Over the last few weeks, I’ve been meditating on Paul’s teaching and God’s commandments concerning marriage. As one seeking answers, and also seeking to minister to others like myself who have pondered on this great topic, I desired to know God’s will on the matter. Over 40 days, I chose to study 1 Corinthians 7, and this article will focus on each of the 40 verses, which I believe comprises all that Scripture has to say about getting and staying married, even capturing Jesus’ mind as stated in Matthew 19:3-12.
If I had not prayed beforehand for God to open my eyes, my heart and my mind, I may have allowed myself to remain deceived, only accepting what seems reasonable to me. I’d ask anyone reading to please do the same. Prepare to receive a hard teaching, because it is! Apart from one other teaching of Jesus, which meant that He lost a greater number of His disciples (John 6:51-66) – not mere followers – this is probably the hardest of teachings in the Bible. Be careful that you do not reject it, and go and gather many other teachers (friends, books and pastors) who will tell you what you want to hear (2 Tim 4:3-4). With your heart and mind submitted to Christ, let’s dive in and understand what the Scripture says on this most talked about topic!
1 Corinthians 7:1 KJV
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
Paul dives right in and gets to the point. Should Christian men touch women? The answer is NO! This is not a command against touching Christian women only, but women in general (note: a woman). There are no ‘safe’ women for Christian men to touch. By touch here, the implication is sexual, obviously not touching to heal or protect from harm. Now, I’ve said Christian men, because those asking were Christian and not unbelievers, and Paul answered them as believers. This teaching is for believers. The world cannot and will not accept it (Rom 8:7).
1 Corinthians 7:2 KJV
Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
Paul understands that men and women have sexual needs and urges, and he says here, that as a safety measure, against falling into the sin of fornication (which is sex with someone who isn’t your spouse), everyone should have their own husband or wife.
1 Corinthians 7:3 KJV
Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
He goes on to specify that this union they entered is supposed to satisfy their sexual desires, so each partner is obligated to fulfil this duty to the other; as well as any other kindness implied by their decision to love one another until death separates them…
1 Corinthians 7:4 KJV
The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
He makes it clear here that not only are they one (Matt 19:5), each now belongs to the other, and their bodies are for the use of each other. Each has ownership rights and command over their spouse’s body.
1 Corinthians 7:5 KJV
Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
A refusal to perform sexual duties in marriage is such as an offence that it is likened to fraud – a breach of contract. Paul warns couples not to do this, unless they are doing it in agreement, in order to pray and fast in unity for a short specified period. Clearly, there are exceptional cases which may be different for each couple, due to the variance of the experiences (typically, more grace should be afforded women during their menstrual periods and pregnancies). Otherwise, this will make way for the devil to come and tempt and devour (1 Pet 5:8). Bitterness can set in, the lack of self-control to abstain, and a separation of the union (brought by inconsistency in fulfilling each other’s need), may cause one to become unfaithful.
1 Corinthians 7:6 KJV
But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.
Now, this verse is often missed when Paul is quoted. He says here that what he has said above is a concession; a permissible allowance. It is not a commandment for all to marry. However, if anyone receives this permission, they are obligated to engage in marriage soberly realising its demands on them (which have been clearly stated above too).
1 Corinthians 7:7 KJV
For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
Now Paul states his preference, what he believes to be wiser: that men (and women implied) keep themselves for the gospel. However, he acknowledges that not all men are gifted the same and can carry this burden. So, some can and should remain single, while for others, being married is their ‘gift’. Jesus attested to this when in Matthew 19, during discussion about marriage and divorce, his disciples lamented “if such is the case with a man and his wife, it is better not to marry” (Matt 19:10)! To this, Jesus replied “all cannot accept this saying, but only those to whom it has been given … He who is able to accept is, let him accept it” (Matt 19:11-12).
1 Corinthians 7:8 KJV
I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.
In light of his preference, and his belief that it is better not to marry, Paul advices those in the faith who were yet unmarried to remain so, and for the women who were widowed not to seek another husband. Keep in mind the Church was newly born. There were none among them that were raised Christian or received the faith in their youth (or childhood), as it is today. Those who were married may have been married to people who didn’t receive they faith as they did! Also keep in mind that Paul, as did the other believers and Apostles, were expectant that Christ will return in their lifetime. This could be the basis for his direction for the unmarried and the widows to abide alone; not to seek marriage for “the time is short” (v29).
1 Corinthians 7:9 KJV
But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
Here he reiterates the basis of his original concession to marry (v2); if the unmarried and widows are not able to abstain (keep themselves from sexual immorality), then they should engage in moral sex within a marriage. It is better to marry (which is succumbing to your desire, and exercising a legitimate outlet to satisfy this need – not a sin), than to burn (which is living focused on your flesh, in perpetual lust that will lead to sexual immorality – a sin).
1 Corinthians 7:10 KJV
And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, let not the wife depart from her husband:
Now Paul speaks to those who are already married (remember these were people who were saved after marriage, and were seeking to know God’s will for their unions). The first command is to the wife, that she ought not to leave her husband. Paul also distinguishes between counsel from himself, and a command from God, making it clear that this command not to divorce (even divorcing an unbeliever) is from the Lord, and is not a take it or leave it advice. Before now, he had given teaching and counsel, which he also believes should be taken as fair warning and heeded, being a carrier of the Lord’s Spirit (v40).
1 Corinthians 7:11 KJV
But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
Here he goes on to say, without mentioning explicitly that it is a command (it could be his counsel), that if a woman decides to leave her husband, she is left with two choices – stay unmarried or be reconciled to him again. This is a really hard teaching for anyone in this day and age, because the times have made love between spouses, brethren and friends to run cold, so that relationships are now disposable. Of course, there are many other reasons that people divorce, some more legitimate than others (e.g. domestic violence and marital unfaithfulness); but the big question is – given a ‘legitimate’ instance, must the ‘victim’ (or innocent party) be obliged to abide alone? It doesn’t seem fair. So some teachers have arisen to write books on this very hard topic of re-marriage, to help those who find themselves in this situation.
