“Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me…” (1 Corinthians 7:1).
The topics discussed thus far within the book of 1 Corinthians have mainly involved the Apostle Paul’s concerns regarding the members of the Corinthian church; things like divisions within the church (chapter one), spiritual immaturity (chapter three), immorality (chapter five) and lawsuits among the individual members of the church congregation (chapter six).
But now beginning in chapter seven and continuing throughout the remainder of this book, Paul will turn his primary attention to a number of questions he had received from the church at Corinth. Since Paul will later mention three representatives of the Corinthian church who had come to visit him (see 1 Corinthians 16:17), its likely that those visitors provided him with a list of topics they wanted him to address. These are the subjects that Paul will go on to discuss at length throughout the remaining chapters of 1 Corinthians.
These questions appear to have included inquiries on the subjects of marriage (as we’ll see here in chapter seven), questions of conscience (chapter eight), proper conduct within the church (chapter eleven), and spiritual gifts (chapters twelve to fourteen). Finally, Paul will address the topic of Jesus’ resurrection as well as the the resurrection of the dead in chapter fifteen before closing with some final remarks.
While we don’t possess an itemized list of these questions, many of them can be identified by watching for the key phrase “Now concerning…” throughout the remainder of this book. The use of this terminology can help us determine when Paul has concluded his answer to one question from the Corinthians and is about to move to the next topic.
Given Corinth’s general reputation for immorality (as well as the illicit relationship within the Corinthian church that Paul has already addressed), it should not be surprising to find that the foundational principles of a good marriage represent the first among these topics to be discussed. Within this chapter, the Apostle Paul will go on to speak about the physical relationship between husbands and wives, the benefits and challenges associated with singleness, and the difficult subjects of separation and divorce.
Finally, we can summarize the message of 1 Corinthians chapter seven by looking back at the concluding verse of 1 Corinthians chapter six, a portion of Scripture that serves to prepare us for the things that Paul is about to write: “…you were bought at a price; therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:20).
“Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1).
The Apostle Paul begins the “Q & A” section of 1 Corinthians with a figure of speech that serves to identify the physical relationship between the sexes: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Since “good” refers to something that is noble or honorable, this verse tells us that sexual abstinence may represent an appropriate option for a God-honoring man or woman. One translation communicates this idea by rendering this verse in the following manner: “It is perfectly proper, honorable, morally befitting for a man to live in strict celibacy” (Wuest).
Perhaps the members of the Corinthian church approached Paul regarding the question of celibacy in response to the sexually immoral climate that permeated the city of Corinth during that time. It’s also possible that some among the Corinthian church were advocating a form of asceticism, a belief that promotes self-discipline and the renunciation of worldly pleasures or indulgences. If that was the case, then there may have been some within the Corinthian fellowship who felt that rejecting the pleasures of a sexual relationship represented the best path to spiritual growth.
In his response, Paul began with a basic affirmation: celibacy in and of itself is a good thing. He will later go on to build upon that foundation with some important qualifiers but for now, we can say that it may be good and appropriate for some to remain single and sexually abstinent. One commentator clarifies this idea by observing, “The word ‘good’ in this place does not mean morally good, but that it is for man’s best interests in some circumstances to remain single.” (1)
This was a topic upon which Paul could speak from personal experience. You see, 1 Corinthians 7:7 will go on to tell us that Paul was unmarried at the time of this letter to the Corinthian church. However, it is unclear why Paul was single during this time since marriage was a cultural norm in first-century Jewish society and a prerequisite for Jewish spiritual leaders.
Commentators speculate that Paul may have had a spouse who passed away earlier or perhaps his wife may have left him following his conversion to Christ. Whatever the reason, Paul will go on to to list the potential advantages associated with the single life a little later within this chapter as well as one very pragmatic reason to enter a marriage relationship next.
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7”. [v.1] “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. <http://classic.studylight.org/com/bcc/view.cgi?book=1co&chapter=007>. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband” (1 Corinthians 7:2-3).
While there are certain advantages associated with the single life, 1 Corinthians 7:2-3 provides us with an important reason to enter a marriage relationship: “…because of the temptation to impurity and to avoid immorality, let each [man] have his own wife and let each [woman] have her own husband” (AMPC). This should not be taken to imply that we should pursue marriage for these reasons alone but they certainly represent valid and legitimate motives for doing so.
1 Corinthians 7:3 then goes on to expand upon the interdependent relationship that exists between a husband and wife by saying, “The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs” (NLT). While there are many elements that contribute to a successful marriage, this passage serves to remind us of an important responsibility: each marriage partner should take care of the other’s physical needs.
In light of this, we can say that it is appropriate for a husband or wife to maintain the expectation that the other will contribute to his or her physical and emotional fulfillment. This is important because it is possible to become so engaged in balancing the demands of everyday life that this foundational responsibility to fulfill these needs may become a secondary priority. Although family, employment, and other responsibilities may often permit less time for sexual intimacy then we desire, it is still important for each marriage partner to make a genuine effort to recognize his or her spouse’s physical and emotional needs and work to fulfill them.
Good communication is critical in regard to meeting these needs and we can employ an important Biblical principle from Romans 14:23 to assist in this area: “…whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (ESV). We can amend this concept to include many sexual expressions within a marriage relationship provided they are subject to the couple’s prayerful and mutual consent. As another translation renders Romans 14:23, “…whatever is done without a conviction of its approval by God is sinful” (AMPC).
A couple who finds common ground in this area can often avoid misunderstandings that would serve to limit that couple’s satisfaction and enjoyment- and the husband or wife who is prayerfully willing to study, learn, and accommodate the needs of his or her spouse will surely reap the benefit of a fulfilling and satisfying relationship over time.
“The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does” (1 Corinthians 7:4).
The Apostle Paul continued his message on the subject of marriage in 1 Corinthians chapter seven with a concept that may have seemed revolutionary to some: “The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife” (NLT). The act of willingly allowing another person to exercise authority over oneself requires a degree of trust and commitment that is simply not achievable by way of casual sexual encounters or physical intimacy without the commitment of a lawful marriage relationship.
