For the sake of remaining in the time allotted for this study, we have subdivided the chapter. This study will handing verses 1-24, and the next study (7B) will deal with 25-40 of 1 Corinthians 7.
Now as I always do, I want to give a little bit of a brief as to how we got to here from the beginning of the book. You must always keep in the back of your mind that this letter is the second of four corrective letters to the church at Corinth, clearly the one that had the most issues that we read about in the new Testament. We must not initiate the building of theology from this letter without understanding the greater context of the Scriptures as a whole before using 1 Corinthians to draw any theological conclusions. You’ll see what I mean when we talk about our second paragraph this study.
In chapter 1, we learned that basically, everyone is some kind of fool, and concluded from our study that if we have to play the fool anyway, we should play the part of God’s fool, because the so-called “foolishness” of our sovereign God will put any of the logic or wisdom of the world to shame. Come, give your life for a carpenter’s son – for “a madman who died for a dream,” according to Dr. Albert Schweitzer. But only the foolish can tell of the wonderful grace of God in their own salvation and the wisdom found in His word through His Spirit.
That brought us to chapter 2, where we had opportunity to examine the nature of this heavenly wisdom, that the world calls foolish. We learned that not only was that true wisdom a spiritual, and nor earthly wisdom, but also that such wisdom could only be revealed to those who are aiming at maturity in Christ by walking “in the Spirit,” where for lack of better words, we obey what the Holy Spirit informs us through the Word of God and the New Nature that Christ gave us to walk in instead of the old nature that we are still very capable of falling into no matter how long you have been a real Christian.
Then in chapter 3, we considered that God’s reality is the reality to which attention must be paid. We like to manufacture our own at times to avoid responsibility toward God, but believers cannot afford that luxury – all believers are doing a great work, and Paul speaks to the details of that. Our conclusion is that because we are actually collectively building the naos of God, that is the Sanctuary, where God sits and lives and speaks and works, we must take great care with the construction in terms of the material we use. There are good and bad choices, and we want to make the best possible choices, because if we are careless, then we will suffer loss. And that loss is unimaginable, though we will still be saved – “yet so as through the fire, according to Paul.
Then the Apostle presents a choice in chapter 4 – which Paul would you like to face? The angry disciplinarian that wrote the letter to the Galatians, or the loving, humble, meek servant that wrote Ephesians and Philippians, etc.? It seems that the dividers were already hard at work trying to separate the sheep from the fold in Corinth, and it had to be explained that although Paul and his fellow servants perhaps appeared to be without honour, instead of discarding them, they should rather be imitated – because the kingdom of God does not exist in eloquent speeches, but in the power of changed lives, and that should be the measure for a preacher. It seems that we need to obey God and walk in the Spirit at this point, because that is what the Lord is mandating.
That brought us to chapter 5 and an example of the use of church discipline. We saw that it was to be used seldomly if possible, relying on the Holy Spirit to resolve our minor differences, but in the case of the persistent sin being expressed without any kind of repentance, it should be engaged to remove the covering of protection from an individual so that he may begin to understand through his own wrong choices that brought him into the place where he is so as to make him repent, and even be brought back in as occasion allows. It is specifically used in cases where a brother or sister WILL not repent, but because most of us want to become more like Christ, it should remain a rare thing.
That brought us to chapter 6 and a consideration about our spiritual choices, because you must remember that Christianity is a faith based on our motivations and choices of heart and mind, not an external religion of liturgy and external ritual, or of refined and well-presented words, but in the demonstration of power that comes from a changed life. Two things became clear. 1 – if your life is not changed as a result of turning to Christ, something is wrong. 2. If you ARE His, you are no longer your own, you don’t get to do what you want, you have been bought with a price – His lifeblood. And if that is true of you, how could you NOT follow Him? Really, how DARE you not follow Him?
That brings us to the first part of chapter 7, which we will now call 7A. I do that to try to keep it straight in my own head and for everyone else, and we split the chapter when we feel like there is too much to keep the study around 2 hours including all the sharing time by others. Tonight, we will be looking at verses 1-24. I broke the portion down as follows:
KV19c: Top Priority – God’s Commands
“…but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.”
1-7: To Marry or Not to Marry
8-16: Divine Guidelines for (existing) Marriages
17-24: Christians and Social Revolution
In keeping with the last chapter, it seems to me that the Apostle Paul is emphasizing the idea that Christianity is in fact not a religion of ritual and liturgy but of Spirit and Truth. Bear in mind that not only are we dealing with orthodoxy, that is right doctrine, but also with also orthopraxy, right practice. The ritual, rote, or repetitive prayers are NOT WHAT MATTERS, no matter how many times you SAY them! What does matter to the follower of Christ?
KV19c: Top Priority – God’s Commands
“…but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.”
The entire motivation for the real Christian, that is the true follower of Christ in Spirit and in Truth, not just the religious goats that want to think they belong to Jesus and still insist on earning their own way into the kingdom. You know the group – the people that Jesus will put on His left and inform them sadly that He did not actually know them – those folks. The ones always running around telling you how good they are and how powerfully they serve God. I’m not really sure what they’re really pursing, but it isn’t Christ, or they would actually pursue Christ instead of just talking a good game without playing.
