“Each Has His Own Gift from God” (1 Corinthians 7:1–9)
Here now the word of the Lord from 1 Corinthians 7:1-9. This is the word of our God for us this morning.
Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 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. 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.
6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 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.
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.1 Corinthians 7:1-9, ESV
I think that airplanes may be one of the most significant technological advances in human history. Think of what airplanes allow us to do. Whereas in the past if you were traveling someplace it would be a good day if, on foot, you could get thirty or forty miles. In a day now, on an airplane, you can get to the other side of the world. It’s remarkable what you can do with an airplane.
An airplane shrinks the size of the world. Not of course by making the world itself smaller, but by allowing us to get to other parts of the world with an ease that people that lived before could never have imagined. Airplanes do extraordinary good in this world.
If course eighteen years ago we discovered shockingly that these instruments that we had been using for good, in fact could be used for great harm and great evil. Think about all that changed about the way that we relate to airplanes after 9-11. Before 9-11 the prevailing wisdom about what to do in the unlikely event of a hijacking was that your main job was to not to do anything stupid. You will probably be safe, keep control over yourself. Just don’t do anything stupid to put you in harm’s way, or to get you or anyone else hurt.
That was because at the time we didn’t understand the way that an airplane could be used as a weapon to inflict significant destruction and incredible loss of life. It never dawned on us that such a good tool like an airplane could be used in such an evil way. Because of that, for many years we were very lax. We weren’t very vigilant to think about the ways that we secured those airplanes. Our whole idea about high-jacking was really it’s fine, it might be an inconvenience that you might be redirected somewhere else. Just let the hijackers do what they want, and everything will be okay as long as you don’t do anything stupid.
After 9-11 we recognized the severity of how airplanes could be used. We aren’t just taking about criminally mischievous inconveniences. We are talking about a tool that can be used for an act of terrorism. Once we saw the severity of how such a good gift of technology to the world could be abused, then we had to become incredibly secure. We had to become vigilant to discover and eliminate the vulnerabilities. We had to become far more restrictively secure to get on an airplane than any of us would like. Yet at the end of the day we recognize that it is important. I don’t like having to go through all of the security things that I have to to get onto an airplane, but I recognize that it’s ultimately for my safety.
This passage reveals something about our faculties. That God has given us as gifts. This passage is a reflection about the fact that sin is a high-jacker for very good gifts that God has given to us. Namely, God has given us very good faculties, inclinations, that are called sexual desires. With our emotions and our reasoning and our desires for other things, God has given us this wonderful tool that he intends to use to build marriages, and families, and to populate the world with more of God’s image bearers. God uses this to build his kingdom on earth.
Yet because Adam originally sinned, and all of us who descend from Adam by ordinary human reproduction have inherited his sin, we have a hijacker that takes these very good capabilities and redirects them from the good purpose that God intended them for. No longer is this gift used exclusively in our hearts and our minds and our bodies for the purpose which God intended it. That is between one man and one woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage for life. Because of sin, sin highjacks even our sexual desires toward other people.
What Paul is reflecting on in this passage is that this is such an important thing that we need to take seriously the threat of sexual immorality and its destructiveness and how many lives it can destroy. We need to get serious with God about how we protect ourselves and those around us from what can happen when sin highjacks our sexuality in the wrong way.
Our big idea then today is this, “Seek godly self-control over your sexuality in one way or another.”
We are going to see three aspects of this.
Self-Control in Marriage
Self-control in Continency
Seek Self-control One Way or Another
Self-Control in Marriage
In this passage, as you may have noticed when we were reading it, that Paul starts this off in something of an unusual way.
Now concerning. Up to this point Paul has heard reports about what is happening in Corinth in 1:11 and 5:1. So from these reports, apparently Paul has devoted six chapters to address the issues that he recognizes. The problems he wants to address and correct are the way that they are thinking about themselves and about Jesus Christ in the gospel. Now we read this phrase, “now concerning the matters about which you wrote.” These are the Corinthian’s concerns. This is the first of six times that we will see Paul use this phrase. It will take us all the way through the rest of the letter. Chapters one through six is about Paul’s concerns and chapters seven through sixteen is about the Corinthian’s concerns.
It is important for us to recognize, especially here, that Paul is not giving us his systematic theology about everything he has ever thought about the subject of marriage. Here he is dealing with one specific question and giving one specific answer and so we have to understand what he says here in that context and not try to pretend that this is the whole teaching of Christianity on the subject of marriage.
Paul says many other things about marriage, especially in Ephesians 5, and the whole Bible gives us a whole vision for what God intends for marriage. The concern here deals with this assertion; it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. In other words, it’s good for a man to be celibate.