To illustrate this idea, let’s take the example of a couple who has not committed to one another in marriage yet lives and sleeps together as if they were husband and wife. Although it may be difficult for some to accept, an unmarried couple in this situation faces some foundational issues regarding their relationship- issues that effectively prevent them from experiencing the kind of relationship that God desires for them.
A few questions may help uncover and identify such issues. For instance, why would an unmarried couple in this situation refrain from marriage, especially if each is “in love” with the other? Does either partner have a fear of commitment? If so, why? Is the couple living together because one person feels that he or she has no other relational prospects and is fearful of losing his or her partner? Or perhaps one or both partners are simply more content to have a “friend with benefits” than a true marriage partner.
Some unmarried couples who live together may cite the financial expense associated with a decision to marry. However, we should recognize that a ceremony that would serve to legitimize the couple’s relationship in marriage is often relatively inexpensive; it is the wedding celebration that usually involves the greatest expense. Therefore, this rationalization probably says more about the couple’s real priorities than the high cost of marriage.
Of course, two unmarried people who are engaged in a physical relationship may like the fact that they have no commitment to one another. They may appreciate the ability to enjoy the benefits of a physical relationship without the obligations and responsibilities that go along with marriage. Unfortunately, the reality is that such relationships are really more like business arrangements where both partners simply agree to meet their mutual needs as long as both can benefit. As 1 Corinthians 7:4 implies, this fall far short of God’s design for a deeply fulfilling marriage relationship.
“The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.
Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command” (1 Corinthians 7:4-6 NIV).
We should note that terms such as “the wife” and “the husband” as found within this passage point to the “one man – one woman” marital relationship that God established with the very first human couple (see Genesis 2:18). This effectively serves to confirm monogamy as God’s standard for marital relationships and eliminates polygamous or polyamorous relationships as options for the man or woman of God.
In addition, one commentator explains the dynamic nature of the counsel found within these verses, especially in regard to many first-century readers…
“These are remarkable verses in that they reveal viewpoints that appear to be far ahead of their time: a healthy perception of the woman’s sexuality, and an understanding of the complete equality that exists between a man and a woman in the most intimate area of their relationship. The Scripture gives no support whatever to the notion that sexual relations are solely at the direction and for the enjoyment of the husband.” (1)
So these verses tell us that husbands and wives are no longer autonomous individuals within the marriage relationship. Each partner maintains his or her individuality but not his or her autonomy for they no longer two persons- they are now one. It is through the security of this God initiated, monogamous marriage relationship that a couple can truly acquire the freedom to trust one another and become one with each other.
This passage also tells us that it is wrong to withhold sexual intimacy from a marriage partner. The only exception is found here in 1 Corinthians 7:5: “Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.” If a couple desires to pray without the distraction of a physical relationship for a time, this is acceptable as long as they make certain to come together again after a specific and mutually agreed-upon period of time.
Finally, Paul completes this thought by adding, “I say this as a concession, not as a command” (NET). While the institution of marriage is good and honorable, it does not necessarily represent a mandate for every individual.
(1) Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (pp. 2024–2025). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.
“For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that” (1 Corinthians 7:7)
As touched upon earlier, 1 Corinthians 7:7 tells us that Paul the Apostle was unmarried at the time of this letter to the Corinthian church. As such, Paul clearly recognized that there were certain advantages associated with the single life and he will go on to identify a few of those benefits later within this chapter.
However, we shouldn’t move past this verse without considering something that almost seems as if it were an aside: “…each has his own gift from God, one this, another that” (CJB). Its interesting to note that the word used for “gift” within this verse (charisma) is the very same word that Paul will later use in describing spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians chapters twelve to fourteen.
While some may tend to associate the idea of spiritual gifts with the visibly miraculous or extraordinary, this tells us that such gifts may actually appear to be much more unremarkable. For instance, this passage indicates that Paul considered his ability to live as a single man to be a supernatural gift. Other spiritual gifts that may fall into a similar category include the gifts of exhortation, giving, and/or mercy (see Romans 12:6-8).
As one commentary observes,
“This text, incidentally, proves that the word charisma does not always refer to “special,” miraculous gifts. There are some gifts from God (Gr. charisma) with which individuals are born (see Rom_12:4-13). God gives every human being some charisma! In ‘special,’ miraculous gifts men exercised no decisions; these gifts came by divine intervention of the natural order; they were exercised by the operation of the Holy Spirit. But in the matter of marriage or celibacy, it is clear men are called upon to make their own choice, based upon the teachings of the apostles and their own evaluations of their innate capabilities.” (1)
So everyone (regardless of marital status) must each depend upon God for the ability to fulfill his or her individual calling. Jesus illustrated this concept in a conversation with His disciples following His teaching on the subjects of marriage and divorce…
“Jesus’ disciples then said to him, ‘If that is how it is, it is better not to marry!’
‘Not everyone can accept this statement,’ Jesus said. ‘Only those whom God helps. Some are born without the ability to marry, and some are disabled by men, and some refuse to marry for the sake of the Kingdom of Heaven. Let anyone who can, accept my statement'” (Matthew 19:10-12 TLB).
(1) Paul T. Butler, First Corinthians Bible Study Textbook Series, Studies In First Corinthians [pg.124] https://archive.org/stream/FirstCorinthians/131Corinthians-Butler_djvu.txt
“But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).
While celibacy may represent a good and appropriate option for a God-honoring man or woman, there are a number of elements to consider in making that choice. For instance, while “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (as mentioned earlier in 1 Corinthians 7:1), we should also recognize that “It is not good for man to be alone” as we’re also told in Genesis 2:18.
Although it may seem obvious, one way to determine which of these good things is best involves a prayerful and honest personal assessment. For instance, marriage would be the preferred option for those who long for romance and sexual intimacy since the mere existence of those things can be understood to indicate God’s general direction in this area. Others who are not driven by such passions (such as the Apostle Paul, for instance) may find greater fulfillment as an unmarried individual.
