This chapter is a natural application of the principle that we must have a spiritual attitude in all that we do. The man/woman relationship is one of the most important human relationships. It affects everyone, married or not. The man/woman relationship is where our spiritual focus is often most severely tested.
Two simple principles will be repeated throughout this chapter. One, stated in verse 7, is that marriage or singleness is a gift from God. The other, found in verse 17 is that our response to our present married or single status must be contentment with God's will.
Verse 1, "Now...me"
In addition to the report Chloe brought in person to Paul, some in the church who really wanted to do God's will had written to him for advice. Therefore, this chapter, which responds to that letter, has none of the sharp rebukes that accompany other chapters. Paul is not reacting to a specific problem, but only giving his inspired counsel.
The word identifies most closely with God Himself (Matt. 19:17). We can say then it is godly for a man to do this. Such a thing serves God.
"not to touch"
The immediate context is in the setting of a romantic relationship. It is a severely restrictive statement. It is used in Matthew 14:36 to refer to a slight touch. The root word for "touch," hapto, is used in Luke 8:16; 22:55 to mean a "light" or "to kindle," as in fire. This is a good word to use here in Chapter 7 because a touch can be something which kindles a physical interest in someone. Even if that someone is not us, we do not know how the other person is reacting.
The point of the verse is that it leads to good if a man does not touch a woman when both are exploring romantic relationships before marriage. It is good to seek to be faithful to God and avoid the kind of romantic relationships that dominate our spiritual part and would hurt our desire and ability to serve God.
This is God's Word, not Paul's. God designed men and women to attract each other. Therefore, He sets up this guard. God knows our needs and desires and has a plan to make things work out best for us, in His way and in His time.
verse 2, "Nevertheless to avoid fornication"
Actually this phrase is "because of fornication." As a continuation of the previous verse, we can think of the phrase in this way: "Fornication is a real possibility, not a remote idea." As men and women spend time together, physical attraction may come. So it is not good or wise to encourage a physically dominated relationship by physical contact.
As a lead into the rest of verse 2, we can also think of the phrase to mean this: "Because fornication is such a real possibility, rather than just continue to encourage improper physical contact, it is a good idea to go ahead and marry."
The idea behind this phrase is that when physical interest increases, either break up or marry. We must continue down a path that will avoid fornication. If the desire for physical contact grows, which is promoted by touching for romantic reasons, then it is unwise and not good to continue the relationship without resolving the relationship one way or another. If it is otherwise O.K., go ahead and marry, especially when we think of the pressure of physical desire together with the unholy influence of the world.
Notice the word "own" wife and husband. The phrase does not say several wives or husbands. We are married once for as long as our partner lives (verse 39). This is one of the criteria for determining if a relationship is in God's will. God would never encourage a relationship between two people if one of them is divorced and whose former partner is still living. Another important criteria, just for the record, is found in II Corinthians 6:14. God would never encourage a relationship between a believer and an unbeliever.
At this point the student should read the supplementary article entitled "Finding a Christian Marriage Partner." It can be found at 1Cor 7 Suppl.
Verses 3-4, "render...due benevolence ... not power...but"
The words "render...due benevolence" are a combination of "owe" ophilio and "give away from" apodidomai. The idea is we must give away from ourselves to those whom we owe, namely, our wife or husband. We owe a physical and spiritual debt to them. The word "power" means "authority." Together the two phrases emphasize the complete, unreserved commitment each person is obligated to in marriage.
Additionally, according to I Thessalonians 4:3,4, our partners are not sex objects but vessels of honor. We have spiritual goals for them (Eph. 5:25). This is true whether our partner is saved or not (I Cor. 7:16). Therefore, we willingly provide for all our partner's needs with the purpose of being used by God to bring them closer to Him.
Verses 3 and 4 are the only details God wants to tell us concerning intimate romantic relationships. We do not have to make a study of the details of an intimate relationship to resolve marriage problems. Problems in marriage are not sexual but spiritual. The proper support for a good marriage is the proper spiritual perspective, motivation and goals. Natural physical relationships are taken care of by God.
Sex education, which is emphasized by the world today, is a pornographic excuse. People have lived thousands of years without sexual lessons, things which only fill and excite our minds with garbage (Rom. 13:14; Col. 3:16). The excuse that is often given by those who insist on such things is that young people will learn bad things if not taught otherwise. But why will they learn? What are they exposed to? Unchecked T.V. programs? Unholy movies? Worldly music? The philosophys of secular schools? In all things we should be filled with and focus upon the spiritual and not the physical.
Additionally, birth control which is emphasized today, is rebellion against God's plan for our individual lives. While the problem just mentioned in the above paragraph is based on a worldly focus, the problem of birth control is based upon a lack of a spiritual focus. Psalm 104:14 and 30 teach that God creates and controls everything. We do not have children when we want to. God decides what our family will be like. Matthew 6:33 teaches that a concern over material things is wrong. God sets our standard of living, not the world. He will be sure we are able to raise the children he entrusts to our care. Psalms 127 and 128 teach that children are a blessing and not a threat. If they are raised as unsaved people, they will be a grief to us. If they are raised in the fear and admonition of the Lord, they will be a blessing to us and the world.
In short these two verses in I Corinthians 7 tell us that we must not insist on certain physical rights or limitations in marriage. We give up all for spiritual goals.
Verse 5, "Defraud...another"
To defraud means to encourage expectations in someone which you are unable or unwilling to fulfill. The word "defraud" can be rendered "deprive." If we think back on the first verses of this chapter, we are warned not to get started in a relationship if we cannot follow through to its physical conclusion. If we sense an inordinate attraction toward someone and we have good reason to believe it is in God's will that we be together, we do not play with a physical relationship, but go ahead and fulfill the other person's total expectation in marriage. This verse adds the counsel that once we are married, our partner can expect certain things from us. We must fulfill what we owe, especially since we have some spiritual goals in mind for them.
