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Thursday, June 13th, 2024
the Week of Proper 5 / Ordinary 10
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Bible Commentaries
1 Corinthians 7

Kretzmann's Popular Commentary of the BibleKretzmann's Commentary

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Verses 1-5

Instructions with Regard to Marriage.

The propriety and the duty of marriage:

v. 1. Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

v. 2. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

v. 3. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence, and likewise also the wife unto the husband.

v. 4. 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.

v. 5. 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.

This chapter contains St. Paul's great lesson on the state of marriage, which must be compared with the various passages, especially in the Old Testament, where the holy estate of matrimony is described. In the present chapter it should be noted that its principles are true for all times, but that the special application which St. Paul makes refers to the circumstances as they were found in his days, especially in the congregation at Corinth. This distinction is observed in the text in such a way that the principles of which St. Paul treats are introduced as the commands of the Lord, his special application for the case submitted to him as his judgment or advice. See vv. 1:26-29. The occasion of the discussion was a question or inquiry which had been put to the apostle by the Corinthians: But concerning that about which you wrote, the matters submitted in your letter. The questions were apparently the following: Should a person be married or not? What about the specific duties of marriage? Is the dissolution of the marriage-tie permissible if the one party is a Gentile?

Paul's answer to the first question: It is right, morally befitting, honorable, praiseworthy (in the sense of "not to be condemned") for one, for a person, not to touch a woman. It is not to be inferred, as the false ascetics will have it, that even the mere physical touch of a woman's hand or skin will pollute a man, although under circumstances a handclasp, the slightest brushing against the skin of a woman, may become an unlawful caress and a pollution. St. Paul is here obviously speaking of true celibacy, based upon the gift of chastity in its strictest interpretation, and defending it against those who thought it inhuman. As Luther says, "it behooved St. Paul not to leave those without consolation who preferred to live a celibate life. " But he hurries to add: But on account of the sins of immorality let everyone have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. The situation in those days was much as it is today: the sins of profligacy, of libertinism, of every form of immorality were so prevalent that it truly demanded an unusual measure of the gift of chastity to remain pure in the midst of so many temptations. Then, as now, the only way to be successful in fleeing fornication was in seeking the chastity of marriage. He is speaking, of course, of a Christian marriage, in which a man has only one, his own, wife, and a woman has only one, her proper, husband. St. Paul did not dream of an impossible sanctity, but he dealt with the situation as it actually existed, and he prescribed the remedy which the Lord had provided. For the marital relationship between husband and wife, although it cannot, on account of inherent sin, be an altogether pure and undefiled service of God, is yet no immorality in itself, since the natural inclination of the sexes is in this instance sanctified by God's institution, and married people have that consolation that God's grace in Christ covers whatever is still present of the old flesh in their intercourse.

Of the specific duty of marriage the apostle says: To the wife let the husband render the due, but likewise the wife to the husband. The wife has not power over her own body, but the husband; but likewise also the husband has not power over his own body, but the wife. When a man or woman enters into the state of holy matrimony, he or she places the body at the service of the other in honorable and undefiled intercourse. Each, therefore, possesses a legitimate claim upon the body of the other, and neither caprice nor mere passion should govern such use, Hebrews 13:4. Note that there is no double standard: she is as much the mistress of his person as he the master of hers. Mark also that this is a very strong passage for monogamy, since evidently only one man and one woman are here spoken of. And in this relation husband and wife shall not defraud, deprive, each other of the specific duty of marriage; St. Paul forbids the arbitrary refusal of intercourse when the other party desires it. A different thing is the matter of abstaining from the marital right by mutual consent, if both parties agree upon it and thus the rights of both are preserved. Such an agreement may be made for a time, in order, for example, to be disengaged for prayer. Paul does not make this a law, he implies the prior right of marital duties, but this is a suggestion which they might follow. Such extraordinary and extended devotional exercises were later prescribed for the festival seasons. But the apostle does not want to extend the time indefinitely: And be together again, resume the interrupted marital intercourse, lest Satan be tempting you because of your want of self-control. The Lord knows the weakness of the human heart, and guards against a continence which is only a form of hypocrisy. He has created the sexual inclination in man and woman, He is familiar with its power since the fall of man, and He does not want married people to indulge in unnecessary asceticism which may result in the pollution of the mind and heart.

