Last week we began a study of 1 Corinthians 6:12-7:40, a study of love, sex, singleness, and marriage. We were able to cover 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 last week and discovered that unlike the Greek and Roman cultures, and unlike our own secular culture, how we use our bodies matters tremendously to God. Paul shared with the folks in Corinth, and with us, that our bodies are to be used in such a way as to bring glory to God. Paul told us in 1 Corinthians 6:20 that we are to “honor God with our bodies. Why are we to do this? Paul gave us the answer. He said all of those who have become followers of Jesus, have been united with Jesus’ body, we are part of the Body of Christ. He went on to say that each of us who follow Jesus have the Holy Spirit literally residing within us, so how could we involve the Holy Spirit, who lives inside of us, in acts of sexual immorality? Last of all, Paul let us know that the popular modern-day slogan, “my body my choice,” is simply not true for the followers of Jesus. He said, “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies”  (1 Corinthians 6:19-20 NIV)

I’m perfectly aware that for some of you, what you heard last week was totally out-of-step with what you’ve been taught by our society. You no doubt thought I was sharing something from the Stone Age and you rolled your eyes more than once while you listened to me share what God’s Word teaches about human sexuality from God’s perspective. If that is true of you then let me assure you that you would have been right at home in Corinth when the members of their church first heard Paul’s letter read. The culture in Corinth was so much like our own. They lived in a sexually saturated society. The Greek politician and orator Demosthenes, who lived about 350 years before Paul wrote this letter, wrote,

Mistresses we have for pleasure, concubines for daily service to our bodies, but wives for the procreation of legitimate children and to be faithful guardians of the household. (Demosthenes)

Corinth, like our own culture, was filled with people who held a variety of opinions and lived a variety of lifestyles. There were groups within Corinth, not just Christian, but Jewish believers as well as those who followed some of the Greek schools of philosophy, that viewed sexual abstinence as a means to religious power.  They had a common belief that they needed to distance themselves from all things sensual and physical in order to be spiritually pure. There are some in our day who believe the same thing. To all of these people, those who were living sexually immoral lifestyles and those who had sworn off anything to do with sensual and physical pleasures of any kind, Paul writes,

1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Corinthians 7:1-7 NIV)

In the opening of our Scripture you probably noticed the words, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” in parenthesis. These words are not Paul’s words, even though Paul was celibate and embraced celibacy as a gift from God. We’ll talk more about that before we leave here today. The words weren’t Paul’s, they were the words of some of those in the church in Corinth. Paul is addressing a question that has come from the church. Paul’s answer to the question is found in verses 2-6. Let’s read verses 1-2 once again. 

1 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:1-2 NIV)

As I said, Paul embraced his being single and celibate as a gift from God, not to ascend to some higher spiritual plane, but so that he could focus solely on serving the Lord and carrying out God’s call on his life. Paul said, in verse 7, “I wish all of you were as I am,” that is single, celibate, and solely focused on serving the Lord. But in verse 2, Paul tells the people in Corinth, “…since immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband.” Some people have commented that this sounds like a pretty defeatist view of marriage. Like God noticed that raging hormones are unconquerable so He devised marriage to keep everyone from living like animals. That’s not even close to accurate. This is not the only time Paul wrote about the marriage relationship of a man and woman. Here, in 1 Corinthians, he is dealing with a very specific question in a very specific context, the context of what was taking place in Corinth in the first century. 

Paul also wrote about the relationship of a husband and wife in Ephesians 5. It is the most beautiful picture of what marriage is designed to be ever written in my opinion. Read with me beginning in verse 21. 

21 Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. 22 Wives, submit to your husbands as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything. 25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her 26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church– 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery–but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. (Ephesians 5:21-33 NIVO)

The relationship shared by a husband and wife is to be a picture, a living witness to the world, of the relationship of Jesus to His bride, the Church. If you are a husband and you want to have an impact on your buddies, then love your wife as Christ loves the church–honor her, love her, speak well of her, forgive her, encourage her, and lay down your life for her.  If you are a wife and you want to have an impact on your friends then love and respect your husband–honor him, love him, speak highly of him, forgive him, encourage him in front of your friends. Our marriages are to be a picture of Jesus and His Bride, the Church. What a high calling! What an honor and privilege!  Do you see how different this is compared to what we’ve been told about marriage by our society? 

