Free - 1 Corinthians 7
Message 2 in a series on Marriage
This is the second in a five part series on marriage. It was recorded in 2019 at Calvary Fellowship of Ottawa in the “gym” of Fourth Ave. Baptist Church. The first message is here.
In our second study, we turn the page to the New Testament and look at Paul’s “opinion” on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. He makes some statements that were provocative both then and today, and they deserve a closer look. It’s interesting to see what he says is “good.” Jesus truly did change everything.
The other messages in this series are:
Marriage - Hebrews 13:4 “Kept”
Here are my notes:
Marriage - 1 Corinthians 7 “Free”
Let’s turn in our Bibles and Bible apps to 1 Corinthians 7, where we will begin in verse 1, and read through the whole chapter.
Before we read this, let me make a couple of introductory comments.
This is message number 2 in a series we are doing on Marriage.
And, it’s important to remember. As Christians, when we are studying marriage, we remember Paul’s words about marriage in Ephesians, where he says… “I am talking about Christ and the church.”
So, no matter where you are in life, married, unmarried, divorced, widowed… really what we are thinking about, examining, learning, is more about Jesus.
In the first message, we looked at the conditions of marriage of our first parents. That’s Genesis 3. We see in that, conditions that are universal to all marriages, across time, and across culture. Those conditions were given by God, and we spent some time looking at the conditions themselves, seeing how they could be perceived as punishment, but also perceived as a blessing in disguise. The universal conditions of marriage can serve as a connection point to both achieving wisdom and connection with God.
But, it is without a doubt a discouraging situation. For the both the man and the woman the end result is the same. For the woman, “he will rule over you.” For the man, “to dust you will return.” In a sense, the earth will rule over you.
And, there aren’t any options. There’s not a lot of hope. That section ends with “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh.”
Everybody gets married. Because, it’s not good for man to be alone. There needs to be fellowship, completion, love, relationship. Marriage in the Old Testament seems inevitable. How else would you obey the first commandment? “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it.” Get married, have a family, and take the raw ingredients of life here on earth and improve it.
But, Jesus changes things. He was unmarried.
This brings us to the New Testament, and to Paul’s words, here in 1 Corinthians 7. He’s answering a question that the Christians in Corinth asked him about sex, and in his answer, which is a long answer, is provocative.
Let’s look at what he says:
Now in response to the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to use a woman for sex.” (This translation is unique. The ESV and NIV say “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” The NLT is simpler “It is good to abstain from sexual relations.” But, it’s the old translations, the KJV, the NRSV and the NKJV that are very interesting, saying “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.”) 2 But because sexual immorality is so common,, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman should have sexual relations with her own husband. 3 A husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife (the ESV has “her conjugal rights,” the NKJV “the affection due her,” the KJV is just awesome… ‘“let the husband render unto his wife due benevolence,”), and likewise a wife to her husband. 4 A wife does not have the right (most of the translations say “authority”) over her own body, but her husband does. In the same way, a husband does not have the right (or “authority”) over his own body, but his wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another—except when you agree for a time, to devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again; otherwise, Satan may tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
First, he says… married people should have sex. And, they shouldn’t deprive each other. They shouldn’t frustrate each other. It’s part of marriage. And, of course, he lays out this rule for sex that includes no one owning their own body. It’s mutual submission.
But, that’s for another time, because he ends that paragraph in verse 6 by saying:
I say this as a concession, not as a command. (the CEV is eye-opening here, it says: “In my opinion, that is what should be done, though I don’t know of anything the Lord said about this matter.”) 7 I wish that all people were as I am. But each has his own gift from God, one person has this gift, another has that.
Notice… don’t miss this. He ventures off into opinion. He’s saying, this isn’t a command. This is a concession. And, then shares his heart. I wish all people were as I am. What was he?
1 Corinthians 9:5 (CSB): 5 Don’t we have the right to be accompanied by a believing wife like the other apostles, the Lord’s brothers, and Cephas?
Paul was unmarried. We tend to refer to that as “single.” But, I’m having a change in heart around that term, especially after reading and studying through this chapter. I think the better term is “unmarried.”
Don’t miss this. Paul says…
I wish that all people were as I am.
and, then he catches himself, and adds on… I know, I know…
But each has his own gift from God, one person has this gift, another has that.
Both places in life, Paul calls a “gift.”
