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Monday, July 15th, 2024
the Week of Proper 10 / Ordinary 15
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 7

Smith's Bible CommentarySmith's Commentary

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Verses 1-40

Shall we turn now in our Bibles to the seventh chapter of I Corinthians.

The Corinthian church was a mess. There were just a lot of problems, a problem with carnality. There were divisions in the church, some saying that they were of Cephas, or Peter, and others saying that they were of Paul, and some saying that they were of Apollos. They were suing each other at law, going to the earthly courts. And Paul had received the report, so he wrote to them about these things. But basically his purpose of writing was to answer a letter that they had sent to him with certain questions. So, Paul beginning with chapter 7 is responding now to their letter and the questions that they had asked in their letter to him.

Now, it is important that we understand, really, the background of this situation in Corinth. Corinth was an extremely pagan city. On the acropolis above Corinth there was a great temple to Aphrodite, and the temple priestesses would come down into Corinth each evening. They were prostitutes, and the worship of the goddess was supported by the earnings of the prostitutes.

In this city God had many people. For when Paul was there in Corinth, the Lord encouraged him, and said, "I have many people in this city." So, Paul established the church there. But, as I say, the church was a mess.

They had a lot of weird kind of teachings, doctrines that had spread. They felt that the body was completely evil, and so that left a twofold kind of an attitude. First, there were those who said because the body is totally evil it doesn't matter what you do with your body; your body doesn't count. It is your spirit that counts, so you can do with your body what ever you want. It doesn't matter. You can use your body for fornication or whatever you desire, the body is totally evil anyhow, so it doesn't matter what you do with your body. Others coming from that same base that the body is totally evil said you shouldn't then do any of those naturals things in the body. Even if you are married you should restrain from relations with your wife, because everything of the body is evil, all of the urges or desires or whatever are evil. And so there was this second tendency toward asceticism.

So Paul is dealing here, beginning in chapter 7, with this concept of whether or not as a Christian I should be married, or if I am married should I have intimate relationships with my wife. So, he begins the seventh chapter by saying:

Now concerning the things whereof you wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband ( 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 ).

Trying to live a celibate life is unnatural, and Paul recognizes it as such. It is good if you can not touch a woman, but yet, that is an unnatural condition. Therefore, every man should have a wife, and every wife should have a husband.

It is interesting that nothing is ever said in the scripture about Paul being married, but I feel that he obviously was. Number one, he was a rabbi. And according to Jewish law, every man should be married and have children, because God said be fruitful and multiply. And they felt that that was a divine injunction that every man should fulfill, and that if you did not have children you were killing, actually, your progeny. So being a rabbi, and as he said concerning the righteousness of the law, "I was blameless," he no doubt was married. Also, it is indicated that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and a requirement of the Sanhedrin, who was a judge of sorts, was that he be married, because they figured if a man is married he is more merciful. I think he at least has greater understanding.

Now, the question arises: What happened to Paul's wife? And there are two speculations. One that she died. But the other, which is probably more correct, is that when Paul embraced Christianity, she left him. That is the general tradition that is carried through the church.

Now, the seventh chapter here is written with an overlying thought, which he brings out in verse 1 Corinthians 7:29 , and that is, time is short. Paul felt that the Lord was coming very, very soon, and so because time is short, he is giving these instructions concerning marriage. It would seem to be that he is discouraging getting married, but if so, it is only because of his concept that time is so very short. We really don't have time to get married. But, to avoid fornication, every man should have his own wife and every woman have her own husband, especially in the conditions that existed there in Corinth.

And let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise the wife to the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not the power of his own body, but the wife. Therefore do not withhold the sexual rights from each other, unless it be with consent for a time, that you might give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency ( 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 ).

So, Paul here is declaring that the sexual relationships within marriage are proper, and that the wife should seek to satisfy the husband and the husband should seek to satisfy the wife. And that you should not withhold from each other unless it be by a mutual consent, and then only in a specified period of time as you're giving yourselves to fasting and praying, because the temptations are apt to be too great. The pressure is too great on each other.

But I speak this by permission, and not by commandment. For I would that all men were even as myself. But every man has his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that. I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I ( 1 Corinthians 7:6-8 ).

Now, Paul, of course, at this point was unmarried, and he is advocating his status of not being married, but he recognizes that there is a gift of God in a sense for this position.

