My recent studies in 1 Corinthians chp 7 over the past few weeks has resulted in an unusual scenario unfolding; on holiday to Lanzarote, sitting by the pool; Yvonne with her choice of books; in the realm of Christian romance, entitled; 'The Wedding,' and me preparing for these meetings with a book entitled, 'Divorce.'
The question arises at the outset of our studies in chapter 7, as to which of these 2 titles is in fact the more accurate for this chapter. Some would wish to see the chapter as legislating on divorce questions. In reality 1 Corinthians chapter 7 has far more to say about marriage than it does about divorce. In fact so far as I am able to discern, chapter 7 has only one thing to say about divorce; 'don' t do it. '
Some have made a particular view of divorce and remarriage the litmus test for orthodoxy, yet we note that despite apostolic teaching on this important issues, significant questions remained:
“Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me...” (1Co7:1)
Questions of marriage may not be the best way to tests a persons orthodoxy but they are a very good place to show and exercise Christian grace!
We previously noted the epistle is divided into 4 sections; that Christ is made unto us:
Chapter 7 falls into the 3rd of those 3 divisions of the epistle.
Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians is not written to legislate on marital problems.
It is not a rule book of when and how it is permissible to get out of marriage.
The aim / goal of the chapter is not to address the problems which may arise in marriage.
I say this for 3 reasons:
1 Corinthians chp 7 is not just about the Problems facing the married but addresses believers in every permutation of marital life:
Married believer and unbeliever
Separated believer and unbeliever
In other words chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians is not really about divorce and marriage so much as about the lives of believers, of all believers, wither divorced, married or single. About what aspect of their lives?
1 Corinthians chp 7 is about living a consecrated life for God.
Not about finding excuses to do what we want
It is about exhortation to do what pleases God
'Glorify God in your body' - Physical
'In your Spirit' - Spiritual
Sanctification for the Lord
Nothing in our relationship which would hinder us in our service for God!
It is not about justifying what we most Desire.
It is about sanctifying for us what most pleases God.
There are certain permutations of marriage, certain common issues which may arise which are not dealt with here in 1 Corinthians 7:
unbeliever / unbeliever marriages – these constitute the bulk of marriages but of course the unbeliever is not likely to turn to the word of God for help! More importantly than this the unbeliever will not be seeking to glorify God in his marriage.
divorce and remarriage in the new converts
divorce and remarriage as a fait a compli.
Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians will not be fulfilled / satisfied with resolving marital conflicts:
Illust: A couple comes to the surgery, it becomes apparent that the real issues are not medical, I have no pill for the problem, but rather the problems are marital ones; maybe he's drinking too much, she's spending too much, too many arguments or maybe more than 2 people in the marriage. Perhaps marriage guidance might be suggested. At which point usually he responds with, that's fine dear you can go for marriage guidance. Once those problems are resolved, our goal is achieved and the matter is over.
This is not true for chapter 7!
Peace could break out in the marriage; all fighting could stop and yet the goal and the aim of chapter 7 would not have been attained.
The goal of 1 Corinthians chapter 7 is not the cessation of animosity, the goal is higher than that; what is that goal?
There can be a rather dangerous temptation, to think of 1 Corinthians chp 7 as a chapter that deals with or legislates on divorce, and some may even come to this chapter seeking justification for their own ideas on divorce and remarriage.
“For ye are bought with a price: therefore glorify God in your body, and in your spirit, which are God's.” (1Co 6:20)
“But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord” (1Co 7:32)
“There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.” (1 Co7:34-35)
“For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (1Co 7:16)
The goal is holiness!
The apostles concern is to promote and protect holiness in the life of the Christian in:
Whenever we come to a study like this we inevitably do not come with a clean slate, but we come with certain:
We may come seeking ways around about the problems created by and found in a fallen society.
Pauls agenda is different:
It is not to facilitate us to please ourselves
It is to sanctify us to please God
Lets be clear about this; Pauls agenda is not primarily the promotion of:
Modernising the church
The needs of divorced people
His goal is much higher than this: pleasing God!
"now concerning the things whereof ye wrote"
This was a reply to a question asked by the Corinthians of the apostle Paul.
There were problems they knew he knew about and problems, that the didn't know he knew about.
They would ask him about:
Meat offered to idols (8:1)
Spiritual gifts (12:1) - ministry and meetings
A few surprises in things they perhaps were unaware that he knew about: (1:11ff; 3:1ff; 5:1ff)
Perhaps not surprising that in the light of so many moral problems at Corinth, some thought that maybe the best solution is to avoid the problems altogether by avoiding marriage?
The issues are not straight forward, despite apostolic teaching, ambiguities existed. They required advice and clarification.
