In this chapter Paul answers specific questions which the Corinthians had raised in their letter to him. Sexual immorality was rife in first century Corinth and caused the young church considerable difficulties. Would it be best if they all practiced celibacy as Paul did? Does it mean that a man is more spiritual if he has no sexual relations at all
The Marriage Option.
1. Now with regard to the issues you wrote about: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman."
Paul answers their question by stating that whilst celibacy certainly is a good thing, but it is not the only good thing, for marriage is also a good thing in the sight of God (Prov. 18:22 ; Heb. 13:4).
Paul does not teach that celibacy is better than marriage, nor that the celibate are more spiritual than the married. Instead he teaches that a man or woman should decide for themselves which is the right option for them. The ability to remain celibate is given to certain individuals as a gift of God (Matt. 19:11-12). Whether or not a person has this gift should (at least in part) guide their decision about marriage. Paul knew the stresses of living in Corinth, and although he personally preferred the life of celibacy, he did not force this on others. He does not command a celibate life for all who can sustain it. Marriage is regarded by Paul the normal state for some, but he recognizes that there are others, like himself, to whom God has given the gift of celibacy, that they might remain unmarried, and so be free to serve God without the added responsibilities which marriage brings. But this does not imply that marriage is not also good.When God created mankind in the beginning, He made them male and female, blessed them, and told them to be fruitful (Gen. 1.27-28). All that God has made, He declared to be very good (Gen. 1:31). In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam more than a friend; He gave him a wife, instituting marriage (Gen. 2:21-25).
2. But because of immoralities, each man should have relations with his own wife and each woman with her own husband.
Generally, Paul considers that men ought to be married. Celibacy is good, but unless a person genuinely has the gift of celibacy then the natural desire for sex may lead to temptation and possibly sin. Paul means that it is certainly better for a Christian man or woman to be married than for them to succumb to sexual immorality. This, of course, is not the only reason why men should marry - we must recall that Paul is answering a specific question rather than issuing general advice about marriage. As Calvin says "the question (which Paul is considering) is not the reasons for which marriage has been instituted, but the persons for whom it is necessary"(cited by Morris).
3,4. A husband should give to his wife her sexual rights, and likewise a wife to her husband. It is not the wife who has the rights to her own body, but the husband. In the same way, it is not the husband who has the rights to his own body, but the wife.
Husbands and wives have certain obligations to each other. The words "due benevolence" or "due affection" used in some translations are too weak. Living Bible renders the verse: "The man should [habitually] give his wife all that is her right as a married woman,
and the wife should do the same for her husband."
While there are numerous rights within marriage, Paul is explicitly concerned with the right to sexual intercourse. Neither partner has exclusive rights to their own body. They have an obligation to fulfill each other's sexual needs. Paul here recognizes the sexual act as an indispensable part of marriage, and this leads him to point out that neither partner has the right to withhold this from the other.
5. Do not deprive each other, except by mutual agreement for a specified time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then resume your relationship, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
There may be occasions when, in order to seek God, the Christian couple may agree to abstain for a short time from intercourse. This is an exceptional circumstance, and because of the rights already outlined by Paul, it must only be done with the consent of both partners (for neither has exclusive power over their own bodies). Paul describes a married partner willfully withholding sexual intercourse from the other as an act of "fraud".Abstinence must only continue for the agreed time, after which normal sexual relations must resume, for if they do not, the couple place themselves at risk of sexual temptation. If their natural passions are not fulfilled properly, Satan will find them ample opportunities to fulfill them improperly. Satan has always tried to destroy the Church of God by causing it to sin against God. To put it bluntly, if you are not willing to have sexual intercourse with your partner, Satan will find someone else who is.
6. I say this as a concession, not as a command.
Paul is not commanding everyone to get married; he is explaining that they are free to marry if they wish. Marriage is not a duty God requires of everyone. As Morris says "Paul has laid down the duties of all who are married, but he does not lay it down as a duty that all should be married."
