In Chapter 6 Paul moves on to another serious problem in the Corinthian church: lawsuits between believers. This is related to chapter 5 in two ways. When members wrong one another, cases arise that tempt them to go to law. And in chapter 5 Paul has already talked about the church’s responsibility to judge people within the church who sin.
Notes on 1 Corinthians 6,7
6:1 6 – If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints (the holy people of God, the believers)? The church preaches a gospel of love, peace, order, self-control and right living. How do unbelievers feel about Christ and the church when they see the Lord’s people going at one another in public court? The purpose of our lives is to glorify God. The last thing any Christian should want to do is to bring shame on the Lord’s name. Yet our greed or anger can sometimes make us forget this.
Christians are imperfect people. In spite of best intentions, we will sometimes offend against others and disputes will arise. But damage to the Lord’s cause can be minimized if we settle those things inside the church rather than parading them before outsiders.
Because Christians don’t act like Christians, unbelievers become disgusted and turn away who might otherwise have been able to accept the gospel. It will be a terrible thing at the judgment to see people standing among the lost who would have stood among the saved except for my behavior. It would be better, Jesus said, to have a millstone tied to your neck and to be drowned in the sea than to be the cause of someone else’s stumbling – Luke 17:1,2.
When Christians fight with each other and sin against one another, unbelievers are caused to blaspheme and criticize God and his word – Romans 2:21 24; 2 Peter 2:2; 1 Timothy 6:1; Titus 2:5; Philippians 2:14,15; Matthew 5:16; John 17:20,21. Perhaps the ultimate shame is two factions from one congregation fighting publicly in court over church funds or property. No material thing is worth what such a spectacle does to the progress of the gospel. If we really love Christ and love souls, we will settle disputes inside the church and not to parade them before the world.
Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? Paul does not tell us when this will occur. We are told that apostles will sit on thrones judging the tribes of Israel – Matthew 19:28 – and that Christians will reign with Christ – 2 Timothy 2:12. In the parable of the ten minas (pounds), Luke 19, the servants of the king who are faithful until his return are put in charge of “five cities,” “ten cities.” Reigning in Bible times involved judging disputes. Paul is probably saying that there will still be need of judges in the world to come and that God’s faithful people will help in that work. Or, less likely, he may mean that the righteous on Christ’s right hand at the judgment will participate with him in judgment of the wicked.
In any case, Paul’s point is, if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? The church is at fault for not asserting itself so that Christians would become accustomed to going to the believers with their disputes. And those going to pagan judges are at fault for not respecting the ability of Christians to judge their disputes. Christians should be better judges because they look at things from God’s viewpoint.
Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Scripture tells of angels who have sinned and are imprisoned until the time of judgment – 2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6. Paul seems to be saying that the righteous, exalted with Christ, will participate in the judgment of angels. By comparison with that, judgment of disputes between church members should be simple.
Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! If this NIV rendering is correct, it would be better to be judged even by members of the church who seem less significant, than to take disputes to unbelievers for judgment. However the NIV marginal reading, in agreement with the NASB and RSV, seems more in line with what Paul is saying: “Do you appoint as judges men of little account in the church” (that is, the pagans)?
I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? But instead, one brother goes to law against another–and this in front of unbelievers! Paul seems at least as much concerned with this disrespect shown to the saints as he is with the shame of airing dirty linen before the pagans. Among many of our churches we have about lost the concept of a judicial function of church leaders. Perhaps one of the reasons for this is good: serious disputes that would lead to a lawsuit are not common among us today. But it may also be that we have failed to recognize our duty in the church toward the disputes of Christians, and so our leaders rarely become involved in this important work. It is obvious that Paul expected leaders and others to judge between members in the early church. Jesus also expected this – Matthew 18:15 20. The words, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them,” were not spoken primarily about worship services as such, but about coming together for judgment and discipline of an offending member.
The writer of these notes found the churches on the African mission field much more active in judging between believers than we are in America. In fact, even the local chiefs would not hear a case between Christians until it had first been heard by church leaders. The chiefs showed more respect for the church than did the individual Christians who ran to sue their brothers in a worldly court.