One of the teachings I read on this topic was that, this command not to re-marry was for the wife who leaves her husband after coming to the Lord. So, if she was divorced before being saved, then her condition is as one who is unmarried (because that was the condition in which she was called (vs 17-24)), and she is given the same liberty as unmarried believers – to marry or to remain single (v15), as long as she abides in the Lord and marries in the Lord (v39). This also doesn’t seem ‘fair’ to those Christians who suffer divorce after knowing Jesus, especially if they were the ‘innocent party’, were abandoned or their spouse became apostate. For those seeking to be justified to be re-married, the date of their salvation is now their issue of contention with this teaching. However, Paul talks about this further in verses 12 to 15, which will be studied next.
In this particular verse (v11), Paul also gives a command to Christian husbands not to divorce their wives either. However, the command to remain unmarried (or be reconciled), if this is breached, is not explicitly stated. The next verses give more insight.
1 Corinthians 7:12 KJV
But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
Paul starts off by stating that what he’s about to say is not a commandment from God, but more his counsel and wisdom on how to deal with such matters. In this verse, he says if a brother (by this a brother of the faith) has a wife that doesn’t believe (whom he would have married before coming to Christ – consider Paul’s exhortation in 2 Corinthians 6:14), and she is happy to remain with him (knowing that he is now a Christian and she isn’t), he shouldn’t divorce her or seek separation (the marriage is valid).
1 Corinthians 7:13 KJV
And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
Here he extends his counsel to the women too: that they also shouldn’t forsake their marriages because they are now saved, and their husbands aren’t. They should still honour their marriages and not seek separation if the husband is happy to remain in the marriage (now that his wife is a believer). If he is not, it is the unbelieving husband that will seek to put her away; and in the case of the Christian husband, the unbelieving wife will be the one seeking divorce. This is not a teaching that we should marry unbelievers after being saved so that we can convert them! No, the Lord is clear that we shouldn’t entangle ourselves with the world and especially not be unequally joined in marriage. It is for those who were married before receiving Christ. But note that in any circumstance, whether married to a believer or not, we are commanded not to divorce.
1 Corinthians 7:14 KJV
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
Now Paul makes a remarkable statement that is not repeated anywhere else in any other form. He says that by virtue of the anointing and grace on the believing spouse, their significant other is sanctified (made clean), and so their children will be clean also. Everywhere else, we are taught that it is a personal relationship, that our faith cannot save anyone but ourselves. And even still, we are warned repeatedly of the dangers of such unholy unions (consider Solomon, brought to nought by his many affiliations). By this proclamation, Paul illustrates the exceeding grace God provides in our weakness when we believe (2 Cor 12:9). Because it is harder to keep the faith living in the midst of unbelievers, God has poured out even more grace – to overflowing – to the household of a believer, who converts in the midst of opposition (risking all, their spouse and children) to follow Him. So, though they lose it by forsaking it for God, they gain it back by its sanctification. This grace was not available before Jesus (John 1:17).
1 Corinthians 7:15 KJV
But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
In this verse, Paul states that (remember he started this section of teaching with ‘I, not the Lord’) if the unbelieving spouse leaves and wishes to divorce the believer, that the believer should let him or her go. The following statement is however controversial – that the believer is no longer bound to the unbelieving spouse (i.e. the marriage union entered into while they were both unbelievers is broken with the exit of the unbeliever, and the Christian is free). The controversy is that in every other instance, the Christian remains bound to their spouse and should remain open to reconciliation. They are even commanded not to forsake the marriage they entered into before they believed (vs 12-13). However, liberty came by the will and unfaithfulness (to their marital union) of the unbeliever.
Paul adds: ‘but God has called us to peace’. I think this is further explained in verses 17 to 24, where he talks at length about our calling. When God calls us, it is to live in harmony and peace with one another. I believe Paul is reminding the believer of this peace, not to strife with the unbeliever who wishes to go, but realise that this is an occasion and opportunity to walk in God’s peace and liberty. It is therefore a comforting assurance of God’s plan.
1 Corinthians 7:16 KJV
For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
This verse reveals the self-centredness that is the cause of many forsaken unions. We forget that we have died to ourselves, and are now the vessels of God to be used to achieve His purposes. Our primary duty now is to be a living witness by which men can see the power of Jesus’ love and believe. If there is only one reason to stay married to an unbeliever after coming to the saving knowledge of Christ yourself, is for the reason highlighted in this verse that ‘thou shall save thy wife [or husband]’.
Our prayer and hope should be that the Lord may use us to convict and thus save the unbelieving spouse. Remember the abundance of grace that God has made in this particular union, such that even the unbelieving spouse and children are sanctified merely by virtue of their union with the believer (v14). So, there is abundant grace and power to save. What is needed is faith, first in the believer, then in their spouse and children. And after that, faithfulness – which is love (1 Cor 13:7).
1 Corinthians 7:17 KJV
But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
Now I believe that this whole chapter is about marriage, so this verse and the following verses should be understood in light of marriage; the calling, the liberty and the bondage. Breaking it down it might read:
But as God hath distributed to every man (as God has gifted each person), as the Lord hath called every one (in the condition that they received the calling) so let him walk (let them continue to walk in line with it). And so ordain I in all churches (this is the ordained way in every Church).
Or simply put: we are to walk in the condition we were in when we received the calling, using the gift God has given to us. The additions of condition and gift are not explicit in this verse, but the next verses make it clear what Paul was saying. In relation to marriage (the focus of the chapter), the conditions are single, married, divorced or widowed. We also know from verse 7 that Paul regards the empowerment of celibacy a gift, and the liberty to marry, another gift. So, in this contest, there are two gifts and four conditions. This verse reiterates the message in verse 8, which implores the unmarried and widows to remain in their conditions. Paul adds, perhaps for emphasis and to drive home the point, that this is the way things are done and should be done in every Church.
1 Corinthians 7:18 KJV
Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised.
To understand that Paul meant condition, consider the example of circumcision that he used here. Being circumcised is a condition, not a calling. If you’ve already been circumcised, Paul says that you shouldn’t seek to reverse it. And if you have never been circumcised, you should remain in that condition – uncircumcised. Now the calling is apart from the condition and the gift. The calling can be understood as the new life in Christ Jesus that we are all called to accept, in our different conditions, utilising our own gift from God (whether celibacy or marriage).
