We have a lot to cover today, so I am going to just get after it. There are a lot of confusing statements in this text and I will not be able to cover them all, but I will attempt to give you at least some guiding principles to help navigate this text as you examine in the future.
The first guiding principle is anytime you see Paul say something like “this is a commandment from me” I believe all he is saying is Jesus did not teach on this in the Gospels or His incarnation. The second guiding principle is to remember where we are in the letter. Some of you might remember that Paul began the letter in I Cor 1.10 by addressing the oral reports that were given to him. Those ended in I Cor 6. In I Cor 7.1 Paul will begin to address written reports: this why he says, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote.” It would seem the Corinthian Christians have some questions about marriage. Therefore, Paul quotes another cultural proverb that seems to be running around. The origin of the phrase is a matter of debate. But while in I Cor 6 there behavior was sexual promiscuity. In our text today the extreme behavior is sexual frigidity.
In the previous section there were a group of men who we continuing a cultural custom of cheating on their wives. In our text today we see the response of the women. There were certain women promoting a complete denial of sexual activity. This small faction believed sexual behavior was for lower beings. We can see this in I Cor 7.1 and 25. I say this was probably a female movement because of several linguistic clues throughout I Corinthians (I Cor 7.10-11, 39-40; cf. 11.2-16; 14.33-35). So to be clear, the context of the conversation is Paul addressing this feminine faction that is promoting a complete denial of sexual activity—even among the married Christians.
Theme: Whether Christians are single or married, they have one-single devotion.
1. Freedom is the freedom to do what God wants—I Cor 7.17-24.
Before we get into the issues Paul is going to address I believe the heartbeat of Paul’s instructions in this text is found in I Cor 7.17-24. In some senses these verses are just a more extended discourses on the thoughts Paul gave in I Cor 6.12-20. Paul wants his readers to understand that in these matters of Biblical freedom we are not to use that freedom to just do whatever we want. No, we are to use that freedom to glorify God. We are to use our freedom to do what God has called us to do. Why is that? Paul tells us in I Cor 7.22-23. If we were called to be free in Christ, then we exercise our freedoms the way our Savior did—with a desire to serve. We seek to make much of God when exercise our freedom.
This is why Paul says, “So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.” Our freedom is bound to God. God tell us how to remain in a good relationship with Him, just like any good relationship would. All of us don’t need to change our conditions or circumstance, but seek to glorify God in whatever circumstances we find ourselves. I heard this quote this week, “Glorifying God is not to be found in having the right social conditions, but rather it is simply to be found in glorifying God in our social conditions.” The context of our passage today the circumstance is singleness or marriage, and wants us to understand no matter which one you are in seek to glorify God. Make the best of it. This concept obviously extends behind our marital status, but we will focus on the circumstances our text is focusing on.
2. We use our gifts of singleness and marriage to glorify God—I Cor 7.2-16.
Once the context the conversation is set Paul begins the varieties of these sexual denials. The first is addressing the various callings or giftings when considering sex and marriage. Paul offers three suggestions.
The first suggestion is there is nothing wrong with getting married (I Cor 7.2-5). In fact it seems to Paul that marriage can be very wise and practical if you have strong sexual desires. As we discussed last week sex is a wonderful gift given to us by God, but like all wonderful gifts it should not be used to harm ourselves or others. In the kingdom of God sex is supposed to only be done in the context marriage. Paul does not address that issue a ton here, but is focused more on the rejection of sex in marriage. The instruction Paul offers here is because it seems their were people who saying, “abstain from sex in your marriage if you want to be more holy.” Paul dismisses this as foolish. Paul says you have rights over each others bodies.
Let me briefly speak about this, because I do not believe this is a right to abuse that privilege. In the context of Christian marriage this is an opportunity to serve. As some of you know I am a Christian Hedonist. What this means is I believe my personal pleasure, happiness, or joy are find in the pleasure of God and others. Therefore, in the context of marriage this means I seek the joy of God in my sex life and the joy of my spouse. When we are doing that we do seek pleasure in God or our spouse by abusing that privilege.
