The New Testament Teaching On Marriage And Divorce
1 Corinthians 7:1-17
Now concerning the things whereof ye 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. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath 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. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. And unto 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. But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be 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. But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, 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 ordain I in all churches. (vv. 1-17)
This seventh chapter deals with a subject that has caused a great deal of confusion down through the centuries. The marriage relationship occupies a large place in the Word of God, both in the Old Testament and in the New. The teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and the direct ministry of the Holy Spirit after our Lord’s ascension puts this whole matter on a very high plane, so that marriage for a Christian becomes God’s own wonderful picture of “the mystic union,” as we often say in the marriage ceremony, “that subsists between Christ and the church.” We can quite understand that in the early church there were a great many irregularities to be corrected in regard to this entire subject. There was a certain laxity permitted in Israel under the law which our Lord Jesus Christ forbade in the dispensation of grace. Then again in the heathen world around conditions were such that it was probably a difficult thing to find persons whose attitude in regard to marriage was at all like that of the New Testament church. Therefore, there was of necessity very plain speaking.
In the first part of this chapter the apostle is evidently dealing with questions that have been propounded to him and says, “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” People have drawn from this that the apostle was an advocate of celibacy, and the Roman church is very fond of pointing to this verse as though it taught that the unmarried monk or priest or the unwedded nun is a holier person just because of their state and condition in regard to this matter than the Christian husband or wife, father or mother. The apostle does not say that; but he speaks of serving the Lord without distraction particularly in a time of persecution, and this passage does refer to such a time. Farther on he says, “It is good for the present distress.” He wrote in a day when to become a Christian, to be publicly baptized as confessing Christ, meant to put one’s very life in jeopardy. Under such conditions it might really be best that a man should not be married at all. Yet he recognized certain inherited tendencies of human nature which might make such a condition a very dangerous one and might work against purity, against the highest type of morality, instead of working for greater holiness, and so says, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.” He stresses the mutual relationship of each to the other. The husband is to “render unto the wife due benevolence.” As the apostle Peter very beautifully puts it, “giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7), and the wife on her part is to see that she reverences her husband. They are to remember that having entered into this relationship neither is any longer his or her own master, but they have agreed to subject themselves one to another, and there can be no happy Christian home unless that is recognized.
“The wife,” he tells us, “hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.” And so they are to be sure that they pay due regard to one another’s conjugal rights. There may be circumstances when they might draw apart from each other, they might separate the one from the other for a limited time, but let them be careful not to do so, “Except it be with consent [by mutual agreement] for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.” All down through the Christian dispensation there have been sects and strange teachers who have advocated the celibate condition even for persons already entered into the marriage relationship, and have sought to inculcate the idea that in order to serve the Lord better husbands and wives should live entirely apart one from the other. The apostle says that to attempt such a life as that is only to place yourself in a position of great temptationther again,” very good, but let them be careful that they do not run off into some strange inconsistency if they attempt this.
“I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.” Some people have pointed to this verse and said, “You see, the apostle himself does not always claim to be inspired. In this portion he declares that he is speaking only by permission and not commandment, and therefore he was not inspired of God.” Oh, no, he is just as truly inspired to give this permission as he is a little farther on to give a direct command. But what may be permitted in one family might throw another family into hopeless confusion. Here is a family with a number of little children, and the wife gets a high notion of the demands of personal holiness and comes to her husband and says, “My dear, I want to be altogether for God, and so I am going to request that I separate entirely from you for a time. I am going to some spiritual retreat. You get along with the children as best you can!” It would throw the entire family into confusion. She would glorify the Lord better by looking after the children than by spending the time on her knees in some retreat, just as many a Christian today would glorify God far better looking after the growing children at home than being at a meeting every night.
Let us not forget that God established the home before He created the church, and when people are married they have a tremendous responsibility resting upon them. No one feels that more keenly than one who, like myself, is separated to the gospel of God. I do not know how often I have felt like crying out with the bride in the Canticles, “They made me the keeper of the vineyard, but mine own vineyard have I not kept.” It is one of the difficult things for a servant of Christ called to travel through the world with the gospel message to give the time he should give in training his children in the fear of God, but where people do not have such a calling they should be especially concerned about their responsibility in the home. I think God must have some special place in heaven for preachers’ wives. They have had so much more to contend with than the average woman. If the children go wrong, folks wag their heads and say, “Queer kind of a mother.” Probably the trouble was that the father was not able to cooperate with her more, and the children may have stepped to one side. And yet how God honors preachers’ wives. Somebody said that preachers’ children are always the worst. I cannot boast of my own, though I do thank God for saving them all. But you will find that some of the greatest names on the pages of history are preachers’ children. In 2 Chronicles where the kings of Israel and Judah are given, when you read of a man being especially willful or especially good, you read, “His mother’s name was so and so.” Sad indeed when a child has an evil mother! Then you can scarcely expect much good from him.