Now, back to our Scripture for this morning. Paul is addressing a very specific situation in Corinth, sexual immorality was rampant. Paul says, “You have sexual desires and therefore each man should have his own wife and each woman should have her own husband.” Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner write,

Paul’s discussion reflects the uniform biblical stance on sex. Fundamentally, in the Bible there are only two types of sex: sex within marriage and sexual immorality. (Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner,  The First Letter to the Corinthians. pg. 277)

In verses 2-6 Paul lays out for us our responsibilities as husbands and wives regarding our spouse in the area of sexual intimacy. Take a look at verses 3-4 with me. Paul writes,

3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:3-4 NIV)

You may not have recognized what Paul wrote as radical because you are probably unfamiliar with the relationship of men and women in Paul’s day. In Paul’s day, and in ancient cultures, patriarchy was the norm. The men were in charge and had authority over everyone in his household. Paul tells us that “the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife” in the same way that “the wife does not have authority over her  own body but yields it to her husband.” Ciampi and Rosner tell us,

The marked mutuality of Paul’s comments (the husband has authority over his wife’s body and she has authority over his) was, however, revolutionary in the ancient world where patriarchy was the norm. For the husband to have authority over his wife’s body was nothing special…. Paul’s following statement affirming the reverse, that “the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does,” clearly pointed to a radical and unprecedented restriction on the husbands’ sexual freedom. It communicates, negatively, his obligation to refrain from engaging in sexual relations with anyone other than his wife and, positively, his obligation to fulfill his marital duty to provide her with sexual pleasure and satisfaction. (Roy E. Ciampa and Brian S. Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians, pg. 280-281.)

Remember, Paul is teaching us about the responsibilities of husbands to their wives and wives to their husbands concerning the proper expression of sexual intimacy within their marriage. In our society today, whether we are talking about sex within or outside of marriage, sex is all about me: my needs, my desires, my willingness to do what I need to do to get what I want. Paul transforms this kind of thinking for those of us who are followers of Jesus. Because I am married to Connie, I am no longer an autonomous man who can focus solely on my needs. Connie and I are one and it is God’s call upon my life to serve her, to put her needs before my own. Paul gives us even more insight in verse 5. Read it with me.

 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:5 NIV)

When Paul writes, “Do not deprive each other…” he uses a very interesting word for “deprive.” The Greek word, “?????????” (apostereo) means, “to defraud, rob, or steal.”  The same word is used in James 5:4 to describe the workers who did the work, but weren’t paid by their boss. James writes,

4 Look! The wages you failed to pay the workers who mowed your fields are crying out against you. The cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord Almighty. (James 5:4 NIV)

Paul is telling the folks in Corinth and he is telling those of us here this morning who are married that to refuse to share sexual intimacy with our spouse is to withhold from them what is theirs. 

We all know the stereotypes of women and men when it comes to sex. If you’ve ever been to a marriage conference or a marriage class then you’ve heard illustration after illustration of how men and women are different. The stereotype is that men are willing to have a relationship in order to get sex while women are willing to have sex in order to have a relationship. That’s not God’s design for the marriage relationship.  If you are married then no doubt you and your spouse are not wired exactly the same. You do not have the same level of sexual desire, but it is important to know that God is the One who has created marriage and He also determined that sexual intimacy is important, not all important, but an important ingredient in a godly marriage. 

Here’s another thing that is important to remember. When Paul says that we aren’t to deprive our spouse of what is theirs, that our bodies are not our own, but our spouses’ also, please don’t take that to mean that we can demand anything from our husband or wife. When I married Connie, “me” became “we.” If I’m called to love her as Jesus loves His Bride, the Church, then her needs come before my own needs. Where did I come up with that line of thinking? Well, Jesus said, 

45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:45 NIV)

When marriages are hitting on all cylinders and the husband and wife are loving and serving each other, then they are looking out for the needs of each other before they are seeking to have their own needs met. You don’t demand anything from one another, but you give freely as an act of love for your spouse and an expression of your love for the Lord. 

Paul goes on to say that there may be times in your marriage when you mutually agree to forego sharing sexual intimacy with one another for “a time,” or “for a season,” for the purpose of prayer. What is the period of time? Paul doesn’t dictate to couples how long they are to cease their sexual relationship. He says that is to be determined by the husband and wife who are both in agreement. 

What kind of mutual prayer would be so important that a couple would say, “Let’s put us on hold for a bit while we focus on seeking God’s strength and counsel?” That’s a great question! I can think back in my relationship with Connie when we were agonizing over someone we loved, it was eating our lunch and we were praying, fervently praying, for God to do what only He could. I remember the night Connie told me she had cancer. Our intimacy together suddenly faded in importance and praying for God’s strength for both of us became our main priority. Times of great grief and sorrow, like when I lost my mom and Connie lost her dad, were times that we focused together on seeking God’s comfort for one another. These are just an example for you. The key is that you and your spouse need to communicate. 