Now, Jesus talked about those who were eunuchs by birth. Some were called of God for this, others became such for the kingdom of God's sake. But Paul having that gift and recognizing that it was something that God had done, because the normal, natural physical drives promote marriage. It is not natural not to have a sex drive. It is the fourth strongest drive that we have, following the air, thirst, and hunger. It ranks right there near the top. And if a person doesn't have a strong sex drive it means that perhaps God has taken it away in order that this person might be a special instrument for God freed from the . . . well, as Paul said, the cares that come upon a person when they get married.

Marriage does present a whole different situation. Before I was married, I could travel freely across the United States. All I needed was a sack of apricots and I could go. I only stopped at service stations for gasoline. I never stopped at restaurants. When I was going I like just to get there. After I got married it became different.

We were coming home from Phoenix and my wife said, "Honey, I would like to have a cup of coffee." And I kept going past the coffee shops. She said, "Honey, I would like to have a cup of coffee!" "Sure, who wouldn't?" And I went by another coffee shop, and boy, I felt her foot go on the floor that had she had a brake there I would have been thrown through the windshield. I got the message, and we stopped at a coffee shop. But, that is a waste of time.

But, as Paul said, if you are married you don't really care so much for the things of the Lord, you care for your wife, how you are going to please her, since you have to live with her. And thus, you want to please her proper. That is correct.

So, Paul said, "If you have the gift, that is good. Live like I do. For the unmarried and the widows, stay like I am."

But if you don't have this gift: but it is better that you marry than [to have a burning compassion or a burning lust] to burn with lust. Now to the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife ( 1 Corinthians 7:9-11 ).

This, of course, was the teaching of Jesus Christ. So Paul said, "This is not my command, it's the Lord's."

But to the rest I will speak ( 1 Corinthians 7:12 ),

Now, the Lord didn't speak specifically in these issues, so now Paul speaks as an apostle.

But to the rest I speak, not the Lord [dealing now with a special situation]: If a brother has a wife that does not believe, and she is content to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And if the woman which has a husband that believes not, and if he is pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy ( 1 Corinthians 7:12-14 ).

So, either the husband or the wife believing, bring into the home a holy environment by which the children are covered.

Many times I am questioned as to the fate of children who die. Or more often, the question arises if the church is raptured, or when the church is raptured will the little children all go up in the rapture. I can speak for surety on the children of a saved parent, either one or both, that they are protected and covered by the believing parent. I do not have that same surety where the parents are unbelievers. I personally feel that because they are not at an age of responsibility, God will be gracious and merciful unto them. And I believe strongly in the justice and the fairness of God. Though I do not have a sound scriptural base, I don't have any scripture that says that all children are going to go up in the rapture, or all children that die are saved. We do know that it is so if there is a believing husband or wife.

Now, my feeling is, why live under the cloud of a question? Why even worry about it? Just receive the Lord and know. But, we do know as far as a believing parent that the house is sanctified by either one being a believer.

But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God has called us to peace ( 1 Corinthians 7:15 ).

So, if on your receiving Jesus Christ your husband or your wife just can't handle you anymore, they say, "Look, I didn't bargain for this. I can't stand you. I can't live with you like this," then let them depart. You are not under bondage. You are not under bondage to remain with them in such cases. Let them depart. God has called us to peace, not to warfare in marriage.

For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how do you know, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife? But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all churches ( 1 Corinthians 7:16-17 ).

Now he deals with what condition you were in when God called you.

Is any man called being circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God. Therefore let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called ( 1 Corinthians 7:18-20 ).

When God saved you, were you an uncircumcised Gentile? Then don't bother about going through the Jewish rite of circumcision. Remain as you were when God called you.

Now, if you were a servant when God called you, don't worry about it if you can be free, then use your freedom rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's freeman ( 1 Corinthians 7:21-22 ):

Now, you may still be a servant as far as man is concerned, but you are free now and you are God's freeman.

also he that is called, being free, becomes Christ's servant ( 1 Corinthians 7:22 ).

So, the calling in where I was called, abide in that calling. Don't try to change things radically after you've become a Christian, unless the life that you were living, or the occupation that you had is so totally antagonistic towards Christian principals that you have got to get out.

You were bought with a price; therefore don't be the servants of men ( 1 Corinthians 7:23 ).

If you are a servant of man, realize that you are a servant of Jesus Christ. And so that is basically where we all are, servants of Jesus Christ.

Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful ( 1 Corinthians 7:24-25 ).

