Paul addresses himself to married couples in these verses; that is something that becomes clear as we read through it, and even more clear when we get to verse 8 and he addresses the unmarried. Essentially, his message to the married is that they should restrict themselves to sexual activity within the marriage, and that in this, neither partner should deprive the other of marital comfort except by mutual consent for a time of prayer (7:3-5), and then to come together once more so that Satan cannot exploit human weakness to lead them away from righteousness.
This seems to me to be in general accord with Paul’s teachings for husbands and wives elsewhere in the New Testament (see Col. 3:19 ff. and Eph. 5:29 ff.). It has a practical component in that he recognizes the fact that humans are sexual creatures, and that a man or woman who is unfulfilled in that area is more likely to be tempted to stray than one who is not. There is also a deeper recognition, although Paul seems reluctant to mention it here as he did in Ephesians 5: The physical union of husband and wife is illustrative of the union between Christ and His Church, and thus it must be respected by everyone.
Now we come to something quite interesting which may explain Paul’s general attitude toward this issue:
I say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. (7:6-7)
Verse 6 tells us that nothing in the preceding verses is a command, for it is a concession. Whenever I read this chapter, I get the impression, rightly or wrongly, that Paul takes a rather dim view of sexuality. I ask myself why he would do that, and I never have a satisfactory answer, not even enough to be sure that he had the view I think I see, so I always just move on…
Yet my vague impression remains.
Look at the last verse: Paul concludes his thought by making the issue revolve around spiritual gifts, as so much of this letter does later on. Sex is not a spiritual gift, but celibacy is, so when Paul says that he wishes everyone could be like he is,(which is celibate) doesn’t it seem that he is telling us, between the lines, that he has the spiritual gift of celibacy?
I tend to think so.
Spiritual gifts are given by God at His sole discretion, so we can’t run out and get one on our own, and if we could choose our gifts, I doubt that most people would choose celibacy. Yet for Paul it was different, for I highly doubt that he could have served God the way he did if he had a wife and family back home to support.