1 Corinthians 7B

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. We looked at verses 1-24, where we learned that although there were some things about marriage we needed to pay attention to, that again, Christianity is not a religion of rules, ritual, and rote, but instead is one of heart and attitude.  One thing is very sure – the need to pay attention to the principles of marriage in the New Testament show that God still has His Law in place to be obeyed; so much for unhitching from the Old Testament, Andy.  In fact, the principles that must be observed can be expanded to other societal issues, and these issues show the Marxist ideas of social justice to be diametrically opposed to the way of Christ, but I’ll not pontificate on that.

That brings us to chapter 7B, verses 25-40, which is tonight’s consideration.  I subdivided the thought units of the chapter as follows:

KV35:  Appropriate and Undistracted Devotion to God

“This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

25-31:  This world [system] is passing away

32-35:  Do not be distracted from what is important

36-38:  Redeemed desires can dictate beneficial actions

39-40:  Remember:  “…only in the Lord.”

Now before anyone accuses me of over-spiritualizing the chapter to “make stuff up” and preach around the word, I’m going to attempt to deal with the text literally as well.  However, one of the realities I have discovered in years of study in Scripture is that sometimes a passage is speaking of something, but it can apply to more than one thing.  I believe (and we saw the evidence of this last study) that this is one of those passages.  You will recall that last study’s text also dealt with slavery, not just marriage.  This shows us that the principle of God being taught here has multiple applications.  What I am attempting to show from the text is the set of principles being spoken of in the text.  However, don’t worry, I will cover the text as well.  So without further ado, let’s get into it.

KV35:  Appropriate and Undistracted Devotion to God

“This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.”

Paul here is speaking of the marriage relationship to be sure, but is that really his desire to talk about the details of relationships between the sexes?  I think this is only a partial desire, because the other higher principle is very obvious – the need to give God both appropriate and undistracted devotion, worship, obedience, service, or whatever other acceptable Christian descriptor you might want to insert here.  Certainly this is true in a relationship of marriage, but is also true in a relationship between an employer and employee, for example.  However, I don’t think Paul is simply using examples here, he is definitely speaking appropriately about relations between the sexes specifically.

This is rather an exposition of a principle of the kingdom of God – that all relationships are to be that of mutual submission in the specific roles involved.  As Christianity advanced, this became necessary to consider.  Here’s a thought – do you remember a certain letter we looked at from Paul to a businessman named Philemon?  Let me tell you how important Philemon was to the church at Colossae – it met in his house.  Well, Philemon’s slave, a man named Onesimus [meaning useful in Koine Greek], ran away, probably stealing a portion of money that Philemon would have entrusted him with.  Onesimus’ plan?  Run to Rome and try to melt into the escaped slave subculture.  The problem for Onesimus?  He ran into Paul, and the Lord saved him through Paul’s preaching.  The letter to Philemon was sent with one Epaphras, sent for Onesimus’ safety with him (the penalty for an escaped slave if caught by the Roman authorities was death) directly to Philemon to ask for mercy for Onesimus.  We don’t know what Philemon did officially, but most of us like to believe that he forgave Onesimus.  In some of the old documents we have from the ancient Colossians is a list of elders – listing one Onesimus as an elder in the gathering there.  Is it the same man?  I don’t know, but if it is, what you have is a situation that could really be foreseeable in the culture.

You have a slave in the world under his owner Philemon, being an elder over Philemon in the House of God.

All the nonsense going on today about “social justice” (which really isn’t) aside, it might be a good thing to have the idea of mutual submission floating around, no?  Both rich and poor are to be servants of God in the world, and especially servants of each other in the House of God.  And lest someone think that an “elder” is “in charge,” he really is not – he has to faithfully represent the Lord’s interests to the congregation, and not his own agenda.  Nothing is more distracting, as some of us already know, than to have some “ecumenical” guy on a mission to allow unbelievers into the congregation not for the purposes of preaching the gospel, but to surrender leadership to them.  Nothing is worse than an “elder” with an agenda to “get revenge” on people he dislikes, especially his owner.  That’s not serving God, that’s serving yourself.

