The Bible has a lot to say about marriage, much of it in the New Testament. The Lord Jesus taught about it many times in the gospel records.
A. Jesus' Teaching on Marriage
1. Marriage is designed by God
Jesus said in Matthew 19:4-6, "Have ye not read that he who made them at the beginning, made them male and female; and said, For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife, and they two shall be one flesh? Wherefore, they are no more two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let no man put asunder." God specifically designed man and woman for each other. He stated this is actually God himself joining two people together.
2. Marriage is to be monogamous
Jesus also emphasized that marriage is to be monogamous, or that it was to be a one-man one-woman relationship. In Mark 10:6-9 Jesus was simply reiterating what God had already declared in Genesis 2:24: "From the beginning of the creation God made them male and female. For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife; and they two shall be one flesh; so then they are no more two, but one flesh. What, therefore, God hath joined together, let not man put asunder."
3. Marriage is to be unbroken
Jesus taught in Matthew 5:31-32 that marriage is to be unbroken. He said, "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement; But I say unto you that whosoever shall put away his wife, except for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery; and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." God hasn't changed His attitude at all about divorce.
4. Marriage is only for this life
Jesus also taught that marriage is only for this life. In Matthew 22:30, He said, "In the resurrection they [human beings] neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are like the angels of God in heaven" (cf. Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35). These passages all indicate that marriage is only for this earth and not for heaven.
Even though the Lord had much to say about marriage, He covered only the basic theological issues surrounding it. He identified the institution of marriage without dealing with the practical applications of it. He later gave revelation through His apostles so that when we read the epistles, we find much more information about the practical application of marriage. That is particularly true of the apostle Paul who had much to say about the subject of marriage from various angles.
Paul's Writings--Opinion or Inspiration?
Many people have unfortunately decided that the first thing to do with some of Paul's writings is to discard them as part of the Bible. For instance, they want to dismiss 1 Corinthians 7 because Paul puts supposed disclaimers throughout the chapter, trying to tell us that it is simply his opinion. They point to 1 Corinthians 7:12 where Paul says, "But to the rest speak I not the Lord." They say, "He wants to make it clear that this is his opinion, not God's."
They will also point to 1 Corinthians 7:25 where Paul says, "Now concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord." Paul also says, "She is happier if she so abide, after my judgment; and I think also that I have the Spirit of God" (v. 40). The critics say Paul didn't know whether he had God's perspective or not and assume his is a rather hopeless attempt at mixing opinion with revelation. They claim the best thing to do is discard it. This is an inaccurate view, however, if Paul's statements are seen in another light.
It is true that Paul nowhere in his other epistles gives statements such as these, but that does not mean he is simply giving his own opinion here. The reason he makes statements is that he is speaking new truth. He is not quoting something from the gospels that our Lord said. Paul reaches back, interfacing with what the Lord taught, and says, "Look, I'm going to tell you something about being married that isn't just from me; the Lord already said it." Then in verse 12, he says, "But to the rest speak I, not the Lord." In other words, he says, "This is something new that the Lord didn't talk about. I'm no longer quoting the Lord." In verse 10, it's as if Paul, when quoting Jesus, says, "Quote ... end quote." But in verse 12, he is giving new instructions that are actually through the inspiration of the Spirit of Christ Himself. He's not disclaiming inspiration; he's putting himself on an equal plane with the Lord.
That is why I don't like red-letter editions of the Bible. They imply that what Jesus said is more important than what any other biblical writer said. So is what Paul said equally as important as what the Lord said? Yes, what Jesus said and what Paul said both came from God. There are no degrees of inspiration. The entire Bible is the revelation of the Spirit of God. It's all right if you have a red-letter Bible, as long as you realize that the verses in red are not more important than any other verses. When our Lord was giving the parables of the kingdom in Matthew 13, He said the disciples were scribes. This meant the disciples were going to be the writers of the New Testament. He said in verse 52, "Every scribe who is instructed concerning the kingdom of heaven is like a man that is an householder, who bringeth forth out of his treasure things new and old." Jesus was explaining that the disciples were being trained by Him to dispense old and new truth, just as Paul is doing here in 1 Corinthians 7. Paul is bringing new truth to light, given to him by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.
