1 - 7 Husband and Wife
1 Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. 3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband [does]; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife [does]. 5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 But this I say by way of concession, not of command. 7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that.
V1. This chapter is directly connected with the last verses of chapter 6. There it is clarified that sexual intercourse outside marriage is fornication. But how are you supposed to practice marriage then? The Corinthians had put their questions in writing to the apostle Paul. In this chapter he responds to these questions in detail.
Sometimes people say that Paul had no right to speak about that, because he was unmarried. Such people do not understand anything about the special function Paul received from God. Paul was the man whom God entrusted with a special service. Especially the unity that exists between Christ and the church is something that he had gotten as a task to pass on to the church. This unity is compared with marriage. The husband is supposed to present Christ and the wife is supposed to present the church. In Ephesians 5 you can read about that (Eph 5:22-33).
The comparison with Christ and the church in relation to husband and wife is not presented in 1 Corinthians. Nevertheless it will be clear that Paul is exactly the one who could make practical remarks about the relation between husband and wife, because he knew the relationship between Christ and the church so well. That’s why he wanted to make sure that the relation within marriages between spouses will resemble the great example more and more.
Before he starts to write about it, he firstly says in verse 1 that it is good for a man not to touch a woman. By saying it in this way, it seems that he is against marriage.
V2. And when he says in verse 2 that, because of sexual immoralities, each man should have his own wife, that seems not quite a lofty motive. It looks like a necessary evil. However, when you read this chapter to the end, you see that he fully recognizes marriage and that he underlines how important marital fidelity is.
Why then does he speak like that? It is because in this chapter he sees a marriage as something temporary. In heaven there is no marriage and no one will be given in marriage. This is what the Lord Jesus says in Matthew 22 (Mt 22:30). Its validity is only for the time that someone lives on earth. In order to experience it properly, you ought not only to know the privileges of marriage, but also the responsibilities. It is quite a big responsibility to be married. When you are married, there is a lot expected from you by your spouse. You need to spend time on your marriage. When you are not married, you can spend your time in another way. Not of course for yourself, but for the Lord. Well then, from this side Paul looks at the marriage here.
I want to emphasize one more time that marriage is a beautiful picture of Christ and the church. When God introduced marriage, He thought of this. Nevertheless, as it is said, the side which this chapter shows, is the side of spending time. Paul is not outbalanced in his presentation of marriage. You shall see that there is a balance in the way he presents the responsibilities that are involved in a marriage.
When he says that it is good for a man not to touch a woman, he means that it is good to stay unmarried in order to be totally free to work for the Lord (verses 26,32). He doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t shake hands with a woman. Nonetheless, it is appropriate to warn against being too intimate with somebody of the opposite sex. Be careful with hugging and kissing of, or to be hugged or kissed by, somebody of the opposite sex. Many marital problems happen because of that. Jealousy quickly plays a role when being too amicable. After all, the apostle himself is saying here that, because of the danger of fornications, each man should have his own wife and the other way around, each woman should have her own husband.
V3-4. Being married means that a husband has obligations towards his wife and a wife towards her husband. It is about rendering affection that is due to each other. In a marriage, husband and wife have surrendered themselves to each other. Neither of them has authority over their own body. It is not a matter of giving and taking, but a matter of giving. The context makes it clear here that the main issue is to fulfill the sexual needs of the other person.
Sexual needs are nothing to be ashamed of; they are inserted by God in the creation. Only, they are to be satisfied in the area God gave for them and that is within the marriage. In the marriage husband and wife may enjoy each other’s body. The sexual intercourse is the crowning of it. God also gave sexual intercourse with a view to beget children. So it has a double function. Because of the random use of all kinds of artificial contraceptives, a separation is being made in this double function.
In 1 Peter 3 it is written that husbands should dwell with understanding with their wives (1Pet 3:7). That embraces the total intercourse with the wife of course, including the sexual relation. A husband should get understanding of his wife. She is actually created much differently by God. How much understanding he has of his wife in this view, appears from the fact of how much self-control he has. Because of the fact that people can get certain preventive products very easily, means the exercises to practice self-control have been reduced.
And one more thing: if we have put everything regarding our life in the hand of the Lord, wouldn’t we then entrust Him with this matter as well? He, who wants to learn to know the will of the Lord in this, will not be disappointed by Him. You can find His instructions in many places in the Bible, like the chapter you have before you right now.