No, beloved saints, we are to serve on another for each others’ benefit, and that’s what I see in this chapter.  Let’s dig in.

25-31:  This world [system] is passing away

This first paragraph gives some reasoning in verse 31.  It simply says that the “…the form of this world is passing away.”  The word for “world” is the Greek kosmos, which we have established is used figuratively of the entire world system under sin, but here it says that its form [Gk., schema, its figure or fashion] is passing away.  This strengthens the statement in my mind.  Not only is the system dying, but all of its “benefits” (and I use that term loosely, it never really has a benefit that God doesn’t give) are going with it.  That is, all its temptations are going with it.  The thing that makes you want a “more better one” than your neighbour is leaving with the more better thing.  The thing, and the thing behind the thing, as it were.  This is where we learn the proper way of looking at the world – that it has nothing permanent to offer when compared with heavenly things, motives, and priorities.  Let’s start our textual analysis here.

25:  Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who  by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.

  • Paul here is being modest, I think, but we’ll look at what he says.  It is important to note here that the Apostle is not giving commands but offering his opinion.  Much has actually been made of this by Christians of all stripes, but the main attack Paul faces here from liberal scholarship is that “opinions can be wrong, and so Paul must be.”
  • That’s a bit of false logic.  I will explain.  This is saying that because opinions can be wrong, all opinions are wrong.  It’s a plain error of premise.  And if your premise is wrong, so is the whole argument you are making in logic.  Here is the counterpoint to this error in logic.  Because Paul’s stated opinion is recorded in the infallible word of God, Paul’s opinion must be correct.  To say otherwise, you must have a different agenda than seeking truth, neighbour.  And at some point, I would love to spend time examining that with you, so let’s make an appointment.  That’s an invitation to speak personally by the way.  I promise I will try not to bite, too.
  • Paul is saying here that his opinion can be trusted, not analyzed and dismissed.  Why can he say that?  He stands on the mercy of Christ, who interrupted his “mad career” and made him His own servant of truth and its proclamation, that’s why.  I think liberal scholars that would use so-called logic like this to attack the sufficiency and infallibility of the Scriptures would do well to seek the truth instead.  The problem is that they don’t really want to – Paul says of these men to Timothy in his second letter to him (3:7) that these men are always learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.  What a sad and terrible position to be in…

26:  I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.

  • Paul makes reference to something that he describes as “this present distress,” which may mean that this was a specific answer for a specific issue, or it may mean that he is addressing the question of a brother about marriage in general.  The phrase can also be translated as “impending crisis,” so it is not clear if this is more specific and just not put into the text or if this is a more general answer.
  • Despite our lack of knowledge, Paul gives his “opinion” [we read that as “the Word of God says”] regarding the gift of singleness.  What does he say?  He says “it is good” for someone to remain in the state they are in.  That gives us several things that we may infer here, and they are important to note.
    • Because Paul says that remaining single is good for a man, it in no way says that getting married is NOT good.  We talked before that Paul didn’t expect all people to remain single, and he didn’t even expect that all the people in Corinth to remain single.
    • Singleness or Married state is not the real point.  Paul is actually suggesting that it is the will of God that matters here.  Recall that he has previously said that it is good for a person to remain in the state they were called until the Lord led them differently.
    • Paul also says nothing of HOW that leading will occur or how circumstances will change.  It may not always be to make our lives better.  Anyone who knew my friend Angela Tong knows that.  We have no doubt that sister is now with Jesus, but she was lured to a hotel room to preach the Gospel to some non-existent Chinese-speaking person and was stabbed 13 times with a huge stolen butcher knife, from which injuries she died on the scene.  Her body was stuffed into a hockey bag and unceremoniously dumped into the garbage bins behind the Embassy West Hotel when it was still a hotel in the 1990s.  Remember who we serve.  He was not surprised by it.  In some sense, He allowed this for her perfection.  He allowed us to survive her and go through some rough times for OUR perfection.  Why?  Remember Romans 8:28?  All things work together for good for those that are loving God, beloved.  We need to remain as we are and choose the Lord’s will and path for us, no matter where it may take us.  Do you think Stephen, the church’s first martyr, would have said any differently?  I doubt that.

27:  Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.