The State of Holy Wedlock

It is a sign of our times that the institution of holy marriage is so generally disparaged. So great has the moral ruin become that the knowledge of the holiness of marriage and of the sacredness of its obligations has been lost. The most distorted views of the relation of the sexes inside and outside of marriage are freely circulated by means of cleverly written articles in periodicals, novels of the prevailing degenerate type, and the abomination of the average moving-picture show. To enter into marriage without the consent of the parents has become the usual thing. Many a young man seeks a speedy marriage with the first pretty face that catches his fancy, for the mere gratification of his sexual desires and with no idea of establishing a home and maintaining a family. Or he deliberately sets about to marry a wealthy girl, in order to take his ease in a parasite's life. And the cold-blooded planning that characterizes the matrimonial ventures of many a modern girl leaves the sanctity of marriage sullied beyond all hopes of cleansing. Unfit and unwilling to be true helpmates and wives, many of these girls permit themselves to be married, that is, the formality of a wedding ceremony is still observed, but they do not intend to become either wives or mothers. Their motive is convenience, selfishness, they marry to be supported in a style which they deem fitting their beauty and accomplishments. And motherhood is a lost and despised art in the eyes of the majority.

We Christians remember at all times what Scriptures say of the state of holy wedlock. It was instituted by God Himself, whose wisdom deemed it best to create a woman and give her to Adam as his wife. The state of holy marriage with its resulting family life is the basis of all true soundness in society and of the stability of the state. Throughout the Bible, the matrimonial state is spoken of always in a tone of the highest respect, while the sins which are committed against its sanctity are condemned with an openness and incidentally with a sense of righteous wrath which leaves no doubt as to the meaning of God's will. The highest praises of the wedded state are sung in the two psalms of degrees, Psalms 127:1-5; Psalms 128:1-6. The Bible indicates plainly what the purpose of marriage is and should be to the end of time. The Lord Himself stated: "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him," Genesis 2:18. To be the husband's true and faithful companion, helpmate, and partner the Lord has destined every wife; the married state is a partnership of mutual love and helpfulness. The Lord also willed that the human race should be propagated through marriage, through the lawful procreation of children in holy wedlock, Genesis 1:27-28. He has, therefore, expressly and emphatically forbidden all fornication and adultery. Since the fall of man the original pro-creative instinct has become perverted, making it necessary that marriage have also a preventive reason, namely, that of avoiding immorality, the specific act of the married state being permitted and enjoined in holy wedlock, whereas it is strictly forbidden in any of its manifestations outside of marriage, 1 Corinthians 7:2. In accordance with such institution and blessing of God, the duties of husband and wife are plainly prescribed. The husband will consider his wife as a gift of the Lord, Proverbs 18:22; Proverbs 19:14; Proverbs 31:10. He will give her the honor due her as the weaker vessel, 1 Peter 3:7, always remembering that the wife, who is to partake with him of the glories of heaven, must be treated even here on earth with the respect which the Lord demands, 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. He will love her and live with her according to knowledge, always remembering that the state of wedlock is God's institution, that everyone should know how to possess his vessel in Sanctification and honor, 1 Thessalonians 4:4. The husband will at all times be conscious of his position as the head of the wife, Ephesians 5:23; 1 Corinthians 11:3, not in a legalistic way, as a tyrant, but in a true evangelical manner. There are some fine examples in Scripture, 1 Samuel 1:5-8; Genesis 25:21. Self-evident it is that the husband will cherish and take care of his wife, Ephesians 5:29; 1 Timothy 5:8.

