Marital separation is a situation to avoid, generally. Like divorce (Matthew 19:9), there is limited exemption from the prohibition. Paul taught married couples, “Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control” (1st Corinthians 7:5).
“Do not deprive one another…” Marriage provides for the satisfaction of sexual need in the only manner consistent with God’s will (Hebrews 13:4). Thus, deprivation occurs when husband and wife are parted. Immediately prior to issuing limited permission for separation, the apostle asserted, “Let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1st Corinthians 7:2-4). Obstacles to conjugal fulfillment should be dismissed, usually.
“Except with consent…” God sternly disfavors one withholding bodily satisfaction from the other, so if separation transpires it must be agreed to by both spouses. Mutual approval is consistent with the doctrine enjoined upon all Christians to be “like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:2-4). If this should be so in the brotherhood, it should certainly hold true in matrimony.
“For a time…” On the odd occasion that husband and wife are apart, the removal should be temporary. Marriage was intended from the beginning to solve the problem of loneliness, Jehovah having said, “It is not good that man should be alone” (Genesis 2:18); therefore, solitude ought not to be perpetuated within wedlock any longer than necessary.
“That you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer…” Separation in marriage should occur only to fast and to pray. Fasting and prayer alike are individual activities. Jesus taught, “When you pray, go into your room, and when you have shut your door, pray to your Father who is in the secret place” (Matthew 6:6), and “When you fast… do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place” (17-18). It was the Master’s own habit to pray in solitude; “He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed” (Luke 5:16). Any reason besides this very particular purpose, which is expressly spiritual in nature, is without divine sanction.
“And come together again…” Reunion must be the intention of each spouse when parting from one another. It would be wise to set a specific date for getting back together because an indefinite separation might otherwise become permanent. When questioned about divorce, Jesus explained, “They are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate” (Matthew 19:6). The apostle Paul declared, “A wife is not to depart from her husband… And a husband is not to divorce his wife” (1st Corinthians 7:10-11).
“So that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” As noted previously, marriage is the only channel though which sexual satisfaction should be achieved (1st Corinthians 7:2-4; Hebrews 13:4). If spouses do not soon rejoin one another, then they expose their counterparts to the temptation of fulfilling fleshly needs outside marriage. The Lord addressed this concern when He warned, “Whoever divorces his wife for any reason except sexual immorality causes her to commit adultery” (Matthew 5:32). Those who cause others to sin will be held accountable (Matthew 18:6).
By Bryan Matthew Dockens
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