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Bible Commentaries

William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament
1 Corinthians 7

 

 

Verse 1

CO-HABITATION SANCTIFIED BY MATRIMONY

1. But concerning those things about which you wrote to me, that it is good for a man not to receive a wife.” They had written to Paul during his absence on the subject of matrimony and celibacy, which Paul encouraged, at least by his own example, spending his life unwedded for Christ’s sake. While he appreciates his own celibacy as a gift from God, he gives his verdict in favor of matrimony as a rule.


Verse 2

2. But on account of fornication let each man have his own wife and each woman her own husband.


Verse 3

3. Let the husband give to the wife that which is due, and also likewise the wife to her husband.


Verse 4

4. The wife hath not authority over her own body, but the husband: likewise also the husband hath not authority over his own body, but the wife.” While this verse evidently refers directly to the peculiar rights of matrimony, it has still a broader signification. In this transitory and perilous life, we all need some person on whom we can depend for personal attention, especially in case of sickness, disappointment and sorrow. If my dear companion should get sick, I would feel it my duty to go home and do my utmost for her convalescence and comfort, as my body is her property under the law of matrimony, to serve her after the manner of a slave. The same is true with reference to her body, as the servitor of my necessity and comfort. Body here in both cases is antithetical to spirit, which belongs to God. My wife has no control over my immortal spirit, my never dying soul, which belongs to God alone, exclusively devoted to His service for time and eternity, while this fleeting body, pursuant to the law of matrimony, belongs to my companion, to labor, make a living for her, and administer to her temporal comfort. The same is true in her case with reference to soul and body, the latter belonging to her husband and the former to God. It is very wicked in either party to interfere with the religious privileges of the other. A staunch member of a Methodist church who had no salvation, forbade his wife to attend the Holiness revival services, though in the church where he held his membership. She asked the evangelist what to do in the case. He said, “Go home, take down your Bible and read to him the first commandment, ‘Thou shalt have no other gods beside me’; and say to him, ‘Sir, I married you for a husband and not for a god, as that place was supplied before I became acquainted with you. Now if you are content to be my husband, all right, but if you are going to be my god you can just trot out.’” He was a man of intelligence, and at once saw his mistake, changed his apparel and went with her to the next meeting, taking his seat in the rear of the audience, she going down to the front and taking an active part in the meeting. In the introductory testimonies, standing before the audience she said, “My dear husband is in the congregation; I request you all to remember him in your prayers.” The evangelist preached and invited seekers to the altar. Among others this man came, got his soul converted, and soon after swept into Beulah land.


Verse 5-6

5-6. Defraud not one another except with consent for a time, in order that you may give attention to prayer and come together again in order that Satan may not tempt you on account of your incontinence.” “Fasting” does not in this verse occur in the original. You see plainly that the Divine economy recognizes cohabitation in the bonds of holy wedlock. Parties united in matrimony are here advised to live together, unless they separate for the glory of God, that they may do gospel work. In that case the separation is not permanent, but temporary. “I speak this by way of allowance, and not according to a commandment.” Of course there is no intimation here that Paul was impeaching his own inspiration, but merely referring to the fact that our Lord had delivered no precept directly covering that ground.


Verses 7-9

7-9. I wish you that all men were as I am: but each one has his own gift from God, one has one and another, another.” “Men” here in Greek is common gender, aneer always meaning a man, gunee always meaning a woman, while anthroopos, the word here occurring, is common gender, including both men and women. Here Paul expresses a wish that all the people had his peculiar gift from God, touching the subject of matrimony. That gift was the grace from God imparting complete victory along that line of things, which is not peculiar to all people, the sexual appetite not being sinful in its nature, but of Divine constitution and only sinful when indulged outside of matrimony or unhygienically. “I speak to the unmarried and widows, that it is good for them that they may remain even as I: but if they do not abstain, let them get married; for it is better to marry than to burn,”

i. e., either in the fires of incorrigible lust or in the flames of Hell.


Verses 10-13

10-13. They had written to him a diversity of questions which to them, so recently converted out of heathenism, were exceedingly complicated. Some took up the idea, somewhat looking at the example of their spiritual father, then more than fifty years old and unwedded, that it was better to forego matrimony altogether. Others had an idea that, if one of the matrimonial twain became a Christian, and the other persisted in heathenism, the former should leave the latter. This question Paul settles in the negative. “If the unsaved party abandon you because you become a Christian, let such go in peace. But when the party is willing to live with a converted husband or wife, so much the better.