Genuine difficulties exist in this area and Christians don't always agree.
Marriage and divorce is a bad area to make a test of orthodoxy but a good place to show grace.
We are immediately struck by the reality of a philosophy underpinning this chapter and that of the New Testament and the Bible as a whole which is fundamentally different from the society we live in today; a society which gives priority and preference to:
Money and financial prosperity
Power and position and influence
There is a higher calling; "it is good for a man not to touch a woman"
There is a calling higher than the sexualised behaviour and priorities of our present society.
Than sexual fulfilment and exploitation
What is the agenda of 1 Corinthians chp 7?
It is that if:
To and for Christ.
Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians is a pretty unique chapter of the Bible in that having presented the mind and will of God on the subject we then are given guidance on an alternative:
v1 - “It is good for a man not to touch a woman,” and “nevertheless to avoid fornication.”
v5 - “defraud ye not...except it be with consent...”
v7 - “I would that all men were even as I myself...but every man has his proper gift.”
v8 - “It is good for them if they abide even as I...but if they cannot contain let them marry.”
v10 - “let not the wife depart...but and if she depart.”
Why do we have this arrangement?
Chapter 7 is not only about doing what is right, it is about doing what is the very best!
As we come to this chapter we are confronted with an agenda and philosophy, a world view and a way of thinking which is foreign to our society and may be a little foreign even to us!
What is biggest in the society we live in, the priority of this world is not the priority of Gods Word, of Gods Apostle nor the Christian life.
The things that make Headlines in the world are foot notes for God.
For me to ever come any where near sharing this perspective I must share the outlook of the apostle.
Illust: Asked a question some time ago, never really answered it very well at the time. It had to do with a believer who was backsliding into a relationship in the world. The very intelligent question was asked, 'but can a Christian be truly happy in the world? Can they be satisfied in the world.' The difficulty doesn't lie in the answer; the answer is obviously no; the problem arose because it would appear that the Christian was happy and felt satisfied with what they had found in the world! So what is the answer to that? The question could be answered at a deep theological level and yet there is also a simple, straight forward and pragmatic answer to the problem, which finds its roots in Hebrews chp11; that the very best, and it is the very best, that can ever be said about the world is; 'that it was good whilst it lasted.' Ultimately, finally therefore, this world cannot satisfy! Moses realised this in Hebrew chp 11: "choosing rather too suffer affliction with the people of God tan to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than that of Egypt." (Heb 11:25-26)
"The World passeth away and the lust therefore but he that doeth the will of God abideth forever."
The perspective which the writer of 1 Corinthians chp 7 has is an eternal one.
Chapter 7 only makes sense if we share that eternal perspective.
This may seem to be a fairly basic or low view of marriage.
In reality verse 2 is more a low view of man, of the Corinthians in particular, than it is a low view of marriage.
If we want to see Pauls view of marriage we need to look at chapter 5 of Ephesians.
The practical human consequence of marriage has to be applied before we can see any higher to glimpse the ultimate Divine purpose in marriage (Ephesians chp 5).
Illust: Eiffel tower, there is a difference in the view from the top and the view from the bottom! In 1 Corinthians 7 we see the view from the bottom.
Notice how verse 2, like the teachings of Christ takes us back to the original pattern of marriage; for each man to have his own wife and each woman to have her own husband, means an end to polygamy; as tolerated by the Jews and an end to concubinage as tolerated by the Romans.
This is to "avoid fornication" (7:2)
What is so bad about fornication?
We need to ask that question living in a society where sexual relationships out with marriage have become common place.
Not everyone sees a problem here.
It was not Gods purpose from the beginning (Gen 2:23-25); corrupts the PATTERN established by God in creation.
It corrupts what is intended as an echo of the relationship between Christ and the Church (Ephesians chp 5) - a pattern God has implanted in His creation throughout all of history to echo His ultimate purpose and destiny for the universe. Fornication corrupts the PICTURE of Christ and the Church.
As a consequence Gods message and ministry in marriage is lost; that "it is not good for man to be alone." That we as human beings are not intended to find our satisfaction, peace and contentment, nor purpose in self! God is not a Buddhist! What is reflected in the physical and emotional realm in marriage, our need for one another, our dependence and interdependence on one another, is a mirror for the absolute reality in eternity. Just as carefully designed human relationships bring structure and substance to natural life, supporting us in time, likewise and more importantly, we are not intended to go it alone into eternity, that the path to heaven and beyond, our spiritual joy and satisfaction is to be found in a relationship with the Creator. God sustains in time with relationships within the creation. God sustains eternally in a relationship with the Creator Himself! (Ephesians 5:29ff). The PURPOSE is corrupted.
