The Christian life is entirely different from anything the world has to offer. It is more than a mere philosophy of being good to your fellow man, more than merely good teaching about intricate mysteries of life, after-life, heaven and hell. In the Bible, Christian life is centered on one Person, the Lord Jesus Christ, and God's promise to Christians is that He will conform us to Christ's image (Phil. 1:6).
WE CAN CORRECTLY UNDERSTAND 1 CORINTHIANS 7 (Questions Concerning Marriage)
It is important how we study the Bible. A proper understanding and application of 1 Corinthians 7 will result as we rely, not on the wisdom of men, but on the wisdom of God revealed to us in His word. The interpretative methods we have consistently applied in ascertaining truth and rejecting error will help us accomplish this task (2 Tim. 2:15). Allowing the Bible to interpret itself is a time-honored and entirely scriptural approach to understanding truth. We are determined to not deviate from this course. "What saith the Scripture" must continue to be our appeal (Rom. 4:3; Gal. 4:30).
The Propriety Of Marriage: 1 Corinthians 7:1-7
Beginning in verse 1 the apostle addresses several subjects submitted to him in writing by the Corinthian Christians. Chapter 7 deals with a variety of their concerns about marriage. In verses 1-7 the suitability of marriage is set forth by the apostle Paul. Some have used the statement of verse 2 ("let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband") to establish the right of all second marriages to exist (and third, fourth, etc.). As with any other Bible topic, we must always be careful not to accept a position which makes one scripture contradict another. Should we embrace those who, in their misunderstanding of the Bible misapply this passage, thereby encouraging unlawful marriages to occur? If not, what criteria prevents such acceptance?
For instance, could 1 Corinthians 7:2 be used by those who practice polygamy in cultures which allow such relationships? Furthermore, should faithful brethren in those cultures accept into their fellowship those who preach and practice such a concept? Or, would brethren be scripturally obligated, as a result of using standard interpretive methods of study, to which reject polygamy and decline from their fellowship those who defend and practice it? (2 Tim. 2:15; 1 Thess. 5:21-22) The answer should be apparent. Our application of the text must be consistent whether we are discussing polygamy or other forms of adultery, such as unlawful remarriages (Matt. 19:9).
When we come to the seventh chapter of First Corinthians we plunge right into a very explicit and forthright passage dealing with sex in marriage. Some people are squeamish about hearing this subject taught and preached on a Sunday morning, but the very fact that the Word of God, in all its purity and wholesomeness, treats a subject like this ought to correct that kind of undue scrupulosity among us. It should teach us that this is a subject that is very much worthwhile examining together. Besides, it is a passage of crucial significance for our day.
To The Unmarried: 1 Corinthians 7:8-9
The expediency of remaining single is now set forth by Paul. Some assert that celibacy is the only state in which one can properly serve God. Why do we reject this teaching (1 Tim. 4:3)? Is it not because God's word teaches that marriage is proper (Heb. 13:4)? Certainly it is. For instance, Paul had the right to have a wife, but did not use his right (1 Cor. 9:5; 7:6-7). Now, if we cannot accept into fellowship those who demand celibacy, why not? Is it not because such a teaching opposes revealed truth? Yes, it is. All who are free to marry in the sight of God may exercise their freedom to do so.
To The Married: 1 Corinthians 7:10-11
Paul now speaks to the married Christians, and applies the words of Jesus (where He had already made a general application, Matthew 19:5-6). The fact that an application is here made to one specific group of married people (namely, Christians) does not limit Matthew 19 to only Christians (as some brethren say) anymore than Paul application of Matthew 26:26-28 in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 limits who can partake of the Lord's Supper to only Corinthian Christians (1 Cor. 11:20). Yet, some brethren are teaching that either (1) Matthew 19 applies only to Christians, or (2) Matthew 19 applies only to Jews (an explanation of OT law). Why do we reject both of these conclusions as false? Because God has revealed His truth about the universal nature of marriage (Gen. 2:23-24; Heb. 13:4). We can understand, and God expects us to understand, that marriage is for all mankind and is regulated by His revelation concerning it.
Anyone who enters the relationship of marriage comes under the divine regulation of it (Gen. 2:24; Matt. 19:4-6, 9; Heb. 13:4). Should we accept as faithful those brethren who are teaching a perverted gospel regarding to whom the Bible law of marriage applies? What scripture allows us to have fellowship with men who teach this destructive doctrine?
The Legitimacy Of Marriage Between A Christian And An Unbeliever: 1 Corinthians 7:12-16
To “the rest” Paul (as an inspired apostle whom the Lord counted trustworthy and who had the Spirit of God, v. 25, 40) applies Matthew 19:6, 9 and explains that marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever is indeed a legitimate marriage. At no time in this passage does the inspired apostle urge the Christian who is married to an unbeliever to depart (divorce) because his or her mate is an unbeliever. Indeed, the Lord's will is that they remain together as Matthew 19:5-6 instructs.
So, if the unbeliever is content or willing to live with a Christian, the Christian is commanded not to depart, for the Christian brings a sanctifying influence and life into the home (v. 14; cf. 1 Pet. 3:1-2).
However, if the unbeliever departs (we necessarily infer that under such a condition the unbeliever is not content to dwell with the Christian), the Christian is “not under bondage” to the unbeliever (the Christian is to let the unbeliever depart). Can we know with confidence what “not under bondage” means? Yes we can, by applying the same type of hermeneutics we apply to other Bible passages (including those already mentioned in this study).
These principles include, for instance: 1) The meaning given the passage will not contradict other passages of scripture (Jno. 17:17). 2) All God says on the subject must be consulted (Psa. 119:160). 3) The context (both immediate and general) must be observed and harmonized. 4) The proper definition of terms is vital in coming to a correct understanding of the text. (We cannot assume definitions - we must verify their legitimate meaning and usage in scripture). 5) The grammar used by the Holy Spirit must be considered and respected (cf. Matt. 22:31-32).
Now, when we correctly apply these principles of interpretation to 1 Corinthians 7:15, it will not be men's scholarship on the passage or men's division over the passage which determines our understanding and our application of it. It will be because we have “rightly divided” the word of truth and come to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (2 Tim. 2:15; Eph. 3:3-4; 5:17).
“Not under bondage” will not contradict Matthew 19:6, 9. Since marriage between a Christian and an unbeliever is legitimate (7:12-14), any severing of it falls under the Lord's regulation of marriage. Therefore, when a believer and an unbeliever divorce, Matthew 19:9 fully applies. Any understanding and application of “not under bondage” which causes a contradiction with Matthew 19:6, 9 is inaccurate and not the truth of Christ. There is no “Pauline exception” in 1 Corinthians 7:15 which allows for scriptural remarriage to a new mate. If so, Paul contradicts what Jesus taught in Matthew 19:9.