But even as the husband will thus truly and sincerely love his wife, Colossians 3:19; Ephesians 5:25-33, so the wife will, in turn, love and respect her husband. He is indeed, by the order of God, her head, 1 Timothy 2:13-14; 1 Corinthians 11:7-9; Genesis 3:16. But it is not a question of superiority, but of headship, by the order of God, and therefore no punishment, no degradation for the woman, Ephesians 5:23. It is not a disgrace for a woman to be obedient to her husband in the Biblical sense, but an honor, since it is a willing, glad obedience based upon mutual agreement according to the infallible rule of God, Colossians 3:18; 1 Peter 3:1-6. The wife will be a true helpmate of her husband and a happy mother of the children which come to her as the blessing of the Lord, if she will at all times keep the commandments and the examples of the Lord before her eyes. She will do him good and not evil all the days of her life, Proverbs 31:12. She will not be contentious and brawling, Proverbs 19:13; Proverbs 21:9; Proverbs 25:24; Proverbs 27:15; Proverbs 30:21-23. She will heed the praises which the Bible bestows upon the diligent, sensible, virtuous, gracious, modest woman, Proverbs 11:16; Proverbs 12:4; Proverbs 14:1; Proverbs 19:14; Proverbs 31:10; 1 Timothy 2:9-10. She will be a true mother in her home, knowing that she is serving the Lord in a state which is well pleasing to Him.

Verses 6-11

Marriage an obligation under circumstances:

v. 6. But I speak this by permission and not of commandment.

v. 7. 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.

v. 8. I say, therefore, to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I

v. 9. But if they cannot contain, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn.

v. 10. And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband;

v. 11. but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband; and let not the husband put away his wife.

The apostle here refers to the leading sentence of the chapter, according to which he made marriage the rule, although he thought celibacy good. This he speaks according to allowance. The Lord, who inspired Paul to write this letter, has allowed him to take regard for circumstances and temperament, to apply general principles to conditions as they existed at that time. But that does not change the commandment and institution of the Lord. Wherever Paul speaks in matters of Christian liberty, giving his opinion and counsel, v. 25, he is conscious of speaking as a man that has the Spirit of God, v. 40. In this sense also he writes: But I would have all men to be as also myself. God had given him the special gift of continence, and in view of the near approach of Christ's second advent, when all marrying and giving in marriage would cease, his wish was that this gift might be possessed more generally. "He desired that everybody might have the extraordinary grace of continence, in order that he might be spared the cares and the anxiety of marriage, and in perfect freedom be concerned only with God and with His Word. " But he is no fanatic, he knows that everyone has received his own gift of grace from God, one in this way, another in that. The Lord distributes His gifts for the service of His kingdom as He chooses, endowing each of His servants according to the work that He expects from them. In most cases the fitness of a Christian for the marriage state is in itself a special gift of God, for the care and government of a family is an excellent training for the larger duties in the Church, 1 Timothy 3:4-5.

The apostle proceeds in his statements with great care: But I say to the unmarried men and to the widows, It is good for them if they remain as I; he knows the celibate state to be altogether honorable. But his advice, in view of his own extraordinary gift, is conditional: If, however, they cannot exercise control over themselves, if they have not the gift of continence, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to feel burning, to be consumed by continual sexual desire, since the unsatisfied craving is a ceaseless temptation. It is not that they should choose the lesser of two evils, but they should do that which is no sin in order to avoid that which is sin; for the burning in sexual excitement is not permissible outside of marriage, and the rule here uttered cannot be suspended by any vows of enforced celibacy. It may happen, of course, that owing to circumstances over which they have no control an unmarried man or a widow may not find it possible to get married. In such cases every Christian may trust in the Lord to receive from Him the necessary power to keep his body in subjection and to overcome the lust of the flesh, just as that is the case where either husband or wife are incapacitated for the specific duties of marriage.

For the married people one rule holds once and for all times: To the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, that the wife does not separate herself from the husband; but if indeed she has separated, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband, and that the husband do not dismiss his wife. According to the rule of Christ the marriage-tie is indissoluble, the exceptional cause of divorce mentioned by Him not finding its application in the case of wedded Christians. Paul is here most emphatically stating the will, the law of God as it is valid under all circumstances. The case of the woman is probably mentioned first on account of the position she had occupied in the heathen world, or because the number of women exceeded that of the men in the Corinthian congregation. The woman is not to leave her husband; neither incompatibility of temper nor ascetic aversion can be alleged before the tribunal of God. But if there should be such a case in which the law of God has been set aside by a wife, she should remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. This is not equivalent to giving the woman permission to get a divorce, but conveys the very opposite idea. If she has separated herself without valid reason, she is to be left severely alone in her petulance and in her bad conscience, only one alternative being given her, that of returning to her husband, of being reconciled to him; and he may not dismiss her under the circumstances, just as he has no right at any time to give her a letter of divorcement according to Jewish custom. The intimacy of the marriage-tie is such as to render all efforts tending to its dissolution sinful.

