Is singleness a “gift”? Is a lack of desire to party and drink a gift? What about the person who has no desire or need for a drug fix? Would that be a gift? Have you ever personally known someone who was a compulsive liar? They just could not help themselves and were always inventing stories and lies as a habit of life? Would it be a “gift” to not have that burden? The fact is restraint and personal boundaries come easy for some but are much more difficult for others. In the middle of Paul’s practical rules for marriage, relationships, and sex he makes an obvious but seldom realized point about the nature of people. We all have different strengths, weaknesses, and “gifts” from God.
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
The “gift” Paul is talking about here is a lack of desire or need for a sexual relationship in his life. Paul wishes right before this statement that all men would remain single to focus on their relationship with Christ alone, but he knows in real world practicality that is not possible. William Barclay in his commentary on Corinthians provides solid evidence that Paul most likely was married at one time. Unknown is what happened to his wife. Did they split up over his conversion to Christianity or maybe an untimely death? Whatever the reason the result is that Paul living the brutal road life of a missionary sets an example and he views as a “gift” to be single and singularly focused on God’s priorities.
For me I wanted to be married and I wanted it at a young age. A partner for life to have my back, someone to be relationally and emotionally invested in, and of course the want of sex made it all the more desirable. Restraint and the mercy of God helped me wait until college was complete but it was not easy. If because of religious reasons I followed a path of singleness it would have ended in failure. My strength and my “gift” at that time was not celibacy. So what is the real application here? What point should one take way?
Freedom. God has given us a freedom to be something other than what the world demands we be. The world would tell us that Paul’s “gift” was a curse. How could he live a life of singleness? Sex after all is the most desirable pleasure one could seek after. There must have been something wrong with Paul or he was lying about his own sex life the world will argue. But what Paul is really talking about is Freedom.
In recent years I have noticed Christians embracing things that were culturally taboo a generation ago. Some Christians proudly show off tattoos, others piercings in odd places and social beer clubs through a church. These Christians champion that Christ has made us free to be and do what we want. Paul on the surface seems to advocate the same but it is really a misunderstanding.
12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are helpful. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything. 1 Corinthians 6:12 ESV
I am a Christian now I can live and be anything because the law no longer has power over me. Through Christ I am alive. If I want to drink then I will drink. If I want to watch Game of Thrones then get out of my way. If I want to use profanity at that right moment when it will have the most effect to get my point across then *%$ I will. I have freedom in Christ. Sounds not so wonderful this kind of attitude. But freedom of this kind is practiced in subtle ways throughout the church. The rationalization is that one should relax that legalism is creeping into one’s worldview and that this act, this language, and these images are not hurting anyone.
But this is not the kind of practical freedom that Paul was talking about. Paul’s freedom, his “gift” is the strength and desire to no longer conform to this world. Paul’s freedom was to be removed from the temptation to lust and seek after sexual pleasure. He became transformed through Christ to be a new man.
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. Romans 12:1-2 ESV
Now Paul’s gift of freedom may or may not apply to the reader. So in all practicality Paul then reinforced the natural plans God had already laid down. God created Men and Women to be supportive loving relationships. Those relationships also allow one to flee sexual immorality by having a spouse to support that ability. Some have one gift others have another.
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. 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 ESV
I do not need to be what I once was because I have now been given the freedom and the gift to flee and turn away from that life. That gift comes from faith and submission to the love Christ has for me. Freedom is not something to be abused for my own selfish gain as if I were still living as one not transformed. Freedom in Christ is the gift and desire to seek holiness in the presence of God.
9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11a ESV