B. Paul's Teaching on Marriage
First Corinthians 7-11 comprise Paul's authoritative answers to practical questions about which the believers in Corinth had written him (7:1). The letter was probably delivered by Stephanas, Fortunatus, and Achaicus (16:17). The Corinthians had four major areas they were asking questions about: marriage (chapter 7), meat offered to idols (chapters 8-10), women (11:2-16), and the Lord's table (11:17-34).
1. Morality in Corinth
Marriage was an area in which the Corinthians had serious problems. To understand the context of Paul's writing, we have to know something of the problems the Corinthians would face as new believers in the area of marriage. They were having problems adjusting to their new life in the church and the community.
2. Marriages in the Roman Empire
Much of the Corinthian's marital trouble reflected the pagan and morally corrupt society in which they lived and from which they had not fully separated themselves. The Roman Empire had no uniform set of marital laws. You could get married at least four different ways in the Roman Empire, all of which were recognized in some sense. Much of the population of the Roman world were slaves, maybe as many as several hundred thousand. These slaves weren't even considered human beings and therefore had no rights as a citizen. In a strict sense, marriage didn't exist for slaves, because they were treated like animals. A farmer wouldn't marry his cows or goats; he mated them. So they didn't marry slaves--they mated them.
a) The confusion over definition
There were basically four different kinds of marriages in the Roman Empire.
When two slaves wanted to get married, rather than having an official marriage, the owner of the slaves would agree to what was called a contubernium, which simply means "tent companionship." The owner would allow them to live in a tent together, and that constituted a certain kind of marriage. If the owner didn't like the marriage relationship, he could separate them or sell off one or the other. That created problems in the early church because many of the early Christians were slaves, and would have had such mixed up marital backgrounds.
The Corinthian believers were wondering if they were supposed to end their marriages now that they had come to Christ. Paul clearly said no. He emphasized the sanctity of the marriage they were in, regardless of its legal basis. Whether they were living together under a tent companionship, he was simply saying, "Stay together; prove yourselves true to one another: love one another and make everything of your marriage that God designed it to be."
When we move one step beyond the slaves, we come to the marriage of the common people in the Roman culture. They were married under the custom called usus. Today we would call it common-law marriage. This particular custom meant that a man and woman could live together for one year and at the end of the one year, they would become identified as husband and wife.
The church would have had to face people who had such a marriage, having no legal paper to identify their marriage. The Lord Jesus didn't deal with that particular issue, so Paul also had to instruct the Corinthians on the sanctity of marriage.
(3) coemptio in manum
This third form of marriage was marriage by sale. The father could sell his daughter to the highest bidder, who then became her husband. If he could come up with the right price, the girl was his. If you had a lousy business, but had a beautiful daughter, you could bail out your business by selling your daughter to the highest bidder.
The most noble families of the Roman Empire had a sophisticated, marriage ceremony called confarreatio. It involved exchanging rings and placing them on what we call the ring finger of the left hand. This custom came from the second century Roman writer Aulus Gellius, who taught that there is a nerve running from that finger to the heart (Gellius 10.10). They also had a cake, wore veils, had music, held right hands, and had wreaths. Our modern-day marriage ceremonies are directly related to these pagan ceremonies. They don't come from either an Old or New Testament basis. In fact, the Hebrew wedding normally lasted seven days.
The church at Corinth was innundated with people who were married in one of those four ways (although it is possible that usus may have been banned by this time). They were fraught with many questions about their future. They had been so enveloped with the Roman culture that they didn't know how to respond. The apostle Paul wasn't about to impose laws on the Roman Empire. He and the other New Testament writers and teachers simply taught the sanctity of marriage, encouraging the new converts to make the most of their situation.
b) The chaos causing divorce
To add to the Corinthian problem, divorce was rampant. Commentator William Barclay noted one historical document describing a lady who was getting married for the twenty-seventh time, and she was going to be the twenty- sixth wife of her husband-to-be! Many counted their years by their wives. Several factors contributed to the high divorce rate. Among them were:
(3) The use of concubines
One of the Roman writers by the name of Seneca said that Men used their wives to clean up the house and cook the meals while they used concubines for physical pleasure.