No, Beloved, the real believer, the real Christian, the one that is born from above or regenerated or justified or whatever term you want to used for saved, is rather motivated to try to please the One that bought them with a price, as opposed to try to earn their way into the kingdom. We already know we can’t do it, and there is literally nothing we could do to gain it – so we stopped trying when we heard that Jesus had already won the Kingdom and invited anyone who wanted to join Him! Beloved, whosoever will may come!
Before you begin to criticize me for not holding to the Doctrines of Grace on this, the two ideas are not incompatible. Whoever wants to follow is doubtless a son or daughter of the King, and will want to please Him. Therefore they will self-identify and join the Kingdom, which I must add is NOT of this world. Remember when Jesus stood before Pilate for life-or-death judgement? He said this:
Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting so that I would not be handed over to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm.” (John 18:36)
Moreover, if you’ve got any kind of bible program that can do a basic phrase search, you will know that that is the third time He actually said those words in that context. In John 8 and 15, he also compared the men of this world to Himself not being of this world (8:23 and 15:19 if you wanted the references).
If I am not mistaken, it was the theologian George Eldon Ladd that first properly identified this concept that he called “inaugurated eschatology.” I know, that sounds like a mouthful, so I’ll define it for you. Inaugurated means it was started, or that it has begun, usually with reference to some kind of a starting point. Eschatology comes from the Greek word eschaton, which means last or final things. This is a reference to how Jesus, when He died, was buried, and then rose from the dead, actually began His kingdom here on earth, and all His followers are to live by the rules of His coming Kingdom, up until the time He returns to establish it, which deals with the last, or final, days of history. We now live in what Ladd called the “in-between times,” in the dynamic of already/not yet, which we examined in some detail in Hebrews, among other places. We also made reference to this when we looked at Paul’s letters to the Ephesians and to the Romans. This becomes a key in our understanding of the text of the next few studies, because Paul is now going to refer directly to the rules of the coming Kingdom and how we should now live in the present in the light of those rules. For the sake of time, if you have questions, hold them until after the study and we’ll review those while we are recording.
And as you would expect him to, Paul becomes imminently practical.
1-7: To Marry or Not to Marry
Paul has just concluded his great appeal to walk in the Spirit of the new nature in Christ and not in the flesh of the old nature, and not be mastered by cravings or desires for things in or of the world system that is quite frankly stacked against the believer, in that it appeals to the flesh, of which we are made. Here, he begins an address that is absolutely practical for all believers, not just those in Corinth.
1: Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman.
- What is clear here is that someone (probably Chloe or one of her “people” from chapter 1) has written Paul and has asked some very specific and pointed questions. This is where the frustration for me enters in, because it’s for me like hearing one side of the phone call. What I’m glad of is that I can hear the answers, not the questions. Someone must have asked about relationships with the opposite sex, judging by the answer.
- There are some things that can be inferred by the answer as well. First, we can assume that God made them male and female, not in 73 different flavours as is suggested by the recent “intelligentsia,” and those of you who know me know that I’m using that term loosely. Look, I have a degree in Biology. There are TWO sexes for humans, count ’em, two – male and female!
- Genetically, there are two kinds of gametes (those are sex cells for those who may not know). There is the kind that the female produces – those with an “X” chromosome. And females ONLY produce X chromosomes. That’s how we know the virgin birth was an act of God and it was not a phenomenon known as spontaneous female parthenogenesis. The female produces a female (X) that is fertilized by another of her (X) cells. That produces an XX, or FEMALE offspring every time. Jesus was a man.
- The other kind of cells are ONLY produced by the male of the species. We’ll call it a “Y” because that’s the standard reference of biologists. The male can also produce X gametes. If when the only pairing in any of the claimed gender-bending garbage that can produce any offspring occurs (that’s a man with a woman friends), it will produce either an XX pairing, which is always female, or an XY pairing, which is always male.
- Anything else is a kind of biological eisegesis to make it say what you want it to say. I’m sorry if that’s offensive to you, but I would not be a servant of Christ if I didn’t tell you the truth and try to be all “tolerant” and “inclusive” with you. By the way, how tolerant were the cops at last year’s PRIDE parade when they arrested my brother in Christ for trying to share ho God can deliver people from this? Look, if you don’t want to be delivered, that’s okay, but you’re going to be accountable to God whether you lie to yourself or not. Wouldn’t you like to see what’s coming and escape it? Or how tolerant were they with my brother Steve Camp when He tried to tell them about how God is going to judge unrighteousness, and that they should flee the wrath to come? I’ll tell you how tolerant their inclusive spirit was – 12 of them put my brother Steve in the hospital. I guess that’s tolerance. Unless you disagree.
- Now there are other classes of reproduction, but they are outside of the human experience. That includes asexual reproduction like an amoeba, or hermaphrodism, like in earthworms, where both individuals have both male and female sex parts and are BOTH capable of producing offspring from such a union. I mention that last one particularly because someone at the back of the room trying to be a smart@$$ raises the fact of human hermaphrodites. These people do exist, and they still bear the image of God as do we. But ONE set of those organs (usually the male organs) are what are called “vestigial,” meaning for this purpose “non-functioning.” Essentially, they are female for the most part. I do NOT know God’s reasoning here, so don’t ask me or use it as an excuse to avoid personal responsibility to the Creator. YOU aren’t one of those “special” cases, so let’s move on from this thought exercise.
