Today: [1 Corinthians 7:] Should You Be Single for Jesus? In this chapter, Paul addresses a doctrine in the Corinthian church that all believers single or married should remain celibate to truly serve God. Is this true? Paul addresses this issue and the question of divorce and remarriage in great detail which should be very useful to us concerning lifting the scourge of condemnation that comes upon many in this area of need.
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[1 Cor 7:1-19 KJV] 1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: [It is] good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, [to avoid] fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. 4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. 5 Defraud ye not one the other, except [it be] with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. 6 But I speak this by permission, [and] not of commandment. 7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. 8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. 10 And unto the married I command, [yet] not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from [her] husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to [her] husband: and let not the husband put away [his] wife. 12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy. 15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such [cases]: but God hath called us to peace. 16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save [thy] husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save [thy] wife? 17 But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches. 18 Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
In v. 1 of 1 Corinthians 7, Paul makes the statement that it is good not to touch a woman. On its face, this is an extreme statement, but it must be taken in the context of Paul answering questions put to him in a letter beforehand. Apparently, there were Corinthians who believed that celibacy was a higher form of holiness and Paul agrees to this with reservations. In verse 2 he acknowledges the marriage relationship in such a way as to lead us to believe that these particular Corinthians were advocating celibacy and abstinence to the point that they felt that married couples should separate in order to be more holy.
Paul disagrees with this viewpoint without any suggestion that he agrees that living for God in fulness requires living single.
Paul goes on in v. 3-5 that a husband or wife has no right to withhold themselves from one another even with the pretense that they are reserving themselves physically in the interests of a deeper relationship with God. This is very important for us today because our culture is influenced to a lesser or greater degree by social mores arising from the Victorian age that hold sex and sexuality as something inherently evil which has no basis in scripture.
Importantly, Paul sums up his opening remarks in this chapter to clarify that he is speaking these things not by the commandment of the Holy Spirit but by permission to answer the questions put to him. In other words, we are given to understand that nothing expressed in v. 1-6 regarding celibacy, abstinence, sexuality or married life rise to the level of holy commandment but rather godly counsel.
In verse 7 we see that Paul commends to the Corinthians what we call being “single for Jesus” but this is a gift from God and not every person walks in that grace. To the unmarried and widows if they choose the celibate life – Paul does not dissuade them, but if they cannot endure the temptations inherent in this arrangement they should marry.
Now in v. 10, Paul speaks to wives who are considering leaving their husbands. He frames this as a command from God but acknowledges in v. 11 that some may choose regardless of his instruction to leave their husband anyway. Why doesn’t it say “let the husband not leave his wife?” Are we to understand that in this ancient culture, New Testament concessions were made to husbands that were not made to wives? Paul goes on to clarify in v. 11 that no, neither should the husband put away his wife.
How are we to comprehend these statements in the light of our personal experiences. In Christian culture, the divorce rate matches that of non-Christians. This statistic is scandalous, and you can find many who will refute the claim, but the fact is that in the most straightforward measurement that can be taken there is a fifty percent divorce rate in Christianity which equals that we see among non-Christians as a whole although astonishingly, atheists have a measurably lower divorce rate among themselves.
In reading these statements about divorce in our chapter then no doubt many listeners with divorce in their background may feel condemned but I want you to take note of the fact that Paul acknowledges that divorce will happen regardless of what he advises here and he does it without dire threatenings or condemnation. This is important to notice because many Christians have made divorce and divorce and remarriage the equivalent of an unpardonable sin. Taken out of context some passages seem to suggest this, but when we look at scriptural teaching as a whole, you cannot make such a contention. The scriptures do not condone or encourage divorce and remarriage, but neither do they universally condemn those in these circumstances.
