I’m not a Greek scholar, but in consulting commentators who are, I found they don’t all agree on Paul’s intentions with the verbs he chose for the three verses we’re looking at today. To isolate Paul’s directives out of context of the whole of scripture, and to read the verses in only one English translation could lead to some weird ideas.
What’s important to keep in mind is that when this letter to the Corinthians was penned, it was customary for parents to arrange marriages and it was Dad who had the final say. Dad here is being told not to act capriciously; but rather to consider carefully what would be best for God’s kingdom.
Most likely there were social stigmas back then too if a single daughter continued to live at home when she was of marriageable age. (Side note: Fortunately, today the term “Old Maid” is not politically correct, but unfortunately The Bacheloris a godless TV series that isn’t worth our time to view.)
Does Paul hint at incestuous temptations when he addresses fathers’ “proper behavior”, or is Paul asking dads to prayerfully choose what would have the most spiritual benefit if his daughter isn’t chomping at the bit to get married? If she’s content to serve the Lord as an unmarried young lady then let her continue to do so. It comes down to being unselfishly above reproach.
Furthering the work of Christ’s body, the Church, with a focus on being led by the Holy Spirit to glorify the Father is to be what each of us strives to do no matter what our marital status is. Having a spouse and children carries with it obligations that take time and energy and yet everything we do or say is to be done as unto the Lord.
In this section, Paul is talking to people who are not married. The question Paul is answering has to do with whether or not they should get married. Paul makes it abundantly clear that this is not a decision between right and wrong. He assures his readers that it is perfectly fine to get married: “… if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.”
However, Paul encourages those who can stay single to do so. He gives a couple very pragmatic reasons for this.
First, Paul refers to “the present crisis” (persecution of church?) and his sense that “the time is short” and that “this world in its present form is passing away.” Paul had an urgent sense of the imminent return of Christ. In light of that, Paul thought it would be better not to enter into marriage. Two thousand years later, it is hard to work up the same sense of immediacy that Paul felt. Nonetheless, the principle still holds true. Paul broadens the principle out for everyone in verses 29-31. I would paraphrase it this way: “Hold loosely to the things of this world—even the good things, because it is all coming to an end soon.” That doesn’t mean we take our commitments lightly; it means we make our commitments in light of eternity.
Second, Paul very honestly talks about the “troubles” and “concern” of marriage. Marriage isn’t all roses and kisses. A good marriage takes time, effort, and a good portion of one’s heart. Children add a whole new layer of responsibility and worry. None of this is wrong. It is, in fact, good, reflecting Christ and the gospel. But marriage and parenting also consume a huge portion of who we are. We only have so many hours in a day, only so much energy, and only so much passion. Wouldn’t it be better, if possible, to devote it all to Jesus? An unmarried person has that option. A married person doesn’t. That’s Paul’s point.
Paul again assures them that he is not putting any prohibitions or strictures on marriage: I am not saying this to restrict you. He is most definitely not calling for a monastic movement. He simply wants the unmarried to have the option of living “in undivided devotion to the Lord.”
The church, Christian parents, and Christian peers knowingly or unknowingly put pressure on young adults to get married. For many reasons, not the least of which is the rampant sexual immorality in our culture, this is completely understandable. However, this passage challenges all of us to respect singleness as a conscious choice to be single-minded and single-hearted in pursuit of Christ’s purposes. Why wouldn’t we at least suggest, if not encourage, this? Paul did.
Do you sense the discontent in the people around you or in society in general? Is it possible that the chaos in our world is because people never seem to be satisfied when they can’t have the things they want or get their own way? Keeping up with others or trying to get ahead of them—whether on a person-to-person or nation-to-nation basis is an unending pursuit leading to failure.
Paul counsels the Corinthians that they should be content in their calling, including marriage or singleness, slave or free, vv. 1, 20, 24.
In looking for contentment, we often neglect some biblical principles that seem counter-intuitive to us know-it-alls. For example:
In another of his letters the author of today’s Scripture passage encourages the church in Philippi by sharing what he had learned through very difficult situations:
I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. (Philippians 4:11-12)
Was that easy for Paul? Certainly not, and such lessons won’t be easy for us, either. But, here’s his secret, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength,” v. 13. It’s by faith and trust in the one whom we serve that we can learn to be content.
