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Bible Commentaries

Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible
1 Corinthians 7

 

 

Introduction

Instructions Concerning Marriage and Abstinence from Marriage (7:1-40).

The thought of being united with Christ’s body and the grievously harmful effect of being then united with a prostitute leads on to the consideration of marriage. Does marriage also mar the union with Christ? Paul’s answer is that while the single state might be preferable for certain reasons, such as greater usefulness in Christ’s service, it is no sin to marry (1 Corinthians 7:36). For many it is indeed to be seen as commanded because of their uncontrollable sexual appetites (1 Corinthians 7:2). Thus it does no harm to the relationship of men with Christ, and in many cases it is vitally necessary.

Scripture emphasises that marriage is honourable in all if the participants are pure (Hebrews 13:4). Its initial purpose was for the procreation of the human race (Genesis 1:28) and for companionship and mutual cooperation between man and woman (Genesis 2:18) and it is thus a part of the fulfilling of God’s purposes. It is also ordained for the pleasure it gives to men and women (Proverbs 5:15-19). But Paul then adds that for some it is better not to marry because such a state means that the person can give full attention to the Lord, and because difficult times were coming in which not having to be concerned about a marital partner may be helpful.

However it should be noted that there is no suggestion that celibacy is recommended for its own sake. Among ancient religions, and possibly among many of the Corinthians, the ascetic, the man who abstained from all that men desire, was admired and feted. The more he brought suffering on himself the greater his reputation. This was partly because such religions saw the flesh as evil and therefore saw the ascetic as punishing the flesh and separating himself from evil and becoming more ‘spiritual’. But that is never taught in Scripture. Some men of God did live like that but they are never specially commended for it. The point here is availability to serve the Lord more fully, not some idea of punishing the flesh.

A parallel question raised is as to whether sexual relations harm the spiritual life. Does normal married life, and normal sexual relations, indicate that the men or women involved are somehow spiritually lacking? Paul’s answer is ‘no’. It is part of what human beings were before the fall. There may be reasons for abstaining for a time, and there may be good reasons for some not to marry at all if God has so made them that they can do so without running the risk of sexual misbehaviour, so as to better serve Christ, but there is no question of sexual relations within marriage damaging the spiritual life if engaged in with self-control.

But this chapter is also the commencement of Paul’s answers to questions specifically raised by his visitors through a letter brought on behalf of the church. This is the first of them. Notice the places where Paul says ‘concerning ---.’ These indicate that he is now dealing with their specific questions (1 Corinthians 7:25; 1 Corinthians 8:1; 1 Corinthians 12:1; 1 Corinthians 16:1; 1 Corinthians 16:12).


Verse 1-2

Christian Husbands and Wives and The Alternative For the Unmarried and Widows (7:1-11)

‘Now concerning the things of which you wrote. It is good for a man not to touch a woman, but because of fornications let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.’

Paul will now deal with the first questions in their letter. Is it good for a man not to touch a woman (i.e. engage in sexual relations with her)? Is marriage sinful? What rights have partners as against each other? Is it wrong not to marry and reproduce?

His reply is that being single is certainly an ideal which is quite permissible. ‘It is good.’ But he does not say necessarily better than being married. He said ‘it is good’ because some, influenced by Judaism, saw the unmarried state as being open to censure. But he did not say that it is morally better.

Indeed he will point out that because of man’s make up it is in many cases ill advised. If certain men and women do not have their sexual desires satisfied licitly, they will seek to satisfy them illicitly (as the celibate priesthood has in many cases made clear). Thus to save men and women from the latter, each man should have his own wife, and each wife should have her own husband. This is God’s provision for their needs, and it would be wrong of them not to take advantage of it.

‘Fornications.’ That is, acts of fornication. Man has been made for marriage. Thus if he is deprived of legitimate sexual relations he will find other ways of satisfying his desires. So marriage should be encouraged. But that does not make it the final good. The time has come when other things have to be taken into account. Christ has come. The next thing will be the end. So at this exceptional time not being married can also be good for those so gifted.

However we should not see this as the main purpose of marriage. It has only been a purpose since the fall. The main purpose of marriage is that each should be a support and help to the other (Genesis 2:18). It adds to the solidness of life. In less exceptional times it is the earthly ideal. But in these exceptional times of the proclamation of the Kingly Rule of God those who are so gifted should take advantage of the fact so as to serve God more fully. The celibate will lack comfort and strength that comes from being married, but will find that his support and help will come from God. For him/her not to be married is good.

But the man who through practising celibacy is tempted into sexual misbehaviour is doubly guilty. He is guilty of the sexual misbehaviour, but he is also guilty because he neglected God’s provision for man and has ignored his own weakness and the normal way of life taught in Scripture. He has taken up a position that he cannot maintain. He should not do so unless he is aware that he is physically capable of doing so. We should especially remember here that Jesus said that to look on a married woman with sexual desire was to be an adulterer. There are some men who have no problem with this. Their sexual desire is minimal and controllable. But for the majority of men it is a constant problem, some more than others, and marriage can go a long way to preventing them from sinning in this way. For such marriage is a positive good, and indeed is a commandment. We cannot pray ‘do not lead us into testing’ and then put ourselves in the way of testing. Man is to avoid all unnecessary forms of temptation.

‘Not to touch a woman.’ This is another way of saying ‘not to have sexual relations with, not to marry’. But it is a reminder also that until marriage women were not to be physically interfered with in any way. The assumption is also that the man of God will not physically ‘touch up’ a woman unless he is married to her. To do so would be to humiliate and defile her. So the godly man does not ‘touch up’ women.


Verse 3-4

‘Let the husband render to the wife her due, and likewise also the wife to the husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband. And likewise the husband also does not have authority over his own body, but the wife.’

In view of this fact husband and wife have a responsibility to each other. They must satisfy each other. The woman has a responsibility to allow her husband to enjoy her body, and vice versa. Each ‘has authority over’ the other’s body, that is, has the right to be sexually satisfied from it. This is often forgotten by husbands (and in these days even by wives) who sometimes only consider their own pleasure. But here the husband is told that he must consider his wife’s needs as well. She has a right to be sexually satisfied from him. And vice versa.