This is a contrary situation, not a normal situation in marriage. Examples of this unusual situation are in Exodu 19:14,15 before the giving of the Law, in I Samuel 21:4,5 when men identified with David and his banishment, and in Revelation 14:4 which is a spiritual picture of all true believers.
This is not an extra holy situation. It is a special time of reckoning with God, as in earnest "prayer."
This is from the Greek word sumphonou, which means "to sound together" or "agree." We do not use our bodies to get something from our partners. We listen to what they say and are sensitive to their needs and desires, seeking to match it to what God says in His word. We always consider what spiritual goals our partners want, agreeing with them in all things that promotes our common spiritual good.
Similarly, we do not put physical temptation in the path of our partner by depriving them of what we are obligated to give them.
Verse 6, "But I speak this by permission and not of commandment"
This phrase is similar to verses 12, 25, and 40. Jesus said much about marriage. However, what Paul has just said was not an explicit commandment in God's Word that he read and now is giving to the Corinthians. Rather, God permitted Paul to say it now for the first time. The statements of verses 1-5 are still the infallible Word of God.
The point is this: We might question the fact that we read these things first through Paul and not Jesus. Nevertheless, what Paul says is true, no matter who had written it down first.
There is another way of looking at verse six. We will introduce that idea as we explain the next verse.
Verse 7, "I would...myself"
Paul means that he wishes all were unmarried as he was. This is a statement of his contentment with God's will for his life (Phil. 4:11).
It is possible to take verse 6 with the above statement, rather than with the first five verses of the chapter. The word "permission" in verse 6 is sunggemen, meaning "to think or judge together." Thus we have the following idea: "It is not Jesus' commandment that all men be like me, unmarried. But if I think about you together with my experiences, I would want you to be unmarried because I know what advantages it has for me."
However, Paul knows full well God has a different plan for each of His children.
"...gift of God"
This is a hallmark statement for all believers in the area of marriage. The word "gift" is charis in Greek and means "grace" as in Ephesians 2:8. This is a principle that means, married or not, it is completely God's design and decision what we have in life. Additionally, God's plan is meant for our good, because He cares for us. We must trust that such is so. We must rest in His will. We must not despise His plan or focus on the siren songs of the world. We do not cry about our situation as if it were a curse or less of a blessing. We do not look at other people's situation and, based on that comparison, propel ourselves into a mistake in order to resolve our discontent.
This verse is essentially saying that marriages are made in heaven. Two believers who have sought God's will in these matters can look back on their courtship and marriage and see how God graciously guided them and gave them the wonderful gift of a life together. God may change the situation by means of death, but that, too, is His buisness.
Similarly, a single person who has tried to live a life that honors his Lord can look back and see how God graciously kept him from unwise attachments which may have resulted in marriage. A single person's situation may be temporary. Only God knows. But at the present, God has given him a busy life of serving in the work of the Gospel.
Verse 8, "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows"
This verse provides support to the idea that verse 6 is first of all part of verse 7 inasmuch as verse 8 and 9 is a conclusion about the unmarried situation. Incidentally, the word "unmarried" means "those who are truly unmarried," that is, never married before. It does not refer to those who are divorced, but are called unmarried by the world today.
"It is good...abide"
It is possible to live single in a godly way because God calls it good. Sinful thoughts and ways do not have to dominate a christian. A spiritual person can abide as he is and wait upon the Lord.
Verse 9, The word "burn" cannot mean a sinful desire.
If it referred to sin, then Paul would never give marriage as a solution. This verse does not mean that general wantonness is corrected by marriage. Fornication can be found in a marriage as well as out of marriage. A lustful heart is not changed by marriage.
Also, this verse is not a condemnation of a weak moral character of any Christian who is married. Marriage is not the advice and solution for such a deficiency. We can only overcome sin by repentance and trusting and obeying God's Word, not by means of an outlet.
Instead, this verse is a companion to verses 1 and 2. The idea is if you have a relationship already, and you notice your physical interest increasing, assuming that it is not contrary to God's will, then it is better to get married than to get too physical outside of marriage.
The word "burn" refers to the God-created physical interest a man and a woman have for each other. It is part of the design of His creation which He uses to draw two people together, to whom He has assigned the gift of marriage. The point of the verse is that two people, who are already in a growing, God-glorifying relationship, ought to resolve the problem of burning by marriage, so that they can both continue in their spiritual service.
Remember the principle of verse 7. A person who is married is not a second class citizen in the kingdom of God. Such a relationship is not an indication of weakness. Marriage is a gift. We serve the Lord in the situation He decides to place us. As He arranges circumstances for two Christians to meet and become close, He is saying in this verse that there is a time when they will know it is best to go ahead and marry.
Verse 10, "And unto the married"
Now there is a slight change of subject. The discussion leaves single people and from verse 10 through verse 16 addresses married people.
"I commend, yet not I, but the Lord"
Again, as we saw in verse 6, there are not different levels of authority. When we read Jesus' words in the Bible, we are not reading something more important than Paul's words. Paul is speaking on behalf of Jesus.
"Let not the wife depart"
The root of the word "depart", kori, refers to a complete separation (Rom. 8:35, 39). It is translated as "put asunder" in Matthew 19:6.