Paul agrees with this in some sense. As we read this passage Paul acknowledges that he himself is single and thinks that it is a good way to live. He wishes that everyone could be in a similar state of celibacy. But Paul sharply rejects the idea that this principle of celibacy can be brought into a marriage. He says that is disaster. He gives us three reasons why married couples should avoid celibacy within marriage. Starting off in verse two, as one commentator says, this doesn’t flatter our views of ourselves, but this is true.
2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 1 Corinthians 7:2, ESV
He says that the issue is that we are far too liable to be tempted to sexual immorality, so it’s important for each man to have his own wife and each woman her own husband. This language of having a wife or having a husband doesn’t mean that every person should get married. The phrase that’s usually used “to have a wife” is “to take a wife”. “To have” refers to sexual relations each husband should be having his wife and likewise each wife her husband. He says you have to do this because of the temptation to sexual immorality, that’s the first reason.
The second reason in verse three is an obligation, as Paul puts it, that we owe to one another. This isn’t a tool that Paul is giving us to use against our spouses to demand something. Paul is saying that this should convict our own hearts about how we think about our spouses and what we owe to them.
3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.1 Corinthians 7:3, ESV
In verse four, Paul talks about authority.
4 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. 1 Corinthians 7:4, ESV
Up to that point, that would have been entirely unsurprising in the ancient world. The ancient world believed that the husband had authority over his wife, but then Paul flips it. He says, “likewise the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife does.” In marriage you give up authority over your own body sexually to your spouse.
Paul says that because of the temptation of sexual immorality, because of the obligation that we owe to one another, because of the authority we have entrusted to the other. He’s not saying that this is the tool that you use to demand and beat something out of your spouse. Rather he’s saying this is how you have to think about yourself, it’s about how you relate to your spouse.
Are there any exceptions to this? That is the question that the Corinthians are driving at. In verse five Paul gives us a possible, sometimes, concession.
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.1 Corinthians 7:5, ESV
That word for deprive is the same word that we saw in 6:7-8 when Paul talked about the Corinthians defrauding one another when hauling one another into lawsuits before unrighteous judges. They were defrauding each other, and Paul says don’t defraud one another. Except, this is a maybe, by agreement, mutual agreement is a requirement here, for a limited period of time and for a specific purpose, that you may devote yourselves to prayer.
This word for devote is the word that we get our word school from. Children you may not think of school as something that is leisurely, the word here means leisure. The idea is that you have leisure to avoid working in the fields, not to go work but rather to pursue your education. Paul is saying that have leisure from the obligations you have in your marriage, in order to devote yourselves to prayer. That’s the exception, that is a time where there may be an exception to this general rule.
The Paul says, “come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” Let’s come back to this idea of self-control in just one moment but look at the next verse six.
6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.1 Corinthians 7:6, ESV
It’s very difficult to know what “this” refers to. A lot of people have suggested a lot of things that Paul may be referring to. I think the strongest argument is that it’s referring to what Paul was just saying. It seems like in verse six he’s saying, that is my concession. I will grant you that there is a time to practice celibacy in marriage, under those strict conditions. Perhaps by agreement for a limited time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, but then don’t do it any longer than that. It’s certainly not a command, but if you want to, I guess it’s okay.
Let’s come back to this idea in verse five. Paul said at the begin, because of the temptation to sexual immorality. Then at verse five he comes back to this idea, “so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”.
What Paul is doing here is drawing a distinction between our sin and our frailty. He’s saying that sin is always sin and nothing makes it more or less sin, but we have to be wise and strategic. There are times when we are more vulnerable to fall into sin than at other times. Someone I was reading about this topic put it this way, “It is my sin when I become angry at my wife. However, it is my frailty to recognize that I am more likely to become angry at my wife before I have had coffee in the morning.” Recognizing fatigue, difficulties in the stress of the week, recognizing that all of those things are not in themselves sin, but they are frailties that we have to take into account.
So, Paul is coaching us in how to deal with our lack of self-control. God is urging us toward self-control, not by burdening us with some unrealistic concept of celibacy in marriage. He’s acknowledging that it is a good thing for those who are unmarried, but not within marriage. God has given us something different in marriage than in celibacy.
Self-control in Continency
But is everyone called to marriage? The answer is no. Not everyone is called to marriage. Paul goes on to say in the next section, 7:7-9, that some have a gift. A gift that has been called the gift of continency, the gift of containing our desires.
Let’s look at what Paul says in verse seven. Initially he agrees in principle with the original statement that he wrote in verse one.