  • See?  Paul here is saying more than just “I don’t think people should be married,” as he is falsely attributed by some to have meant by this passage.  His point here is remain in the state you were called. 

28:  But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.

  • Paul is even informing us here that to marry does not mean that you sin, assuming you marry within what God allows in terms of His given context – one spouse at a time, and no divorce unless infidelity or abandonment are the reasons for it.
  • Paul is NOT trying to tell people not to get married!  His heart is one that is trying to help.  He is telling people that choose to marry that some trouble as regards the flesh is going to happen in this life if they are choosing marriage.  The margin tells us that these will be “tribulation in the flesh,” probably regarding lusts, if I read the context properly.  He is trying to spare people unnecessary suffering by giving his opinion.  Nothing more is in his motive than that.  I don’t think Paul for a second knew how long people would be reading his letter to the Corinthians.

29:  But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none;

  • Here, Paul is making reference to the time being shortened.  I was puzzled for a few minutes about that, but I had a peek at the cross references to see if they would shed some light on this, and there were two:  The first of those was Romans 13:11 which says:
    • Do this, knowing the time, that it is already the hour for you to awaken from sleep; for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed.
  • The second of those was verse 31, which we will look at in a moment, and BOTH of those verses make references to the end of the world and in different ways.  One says “salvation is nearer than we first believed, which is a reference to the fact that time simply marches forward to the time where we will be with the Lord however that happens (either by our deaths or by His return for us).  The second is a reference to how the whole world system we know is ending with all its forms and purposes.
  • Those that have wives should be as if they did not have one.  In the words of the Puritan Matthew Henry (yes, THAT Matthew Henry), “[Paul] exhorts all Christians to holy indifference toward the world.”  I don’t think he’s saying in context that it is okay to fall into sin, Paul would never say that.  He is saying not to put your hope or set your heart on the comforts of the state of marriage.

30:  and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess;

  • This is significant – Paul is now expanding the topic away from the marriage relationship.  Remember at the start when I said he was applying this as a principle with wider application than just marriage?  My friends, he does so right in the text.  See?  I’m not just making stuff up!  Those who weep and those who rejoice are next, and Paul is telling us that our emotions are NOT important concerning the will of God.  Of course they mean things to us, but Paul is saying that in light of God’s will and how it is coming to pass, our emotions are of less importance than some folks think.
  • Those who buy as though they did not possess what they bought – that’s right people – what you have is not yours if you are a Christian.  God perhaps gave it to you to take care of for Him, but it is not our possession.  Matthew Henry is clear on this point as well:
    • As to all worldly concerns; they must keep the world out of their hearts, that they may not abuse it when they have it in their hands. All worldly things are show; nothing solid. All will be quickly gone.

31:  and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.

  • Saints, pay attention.  You MUST realize that everything in the world from its fleshly patterns of sin and its grand enticements are coming to an end, and that it is our duty to allow God to teach us how to extract ourselves from the world and its dainties.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again now – this is for our sanctification – God setting us apart for Himself and His own purposes.  Don’t just give in, saints!  We have to fight for this in our lives with every decision we make!

Something else that needs to be pointed out here is that last verse is not saying that the world system will pass away sometime in the future, but that it is NOW passing away.  If we are paying attention, we can see how the things that the world holds to be important are failing in point after point, issue after issue, item after item, and even person after person.  All one has to do is look south of our border to our national neighbour, and then realize that it will be coming here, though maybe not in the exact same form.

For those that would trust in the politics of the time, and claim Canada (or wherever you live) as a Christian nation, I say this:  You’re wrong.  There has never been a truly Christian nation anywhere on the planet.  Paul tells us in Philippians 3:20 that our citizenship is in heaven.  This world is NOT our home, we’re just a-passin’ through!  I’m not saying we should not be involved in politics where we are, that is a matter between you and your own conscience, but I am somewhat politically active.  However, I’m not a political activist.  I just want to see what will be best for the members of society as a whole be advanced as the way forward.  In my thinking, that means we should live in a free society in terms of being allowed to speak, live, behave, and vote – without having my speech and my thoughts attempt to be regulated or punished if I don’t fit the majority opinion.  God is never popular at the polls in His true form because we are all sinners.  I won’t fight for my society, because it is frankly not MY society.  Mine is in heaven with Christ, and that is where all Christians should have their focus and politics driven from.