If Paul is giving another cause for divorce and remarriage, then one can be put away for a reason other than fornication and remarry with God's approval. This construction necessarily contradicts Matthew 19:9 and 5:32. Therefore, the remarriage to a new mate explanation of “not under bondage” must be rejected.
All God Says On The Subject
When all of what God says on the subject of marriage is consulted, we understand that every marriage (regardless of the faith or faithlessness of the participants) is before God and judged by God (Gen. 2:23-24; Heb. 13:4). God joins together the man and woman regardless of their faith or lack of faith in Christ (Matt. 19:6). That joining together (a bond of obligation) lasts for a lifetime (1 Cor. 7:39; Rom. 7:2). Only one exception gives one party the right to divorce and marry a new mate with God's approval (Matt. 19:9). We can agree on this because we can understand this teaching of Christ. All other teaching is false and moves us away from the grace of Christ (Gal. 1:6-9).
We know that when a Christian marries someone (whether a Christian or an unbeliever), the Christian's first allegiance remains with Christ (1 Cor. 7:23; Lk. 14:26). By “keeping the commandments of God” the Christian remains “with God” regardless of his external conditions (1 Cor. 7:19, 24). Thus, we can remain in every non-sinful condition in which we are called since upon our conversion we become slaves of Christ and not men (1 Cor. 7:17, 20, 23-24). The marriage of a Christian to an unbeliever is one such non-sinful condition or “calling” (1 Cor. 7:12-14).
Definition Of Words
The definition of the words used in 1 Corinthians 7:15 preclude a remarriage to a new mate explanation of “not under bondage.” The word translated “bondage” is dedoulootai, “perfect passive indicative of |douloo|, to enslave, has been enslaved, does not remain a slave.” (Robertson's NT Word Pictures) Thayer is representative of lexical definitions when he observes that douloo means “1) to make a slave of, reduce to bondage 2) metaph. give myself wholly to one's needs and service, make myself a bondman to him.” “Bondage” thus denotes one who sustains a permanent servile relation to another. In this context (1 Cor. 7:15) the reference is to an unbelieving mate. Paul teaches that the Christian does NOT sustain a permanent servile relation to a mate in marriage (or for that matter, in any other relation). Remember, “we must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).
Every other use of douloo in the NT carries with it the meaning of enslavement (Titus 2:3, “enslaved” - ASV), servitude or bondage (Acts 7:6). Never is it used to denote the “bound by law” concept of marriage to which deo is applied by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 7:27, 39; Rom. 7:2; cf. Matt. 19:5-6). Here is the entire list of NT passages which use douloo so that the accuracy of the above statement may be reviewed: Acts 7:6; Rom. 6:18, 22; 1 Cor. 7:15, 9:19; Gal. 4:3; Titus 2:3; 2 Pet. 2:19.
The simple statement of fact in 1 Corinthians 7:15 is that the Christian has never been reduced to a servile position to the unbeliever. The grammar so indicates (dedoulootai - perfect passive indicative of douloo):
Perfect tense: “The perfect tense in Greek corresponds to the perfect tense in English, and describes an action which is viewed as having been completed in the past, once and for all, not needing to be repeated.”
Passive voice: “The passive voice represents the subject as being the recipient of the action.”
Indicative mood: “The indicative mood is a simple statement of fact. If an action really occurs or has occurred or will occur, it will be rendered in the indicative mood.” (Online Bible)
Since the negative (ou) is employed, the phrase “not under bondage” effectively means that bondage was NOT completed in the past and is NOT occurring at the present time. Thus, the “you are not now, nor have you ever been under bondage” interpretation is entirely consistent with the grammar of the phrase and not a forced interpretation of it. In 1 Corinthians 7:15, that which was completed in the past and continues to be the case in the present is that Christians are “called” (perfect tense) to peace. The one has never been true while the other has always been true.
The immediate context of 1 Corinthians 7:15 is that of legitimate marriage, one of several non-sinful conditions in which one might be when called by God through the gospel to become a Christian. Other non-sinful conditions used by Paul to illustrate his point are circumcision and slavery (1 Cor. 7:18-24). We know he only refers to non-sinful conditions here because they are conditions in which one may continue to walk (after becoming a Christian), remaining in fellowship with God and keeping the commandments of God (1 Cor. 7:17, 19, 20, 24). One cannot continue to live in sin after his conversion with God’s blessing (Rom. 6:1-4).
Paul's point is this: “You were bought with a price; do not become slaves (doulos) of men” (1 Cor. 7:23). Verse 15 is a specific application of this principle. We are confident the slavery of 7:23 means something other than physical slavery (for Paul had just said to remain in that form of slavery, 7:21-22). Verse 23 speaks of the bondage of enslavement. Even the slave who served an earthly master had a prior allegiance to Christ. Likewise in marriage, we are not enslaved to men, we are slaves of Christ (1 Cor. 7:15, 22).
So, having told the Christian who is married to an unbeliever to remain in that marriage because it is legitimate, he then counsels the Christian whose unbelieving mate departs because the Christian has a primary allegiance to Christ. Paul’s counsel is: Let him go, because you are not enslaved to the unbeliever -- you are enslaved to Christ (7:23). 1 Corinthians 7:15 teaches Christians who are married to unbelievers that their first allegiance is always to Christ and not man.
If Christians continue to make allowance for and have fellowship with brethren who teach or practice what is not taught in 1 Corinthians 7:15, we can only conclude that either (1) they do not believe the preceding hermeneutical treatment of the passage is correct, (2) they hold to another hermeneutical treatment which they accept as correct (and believe the foregoing to be faulty), or (3) that such a treatment of the text cannot be correctly accomplished. Whatever the case, I fear that more and more brethren are adopting a view of 1 Corinthians 7:15 which implies that revealed truth cannot be correctly understood and obeyed. We must continue to deny that proposition whenever it shows itself (Jno. 8:31-32; Eph. 3:3-4; 5:17; 2 Tim. 2:15; 2 Pet. 1:3-4; 3:16-18; Jude 3-4).
Walk As God Has Called You: 1 Corinthians 7:17-24
I have addressed this passage in the above discussion concerning the context of 1 Corinthians 7:15. Suffice it to say that this passage certainly does not authorize someone to remain in a remarriage which God defines as adultery (even though some sincere, well-meaning brethren have reached that conclusion, the God’s word reveals their error, 2 Jno. 9-11; Eph. 5:3-11). Must we let the false explanations and applications of brethren go unchallenged (indeed, should we have fellowship with them) in spite of their error? It is troubling to witness brethren teaching and defending positions which lead to this conclusion and practice.
Concerning Virgins: 1 Corinthians 7:25-38
Paul now applies what he has already said about marriage and remaining single (7:7-8) to those who have never been married. The “present distress” bears directly upon the advice he gives to remain single (v. 26, 28, 32, 35).
“Bound” in verse 27 is translated from deo (to be under obligation to) and conveys a “bound by law” concept (cf. 1 Cor. 7:39; Rom. 7:2, where the idea of divine law is noted). It is not synonymous with douloo (1 Cor. 7:15; 9:19).