7 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 7:7, ESV
This word for gift is the same word that Paul uses to talk about spiritual gifts. The spiritual gifts that Paul entrusts to believers. The gift of continency is not a gift of superhuman strength where we are able to control our desires by white-knuckle discipline so that we are not doing something stupid that puts us in harm’s way. Rather he’s saying the gift is in containing the desires themselves. Not everyone has this gift. For those who have the gift, Paul says you have this gift of being able to contain and control the desires themselves.
How do I see that? Let’s keep reading verses eight and nine.
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.1 Corinthians 7:8-9, ESV
The word “with passion” is added to define what the burning consists of. Really, he’s just saying that it’s better to marry than to burn. If I don’t have control over my desires, it’s better for me not to pursue the single life. It’s actually better for me to pursue being married than to allow these burning desires to continue in my heart.
The idea is not about superhuman discipline to control my desires that are raging inside of me. Rather it’s about a supernatural gift that God gives me so that those desires are not a distraction to the life that he has called me to lead. That’s the difference in the gift of continency.
Understand this word self-control was an important word used by the Greek philosophers. The thought that we needed to live rationally. To use our minds to disciple our bodies. Regardless of the raging, burning desires inside of us, we can white-knuckle our ways by discipling our lives.
Now, it’s a really good philosophy from a human perspective, according to the flesh, but isn’t Christianity. The gospel tells us something very different. God requires much more than just what we do externally. He requires self-control of our hearts, in the deepest part of who we are. Every inclination of our souls, every attraction of our sexual desires, God wants to be under control.
The same word for self-control is a word that appears in the fruit of the spirit in Galatian’s chapter five.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23, ESV
Humanly speaking this is impossible. How do I control my desires? I don’t even want these things to well up inside of me. Humanly it is impossible. It is impossible for you, in your own strength, to discipline what is deepest inside of your soul. The church has always recognized that this is something that must happen by grace.
In the very early church, right after the completion of the New Testament. There are only a few Christian theologians that we have before coming to a man name Clement of Alexandria. He lived from 150-215 A.D. He was a church father who did a lot to advance theology. The main criticism of Clement is that he was so schooled in Greek philosophy that very often he would take Greek concepts and overlay them on Christianity. We weren’t talking about Christianity anymore; we were really talking about Greek philosophy.
It’s interesting that as Clement of Alexandria talks about this idea of self-control, he says that Christianity cannot affirm what the Greek philosophers affirm. He says, “The human ideal of self-control, I mean the one found among the Greek philosophers, consists in struggling against lust and in not yielding to it so as to manifest it’s deeds. Among us self-control means not to experience lust or desire at all. Our aim is not merely to be self-control while still experiencing lust or desire in the heart, but rather to be self-control even over lust itself… but this kind of self-control is attained only by the grace of God.”
This is impossible humanly speaking, but this is what the gospel puts in front of us. How? Jesus Christ accomplishes this for us. Who Christ is for us and what Christ does in us. When we trust in Christ for salvation, what we are doing is trusting that Jesus Christ, the eternal son of God came into this world and died for us to take upon himself the punishment for our sin. We talk a lot about the forgiveness of sins, but that is only part of what Jesus does to make us righteous. The other part of what Jesus does to make us righteous is that he gives us his righteousness, his perfect self-control. He credits it to us as if it were ours.
When our Lord Jesus came into this world, he lived a perfect live. Every inclination of his soul, every emotion of his heart, every thought of his mind, in all of these he experienced nothing by true love for other people. He never looked upon another human being as an opportunity for sexual gratification in any way. His heart was whole mindedly devoted to loving his God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength, and to loving his neighbor as himself.
He did this perfectly all throughout his life, especially culminating in what Jesus did for us at the cross. There our Lord Jesus obeyed his father all the way to death. Not my will, to avoid this pain and suffering, but I want yours to be done most of all father. He did it because he loved his neighbor, you and me, as himself. He put our needs and good before protection of himself. At the cross God punished Christ for all the ways that we have fallen short in sin. But at the cross Christ also fulfilled the height of righteousness for love of God and his neighbor. In Christ God credits that righteousness to us, so that we are counted righteous in him when we look to him in faith. That’s who Christ is for us. That’s justification, if you know that theological term.
There’s another part of what Christ does in us. When we trust in Christ, God begins a process of sanctification. He makes us more holy. He takes the holiness of Christ and begins to apply it to us. Our justification, the fact that we are righteous, is complete and whole and cannot be harmed. However, our sanctification is ongoing.
God is continually putting our old deeds and old desires to death in order to remake us in the image of Christ. This is again not a superhuman work, this is a supernatural work. God has to do this in us. That is why we need the fruit of the Holy Spirit, including self-control.