One commentator from another generation addresses our decision-making responsibility in this regard…
“The apostle tells the Corinthians that it was good, in that juncture of time, for Christians to keep themselves single. Yet he says that marriage, and the comforts of that state, are settled by Divine wisdom. Though none may break the law of God, yet that perfect rule leaves men at liberty to serve him in the way most suited to their powers and circumstances, of which others often are very unfit judges. All must determine for themselves, seeking counsel from God how they ought to act.” (1)
These words (published in the 18th century) are just as applicable today as they were when they were first written- others may often be very unfit judges when it comes to answering these questions of marriage and singleness. From the single person with a desire for marriage who must endure the repeated efforts of self-appointed matchmakers to those who are subtly pressured to “find someone” despite their stated desire to remain single, others may not always recognize God’s plan for someone’s life in these areas.
While such efforts are often made with honorable intentions, it may be best to simply pray for God’s continued guidance and direction for those who are single and ask Him to work in those areas that would enable that person to serve Him best.
(1) Matthew Henry Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible [v.1] http://biblehub.com/commentaries/mhc/1_corinthians/7.htm
“Now to the single people and the widows I say that it is fine if they remain unmarried like me; but if they can’t exercise self-control, they should get married; because it is better to get married than to keep burning with sexual desire” (1 Corinthian 7:8-9 CJB).
While others may not always recognize God’s plan for a single person, it is also true that a single who desires to share his or her life with someone special may face a challenge in finding the right person as well. One of the best ways to address that challenge is to look for opportunities to serve God by using the talents, skills, and abilities that He has provided.
You see, a person who looks for ways to serve God through his or her gifts and capabilities will often begin to develop the kinds of friendships that may eventually lead to deeper relationships. How could that approach help in this area? Well, once someone begins to concentrate on serving God with his or her talents and abilities, that person will naturally begin to come into contact with others who hold like-minded interests.
This offers two benefits for those who are open to meeting a potential life partner. First, he or she will honor God by utilizing the gifts and skills that He has provided. However, this approach offers a second benefit as well for it also serves to place the single person in a position where the kind of people that he or she might like to meet are most likely to be.
A person who seeks to focus upon serving God through his or her God-given talents is sure to come into close proximity with others who share similar gifts and interests; people who are likely to hold compatible views, pursuits, values, and characteristics. In this way, he or she will be actively involved in a work where other eligible people with similar interests may also be as well.
As we employ those God-given talents in His service, it is important to maintain the right priority- the focus should not be upon meeting someone but upon serving Someone. In this manner, the personality and character of a God-honoring person may begin to attract the attention of someone of like-minded interest; someone that he or she might like to get to know better.
As Jesus Himself was quoted as saying,“But more than anything else, put God’s work first and do what he wants. Then the other things will be yours as well. Don’t worry about tomorrow. It will take care of itself. You have enough to worry about today” (Matthew 6:32-34 CEV).
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
Before we consider the Apostle Paul’s counsel here in the book of here in 1 Corinthians, let’s take some time to examine Jesus’ teaching on the subject of marital divorce…
“The Pharisees came and asked Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him. And He answered and said to them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses permitted a man to write a certificate of divorce, and to dismiss her'” (Mark 10:2-4).
The question presented to Jesus within this passage was something that was designed to be virtually unanswerable. No matter how Jesus chose to respond to this question, there were sure to be large numbers of people who were likely to be dissatisfied with His answer.
In His response, Jesus began by directing His audience to the Law of Moses in saying, “What did Moses command you?” By focusing the attention of His questioners upon the Word of God, Jesus effectively directed the conversation away from the thoughts and opinions of others in order to highlight the Biblical standards for belief and practice in this area.
However, we should also take note of the response that Jesus received from these religious leaders. When Jesus asked these men to identify Moses’ command on the subject of divorce, they countered by saying, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce…” (ESV). But this was not the question that Jesus asked. You see, there’s a difference between allowing something and commanding something- and Jesus will go on to address that difference in His response.
The portion of Scripture referenced by these religious leaders can be found in Deuteronomy 24:1: “When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some uncleanness in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, puts it in her hand, and sends her out of his house.”
In Jesus’ day, there was considerable disagreement over what “uncleanness” actually meant. Those who held to a conservative position on this question taught that adultery formed the only acceptable basis for marital divorce. Those who held a more liberal interpretation allowed for any number of potential grounds for divorce, including poor housekeeping.
We’ll look at Jesus’ response next.
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11).
In His teaching on the subject of marital divorce, Jesus went directly to the heart of the matter in speaking with the religious leadership of His day…
“And Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Because of the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept. But from the beginning of the creation, God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’; so then they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate'” (Mark 10:5-9).
The religious leaders who questioned Jesus on this subject may have been under the impression that marital divorce was little more than a legal procedure. However, Jesus informed His listeners that there were far greater implications involved by examining God’s role in establishing the marriage relationship.
For instance, let’s consider some of the important truths regarding marriage that Jesus established within the passage quoted above. First, Jesus confirmed that the concept of marriage was initiated by humanity’s Creator. It was also designed to represent an exclusive lifelong relationship between a man and a woman whom God had joined together.
This relationship is more than just a simple partnership- it is a union where two distinct human beings join together to become one. Finally, this passage tells us that no human being should attempt to dissolve what God has established. So taken as a whole, this represents God’s original plan for marriage relationships.
With this in mind, we might ask why the Old Testament Law would permit a man to write up a letter of divorce, serve it upon his wife, and send her away (Mark 10:2-4). Well, Jesus provides us with the answer in the passage quoted above: “Moses wrote this command only as a concession to your hardhearted ways” (MSG).
When used in this sense, the word “heart” represents someone’s innermost being in a physical, emotional, or spiritual sense- and Jesus identified this portion of the Law as a response to the internal stubbornness (NCV), refusal to accept God’s teaching (ERV), and “condition of insensibility to the call of God” (AMP) that exists within the human heart.
This post originally appeared here
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11 NIV).
In recognition of the heartlessness that exists among the members of humanity, the Mosaic Law permitted a married couple to permanently separate as long as a man protected his wife’s interests by providing her with a written certificate of divorce (see Deuteronomy 24:1).
This document was essential for if a woman decided to remarry, it would serve to establish that her previous marriage had been officially dissolved and she was free to marry someone else. However, this law represented little more than a concession to this unfortunate aspect of human nature.