Paul does not advise divorce to those who are obligated by God's law to a mate. Nor does he counsel the Christian who is not under obligation to a mate (not bound) to seek a mate. In fact, he says “do not seek a mate” (7:27). If, however, the one who is not bound (loosed, not obligated by divine law to a mate) does in fact marry, he has not sinned in doing so.
Although some brethren try to define “loosed” as “divorced,” its clear contrast is to “bound.” Hence, the contrast being made by the apostle is between one who is not obligated by God's law to another and one who is obligated by God's law to another.
Summary: 1 Corinthians 7:39-40
The life-enduring nature of marriage is here emphatically stated by the apostle, and that liberty from this obligation comes only upon the death of one's mate (7:39) or the appropriate application of Matthew 19:9.
Paul's teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 has been in full harmony with and by the inspiration of the Spirit of God. Therefore, we can only consider 1 Corinthians 7 as authoritative instruction and counsel from the mind of God (1 Cor. 14:37).
Brethren, shall we agree to disagree with men who teach and practice error regarding 1 Corinthians 7 because they are men of sincerity, honesty, integrity and scholarship? Or shall we try to rescue them from the clutches of error which devours souls by keeping the truth of the gospel ever before them? (2 Tim. 2:24-26)
Are we able to say with certainty what the truth is which is taught in 1 Corinthians 7? Are we able to say with certainty that many are now teaching error on 1 Corinthians 7 rather than truth? (Sadly, many are choosing to remain silent instead of speaking the truth.) Are we able to say with certainty that false teaching, when taught and practiced, causes the soul to be lost? (Gal. 1:6-9)
If not, then what scriptural teaching is being followed which allows Christians to have fellowship with the sin of adultery (through sinful remarriages) and the false teachings which give false comfort to those who are committing adultery in those remarriages (Matt. 19:9)?
1st Corinthians 7:1-40 . REPLY TO THEIR INQUIRIES AS TO MARRIAGE; THE GENERAL PRINCIPLE IN OTHER THINGS IS, ABIDE IN YOUR STATION, FOR THE TIME IS SHORT.
1. The Corinthians in their letter had probably asked questions which tended to disparage marriage, and had implied that it was better to break it off when contracted with an unbeliever. good--that is, "expedient," because of "the present distress"; that is, the unsettled state of the world, and the likelihood of persecutions tearing rudely asunder those bound by marriage ties. Hebrews 13:4 , in opposition to ascetic and Romish notions of superior sanctity in celibacy, declares, "Marriage is HONORABLE IN ALL." Another reason why in some cases celibacy may be a matter of Christian expediency is stated in 1 Corinthians 7:34 1 Corinthians 7:35 , "that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction." But these are exceptional cases, and in exceptional times, such as those of Paul.
2. Here the general rule is given to avoid fornication--More literally, "on account of fornications," to which as being very prevalent at Corinth, and not even counted sins among the heathen, unmarried persons might be tempted. The plural, "fornications," marks irregular lusts, as contrasted with the unity of the marriage relation [BENGEL]. let every man have--a positive command to all who have not the gift of continency, in fact to the great majority of the world ( 1 Corinthians 7:5 ). The dignity of marriage is set forth by Paul ( Ephesians 5:25-32 ), in the fact that it signifies the mystical union between Christ and the Church.
3, 4.The duty of cohabitation on the part of the married. due benevolence--The oldest manuscripts read simply, "her due"; that is, the conjugal cohabitation due by the marriage contract (compare 1 Corinthians 7:4 ).
4. A paradox. She hath not power over her body, and yet it is her own. The oneness of body in which marriage places husband and wife explains this. The one complements the other. Neither without the other realizes the perfect ideal of man.
5. Defraud . . . not--namely, of the conjugal duty "due" ( 1 Corinthians 7:3 ; compare the Septuagint, Exodus 21:10 ). except it be--"unless perchance" [ALFORD]. give yourselves to--literally, "be at leisure for"; be free from interruptions for; namely, on some special "season," as the Greek for "time" means (compare Exodus 19:15 , Joel 2:16 , Zechariah 7:3 ). fasting and prayer--The oldest manuscripts omit "fasting and"; an interpolation, evidently, of ascetics. come together--The oldest manuscripts read, "be together," namely, in the regular state of the married. Satan--who often thrusts in his temptations to unholy thoughts amidst the holiest exercises. for your incontinency--because of your inability to "contain" ( 1 Corinthians 7:9 ) your natural propensities, which Satan would take advantage of.
6. by permission . . . not of commandment--not by God's permission to me to say it: but, "by way of permission to you, not as a commandment." "This" refers to the directions, 1 Corinthians 7:2-5 .
7. even as I--having tile gift of continence ( Matthew 19:11 Matthew 19:12 ). This wish does not hold good absolutely, else the extension of mankind and of the Church would cease; but relatively to "the present distress" ( 1 Corinthians 7:26 ).
8. to the unmarried--in general, of both sexes ( 1 Corinthians 7:10 1 Corinthians 7:11 ). and widows--in particular. even as I--unmarried ( 1 Corinthians 9:5 ).
9. if they cannot contain--that is, "have not continency." burn--with the secret flame of lust, which lays waste the whole inner man. (Compare AUGUSTINE [Holy Virginity]). The dew of God's grace is needed to stifle the flame, which otherwise would thrust men at last into hell-fire.
10. not I, but the Lord--(Compare 1 Corinthians 7:12 1 Corinthians 7:25 1 Corinthians 7:40 ). In ordinary cases he writes on inspired apostolic authority ( 1 Corinthians 14:37 ); but here on the direct authority of the Lord Himself ( mark 10:11 mark 10:12 ). In both cases alike the things written are inspired by the Spirit of God "but not all for all time, nor all on the primary truths of the faith" [ALFORD]. Let not the wife depart--literally, "be separated from." Probably the separation on either side, whether owing to the husband or to the wife, is forbidden.
11. But and if she depart--or "be separated." If the sin of separation has been committed, that of a new marriage is not to be added ( Matthew 5:32 ). be reconciled--by appeasing her husband's displeasure, and recovering his good will. let not . . . husband put away . . . wife--In Matthew 5:32 the only exception allowed is, "saving for the cause of fornication."
12. to the rest--the other classes (besides "the married," 1 Corinthians 7:10 , where both husband and wife are believers) about whom the Corinthians had inquired, namely, those involved in mixed marriages with unbelievers. not the Lord--by any direct command spoken by Him. she be pleased--Greek, "consents": implying his wish in the first instance, with which hers concurs.
13. the woman--a believer. let her not leave him--"her husband," instead of "him," is the reading of the oldest manuscripts The Greek for "leave" is the same as in 1 Corinthians 7:12 , "put away"; translate, "Let her not put away [that is, part with] her husband." The wife had the power of effecting a divorce by Greek and Roman law.