Why would Paul add this? Does there seem to be a reason? Yes. Corinth, a very worldly, Gentile city, was the home of these church members. It is where many of them came from. Until the Gospel had come to them, no one was a believer. Therefore, some who were saved and joined the church were already married as unbelievers. If only one partner became saved then a Christian had an unbelieving partner. What should they do? Should they start a new life and divorce their unsaved partner? The answer is "No." God's laws are like all laws of His universe. They apply to all men, believers or not. Verse 10 is introducing the situation of mixed marriages and teaches that they are binding. Marriage is binding no matter what the reason people get together, no matter what happened before. Matthew 19:6 is a law of God for all marriages. We can rebel and marry out of God's will. God may allow our rebellion to produce its ugly fruit. But it is still a marriage.
God's Word comes to us where we are now. The first step is to trust God and be content with His care. Then we start at the present point to live obediently from this time on.
"from her husband"
The idea is that he is her husband. No matter what anyone may think or do, he is and will always be her husband. A divorce decree is a piece of paper recognized by man. But it is never recognized by God. A person has only really departed from his partner by death (Rom. 7:2). Only death severs the bond.
At this point in the discussion, we must answer an important question. The cases presented in this and the next verse are of two people who were married when they were unbelievers. Then one partner, having been subsequently saved, realizes that not only did he marry for the wrong reason, but he also married an unbeliever. So the question arises, "Is that marriage also a 'gift from God' (verse 7)?" The best way to begin to answer the question is to ask it in a slightly different way. The gift of God in romantic matters can be thought of as the will of God. So we ask, "Is that marriage the will of God for those two people?" First of all, we must say that God has clearly revealed His will for all people in His Word. There is a way to conduct one's affairs of the heart that brings honor to God and joy and blessings to those who follow it. Often that way seems foolish to men, so they get involved in marriages that ruin their lives. In that sense, we must answer the question with a "No." It is not the will or the gift of God that two people violate His law concerning marriage. Those marriages are sinful marriages, since they do not glorify God. Those marriages are not His gift to men.
Now we must face one more question. "If two people have been joined together in marriage contrary to God's will, are they really married?" The answer is "Yes." Whatever the reason for such a marriage, it is still a marriage in God's sight. So a sinful marriage cannot be dissolved or annulled. As this verse clearly states, divorce is not an answer for such a marriage.
All marriages are binding in God's sight. For one thing, that is the testimony of Scripture (Matt. 19:6; Rom. 7:2; I Cor. 7:10-13, 39). Even though a marriage begun contrary to God's will is a sin, there are other laws that express God's will for marriages. It would be worse to follow one sin with a second one of divorce. Of course the fruit of a hasty and selfish marriage can be bitter. But it is like any other sin. Sometimes, on this side of eternity, sin leaves an indelible, physical mark that cannot be erased. Some results of sin can be severe, such as irreversible fatal medical problems. Some sins can lead to prison or execution. Some sins result in damaged relationships with relatives. The consequences of sin cannot be wished away after we become a Christian. It is true that a marriage begun for the wrong reason can result in great trouble. However, it is not the marriage that is to blame. It is the sinful rebellion of those who are part of such a marriage. Marriage is binding, even if begun without acknowledgment to God, because marriage is a commitment. When formalized by whatever authority is recognized by society, it is a true marriage. It is valid because all authorities on earth are delegated by God (Rom. 13). If they grant a marriage, God honors it. It may be that human authorities grant a divorce, but God does not honor that act inasmuch as it is against His revealed will.
The strength of the marriage bond is not presented as a punishment. It is true that if men continue to focus upon the material, their broken marriage will drive them to despair. Yet God continues to come with grace. He offers grace for each partner's soul, a blessing that transcends any earthly woe. He has grace to soften the awful effects of sin in our present life. One of the messages of this chapter is that God's grace is able to use even a marriage begun in sin and turn it by His grace to a marriage in which His spiritual will is done. He can turn the mess we create for ourselves into something good. God is with His people wherever they are. There can be joy and blessing no matter what has happened in the past.
Verse 11, "But and if she depart ..."
This phrase is not an allowance to depart as if it were saying "O.K. then, if she really insists on departing ...." Rather, the verb is in the aortist tense, that is, a simple past with present effects. The phrase is really facing another case that is in Corinth. As in any worldly city, divorce was business as usual. Some who became Christians were already divorced. The idea is, "If she has already divorced, what then?" The phrase implies she got divorced before she was saved or heard the Lord's command not to.
"let her remain...husband"
The statement in verse 39 is even clearer. The man is and will always be her husband. She belongs with him. The point is simple to say but hard to receive. When a person is divorced, he must never marry again until his first partner is dead. The best solution is for her to be reconciled to her husband.
The word "reconciled" is used six times in the New Testament. Five times it is used for salvation, our reconciliation with God Himself (Rom. 5:10; II Cor. 5:18-20). It is composed of a prefix kata, meaning "down," and a root allatto, "to be changed completely" (as Christians will be in the last day, I Cor. 15:51,52). The word as a whole then would mean to be changed down from above, which is what salvation is. Salvation means to be changed by grace from a selfish, rebellious unbeliever to a faithful believer.
All these ideas are bound up in the idea of a wife being reconciled to her husband. The reconciliation is not just a restored relationship but an attitude of grace, of forgiveness by the wife. A gracious heart can only come from God. He changes hearts and then changes relationships (I Peter 3:1,2). When she is saved she not only has the desire to forgive and restore her relationship with her husband, but also she seeks the Lord's help who has that power to save her husband and completely heal her marriage. The discussion could be repeated with the saved husband assuming the initiative of forgiveness toward an unrepentant wife.
Verses 12,13, "But to the rest"
Who are "the rest" in the congregation Paul now addresses?
Verses 8 and 9 discussed single people, unmarried, and widows who are truly widows (whose partner died). Verse 10 discussed mixed marriages, in which only one partner is saved. Verse 11 discussed mixed marriages in which the unsaved partner has secured a divorce and left the saved partner. The only group left is unmixed marriages, in which both partners are saved. (He does not have a word for the situation in which both partners are unsaved. This is the normal situation outside of the church in the world. The advice in that case is the call of the Gospel. For unless one or more of the partners are saved, there is no appeal that can be made.)