V5. Does a husband or wife always have to give in to the other? No. Under three conditions it is always permitted to deprive each other:
1. when both of them consent,
2. the time of abstinence is not too long and
3. the purpose is to commit oneself to prayer.
There are things that could happen in the life of believers, for which they see no solution. The only way that stays open, is to entirely focus on God and to ask Him for a way out. In such cases it is good to voluntarily say ‘no’ for a certain time, regarding the satisfaction of the bodily needs. The apostle is very down-to-earth and says that after that they should come together again, otherwise satan could seize the opportunity to tempt them to commit fornication. After all, the needs are there.
V6. What Paul is saying here, is no command. He is proposing it, as it were, as an advice. It is not good to assume without thinking and praying about it, that God will just lead our way. Then there will be no exercise anymore in the presence of the Lord about how to discern what to do in certain cases. You see how very practical the instructions are.
V7. Paul wished that all men were even as himself, so unmarried. He says that, because he sees how much work there is to do for the Lord. At the same time he acknowledges that a special gift is needed from God to remain unmarried. Normally it happens that a man receives a wife and a woman receives a husband. After all, God Himself said: “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Gen 2:18). And that is a gift from God as well, for “each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner [to stay unmarried] and another in that [to marry]”.
Now read 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 again.
Reflection: Are you married? Explore how far your marriage could be more enriched by these verses.
Are you not married? What about your desires for a wife/husband:
Is it dominating everything; or
is it a healthy desire, you bring in prayer to the Lord, while you serve the Lord heartily; or
do you think you are able to stay unmarried, in order to live fully for the Lord, without having any worries regarding a husband/wife?
8 - 14 Three Groups
8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. 9 But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn [with passion]. 10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. 12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.
Three groups of people are brought to your attention here:
1. “The unmarried and … widows” (verse 8),
2. “the married” (verse 10) and
3. “the rest” (verse 12), those are the mixed marriages, of which only the husband or the wife is a believer.
Paul addresses each of these three groups.
V8. It is good for the unmarried and for the widows to remain unmarried, even as he himself. In this way you don’t have anything to do with taking care of a well running marriage. The time you would have had to spend for that, you could use for the service of the Lord.
V9. Paul, however, really has an eye for the practice. He is aware of the fact that a person might not afford to remain unmarried because of the desires this person might have. You yourself might be wondering whether the Lord wants you to be married or that he wants you to be alone. I also had that question. In my case, the answer came when somebody said: ‘If you wish to have a life partner, you can be sure that the Lord wants you to be married. He has put that desire in you.’ This simple answer was the reason for me to stop wondering whether to be or not to be married. In my view you don’t have to deal with it frenetically.
Of course you might then wonder further whom the Lord wants you to be married to. For that you ought to continue praying. It might happen that despite your desire for a life partner, you still remain alone. That can cause such a big struggle that you even could start to doubt the love of God. I can really understand that, certainly when other people make it pitiable. A chapter like this could be a great encouragement. To God your life has not missed His target, when a life partner does not appear in your life. Do not let emotions concerning the absence of a partner fill your life, but give all room to Him to fill your life.
I do not want to give the impression to simply set this problem aside with some phrases. That would be very cheap. I only want to point a direction, in order to find perhaps a way in this situation.
V10-11. For the second group, the married, it is said that only death can separate them. Every separation that comes earlier than death, is not permitted. In Malachi 2 it is written that God “hates divorce” (Mal 2:16). There is no reason to think why husband and wife would want to divorce each other. Oh yes, you may hear about untenable situations of continuous fights, yelling, drunkenness or extramarital relationship and adultery. And humanly speaking, it is understandable that the person that has to suffer all this, initiates divorce proceedings. Nevertheless, the Lord Jesus said – and Paul refers to that when he remarks “not I, but the Lord” –: “What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate” (Mt 19:6). This is a clear command: do not divorce!
Is there really no exception to divorce someone? No, there is not, although some people find an exception in Matthew 19 which should give the asked condition (Mt 19:9). That is when one of the spouses has committed fornication. People say that the partner that has committed fornication, has actually broken the marital bond by committing fornication, which means by having sexual intercourse with another person (1Cor 6:16). That argument is not applicable, for sexual intercourse outside marriage doesn’t break a legal marriage any the less as a marriage originates by having sexual intercourse outside marriage.