Is Paul talking here about crimes as well as civil cases? It seems likely that Paul is thinking mainly about civil disputes such as property (see 6:7), breach of promise, and about personal mistreatment short of crime. Paul recognizes in Romans 13:1 7 that the civil authorities have jurisdiction over Christians who do evil and break the law. Even in criminal cases, however, the church would have a function in bringing the offender to repentance and in reconciling people alienated by the crime. The list of behaviors that Paul warns the Corinthians about, and which is creating cases among them, includes criminal behavior (6:9,10).
Is a Christian also forbidden to sue an unbeliever in court? No, because normally the unbeliever does not respect the judgment of those in the church. Apart from God, the worldly judge is usually the only judge the believer and the unbeliever share in common. It is not wrong in itself for the Christian to seek legal redress for wrongs done to him by an outsider. But there are two circumstances where a believer should not go to court against an unbeliever. One is where the believer is driven by feelings of greed or vengeance and would bring public shame on the Lord by his attitude in court. The other is when suing for one’s rights would in some way hinder the gospel or someone’s salvation. In such a case love would move a Christian to forego his legal rights even if it meant financial or other loss. A Christian is free to give up his rights for the welfare of others, just as Jesus did when he saved us on the cross. Compare 1 Corinthians 9:1 23.
6:7,8 – The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. If the love and righteousness of God’s kingdom were in control, there would be no need for lawsuits. When brothers or sisters are wronging each other and retaliating against each other, they have lost hold of Christ’s teaching. Satan has undermined and defeated them. The church is supposed to be a place where there is a minimum of wrongdoing and where such disputes as do come up are quickly settled before they grow – Matthew 5:21 26; 18:1 35; Ephesians 4:26,27; Romans 14:13; 12:14 21.
Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Paul is not saying that it is wrong to try to get our brother to right a wrong he has done against us. Jesus gave us directions for doing this. Paul teaches in this chapter that we can ask someone in the church to judge between us and the offender. But there are things far more important than recovering money or reputation or rights. No amount of these things is worth shaming the name of Jesus before a pagan court, or damaging the church or the gospel or the soul of another person. When a Christian trusts God for the needs of his life and for vengeance against his enemies, being wronged or cheated is not the end of the world.
For his own good, we do need to confront our brother/sister when he/she sins against us – Luke 17:3; Matthew 18:15; compare Revelation 3:19. But if we pursue the matter because we are full of greed or vengeance, we are not acting with God. If our attitude is right, and the offender does not repent when we confront him, Christ allows us further steps inside the church. We have the choice of pursuing or voluntarily relinquishing our rights. Our purpose as Christians is to do good and not harm to others. “If someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well” – Matthew 5:40. We Christians have Someone who takes care of our needs. If we have the same mind as Christ, our main concern is not our own rights but the welfare of as many people as possible.
Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers. There would not be lawsuits or cases in the churches if some were not wronging others. One would expect this in the outside world, but unrighteous, selfish living has no place in the church where the first commandment is love.
6:9-11 – Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral [NASB, KJV: fornicators; Weymouth: licentious] nor idolaters (a way of life in pagan Corinth) nor adulterers nor male prostitutes [NASB: effeminate, marginal note: effeminate by perversion] nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy [NASB: covetous] nor drunkards nor slanderers [NASB: a reviler] nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. It is strange that Christians have to be reminded of that. Such ways of life contradict God’s kingdom (rule) and his righteousness.
Satan is ever trying to infiltrate the church with his influence. The church cannot be saving “salt” and “light” to the world if it loses its difference from the world – Matthew 5:13-16.” Do not be deceived,” says Paul. Christians may secretly practice immorality, dishonesty, occultism, etc., while continuing in the church. But God knows their hearts and their lives; unless they repent they cannot look forward to eternal salvation.
Note that apostolic teaching about homosexual practice is clear here. In this day of homosexual “marriages,” churches and clergy, in spite of all efforts to explain away the meaning of scripture, the Bible plainly teaches that homosexual practice is an abomination to God and that those who take part in it are under God’s condemnation – compare Genesis 18:20,21; 19:1 29; Leviticus 18:22; 20:13; Romans 1:22 27; 1 Timothy 1:9-11. The good news is that God can forgive, change and redeem homosexuals as well as the other sinners mentioned in Paul’s list.