In discussing this subject with the religious leaders of His day, Jesus drew attention to the fact that God has established the institution of marriage along with the appropriate parameters for marital relationships…
“…at the beginning of creation God ‘made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate'” (Mark 10:5-9 NIV).
In saying that a man will be united to his wife within this marriage relationship, the Scriptures utilize a word that carries the idea of two individuals who have been “glued” or fused together as one. In other words, a marriage relationship combines two distinct individuals who become one emotionally, physically, and spiritually.
This concept is critically important for it tells us that we should never enter a marriage relationship with the idea that we will simply find someone else if the marriage doesn’t work out. In a general sense, this passage tells us that once we decide to enter a marriage relationship, we make the decision to stay together with the person we have married.
This is a concept that the Apostle Paul reiterated in his message to the Corinthian church: “I instruct married couples to stay together, and this is exactly what the Lord himself taught. A wife who leaves her husband should either stay single or go back to her husband. And a husband should not leave his wife” (CEV). We’ll take a closer look at Paul’s reference to Jesus’ teaching on this subject next.
“For married people I have a command which is not my own but the Lord’s: a wife must not leave her husband; but if she does, she must remain single or else be reconciled to her husband; and a husband must not divorce his wife” (1 Corinthians 7:10-11 GNB).
In speaking to His disciples on the subject of marriage relationships, Jesus took the time to provide some additional insight on the question of divorce…
“In the house His disciples also asked Him again about the same matter. So He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her. And if a woman divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery'” (Mark 10:10-12).
Matthew’s account of this conversation provides us with some additional detail from Jesus’ teaching on this subject: “And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9).
These passages helped form the basis of the Apostle Paul’s reference to Jesus’ command here in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11: “A wife must not separate from her husband.. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” While the decision to dissolve a marriage relationship might be made on any number of grounds, those same reasons may be indefensible in the eyes of God. The only exception cited by Jesus concerned a case of marital infidelity.
When marital unfaithfulness occurs, there is a violation of the “one flesh” relationship that God established beginning with the very first human couple. Once one partner has been unfaithful to another, a certificate of divorce simply reflects the fact that the marriage bond has already been severed.
However, we should note that while Jesus made an allowance for divorce on the grounds of adultery, He did not require it. As mentioned earlier, there is a significant difference between allowing something and requiring something but we’ll talk more about that distinction shortly.
Of course, any discussion on the subject of divorce is bound to lead to some difficult questions. For instance, what if there is (or has been) physical violence within the relationship? Are the partners obligated to stay together in such instances? What should be the response when one marital partner has deserted the other? What happens when one marriage partner is (or has become) a Christian and the other is not? We’ll begin to consider the answers to those important questions from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians next.
Pastoral counselors are often faced with difficult questions regarding the subjects of marriage and divorce. While there are often few easy answers to such questions, the best place to begin is to allow the Scriptures to inform our thinking on these subjects and see how we might apply those teachings in each particular circumstance.
“Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him.
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:10-16).
These Scriptures provide us with a number of important guidelines for marital relationships. As a general rule, we can first say that if one or both marriage partners are finding difficulty in getting along, its important to stay together and try to work it out. But if the couple decides to separate, each must remain single and celibate or else be reconciled to his or her spouse.
In a situation where one marriage partner has become a Christian, the couple should remain married if the non-Christian partner is willing to continue to live with him or her. The reasoning behind that counsel is explained above: “How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (NIV). In other words, the daily example of Christ in the life of a Christian marriage partner may help facilitate the salvation of his or her spouse.
“But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15).
What should be the proper response in the case of marital abandonment, a situation where one partner decides to depart from the relationship with no interest in reconciliation? In this instance, the passage quoted here from 1 Corinthians 7:15 might be considered: “…if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace” (NIV). This verse tells us that divorce might be considered as an option in the case of desertion, preferably after a period of time and godly counsel.
Then there is the question of divorce in the case of spousal abuse. When considering a husband’s role in such situations, we can say that a man who is physically abusive towards his wife is not only in violation of societal law but the Scriptural commandment as well: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” (Ephesians 5:25 NIV).
In such situations, it is wholly appropriate for a woman to protect herself (and any children that may be involved) by exercising the legal defenses available to her. We can look to the experience of Paul the Apostle as an example in this regard. Paul chose to employ his legal right as a Roman citizen to protect himself (Acts 22:24-29) and a woman should also make use of whatever legal protections may be available in the case of spousal abuse.
A period of separation and counsel might follow to see what steps might be necessary to permit a reconciliation. But in the case of a failure to repent, a lack of commitment to resolve the issues underlying such behavior, or subsequent physical abuse by a partner, divorce may be considered as a final option.
Remember that 1 Corinthians 7:15 tells us, “…if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace” (NIV). We can apply this portion of Scripture in the sense that the actions of an abusive spouse serve to drive his or her partner from their home, thereby causing the desertion of their relationship. In addition, we are told that “…God has called us to live in peace.” The actions of a physically abusive spouse clearly violate that calling.
“But if the unbeliever wants a divorce, let it take place. In these circumstances the brother or sister is not bound. God has called you in peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15 NET)
While divorce might be considered as an option in certain circumstances (such as the case noted in the passage quoted above), it should be clearly understood that divorce is never presented in the Scriptures as a preferable option. For example, Malachi 2:14, 16 tells us, “…the LORD is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant… ‘I hate divorce’ says the LORD God of Israel…” (NIV).
When it comes to the question of marriage and divorce, some general Scriptural guidelines might be applied…
- Make every effort to work out any marital issues that may exist
- Cultivate an attitude of mercy, graciousness, and forgiveness
- Pursue reconciliation as opposed to separation
- Wives, respect your husbands (Ephesians 5:33)
- Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them (Colossians 3:19)
- Be faithful and act as good representatives of Christ
If there are strong disagreements in a marriage relationship and both partners have different opinions regarding the proper course of action, there are a few steps that couples can take to help find the right answer…
- Pray together. Remember that James 1:5 tells us, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (NIV).
