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1 Corinthians 7:1-16: To the Married and Unmarried Print E-mail
1 Corinthians
Sunday, 11 October 2015

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The gospel has more to say about marriage and singleness than we often realize. It is not good news for part of our lives, but the good news for all of our lives. We have seen already in 1 Corinthians how the gospel applies to division, wisdom, lawsuits, and sexuality. In response to a letter than apparently the Corinthians had sent him, Paul will go on to write about how the gospel applies to marriage and singleness (ch. 7), idolatry (ch. 8-10), worship (ch. 11-14), and our understanding of resurrection (ch. 15). And this is just one letter in the New Testament. The truth is that there is no situation or circumstance or experience to which the gospel does not apply. The good news is meant for every inch of our lives.

So what about relationships? How does Paul apply the gospel to the married and the unmarried? Before we look at what he says here, we need to try and understand what the Corinthians’ had communicated to him in their letter. Look at verse 1. As we noted last week, the Corinthians lived in a culture of dualism, where matter was seen as evil and only the soul/spirit was good. Thus, for some, what they did their bodies did not matter. If they wanted to visit a prostitute then they could because God did not care about their physical selves. Paul addresses this error in 6:12-20, calling them to glorify God with their bodies by avoiding sexual immorality. Yet, it seems that others had decided that since the body was evil, they would just avoid sex altogether. If certain sexual acts were sinful, why not just give it up entirely? Wouldn’t that make them even more spiritual? These thoughts were leading them to wrong conclusions about marriage and singleness. Paul writes what he does in chapter 7 to clear this up by giving clear instructions to the married and unmarried and by pointing them back to their identity in Christ. So then, what does he say to the unmarried and the married in verses 1-16?

Faithfully Unmarried (v. 6-9)

Paul will address those who have yet to be married in verses 22-40, but here in this passage he addresses widows in ways that would also apply to those who have not yet been married. So what does he say to the unmarried?

First, he tells them that they are blessed. Look at verses 6-8. Singleness is not just a burden to bear. It is not just the time before the blessing of marriage. Paul will give further reasons for this later in the chapter, but here he tells us that being unmarried is a ‘charisma’, a gift of grace. Some are given the gift of marriage, but others are given a gift as well. If you are married, then you are blessed. But if you are unmarried, then you are blessed as well. If I am honest, I did not have such a high view of singleness before I was married. I never felt ‘called’ to be single so I always saw it as simply a time to endure before marriage. But Paul would have told me that I was wrong. Yes, being single and wanting to be married is hard. I don’t think the Bible tells us to pretend like it is not. Rather, Paul is simply reminding us of the blessing, the gift, of every relational circumstance. We will look more at his reasons for this next week. But for now, Paul is simply encouraging you to know that you are blessed by being unmarried.

Second, Paul tells the unmarried to get married if they struggle with sexual sin. Look at verse 9. For some widows it would be extremely difficult to live without physical intimacy since they have known that in their marriage. Thus, Paul encourages them to get married. Instead of visiting prostitutes or engaging in some other form of sexual immorality, Paul tells them to get married. I think the same principle applies to those who have not been married as well (see 7:36). Their prohibition against sex (v. 1) is wrong. Instead of being consumed by temptation and disobedience, the unmarried should pursue marriage. This is not always easy and it does not mean an end to sexual temptation, but it is a good and right pursuit.

Faithfully Married (v. 1-5, 10-16)

With all of these verses, Paul is addressing their thinking that it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman (v. 1). Such a thought will impact different marriages in different ways. So what does Paul say to the married in this passage?

First, the married should not deprive each other of sex. Again, if the body is evil and certain sexual acts are sinful, then why not avoid sex altogether? Paul rejects this idea. Look at verses 2-3. Notice the reason that Paul gives for sexual intimacy in marriage: the temptation to sexual immorality. One way that God has given us to fight against sexual temptation is healthy marriages and healthy sex-lives within marriage. Sex is not optional, unless there are physical limitations. It is not something to be used to manipulate our spouses. No, we should freely give ourselves to one another. We should serve each other in this way. Paul goes on in verses 4-5. Look at those with me.