In case anybody sees Matthew 19:9 as an exception after all, and thinks that he/she could derive a right from that verse, he/she ought to question him/herself if this right is really to be made use of. If somebody can work up the courage (I want to express myself as careful as possible in this matter) to drop this right, it would be a triumph of grace to remain faithful to the marital bond wherein both of them are connected and which is indissoluble till death.
In some particular cases of divorce, sometimes the excuse is made that in this certain case the marriage was not such that husband and wife were joined by God. Indeed, there are enough cases of people who got married without asking and praying for the will of God. If this is the case and they become aware of that, they ought to confess that to the Lord; but that should never be an excuse to get divorced. If it is written ‘what God has joined’ (and not ‘whom God has joined’), it refers to the institution of marriage as such. The two persons who are joined through the bond of marriage, cannot ever get rid of that bond. It is a bond that God has put around them both together and which never should be broken. You need to think about that too when you think about marriage.
In case the divorce has taken place, then the commandment is clear as well: to remain unmarried or to be reconciled with each other.
V12-13. “The rest.” Who could that be? From the continuation of this chapter, you can conclude that here it is about mixed marriages. These are marriages of which one of the spouses is converted and the other one is still an unbeliever. Of course it is about someone who repented and believed, when they were already married. It is not about somebody who knows the Lord Jesus and is getting married to an unbeliever. That is really in contrast with the Bible (2Cor 6:14). The Lord will never bless that.
You can imagine that in such a heathen city as Corinth, where the gospel was accepted, a separation in many families happened from the unbelieving family members, because of faith. How should they have to deal with that? Here Paul speaks as an apostle, without referring to an announcement of the Lord Jesus Himself. Therefore he says: “I say, not the Lord.” That doesn’t mean, of course, that you may ignore what Paul says here. He is still an apostle, who has received authority from God to tell us as believers how we should act in all kinds of situations. In cases of mixed marriages, the one who became a believer should never take actions for divorce.
When you read Ezra 10 and Nehemiah 13, you could get the idea that in case of mixed marriages the unbeliever should be sent away (Ezra 10:1-4,10-16; Neh 13:23-27). But in those sections it is about marriages between members of God’s earthly people and the Gentiles. Those marriages were legally forbidden by God. In spite of that the Israelites connected themselves with the Gentiles who lived around them. In that way they defiled themselves and made themselves guilty of transgression of the law (Deu 7:1-6). The only way to cleanse themselves from that sin was through confession and by sending away the foreign wives together with the children born of them. That is how God ordained it when His people were living under the law.
V14. In the time we are living, we are not under the law, but under grace. When one of the parents of an unbelieving family becomes a believer, it certainly has an impact on the whole family. The unbelieving husband or wife is sanctified through the believer. This being sanctified has got nothing to do with their relation to God. There is no change in that. For without conversion they remain lost and unsaved. It has to do with their place in this world. Through the connection with the believer, the unbeliever has now a specific place in this world. He or she has come under the direct influence of Christendom.
In former days that whole family was in the darkness of paganism. But through the conversion of husband or wife, light has entered the family. Since then, whether he or she wants it or not, the unbeliever cannot possibly avoid coming into contact with it every day. Everyone knew it: the influence of the Christian faith is there in that family. Whether he or she liked it or not: from the moment of the conversion of his or her partner, the unbeliever has been connected to someone who doesn’t participate anymore with the pagan way of living. The same applied to their children.
You see how such a blessing enters families through the gospel. Not only for the converted one, but also for his or her housemates.
Now read 1 Corinthians 7:8-14 again.
Reflection: What arguments can you put forward for not starting a relationship with an unbeliever?
15 - 20 God Has Called Us To Peace
15 Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such [cases], but God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? 17 Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. 18 Was any man called [when he was already] circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but [what matters is] the keeping of the commandments of God. 20 Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
V15. When in a marriage one of the partners has become converted, an enormous gap arises at the same time between husband and wife. The believer wants to consider the will of God from that moment, while the unbeliever doesn’t want to. That can trigger tensions in the marriage. Those tensions can run so high that the unbeliever might want to divorce. In such cases the believer doesn’t have to strain every nerve to prevent the unbelieving partner from departing.
