Now, orthodox Jewish belief laid down the obligation of marriage. If a man did not marry and have children, he was said to have 'slain his posterity', 'to have lessened the image of God in the world'. It was said that seven categories of people were excommunicated from heaven, and the list began: 'A Jew who has no wife; or who has a wife but no children'. God had said: 'Be fruitful and multiply,' and, therefore, not to marry and not to have children was to be guilty of breaking a positive commandment of God. The age for marriage was considered to be 18; and therefore it is highly unlikely that so devout and orthodox a Jew as Paul once was would have remained unmarried. (2) On particular grounds, there is also evidence that Paul was married. He must have been a member of the Sanhedrin, for he says that he gave his vote against the Christians (Acts 26:10). It was a regulation that members of the Sanhedrin must be married men, because it was held that married men were more merciful.
This would be just another factor effecting the view on marriage in the church of Corinth where Greek and Roman thought and morality was so prevalent. All these things brought questions that needed answered. We can certainly imagine what the questions were by the answers Paul gives to clarify what marriage should look like to them in the church, in the age of grace and in a sinfallen world.
1 Corinthians 7:1-2
Paul had written a letter to the Corinthians prior to this one in which he addressed some issues regarding sexuality. After this letter was received by them some of the Corinthians wrote Paul to ask some questions. Now Paul is sending them the answer back in this letter.
Up to this point in the book Paul was dealing with the issues in Corinth that had been brought to his attention. Now he is answering specific questions from the people of the church. The first question was apparently a question regarding celibacy or remaining single; something like, "Is being single better than being married?"
Paul had dealt with the issue of sexual immorality with this church. Some may have been over-reacting. They figured if this sexual immorality was that bad, then not being married might be better for spiritual health. Paul's response is that it is perfectly fine to remain celibate. Then in verse 2 he says, nevertheless. Celibacy is okay but because of the sexual immorality it's better for a man to have a wife and a wife to have a husband. Remaining unmarried in the presence of the constant temptations that surrounded them would be very difficult. Paul is not giving them a reason to be married but saying being married should make refraining from sexual immorality much easier.
1 Corinthians 7:3
A husband and wife are equally responsible to show the other affection. If you were unmarried then celibacy was okay. But after you are married it is no longer an option. We guys in particular should note the word 'affection' is used here. We owe our wives affection. This isn't easy for us and doesn't necessarily come natural. This affection is also a mutual responsibility and you shouldn't look at this as 'my spouse owes me affection.' Instead you should look at it as 'I owe them affection.' Within a healthy marriage affection is your responsibility and it's not contingent upon anything else.
1 Corinthians 7:4
It's an amazing fact that God chose that one person for each of us. When you find that one person and make that life commitment we know the two become as one. Right away you begin to grow together and after a while you finish each others thoughts and sentences. In a very short time you realize you really are one and you can't imagine functioning without your spouse.
We are so bound together that we have authority over the other's body. This isn't a selfish "You belong to me and I'll do whatever I want' statement. This is a loving "I am yours; I have given myself to you.' It's not a husband saying 'you belong to me.' It's saying 'I belong to you.' This is a call for each one to owe their affections to the other. And it is a very binding call to the point where each has authority over the other.
Neither has a right to withdraw from the relationship and keep their affections to themselves. Neither husband nor wife can live a celibate life. My place in that relationship is not to exercise my authority by being demanding. It's my job to fulfill my role and that is to give ownership willingly to my spouse.
This answer Paul is giving comes from the thought that some of the Corinthians were considering celibacy while they were married. With the warnings about sexual immorality, and seeing the affects of it in their culture, some had overreacted and thought they had to take on a celibate lifestyle. Paul said, within a marriage this can't happen.
1 Corinthians 7:5-9
A husband and wife were not to withhold affections from one another for very long unless they were in agreement to do so. Paul lists one of the main reasons for doing this was fasting and prayer. That's interesting that sexual abstinence is tied to fasting and prayer. If both agree to abstain for a time they shouldn't do this for too long because Satan will tempt them and test their self control. Paul makes it clear that this is a concession. God allows a husband and wife to do this for a time but by no means should it be understood as a commandment. There is no commandment to abstain.