In this Paul reveals his full appreciation of women. In Christ ‘there can be no male or female, we are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3:28). In other words they are not viewed differently in God’s eyes. They are accepted on equal terms, one is not superior to the other before God, although living to fulfil their functions. Paul’s view of a woman having equal sexual rights to a man should be seen as extremely enlightened. This does not however alter the fact that the woman is there as man’s support and helper. It rather is a reminder of the loving and responsive relationship that there should be between the two so that the man does not take advantage of his headship but rather recognises that it places him under a greater obligation to be reasonable and to show true love.


Verse 5

‘Do not defraud one the other, unless it is by consent for a time, that you my give yourselves to prayer, and may be together again , so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.’

Indeed to refuse intercourse and proper lovemaking without good reason is to defraud one’s partner, and therefore sinful. It is failing to recognise their justifiable needs, and to recognise those needs is man’s duty (1 Corinthians 7:3). An exception may be made, by agreement, for a short break, for the purposes of a time for prayer and spiritual advancement, but this should not be overlong and they should then come together again after a reasonable time in case Satan gets the opportunity to tempt them due to their inability to control their desires.

Notice here that the abstinence is not because sexual relations within marriage are somehow ‘sinful’ but simply in order to concentrate more on the particular spiritual activity in mind.

Satan is here seen as the shadowy background figure who will take any opportunity to cause men to fall.


Verse 6

‘But this I say by way of permission and not of commandment.’

While he gives this advice, he says, it is not something he has received direct from the Lord as an instruction. It is not found in the Old Testament or in the words of the Lord. But he is satisfied that he has God’s permission to say it because He has revealed it to him. It is noteworthy that Paul does differentiate something direct from the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:10), and something which he has reasoned out for himself prayerfully before God with the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and for which he then obtains God’s consent. This last is important. What he says has God’s consent. It is not just an unsupported opinion. But it makes clear that continual sexual relations within marriage is to be seen as the norm.

So even Paul, the recipient of God’s inspired truth, demonstrates the respect the early church had for the actual teaching of Jesus, so that clear differentiation was made between His actual words, and teaching that arose from it.


Verse 7

‘Yet I would that all men were even as I myself. However each man has his own gift from God, one after this manner and one after that.’

His own predisposition is, for those who have the gift like he has (‘I would that all men were even as I, gifted to remain unmarried’) to favour being unmarried , because that way a person can give themselves full time to the direct service of God, but he recognises that different people have differing gifts and many do not have the gift of celibacy, while others do not have the gift of marriageability. This is not their fault. Each have their own gifts and must direct their lives accordingly. Thus both the celibate and the married ways of life result from God’s gift. Men actually do not choose which they are destined to be. It depends on how they have been gifted. No man can be seen as more spiritual or less spiritual because of how they have previously been gifted. That is God’s choice not man’s.

In referring to gifts we must not see these as ‘spiritual gifts’. They are in fact very much fleshly (in the best sense) gifts. They are gifts, but they are the basic ‘gifts’ of how a man or woman is physically made, although enhanced by strength received from God. Paul is very conscious that his own life has been under God’s surveillance from start to finish and he can thus speak of ‘gifts’ given in readiness for being converted.


Verse 8-9

‘But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have the ability to control their desires, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to go on burning with unrequited desire (literally ‘than to burn’).’

Paul is saying here that the unmarried and widows will do well if they remain in that state just as Paul is. There is nothing wrong with it. It is not contrary to God’s commands. And there are certain benefits, which he will shortly point out, which, all other things being equal (which sexually they rarely are) favour celibacy. There is no sin in remaining unmarried for those so gifted that they will not be excessively tempted by it. It is ‘good’ (just as marriage was recognised as being ‘good’).

Elsewhere, however, Paul makes clear that this advice is dependent on what gift a person has. He recommends younger widows to marry (1 Timothy 5:14). He had come to recognise that they were not necessarily good judges of their own self-control. He recognised that celibacy was not to be recommended for the majority of younger people. But he would still have accepted that there were exceptions to the rule.

But those who do not have the self-control which enables them to abstain from sex without undue temptation should marry. That is their gift from a gracious God. It is better than having to constantly fight the sexual urge (present tense) or give way to it illicitly. Constant committing of adultery in the mind would be far more harmful, and far more of a hindrance to their Christian lives, than being married. We must not be ashamed to admit to weakness. All men and women have weaknesses. Thus we must cater for them as seems fit. (Many find such obedience difficult even when they are married. But marriage prevents such desires from becoming uncontrollable).


Verse 10-11

‘But to the married I give charge, yes, not I but the Lord, that the wife does not leave her husband, (but and if she does depart let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband does not leave his wife.’

Now he warns against misapprehension. He is not recommending divorce or separation so as to better serve God. It is God’s direct command that a wife does not leave her husband, and a husband does not leave his wife. This is God’s view of Christian marriage and He sees it as indissoluble. Thus they do God no service by disobeying Him. They are commanded to remain married.

‘Leave’ here means leave permanently and with intent. It does not include such situations as Peter leaving his wife at home, to follow Jesus, but still acknowledging her as his wife (although it is, of course, possible that Peter’s wife was one of the women who ministered to Jesus. Certainly she goes around with him in his later ministry - 1 Corinthians 9:5). There are times when such sacrifices are justifiable. But only if they do not lead into sin.

Paul, however, seems to accept that legitimate situations might arise where a woman can depart from her husband. This might be, for example, in cases of continual harshness, violence or insanity. Such situations can arise through great pressures or various illnesses which are not the fault of anyone. But in that case she must remain unmarried, with the alternative of returning and being reconciled with her husband if he becomes more amenable. That this is the possible scenario comes out in that there is no thought of a husband leaving a wife. He should be able to cope with his wife’s violence. But this does not make her free to marry elsewhere. Marriage is binding for life.

Thus Paul is as firm as Jesus in stating that divorce is not permissible. However, as Jesus pointed out, the one thing that does permit divorce is when the other party is guilty of ‘fornication’. For that breaks the marriage bond because the person has now become linked to an adulterer. Under the Law indeed they should be put to death (Deuteronomy 22:22), and the innocent party would then be free to marry again. Thus in view of the relaxation of that Law the same outcome is considered to arise. The guilty party is ‘seen as dead’.

Alternately in the case of such women Paul may be providing for cases of leaving the husband in straight disobedience to God’s command, although if that were so it is difficult to see Paul accepting it so placidly, and if it is so why not vice versa as well? Even if he has a particular case in mind why does he not command a reconciliation? By his statements she is guilty of disobedience to God. Thus the ‘leaving’ is possibly rather seen as due to necessity for one reason or another, something so severe that it justifies leaving. He is not speaking of just walking out due to personal preference.