14. sanctified--Those inseparably connected with the people of God are hallowed thereby, so that the latter may retain the connection without impairing their own sanctity (compare 1 Timothy 4:5 ); nay, rather imparting to the former externally some degree of their own hallowed character, and so preparing the way for the unbeliever becoming at last sanctified inwardly by faith. by . . . by--rather, "in . . . in"; that is, in virtue of the marriage tie between them. by the husband--The oldest manuscripts read, "by the brother." It is the fact of the husband being a "brother," that is, a Christian, though the wife is not so, that sanctifies or hallows the union. else . . . children unclean--that is, beyond the hallowed pale of God's people: in contrast to "holy," that is, all that is within the consecrated limits [CONYBEARE and HOWSON]. The phraseology accords with that of the Jews, who regarded the heathen as "unclean," and all of the elect nation as "holy," that is, partakers of the holy covenant. Children were included in the covenant, as God made it not only with Abraham, but with his "seed after" him ( Genesis 17:7 ). So the faith of one Christian parent gives to the children a near relationship to the Church, just as if both parents were Christians (compare Romans 11:16 ). Timothy, the bearer of this Epistle, is an instance in point ( Acts 16:1 ). Paul appeals to the Corinthians as recognizing the principle, that the infants of heathen parents would not be admissible to Christian baptism, because there is no faith on the part of the parents; but where one parent is a believer, the children are regarded as not aliens from, but admissible even in infancy as sharers in, the Christian covenant: for the Church presumes that the believing parent will rear the child in the Christian faith. Infant baptism tacitly superseded infant circumcision, just as the Christian Lord's day gradually superseded the Jewish sabbath, without our having any express command for, or record of, transference. The setting aside of circumcision and of sabbaths in the case of the Gentiles was indeed expressly commanded by the apostles and Paul, but the substitution of infant baptism and of the Lord's day were tacitly adopted, not expressly enacted. No explicit mention of it occurs till IRENÆUS in the third century; but no society of Christians that we read of disputed its propriety till fifteen hundred years after Christ. Anabaptists would have us defer baptism till maturity as the child cannot understand the nature of it. But a child may be made heir of an estate: it is his, though incapable at the time of using or comprehending its advantage; he is not hereafter to acquire the title and claim to it. he will hereafter understand his claim, and be capable of employing his wealth: he will then, moreover, become responsible for the use he makes of it [ARCHBISHOP WHATELY].
15. if . . . depart--that is, wishes for separation. Translate, "separateth himself": offended with her Christianity, and refusing to live with her unless she renounce it. brother or a sister is not under bondage--is not bound to renounce the faith for the sake of retaining her unbelieving husband [HAMMOND]. So Deuteronomy 13:6 Matthew 10:35-37 Luke 14:26 . The believer does not lie under the same obligation in the case of a union with an unbeliever, as in the case of one with a believer. In the former case he is not bound not to separate, if the unbeliever separate or "depart," in the latter nothing but "fornication" justifies separation [PHOTIUS in Æcumenius]. but God hath called us to peace--Our Christian calling is one that tends to "peace" ( Romans 12:18 ), not quarrelling; therefore the believer should not ordinarily depart from the unbelieving consort ( 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 ), on the one hand; and on the other, in the exceptional case of the unbeliever desiring to depart, the believer is not bound to force the other party to stay in a state of continual discord ( Matthew 5:32 ). Better still it would be not to enter into such unequal alliances at all ( 1 Corinthians 7:40 , 2 Corinthians 6:14 ).
16. What knowest thou but that by staying with thy unbelieving partner thou mayest save him or her? Enforcing the precept to stay with the unbelieving consort ( 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 ). So Ruth the Moabitess became a convert to her husband's faith: and Joseph and Moses probably gained over their wives. So conversely the unbelieving husband may be won by the believing wife ( 1 Peter 3:1 ) [CALVIN]. Or else ( 1 Corinthians 7:15 ), if thy unbelieving consort wishes to depart, let him go, so that thou mayest live "in peace": for thou canst not be sure of converting him, so as to make it obligatory on thee at all costs to stay with him against his will [MENOCHIUS and ALFORD]. save--be the instrument of salvation to ( James 5:20 ).
17. But--Greek, "If not." "Only." Caution that believers should not make this direction ( 1 Corinthians 7:16 ; as ALFORD explains it) a ground for separating "of themselves" ( 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 ). Or, But if there be no hope of gaining over the unbeliever, still let the general principle be maintained, "As the Lord hath allotted to each, as God hath called each, so let him walk" (so the Greek in the oldest reading); let him walk in the path allotted to him and wherein he was called. The heavenly calling does not set aside our earthly callings. so ordain I in all churches--Ye also therefore should obey.
18. not become uncircumcised--by surgical operation (1 Maccabees 1:15; JOSEPHUS [Antiquities, 12.5.1]). Some Christians in excess of anti-Jewish feeling might be tempted to this. let him not be circumcised--as the Judaizing Christians would have him ( Acts 15:1 Acts 15:5 Acts 15:24 , Galatians 5:2 ).
19. Circumcision . . . nothing, but . . . keeping of . . . commandments of God--namely, is all in all. In Galatians 5:6 this "keeping of the commandments of God" is defined to be "faith which worketh by love"; and in Galatians 6:15 , "a new creature." Circumcision was a commandment of God: but not for ever, as "love."
20. the same calling--that is, the condition from which he is called a Jew, a Greek, a slave, or a freeman.
21. care not for it--Let it not be a trouble to thee that thou art a servant or slave. use it rather--Continue rather in thy state as a servant ( 1 Corinthians 7:20 , Galatians 3:28 , 1 Timothy 6:2 ). The Greek, "But if even thou mayest be made free, use it," and the context ( 1 Corinthians 7:20 1 Corinthians 7:22 ) favors this view [CHRYSOSTOM, BENGEL, and ALFORD]. This advice (if this translation be right) is not absolute, as the spirit of the Gospel is against slavery. What is advised here is, contentment under one's existing condition ( 1 Corinthians 7:24 ), though an undesirable one, since in our union with Christ all outward disparities of condition are compensated ( 1 Corinthians 7:22 ). Be not unduly impatient to cast off "even" thy condition as a servant by unlawful means ( 1 Peter 2:13-18 ); as, for example, Onesimus did by fleeing ( Philemon 1:10-18 ). The precept ( 1 Corinthians 7:23 ), "Become not (so the Greek) the servants of men," implies plainly that slavery is abnormal (compare Leviticus 25:42 ). "Men stealers," or slave dealers, are classed in 1 Timothy 1:10 , with "murderers" and "perjurers." NEANDER, GROTIUS, &c., explain, "If called, being a slave, to Christianity, be content--but yet, if also thou canst be free (as a still additional good, which if thou canst not attain, be satisfied without it; but which, if offered to thee, is not to be despised), make use of the opportunity of becoming free, rather than by neglecting it to remain a slave." I prefer this latter view, as more according to the tenor of the Gospel, and fully justified by the Greek.