(4) The Women's liberation movement
Jerome Carcopino, in his book Daily Life in Ancient Rome (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1940) writes, "Alongside the heroines of the imperial aristocracy, the irreproachable wives and the excellent mothers who were still found within its ranks, it is easy to sight "emancipated," or rather "unbridled," wives, who... evaded the duties of maternity for fear of losing their good looks; some took a pride in being behind their husbands in no sphere of activity, and vied with them in tests of strength which their sex would have seemed to forbid; some were not content to live their lives by their husband's side, but carried on another life without him ... whether because of voluntary birth control, or because of the impoverishment of the stock, many Roman marriages at the end of the first and the beginning of the second century were childless" (p. 90). Carcopino points out that according to the sixth satire of first century Roman writer Juvenal, "women were quitting their embroidery, stopping their reading, and stopping their songs to put their efforts into competing with men. Juvenal asks, "What modesty can you expect in a woman who wears a helmet, abjures her own sex, and delights in feats of strength?" (p. 92). Juvenal is also quoted as saying that women joined men's hunting parties, and with spear in hand and breasts exposed, took to pig-sticking.
Before long, marriages began to suffer. Vows were violated. Women demanded to live their own lives. And as soon as the women wanted out, the husbands could take no more and began to discard their women. They would discard their women for going out without a veil, speaking to the wrong person in public, or going somewhere without asking their permission. They would even divorce a woman to get a richer one, like Roman orator Cicero did.
Not only did men discard women, but women began to shed their husbands as well. Juvenal again wrote: "Thus does she lord it over her husband. But before long she vacates her kingdom; she flits from one home to another wearing out her bridal veil" (p. 99).
The picture of a right marriage could be a very confusing issue. There were people in and out of marriages; divorce was rampant. There were problems with who was really married and who wasn't. There were problems with someone who was in a tent companionship. If his master sold his wife, was he free to remarry? They had many problems that desperately needed resolving.
A. The Question of Celibacy
In the midst of all of these problems, many Corinthian Christians suggested that the best way to handle all their problems was to never get married. They began to elevate celibacy as the only spiritual thing to do. Some Corinthian believers had the notion that being single and celibate was more spiritual than being married, and they began to disparage marriage entirely.
If you were single and celibate, you were considered part of the spiritually elite. You had supposedly denied the flesh and laid aside all in order to totally devote yourself to Jesus Christ. There was a prevailing view in the Corinthian church that celibacy was the highest form of the Christian life. People were even condemning those who were married. Those who were married were leaving their partners to become celibate so they could be more spiritual. The people who were married to an unbeliever were divorcing their spouse because they were being taught that marriage to an unbeliever was defiling.
B. The Questionof Marriage
The Jewish leaders, on the other hand, were pressuring people to marry because they thought it was a sin not to be married. The situation in Corinth was difficult and perplexing, even for mature Christians. The Corinthians had many questions, so they wrote Paul and asked him to help them with the problem of marriage. The questions were numerous: What do we do now that we are believers? Should we stay together as husband and wife if we are both Christians? Should we get divorced if our spouse is an unbeliever? Should we become or remain single? The chaos of marital possibilities posed myriad perplexities, which Paul approaches in this section of his epistle.
I. CELIBACY IS GOOD (v. 1)
"Now concerning the things about which ye wrote unto me, it is good for a man not to touch a woman."
The phrase "To touch a woman" was a common Jewish euphemism for sexual intercourse. This phrase was not meant to be taken literally. If you took it as such, then Adam and Eve would have been the last people on the face of the earth! The phrase can be easily explained by looking at some Old Testament passages.
A. Genesis 20:6
"God said unto him [Abimelech] in a dream, Yea, I know that thou didst this in the integrity of thy heart; for I also withheld thee from sinning against me: therefore allowed I thee not to touch her." Here was a case where adultery could have been committed within the family of Abraham. But God did not allow Abimelech to "touch" or to have a sexual relationship with Sarah.
B. Ruth 2:9
Boaz said, "Let thine eyes be on the field that they do reap, and go thou after them. Have I not charged the young men that they shall not touch thee?" Boaz had a desire to keep Ruth pure.
C. Proverbs 6:29
"So he that goeth into his neighbor's wife; whosoever toucheth her shall not be innocent."
1. Paul's instruction
Verse 1 isn't talking about a tap on the shoulder, but a sexual relationship. Paul is saying it is good thing for Christians not to be involved in a sexual relationship, that is, it is good to be single. He does not say, however, that singleness is the only good condition or that marriage is in any way wrong or inferior to singleness.
Many people today think there is something wrong with you if you remain single. They say, "Well, she's not married. There must be something wrong." But Paul affirms it is a good thing not to be married. He does not say it is better to be single; he simply says it is beneficial or profitable (Gk., kalos).