Marriage is an institution ordained by God from the beginning. It is the foundation of family and the means by which society continues on. Marriage is also a picture and type of our relationship with the Lord. Jesus called the church his bride. Because of these things, Satan attacks marriage in two ways in Corinth. First you see the culture promoting sex outside of marriage. And second is deprivation of sex inside the marriage. Both of these will kill a marriage.
I think these two means of attack on marriage are still happening today. In addition, our culture we see a third attack. That is an attack on the very institution of marriage. We've taken something that is God given and pure and holy and the enemy is trying to make it something manmade and cheap. Marriage should be God honoring and for the purpose of being fruitful and multiplying. Yet our culture is trying to redefine what a marriage is and if they have their way, our world would dry up and blow away. A redefined marriage can do nothing to replenish and populate society.
God's purpose of marriage was to be fruitful and multiply; to create a partnership that honors God and to raise children up to honor Him. That can't happen in a homosexual marriage; it can't happen by having sex outside of the marriage; it can't happen by refraining from sex inside the marriage; and it can't happen by failing to honor the marriage commitment.
Paul said in verse 7 he wished all men could be like him. We know Paul was married early on in his other life because he was a voting member of the Sanhedrin and you had to be married to be on the Sanhedrin. We don't know what happened to Paul's wife but he now sees his celibacy as a gift from God. He has no distraction from Spiritual matters. However, he recognizes that each of us are gifted in different ways. Some are called to be single and evangelize as Paul. Others were to be married, have lots of kids and raise them in the ways of the Lord.
Some were teaching the early church that marriage was forbidden. This is just Satan about his business to confuse and destroy the things God has ordained. Paul told Timothy this was a doctrine of demons.
At the end of verse 9 Paul is done answering the first question. He has dealt with being married verses unmarried and the spiritual affects on each along with the responsibilities pertaining to sex. Paul moves on to the next question put to him.
These verses seem pretty straight forward and don't need a lot of comment. Paul is speaking to the Christians who were married to Christians. Some of them apparently thought it might be better for them spiritually if they were divorced. And the command from the Lord is, a wife is not to depart from her husband and a husband is not to divorce his wife. This 'command' is Paul repeating what Jesus taught.
For Christians married to Christians there is no easy escape. Even if there is a separation, the husband and wife should still honor the marriage commitment until there can be restoration. The first order of business in any problem in a marriage must be restoration not separation or divorce. In our world, it seems like the marriage is in the hands of the lawyer before any real attempts are made at restoration.
1 Corinthians 7:12-13
There are 2 important things here before we go on. The second thing first, Paul says I, not the Lord, says. Jesus didn't speak specifically to these marriages that consist of one believer and one un-believer. So Paul is speaking to the issue based on the principals and knowledge of God and as his authority as an apostle. Paul may not have realized his words were inspired by the Holy Spirit when he wrote them. So for us, we can't treat this section any different. All Scripture is God breathed.
So this next section was 'to the rest'. That was to the believers that were married to unbelievers. They were asking Paul, "What should I do? I came to know Jesus and I'm born again and I find myself married to an unbeliever. Should I leave them? Should I divorce them?"
You know these believers heard and saw all this talk about the institution of marriage. Now that they are believers they look back and realize they really didn't understand all they needed to know when they were married. And it may have left some of them saying, "I think I married the wrong person." Others had the desire to be married to a believer. So here they sat wondering what to do. And they were asking, "Can God be honored if I'm married to an unbeliever?"
This is an urgent problem. It can create a lot of difficulties because the two are operating from two different worldviews. One spouse seeks to honor God with their life while the other is seeking to please themselves. We'll see later on in 2 Corinthians that you shouldn't marry an unbeliever. That's avoiding the problem up front and that's commanded. But when the problem surfaces after there is already a wedding, it isn't a reason to end the marriage.