1 Corinthians 7:19 KJV
Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
In continuing with his analogy, Paul’s explains in simplicity what is really important to God – our obedience. He says here that the act of circumcision is nothing of itself and being uncircumcised is also nothing, but as long as whatever you do is in obedience with God. Likewise, being married is nothing, and being single is also nothing – but if God has commanded you to go one way, but for fear you disobey and go your own way, then you are in error.
Please note that this verse and the previous are not about circumcision, but it has been used for illustration only. Someone might say, well God commanded circumcision, so that must be the way. But, Christians are exempt from circumcision (Read Acts 15). In fact, Paul went so far as to say to those gentiles who took part in it believing they were fulfilling the law of God that they would have no part in Christ (Gal 5:1-4), and repeats his sentiment here that: ‘for in Jesus Christ neither circumcision availeth anything, nor uncircumcision; but faith which worketh by love’ (Gal 5:6) and obedience, I would add.
In the same way, people have ignored Paul’s and Jesus’ teachings on marriage and looked to the Old Testament book of Genesis for a higher revelation. They say that because God commanded Adam to go and be fruitful and multiply (Gen 1:28), that marriage is a commandment for everyone to obey, and they judge a believer’s character and faith by how soon they marry. Unfortunately, for those who give in to the pressure to marry, and don’t seek to hear God’s voice and leading in their life, they end up living tormented single lives, or marrying the wrong person and adding sorrows to themselves.
Jesus even had to tell the people of His time that His wisdom surpasses that of Solomon (Matt 12:42), the wisest man who lived before Him. He also said astonishingly that among the prophets, John the Baptist was the greatest (Matt 11:11)! That would have been baffling to them. They would have thought, ‘surely, Moses!’ or even ‘no, Elijah was the greatest!’, but Jesus said John, because he ushered in the Kingdom of Heaven (Matt 11:9-10). And to add to that Jesus proclaims that the least person in His Kingdom, founded on the New Covenant, is greater than John the Baptist. He explained it thus to His disciples: ‘that many prophets and righteous men have desired to see those things which ye see, and have not seen them; and to hear those things which ye hear, and have not heard them’ (Matt 13:17). This should tell us that we should no longer be looking to Solomon for wisdom, for one greater than Solomon has been revealed, and God says we should ‘hear Him’ (Luke 9:35, Matt 17:5)!
But I digress… The point is; marriage is nothing, and singleness is nothing, but obedience to God is what counts! Are you tuned in to know the voice of God and His will? What is God saying to you?
1 Corinthians 7:20 KJV
Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.
As you read on, it begins to sound like a one-point sermon. It is clear the message that Paul wants to get across to the believers. He did not want to be misunderstood. He, therefore, reiterates his earlier message, that people should not seek to change the condition (single, married, widowed or divorced) that they were in when called. I hope it is clear at this stage that when he says calling that he is referring to the condition in which we are found when we accept Christ. Consider the following verse for more clarity.
1 Corinthians 7:21 KJV
Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
In simple modern English, this verse reads: “Are you called while a servant? Don’t worry about it, but if you can become free, take advantage of it”. Paul uses another illustration of a servant, or slave, to explain how to manage the conditions that we find ourselves in when we receive the calling. Slaves could be set free by their masters, but some slaves choose to remain in their bondage because they are afraid of having to fend for themselves, or feel they have no other place to go. This analogy fits in with the Christian who is married to an unbeliever, and the unbeliever departs and divorces the Christian. Paul said, they should use this liberty, and they are no longer under bondage (as in verse 15).
1 Corinthians 7:22 KJV
For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.
I believe this verse is about the attitude that we should have towards God and man when we receive the calling. Paul says that if we are called while ‘servants’ or slaves, we should serve with the attitude of free men. Because the Lord has made us free, our service should be joyful and humble, and not begrudgingly or in eye service (Eph 6:6). However if we were found free or ‘unattached’ when we are called, then we should have the mind that we are now slaves of God. The bottom line is everyone is mastered by something. If we are Christ’s, we should and will be mastered by Him, but if we are not, we will be mastered by other things, not limited to our desires. Those who are unattached, and not mastered by anything, are empty vessels that the enemy and his spirits will want to dwell in (Matt 12:43-45).
What it means for those called while married is that they should see their marriage as an occasion to serve, an occasion for ministry; especially if their spouse is an unbeliever. For the single, they should identify themselves as servants or ‘slaves’ (in some translations) of Christ, being subjected to His will as one is who controlled by His Spirit. The attitude of the called in Christ (whether single or married) to Christ is always that of a servant, and their attitude to their spouse (if married) is as a freed man/woman serving in love. So you don’t leave the marriage because you are free… Because you are free, you are Christ’s, and you have a mission to fulfil in that marriage, by ministering the love of God to your spouse. But if an unbelieving spouse (whom you married as an unbeliever) departs, the Christian assumes the liberty (and the chains) of the freed servant of Christ!
1 Corinthians 7:23 KJV
Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.
Paul reminds the believers of the great price that was paid to redeem them, and that for that price, they have ONE Lord alone. They should not give themselves to be mastered by others; even if they are called while under masters, they are the Lord’s servant ministering in that place. And given liberty, they remain the Lord’s servant, ministering in every place He leads. If they give themselves to other masters, they cannot follow the Lord with the devotion that He requires (Matt 6:24; Jam 1:8; consider also 1 Cor 7:32-33). Whether in marriage or single, our first identity is our servanthood to Christ, so that even the decision to marry is submitted to His will.
1 Corinthians 7:24 KJV
Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
This verse is a repeat of verse 20, as Paul concludes this section about the position or condition we are found (particularly, in relation to marriage) when called; whether to seek to change it or work with it. Paul says work with it. With the right attitude, every condition, even real slavery (consider the case of Joseph), can bear the fruit that God wants! We just have to be ready to do His will in every circumstance, and trust Him to make good (Rom 8:28).
1 Corinthians 7:25 KJV
Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.
Still on the issue of marriage, Paul addresses those who are virgins; that is men and women who have never been sexually intimate with someone else. He says that he has received no direction (or commandment) from the Lord about this group of believers, but he decides to share his own counsel on the matter, as one who is ‘faithful’, having received God’s mercy to be faithful (in NKJV, it is translated as ‘trustworthy’). So he wants people to take him at his words because he is faithful, and does not have his own agenda, but only the Lord’s will in mind.