The advice of these verses is directed to those marriages in which both partners are saved, but the content of these two verses does not apply to those marriages. In other words, these verses discuss mixed marriages. However, their counsel is directed to those who do not have mixed marriages. Why?
1. Negatively, these verses (12,13) are a warning that those with sound, Christian marriages must not think less of those with mixed marriages. While there may be some marriages in the congregation that did not start perfectly, these verses together with verses 14-16 explain that God can still work in such a marriage. There is still hope of the grace of reconciliation.
2. Positively, these verses equip those with stable, unmixed marriages to give proper advice to those with mixed marriages. There were no Christian bookstores in Corinth with shelves dedicated to books on Christian marriage. There were no schools to train Christians in counseling. So they needed guidance from Paul on how to help their brothers with their marriage difficulties. Paul's advice is that those with unmixed marriages ought to participate in and promote efforts to reconcile partners of troubled marriages in their congregation. Paul's advice is always to heal, strengthen, and preserve a troubled marriage. Paul's advice is never divorce.
"let him not put away (:12)...let her not leave him (:13)"
The basis for this command is found in verse 24. We must always rest in the situation in which we find ourselves. If we finally come to our spiritual senses and find ourselves married to an unbeliever, the answer is not divorce but staying together, especially "if he...if she be pleased to dwell" with the partner.
Verse 14, "For"
This word leads into a statement which shows that God's will for people to stay together is purposeful. The command of verses 12 and 13 are given not as punishment for past sin, but as a kindness from God who wants the best for is people. Verse 14 teaches that the reason christians abide as they are and are content with God's gift is not a mindless resignation, but a joyful hope.
"the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and...husband"
When one partner is saved, because he is walking with the Lord, the Gospel is very close. That family is set apart in the sense that God has placed a witness in the family that no other worldly family has. This is illustrated in I Peter 2 and 3. (See also Eph. 5:25.) I Peter 2:23 teaches the principle that christians leave things in God's hands because they trust him and value His ends for them. Therefore, I Peter 3:1 and 2 apply the principle as a solution for mixed marriages, which is not to depart (divorce), but to be content where you find ourselves and seek the spiritual good of your partner.
Recalling the fundamental concept of this whole book of I Corinthians, namely, the conflict between spiritual and material, we can see why the advice of verses 12-16 is so. As a believer, a person in a mixed marriage must not have a fixation on his own rights to a more perfect earthly marriage, and he must not feel sorry for hiself in his troubles as he compare his marriage with other seemingly happier marriages. That is a totally nonspiritual and worldly way of thinking. Rather, a believer's greatest concern is for the salvation of others, in particular his partner, even to the extent of sacrificing his own earthly pleasure. A believer also trusts that God has not abandoned him, even though it was his own folly that resulted in his present situation. A believer has a personal promise that the best is yet to come and a hope that the Gospel will work in his partner's life.
As an additional note, this verse says that one partner is supposed to spiritually support another. Even though in verses 32 and 33 Paul says single people have an advantage in their availability to serve God, two married people (especially if both are Christians) have advantages and reasons to be thankful that they are married as well.
1. A partner who tries to walk with the Lord inhibits the other from straying too far away from their spiritual obligations. Each person acts as a hedge for the other, which a single person may not have.
2. A partner can encourage the other in his spiritual obligation. A partner can guide the other in church attendance, Bible study, and prayer.
3. As parents, marriage partners can raise children in the fear and admonition of the Lord. This verse says, "Else were your children unclean; but now are they holy." This means that children who grow up in a family in which at least one parent walks faithfully with the Lord have the witness of the Gospel as no other children have. God has deliberately joined the believing parent together with the children He has placed in that family. A higher proportion of children grow up as believers from a home where at least one parent is a believer than from a home where no one is a believer.
Salvation is by grace. Children who grow up in any family can be saved. However, God has decided to be especially gracious to and especially sets aside those children from families with one or two believing parents.
God always looks at families as a whole. In the Old Testament God included children in the blessings to the family (Deut. 4:40; 5:29). In practice, it worked out by studying God's Word as a family (Deut. 6:6,7). But this is a Gospel promise to the family (Deut. 10:15,16) and not a promise based on a family's good works. In the New Testament, again, whole families are blessed by the Word of God (Acts 2:39; 16:15,31,33). God is not obligated to save anyone. He certainly does not save the children of believing parents because of their faithfulness, for no one is perfectly faithful. Children of believing parents have grown up unsaved. However, God has decided to bless the family where a parent is a believer, because He blesses His Word. In short the term "holy" or "set apart" means that if there is one parent in the family who is a Christian, then the Gospel is in the house, the Gospel which is the power of God unto salvation.
Verse 15, "But if...depart"
An believing partner will not seek a divorce, but instead seeks the salvation of their mate. However, an unbelieving partner may rebel at even a witness without the word or simply want to fulfill his lusts unencumbered by marriage. The unbelieving partner may go to great lengths to dissolve the marriage. In that case, this verse states a believing partner must not clutch the legs of his mate who seeks to go to court. A believing partner must abide by the decree of the courts. Nevertheless, according to other verses in this chapter and other parts of the Bible, the marriage is still in effect in God's eyes. An unbelieving partner is still the husband or wife of the believing partner.