22. the Lord's freeman--( Philemon 1:16 )--rather, "freedman." Though a slave externally, spiritually made free by the Lord: from sin, John 8:36 ; from the law, Romans 8:2 ; from "circumcision," 1 Corinthians 7:19 , Galatians 5:1 . Christ's servant--( 1 Corinthians 9:21 ). Love makes Christ's service perfect freedom ( Matthew 11:29 Matthew 11:30 , Galatians 5:13 , 1 Peter 2:16 ).
23. be not ye--Greek, "become not ye." Paul here changes from "thou" ( 1 Corinthians 7:21 ) to "ye." YE ALL are "bought" with the blood of Christ, whatever be your earthly state ( 1 Corinthians 6:20 ). "Become not servants to men," either externally, or spiritually; the former sense applying to the free alone: the latter to Christian freemen and slaves alike, that they should not be servile adherents to their party leaders at Corinth ( 1 Corinthians 3:21 1 Corinthians 3:22 , Matthew 23:8-10 , 2 Corinthians 11:20 ); nor indeed slaves to men generally, so far as their condition admits. The external and internal conditions, so far as is attainable, should correspond, and the former be subservient to the latter (compare 1 Corinthians 7:21 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 ).
24. abide with God--being chiefly careful of the footing on which he stands towards God rather than that towards men. This clause, "with God," limits the similar precept in 1 Corinthians 7:20 . A man may cease to "abide in the calling wherein he was called," and yet not violate the precept here. If a man's calling be not favorable to his "abiding with God" (retaining holy fellowship with Him), he may use lawful means to change from it (compare Note,
25. no commandment of the Lord: yet . . . my judgment--I have no express revelation from the Lord commanding it, but I give my judgment (opinion); namely, under the ordinary inspiration which accompanied the apostles in all their canonical writings (compare 1 Corinthians 7:40 , 1 Corinthians 14:37 , 1 Thessalonians 4:15 ). The Lord inspires me in this case to give you only a recommendation, which you are free to adopt or reject--not a positive command. In the second case ( 1 Corinthians 7:10 1 Corinthians 7:11 ) it was a positive command; for the Lord had already made known His will ( Malachi 2:14 Malachi 2:15 , Matthew 5:31 Matthew 5:32 ). In the third case ( 1 Corinthians 7:12 ), the Old Testament commandment of God to put away strange wives ( Ezra 10:3 ), Paul by the Spirit revokes. mercy of the Lord--( 1 Timothy 1:13 ). He attributes his apostleship and the gifts accompanying it (including inspiration) to God's grace alone. faithful--in dispensing to you the inspired directions received by me from the Lord.
26. I suppose--"I consider." this--namely, "for a man so to be," that is, in the same state in which he is ( 1 Corinthians 7:27 ). for--by reason of. the present distress--the distresses to which believers were then beginning to be subjected, making the married state less desirable than the single; and which would prevail throughout the world before the destruction of Jerusalem, according to Christ's prophecy ( Matthew 24:8-21 ; compare Acts 11:28 ).
27. Illustrating the meaning of "so to be," 1 Corinthians 7:26 . Neither the married (those "bound to a wife") nor the unmarried (those "loosed from a wife") are to "seek" a change of state (compare 1 Corinthians 7:20 1 Corinthians 7:24 ).
28. trouble in the flesh--Those who marry, he says, shall incur "trouble in the flesh" (that is, in their outward state, by reason of the present distress), not sin, which is the trouble of the spirit. but I spare you--The emphasis in the Greek is on "I." My motive in advising you so is, to "spare you" such trouble in the flesh. So ALFORD after CALVIN, BENGEL, and others. ESTIUS from AUGUSTINE explains it, "I spare you further details of the inconveniences of matrimony, lest even the incontinent may at the peril of lust be deterred from matrimony: thus I have regard for your infirmity." The antithesis in the Greek of "I . . . you" and "such" favors the former.
29. this I say--A summing up of the whole, wherein he draws the practical inference from what precedes ( 1 Corinthians 15:50 ). the time--the season (so the Greek) of this present dispensation up to the coming of the Lord ( Romans 13:11 ). He uses the Greek expression which the Lord used in Luke 21:8 , 13:33 . short--literally, "contracted." it remaineth--The oldest manuscripts read, "The time (season) is shortened as to what remains, in order that both they," &c.; that is, the effect which the shortening of the time ought to have is, "that for the remaining time (henceforth), both they," &c. The clause, "as to what remains," though in construction belonging to the previous clause, in sense belongs to the following. However, CYPRIAN and Vulgate support English Version. as though they had none--We ought to consider nothing as our own in real or permanent possession.
30. they that weep . . . wept not--(Compare 2 Corinthians 6:10 ). they that buy . . . possessed not--(Compare Isaiah 24:1 Isaiah 24:2 ). Christ specifies as the condemning sin of the men of Sodom not merely their open profligacy, but that "they bought, they sold," &c., as men whose all was in this world ( Luke 17:28 ). "Possessed" in the Greek implies a holding fast of a possession; this the Christian will not do, for his "enduring substance" is elsewhere ( Hebrews 10:34 ).
31. not abusing it--not abusing it by an overmuch using of it. The meaning of "abusing" here is, not so much perverting, as using it to the full [BENGEL]. We are to use it, "not to take our fill" of its pursuits as our chief aim (compare Luke 10:40-42 ). As the planets while turning on their own axis, yet revolve round the sun; so while we do our part in our own worldly sphere, God is to be the center of all our desires. fashion--the present fleeting form. Compare Psalms 39:6 , "vain show"; Psalms 73:20 , "a dream"; James 4:14 , "a vapor." passeth away--not merely shall pass away, but is now actually passing away. The image is drawn from a shifting scene in a play represented on the stage ( 1 John 2:17 ). Paul inculcates not so much the outward denial of earthly things, as the inward spirit whereby the married and the rich, as well as the unmarried and the poor, would be ready to sacrifice all for Christ's sake.
32. without carefulness--I would have you to be not merely "without trouble," but "without distracting cares" (so the Greek). careth--if he uses aright the advantages of his condition.
34. difference also--Not merely the unmarried and the married man differ in their respective duties, but also the wife and the virgin. Indeed a woman undergoes a greater change of condition than a man in contracting marriage.
35. for your own profit--not to display my apostolic authority. not . . . cast a snare upon you--image from throwing a noose over an animal in hunting. Not that by hard injunctions I may entangle you with the fear of committing sin where there is no sin. comely--befitting under present circumstances. attend upon--literally, "assiduously wait on"; sitting down to the duty. Compare Luke 10:39 , Mary; Luke 2:37 , "Anna . . . a widow, who departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day" ( 1 Timothy 5:5 ). distraction--the same Greek as "cumbered" ( Luke 10:40 , Martha).
