Married, Single Or Divorced
1 Corinthians 7
It may seem strange that the apostle, after affirming that it is good for a man not to touch a woman, yet fully approves every man and woman having a spouse. His first statement in verse 1 could not have been written when creation began, for it would have been bad for Adam to have refused the wife God gave to him. But in Christ now raised from the dead, God has introduced the new creation, and Paul himself is an example of the fact that the power of Christ, now known and enjoyed, is such as to be able to lift one above the perfectly normal and legitimate needs of the first creation. In no way are these things themselves sinful, though they have often been corrupted by man's sin. So that, while it is good for one to remain unmarried, in view of thorough devotedness to the Lord; yet if this would in any way involve the danger of fornication, it was much better to marry.
Verse 3 and 5 would insist that, when married, both wife and husband are responsible to show full consideration of each other according to the proper character of the marriage bond. They are one flesh, and neither the husband alone, nor the wife alone, has power in reference to his own or her own body, to bear fruit. They are united, and must not ignore this sacred relationship. By consent they could be apart for a time, to give themselves to fasting and prayer, and no doubt this could be greatly used of God in blessing; but it was generally not to be too long protracted, for Satan is ever ready to take advantage of such things. Proper consideration of each other is the important matter, and no defrauding of one another of his or her proper rights in the marriage relationship.
But Paul makes it clear in verse 6 that this is not the direct commandment of God, but his own advice, which God permitted him to give. In this chapter these two things are carefully distinguished, and interestingly so. This does not in any way violate the fact that all Scripture is given by inspiration of God; but it does illustrate the fact that all Scripture is not revelation. But God inspired Paul in this case to give, in response to the questions of the Corinthians, his own spiritual judgment in these matters. And let us remember, as we read it, that here is a man who is willing to forego what is lawful himself, to do what is most becoming in order to joyfully please the Lord. it would hardly seem wise to belittle the advice of such a man. Could we ourselves give better?
His own desire was that all men (believers of course) were as himself, unmarried. Certainly this was impossible of fulfilment, for everyone had his proper gift from God. If God had not himself fitted one for this, it would be a mistake for him to refuse to marry a wife God had brought to him. Paul's viewpoint certainly was a blessed one, but it is not the normal, usual path, and however we might admire it, this is not itself the power to follow it. We can fully agree that it is good to remain unmarried; yet even Paul himself advises that if the natural instinct and desire for marriage were strong within one, it is better to marry. "Forbidding to marry," he assures us elsewhere, is diabolical teaching (I Tim.4:1‑3).
But verses 9 and 10 are not simply Paul's advice, but the Lord's commandment. The wife is told positively not to depart from her husband. Of course, if he were unfaithful to her, this would be a different matter. If circumstances were such however, that a wife did leave her husband, she is told to remain unmarried, or to be reconciled to her husband. If of course in the meantime her husband had remarried, this would change things completely. She could then never be rightly re‑united to him, even if his second wife died (Deut.24:3,4).
Verse 12 again is Paul's advice. So long as an unbelieving spouse was willing to remain with a believing husband or wife, then his unbelief was not sufficient reason for his spouse to leave him, or her, as the case may be. "For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the husband." The faith of the one sets the other apart in a very real way, for he is a member of a household where Christ is recognized as Lord. He is set apart in spite of himself, and however ungodly his character may be. And the children are "holy," a stronger word than sanctified: it is of course the position they are privileged to occupy because of the faith of one parent: the parent is not expected to leave his children in "Egypt," exposed to the unclean world, just because the other parent is an unbeliever.
Under law, when Israelites had taken strange wives, they were required to put away their wives (Ezra 10:3,19); but grace is far different. It will not hold the unbelieving against his will, for if he desires to depart, the believer is told to "let him depart." When the unbeliever takes the initiative, then the believer is not under bondage in such cases. How much wiser for him to leave the matter with God, with no contention. But the faith and the gracious attitude of the believer may be the means of winning the unbeliever to the Lord: therefore, he is to take no harsh action against the other. Under law a Moabite could not be changed into an Israelite, but under grace an unbeliever may be changed into a believer. This certainly gives no permission for a believer to marry an unbeliever, for this is expressly forbidden in 2 Cor.6:14; but if one partner has been converted after marriage, he is encouraged to use the grace and faith of Christianity now in his marriage relationship, in patient testimony, for it may be the means of the other's conversion.
In verses 17 to 24 is laid down the principle that generally speaking one who was converted was to remain in the same relationships as before. Of course, if in these there was moral evil, this must be put away; but the context does not consider this. God had distributed to every man: none of us is in our particular circumstances merely by chance. In all assemblies this was to be recognized. Those who were married, let them remain this way, and bring Christ into their marriage. If one were Jewish and circumcised, he was not to renounce this to become a Gentile, for the knowledge of Christ lifts one above the mere questions of circumcision or uncircumcision: neither was now of any spiritual importance, but keeping the commandments of God; not the ten commandments, but those of the New Testament. For in new creation there is neither Jew nor Gentile.
This too is applied to a person's occupation. Even if he were a slave to an ungodly master, let him be submissive in this. If the opportunity were given him however to be made free, then he is told to take advantage of this. If God has given one any certain employment, let him be thankful for this, and faithful in service. If there is reason to desire something different, and the opportunity presents itself, then so long, as God is honoured, there is nothing to prohibit this. Of course, one is always to wisely consider all the circumstances. It should be manifested to all, certainly, that any employment that requires questionable or dishonest practices is to be utterly refused by the believer.
