In our study of 1 Corinthians chapter seven, we look at love and marriage with a non-Christian. Paul wrote this letter to the church at Corinth in response to questions that they had asked concerning a biblical marriage relationship.
"Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry." NIV translation
The first six chapters of this letter dealt with some things that were going on in the local church but now the focus shifts to answering questions that they had about biblical marriage. When Paul speaks of marriage, here, he is in fact talking of a sexual relationship between a man and a woman as that was only allowed in the marriage relationship. Paul says it is good for a man to stay single but, as we shall see, there is more to it than that.
"But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband." NIV translation
We must remember that Corinth was like the "sin city" of the day and, in fact, sex had become a religion there. In light of this temptation that was all around them, Paul said that men and women should be joined together in a marriage relationship. The sexual relationship was appropriate in the overall marriage relationship and men as well as women should be fulfilling those needs in their marriage.
"The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife." NIV translation
When a man and woman are joined in marriage, they give up self and the two become one (see Genesis 2). Therefore, they each belong to the other and not to themselves.
Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." NIV translation
The sexual relationship is good and proper in a marriage that is from God. As we see here, it is also a gift from God that protects us from attacks by Satan. Paul advises them (and us) that we are only to give up this gift for a short time so that we can focus on prayer and it is only to happen by mutual consent. Do you want to defeat adultery, pornography, and all the other tools of the devil in this area of your life? The simple answer is to be in a solid marriage.
"I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that." NIV translation
This verse has wrongly been taken to mean that Paul was never married but that is not what he was saying. At the time of this letter, Paul was evidently either a widow or his wife had abandoned him when he accepted Christ. He had been a member of the Sanhedrin (see Acts 26:10) and it was a requirement that, to be a member, you had to be married. According to the Mishna (oral traditions) a man was not a man if at the age of eighteen he did not have a wife. After his wife either died or left him, Paul remained single. What he was saying, here, is that his ability to focus on God and not be tempted by the desire for a woman (stay single) was in fact an ability (gift) given to him by God. He wishes that all men had this same gift but realized that God gives this gift as well as others to whom He chooses.
"Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion." NIV translation
There have been many "church leaders" that have taken this passage wrong and then taught others that those who stay unmarried and live like monks are more godly than those who marry. They have even made up rules such as a priest could not be married. That is not what Paul is saying. He is simply asking those that are unmarried to pray and to really search themselves to see if God has given them the gift of being able to stay single without the devil creeping into their lives. If they have that gift, it is good as they can be single and not tempted in that area by Satan. If they do not have that gift, he is telling them to get married (and he is not telling them to marry just anyone) to close that gate of temptation by the devil.
"To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife." NIV translation
Paul reminds the Corinthians that God does not like divorce and so the married should stay married.
"To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." NIV translation
Have you ever heard of staying in a marriage for the children's sake? That is what Paul is saying to do in this situation but we have to understand that this is from him and not a "command of God". This is also specific to a marriage between a believer and a non-Christian.
"But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" NIV translation
We see, from this passage, that the home is to be a place of love not a battle zone. Paul tells the believer that, if their non-Christian spouse wants to leave, then let them go but, if they want to stay, show them the love of Jesus in hopes that they might be saved. There are many who will take this passage and try to force Christians to stay in a marriage that does not honor God but we must remember that God has never asked His people to live in a "marriage hell".
"Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches." NIV translation
This may seem odd as Paul tells us the "rule I lay down" but this rule is freedom. Paul is telling us that, when we accept the grace of God then we do not have to do anything else to be saved.
"Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God's commands is what counts." NIV translation
Paul is using the Jewish tradition of circumcision to make his point. That point once again is that we are saved by the grace of God and not by our own actions. Once we are saved, we are to follow Jesus as His disciple.
"Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. Were you a slave when you were called? Don't let it trouble you - although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord's freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ's slave." NIV translation
Just as you do not try to go back and change a circumcision, Paul tells us that we are to accept where we are and to follow the Lord as He directs. Paul is talking about being a bondslave when he speaks of being "Christ's slave". This is how he often referred to himself and it speaks of someone who was set free by their master but willingly stays to serve that master.
"You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to." NIV translation
Paul is talking about becoming slaves to the rules of men instead of listening to God and what he has for your life. He reminds us that we answer to God and not men and so we must listen to Him.
"Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this." NIV translation
The "present crisis" that Paul refers to is the fact that sex had become a religion in this city. Paul is reminding the Christians of the fact that, in God's eyes, sex is associated with marriage and so it is not to be taken lightly. He tells them that it is good to stay a virgin but it is also good to be married. It warns them that it will not be easy to be married in this city with the rampant abuse of the marriage relationship. This passage speaks to events that are going on in many countries today as the marriage relationship (as defined by governments) is going against the Word of God. With the fact that governments will give people a certificate to say that men can marry (have sex) with men and women can marry (have sex) with women, that piece of paper stands against the Word of God. The advice that Paul gives the church in Corinth can certainly be applied to our world today. We are free to get that piece of paper but we are also free to say "No, I do not want any part of your paper".
"What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away." NIV translation
What Paul is reminding them of is that the things of this world are temporary and it is time for believers to get and stay focused on lasting things.
"I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs - how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world - how he can please his wife - and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world - how she can please her husband." NIV translation
Anyone who has tried to balance their family life with work and the things of God can readily understand what Paul is saying here. With the wife usually comes a family and taking care of them which takes work and time. There are only so many hours in a day and so the day has to be divided between responsibilities to family and service to others which is our calling in the Lord. The same principle applies to women as, whether they earn an income or raise a family and take care of the home, they also only have so many hours in a day.
"I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord." NIV translation
Paul is telling us that we are free to marry as marriage was given by God. Some have misunderstood this teaching and so have made it a requirement for men and women serving God to remain celebate.
"If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and if he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin - this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better." NIV translation
If God has called you to remain single in serving Him, then He takes away the physical desire to be with a woman intimately. If God does not call you to do so, then He will bring to you the woman that He has created for you just as He did with Adam and Eve in the garden. Either way, it is good to listen to the Lord and to remain in His calling for your life. Problems arise and Satan uses it when we try to operate outside of the power and calling that God has placed on our lives.
"So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better." NIV translation
Paul reminds us that it is better to remain single and focused on the things of God. But, it is also good to obey God and marry if He has not given you the ability to resist the temptation.
"A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is - and I think that I too have the Spirit of God." NIV translation
Paul explains the freedom that is in Christ concerning marriage and then gives us his opinion regarding a widow. We notice that he is not laying down hard and fast rules and condemning those who remarry. Instead, he is giving his opinion ("In my judgment") based on the experience he had of losing his wife.