It's interesting the way the verses are stated. You have to take note of this. It's not up to the believer whether there is a divorce. It's up to the unbelieving person.
1 Corinthians 7:14
This word sanctified in verse 14 does not mean that a believing wife somehow saves here husband or a vice versa. It means the believing spouse has a special ministry in the life of the unbelieving spouse. The believer has a spiritual influence over their home. See also 1 Peter 3:1-6.
There are many more cases where the woman has become a believer and the man has not than the other way around. But either way, it's an awkward circumstance in a marriage when one believes and the other does not. The principles apply whether it is a believing wife or a believing husband. The believer should honor the marriage commitment.
In 1 Peter 3, Peter gave the example of the woman being submissive to the husband so that he might be won over by her behavior. The same applies the other way. The husband who believes should treat his wife with great honor and respect showing her the way a godly man treats a woman. When there is a change in your life, she will notice. When you show reverence and dedication to the Lord and honor your marriage, she will notice.
Paul says something really important in the second part of verse 14: Otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. Not only does the presence of a believing spouse become a blessing to the unbelieving wife or husband but the believer is also a blessing to the children. Even if just one parent is a believer the children are considered holy. This doesn't mean they are sinless it just means they have the blessing of a spiritual protection that comes from God. Otherwise, if there was a divorce and the children went with an unbelieving parent, there would be no spiritual protection and no blessing.
The concern in Corinth was that the unbelieving parent within these mixed marriages would somehow defile the children. Paul said that is not the case and shouldn't be used as a reason to end a marriage. The children were much better off in an intact marriage with one believing parent than being the offspring of a broken marriage. There was at least some consideration for the kids among the Corinthians. We don't always do that now days.
1 Corinthians 7:15-16
If the unbeliever leaves the marriage, as in all cases, reconciliation of the marriage is the first priority. However, if that is not possible, then there is no longer a bondage to the marriage covenant. This is a valid divorce and the believer is free to move on without further efforts of reconciliation.
Paul reminds the believers though that God has called us to peace. We should find His peace in our circumstances. If you are in the circumstance of being married to an unbeliever, it can be very difficult and frustrating but God works all things to His purpose. Paul asks, how do you know the unbelieving spouse won't come to know Christ through your actions? When you live a Godly life, pure and reverent it can't be ignored and we can find great peace in that.
It's noteworthy that the early church didn't do very good at keeping with Paul's teaching here. In fact, they had a reputation of becoming believers and leaving their spouses behind. In their newfound freedom as a Christian they often abandoned their marriages and sometimes their families. This happened so much that it became a complaint by the unbelievers that these Christians were breaking up homes. This was not a very good testimony; not a very good way to start your life as a Christian.
1 Corinthians 7:17-24
The people of Corinth were trying to take Paul's commands and go back and fix what they saw might be wrong with their life. You can imagine someone saying I think I could be much more Godly as a single person so I need to get divorced. And the wives saying I married an unbelieving, couch potato, beer guzzling bum; I need to divorce him to be more spiritual. And the born again husband who wants to ditch his heathen wife for someone much more spiritual.
Paul is saying to them and us just walk in the circumstances you are in. If you previously divorced someone for the wrong reasons or if you married an unbeliever or if you got saved after you were married, you are in those circumstances. Don't go back and commit a bigger error trying to fix your mistake. If there was a sin pertaining to marriage, repent of it, receive forgiveness and get on with life. Each of us stands in our own particular circumstances today. Those are the circumstance we were called to. We are of much more value accepting where we stand and looking forward and serving the Lord from where we are, than looking back and worrying about our past mistakes.
Paul uses the analogy of circumcision. That might seem a little strange to us but it was a big deal at that time in this church that was a mixture of Jew and gentile. And some were going around teaching that it mattered. If you were called in circumcision that's fine, if you were called in un-circumcision that's okay too. Don't become circumcised or uncircumcised trying to become more spiritual. These things weren't significant. Keeping the commandments of God is what is important.