In marriage, we belong to each other. Refusing sex is not just uncaring or unloving, it is unbiblical. Of course there are exceptions to this and Paul allows for a couple to abstain for a season, but this is not to be normal. Instead of withholding or depriving one another of sex, a married couple should be serving each other through sexual intimacy. Why is this so important? Paul answers: so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Perhaps some of the men in Corinth were going to see prostitutes because their wives were being super-spiritual and refusing sex. Perhaps they thought no sex would alleviate temptation. Paul tells them to take this issue seriously because the Enemy is looking for an opportunity to tempt us sexually. God has given us marriage so that we enjoy what He has created, namely sexual intimacy. Therefore, if you are married, then do not deprive your spouse of sex.

Second, Paul tells the married to not get divorced. He applies this to three different situations in verses 10-16. Let’s consider these.

For those married to believers, they should not get divorced. Look at verses 10-11. Building upon the teaching of Jesus, Paul tells the Corinthians that believers should not get divorced.  Again, it seems that perhaps some of the women in Corinth were seeking separation from their husbands to avoid sexual activity. We will see more about these women later in the letter, but Paul tells them here that such an approach is forbidden. If the women does separate, she should remain unmarried or return to her husband.

The Lord hates divorce and the bible only allows for it in a couple of situations. First, Jesus allows divorce when adultery and unfaithfulness occurs (see Matthew 19:9). And second, as we will see, Paul allows divorce when an unbeliever leaves a believer (v. 15). But never does the Bible encourage divorce. It is allowable at times, but it should be avoided. Let me just say a word here about abuse. I don't think a victim of abuse should remain living with their spouse. If the abuser is a professing Christian, then the Church should do all that they can to deal with situation, even involving the authorities. I think that these situations can lead to divorce in light of v. 15, but however it plays out, a victim of abuse should never remain in the situation or remain quiet. I plead with you to talk with me if that is you.

For those married to unbelievers, Paul tells them to remain married if they can. Look at verses 12-13. Paul is not quoting Jesus here, but what he says is still authoritative. If the unbeliever is willing to remain married, then Paul tells the believer not to get divorced. It seems that some thought that such a relationship would make them unclean.  But Paul denies that in verse 14.  Look at that with me. Under the Old Covenant, people were made unclean by contact with those who were outside of the people of God. But this is not the same in the New Covenant. Rather, through the witness of the believing spouse, the unbeliever might become a believer. The same is true for their children. They are 'set apart' by the believer and the hope is that they will turn from their sins and trust in Christ through the witness of the Christian in the home. So if the unbeliever is willing to remain, then the believer should not get divorced.

But what if the unbeliever is unwilling to stay in the marriage. Paul addresses that in verse 15. Look at that with me. If the unbeliever separates and divorces, then the believer is free. Although not all agree, I believe that they are then free to remarry a believer. That seems to be what Paul would mean by not enslaved. Again, divorce is not commanded or even encouraged here, but it is permitted for the sake of peace. A further reasons is given in verse 16. Look at that with me. It seems that Paul is pointing out that trying to remain in a marriage where the unbeliever wants to leave will not necessarily result in their salvation. Of course, on the positive side, Paul could be encouraging the believers to remain when they can in hopes that they can lead their spouse to the Lord. Either way, the believer should remain when they can, but not feel obligated to stay when the spouse chooses to leave.

In short, Paul tells the married to continue in their marriage and to continue having sex in their marriage. I encourage every couple to talk about that this very week. Many relationships get spoiled and many temptations are introduced by a lack of communication and obedience in this area. For the sake of your spouse, have that conversation this week. For those unmarried, Paul encourages you to see your circumstances as a gift. Even though that is hard to do, it is the right approach and we will look at further reasons for this next week.

In all of this, Paul encourages the believer to remain in their present circumstances if they can. He wants them to be content with who they are, which is what he argues in verses 17-24. Look at verses 20-24. Paul encourages them to be content in their current situations. But how? How can we find such contentment. We find our identity in Christ! He has bought us with the price of His own blood. Those who have turned from their sins and trusted in Him, belong to Him. Through faith in Him, our relational status no longer defines us. Are we married? Then we should use our marriage to glorify Him and point others to the gospel. Are we single? Then we should use our time and opportunities to lead others to Christ. When our identity rests in Him, then we can better live our lives for His glory. Whether married or single, may we do just that. Amen.

~ William Marshall ~


Last Updated ( Monday, 19 October 2015 )

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