1 Corinthians 7 is written as a response to some of the questions/views the church had about sex. Some thought sex was dirty (v.1); while others believed that because it’s a sacred act, they shouldn’t stay married (‘one flesh’) with an unbelieving spouse (vv.10-16).
Paul’s response is revolutionary for their day and ours as well.
First, he says, sex in the context of a Biblical marriage isn’t dirty (vv.2-5). After all, if we remember from chapter six, sex is a gift from God designed to bring us closer to God and our spouse; as well as to show us that oneness with God and our spouse produces life. The Christian view of sex isn’t that it’s dirty, but that it’s sacred. No one on the planet has a higher view of sex than the Christian. We’re not narrow-minded, we are high-minded. We have a much more comprehensive (or complete) understanding of sex.
But then he also says this: no one needs sex less than a Christian. Throughout the rest of this chapter, Paul will keep coming back to the reality that while no one has a more beautiful view of sex, no one needs it less. This is going to rub many conservative Christians the wrong way, but singleness (and its requirement of abstinence) isn’t just a viable way for the Christian life, it is the preferred way of life (not out of selfishness, but out of love for God and a devotion to His work).
Many Christian parents today would be sad if their kids didn’t get married. We honestly would think they’re missing out. We have it in our head that the ultimate human experience is to be married and have kids and grandkids. And it’s not. The ultimate human experience is to walk in oneness with God – to be head over heels in love with Jesus; to lay down our lives for the sake of the Gospel. And yet sadly, most Christian parents spend more time praying and seeking a future spouse for their children than praying and seeking a Gospel-ordered life (for themselves and their kids).
Paul is not saying that wanting marriage, sex and kids is bad (quite the opposite). They are gifts from God. But what Paul is getting at, is that we tend to fall in love with the gifts instead of the Giver. We tend to idolize our relational status, seek (with all our heart) temporary pleasures, and raise our kids like this is the only life. We’re still placing all our eggs in this life when the message of the cross – the Gospel – flips that thinking on its head.
The Gospel says, this life is short and pales in comparison of what is to come. This life – this season – is but one of receiving, revealing and refining our focus (or faith). Are we focused on self and this life or are we focused on God and the life to come?
Now the unbalanced, but enthusiastic Christians are going to respond to the reality of eternity by leaving their spouse and kids behind so that they can devout themselves to prayer and holy living. But as Paul argues throughout this chapter, that’s not the answer either. God’s call to every Christian isn’t to seek Him on a mountain top, but to seek Him by dying to self in our current station of life.
If you’re married, let Christ lead you in becoming a selfless spouse. If you’re a parent, let Him lead you in becoming a Christian parent. If you’re a slave, become the best slave your master has ever owned. If you’re single, throw your life into the family of God and the advance of His Kingdom.
But how does one get to that point? How does a single person ENJOY celibacy? How does a spouse love selflessly? Much of it comes down to how we view our life:
- Our sex life is an assignment from the Lord (v.17). If you’re married or you want to be married then be faithful to that assignment. If you’re single then be faithful in your singleness. Sex was never designed to be for self-gratification, but for mutual self-donation. If you see your position in life as a way to serve God instead of looking for it to serve you, it changes your attitude and strengthens you for the task.
- Our sex life is not permanent (vv.29-31). God gets that the struggle is real. It’s not easy to stay married or stay single. It’s not easy to be faithful to God. The schemes of the enemy and the temptations of the flesh are real. The brevity of this life and the beauty of eternity are a deep breath to a weary soul. Sex and marriage will be replaced when Jesus returns with oneness with Himself.
- Our sex life has some wiggle room. Throughout this chapter, Paul keeps coming back to the exceptions – try to stay single, but if you can’t, it’s okay to get married. Try to stay married, but both this text and others give permission for divorce in extreme situations.
- Our sex life is a vehicle for the Gospel. Because Christians understand and practice sex differently than the world, it becomes another window by which our world can see the power of the Gospel in producing loving spouses and thriving singles. In our faithfulness to our spouse, our city sees the beauty of a loving, covenant keeping God. In our faithfulness to being celibate, our city sees a future hope more powerful and wonderful than the appetite and pleasures of the flesh.
When we approach our relationship status and sexuality with eyes of faith it changes our motivation and practice because it puts them in their proper place: on one hand it heightens marriage and sex to that of being sacred; and yet on the other hand it lowers them to being optional. The Christian approach to marriage and sex tells the world that neither are essential to finding the good life – Jesus is.