Verse 14

14. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife by the brother: otherwise are your children unclean, but now they are holy.” The children of Christians are born in the covenant, not heathens, but Christians in a conventional sense, and holy to the Lord, antithetical to the polluted idolaters. The children of heathens are considered heathens in a conventional sense because they will be raised up that way. Hence they are polluted with idolatry, and unholy antithetically to the Christians. Now, in case that one is a Christian, and the other a heathen, if the latter is willing to abide, all right; but in that case the children are not heathens, because the Christian parent will rear them in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Grace is stronger than sin (Romans 5:20), therefore the insanctity of the one is overborne by the sanctity of the other, and the children do not rank as heathens, but Christians, enjoying the benefit of the covenant through the holy parent.


Verse 15-16

15-16. If the unbeliever depart, let him depart: a brother or sister has not been enslaved in such things, but God has called you in peace.” From this verse we see that you are to be true to God, in every case and regardless of consequences, even though your companion may abandon you forever. “For how do you know, O wife, if you shall save your husband, and how do you know, O husband, if you shall save your wife?” There is certainly a strong probability that by the grace of God you will save your companion. This, however, you can only do by a life of unswerving devotion to God.

If you are not true, heroic and steadfast, your companion will destroy you instead of getting saved. Many foolish women have pandered to the wicked caprices of their worldly husbands, till they have grieved the Holy Spirit away, forfeited all their power to save their husbands, and gone with them into sin and perdition.


Verses 17-24

17-24. In these verses Paul exhorts every one to remain in the attitude in which grace finds you: if a Jew, having circumcision, so remain; if a Gentile, without circumcision, so abide. If a Methodist, with Armenian theology, so remain; if a Presbyterian, with a Calvinistic creed, so abide; if a Tunker, with trine immersion, so remain; if a Quaker, seeing no especial validity in carnal ordinances, so remain. The unity of all Christians is in the baptism of the Holy Ghost (Ch. 1 Corinthians 12:13). So let every one follow Jesus only, get saved to the uttermost and filled with the Holy Ghost, and never bother yourselves any more in reference to creeds, rites and ceremonies. Satisfy your conscience (1 Peter 3:21), “keep a conscience void of offense toward God and man,” and go on your way rejoicing, free as a bird of paradise, like Origen, whose maxim was, “Love the Lord with all your heart, and do as you please,” resting assured that if you really have perfect love you will only please to do the will of God. Grace sinks down all the mountains and lifts up the valleys, putting the whole world on a grand level. Paul here beautifully alludes to the master and slave, as at that time the world was full of human slavery. They are both called into the kingdom of God, and stand on the same level, the master being God’s slave, and the slave being the Lord’s freeman.


Verses 25-31

25-31. Paul’s prophetic eye sees rivers of blood rolling right before him in the great outbreak of the imperial persecution in which he lost his head, and his amanuensis was hung on an olive-tree in Greece, and a general slaughter of all the Christians in the Roman Empire, which then belted the globe, broke out, under the edict of Nero, only ten years from this writing. Hence, responsive to their questions on matrimony, he advises them to turn their attention away to things more important, each one in his or her respective situation, content for the present, and all energies concentrated in the preparation and outlook for their returning Lord.


Verse 29

29. And I say this, brethren, that the time is at hand: moreover, indeed, those having wives may be as those not having, and those weeping as those not weeping, and those rejoicing as those not rejoicing, and those merchandising as those possessing nothing,


Verse 31

31. And those using the world as those not using it fully: for the fashion of this world passeth away.” All this vivid prophecy was literally verified in the terrible persecutions which Paul saw in the near future rolling in rivers of blood to meet them. In connection with this prophecy, he vividly emphasizes his favorite and constant theme of the Lord’s speedy return to the earth to take away His saints, using this incentive as the most potent of all inspirations to keep His people, well under the blood, filled with the Spirit and constantly looking out for the Lord’s return.


Verse 32

VIRGIN CELIBACY

32. The question extensively prevailed at that time, should not a Christian man, instead of giving his virgin daughter in wedlock to her lover, keep her for the Lord, so that unencumbered she might be a more efficient soul- saver, becoming a vestal virgin, as they had known in the heathen religions for ages, and was perpetuated in Christianity in subsequent ages, developing into the Roman Catholic nunship. Paul here meets all of those complicated questions.


Verse 33

33. I wish you to be free from care.” He now proposed to give them so plain and unmistakable a precept on this vexed question as to enable them to dismiss every care. “The unmarried man cares for the things of the Lord, in order that he may please the Lord: the married man cares for the things of the world, that he may please his wife.