2. Jewish insistence
Paul responds this way because the Jews in the church were teaching that if you didn't have a wife, you were a sinner. They would say that a man who does not have a wife and child has slain his posterity and lessened the image of God in the world. According to the Jewish leaders there were seven kinds of people couldn't get to heaven, and number one was a Jew who had no wife. The second was a wife who had no children. They theorized that since God said be fruitful and multiply (Gen. 1:28), you would be disobedient if you remained single.
God did declare at creation that "it is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help fit for him" (Gen. 2:18). It is true that all people need companionship, but you can also be single and still not be alone. You can have friends. Maybe your family is your church or someone else's family. Psalm 68:6 says: "God setteth the solitary in families." God will give you someone to fulfill your need for companionship. Paul acknowledges that singleness is good, honorable, and excellent, but he does not support the claim that it is a more spiritual state or that it is more acceptable to God than marriage.
II. CELIBACY IS TEMPTING (v. 2)
"Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband."
"Celibacy may be a good thing," says Paul, "but for most people it's pretty tempting. So if your celibacy is going to cause you to sin sexually, then you ought to marry." The usual complaint of the single person is that singleness is very difficult, so Paul says if you are going to battle an innate desire for marriage, you may be called of God to be married.
A. The Danger of Celibacy
Paul was not implying that every believer in the Corinthian church was immoral, although many of them were. He is speaking of the danger of fornication for those who were single. Because sexual desire is unfulfilled and can be very strong, there is great temptation to sexual immorality for those who are not married, especially in societies--such as that of ancient Rome and our own--where sexual looseness is freely practiced and even glorified. The gross life-style of Corinth made it harder for the unmarried to remain pure. Many unmarried people today have problems because of the constant barrage of sexual temptation.
B. The Desirability of Marriage
When speaking about the danger of celibacy, Paul is not downgrading the institution of marriage. Marriage cannot be reduced simply to being God's escape valve for the sex drive. He is not suggesting that Christians go out and find another Christian to marry only to keep from getting into moral sin. He is saying it is the normal thing to get married because it is normal to have physical desire.
Six Reasons for Marriage
Some people say Paul had a low view of marriage, but he was simply acknowledging the reality of the sexual temptations of singleness. He was stressing that the Corinthians had a legitimate outlet in marriage. The Scriptures give numerous reasons for marriage.
In Genesis 1:28 God brought a man and a woman together, married them, and told them to be fruitful and fill the earth. One of the primary reasons for marriage is God's desire for believers to reproduce godly people. Psalm 127:3-5 says, "Lo, children are an heritage from the Lord; and the fruit of the womb is his reward. As arrows are in the hand of a mighty man, so are children of one's youth. Happy is the man who hath his quiver full of them." God created marriage for procreation.
Marriage is also for pleasure. Hebrews 13:4 says, "Marriage is honorable in all, and the bed undefiled." You cannot do anything in the marriage bed that is defiling. Marriage was designed by God to be an honorable and enjoyable experience. First Corinthians 7:4 says that the husband's body is his wife's, and that the wife's body is her husband's. They both belong to each other! The Old Testament also talks about the satisfaction and pleasure of the physical relationship of marriage (e.g. Prov. 5:18-19; The Song of Solomon).
God wants a man to provide what a woman needs. First Peter 3:7 says, "Ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honor unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel." God knows that a man can be a strength to his wife's weaknesses. Ephesians 5:25-33 says that the husband is to provide and care for his wife, being a savior in a sense.
Marriage is also for partnership. When God made Eve, He said He made for Adam a helper--someone to come alongside. In marriage, you don't do things alone; you do them together. In our spouse, God gives us a good friend--and friendship--a key ingredient in marriage.
According to Ephesians 5:22-33, marriage is a picture of Christ's relationship to His church. It is a graphic demonstration in the face of the world that God has an ongoing, unending relationship with the bride whom He loves, and for whom He died and forever lives.
Marriage is also designed by God to keep us from committing fornication. In 1 Corinthians 7:2, Paul says, "Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife." (The word "own" prohibits polygamy). Marriage is designed for the purity of believers.
Although celibacy is good, it is not superior to marriage, and it has dangers and temptations that marriage does not have.
III. CELIBACY IS WRONG FOR MARRIED PEOPLE (vv. 3-5)
"Let the husband render unto the wife her due; and likewise also, the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband; and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your inconsistency."