And that is what some of you were. Many of the Christians in Corinth had been converted from the corrupt, pagan society that lived there. They had lived immoral or perverted or dishonest or idolatrous lives. Some had been addicted. But you were washed (by the blood of Jesus, a cleansing symbolized outwardly in baptism), you were sanctified (made holy, made clean and set apart for God’s service, not the service of sin – see John 17:19), you were justified (counted righteous as though you had never sinned) in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ (who paid the atoning price that authorized your forgiveness) and by the Spirit of our God (who called you through the gospel, opened your heart, gave birth to a new nature in you, and is perfecting that nature day by day – John 3:5; Galatians 5:22,23; 2 Corinthians 3:17,18.
Isaiah wrote, “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow” – 1:18. The message of Christ is called “gospel” (meaning “good news”) because it gives ruined sinners a new beginning – compare Luke 4:18,19. How wonderful that we can escape from the old life that was destroying us and be made new! How wonderful that we can be clean from the past and start fresh! That in the rest of our life we can be a saving, not a destroying influence on people around us! How wonderful that God loves us in spite of what we were, and now uses our lives in his good work. God hates sin, not the sinner.
6:12-17 – The foregoing discussion leads naturally to Paul’s next concern: the temptation to immorality which was so strong in Corinthian society. Paul has already dealt with a special immoral situation in the church (chapter 5). But the Corinthian Christians had to deal with a whole climate of immorality. The city of Corinth was wide open to many kinds of sexual sin and was known far and wide for what it offered. Christians in modern America face much the same problem. The problem is worst in our urban areas but is carried everywhere by the media and our mobile population. Paul’s writing is as up-to-date as today’s newspaper.
“Everything is permissible for me” –but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible for a Christian” was probably a saying going around among the Corinthians. They understood that they were not under law but under grace – Romans 6:14. They knew that Jesus had “made all foods clean” – Mark 7:19 – and that the taboos of the Jewish law no longer applied. The statement is true when taken in the right sense. Everything God made is good when used as God intended. The creation is for us to enjoy. Ascetic rules do not make a person more holy – Colossians 2:20 23. Christianity is not a set of rules but a relationship with the Lord. As our new nature grows, we are more and more able to want and do what is right, with or without rules.
But it is easy to see how the statement could be misused and abused to justify destructive behavior. And even when something is really permissible for a Christian, that does not mean that it is the best thing to do. It may be legal for me to take my brother to court, but we have seen how destructive that can be. There are friendships and relationships that are not forbidden by God’s law, but which may divert my attention from the Lord, or even corrupt my life. Some things that are OK in themselves may enslave me because of my own weakness.
“Everything is permissible for me”–but I will not be mastered by anything. Addiction is wrong not just because a certain habit is wrong. We may be addicted to many things that are not wrong in themselves, but which take the control of our lives that should only belong to Christ. We are permitted to rightly use many things but none of them must usurp control of our lives. Financial bondage (debt, disorder, greed, materialism); obsession with self and one’s feelings; a constant search for self-worth; a consuming romantic interest; career; pleasure; rights–all of these can replace the lordship of Jesus in controlling us.
“Food for the stomach and the stomach for food” – put in quotes by the NIV translators because this is probably another popular saying among the Corinthian Christians. It is OK to enjoy food because that is obviously one purpose for having a stomach. But God will destroy them both – nothing in this material world will last forever. There are lasting spiritual values that must take priority over bodily satisfaction and must govern how our bodies are used.
Somebody would try to make immorality parallel: “Immorality for the body and the body for immorality.” But there is no parallel because immorality is an abuse of sex. Sex might be parallel with food, but immorality is not. The body is not for sexual immorality, but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. To use the body for immorality is an abuse, because the body is for the Lord. It belongs to him because he made it. And it belongs to him because he bought us for himself with the blood of Jesus – 6:20. The Christian’s body is the temple of God’s Spirit. God has holy use and purpose for our bodies now and in the future.
The gospel does not teach that the body is something to escape from, as some religions teach. Our bodies will be transformed in the resurrection. Our eternal existence will not be as spirits alone, but as spirits clothed in spiritual, glorified bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35 54; 2 Corinthians 5:1 5; Philippians 3:20,21). By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also. Our bodies, therefore, have a future and ought to be kept morally and spiritually clean for the Lord.
Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ himself? Shall I then take the members of Christ and unite them with a prostitute? Never! Christ himself would never do this. But it would be just as wrong for us to take our bodies, which have become part of his body, and use them for immoral sex. (Sex with a prostitute is wrong because all sex outside of God-approved marriage is immoral).
Someone might argue that casual experience with a prostitute would not constitute joining one’s body with her. But it does. Do you not know that he who unites himself with a prostitute is one with her in body? For it is said (Genesis 2:24), “The two will become one flesh.” The body which should be holy for Christ is joined with unholiness.
Jesus used this same statement from Genesis to show that marriage should not be dissolved. “`Haven’t you read,’ he replied, `that at the beginning the Creator “made them male and female,” and said, “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh”? So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate’” – Matthew 19:4 6. While there is a physical union in both immorality and marriage, there is also an important difference. The man who goes to a prostitute “unites himself” with her – 6:16. He does something that is against God’s will. God “joins together” the couple who unite physically after entering a marriage covenant. In the first case, the sexual union is immoral because it is outside marriage. In the second case the sexual union is made holy by the commitment of the marriage covenant. Although there is a union in the immoral sex act, it is displeasing to God and is something to be fled from (6:18) and repented of. (Some of the Corinthians had been washed from the defilement of such unions – 6:11). The union in marriage, on the other hand, is pleasing to God and is to be preserved.
But he who unites himself with the Lord is one with him in spirit. The relationship between the believer and Christ is spiritual. The union is created by the Holy Spirit who indwells us when we are cleansed at conversion. God and Christ live in us through the Spirit – Ephesians 2:22; John 14:23. We have access to God through the Spirit – Ephesians 2:18; 6:18. The special function of the Holy Spirit is fellowship or communion – 2 Corinthians 13:14.
6:18 20 – Flee from sexual immorality. That is the only way it can be successfully dealt with. Sexual temptation is one of the strongest temptations. We are often very naive and foolish about our power to resist. Any normal person is capable of falling into immorality. The person who thinks he/she cannot is the most likely of all to fall. People think they can play all around the edges of sin without falling in. They flirt, they fantasize, they find reasons to be near the person who excites them. But the nearer a person gets, the stronger the attraction becomes. Before a person knows it, he/she has already passed the point of being able to pull back.
Most Christians who fall into sexual sin never intended to. They did not get up one day and say, “Today I’ll go out and fornicate,” or “Today I’ll throw my marriage and family away.” They just didn’t take sexual temptation seriously. Jesus said adultery begins in the heart – Matthew 5:28. No one ever committed immorality physically who did not first do it mentally. Dealing with temptation must also start in the mind. Even there we must flee from immorality.
Joseph is the best Old Testament example of what Paul is teaching here. He literally fled when Potiphar’s wife came on to him, even shedding his coat which she had grabbed – Genesis 39:1-12. Joseph could not have done this if he had not made his mind up well before this about what he would do in such a situation. The secret of keeping a pure life is having a pure heart, one that is completely decided rather than one that is divided. A Christian cannot indulge in licentious movies, music, fantasies and company without eventually falling. Pornographic addition, particularly through the Internet, is a growing problem among church members.
All other sins a man commits are outside his body, but he who sins sexually sins against his own body. Sexual sin defiles the body in a unique way by joining it to unholiness. The Holy Spirit who lives in us is our hope of resurrection in a glorified, eternal body – Romans 8:11. When we sin sexually and defile God’s temple, we risk causing God to take his Holy Spirit away from us – see 6:19,20; Psalm 51:11 (written after David’s sin with Bathsheba); 1 Thessalonians 4:3 8. Sexual sin can also bring deadly disease. And there are relational and emotional and psychological prices to pay which most people don’t foresee. Sin always damages and destroys.
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? The Holy Spirit cannot be expected to live in an unholy, dirty temple. If we lose the Holy Spirit, we lose the life of God. Sexual sin is not worth it. And we do not have the right to misuse our bodies. You are not your own; you were bought at a price (the life of Jesus – compare Acts 20:28; 1 Peter 1:18,19). Therefore honor God with your body.
