is the meaning of the Greek word porneia in the Bible?
What does the Bible say about foreplay and sex in marriage?
What does the Bible say about different sexual positions?