The First Epistle of Paul the Apostle to the CORINTHIANS – Chapter 7
1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”
2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. – 1 Corinthians 7:1-2
It seems the Corinthian church asked Paul about abstaining from sexual relationships as a form of “spirituality”. Paul responds here that it husbands and wives should “have” each other in the sense of intimacy. Marriage is holy and as the author of Hebrews says:
Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous. – Hebrews 13:4
Satan is out to destroy the expression of holy, divine unity that is displayed in a marriage. Sexual immorality of all types damages trust and devotion between spouses. Spiritually it is a form of idolatry – putting someone or something in a more important place that your “first love”. And we know how God feels about idolatry. So often sexual immorality is mentioned in the same category as idolatry:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. – Colossians 3:5
Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. – Revelation 22:15
John’s last words in his first epistle were:
Little children, keep yourselves from idols. – 1 John 5:21
Sound advice. We need to keep our hearts and minds fixed on Jesus and treasure and honour the person He gives us to love in that special way, in a marriage.
3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.
4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. – 1 Corinthians 7:3-5
Does this section just have an application for married couples? What does it mean that a husband and a wife have authority over the other’s body? Well, to me it is very apparent that the power of attraction is invested in your ( or your potential) marriage partner. Sexual attraction is very powerful. But is that what is being spoken about here? When you give yourself to Christ you give up your self, you die to self, your flesh is crucified with Christ:
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. – Galatians 2:20
Paul told husbands:
In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. – Ephesians 5:28
So is there something here about putting the other person first? Just as we put Jesus first in our own lives, an outward expression of putting Jesus first is to honour your spouse more that your self and put their needs first. Christ gave Himself for me so I should give myself for my spouse.
David Guzik points out that the NKJV translation of verse 3 states:
“Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband.”
This emphasies the importance of showing affection to your spouse what ever the circumstances, even if you are fasting from sex. We need affection above our need for sex. So the emphasis is on giving. Satan will try all he can to get people to have sex outside of marriage but he will also discourage sex within marriage to try to harm the spiritual unity within the marriage. Sex is a genuine blessing within a marriage that God wants us to enjoy but it is bassed on giving ourselves to the other person.
6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.
7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am.
9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. – 1 Corinthians 7:6-9
We are not sure what Paul’s marital status was. Some believe that as he was a Pharisee he must have been married because one of the laws he would have obeyed was to be fruitful and multiply. So what happened to his wife? Did she leave him when he became a Christian? In which case he would have experienced divorce. Or did she pass away? We do not know and as Chuck Smith suggested, when the Bible is silent on a subject then we should remain silent on the subject. But we do know he was single when he wrote this passage as there is no reference to his wife in the book of Acts, so we do not know what happened to her. Paul says later in chapter 9:
22 To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.
23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. – 1 Corinthians 9:22-23
So the ambiguity can work in our favour as we know he could identify with us as either married, divorced or widowed. As to the rest of this passage we should let the Holy Spirit speak to us as to His desire for our marital status. Paul recommended remaining single possibly because the church was under persecution and he wanted people to be free to wholly commit themselves to the Lord. Either way married or single it is a gift from God. God wants to us us to share His gospel and will use us in whatever circumstance we find ourselves so we are able to share in others experience. So we must be led by the Spirit of God in this area, as in all areas of our walk with Jesus.
10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband
11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her.
13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.
14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.
15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace.
16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? – 1 Corinthians 7:10-16
Christian couples should do all they can to save their marriage in the light of His grace, forgiveness, compassion and love. However a believer does not have to be enslaved to an unbeliever. Much has been written on the subject of divorce and there are many good books for Christians on the subject (see below).
God has called us to peace.
And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 4:7
15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful.
16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. – Colossians 3:15-16
Let peace rule, be thankful and let the word of Christ dwell in our hearts , being filled with the Holy Spirit;
18 And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit,
19 addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart, – Ephesians 5:19
When discussing this issue my wife said “I get the overall feeling of peace and jubilation that being loved and kept by God has put these life decisions into perspective…” Amen. Let’s sing in our hearts all day of the great things our God has done for us.
17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.
18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.
19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. – 1 Corinthians 7:17-19
God knows our circumstances and knows what He wants us to with our time on earth:
15 My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!
16 Make your face shine on your servant; save me in your steadfast love! – Psalm 31:15-16
We cannot change the past nor are we asked to try and rectify previous errors. If we are scarred from the past we cannot get rid of that scar. Although we are freed from the consequences of past errors by faith in the power of His Blood.
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, – Ephesians 1:7
We need to walk worthy of our calling leaving the past behind:
Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. – Philippians 3:13-14
Keeping the commandments of God is what is important:
7 For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. Today, if you hear his voice,
8 do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness, – Psalm 95:7-8
But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. – Hebrews 3:13
2 and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul,
3 then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. – Deuteronomy 30:2-3
What a compassionate God we have, full of mercy and steadfast love for us His wayward children.