In this day and age when finding a virgin is like finding a needle in a haystack, many have included in this group those who are unmarried, but not virgins. I am not sure how well that translates here. It could be that if Paul has sought from the Lord a command for the unmarried but disvirgined, he may have had something to say… So for the sake of this study, virgins mean virgins. Some might wonder about born again virgins (i.e. those who have been abstinent or celibate since receiving Christ). I would say, those are Christian brothers and sisters, and he has already spent the first half of this chapter addressing them. They are the singles to whom he has said – ‘let every man [woman] abide in the same calling wherein he was called’ (v20). There are no born again virgins, because there are no born again fornicators. You are either born again (Christian), or you are not.
1 Corinthians 7:26 KJV
I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
In the NKJV, the translation is clearer and says: “I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress – that it is good for a man to remain as he is”. From this translation, you can see that Paul is saying two things:
- It is good that he/she is presently single in light of the ongoing distress; and
- Because of this distress, each person should remain in their condition (whether married or not – v27).
From this we can gather that a decision to marry or not to marry should be made in the context of societal turmoil and our Christian witness. Paul made reference to the fact that Christians were being heavily persecuted in that society at that time. So he thought that for anyone who was unattached, it was fortunate that they were so (check vs 28-29), and also that due to the present situation, no one should seek to change their marital status, either single or married – i.e. it is good for a man to remain as he is.
Jesus said something that links to this verse. He talked about when He returns on the Earth, that men and women will be giving themselves into marriage, and going about business as usual (Matt 24:38, Luke 17:27), without thought of the things that are going on in the world, which are signs of His coming! So these people are ‘asleep’, they are not aware of the times. So, Jesus said to WATCH, that we may not be found sleeping when He comes (Luke 12:36-40). He also presents a challenge: “when the Son of Man comes, shall He find faith on the Earth?” (Luke 18:8). Will He find us expectant?
Our priority should not be to get married, but to serve God (Matt 6:33), so that we are always ready to witness. God may tell you to take a wife, He may say ‘no, abide’; or He may say ‘you choose’. Either way, we need to be listening to His leadings, rather than following some unholy burden to marry based on pressure from a society that has lost touch with God. Remember, marriage and singleness are both gifts, but we each need different gifts to accomplish our mission on Earth.
However, being single has been made to look like a curse in this day and age, even though Paul says that it could be quite fortunate! He was of the mind that the end was imminent. I believe he was in the Spirit (maybe God wanted him to have that mind to help him abide with his gift), but certainly, the end was not imminent, because the world is still going two thousand years later. But, if he felt the end was imminent then, how more so is it now? Look at the signs, which are plain for all (Matt 16:2-3; Matt 24:32-33). Let’s make the decision to marry or stay single with our spiritual eyes and not with our physical bodies!
1 Corinthians 7:27 KJV
Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife.
Simply put: “are you married? Don’t divorce. Are you single? Stay that way”. God can use you just as you are, with or without a spouse. If we are truly committed to Him first, and are walking in His will, we will be led by Him and never miss out on any opportunity He makes open to us (Psa 37:3-5; 1 Pet 5:6-7). But if we go our way, kindling our own fires trying to make something out of nothing, and not waiting on God…God promises us that we will abide in sorrow (Isa 50:11).
1 Corinthians 7:28 KJV
But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
Paul adds that if you marry [having sought counsel and approval from God is implied], you have not sinned. Now it seems that he makes a distinction between men and women here, using the word ‘virgin’ in relation to the woman, even though he had initially used that word in relation to both (vs 25-26). So he said, if a ‘virgin’ marries, she hasn’t sinned either. I think he said it this way because he was writing to the leaders of the Church, which in that time would have been all men (given their cultures, and also other teachings of Paul about women’s leadership in the Church (1 Cor 14:34; 1 Tim 2:12)). Because he generally writes from a male perspective, to a male audience, he remembered to make clear that virgin women too are as free as virgin men to marry.
Then he says, ‘such’ – those who marry – will have trouble in the flesh, which he would rather spare them from, by encouraging them to remain single, even as he chose to remain single. In verses 32 and 33, which we will study later, he explains what he means by ‘trouble in the flesh’.
1 Corinthians 7:29 KJV
But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;
This verse is much clearer in the NKJV, which reads: “but this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none”. This is another reference to the times and adapting our conduct to fit in with the spiritual climate. It is clear here that Paul was of the opinion that the world would soon end, and was expectant for Jesus’ return. It is possible that this is the mind that God wants all of us to have too, because when Jesus spoke of His return and the end times, He spoke to them as if it were imminent, and that it would come in their lifetime (Matt 24:33-34). So, however long the time left is until Christ returns, for every believer, ‘the time is short’, because we are to be constantly expectant that our Master will return, and we must be found doing His will, when He does (Matt 24:42-43)! Also, we do not know when we will die, and we must always be ready to go!
Now, because of this expectancy, Paul advises that those who have spouses (note again that the reference is as though he were speaking only to men) should behave as though they had none (in relation to their devotion to the Gospel). This is not a command to disregard your spouse and his or her needs. It is a command to remember that your first Husband is the Lord, and to be ready to move liberally to wherever He sends. Often, this liberty of movement is only available to the singles, because they have no or little attachments. Paul encourages couples to also minimize their attachments, so that they can respond as swiftly to the leading of God, as the unattached believer. You can think of it like the Fire Man on duty or the Doctor on call. He will always have one ear out listening for the cry for help, even as he is making love or happy families with his wife! Note that living as though you are unmarried could also mean deciding not to have children. Consider Jesus’ words concerning nursing mothers in the end times (Matt 24:19). It is thought provoking about the challenges parenthood and marriage can present to the call to live by faith.
1 Corinthians 7:30 KJV
And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not;
Continuing on in the attitude we should adopt in our expectancy, Paul encourages believers to be sober in all things. Though situations arise that cause us to weep and mourn, we should remain triumphant in Christ, and not discouraged. Though situations arise that cause us to jubilate, we should remain vigilant for Christ, and not become complacent. We must never feel defeated nor as though we have arrived. The reason we are triumphant or vigilant is not because we are strong or worried, but because Christ gives us strength (Phil 4:13) and commands us to watch (Matt 25:13). Paul also warns us not to trust in our possessions, that though we have buying power, and lack nothing, we must still deny ourselves (through fasting, which all Christians are called to do (Mark 2:20; Matt 6:16), and submission to the discipline of sharing (read Acts 4:32)). We must be weary of the pride of life, which so easily ensnares the rich (Matt 19:23).