In view of the stated purpose of marriage in the whole passage it is difficult to think of any other grounds for desertion which would be acceptable to Paul, especially in view of his statement in 1 Corinthians 7:3-4 and his other injunctions in this verse. Presumably ‘remaining unmarried’ here means not seeking to obtain a divorce in order to remarry. But his main point is that a woman who has left her husband is not free to marry another while he lives. Marriage is inviolable unless destroyed by sexual misbehaviour which breaks the marriage bond.

‘Not I but the Lord.’ It is probable that this is put in for special emphasis because this issue was especially alive and pressing and one in which some were saying, ‘it is only Paul who is saying that. We have been inspired to see it differently’. The issue was so huge that he wanted it to be quite clear that the authority behind his words was the maximum possible. This was not just the words of one ‘prophet’ as against another, or even of an Apostle, they were the words of Jesus Himself. Thus Paul is saying, ‘take especial note that this is not just my command, it is the Lord’s.’ The inviolability of marriage was primary and was directly Jesus’ commandment. Nothing could circumvent that. Once and for all the issue was decided.


Verses 12-14

‘But as to the rest, I speak, not the Lord. If any brother has an unbelieving wife and she is content to dwell with him, let him not leave her. And the woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he is content to dwell with her, let her not leave her husband. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother, otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.’

‘As to the rest.’ He has dealt with their main questions on the subject. Now he will deal with the remainder.

‘I speak, not the Lord.’ He acknowledges that in this case he does not have direct words of the Lord to cite or direct evidence from the Scriptures, but nevertheless he speaks as an apostle with spiritual authority, being guided by the Spirit. He has God’s seal on what he says. The distinction is made to confirm the stress on the previous ‘not I but the Lord’. It would be apparent that the Lord could not have said this because Jesus spoke in a situation and environment where the question was unlikely to arise.

The principles are simple. The new Christian does not need to seek separation from an unbelieving partner, which they might have considered as necessary in order to cut themselves off from a godless situation in the home and to prevent their continuing to be of one flesh with an unbeliever. This is because their own presence (as temples of the Holy Spirit) ‘sanctifies’ the home and those in it. Whatever else this means it means that they do not lose out spiritually by remaining with the unbelieving partner.

Not so simple is the use of the word ‘sanctify’. Here the word ‘sanctified’ means that the presence of the Christian in some way makes the other partner come within the sphere of God’s earthly, temporal blessing, and under God’s temporary protection, and wards off evil spiritual influence. This follows the pattern that whatever touches what is holy becomes holy (Exodus 29:37; Leviticus 6:18). They are not ‘saved’, as 1 Corinthians 7:16 emphasises. But they enjoy temporary blessing as being part of a Christian enclave, just as a ‘stranger’ dwelling in Israel enjoyed certain benefits while he was there by being under the umbrella of the people of God (Deuteronomy 24:14, 17, 24; Deuteronomy 26:10-13). He enjoyed a peripheral part of the covenant.

In Romans 11:16 Paul can describe all Israelites within the covenant as ‘holy’. They were in a unique position before God, set apart as His people and as such enjoying certain special blessings from God. But the corollary was that more was expected of them. And Paul tells us there that in fact because of their rejection of Christ they had been cut off from their position. But the idea of ‘holiness’ as embracing even those who were not fully believing, all through the Old Testament period, is similar to here.

Thus by their conversion the Christian has brought their whole family within the sphere of God’s earthly temporary blessing, and especially their children who are seen as in some way enjoying the favourable influence of God. The power of Christ in the Christian neutralises the powers of darkness, and brings positive blessing to the home. Their being the temple of God makes the home ‘holy’.

We can compare to some extent how in Job 1:5 Job ‘sanctifies’ his children after they have been feasting by offering sacrifices for them. He returns them within the sphere of God’s blessing in case they have forfeited it by sin.

‘Otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy.’ The children of non-Christians are indirectly here seen as ‘unclean’, that is not within the sphere of God’s specific temporal blessings. They are not specifically set apart by God as ‘holy’ and set apart to be God’s. They enjoy God’s general blessings on mankind as a whole, but not His more specific temporal blessings which includes the spiritual influence of a Christian parent. But once a parent becomes a Christian that ‘sanctifies’ their children in the sense that they do come within the sphere of God’s specific temporal blessing. They are in a privileged position. They come under His cognisance and protection. We would probably understand it better if we knew more about the unseen world and its effects. What matters in respect of Paul’s readers is that the believer’s children are not put at a disadvantage as far as God is concerned by being in a home where one person is an unbeliever. They come under the same blessing of God as the children of Christian parents, as every Israelite child came within the covenant unless and until they deliberately rejected it. All the blessings of the covenant came to them, but even then eternal salvation depended on genuine response to the covenant.

It should be noted that it is the presence of the Christian parent that produces this effect. We have no real reason to think that it has anything to do with baptising, or otherwise, the children.


Verses 12-16

Instructions Where One Partner is a Non-Christian( 7:12-16).

But another question they had seemingly asked had in mind cases where one partner had been converted and had become a Christian. It does not refer to cases where someone who has become a Christian subsequently marries a non-Christian, for that is wrong in itself (2 Corinthians 6:14; compare Ezra 10:10) and must raise doubts about whether the person really is a Christian, for it is wilfully combining a citizen of heaven with the kingdom of darkness, combining righteousness with unrighteousness. It is contrary to the principles enunciated in the last chapter. But on conversion a Christian could find themselves in that position through no fault of their own.


Verse 15

‘Yet if the unbelieving one separate themselves, let them depart. The brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases.’

Where the unbelieving partner seeks a divorce, or walks out because the person has become a Christian, or turns the Christian out, then no blame can attach to the Christian. They may let them depart. They need not feel bound to try to sustain, and make great efforts to preserve, what has become an impossible marriage, especially as this would usually mean that the other partner was seeking to pressurise them and the children into turning their backs on Christ.

‘Not under bondage in such cases.’ This may simply mean that they need not feel bound to make excessive efforts to prevent it, or it may mean that they are seen as released from their marriage and may therefore divorce the unbeliever and marry a Christian. This latter would seem intrinsic in the words, (although not directly referred to), in view of the invidious position a Christian woman may find herself in in such a case, especially if she had children to look after and bring up. It would also seem to be confirmed by seeing this position as contrasted with that in 1 Corinthians 7:11 where the woman was bound to remain single. But if so it is the exception that proves the rule and arises because of the decision of the non-Christian partner. However, Paul’s emphasis is on the fact that she need not feel under a burden to continue the marriage. It cannot be seen as a general approval of remarriage. Earlier Paul has made clear that in general the opposite is the case.