7:1 7 – Paul turns now to another related subject, marriage. Now for the matters you wrote about: The Corinthians had asked, Is it good to marry? If not, should married people get a divorce? Should a Christian try to get free from an unbelieving spouse? Should parents give their children in marriage? Should widows remarry?
It is good for a man not to marry [NASB: to touch a woman]. Paul explains why later in the chapter. But since there is so much immorality as people are driven by their sexual needs, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. With Christians it must not be like cats and dogs or like the soap operas. If a person’s sexual needs are so strong that he/she cannot abstain, let his/her sexual needs be fulfilled in the one way approved by God, in holy marriage to one person – compare Proverbs 5:15 20. Notice that is “wife,” “husband,” not “wives,” “husbands.” There is no room for polygamy or polygyny.
Some have accused Paul of having a low view of marriage, of treating it as little more than a necessary evil to take care of lust. These critics have not considered all of Paul’s reason for recommending the single life in this situation, nor have they considered his beautiful picture of marriage in Ephesians 5:21 33.
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. Some people in Paul’s day taught that people must deny themselves sex in order to please God. The Corinthians may have been confused by such ideas. 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. In their wedding vows a couple give themselves away to each other and pledge to keep themselves for each other alone. Each now has a right over the body of the other. Husband and wife are to give sexual enjoyment freely to each other.
Do not deprive [KJV: defraud] each other – To withhold the right that was given in the vows would amount to defrauding one’s mate. It is wrong for a couple to choose to be apart for extended periods of time (where they have a choice). Those who live apart cannot fulfill their sexual obligation to each other, and so set each other up for temptation to unfaithfulness. It is also wrong (and destructive to a marriage) for either mate to use sexual coldness to punish or control one’s mate. Married people who find themselves playing that foolish game should grow up spiritually and emotionally and aim for the ideals taught in Ephesians 5:21 33; 1 Peter 3:1 7.
Except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. This would be in the same spirit as fasting from food in order to discipline oneself and spend a special time on the spiritual. (The New Testament scriptures present fasting as an expected part of the Christian life – Matthew 6:16-18; Mark 2:18 20; Acts 13:1 3; 14:23). Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Compare 7:2.
I say this as a concession, not as a command – I am not saying that everyone should be married. I wish that all men were as I am (single). Paul will later explain his reasons. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift; another has that. One has enough self-control to lead a morally pure life though unmarried. Another may lack this gift but has some other kind of gift from God. Understanding that not everyone has the same gift would help our working relationships in the church. I don’t need to look down on my brother or sister because he/she is not as strong as I in some particular ability. He/she will also have some strength that I lack. We can respect each other without all having to be alike.
7:8,9 – Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. Reasons follow later. But no one should follow this advice at the cost of falling into immorality. If they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. The words “with passion” are supplied by the translators to fill out what they believe is Paul’s meaning. The Greek simply says, “to burn.” Some have taken this to mean burning in hell because of immorality, but it seems more likely to be speaking of burning with lust, where one is easy prey for any temptation that comes along.
7:10,11 – To the married I give this command (not I but the Lord): Compare 7:12,25,40, where Paul has no direct command from the Lord but gives his own advice as an experienced leader who has the light of the Spirit in his heart and the mind of Christ. This again demonstrates that when God inspired the scriptures, he did so in such a way that the mind and personality of the writer were still operative. The writer was guided in such a way that what he wrote was dependably God’s truth, and yet the writer was still himself as he wrote.
A wife must not separate from [NASB: leave] her husband. The message of all the major scripture passages on marriage and divorce is exactly the same: God does not want divorce or separation; he wants marriage to last. Authorities say that the Greek word here translated “separate” also includes separating by divorce. But if she does – Paul and the Lord recognize that in spite of God’s ideal, some couples, temporarily or permanently, will not be able to continue under the same roof. This may happen because abuse reaches such a level that a spouse is in danger or cannot take any more. It may also happen when they ought to have kept trying, but the staying power of one of the spouses is not as strong as it ought to be.