32-35:  Do not be distracted from what is important

The problem is that we look at the issues in the political arena – as necessary as they are to speak up over – abortion, adultery, fornication, homosexuality, theft, reviling, like that – these things can distract the Christian from what is really important, which is what I title the chapter – appropriate and undistracted devotion to the Lord.  Beloved, this is the one thing we cannot ever be distracted from – our worship and service to Christ our Lord and redeemer.  Pau here will resume his line of thought.

32:  But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;

  • Paul here is equating being single with being undistracted, because he has nothing else to concern him except the things of the Lord and how such a one might please Him in his life.  (Well, that’s the way it should be, anyway.  In reality, I’ve seen single folks as distracted with their stuff as anyone else – but that was what was talked about in verse 30 above.  To become absorbed with things of the world is in fact sinful according to Paul and to Matthew Henry.)  The single person doesn’t have a multitude of things to worry about.

33:  but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife,

  • I can tell you this is true.  I worry about Caesar and the fee he charges me every 6 months to own a house in the city I live in.  I worry about the schools and what they teach my kids.  I worry about car insurance and paying my bills like everyone else.  On top of that, I worry about what my wife thinks – probably not enough – and I think that’s too much. 
  • I think Paul’s point here is that we can be easily distracted by the responsibility that comes with a marriage relationship, and he’s right, I can get pulled into distraction legitimately, and beloved, I consider myself to be in a GOOD and GOD-ORDAINED marriage!  There is a bunch of responsibility that comes with it that we fail at continually on occasion.

34:  and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

  • The last bit of Paul’s thought spilled into this verse.  His point here is that divided thoughts make for divided priorities, and have the potential of making you a double-minded individual, who James tells us is “unstable in all his ways.” (1:8) 
  • It works the same way for women, incidentally, Paul was speaking about men in the previous verse.  The unmarried woman, yes, all the single ladies, they have a much easier time focusing on what the Lord wants for them.  When they focus on their walks in the Spirit as opposed to their own singleness, they can focus on personal purity – the holiness of both body and spirit.
  • In comparison, the married woman has something that draws her attention away from their spiritual walk, and it is the same as for the men – the things of the world (like the kids, which come along with a marriage, for dad too), and how she can please her husband.  And watch where Paul takes this in the next verse!

35:  This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.

Paul says, “I’m trying to help.  I’m not placing restrictions on you.  You can do what you want to do here!”  But what Paul is trying to show is that the best situation that you can find yourself in is one that can offer undistracted attention to your walk with the Lord.

Now friends, I have to ask, if you’re a Christian, is there anything that is distracting YOU from your walk with Him?  If there is, it can be taken care of by His grace.  I even have a mundane example of that kind of split-attention distraction Paul is warning about.  And it isn’t just mundane, it’s Gerry-mundane – meaning really frustrating for me, but funny nonetheless.

One of our regulars has had a little bit of computer problems this week, and has had an issue with his phone company through no fault of his own.  Now for those that have known me for a long time know that I have been a bit of a tech geek over the years, including stopping just short of my A+ technician’s certificate and my MCSE certifications (couldn’t afford the exams).  I’ve learned some coding skills, although they are about 15 years out of date at this point.  As a part of that, I gained a passing familiarity with *nix platforms including Debian Linux and BSD UNIX and things that need a command line (that includes Mac OS X incidentally – it’s about 65% BSD UNIX).  Now, my brother has a very old and hard-to-service computer and a buggy install of Ubuntu Linux, and I thought, Hey, I’ve got a couple of older notebooks I could slap something like Kubuntu or the low-resource version of it, Lubuntu, on.  I downloaded a distro, burned it onto a DVD and installed it.  Well, it seems I forget what Ubuntu has for driver support (read next to nothing).  I can’t get more than 640×480 screen resolution, I can’t get the Broadcom WiFi card to function (though that’s less of an issue, he doesn’t have a WiFi network, he has wired ethernet), stuff like that.  And unlike I had years ago where I could run the network cable through the heating duct, I only have a 10′ cat5 cable (and even if I could make one, I forget the order of wires and would still have to look that up again).  I gave up on it on Wednesday because I can only do one thing at a time, and I couldn’t be in a place where I could get the box onto the internet to start the necessary updates.  I told the brother I was trying to sort out his issue so he could attend the online study this evening, but that I could either work on his computer or on the study, despite my best efforts.  He agreed with my choice of working on the study, by the way.  This will be archived online, and he can see it there.  Talk about distracting.