We can compare this case with that of the Ezra 9-10 (although that is more like the case of a believer actually marrying an unbeliever). There the presumption must be that having put away their idolatrous wives they were permitted to marry again although it does not actually say so. Permission was presumably given by default.


Verse 15-16

‘But God has called us in peace.’ When God called us it was essentially in the sphere of peace, peace with God and peace from God. God does not seek to bring His people into a position of antagonism and conflict, nor does He want it. It may arise because of the nature of the unbelieving, but it is never God’s aim. If the result of trying to maintain the marriage is conflict on religious matters which results in the partner walking out then he/she need not feel burdened at his/her failure to maintain it because of their partner’s behaviour. But if they can live in peace with their unbelieving partner and prevent conflict then that is good. For Christians are to love their neighbours, including the unbelieving, and that includes an unbelieving partner. Indeed it must be recognised that there is a good chance that their influence might lead to their partner’s conversion as well (1 Peter 3:1-2). Thus they too will enjoy God’s saving power. The Christian seeks to spread peace and goodwill, although not at the expense of faithfulness to Christ, and to seek to win others to peace with God.

On the other hand it is not necessarily true that they would save their partners. How do they know? Thus they are not bound if the other partner leaves. The very act would reveal an obstinacy of heart against God.

‘Called us.’ Here Paul is referring to God’s activity in calling men to Himself. The verb is in continual use from now until 1 Corinthians 7:24. Whatever their state the Christian partners can see themselves as people whom God has called, people who are chosen of God and special in His eyes. Besides this their worldly station is irrelevant. They are now God’s own, beloved people (Titus 2:14; 1 Peter 2:9).


Verse 17

‘But as the Lord has distributed to each man, as God has called each, so let him continue to walk. And so I ordain in all the churches.’

Here the position in which each man finds himself when he is ‘called’ is seen as God’s previous distribution to him within His general purposes. Thus he may accept his lot and continue to walk in that way. It will in no way affect his spiritual position before God, as long as it does not interfere with his personal obedience to God’s commands..

The purpose here is not to restrict them to a particular station in life but to show them that from a spiritual point of view their station in life is unimportant. They need not be desperate to get out of it. But he is not saying that they should not get out of it if the opportunity arises. (Just as earlier the unmarried can marry or not as they see best before God).

‘And so I ordain in all the churches.’ He wants the Corinthians to know that he is not restricting them more than he does the other churches. He treats all the same and requires the same of all. Furthermore he may have hoped that this would be an encouragement to them as they felt themselves acting in unison with their Christian brothers.


Verses 17-24

Christians Need Not Feel Compelled to Leave the State in Which They Were When They Were Called (7:17-24).

Paul now stresses that from a spiritual point of view Christians need not worry about their earthly state and position as it does not affect their spiritual position before God. From a spiritual point of view it is irrelevant. Neither having been married to an unbeliever nor being circumcised nor being uncircumcised nor being a slave affects them in God’s eyes. He agrees that if a slave has the chance of freedom he should take it. But although it may be greatly to his physical benefit, it is not necessary for his spiritual benefit, because God sees all men as free.

This principle of remaining in the state in which they were before they were converted is echoed throughout the chapter. The point is that becoming a Christian need not change status in life, nor will current status put the Christian at a disadvantage as a Christian. What basically matters is the state of the heart towards God.


Verse 18-19

‘Was any man called being circumcised, let him not become uncircumcised. Has any been called in uncircumcision, let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but the keeping of the commandments of God.’

Physical signs, or the lack of them, are nothing to God. If a man is circumcised he does not need to have an operation to show that he is no longer a Jew. Indeed as a Christian Jew he can continue witnessing to Jews, just as Paul does (1 Corinthians 9:20). If a man is uncircumcised it will not benefit him at all to become circumcised. God will not thereby look on him differently. Such outward things are irrelevant.

What matters in both cases is submission to the will of God demonstrated by keeping His commandments (see Romans 2:25-29), and these centre around ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Romans 13:9-10; Galatians 5:6; Galatians 5:14; James 2:8; Ephesians 6:2; 1 Timothy 1:5; 1 Timothy 6:11-14). The wide view we are to take of ‘commandments’ is demonstrated in John’s letter (1 John 2:3-5; 1 John 2:8-11; 1 John 3:23; 1 John 4:21). In the end what God looks for is obedience to Him and love for one another. This is the responsibility of every Christian, not in order to attain salvation, but because they have received salvation, because they have been ‘sanctified’ and are God’s dwellingplace..

Paul’s declaration here was important. The Jews despised those who were uncircumcised, and the Greeks tended to despise those who were circumcised and had thus marred the perfect body. But God says that neither condition matters. What is relevant is that He can use each in the sphere in which he finds himself. The circumcised have the advantage when witnessing to the circumcised, the uncircumcised when witnessing to Gentiles. But elsewhere he will point out that circumcision, like the sacrificial system, has in fact come to fulfilment in the crucifixion of Christ. The shedding of blood in circumcision looked forward to His work on the cross, and those who come to benefit from His death are circumcised spiritually through union with Him in His death as a result of putting off the body of flesh, the old life and the old ways. The old physical rite is therefore done away, replaced by the spiritual, which is a sign of their death to sin and their new obedience (Colossians 2:11-13).


Verse 20-21

‘Let each man abide in that calling in which he was when he was called. Were you called being a bondservant? Do not worry about it. But if you can become free use it rather.’

As he makes clear Paul is not here saying that no man should try to rise above his station. Indeed he encourages the bondservant to take any chance he has of becoming free. What he wants is for them not to become concerned about their condition because they feel that somehow it prevents them from truly living the Christian life. He does not want them running away and becoming fugitives because of some false idea that being a slave demeans them in God’s eyes or restricts their service for God. God is not pleased when His people fail to fulfil their responsibilities on the pretext of spiritual service. All Christians are to fulfil their civil, family and marital obligations.

