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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 7

Expositor's Dictionary of TextsExpositor's Dictionary

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Verses 1-40

1 Corinthians 7:10 ; 1 Corinthians 7:12

'He can be nowise considered the disciple of Paul,' says Bacon in the De Augmentis Scientiarum, "who does not sometimes insert in his doctrines, "I, not the Lord," or again, "according to my counsel," which style is generally suited to inferences. Wherefore it appears to me that it would be of especial use and benefit if a temperate and careful treatise were instituted, which, as a kind of Divine logic, should lay down proper precepts touching the use of human reason in theology. For it would act as an opiate, not only to lull to sleep the vanity of curious speculations, wherewith sometimes the schools labour, but also in some degree to assuage the fury of controversies, wherewith the Church is troubled.' Again, in the Advancement of Learning (bk. II. xxv. 7), he observes that men, instead of saying, ego, non dominus , 'are now over-ready to usurp the style, non ego, dominus ; and not only so, but to bind it with the thunder and denunciations of curses and anathemas, to the terror of those which have not sufficiently learned out of Salomon that the causeless curse shall not come.'

References. VII. 10. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 70; ibid. (6th Series), vol. vi. p. 403. VII. 12, 25. Ibid. p. 71. VII. 14. Ibid. vol. ix. p. 13. VII. 16. W. H. Hutchings, Sermon Sketches, p. 241. VII. 17. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 405; ibid. (6th Series), vol. ii. p. 299. VII. 19. J. Iverach, Christian World Pulpit, vol. 1. p. 262. Bishop Bethell, Sermons, vol. ii. p. 307. A. P. Stanley, Canterbury Sermons, p. 222. J. Iverach, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xlvii. p. 342. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 92.

1 Corinthians 7:20

I am for permanence in all things, at the earliest possible moment, and to the latest possible. Blessed is he that continueth where he is! Here let us rest and lay out seed-fields; here let us learn to dwell. Here, even here, the orchards that we plant will yield us fruit; the acorns will be wood and pleasant umbrage, if we wait. How much grass everywhere, if we do but wait!... Not a difficulty but can transfigure itself into a triumph; not even a deformity, but, if our own soul have imprinted worth on it, will grow dear to us.

Carlyle, Past and Present (II. ch. v.).

'If there's anything our people want convincing of,' says Felix Holt, in chapter forty-five of George Eliot's novel, 'it is, that there's some dignity and happiness for a man other than changing his station.' Reference. VII. 20-24. Expositor (6th Series), vol. iv. p. 449.

1 Corinthians 7:21

'True it is,' Dr. Arnold wrote in 1840, 'that St Paul, expecting that the world was shortly to end, tells a man not to care even if he were in a state of personal slavery. That is an endurable evil which will shortly cease, not in itself only, but in its consequences. But even for the few years during which he supposed the world would exist, he say, "if thou mayst be made free, use it rather". For true it is that a great part of the virtues of human nature can scarcely be developed in a state of slavery, whether personal or political. The passive virtues may exist, the active ones suffer.'

1 Corinthians 7:24

The worst feature of the rustic mind in our day, is not its ignorance or grossness, but its rebellious discontent.... The bucolic wants to 'better' himself. He is sick of feeding cows and horses; he imagines that, on the pavement of London, he would walk with a manlier tread.

George Gissing, Private Papers of Henry Ryecroft, p. 201.

'Do not despise your situation,' says Amiel. 'In it you must act, suffer, and conquer. From every point on earth we are equally near to heaven and the infinite.

Thou cam'st not to thy place by accident,

It is the very place God meant for thee;

And shouldst thou there small scope for action see,

Do not for this give room to discontent;

Nor let the time thou owest to God be spent

In idly dreaming how thou mightest be,

In what concerns thy spiritual life, more free

From outward hindrance or impediment.