The household, you see, might be thrown into hopeless confusion if husband and wife were to separate one from the other, but in other households such times of retirement may be arranged. And so the apostle does not mean that he is not inspired when he says, “I speak this by permission, and not of commandment,” but he does mean that the Spirit of God allowed him to give them this permission but not to command them. It is nowhere commanded that husband and wife should for any time separate from each other.
And then Paul says, “I would that all men were even as I myself.” For the gospel’s sake he chose to remain unmarried, and in circumstances such as many were passing through, the single state was to be preferred, other things being equal.
Having once entered into the marriage relationship he says in verse 10: “Unto the married I command [now we have not merely permission but commandment], yet not I, but the Lord.” What does he mean by that? Simply this, he was just repeating something that the Lord has already said unto the married. He was reminding them of what the Lord has already said in Matthew 5:31-32: “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: but I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery.” Those are the solemn words of the Lord Jesus. In the nineteenth chapter of the same gospel, he gives just one change which permits the innocent party in a divorce to marry again according to Scripture. There we read: “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh. Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder” (Matthew 19:5-6). I have heard people try to get around that by subterfuge and say, “I don’t believe the Lord joined us together; I think the Devil did it; and therefore, I think we are free to get a divorce and marry somebody else.”
God pronounced the words in the garden of Eden, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It is He who joins people together in the marriage relationship, and once joined in that relationship they should never break it.
“They say unto him, Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” (Matthew 19:7). In the law of Moses this was permitted. In a hard, rough age when men were often very uncouth and cruel, God commanded that instead of holding a wife who was disliked and hated as a kind of slave or chattel, she should be given a writing of divorce and permitted to go home to her people. But now under the dispensation of grace when men are born again and transformed by the Spirit of God, no such thing is tolerated. “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife [now observe], except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committeth adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (vv. 8-9). Notice, there is a sin which dissolves the marriage relationship and if one partner is guilty of that sin, he may be put away and the other party is free, and if married again, the new marriage is not called adultery. There are those who are so legal that they refuse to take note of that “except,” but the Son of God has put it there in order that the innocent party may not have the onus of immorality on him or her. There you have the New Testament standard given by the Lord Himself.
“And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband.” But he immediately adds, “But and if she depart.” What is implied there? There may be circumstances where no self-respecting woman could continue in the marriage relationship with some man, there may be circumstances where a man is so absolutely brutal or so vile and filthy and perverted in his whole character, that no decent, good woman could live with him, and in that case it is evident from this that she is free to leave him but not to be divorced and remarried unless she has definite New Testament ground for it. “If she depart, let her remain unmarried.” Circumstances may make it necessary for her to leave, but if so, let her remain unmarried. “And let not the husband put away his wife.” If she is obliged thus to leave a brutal man, she can at least continue to remember him before God in prayer and it may be that through her prayers the day will come when he will be broken down by divine grace and saved. If that day comes, and he beseeches her now to return to him, she can go back to find him a new man, and make a home for him once more, but if she has already entered into another relationship, think of the pitiable condition she would be in.
“But to the rest speak I, not the Lord.” Is he not speaking by inspiration? Keep in mind the whole argument. “Unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord.” The Lord has already spoken in this matter. Then he says, “To the rest speak I, not the Lord.” The Lord has not already spoken, but Paul speaks now by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and he is laying down a divine principle in regard to a matter on which the Lord had not already legislated. “If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.” This did not come up in the Lord’s time on earth for He came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. Now Paul is speaking to Gentiles, and it was a common thing for one member of the family to be converted and the others not. Think of a case where a man in Corinth has been saved but his wife is a devotee of the heathen cults and is indignant that he no longer burns incense to these idols, and yet she is willing to live with him. “Let him not put her away.” He is not to assume self-righteous ground and say, “I am a Christian and cannot acknowledge you as my wife any longer.”