she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. Why? Because they made vows to each other. In God’s eyes they are still married, bound by the obligations of their covenant, and are not free to be married to someone else. Compare Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11,12; Luke 16:18, Romans 7:2,3; where even though a person is divorced, it is evident that the person is considered still married by God. Else why does God call it adultery when the person marries someone else? Compare also Malachi 2:13-16 where a man has divorced his wife but she still is his partner, the wife of his covenant, as God judges things. Christ allows divorce and remarriage only on the ground of immorality (sexual unfaithfulness) – Matthew 19:9. A Christian may also be free to remarry if divorced by an unbeliever – see note on 1 Corinthians 7:15 below. Though Paul’s requirement to remain unmarried or else be reconciled is spoken to the wife here, it is evident from Christ’s language in Mark 10:11,12 that what applies in God’s law to the husband applies equally the wife and vice versa. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
7:12-16 – To the rest (so far he has been talking to couples where both are Christians; now he turns to Christians who are married to unbelievers) I say this (I, not the Lord) (Paul is very honest and careful so that people will not make wrong assumptions): 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. God does not want you to divorce your mate just because he/she is not a believer. You made vows to that person and you are to keep them as far as your part is concerned. If there is a divorce, it is not to be initiated by the believer, who knows how God feels about divorce.
Besides, there are benefits to the unbeliever as long as the marriage remains. For one thing, the influence of the believer may eventually bring the unbeliever to Christ – see v. 16. For another thing, certain blessings and protections may extend to the unbeliever and to the children because of the marriage to the believer. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Paul does not mean that the unbeliever is in a saved state, but there may be additional blessings and protection from God because of the unbeliever’s connection with the believer.
Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. Even children of an unbelieving couple would be saved if they died before the age of accountability for personal sin. But they are not holy to God in the same way as they would be if at least one parent belonged to God. Paul is not saying that children of a believer are already saved and do not need baptism at the proper age. He may mean they are holy by connection and thus enjoy extra blessings and protection (it appears that believers have protection from Satan that unbelievers do not – see 1 Corinthians 5:4,5; 1 Timothy 1:20). Or he may mean that because one parent is a Christian, the children will be under holy teaching and influence.
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. Some interpreters believe that Paul frees the believer to be single, but not to marry someone else. The writer of these notes believes that Paul’s language, “not bound,” frees the believer from any obligation to the first marriage and that the believer would be free to remarry in the Lord. This would not contradict Christ’s teaching that is only one ground for divorce and remarriage, if we understand that Christ is talking about the marriage of two believers. The writer also believes that in matters of divorce and remarriage God judges believers by a stricter, “kingdom,” standard than he does unbelievers. God was lenient with Old Testament Jews because he knew their hard hearts were not ready for his ideal standard, later restored by Christ for the kingdom – see Matthew 19:3 9. Are unregenerate unbelievers any less hardened? If this reasoning is true, then Paul is holding the believing partner to the kingdom standard (he/she is not allowed to initiate divorce), but is allowing the unbeliever to operate at a lesser standard (he/she may choose to divorce the believer and marry someone else.
But it is good for the marriage to last if it can. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
7:17 24 – 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. We are not to try to change all of our earthly circumstances because we have become Christians. Often God calls us in the middle of a certain situation because that is where we can be useful to him. Paul goes on to illustrate how this rule applies to such conditions and states as circumcision, slavery and marriage.
Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. The Jewish convert comes to realize that he is not saved by his Jewishness. Because the unbelieving Jews rejected Christ and oppose the gospel, the convert might want to become un-Jewish. This is unimportant, says Paul. Circumcision (the covenant mark of the Jew) is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Outward marks have nothing to do with salvation. Keeping God’s commandments is what counts. Each 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 – From an earthly viewpoint, it would be very important to get free from slavery. But once one comes into Christ, he/she experiences a spiritual freedom, an inner freedom, which makes earthly freedom a smaller matter. The Christian learns to look at things through God’s eyes. “Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all” – Colossians 3:11. Paul adds in Galatians 3:28 that there is neither male nor female among Christians as far as God’s acceptance is concerned.
Although if you can gain your freedom, do so. It is not wrong to better yourself in a worldly way, as long as your real priority is obeying God and being useful to him for his work. It is even OK to seek our rights. Some of the “rights” movements have some just grievances. But striving for rights, though of some limited earthly benefit, is dead-end street spiritually. It is no substitute for finding spiritual freedom and worth in Christ. Often, as in the case of slavery, the gospel itself tempers and removes abuses by changing the hearts of slaves and masters.
