Message # 24 | 1 Corinthians 7:1-9, 17-40 | September 11, 2016
The deliberate abstinence from marital or sexual intimacy.
CELIBACY Abstention by vow from marriage. The practice of abstaining from marriage may be alluded to twice in the NT. Jesus said that some have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom and that those who were able to do likewise should do so (Matt. 19:12). This statement has traditionally been understood as a reference to celibacy. Paul counseled the single to remain so (1 Cor. 7:8). Both Jesus (Mark 10:2–12) and Paul (1 Cor. 7:9, 28, 36–39; 9:5), however, affirmed the goodness of the married state. One NT passage goes so far as to characterize the prohibition of marriage as demonic (1 Tim. 4:1–3).
With every libertine there is a legalist nearby. Most often one extreme perpetuates the other extreme. This is no different in Corinth. In chapter 6 Paul corrects some of the Corinthians wrong thinking in that they claimed that anything done with the body was basically irrelevant. They posited that cravings of the physical body needed to be satisfied. This thinking had worked itself out in all forms of sexual immorality. Those were the libertines. They had embraced a distorted notion of what freedom in Christ looked like. Alongside these proponents of sexual freedom was a group presenting sexual abstinence as the behavior of the spiritual mature – even for married couples.
Ambrosiaster: Stirred up by the depraved minds of the false apostles, who in their hypocrisy were teaching that marriage ought to be rejected in order that they might appear to be holier than others, the Corinthians wrote to Paul to ask him about these things. Because they were unhappy about this teaching, they ignored everything else and concentrated exclusively on this. Commentary on Paul’s Epistles.
Other early church fathers went further to actually denounce marriage and lift as superior celibacy. In reference to the phrase “It is good for a man to not have sexual relations with a woman,” Chrysostom said the following.
Chrysostom: Some people think that this was written primarily for priests, but judging from what follows, this cannot be right. If he had meant it only for priests, he would have said so, but throughout this [chapter] he speaks of persons in general. Paul permits marriage as a concession, but the very fact that it is designed to avoid fornication shows that he is really trying to encourage virginity. (Homilies on the Epistles of Paul to the Corinthians 19.1.)
Clement of Alexandria: One who marries is not sinning against the covenant, but neither is he fulfilling the highest purpose of the gospel ethic.
It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman. There are a number of debates that center around this phrase. (1) Is this something that the Corinthians had said to Paul in their letter to him and he is addressing it? Or, is it something that Paul is teaching? (2) The first discussion will affect the second. Does the word good in this phrase denote something that is morally acceptable or something that is morally superior?
The word good has a wide variety of potential meaning. It can refer to an object as beautiful, in and of itself, with no comparison to another object. But, it can also establish one object as morally superior or excellent in contrast to another object. Therefore, the Corinthians are saying that celibacy is morally superior to intimate marriage and Paul is going to denounce that thinking, or Paul is just admitting that celibacy is a beautiful and acceptable thing.
First, it is unlikely that Paul is going to establish that marriage is morally inferior to singleness when God established marriage and determined it to be good. In the creation story, God acknowledged that it was not good that man was alone, so he created Eve. In essence, God viewed singleness and determined it to not be ideal. Also, God chose to use the picture of marriage to communicate the beauty of the church’s relationship with Christ.
Secondly, in similar fashion to what he did in chapter 6, Paul offers a quote from the Corinthians and then he responds to it. Just like those quotes, he does find some agreement with the statement, but offers some pretty serious and stark qualifications. Shortly later in the passage he is going to admit that he prefers that people stay single, but even then he acknowledges that that is his opinion and not from the Lord. So then, Paul is not establishing in this passage that celibacy is a superior spiritual state, but he does clearly establish that celibacy is a good thing.
I wish that all were like myself. Even if you come to the conclusion that the first verse in this chapter is not a quote from Paul, you have to admit that he speaks quite highly of celibacy in the rest of the chapter. He writes in verses 6-7, “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am.” Being single is not like being on the JV team and you have to get married to be on varsity. Whether you are married or single, you are whole and ought to find your satisfaction and delight in Christ and not in others.
Singleness for the purpose of slavery to Christ. What though seems to be the great benefit of being single? According to 1 Corinthians 7:32-35, Paul saw singleness as an advantage because it allowed him a great deal of freedom to serve Christ. He served in ways that married people couldn’t do.
1 Corinthians 7:32–40 (ESV) 32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. . . . 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. 39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
We live in a culture that views singleness as an advantage because it keeps you from being tied down. Our culture views being single is liberating. Paul’s view of liberty was nearly opposite. Instead of seeing his singleness as a means to accomplish all his own personal goals and catch up on his bucket lists, he saw his singleness as freedom to be a slave to Christ. To those who find themselves in a single position, it’s nothing to be scoffed at. You have the ability to serve Christ in a far more focused way than those who are married.
Marriage is a challenge amidst persecution. There is a reason that Paul feels this way. He acknowledges that the culture in which they live is rampant with persecution and animosity towards believers. Believers at that time, much like today, were being confronted with a great deal of persecution, and Paul acknowledges that it would be easier and even better at times to stay single in the midst of persecution. Imagine the struggle a believer would face if their spouse or children were threatened due to their Christianity. Paul addresses this earlier in the chapter.
1 Corinthians 7:26–28 (ESV) 26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.
Even though Paul clearly acknowledges that celibacy is a good thing, he also quite quickly acknowledges it’s not for everyone. In verse seven he admits that he wishes that “all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.”