In Israel if a Jew were married to a pagan, he had to put her away, she was unclean in the sight of God. But under grace if a pagan wife is pleased to dwell with her Christian husband, let him show her all due kindness and consideration and seek to be a blessing to her. And if it is the case of a woman who has been converted, we read, “And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be 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.” If you turn to the last chapter of Ezra, you will find that in Israel many Jews had entered into alliances with women from among the heathen, and there were many children speaking half in the language of Ashdod and the other half in the language of Israel. When the husband is a Christian and the wife is not, the children will generally speak half in the language of heaven and half in the language of earth. It is a difficult thing to bring them up for God in a mixed home like that. He said, “You will have to put all these wives and children away as unclean.” But notice the difference in grace. “For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife.” He may be hard, he may be wicked, he may hate the very name of Jesus, but he has been brought outwardly into a new relationship with God through the conversion of his wife. There is now somebody in that home to pray, somebody who loves the Word of God, somebody to live the Christian life, and let the others see what it means to be regenerated. I may be addressing wives who are breaking their hearts over unsaved husbands. Will you not take comfort from this, “The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife”? Or I may be addressing husbands who are grieved because the wives that they love are still out of Christ. You too may be comforted, for “the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband.” Keep on praying, keep on bearing them up before God, believing that if He has saved you out of an unconverted family, it is because He wants the whole household for Himself. That is what is indicated when the pagan jailer cried, “What must I do to be saved?” and the answer came ringing and clear, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). In other words, God is saying, “Jailer, I not only want you, I not only want to cleanse your heart, but I want to make your household a Christian one, a testimony to My grace right there in Philippi,” and so it came to pass. So keep on praying. And your children are sanctified because they have a father or a mother, as the case may be, to take them to God in prayer and to teach them the Word of God, and you can count on Him to bless that ministry to them by bringing them eventually to Christ.
But, next, we may suppose a case where the unsaved one will not remain. Very well, “If the unbelieving depart, let him depart.” You cannot do anything about it. “A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases.” But then, you see, you live your own life in widowhood to the glory of the Lord Jesus. Do not look around for another mate. If the unbelieving depart, then you devote yourself to Christ and His glory and keep on praying for the wandering one, for “God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?” Even though he is gone, even though he has left the home, keep on praying for him, for how do you know when God may intervene and bring him back penitent and brokenhearted to try to make up for the willfulness of the past by living a kindly devoted life with you. Farther on we read, “How knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” She has gone because you love Jesus and she does not. Do not be too hard in your thoughts, pray and ask yourself, “Was there something in me that should have been different that turned her away? If I had a little more grace and Christlikeness, might she have remained?” Bear her up before God, and if the day comes that she is ready to return, receive her as God receives His erring ones when they come back to Him.
“But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.” These are not just matters with which we may play fast and loose. If you are a Christian and a member of a Christian church, these are divine requirements concerning the marriage relationship ordained for all the churches.
Why is God so insistent about this? Because from the beginning it was His thought that the marriage relationship should set forth the union between Christ and His redeemed, and when people are married they take each other for life. Many of you remember when you stood before the minister and he said, “Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife? Will you love, honor, and cherish her so long as you both shall live?” and you said, “I will.” Have you lived up to it? And you remember when he said to the woman, “Do you take this man to be your lawfully wedded husband? Will you love, honor, and obey him so long as you both shall live?” and you answered, “I will.” Does your conscience tell you that you have been true to that vow? You entered into a relationship that day that pictures the relationship between the soul and the Savior. Away back in the Old Testament when Rebecca had become the affianced wife of Isaac, they thought she should not leave her home immediately and so decided to call her and see what she had to say about it. They put the question, “Wilt thou go with this man?” and without a moment’s hesitation she answered, “I will go,” and she went across the desert to be united to Isaac.
Unsaved one, my blessed Lord has sent me to you with a message of His love and kindness. He wants you to enter into an eternal union with Himself. Wilt thou go with this Man, the Man Christ Jesus?