There is more than the corruption of the picture and the pattern and the purpose there is the corruption of the PERSON (6:16-20). Fornication defiles the believers body and it is in that body the Holy Spirit dwells, like a Temple. This sin powerfully attacks and corrupts the believers sanctification. This is the primary agenda of chapter 7 - Sanctification.
Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians is not only about sanctification it is also about the means by which this is achieved
There are 2 approaches evident here to the reality of sin and failure.
Asceticism - "It is good for a man not to touch a woman" (v1)
A form of isolationism, monasticism, or denial
Ascetism attempts to evade physical failure and natural falls and sin by driving a wedge between the:
What is the problem with this?
You can't Run - you can't get away from these physical issues.
You can't Divide - we consist not of 2 distinct parts of of 2 or 3 unified parts, they cannot be divided in life.
You can't Hide - It is not only the physical parts of our being which have fallen but our whole being, body and Spirit. It is not only the ageing, crumbling physical body that is fallen but the spiritual being too.
Some were suggesting – lets avoid the sexual issues by avoiding marriage and relationships altogether (7:1). The problem however did not lie in relationships nor in marriage but in the flesh, the fallen human nature.
There was no running away from that.
You could try and avoid EXTERNAL DISTRACTIONS
But you could not avoid INTERNAL DESIRES
This is the starvation diet approach
"Let every man have his own wife"
Practical provision for the need
With the temptation God will also make a way of escape
This is not the starvation diet but rather the balanced diet.
To be satisfied with Gods practical provision.
To know that for our need there is a provision made of God:
If there is a legitimate need then we can look to God to provide for it; rather than our own power to destroy it or deny it.:
Jacob: “And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day, The Angel which redeemed me from all evil, bless the lads; and let my name be named on them, and the name of my fathers Abraham and Isaac; and let them grow into a multitude in the midst of the earth.” (Gen 48:15-16)
For Isaac there was a Rebekah - no need to turn to the Canaanite in the land - Genesis 24
Elijah in famine conditions, God met his need with ravens and a brook
Widow of Zarephath - thought that she would die; God met her need
Elijah - his need for sustenance and for a word from th Lord, was met in the wilderness by the Lord and by His Angel - 1 Kings 19:5.
Exodus - nation of Israel in the Wilderness supplied with bread from heaven and water from the rock - no need to go back to Egypt
In John chapter 6 the fretting disciples need not have feared Christ was sufficient to meet the needs of the 5000 without sending them away to buy bread.
In John 21:9 - Christ was able to provide for the needs of the disciples without them abandoning their commissions to go back to the fishing.
For Adam, God did not build a monastery God provided a wife.
Sometimes the most unlikely provision is made for the consecration of a life to God:
An Ark of bullrushes
A den of lions
A fiery furnace
Consecration and holiness here are seen not as the consequence of the extreme superhuman endeavours of the the select few, not in the great dramas of redemption, not in the public displays of the Pharisees, not in the ripping off of the gates of Gaza by Samson and not in a despairing introversion but in the down to earth and practical decisions of ordinary believers, working out their consecration one decision at a time.
In chp 7 vs 1 to 2 - marriage is a practical provision for holiness
'Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence'
A responsibility in marriage relationships
It is easy to push marriage and family life to the margins of a busy life.
There are many pressures to do so:
Some strands of preaching might even give credence to it! - Responsibilities to the assembly, responsibilities to the unsaved, responsibilities to use our gift, but do we hear often about our responsibilities towards our family and our husband and wife?
Here is a God given responsibility: “due benevolence”
“due” : “ὀφείλω”: owe, under obligation
Many demands are placed upon us, rarely is any assessment made as to wither or not we could actually fulfil such expectations.
Let us be careful that genuine responsibilities are not not crushed under unreasonable demands!
“The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.” (1Co 7:4)
It has become an unchallengeable social and political notion today that a man or woman simply is destined to follow their desires or impulses as dictated by their body; even fallen and corrupted passions and desires are to be followed without question.
To be a man firstly means to possess a power and a will greater than the sum of my natural desires and passions, proving that in me is a power higher than passionless plant life and animal behaviour dictated by uncontrolled passions and desires. A man possesses and is capable of exercising a power higher than his natural passions.
Notice the equality and reciprocity with which Paul deals with male and female in 7:4, this went beyond Pagan and even Jewish ideals.
Jewish divorce laws for example judged a married man only to have committed adultery if he had a relationship other a woman who was also married, a relationship with any other man outwith the marriage of a married woman was judged as adultery!
Perhaps this sheds some light on the events of John chapter 8 - the man with whom she was caught in the act of adultery, may in fact not have been guilty of adultery!