Paul goes on to encourage believing spouses, specifically wives to stay in their marriages with unbelievers with the belief that their faith will sanctify or have a convicting influence on their pagan husbands – however (v. 15) if the unbelieving spouse departs the believing spouse is not under bondage. What does this mean? Are they nonetheless expected to remain celibate, or does not being under bondage indicate they are free to remarry? Paul doesn’t clarify – but he does make an overarching statement regarding this entire discussion in v. 15 “God has called us to peace…” We are not to incite holy war in the church over this issue of divorce and divorce and subsequent remarriage. Paul makes all of these statements from v. 1 to v. 17 and concludes with a significant “BUT…” as God has distributed (or given grace) to every man (or woman) so let them conduct themselves (and so Paul ordains in all the churches – thus making this statement universally applicable).
[! Cor 7:20-40 KJV]
20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. 21 Art thou called [being] a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use [it] rather. 22 For he that is called in the Lord, [being] a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, [being] free, is Christ’s servant. 23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. 24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. 25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. 26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, [I say], that [it is] good for a man so to be. 27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. 28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. 29 But this I say, brethren, the time [is] short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; 31 And they that use this world, as not abusing [it]: for the fashion of this world passeth away. 32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please [his] wife. 34 There is difference [also] between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please [her] husband. 35 And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. 36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of [her] age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. 37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. 38 So then he that giveth [her] in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth [her] not in marriage doeth better. 39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. 40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.
In v. 20 Paul says that every man should abide in the calling they were employed in when they became Christians. Again Paul is answering in this entire chapter questions put to him by the Corinthians. The Corinthian questions initially were whether or not married couples should separate and remain celibate once they became Christians. Paul goes on to extend this conversation to those who become believers who were indentured slaves or servants at the time of their conversion. Was their conversion permission from God to run away from their masters? Paul indicates no it does not. Apparently many were coming to Christ as a pretense to completely uproot their lives and point to their conversion as the justification for doing so – which Paul disputes as not an acceptable course of action.
Paul continues in v. 28 making a plain statement that it is not sinful to marry although there are inherent challenges involved in the married relationship which any married person can readily relate to. Then in v. 29, Paul frames the discussion as being worthy of consideration because the time is short? What does this mean? Jesus said “behold I come quickly,” and it has been 2000 years. What does Paul mean the time is short? We do know that the church would go through decades of brutal persecution and Paul may have been speaking by the Spirit regarding these difficulties looming ahead during which time it would particularly be challenging for married couples and those with young children to protect.
Does Paul make these statements to put people under condemnation? In verse 32 he clarifies that he remarks are in the interests of lifting the worry and carefulness that rests more heavily on the married than the unmarried during times of societal upheaval which we know from history would shortly commence. He goes on to encourage unmarried woman (v. 34) to focus on purity of spirit and physical purity as exclusively pleasing the Lord. I wonder how many single women think this way? Most single women tend to focus more on how they can attract a man and men on how they can attract a woman. Paul is speaking to this saying essentially let those who are single seek first the kingdom and leave the matter of a potential mate up to divine providence.
In verse 38 Paul does not discourage a woman being given in marriage and likewise does not disallow a woman specifically choosing to remain unmarried. He goes on to say that a wife (spouse) is bound to her husband in life, but after death, the woman is explicitly allowed to be married to whom she will. This is interesting because church history tells us that for the first three centuries of the church those men and woman who were widowed, if they remarried were excommunicated as adulterers. That tells us that the church while they accepted the writings of Paul as scripture nonetheless found this passage we identify as 1 Corinthians 7 to be very problematic. What is to be our posture toward such things? I think we have to decline from taking these verses and using them as a club to beat people into merciless condemnation. Remember two verses – v. 15, “but God has called us to peace…” and v. 6 “But I speak this by permission and not of commandment…” Further to bear in mind that though there are verses here that Paul clearly speaks by the commandment of the Spirit – he also handles all contradictory situations with grace and pastoral tenderness. We should in all our viewpoints follow in the same spirit lest we become judges in matters where even the apostle Paul exercised great prudence not to refrain from.
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