This morning we enter a new section of the book of 1 Corinthians. Up to this point, Paul has been dealing with the sins of the Corinthian congregation that had been reported to him. But now, beginning in chapter 7, he begins answering the questions this congregation had written to him about and this is what he will do all the way through the end of this letter. In today’s passage – chapter 7 – he will answer their questions about marriage. Next week, in chapter 8, we will hear him answer questions about food that had been sacrificed to idols. In chapters 12 and 14 he will answer their questions about spiritual gifts. And finally, in chapter 16 he will answer their questions about the collection he was taking up for the churches in Jerusalem.
A Concern for the Lord’s Affairs (1 Cor. 7:1, 28-35)
Last week we studied Paul’s teaching about sexual immorality and we heard his instruction to “Flee immorality.” He explained that sexual sin is serious because, as followers of Christ, our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit and we have been bought with the blood of Christ, therefore, we should honor God with our bodies. Paul continues this theme of honoring God first and foremost in our study of chapter 7 today. In fact, that’s how he starts off in verse 1 saying, “It is good for a man not to marry.” As we will see, Paul was not against marriage, however, he was continually for putting Christ first in all things and he knew a married person would not be able to do that as well as a single person. Paul explains why this is in verses 28c-35 which is where I want to begin our study this morning.
…those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
29 What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 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; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.
32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— 34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
Now, I want to assure you that neither Paul nor Scripture is against marriage. Scripture says:
- The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” – Genesis 2:18
- He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the LORD. — Proverbs 18: 22
- A wife of noble character is her husband’s crown… — Prov 12:4
But Paul’s point in the verses we just read is simply that our time as ambassadors of God’s kingdom on earth is short and the best use of our time is to advance His kingdom. We can certainly advance His kingdom as married people, but marriage brings with it a host of other concerns that take our focus away from spiritual matters, so Paul advises us that if God has blessed us with the ability to remain single and sexually pure it is beneficial to live that way.
Instructions for Marriage (1 Cor. 7:2-11, 39)
That being said, Paul is very aware that most of us cannot live that way and his advice for us in this case is to marry. In verses 2-9 Paul lays out instructions for those who decide to get married saying,
But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except 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. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
The main idea I want you to remember from this sections is that marriage should help to protect us from sin.
In the midst of this teaching I want to be sure to point out that God’s design for marriage partners is clear and consistent throughout Scripture. In verse 2 Paul says “each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” According to Scripture, marriage is always and only commanded to be take place between one man and one woman. From the very beginning of time God created a male and then made a helper suitable for him, which was a female. He didn’t give Adam multiple females. He didn’t provide a best friend for Adam. He provided a wife and that is our model for marriage still today.
As we continue on in verses 2-11 we find some instructions for marriage and one of the primary reasons for marriage. While there are several purposes and blessings of marriage, the reason Paul gives for marriage in this passage is to protect us from the sin of sexual immorality. Paul just got done warning about the dangers of sexual immorality in chapter 6 and now he explains that marriage is the appropriate and God-given arena for sexual activity. Sex is a gift from God, a beautiful and pleasurable act of love between a man and a woman, but like all of God’s gifts, sex can be manipulated and twisted in such a way that it becomes an unrighteous act. This is what Paul wants to protect against so he gives instruction to those who are married.
The key instruction he gives in verses 3-5 is that neither the husband, nor the wife should withhold sex from one another. Rather, they should, in essence, serve one another by expressing their love physically. Paul says that in this way, they will be protected against sexual temptation. The only time a couple should not regularly have sex is by mutual consent so that they can focus on prayer. I recognize that this doesn’t sound romantic, but it is important to understand that sex is a responsibility we have to our spouse within marriage. Now be careful not to twist this. It is never right to manipulate or force your spouse into having sex, but according to Paul you shouldn’t have to. This is not just aimed at women by the way, he is in essence saying that within marriage it’s important to let your spouse know that you love them and enjoy them often so as to keep the spark of love alive. In this way you can serve and encourage one another in such a way that your spouse is protected from sin.
Next Paul speaks about divorce. Similar to the instructions about the makeup of marriage being between one and one woman being consistent throughout Scripture, we find that the instructions about divorce are always the same as well – in essence we are taught that God hates divorce. However, because God knows that we are sinful people, He outlines instructions regarding divorce throughout Scripture such as here in verses 10-11 which says,
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.
What does Paul mean when he says, “not I, but the Lord,” or conversely, “I, not the Lord?” This is simply Paul’s way of letting them know when he was directly quoting Jesus or not. In both cases what he was saying was led by God and equal as scripture, but he wanted them to know when Jesus had directly taught about a certain subject. So here Paul explains that Jesus taught that a wife must not separate from her husband, but if she does she has two options – either to remain unmarried or to be reconciled to her husband. This rule is the same for husbands – upon divorce there is to be no remarriage.
So where does this leave you if you have been divorced and remarried? It leaves you in the same place it leaves those who have not met the other instructions found in this passage and I will focus on that as we close out the sermon today. For now, we are going to press on with Paul’s next set of instructions where we find him answering questions regarding those who become Christians at a later stage in life after they have already been married.
