1 Corinthians 7:1–9 (NKJV)
1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me:1 Corinthians 7:1-9
It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 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. 5 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. 6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
This short passage deals with two issues: marriage v. celibacy and sexual responsibility. Paul swims into what some would call controversial waters. He suggests that a life of celibacy is desirable over being married. In other places, he explains that this frees an individual to serve God more fully, without the encumbrance of a marital relationship or obligation. However, he also makes provision for marriage if a person cannot control their sexual urges. While some speculate that Paul is contradicting God’s assertion in the Garden of Eden that “it is not good that man be alone,” in actuality he is proposing a new calling or gift of celibacy that is not for the many, but rather for the few. He then spends more time on the subject of sexual responsibility than he did on the discussion of celibacy, giving commensurate space to the more likely need.
Paul says that those who cannot live celibate should have a spouse, and render the due affection. This nebulous term, “due affection,” refers to the responsibility to satisfy each other’s sexual desires and needs within the marital relationship. He evens describes the relationship as one of mutual authority, stating the each member does not have authority over their own body, but the spouse does. This does not mean that one’s spouse becomes their sex slave, but rather that the individual does not have the right to give their body to someone else, and that one’s spouse has the unique and exclusive right to sexual fulfillment from his or her spouse. He then also instructs married couples not to deprive their partners of sexual relations except for certain religious purposes. He then goes back to wishing that all men could be celibate, but that each one has his own gift, and not all can be. Therefore, those people should marry rather than to burn in passion.
In the end, Paul appears to be encouraging people who read the letter to consider their place in the kingdom. Are they to concentrate on fulfilling physical needs? If they do that more, then they may not have the time to fully dedicate themselves to the ministry. This is not evil or bad, as long as it is carried out in the context of monogamous marriage. On the other hand, if one can abstain from sexual needs, then they could be celibate and give all their time to God and the work of the kingdom. However, that type of sacrifice should be coupled with a distinct calling to do so. Celibacy is not for the faint of heart. It is a great sacrifice. Therefore, one should not enter into that type of commitment lightly. Most individuals will see normal marital relations as normal and desirable. But keep them holy in the context of marriage, or they will destroy the soul. In short, marry or don’t marry, according to the calling of God, but whatever you do, do it righteously and in holiness unto the Lord.
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