Study Notes for I Corinthians 7:1-11 (click here for Study Sheet)
Paul again addresses the issue of marriage. "It is good," he writes, "for a man not to marry." Paul, a Jew who had been a Pharisee, had almost certainly been married. The Pharisees required their members to be married men. No one is certain what happened to his wife, but many scholars theorize that his wife may have left him when he converted to Christianity. Paul no doubt found his singleness to be an asset as he traveled from church to church. He did not have to provide the kind of geographic stability that a wife would expect and need, and he was free to visit wherever he was needed.
Other places, however, Paul wrote strongly in favor of marriage (Eph 5:22-23; Col 3:18-19, I Tim 3:2, 12; 5:14), and he even wrote that forbidding to marry would be a sign of apostasy in the end times (I Tim. 4:1-3). Paul undoubtedly felt that his own singleness was part of what God ordained for him, however, and he counted it a blessing in his work. Paul also indicated that he thought singleness would make life much simpler for those who committed their lives to working for the Lord.
Paul concedes, however, that marriage is an excellent protection against immorality. In this letter Paul is addressing recent converts from paganism. The Gentile believers had come out of idol worship to follow Christ. They still lived in a city that surrounded them with pagan temples in which the temple prostitutes waited. Paul knew how much a part of their lives temple prostitution had been, and he knew the temptation to visit the temples would be strong for those new Gentile Christians. The whole process of visiting the prostitutes as part of religious ritual had a stronger hold on their synapses than did following Christ. Paul is warning them: "There is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband," and they should fulfill their marital duty to each other.
Bodies Not Our Own
Paul doesn't stop with marital duty, however. "The wife's body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband," he says. "In the same way, the husband's body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife."
In a marriage between people who did not belong to Christ, such a statement could be destructive. Marriage is not a guarantee of faithfulness or morality. Many marriages, even when the partners are monogamous, are unfaithful. If a harsh, angry, or self-centered husband expects physical intimacy without repentance, he puts his wife in a situation of "prostituting" herself to keep the peace. If a wife grants or withholds sex to control her husband's moods or behavior, she is manipulating her husband and being unfaithful to her vow to love, honor and cherish him.
Even though such a couple keeps sex inside the marriage, they are not making it part of intimacy. They are divorcing love, vulnerability, and care from sex. Instead of being intimate, sex is reduced to being merely sensuous. Instead of its being part of a package of true giving and loving, sex is a commodity. It ceases to be the spiritual oneness that is the symbol of Christ's love for the church.
On the other hand, true marriage is being "one flesh". In a marriage in which the Holy Spirit is present, each spouse loves and cares for the other as part of himself or herself. "He who loves his wife loves himself. After all, no one ever hated his own body, but he feeds and cares for it, just as Christ does the church," Paul writes in Ephesians 5:29-30.
When the Holy Spirit is present, a marriage is not simply two people living together. The marriage itself is an entity, a union made alive by the power of God, sanctified by the Lord Jesus, and made joyful by the Holy Spirit.
Paul allows for one situation in which a husband and wife can "deprive each other" by "mutual consent for a time." That situation is devotion to prayer. Paul compares this deprivation to fasting. He concedes that if one is fasting and praying, depriving oneself of sex is a natural companion to depriving oneself of food. The point of such deprivation is not asceticism; rather it is to focus all of one's energy, mental, physical, and spiritual, on God.
No Rationale for Divorce
While the Jews had provisions for divorce, Paul echoes Jesus when he says, "A wife must not separate from her husband.And a husband must not divorce his wife." Divorce, except for unfaithfulness (Mt. 5:31-32), breaks a union sanctified by God. In Malachi 2:13-14 God sent this message to Israel, "You flood the Lord's altar with tears. You weep and wail because he no longer pays attention to your offerings or accepts them with pleasure from your hands. You ask, 'Why?' It is because the Lord is acting as the witness between you and the wife of your youth, because you have broken faith with her, though she is your partner, the wife of your marriage covenant."
Malachi does not say the Israelites have been divorcing their wives. He says they have "broken faith" with them. Breaking faith destroys the relationship. Breaking faith tears apart what God has joined. Breaking faith destroys the entity that is a marriage, that unique unity between man, woman, and God.
A marriage is a microcosm of the church. The Holy Spirit's New Covenant temple is the church. Similarly, a marriage between a man and a woman who follow Christ is a temple of the Holy Spirit. The fact that the Holy Spirit lives within each of us is what makes a marriage so profound. It is not simply a financial and physical union. Marriage is a spiritual union cemented by the presence of the Holy Spirit within it. The entire spectrum of spiritual, emotional, and physical intimacy in a marriage is guarded, grown, and glorified by the Holy Spirit. Marriage is a physical picture of Christ's relationship with us, his bride.
We are called to be part of the bride of Christ. Jesus loves us intimately, without reservation or withholding. Jesus sends his Spirit to come into us and literally live in us. Ultimately, Jesus himself will come back and physically claim us.
Revelation 22:17 says, "The Spirit and the bride say, 'Come!' And let him who hears say, 'Come!' Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life."
The bride-we-and the indwelling Spirit both say, "Come!" to Jesus. Our great hope is our marriage to our Savior when he comes to live personally with us for eternity.
We are called to purity-to live for Jesus and to commit ourselves completely to him. We are called to honor our marriages and our relationships by allowing the indwelling Holy Spirit to direct and sanctify them. We are called to be accountable and to love, respect, and cherish our husbands and our wives. We are called to love each other as Christ loved us.
We are the bride of Christ, and he is coming to claim us for eternity.
"He who testifies to these things say, 'Yes, I am coming soon.'
"Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
"The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen." (Rev
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 23, 2000.