Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 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.
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. – 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 (ESV)
One important aspect of learning how to apply God’s word to our lives is developing the ability to draw Biblical wisdom about a situation when there are no absolute commands from God. Up until this point in his letter Paul has been dealing with black and white issues. It is always wrong for the church to be divided over personalities. It is always wrong to be puffed up in pride over worldly philosophies. It is always wrong for a church to tolerate gross immorality or for members of a congregation to be bringing lawsuits before pagans. Now Paul shifts to a question that the Corinthians were asking him: “Is it better for a man to not have sexual relations with a woman?” This was a personal question for Paul. Whether he was now a widower, or if he had never married, Paul was at that time without a wife. Furthermore, Paul understood that being without a wife gave him a freedom in his ministry that having a family would have hindered. So how would Paul answer this question? In a sense Paul replies: “That depends.” On the one hand, for those whom God has gifted for singleness – remaining single in order to devote him or herself to ministry might be a very good option. We should be careful in the 21st century to not stand the Roman Catholic practice on its head by treating single people as though there is something odd about them. This is in fact the practice of many evangelical churches who make “being married” one of the criteria in their pastoral searches. Such an approach leaves out some interesting people such as John Stott, J. Gresham Machen, the Apostle Paul, and, of course, Jesus. On the other hand, Paul wants the married people in Corinth to understand that they are not free to deny their marriage partner. The very nature of marriage is such that husband and wife belong to each other. Beyond this, Paul is quite practical in acknowledging the very real temptations toward sexual immorality that existed in Corinth (and in New England!). Paul doesn’t play make-believe, but tries to work out the truths of a Biblical anthropology and apply them to the concrete realities of daily life. So should we.
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 104
Q. 104. What do we pray for in the fourth petition?
A. In the fourth petition, which is, Give us this day our daily bread, we pray that of God’s free gift we may receive a competent portion of the good things of this life, and enjoy his blessing with them.