From 1 Cor 5, we know that Paul had written an earlier letter, which has been lost to history. The Corinthian Christians have written back to Paul asking some questions, which is what Paul now turns to (v1).
Paul first addresses the statement that the Corinthian Christians made, ‘it is good for a man not…’ (v1). This statement is probably best understood as ‘it is good for a man not to use a woman for sexual gratification’. The next six verses show Paul’s agreement to this statement, seen by the mutuality of sex.
The background to this is the popular view in Corinth at the time that husbands and wives only had sex to produce children. Husbands would then have sex with temple prostitutes, other men’s wives, and if the household was wealthy, their own slaves (both male and female slaves) for enjoyment. This was all perfectly morally acceptable in Corinth at the time.
So the main point of this passage is that a husband and wife ought to have sex together regularly, for pleasure and not just for procreation, and that this is good and proper.
The other things of note from the passage are:
Paul’s realistic view of human nature, particularly when it comes to sex, that we are easily tempted to sin (v2)
Paul’s concern to uphold the sanctity of marriage – faithfulness in marriage (v2)
The equality between a husband and a wife (vv3-4)
The assumption that spouses will talk to each other about sex (v5)
As a concession (v6), Paul suggests that it’s ok for married couples to abstain from sex for a period by agreement to devote themselves particularly to prayer (v5).
At first blush, this passage seems to relate only to married couples. I think it’s helpful to remember that the letter would have been read to all in the church at Corinth. Faithfulness in marriage is a concern of the whole Christian community, not just the married couples involved. This is because firstly, marriage reflects Jesus and his relationship with the church, and secondly because hurt and damage caused by unfaithfulness in marriage impacts not just the couple involved but other direct parties and the whole church community too.
Paul concludes this section (v7) by referring to the gift of singleness and the gift of marriage. Paul was either single or divorced, we don’t quite know. He’s next going to address unmarried people directly, but he has set the scene by treating singleness and marriage both as good gifts. As you spend some time reflecting on this passage and the positive things being said about the way we ought to relate to one another, what have you identified as significant for your own understanding of others and, more pointedly, what have you heard God say to you, about his good gift to you?