R. C. Trench.

We continually hear it recommended by sagacious people to complaining neighbours (usually less well placed in the world than themselves), that they should 'remain content in the station in which Providence has placed them'. There are perhaps some circumstances of life in which Providence has no intention that people should be content. Nevertheless, the maxim is on the whole a good one; but it is particularly for home use. That your neighbour should, or should not, remain content with his position, is not your business; but it is very much your business to remain content with your own. What is chiefly needed in England at the present day, is to show the quantity of pleasure that may be obtained by a consistent, well-administered competence, modest, confessed, and laborious. We need examples of people who, leaving heaven to decide whether they are to rise in the world, decide for themselves that they will be happy in it, and have resolved to seek not greater wealth but simpler pleasure, not higher fortune but deeper felicity.

Ruskin, Unto This Last (IV.).

References. VII. 22. C. S. Home, Relationships of Life, p. 85. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life (2nd Series), p. 58. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 20. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 103. VII. 23. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xx. No. 11G3 . Expositor (4th Series), vol. viii. p. 273. Expositor (5th Series), vol. vii. p. 374.

Service in a Lowly Sphere

1 Corinthians 7:24

It is not easy to every one to display the virtue of contentment. To be conscious of possessing powers which one never has an opportunity of exercising naturally arouses restlessness or despondency. The position of a slave, for example, in apostolic times must have been galling in the extreme. He might be, and often was, far superior to his owner in capacity and in culture, and yet had nothing he could call his own. But even he was exhorted, as a Christian, to serve the Lord Christ in the position he occupied, and to do so with cheerfulness and goodwill. Instead of struggling for his freedom, and so embittering his own lot, and that of other slaves, by a hopeless servile war, Paul urged that he should remain in the position he occupied when he was called to spiritual freedom. In his letter to the Church at Corinth, addressing slaves as well as citizens, the circumcised and the uncircumcised, Christians married and single, he said, 'Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called'. In other words, whether Christians are engaged in the doing of things great or small, they are to do them contentedly and devoutly, as part of their ministry unto the Lord. All is of His appointment, and all may be for His glory. He is glorified in us whenever and however our characters are developed and ennobled.

I. It may be well to confront the temptations which come to those who are only called to the ministry of little things, and to strip off the disguises of those spirits of evil who too often approach us as if they were angels of light.

Think of the temptation to indolence which assails a man whose work seems to him hardly worth the doing. Our Lord hinted at this in His well-known parable of the Talents, for it is the servant with only one talent who is represented as hiding it in the earth, instead of employing it for his master. The sin of neglecting one talent lay in the fact that the servant had one talent which he might either neglect or use.

Again, there are many who, in a commercial or professional career, are called to a post where drudgery is more obvious than recognition and reward. Unless they are able to accept their work as of God's appointment, and to believe that development of character may be as great a reward as an increase of income, they are likely to regard duty as hardly worth while, and do it carelessly, without heartiness or thoroughness. Thus the ideal becomes insensibly lowered from what it was at first, and the service of earth is no longer such a preparation for the service of heaven as it was meant to be.

II. How then can we resist these and other temptations? What encouragements can we think of which may help us to continue steadily and cheerfully in our ministry of little things?

(1) We may bethink ourselves of the value of unseen work in spheres outside our own.

(2) Think, too, of the effect of obscure and even menial work in preparing men for what is higher. We are all familiar with this in the spheres of human industry, and we have good reason to believe that the principle holds good in every sphere of Divine service; and he that is faithful in a few things will, on account of his fidelity, become a ruler over many things, in a realm unseen and eternal.

(3) This reminds us that God Himself notices the ministry which man often shrinks from or despises.

(4) We may be helped still further if we reflect that the well-beloved Son, in Whom the Father was well pleased, of His own free will undertook precisely such duties, and thus made them sacred to us who are His followers.

Alfred Rowland, The Exchanged Crowns, p. 97.

Reference. VII. 24. A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture Corinthians, p. 112.

1 Corinthians 7:26

Among the countless problems presented to the mind, there is none more difficult than to distinguish clearly between the will of Providence and the accidents, to be surmounted, of daily life to know when we should submit to circumstances, and when we should rise in rebellion against them.

John Oliver Hobbes, in The School for Saints (ch. XXL).

More than half a century of existence has taught me that most of the wrong and folly which darken earth is due to those who cannot possess their souls in quiet; that most of the good which saves men from destruction comes of life that is led in thoughtful stillness.