I wish all were as I myself am. To what is Paul referring when he says, “I wish all were as I myself am?” Is he saying, “I wish all were unmarried like me” or is he saying, “I wish everyone had the gift of controlling their sexual urges like me”?
Once again, I think we are going to struggle with the rest of Scripture if we determine that Paul is saying that he wishes that everyone was single. Practically speaking, it wouldn’t make sense to wish everyone were single . . . for the very fact that there wouldn’t be anyone if that were the case. It is more likely that he is saying one of two things. (1) He wishes everyone had the ability to devote their sole attention on their service to Christ. (2) Or, he wishes that everyone had the ability or gift to not be distracted by sexual desire. Either of those would make sense in the context. Thiselton writes in his commentary on 1 Corinthians 7.
Paul’s χάρισμα lay in his capacity to sublimate his sexual drives (rather than in one direction merely repressing them, or in the other direction gratifying them) with the result that his creative energy is poured forth into the work of the gospel at every level of consciousness to great effect, and with no desire for something further (Phil 4:11).
Variety of spiritual gifts. The word that Paul uses here for gift is the same word he uses in the other context of spiritual gifts. In all of these contexts, gifts are spread throughout the body of Christ. No one person has them all and everyone has at least one. First Corinthians 12:4 (ESV), Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit. First Corinthians 12:9 (ESV), to another faith by the same Spirit, to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit. Romans 12:6 (ESV), Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith.
It’s a safety precaution for passionate desire. “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).
Calvin. The sum is this—that the question is not as to the reasons for which marriage has been instituted, but as to the persons for whom it is necessary.
Monogamous relationships are the rule.
Authority is given to each partner. The recipient culture looked down upon women. While some of the poorer women would have worked, the ideal was that a woman stayed home. They had next to no role in government and court. Women couldn’t achieve political rights even though slaves could. Women could share citizen status in as much as they could give birth to boys that would be citizens and daughters who could marry citizens. In other words, it was a man’s world. Women were used. It seems that their primary role was to give birth to boys.
Note then the countercultural teaching that Paul offers here when he tells them that not only do the husbands have rights over their wives, but the wives have the right over the body of their husband.
1 Corinthians 7:3–5 (ESV) 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.
As we close this morning, let’s consider one more passage. In 1 Thessalonians 4, Paul offers us a distinction between those who are governed by their passions and those who are motivated by holiness and honor.
1 Thessalonians 4:3–5 (ESV) 3 For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; 4 that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, 5 not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God;
PIPER. The key phrase is “who do not know God.” If you ask Paul, What can I do so that I am protected from Satan’s power to deceive me into sexual sin? his answer would be, Get to know God. Devote yourself to the knowledge of God. Pursue an ever-expanding vision of God.
He said in Romans 1:28, “Since they did not approve to have God in their knowledge, God gave them up to a base mind and to improper conduct.” But if you treasure the knowledge of God and pursue it, the bondage to baseness will be broken.
In Galatians 4:8 Paul said, “Formerly when you did not know God you were in bondage to beings that by nature are no gods.” Deliverance from the bondage of Satan and his forces comes through knowing God.
Or as Peter put it in his second letter (1:3, 4): “His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence.” The better you know the glory and excellency of God, the less power Satan will have over you. You cannot be easily deceived that Satan’s way is better when you really know the way of Christ.
The only way to fight the lie of sinful pleasure is with the truth of righteous pleasure. When you come to know God fully—that “in his presence is fullness of joy and at his right hand are pleasures forevermore”—then you will have conquered Satan once for all. He is a liar and has no power over those who know God in truth.
 J. H. Coe and D. M. Joy, “Celibacy,” ed. David G. Benner and Peter C. Hill, Baker Encyclopedia of Psychology & Counseling, Baker Reference Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1999), 176.
 Chad Brand et al., eds., “Celibacy,” Holman Illustrated Bible Dictionary (Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers, 2003), 274.
 Gerald Lewis Bray, ed., 1–2 Corinthians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 59.
 Gerald Lewis Bray, ed., 1–2 Corinthians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 60.
 Gerald Lewis Bray, ed., 1–2 Corinthians, Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1999), 62.
 Timothy Friberg, Barbara Friberg, and Neva F. Miller, Analytical Lexicon of the Greek New Testament, Baker’s Greek New Testament Library (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2000), 214. . . . καλός, ή, όν good, beautiful, with a basic meaning healthy, sound, fit, opposite κακός (bad, evil) and αἰσχρός (ugly, deformed); (1) of outward appearance handsome, beautiful, lovely (LU 21.5); (2) as a quality of freedom from defects good, useful, fine (MT 13.8; possibly MK 9.50); neuter as a substantive τὸ καλόν good thing (possibly MK 9.50); (3) of a sound moral disposition good, noble, praiseworthy, synonymous with ἁγαθός (RO 7.18); of things excellent; substantivally τὸ καλόν what is good, what passes the test (1TH 5.21); (4) socially, of a mode of life and behavior, especially as καλὰ ἔργα good works (1T 5.10); (5) impersonally καλόν (ἐστιν) it is good, expedient or advantageous (MT 17.4); it is (morally) good (MT 15.26); it is better (MT 26.24); (6) comparative καλλίων, κάλλιον better, more beautiful; neuter singular as an adverb very well (AC 25.10)
 Anthony C. Thiselton, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text, New International Greek Testament Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000), 513.
 John Calvin and John Pringle, Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Corinthians, vol. 1 (Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010), 225.
 John Piper, Satan Uses Sexual Desire, Accessed September 8, 2016. http://www.desiringgod.org/messages/satan-uses-sexual-desire