In such cases the believer may often think that he/she has failed in his/her testimony. Who can assume to have always been a perfect witness? I don’t say that to diminish our responsibility. When mistakes have been made, they ought to be confessed, also when mistakes have been made towards the unbeliever. But when, despite a sincere confession of mistakes, the unbeliever still wants to divorce, let him divorce. The only thing what is left for the believer, is to pray perseveringly for the unbeliever.
How should the believer go on now? Paul says here that the brother or sister is free. Could it be that it means that another marriage is possible? In that way the opportunity for reunification would be wiped out, in case the unbeliever still would have been saved. Therefore an addition is written: “But God has called us to peace.” Through the conversion of a family member this peace can be taken away. This is how the Lord Jesus speaks about it when He says that He hasn’t come to bring peace, but to bring division (Lk 12:51-53).
V16. When in a family, one of the family members has accepted the Lord Jesus, division has arisen between the believer and the other unbelieving members. As I already said at the beginning of this part: this may cause tensions in certain cases, which may work out in such a way that in the relationship between husband and wife, the unbeliever may want to divorce. Let him/her then divorce, for God has called us to peace. The believer doesn’t need to do his/her utmost to keep the other, at the expense of peace. After all, it cannot be said with assurance that he or she will repent.
V17. I think that for everyone who has ended up in such circumstances because of his/her conversion, peace can be found in this verse 17. This verse does make it easier for you to fit in with the situation and not to rebel against it. You find two reasons for that. The first reason has to do with the circumstances of your life. Whatever situation you may find yourself in, it doesn’t come as a surprise to God. The moment you accepted the Lord Jesus, He knew the situation in which you would find yourself. What He now would want you to do, is that you show in your surrounding the change that He has worked in your life.
The second reason has to do with you personally. God has called you as you are. What that means is clarified in verse 18 and the verses that follow. But the clarification is preceded by something significant: “And so I direct in all the churches.” Everything that Paul has to say here about marriage is not to be applied to everyone’s own pleasure. Neither is it restricted in terms of time. It doesn’t only concern the Corinthians, but it concerns all churches and for all times. It is good to think about that, especially in our time, when marital morality is going down more and more and when divorce is being accepted as a common thing.
V18-19. But now the question is how somebody could be called. In other words: where did someone stand personally and what was his situation at the moment that God called him to accept the gospel? A person could have been circumcised or uncircumcised; he could have been called as a slave or as a free man, thus not a slave.
Did it matter to God whether someone was circumcised or uncircumcised? In former days it did, for in those days circumcision was the outer mark of the covenant that God had made with His people. But since the cross death of the Lord Jesus, an outer mark has no additional value to God. Therefore the absence of such an outer feature doesn’t make a person lesser to God. The outer aspects have – as a basis of the relation to God – lost their meaning. The outer aspects don’t determine the relation to God anymore.
What matters now is “the keeping of the commandments of God”. The point is the mind of your heart. Your love for God will become apparent from the obedience to what God has said. The result will be that you will be willing to put your life in order according to His will. And when God gives His commandments about external things as well, you will be willing to satisfy Him as well, out of love for Him.
The ‘circumcised’ and the ‘uncircumcised’ may be applied by us as in the following comparison. The circumcised was someone who outwardly belonged to Israel, God’s earthly people. But if he really wanted to belong to God, he had to repent. In that way you might have been raised in a Christian family, but to really belong to God, you had to repent. Then the calling voice of God came and you repented. In that way you could say you have been called as a circumcised.
The uncircumcised didn’t belong to the people of God in former days. Yet through repentance it was possible for him to belong to God. In that way you might be someone who has not been brought up with the Bible, but when you heard God’s calling voice, you repented and now you also belong to God. In that way you could say you are called as an uncircumcised.
V20. It is not God’s intention for you to change anything about that. I sometimes hear that it would be a disadvantage if someone is raised in a Christian family, because you wouldn’t know so well what the world and sin are. Actually, you should – this is what people therefore say – live in sin for a while and forget about your Christian upbringing. But this is a wrong statement. Paul himself, for example, was a man who had been brought up with utterly religious standards. He hadn’t lived, as it is called ‘in the world’, but when he was converted, he called himself at a certain moment “the chief” of all sinners (1Tim 1:15).
So with you as well the awareness of sin is growing when you’re going your way with God. Then it is no longer important from which background you have been converted. In your relation with Him He will show you Who He Himself is and who you are. The point is whether you are willing to keep God’s commandments. Therefore it is not about your origin, but about your attitude, your obedience to God.