Now let me explain why this relates.  I could either be studying the Scriptures as God called me to do for this, or I could be cursing at Linux under my breath and perusing their non-help forums or reading their installation non-notes.  (Nothing with Linux is straightforward unless you’re Linus Torvald, creator of Linux.)  And BSD doesn’t really have residential applications (or a graphical user interface) that I am aware of.  I chose to be as undistracted as possible and spiritually benefit as many as possible.

Beloved, this is the main idea Paul has in this portion of text this evening.  We must begin as believers to make choices that will result in our undistracted and appropriate walking with the Lord.  If we can’t do that, well, we have a very serious problem.

However, Paul is about to tell us some better news.

36-38:  Redeemed desires can dictate beneficial actions

“What does that mean?” you may ask.  Well, I’ll tell you, but I have to define a few things first, because this isn’t available to unbelievers who do not have the Holy Spirit living inside them.  All humans have desires.  A desire, according to dictionary.com can be defined as “a longing or craving, as for something that brings satisfaction or enjoyment.”  A desire is not always a bad thing.

You should recall that last study, we looked at the main qualification required to be considered for church leadership at any level.  Anyone remember what that was?  [wait for answers]  Anyone?  Okay, let’s look at that.  1 Timothy 3:1 says, “It is a trustworthy statement: if any man aspires to the office of overseer, it is a fine work he desires to do.”  That word for “aspire” in Greek means “to yearn for.”  The word for “desire” literally means “to lust after,” speaking of the strength of that yearning.  Now, I have to ask, and I’ll ask all you – would anyone desire the actual job of being an elder in the house of God?  Not the office, I am well aware of those who seek the power and authority – and that’s what this was written to combat in Ephesus if you will recall – but the actual duties of being an elder with oversight and authority to determine the direction of the body of Christ itself?  That’s a HUGE responsibility, my friends. 

It seems that basic candidacy for the job is that you have a desire for it!  And I’m not the only one that thinks that – I once heard John MacArthur say the very same thing.  Redeemed desire to do this work for God is a gift from God to the receiver, and the one doing the receiving is a gift from God to the church.  You will recall last week that I stated an opinion that God gives us redeemed desires for things He wants us to do for Him.  You want to be an elder?  Your desire is a signal of the direction you should take.  You want to be a pastor or teacher?  Your desire is an indication that you should order your steps like that.  You want to be a husband or a wife?  I believe it is the same thing.  Your redeemed desire for that should establish your candidacy if not direction.  You want to be single?  Same thing!  Your desire to remain single will establish that – and I have known people that wanted to stay single, people!  Angela Tong was one of those.  She was about the only one that I ever met that was being honest about it, all the other sisters always claimed that, but I think that was a little self-defense against the brothers that wanted to be husbands – some of them were kind of pushy about it.  I remember I guy I was renting from – he went to the church leadership at the time and demanded to begin courtship of a particular sister.  Now – that particular sister had NO interest in anyone at the time.  He was told to cool his heels, and rightly so.  And a number of years later when she finally did marry, it wasn’t to that brother.  The funny thing was that everyone KNEW that they belonged together – and they were the last to know.  It was the funniest thing.  Funny haha and funny strange.

Anyway, my point here is that your redeemed desire can be a guide for you.  Pray, seek godly counsel, and wait for the providence of God to lead you.  Heck, I’m still doing that.  Because there is no verse in the Scriptures that tells brother so-and-so that he will marry sister such-and-such.  But if you are trusting the Lord to lead you and walking in the Spirit with godly counsel, when the providence of God actually knocks on your door, what is the issue again?  Into the text.

36:  But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry.