A. The Obligation in Marriage (v. 3)
That celibacy is wrong for those who are married should be an obvious truth, but it was not obvious to some of the Corinthian believers. There is no place for celibacy in marriage. The word "due" is literally "the debt" and refers to an obligation. Paul is saying that when you get married, you become obligated to meet the physical needs of your partner.
Some overzealous husbands apparently had decided to set themselves apart wholly for God. In doing so, however, they neglected or even denied their responsibilities to their wives, especially in the area of sexual relations. Some wives had done the same thing. Paul is emphasizing that all married believers are not to sexually deprive their spouses, whether the spouse is a Christian or not.
Verse 3 is in the present imperative in the Greek text and literally says, "Let the husband continually keep on rendering to his wife the debt and likewise also the wife keep on rendering the debt she owes her husband." The sexual relationship in marriage is to be a continual giving to one another. There must be a growing intimacy of two lives, blended together in all dimensions, into an unbreakable bond of love. God made sexual satisfaction a great part of marriage. He holds all marriage to be sacred, and holds sexual relations between husband and wife not only to be sacred, but also proper and even obligatory. God makes it clear that physical relations within marriage are not simply a privilege and a pleasure, but a responsibility. Your physical union in marriage can be expressed in any way you desire. That is God's design. The Bible glorifies sexuality in marriage. The Song of Solomon is an book written solely on the physical part of marriage. God designed marriage to be a physical expression of love. He honors sexual desire in marriage.
The sexual act itself strengthens love in marriage. In his book, Sex and Sanity, Stuart Babage says "From one point of view it may be spoken of as a safety valve for irresistible desire, but, for the Christian man, it is infinitely more than that--a breathtaking experience (in Barth's words), `a bold and blessed intoxication'.... Intercourse is not only the appropriate means for the expression of love, it is also the means by which love itself is strengthened and sustained. Sexual intercourse is far more than a physical act" ([London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1965], p. 37).
B. The Obedience in Marriage (v. 4)
Paul says, "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." Two imperative commands in verses 2-3 are followed by two indicatives in verse 4 stating facts. According to this verse, you give up the right to your body--it belongs to your partner. You have released the authority over your own body to your partner.
The present tense of exousia, which means "to have authority over," indicates a general statement that is always true. This mutual authority over one another's bodies is continuous; it lasts throughout the marriage. Now, a Christian's body is his own to take of and use as a gift from God. And in the deepest spiritual sense, it belongs entirely to God (Rom. 12:1). But in a marital situation, it also belongs to the marriage partner. Paul is saying, "Don't break up the sexuality in your marriage just because you have become a Christian."
It isn't more spiritual to be celibate. It is good to be single, but it is great to be married, if that's God's will for you. Peter called marriage "the grace of life" (1 Pet. 3:7). He was saying that marriage is like the whipped cream on the sundae. Marriage is a permanent surrender of everything to your partner. You belong to one another in the fullest and truest sense.
C. The Occasion for Abstinence (v. 5)
1. The emphatic command
Paul gives an emphatic command in verse 5: "Defraud ye not one the other." The Corinthians were depriving each other of the physical part of the marriage relationship. Paul is saying, "Stop depriving one another!" Sexual relations between man and wife are God-ordained and a divine command.
2. The exception clause
Paul gives only one exception for ceasing sexual activity in a marriage. He says, "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" (v. 5). Paul gives specific guidelines if, as a married couple, you decide not to enter into sexual activity.
a) "with consent"
First, it must be with consent; you must have a mutual agreement. The Greek word for "consent" is sumph[ma]onou, which is the source for the English word "symphony," and it means that unless your hearts are in symphony or agreement, sexual abstinence is wrong. If you force sexual withdrawal from your partner, you are robbing him or her. But if you both agree, then God will honor your decision.
b) "for a time"
Paul also says that sexual abstinence should only be "for a time." The phrase does not mean for a long time, but a set time. It does not mean indefinitely, but for a specifically prescribed time.
c) "to pray"
Paul emphasizes that the reason for sexual abstinence in marriage is for a time of prayer. The term "fasting" does not occur in the better manuscripts, so it is best not to include it. It is not that fasting could not be a part of the prayer time; it's just that it isn't in the earlier, more reliable manuscripts. You are to give yourselves to a specific time and a specific need for prayer. There is a definite article in the Greek text in reference to this time of prayer, indicating a definite and specific kind of burden.