Now read 1 Corinthians 7:15-20 again.
Reflection: What are, in your view, the advantages of a Christian upbringing or of an unchristian upbringing? And what are the disadvantages?
21 - 28 Remain With God
21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that [condition] in which he was called. 25 Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 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 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.
V21. Being circumcised or uncircumcised in verse 19 is about whether you’ve had or haven’t had a religious background when you are converted. But there is one more aspect that plays a role at your conversion: your social background. In the time Paul was living, slavery was a common thing. The way you felt in those days was dependent on the character of your master. But in general it was a very inferior position. You could’ve been treated any way they wanted to. You were not more than a piece of equipment. In some of the letters Paul wrote, he also addresses the slaves. At first sight they found themselves in anything but an enviable position. Therefore history mentions many slave revolts.
If you explore what Paul has to say to the slaves in his several letters, you will discover that a Christian slave had a special opportunity to testify about his Lord and Savior (Tit 2:10-11). He could show through his behavior that he was a follower of the Lord Jesus, Who also became a slave. Therefore he didn’t have to worry about being called as a slave. The important thing was that he behaved himself as a Christian and didn’t participate (anymore) in revolting against his master. Joseph is a wonderful example of a faithful slave. You read several times that God was with him (Gen 39:2,21). Isn’t that encouraging when you find yourself in a subordinate position?
Paul continues by saying something about the opportunity to become free. When the slave had the opportunity for that, he could make use of it. Here he presents that a freedman has other opportunities to serve the Lord.
V22. In any case, both the Christian slave and the Christian freedman were not supposed to decide on their own how to live their lives. He who was called as a slave, was called “in the Lord” and therefore free from the power of sin. But take note: he was a freedman of the Lord. The same applied to the one who was called as a freedman, for he was a slave of Christ. Christ paid the ransom for both. And what price! He paid the price of His life to redeem them from the power of satan. They now belonged to Him. They were His property now and therefore He received the right over their lives.
V23. Therefore they were not to worry about what people demanded from them. That doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t listen to their superiors, but they knew that they had to be obedient to God above all.
V24. Paul ends this part in verse 24 with something that applies to everything that preceded that verse. The point is that each person had to stay with God in the state, condition or position where he was when he was called. To you as well it is something you can ask yourself. A change is only allowed when you have been involved with an obscure job or with bad matters before your conversion. A clear example is when a harlot has been converted. It goes without saying that she cannot stay ‘with God’ by continuing to do this ‘job’. In general, it is God’s purpose, however, that a person doesn’t change from work or matters he used to do, but that he testifies in his old world of living that he has changed.
In Luke 3 you find examples of persons who came with repentance to John the baptist and asked him what they should do (Lk 3:10-14). He didn’t say to the tax collectors and soldiers to quit their jobs, but that they should do their work appropriately. They could show in their jobs that they had been changed. In the society we live it is almost a normal thing that in some industrial branches the workers declare more hours than they have worked and so get paid for those hours. He who has accepted the Lord Jesus as Savior and Lord will not want to participate anymore in such practices.
V25. In the section of verses 25-39 Paul clarifies with more detail what he already mentioned briefly in the verses 8-9. He sees an important role, concerning the unmarried and widows. If you read the whole section, you notice that he addresses both the unmarried man and the unmarried woman. His advice to the unmarried is to remain alone. He doesn’t just say so because it is that easy, free and without obligations. No, he does that from a certain point of view, namely keeping “the present distress” (verse 26) in mind. How big that distress is, you can see in the world around you. Paul had that in mind and wanted others to have that in mind also.
It can touch you deeply when you imagine how many people around you are desperate and see no way out of their problems. Thoughts of committing suicide or attempts of committing suicide are no exception anymore. Statistics prove that with hard figures. If you imagine that one out of five young people has thought of committing suicide, it can really shock you. Considering the opportunity to be able to tell as many people as possible about the Lord Jesus, maybe especially to young people, Paul approaches the state of being unmarried from this point of view. He doesn’t do that because he received a commandment from the Lord to do so, but he gives his judgment “as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy”.