- All this to say, Paul says it is good for a man NOT to TOUCH a woman. Why not? Well, contact begets…well, further and more intimate contact, to the point that it can become either fornication or adultery, and no one who follows Christ wants that. Because we are all flesh, we should not put ourselves willingly and knowingly in a position where things like this can happen. Watchmen on the wall like myself call it setting a guard.
2: But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.
- Do you remember in the last study where it says that the body is not for immorality (or pornea) but is for the Lord and the Lord is for the body? Because the immoralities that we have been talking about can happen, and very easily, God has made it possible for each of us to have a “helpmeet,” to use the original word for it.
- Brother, are you burning with passion? God has made a wife for you. From some of our other studies, I believe you’re supposed to go find her and win her heart. Fair warning, you should have your house in order first – stable job, reliable source(s) of income, like that. Money should never be your final measure, but it makes things easier for you. Having said that, it didn’t work out that way for me, and I have no thoughts that I was mistaken by marrying Susan. I love her, and try to live for her like Jesus would, and if necessary (and it occasionally is) die for her. She’s my wife gents, and God prepared her just for me. He’s truly good.
- Sisters, are you longing for that knight in shining armour to come and rescue you from your singleness? Take courage, God has prepared a husband for you in the same way I just described for the men. Beloved, it is not good for the man or the woman to be alone. And each of you has that someone out there if you want and when you are ready to pursue that. Don’t ask me details, I don’t know them. But be encouraged. And talk to me or other godly counselors if you are moving with someone in the direction of marriage. We can help.
3: The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.
- This verse is speaking very plainly and openly about sex between spouses. Because of that, so will I, because God has a will for that. One of my high-school texts (for the required course of what used to be called “home economics,” but was then called “social studies” – the female version of shop class, and all the guys from my class and up had to take one credit of it per year for graduation from high school in Kenora where I grew up) used this passage to try to tell me (about 8 months after I was saved) that the Apostle Paul was a misogynist that forbid marriage in the early church. I opened the Word to the Home Eck teacher and showed her the context, and then parsed the King James that had at the time to show the meaning. Right in front of the class. Interestingly, no one really disagreed with me.
- What this is saying is that if two people of the opposite sex are married, it is in fact their duty to fulfil each other’s needs, be they monetary, spiritual, or physical. This includes sexual needs as well as just making sure there is a roof to stay dry when it rains, and even more than making sure each other are engaging in the spiritual discipline that all sons and daughters of the King are called to. And that duty is to each other, an no one else.
- I once heard a lady tell me that one day she woke up beside her husband and couldn’t stand the thought of waking up beside him for the rest of her life. This was many years ago, and I didn’t know what to say (it was late 80s I think). I know what I would say now – Ma’am, with respect to your sensibilities, but you should have thought about that and maybe even talked about that with him before you were married, don’t you think?
- Friends, I don’t care why you got married. But you did. And God honours that commitment you made. And sure, maybe there are even Biblical grounds to divorce – but that doesn’t say anything about remarriage, so don’t even go there. I know my wife and I agree on this – divorce is only an option because you let it become one. Have we ever fought? Yes. Not often, but we have. But we have always made up, sometimes with some real humility. Sometimes, you might not even realize you’ve offended the other. Beloved, listen when they come to you to talk. And watch for the signs! If you feel like something’s wrong, it’s probably way worse than you think. Don’t ask “Is everything okay?” That’s going to get that classic answer, “Fine.” You know, when it’s…NOT. Ask instead, “What’s wrong?” Or better, “How can I make it right?” And I’m no real example of this. But Sue and myself still love each other after 20 years together, so we must know something about this.
4: The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
- This is more of the same. By the way, feminists hate this verse, and it’s one of the reasons they call Paul a woman-hater. It pronounces a heavenly regulation: We have authority over each other’s bodies. However, it does it in two parts, because Paul is being VERY specific so as to be absolutely clear.
- Wife, you do not have authority over your own body, your husband does. If he wants, you, you’re supposed to say yes. And husband, you don’t have authority over your own body, your wife does. If she says no, you’re supposed to respect that and try to help her.
- And beloved, the Greek word here is soma, the body. This is speaking very specifically of your physical relationship, as opposed to the previous verse where there is some wiggle room to spiritualize this.
- Nevertheless, for those that this open talk about the marriage bed bothers, we will do so, because it is applicable. See here Ephesians 5:22-33:
- Wives, be subject to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, as Christ also is the head of the church, He Himself being the Savior of the body. But as the church is subject to Christ, so also the wives ought to be to their husbands in everything.
- Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ also loved the church and gave Himself up for her, so that He might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, that He might present to Himself the church in all her glory, having no spot or wrinkle or any such thing; but that she would be holy and blameless. So husbands ought also to love their own wives as their own bodies. He who loves his own wife loves himself; for no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ also does the church, because we are members of His body. FOR THIS REASON A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER AND SHALL BE JOINED TO HIS WIFE, AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH. This mystery is great; but I am speaking with reference to Christ and the church. Nevertheless, each individual among you also is to love his own wife even as himself, and the wife must see to it that she respects her husband.