Verses 12-17

Concerning mixed marriages:

v. 12. 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.

v. 13. And the woman which hath an husband that believes not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

v. 14. 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.

v. 15. 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.

v. 16. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? Or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

v. 17. 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.

In the previous section the apostle had addressed himself to the wedded couples in the congregation, where both husband and wife were Christians. He now speaks to such Christian men and women where the wife or the husband were not members of the Christian community. And he here again makes the application of the principle of Scriptures to a special circumstance. Jesus had had no occasion to deliver His opinion with regard to such cases, and therefore Paul brings his sentence. The fundamental matter was clear, his inspired judgment applied it to the point in question. The husband and the wife are placed on an equal footing. The Christian brother having an unbelieving wife, who is well pleased to dwell with him in marriage, should not dismiss her. And a Christian woman having an unbelieving husband under the same conditions, should not think of deserting him. So far as the Christian part of any married couple was concerned, the rule of the Lord, made at the institution of holy wedlock, holds good. The Christians should never take. the first steps, nor in any way be guilty of inciting a separation in marriage. The existence of mixed marriages is to be deplored deeply, and in many cases they result in trials and temptations which make the term "marriage-yoke" altogether fitting; but so long as the unbelieving party recognizes the validity of the marriage-tie and lives in harmony with this belief, the believing party cannot repudiate the spouse. '

The apostle now meets an objection which Christians might be apt to make as to the dangers of such a continued union with an unbeliever: For sanctified is the unbelieving husband in the wife, and sanctified is the unbelieving wife in the brother, in the Christian. Although not consecrated by the sanctifying power of faith, the unbelieving party, by virtue of the intimate, vital union which is the essence of marriage, participates in the consecration of the believing party in this way, that he or she is linked to the Church of God through the believing spouse; the sanctity of the marriage-tie includes both husband and wife. "The believing wife is a sanctuary to her husband, even though he be an unbeliever, for he is her husband; and the believing husband is a sanctuary to his wife, even though she be an unbeliever, for she is his wife. " This is made more evident by the case of their children: Else, then, your children are unclean, but now they are holy. If the state of matrimony, even where the marriage has been entered upon with an unbeliever, were not a holy state, then the children would be unclean. But now the children are considered holy, therefore also the state of marriage, even if it is a mixed marriage; the children are to be considered members of the Christian community on account of the Christian parent. "They are not holy in their own persons, for St. Paul does not speak here of that holiness; but they are holy unto you, that your holiness can be engaged in their care and can educate them, that you will not become desecrated in them as though they were an unholy thing."

These rules are in force as long as the unbelieving spouse maintains the validity of the marriage-bond. But if the unbeliever separates (himself from his spouse) let him separate; if the non-Christian insists upon severing the marriage relation, this is not to be refused; the separation may take its course. In that case the believing spouse suffers the breaking of the marriage-tie, and the brother or the sister in the congregation is not kept in bondage under such circumstances; they are not to be told that they are still bound, but may consider themselves free, just as though the other party had died. Of the formalities which are to be observed before the civil court the apostle says nothing, since it is self-evident for a Christian to pay due attention to them. According to the will of God, putting away of the spouse is forbidden, but He does not forbid the repudiated spouse to accept dismissal. This is confirmed still more strongly by the addition of the words: In peace, however, has God called us. Should the Christian spouse insist upon continuing the marriage relation in spite of the repudiation, this would lead to hatred and strife. If the unbelieving party has broken the peace of wedlock by considering marriage as a contract which may be dissolved at the whim of one or both of the contracting parties, then the Christian is free from the bond of marriage, suffering what he has not sought and cannot avoid.