The gospel did not frontally attack the institution of slavery, because to have done so would have made the gospel a social movement instead of a spiritual one and would have lost focus on the main and lasting cure for the world’s problems. For the world to get better, man’s sin-nature must be changed. No social or political program can do that. Only the gospel of the cross, changing people one by one, can do it. How many idealistic new schemes and governments have arisen only to fall through the same weaknesses of human nature? But as the gospel changes enough people in a society, evil institutions like slavery are transformed and even eliminated. 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. Earthly rank is no big issue when one begins to see as Christ does. Everyone reigns with Christ, and everyone is a servant of Christ. You were bought at a price to become Christ’s slaves; do not become slaves of men (spiritually). Your only Lord is Christ.
Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to. This principle may help to answer the debated question of whether God applies kingdom rules to divorces and remarriages that happened before one became a believer. There is no example in scripture of a new convert being told, “You cannot live with your present mate because you divorced a wife and married the present one while an unbeliever.” It seems clear to the writer of these notes that God accepts people as they are when they come into the kingdom, and then expects them to live by kingdom standards from that point on.
7:25 28 – Now about virgins [RSV: unmarried] – Some Corinthians apparently had the idea that an unmarried person was more “spiritual” and pleasing to God and that sexual relations even in marriage were less than holy. There were parents who wondered if they should give their virgin daughters in marriage, or should keep them single. There were virgin daughters who wondered if it would be right for them to marry men who wanted to marry them. There were men who wondered if they should seek the hand of someone’s virgin daughter in marriage. The Corinthians asked for guidance.
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 [NASB, RSV: present distress; RSV margin: impending distress], I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Paul is probably talking about persecution. The Jews had been persecuting Christians for some time. The Spirit may have also revealed to Paul the Roman persecutions which would soon begin (Nero’s persecution in Rome began less than ten years after Paul wrote this letter). A single person might be able to give up his life in order to remain faithful to Christ. It would be much harder to remain faithful if it endangered your family.
Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Though it will be easier for single people, you must honor your marriage vows. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. This is the best way in these times if you have the self-control to live a single life. But if you do marry, you have not sinned – Paul has given his advice as a matter of expediency, not law – 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.
7:29 31 – Paul elaborates on the “present crisis.” What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none – not that they should cease marital relations. Paul has already commanded them to give each other their due, vv. 2 5. But he means that they must put faithfulness to Christ above all else so that they can survive the trials ahead. 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.
The Spirit had shown Paul great changes that were to come. Up to now Christians had been viewed by the Roman government as part of Judaism and had shared in the special legal privileges given the Jews. Soon now Christians would be dealt with separately and would come under severe persecution. It would be just as easy for our own free social, political and economic system, which we take for granted, to come apart. As recent events have graphically demonstrated, nothing in this world is permanent. No level of worldly security can be taken for granted. Those who base their lives and security on the existing shape of things are in for surprise and disappointment. We can do, have and enjoy many things in the world that are not wrong, but we must hold on to them loosely. We must make kingdom concerns so much more important than we will not be undone if earthly advantages are lost. The less our hearts are entangled with earthly concerns, the less the trauma and conflict of interest when earthly things pass away.
7:32 35 – In addition to the present crisis, Paul is also concerned about the general effect of marriage on one’s freedom to serve God to the fullest. I would like you to be free from concern. I would like for your heart not to be pulled in two directions. 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 [NASB: holy] in both body and spirit. Paul is not implying that someone who has physical relations with his/her mate is engaging in an unholy act. He simply means that the person is partially distracted by the need to please his/her spouse and is not able to be as completely devoted to the Lord. Devotion to God’s special use is a basic idea in holiness. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world–how she can please her husband. 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.
Jesus speaks of the same thing after teaching on marriage and divorce, Matthew 19:3-12. When the disciples saw the strictness of Jesus’ law about divorce, they said, “If this is the situation…. it is better not to marry.” Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this teaching [to live a single life], but only those to whom it has been given….[Some] have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”
Protestants, reacting against the unbiblical Roman Catholic tradition of requiring celibacy of all the clergy, have often overlooked the fact that God does call some people to the celibate life and gives them the necessary gift of self-control. Paul sees this as clearly a gift from God – 1 Corinthians 7:7,9. The person called by God to this special kind of life would be able to see it clearly. A majority do not have this gift. Marriage also has some advantages in God’s service. The experience gained in leading a family prepares a man to shepherd God’s people – 1 Timothy 3:4,5. Some of the best work for God is done through hospitality in the home, best provided where married people work as a team.