The Time Is Short
1 Corinthians 7:18-40
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. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called being a servant? care not for it: but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather. For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman: likewise also he that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men. 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. I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be. Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife. But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you. But this I say, brethren, the time is short: 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. But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: but he that is married careth 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 careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth 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, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction. But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry. Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well. So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better. The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; 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 abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God. (vv. 18-40)
In the earlier portion of this chapter the apostle, by the Holy Spirit, laid down for us the Christian standard of marriage, showing that with a single exception, which the Lord Himself has indicated in Matthew 19, marriage is indissoluble, the marriage relationship once entered into cannot be broken with impunity, and if any one attempts to break it and marries another, he is guilty of the sin of adultery, the violation of the seventh commandment. That at once raises a question, for there are many people who have had rather unhappy marital experiences before their conversion, and have been separated from husband or wife. Remarriage has taken place, and while they are in such circumstances the grace of God finds them and they are saved. What of them? The apostle makes that point clear when he says, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.” He illustrates this in this way: If you were called, if God saved you as a Jew, do not try to Gentilize yourself but just remain a Jew. Though you are now a member of the body of Christ you cannot undo what you are by nature, and you cannot undo what has taken place before you were converted. On the other hand, if you were a Gentile before you were converted, and now find yourself in a community, as many did in those days, of Jewish believers, do not attempt to Judaize, do not try to make a Hebrew of yourself, for that is impossible. You are saved as a Gentile, God opened the door of faith to you as a Gentile, He took you up as you were; therefore abide with God. To be either Jew or Gentile means nothing now. The great thing for the future is obedience to the Word of God.
Now that you are a Christian you have a new standard by which to live, for God has given His Word to you. That applies where people have had rather mixed experiences along the line of marriage and divorce. When they are converted, all the past is wiped out by the precious blood of Christ. God called them and He saved them in the condition in which He found them. He did not ask, for instance, that the husband and wife who had been married contrary to Christian principles separate in order to be saved. He took them as they were, made them members of Christ, and He recognizes them as His own who have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit and cleansed by the blood of Christ. Now let them abide in the relationship in which His grace has found them, and by living faithfully as husband and wife adorn the doctrine of Christ.
The apostle continues by saying, “Art thou called being a servant?” The word for “servant” is “bondman,” and when this epistle was written slavery extended over the entire world and many of the early Christians were slaves. “Art thou called being a slave? care not for it.” Do not get restless because of that. You are the Lord’s freeman, but if you are set at large, then use your liberty for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ. “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman.” He is no longer a slave in God’s eyes, he is free to serve Christ; and as the slave serves the earthly master it is a wonderful thing for him to realize, “I am not simply serving my master, I am serving the Lord Christ. He called me in these circumstances, and here I am to glorify Him.” And he that is free is not to say, “Well, I have no master, I am free, I am not a slave; I can do as I will.” Oh, no! He says, “He that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant,” and he uses the same word again, Christ’s “bondman.” He has been bought, he has been purchased, and so is never to seek to have his own way but is to take the way of the Lord.
“Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.” And then he reiterates, “Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.” That brings in a restriction. I may be saved in a certain calling in which, after all, I could not abide with God.
And then he reverts to what he had been speaking of in the early part of the chapter. “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.” Some would say, “Well, the apostle recognized that he was not inspired when he wrote this.” Not at all. He is simply telling us that the Lord has given him no commandment to say that a virgin must marry or must not marry, but he gives by inspiration his judgment in the matter. He was a wise pastor who recognized the conditions prevailing at that time, and said, “I suppose, therefore, that this is good for the present distress.” The days in which this letter was written were days of great persecution, of fearful suffering, when one might have to flee at a moment’s notice and leave home and loved ones for Christ’s sake. And so Paul is saying, “For the present distress I should say this is the best thing.”
“Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed.” If you are bound to a wife, do not, of course, seek to break the tie; but, “Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.” But if one says, “Yes, but I have found one who appeals very much to my heart and I would like to make her my wife,” if she is willing to share with you the risk and danger, “If thou marry, thou hast not sinned.” On the other hand, “If a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.” It is not a question of taking vows and saying, “I will or I will not marry.” It is a matter of being guided by the Lord under existing circumstances.
“But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none.” The apostle says, “Whatever you do, keep in mind that you are here for only a little while, and you are here to glorify God and that is far more important than to seek your own happiness. You are living in difficult times, in perplexing days, but your hope is the Lord’s near return.” This is always the blessed hope for the Christian, and they were to live with that in view. “This I say, brethren, the time is short: 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.” In other words, we are not to allow any temporal relationship or any human occupation to hinder our fellowship with God or our obedience to His will. When he says, “It remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none,” he does not mean that they are to disown their wives, to be cold and indifferent toward them, or hard and unkind. Nothing like that, for he has already inculcated the very opposite principle. He means that the one thing to live for is not your own happiness as husband and wife, but if you are united in the Lord, see that your great business is to live for Him.