7. I wish that everyone was as I am. But each has his own gift from God, one this way, another that
Paul preferred the unmarried state, and would have liked everyone else to choose the same, but he recognizes that this cannot be. It is the Divine order that some should be married and some not. What is important is for a man or woman to find and follow God's will for his or her life. "God gives some the gift of a husband or wife, and others He gives the gift of being able to stay happily unmarried." - Living Bible.
Advice for Singles and Widows.
8. To the unmarried and widows I say that it is best for them to remain as I am.
Having laid down this principle, Paul applies it to different classes of people, beginning with the single and widows. It is good for them to remain as they are if they so choose. There is no stigma attached to being single or a widow.
9. But if they do not have self-control, let them get married. For it is better to marry than to burn with sexual desire.
However, as they decide whether or not they ought to continue in this state, they must give consideration to whether or not they have the gift of continence. If they have strong sexual desires, Paul's advice is that they should marry. There is no advantage for the unmarried person in being single if it only leads them to burn continually with sexual desire. It may well be so that "it is well for men not to touch a woman", but men who can't control their passions should find legitimate expression for their sexual desires in marriage, rather than in any immoral relationship. Morris notes as significant that "Paul does not regard the suppression of sexual desire as itself meritorious."
Advice for the Married.
10,11. To the married I give this command -- not I, but the Lord -- a wife should not divorce a husband (but if she does, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband), and a husband should not divorce his wife.
Paul heralds the command of the Lord Jesus Christ that Christian husbands and wives are not to separate or divorce (Matt. 19:4-6). Even if a wife does leave her husband, she must not divorce him or take another husband. She is not free to remarry; she must remain alone or else be reconciled to her husband. The Christian husband is commanded by the Lord not to divorce his wife. Paul does not mention Christ's exception of allowing a man to divorce his wife if she were having a sexual relationship with another man. However, Christ's teaching makes clear that even under these circumstances, the divorced husband was not to remarry whilst his wife still lived (Mark 10:11 & Luke 16:18).
The Christian Married to an Unbeliever.
12,13. To the rest I say -- I, not the Lord -- if a brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is happy to live with him, he should not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is happy to live with her, she should not divorce him.
Paul begins these instructions with the words, "I am speaking, not the Lord". Since there was no record of Christ having discussed this issue, Paul could not directly quote Christ. However, Paul is not disclaiming divine inspiration for his teaching, for we see that in v39 he claims that in all his teaching about marriage he has been directed by the Holy Spirit of God. Paul is referring to those who were married before they became Christians. Paul does not entertain the thought of someone who is already a Christian marrying a non Christian; that is forbidden by the word of God (2 Cor. 6:14). Christians are only to marry "in the Lord" (1 Cor 7:39). The situation being considered is when a married person becomes a Christian, but their husband or wife does not. If an unbelieving spouse is willing to remain with the believer, then the believer should not leave or divorce them.
14. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified because of the wife, and the unbelieving wife because of her husband. Otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.
Believers have been set apart to God. Their standing is not reduced by the marriage they had entered into whilst still unsaved. God regards the whole marriage as sacred because one marriage partner is saved and is therefore holy. In this sense and in this sense only is the unbelieving partner sanctified by the believer - for the purposes of making the marriage holy in the sight of God. Paul does not imply that the unbeliever is saved by the marriage union, as the following verses make clear. Since the marriage is holy, the children born are not the children of pagans, but children of a Christian marriage. They are holy in God's sight since they are the result of a holy union. Once again, Paul does not mean that the children are saved by the marriage. The children of Christian parents are admitted into the privileges of belonging to the wider church family until such time as they can decide for themselves to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. It cannot be too strongly emphasized that it is just as important to evangelize the children of Christians as it is to evangelize those of unsaved parents. Children must be encouraged to choose Christ for themselves.
15. But if the unbeliever wants a divorce, let it take place. In these circumstances the brother or sister is not bound. God has called you in peace.