The apostle now refers to probable scruples that the Christian spouse might feel in case of such a separation: For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband; or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? There is a possibility, of course, that a Christian husband or wife may succeed in gaining the other party for Christ. But why cling to him, or her, on so ill-founded a hope, especially if the unbelieving spouse has rejected the Christian? "Therefore it is not only presumption for a Christian to marry with the idea that he may bring about a marriage in the Lord afterwards, but it is also uncalled for and meddlesome, if a brother or a sister would want to consider himself bound to an unbelieving spouse in the hope of moving his heart by such faithfulness and thus converting him. " In the entire matter of marriage, and especially of mixed marriages, the rule holds: Only, as the Lord has dealt out to each one, as God has called each one, so let him conduct himself. If the Lord has given to a Christian a spouse that shows unusual kindness in observing all the demands of the marriage relationship in accordance with God's institution, let him live in wedlock as a true partner of their mutual joys and sorrows. But if, by the dispensation of God, the unbelieving party severs the tie of marriage as based upon God's institution, then the Christian may accept the liberty thus forced upon him with a good conscience. Thus the apostle ordained in all the churches. All congregations observed the same rules in this very important matter, lest a diversity in Christian customs harm the cause of the Lord. "Christianity does not disturb existing relations, so far as they are not sinful, but only aims to infuse into them the right spirit, according to the will of God."

Verses 18-24

A general application of these truths:

v. 18. Is any man called being circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Is any called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised.

v. 10. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.

v. 20. Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.

v. 21. Art thou called being a servant? Care not for it; but If thou mayest be made free, use it rather.

v. 22. 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.

v. 23. Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men.

v. 24. Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God.

Just as the matter of marriage was regulated by Paul in such a way that no one was to deal presumptuously, but was always to have the proper regard for God's gift and call, so he wanted the same principles applied in other matters of daily life: As a circumcised person was any one called? Do not try to remove its sign. Paul is here referring to such renegade Jews, some of whom may have been found in the Corinthian church, as resorted to an operation to efface the sign of their nationality, probably to signify their entire repudiation of the Law. His ruling is strictly against this practice. And, on the other hand: In uncircumcision, as a Gentile, is any one called? Let him not be circumcised. It was just as little to be commended that the Gentile Christians attempted to reach the highest state of perfection by submitting to the Jewish sacrament. And the reason for this uncompromising attitude of Paul was: Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; upon neither of these does the worth of a Christian in the eyes of God depend, in no way do they represent religious qualifications. The observing of the commandments of God, faith working by love, a new creature, is everything. Circumcision is no longer a sacrament, but a mere custom without the slightest religious or moral value; God looks upon the heart, upon the activity which faith develops in observing the demands of His holy will. See Galatians 6:15. Where true, living faith is found, there the members of one nation are like those of another, there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither German nor American, they are all one in Christ Jesus. See Galatians 3:28. And therefore let everyone remain in that same state in which he was called. It is not necessary to change either nationality or station in life in order to be acceptable to the Lord: He understands every language equally well, and the callous spots on a man's hands do not debar him from any of the privileges of God's kingdom.

Paul illustrates this by a second example, bringing out especially the social distinction of the times: As a slave were you called? Do not let it worry you; but if you can become free, rather make use of that. The members of the Corinthian congregation that were slaves were naturally anxious to have their liberty, and the teaching of the Gospel was understood by them to favor this longing. But a Christian slave was not to fear that he could not serve the Lord and be just as dear to Him in this state. The Lord having called him through the Gospel while he was in that social position would continue to show him His mercy even if he continued to be a slave for the rest of his life. At the same time, however, the apostle conceded that a slave may well make use of the opportunity to become free, to accept such a gift of grace from the hands of God. In either event the social state makes no difference, as far as the Lord is concerned: For the man called in the Lord as a slave, while he holds the position, the station of a slave, is nevertheless the Lord's freeman; likewise the man that is called while he is free is Christ's servant. This is a paradox, but a very beautiful way of describing the relation of both the bond and the free to the Lord. "Christ buys us from our old master, sin, and then sets us free; but a service is still due from the freedman to the patron. " The freedom spoken of here is, of course, spiritual freedom, according to which our liberation from the power of sin, by that token, gives us the strength to serve the Lord with all our heart, with all our soul, and with all our mind. And here the apostle calls out an emphatic warning: With a price you were bought, 1 Peter 1:18-19. The price of redemption which had to be laid down to deliver us from the slavery of sin and Satan was so immeasurably great that it must serve for all times to deter us from a very -foolish step, that of becoming servants of men, of selling ourselves into the vilest of slavery by abandoning the truth of Scriptures and permitting ourselves to be swayed and governed by the imagination and wisdom of men. And the Corinthians could readily make the application of the word in their own case, namely, not to make themselves so dependent upon any man as to imagine that they were not really free, even though they had a master over them. And so Paul once more sums up the thought of the entire section: Every one wherein he was called, brethren, in this let him remain before God. That relation, that station in life which a person occupied when he came to faith he may retain without one qualm for the rest of his days. Let it but be before God, in the sight of God, that the entire life be one of faith and of holy works, well-pleasing to the Lord.