This isn’t something that we experience passively. We are called to strive for this. We strive for this not by trying to do something in our own strength, but continually looking more and more to the Lord for his strength and holiness. We confess and repent from our sin. Whether it’s something we act out or something that is welling up inside of us. We cry out to God to remake us from the inside out. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me”.
We strive by seeking to live wisely. By diligently trying to discover all of the vulnerabilities where our frailty has a better opportunity for leading us into sin.
To summarize all of this, in the gospel is not stoicism. This isn’t about having desire rage in you and you just learn how to discipline it with white knuckles. This is about the gift of God who gives your self-control. This is the last topic we need to think about, it doesn’t come to everyone in the same way. It comes to married people in one way and to single people in another way.
Seek Self-Control One Way or Another
If you want to know that Paul is saying here, really this boils down to a key question. Do you have the gift of continency? Are your desires contained? Do you recognize that you don’t need to be married in this way? This isn’t so that you can have leisure, or freedom from responsibilities of family life in order to pursue your own selfish desires. This is so that you can give yourself whole heartedly to the kingdom.
If you don’t have the gift of continency, then you need to pursue godly, self-control by seeking sexual fulfillment in marriage to the degree that you can. I understand that not everyone can, or that’s not an option for everyone right now. In general, Paul is telling us that in order to be wise in dealing with our sin, if we don’t have this gift of continency we need to be pursuing marriage. That’s what’s wise. We can’t allow the high-jacker of sin to run free in our souls. We have to find a way to vigilantly deal with that.
Again, it’s a very good gift, our sexual desires, but it’s high-jacked. The Westminster Larger Catechism, question number 138 actually says that one of the duties of upholding the seventh commandment not to commit adultery includes marriage by those that have not the gift of continency. In the larger catechism question 139, the sins forbidden by the seventh commandment including entangling vows of single life or undo delay of marriage. There are due reasons for delay of marriage. Undo delay of marriage is unwise, it’s not living up to what God calls us to. To take a realistic understanding of ourselves from his word.
The reason for this is that it is a sin to burn with passion. It’s sin. That means that you are desiring something that would be sin if you were to have it. Those internal desires to have sexual gratification from someone who is not your spouse is truly and properly sin. Now we have to separate out the fact that the sexual desire is good, but the one that you are attaching to if you are not married to that person is where the sin is high-jacking what is very good. So, you need to understand that if you don’t have these desires contained, you need to be pursuing a godly marriage.
For married people Paul is very clear. For married people, self-control is not celibacy in marriage. In fact, celibacy undermines your self-control. The scriptures call us here to give ourselves to our spouses so that Satan may not tempt us for our lack of self-control. This is what the scriptures teach us. We need to pursue self-control wherever we are, to whatever degree that we can, in whatever God has given us.
Stop consuming pornography. I’m going to start with this one because it’s universal. It’s important whether you are married or unmarried. Pornography is sin. It exploits another person lustfully. It’s what Jesus calls adultery of the heart in Matthew chapter five. That is reasons that we should stop it.Paul also illuminates another reason for avoiding pornography in this passage. What pornography does is it inflames the burning of your lust and at the same time diminishes your desire for an actual flesh and blood real person spouse. We see this happening. Young people are getting married later and later, and there may be due reasons for that in certain cases, but on the whole it’s not for good reasons.What’s also surprising is that statistically is that young people are having less premarital sex. Again, this isn’t for good reasons. The issue is because there is rampant pornography. The desires are being fulfilled in some sense, but not in the way that God told us to fulfill those in marriage. Remember, your sex drive is a good thing. God created it, he likes it, he calls it good. But he created it to be used only in one specific context; a lifelong covenant of marriage between one biological male and one biological female. Anything other than this is sin. Trying to satisfy your desires from images on your television, computer, tablets, phones, magazine or even your own imagination, it’s sin, so stop.Part of pursuing self-control means doing everything you can means doing everything you can to hold yourself accountable to others to avoid the sin of pornography. A bigger part is to find the right place to express these sexual desires, which is in marriage.
To those of you who are married, give yourself to your spouses. Think of all the reasons that Paul gives. You do this to protect your spouse and yourself, to protect yourselves from the temptation to sexual immorality. You do this to fulfill the obligation that you promised to give to your spouse. You do this because you recognize that you gave away authority to your spouse. Don’t defraud one another.Understand, this passage is not to be used as a weapon to take something from your spouse. Again, this drives us to give to our spouses, not to use this to demand something. This is about giving, not about taking. Your first requirement is to love and serve your spouse and one of the ways is to give yourself to your spouse and the other way is by not selfishly taking.
