Marriage and Sex - Page 7 of 7 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
but every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
All the gifts of nature and grace which men have, they have received from God; they cannot be manufactured by themselves; and every man has a gift made specifically for him; no one man has all gifts, but some have one, and some have another; and with respect to the case in hand, one man has the gift of continency (self-control), and another the gift of marriage. All men cannot contain their passions, only those can who have received the gift of continence: and all are not inclined to marriage; some are inclined to a single life, and some to a marital state; and of those that are married, some can abstain from the use of the marriage bed longer than others, without being in danger of being tempted by Satan for their incontinency (lack of self-control); and such a disposition is desirable. The point is that “every man hath his proper gift of God”—“But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches… Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called…Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God…Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife” (1 Cor 7:17, 20, 24, 27 ;KJV). Every man has his own peculiar talent, or something he excels at doing. One man excels in one thing, and another in another. One may not have this particular virtue, but he may be distinguished for another virtue quite as valuable. The doctrine here is, therefore, that we are not to judge others by ourselves, or measure their good qualities by ours. We may excel in one thing, they in another. And because they do not have our peculiar virtue, or capability, we are not to condemn or denounce them. “But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given…For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it” (Matt 19:11-12; KJV). Both marriage and celibacy are considered gifts of the Holy Spirit. Although Paul knew singleness was good for him, he would not impose it on anyone. The important thing is what gift one has from God, either being gifted to singleness or marriage.
i. It is significant that Paul regards both marriage and singleness as gifts from God. Many find themselves in the "grass is greener" trap, with singles wishing they were married and married people wishing they were single. Each state is a gift from God.
ii. And, to be single or married is a special gift from God. When Paul writes about his own gift, he uses the same word for spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. Each state, married or single, needs special gifting from God to work.
iii. Paul's understanding that the unmarried state can be a gift is especially striking when we consider the Jewish background of Paul himself and the early church. It was regarded as a sin for a Jewish man to be unmarried. "Among the Jews marriage was not held a thing indifferent, or at their own liberty to choose or refuse, but a binding command." (Trapp) Clarke quotes from an ancient Jewish writing known as the Gemara: "It is forbidden a man to be without a wife; because it is written, It is not good for man to be alone. And whosoever gives not himself to generation and multiplying is all one with a murderer: he is as though he diminished from the image of God".
iv. While Paul recognizes that some are gifted for marriage, and some are gifted for the unmarried state, no one is "gifted" for sexual immorality! The married must live faithfully to their spouse, and the unmarried must live celibate.
The virtue of continence is Paul’s gift; and he had reason, as any other man must have, to be thankful that God had conferred it on him. So if a man is naturally friendly, kind, gentle, large-hearted, tender, and affectionate, he should regard it as the gift of God, and be thankful that he does not have to contend with the evils of a glum, proud, haughty, and severe temper. It is true, however, that all these virtues may be greatly strengthened by discipline, and that religion gives resolve and appeal to them all. Paul's virtue in this was strengthened by his resolution; by his manner of life; by his frequent fasting and trials, and by the abundant work which God gave him in the apostleship. And it is still true, that if a man wants to overcome the lusts of the flesh; hardship, trials, and self-denial will enable him, by the grace of God, to do it. Idleness will often corrupt the desires of men; and God kept Paul from ever being idle, by giving him enough to do; and by giving him enough to suffer.