This is the mindset of soldiers who are at war – and we are at war (Eph 6:12, 2 Tim 2:4). Though they are defeated occasionally, they take no thought of it and strive on… Though they win some, they do not relax their defense, but continue fighting… Though they have food for sustenance, they ration it out (because they don’t know how long the war will go on). We are the same. We don’t know how long we will fight this battle for the souls of men, while we are on the Earth. And if we give up or become complacent, it could mean that at the end of the war, we will be shamed, and not be counted among the victors (Rev 3:11; Matt 24:13). We must have this mindset in us, whether single or married (Phil 2:2-8; Phil 3:13-15).
1 Corinthians 7:31 KJV
And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
I think this verse is interestingly different from the others, because it doesn’t say that those who use the world should be as though they don’t use it… Rather it conveys the message that the world can be rightly used, and wrongly used, and admonishes against the wrong use; it reads ‘not abusing it’. This is also in keeping with Christ’s sentiment in prayer for the saints when He said: “I pray not that thou shouldest take them out of the world, but that thou shouldest keep them from the evil” (John 17:15). Paul also talks about the impossibility of being Christian without relating with and using the world (1 Cor 5:9-11). This is contrary to the belief that true Christians are those who remove themselves from the world and live wilderness style lives in order to be holy. Holiness and love must be tested, and they are tested in the world, where there are many unholy, unloving and hard to love people, who need us to be a light to them.
The right use of the world (and our resources and opportunities in the world), therefore, is to further the Gospel (Matt 28:19-20). Jesus commended the shrewdness of wicked men who know how to turn gains. He said that we ought to learn from them, so that we can be equally or be even shrewder in maximizing opportunities for God (Luke 16:8-10). The Master takes great offense at servants who foolishly bury their talents for fear of failure (Matt 25:24-30). He also assured us that with Him, we can live an abundant life, even while we are on the Earth (John 10:10; Luke 18:28-30). But unfortunately, many people equate the abundant life with wealth and status (Luke 12:15). However, we are commanded to be weary of such people and attitudes (1 Tim 6:3-6). If we remember that we now live for God (Gal 2:20), and all that we have is His (Luke 14:33) and our time and resources must be invested in promoting the Gospel (2 Tim 2:15), we will never be sucked in by greed, even though we are abundantly blessed (Phil 4:11-12)!
The question is, are we seeking riches waiting for when we have enough to give to God, or are we seeking God’s kingdom, believing that He will provide all that we need, and much more (Matt 6:31-33, Phil 4:19)? If our mindset is the former, then we are ‘abusing’ our opportunities in the world, and behaving like those without faith. But with the latter, we are living by faith, and using the world to God’s glory (Rom 1:16-17). Such a person knows that they “brought nothing into the world, and can take nothing out” (1 Tim 6:7), and they also recognize that they are strangers in this world, and have a Home above for which they are daily ambassadors (Heb 11:13-16; 2 Tim 4:2)!
Paul emphasizes that the world and all that is done in it will pass away, but only what is done for God will count for anything (1 Cor 3:12-14). If our mind is on our heavenly call, we will not allow ourselves to be corrupted by this world, though we use it. And though we are married, the love we have for our spouse and children will never surpass our love for God (Luke 14:26), because we know that all the things we received were gifts from God to accomplish His purposes.
1 Corinthians 7:32 KJV
But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:
In the NKJV, it says ‘without care’, which is easier to understand in today’s speech. By his first sentence, Paul is saying that he would rather we were without burden, or worries, or anxieties or caution – which is another word for carefulness. He then explains what he means by this. He says that those believers who are unmarried (single and unattached) [are better placed to] care for the things of God, and their burden is how they might please Him. This is certainly easier to do when you don’t have kids you are responsible for, or a wife or husband who is demanding of your attention. You can focus your energies on the work of God, and are ready to go without consulting with anyone else, when God says go! This doesn’t mean that all singles are devout, but they are in an optimal position to be useful to God, if they will employ their energies and not be anxious about getting married. But the case is different for those who are married (or have attachments; i.e. single parents in today’s society). Paul explains in the next verse.
1 Corinthians 7:33 KJV
But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please [his] wife.
What Paul is saying here is simple. He is stating a fact, and not looking for an occasion to argue. The fact is those who are married are concerned about the things of the world (because marriage is a thing of the world – (Matt 22:30)), and that is particularly in relation to pleasing their spouse (or at least living in peace with their spouse). When you are married, you are concerned for your life, because you are responsible for someone other than yourself. And if you are the breadwinner, you are concerned about making money and making ends meet for all those you look after. If you have children, you are concerned about the challenges they will have in the flesh, in school, in the world (whether or not they will be successful) and so on. And if you don’t, you will usually be concerned (and pressurized) about having children! The thing is, it is not wrong to be so concerned when you have such responsibilities (1 Tim 5:8), it comes with the territory. You are not expected to abandon them for your service, which is wickedness (1 Tim 3:5).
Which is why Paul says that he would rather you didn’t have that baggage to bother with in the first place and wished that all were free, as he was, to be maximally used for God, by being single in their devotion. This is the same thing he has said from the beginning, and is his consistent advice (v7). The challenge for those who are married is their ability to hear God, through the commotion all around and inside them. With all the demands on their self and time, they might find themselves too busy or torn between two masters; God and the Family (Matt 6:24). They will not always please both, but for the Christian, they must minimally (at least!) please God (Luke 14:26).
1 Corinthians 7:34 KJV
There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
What Paul said in the preceding verses, he said concerning the men (though our discussion extended to women also). He now applies it to women, saying the same thing. For analysis sake, it is good to also look at this verse separately, to see if there are additional meanings that can be derived for women.
