1 Corinthians 7 Commentary

The six questions treated in this chapter are:

(1) Should married couples continue normal sexual relations after becoming Christians? Answer: Yes, it is their duty to do this (1 Corinthians 7:1-7).

(2) Should single persons get married? Answer: Yes, in all normal situations; but for the gifted, such as Paul, celibacy was advantageous, especially in unsettled times (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

.. (6) May a Christian widow remarry? Answer: Yes, provided that she marry “only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39-40).

 

Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. (1 Corinthians 7:1)

The development of this paragraph a little later indicates that the question regards the conduct of Christian couples toward each other, a question no doubt related to the broader question of celibacy as a way of life,

.. “He is teaching that because of the persecution of Christians, it is better not to get married and bring children into the world to be killed and suffer persecution.[4] It should be carefully observed, however, that Paul in no sense advocated celibacy, except in certain situations and circumstances, and that even in those cases it was merely “allowable,” and not commanded. There is no disparagement of marriage here, Paul’s writings in Ephesians 5:22,23, etc., making it abundantly clear that he held the institution of marriage in the very highest esteem

.. As Marsh said, “He is not writing a treatise on marriage, but answering their questions within the context of current attitudes and circumstances.”[5] Marsh translated this place, “It is WELL for a man not to touch a woman … meaning COMMENDABLE, but not morally or intrinsically better.”[6] It is true now, even as it was in the beginning, that “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). As Lipscomb noted, “Paul’s teaching here regards the persecution then raging against the Christians; and, on account of these, if a man could restrain his lusts, it was better not to marry.”[7]

.. Many of the Greek philosophers, such as Menander, held marriage to be “an evil, but a necessary evil”;[8] but the Jews, on the other hand, “absolutely required that every man should marry, and reputed those as murderers who did not.”[9]

.. But I would have you to be free from cares. He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.

This was the basis of Paul’s recommendation of the single status for those whose self-restraint made it possible, the unencumbered being able more wholeheartedly to serve the interests of true religion than those pressed down with cares and obligations.


Verse 33
But he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and is divided.

Paul did not condemn man’s efforts in the secular sphere, but was pointing out the preemption of time and efforts required in the support of a wife and family, such a division of the Christian’s energies being inherent in such a thing as marriage. All of this was said as persuasion to induce any who could to avoid marriage during that “present distress.”

.. Paul’s personal preference for celibacy on the part of persons who were capable of it, and in certain circumstances, for more complete dedication, has always appealed to some in every age; and it is not right to depreciate such behavior. Shore pointed out that England’s Queen Elizabeth I was one who made exactly the choice Paul recommended in these verses, although for a different purpose, and yet a high purpose.

Elizabeth I declared that England was her husband and all Englishmen her children, and that she desired no higher character or fairer remembrance of her to be transmitted to posterity than this inscription engraved upon her tombstone: “Here lies Elizabeth, who lived and died a maiden queen.[53]

Ephesians 5:25-32

25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her
26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word,
27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.
28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.
29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church—
30 for we are members of his body.
31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”
32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church.

1 Corinthians 7 Commentary

The Corinthians in their letter had probably asked questions which tended to disparage marriage, and had implied that it was better to break it off when contracted with an unbeliever.
good–that is, “expedient,” because of “the present distress”; that is, the unsettled state of the world, and the likelihood of persecutions tearing rudely asunder those bound by marriage ties. Hebrews 13:4 , in opposition to ascetic and Romish notions of superior sanctity in celibacy, declares, “Marriage is HONORABLE IN ALL.” Another reason why in some cases celibacy may be a matter of Christian expediency is stated in 1 Corinthians 7:34 1 Corinthians 7:35 , “that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.” But these are exceptional cases, and in exceptional times, such as those of Paul.

let every man have–a positive command to all who have not the gift of continency, in fact to the great majority of the world ( 1 Corinthians 7:5 ). The dignity of marriage is set forth by Paul ( Ephesians 5:25-32 ), in the fact that it signifies the mystical union between Christ and the Church.