Paul could have just as easily have said, If you're married, don't get divorced. If you're divorced or single, don't get married trying to become more spiritual. Because being married or being single isn't what matters to God.
Paul goes on to give us the example of slavery. Paul said that the slave in this world is God's freedman and the free man is God's slave. As long as our life circumstance isn't sinful, God can use us right where we are. Again, in our culture this seems a little strange. But to the people of Corinth it was a normal part of their society. A slave who was in bondage to someone might say, "What good am I …….I'm stuck here and have no rights or freedom?" How can God use me? Until my circumstances change or I can somehow force a change in my life, I'm useless as a Christian.
Your life and life circumstances are important. Those things become part of your ministry. Paul reminds us, You were bought at a price; and that price was a precious price. That's how important your life is to Him. He gave the life blood of Jesus Christ to purchase you. He redeemed us from slavery to sin and eternal separation from God. Jesus bought you right where you stood at your calling.
You were bought with a price; Don't become slaves of men. That's an important verse and one that can easily be skimmed over. We have a knack of putting each other in bondage through a variety of means. Paul is saying you were bought out of slavery so we shouldn't put ourselves into the slavery of men. The slavery of men is the being enslaved by the ways of the world and the ways of the flesh. Putting a burden on men pertaining to marital status can be a form of manmade slavery.
Then Paul said, Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called. Paul is telling the Corinthians, He found you and saved you in your circumstances so He doesn't need you to go on some journey and follow some man made recipe to get closer to Him. The 'remain in that state' part of the verse might seem scary to some. But the 'with God' part should not be skipped over. Whatever our circumstance is, we should, first and foremost, remain with God. He will guide us, sanctify us and eventually glorify us. We can't get so distracted with the flesh to forget that.
For those in the church of Corinth, Christianity was a strange new concept. Some of these new Christians had never had any marital freedoms. Corinth was a mix of Greek culture, Roman Empire, Jewish influence and now Christianity. In the Greco Roman culture, a man could divorce any time he wanted. In the pagan culture many times marriages happened to girls as young as 11-12 years old. There was also a double standard of purity. The men demanded it of a wife but they didn't hold to any standard of purity or even loyalty to a marriage commitment. Many cultures practiced polygamy where they might have many wives. Others were subject to arranged marriages and became married to someone because of politics, family status or some other arrangement.
Now suddenly Christianity comes along. Rich, poor, Jew, Gentile, free or slave all could join together in one fellowship. The cultural rules no longer applied. This was a strange new concept. It was a new freedom the people weren't used to. As a result of freedoms they had never experience before some of the believers of Corinth were getting married for the wrong reason or they got divorced because their spouse didn't believe. Some were only using that for an excuse. They were justifying their sinful behaviors by saying it was to improve their spiritual status.
1 Corinthians 7:25-28
In verse 25 Paul begins to answer another question where he gives further detail regarding those that are unmarried. The word used here for virgins is a word that is more specific to young unmarried women but could also be used for men. Paul begins to answer the question by once again saying he hasn't heard from the Lord. This was saying that he had no specific teaching from Jesus Christ regarding this. However, Paul gives his judgment which is inspired by the Holy Spirit and we can take these words as inspired, God breathed scripture.
While Paul was writing this, there was some present distress going on in Corinth. It may have been Christian persecution or maybe it was some kind of war where the men had to go fight. Whatever it was, it put pressure on the family and on marriage, so Paul said it would be good to just remain unmarried as you are. But if you chose to go ahead and get married it wasn't a sin. It was Paul's opinion that being married in the present distress could lead to trouble.