George Gissing, in The Private Papers of Harry Ryecroft, pp. 13, 14.

1 Corinthians 7:29

In the fifth chapter of Alton Locke, Kingsley makes Crossthwaite, the sturdy Radical, thank God he has no children, whereupon young Locke asks him in surprise if he is a believer in Malthusian doctrines. 'I believe them,' Crossthwaite answered, 'to be an infernal lie. I believe there is room on English soil for twice the number there is now; and when we get the Charter we'll prove it; we'll show that God meant living human heads and hands to be blessings and not curses, tools and not burdens. But in such times as these, let those who have wives be as though they had none as St. Paul said, when he told his people under the Roman Emperor to be above begetting slaves and martyrs. A man of the people should keep himself as free from encumbrances as he can just now. He will find it all the more easy to dare and suffer for the people when their turn comes.'

References. VII. 29. O. Bronson, Sermons, p. 136. J. Edwards, Preacher's Magazine, vol. iv. p. 555. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xlix. No. 2861. VII. 29-31. R. W. Church, Village Sermons, p. 305. J. H. Holford, Memorial Sermons, p. 232. J. Cumming, Penny Pulpit, No. 1504, p. 169. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 481.

The Brevity of Time

1 Corinthians 7:29-32

The text supplies us with three thoughts for consideration:

I. The fact of the constant passing away of time and all created things.

II. How the Christian should act in this transitory condition.

III. How such action brings blessed calmness in view of the fleeting time.

A. Maclaren.

Reference. VII. 29, 31, 32. J. Martineau, Endeavours After the Christian Life (2nd Series), p. 89.

Algebraic Religion

1 Corinthians 7:30

We are often challenged in Holy Writ to do a little spiritual algebra The great teachers have called in an x.

Let us see how this works out in various ways. The subject is Algebraic Religion. 'As if,' 'As though'; it is not so, but take it as if it were so.

I. Let us look at creation in the light of this suggestion; by creation I mean this great wondrous system of things, even so far as it reveals itself to the naked eye, and let us go through it, or such portion of it as is accessible, as if it had been Divinely made, as if it throbbed with God. We do not say that it does so, but we ask ourselves to believe for the moment that it is so; and then we want to test the ideality by what we know of the fact. We are to assume that God made it all.

What is the other idea? The other x is that all came to be nobody knows how. I could believe the first theory sooner. The other lame and blind x is that somehow things atoms, molecules, whatever the little things may be got together, laid their heads together in counsel and finally came out in the shape of a universe. No, I am willing to oblige you, but I cannot; it would relieve me of some difficulty if I could oblige you, if I could say that the whole conception of things is confusion, a harum-scarum without policy, a great, marvellous display of nothingness. But the one man asks me to believe that the universe was made and is administered by a personal, living, loving God; and the other man asks me to believe that the whole thing called the universe is after all nothing at all but just a little film or species of expanded gas or magnified vapour that really means nothing and had no beginning, has no reality, and will have no ending. No! I think I will go to church. Now that you suggest the idea and ask me to look at the universe as if it were the expression of a great personality, I thank you for the idea; it does look as if it might be so; but to suggest that it is the expression of nothing leads me to say that credulity is even greater than faith.

II. Let us look at man as if as though he were obeying a Divine impulse. We do not say that he is obeying such an impulse, we are simply saying, Let us look at man in the light of the suggestion that he may be obeying a Divine impulse and working out a Divine purpose. I must say here, as I said a moment ago, that when I take in great breadths of human history it seems as if man, total man, were being machined, administered, and educated, and set to a great purpose by some living, mysterious, inscrutable Personality. What is the other x? The other x is: Man is a mere anecdote, a sort of crude and incoherent fact, generally a nuisance, not knowing whether he came from the east or from the west; a drunken kind of intoxicated and muddled dream of a thing. No; I will not walk one moment in company with that assumption. But when you ask me to look at man in great breadths of development and education and progress, as if he were working out a Divine purpose, you make a strong appeal to my reason.