First, he distinguished between a wife and a virgin. In those days, chastity was the norm, and the commandment to the Israelites was that anyone who disvirgined a woman, was obligated to make her his wife (Deu 22:28-29). There were no in-betweens. You were either one or the other, apart from in cases of rape (Deu 22:25-26). Now, the virgin woman, like the single men, is single-minded to God. She is concerned to keep her chastity (holy in body), and devoted to ministry (holy in spirit). Again, being a virgin doesn’t make her devout. She can spend the whole time plotting how to get married, and may not be at all interested in chastity or ministry. The Bible says that such a person is carnally minded and in the throes of death (Jam 1:14-15; Rom 8:6). But, being a virgin (or single), she is more able and more likely to be focused on God.
However, a married woman will have the challenges of a married man, and much more. There is now one who is ‘lord’ over her, apart from God, who she must submit to in obedience to God (Eph 5:22-24; Col 3:18). In her vows, she would have promised to follow him wherever he goes, and has accepted him as her leader. This is why it has been said that who you marry can either make you or break you. If a decision is made to marry and a woman is unable to follow her husband, the marriage is doomed. A good wife cannot railroad her husband or ‘backseat’ drive, even if the man is incompetent! If the husband is not following God, is immature or backslidden, the couple and their children are in trouble. The woman has to be very creative, longsuffering, diligent and prayerful in order to get her husband and their marriage back on the right track (1 Pet 3:1-5). And marrying an unbeliever is out of the question, but if she does, the Christian woman has laid her bed in disobedience, and should not expect favour from God. It is likely that such a person, who is not submitted to God, will be unable to love her as husbands are commanded to love their wives (Eph 5:25-29; Col 3:19); imitating Christ.
There are also many traditions and expectations on women and wives, which have not changed significantly over the centuries. There are the expectations around having children and the demands of motherhood too, which makes the role of a wife, not only different from a husband, but a world apart from the virgin (or single woman)! The responsibilities of a wife make her very focused on worldly concerns, which is not limited to pleasing her husband. Keeping her household together becomes her ministry, and by her faithfulness, she is chaste. Across cultures, women are constantly battling the mother-in-law, and tribal differences in Nigerian culture (for example), means that marriage across tribes, tongues and colour, can also add turbulence to marriages. A decision to marry is not a small thing for anybody, especially for the women saying ‘I do’.
1 Corinthians 7:35 KJV
And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
In NKJV, the middle of the sentence reads: “not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper”. The words that Paul chose are choice words. A snare can be seen as a trap, but I believe Paul meant a ‘stumbling block’, which is a sort of snare. Truths that are hard to accept are stumbling blocks for those who won’t accept them, but building blocks for the wise (1 Pet 2:6-8). The translation for a leash in the NKJV also expresses the point well. A leash is a form of restraint, like a burden. Either way, anyone reading Paul’s epistle would probably suffer from a knee-jerk reaction to reject it as burdensome or perhaps even opinionated and insensitive. I believe Paul added this verse for two reasons:
- To show that he too understands the severity and implications of this teaching (that it is not easy to accept);
- To re-affirm his good intentions in giving this counsel to the Church (for the purpose that they will gain and mature in their service).
I also think that if he had not put this verse in, some might have said – “no, Paul didn’t mean it like that!” and tried to downplay the point that Paul has emphasized throughout this chapter. But Paul said it, as well as stating his empathy and clarifying his goodwill, to further labour on the point that though it is a hard teaching, it is to the profit of the one who accepts it for its merits. So in modern day speech, it might read:
“Don’t get me wrong, I know that it is not so easy to do, and I am not trying to give you an additional load to bear. I am only saying this because I want what is best for you, and for you to truly benefit in your walk with God. You will be able to accomplish more for God, if you will not be distracted about being or getting married”.
Notice the re-emphasis on the main point, highlighted in bold. Though it is a hard teaching, you’d be wise to accept it. Jesus said: “he who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matt 19:12). You decide whether or not it will be a building block or a stumbling block (‘rock of offence’).
1 Corinthians 7:36 KJV
But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.
With all that said, Paul adds this, lest anyone should accuse of him of forbidding marriage (1 Tim 4:1-3). He understood that there will be some or many (and much more now than then!) who cannot bear the thought of remaining single, and if they were compelled to walk down that path, they would most likely end up in sin (if not sexual sins, bitterness and anger towards God). Paul says that each man ought to judge himself, the way he is behaving to the women around him, whether or not he is in control of his body. If there’s a lady that he is drawn to, who he is always giving ‘holy hugs’ and starting to touch too frequently or flirt with shamelessly, it is time for him to be honest with himself that he doesn’t have the self-discipline to abstain. Paul says that if she is no longer a child [and a virgin], then he is within his rights to seek marriage. If they marry, they have not sinned, because marriage is not a sin.
However, disobedience is a sin. I would like to add that if God has revealed His will that this man should not marry now, or marry this particular lady, or marry ever, but he does so anyway because of his yearning, it is counted unto him as sin (Jam 4:17)! Not because marriage is wrong, but because He rejected God’s command or counsel. So, even when we are desirous, and if we have sought God and He says go ahead, we also need to run by Him who and when we should marry. After all, we remain His servants, and the wrong marriage can take us out of His will.
One lesson I’ve learnt from my own life… If we are afraid to seek His counsel on something, because we are afraid of what He might say, then it is clear that we have not forsaken that thing. The right thing to do is to forsake it (Luke 14:33). Break the cord between you and the thing you’re afraid to let go off, until such a time as the Father decides to give it to you (Matt 16:25) – if at all. It is good to remember that every good and perfect gift is from the Lord (Jam 1:17), and God is a good Father – He loves to give His children good things (Matt 7:11; Luke 12:31-32). Don’t be afraid to ask God for permission.
1 Corinthians 7:37 KJV
Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.
Here, Paul states his case again about what he believes to be better. He opines that the man who is able to guard his heart and has control over his body, and has made a decision in his mind not to marry his lady friend, does well. It is a simple statement that has been made and considered in many ways throughout this chapter, so there is not much else to add. The only thing of note is the emphasis on the decision of the man. It is the man that chooses to marry ‘his virgin’ or not to. The lady is not said to be in control of the proposal, though she may agree or disagree to marry.
The Bible also makes it clear that it is the man who seeks a wife and is favoured when he finds her (Pro 18:22). What does the virgin do? A good virgin devotes herself to chastity and ministry (read the discourse on verse 34 and Proverbs 31:10-31) and is found ready when her bridegroom comes (Matt 25:10) – whether it is Jesus or the wise man who has found her worthy. The next verse concludes the matter for the case of virgins desiring to marry.