A dear friend of mine spent a great deal of his time traveling around the world giving out the gospel and his precious wife remained at home perhaps two-thirds of the year caring for the little family. I once said to her, “It must get awfully lonely for you. You hardly have any married life living like this.” Her eyes filled with tears, and she said, “The day my husband and I were married we promised each other we would never let our personal comfort interfere with our devotion to the work of the Lord, and I believe He called my husband for this great evangelistic ministry, and therefore I am glad to keep the house while he goes out to his work.” I said, “I have a choice tidbit for you. Have you noticed what David said concerning those that abide by the stuff while the others go out to war? He said, ‘As his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff’ (1 Samuel 30:24). And so if you carry out your part, when the judgment seat of Christ is set up and you and your husband stand there before God, if he has thousands of precious souls to his credit for whom he is to be rewarded in that day, you will get half of it, even though you could not go out and do the preaching, for the Lord says that those who abide by the stuff shall share with those that go to battle.” That is the principle. Every one is to act in view of the fact that the time indeed is fleeting, the Lord’s return is nearing, and no consideration of personal comfort is to be allowed to hinder devotion to the will of God.
And then Paul adds, “They that weep, as though they wept not.” The causes of weeping will soon be over and God shall wipe away all tears from our eyes. It does not say that you must not weep; but if you do, it is to be as though you wept not. Who are the folk who weep not? They are the happy people; and though you weep you can be joyful, even in the midst of sorrow, if you are looking on to the glad day of the Lord’s return.
And then, “They that buy, as though they possessed not.” You cannot get through this world without buying; it is impossible to live in this scene without something for physical comfort as you go along. But do not set your heart upon such possessions, do not let your affections be entwined about earthly things. As you go through this world it is perfectly right and proper to enjoy many privileges: “He giveth us richly all things to enjoy”; “and they that use this world, as not abusing it.” In other words, do not let the spirit if the world get hold of you. While enjoying the good things that God in His grace lavishes upon you do not set your heart upon them, for they are all fleeting, they will be gone someday. If your treasure is all here, if your heart is set upon things here, when everything here has disappeared, what will you have left? If you have Christ, you will have that which satisfies the soul when everything else is gone.
Remember that the “fashion of this world passeth away.” The apostle is careful to explain that in what he has to say in regard to the single life, as under certain circumstances preferable and possibly wiser than to enter the marriage relation, he does not mean to put people under legal restriction. It is evident it was necessary for him to explain this because within a century-and-a-half after these words were written monasticism had come into the church. People were living in deserts and caves as hermits; they had dedicated themselves to the Lord and taken a vow that they would never marry. Communities of monks and nuns were supposed to be holier than other people, because thus dedicated to a virgin life. The apostle says, “I am not urging anything like that upon you when I speak. It may be wiser for the present distress that you do not marry,” but in the thirty-second verse he says, “I would have you without carefulness.” That is simply, I would have you without anxiety.
In the midst of persecution what crushing anxiety must of necessity rest upon the heart of a husband and father if away for a time, knowing that the family is exposed perhaps to a cruel and awful death. He cannot get them out of his mind and he will find it difficult if away on a mission, to serve the Lord without distraction, and so he says, “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” He may say, “I have only one life anyway, and if called to lay it down for the Lord, very well.” It may be a great deal harder if he has to think of wife and children in grave danger because of affliction and persecution.
“He that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” He that is married is necessarily anxious about temporal things. When he says, “Careth for the things of the world,” it is not meant as a slur as though it were wrong, but it means that he cares for temporal things; he has to think of the provision for and the safety of his loved ones. It is very right and proper that he should. There is the same difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman, if dedicated to the work of the Lord, cares for the things of the Lord that she may be holy in body and in soul. Some of the most wonderful Christians that have ever lived have been women who for Christ’s sake chose never to marry, but to devote their lives to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ. I never quite understand why married people who have the comforts of home often speak in a disparaging and unkind way of unmarried people. I should think, if marriage is so delightful, that married people would speak in a very tender and sympathetic way of people who have not married, but instead of that they speak sometimes in such a contemptuous way. I never like to hear people say, “Oh, she is just an old maid!” or, “He is just an old bachelor!” Wait a moment, he whom you so designate may be glorifying the Lord in a way he could not have done if he were the head of a household, and she of whom you speak may be one who is rendering wonderful service to God and humanity. I repeat, some of the most devoted Christians I have ever known have been unmarried men and women who gave themselves wholly to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. All honor to them!