There is order in all the development of life; God is ruling, directing. I might not myself have conceived that notion, but now that you suggest it, it seems to me wonderful that I never thought of it before. That is the way with all great discoveries, with all illuminated sayings and poems. The man who has been most with God speaks sentences that we ourselves would have spoken if they had occurred to us; we know their origin when we hear their music.

Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. v. p. 88.

How to Use the World

1 Corinthians 7:31

If St. Paul can give us guidance as to our relation to the world, it will indeed be opportune, for it is indeed a problem that is continually before us. And here is such guidance 'Use the world, as not abusing it'. Short and pregnant, but somewhat perplexing! It comes at the end of a passage which leads up to this. 'It remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.'

It comes, as you see, at the climax, after St. Paul has been discussing various departments of the world; and it is, therefore, a summary of men's attitude to the world as a whole. But that very word 'world' is so perplexing. What is meant? The word has so many uses. Is St. Paul thinking of that lurid world into which Faust went off to drown himself in a great sea of new and wild experiences? Or is he thinking of the world upon which the hermits turned their backs, not willing to touch it at all, but anxious only to escape into a wilderness, and to be far from the clamour of all the world? Or is he thinking of that more ordinary world such as faces you and me day after day, into which we peer with a good deal of uncertainty and perplexity this world which we know we have renounced, and which yet is always close upon us, which presents such vast difficulty in front of us?

Well, certainly, 'the world' has many meanings of that sort; ana equally certainly St. Paul is speaking here of the world, not necessarily in the sense of the evil world, but rather, may I not say? of a neutral world. Not the evil world, to which the word is so often applied in Holy Scripture, being that view of the universe which has left God out of account; but a neutral, and as yet ambiguous, world which may become to us that wrong world, if we go on looking upon it as a scheme wherein we may dispense with the thought of God; but may, on the other hand, if we will regard it aright, be to us God's world, indeed, nothing else but the kingdom of heaven. It is that world clearly; for St. Paul says we are to use it.

I. Given this world, we are to use it, but to use it as not abusing it; and there is our second difficulty. We are willing enough to do our best to use this world, but it is this limitation upon our use that is perplexing. Let me make to you two suggestions as to what this involves 'using the world as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world passeth away'. It means, then, in the first place, that we enter into the world, for it is the place that we cannot do without. The world is the familiar sphere that we know, and, therefore, our use of it does not involve a change of circumstances. It is not an appeal to us to leave our London and go into a desert if we can find one, or in any form to change our circumstances. What is wanted, if we are to use the world without abusing it, is not a change of position, change of climate, change of scene not a change of circumstances in any shape, but a changed view, a view of the world as God's world.

II. Secondly, it involves also in us, not merely a change of view, but an attitude with regard to the world. We must be the conquerors of the world. There is no other alternative open to us. Either I must conquer the world or infallibly the world will conquer me. There is nothing intermediate between the two. And, therefore, if we are to use the world as not abusing it, it must be that we have obtained the position of mastery over it, that we have conquered the world. Unless we have done that, the world is our master; unless we attain that, then every single detail and item in our world has a supremacy over us instead of our having mastery over it: and that whole vast complex world, unless we have conquered it, becomes a conspiracy against us. I cannot use it without misuse unless I have, in some form or another, and somehow in some way, conquered it and made it my weapon, my means, my tool.

III. We have got to come back in detail to all those different departments of our world, and there, in the power of the cross, do our bits of renunciation. There are many steps that lead up to the cross of Calvary, and much of the way is uphill, and many steps are blood-stained; it is only by slow degrees and with great difficulty and halting footsteps and failing heart and courage that we can make our way there, or even take the pains the pains! for it is that of conquering the world. But as you do it step by step and day after day a transformation takes place as you know a transformation of yourself and a transformation of your surroundings. Each bit of the renunciation that you make is a victory; each victory that you gain lets you into a larger sphere; each opening out of your sphere sets you in a more glorious fellowship with the Saints. And so as we go on day by day our world expands and victories increase; our knowledge of God is enhanced, our nearness to the Saviour is made more near. We ourselves wake up to find ourselves changed men in a changed universe a universe that is for us no longer a mere conspiracy against us no longer an evil world which we can only renounce, but, thank God, a kingdom of heaven of which, by His grace, we are the inheritors.