- Every feminist seems to hate this passage, because they don’t understand that the husband also has to submit to the authority of his wife. They just read “Wives, submit…” and they’re off on a jaunt of what I will call “toxic feminism.” When you read this passage, you can see that husbands are also told that if the wife has to submit, they have to love the wife like Christ loved the Church, in that He gave up His life for her benefit. There is a basic understanding here that the wife and the husband are partners together. And this isn’t the only place that the New Testament and Paul speak about this! It says this in brief in Colossians 3:18-19:
- Wives, be subject to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord. Husbands, love your wives and do not be embittered against them.
- And again in 1 Peter 3:1-7:
- In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior. Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands; just as Sarah obeyed Abraham, calling him lord, and you have become her children if you do what is right without being frightened by any fear.
- You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
- Peter is gives a little more light on part of the subject directly – there is a blessing in this mutually submissive relationship. It does not mean that we are interchangeable, either, there are clearly things that my wife is better at than I, and there are things I am clearly better at than she. But it is in that relationship of mutual submission to Christ first and then to each other that is key to that blessing.
5: Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
- Now in my understanding, this is speaking specifically of that game of “Do what I want or you won’t get any tonight.” As you might expect, it’s not a good game, and usually results in one person being humiliated beyond the need of it.
- In fact, this can open the door in a relationship for one, the other, or both spouses to stray and step outside the marriage relationship for their sexual satisfaction, and that is called by another name in the Bible – full-on Adultery. We’re not talking about porneia (fornication) anymore. We’re talking about the 7th Commandment of God’s moral Law, beloved. Exodus 20:14 says, “You shall NOT commit adultery!” One is messing around without the commitment made, and that’s bad enough, but this is a direct violation of a promise that YOU made to God AND your SPOUSE that you would forsake all others and only be with them. And my friends, God takes a very dim view of adultery. He likens adultery to idolatry, and in Hosea (throughout the book), calls Israel His wife, and compares her to Hosea’s wife, who was a prostitute, going out and selling herself to any that wanted to lie with her.
- There is one acceptable condition for the denial of your partner (and yourself under this circumstance) – so that you my pray – and that’s in order – God first, spouse second, you last. With respect to the “I am second” people, no you’re not. You’re at least third, and we’re still counting. Just shoot for the lowest place – that way you’ll be in the place that you deserve – right along with me.
6: But this I say by way of concession, not of command.
- I struggled with this verse at first, so I consulted the Greek. The Greek word suggnōmē is better translated as “joint opinion,” [that is with the Lord] and thus “permission” in the KJV. What Paul is saying here is that he is not giving commands, but is telling people to go where the Lord leads them. We’ll see that followed up in the next verse.
- The word “concession” is like he’s giving in to the hard nature of the believers in Corinth, and I doubt that could be the case – there were real believers there, and he knew and loved them. It was them that Paul was writing to in the first place. Remember, “But this I say” relates directly to what has come previously about marriage.
7: Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.
- Here is what Paul meant in the previous verse. On one hand, he wished that everyone could remain single. It was a great boon, and a great freedom in the work just to go where God told him to go without having to worry about providing for a spouse and children (they come along with spouses despite best efforts if it’s being done properly). But I don’t think Paul expected all believers to remain single (as said textbook I had to read in high school said from this verse). I don’t think he even thought all believers that were single then were going to remain single, because Paul speaks so frequently about it and in other letters than this.
- In fact, Paul says to Timothy in his first letter to Timothy in chapter 4:1-3, he says,
- “But the Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron, men who forbid marriage and advocate abstaining from foods which God has created to be gratefully shared in by those who believe and know the truth.”
- In that passage, Paul makes clear that two specific things are in fact the “doctrines of demons” from hell. Those two things are the teaching of a specific diet for religious purification, and the forbidding of marriage. Given that Scripture will always interpret Scripture better than anything else, one CANNOT say that Paul hated women without breaking the Scriptures, so that can’t be the case.
- What He is saying here is that some believers will remain single like he was, and some will not, but if they are obeying the will and gifting that God gave to them, there is no problem.
All that said, I will tell you what I think. There are some believers that want to be in leadership. Paul tells us in 1 Timothy 2 that this is a good thing. There are some believers that want to be single, and there are some that want to get married. Both of these things are good things to the applicable individual. Some people want to be pastors. That’s a good thing. Some people just want to be the cook in the kitchen, and that’s a good thing. God has given every believer a unique combination of gifts so that they will do what they want to do in the will of God in the House of God, and God will be glorified. You might think that to be oversimplified, but I disagree with that. What could be easier that God gifting a person uniquely according to His will when they are saved, and then when they become part of the body of Christ, they serve God in a way that pleases both them and Him? And that is what He seems to have done! Did you know that the first mark of an elder is that he desires to be an elder? It’s there in the text if you look – see 1 Timothy 3:1. After that comes all the qualifications, and that’s a kind of sorting process for lack of better words. Not everyone can be an elder. Not everyone SHOULD be an elder. Not everyone should be married. If you desire to be single, that is a gift from God. However, not everyone should be single. If you desire a marriage in a godly fashion, then I believe you desire a good thing as well.
8-16: Divine Guidelines for (existing) Marriages
After going over the ruling principles for what a Christian marriage is supposed to look like, Paul gets into something like case studies. This is for four basic groups of people: Those who unmarried or widows, those who are married to believers, those who are married to unbelievers and want to remain married, and those who are married to unbelievers and want to leave the marriage.