.. 10. not I, but the Lord–(Compare 1 Corinthians 7:12 1 Corinthians 7:25 1 Corinthians 7:40 ). In ordinary cases he writes on inspired apostolic authority ( 1 Corinthians 14:37 ); but here on the direct authority of the Lord Himself ( mark 10:11 mark 10:12 ). In both cases alike the things written are inspired by the Spirit of God “but not all for all time, nor all on the primary truths of the faith” [ALFORD]

.. 25. no commandment of the Lord: yet . . . my judgment–I have no express revelation from the Lord commanding it, but I give my judgment (opinion); namely, under the ordinary inspiration which accompanied the apostles in all their canonical writings (compare 1 Corinthians 7:40 , 1 Corinthians 14:37 , 1 Thessalonians 4:15 ). The Lord inspires me in this case to give you only a recommendation, which you are free to adopt or reject–not a positive command. In the second case ( 1 Corinthians 7:101 Corinthians 7:11 ) it was a positive command; for the Lord had already made known His will ( Malachi 2:14 Malachi 2:15 , Matthew 5:31 Matthew 5:32 ).

.. the present distress–the distresses to which believers were then beginning to be subjected, making the married state less desirable than the single; and which would prevail throughout the world before the destruction of Jerusalem, according to Christ’s prophecy ( Matthew 24:8-21 ; compare Acts 11:28 ).

27. Illustrating the meaning of “so to be,” 1 Corinthians 7:26 . Neither the married (those “bound to a wife”) nor the unmarried (those “loosed from a wife”) are to “seek” a change of state (compare 1 Corinthians 7:20 1 Corinthians 7:24 ).

Blue Letter Bible Commentary: 1 Corinthians 7

In Paul’s day, Jews considered that marriage was a duty, to the extent that a man reaching 20 years of age without having been married was considered to have sinned. Unmarried men were often considered excluded from heaven, and not real men at all.

.. An unmarried man could not be a member of the Sanhedrin.

.. So, what happened to Paul’s wife? The Scriptures are silent. Perhaps she left him when he became a Christian, or perhaps she died some time before or after he became a Christian. But we know that it was likely he was married before, and we know he was not married when writing this letter (and there is no appearance of a wife for Paul in Acts). Paul probably was a good one to speak of the relative gifts and responsibilities of both marriage and singleness.

.. Though Paul knew singleness was good for him, he would not impose it on anyone. The important thing is what gift one has from God, either being gifted to singleness or marriage.

.. Paul’s understanding that the unmarried state can be a gift is especially striking when we consider the Jewish background of Paul himself and the early church. It was regarded as a sin for a Jewish man to be unmarried. “Among the Jews marriage was not held a thing indifferent, or at their own liberty to choose or refuse, but a binding command.”

.. And whosoever gives not himself to generation and multiplying is all one with a murderer: he is as though he diminished from the image of God”.

.. “It is forbidden a man to be without a wife; because it is written, It is not good for man to be alone. And whosoever gives not himself to generation and multiplying is all one with a murderer: he is as though he diminished from the image of God”.

.. i. Though Paul preferred the unmarried state for himself, he doesn’t want anyone to think that being married was less spiritual, or more spiritual. It is all according to an individual’s gifting. Remember that Paul told Timothy that forbidding to marry was a doctrine of demons(1 Timothy 4:1-3).

.. Paul recognizes marriage as a legitimate refuge from pressures of sexual immorality. One should not feel they are immature or unspiritual because they desire to get married so as to not burn with passion.

.. i. Paul is not speaking about what we might consider “normal” sexual temptation. “It is one thing to burn, another to feel heat … what Paul calls burning here, is not merely a slight sensation, but being so aflame with passion that you cannot stand up against it.” (Calvin)

ii. At the same time, if someone has a problem with lust or sexual sin, they should not think that getting married will automatically solve their problems. Many a Christian man has been grieved to find that his lust for other women did not magically “go away” when he got married.

.. c. A wife is not to depart from her husband: The Corinthian Christians were wondering if it might be more spiritual to be single, and if they should break up existing marriages for the cause of greater holiness. Paul answers their question straight from the heart of the Lord: absolutely not!

.. d. Even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: Paul, in addressing a marriage where both partners are Christians, says that they should not – indeed, can not – break up the marriage in a misguided search for higher spirituality.

i. This connects with the two specific grounds under which God will recognize a divorce: when there is sexual immorality (Matthew 19:3-9) and in the case when a believing partner is deserted by an unbelieving spouse

.. ii. Jesus said the one who divorces for invalid reasons, and marries another, commits adultery;

.. e. If she does depart: A Christian couple may in fact split up for reasons that do not justify a Biblical divorce. It may be because of a misguided sense of spirituality, it may be because of general unhappiness, or conflict, or abuse, or misery, addiction, or poverty. Paul recognizes (without at all encouraging) that one might depart in such circumstance, but they cannot consider themselves divorced, with the right to remarry, because their marriage had not split up for reasons that justify a Biblical divorce.