The situation is different if the unbeliever is no longer willing to live with their spouse simply because they have become a believer. If the unbeliever leaves, then the believing husband or wife should realize that they are free from all responsibility towards that spouse, for they have left of their own choice. There may well be nothing further they can do to get their spouse back, short of denying Christ. So the believer in these circumstances must learn to accept the situation with the peace that comes from God; and accept their heathen partner's decision that the marriage is over. It should be stressed that Paul is not giving permission for those in these circumstances to remarry, for Christ made no mention such permission. The Lord of glory knows every possible circumstance that we can face, and with every one of these in mind, He turned His omniscient thoughts to this subject and declared "anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery" (Luke 16:18).
16. For how do you know, wife, whether you will bring your husband to salvation? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will bring your wife to salvation?
A believer will of course try to save their marriage in the hope of seeing their spouse's conversion. But there is a point where this attempt is no longer sensible. If the unbeliever has already made the decision to leave, it is best to let them go. After all, none of us know whether our loved ones will be saved, for that is a matter between them and God. Paul is realistic enough to see that clinging to a broken marriage will result in unbearable frustration and tension. His advice is that if the unbeliever leaves, the believer should let them go and accept that by doing this, God has brought peace to an otherwise hostile situation. In his letter to Philemon, Paul writes to the owner of a runaway slave who was converted by his ministry. "Perhaps," he says, "this is the reason he was separated from you for a while, so that you might have him back forever" (Philemon 1:15). May this thought uphold those of our Christian brothers and sisters who are facing the very difficult situation which Paul has described, and may we often think of them and uphold them in our prayers.
Living for Christ In All Circumstances.
17. Nevertheless, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each person, so must he live. I give this sort of direction in all the churches.
Each of us is to remain in the situation where God has placed us, seeking God's will and guidance for our lives. Whether we marry or remain single, are divorced or are widowed, God has a plan and purpose for every life. He has called us all to live the life He sets out for us. When we are saved, we must not assume that our position in life will change. For example, if a man is saved whilst a bank clerk, he must not at once forsake his job. He is to remain where he is until God directs him otherwise. Applying this teaching to Paul's earlier point, we see that just because a man or woman becomes a Christian does not mean they should try to escape from their marriage to an unsaved partner.
18,19. Was anyone called after he had been circumcised? He should not try to undo his circumcision. Was anyone called who is uncircumcised? He should not get circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Instead, keeping God's commandments is what counts.
If a man is circumcised, he does not need to become uncircumcised when he gets saved. God saved him and accepted him in the state he was in. Similarly, when an Gentile becomes a Christian he need not be circumcised for God has called him in uncircumcision.Circumcision and uncircumcision are merely outward and have no bearing on the spirit. They count for nothing; nor do any of our outward circumstances. All that counts is living for Christ and obeying his commands.
20,21,22. Let each one remain in that situation in life in which he was called. Were you called as a slave? Do not worry about it. But if indeed you are able to be free, make the most of the opportunity. For the one who was called in the Lord as a slave is the Lord's freedman. In the same way, the one who was called as a free person is Christ's slave.
Christians should not make hasty decisions about altering their life circumstances once they are saved. Instead, they should continue with the Lord in their existing circumstances, looking for Him to lead and guide them in His will. This does not mean that there will be no changes, for "if any man is in Christ he is a new creation" (2 Cor. 5:17). However, we must be careful to be led by God and not act independently of Him. Paul does not want us to be bound to one set of circumstances. To slaves he says "if you have the opportunity of being made free, then so much the better!" However, a slave who is called by Christ should not be anxious about his slavery. For being a slave in the world's eyes does not affect out relationship with God. The slave who has received Christ as His Saviour has been set free from slavery to sin and so possesses true freedom. A Christian slave may rejoice that he is more free than his heathen master, who is enslaved by sin and the devil!