"...not under bondage"
The word "bondage" is a translation of a form of the word doulous. It is not the same word used in verse 27 to refer to being bound to a wife (dedesai). So this phrase does not give sanction for divorce. The word doulous means "bond servant" or "slave." A believer holds that relationship only with the Lord Jesus Christ (Rom. 1:1). Bondage here does not refer to marriage but to the spiritual relationship of obligation a Christian owes to his Master. In fact, the word "servant" in verse 21 is the same as the word "bondage" here. It is just in a different grammatical form.
The idea is, if an unbelieving partner insists on a divorce and has the human power and human authority to secure it over any objections, a believing partner must not fight bitterly and cause another problem. A believing partner is not bound to the Lord by any law that says he must resist divorce at all costs. At some point a believing partner must cease the struggle knowing he must always show spiritual fruit. Even in the divorce proceedings he must be a witness and pray that others will come to the kingdom of God.
This emphasizes the evangelistic thrust that must be part of all that a person attempts to do in his marriage. The peace is the peace of the Gospel (Rom. 5:1; Eph. 2:14). Beleivers are called to bring the Gospel, even in a difficult situation of life such as divorce.
This verse explains the word "sanctified" in verse 14. Unsaved partners are set apart to hear the Gospel and if God wills, to be saved as well.
The questions in this verse naturally follow the last phrase. Through A christian's submission to God as Lord in all things, including the unfair and unjust treatment by an unbelieving partner, God will have His way. The idea is not that christians are able to save someone, but that as they are faithful to God's spiritual plan for their lives, He will work through them (II Cor. 5:20). Therefore, they have hope.
Christians are not dominated or swallowed up by these problems. By being at peace because of their contentment and trust in God's ways, they can actually be used by God to be a vessel of spiritual strength and provide a remedy in a terrible situation. Christians are not inert objects that are driven about by the troubles of the world. Instead they are alive, actively offering peace and grace in troubled times.
There is a common tendency for one partner to wish that their mate was different in many outward ways. It is easy for one person to find the faults of his partner. That kind of focus leads to a wanton search for a change, for contentment elsewhere, with some else. This verse teaches that the only change someone should seek is a spiritual change in our partner's heart. Incidentally, while it is not part of the discussion of this passage, we must add that changes in someone's partner's heart come from the work of God's grace and not by his own efforts. The most effective way for someone to be a spiritual influence in his partner's life is to take heed to his own faithful walk with God, and support His work in his marriage.
Verse 17,"But as God hath distributed...so...walk"
This verse begins to develop the second big principle of the chapter, concluding the point with verse 24. That principle is contentment. Lack of contentment is the underlying cause of all problems of marriage or singleness. The questions are these. "Does God care for and plan our lives? Can we trust His program for us?"
The word "distributed," whose root is merizo, does not always mean "to pass out to each one in turn." The emphasis here is in the differences among people. In verse 34 it is translated "there is a difference between." In Matthew 12:25 the word is "divide," as in two warring factions. The idea is that God has designed people's lives in the world differently. We cannot look about us at other people and make a decision concerning what is right for us. That tactic will certainly lead to discontentment. God decides how we were born, who our family will be, and everything else. God "has called" each one of us into a variety of situations. Our job is to "walk" contentedly with God in those situations.
The principles are the same for all the churches. Paul did not invent a set of principles just for the Corinthians. This is God's will for all people and all time.
These verses expand the idea that it does not matter what human situation you find yourself in when you become saved. What matters is, "How much do you care about God's will?"
Discontentment is a spiritual liability because it is rooted in a hope in physical things and in an inflated value and importance of self. If we are discontented, we should be discontented at our failure to live faithful, obedient lives. We should desire nothing else "but the keeping of the commandments of God."
These verses are not advocating a gospel based upon works, rather, a life of gratitude expressed in a desire to please God (John 14:15,23). The contrast is between God's laws which we try to keep from the heart and man's laws which are kept from pride. Although circumcision was part of God's law, it is used here, as in many parts of the Bible, to refer to an artificial gospel of pleasing God based on the laws and efforts of men, which is what circumcision became. There is a difference between the circumcision of man and the circumcision of the Bible (Rom. 2:25-29; 4:7-12; Gal. 5:1-6; 6:12-15; Phil. 3:3).
Verse 20, "Let every man abide"
This is a repeat of verse 17. This refers to, among other things, our married or singleness situation.
These words emphasize the deliberate purposeful plan of God for the lives of His people. God does not look upon a person who is single and say, "Oh, I meant for that person to be married some time ago. What went wrong?" Nor does He look upon a person who is married and say, "I did not realize what this person has done. I must have been too busy to notice." The principle of this verse is that neither the fact that a person is single nor that he is married nor that he has a certain national heritage nor that he has a certain social or economic condition is a surprise to God. The life situation in which a believer finds himself is not an accident, but a call of God.
These words also emphasize the continuing care and guidance of God over the lives of His people. A married person must trust that God will use his marriage as a wonderful tool to help achieve the spiritual goals of honoring Himself and spreading the Gospel. A single person must trust that it may be that God has given him a gift of singleness or it may be that God is preparing him and preparing his future mate for marriage. In any case a believer must be ready to follow God's calling each new day.
At this point it is good to ask the question, "Is it possible for God to call and for man not to answer?" For unbelievers the answer is, "Yes." The only call unbelievers will recognize is the call to come out of the grave and present themselves before the Judge on the last day. Another good question is, "Is it possible for a believer to be out of God's will?" Yes, it is, in the sense that he has done something that is contrary to God's revealed will as expressed in the Bible. David was out of God's will when he took Bathsheba. Today a believer can marry, divorce, or remain single, contrary to God's will. However, as in the case of David, there is great remorse. There is recognition of sin and a change of heart. But the change of heart must be real and guide all attitudes and future behavior. A true believer wants to respond to God's call. By grace he can respond and also by grace seek to change those things which would obstruct the call of God for his life.
