But this I say by way of concession, not of command. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. (7:6–7)
I do not believe concession is the best translation. The Greek (sungnome) means “to think the same thing as someone, to have a joint opinion, a common mind or understanding.” It can also mean “awareness.” But this I say refers hack to what has just been said about marriage. I think Paul was saying that he was aware of the goodness of being single and celibate, yet aware also of the privileges and responsibilities of marriage. His comments were not meant as a command for every believer to be married. Marriage was instituted by God and is the norm for man–woman relationships, and it is a great blessing to mankind. But it is not required for believers or for anyone else. His point was: If you are single that is good, and if you are married or get married, stay married and retain normal marital relations, for that is of God. Spirituality is not determined by marital status.
In one sense, Paul wished that all believers could be unmarried, even as I myself am. He said that in light of the great freedom and independence he had as a single person to serve Christ But he did not expect all believers to be unmarried. He did not expect all who were then single to stay single. And for those who were already married it would be wrong to live as if they were single, to become celibate while married.
Although celibacy is good for Christians who are not married, it is a gift from God that He does not give to every believer. Just as it is wrong to misuse a gift that we have, it is also wrong to try to use a gift we do not have. For a person who does not have the gift of celibacy, trying to practice it brings moral and spiritual frustration. But for those who have it as God’s gift, singleness, like all His gifts, is a great blessing.
The attitude among Christians today about singleness, however, is often like that of Jewish tradition in Paul’s day. It is looked on as a second–class condition. “Not so,” says the apostle. If singleness is God’s gift to a person, it is God’s will for that person to accept and exercise the gift. If that person is submissive to God, he can live in singleness all his life in perfect contentment and happiness.
Obviously, singleness has many practical advantages. It allows much greater freedom in where and how a person serves the Lord. He is freer to move around and to set his own hours and schedule. As Paul points out later in the chapter, married persons have many cares and concerns that the unmarried do not have (vv. 32–34).
Rachel Saint served as a single missionary among the Auca Indians of Ecuador for many years without companionship. She poured out her life and her love to the indians and found great blessing and fulfillment.
Jesus told the disciples on one occasion, “Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother’s womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it” (Matt. 19:12).
Both Jesus and Paul make it clear that the celibate life is not required by God for all believers and that it can be lived satisfactorily only by those to whom God has given it.
Each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. Our purpose should be to discover the gifts he has given us and to use those gifts faithfully and joyfully in His service, without either envying or disparaging the gifts we do not have.