Grace and Peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Today’s reading is from Paul’s first letter to the Church of Corinth. In this seventh chapter, Paul speaks at length about celibacy, marriage, and why some people should do one and some the other.
Reading: I Corinthians 7
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
On its face, this would seem to contradict what God said in Genesis – that woman was made to “complete” man (literally: a helper suitable for man), and that we are to fill the earth and subdue it.
However, it is not necessary that every man should be married to a woman, nor every woman to a man, in order to fulfill these commandments. For some men (in particular), a higher calling supplants the physical urge to be with a woman. Paul appears to have been one of these men.
2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
3 Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
Paul has already laid out the case against fornication. Because we have physical urges (natural, and placed there by God) to lay with members of the opposite sex, it is much preferable for each man to marry one woman, and each woman marry one man.
In this marriage, the man must be good to his wife, and the wife good to her husband. After all, the Scriptures say that “the man cleaves unto his wife, and the two become one flesh.” As it is unnatural to purposely injure our own flesh, so too must we act toward our partners.
4 The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
In this way, power is distributed between the husband and wife. She belongs to him, and he belongs to her. This is a balance, and beneficial for them and their offspring.
5 Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
Generally speaking, the reason you got married in the first place was to “become one flesh.” Paul instructs married couples to have regular intercourse, so that (for example) a blue-balled man has no reason to go after some hot young harlot.
6 But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.
7 For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
Paul is drawn to the cause of ministry to such an extent that he is largely without the desire for a wife. This gives him great fulfillment, such that he would wish it on everyone he knows.
But, not everyone is given to such a focused cause. In fact, relatively few are.
8 I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.
9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
Here is the heart of the teaching. One does not have to marry if one is not drawn to do so; this leaves them time and resources to pursue other quests. But, if one is drawn in by the desires of the flesh, it is better to marry than fornicate.
10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:
11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.
Divorce defeats the purpose of marriage. Two become one flesh, then go on to become one flesh with others. This is, fundamentally, no different from fornication.
However, in the event that the two do become divorced, they defeat the problems associated with fornication by eschewing sexual relationships with any but their original spouse.
It is interesting to note that, even in this time, divorce was apparantly primarily initiated by the woman. We see that the majority of all divorces in the Western world are caused when a “wife departs from her husband” – is this so common and ancient?
12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.
This teaching is of Paul, and not necessarily of the Lord. However, because of the Spirit that dwells in Paul, it is good to adopt such teachings.
There are thousands of stories of a believing woman bearing witness to the salvation of her husband. The author of the famous hymn, “Amazing Grace”, is one such instance. So, too, have many believing men born witness to the salvation of their wives. God is good, and He has caused many such things to occur.
15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.
16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?
17 But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.
Jesus spoke about being unequally yoked with the nonbeliever. It is a great strain on the Christian mind to know that one’s partner is, at least at present, on a path toward hellfire. We all pray for the salvation of those nonbelievers for whom we care so dearly, but it may not come to pass.
For the Lord alone is sovereign. He draws some sinners to repentance, and He allows some others to continue in their sin. We can do nothing to force salvation on anyone.
This is why Paul teaches the Christians to allow the non-believers to walk away. If God draws them, they will return in His time.
18 Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised.
19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.
20 Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.
This is a copy of the teaching handed down by the Apostles in the book of Acts. The Jewish Christians were tormenting the Gentile Christians, claiming that they had to become circumcised in order to truly belong to the Kingdom of God. The Apostles rebuked this teaching, and Paul echoes that rebuke here.
It matters little to the Lord whether we are circumcised or not. The same can be said for marriage, so long as we do not engage in sin.
21 Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather.
22 For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant.
23 Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.
There is no difference in the Lord between slave and free. A Christian man who believes, despite his bondage in this world, is as much a Christian as the freeman.
However, because we have been “bought” by Christ’s death, we are to be His servants. This is a correct response to such generosity.
24 Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.
25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.
26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.
Virginity is good. Lack of virginity is not bad.
Of course, if one engages in fornication in order to lose one’s virginity, that carries the problems of fornication. And if the non-virgin does not engage in sex, that is not a problem, either.
The Bible is largely silent on this issue (except in the case of Mary, because it is a miracle for a virgin to birth a son).
28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
Marriage comes with problems. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool or a liar.
29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;
30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not;
31 And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
Life on this earth is very brief, especially for the Christian in a land that despises Christ. These matters are concerns of the present life, which lasts only a few years, while the Christian is more deeply concerned with the Life to Come. Therefore, Paul has little interest in continuing this discussion much further.
32 But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:
33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
Anyone who has been around a man before and after marriage can attest to the truth of this statement. A wife restricts the amount of time and resources one can expend in service of the Lord, by virtue of her own needs – this is a natural consequence of such contracts.
34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
Some use this teaching to argue against marriage altogether. However, not everyone is given to the cause of the Lord – if a woman wishes to bear children (and a great majority does), let her marry and bear children with her husband.
35 And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.
Here, Paul is speaking about marrying a woman who has passed the age of her greatest beauty and child-bearing potential. You don’t “take her from the Lord” if you marry her at this age – she’s unlikely to change much over the course of such a marriage.
Personally, I don’t see why a man should do such a thing in the modern age, but that’s me. If a woman expends her youth and child-bearing years working, I see little reason to marry her, because the greatest values of marriage (children) are no longer possible. But I am young, and could yet be wrong.
37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.
Here Paul celebrates the will of the celibate-by-choice. There is no great value in involuntary celibacy, where a man desires to be with a woman but is unable to find even a partner for fornication, but the celibate-by-choice has great self-control and will, and is able to do great things with his time and resources.
38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.
39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.
This same teaching of celibacy for men is good for women, and for much the same reasons. If a woman is content in abstaining from sex and marriage, it is good to remain in such a state.
Let us Pray
Blessed be the Lord our God, who has done marvelous things. Let us praise him in our words and our works, so that the world might see our good deeds and praise our Father in Heaven.
Father, these teachings are difficult for us. We are a people given to all manner of foolishness – we heed not wisdom, nor understand it when we see it. Give us understanding, Lord, so that we may show our love for you by doing as you direct.
We thank you that you have covered over our multitude of sins. Truly You are the Just and Merciful Lord, who has great compassion for us.
In the name of the Heavenly Father, our Lord Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit who abides with us:
May the Lord bless you and keep you
May he make His face to shine upon you
And be gracious unto you
May the Lord look upon you with favor
And give you his peace.