If you read superficially, it seems like it is just an opinion of Paul which you might as well ignore. After all, he says that he hasn’t received a commandment from the Lord to do so, right? Of other matters he indeed says that he directly received them from the Lord, such as in chapter 11, regarding the Lord’s Supper (1Cor 11:23). But even if it is not added, it doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t take that seriously. Paul was a man who gave himself to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Certainly, regarding the letters he wrote and which we find in the Bible, it is good to realize and accept it as such that the Spirit has directed him to write them in this way. Such is the case here as well, about the unmarried. At the same time you see how carefully he writes. He is aware of the mercy he received to be faithful to the calling of the Lord. Staying alone, in order to devote your life to the Lord and to fulfill your ministry faithfully, is something you cannot do without the mercy of the Lord, for it is not an easy thing to do. To do it by your own strength is not possible.
V26-27. Therefore it is good to stay unmarried with the special purpose to devote all your efforts to the Lord. But who is bound to a husband or wife, so who is married, is not supposed to change that. And who is not bound to a husband or wife is neither supposed to change that.
V28. “But”, as Paul adds immediately to it “if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.” He is constantly careful not to cast a slur on being married, as if that would be something sinful. He is aware that his way of presenting matters, could make somebody feel guilty when he or she got married. That is not his intention at all.
What he wants is to spare the unmarried something and that is “trouble in this life” [lit ‘tribulation in the flesh’]. ‘Tribulation in this life or the flesh’ means, that marriage goes together with the obligation to be occupied with your husband or wife, and your family, which means that time cannot be used for directly proclaiming the gospel. Of course the Lord also gives opportunities to serve Him when you are married. But, as I already said, Paul looks at everything here with a view to the present distress.
Now read 1 Corinthians 7:21-28 again.
Reflection: In which way do you recognize the ‘present distress’ around you? Tell that to God and ask Him how He wants to use you for that.
29 - 35 The Time Is Short
29 But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away. 32 But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and [his interests] are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and [to secure] undistracted devotion to the Lord.
V29. Time is pressing. The Lord Jesus can return any moment and then the opportunities to preach the gospel will be over. Then the curtain, so to speak, will go down for the millions of people who will be lost forever. Against this background Paul presents some situations. Those are situations which are not wrong, but they may cause that the work of the Lord will not be done anymore.
When he says “those who have wives should be as though they had none” he doesn’t intend to say something at the expense of marriage. Needless to say, you should not just abandon your wife just like that. In verse 3 he already said that husband and wife should render affection to each other what they are due. No, it is that wife and children should not have priority at the expense of the work of the Lord. Even when you are married, the work of the Lord has priority. It is necessary to be reminded of this. Promising young believers have become unfit for the Lord, after getting married, because they got completely wrapped up with their husband or wife.
V30. Sorrow and joy are expressions of emotions that are given to you by God. They occur because of several circumstances or occurrences in your life. It is common to life on earth and you may express yourself like that. But it is a fact that emotions of sorrow or joy can engage your attention in such a way that you may forget the work of the Lord.
When you are in the fortunate condition of having your own income, you are able to buy things. Then you become the owner of the purchased. But you should be careful not to fill your heart with it. If you have bought a smartphone, a pc or a car, then it could be the case that you easily spend a lot of leisure time on it (how much time do you spend on internet and social media for example?), while the work of the Lord is waiting. Others are sensitive to nice clothes and are occupied with it for a great deal of their leisure time. The work of the Lord is then also waiting. You don’t even think of buying some evangelical tracts and to spread them, or to subscribe for participation in an evangelical campaign, or to work in a children’s camp.
V31. The same is applicable also for “the world”. You are allowed to use everything you want in this world, but of course it concerns the lawful use. In case you have money, you are able to do all kinds of things with it, for example treating yourself to a nice vacation. You can also collect curiosities you like to have. As long as you keep on realizing that these things are external things which are of temporary nature, you will remain useful for the Lord and His work.
V32. Paul writes these things because he wants you to be free from worries. From what follows, he seems to mean: without having to take care of husband or wife. The unmarried is able to devote him/herself to the matters of the Lord completely and to please Him. He who is unmarried simply has more time to do so. Some do not like to get married, because of the obligations towards another person. They want to remain free to be able to do what they want to. But that should be no reason to stay unmarried. He who is unmarried, can spend his life in an amazing way. Your life is then not only complete when you are married, but your life is then complete when you see what task the Lord has given you.