36. behaveth . . . uncomely--is not treating his daughter well in leaving her unmarried beyond the flower of her age, and thus debarring her from the lawful gratification of her natural feeling as a marriageable woman. need so require--if the exigencies of the case require it; namely, regard to the feelings and welfare of his daughter. Opposed to "having no necessity" ( 1 Corinthians 7:37 ). let them marry--the daughter and her suitor.
37. steadfast--not to be turned from his purpose by the obloquy of the world. having no necessity--arising from the natural inclinations of the daughter. power over his . . . will--when, owing to his daughter's will not opposing his will, he has power to carry into effect his will or wish. decreed--determined.
38. her--The oldest manuscripts have "his own virgin daughter." but--The oldest manuscripts have "and."
39. bound by the law--The oldest manuscripts omit "by the law." only in the Lord--Let her marry only a Christian ( 2 Corinthians 6:14 ).
40. happier--( 1 Corinthians 7:1 1 Corinthians 7:28 1 Corinthians 7:34 1 Corinthians 7:35 ). I think also--"I also think"; just as you Corinthians and your teachers think much of your opinions, so I also give my opinion by inspiration; so in 1 Corinthians 7:25 , "my judgment" or opinion. Think does not imply doubt, but often a matter of well-grounded assurance ( John 5:39 ).
Read the Scripture: 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 1 Corinthians 7:1-91Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 2But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. 3The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. 5Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.New International VersionWhen we come to the seventh chapter of First Corinthians we plunge right into a very explicit and forthright passage dealing with sex in marriage. Some people are squeamish about hearing this subject taught and preached on a Sunday morning, but the very fact that the Word of God, in all its purity and wholesomeness, treats a subject like this ought to correct that kind of undue scrupulosity among us. It should teach us that this is a subject that is very much worthwhile examining together. Besides, it is a passage of crucial significance for our day.
You will remember from the first part of this letter that there were three young men who had come from the church in Corinth to Ephesus, where Paul was, bringing with them a report on the conditions of the church. (Their names, Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus, are given to us in the last chapter of this letter.) They also brought with them a letter from the church, asking the apostle certain questions.
Now, Paul has not touched upon these questions up to this point in this letter. He wants to build up to the subject with some very necessary, honest dealing with the problems that they had not asked about at Corinth -- and some revelations of truth that they needed to know. (He has been dealing with the subject of sex, the body's sexual powers, and how to handle them.) Now he has come to the point, and it is very fitting that, at this time, he turns to the letter and begins to answer their questions. You see this in the opening words:Now concerning the matters about which you wrote. It is well for a man not to touch a woman. But because of the temptation to immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:1-2 RSV)
Question #1 on their list seems to be something like this: "In view of the sexual temptations we face in Corinth, is it perhaps better to take a vow of celibacy, to renounce marriage for life, and to withdraw from all contact with the opposite sex?" And Paul's answer is given to us in this very first verse: "It is well for a man not to touch a woman." Now that question probably arose from the difficulty that some were having with handling their sexual drives. They were living in a sexually-oriented society, very much like what we have in California today. They were facing exposure to temptation in these areas every time they turned around, just as we do today, and some of them were reacting, and saying, "Well, rather than struggle all the time, why not just forget the whole thing and get away from the opposite sex and live as a monk?" (They did not use that term then, perhaps, but that is what it has come to mean.)
You will recognize that this is an attitude that is commonly felt and held. This gave rise to monasticism in the Middle Ages, a very popular practice at that time. People withdrew from all contact in this area, viewing sex itself as defiling, dirty, and unworthy. They viewed the celibate state as a higher level of spirituality. They moved out of the world and built monasteries where men could live among themselves and women could live among themselves in a way that would remove them from all contact, and hopefully (they thought) all struggle in this area. But it did not work, and it never will work. It never is God's intention for the sexes to live separately -- he made them in the beginning to be together. Monasticism proved to be a disaster, as it always proves. You cannot run away from drives that are within you, and Scripture recognizes this.
This question of theirs expressed the idea that, since sex drives create so many problems, it is best to get away and forget it all, and the apostle's answer is that there is nothing wrong with celibacy; it is all right to be single. He stresses that right at the beginning. Nevertheless, he says, because of fornications and the temptations that abound, marriage is preferable in a climate like Corinth. Some have taken that to mean that Paul had a very low view of marriage -- that it was a kind of "second best" state of affairs -- but, when people feel that way, they have missed the whole thrust of this passage; they have ignored the context around it.
It is true that the apostle was unmarried himself, at least at this time. Scholars differ on this, but there is some evidence that he must have been, or might have been, at least, married at one time in his life. It was a custom among the Jews for young men to marry, and it was very rare that a young man would not get married. Furthermore, Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin at one time, because he tells us that he gave his vote against the Christians. To be a member of the Sanhedrin required marriage, so it is very likely that he was married at one time. What happened to his wife is one of the great mysteries of all time. No one knows. Tradition does not tell us. Scripture does not even mention it. Whether she died, or whether she left him when he became a Christian, or what happened, we have no way of knowing. (That is one of the first questions you can put on your list when you meet the apostle in heaven.) But at this point, anyway, he was unmarried, and he glories in it. Several times in this chapter he will tell us that he considered it an advantage to be single, and he will give us some reasons for it. So he starts on that note.
There is nothing wrong with single life, nothing at all. "It is well for a man not to touch a woman." Now that is a euphemism for sexual intercourse. It does not mean that it is wrong for a male to physically lay his hand on a woman's shoulder or arm or whatever may be normal in friendship. This is not, as it has sometimes been twisted to mean, an argument against that kind of thing. Paul is saying here that to abstain from sex is not harmful, and it is not wrong, but, if one abstains, a celibate life must be lived in chastity, as he has made clear in the previous context.
Now, however, he says marriage is right too, and he is not talking about marriage and revealing his feelings about the married state in this passage primarily. He is really dealing with sex in marriage. Sex is the subject he is discussing throughout this whole context, and, therefore, he is discussing the proper use of the body's sexual powers. (He has covered sex outside of marriage in Chapter 6, and now he takes it up within marriage. If you want to know what Paul thought of marriage itself read the fifth chapter of Ephesians. There you have an incomparable passage of tremendous beauty setting forth the glory of marriage as the picture of Christ's relationship with his church.) Here the apostle says three things about sex within marriage. They are very important things, and we will take them one by one:The first one is suggested here in these opening two verses. Sex within marriage, the apostle says, does permit relief from sexual pressures. Now he does not suggest that you should get married in order to be free from sex drives. That should not be the major reason for marriage, and no part of Scripture ever teaches it as such. What the apostle is saying is that, when you are married, it does free you in this area. It helps to be married when you live in a sex-oriented society. Several things are indicated by this.