23. You were bought with a price. Do not become slaves of men.
Since Christians have been bought by Christ with His own blood, we are not our own. A free Christian man should never sell himself into slavery, for he is Christ's servant. By the same principle, the slave who is a Christian, although he obeys an earthly master, should not consider himself a slave of men but rather a servant of Jesus Christ. His earthly service is no less faithful, but it now stems from a desire to serve Christ in all he does and not from the fear of man.
24. In whatever situation someone was called, brothers and sisters, let him remain in it with God.
The call of God is a call to obedience and a call to walk with God. Christians should aim to do God's will and seek God's leading for our lives, rather than trying to advance themselves by taking matters into our their hands. Morris says "conversion is not the signal for a man to leave his occupation (unless it is one plainly incompatible with Christianity) and seek some other. We should serve God where we are until he calls us elsewhere."
25. With regard to the question about people who have never married, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my opinion as one shown mercy by the Lord to be trustworthy.
Here is another issue about which the Corinthians had raised specific questions with Paul. In those days it was usual for a girl's parent or guardian to decide when and who she married, although the girl herself had to be willing. Was it better for the young woman to marry or remain single? Once again, Paul has no words of Jesus to quote, but he considers his God inspired advice to be reliable.
26. Because of the impending crisis I think it best for you to remain as you are.
The words "impending crisis" or "present distress" (as the New King James VersionTM has it) are very strong, and we do not know exactly what Paul is referring to. It may well have been the case that the Christians at Corinth faced some particularly difficult circumstances at that time. This is not a reference to sexual temptation, for it is unlikely that Paul would contradict himself (v2) by saying that a single person, although tempted, should remain unmarried. Some commentators suppose it likely that the believers were passing through a time of severe persecution and that their lives were in danger. It would be quite inappropriate for a man to marry if he knew that very shortly after he might leave a widow. But if that were the case, then it is strange that no other references to persecution occur in this epistle. It is more likely that by these words, Paul is referring to the shortness of the time we have left before the end of the age. In the light of the following verses, we see that Paul preferred the single state only that he might be free to serve the Lord; and that since our time on earth is so fleeting, he advises us all to make the most of it, not by living for now but for eternity.
27,28. The one bound to a wife should not seek divorce. The one released from a wife should not seek marriage. But if you marry, you have not sinned. And if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face difficult circumstances, and I am trying to spare you such problems.
Marriage, or the lack of it, is not the most important part of our lives - waiting on the Lord is. Whether we are married or single, we are not to make our human relationships the focus of our attention. If married, we should not think that this might hinder our walk with God, but accept the circumstances we are in and serve God in them. If we are single, we must not be occupied with finding a wife or husband, but allow the Lord to work this out for us. We must put the matter in its proper place, which is not first place- that place belongs to Christ alone.
Even at a time when Paul considered it inadvisable to contemplate marriage, those who did marry were not sinning. Paul's reason for advising them not to marry at was to spare them the many hardships. If a present persecution was on Paul's mind, then it is easy to imagine the pain of a father imprisoned, knowing that his wife and children depend on him. Under such circumstances, the benefits of being unattached are clear. When their property was confiscated or they were excluded from the trade guilds, it was easier for a Christian man to provide for himself rather than for several hungry mouths. It is always true, throughout all time, that the greater responsibility which a married man carries brings him more anxiety. Yet many would say that the blessings of marriage far outweigh its disadvantages. Paul's point is that the unmarried are free from these particular cares, and that the troubles of a married man are exaggerated greatly in times of persecution or poverty.
29,30. And I say this, brothers and sisters: The time is short. So then those who have wives should be as those who have none, those with tears like those not weeping, those who rejoice like those not rejoicing, those who buy like those without possessions.
There is not a great deal of time left for any of us - Jesus is coming soon. Rather than be preoccupied with the concerns of this life, we should be setting our hearts on the things of eternity. Eternal values should govern all our actions. The short time that remains to us is our only opportunity to serve the Lord Jesus Christ. Whether single or married, we should remain as unencumbered as possible so that we might do the Lord's work - living in anticipation of His coming. Neither sorrow, joy, nor wealth should distract us from serving Him.