Paul is also not any longer just giving permission or sharing the understanding he has of marriage from the Lord. He’s telling people the way it is. In three out of four of those categories, there is not a lot of help or choice. However, in the first one there is, and that’s where we are starting.
8: But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.
- Remember, celibacy, or singleness is a gift. If a person that is unmarried does not want to get married, that’s absolutely fine with Paul, and he would know, being in the same position himself.
- There is some debate on whether Paul was a married man at any point. Certainly when he wrote this letter, he was not. But if Paul was an actual member of the Sanhedrin council and cast his vote against the disciples, then part of the qualifications for membership in the Sanhedrin was that one be married. That fact is, we don’t really know, I’ve spoken with a number of people that will foam at the mouth when they answer this, but it just never says anywhere.
- He gives this choice to two subgroups if you will – the previously unmarried, and to those whose spouses had died. If you can handle it, then stick with it, it’s the best way to go, according to the Apostle Paul himself.
9: But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
- I don’t think Paul is speaking angrily (I did for years, but I think in part it was the company I kept – we were all kind of angry young men) here. I think he’s just speaking the plain alternative to the staying single bit above. It is clear that he has a preference, but I think we see here his understanding nature that not all people are called or able to be single.
- It’s like Paul is saying, “Look, if you can’t think of yourself in that reality where you are okay on your own, then it’s okay for you, when you are ready, to seek another spouse.” Look, Paul isn’t being insulting, as the feminists have trained people to view him. I can hear his compassion here. It’s okay to want to be with someone special according to the will of God. If that’s for you, go get it, saint!
- After all, leaving those desires unfulfilled will lead to an open door for the enemy to tempt you into sin, and that wouldn’t be good. If you want to, it’s better to marry than to leave those desires unfulfilled. I say that because Paul has been deliberately misunderstood and maligned over what he has said in this and nearby chapters. Out of all the Apostles, I’m really hoping to meet him someday. I mean, I want to meet them all, if they can be spared from their busy place of the thrones around THE throne, but wouldn’t it be cool to have a recreational beverage of some description with the Apostle Paul? I’d love to get his insights on a few things. If I name them, we’ll be here past the time though.
- Special note: The words “with passion” at the end of the sentence do not occur in the original Greek, but because we can see the sense is figurative, this is a good help to the understanding – it is the lack of marrying that is doing the inflaming, we are not discussing the burning of an actual saint in the fires of hell here.
10: But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband
- Paul is now done with offering choices about marrying. The next three groups are already married and engaged in that relationship. Paul is done with offering the understanding. He identifies that he is no longer offering his earlier permissiveness, but is now speaking with the authority of God Himself. And what does He say?
- “The wife should not leave her husband.” Now that’s a tough pill for some to swallow. Especially today when roughly every other marriage ends in divorce. I want to be clear here, I am of the opinion that if a spouse cheats, that’s a deal breaker. That will allow a divorce. I’m not saying anything about remarriage just yet. Hold on, that’s coming. I think physical abuse is also a deal breaker. Attempted murder, battery, assault, withholding necessary food, things like that to me are also deal breakers. Again, I’m not saying anything about remarriage, that’s coming in a minute. So – faithfulness and safety are my two concerns for either spouse – but statistically, that will be the female, sadly.
11: (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
- Okay, NOW we’ll talk about remarriage. Look, if you have to leave, GET OUT! Don’t wait until the raging alcoholic, for example, turns you (and possibly your kids) into a statistic and not a living soul. RUN if you have to. Get a new cell. Get to a shelter. All that. You know, over the last 15 years or so I have had occasion to aid battered spouses to flee to safety. There are apps that you can put on your cell phone that you can hit a panic button and call the cops without it logging a phone call. A great resource site that can get you help anywhere in the world is hotpeachpages.net.
- Now – that’s in the vast minority of cases, beloved. It’s the cases everyone wants to talk about, but these cases are rare enough to be called exceptions and should be handled on a case by case basis intentionally, filled with grace, and protecting the injured. For the rest of the people who make up the vast majority, we’re going to move on from the special case to the regular operation of a Christian marriage.
- If you leave your spouse, you have only two options. The first of those is to remain celibate for the rest of your days as a single person. Now if that’s what you want, mission accomplished. If not, your only other choice, if you are the wife, is to be reconciled to your husband. The husband should NOT divorce his wife. Why not? Well, the Christian man is to represent Christ in his marriage relationship. Christ died for His bride, and you must do likewise.
12: But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.
- Paul now switches modes again. “As for the rest of the people groups here, I can speak to this without consulting the Word of God.” That’s how I take that statement. If a brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, then as long as she’s willing to live with him, he MUST not divorce her. Same reason as above. And this apparently is not dependent on gender.
13: And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.
- If the situation is reversed, and the wife has an unbelieving husband, as long as he is willing to live with her, she is not to leave the relationship. This is to demonstrate what Paul talked about with the Ephesians – the wife is to submit to her husband (at least as much as her walk with Christ will allow).
14: For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.