Verses 25-28

The question of celibacy in general:

v. 25. 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.

v. 26. I suppose, therefore, that this is good for the present distress; I say that it is good for a man so to be.

v. 27. Art thou bound unto a wife? Seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? Seek not a wife.

v. 28. 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.

In this section Paul again presupposes the general rule, based upon the institution of marriage and its blessing by God, that the normal adult will be found in this state. His words, therefore, again concern a peculiar exception, and he applies his judgment to the case as it exists, the difference between principle and individual case thus being upheld. Concerning the unmarried, especially the virgins, he had no command of the Lord which would be applicable at all times and under all circumstances, and so he offered his inspired suggestion to cover this exception, as he had received grace from the Lord to be faithful. Because the mercy of the Lord had been effectually shown in his case, making him a faithful servant of the Lord, therefore his advice also is trustworthy. And so he gives his opinion, as at the beginning of the chapter, to the effect that it is good, advantageous, praiseworthy, for a person to be so, that is, to remain unmarried. But note that he includes a restricting clause which throws a flood of light upon the entire chapter: On account of the distress now existing. The word distress, literally "narrowness, pinching stress," signifies such straits and difficulties as are found at the time of oppressions and persecutions. Such a time was then upon the Christians, not only on account of the enmity of the Jews, but also on account of the increasing unfriendliness of the Gentiles. The tyrant Nero had but recently taken possession of the throne, and the first severe persecution of the Christians was instituted by him. With such present distresses and imminent perils, it is true indeed that the advantage was on the part of the unmarried. See Matthew 24:10.

Paul now applies his advice in detail: Are you bound to a wife? Do not be seeking separation. Are you (as a bachelor or widower) without a wife? Do not be seeking a wife. In the former case the lawfully wedded person sins by trying to break the marriage-tie; in the latter case the one that does not accept the advice of Paul is making himself liable to many forms of unpleasantness. But Paul does not want to be misunderstood as coming into conflict with the general rule of God, so he hastens to add: But if indeed you have married, you have not sinned, and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. The Corinthian Christians were not to set up a false ascetic ideal in forbidding marriage. There was no sin connected with entering into that state or with being in that state. The only thing was, as Paul states: But affliction for the flesh such will have; I, however, am seeking to spare you. He is not referring mainly to the special cross of the married woman, Genesis 3:16, but to all forms of tribulation which are liable to strike the body, the physical life, in such times as were upon the Christians. Persecution was more bitter to endure for the married, because to the perils threatening the body and life there were added the cares and worries for the well-being of the members of the family. Very often, indeed, the alternative lay between duty to God and affection to wife and children. It is in that sense that Paul desires to spare them, to save them a good deal of temporal adversity by giving them his advice.

Verses 29-31

No earthly ties should hinder the service of God:

v. 29. But this I say, brethren, the time is short; it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none;

v. 30. 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;

v. 31. and they that use this world as not abusing it; for the fashion of this world passeth away.