  • There is some disagreement between commentators on what this particularly means, incidentally.  Some have suggested that it was an issue in Corinth that Christian women were not being allowed to marry while they were of marriageable age, and other commentators have said that the issue was that fathers or guardians were worried about not letting their daughters age out.  To be honest, I’m not really sure either is correct, and here is why.  If you will notice, the word daughter is in italics, meaning that the word does not occur in the original Greek.  The word here is simply the word for “virgin,” although Vine tells us that it is understood to mean virgin daughter.  Matthew Henry also makes statements to that effect.
  • The text of the verse, if you read actually gives some light – “if she is past her youth.”  this phrase kind of sells me on the idea that this is for fathers or guardians of older girls that have never married.  Paul seems to be saying, “Look, if she’s past time for this – it’s okay if the Lord leads.  If it MUST be so, by all means, let them marry.  (that word for “her” is plural – it should read “them”)  It isn’t a sin if she wants to and there is a fellow who is willing.  I’ve seen that too, I think – a pair of PhDs from the Washington DC area.  But we’ll move on.

37:  But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well.

  • Now I think this verse and the last verse go together, so I’m still on the meaning of fathers or guardians.  If that is true, then this reads into straightforward context.
  • If it is a broader and neuter application of the concept of virginity (that we would call chastity), that is both males and females that are living under the leading and providence of God, then this is describing an individual that has control over their own will (self control, see Gal. 5:23) and is deciding to keep their own state of virginity, Paul is all in favour of that anyway.  To be fair, I’m leaning toward the former, but I can see how the latter applies.

38:  So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

  • The reason I lean toward the father/guardian position (even though the word “daughter” does not appear in the original is this verse.  It gives both options in the sense of one having authority over the virgin, not being the virgin themselves.
  • Paul is speaking here however as a choice between two allowable things.  Of course his opinion is mixed in, and he must have thought it the right advice to give to a specific issue.  What I find kind of amazing (and this is a little off the topic but not exactly) is that Paul’s OPINION made it into the Word of God, and that tells me he was RIGHT about his opinion.
  • And who gets to choose?  The one in the position, actually.  And if you are a good father or guardian, you will always take the desire of the affected individual into consideration.  I know this principle in a kind of backhanded way.  My mom, it turns out, at the age of 18 when she married, was a backslidden Christian that married against the counsel of her parents.  I’m not sure that I’m unhappy about that choice, however, or I wouldn’t be here, so….

My point here is not to pontificate about embarrassing points of my family history, however.  It is rather to show that the Word says that if you are following your redeemed desires, you’re doing the right thing.  You always do that prayerfully, you aren’t afraid to speak to church leadership (whose job it is to help with this sort of thing), and you are paying attention to where God seems to be leading with His providence, which seems for all the world to an unbeliever like circumstances and chance but really is not.  Then what is it?

39-40:  Remember:  “…only in the Lord.”

Here we find Paul reinforcing the idea I covered in my previous point.  The idea of the redeemed desire can ONLY happen for the real Christian, whom God has caused to be born from above into His heavenly family.  This is literally ONLY possible “in the Lord.”  If you are His, and if you are walking in the Spirit of God with Him, then those redeemed desires can be triggered and led by the Holy Spirit into the blessings that God has for you on a personal level, even if those blessings mean they are about to feed you to the lions in a coliseum somewhere.

Our problem here is really that the heart is, as Jeremiah tells us, “more deceitful than all else, and is desperately sick…” Because of this, we can have a bit of trouble sorting out what is a redeemed desire and a wicked desire of the flesh.  I think that’s why God gave us a written guide to those redeemed desires in the holy writ of Scripture, and He gave us Godly counsel in the form of pastors and elders to go to when the heart for its own reasons tries to muddy the waters for us, and He gave us His Holy Spirit to live inside us and lead us into what the truth is according to Jesus.  Without those things, I am simply incapable of walking with the Lord in any capacity.  I can only do things, “in the Lord.”

39:  A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.