As we continue Paul explains denying each your sexual rights opens up your marriage to attack. Think about this for a moment—after the first marriage is told to practice having sex with each their marriage is immediately attacked in Gen 3. Friend there are real enemies out there that want to undermine your marriage or future marriage by attacking it through your sex life. This is something all people in marriage and those who desire marriage need to be aware of. Why is that? Well it is because marriage is one of the clearest pictures of the Gospel.
Paul’s next suggestion is if you are single stay single (I Cor 7.6-9). This language is sprinkled all throughout I Cor 7. Before you read too much into this I believe Paul is giving very practical advise here that anyone who has married here would recognize. Once you get married your life changes. You cannot just go to the movies with your buddies without discussing it with your wife. You cannot go on a weekend get away with some friends without discussing with your husband. Your life is bound to another’s now. This is why Paul says what he says in I Cor 7.7. If you can remain single then do it, but there is nothing wrong with getting married.
This brings us to Paul’s final suggestion, which is if you are married then stay married (I Cor 7.10-16). From I Cor 7.10-16 it would seem that this feminine faction were divorcing their husbands as a way of obtaining more spiritual enlightenment. Some of them clearly had husbands who were unbelievers and Paul instructs them to not divorce their husbands. He gives them a few reasons for this. First, if you are a believer you bring the power of the Gospel into the marriage. Calvin once said, “The godliness of the one does more to ‘sanctify’ the marriage than the ungodliness of the other to make it unclean.” Second, God might use you to help convert your husband to the faith. And finally, your children will benefit from the advantages of God’s covenant people.
In summary I Cor 7.1-16 is about Paul addressing the extreme views of sex and marriage that some people had developed. They were upsetting people, creating disunity, and potentially teaching things that would lead to ungodliness instead of godliness. This is why Paul the heartbeat of Paul’ instruction can be wrapped up in two phrases, “...each has his own gift from, one of one kind and one of another,” and “God has called you to peace.” God has made peace with us through His Son, and is remaking us. The Bible talks about God giving different gifts to different people for the building up of his kingdom. We are to use these gifts of singleness, marriage, or whatever else we have been given to make much of God.
3. Our martial status is a matter of deep devotion to Christ—I Cor 7.25-40.
In the final section of I Cor 7 Paul address another topic that was coming up in light of the confused feminine teachers. Besides teaching people to not have sex in marriage, being single is the true way to be really holy, divorce your unbelieving husbands, they were also teaching if you were engaged to hold off on the marriage. Once again they were teaching these engaged couples that sex is for “lesser” Christians, so if you want to be holy like us then deny your sexual desires and remain single.
The beauty of what Paul does here is he points out the truth in what they are saying. This could be because they are taking some teaching from Paul and misusing it. But no matter Paul tries the help the reader understand that this is a very practical issue. The reason I believe he can do this is because Paul was a one time married. Paul might have been abandoned by an unbelieving wife or he might have been widow. But no matter what Paul decided to no remarry. So Paul gives us some practical address on how to address their teaching.
First, you cannot take your marriage into eternity (I Cor 7.31). I know there is a small camp of people who believe you remain married in heaven, but I think that goes against the clear teaching of Christ in Matthew 22.30. The false teachers are trying to get people their now, but Paul is reminding the readers this does not happen until heaven but it will happen. So Paul does want other to know if you desire to dedicate your life to the Lord in singleness that is worthy high calling. Both are permissible and good, and both have very practical benefits.
This brings us into the second thing Paul wants us to remember: promote what will bring more Christlikeness into the world (I Cor 7.35). If you want to get married to help the order see what the relationship between Christ and His bride is supposed to look like then that is a high calling. But if you want to live like our Savior and have one-single devotion in this world that is a high calling too. Many who have chosen the latter do wonderful things like taking the Gospel to the parts of the world that are dangerous and they have to give up their lives.