- Before we go too far into this verse, it needs to be said that the word “sanctification” here is not being used in the usual sense, and we can tell from the use of the word “unbelieving.” My friends, “unbelieving” equals “not saved” anywhere. Sanctification, or the making holy of a person or thing is not equal with salvation universally in Scripture. You will recall that the Holy Spirit came upon Saul and he prophesied mightily. And later, it tells us in some of the saddest words ever penned in 1 Samuel 16:14, “…and the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul…” My friends, what can we say here? Was Saul saved and did he lose his salvation? Of course not, the gifts and calling of God are never, repeat NEVER, repented of by God. IF Saul was ever saved, then he still was at his death, but he has a lot to answer for, and he will. IF he was not, then he never was in the first place, and that is the only way one can have a consistent view and interpretation of the Scriptures in my opinion without breaking them or doing all kinds of hermeneutical backflips to make it say something I’m not sure it does.
- I think the principle that Paul is stating here is that unlike in the Old Testament where any little thing could defile you, quite the opposite is happening here. God, in His goodness to His children, is allowing the opposite thing to happen – that by His grace, the believer is bringing sanctification to the entire relationship for the sake of the children.
- However, as I said earlier, there is a difference between being saved and being set apart for the Lord and His purposes. As with Saul, there is no guarantee that the unbelieving spouse will ever be saved. To enter into this kind of arrangement knowingly will not go well in the life of the believer. However, it is possible for one spouse to come to faith after the two are married, for example, and that’s the kind of situation we’re looking at. One notable modern case of that is a journalist named Lee Strobel. We’ll say more about him momentarily.
15: Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
- There may come a time when the unbelieving spouse has had enough of the Bible-thumping Wingnut that they live with and leave. As sad as that may be, the brother or sister is “not under bondage” in such cases. Rather God has called us to peace. I don’t think there are many that would claim that we are not supposed to fight about things, especially not in court in cases like this. But some have used that first phrase to say that God says it’s okay to remarry in a case like this. Really? Is that what that says?
- The first thing I will say is that if the unbelieving spouse wants to leave [chorizo] actually refers to divorce. Even if that spouse begins divorce proceedings, Paul is saying we are not to fight about it but to let it happen with grace.
- The next thing to say is that yes, this is actually what this is saying. If the unbelieving spouse leaves, the other is in fact free of the bond (note “bondage”) marriage. One of the difficult truths addressed in this verse is just that. In God’s eyes, the marriage bond is broken by death (Rom. 7:2), adultery (Matt. 19:9), or when the unbelieving spouse leaves (that’s here). In a case like this, the believing spouse is not under bondage, specifically referring to the “bonds” of marriage, and Paul knows this, and this was just the easiest way to say it. Follow the logic for this – the unbeliever is dead in sin, and they choose to leave. The believer is alive, and their spouse is dead. Under the rights granted to a widow to remarry, it is permissible. But you had better be really sure about that remarriage, I think. We have cases of this that we know about and have seen.
- Okay, I see the guy with the hand in the back row of the internet. He wants to know about marriages before you were a Christian that ended in divorce and then you were saved. You know what? I don’t know, because Paul isn’t dealing with that here, and I was running out of time to research the idea. However, what is at issue is the legitimacy of the divorce in God’s eyes. What was the reason for the divorce? Was it for either adultery or for abandonment? Then I think it’s okay. Whenever God says divorce is okay, remarriage can be assumed to be on the table if the Lord leads. I’m not the only guy that thinks that, either – Dr. MacArthur in his commentary on 1 Corinthians makes statements to this effect, and I think I can bow to his knowledge of the Scriptures and pastoral wisdom after 51 years of successful ministry.
16: For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
- Before I say anything else, I have to hasten to say that this is not a guarantee of your unbelieving spouse ever being saved. This is a “We don’t know” statement from Paul. Actually, beloved, this is why we have to speak with words the Gospel of Jesus Christ’s death, burial, and resurrection to everyone we meet – we don’t know who the elect are, and ONLY the elect will ultimately respond to this of their own free will when God regenerates them and calls them irresistibly. And beloved, that isn’t every time we speak the Gospel! Did you know there are statistics on this? Oh yes, there are, and when I heard them in the mid 1990s, it was between the 6th and 7th time of the gospel actually being presented in its entirety that someone would respond positively. But enough about the numbers, because the numbers don’t really tell the story – it’s GOD that decides when the time for each member of His elect, the Israel of God, should be regenerated and then called.
- But Paul here is asking an important question – maybe we can’t expect God to deliver people just because we love them, and beloved, that rips my heart out. At least two of my kids show positive signs of belief, but as of yet, they are not saved, and they are between the ages of 19 and 16. Of course, they are my kids, so the verse isn’t really talking about them, but I’m trying to demonstrate that I understand the emotional pain of not knowing.
- Paul is asking “Do you know what God’s plan is?” And we have to admit that we do not. Beloved, that’s scary. We do NOT know what the Lord intends. What He asks us in the meantime is that we be faithful to HIM. I know of a lady who at the time was in the Chicagoland area named Leslie. She was having some problems and had a lot of deep and searching questions, and she ended up at a well-known place in Chicago that I won’t name because that particular minister has fallen into shame, but the ministry he began continues. Leslie, through a friend from work (she was a nurse I think), was led to Christ, and was saved, but her husband, an investigative reporter at the time for the Chicago Tribune, was not. It was through Leslie’s quiet witness that her husband Lee Strobel was led to faith in Christ, and you can even watch that in the movie, The Case for Christ, starring actor Mike Vogel as Lee Strobel. It’s an apologetic goldmine for people that are into that kind of thing. It was, I believe, HER faithful witness that kept Lee focused on his research that eventually led him to the truth of what had gotten into his wife. The point here, is that we DON’T know, and we should be open to whatever the Lord wants.