Verse 34

34. The wife and the virgin differ widely: the unmarried woman cares for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy, both in body and spirit: but the married woman cares for the things of this world, that she may please her husband.” In these verses you can see that Paul leans to the celibacy for Christ’s sake, which he himself practiced, here setting forth the plausible argument that unwedded saints, utterly disencumbered to devote all their time to the service of the Lord, enjoy a decidedly more capacious opportunity to glorify God and lay up a rich treasure in Heaven than wedded people, thus encumbered with families.


Verse 35

35. He here certifies that he is going to lay no restriction on their liberties in the light of God’s Word, Spirit and Providence to pursue the course which is “profitable and well pleasing to the Lord” without disharmony.


Verse 36

36. If any one thinks that he is deporting himself injudiciously toward his virgin, if she may be old enough to marry, and it ought so to be, let him do what he willeth: he does not sin, let them get married.” Here is a case of a Christian father whose daughter has arrived at marriageable age, and has a good opportunity to marry a worthy Christian man; her father, feeling that she will be more efficient for the Lord in celibacy, like Paul, their spiritual father, has refused to give her in matrimony till the matter has assumed the attitude of rather a serious domestic controversy, the daughter and her Christian lover anxious to get married, and her father hitherto having withheld his consent. Now Paul says in that case let the man walk in the light which God gives, following the leading of the Spirit and Providence. “Let him do what he will,” i. e., give his daughter in matrimony or withhold her that she may be a more efficient soul-saver. In either case, he sins not.

If he decides in favor of matrimony, “let them marry,” i. e., this Christian man’s daughter and her Christian lover. It is all right.


Verse 37

37. But he who standeth firm in his own heart, not having necessity, but has choice according to his will, and hath determined this in his heart to keep his virgin, will do well.” This is a simple illustration on the other side. The presumption is that in this case the daughter doesn’t want to marry, and probably has no good opportunity. Hence the case is decidedly favorable to celibacy.


Verse 38

38. So both he that marries his virgin does well, and he that marries her not will do better.” This verse covers the ground of the two contrastive cases in the two preceding verses. The father in 1 Corinthians 7:36 gives his daughter in wedlock, while the father in 1 Corinthians 7:37 retains his in celibacy for the Lord’s work. Paul decides that the former, marrying his daughter to a good man, “does well,” but the latter not marrying his daughter to a man “will do better.” Why? Because the single woman will be the more efficient preacher of the two, and win more souls for God.


Verse 39

39. A wife has been given for so long a time as her husband may live: but if the husband may die, she is free to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord.” This verse clears away all the fog on second marriages. Death in every case satisfies the matrimonial covenant, and liberates the surviving party to marry ad libitum, but “only in the Lord.” Hence you see that Christians have no right to marry sinners. I know the cause of God has suffered more at that point than any other. So long as the children of Seth, i. e., the holy antediluvians, kept separate from the children of Cain, the proud members of the carnal church, founded by their great ancestor, whose worship, though grand and demonstrative, had no blood and hence no salvation, they were cheered with such preachers as Enoch and Noah. No sooner did they enter into matrimonial alliances, i. e., when the sons of God and the children of Seth saw the daughters of men, i. e., the race of Cain, that they were fair and took to themselves wives, the world became filled with violence, the wicked seducing the righteous into sin, and thus blotting out the lights of the antediluvian dispensation, and thus expediting the great flood which swept them all into eternity. I will not solemnize the matrimony of a Christian and an infidel or a debauchee. It is the safe thing to wait until the genuineness of his seeking is demonstrated by a sky-blue conversion.


Verse 40

40. But she is the happier if she may so remain, according to my opinion: and I realize truly that I have the Spirit of God.” After Paul has cleared up all the fogs gathering about the matrimonial problem, and turning everybody loose to walk in the clear light of God’s Word, Spirit and Providence, marrying as often as they wish, but only in the Lord, we see here that he winds up the subject with a decided leaning toward celibacy; doubtless deflecting in the line of his own personal preference, certainly with the glorious apology of better conserving the cause of God. “Think” in E.V., occurring in this verse, is too weak, as it implies doubt, which is not in the original. Hence Paul here simply testifies that he has the Spirit of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Godbey, William. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:4". "William Godbey's Commentary on the New Testament". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/ges/1-corinthians-7.html.

Lectionary Calendar
Monday, November 18th, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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