There were two sides to being a bondservant as Exodus 21:5; Deuteronomy 15:16 make clear. On the one hand freedom was restricted and he was looked on as a chattel. But on the other, if he had a good master he was cared for and provided for and given such protection as his master could provide. His future, and that of his family, was guaranteed. The freeman might theoretically be better off, but he might still be looked on as a thing of no account, little better than a chattel. And he might be paying a great price for his freedom, for a freeman was dispensable and could find himself in poverty and with nowhere to live, left to struggle along in the gutter. Many preferred to be bondservants and enjoy security.

In the passage the concentration is on calling to a station in life, to something not easily changed, not to a trade or profession, although many interpret it partly in the latter way. But there is no justification in the text for doing so. In fact there were some trades and professions which a Christian would have to change from because of its associations, or because it was against the commandments of God. This principle can be overruled by other more important principles which are direct commandments of God.


Verse 22

‘For he who was called by the Lord, being a bondservant, is the Lord’s freedman. Similarly, he who was called being free is Christ’s bondservant.’

God sees all men as the same, with the same dignity and the same significance. He sees the bondservant as a freedman. He sees the freeman as a bondservant to Christ. Thus the one is not better off from the point of view of spiritual blessing and usefulness as the other. Nor can the freeman see himself as superior to the bondservant, for he himself is a bondservant to Christ.

‘Is the Lord’s freedman.’ He has been made free from servitude to sin, and grovelling under it as though it were his master (John 8:34-36; Romans 6:20-23), he has been freed from the curse of the Law (Galatians 3:13) and is no longer bound by all its restrictions, he has been freed from the power of Satan working in the sons of disobedience (Ephesians 2:3). He is free to meet with God’s people on equal terms as ‘a brother’. He is free to serve God faithfully.

‘Christ’s bondservant.’ He is duty bound to obey God in whatever He requires and to do His will without questioning it (although he may question whether something really is God’s will unless it is clearly taught in the Scriptures). He is a slave to righteousness (Romans 6:18-19). He is bound to do all, whether in word or deed, to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). He is in bondage to men to do all that is necessary in order to reach out to save them (1 Corinthians 9:19-23).


Verse 23

‘You were bought with a price. Do not be the bondservants of men.’

Taken literally this would contradict what he has said above. But he does not intend it to be taken literally. It continues the thought that Christians are bondservants to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:22). He is saying that having been bought by Christ through the giving of His own precious blood (1 Peter 1:18-19, and having been redeemed through His suffering, they should be His slaves and not slaves to every wind of men’s devising. They should not let men determine their lives and how they lived, especially where they required that which was abhorrent to God. They should obey God rather than men (Acts 5:29). They may have to serve men because God has ordained it, but they should not see it as service to men. Indeed their service to men should be seen as service to God, so that they served not as menpleasers but as God pleasers (Ephesians 6:6; Colossians 3:22). For from now on all their service should be seen in this way, a service honoured in that it was the way Christ walked (Philippians 2:7; Mark 10:43-45).

The word for ‘price’ contains within it reflections of honour (compare the use of ‘tim-es’ in 1 Timothy 5:17). What we pay a good price for is highly valued, and what is highly valued we pay a good price for. Thus as these have been bought with such a price they are so important that they are above slavery to men.


Verse 24

‘Brothers, let each man abide with God in whatever position he was in when he was called.’

The Christian is to commit his life to God in faith and leave it in the hands of God. He is to walk with God and let God see to his future. If God destines freedom then he should take advantage of it. But if not let him continue serving God where he is. For that is where he was when God chose to call him, and unless He indicates differently, that is where He wants him to serve. The early church contained a large number of slaves and poor people. Such are often most easily and profitably helped by their own.

Paul followed out his own teaching. In Philippians 4:11 he could say, ‘I have learned, in whatever state I am to be content with it’. And again ‘godliness with contentment is great gain, for we have brought nothing into the world for neither can we carry anything out’ (1 Timothy 6:6). And in Hebrews we read, ‘be free from the love of money, content with such things as you have’ (Hebrews 13:5).

None of this means that we should not work to change things for the better. But it does mean that we should do it for love of Christ and not for personal gain, because we are righting what we know to be wrong, and not because we are seeking our own advancement.


Verse 25

Further Instructions Concerning Marriage In View of the Urgency of the Times (7:25-40).

‘Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.’

‘Concerning virgins’ here, in view of 1 Corinthians 7:26-27, probably means ‘concerning those who have not yet married’, whether men or women, whom he assumes to be pure (compare Revelation 14:4). Although it may be that he was asked a question about virgin women and chose to answer it at first more generally, for in 1 Corinthians 7:28 and later the virgins are women.

It is clear that Paul had been asked whether ‘virgins’ should marry. In many pagan sects there were women who were called ‘virgins’ who did not marry. They were dedicated to the gods and offered their bodies to men so that the men might come into ‘communion’ with the god through sexual activity. It was typical of men’s deceitfulness in making what was disgraceful appear even a ‘good and pious’ thing.

While we must presume that the Corinthians were not thinking fully in these terms, yet the idea of pure virgins being separated to God, and to God alone, may well have seemed attractive, and may suggest they mainly had women in mind. Paul, however, answers in respect of both.

Paul gives his answer on the basis of His Apostleship, ‘as one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful’, as in 1 Corinthians 7:6; 1 Corinthians 7:12. There was nothing he knew of in the Scriptures or in the Lord’s teaching on such matters. Perpetual virginity was never considered a godly notion among the Jews, and Jephthah’s daughter bewailed the fact that she must die a virgin (Judges 11:38), while for men the married state was seen as a necessity. (But compare Jesus’ words in Matthew 19:12 of which Paul may have been unaware).

‘As one who has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.’ He received His Apostleship by the Lord’s mercy, having been deliberately chosen in accordance with that mercy (1 Timothy 1:12-13; 1 Timothy 1:16). And as a chosen Apostle his responsibility was to be faithful in all things pertaining to God. Thus they can be sure that when he gives his guidance it is as one who is being faithful.

But even as Paul begins his reply about virgins he wants it clear that the principles do not just apply to virgin women but to all. Virgin women are not to be seen as particularly under pressure.


Verses 26-28

‘I think therefore that this is good by reason of the present (or ‘impending’) necessity (distress, calamity, necessity, compulsion, means of compulsion) namely that it is good for a man to be as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But and if you marry you have not sinned.’