Back to 1 Cor. 7:22: the idea of being a slave is repugnant to most free people. Even today, many strong-hearted people are making great sacrifices to free those who are enslaved in sex-trafficking, political warfare, drug and alcohol abuse, and other tragedies. So, how can we think of slavery in any good sense?
Being reconciled to God opens the door to an expansive freedom that cannot be experienced in any other way. The Christian can exercise his liberty, limited only by the boundaries of morality and integrity in an environment and with the resources that only a benevolent Master can provide. Paul writes to the Roman church:
Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone as obedient slaves, you are slaves of the one you obey—whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness? But thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin, you have come to obey from your heart the pattern of teaching that has now claimed your allegiance. You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness. (Romans 6:16-18)
Apparently, then, we have only two choices. We can yield to the unrelenting pressures of temptation and sin or to the gracious joys of serving a loving God. Which will it be?
Driving on modern highways can be dangerous. Mile after mile . . . we can nearly fall asleep. Now, it can be a literal drowsiness, or it can also be something more subtle: a comfortable sit-back-and-relax mentality. We may feel perfectly safe and content that everything is okay. We’re in our vehicle, and that’s all that matters.
But there’s a lot involved in safe driving. Drivers need to be constantly alert, lest the least little miscue result in a serious accident.(Hopefully, we would never text on a cell phone.) And we must pay attention to what other drivers are doing and mistakes they may make, which could put us and our passengers at risk.
The notion of being lulled to sleep applies to Christians. We can easily become comfortable with a sit-back-and-relax mentality. Meanwhile the sinful world surrounding us instills its values in our minds. We easily become lethargic and end up in sync with the world, but out of sync with God. Paul rightfully warned, “Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mold” (Rom 12:2).
One of many areas where Christians can be lulled to sleep is the needs of people on the margins of society. Especially in middle-class America—where individualism controls much of how we think—we may feel perfectly content: cocooning in our homes, focusing on our own affairs, and leaving everyone else to fend for themselves.
But underlying Paul’s instructions about widows—who werecommonly marginalized in that day—it’s clear that the community of believers has the responsibility to tend the needs of others. We are disobeying God if we leave the needy to fend for themselves. Paul set careful parameters for how communities of believers should care for widows who are “really in need and left all alone” (1 Tim 5:5).
APPLICATION: Are we alert and attentive to people’s needs, whether locally or globally? Hopefully we’re not lethargic, lazy, or lulled to sleep. Remarkably, Jesus made clear that our responsibility to others is not less important than our responsibility to God! He also said that helping the marginalized is actually serving Him: “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me” (Matt 25:40). The question is, Who are the needy, and how can we best help them?
When it comes to the question of choosing between singleness and marriage or between staying single after the death of a spouse or remarrying, Paul is not talking in terms of right or wrong. He is talking about things in terms of good and better.
There actually is such a thing as Christian liberty. Just because the Corinthians were abusing their freedom in Christ doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist in a healthy form. For good, God-honoring reasons, one can choose to stay single. For good, God-pleasing reasons, one can choose to get married. After the death of a spouse, one can choose either to stay single or to marry again. There is no right or wrong here. There is, at most, good and better.
Paul doesn’t think it is wrong to get married or to get remarried after the death of a spouse. These things are good. Paul just thinks it is better to stay single. God created marriage, and it is good. But marriage also complicates life. A single person can devote himself or herself completely to the Lord–who is coming back soon–and to his purposes. One should at least consider this before jumping into (re)marriage.
But in all these things there is grace and room for different choices. There is no room for pride or condemnation. God blesses and works through either arrangement. The Christian is at liberty to choose according to how the Holy Spirit works in his or her life.
As the Romans seven passage illustrates, we are not under law in these things. There is Christian freedom. However, this new life of freedom needs to be directed by the Spirit of God. The law of the Spirit of life has set us free to live a new life which comes from the Spirit. Whether single or married, we are to be Spirit-controlled.
Jeremiah 3 records God’s conversation with the prophet when He says He gave Israel her certificate of divorce because of her unfaithfulness. This got me thinking about the root cause of disunity in any setting, including marriage. What is the lie that causes relationships to fracture?
