Study Notes for I Corinthians 7:25-40 (click here for Study Sheet)
Christianity was under attack in Corinth. Many Christians were suffering persecution. Life was difficult, and the church was immature. Paul tailored his advice to address all of these concerns of the church.
He continues his advice about relationships by saying that while he has no direct command from the Lord concerning the subject of virgins, his own judgment is that it is good for them to remain unmarried. "Because of the present crisis," he said, "I think that it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife."
He hastens to add, however, that if a man or a woman does marry, he or she has not sinned. "But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this."
Paul may have been referring to at least two different categories of troubles. Marriage always brings struggles of adjustment and growing together. While the family is the place where a person can theoretically find the deepest, richest, and most intimate bonds, in reality the family is often the place where the deepest wounds are cut. Because family members see each other at their weakest and most annoying moments, they can hurt each other more severely than anyone else can hurt them.
A marriage between Christ-followers is the only circumstance in which a family can become what God designed it to be. The indwelling Holy Spirit in the husband and the wife is the source of love and power that can bring unity and respect into a marriage and into parent-child relationships. Without the Holy Spirit, a marriage is not complete. The couple may be "one flesh", but they cannot be "one soul". In spite of a couple's best intentions, without the Holy Spirit, selfishness and sin will mark the family with no hope for real healing. When a couple is one with each other and the Holy Spirit, there is hope and love to bring healing to the wounds and pain each person brings to a marriage.
Paul knew how painful marriage can be. He also knew how difficult real unity is if one partner is equivocal about the Lord.
In addition to the troubles inherent in a family, Paul also knew that when Christ-followers were suffering persecution, they would face terrible troubles that would make it difficult if not impossible for one spouse to take care of the other. Besides the personal suffering they would endure, they would endure additional agony knowing their spouse and even their children were also suffering.
Paul's advice in this passage spins off his previous statement, "Each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God called him." (v. 17) Becoming a Christ-follower, especially in a young and persecuted church, is a major life-style change. A person needs to deepen and grow and become familiar with the new life to which he or she has become committed. Everything looks different from the other side of the cross, and Paul knew that these young Corinthian Christians needed to become established in the ways of Christ without changing all of their physical circumstances at the same time. If one is changing jobs, marital status, or living arrangements right after leaving paganism and claiming Christ, he or she could lose sight of the new focus of the soul: Jesus.
Present World Passing Away
Paul went deeper into his exhortation. "From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away."
Paul is not suggesting husbands treat their wives with cruelty or indifference. In
Ephesians 5 he makes it clear that husbands are to love and care for their wives as Christ loves and cares for the church-even to the point of death.
What he is suggesting is that a Christ-follower's central focus and expanding commitment needs to be to Jesus. A man cannot put his wife at the center of his heart or his attention. Jesus must be at the center of a person's heart. When he is, the Holy Spirit will show each spouse how to love the other one for God instead of selfishly.
A Christ-follower no longer makes his decisions based on financial security, status, power, or possessions. A husband's or wife's material desires cannot be what drive the family economy. The Holy Spirit now guides the Christ-follower into decisions that will glorify God and put the believer in the center of God's will.
Life's sorrows and triumphs do not define the Christian's life. The Holy Spirit now defines it and gives meaning to life's events.
The material world becomes less and less important for its own sake when a person commits his or her life to God. Possessions are not ends in themselves anymore. Everything a believer has becomes something dedicated to the kingdom of heaven.
Paul is reminding the Corinthians that they are not living for the world anymore. They are living for God, and nothing in the material world is to claim the loyalty of their hearts. The Holy Spirit now sits on that throne.
Paul makes it clear that he's not trying to restrict the Corinthians, but he's trying to help them live "in undivided devotion to the Lord."
When Jesus was teaching his disciples about marriage and divorce they said to him, " 'If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.'
"Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.' " (Matthew 19:10-12)
In I Corinthians Paul expands on this idea Jesus presented. He's not saying that we should avoid marriage; in fact, Paul later says that teaching abstinence from marriage is a doctrine of demons. What he seems to be saying is this: if God is calling you to work for him, listen to his advice for you about marriage. Some are called to devote their lives to working for God without the interruptions of marriage and family. But whatever you do, live and work in undivided loyalty to the Lord.
Virgins-To Marry or Not To Marry?
Verses 36-38 have two possible interpretations. On the one hand they can be read as advice to a man engaged to a virgin. On the other hand they can be read as advice to a father of a virgin. In either case Paul's advice is the same: if the man has delayed marriage and he feels that he's being unfair to the virgin, by all means marry her or allow her to marry. But if the man has settled the matter in his own mind that he does not want to marry the virgin, or, if the man is her father and has decided that he does not want to give her in marriage, he does right also. The man who marries or gives the virgin in marriage does right, but he who does not marry or does not give the virgin in marriage "does even better."
This passage seems related to Paul's preceding advice: stay in the circumstances you were in when God called you. Learn to be content.
This passage also, however, seems to reflect the social values of 1st century society. Women depended on men for their positions in life and for support. They were not free to decide on their own to leave their father's houses or to marry. They lived with their fathers until they married men who would then make them their responsibilities.
This social norm may also contribute to the fact that Paul addresses the next passage about widowhood to women. If a woman's husband dies, he says, she is free to remarry, but the one she marries "must belong to the Lord." This advice could apply equally to men and women.
The new spouse must belong to the Lord because, as Paul says in II Cor. 6:14, "What do righteousness and wickedness have in common?What harmony is there between Christ and Belial?" A believer is not to knowingly marry an unbeliever. Such a union sets up a spiritual war inside the marriage. Not only is the marriage more difficult on a practical level, but on a spiritual level there can never be "one soul" inside the marriage unless the unbeliever accepts Jesus. A believer who marries an unbeliever is choosing to bring his or her body, a temple of the Holy Spirit, into union with one not committed to God. The believer is exposing himself to spiritual warfare at an intimate level, a level that will cause deep pain and a struggle for spiritual loyalty.
In this passage Paul is calling us to be content. We are to rest in Jesus, and now that we are believers filled with the Holy Spirit, we are to submit every part of our lives to him. Our jobs are in his hands; our bank accounts are in his hands; our children and friends and parents are in his hands. Our relationships are in his hands.
As Christ-followers we are to stop focussing our energies on "getting ahead" and on acquiring things. The Holy Spirit will reveal his plans for us, and he will also show us our work which he wants us to do. We are to be content with our jobs and situations when we become his. God wants to help us grow and know him inside our accustomed lives. If we are to move or change, he will make that fact clear to us.
We are not our own; we are the Lord's. We are sanctified, set apart for
Him. We are to be ready to do his will.
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Studio, Redlands, CA USA. All rights reserved. Revised April 23, 2000.