Whatever happened in your marriage or singleness, remember, God has placed His New Nature inside you and filled you with His Holy Spirit, that is to say through the third person of the Godhead, God lives inside you, in YOUR spirit, in the person of His Holy Spirit. How can we NOT cooperate with whatever He wants to do in and through us? How DARE we not?
This kind of brings us to the next point. I think you will agree that this kind of behaviour Paul is speaking about is absolutely revolutionary in its conceptualization an execution in our day. This is a “social revolution” that is entirely “counter-culture” in its nature, and it is the thing God is calling His people to today. What do you think? Can we be those “social contras” to the unbelieving world around us?
17-24: Christians and Social Revolution
Despite the liberal theology of men like Walter Rauschenbusch, the father of the “social gospel,” which is not really a gospel at all, but is instead a program of good works (surprising from a Baptist theologian, O know) to lead people towards the kingdom of God (now wait, we’re saved by grace, not works, that’s not a thing ever with the real kingdom of God, though we may want to DO those works), Christianity is not a religion that goes about promoting social change for the sake of social change, or so-called equality between people groups. And yet, this is the “Christianity” that people know and think is real.
This social gospel has a modern counterpart, called “social justice,” which many of you will have heard me speak. It began with a Jesuit named Gustavo Gutierrez, who became (along with James Cone) one of the fathers of “liberation theology” (James Cone wrote Black Liberation Theology), and it can be (or at least used to be before big tech stated to suppress this stuff) fairly easily traced to the Frankfurt school that codified Marxism for modern and post-modern philosophy including liberal church theology like Social Justice. There are several more modern incarnations of it that I could name and discuss, but we will be here for more time than we have, so let’s do that another time.
What I can tell you for a fact is that Paul was not a social revolutionary. I don’t think the division of people groups like one sees in standpoint theory (male vs. female in feminism), critical race theory (skin-color differences based in “racist” thought), intersectionality (gender-bending vs. God’s plan), or Marxism proper (economic/class concerns) even entered into Paul’s mind. In fact, there are verses that he wrote for us that say quite the opposite, like Colossians 3:11, among others. Paul declared that all were one in Christ, who is for all, in all, and within all believers of every sort. I’ve heard (sometimes vehement) arguments about whether slavery is supported by the Bible. Of course it isn’t. And yet, we see it as a simple fact of life in those days, talked about by Paul and others as a reality. Feminism is basically a reaction to male abuse of dominance at the expense of the protection of women in the world. And what does Paul do? He tells the married couples that they have to submit to each other! I could go on, but my mission here is to tell you what the Apostle actually says about the Christian and social revolution, because Christianity itself created the largest one in history – and all others are only simple imitators, usually at the loss of the freedoms that Christianity itself granted to the various affected groups. Let’s see what Paul says about it.
17: Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches.
- Paul here is using the marriage issue as an example of what is coming. He has not said and is not saying that marriage is an inalienable right, but it is a gift and privilege for those for whom it was designed. Singleness isn’t a right either, it is a gift and privilege for those for whom it was designed. If you were called as a single man or as a married person by the Lord, now pay attention here, this is the critical point, then stay that way until the Lord shows you otherwise by His word, by godly counsel, or by His providence!
- And Paul feels strongly enough here to let people know that this is a directive from him to every church in existence. And he is about to get more detailed.
18: Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised.
- Let me do a straw poll here in the audience. What do YOU think Paul is talking about here when he speaks about circumcision? [give time for people to comment]
- Personally, I think this was aimed at those well-known heretics and cursed pests called the Judaizers. Paul uses the seal of the Old Covenant, circumcision, as one of the things that REALLY doesn’t matter in terms of salvation.
- He’s actually saying, “If you were a Jew when God called you as a Christian, then just keep on being a Jew! If you were NOT a Jew, don’t try to become one.” Why? Because, Beloved, old things have passed away and all things have become new. Christ has made the two groups into one new man, like it says in Ephesians 2:15-16:
- “…by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity…”
- Any attempt by any person, group, or “analytical tool” to divide the “Israel of God” into artificial groups that God did not make (in fact he removed them according to Paul, remember) is called “causing division,” and according to earlier chapters in this very letter, we are to identify those individuals (publicly if necessary) and warn about them so that all can avoid them! Beloved, where have we heard this statement before? “What God has joined together, let no one tear asunder.” Gee, that sounded like some of the vows at my wedding. Oh wait – did we not just talk about marriage? Friends, this is more similar that you may think. And Paul isn’t finished!
19: Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.
- Wait, what? What are you saying Paul? Circumcision, the thing that God Himself gave to Abraham as a sign of the Covenant with Abraham, 430 years before the Mosaic Law was given by Moses, who saw fit to continue it and codify it into that Law for all of the sons of Israel, doesn’t MATTER?!?!?!?!?!?
- Yes. That is what Paul is saying. It no longer matters. It did before Jesus died to pay for our sins, was buried, and rose from the dead to become the High Priest of the NEW Covenant that abolishes all those things. Now, under our new natures that can actually respond to and desire spiritual things in reality, what matters is THE KEEPING OF THE COMMANDMENTS OF GOD. We are no longer under Law. We are under the grace of God that now follows that Law that He put in our hearts of flesh and not stone, the very thing that wants to now follow Him! In view of that, NOTHING else matters! Nothing!