Out of curiosity I did a Google search on what causes divorce and there were the expected issues of financial problems, abuse, lack of emotional support and/or communication, boredom, and problems with intimacy. But these are symptoms (and they can be horrific) – they are not the disease.
The lie, whether we consciously acknowledge it or not, is that we often believe we need something other than God to fill the void we were born with. A dream house, a dream vacation, a dream career, or a dream spouse can never be enough to fulfill one’s longings. But, if the unrealistic expectations are there, then dissatisfaction inevitably follows and in a marriage this may lead to infidelity, even if no papers are filed or no court action is taken.
Author Tim Keller agrees with Kierkegaard when he says, “. . . the normal human ego is built on something besides God. It searches for something that will give it a sense of worth, a sense of specialness and a sense of purpose and builds itself on that . . . if you try to put anything in the middle of the place that was originally made for God, it is going to be too small.”
As Sam Yeiter inquired of us last Sunday, are we keeping in step with the culture, or are we in step with the Spirit? The culture tells us we have a right to do whatever it takes to be happy, and to believe all our dreams can come true. Going to scripture we see how Christ sacrificially and unconditionally loved His bride the Church. Christ submitted to the will of the Father. We are asked to love and submit like this – and that’s no lie!
This passage begs a lot of questions–too many to address in this brief blog.
Something that has always bothered me about this passage are Paul’s parenthetical statements. What does Paul mean by saying “not I, but the Lord” and “I, not the Lord.” Does that mean the truths qualified by the first parenthetical statement are inspired scripture, whereas the truths qualified by the second statement aren’t inspired, authoritative scripture, so they can be rejected?
What is going on here?
I think this is what is happening. Paul sees the content of verses 10 and 11 as a recapitulation of what Jesus had already said, most famously in the Sermon on the Mount: “It has been said, ‘Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.’ But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery, and anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery” (See also Matthew 19:1-9 and Luke 16:18). By saying “not I, but the Lord,” Paul is indicating that he is not saying anything new here but simply restating what Jesus has already explicitly taught.
In the next paragraph (verses 12-14) when Paul then says “I, not the Lord,” he is indicating that what he is about to say is not a repetition of Jesus’ teaching but rather something from Paul. Paul was simply indicating the source of the teaching. Today we would see all of it, whether from Jesus in Matthew five or Paul in First Corinthians seven as Holy Spirit-inspired authoritative teaching. In the end, the source is the same, namely, God.
The biggest question of the passage has to do with remarriage after divorce. Sorting out that situation requires more space than we have here. Let it suffice to say that in this whole passage Paul is preaching that one shouldn’t rush to change his or her situation, whatever that might be. Instead, Paul puts an emphasis on learning contentment in Christ and prioritizing serving the Lord, no matter what one’s status in life might be. Neither divorce nor remarriage is the real and ultimate answer to our needs. Jesus is. Before rushing to find resolution in another status, maybe we should first seek to be faithful in the station in which we find ourselves.
Jim and Joan have been married for six years, and life has become rather routine—even their moments of intimacy.
Jill is a successful elementary school teacher, just a few years out of college. She would like to have a relationship with a young man, but there doesn’t seem to be any in her circle of friends.
John and Jane have been dating for nearly two years. Because they both have entry level jobs they have no sense of financial security.
Joe is in his early twenties; he’s something of an introvert. Like all young men, he has longings for an intimate relationship, but he doesn’t make friends easily. He’s very lonely and he’s looking for some way to satisfy his needs.
Jeremy and Janice Jones are empty-nesters. Their grown children have families of their own and are doing well. The Jones, however, don’t seem to be getting along at all, and the great divide is growing.
These eight fictitious (but realistic) folks have several social factors in common. All attend Friendly Community Church, at least spasmodically. Like everyone else they have lots of social activities available to them, and they are greatly influenced by the behavior they see portrayed in the media and the conduct of their friends, both in and out of the church. Frankly, they sometimes consider making some changes to fill the void they’re feeling in their relationships.
These examples might well represent someone we know. For that matter, could one of them be you? Modern society offers a lot of opportunities to develop relationships whether in inter-personal activities or through social media. For the Christian, however, there are biblical principles to help in making such thorny decisions. Here are a few from Scripture with the overall principle “flee from immorality” (1 Cor. 6:18):
Accepting Jesus as Lord is the essence of being a Christian (Rom. 10:9), Recognizing him as lord in our daily lives and in every relationship is the evidence of being a Christian. Maybe the most difficult place to realize his lordship is in the most intimate of relationships.