No matter under what conditions a, person lives and works, his first duty is toward the Lord, to whom the whole life of a Christian must be consecrated. There is a strong reason for reminding the Corinthians of this: This, however, I assert, brethren, the time has been fixed short. The great day of the Lord, for whose coming the believers were anxiously waiting, 1 Thessalonians 5:2, was very near, and therefore it must be our constant aim and effort to be ready for its coming, Luke 12:35-36; Mark 13:35-36. As a consequence, all the things of this life must occupy a secondary position with reference to the matters of the kingdom of God: So that henceforth indeed those that have wives be as if they had none, the weepers as if not engaged in weeping, those that are joyful as if not engaged in rejoicing, the buyers as if they had nothing, those that make use of the world as not abusing it, not being engrossed in its business to the exclusion of their spiritual interests. "Home with its joys and griefs, business, the use of the world, must be carried on as under notice to quit, by men prepared to cast loose from the shores of time. " All these matters which engage the attention of a person in this world, and are put into the hands of man by the Lord, should not become the end and aim of existence. Husband and wife may share the joys and sorrows of family life, but in good days as well as in evil their heart's desire must be directed to the glory that is awaiting them above. People engaged in business, occupied in a station which deals exclusively with matters of this world, must not let their hearts be wrapped up in the gain and in the enjoyment of the world, but always keep their eyes directed to the greatest gift and blessing, that of the final consummation of salvation in heaven. As one commentator has it, we have here "the picture of spiritual detachment in the various situations in life. " And that is as it should be: For passing away is the form, the present appearance, of this world. The things which engage the attention of people in this world are not enduring, but transitory; marryings and marketings, feasts and funerals, pass before our eyes in endless, ever-changing procession; there is nothing abiding, nothing of lasting value in all that this world may offer. See Php_3:20 ; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 13:14.

Verses 32-35

A comparison of the married and unmarried state:

v. 32. 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;

v. 33. but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.

v. 34. There is a 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.

v. 35. 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.

The apostle here presents his reasons for advising as he does, his aim being that his readers should be without cares and worries which tended to distract their attention from the one thing needful, worries of all kinds, but especially marriage worries. For the unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. That is the ideal state which Paul would fain see, that the unmarried man devote his abilities and energies to the service of the Lord, with the object of doing that which pleases Him alone. There is an admonition here for the unmarried men of our times, many of whom refrain from marrying because they dread the inconveniences and tribulations of the married state, and yet are also too selfish to devote themselves to the Lord and to the work of the Church. But he that is married, the apostle says, is anxious about the things of this world, how he may please his wife. This is, of course, a danger connected with the matrimonial state, that the husband be so engrossed with his love for his wife and with the care of the household as to forget the duty which he owes to the Lord. Paul sets forth here what is usually found in actual experience, and altogether too often in our days, when the idea of a partnership in the Biblical sense and of a home and family has been abandoned for that of a life of voluptuous ease and of social ambition. In either case the service of the Lord suffers, but that is not a necessary concomitant of marriage.

Paul considers also the side of the woman: And a difference is also between the wife and the virgin; there is a diversity between them with regard to care; they are separated, divided, in their interests. If the unmarried woman realizes and makes use of her opportunities properly, she will be anxious about the things of the Lord. This she does by being holy according to her body as well as according to her spirit, that is, she devotes herself entirely to the Lord, serving Him with her whole person and all her powers. This is an ideal which should be held before the eyes of all Christian young women; for at the present time there is far too much attention paid to pleasure and service of the flesh, as the world is making inroads upon the Church, and far too little to the service of the Lord and His Church, although there are so many ways in which an earnest Christian may help in the spreading of the Kingdom. On the other hand, the married woman is anxious about the things of this world, the care of so many things in the family and household naturally falling upon her; and she is concerned about pleasing her husband. This, again, does not imply that this is the only sphere which the Christian wife will know, and that it is impossible for her not to be active in the work of the Church. On the contrary, many a married woman has put the young women to shame with her zeal for progress in the congregation. But Paul is speaking of the average case, stating the facts as they are usually found.