First, right off, it obviously answers the claims of some, notably the Roman Catholic Church, that sex was given to us only for procreation purposes. Doug Goins, our music director, said to me at the early service this morning, "How appropriate that we had all the children up here singing this morning when you are going to talk about sex in marriage." Well, children do come from that. Let us not hide it. The stork story has been blown. But that is not the only reason sex was given to us. It is clear from a passage like this where married couples are urged, even commanded, to experience sex together and frequently -- not just once in a great while when a child is desired -- that sex is given to us for more than merely carrying on the race. It has another function within marriage, and certainly one of them is to provide mutual pleasure to one another. This is clear, I think, from this passage and other places where the Scriptures touch on this.
I remember when I was a young Christian in my early twenties being given a book that was supposed to teach me about how to handle sex drives, and what sex was for. It was called, The Way of a Man with a Maid. It had some helpful things in it, especially designed for Christians to show that sex is a gift of God, but one of the things it taught was that the best marriages are based upon only having sex when you want to have children. I did not recognize it at the time because it seemed to me to be a book that was highly respected and taught, and that it was in line with the Biblical teaching, but I have come since to see that it represented a terrible distortion of the Biblical position on sexuality. There is a wealth of literature today that is available to us in this realm that much more accurately reflects the Biblical teaching along this line.
One thing is clear: Sex in marriage is given to us for the mutual pleasure of those involved. It is the highest form of physical ecstasy, without a doubt. It rates as the number one recreation of the world, and there is no question about that. It always has been, and it always will be. Nothing compares to it, and God likes it that way; he designed it that way. He gave us our erogenous zones and permitted them, intended them, to be aroused and excited. He intended for human beings to experience this exquisite ecstasy of orgasm, but he designed that it be protected, that it be experienced within walls of security which only marriage, as the Bible envisions it, can provide.
Within those marriage bonds, sex is designed to be an exquisite pleasure which a married couple experiences frequently, as frequently as they mutually desire, and to whatever degree it may be desired. This is what is meant in Hebrews 13:4 where it says, "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled:" (Hebrews 13:4 KJV). Therefore, those who twist certain passages of Scripture to indicate that sex is something that really should be kept secret and not openly discussed even in marriage are mistaking and missing the whole purpose of Scripture.
Having said that marriage is a way of relieving sexual pressures, Paul now says something else very significant. He says sex in marriage is designed of God to teach us something about ourselves, and to fulfill a missing need in our partners. You see this in Verses 3-5:The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does. Do not refuse one another[or to put it more bluntly, as the Greek actually does and as we read in the King James Version, "Defraud ye not one the other"] except perhaps by agreement for a season, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, lest Satan tempt you through lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:3-5 RSV)
The major thrust of that paragraph is telling us that sex in marriage is designed for the fulfillment of each partner. This is what the Song of Solomon so beautifully captures. We read a paragraph together from that this morning just to catch the flavor of that beautiful book, written to describe the exquisite ecstasy of sexual love within marriage. That is what that book is about. Unfortunately, Victorian squeamishness has so prevailed in the Church that most people do not know that. They think it is a book written to be an allegory about Christ and the Church. Well now, since marriage is that kind of an allegory, that is a legitimate use of that book, but it is not what it was written about. It was written to describe the courtship and wedding and subsequent married life of a young couple who before God were seeking to explore and discover all the beautiful relationships that God intended when he made our bodies different from one another, when he made our psyches different from one another, even our spiritual hungers different in male and female and brought the two together. That is what marriage is all about. Therefore, you have in the beautiful language of the Song of Solomon a marvelous description of the ecstasy, the enjoyment, the pleasure that sex is designed to give.
There are several important statements in this paragraph that we need to bear in mind when thinking about that: First, you will notice that Paul does not say to the husband and the wife, "Demand your own sexual rights." He never puts it in that way, and yet as a marriage counselor I can say that I have been involved in scores of cases where one of the major problems of the marriage was that one partner, usually the man, demanded his sexual rights from his wife. (Occasionally it has been the woman who was the aggressor.) Nothing, perhaps, is more destructive to marital happiness than that -- for the male to come and demand that his wife submit to him in this area, whenever he feels like it. To mistake and mistreat the passage where it speaks of the wife not ruling over her own body and thinking of this as giving license to the husband to demand sex whenever he wants it is to destroy the whole beauty of sex in marriage. Nothing is more hurtful to a relationship than that, and Paul does not say that.
Not once does he ever suggest that you have the right to demand sex from your mate. What he says is that what you have the right to do is to give him or her, as a gift from you, the fulfillment of these sexual desires -- and the responsibility you have is not to your mate, but to the Lord to do so. It is a matter that Paul puts on the basis of the relationship that a believer has with his or her Lord, and it is the Lord who asks us to give this gift to our mates in marriage, and thus to make it a basis of mutual fulfillment and satisfaction. In other words, sex in marriage is a gift that you are to freely offer to each other. It is not a selfish, self-centered satisfying of your own desire.
If we understand that it is going to make a big difference in many marriages, and, if you reflect on it a moment, you will see why. I suggested last week that physical sex is given to us to teach us how to relate to one another psychologically, and how to relate to God spiritually, and this is true in this area. Sex is so designed that we have no control over it ourselves within marriage. We need another to minister to us, and that is designed of God in order to teach us how to relate and fulfill the basic law of life which Jesus put in these terms when he said, "If you attempt to save your life you will lose it," (Matthew 16:25, Mark 8:35, Luke 17:33, John 12:25). If you try to meet your own need, if you put that first in your life -- "I am going to have my needs met" -- the result will be that you will lose the joy of life and you will lose everything you are trying to gain. Instead of finding fulfillment you will find emptiness, and you will end your years looking back upon a wasted experience. You cannot get fulfillment that way.
That is not merely good advice -- that is a law of life, as inviolable as the law of gravity. You cannot beat it any way you try. The only way to find your needs met and yourself fulfilled is to fulfill another's needs. Throw your life away, Jesus said, and you will find it. That is what sex is all about. It is designed not to have your needs met, but to meet another's needs. Thus, in marriage, you have a beautiful reciprocity. In the process of devoting yourself to the enjoyment of your mate, and to giving him or her the most exquisite sense of pleasure that you can, you find your own needs met. That is what is meant by Verse 4, "For the wife does not rule over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not rule over his own body, but the wife does," (1 Corinthians 7:4 RSV). That is not saying that you are slaves of one another. It is saying that the power to give fulfillment to your mate lies with you. He or she cannot fulfill himself or herself in this area. It is impossible. That is why sex with yourself, solo sex, is a drag. It does not go anywhere. It is a dead-end street. It is a momentary, mechanical fulfillment that leaves you psychologically unfulfilled. The only way those psychological fulfillments can be met is by your partner giving you the gift of fulfillment and you giving him or her the same gift.