“Stop right there Andy! I can tell you for sure that I haven’t been given the “gift of singleness!” I agree with you. I don’t think anyone has been given the “gift of singleness.” But, what about the “gift of being unmarried.”
Paul has our attention. What else does he want to say?
He goes on in verse 8:
It is good (that word “good” is important. That’s the word from Genesis… “it’s not good for man to be alone.” But, here has says:) It is good for them if they remain
And then what looks like another concession:
9 But if they do not have self-control, they should marry, since it is better to marry than to burn with desire.
What’s the point? Aim for unmarried. It’s good! It’s a gift.
Look at what’s next… Verse 10 -
10 To the married I give this command—not I, but the Lord—a wife is not to leave her husband (the ESV - “should not separate”, the NKJV is “not depart”). 11 But if she does leave, she must remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband—and a husband is not to divorce his wife.
Side note: what’s implied is that we aren’t talking about marital unfaithfulness. That’s breaking the vows. And, if the vows are broken, they are broken. You can make new ones, but the old ones are broken, and no one should be obligated to make new ones. Jesus said that was the only grounds for divorce.
So, this isn’t an opinion. This is a command from the Lord. You need to not throw a marriage away. You need to stay and work it out. He goes on to give his opinion, in how even with a cold marriage, or a non-believer, if there’s the willingness, you should stick it out.
Jump down to verse 17 -
Let each one live his life in the situation the Lord assigned (I have that word underlined. You might have “distributed,” or “placed him”) when God called him. This is what I command in all the churches (the CSB is unique here, instead of “command” most of the translations say “this is the rule I lay down in all the churches”).
So, this is again, is his opinion. But, he’s referring back to the individual person’s relationship with the Lord. And, he’s saying… you need to live your life in the situation the Lord has assigned you. And, then he gives two other examples. Circumcision is first, and then with slavery, he advocates for freedom. Verse 21 -
But if you can become free, by all means take the opportunity.
He closes it with verse 24 -
Brothers and sisters, each person is to remain with God in the situation (or “condition” or “state”) in which he was called.
If you’re keeping track, Paul has referred to being married or unmarried as both a gift, or an assignment, and then now a calling. And, all three are from the Lord.
And then Paul says some completely shocking things, that no one says, especially in churches in North America. Verse 35
Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I do give an opinion as one who by the Lord’s mercy is faithful. 26 Because of the present distress, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. (look closely at the words he uses) 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 However, if you do get married, you have not sinned, and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. (this isn’t about sin. It’s not a sin to get married.) But such people will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.
No one thinks that. Everyone thinks that this person that they are marrying is going to make their life better. But, Paul says… you’re going to have trouble. I want to spare you.
What could he possibly mean? Verse 29 -
29 This is what I mean, brothers and sisters: The time is limited, so from now on (so from AD 60 or so, on to today) those who have wives should be as though they had none, 30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they didn’t own anything, 31 and those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it. For this world in its current form is passing away.
What is he saying? He’s saying that if your married, or you decide to marry, you should hold it loose. You have to hold the responsibilities tightly. But, you have to hold the benefits open. You may get all the responsibilities and none of the benefits.
We had a young couple attend Calvary for about a year. They were missionaries, met on the mission field and fell in love and were married. They came to Calvary because on their honeymoon, second or third day of marriage, she was struck by a snowmobile or a skier or something while skiing on their honeymoon. She couldn’t walk. She was in a wheelchair. 2nd day of marriage. That new husband had all the responsibilities and the benefits were disappearing.
Thankfully, she made a slow recovery. Within a year, she could stand and walk with a cane. Today, they are back serving on the mission field.
Paul continues, verse 32...
32 I want you to be without concerns. (some of your translations say ..or anxieties, care, or worries, add that to the list with the word “bound” and the word “trouble.”) The unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33 But the married man is concerned about the things of the world—how he may please his wife—34 and his interests are divided. The unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the things of the Lord, so that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But the married woman is concerned about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own benefit, not to put a restraint on you, but to promote what is proper and so that you may be devoted to the Lord without distraction.
Here’s the whole point of life. It’s to be devoted to the Lord without distraction.
Listen, if you’re unmarried here today. What has God called you to? What has He assigned to you. Don’t despise the gift.