But now he says, “And this I speak for your own profit”-I do not want to cast a snare upon you, you are perfectly free to choose in the Lord which life you would lead. I am simply exhorting you concerning that which is seemly-”that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.” But if, after thinking it all over, after living up to the present time of life unmarried, you think it might be better for you to marry, very well, do what you will; you do not sin in being married. But on the other hand, if you can stand steadfast in your heart, if you do not feel any particular yearning for the marriage relationship, and have decreed in your heart to live singly, do so. Whether you keep your virginity or whether you do not, you are doing well, if unto the Lord. “He that giveth her in marriage doeth well,” but under these circumstances, “he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.”
And then he concludes by laying down the definite principle, “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth.” Mark this; do not let any one miss this; it does not say, “as long as the man liveth”; it says, “as long as her husband liveth.” If he who was her husband became an adulterer, he has broken the marriage relationship. While he may be forgiven, yet nevertheless, our Lord Jesus shows that there is one sin that dissolves the relationship. “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” What does that mean? It means a great deal more than just following your own fancy. It means a great deal more than, “in Christ.” We are distinctly told that the Christian is not to be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. If you are a Christian and unmarried, and you have never thought this through, take it home. If you ever contemplate marriage, put it out of your mind at once that you might possibly marry somebody who is unsaved. That would be positive disobedience to the Word of God. “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14). Of course if you are saved while married to an unsaved person, we have had instruction not to leave but to pray that they may be brought to Christ. But if you are not married, settle it in your mind that you will never permit your affections to be entwined around an unsaved person.
An old Puritan said, “If you are a child of God, and you marry a child of the Devil, you will be sure to have trouble with your father-in-law.” Do not forget it. For a child of God to take the Devil for his father-in-law will be a fearful mistake; nothing but trouble will follow, for God has said so in His Word. You say, “Well, I am thinking of being married, so I must marry a Christian person.” True, but there is something even more than that. Let your marriage be “in the Lord.” One is to be led by the Lord in this important matter as truly as in anything else, and so, marriage “in the Lord” is marriage in subjection to Him whom we own as Lord and Christ. “Oh,” you say, “then if I marry in the Lord, I will always be happy and never have any troubles!” Not necessarily, but when the troubles come you can say, “The Lord gave me this husband, or wife, and the Lord will give me grace to get along with him, or her.” When you know it is of the Lord, the Lord will enable you to get through to His honor and glory.
“But,” the apostle says, “she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment”; and he is giving inspired judgment, but not a command. It is good sound judgment. You know it is often proven that the second marriage is a mistake. Of course sometimes it is a blessing.
Then I think there is a little irony in the last part of this verse, for there were some people questioning Paul’s apostleship and judgment, and so he says, “She is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the mind of Christ.” In other words, “They say I haven’t, but I think I have.” He wrote these words as truly by inspiration as when he penned that matchless eighth chapter of Romans.
Let me bring you back to those words, “This I say, brethren, the time is short.” We have but a little while to testify for God. Christian, shall we not seek to use every moment for His glory? Shall we not seek in every calling wherein He has called us to abide and be used in blessing for a lost world? Shall we not put out of our lives anything that hinders fellowship with God and usefulness in testimony?
If you are unsaved, take these words home: “The time is short.” The time when mercy is being offered is slipping by.
Life at best is very brief,
Like the falling of a leaf,
Like the binding of a sheaf:
Be in time!
Fairest flowers soon decay,
Youth and beauty pass away,
Oh, you have not long to stay:
Be in time!
Our Lord’s return draws near, death too is ever following on your track and you are still out of Christ. In grace He “came from Godhead’s fullest glory down to Calvary’s depth of woe” for your redemption. Does He not deserve to have you trust Him and confess Him openly as your Savior? “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9).
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Ironside, H. A. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". Ironside's Notes on Selected Books. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week after Epiphany