Now we are dealing with an interesting area here, and there are three possible interpretations. There are those that say that Paul is talking now to the fathers who have daughters who are virgins. And that he is dealing with the situation of whether or not you allow your daughter to get married.

There is the second that, again, takes in the cultural aspects. There were those people who were living together and even sleeping in the same bed, but not having conjugal relationship. And even . . . they were just sort of . . . the trial marriage kind of thing but without the sex aspect of it, seeing if you get along living together, yet not entering into a physical relationship. This was a common practice in those days there in Corinth.

The third thought is that there were also those who did get married, but felt it was more spiritual not to have sex even in marriage. And I personally feel that Paul is probably referring to this third category. The language sort of precludes a father having a daughter who is a virgin and giving her in marriage, the language sort of precludes that. I think that it probably is referring to this third concept of "we are more spiritual because we don't have sex. Yes, we are married, but my wife is still a virgin." Weird! I couldn't handle that, but this is what I feel was the issue that Paul was addressing in this part. "Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I'll give my judgment, as one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful."

I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, it is good for a man so to be. Are you bound unto a wife? Don't then seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Then don't seek a wife ( 1 Corinthians 7:26-27 ).

Again, Paul is saying this under the whole umbrella of time is so short. Later on, when he wrote to the church of Ephesus, realizing that the coming of Jesus evidently wasn't going to be immediate, he used the marriage relationship as a beautiful example of the deep relationship that exists between Christ and His church, and uses it in one of the most beautiful illustrations of relationship that can exist.

So, are you married? Don't seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Don't seek a wife.

But and if you married, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: and I would just spare you ( 1 Corinthians 7:28 ).

He is saying, "Hey, marriage is not always what it is trumped up to be. You can have difficulties in marriage."

This I say, brethren, the time is short: it remains, that both they that have wives be as though they had none ( 1 Corinthians 7:29 );

Now, that has to be interpreted in the context. For in the context he said, "He that is married cares for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. He that is not married actually just seeks to please God." So, when he says that they that are married should be as though they are not married, he is just saying that you should be concerned in pleasing God. That should be your primary concern.

And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoice not; and they that buy, as though possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passes away ( 1 Corinthians 7:30-31 ).

Time is short. He is actually saying, "We don't have time, really, to get involved in marital relationships. We don't have time to indulge in grief or sorrow. We don't have time for partying and revelry. We don't have time to amass possessions. We are in the world, but let's not abuse it. Let us use it; we have got to live. We have got to eat so do what you have to, but don't get overly involved, for the fashion of the world is passing away, or is rapidly passing away."

So, as Paul was looking at the situation in his day, at the deterioration of the whole social scene of the things taking place, he gives these warnings. Time is short, things are rapidly passing away, we really don't have time for the extraneous.

But I would have you without this carefulness ( 1 Corinthians 7:32 ).

Full of care is a better way . . . we understand that better. I would keep you freed from that fullness of care, worry.

He that is unmarried cares for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married cares for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married cares for the things of the world, how she may please her husband. And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, that you may attend upon the Lord without distraction ( 1 Corinthians 7:32-35 ).

So he is just saying that in giving yourself completely to serving the Lord, a wife can be an encumbrance, can be a hindrance. You have to now take her into consideration, and your real interest is pleasing her. That is proper. We should be concerned, fellows, in how to please our wives. And you wives should be concerned in how to please your husbands. And we need to take careful consideration of these things. It is proper. It is right.

I think that, again, a man has to be gifted to live a single life. And that if God has not gifted you, as the scripture says, he who has found a wife has found a good thing and favor of the Lord. Paul is talking out of the concept that time is so short; we don't have time for these things now. And it could be that we are approaching that kind of a situation again as we come to the end of the age. However, the Bible does not speak despairingly of marriage, but does hold it up as God's plan and God's purpose for man. It is the natural thing. It is unnatural not to be married.

But if a man thinks that he behaving himself uncomely towards his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sins not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity ( 1 Corinthians 7:36-37 ),

Having no necessity is an important clause.

but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, he does well. So then he that gives her in marriage does well; but he that gives her not in marriage does better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abides, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God ( 1 Corinthians 7:37-40 ).

Now, in my judgment, she would be happier to remain unmarried. It is an interesting situation. It must be looked at in the light of the conditions in Corinth and in the light of Paul's concept that time was short and it was almost over.


Bibliographical Information
Smith, Charles Ward. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". "Smith's Bible Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/csc/1-corinthians-7.html. 2014.
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