There’s a handful of you here today and you are engaged. You’re planning to be married. Listen… every married person, okay, almost every married person will tell you, there’s a day you wake up, and you see your spouse sleeping next to you. There’s drool. There’s loud breathing. There’s no makeup. The hair is disheveled. And, you’re going to think. What have I done? Who is this person? How did this happen? Oh, this won’t do. I need to get out of here. Or, they need to get out of here!
Listen, if you put yourself there. You’ll want to get yourself out. But, if you know that God called you to it, or assigned it to you, or gave it to you as a gift, you’ll be able to go back to the Lord. Lord, you put me here. And, Lord you’re going to help me fulfill this calling, be faithful to this assignment, enjoy this gift.
Allow me to talk for a minute about the unmarried life as a Christian. Notice, how Paul describes it as a life that is “released,” “good,” less-trouble,” less-anxious,” or “less-stressful.”
Here’s how he finishes the chapter:
If any man thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, if she is getting beyond the usual age for marriage (the translations really vary here, the ESV along with a lot of the newer translations say “if his passions are strong,” the older translations like the NAS and KJV, NKJV say “past the flower of her youth”), and he feels he should marry—he can do what he wants. He is not sinning; they can get married. 37 But he who stands firm in his heart (who is under no compulsion, but has control over his own will) and has decided in his heart to keep her as his fiancée, will do well. 38 So then he who marries his fiancée does well, but he who does not marry will do better.
39 A wife is bound as long as her husband is living. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to anyone she wants—only in the Lord. 40 But she is happier if she remains as she is, in my opinion. And I think that I also have the Spirit of God.
Notice, how Paul describes it as a life that is “released,” “good,” less-trouble,” less-anxious,” or “less-stressful,” and now he’s added to that, it’s “better”, and in the last verse of chapter 7, he closes by saying the unmarried woman would be “happier.”
How can that be?
It’s not supposed to be single. As a Christian, you’re part of a body, the body of Christ, the community of faith.
You need to understand something. At this point in history, as a society, North America, we treat unmarried people badly. We expect them to be single. We expect them to live alone. They are expected to be psychological islands. Economic islands. No help. Single.
You need to know that those expectations aren’t good. It’s not good for man to be alone.
I see this at Camp IAWAH. For the 7-9 weeks of the summer, there’s anywhere from 60-100 unmarried people serving at Camp. And, they live in community as the body of Christ, close quarters, working together, resting together, eating together, playing together, and rooming together. Not co-ed of course. And, generally speaking, they love it. They grow spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, and physically. They thrive.
And, then the summer’s over, and many go back to being “single.”
I see this at Jericho Road in the treatment program. Men living together for the 10 months of treatment, learning together, studying together, eating together, serving together, praying together, rooming together, and generally speaking they thrive. They grow spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, physically. It’s healing for them. And, I’ve lost count of how many guys at their graduation talk about the community and the relationships and the desire to stay in touch.
But, when it’s over, many go back to being single. And, some relapse.
What’s the point? It’s not good to be alone. But, it’s good to be unmarried. You’re free to serve the Lord without distraction. And, listen, history has been profoundly shaped by unmarried people. The reason we eat 3 meals a day, breakfast, lunch and supper is because of unmarried people. The reason we have universities is because of unmarried people. The reason we have hospitals is because of unmarried people. The reason that western society was Christian, and bathed in Judeo-Christian values is because of unmarried people.
In fact, the greatest power Christianity has is it’s unmarried people. They are the ones historically that have done the lion’s share of the evangelism, mission, discipleship, mercy ministries, hospitality, culture shaping and political influence. It’s unmarried people. But, they aren’t alone.
It was a formal communities of unmarried people. The monastery and the nunnery. Not perfect. But, generally, good. And, they changed the world for the better.
We need to get back to that.
Rene Descartes, Thomas Aquinas, John Chrysostom, Galileo, Copernicus, Saint Patrick, but then Mother Teresa, Lilian Trasher in Egypt and Amy Carmichael in India.
The only reason two Christians should get married is that they can do more for the Kingdom of God together than they can do separately. - Bill Gothard
You don’t need any help doing nothing! - Andy Falleur
What has God called you to? What has He assigned you? What has he given you as a gift?
If you don’t know, ask. Jesus said, in the presence of two or three witnesses, let every word be established. You can ask him to confirm. He did it for Gideon. He did it for Thomas. He will do it for you.
Outside of what you do with Jesus Christ, the biggest decision you’ll make is if you marry and who you marry.