20: Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
- Paul here is restating what he said earlier in greater detail in verse 17. Interestingly I don’t think he is just doing this to reiterate what he said. I think he’s doing it to make the point that he’s coming to next, and it is related. This is where Paul is taking what he has begun to speak of in terms of guideline for marriage and is about to show how it applies to other aspects of society. Is he going to tell everyone to be a revolutionary? Hm. Jury is still out on that. But the result we know did actually revolutionize society over the next 250 years.
21: Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.
- Did Paul support slavery? No, I don’t think so. Did he hate it and speak against it? No, I don’t think that is true either. As near as we can tell from this statement, he dealt with it as a simple fact of life. In fact, he told people not to worry if they either were or became a slave. It wasn’t really the issue. And you can’t say he was supporting it, because in the same verse he’s telling people to become free if that’s an option for them.
- In other places, notably Colossians 3:22, Paul says to slaves:
- Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord.
- Why would Paul say that? Well, I think the answer is in that text in Colossians, in the following three verses (23-25):
- Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality.
- It is because there is more than just perceived “freedom” or lack of it. Those who were called while being slaves were called that way by an all-knowing, ever-present, all-powerful God who knew exactly who they were and the state they were in when He caused them to be born from above. Their obedience as slaves is testimony to their owners of the Gospel! See what Paul says next.
22: For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.
- In this little couplet (can I use that term? Is that too poetic? This is more than just poetry), Paul is saying that your earthly status is not relevant. Whatever you are here, it does not follow you to His kingdom, where all are His doulos, His slaves. The thing about serving Christ as Master is that “His burden is easy, and His yoke is light” (Matt. 11:30), probably because He is carrying most of the load anyway.
- Whatever you are here, something new awaits in His kingdom for you. Please don’t ask me what that will be, but I get the impression that as we serve Him here, we will be serving Him there, not necessarily in the same way or doing the same things, but appropriately, and without the sin-nature holding us back from doing our very best for Him. Oh Lord Jesus, come. Bring glory to your name. “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory and praise.” Bring us safe to the shore of your kingdom so that we may always be with you…
23: You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
- At this point Paul reminds the believers in Corinth of what should be their priority. I don’t think Paul felt like the Corinthians had a short attention span. He is aware that he has just recently pointed out that Christ had bought them when He paid for their sins on the Cross. He is telling them that this is WHY they need to NOT become the slaves of men – because Christ bought them with His lifeblood, they are no longer their own person. And Christ’s claim on them has priority to all other claims. Now that’s an awesome thing. With that being true, why would you want to be a follower of some mere person? Even me? Sure, you can imitate me insomuch as I imitate Christ, but PLEASE don’t follow me, serve me, enslave yourselves to me. I’m not a good master. Don’t be slaves of men.
24: Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.
- With that, Paul repeats verse 20. I think Paul here is repeating that point for emphasis. Remember, Paul is NOT saying that you will be stuck in that spot forever, which seems to be how most of us understand this issue. I’m not sure why, but I do believe it is related to our sin nature, because it is believing the worst, or terrible-izing as my daughter’s principal once described her behaviour in I think Grade 3 or so. (She got over it – sort of – she’s 16 now – but she’s not the same kind of drama-princess she used to be.)
- But despite that, you need to remain in the same state in which God called you – until God brings you to something new. Sometimes that can take a while. I was unmarried at the age of 20 when God spoke to me from the Scriptures and told me to rejoice in the wife of my youth. It took just over 13 years for that to happen, and it was no one I knew in my life for 10 years from that date in 1987. My regret is that Susan couldn’t be here for the study right now because she had a meeting that was work-related for her. I’d introduce her to everyone! Some of you already know her. And if you don’t think 13 years is a long time, you try holding your breath for 13 years! We’ll see how long you think it is.
You see, God is in control. If he doesn’t want something to happen, it just won’t. If he does, nothing can stop it. Where you are when He calls you is something that is under His control and not ours. He KNOWS all of that, and He KNOWS what you are going to go through. He’s known since before you existed. Actually, He’s known you since nothing existed!
Yet, for some reason, we all have this impression that we’re the ones in control, and that “the god of our understanding” (who is usually NOT God Himself unless you’re a believer) is taking a hands-off approach to everything. I had a lab partner in 2nd year university named Bob who believed that. We were friends, and I was able to share some evidence that this was not in fact the case from the Bible and from our shared experiences. I asked him if he prayed, and he said yes. “You mean you believe in a God that’s not involved, and you ask that same God to get involved?” He thought for a second, and chuckled, and admitted to being agnostic on the question, and then changed the topic. I know a conversation ending when it presents, so I didn’t pursue that conversation further.
Friends, what this chapter has made me realize is that it is ONLY God that has any real control at all. Christ came at the proper time and established His kingdom, and expects us in the here and now to live according to its rule of law, right up until the time that He returns to set up His kingdom in our reality. Those that follow the Lord and remain in the state He called them in faithfully and obediently, right up until He makes changes by His providence to them, will rule with Him there.
And that’s what I saw in the first 27 verses of chapter 7!