1 Corinthians 7:38 KJV
So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.
Paul makes a similar statement here to what the disciples made when Jesus taught them about divorce and re-marriage (Matt 19:3-12) – that is it better not to marry (v10). Paul says here that if you (remember he is talking to the virgins) cannot exercise self-control and decide to marry, you have not sinned, but the one who is able to exercise self-control, for the sake of the gospel, does better. Jesus accepted this counsel, but recognized that not all can walk in it (v11). However, He also talked about ‘eunuchs’ who make themselves so for the gospel’s sake, and said that if we are able to accept it, we should (v12).
Unfortunately, this is not the doctrine or belief of most Churches today. In fact, it is the other way round, where the expectation to marry is so great that singles are made to feel handicapped or inferior in their Christian ministry. However, Paul considers them to be more fortunate, because they do not have any additional burden than the calling of God to uphold. This has been the running theme in this chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Christians at Corinth. That – even though we are free to marry – for the sake of the gospel, it is better (if we are able – without resentment and lusting) to remain single. And also those who are married when they are called, should not seek to change their status (through divorce), but see it as an avenue for ministry to their unbelieving spouse and children.
Note the addition of ‘for the sake of the gospel’. It is the only reason that being single is better than being married, not that singleness of itself is a superior lifestyle. In fact, singleness without service (ministry) is selfishness, and anyone indulging in that should be very careful. Without consideration of ministry, marriage and singleness are equally noble. However, as we discussed earlier, people often use Genesis 1:28 to say that marriage is the God-ordained way and superior, because of the command to populate the Earth. But consider two things: 1. the world is already populated and overpopulated in many regions (thus, and regardless, this command has been fulfilled with the other laws and requirements of the Old Covenant by the birth of the New); 2. In the New Covenant, we are called to forsake family as well as possessions for the Gospel, in order to follow Jesus (Luke 14:26), so that marriage and family are no longer a primary consideration for believers – rather, ministry is.
To conclude on this, the point is instead of waiting for divine revelation to abide in the condition you were called (whether single or married, widowed or divorced) – which is preached here as the accepted norm (v17) – you should be at peace (v15). Rather, seek divine revelation if you want to change your status from singleness to married. For those who were called while married, they are liberated only by the exit of their unbelieving spouse, and these divorced ones should also seek divine revelation to re-marry in their new liberty (v15). Because the counsel is “it is better not to marry”.
1 Corinthians 7:39 KJV
The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
Now, when a virgin becomes a wife, her liberty changes. She enters into a covenant, to be bound to her husband for as long as she lives, or he lives – if he dies first. Basically, ‘til death do them part, which is usually part of the marriage ceremony during their exchange of vows. Note also what Jesus said about the resurrection, that we will not be married to ourselves in Heaven (Matt 22:30). It is really only for the purpose of this life and world. I believe Paul said this at the end, as a way of hitting the point home that this is no small matter. That if you decide to marry, it is for life. There are no refunds or exchanges, so choose wisely. Remember that he was addressing Christians; and Christian marriage if often likened to the union between the Church and Christ (Eph 5:23) – it is a holy one.
However, according to Paul, a marriage entered into without Christ is sanctified (v14) when one spouse becomes a Christian, and broken (v15) if the unbelieving spouse leaves. It does not have the same covenant binding as a Christian marriage, because unbelievers cannot enter covenants with God (even though their unions and disassociations are recognized by God (John 4:17-18; Luke 11:23)). They only make contracts with themselves, and the strength of these contracts is based on the strength of the characters who sign them! However, a believer is compelled to uphold their contracts and covenants, as a show of their NEW character (vs 12-13 and 16; 2 Cor 5:17). We are compelled to let our ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and our ‘no’ be ‘no’ (Jam 5:12; Matt 5:33-37). Thus, a Christian marriage is not based on the strength of the personalities, but on the nature of the God who seals it (Matt 19:6).
This seal is broken only by death, after which the widow or widower is free to re-marry. But Paul adds caution: ONLY IN THE LORD! This is one caution that many people with legitimacy to marry ignore to their peril (1 Cor 10:12). In their passion and haste, they do not seek the direction of God on whom to marry, and they (knowing the challenges of marriage) enter into it without caution and without verifying the credentials of their life partner! Worldly businessmen and women do not make sure naïve and miscalculated decisions when it comes to investments and money generation. They are able to submit their flesh to their will to make money. We also should be able to submit our flesh to our will to make Heaven (or grow the Kingdom).
This verse also raises questions for many people who are living through the worse end of marriage. Remember ‘for better or for worse’; some marriages are only for worse! They want to know about putting up with an adulterous spouse, about dealing with domestic violence and other abuses (emotional, sexual, financial, exploitation or neglect) in marriage and also abandonment or even the apostasy of their once devout partner. Jesus said something in Matthew 19:9, which is understood by many to mean that they can walk out of a marriage if their spouse is unfaithful (aka ‘commits adultery’). I have often thought that myself, and boasted about my will to leave any such defiler. But I always knew that it didn’t seem right, until someone opened my eyes to a new understanding of it.
Though I can’t remember the book now, I remember the explanation given for this verse. It helps to quote the verse and re-iterate it, as we have done with the others from 1 Corinthians 7.
Matthew 19:9 (KJV)
And I say unto you, whosoever shall put away his wife, except [it be] for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.
Matthew 19:9 (NKJV)
And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery.
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, apart from the fact that they become guilty of fornication (or sexual immorality), also commits adultery by marrying another person; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery too”.
As it reads, it is the one who divorces his wife and marries another, who has committed the sin of adultery. Not only that, they have also committed (or will by their separation) fornication! The wife, in this case, is not an adulterer (it could be that she also wasn’t sexually immoral, but was put away by an unfaithful husband). But if someone comes and marries her, he (the new husband) shares in the adultery of the first husband. Yet, in this teaching, the divorcee (the one who is put away) is not accused of fornication, sexual immorality or adultery. Now, this can be reversed, so that it reads “whoever divorces her husband”. In this case, the wife commits adultery, and the husband is the divorcee.
