Evangelical theologian John Piper has said that for married couples, a healthy sex life is a "weapon against Satan" because it "may free the mind for prayer and triumph over temptations to adultery or other kinds of sexual sin."
Piper recently answered a question from a reader asking about what the Apostle Paul meant 1 Corinthians 7:5: "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."
"My question is, how do our sex lives interfere with our prayer lives?" the reader asked. "And when should there be a time in which a couple takes a break so as to devote themselves to prayer?"
The 71-year-old author and founder of desiringGod.org first explains that the verse contains a paradox: "Abstaining from sex for prayer is a weapon against Satan, and carrying on regular sex is a weapon against Satan," he says.
This paradox is important, Piper contends, because it shows that in God's pattern for "ordinary things" like sexual relations in marriage "all have their place in maintaining appropriate spiritual equilibrium that keeps us from being knocked off balance by Satan."
"[The] first thing to say about our sex lives is not that it interferes with our prayer lives, but that it may provide protection from satanic attack against our prayer lives," he writes. "A satisfied sexual pattern in marriage may free the mind for prayer and triumph over temptations to adultery or other kinds of sexual sin."
In his text, Paul is encouraging couples to "abstain from sexual pleasures for a season in order to pray and to show with our body's denial how desperate we are for an answer to this prayer", says Piper.
Other times, abstinence may not be as planned. For example, Piper says, "You get a call, a desperate call, and you just don't have the emotional and physical wherewithal to pursue intimacy that night. You just give yourself to prayer for your child or for your friend.
"Either way, planned or unplanned, the point is not that sex is evil or that it is a hindrance to the ordinary life of prayer," he concludes. "The point is that every legitimate pleasure we enjoy may be given up for a season to underline our intensity or desire for answered prayer or to show our emotional empathy for someone who is suffering."
In an earlier blog post, Piper, who married his wife Noel in 1966, further explained how faith uses sex against Satan: "For the people God leads into marriage, sexual relations are a God-ordained means of overcoming temptation to sin (the sin of adultery, the sin of sexual fantasizing, the sin of pornographic reading, etc.). Faith humbly accepts such gifts and offers thanks.
He added, "A married couple gives a severe blow to the head of that ancient serpent when they aim to give as much sexual satisfaction to each other as possible. It makes me just want to praise the Lord when I think that on top of all the joy that the sexual side of marriage brings, it also proves to be a fearsome weapon against our ancient foe."