I read a commentary this past week that encouraged us to look at the momentary pause in our sexual relationship with our spouse for specific prayer as a season of fasting. When we fast, we set aside what is a good gift from God for a greater concern which needs to be brought before God. Food is good, but sometimes our need for food is not nearly as great as our need to seek and hear from God. And so it is with sex between a husband and wife. Sexual intimacy for a husband and wife is a good gift from God, but there will be times in every relationship shared by a husband and wife where they will enter seasons in which there will be a greater need than sexual intimacy.  The season of fasting from intimacy will be over and Paul is quick to say, 

Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:5 NIV)

Sex is a battlefield and Paul knew that Satan will have a field day if husbands and wives do not share intimacy with one another. John MacArthur writes,

When the time of concentrated prayer is over, normal desires and temptations will return, often with great intensity. Satan knows that Christians can be especially vulnerable…sexual abstinence can become a tool of Satan. It is never to be used as pretense for spiritual superiority or as a means of intimidating or manipulating one’s spouse. Physical love is to be a normal and regular experience shared by both marriage partners alike, as a gift from God. (MacArthur, John. The MacArthur New Testament Commentary: 1 Corinthians. pg. 158)

Now, before we leave here this morning, we need to turn our attention to verse 7. Paul was single and celibate. We know this from what he has written. He will write about it again later in this chapter. It is almost certain that Paul had been married at some point because he was a Pharisee and Jewish men who were devoted to the study of Torah were almost always married. We don’t know if Paul’s wife had died or if she may have left him when he became a follower of Jesus. Paul doesn’t give us that information. What he does tell us is found in verse 7. Read it with me.

7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (1 Corinthians 7:7 NIV)

I find Paul’s statement after he says he wishes everyone was as he is to be so powerful for all of the singles who are with us this morning. Paul writes, “But each of you has your own gift from God…” He speaks of celibacy as a gift from God. Paul doesn’t hold out being married as superior to being celibate and he does not hold up celibacy as being superior to being married. He calls both a gift from God. 

In our society people have tended to view singles as lacking, but Paul says that those who follow Jesus and are single/celibate have an advantage. I was reading about Dr. Helen Roseveare this past week. Dr. Roseveare was a famous medical missionary who worked in the African Congo for more than 20 years. If you are unaware of her story you should look her up. Dr. Roseveare was single her whole life. After she retired someone asked her about never having married. She said,

God has been so good to me. …the Lord Jesus has been my all-sufficiency all through. And it is a privilege, because as a single on the mission field, I was able to do things that I certainly would not have been able to do had I been married, had a family, and had responsibilities for a home. I didn’t have to look at my watch to see that I got home on time to make the kids’ evening meal. I was free, and God blessed that so richly. He gave me African sisters who’ve been closer to me than any blood sister ever was. I’ve had friendships with them on a level that I’m sure I wouldn’t have had in the same way had I been married. It’s been a privilege. Just keep your eyes on Jesus. And never allow anybody to suggest to you or say to you or even think about you that God gives you second best. God doesn’t know the phrase “second best.” He’s promised you his best. (Dr. Helen Roseveare)

Do you see how God transforms everything about our lives. Dr. Roseveare wasn’t less than, she was exactly who God created her to be. Because she didn’t have a husband or kids to share life with she was able to fully devote herself to serving the Lord and the people of the Congo. 

I do want to say one more thing. If you are single and are a follower of Jesus then please do not live like a married person and look for sexual intimacy to satisfy needs that only Jesus can meet. Please do not move in with someone and live like you are married. Also, if you are planning on getting married then please do not jump the gun and move in with the person you plan to marry. I mention this because cohabitation in America has become the thing to do and it’s not just the young who are doing it. I read an article this past week that stated,

More Americans 50 years and older are copying younger generations and eschewing marriage, opting instead to live with their partners. There has been a 75% increase of people over 50 cohabitating since 2007. (Patricia Reaney. More Americans 50 and over are Cohabitating, Research Shows.) 

The general line of thinking today is that it would be a good idea to give living together a try before a person gets married so they can determine if they are compatible. Nothing could be further from the truth. Study after study shows that living together before marriage actually increases the likelihood of divorce after the first year of marriage. 

Dr. Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist and a professor at the University of Virginia. She received her PhD from UC Berkeley, hardly a right wing university. She’s written a book called The Defining Decade: Why Your Twenties Matter and How To Make The Most of Them Now. Dr. Jay is not a fan of living together before marriage. In her book she calls living with one’s significant other “an intersection between college roommate and sex partner instead of a lifelong commitment between two spouses. She describes the experience of a typical cohabitating couple with these words, 

They vaguely had the idea of testing their relationship, but they didn’t venture into areas that typically stress a marriage: They didn’t pay a mortgage, try to get pregnant, get up in the night with kids, spend holidays with in-laws when they didn’t want to, save for college and retirement, or see each other’s paychecks and credit-card bills. (Jay, Meg. The Defining Decade)

There is so much more to being married than sharing a bed. God has designed us, each and every one of us, and He has created sex, celibacy, and marriage as good gifts for His people. When we determine to do life any way we want then we are headed for heartache and trouble. I hope this morning that you will recognize who you are and where you are, married or single and celibate, as a gift from God. 

Mike Hays

Britton Christian Church

April 25, 2021

The Gifts of Marriage and Celibacy
1 Corinthians 7:1-7
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