At the same time the apostle realized fully that his personal recommendation of the unmarried state, even under the conditions then obtaining, was connected with certain perils. He therefore adds: But this I say to your own advantage, not that I throw a snare upon you, put a noose around your neck. He does not want to catch his readers and shut them up in an unwilling unmarried state; nor does he want to rule their consciences and force them to think as he himself does. His argument is only that he speaks for that which is proper, seeming, fitting, that which at the present time is befitting the behavior of Christians, and that which amounts to an assiduous and undisturbed waiting for the Lord and His coming. Paul wanted all distractions and diversions of earthly influences removed, in order to offer to the Lord the most unselfish and unhindered service. If a person can and may remain unmarried, these words of the apostle should always be borne in mind. There would be little or no difficulty about carrying on the external business of the Church if all those that are footloose would devote their free time to the Lord, with an energy corresponding to the importance of the work.

Verses 36-40

The right of the father to give his daughter in marriage:

v. 36. But if any man think that he behaves 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.

v. 37. Nevertheless he that standeth steadfast 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.

v. 38. So, then, he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

v. 39. 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.

v. 40. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment; and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

Although Paul was so strongly in favor of celibacy, yet he was very careful not to agree to a false asceticism. Therefore he writes: If anyone is of the opinion that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, since it was thought socially discreditable to keep a daughter at home in an unmarried state. The procreative faculty is God's creation and blessing, and therefore, under ordinary circumstances, the normal adult, and also the adult virgin, especially if she be past the bloom of youth and have not the gift of continence, is acting in accordance with the institution of God in desiring marriage. In such a case, duty may require it, and so matters ought to proceed, ought to be brought to a conclusion, and the father or guardian should act as he wishes and as circumstances point the way: he does not sin, let the marriage take its course. On the other hand, a father may keep his virgin unmarried and do well in so acting under certain conditions. He must be firmly established in his own mind, he must be sure that his course is the right one. If he himself is in doubt, and yet would want to make his daughter bow to his will, he would be sinning, Romans 14:23. The second condition is the absence of constraint, that the chastity and the peace of mind of the virgin is not endangered. The third is that the father or guardian have power and authority concerning his own will, that he can follow his will without conflicting with the higher command of love. And the fourth is that he comes to a conclusion in his own heart, that he acts with the full understanding of his own responsibility. It would be well for modern parents to heed these words of the apostle and not to permit their children to contract foolish and frivolous marriages, particularly when they are not yet able to realize the obligations and responsibilities which the married state imposes upon both husband and wife. And so the application which Paul makes, the conclusion which he reaches, is: So he that gives his virgin in marriage does well, he acts in full accordance with God's institution; and he that does not give her in marriage does better, he considers the advantages more carefully, considering the times and the duties to be performed. Thus the apostle recommends what appears to him the course generally fitting under the circumstances without, even here, binding the consciences and setting aside the fundamental principles of God's institution.

The same thoughts are applied to the case of widows: A wife is bound bylaw for as long a time as her husband lives. See Romans 7:2. But she is released from all obligations to her husband by his death, when he falls asleep, as Paul writes. Then she is free also to become married, if she wants to. A remarriage after the death of the first husband is by no means denied a widow, 1 Timothy 5:11-14. Neither the reverence for the former husband, nor the submission to the will of another, nor the objections made by slanderous tongues need cause a woman to waive her rights in this respect. Only one consideration she must observe, as must all Christians at all times: the step must be taken in the Lord. If the man whom she intends to marry is within the degrees prohibited by God, or if he expresses the avowed intention of interfering with her religion and its exercises, then she certainly would not be entering upon her second marriage in the Lord. And in general, Paul says: But happier she will be, both in her freedom from the specific cares of the married state and in her opportunity to devote herself more exclusively to the Lord's service, if she remains unmarried. But again he adds: According to my advice. He is referring to the conditions as he saw them before him, to the perils that were imminent. But he thought that he also had the Spirit of God, his advices and opinions, as well as his commands based upon principles, were under divine guidance. "The apostle commends his advice in all these matters, conscious that it proceeds from the highest source and is not the outcome of mere human prudence or personal inclination."

Summary. The apostle gives instructions concerning the propriety of marriage, the duties of the wedded state, the question of mixed marriages, of divorce and celibacy, and of the extent and limitations of a father's authority in giving his daughter in marriage.

Bibliographical Information
Kretzmann, Paul E. Ph. D., D. D. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7". "Kretzmann's Popular Commentary". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/eng/kpc/1-corinthians-7.html. 1921-23.
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