- Talk about it. An open discussion of the issues can hopefully lay the groundwork for a solution that everyone can live with. A Scripture such as Ephesians 4:29b that says, “Say only what is good and helpful to those you are talking to, and what will give them a blessing” (TLB) is good for use in guiding such discussions.
- Get some good advice. Don’t be afraid to ask for some counsel from trusted, mature Christians for Proverbs 1:5 says, “let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” (NIV).
Remember that God desires for male/female relationships to serve as an illustration of His deep, personal, caring, and exclusive love for His people (Ephesians 5:31-32). A God-honoring couple can help achieve that objective by following this good, one-sentence guideline for relationships found in Ephesians 5:33: “… each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband” (NIV).
“To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord)… To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord)” (1 Corinthians 7:10, 12).
Before we leave this portion of Scripture, we should take a moment to consider the distinction between the directives from Paul the Apostle as seen within the verses quoted above and Jesus’ teachings as found within the Gospels.
For instance, 1 Corinthians 7:10 tells us: “Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband.” In this instance, Paul clearly referred to Jesus’ teaching on the subject of divorce as found within Mark 10:1-12 and Matthew 19:3-6. Since Jesus had already established a position on this subject as recorded within the Gospels, it was simply left to Paul to remind the Corinthians of the instruction they had already received in this regard and how to apply those teachings within their own relationships.
Then there is the matter of Paul’s statement from 1 Corinthians 7:12: “But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her.” It might be possible to read this portion of Scripture and assume that Paul was speaking under his own authority or offering a mere opinion on this subject. However, that would conflict with the authority that Paul was given to speak as a commissioned representative (or apostle) of Christ (see 1 Corinthians 2:13, 1 Corinthians 14:37, and 1 Thessalonians 2:13).
Instead, here is how one commentator explains the relationship between “I give this command (not I, but the Lord)” and “I say this (I, not the Lord)…”
“…the word of an apostle and the direct word of the Lord are equally authoritative for all who are Christians. An apostle only gives what the Lord himself has already given him. Apostles do not invent doctrine, nor are they free to add to what the Lord has told them or take away from it. There is no difference of level here between the apostolic word and the word of the Lord.
The contrast is not between the inspired teaching of the Lord and the uninspired teaching of an apostle, but rather the contrast is between what the Lord himself uttered directly and what he has uttered indirectly through his apostle. In either case the authority is the Lord.” (1)
(1) Excerpted with permission from Answers on Divorce © 1979 by Ray Stedman Ministries. All rights reserved. Visit www.RayStedman.org for the complete library of Ray Stedman material. Please direct any questions to webmaster@RayStedman.org
“But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches” (1 Corinthians 7:17).
1 Corinthians 7:17 begins a portion of this letter that relates to those “if only” circumstances of life- those instances that may prompt us to feel as if we’d be happy if only we had something we suspect would bring fulfillment, satisfaction, and/or contentment. Within this section, Paul the Apostle establishes some principles that can help us make wise decisions in those areas where the challenges and difficulties we encounter may leave us longing for a change.
We should first take note of the phrase “…as God has distributed to each one” within this passage. This brings to mind those God-given gifts, skills, talents, and abilities we possess. These are the things that can help us earn a living, parent a child, or effectively minister to people, among others. These “distributions” should serve to guide the general direction of our life’s work and the following chapters of 1 Corinthians will go on to discuss a number of them at greater length.
This verse also makes use of the term “walk” to illustrate the day-to-day aspects of our lives and couples that illustration with the idea of a calling: “…as God hath called each, so let him walk” (ASV). When used within this context, a “calling” carries the idea of a duty, responsibility, or an assignment. So when taken together, this passage tells us that we should allow God’s calling on our lives to help influence our daily decisions.
This is a principle that Paul the Apostle will reiterate three times within this portion of his letter to the Corinthians. You see, the person who views his or her work as an assignment or responsibility can often maintain the right kind of attitude in dealing with the challenges of daily life. Such difficulties may often serve as an incubator for spiritual growth or the means by which God refines our character to help us better reflect the image of Christ.
This does not necessarily imply that we can’t take advantage of an opportunity for advancement or seek to improve our station in life. However, we should guard against the impulse to change vocations for trivial or shortsighted reasons. Our responsibility is to represent Christ well in the arena of our lives and as one commentator has said, “Instead of thinking that you can or will walk for the Lord when your station changes, walk for the Lord in the place you are at right now.” (1)
(1) David Guzik, 1 Corinthians 7 – Principles Regarding Marriage and Singleness [v. 17] https://enduringword.com/commentary/1-corinthians-7/
“Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:18-20).
The act of circumcision was a controversial topic among many members of the first-century church. At the center of that controversy was a group that is historically known to us today as the Judaizers. These men were early Jewish converts to Christianity who taught that non-Jewish people were obligated to observe the Old Testament Law in order to receive salvation through Christ.
The New Testament book of Acts records one such instance of this teaching: “And certain men came down from Judea and taught the brethren, ‘Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved'” (Acts 15:31). So this argument might be summarized as follows: “Jesus saves us but only after we have accepted the Old Testament Law. Therefore, non-Jewish people must convert to Judaism before they can become Christians.”
Unfortunately, this sort of teaching did not die out at the turn of the first century- it simply adapted. You see, this same kind of heresy can still be seen among those who teach that Jesus’ death on the cross was insufficient and that one must accept His death as payment for our sins and do something else in order to receive salvation. In part, this helps make this portion of Scripture highly applicable when dealing with similar beliefs today.
As far as this reference to “uncircumcision,” one source provides us with the following explanation: “For several centuries some Jews, ashamed of their circumcision in the predominantly Greek culture, had opted for a minor surgical operation that could pull the remains of their foreskin forward and make them appear uncircumcised.” (1) But as Paul the Apostle wrote in his letter to the church at Rome, “…God is not looking for those who cut their bodies in actual body circumcision, but he is looking for those with changed hearts and minds” (Romans 2:29 TLB).
So this passage serves to remind us that we shouldn’t try to be something we are not, for our social, cultural, and national identities as less important than our common identity in Christ. This is another concept that Paul will later go on to explore at greater length within his letter to the Corinthians. But for now, Paul reminds us, “…these outward signs aren’t the issue—the way you live out the commands of God is what really matters” (Voice).