But if one feels the burden of being a slave, let him remember that he is really the Lord's freeman: this will give calmness and dignity to rise above his circumstances. On the other hand, if one is free, let him remember that he is the Lord's servant, and thereby keep himself from an independent attitude. For all saints are bought with a great price: none are to be mere servants of men: if they serve, it is to be "with good will doing service, as to the Lord, and not to men" (Eph.6:7). Paul made himself servant to all, but he was the servant of God (I Cor.9:19).
In whatever relationships therefore one were called, let him abide in this, "with God." If he can there enjoy the presence and approval of God, let him be at peace in this.
Verse 25 to the end considers now the case of the unmarried, as to whether or not to marry. As to this again Paul has no direct commandment of the Lord, because he had obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful. Let no one lightly despise this statement.
In view of then present circumstances that were evidently of some trying character, he considered it wise for one to remain unmarried; though if already married, not to try to change this. A spirit of contentment is that which he seeks to encourage. If one were "loosed from a wife," by her death, or by her leaving to marry another, his advice is to "seek not a wife."
Yet, so long as he had been honourably loosed from a former wife, the fact of his marrying again would not be sin. And the fact of marrying for the first time is not sin. Of course, if marrying an unbeliever, this would be disobedience to the Word of God, and therefore sin (2 Cor.6:14). And it is possible for one to marry while in a bad state of soul (I Tim.5:11,12), and reap sad results. In any case, one should certainly seek the clear guidance of God in a matter so serious, and not rush into something for which he is not prepared. Marriage itself, as Paul says, will bring with it "trouble in the flesh": the married man will be faced with many problems that never occur to one unmarried. Let all who contemplate marriage be fully prepared for this. But Paul adds, "I spare you." He would not press this point too far. For it is evident that God will provide grace for whatever path He may lead His own to take.
But the time was (and is) short. All those things are of temporary duration, whether marriage, weeping, rejoicing as to present circumstances, buying, or using the world, were not matters that should overmuch engage the time and attention. If these are things given of God for our present comfort, they must not be allowed to enslave us in any way, or to so occupy our interest that eternal realities are clouded, and not given the prominent place that is becoming. For all that is present is passing.
Paul's own concern was to have the Corinthians without carefulness, not held back by the cares of this life. From his own point of view, one who was unmarried cared for the things of the Lord, and as to how he could please the Lord. If this is the wholehearted exercise of one unmarried, it is well indeed.
Of course it does not follow that this is always the case. A believer may be unmarried for other reasons and not really making the Lord the supreme object of his life. But he does not have the care of a wife to occupy his time and attention, and therefore should have more time for the Lord. If one is married, he is responsible to properly care for his wife, and some of his time at least must be spent in pleasing her.
Of course we know that, in spite of this, many men who have wives have been greatly used and blessed of God, more than many others who have remained unmarried. On the other hand, some have remained unmarried with the sole intention of devotedness to the Lord, and it is this that the apostle recommends, for he himself was an honest example of such devotion.
But Paul knows this is a delicate subject, and insists that he speaks for their profit, not as suggesting rules for them, nor as expecting anyone to follow his advice merely from a sense of duty, which may prove only a snare to the individual; but to encourage each saint to give attention to the things of the Lord without distraction.
Verse 36 is more correctly given in Mr. Darby's New Translation; "But if anyone think that he behaves himself unseemly to his virginity, if he be beyond the flower of his age, and so it must be, let him do what he will, he does not sin: let them marry." When the fleeting beauty of youth is passed, and one is old enough to know what he is doing, if he thinks it more comely and becoming in reference to himself that he should be married, then to marry is certainly not sin. In any case, whether man or woman, let the matter be well considered, and faith be acted upon. This does not touch upon the subject of the choosing of a wife or husband, but supposes that the choice is a proper one.
But one might stand with firmness of faith, having no necessity for marriage, having control over his own will, and purposing that he will maintain his virginity. This is the case of one making himself a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven's sake (Mt. 19:12). If it is not too common, yet it is blessedly commendable.
Again, in verse 38, a more proper translation is: "So then he that marrieth doeth well; but he that marrieth not doeth better." This supposes in each case that the will of the Lord is followed. Merely marrying, if not "in the Lord," could mean dreadful disaster; or refusing to marry because of selfish, evil motives, is certainly not better than marrying, if the Lord were leading one to marry. Joseph had no alternative but to marry when the Lord told him, "Fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife" (Mrk.1:20). But if the Lord should lead one to a single path of devotion to Himself, this is better than the married state.
Again, in verse 39 the New Translation is more correct: "A wife is bound for whatever time her husband lives; but if the husband be fallen asleep, she is free to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord." Romans 7:1,2 rightly gives the legal aspect of this matter; but Corinthians rather speaks of what is morally binding as before God, so that "by the law" is not to be included here. It is clear that only death rightly does away with the marriage bond: any other dissolving of the bond is abnormal, yet it could be allowed to one if the other partner were guilty of virtually breaking the bond by fornication (Mt. 19:9).
But as our verse indicates, if one spouse has died, the other is perfectly free to be married again, but "only in the Lord." This does not merely mean, to a Christian, but as in subjection to the authority of the Lord: it is His will that is to be paramount. But Paul's opinion is that to remain unmarried would be happier. And in such a conclusion he thinks he is not without the influence of the Spirit of God.
- Marriage for the Christian by L M Grant