This is why God made us with that quality of needing someone else to fulfill us sexually. This is why unresponsiveness on the part of a partner in sex always creates a problem in marriage. Frigidity, of whatever type it may be or for whatever cause, creates deep-seated psychological problems in a marriage and a rift occurs. You only need to talk to some experienced marriage counselors to know how true that is. God has given us the ability to give a gift of love and response to another person, and the joy of doing so is what creates the ecstasy of sexual love in marriage.
So important is this to marriage that the apostle goes on to say that it takes precedence over everything else in your life except an occasional spiritual retreat for prayer. "Do not refuse one another except perhaps by agreement..." If you are going to do this, it has to be a mutual thing. You must not give up or deny your partner the right to this kind of enjoyment. To unilaterally take action to refuse to involve yourself in a sexual union in marriage is to violate this very command of God, and to hurt the marriage very severely.
Again I could fill that in with many, many experiences taken from real life. As always, the Scriptures examine us at the deepest level of our being, and here Paul puts his finger on what is one of the most frequent causes for disaster in marriage -- a unilateral refusal to grant the gift of enjoyment and pleasure to one's mate. He says, "Don't do that" -- with one possible exception. If you both agree to do so, and if you do so for a brief season and you do so for a spiritual reason, i.e., to have more time for working out a special problem in prayer, then it is all right. But it can be such a destructive thing in marriage that Paul says, "Be careful. Don't continue it very long, and by all means come together again, lest Satan be given an advantage over you." Those are very wise words, and Paul is underscoring here much that is causing problems in marriages today. Now he says a third thing about sex in marriage that is very important, Verses 6 and 7:I say this by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as l myself am. But each has his own special gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. (1 Corinthians 7:6-7 RSV)
In other words, what Paul is saying is that sex in marriage manifests a special gift of God. Marriage itself is a gift from God, just as singleness is, and some have one gift and some another, but both express some unique quality about God himself that is intended to be manifest by that state. The word "this" here in Verse 6 is looking back, not just to the immediate context but clear back to Verse 2, where Paul was talking about the gift of being married versus the gift of being single. What he is saying is, "Marriage is not for all." Paul himself glories in being single, but both states, singleness and marriage, are a gift from God, and sexuality in marriage reflects a special beauty of God; it illustrates something about God. I think it illustrates that uniqueness of relationship within the Trinity, and, as we are told in Ephesians 5, between the Lord and his people. It illustrates a oneness of spirit and identity of person that can only be manifested when two human beings, weak and struggling and failing in many ways, nevertheless learn to live together and love one another despite the problems and the heartaches they experience.
On the other hand, singleness without sex reflects another beauty of God. It permits a quality of dedication to a single goal that is often highly admired by everyone around. We all know people like this who have never married, who have given themselves to achieve a certain goal in life. This too illustrates something about God. So these states of life are gifts from God and we must view them as such, and marriage no less than singleness. This brings the apostle to a related matter which he takes up now in Verses 8-9: What about the sexual lives of people who once were married but now are no longer?To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain single as I do. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:8-9 RSV)
The King James Version puts that, "It is better to marry than to burn." I remember hearing a sermon years ago from a country preacher in Texas on the text, "It's better to be married than to be burned." All the young people in his church went out and got marriage licenses right away! Nobody wanted to be burned, but that, of course, is not what Paul is talking about.
He is talking about "burning" with passion. Paul is saying here that if you have been married and now are no longer, he understands that your sexual lives have been fully awakened in marriage. You are used to finding these drives and pressures met, and now suddenly deprived of your mate either by divorce or by widowhood, you no longer have a way of satisfying these desires. What about them? (Later on in this chapter Paul is going to talk to the unmarried, and by that he means those who have never married. He calls them "virgins." Here, obviously, he is talking about those who have been divorced and widowed who once were married.)
This can create quite a problem. I remember years ago reading Catherine Marshall's book written shortly after the death of her famous husband, Dr. Peter Marshall, and with all frankness she said that what to do about her awakened desires for love, sexual love from her husband, was a real problem in her life. Many a widow struggles with this; many a divorcee has struggled with this.
The apostle's word is, "If it is possible, remain single. You can now, having learned many great lessons from life, give yourself, perhaps, more fully to the work of the Lord than you ever were able to before. This is an opportunity to do so." (I should put in here, however, that, in the letter to Titus, Paul almost commands young widows to remarry. He says that would be much better for them. But if you are older and you have lost your mate, then remain single is his advice.) That is best, but if the physical struggle is severe, well then marry again. There is nothing wrong in it. It is all right. Thus he graciously, and with the wisdom of God himself, encourages and gives advice to people who have once been married. (This leads to a discussion of the break up of marriage, of the matters of divorce. We will be taking that passage next week.)
It is clear as you look at this passage, where Paul has dealt so frankly and so explicitly with these matters, that the essence of marital happiness, sexually, is made up of three ingredients: First, of love to God. The body is made for the Lord. We learned that last week, and, therefore, what the Lord wants you to do with your body should be all-compelling. It should govern what your decisions are. The second ingredient in sexual happiness is a discipline of self -- a willingness to put your own needs second to those of your mate in this area, and to give yourself, to give the gift of beauty and love and fulfillment to one another continually. A good marriage, of course, always has a husband and wife giving gifts to one another. We have certain times of the year when everybody does it so it is easy to get on the bandwagon. You give a gift on your anniversary, and you give a gift on your wife's birthday, hopefully, and you give a gift, perhaps, on Mother's Day and other times. But the best marriages are made up of husbands and wives who are always giving gifts to each other -- buying little trinkets here, bringing home something from a trip, your eye being caught by something in a market or a bargain store or whatever that you think your mate will enjoy, and getting it. That is a way of saying to your mate, "I'm thinking of you. You are important to me. I love you." The greatest gift along that line is sex if it is given with that same spirit of joy and thanksgiving and gratitude and willingness to give pleasure. Nothing is more important than that, but it calls for a refusal to indulge in self and self-satisfaction. The third ingredient, therefore, is mutual respect for one another.
Love to God, discipline for self, and a mutual respect for one another. This constitutes, then, two lives learning to unite in the Lord. That is probably the most beautiful thing God produces on this earth. It surpasses everything else. If you have ever seen an old married couple who have been in love for years and have learned how to relate in happiness and peace and joy with one another you know something of the quiet beauty of that relationship. It blesses everybody when they see this, and that is what God has in mind for marriage. Examine your own marriage in the light of this, or if you are not yet married and you feel God is heading you that way, think these things through.PrayerOur Father, once again we thank you for the frankness with which your Word deals with these matters. Forgive our squeamishness, our unnecessary prudishness about these things. Teach us, Lord, the beauty and the glory and the joy of sexuality. Help us to learn how to express it in ways that give honor to you and fulfill your divine intention for us. May the marriages that are represented here this morning increasingly become beautiful pictures of a deep relationship, of the harmony of two different lives becoming one beautiful and attractive person. We ask in the name of Jesus our Lord, Amen.
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