W. H. Frere, The Church Times, 20th November, 1908.


1 Corinthians 7:31

We all speak of the tyranny of fashion; and yet we most of us obey it. There are some people who seem to think that in regard to manners as well as habits and usages, all are sufficiently condemned if you call them old-fashioned; all are sufficiently recommended if you can only describe them as being in the very latest fashion, and the point that I want to emphasise is this, that if the Bible counts for anything, and if the Lord Jesus Christ, His character and His teaching, goes for anything, then all standards, all styles, all methods, all usages, be they fashionable or not, have got to be brought to the test of a certain fashion that He set a fashion of thinking, a fashion of living and of attitude towards life, and that by that they shall be justified, or by that they shall be condemned.

I. Undue deference to fashion must result in a peril to your sincerity. What I want to urge upon you is this: that for the sake of something which after all is an artificial advantage you are sacrificing the substantial advantages of life. And what does it come to after all? To a matter of pretence, to a matter of hypocrisy, to an attempt to appear to be something that we are not: in point of fact it comes to the sin against which Jesus Christ waged His most ceaseless war, insincerity, hypocrisy, the ugly venomous poisonous fruit of the tree of the idolatry of fashion. If you believe for a single moment that by the use of any form or phrase you are either deceiving yourself, or deceiving another person, it is your bounden duty as a Christian to make yourself more explicit.

II. The peril to individuality and personality from the undue deference or idolatry of fashion is a very real peril in our time, and in all times the slave of fashion ceases to be himself or herself, becomes a mere mirror into which you look in order to see the reflection of their times. You look into their lives not to discover their own personal wealth and riches, but in order to see reflected there something which they have mirrored of the world outside. Dare to be yourself. Resolve from the very first that you will not be slaves of any mere shibboleth, any mere formula, any mere usage of society. Think of the one and only Leader who is worthy of our homage, I mean the Lord Jesus Christ, of whom it was written in golden words that He was made in fashion as a man, and He made manhood the fashion, so that our late Laureate rose and said about Him, 'The highest holiest manhood Thou'. That is the only fashion worth having. Nothing is ever going to surpass it

C. S. Horne, Christian World Pulpit, vol. LXX. p. 273.

References. VII. 31. George Adam Smith, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xliv. p. 44. E. A. Askew, The Service of Perfect Freedom, p. 13. J. Vaughan, Fifty Sermons (9th Series), p. 199. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. liii. No. 3032. Expositor (4th Series), vol. ii. p. 261. VII. 32. J. S. Maver, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lix. p. 46. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxviii. No. 1692. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 372; ibid. vol. iv. p. 398; ibid. vol. vii. p. 372. VII. 33. Ibid. (5th Series), vol. vi. p. 420.

1 Corinthians 7:33

'I'll never marry,' says Felix Holt in George Eliot's novel of that name, 'though I should have to live on raw turnips to subdue my flesh. I'll never look back and say, "I had a fine purpose once I meant to keep my hands clean, and my soul upright, and to look truth in the face; but pray excuse me, I have a wife and children I must lie and simper a little, else they'll starve"; or, "My wife is nice, she must have her bread well buttered, and her feelings will be hurt if she is not thought genteel". That is the lot Miss Esther is preparing for some man or other.'

1 Corinthians 7:34

In the third chapter of Adam Bede, George Eliot makes Seth plead thus with Dinah Morris: 'I know you think a husband 'ud be taking up too much o' your thoughts, because St. Paul says, "She that's married careth for the things of the world how she may please her husband"; and may happen you'll think me overbold to speak to you about it again, after what you told me o' your mind last Saturday. But I've been thinking it over again by night and day, and I've prayed not to be blinded by my own desires, to think what's only good for me must be good for you too, and it seems to me there's more texts for your marrying than ever you can find against it.'

References. VII. 34, 35. Bishop Gore, Christian World Pulpit, vol. lvi. p. 150. VII. 38. Expositor (6th Series), vol. i. p. 285.

Bibliographical Information
Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/edt/1-corinthians-7.html. 1910.
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