(1) The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament [vv.18-20] Copyright © 1993 by Craig S. Keener
“Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave.
You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called” (1 Corinthians 7:21-24).
At the time that the Apostle Paul wrote this letter to the Corinthian church, there were approximately 60 million slaves within the Roman Empire, a number that may have represented up to half the total population during that time. Therefore, its likely that Paul’s comments on this subject had a direct impact upon a significant number of people who attended the church at Corinth.
In regard to the Scriptural teaching concerning slave/master relationships, there are two general aspects to consider- moral and practical. Since the moral aspect of this relationship has already been discussed within another study, we’ll take some time now to consider a few of the more practical elements of this passage.
For instance, we can say that freedom is something that is worth pursuing if it can be obtained. Although Paul counseled his readers to “…remain in the situation they were in when God called them” (NIV), he clearly did not wish to imply that slavery was a preferred state. For those with an opportunity to acquire a greater degree of freedom (especially if that freedom might enable someone to worship and serve God to a greater extent), Paul’s counsel is straightforward: “…avail yourself of the opportunity” (ESV).
The Biblical counsel to avoid “becoming a slave to people” (Voice) is one that might be applied to various forms of employment as well. For example, it is possible to become so consumed with professional advancement that we effectively become enslaved to an employer at the expense of family, church, or ministry opportunities.
Finally, one source offers some valuable insight in regard to this portion of Scripture…
“There is nothing in this passage which forbids any man to strive for betterment of conditions in his life; but what is forbidden is any thought that such “better conditions” could denote any higher spiritual condition. A slave could be just as noble and successful a Christian as anyone else.
Furthermore, many Christians have destroyed their spiritual lives, or greatly damaged them, by inordinate desire to improve their economic or social status. There is something of what Paul wrote to Timothy in this admonition here: “Godliness with contentment is great gain … having food and covering we shall be therewith content” (1 Timothy 6:6-8). (1)
(1) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7” [v.20]. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-corinthians-7.html Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy” (1 Corinthians 7:25)
As mentioned earlier, the final chapters of 1 Corinthians will be directed towards a number of questions that Paul the Apostle received from the church at Corinth. Many of these questions can be identified by watching for the phrase “Now concerning…” as seen within the passage quoted above. This phraseology serves to identify when Paul has concluded his answer to one question from the Corinthians and is moving towards the next topic.
So having now completed his response to those who were married, this passage signals Paul’s intent to provide some direction for those who were single (or engaged) within the church. While these references to “virgins” may be somewhat unclear to 21st century readers, a look at two major viewpoints regarding this passage may help to provide some clarity.
The first approach views the identity of these virgins as young women of marital (or pre-marital) age who were still under the guidance and direction of their fathers. This viewpoint takes the predominantly patriarchal society of first century Corinth into consideration and sees this verse (as well as those that follow) as a response to those fathers who questioned the propriety of giving their daughters away in marriage.
Another viewpoint sees these virgins as young women who were engaged (or eligible) to be married but were wondering if it might be more spiritually appropriate to remain single. As one source explains, “The view adopted by many modern commentators… is that the term refers to young, engaged women who were under the influence of various groups within the Corinthian church not to go through with their marriages. The central issue would then be whether the young men and women should continue with their plans and finalize their marriages.” (1)
Finally, Paul’s statement that “…I have no direct command from the Lord” (NIRV), does not negate his apostolic authority to speak on this matter- it simply means that Paul had no specific direction in this regard.
Rather than serve as cause for concern, this should actually serve as a reassurance for it demonstrates that the Biblical authors were not in the habit of making up their own statements and then attributing those statements to Jesus. (2) Instead, Paul had the integrity to make a clear distinction between the teaching that he had received from Christ while affirming his own apostolic authority to render an “…opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is worthy of trust” (GNB)..
(1) NET Bible® notes [1 Corinthians 7:25] http://classic.net.bible.org/verse.php?book=1Co&chapter=7&verse=25&tab=commentaries Quotations designated (NET) are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2016 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.
(2) Coffman, James Burton. “Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7” [v.25]. “Coffman Commentaries on the Old and New Testament”. ” www.studylight.org/commentaries/bcc/1-corinthians-7.html “. Abilene Christian University Press, Abilene, Texas, USA. 1983-1999.
“I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man to remain as he is: Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you” (1 Corinthians 7:26-28).
The twelfth chapter of the Old Testament book of 1 Chronicles relates the account of Israel’s King David in the period before completed his ascension to the throne. During that time, many came to join David, including a large number of valiant warriors. But included among those who pledged their allegiance to David were a group of men from the tribe of Issachar who were described in this manner: “…they understood the times and knew what Israel should do” (1 Chronicles 12:32 NET).
Much like these members of the tribe of Issachar, the Apostle Paul understood the times in which he lived- and that understanding served to impact his counsel to those members of the Corinthian church who were contemplating marriage: “Considering the present distress, I think it is better for a man to stay as he is” (GNB). While commentators differ as to the exact nature of this distress, some suggest a local offensive against the church, a famine, or the initial stages of the widespread persecutions that were soon to come.
Whatever the precise meaning, the social, economic and/or political realities associated with the times in which Paul lived clearly influenced his counsel. For instance, we can often accept our own pain and suffering more easily than that of a loved one- especially if that loved one is a spouse or child. Therefore, the “present distress” that Paul references (in whatever form it took), might have been easier for a single person to endure than a married couple, especially a married couple with children.
In light of these considerations, it may have been advisable for a single person to refrain from making a marital commitment. Although Paul did not categorically advise against entering a marriage relationship, he wanted to provide his readers with the ability to make a fully informed decision. As one commentator observes, “The Apostle Paul had already experienced intense persecution, and no doubt anticipated it would get worse. History records all too well that he was right.”(1)
(1) Hindson, E. E., & Kroll, W. M. (Eds.). (1994). KJV Bible Commentary (p. 2300). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
“Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this” (1 Corinthians 7:27-28 NIV).