20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.
21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.)
22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.
23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.
24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. – 1 Corinthians 7:20-24
We can live for God what ever our circumstances. Circumcised or not, married or single, slave or free. It is so tempting to say I will follow Jesus when my circumstances change. When I finish Bible College, when I have settled accommodation, but Paul said:
23 Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men,
24 knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ. – Colossians 3:23-24
11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.
12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.
13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. – Philippians 4:11-13
Paul learned the secret of facing challenges “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Not only the challenging spiritual battles but the humdrum daily tasks that we might wish to be freed from. In ALL THINGS let us be with and stay with God.
25 Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.
26 I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.
27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. – 1 Corinthians 7:25-28
Paul continues the theme of finding contentment in whatever state you are in. The Corinthians had been influenced into thinking that it was more “spiritual” to be unmarried and devote your attention to the Lord. Paul is tempering that belief with the instruction that the Lord has not commanded him with a particular instruction. Paul has already said he wishes people would be as he is. From this we should read “fully committed” not “unmarried”.
6 But godliness with contentment is great gain,
7 for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.
8 But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. – 1 Timothy 6:6-8
Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” – Hebrews 13:5
If God be for us who can be against us. He will never leave us or forsake us. There in lies true contentment, not in our employment, our possessions or our marital state but in the Son of God -through whom the Father gets great joy.
29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none,
30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods,
31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. – 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
Oh that we would be so obsessed with Christ that nothing in this world would matter. He is all we need. In Him is love, joy, peace, security, faithfulness. He provides everything we have and will supply all we ever need. Thank God the time is short and we will see Him soon face to face seeing a love we never thought possible. Thank God this world is passing away. We have an eternal future in Him, with Him and for Him.
32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.
33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife,
34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.
35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. – 1 Corinthians 7:32-35
How do we maintain undivided devotion to the Lord? Well the simple answer is to put Christ first. Our reading of verse 33 may incline us to think that if you are anxious about worldly things it is negative, possibly sinful so therefore we see the second part of the sentence “how to please your wife” in that negative light. But that is not the case at all. Paul encourages husbands to care for their wives as Christ loves the church. To please your wife (or husband) is to “accommodate one’s self to the opinions desires and interests of the other”. Christ came to earth to fully experience being human. He totally identified with our weakness so that He can truly intercess for us. We express our devotion to the Lord through the way we live by faith, in a marriage or as a single person. We can experience the sanctifying grace of God, making us holy as we keep our eyes upon Jesus and look full in His wonderful face.
36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry-it is no sin.
37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.
38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. – 1 Corinthians 7:36-38
There are two very different views on this passage. David Guzik says it is concerning a father not wanting his daughter (or son) to marry. In those days marriages were arranged by the parents and some fathers believed it was spiritual for their daughters to remain virgins. This view is clearer in the NKJV where the female is referred to as a virgin not as “your betrothed”. It also covered young men also referred to as virgins. In this translation (the ESV) the emphasis seems more on the situation where you are betrothed (together but refraining from having a sexual relationship) and due to be married. However if passion is running high it is good to marry, but if passion is controlled it is good to go through the traditional betrothal period. The refraining from marriage is only temporary and will end in the couple being united. This idea was mentioned in verse 9 earlier:
But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion. – 1 Corinthians 7:9
Either way Paul is still emphasising that the Lord’s will be done, not decisions based on human ideas of spirituality (either refraining from marriage or refraining from sex). God has given us all things richly to enjoy:
As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. – 1 Timothy 6:17
so long as it is within His will for us.
And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. – 1 John 2:17
39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God. – 1 Corinthians 7:39-40
Paul’s last comment on knowing God’s will in marriage. Sometimes we could think Paul is biased towards singledom. But he did have the most amazing ministry and you can see why he did not want to have a woman worried to death about his safety as he faced riots, beatings, shipwrecks and prison. Here we see that marriage ends when one partner goes to be with the Lord. In heaven we will be the Bride of Christ and the companionship and intimacy and we experience here with our spouse will be experienced in its full glory with Christ our Lord. Ruth will be with her Boaz. Redeemed for eternity. No death or divorce there. Joy forevermore. We don’t fully comprehend the love of God:
For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known. – 1 Corinthians 13:12
The love we will see in Jesus face will astound us:
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. – 2 Corinthians 4:6
And it will be for each of us – personally.
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Text Edition: 2016. Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.
Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage in the Bible: A Fresh Look at What Scripture Teaches by Jay E. Adams;https://www.eden.co.uk/shop/marriage__divorce__and_remarriage_in_the_bible_29402.html
Divorce and Remarriage Biblical Solutions for Pastoral Realities by David Instone-Brewer http://www.eden.co.uk/shop/divorce_and_remarriage__biblical_solutions_for_pastoral_realities_29371.html
Marriage and Divorce by McGee, J. Vernon;https://www.eden.co.uk/shop/marriage-and-divorce-4546207.html