There are two words in this verse which are crucial to the interpretation of what follows, ’enestosan (present, impending) ’anagken (distress, calamity, necessity, compulsion, means of compulsion - compare its use in 1 Corinthians 7:37). The question is, does this refer to some current or impending distress or calamity facing only the Corinthians, or does it refer to the ‘present necessity’ or ‘impending distress’ resulting from the fact that it is the end of the age (1 Corinthians 10:11; 1 Peter 1:20; 1 Peter 4:7), together with the divine compulsion that such a situation applies, or to a general divine necessity.

In favour of the first would be the view that Paul is not describing a normal attitude but one dependent on the fact that the particular times are unusual, but will pass. In favour of the second is the language in the following verses which may be seen as suggesting the brevity of life and the final days of the age, and the fact that it is strange, if such a specific calamity were coming, why it is not more specifically mentioned elsewhere in the letter.

The New Testament certainly sees the people of God as living in ‘emergency times’. To the Romans Paul said, ‘And do this, knowing the time, that now it is high time for you to awaken from sleep, for now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed. The night is almost gone, and the day is at hand. Let us therefore throw off the works of darkness and let us put on the armour of light’ (Romans 13:11-12). And again he says, ‘they were written for our instruction, on whom the ends of the ages have come (1 Corinthians 10:11). While John also tells us, ‘Children, it is the last hour, and just as you heard that antichrist is coming, even now many antichrists have arisen. From this we know that it is the last hour’ (1 John 2:17-18).

Whichever interpretation is right, he approaches his answer to the Corinthians’ question in terms of both men and women. He does not want the principle he is applying to be seen as something that only applies to virgin women. It applies to all. And that principle is that ‘in view of the present (or ‘impending’) necessity (or distress or divine compulsion)’, whatever it is, it is better for men not to change their married or unmarried state.

‘This is good.’ That is, remaining single.

‘The present distress.’ Using this translation it would suggest that, at the time, times were possibly hard, or were expected to be hard, either due to persecution or due to the threat of civil disturbance or even war. In such circumstances men had enough to cope with without a change of marital state and its possible repercussions. To be unmarried would be helpful in facing up to the crisis for they would have no one to consider but themselves. But such a situation was not a good grounds for seeking to break up a marriage. And if indeed they did decide to marry, he assures them that they will not have sinned.

So the idea then is that it is not marrying or not marrying that he is advising against but marrying under those particular unique circumstances.

If we translate ‘in view of the present (or impending) necessity’, meaning the divine compulsion of it being the end of the age, then his words here describe what should be a permanent attitude. In the light of the urgency of the situation and the imminence of the coming of Christ, says Paul, celibacy has great advantages.

But that, some say, would seem to make the advice contradictory to what has been said earlier in the chapter, where marriage has been recommended to those who have strong sexual desires. However, in answer to this we could argue that that recommendation was because of the recognised weakness of man and that here Paul is recommending what he sees as the more ideal position for those able to take it, giving a different slant on things, while at the same time also allowing for man’s weakness, as earlier, by pointing out that it would be no sin to marry. But he does point out the troubles that could ensue.

‘By reason of the present necessity.’ This might also be translated, ‘in view of the present (or impending) distress’, ‘in view of the impending Messianic woes’, ‘in view of the present necessity caused by our responsibilities to reach out to the world’, ‘in view of the present divine dispensation’, ‘in view of the present compulsion in the light of the second coming’ and ‘in view of the methods of compulsion presently available to the authorities’. So what may be in mind may either be a period of distress coming on the Corinthian church, a God impressed necessity, a present divine dispensation, an awareness of the imminence of the second coming or an expectation of the application of pressure, or even torture, by the authorities in a period of persecution. Pressure and torture is much harder to fight when loved ones are involved.

Even if it was present or impending distress that was in mind it may be suggested that the ‘distress’ was so severe, or expected to be so severe, that he took it as an indication of the possibility of the Lord’s imminent return, as one of those signs that should awaken men’s thoughts to such a possibility, for he speaks of time being shortened and seems to speak of the need for Christians to be ready and prepared as they live through difficult conditions (1 Corinthians 7:29-31). In that case his words would have general application. But it is equally possible that he had in mind some expected distress of some duration which was or would be peculiar to Corinth and its surrounding area, so that nothing major should be entered into until it was past. Then his words would apply to all such situations.


Verse 28

‘And if a virgin marry she has not sinned. Yet such will have tribulation in the flesh, and I would spare you.’

There is no question of it being sinful for a virgin to marry, he points out. God does not require perpetual virginity. Paul’s only hesitation is as to whether it will put her into a position of greater hardship. (Here the virgin must be a woman as it is paralleled to a man’s behaviour).

‘Such will have tribulation.’ This may be just a general statement suggesting the preferability of not being married, having in mind such things as the pains of childbirth, the distress of infant mortality, and the possibility of future family problems and dissension, or it may be suggesting that the present or impending distress will lead to such tribulation of the flesh.

As, if there was a period of distress, we do not know what the distress was, or was expected to be (if it existed), we cannot interpret the latter in more detail. The Corinthians would have known. But the principle applies in all difficult times. It was no doubt applied by some Christians in the two world wars of the twentieth century who would argue that in the circumstances it was better not to marry. Certainly many who did marry had ‘tribulation in the flesh’ when husbands were killed or severely wounded.


Verses 29-31

‘But this I say brothers, the time is shortened that from now on both those who have wives be as those who have none, and those who weep as those who do not weep, and those who rejoice as those who do not rejoice, and those who buy as though they owned nothing, and those who use the world as not abusing it, for the fashion of this world passes away.’

The passage is vivid and descriptive. If it is referring to a ‘present distress’ its point is that, because of it, time is short and that in the ‘distress’ things will be such that natural things must take second place. Normal marital relations will not be a first priority, there will be no time or place for mourning or for laughter, if they buy something there will be no opportunity for them to use it. They will be staid and sober in their behaviour because they will see that the fashion of this world, or the world as they know it, is passing away. All this would point to something great in its severity, such as an all out war, or great persecution, or the possibility of the second coming itself following a period of expected distress.

But many see ‘the time is shortened’ as referring to the shortness of life, or of time before the Parousia, the time having been ‘shortened’ by the crowning of the Messiah, and the need to live in the light of this fact. They think in terms of the divine necessity and compulsion that results.

The others counter-argue that it is difficult to ignore the meaning ‘the present (or impending) distress’, and that what follows describes an emergency situation and is surely not describing life as it would be lived in normal times. It certainly does not seem to tie in with 1 Corinthians 7:4-5.