It may be easier to appreciate the counsel found within these verses if we take the time to view this passage from a historical perspective. You see, the first large-scale act of persecution ever initiated against the church began within a few short years following this letter to the Corinthians. Those persecutions began following the events of July 14th, A.D. 64 when a large and devastating fire broke out within the city of Rome.
While historians have been unable to determine the exact cause of this fire, it is believed that many Roman citizens held the Emperor Nero responsible. To borrow a phrase from law enforcement, Nero was was thought to have had “probable cause” to start this fire in order to clear the way for a large building project that he wished to begin. Whatever the precise origin, the fire placed Nero in a great deal of political difficulty and made it necessary for him to place the blame for this catastrophe upon some other individual or group. The group that Nero targeted for accusation in this regard were the members of the Christian community.
Historical accounts tell us that those who acknowledged their faith in Christ during this period were left to be torn apart by ravenous dogs. Others were crucified. Some were burned to death and at night, their flaming bodies served as torches to light Nero’s gardens. Tradition tells us that Paul the Apostle and the Apostle Peter were each put to death during this period as well.
Therefore, a couple who chose to enter a marriage relationship before or during this time would likely face the challenge of staying alive and perhaps bear the unspeakable pain of watching a beloved mate or child as he or she was tortured or killed in a horrific manner. So while Paul surely recognized that “Marriage is honorable among all…” as we read in Hebrews 13:4, it seems that he wanted to spare the members of the Corinthian church from these dangers ahead and as well as those persecutions that may have had already begun.
“But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
One important challenge faced by those who seek to honor God often involves balancing the political, occupational, commercial, and financial responsibilities of daily life while guarding against the tendency to become overly engrossed with such things.
For instance, a person may recognize that those who follow Jesus are “temporary residents” (GW) within this world (as we read in 1 Peter 2:11), yet still be unduly absorbed with the cultural or political news of the day. Others may be immersed in the pursuit of a business enterprise, preoccupied with various types of relationships, or absorbed with the acquisition of material or financial wealth.
While each of these things may have an appropriate place within our lives, we should remember that they are often temporal and relative to this world- a world “...that is passing away” as we see within the passage quoted above.
Here is how a few other Biblical translations communicate this idea…
“…the outward form of this world [its present social and material nature] is passing away” (AMP).
“…this world’s way of life will quickly come to an end” (BBE).
“…this world, the way it is now, will soon be gone” (ERV).
“…the present scheme of things in this world won’t last much longer” (CJB).
You see, there is a considerable difference in maintaining a concern for the world in which we live and a preoccupation with the various aspects of this world. The idea is that even such valid concerns (no matter how worthy of our time they may be) must still be subordinate to our relationship with Christ. This does not mean that we should neglect such legitimate responsibilities but we would be wise to evaluate our level of attachment to anything that may be associated with a world that is passing away.
As one source observes, “…it is not the amount of time that we have left that concerned Paul but the fact that we know our time is limited. Christians should live with a certain perspective on the future and, therefore, we should live with eternity’s values consciously in view.” (1)
(1) Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Corinthians 2016 Edition [7:29a] Copyright © 2016 Thomas L. Constable http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/1%20Corinthians/1Corinthians.htm
“What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Corinthians 7:29-31 NIV).
In general sense, the concept found here within 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 should be familiar to anyone who has studied various time-management strategies.
For instance, business professionals are frequently reminded to “put first things first” when setting a daily agenda. This is an easy way to conceptualize an important principle: we can often make the most efficient use of the limited time available to us by generating a clear list of priorities and acting upon them in order of their importance.
In a similar manner, 1 Corinthians 7:29-31 should encourage us to prioritize our relationships, occupations, and material possessions with a view towards eternity. Consider Jesus’ counsel in regard to our relationships and possessions…
“If you want to be My disciple, you must hate everyone else by comparison–your father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters–yes, even your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26 NLT).
“Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal; but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matthew 6:19-21).
Finally, one source provides us with a number of important insights in commenting on this passage…
“Those who weep should remember that present sorrow will be comparatively short (cf. Luk_6:21). Likewise those who rejoice should bear in mind that we have a serious purpose to fulfill in life (Luk_6:25). When we make purchases, we need to consider that we are only stewards of God and that everything really belongs to Him.
The Christian should use the world and everything in it to serve the Lord, but we must not get completely wrapped up in the things of this world. Therefore, whether a person is single or married he or she should live with an attitude of detachment from the world. We should not let it engross or absorb us.” (1)
(1) Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Corinthians 2016 Edition [7:29b-31a ] Copyright © 2016 Thomas L. Constable http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/1%20Corinthians/1Corinthians.htm
“But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away (1 Corinthians 7:29-31 NLT).
There are many analogies that might be used to illustrate the Apostle Paul’s God-inspired observation from this passage: “…the form of this world is passing away.”
For instance, we might say that the world as it now exists is progressing towards the inevitable conclusion of it’s “year” much like the annual changes that take place with each passing season. Others may compare our lives in this world to a passenger train as it travels down the track of life. Friends, enemies, lovers, and acquaintances stop to join us at various stations along the way and then disembark as we inevitably move towards the destination we have chosen.
But perhaps the best known illustration of this idea is summarized by the following piece of commentary…
“The form of this world is passing away is borrowed from the theater and refers to the changing of scenes. It speaks of the transience of all that we see about us today. Its short-lived character is well expressed in Shakespeare’s famous lines: ‘All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players. They have their exits and their entrances, and one man in his time plays many parts.’ “ (1)
The transient nature of life (and the account that we will eventually make for our use of it) should encourage us to maintain an eternal perspective within the areas of marriage, commerce, and possessions. The New Testament epistle of 1 John provides us with an important reminder concerning those attitudes, values, and belief systems that are characteristic of this world when it tells us…
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever” (1 John 2:15-17).
(1) William MacDonald Believer’s Bible Commentary [pg. 1770] Copyright © 1995, 1992, 1990, 1989
“But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife.
There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction” (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
1 Corinthians 7:32-35 provides us with a number of important things to keep in mind when considering God’s calling in the area of marital relationships. You see, a single person possesses certain advantages that are unavailable to those who are married if we choose to view marriage from a strictly theoretical perspective.