7:36 38 – If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. [NASB: But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she should be of full age, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes.]
The various translations give two different ideas here. The Greek simply says, “his virgin.” The translators add “daughter” or “betrothed” depending on who they think “he” is here. Is it a father deciding whether to give his daughter (NASB, KJV), or a man deciding whether to go ahead and marry the girl he is engaged to (NIV, RSV)? Some scholars see a third possibility: a man who is “spiritually married” to a girl but has foregone living with her so they can devote themselves to the kingdom. But there is no historical record of such “spiritual marriages” before the second century. The Corinthians knew what Paul meant, because they knew the question they had asked him. We cannot be sure. The writer of these notes believes Paul is more likely talking about a father and his virgin daughter.
Whatever the case, Paul wants to make clear that marriage is not a sin. 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 [NASB: to keep his own virgin daughter] –this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin [NASB: gives his own virgin daughter in marriage] does right, but he who does not marry her [NASB: does not give her in marriage] does better. Paul believes that the single person is better off for the reasons he has already explained.
7:39,40 – 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 – compare Romans 7:2,3. There may have been people at that time, as there were in the next century, who taught that a widow should not remarry. Paul gives her permission to marry another man, but he must belong to the Lord [NASB: only in the Lord]. A person converted when already married to an unbeliever had no choice, but a Christian widow should only marry a Christian.
The idea that God’s people should not marry outsiders runs throughout the Bible. Abraham and Isaac did not want their sons to marry pagan Canaanites lest the pagans influence their sons – Genesis 24:3,4; 28:1. The Israelites were forbidden to marry pagans for the same reason – Deuteronomy 7:3,4. Later some of the Jews who broke the law and married foreigners were required to repent and put away the foreign wives – Ezra 9,10. If Paul had chosen to marry, his wife would have been “a believing wife” (NIV), “a sister” (KJV) – 1 Corinthians 9:5. “Do not be yoked together with unbelievers,” Paul commands – 2 Corinthians 6:14-18. He is talking about paganism in general, but there is no closer yoking than marriage. So also here, the widow who remarries is to choose a believer.
In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is – the single life is better in this case also. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God. Compare v. 25.
Thought questions for discussion:
1. When Christians have frequent disputes that require judgment, what does that say about the Christians spiritually?
2. Why do you think Christians who sue each other in worldly courts fail to see the damage this does to Christ’s name and his work?
3. Why has the church in our time lost the function of judging the disputes that come up between its members?
4. In what ways does the moral climate of our time resemble that of Corinth when Paul wrote?
5. What are some of the main ways in which temptation to immorality gets into the minds of Christians?
6. Name some ways in which a Christian can protect himself/herself from this kind of temptation.
7. Should a husband and wife who are married according to God’s will feel ashamed of sex?
8. What are some of the appropriate times and occasions for fasting by Christians?
9. Do most of our churches today teach and require of divorced people the restriction given in 1 Corinthians 7:11?
10. If an unbeliever chooses to leave his/her Christian mate, do you believe Paul allows the Christian to remarry? Why/why not?
11. Why is it that “striving for rights,” in spite of possible earthly value, is a “dead end street” spiritually?
12. How do you think a person could know if God is calling him/her to a single life?
13. Discuss how a person can enjoy the good things God makes available in this life, and yet hold them loosely so that losing them does not destabilize the Christian.
14. What extra temptations and conflicts are possible when a Christian marries an unbeliever?
8 by G.B. Shelburne, III (except for any graphics and scripture quotations). May be reproduced for non-profit, non-publishing instructional purposes provided document content is not altered and this copyright notice is included in full. Format may be altered. South Houston Bible Institute, 14325Crescent Landing, Houston, TX 77062-2178, U.S.A., tel. 281-990-8899, email <firstname.lastname@example.org>, web site <www.shbi.org>. Scriptures, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION 8 1978 and 1984 by the New York International Bible Society, used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers. Some courses are available by distance learning.