To that a reply might be made that either some cause of distress was used in 1 Corinthians 7:26 as a reason for that injunction but not applicable here, or that the distress refers to the anticipated troubles prior to Christ’s coming, or that, in view of the non-mention elsewhere of the ‘distress’, the alternative idea of ‘necessity’ and divine compulsion should rather be applied there and that here the idea has been expanded to include the greatest compulsions of all to Christians, the brevity of life and the imminence of the Lord’s return.

Then what follows would be seen as not to be taken strictly literally but as an indication of what our attitude of mind should be in view of the shortness of our lives (and they were much shorter then) and of the time. Marriage, sorrows and joys, and possessions would all be subjected to the greater fact of making the most of the time we have, and being taken up with worldly things would need to be avoided in view of the fact that the illusory fashion of the world is certainly passing away at His coming. In the New Testament the second coming of Christ is ever used as a spur to Christian behaviour.

‘Those who have wives may be as though they had none.’ He is not suggesting abstinence from sexual relations except as provided for in 1 Corinthians 7:5, but that the people of God should not allow their marriages to take prime place. They must always take second place to the service of Christ. We should consider here the words of Jesus, “If anyone comes to Me, and does not love his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, less than Me, he cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:26).

‘Those who weep as those who wept not.’ This has in mind the sorrows wayward children can bring, or bereavement, or any other earthly sorrow. In the end the people of God must not allow such things to be an undue hindrance to their responsibilities under the Gospel.

‘Those who rejoice as though they rejoiced not.’ In contrast earth’s blessings also should not interfere with such responsibilities. We must always remember that they are temporary, while the people of God should be seeking what is eternal.

‘Those who buy as though they possessed not.’ Earthly wealth and possessions must not act as a drag on obedience to God’s demands. They must be held on to lightly.

Jesus was very clear about the need to use possessions wisely. Jesus told His disciples that they must sell their possessions and give to the poor (Luke 12:33), and He told the story of the rich fool, who thought he could cling on to all his possessions (Luke 12:16-21). He taught His disciples to lay up treasures in heaven and not on earth (Matthew 6:19-20), and He said that they should be used to ‘make friends’ of God’s people ‘that they may received you into eternal habitations’ (Luke 16:9). In other words His emphasis was that they should be used for the furtherance of the Gospel and the relief of those in need.

‘Those who use the world as not abusing it (or ‘as not using it to the full’), for the fashion of this world (or ‘the world in its present form’) is passing away.’ The idea is that in their use of things of the world they will be moderate, neither abusing them nor using them ‘to the full’. In other words they must be kept in their proper place. They must not try to extract the maximum from them at the cost of other things. Or we might translate ‘using the world as not using it.’ The point is that things are or will be such that moderation must be the rule. This could have in mind something like a siege situation or something that will produce a great change in the society as they know it (such as anticipated widespread persecution). Or it could simply mean recognising that in view of the shortness of life and the imminence of Christ’s return the things that the world offers should be mainly rejected or kept in their proper place (Hebrews 11:24-26; 2 Peter 3:10-13).


Verse 32-33

‘But I would have you free from cares. He who is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord. But he who is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife.’

Here Paul comes to the crux of the matter. His recommendation of celibacy has nothing to do with the fact that the flesh is thought of as sinful, or that asceticism is seen as making a man spiritual, it has to do with practical reality. He wants them, in view of the emergency times, to be free from other cares. The married person has cares and responsibilities that a single person knows nothing about. His wife will expect not to be neglected and will need her wants seeing to. This will partly depend on whether he has married a wife as dedicated as himself, but even if he has, life is such that problems can arise that take up his time and attention that would not have arisen if he had been single. He must provide a home for his children. He must watch over them and care for their needs and wants. And we could go on.

But it is clear that a married man will have certain distractions which may well prevent his hundred-per-cent attention on what would please the Lord given no distractions. Of course his proper attention to his wife and family pleases the Lord, and in return they provide him with support, joys and experiences beneficial to his spiritual life. He may well be a stronger Christian because of them, and if he is a man of strong sexual desires he almost certainly will be. But compared with the single man he has a considerable number of things that he must watch and control in order to be the best he can for the Lord that the single man knows nothing about. His full dedication to God’s service is therefore all the more difficult. He has so many distractions.

On the other hand we can argue that in the long term it is Christian families who have been the mainstay of the church through the ages. And we would be right. But if we are honest we can see that Paul’s point is valid. There will always need to be those who are so free from distractions that they can go anywhere, and do anything, without fear of the consequences for loved ones. And married men who have sought to behave as though they were as free as single men have often thereby brought great distress on those whom they should have been caring for. How difficult it is to tread the fine line between obedience to the Lord in service and obedience to the Lord in family responsibilities. And this the single man knows nothing about (except with regard to close relatives).

But we must note here two things. Firstly that Paul knew very well that a large proportion of men would, in the light of his advice given earlier, need to marry. No one would have been more surprised than he if all the Corinthians had become celibate. What he was seeking was the select band of those who would be available for service of any kind. And secondly that he does not in any way indicate that such people are more spiritual or more deserving than those who are married. His point is practical and not judgmental.


Verse 34

‘And there is a difference also between the wife and the virgin. She who is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit, but she that is married is careful for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.’

Paul points out that his arguments are equally the same for women. Paul’s view of women is very high. He treats them on the same level as men. Because of certain teachings about a woman’s psychological make up (1 Timothy 2:12-15), which many would accept are in general justified, he has been accused of being a woman hater. But this was far from so. In a day when all men looked down on women as only useful for certain things Paul exalted their status and saw them as equal with men in the service of God, even though he did at the same time see their main ministry as having a different slant.

Here then he points out that the unmarried woman, the virgin, can concentrate all her attention on pleasing the Lord, concentrating on holiness of both body and spirit. She is not distracted by the fleshly desires that the married woman has to cultivate for the sake of her husband if not for herself. All her feelings can be directed at the Lord, free from family and sexual restraints. She is as far distant from the pagan idea of virgins as it is possible to be. She is free to carry out whatever ministry the Lord opens to her. How different would have been the story of the evangelisation of the world, especially on the ‘mission field’ in the last two centuries, had it not been for such women.