Whatever the source of this distress was, a single person could deal with it much better. The question……….'Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed' just meant that if you were engaged or betrothed it wasn't Paul's intention to split you apart. If you weren't betrothed, it would be a good time to stay that way. Paul suggested they just hold on in whatever situation they were in for the purpose of having them take their current circumstances into account before being married.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31
The use of the 'time is short' teaching here is Paul staying true to the teaching of Jesus. Paul believed that we should live our lives expecting the return of Jesus Christ. He believed time was short and he lived life that way. Some so called bible scholars call Paul a false teacher because the statement that time was short. But Paul held onto the scriptures and the teachings of Jesus.
In saying that time was short, Paul probably wasn't talking specifically about the short span of life but he talked about it in other places. Life is short and there is no promise of tomorrow. We should live life as if time is short for whatever reason. Paul thought time to the return of the Lord was short. And if Paul thought time was short then, what would he say to us now?
Jesus spoke about these things in Matthew 24. Paul took this to heart. He lived a life expecting the return of Christ. Time has been short since the resurrection and since Jesus spoke the words recorded in Matthew. We just don't know how short time is. The concept of time to an eternal God is vastly different than that for fallen, impatient humans like us. Jesus said in the end people would be eating, drinking, marrying and giving in marriage. That's actually pretty fascinating. In a world that God saw fit to judge with a flood that killed all but 8 people, they were still getting married. Right up to the end.
When Paul says, 'those that have wives should be as thought they had none' he's not condoning ignoring your wife or duties as a husband. It's saying, keep marriage in its proper priority.
'And those who weep as though they didn't weep' is not a lesson on holding back tears. There is a place for tears and weeping in this life. But there is a time coming when every tear will be dried. We must keep the proper perspective.
'And those who rejoice as though they did not' isn't Paul telling us not to rejoice. It's telling us to be conscious about what we rejoice in. Are we finding reason to rejoice about the things of the world? Or, do we save our rejoicing for Jesus Christ. Keep the proper perspective.
And 'those who buy as though they did not possess' isn't a command against shopping. It's a statement that possessions will not matter when this world ends. Are we spending too much time hoarding our money? Do we obsess over what we have, or don't have?
And those who use this world should act as though we're not going to misuse it or use it up. Time is short. There are more important things than spouses, weeping, rejoicing, possessions and the earth and it resources. These are things of this world. We are looking and waiting expectantly for the appearance of Jesus Christ to usher us into another world and we must keep our eyes on Jesus Christ. Marriage is important and there is nothing wrong with those other things. They have a place in our lives. Yet, those things will pass away. We need to maintain a very light grasp on this world.
We spend a lot of our time planning our days and lives and forgetting about eternity. That same thing was going on with those of Corinth. Marriage was important, yes, but it is still something of this world. And, Paul said, the form of this world is passing away.
This 'form' is the Greek word schema. It's everything which affects the senses; shape, speed, direction, actions and manner of life. Schema brings to mind the word schematic. Schematics are the technical drawings that reveal how things work. And the word for 'world' in this passage is Cosmos. This is the earth, the universe, all inhabitants of earth and all the affairs of the world. Paul said the schema of the cosmos is passing away. All the workings and trappings of this world are being brought to nothing. This is an active verb……….. it's passing away. It's happening right now. The world is actively passing away right before our eyes.
1 Corinthians 7:32-35
The saints of Corinth were spending too much time worrying about their marital status as a means of pleasing the Lord. As if being married or single bought them favor with the Lord. Paul told them a few verse ago to stay as they are and don't make a change in marital status to please the Lord.
So now Paul goes on in verse 32 to say that he wants them to be without care. This 'care' he is speaking of here is not a casual concern but an overwhelming anxiety. Paul didn't want them to have all this anxiety about their situation and he goes on to explain why that anxiety exists. The unmarried person cares for the things of the Lord and how he may please the Lord and the married person cares for the things of the world and how he may please his wife.
Paul is talking about Christians here and he is not making a judgment against marriage. He is saying these folks that are writing him are having this anxiety because once they are married it is their responsibility to be concerned about the things of the world. He's not saying its wrong, on the contrary he is saying that's the way it should be. It's a given that a married couple look out for each other. And if there are kids involved then both parents are looking out for them.
