We live in a “Corinth” world of sexual perversion where evil thoughts confuse minds and draw us farther away from what God wants for us. We must always remember that all God wants is HIS best life for us which is life forever with Him. With God, we are protected “under the shadow of his wings” like an eagle protecting her brood. With God, all our needs are provided for daily as we walk with Him. With God’s Plan we are saved from all our sins because of His Son, Jesus who sacrificed His life for ours. So come at this reading from Paul with God’s point of view as He looks over us with His amazing love that goes deeper and wider than we can imagine.
As we study 1 Corinthians 7, please keep in mind that Paul is replying to definite questions posed to him from the Corinthian congregation. He is not spelling out a complete “theology of marriage” in one chapter.
CORINTHIANS—CALLED AND SENT
1 Corinthians 7, The Message
To Be Married, to Be Single . . .
7 Now, getting down to the questions you asked in your letter to me. First, is it a good thing to have sexual relations?
2-6 Certainly—but only within a certain context. It’s good for a man to have a wife, and for a woman to have a husband. Sexual drives are strong, but marriage is strong enough to contain them and provide for a balanced and fulfilling sexual life in a world of sexual disorder. The marriage bed must be a place of mutuality—the husband seeking to satisfy his wife, the wife seeking to satisfy her husband. Marriage is not a place to “stand up for your rights.” Marriage is a decision to serve the other, whether in bed or out. Abstaining from sex is permissible for a period of time if you both agree to it, and if it’s for the purposes of prayer and fasting—but only for such times. Then come back together again. Satan has an ingenious way of tempting us when we least expect it. I’m not, understand, commanding these periods of abstinence—only providing my best counsel if you should choose them.
7 Sometimes I wish everyone were single like me—a simpler life in many ways! But celibacy is not for everyone any more than marriage is. God gives the gift of the single life to some, the gift of the married life to others.
8-9 I do, though, tell the unmarried and widows that singleness might well be the best thing for them, as it has been for me. But if they can’t manage their desires and emotions, they should by all means go ahead and get married. The difficulties of marriage are preferable by far to a sexually tortured life as a single.
10-11 And if you are married, stay married. This is the Master’s command, not mine. If a wife should leave her husband, she must either remain single or else come back and make things right with him. And a husband has no right to get rid of his wife.
12-14 For the rest of you who are in mixed marriages—Christian married to non-Christian—we have no explicit command from the Master. So this is what you must do. If you are a man with a wife who is not a believer but who still wants to live with you, hold on to her. If you are a woman with a husband who is not a believer but he wants to live with you, hold on to him. The unbelieving husband shares to an extent in the holiness of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is likewise touched by the holiness of her husband. Otherwise, your children would be left out; as it is, they also are included in the spiritual purposes of God.
15-16 On the other hand, if the unbelieving spouse walks out, you’ve got to let him or her go. You don’t have to hold on desperately. God has called us to make the best of it, as peacefully as we can. You never know, wife: The way you handle this might bring your husband not only back to you but to God. You never know, husband: The way you handle this might bring your wife not only back to you but to God.
17 And don’t be wishing you were someplace else or with someone else. Where you are right now is God’s place for you. Live and obey and love and believe right there. God, not your marital status, defines your life. Don’t think I’m being harder on you than on the others. I give this same counsel in all the churches.
18-19 Were you Jewish at the time God called you? Don’t try to remove the evidence. Were you non-Jewish at the time of your call? Don’t become a Jew. Being Jewish isn’t the point. The really important thing is obeying God’s call, following his commands.
20-22 Stay where you were when God called your name. Were you a slave? Slavery is no roadblock to obeying and believing. I don’t mean you’re stuck and can’t leave. If you have a chance at freedom, go ahead and take it. I’m simply trying to point out that under your new Master you’re going to experience a marvelous freedom you would never have dreamed of. On the other hand, if you were free when Christ called you, you’ll experience a delightful “enslavement to God” you would never have dreamed of.
23-24 All of you, slave and free both, were once held hostage in a sinful society. Then a huge sum was paid out for your ransom. So please don’t, out of old habit, slip back into being or doing what everyone else tells you. Friends, stay where you were called to be. God is there. Hold the high ground with him at your side.
25-28 The Master did not give explicit direction regarding virgins, but as one much experienced in the mercy of the Master and loyal to him all the way, you can trust my counsel. Because of the current pressures on us from all sides, I think it would probably be best to stay just as you are. Are you married? Stay married. Are you unmarried? Don’t get married. But there’s certainly no sin in getting married, whether you’re a virgin or not. All I am saying is that when you marry, you take on additional stress in an already stressful time, and I want to spare you if possible.
29-31 I do want to point out, friends, that time is of the essence. There is no time to waste, so don’t complicate your lives unnecessarily. Keep it simple—in marriage, grief, joy, whatever. Even in ordinary things—your daily routines of shopping, and so on. Deal as sparingly as possible with the things the world thrusts on you. This world as you see it is fading away.