V33. Of course this also applies to the married, but yet, then comes another worry, namely how he should please his wife. She needs time, attention and care. It wouldn’t be a good thing if a married man neglected his responsibilities. The consequences would be disastrous for the marriage and for the work of the Lord as well.
V34. In the verses 32-33 the distinction between the unmarried and the married man is made clear. That same distinction is made clear in verse 34 between the unmarried and married woman. With Paul there is no question of discrimination. Regarding the unmarried woman he even gets more into detail about the opportunities to live for the Lord than what concerns the unmarried man. The care, concerning the matters of the Lord, can be expressed by being holy to the Lord both in body and spirit. She can focus herself on the Lord exclusively.
A woman has the special opportunity to show through her body that she lives holy (that means: apart from the world and devoted to the Lord). Through the simplicity of her garment (1Tim 2:9) and through her long hair (1Cor 11:15) she exposes a characteristic of her own through which she can distinguish herself from the women of the world.
It is not an easy thing to practice for a female Christian. The distinction is fading more and more. This distinction should not be an external matter alone of course. Therefore in “spirit” is connected to it. You need to have a clear motive to be able to live holy for the Lord “in body”. A person that doesn’t have that, falls in a wrong kind of holiness. That kind of holiness is only formal and is empty. It will not make one able to go against the tide. If someone also wants to be holy ‘in spirit’ for the Lord, it means that such person has thought about doing what pleases the Lord and acts with discretion and not because others say so.
Here you see the balance between the outer and inner man. Living outwardly as the Lord is pleased to see – in the Bible you can read how He is pleased to see it – is only valuable to the Lord when it is a reflection of the inner commitment. Of course this holiness in body and spirit doesn’t apply only to the unmarried women, but applies to the married women as well.
You could compare this to the conditions that are mentioned in 1 Timothy 3 for someone who wants to be an overseer (1Tim 3:1-7). These conditions apply in a special way to the overseer, but of course you cannot say that someone who doesn’t want to be an overseer doesn’t have to consider this. Every Christian is supposed to strive for reflecting the attributes mentioned in that chapter in his life. In 1 Corinthians 7, where the unmarried woman is directly concerned, it is exactly because of her being unmarried, she has the special opportunity to live holy in body and spirit, committed to the Lord.
V35. Paul very well senses what reactions could arise after the previous comments. Therefore he adds that he says these things to the “benefit” of the Corinthians. He doesn’t want to make it difficult or put a restraint upon them. He doesn’t want to create false contradictions between marriage and being occupied with the matters of the Lord. What he wants is that they, and we, think about these things.
He puts the state of being married and the state of being unmarried in the light of the Lord and the work for Him. In this way there is no inferiority in being unmarried, but it rather gives the possibility to spend all time and attention to the Lord and the service for Him.
Now read 1 Corinthians 7:29-35 again.
Reflection: Name some ‘things of the Lord’ and name some ‘things of the world’.
36 - 40 To Be Married, Only In the Lord
36 But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin [daughter], if she is past her youth, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. 37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin [daughter], he will do well. 38 So then both he who gives his own virgin [daughter] in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better. 39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.
This is a continuation about marriage. In this chapter this important issue is not presented from God’s view, according to His purpose when He instituted it. This chapter deals with the view of the Christian; the way he/she looks at it and that in connection with all the work that is to be done for the Lord. That means that you are allowed to make your own decisions in this respect. You are allowed to make your own choice.
Of course you will make this choice by consulting the Lord in prayer, but it is about your own responsibility that you have in this respect.
Making a choice is only a real choice when you have carefully weighed the advantages and disadvantages of a certain matter. These are presented to you by Paul in this chapter – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, do not forget that! In the verses 36-37 the two possibilities are once more presented concretely and practically, while in verse 38 the conclusion is given.
V36. Verse 36 is a bit difficult to translate, but what it says, is quite clear. In practical terms it means that a person, who thinks that for him it is better to marry than to stay unmarried, is free to marry. You can actually conclude from the word “thinks” that this choice is made after having thought about it. That a person is completely free to make such a decision, you can conclude from the sentence “let him do what he wishes”. There is no need to feel guilty, for there is no mention of sin. It goes without saying that he who considers this matter seriously, will make it a matter of prayer. All his personal thoughts which will lead him to make a certain choice, will be in the presence of the Lord.