However, a single person doesn't have the same level of concerns. We saw that in Paul's life. He bounced around from town to town. He earned a living making tents which provided enough for him to eat and have clothes. As a single person, if you take all that extra energy and time and focus it on the Lord then you won't have that level of anxiety Paul was talking about. You won't have the cares of the world.
For the married folks, you worry about each other. You are concerned for the health and well being of your spouse. You want a roof over your head and there are two mouths to feed and then kids come along and there are many more things to be concerned about.
This is the very real anxiety Paul is talking about. And that anxiety exists for both the men and the woman. That is a normal part of being married and that's okay. Devoting your time to your family is the right thing to do and you shouldn't be anxious about it.
So there were some single people in Corinth saying, "Hey, now that I'm saved what should I do?" Some were asking, must I get married while others were asking if it was okay to get married. Both groups were worried about it and asking what they should do. Paul answered that last week when he said they were to do what they were called to but most of all don't pursue spirituality through marriage. That's a poor reason to get married.
Paul is just giving a little premarital counsel. Once you are married you have responsibilities to your family and those responsibilities tie you down. There's nothing wrong with that, but you can't get married and act like a single man. Once that commitment is made its forever so Paul wants these people to take a good look at their betrothed and the responsibilities of being married.
When you are married you get to serve the Lord by being a Godly husband or a Godly wife and raise a family that honors the Lord. There can be no looking back.
Paul told them this so they would understand where he was coming from. It wasn't to put a leash on them or to make either feel as though they had a less desirable situation. Paul wouldn't put a burden or bondage on folks that way. The word used for 'leash' here is a trap or a noose. Once you are caught in it, it will strangle the life out of you.
If you run off and get married when you are called to be single and serving the Lord, then marriage would be a leash. Or to be single when God has put the desire in your heart to have a family, your life alone would become a leash. Either one will be a trap or a noose that keeps you from the life God called you to. That's why it is important to give these things careful consideration.
These are the kinds of traps that Paul was trying to avoid while telling folks it was okay to be single. He wasn't saying everyone should be like him. He's just saying he found it to be the best situation for him. For Paul being single allowed him the freedom to serve the Lord with his whole life. His mind was focused on things eternal and not on marriage or companionship.
1 Corinthians 7:36-38
The 'any man' of verse 36 is the father of an unmarried daughter. He had final say as to whether his daughter would be married. And Paul was saying it would be better to stay single. That was Paul's preference. However if the father gave her in marriage that was good, but if he didn't give her in marriage, Paul felt it was better. Every situation was unique.
Paul said to the father who believes in his heart that he is doing the right thing by his daughter by not giving her in marriage was not doing anything wrong. But if the father felt as though he was wrong in keeping her single past her youth, then he could do as he wished.
And again, Paul throws that opinion in about being single. It seems the advice is, 'if in doubt remain single. If you can live without being married, don't. And if you can wait, then you should wait. If, however, you can't live without the one you love and you can't imagine a day without them. If you can do nothing other than marry that person, then by all means, it is okay to be married.
We should treat every situation as unique and not make our decisions based on what others are doing. But decide based on the calling and leading in our own life.
1 Corinthians 7:39-40
As Paul is answering the questions before him he wanted the young lady to know that she is bound by the covenant of marriage as long as her husband lives. Marriage is for life and should be treated that way. If her husband were to die, then she is no longer bound by the marriage covenant and she would be set free to get married again. But only 'in the Lord' which is to say only to another believer.
It's normal to get married once, for life. We vow when we are married, "until death do us part." When the marriage covenant is ended by death, then the survivor is free to remarry.
And again Paul suggested that if there were any among them who were in that situation they would be happier if they remained a widow. At the very least He wanted the woman to consider what he was saying," See if God was calling her into celibacy."
©2016 Doug Ford
1] Barclay, W. (2002). The Letters to the Corinthians (3rd ed., pp. 71-72). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.