Thus she can concentrate on prayer and service, on doing good and helping those in need, on giving spiritual and practical guidance to others, and on teaching the word of God. She is not distracted by family requirements. She is not to dominate men, or make her teaching the final arbiter in matters of God (this was especially true in the days when there was no New Testament), but should, where possible, act as helpmeet to those in authority in the church. Paul recognised that with her partial dependence on intuition a woman was more likely to fantasise. But he had nothing but the highest regard for them. (As he recognised men’s weakness in the sexual realm so Paul recognised women’s weakness in the intuitive realm. But his recognition was practical. He did not thereby degrade them).

‘The married woman is careful for the things of the world how she may please her husband.’ This has in mind his advice given in 1 Corinthians 7:4, referring to sexual matters, and all the concerns that result as children come into the world as her responsibility, a responsibility she must not neglect. All direct effects of marriage are ‘of the world’ (in a good sense) for in heaven there is neither marriage not giving in marriage (nor are there sexual desires). So Paul is here referring to all the different responsibilities that marriage brings. She who is free from these things is free to keep her whole attention on God.

We should however note that this advice assumes a full dedication to the Lord. It does not recommend being single for its own sake or for selfish reasons. It refers to a dedication that is real and will need to be maintained. Sadly all too often being single is seen rather as an opportunity for getting on or avoiding the problems of parenthood, without it being combined with full dedication to Christ. This advice does not apply then.


Verse 35

‘And this I say for your own profit, not that I may cast a noose on you, but for that which is noble (or ‘proper’) and that you may attend on the Lord without distraction.’

Paul emphasises that he is not trying to restrict them or trap them. He has their own advantage in mind. He wants them to lead noble lives (compare Mark 15:43 - ‘ a noble councillor’, same word, one well thought of and highly respected). He wants them, like himself, to attend on the Lord without distraction.

But he is well aware that many younger women are just as sexually motivated as men, and often need the tie of marriage, and what it involves, to motivate them in the right direction, and that is why in Timothy he enjoined that in general younger widows should remarry (1 Timothy 5:11; 1 Timothy 5:14). He recognised that he was dealing with the vast complexities of human nature (in its best sense) and gave his advice but left them to consider it accordingly. What he did want to bring home was that, contrary to much thought on the subject, remaining single was not wrong, and could be beneficial.


Verse 36

‘But if any man thinks that he behaves ignobly towards his virgin, if she be past the flower of her age, and if need so demands, let him do what he will. He does not sin. Let them marry.’

There is some difficulty in interpreting the following verses in determining whether it is speaking of two persons who are in some sort of platonic relationship or to the relationship of daughter to father, or both. No mention of ‘daughter’ is made in the Greek so that much depends on the interpretation of Greek words. For example does gamizo (1 Corinthians 7:38) mean ‘marry’ or ‘give in marriage’. Both are possible, but the fact that gameo has been used previously may suggest the second. But it is not of vital importance because the principle remains the same whichever we take.

In this verse reference is made to ‘his virgin’. Does this mean his virgin companion or does it mean his virgin daughter, or both? It may be intended to be inclusive. The use of ‘them’ in ‘let them marry’ slightly favours the first, as only the virgin and the one who is acting on her behalf have previously been mentioned, while connection with 1 Corinthians 7:38 may be seen as supporting the second. However, it may simply be that Paul assumes the husband without mentioning him.

But the principle is that if the virgin is likely to suffer through her virginity, whether it be emotionally, psychologically, sexually, through the attitudes of society, or in any other way, especially when she begins to get a little older, then she should either be allowed to marry a husband, or her platonic companion should marry her. Her basic needs have to be considered and met, and to do otherwise would be wrong and sinful. In this case for her not to marry would be wrong.


Verse 37

‘But he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power as touching his own will, and has determined thus in his own heart, to keep his own virgin state, shall do well.’

We must interpret this verse in the light of 1 Corinthians 7:36. It cannot therefore be saying that if the man nobly determines to force his daughter to remain a virgin against her will he is doing well. That would be heartless and wrong. It must therefore be referring to a man making a decision about himself and we must add ‘state’ to virgin as we have done in the translation. This would then favour 1 Corinthians 7:37 as referring to father and daughter.

Here then Paul is commending the man who is able to have full control over his own will, and is confident of his own steadfastness (and he should not be if he has strong sexual desires, for they will eventually wear him down), and is full of determination to lead a single dedicated life. That man, he says, does well.

Alternatively Paul may be signifying a case where father and daughter are equally determined, and the father may in some cases be hesitant, either because he wants grandchildren and male heirs or for the sake of status. In these circumstances he would not be behaving ignobly towards his daughter (1 Corinthians 7:36). In this case, Paul says, by denying himself for the sake of his daughter’s desire and dedication he does well. This would fit in better with 1 Corinthians 7:38.


Verse 38

‘So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who gives her not in marriage will do better.’

‘Gives in marriage.’ The verb is gamizo which is an intensive form of gameo - ‘to marry’ - and means ‘give in marriage’, but can also mean ‘to marry’. It could thus be translated, ‘he who marries his own virgin does well and he who does not marry her does better.’ However Paul’s change of verb suggest the translation above is correct. But whichever we use the principle remains. It is good for her to be married, it is even better if, through her full dedication to the Lord, she freely of her own choice decides not to marry so that she can devote her life totally to his service. No pressure must be put on her, either by companion or father. They must behave nobly and honourably towards her. For it to be good the choice must be hers. In the end for both men and women marriage is good but the ability to live a life of total dedication to the Lord in order to serve Him faithfully is better, conditionally of course on it being maintainable without sin directly resulting.


Verse 39

‘A wife is bound for as long as her husband lives, but if the husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she abides as she is, according to my judgment. And I consider that I also have the Spirit of God.’

Finally he deals with a wife whose husband dies. She is now faced again with a choice whether to marry or not. Again the same principles apply. For her to marry is good. There is no sin in that and it could have positive results, as long as it is ‘in the Lord’, that is into a genuine Christian marriage. He would not say this about marrying an unbeliever or a nominal Christian. But to dedicate herself solely to Christ’s service would be better as long as she can maintain that dedication. If she will have difficulty with this on her own she is better to marry again (1 Timothy 5:11-14).

‘And I consider that I also have the Spirit of God.’ This applies to all he has been saying on the subject. Paul is confident that what he says has come because he is being directed by the Holy Spirit. Thus these are not just his own opinions but the word of God.

 


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Bibliography Information
Pett, Peter. "Commentary on 1 Corinthians 7:4". "Peter Pett's Commentary on the Bible ". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/pet/1-corinthians-7.html. 2013.

Lectionary Calendar
Wednesday, November 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 27 / Ordinary 32
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