For instance, a single person enjoys a greater degree of flexibility and can adapt to changing situations more easily than those who are married with children. A person without a spouse or a child does not need to be concerned with the material and emotional needs of a marriage partner or the impact of his or her decisions upon a dependent. Therefore he or she often has a greater degree of time and energy to devote to God’s work than those who carry the responsibility of providing for the needs of a family.
Of course, a single person should also consider this piece of proverbial wisdom from the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes…
“A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer. Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken” (Ecclesiastes 4:12).
This idea of a triple braided cord is often used to symbolize the marriage commitment of a husband and wife to each other and to Christ. We can see an illustration of this type of commitment in the New Testament example of Aquila and Priscilla, a married couple who ministered together with the Apostle Paul (see Acts 18).
The main concern for Paul was this: “I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible” (NLT). While a single person may have greater flexibility in serving God, that advantage might be diminished if his or her attention is distracted by an unfulfilled desire for a marriage partner.
“But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry.
Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well. So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better” (1 Corinthians 7:36-38).
As mentioned earlier, there are two major viewpoints regarding this portion of Scripture. The first sees the identity of the virgins referenced within this passage as young women of marriageable age who were still under the direction of a father or guardian.
One source provides us with a helpful summary of this view…
“Paul, then, gave advice to a father who in the first-century culture exercised great decision-making authority in matters affecting his family. A father may have decided that his daughter should not marry, possibly due to reasons similar to those Paul had mentioned in 1Co_7:25-34. But in coming to this decision, the father had not reckoned with the fact that his daughter might not be able to remain single. She might not possess the gift of celibacy (1Co_7:7).
If so, Paul recommended that the father should not feel obligated to hold to his previous commitment but instead let his daughter marry. However, the father should feel free to follow through on his conviction to keep his daughter single (1Co_7:37) if three conditions were met:
(a) He had a settled and firm conviction about the propriety of her celibacy.
(b) He was in a position where he was free to exercise his authority, that is, he was not a slave in which case the master could determine the daughter’s destiny.
(c) He was under no compulsion from evidence which suggested that his daughter was not able to remain single but required marriage instead. If these conditions were met, then the father did well not to give her in marriage. (1)
On the other hand, this reference may pertain to those engaged couples who were contemplating the appropriateness of remaining unmarried. The considerations in that regard are summarized by the NIV rendering of 1 Corinthians 7:36…
“If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married.”
(1) John F. Walvoord, Roy B. Zuck Bible Knowledge Commentary [pg. 520] Copyright © 1983 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck
“A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:39-40).
1 Corinthians chapter seven has provided us with a great deal of God-inspired counsel relating to many different areas of male-female relationships. Now as we approach the end of this chapter, the Apostle Paul will go on to address one final scenario- the death of a spouse.
In considering this passage, we can first establish that the passing of a husband or wife frees a marriage partner to remarry with one qualification: “…only someone in the Lord” (NET). In reality however, we can easily expand this qualification to include any man or woman of God who may be contemplating a dating relationship today.
You see, a Christian who is involved in a relationship with a non-Christian may believe that his or her dating partner will eventually get serious about a relationship with Christ. While this is a hopeful possibility, the unfortunate reality is that a non-Christian partner often has the greater influence in such relationships.
Consider this: a man or woman who chooses to enter a relationship with another solidly committed Christian is someone who is (or should be) moving in the same spiritual direction as his or her partner. On the other hand, a person who chooses to enter a relationship with someone whose priority is something other than Christ will find him or herself moving in a different direction. This often leads to compromise and conflict within the relationship and helps to explain why this passage specifies remarriage to another believer.
Remarriage was an important consideration in the first-century era for the difficulties facing a widow during that time involved much more than the loss of a loved one. You see, there were no such things as government assistance, pension plans, or life insurance available in those days. If an elderly widow had no family to assist her in her old age, it meant that she was destined to live in poverty for the rest of her life.
As one commentator has observed, “… (if) faced with the prospect of choosing between a fine Christian husband and a life of destitute poverty it would probably be better for her to remarry. However if all other things were equal, the single state seemed preferable to the apostle. Notice that the issue is the widow’s happiness, not her obedience.” (1)
(1) Dr. Thomas L. Constable, Notes on 1 Corinthians 2016 Edition [7:40] Copyright © 2016 Thomas L. Constable http://www.soniclight.com/constable/notes/htm/NT/1%20Corinthians/1Corinthians.htm
“A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God” (1 Corinthians 7:39-40 ESV).
In 1 Corinthians 7:39, the Apostle Paul expressed his belief that a widow would be happier if she remained single. Yet Paul’s Biblical letter to a young church leader named Timothy appears to tell us something much the opposite…
“…I think it’s best to have the younger widows remarry, have children, and take care of their households so that the enemy gains no opportunity to come with accusations” (1 Timothy 5:14 Voice).
While these statements may seem to represent something of a contradiction, each relates to a different context. For instance, 1 Timothy chapter five addresses the role of the church in assisting older widows who had no other means of support. Within that context, Paul established a number of parameters that served to determine when it was appropriate to render such assistance. Some of those factors included a widow’s age (sixty years or older according to 1 Timothy 5:9), her general character, and the presence of other family members who might be in a position to offer support.
He then went on to differentiate such widows from those who were younger and more likely to express a strong desire for remarriage. There were two important considerations regarding these younger widows. First, Paul was concerned that their desire for another relationship might eventually grow stronger then their devotion to Jesus.
Next, Paul clearly recognized the dangers that are sometimes associated with too much idle time (see 1 Timothy 5:11-13). So while Paul saw an advantage for widows to remain single (probably for the reasons he expressed earlier in 1 Corinthians 7:32-35), he made an exception within his letter to Timothy for those women of child-bearing age who might desire to remarry.
Finally, Paul’s statement, “…I think that I too have the Spirit of God” should not be taken to imply doubt in any way. In fact, it would be far more distressing if the Apostle Paul did not think that he had the Spirit of God. As he will later go on to say within this letter…
“If anyone thinks himself to be a prophet or spiritual, let him acknowledge that the things which I write to you are the commandments of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 14:37).