A display of sorrow cannot be a sly and convenient excuse for those who call themselves believers, but presumptuously desire their own will. For example, it is spiritually dangerous for a person to go ahead and marry contrary to God's will, thinking all the time that he can ask the Lord's forgiveness later. The danger is that such deliberate sin is the behavior of an unbeliever. Such a person is playing games with God's grace and may not really be saved. Such a person has their own wants first in his heart and mind, and only desires that God accept him without true repentance.
Verse 21, "Art thou...servant?"
The word "servant" is doulous, a bond servant or slave. This is the extreme case of an unfair and unhappy situation. It is an argument from the greater to the lesser. What is true in this case applies in all other life situations too.
"care not for it"
That is, do not make a big effort to secure your physical freedom. Being confined by human institutions does not mean you are not pleasing the Lord. You can still serve the Lord as a slave (for example, Joseph, Daniel, the young girl in II Kings 5:2,3).
Paul is saying, "On the other hand, it might be that the Lord changes your situation and you have even more human freedom than you had before. In that case, use it for the Lord." The point is that a believer's situation cannot stop him from being obedient to God. He can accomplish spiritual ends in all situations. The reason for this is found in the next two verses.
Verse 22, "For he...the Lord's freeman"
No matter what our human situation, if the Lord has called us, we are free to do His will. He knows our situation and will give us a job that fits that situation in which He has placed us.
This phrase is identical to the previous one. The idea is just stated differently. No matter what our human situation, if He calls, we are obligated to do His will. He can fairly expect us to do what He asks.
Again, as we learned in verse 21, there is no material situation that can hinder us from doing God's will. Putting together the two parts of verse 22, we can say that we are always free to do what our Master Jesus Christ asks us to do. God has a plan for us no matter what our domestic or social situation, and He will help us do it. One big job is to be a witness, which we are always able to do.
Verse 23, "Ye...price"
This is the basis for not only the fact that Jesus can demand our obedience in all situations, but also for our desire to do His will in all situations (I Peter 1:15-19).
"be not ye the servants of men"
This is not a call for all oppressed people to revolt and cast off their human shackles. The Gospel message is not a program for political or economic freedom. Social injustice is not the issue here. Slavery, marriage, all these things are unimportant compared to the real design of God, which is to bring the Gospel of spiritual salvation from sin.
The world breeds regret and discontent by creating physical expectations and appetites. The world sets its standards of living and urges everyone to dance to its tune. The world challenges all to get their share of the wealth and make a mark for themselves. In contrast, the warning of I Corinthians 7:23 is "don't be under moral subjection to men of the world." The verse is similar to the last part of I Corinthians 6:12. A Christian lets the world pass him by. The proper Christian attitude is II Corinthians 4:18 and Philippians 4:4-11.
No matter what our social situation, we may have to render unto Caesar what physical obligations are due him. Yet we always obey God in all spiritual things due him. Therefore, we do not care if we are a servant to another person or not. Whatever we do is done really unto the Lord (Col. 3:22,23).
Verse 24, "abide"
There it is a third time. We can rest in the situation God has placed us. We can be casual about our material lot. We can have no regrets or anxieties about losing things in the world. Why?
The root of our contentment is that we know that God is for us and that we will be with Him now and for eternity.
Verse 25, "Now concerning virgins"
This verse now begins a discussion that leads into the advantages of being single. Singleness is a gift of God and can be a God glorifying life just as marriage is.
"I have no commandment..."
This statement is the same as verse 6. There are no explicit commands given in the Bible about these things. But Paul believes, and it is true, that he writes the Word of the Lord (I Thess. 2:13, II Pet. 3:15,16).
Verse 26, "for the present distress"
The noun "distress" is anagke, meaning "compel," "constrain," or "necessity" (Philemon 14; Heb. 9:16,23). It refers, for example, to the requirement that Jesus' servants must suffer (II Cor. 6:4; 12:10). The phrase is a reference to the constraints on the proclamation of the Gospel because of the sinful condition of the world. We live in a "Humpty Dumpty" world that creates stress in any relationship, especially in marriage and in the task of raising children in the Lord. Sometimes there is outright persecution if a family does not conform to the world's ways.
"so to be"
"So" refers to the word "virgin" in verse 25. Based on the condition of the world, it is good for a man to be unmarried. Paul will develop this idea in next verses.
Verse 27, "Art thou bound"
The question is, "Are you married (verse 39)?" The question is phrased in a way that emphasizes the obligation a man has to his marriage.
"seek not to be loosed"
The emphasis of this phrase is on "seek" as much as on "loosed." It is a word about his attitude. He should not have a desire to be loosed. It is not really a warning to stay away from an objectionable possibility, because it is never actually possible to be loosed. A man is only really loosed in death (Rom. 7:2). The idea is that a man must not desire something that is not attainable by his own efforts.
"Art thou loosed"
This phrase could be understood in two ways:
1 We could read it to mean, "Art thou loosed by man." That is, it could be a reference to divorce. The support for this view is the first part of the verse. Paul states that a person who is married should not seek to dissolve the marriage. The same word "loosed" is used to refer to the act of dissolving the marriage. In that light, this phrase is an echo of verse 15. It is possible that some in the Corinthian church are divorced. However, that is really only how man sees it. In God's sight two people are only loosened by death (verse 39).
2. We could read it to mean, "Art thou loosed by God." That is, God could have arranged a person's life so that he had never married or that his partner died. This phrase then refers to someone who is a widow or widower, someone who is single in the sense that they are eligible to be married. The idea is that this phrase begins a new thought. The support for this view is the next verse. The conjunction "but" seems to tie verse 28 to the last part of verse 27. Because the advice of the first half of verse 28 is that it is not a sin to go ahead and marry, it could be that the second use of the term "loosed" in verse 27 refers to someone who is eligible to marry in God's eyes, namely, someone whose partner has died, who is single in that sense.