Thank you, Father, for making us your children and giving us the Holy Spirit and your Word to enable us to live above reproach. We acknowledge our dependence on your grace and mercy to live in a manner that honors you in our familial relationships.
(There are numerous songs on this record; those summarized below are not necessarily in chronological order.)
Song #1: Maybe you know the story of the infant abandoned by her parents and left to die in an open field. Fortunately, a wonderful benefactor came by and took great care of the little girl, all the way to adulthood. The man lavished on the young woman everything a girl could dream of, and she “became very beautiful and rose to be a queen.” The Benefactor turned out to be the King, and she was his queen.
Unfortunately, against all reason, the queen used her “fame to become a prostitute.” Everything the King had blessed her with she reused in her corrupt practices. (You can read this awful story in Ezekiel 16. Beware: It’s like the script of an X-rated movie. You will be aghast at the reprehensible acts of the queen-turned-prostitute, an analogy for the Chosen People who chose not to be “chosen” after all.)
Song #2: You probably also know an even older story of an ethnic race of people enslaved in Egypt for centuries. On eagle’s wings, God rescued them, leading them to the Promised Land. He lavished on them amazing blessings—including the promise of a land flowing with milk and honey—but they turned against him, violated his #1 commandment, built a golden calf, and offered sacrifices to a despicable idol . . . as if an inanimate object could be for them what the Creator God of the universe had been! (You can read this appalling story in Exodus 32. Beware: God became angry enough to destroy the whole lot of them.)
Song #3: Long before either of these stories, “The Lord observed the extent of human wickedness on the earth, and he saw that everything they thought or imagined was consistently and totally evil. So the Lord was sorry he had ever made them and put them on the earth. It broke his heart. And the Lord said, “I will wipe this human race I have created from the face of the earth. Yes, and I will destroy every living thing—all the people, the large animals, the small animals that scurry along the ground, and even the birds of the sky. I am sorry I ever made them” (Gen 6:5-7 NLT). (You can read about the disastrous flood in Genesis 6-9, which killed every person on the earth except Noah and his family.)
Song #4: Moving on to the New Testament, we should think that God sending Jesus to the earth would, by all rights, have led to an entirely different outcome. This was God’s very own Son, after all. But Jesus told a shocking story about something happening right under the hearers’ noses. A man had a vineyard that he had rented out to some farmers. After a while he sent a servant to collect some of the harvest. But the farmers sent the servant away empty-handed. The owner followed up sending another servant, but the farmers treated him even worse. Then the owner sent his own son, and, of all things, the farmers killed him. (You can read this vexing story in Luke 20. Beware: God can take the blessing he had intended for certain people and give it to others.)
Song #5: Now we would especially expect this story to be opposite of the rest. Though Jesus left the earth and ascended back to heaven, he said his followers would do even greater things than he had done. He also promised that the Holy Spirit would indwell them and lead them into the truth. Unfortunately, we find in the final books written in the New Testament clear evidence that the terrible sinfulness evident in the Old Testament was prevalent in the early church too: false prophets, heretical teachers, blasphemers, blots, blemishes, brute beasts, accursed brood, blackest darkness. (You can read about these who had confessed Christ but became entangled again in wickedness in 2 Peter 2. Beware: “It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them.”)
APPLICATION: Sometimes we learn the best lessons from people who have failed, especially when we commit ourselves to not making the same horrible mistakes. So let’s do all we can to not be part of the endless broken record! Let’s run to holiness (from sin) and break the record! We can be a new song!
“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
God could have squashed evil. Nothing could have been easier for him. And we often wish he would have. But then we remember that we are evil. Had God used his power to eliminate evil, he would have destroyed us, too. It would have been the end of us. Instead of ending evil by ending us, God chose to overcome evil with good. That is, God sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. God overpowers our evil with his grace and goodness. He doesn’t force us to change with the threat of violence. Instead, he woos us with love and then transforms us with the unsurpassed goodness of his grace in Christ Jesus. And then he calls us to emulate him. What does this look like?
If those who claim Christ as Lord would live out this text, the world would know that Jesus is Son of God.