Verses 25 to 38 of chapter 7 do form a coherent paragraph, but fall into two separate parts, which it is easier to examine individually. It reminds the reader that Paul is essentially writing a letter, not a thesis and he didn't have the advantages of a Word Processor which can aid in putting our thoughts in order, rather he had to use parchment, which was expensive and every inch had to be exploited. We must remind ourselves of the beliefs and goals of a group of new converts, many of whom would have grown up in a culture full of Greek philosophy. Apparently, one custom in those days was for the unmarried man and woman with whom he was in a relationship to live together, even sharing the same bed, with the aim that they shared an intimate spiritual life, whilst restraining from physical intimacy. In such a relationship, the woman would have been called 'the man's virgin'. That would mean that Paul was encouraging these people to continue down this road if they were able, but if it was too difficult, to quite reasonably decide to get married. It is also likely that in Corinth there were men and women who had gone through the marriage ceremony but had jointly decided never to consummate it, so as to devote themselves to the spiritual life. Paul again responds with pragmatic and practical wisdom. He really states three things: 1. Self-discipline is an excellent thing, but the Christian's duty is to use all his or her natural instincts for the glory of God, rather than taming every passion. We were made in God's image and although it has been made faulty by sin we still have great gifts and abilities which can be suppressed by the same iron will which gives that complete self-control. 2. Paul states that his readers should not make an unnatural thing of their religion. He clearly emphasises that Christianity was meant to glorify normal life, not abolish it. You may be thinking that you are doing nothing special for God in your life, but take a moment to reflect and see all the little and large things God has done through you in your ordinary life in this ordinary town. God does the supernatural through our natures filled with the Holy Spirit! 3. Very relevant to many Christians today is Paul's third admonition: 'Don't make an agony of your religion'. Don't be haunted rather than helped by being a Christian! No man or woman should be ashamed of the body God gave them, the loving instincts that dwell within you. Following Christ will show you more fully how to enjoy and exhibit these God-given gifts rather than trying to eliminate them. The Bible tells us frequently that we are to LIVE for God. In the parable of the talents, Jesus told about the servant who hid the one talent he had and was condemned for it. Your take on religion may encourage you to dumb down your abilities, but God calls you to live in joyful use of them!
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