The choice is not that easy to make. There is another point that seems to favor the first alternative. Inasmuch as the discussion beginning with verse 25 seems to concentrate on people who are single, and the focus is maintained in verse 26, it is possible to think of verse 28 as the point at which the advice to singles continues. Verse 27 would then be a brief interruption to warn married people that they are not to make themselves single through divorce. It could be that married people will read about the value of being single and think that is God's will for themselves. That would never be God's will. Paul could be quickly inserting this admonition lest the married people of the congregation make the wrong application of his advice to singles.
Either alternative of understanding this phrase is in full accord with the rest of the Bible. Neither one contradicts what we read elsewhere. The question is only, "Which understanding makes better sense in the flow of the discussion in these verses?"
"seek not a wife"
This statement is more than a piece of advice to help people accommodate themselves to the distressful situation of a sinful world. This is a principle that is always true. It must be tied to the previous phrase and can teach,
1 A man should not seek nor desire and plan to take another wife if he is divorced (Rom. 7:3). He should not have that attitude. He already has a wife. If anything, he should reconcile himself to his own wife (verse 11). Again, some in the Corinthian church were divorced before Paul came to that city. It could be that they considered their situation to be equal to those who were single even though it is not. If so, Paul has a Word from God for them.
2. A man should not seek a wife if he eligible to be married. God will make it clear if He has a marriage call for him. In the meantime he should seek to serve the Lord as he is.
Verse 28, "But...not sinned ... And if a virgin...not sinned"
This verse contains advice for single people. Either it picks up the subject from verse 26, if we think verse 27 is a word to divorced people, or it continues the advice given in verse 27b, if we think verse 27 is a word to single people, that is, single because their partner has died. We shall take the point of view that the first alternative is correct. With that in mind, the understanding of verse 28 is as follows.
In contrast to the case in verse 27 in which a person has already married in the past, those who are not married may change their situation and not sin. Those who are married must not seek release from that marriage and those who obtained a human release may not marry another. On the other hand, those who have never married may marry. The reason why he writes these statements in verse 28 is based on the fact that single people should be content. There are good reasons for them to abide as they are. If they go ahead and marry, Paul does not want them to think they sinned. Marriage is not a sin. Marriage is holy and can also be God's will for people. However, he wants to spare them trouble. His motive is really based on a loving concern for them. The idea he is making can be expressed as, "Marriage is good, too. It is a gift of God. But I want to make sure you realize what you may be facing in the future, before you go ahead and get married. Be sure you are given the gift of marriage and are ready for it, for the troubles as well as the blessings."
"trouble in the flesh"
The word "trouble," thlipsin, is rendered "persecution" several times. If people insist on getting married, they should count the cost. A Christian marriage is under attack by the carnal natures of the partners and the sinful world around it.
Verse 29, "the time is short"
This is always true, when Paul wrote it and today. Short compared to what? Eternity. The sense of urgency is the same as expressed in II Corinthians 6:2. Now is the time for salvation. There is so little time left to bring the Gospel. Time is short also in the sense that we live only a few years (Ps. 90:10; James 4:14). We must maximize our efforts in the time we have left.
Whether we are married or not, we want to be concerned with the big questions first. We must decide the answers to them now. There is an eternity to live with the consequences.
"as though they had none"
Paul obviously cannot be advising them to wish that they were not married. He means that they ought to have the same priorities as those who are not married. Marriage should not have the effect of reducing their preoccupation with the Gospel. Marriage is an earthly situation which, because of its demands, plunges people into the cares of this world. Marriage, which has advantages and is a gift from God, can nevertheless become a hindrance to hold people fast to the world. Nevertheless, even in marriage a person's priority is the welfare of his soul and his family's souls.
Verse 30, "weep as though they wept not"
This does not mean that they must pretend as if the sorrows in their lives were not real. In keeping with the parallel phrase in verse 30, this phrase means that peole who have sorrows must have the same outlook and priorities that they would have as if they did not have that sorrow. Because the time is short and believers are heaven bound, their sorrows do not swallow them up nor distort their spiritual attitude. When compared to eternity, their sorrows really are small (I Thess. 4:13).
Similarly, because the time is short, believers not live for nor derive maximum joy out of things in this world. When they compare the things of this world with the things of eternity, the things of this world are not worth rejoicing over.
Again, because time is short, the things believers buy in this world are of so little value it is as if they did not really have them. It does not matter if they possess them or not.
Verse 31, "the fashion"
The word "fashion" is schema in Greek. It is used only here and in Philippians 2:8. It does not refer to social taste or a temporary style, but to the physical form things take in the world. It is the form God has designed and given to the world.
"of this world passeth away"
One reason for desiring the spiritual blessings that God gives in opposition to earthly blessings is that the world is cursed. If a man clings to this world, he will perish with it (I Cor. 6:13; II Pet. 3:10-13).
The message of the last three verses can be expressed in this way, "Why be so preoccupied with those things of the world that make you weep or rejoice? Why selfishly want your desires and not consider another person's soul? Everything in this world passes away. Even marriage is not forever (Matt. 22:30)."
Verse 32, "I would...without carefulness"
This does not mean Paul wants them to be sloppy or not pay attention to detail. It means he does not want them to be full of care or anxious.
"He that is unmarried...Lord"
A single person has opportunities that are uniquely his, and he normally has more time and energy available to pursue them than a married man has. A single person generally has less physical things to think about, being less occupied by a busy household, and more time available to concentrate on the Lord's call for him.