Instructions for Those Who Become Christians After Marriage
In verses 12-16 Paul says,
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.But 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. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
For those who become a Christian after they are married and their spouse does not come to faith, Paul teaches that if it is possible they should remain married. His explanation for this sounds confusing as he says that if the unbelieving spouse is willing to remain married the Christian spouse should not divorce them because “the unbelieving husband (or wife) has been sanctified through his wife (or her husband)…Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.” What Paul means is that a believing spouse can become the sanctifying instrument in the life of their unbelieving spouse and in the children of that union because they are in union with God and He can work through them to influence their family. This does not speak to salvation, rather it speaks to the influence a believer can have on their family. On the other hand, Paul teaches that once one spouse becomes a Christian, if the other spouse won’t have any part of it and wants to leave, the believing spouse is not bound in this situation.
Christianity’s Impact on Our Station in Life
In the next section Paul answers questions about whether or not becoming a Christian should impact your place in life. Verses 17-28b say,
Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to. 25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. 27 Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.
The Christians in Corinth were obviously asking questions like, “What if I used to be a Jew, but now I’m a Christian – should I undo my circumcision?” Or “What if I’m a slave because I needed to get out of debt – can I be a slave of Christ and a slave of a human at the same time?” Or perhaps, “What about my relationship status – if I’m unmarried is it ok to marry?” Or “If I’m married, should I get out of my marriage so I can focus on Christ?”
To each of these questions Paul explained that you can serve Christ in any of these life stages. Your station in life is not what matters, it’s your obedience to Christ that matters. Ultimately he says again that it’s better to be in a situation that allows you to be less distracted, however, coming to know Christ doesn’t necessitate changing your physical appearance or your relationship status.
What Do We Learn from the Corinthians Questions?
There’s a lot going on in this chapter, and Paul is answering very specific questions that were asked of him so what are some of the principles we can take away from this chapter?
The primary principle I hope you take away is this: THE WAY YOU RELATE CARRIES GREAT WEIGHT. What I mean is how you handle your relationships impacts the world’s view of God. As a follower of Christ, the world is watching you to see if you’re different so your relationships should reflect God’s holiness. Just as Paul said at the end of chapter 6, we are to honor God with our bodies – with our entire lives and relationships play a huge role in that. THE WAY YOU RELATE CARRIES GREAT WEIGHT.
But what if it’s too late? What if you’ve already fallen short of what God commands in Scripture? Let me encourage you to start over. Hit the reset button. How do you do that? First, if you haven’t done so, admit your failure. That’s exactly what King David did. King David, a man that God called a man after His own heart committed adultery and then committed murder to try to cover it up but God continued to use him in incredible ways because he confessed his sin and he turned from it. Don’t lose heart. Don’t lose hope. Don’t give up. 1 John 1:9 says, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” Confess your sin and then forsake it – turn away from it, and get back on the road of obedience to God. Don’t let Satan convince you of the lie that God can’t or won’t use you anymore, God invented recycling. He specializes in taking messed up lives and using them for His glory and He would love to do just that with your life.
Lastly, what do you do if your marriage is a mess and you feel like there’s no hope? If this is you please listen – you must dig deep and put your faith in the FACT that with God all things are possible. There is no relationship that God can’t redeem. But you must pray and believe and act according to God’s instructions in Scripture which tell us to be humble and to forgive and to bless even our enemies. I want to close with an illustration that sums up this idea.
In his book, The Fine Art of Friendship, Ted Engstrom tells of a man named Joe who “had just about had it with his wife of three years. He no longer thought of her as attractive or interesting; he considered her to be a poor housekeeper who was overweight, someone he no longer wanted to live with. Joe was so upset that he finally decided on divorce. But before he served her the papers, he made an appointment with a psychologist with the specific purpose of finding out how to make life as a difficult as possible for his wife.
“The psychologist listened to Joe’s story and then gave this advice, ‘Well, Joe, I think I’ve got the perfect solution for you. Here’s what I want you to do. I want you to start treating your wife as if she were a [queen]. I want you to change your attitude toward her 180 degrees. Start doing everything in your power to please her. Listen intently to her when she talks about her problems, help her around the house, and take her out to dinner on weekends. Then, after two months of this wonderful behavior, just pack your bags and leave her. That should get to her!’
Joe thought it was a tremendous idea. That night he started treating his wife as if she were a [queen]. He couldn’t wait to do things for her. He brought her breakfast in bed and had flowers delivered to her for no apparent reason. Within three weeks the two of them had gone on two romantic weekend vacations. They read books to each other at night, and Joe listened to her as never before. It was incredible what Joe was doing for his wife. He kept it up for the full two months. After the allotted time, the psychologist gave Joe a call at work.
“‘Joe,’ he asked, ‘how’s it going? Did you file for divorce? Are you a happy bachelor once again?’
“’Divorce?’ asked Joe in dismay. ‘Are you kidding? I’m married to a [queen], I’ve never been happier in my life!’”
*I changed the term goddess to queen in this story.
Marriage is a gift from God, but it only works His way. Live in such a way that your life and your relationships honor God and you will find great success and fulfillment. THE WAY YOU RELATE CARRIES GREAT WEIGHT. May we live for His glory and shine His light in our relationships.