Under Roman law, a man had the right of concubinage!
“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I.” (1Co 7:8)
Some have seen here in verse 8 one of the few verses in the NT in which the possibility of Divinely endorsed divorce exists. This is possible if the unmarried of verse 8 includes those who were once married.
Unmarried can refer to:
Those who were once married (v10-11)
A broad grouping of people in contrast to those who are married (v33)
Those who have never been married (v34)
What does “unmarried” refer to?
The word is a general term which may or may not include specific groups depending on the context. The context must determine how we interpret this word.
Does the “unmarried” in verse 8 refer to the divorced in particular or does it include the divorced?
This would seem very unlikely as it would bring verses 8 and 9 into conflict with 7:10-11.
One of the most difficult tasks in dealing with the divorce and remarriage is to ensure that we are able to reconcile the texts without introducing contradictions.
It is quite clear from the following texts that remarriage after divorce is not permitted by the Lord: Matt 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12. Divorce followed by remarriage is adultery.
Some see in this section one of the few indications or permissions for divorce and remarriage:
“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.” (1Co 7:15)
Is this permission for divorce and remarriage?
I don't believe so:
Notice that in verses 12 and 13 there are two ways in which this mixed marriage could break down:
The husband could “put away” his wife (v12)
The wife could “leave” (v13) her husband
This pattern is consistent with:
The words of the Lord;
“But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” (Mat 5:32)
“And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife, except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery.” (Mat 19:9)
This language is reflective of the legal background to the New Testament, where under Jewish and Roman law divorce rights were very much skewed in favour of the man.
Jewish law for example permitted polygamy.
Under Jewish law any sexual for relationship for a married woman, outwith that marriage was adultery, but for the man it was only adultery if the other woman was also married!
Roman law permitted concubinage for the man and whilst a woman could divorce a man, the property and usually the children belonged to the man, so the woman left with nothing!
This legal and social background is reflected in the text here, when describing the break up of these mixed believer / unbeliever marriages; the apostle first addresses the responsibilities of the believer:
“But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.” (1Co 7:12)
“And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.” (1Co 7:13)
So the marriage may break down if either the husband puts away his wife or the wife leaves her husband.
However we notice that when it comes to what some regard as the right to remarry after desertion by the unbeliever, only one of these 2 possible scenarios are addressed:
“But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases...” (1Co 7:15)
So there are two possible scenarios which could give rise to the break down of this mixed marriage and yet only one of those causes are mentioned in verse 15, only one gives rise to what has been supposed by some as the right to remarry; namely desertion or abandonement. If this is the right to remarry after the break down of a mixed marriage what of the other scenario? What of the believer who is not abandoned by their unbelieving spouse but who is 'put away' by their unbelieving spouse? Have they no rights?
Ironically a woman 'put away' is probably even more vulnerable than a believing man who is left by his wife, for the woman put away, would be put away with nothing!
If verse 15 gives remarriage rights to Christians after the break down of mixed marriages, these rights are very biased and unfair!
Not only this but to be able to claim these rights of remarriage this NT believer has to embark upon an OT legal exercise, or perhaps the elders of the Church have to degenerate to legalities under grace to decide:
Were they truly abandoned or did they leave?
If they left was it really as good as being abandoned? A kind of constructive dismissal; to stay would have been in jeapordy of their life or well being?
Was the partner who left a believer or not? This would perhaps become critical in all marriage break downs! Even in marriages between believers, should they break down, and if I can claim that the other partner was never truly saved at all then I can claim a divorce right I would never otherwise have!
Needless to say I do not regard any of this as compatible with the NT teachings on Grace nor with the teachings of the Lord on marriage and divorce who flatly rejected a legislative approach to divorce:
“They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away? He saith unto them, Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so.” (Mat 19:7-8)
Verse 15 of chapter 7 deals with only one of the possible scenarios which could result in the break down of this mixed marriage, not because the apostle Paul is going to introduce an apostolic privilege, a new concession for divorce and remarriage but rather to address 1 possible area of conflict in the teaching of chapter 7 regarding a believers responsibilities to maintain the marriage bond. Throughout the section the apostle will exhort the believer not to depart (v10,13) and not to put away (v11,12) and to stay in the situation in which grace found them (7:18-24). What about the situation, where despite your best efforts it is the other person who leaves? Have you to pull out all stops, make any compromise necessary to comply with (7:18-24)? No “let him depart” (v15).
Notes from a sermon preached as part of our systematic bible study series on 1 Corinthians.
Free audio, mp3 downloads available above, of these messages as we expound verse by verse through the first epistle of Paul to the Corinthians.
Yours by Grace in Christ
Dr J Stewart Gillespie