31,32 Those who use the world as though they were not using it to the full. For the present shape of this world is passing away. And I want you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.
Although it is a fact that we must use the things of this world (we must eat, work, and so on), we should not become preoccupied with them, for they will soon pass away, as will our need for them. Instead, we should chiefly seek the kingdom of God (Matt. 6:31-33). Jesus warned that the danger with our being preoccupied with the affairs of a life is that we shall not be ready for its sudden end."But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly." (Luke 21:34 NKJVTM).The unmarried man is exposed to less of these cares than the married man. He can devote his whole time and energy to serving the Lord. This is the whole extent of Paul's favoring celibacy; there is no other reason.
33. But a married man is concerned about the things of the world, how to please his wife.
A married man is necessarily concerned about caring and providing for his family. In this sense he has the care of this life upon him. It is not that he is worldly or less spiritual, but that his time is divided between caring for his family and the service of Christ. He must in that sense please both the Lord and his wife and so "his interests are divided" (NRSV).
34. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world--how she may please her husband. (NKJVTM)
Similarly, the unmarried woman or widow has no ties and so is able to wait on the Lord without distraction, serving Him fully and being devoted to Him in body and spirit. It is not that a married woman is less devoted to the Lord, but simply that she has other things on her mind - her duty to her husband.
35. I am saying this for your benefit, not to place a limitation on you, but so that without distraction you may give notable and constant service to the Lord.
Paul is not trying to bind people. Those who wish to marry may marry. He has simply pointed out that the celibate have less to distract of their attention from the Lord, and so may give their full attention to His service.
36. If anyone thinks he is acting inappropriately toward his virgin, if she is past the bloom of youth and it seems necessary, he should do what he wishes; he does not sin. Let them marry.
Paul returns to the question of the parents who have girls approaching the age where they can marry. He tells them to consider whether it might be wiser for their charge to marry, if she is showing strong desires towards the opposite sex. Morris says "to withhold marriage from a girl of marriageable age, and anxious to marry, would have been to court disaster, especially in first century Corinth." If she pass the flower of her age means "if she passes the stage of being fully developed." In those days this age was considered to be about 20. "If need so require" means that the gift of celibacy is obviously not present. In this case her governor should consider finding her a marriage partner. Of course, if the girl was a Christian then her husband would have to be a Christian man. If, in our modern day, we are considering a young couple in love rather than an arranged marriage, the same advice will hold good for them.
37,38. But the man who is firm in his commitment, and is under no necessity but has control over his will, and has decided in his own mind to keep his own virgin, does well. So then, the one who marries his own virgin does well, but the one who does not, does better.
If the guardian is under no moral obligation (as he would be if the girl were already promised), and the legal authority to do so, and is assured that the girl in question has the gift of celibacy, then he may happily refrain from giving her in marriage; keeping her as an unmarried daughter in his home, where she might devote herself fully to the Lord. This should be, of course, only if that is her wish. If this happens then the guardian has done well. If, on the other hand, he decides to gives her in marriage, he has also done well. So then if he gives the girl in marriage he has done well and if he keeps an eligible girl as a virgin then he does even better.
39,40. A wife is bound as long as her husband is living. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes (only someone in the Lord). But in my opinion, she will be happier if she remains as she is -- and I think that I too have the Spirit of God!
Paul includes a final thought for widows and widowers, who are always close to God's heart (Psa. 68:5). Marriage is "till death do us part." Its union does not extend beyond death. According to the word of God, a Christian widow is free to marry whoever she chooses, so long as he is a Christian. In the case of younger widows, Paul urges them to remarry, settle down, and bring up children (1 Tim. 5:14). This was in part due to the fact that they could not bridle their sexual desires. Here, Paul considers the older widow. Even though she is at liberty to remarry (so long as her new husband is a Christian), she may find that she is happier coming to terms with her grief, keeping her happy memories, and henceforth devoting her time and service to the Lord. This is Paul's opinion, and indeed he gives this advice under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit of God.
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