  • I think that is the very principle that Paul is referencing here at the end of this verse, using the occasion of a wife being in the bonds of matrimony.  What is Paul actually saying here?
  • If a lady is married, she is bound by those holy bonds of matrimony as long as they both live.  If her husband dies (statistically far more likely than him outliving her by the way), then she is free to do as she pleases – “only in the Lord.”  Paul is saying that it is the will of God that should dictate what this widow’s actions should be.  If God wants her to remarry, He will lead her that way.  If He does not, she should not.  Do you see what Paul is saying?  You are free – to do the will of God.  If you don’t WANT to do the will of God, well, that’s a different issue that Paul has previously reference. 
  • Paul’s previous conclusion is that either the flesh is trying to scramble your brains again through muddying the waters, or you were not regenerate in the first place.  It isn’t rocket science.  You will either follow God in Christ or you will not.  Either way, your fruit is visible and even on display so that this can be discerned about you.
  • I should point out that Paul does seem to be answering direct questions with direct answers here.  It seems that the sister involved needed Paul’s godly counsel in that case.  See what it says in the next verse.

40:  But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.

  • Do you see the first half of that sentence?  Doesn’t it sound to you like Paul is speaking about a specific case?  But even if he is not, his conclusion is what we have been examining all along – that wife who became a widow in the previous verse will be happier if she remains single, even though she would not be wrong for marrying again. 
  • This is about where it dawned on me while I was preparing for this study – sometimes, it isn’t a choice between what is bad and what is good.  Sometimes it is a choice between what is good for you and what is best for you.  This seems to be one of those choices.
  • And in speaking his opinion, Paul states that he thinks this is what is inline with what the Holy Spirit has communicated to him.  This is another interesting principle – we don’t always know what is best for you, and we aren’t always sure.  But we are still trying to shepherd you for the glory of God, the One that made us a shepherd of His flock.  Just like this lady listened to Paul if she knew what was good for her, you should listen to godly counsel in this fashion. 
  • Don’t read that wrong.  You don’t have to listen to a word I say.  Get into the Word, find out for yourself what He wants.  But if you have trouble because of the flesh, then we’re here to help. 
  • I should say a word about godly counsel.  If you need to seek it for some reason, make sure it’s actually godly counsel, and not that new believer who’s been saved for a couple of weeks.  They won’t know you as well as your pastor or elders, and they have a lot more experience with the Scriptures and with life in general sometimes than some individual barely out of their teens telling you to “follow your heart,” which we have already established is sick beyond reckoning and must be ignored regarding truly spiritual things many times.

We can see from the general gist of Paul’s letter here that the principles of appropriate and undistracted devotion to God are really to be the Christian’s guideline for behaviour in the world.  From the marriage relationship to relationships with your employers, as a believer, you should always be putting God first, and His will, and His ways above your own, or your employer’s, or even your spouse’s will and ways.  Although there is a lot here, the best method of learning here will be “in the field,” so to speak, as you can only really learn so much in the classroom. 

We talked a little about “beneficial actions,” and it bears saying that these are never to be the main focus of the believer as he or she walks with Christ.  Much of the focus of the hyper-charismatic gospel is how you can benefit from being a Christian, and that is never the case.  Your desires need to be redeemed, and the benefits of your redeemed desires might land you in a jail cell or worse.  Some of us were eaten by lions in Rome.  Some of us wandered around having no fixed address.  You can see where this goes quickly amiss if all you are focused on are the benefits to you.

It says in the Westminster Shorter Catechism that the “chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”  The moment someone tries to make Christianity about you is the moment you know something is wrong.  This is one of the common misunderstandings of Paul’s letters to the Corinthians, and they arise from a basic misunderstanding of Paul’s word usage to correct the Corinthian church.  Does man benefit from serving the Lord?  Absolutely – even if he is the lion’s dinner.  That lion sent that man home to be with Christ.  Now, thankfully, most of us in Canada won’t ever be eaten by lions or other animals as a form of entertainment.  But there are other things that might happen, and to assume that God has commanded them NOT to happen, but rather that you will always enjoy good health, great wealth, and satisfaction of life, is simply not an accurate depiction of what life is like – for anyone.

Instead, follow the will of God and serve Him.  That’s what He wants, regardless of what status you may experience here.

And that’s the second part of Chapter 7, which we called 7B.

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