32-35 I want you to live as free of complications as possible. When you’re unmarried, you’re free to concentrate on simply pleasing the Master. Marriage involves you in all the nuts and bolts of domestic life and in wanting to please your spouse, leading to so many more demands on your attention. The time and energy that married people spend on caring for and nurturing each other, the unmarried can spend in becoming whole and holy instruments of God. I’m trying to be helpful and make it as easy as possible for you, not make things harder. All I want is for you to be able to develop a way of life in which you can spend plenty of time together with the Master without a lot of distractions.
36-38 If a man has a woman friend to whom he is loyal but never intended to marry, having decided to serve God as a “single,” and then changes his mind, deciding he should marry her, he should go ahead and marry. It’s no sin; it’s not even a “step down” from celibacy, as some say. On the other hand, if a man is comfortable in his decision for a single life in service to God and it’s entirely his own conviction and not imposed on him by others, he ought to stick with it. Marriage is spiritually and morally right and not inferior to singleness in any way, although as I indicated earlier, because of the times we live in, I do have pastoral reasons for encouraging singleness.
39-40 A wife must stay with her husband as long as he lives. If he dies, she is free to marry anyone she chooses. She will, of course, want to marry a believer and have the blessing of the Master. By now you know that I think she’ll be better off staying single. The Master, in my opinion, thinks so, too.
WHAT IS LEARNED?
Some liberal critics have accused Paul of being against both marriage and women. These accusations are not true, of course. Rather, he was referring to what Jesus taught when He was on earth (Matt. 5:31–32; 19:1–12; Mark 10:1–12; Luke 16:18). Paul had to answer some questions that Jesus never discussed; but when a question arose that the Lord had dealt with, Paul referred to His words. Instead of disclaiming inspiration, Paul claimed that what he wrote was equal in authority to what Christ taught. In other words, Paul took his cues from His Master, Jesus Christ with the guidance of His Holy Spirit living in Paul.
Marriage requires a measure of maturity, and age is no guarantee of maturity.
Paul emphasized living for the Lord. He did not suggest that it was impossible for a man or a woman to be married and serve God acceptably, because we know too many people who have done it. As if he were doing premarital counseling, he is suggesting that two people, devoted to the Lord and His work, will need to consider that obstacles and family distractions ahead of time and be able to deal with life together with God.
It is possible to please both the Lord and your mate, if you are yielded to Christ and obeying the Word. Many of us have discovered that a happy home and satisfying marriage are a wonderful encouragement in the difficulties of Christian service. Randy and I have been married for over 50 years now. Most of those years, from our early twenties, were dedicated to God and His work. We helped each other in our callings from God. Together we were stronger.
Finally, remember that marriage is for life (vv. 39–40). It is God’s will that the marriage union be permanent, a lifetime commitment. There is no place in Christian marriage for a “trial marriage,” nor is there any room for the “escape hatch” attitude: “If the marriage doesn’t work, we can always get a divorce.” Randy and I cringed when we would hear these words in his premarital counseling of couples.
For this reason, marriage must be built on something sturdier than good looks, money, romantic excitement, and social acceptance. There must be Christian commitment, character, and maturity. There must be a willingness to grow, to learn from each other, to forgive and forget, to minister to one another. The kind of love Paul described in 1 Corinthians 13 is what is needed to cement two lives together.
God has put “walls” around marriage, not to make it a prison, but to make it a safe fortress. The person who considers marriage a prison should not get married. When two people are lovingly and joyfully committed to each other—and to their Lord—the experience of marriage is one of enrichment and enlargement. They grow together and discover the richness of serving the Lord as a team in their home and church. As stated earlier, Randy and I are a team “that no man can come between”. We are God’s and God is ours.
While both Paul and Jesus leave room for divorce under certain conditions, this can never be God’s first choice for a couple. God hates divorce (Mal. 2:14–16), and certainly no believer should consider divorce until all avenues of reconciliation have been patiently explored. God comes from the point of view of complete love for all of us.
In summary, each person must ask himself or herself the following questions if marriage is being contemplated:
1. What is my gift from God?
2. Am I marrying a believer?
3. Are the circumstances such that marriage is right?
4. How will marriage affect my service for Christ?
5. Am I prepared to enter into this union for life?
Thank you for this lesson that tells us of the nuts and bolts of marriage and of singleness. Thank you for your Holy Spirit who lives in us to guide us to Your Best Life for all of us. Help us to hear you with minds ready to obey you. Put blinders on our eyes so we are not distracted by worldview thinking. Help us to consider all obstacles and pitfalls before making the leap of marriage. But over all may we trust you, dear Jesus, in every decision we make in life. God, you have us. God, you have our backs. Why follow anyone else but You who created the universe with the Perfect Plan to save us and give us your best? I love you, Lord, heart, mind, body and soul. My body—Your Temple. It’s you first.
In Jesus Name, For Your Glory, Amen.