Now, there’s a difference here between adultery, fornication and sexual immorality. By the two translations shown, sexual immorality and fornication are used interchangeably, but adultery is not used that way. Note also, that the seal of adultery comes by re-marriage and not by divorce. Jesus said: “and marries another, commits adultery”, not “divorces his wife, commits adultery”. In Matthew 5:32 though, it says that: “whosoever shall put away his wife…causeth her to commit adultery”. Though this does not implicate the divorcee of adultery, it expresses the fact that s/he is now compelled to marry another, and by so doing, commit adultery. Consider that when a couple separate (1 Cor 7:5), they are still married, and when they divorce, they can still be reconciled (1 Cor 7:11). But God considers it to be an abomination for them to come together again after a re-marriage (Deu 24:4).
This is significant in understanding what adultery is. We have been taught to think of adultery as cheating in marriage, but it isn’t (all references to the ‘act of adultery’ aside (John 8:4)). That is marital unfaithfulness (though the vow is broken by one, the marriage can be restored by the will and love of the other). The terms used here are ‘fornication’ and ‘sexual immorality’. Jesus also talked about ‘adultery of the heart’ (Matt 5:28), saying that even without the physical act of sexual immorality, an act of adultery can be committed. Adultery can be seen to be the forsaking of the marriage vows and the dissolution of the marriage covenant. The physical evidence that this has happened is the act of re-marriage, in the same way that the physical manifestation of fornication can be seen in pregnancy (of a supposed virgin). Adultery of the heart happens long before the manifestation, so that a couple can both be dealing with adultery ‘in their hearts’, even when they are still physically faithful. In many ways, we have all been guilty of adultery (even if we’ve never been married, because we could have lusted after someone who is married). We ought to be careful how we judge therefore (John 8:7, John 7:24).
The importance of looking into these things is to understand the will of God for marriages, particularly those entered into by His children (Christians). Jesus summed up the law and messages by the prophets before Him, saying that if we do these two things, we shall live: “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind…Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matt 22:37-19). He then gave a NEW commandment to His disciples, which appeared no different to this summation. But it is, because of the added bit highlighted: “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” (John 13:34). How does Christ love? Read 1 Corinthians 13. That is the kind of love that can endure for better or for worse; the kind that lays down its life for a friend (or a spouse) (John 15:13).
The kind of love that forgives over and over the sins of others (Matt 18:21-22; Matt 6:14-15) cannot be the same as the kind that opts out of a marriage because of marital unfaithfulness. As hard as it is for me to write this, I know that it is true. So, it is hard to believe that Jesus was advocating for this type of conditional love when talking about divorce and re-marriage. Remember, He also said it was due to the hardness of their hearts that Moses made an allowance for divorce (Matt 19:8), and that it was never meant to be so. He is calling us to bring our hearts of stone to Him to be replaced with hearts of flesh (Eze 36:26), the kind of hearts that can love and forgive like God (Matt 5:48). This type of love covers a multitude of sins (1 Pet 4:8) and shows that we are truly His disciples (John 13:35).
I am not advocating for wives living under domestic violence to abide in those households until they die. They must preserve their lives and the lives of their children. However, maybe there is a case for enduring alone, with hope for reconciliation (1 Cor 7:11; 13:7). I know that it would take only God’s love for me to be so long suffering, and see the best in the worst person, and forgive an abusive or cheating spouse, or even put up with an inconsiderate one. But we are called to exercise such love. However, we are also strongly advised to take CAUTION, and choose wisely, and not hastily nor emotionally (with our flesh). If we heed Paul’s counsel to marry only in the Lord (read also 2 Corinthians 6:14-17), we are assured of His favour and protection…and His grace to endure until death do us part!
1 Corinthians 7:40 KJV
But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.
Paul concludes the chapter with his principled and candid advice again, this time addressing the widow. That is it better if she abides alone, that she will be ‘happier’. Many may disagree, because she might have children, and Paul has not bothered to mention that. She may also be young and beautiful and fighting off men constantly, without the protection of a husband. In another place, Paul advised that young widows should marry again, so that they are not ‘idle’ and become ‘busy bodies’, because he perceived that many of them were undisciplined in ministry, being preoccupied in the flesh (1 Tim 5:11-14). But this he said as a concession, with his unwavering counsel for all to abide as they are.
In this verse, Paul shares his counsel and rubber stamps it with a claim to his endowment with the Holy Spirit. To me, this addition reads dryly (with a touch of sarcasm), because I know that Paul knows that he has the Holy Spirit, but he said ‘and I think…’ Why did he feel the need to add this, and why didn’t he just say, ‘I know I have…’? I believe it is because of the excuses people would give to reject his advice. They might say, “What does he know anyway, he’s never been married?” “Wasn’t he the one persecuting us in the name of Judaism?” And so on. So I believe Paul added this because he didn’t expect to be well received, but he wanted them to have no excuse to reject his counsel, by reminding them of the authority he has in Christ (Matt 18:18).
We also ought to take note that we do not disregard good counsel because of the person who delivers it, knowing that God can use an ass to communicate His message, as He did to Balaam (Num 22:21-31)! And if we will not do His will, He can raise up rocks in our place to glorify His name (Luke 3:8; Luke 19:40).
This concludes the Bible Study and close examination of First Corinthians Chapter Seven, written by Paul to the Church at Corinth. It has been a long study, but I hope you benefited from reading it. There have been some hard teaching to swallow, but we must never turn them into stumbling blocks, that will hinder us from progressing in the faith. We must not be like the fool, spoken of in Proverbs, but like the wise. I also hope that it has been liberating for some, particularly the older single women carrying a sand-glass for marriage! If you look into your heart, you may find that God hasn’t even put that burden there, and you are carrying someone else’s burden. But it might be that you do desire to marry, but you should still heed the counsel Paul has given for those desiring to live a life of ministry.
I, too, have sought answers, and have received direction and clarity from God through this time of study. So now, what will I say unto the Lord concerning these things? Will I now forsake Him and go my own way as the teaching that it is better not to marry is so hard to accept? No. I will do as Peter did, when Jesus questioned His twelve disciples following the great falling away after His teaching on ‘the Bread of Life’, and say: “Lord, to whom shall I go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68).
For further reading on this theme, read ‘New Creature, New Covenant’.
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