Verse 33, "But...wife"
A married man must care for his own physical needs together with the physical needs and special desires of his family. Not only is his time and energy in greater demand, but also, he must think about physical things a lot more.
However, this is not an observation of a harried husband. It is a statement of a responsible husband who properly handles the gift given to him (I Tim. 5:8).
As a parallel idea to the previous two verses, the same thing can be said about a wife. Women have physical demands made upon them because of marriage, especially concerning children (I Cor. 7:4,13,16).
On the other hand, an unmarried woman can separate herself even more in time and energy to the service of the Lord. "Holy" does not mean a single woman is less sinful than a married woman is. It refers to separation from the demands of the world in order to serve the Lord.
For both a man and a woman, a single person ought to use the time available to him to do God's will in such things as witnessing to the world. A married person ought to, first of all, do God's will for him in his home.
The discussion emphasizes the advantages of a single person. Paul is giving observations that are true and that might enter into a person's thinking as he considers marriage. However, neither marriage nor singleness is a superior lifestyle. Paul personally understands that by being single people can avoid certain problems. And out of concern for them he offers this alternative. Remember, we have a married or single life because it is given to us as a gift by God. Paul brings ideas to help the readers discover God's will for their lives.
Verse 35, "for your own profit"
The word "profit" is a combination of sum "together," and phero, "bring." The idea is that Paul's motive for saying what he has is to bring the Corinthians and spiritual things together.
Paul is not interested in catching them in a sin by adding another law of God as a snare. He does not want to make things more difficult but rather less complicated for them. His real goals are:
1. "for that...comely" The word "comely" means "fitting" or "proper." Paul wants them to do what is best for them and what is best for the Lord. It is possible that either marriage or singleness can best fit a person's life.
2. "and...distraction" Legitimate physical obligations can preoccupy their thinking even when they are busy in some Gospel ministry. Paul wants to make their life simple.
Verse 36, "But if...virgin"
Comparing this phrase with verse 34, we see that "virgin" simply means a woman who has not been married. Rather than "daughter" as it is sometimes understood, the word is closer to the idea of "girlfriend." The idea of this conditional phrase can be expressed as, "If a man is likely to behave with his girlfriend in a way that would dishonor the Lord..."
"of...flower of her age"
The words "flower of her age," which only occur here in the Bible, are a translation of the word whose suffix is huper, "above," and whose root is akmos, "fully ripe" (Rev. 14:18).
In all probability, the meaning of the above two phrases is close to, "If his girlfriend is marriageable...if she is old enough, a mature Christian, not divorced, and available in all other respects..."
"and need...let them marry"
This verse is similar to verse 9, but the stipulation is added that it is only proper to marry if all conditions will permit it. (The assumption is that if for any reason the man or his girlfriend are not marriageable, they ought not to get involved.) Marriage is suggested to avoid any uncomely relationship, that is, any relationship that would bring shame to them before the world and the Lord.
Verse 37, "Nevertheless...in his heart...necessity"
This phrase, in contrast to verse 36, means "If a man has a personal commitment not to marry and circumstances do not compel or press him to marry..."
"but hath power...will"
The word "power" is really "authority." So the additional condition is, "If God has given a man a gift to be single..."
"and ... keep his virgin"
The idea of this phrase is, "If the man would keep his virgin as a virgin." In other words, "If the man would remain single and not marry his girlfriend."
Altogether verse 37 teaches that if the circumstances and the call of God fits him as a single man, he should remain single.
Verse 38, "So, then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well"
The King James Version translation of this verse is used to support the idea that the "virgin" of the previous two verses is the man's daughter, whom he gives to another man to marry. However a more awkward but accurate rendering is this, "So also the marrying of himself, well does." This verse does not mean he is sort of a matchmaker, as if he was promoting the romantic relationship of the virgin to another. Rather, it means the marrying of the virgin is to himself. The phrase is a repetition of verse 36.
A possibly clearer rendering is, "And the one not marrying will do better." This is not a moral assessment that singleness is better than marriage. This is an echo of verse 28. Singleness is better in some ways, if we consider the physical situation. This phrase is a repetition of verse 37.
The conclusion of chapter 7 is that both marriage and singleness is honorable. Each is a gift. Each has its advantages. We must abide in the will of God as he plans and works it out for us.
Verse 39, "The wife is bound"
This binding is the same word as in verse 27 (dedesai). It refers to the commitment of marriage.
"by the law"
There are some governmental laws that apply to marriage, but the law mentioned here is the law of God (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:5,6).
"as long as his husband liveth"
Quite simply put, there is no divorce (Rom. 7:1-3). Only people with a hard heart, unsaved men, press for a divorce in the face of the clear prohibition which has existed since the beginning of creation (Matt. 19:4-8).
The allowance for divorce, which only hard hearted people took advantage, of was for fornication or uncleanness (Deut. 24:1-4). Matthew 19:8 teaches that even for fornication, divorce is not an option, especially not for believers. Matthew 19:9 takes care of all the cases except fornication, since that case had just been dealt with. The end of it all is that for Christians, spiritually faithful people, divorce is never an option.
Verse 40, "But she is happier if she so abide after my judgment"
She is free to remarry if her husband is dead. However, Paul's advice is that he thinks she would be happier if she remain single (verse 8). Actually the phrase means she will be blessed (makario = "blessed" as in Matt. 5:3-11). So her happiness comes from the fact that she is blessed of God if her focus is upon Him and if she trusts Him, rather than focusing upon her physical desires.
"and I think"
This is not a statement of doubt and uncertainty or that what he says is his own personal opinion. The idea is, "The Holy Spirit carefully led my thinking about it." The advice he has given is the only logical possibility, having been led to that by the Spirit of God. After careful thought Paul is convinced that he has the Spirit of God's concurrence in these matters.
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