Don’t unduly delay marriage. Don’t pledge to avoid marriage all together unless you have the gift of continency. The undue delay of marriage is unwise and it’s a sin. God has told us what we are supposed to do with these passions, this burning in our soul. We need to find the right place to express these and God has given us that in marriage.This doesn’t mean that you should marry the absolute person you meet. There are healthy, right, due reasons for putting off marriage. Paul warns us in just a few verses, in verse sixteen, about marrying an unbeliever.
16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?1 Corinthians 7:16, ESV
Elsewhere, in 2 Corinthians 6:14, Paul warns us against being unequally yoked. It’s not a good thing to find someone who doesn’t love Jesus like you do. That’s a due reason for delaying marriage.
What the scriptures say is that we’ve got to deal sober mindedly with our hearts. This is such a destructive thing, sexual immorality. In order to take care of this, we need to be seeking out what the scriptures teach us about what a godly spouse is. Maybe that isn’t aligning with what Hollywood is teaching or with what seems to be popular with the current culture. We need to see what a godly spouse is and pursue that person.
This does mean however, that you should prioritize your purity over personal pursuits. Sometimes, we want to pursue our education, career, saving, hobbies, travel, playing video games endlessly. None of these are wrong in themselves. However, the scriptures teach us that if are allowing lust to rage in your body while you unduly delay marriage, you’ve got things turned around. You need to care about your purity. Again, before 9-11 no one took seriously how damaging a plane could be, but once they saw it then we wished we had only taken more precautions.
The question you need to ask yourself is if you are burning with this desire? If so, you need to try to get married to a godly spouse. This is especially true if you are using pornography to delay this. Satisfy the urge in one sense and manage the burning. You need to put this to death and to seek a spouse.
I want to say a word to those of you who long to be married, but don’t have a godly willing companion. Understand this is not sin, it’s suffering, a trial, it’s affliction. Whenever we are put in a situation that is not ideal, but it’s not from sin, then it’s not sin. This is a case, like other forms of suffering, in which we need to cry out to the Lord and entrust ourselves to him. And live faithfully as we wait upon him, whether he provides us with the desire of our hearts or not.
This is similar to people who face disability, married couples who are unable to conceive children biologically. These are a result of the fall, but they aren’t sin in themselves. Jesus talked about the man born blind in John chapter nine. People said, well who sinned, he’s got this condition, so did he sin or did his parent’s sin? Jesus said it’s not that this man sinned or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.
God promises that he will give us the grace to endure whatever trials he appoints for our lives. Ultimately even this trial is not out of his control. God promises that he is working all things together for our good, wherever that leads. You can trust the Lord. You do need to be pursuing by whatever God gives you, but if he doesn’t give it to you seek to be faithful. Entrust yourself to the one who judges justly.
The fourth application point is for those who have the gift of continency. Those of you where the desires are controlled. I want to encourage you to consider how God wants you to use this. He doesn’t grant this to everyone, it’s a supernatural gift that God gives one kind to some people and another to others. God doesn’t grant everyone this, but also the gift is not for you to use however you see fit.This gift isn’t for you to use for freedom from the obligations of family life to pursue whatever leisure you want to pursue. This is for you to pursue the kingdom of God whole heartedly. For you to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself. To be an independent agent for the kingdom of God in the way that Paul used his own freedom.
Brothers and sisters let me summarize this difficult text by reminding us that our time in this world is short. Our time in this world is short and we are not guaranteed a thing. We aren’t guaranteed anything in this life except for God’s faithfulness to those who love him. You and I are called to live with an eye toward eternity. This means that we have to reevaluate how we look at things and evaluate threats and problems in the light that scripture gives us. When scripture tells us that this good gift of our desires can be put to a very evil use that can cause great damage, we need to take that seriously.
If you don’t know and love the Lord Jesus Christ, understand that what this is calling us to is the experience of the grace of God through him. But if you do know Jesus, live with a view to eternity. Do whatever it takes, even if it feels restrictive at times as restrictive as the TSA, do whatever you need to protect yourself from the grave damage of Satan tempting you because of your lack of self-control into sexual immorality.
Let’s us pray.
Lord Christ we pray that you would teach us to love you and follow you all the days of our lives. We ask that you would do this for our good and for Christ’s glory because we want holiness. Father teach us to be aware of our frailties, aware of our weaknesses, aware of where we are liable to fall. Teach us to be vigilant, to remove all of those vulnerabilities to the best that we can by the help of the grace of the Holy Spirit. So that Father, we can, trusting in your grace, seek to obey you more and more. We pray this in Christ’s name and for his glory. Amen.