V37. The application for verse 36 also goes for verse 37 and yet to a stronger degree. There you read four conditions if you want to stay unmarried. You ought to
1. stand firm in your heart,
2. being under no constraint,
3. have authority over your own will,
4. and have decided this in your own heart.
Paul does not talk about the decision to stay unmarried as if it were something you just simply do. Without being skeptical, he mentions the conditions for that. If you neglect one of them, you will make a wrong decision.
The ‘heart’ is mentioned twice, at the beginning and at the end. In between, something is said about emotions (that’s point 2) and about your will (point 3).
First of all, you must stand firm in your heart. You’re not supposed to be persuaded easily to change your mind. Secondly, you should have no necessity. That refers to verses 2,9. When there is a desire (which is not wrong) for a life partner, there is a necessity to be married. It is better to marry than to burn with passion. Then the question is if you have authority over your own will. Do you really want to live totally for the Lord without having to be occupied with things (which are not wrong) of the world. If you have taken all these things into consideration carefully, then you are able to take a responsible decision in your heart to stay unmarried.
V38. As a sort of conclusion Paul repeats the alternatives. He doesn’t do that with words like good or wrong. That contrast is not found here. In both cases it is about something good. Only one of the two cases is better.
V39. Marriage is a lifelong connection. In Romans 7 marriage is also mentioned as a connection for life (Rom 7:2). The only way a marriage can be annulled is by death. Only then someone is free to marry another person. This freedom has two sides. On the one side, the person is free because the life partner has died. Through death the marital bond has ended, after all. Now it has become possible to marry another person. On the other side, there is freedom in choosing another life partner.
It says: “To whom she wishes.” Yet there follows the significant addition “only in the Lord”. That may seem to be a limitation of the freedom, but that is not the case. The addition indicates a good direction wherein the freedom ‘to marry to whom one wishes’ is to be searched. He/she who wants to acknowledge the rights of the Lord in his/her life will not want otherwise than to marry somebody who also wants that.
Here in this verse the main thing is about someone who was married and has become a widow due to the death of her husband. But the addition “in the Lord” is too significant to apply that only to the remarriage of a widow. It is good for each person, who thinks that he/she should marry, to make sure that his/her desires are ‘in the Lord’. ‘In the Lord’ goes further than only both being believers. It goes without saying that to marry ‘in the Lord’ cannot possibly be with an unbeliever. Even if the other person is a believer, it is important to be convinced that both of you are willing to do the will of the Lord in all things.
For the practice of faith it is essential that you join the gatherings of believers. For the growth of your faith it is essential as well that you have fellowship with believers who live and gather according to the Bible. If in this respect you and your spouse have separate ways, you ask for troubles. Still, it is no unequal yoke if you would marry someone from another denomination than yours, but yet, it is a poignant yoke. When you’re sure that where you are, is the place that God assures you to be and where the gatherings are according to His Word, as you have discovered (that means, where the members are willing to do so), that will play an important role in choosing of your marital partner.
You might think, by making agreements with each other that separate denominations might work out well for both of you. But when you both are really involved with your own congregation, you will notice that you both live in two different ‘worlds’. This difficulty will become stronger when children are born. It will not be an easy thing to explain clearly to the children that both convictions are right. You will not be able to talk about the unity of believers, for example, with full confidence, because your own marriage doesn’t reflect that. Children especially, are very sensitive for a life that is in line with the conviction of their parents.
However, reality shows that, in almost all cases of such situations, the spiritual condition of the children doesn’t turn out right. You see that the question about fellowship is not a side issue, but it should be an important issue. It is important that you are heartily agreed with each other about this.
V40. In the closing verse of this chapter Paul gives his opinion once more. He doesn’t do that in a high-handed manner, with a reference to his authority as an apostle. He does that as someone who knows himself to be guided by the Spirit of God at clarifying this particular issue. He speaks like someone who has had his own exercises in this respect.
It is not just a theoretical explanation, without any feelings of his own. His aim is the happiness of the widow. In his view she is happier when she stays unmarried than when she would remarry. She has experienced the support and care of the Lord when she lost her husband.
With this experience she can also be of consolation in her turn, to others who also suffer losses. In that way she can find a meaningful way to compensate the loss of her husband.
Now read 1 Corinthians 7:36-40 again.
Reflection: How important is it for you to share the same idea with your (future) partner, regarding going together to a church where people gather according to the Bible?