.. a. As the Lord has called each one, so let him walk: No matter what your station (married, single, divorced, widowed, remarried, whatever), God can work in your life. Instead of thinking that you can or will walk for the Lord when your station changes, walk for the Lord in the place you are at right now.

.. b. I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment: Again, we are not to think Paul is any less inspired here. But because he is dealing with life-situations that differ from person to person, he cannot, and will not, give a command. Yet, he will give inspired advice and principles.

c. It is good for a man to remain as he is: Paul, in speaking to the never-married men, recommends they remain as he is – that is, either remaining single or remaining married.

.. i. Why? Because of the present distress. Apparently, there was some kind of local persecution or problem in the city of Corinth, and because of this distress, Paul says there are definite advantages to remaining single. Also, because of this distress, a married man should also remain as he is.

ii. What is the advantage of remaining single? We can easily imagine, how in a time of persecution or great crisis, how much more of a burden a wife or a family can be for someone committed to standing strong for the Lord. We may say, “torture me, and I will never renounce Jesus”; but what if we were threatened with the rape of our wife, or the torture of our children? These may seem far away to us, but they were not to the Christians in the first century.

.. iii. What is the advantage in remaining married? At a time of great distress, your family needs you more than ever. Don’t abandon your wife and children now!

.. d. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife: Paul is echoing the same principle laid down in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24: God can use us right where we are, and we should not be so quick to change our station in life.

.. i. Most significantly, Paul is never implying that being married or single is more spiritual than the other state; this was the big error of the Corinthian Christians.

.. But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none

.. a. The time is short: Some criticize Paul, or even declare him a false prophet, because he says the time is short. But Paul is true to the heart and teaching of Jesus, who told all Christians in all ages to be ready and anticipate His return.

.. i. Jesus told us all in Matthew 24:44, Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. We are to be ready, and to regard the time as short, not only because Jesus can return at any time, but also because it cultivates a more obedient, on-fire walk with Jesus Christ.

.. ii. Even without considering the return of Jesus, it is worthwhile and accurate for Christians to live as if the time is short.

.. b. Even those who have wives should be as though they had none: Paul is not encouraging the neglect of proper family duties, but encouraging living as if the time is short. It means that we will not live as if our earthly family was all that mattered, but also live with an eye to eternity.

.. a. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord: Here, Paul simply recognizes that when a person doesn’t have family responsibilities, they are more “free” to serve God. This was the main reason Paul considered the unmarried state preferable for himself.

.. b. He who is married cares about the things of the world; how he may please his wife: Paul does not say this to condemn the married person; in fact, Paul is saying this is how it should be for the married person. There is something wrong if a married man does not care for how he may please his wife, and something is wrong if a married woman does not care about how she may please her husband.

.. c. Again, Paul’s reason for explaining these things is not to forbidmarriage, but to put it into an eternal perspective. He isn’t putting a leash on anyone; he is merely sharing from his own heart and experience.

.. i. Significantly, for Paul, the most important thing in life was not romantic love, but pleasing God. For him, he could please God better as single, but another may please God better as married, all according to our calling.

.. ii. Though Paul insists he does not want his teaching here to be regarded as a noose around anyone’s neck, this has happened in the church. Roman Catholics insist on celibacy for all its clergy, even if they are not gifted to be so. Many Protestant groups will not ordain or trust the single.

.. d. That you may serve the Lord without distraction: For Paul, being unmarried meant fewer distractions in his service of God. Tragically, many modern single Christians singleness a terrible distraction!

.. c. But, because singleness does have its benefits, Paul will recommend it, not only to individuals, but also to fathers in regard to the marrying off of their daughters.

.. d. He who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better: For Paul, the choice between married and single was not the choice between good and bad, but between better and best. And for Paul, and the present circumstances, he regarded singleness as best.

.. b. At the same time, Paul believes such a widow is happier if she remains as she is ? that is, if she remains single. Essentially, Paul wants the widow not to remarry without carefully considering that God might be calling her to celibacy.

i. Again, Paul will affirm celibacy, but not because sex itself is evil (as some of the Corinthian Christians were thinking). Instead, the unmarried state can be superior because it offers a person (if they are so gifted) more opportunity to serve God.