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1 Corinthians 7:6–7

“Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.”

Wrong views of marriage and sex can lead to all sorts of problems. In the first-century Corinthian church, a radical dualism that separated soul and body resulted in believers’ thinking it was acceptable to visit prostitutes, to be celibate even in marriage, and to satisfy sexual desires outside of marriage because of that celibacy. Thus, Paul stresses the importance of personal holiness and the duty of husband and wife to give their bodies to one another in the sexual relationship. Following such direction would lessen the strength of Satan’s temptations to illicit sexual encounters and bring glory to God (1 Cor. 6:12–7:5).

Many commentators believe that the people advocating marital celibacy in Corinth were appealing to Paul’s own celibate singleness to justify their position. That would certainly explain why Paul addresses the issue of his celibacy in today’s passage. He starts in 7:6 by noting that his earlier guidance was a “concession, not a command.” Some have read this as if Paul is referring to his directions regarding marriage and sex within marriage in verses 1–4, thus concluding that celibate singleness is the ideal. In this view, Paul, recognizing that celibate singleness will not be the path for most people, grants the acceptability of marriage as perhaps a necessary evil. However, the concession to which Paul refers is almost certainly his allowance for married couples to abstain from sex temporarily for the sake of prayer (v. 5). Thus, the Apostle is saying something like, “If you find it necessary to abstain from sex for periods of prayer, that is OK, but it is not something that you have to do.”

Paul is not granting married life second place to singleness in the church. However, neither does he say that singleness is to be denigrated. He states in verse 7 that he wishes that all could be like him and possess his own gift. Most likely, Paul is talking about a special gift of celibacy that allowed him to pursue his calling single-mindedly, free from the desire for a wife. As we will see, the Apostle in verses 32–35 talks about how celibate singleness can be an advantage for ministry. So, it is not surprising that on some level, Paul can wish for all to have that gift. But he recognizes that in the Lord’s sovereign providence, not everyone has that gift: “Each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another” (v. 7). Therefore, celibate singleness cannot be God’s ideal for all people.

Coram Deo Living before the face of God

John Calvin comments, “[Celibacy], I acknowledge, is an excellent gift; but keep it in view, that it is a gift. Learn, besides, from the mouth of Christ and of Paul, that it is not common to all, but is given only to a few.” As we consider marriage ourselves or help others who are considering it, let us keep in mind that married life is the norm for most believers and is a good and noble calling.

For Further Study
  • Deuteronomy 24:5
  • Proverbs 31:10–31
  • Jeremiah 29:1–7
  • Revelation 19:6–10

Behold Your King!

When to Marry

Keep Reading The Christian Ethic

From the March 2021 Issue
Mar 2021 Issue