There may be times when you agree not to have any sexual activity because you want to pray, but that is an exception only. As in the case of fasting, if both partners agree to abstain for a brief period to allow one or both of them to spend time in intensive prayer, they may do so. Both the ideas of a specific period of time and a specific purpose for prayer are implied. It should be agreed upon in advance.
There may be times in your life when you fall into sin and need a time of purification where your heart needs to be refocused totally upon the Lord. If that is the case, you may need to withdraw from the physical relationship for a while to confess your sins.
(1) Exodus 19:15--"He [Moses] said unto the people, Be ready on the third day: come not near your wives." After the covenant at Sinai had been given, the Lord planned to come down and manifest Himself before the children of Israel. He wanted them to confess their sins before He visited them. They were to separate themselves physically from their spouses in preparation for that time. Moses commanded them to consecrate themselves by washing their clothes and by abstaining from sexual intercourse for three days (vv. 9-15).
(2) Joel 2:16--The Lord said, "Gather the people, sanctify the congregation, assemble the elders, gather the children, and those that nurse at the breasts; let the bridegroom go forth from his chamber, and the bride out of her room." The Assyrians were threatening to destroy Israel and in response to their wickedness, God commanded them to turn from their evil. The need for forgiveness was so great that even the bride and the bridegroom were to leave their nuptial chambers to join in national mourning and penitence.
(3) Zechariah 12:11-12--The Scripture says, "In that day [the second coming of Christ], shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon, in the Valley of Megiddon. And the land shall mourn, every family apart; the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart." Marriage relations will be forsaken during that time of mourning.
3. The explicit concern
Paul says at the end of verse 5: "And then come together again." The reason for coming together again for sexual relations is explicit: "That Satan tempt you not for your incontinency." The word "incontinency" refers to a lack of self-control. There are people who use the sexual aspect of marriage to manipulate their spouse in achieving what they want. But when you withhold sexual intimacy from your partner for any reason, you put them in a situation where Satan could tempt him for their lack of self-control.
Bitterness, anguish, and anxiety can come between husband and wife when sexual fulfillment is withheld. Evil thoughts can be entertained which might lead to an adulterous situation. Do not deprive your marriage partner of sexual intimacy! In so doing, you become Satan's agent in potential sexual temptation. If you really love your spouse, you will never willfully put him or her in a potentially tempting situation.
IV. CELIBACY IS A GIFT (vv. 6-7)
"But I speak this by permission, and not by commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that."
A. The Allowance of Celibacy (v. 6)
The word "permission" is not a good translation in verse 6. The Greek word, suggn[ma]ome, means "to think the same as someone." It can also mean "allowance." In 2 Maccabees, an extrabiblical writing, the same word is translated, "aware" (14:31). Paul could be saying, "I'm saying what I'm saying because I am aware of your human needs, but not by way of commandment." He was aware of the goodness of being single and celibate, yet also aware of the privileges and responsibilities of marriage. His comments are not to be interpreted as a command for every believer to be married. He recognized the predominance of marriage, but also recognized that there were those who have been gifted by God to remain single.
Marriage was instituted by God and is the norm for society; it is a great blessing to mankind. But it is not required for believers or for anyone else. The point is, if you are single, that is good; and if you are married, stay married and retain normal marital relations, for that is of God. Spirituality is not determined by one's marital status.
B. The Advantage of Celibacy (v. 7a)
Paul says in verse 7, "I would that all men were even as I myself." There's a sense in which Paul wishes that everyone could be single and celibate, as he was. He might have been married at one time, but now as a single person, is encouraging those in the process of that decision to consider his situation. Paul recognized great liberty and freedom in remaining single. In verses 29-30, Paul said, "This I say, brethren, The time is short; it remaineth that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not." Paul is saying believers have to turn away from the things of this life; because the time is short, we're to focus on divine things.
While marriage is not a command, it is stressed as the norm because of the problem of purity. There are some, like Paul, who aren't married because they have a special gift of God. And the next time you see a single person, don't assume that there's something wrong with them.
You might assume, first of all, that they have a gift of God and are uniquely prepared by the Holy Spirit for singleness. (This gift is different from the spiritual gifts bestowed on every believer that we read about in Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4). Many might say, "I couldn't stand being single!" That may mean you don't have the gift of singleness. Singleness is the gift of being single and not being consumed by lust.
C. The Appropriation of Celibacy (v. 7b)
Paul ends verse 7 by saying, "Every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that." The gift of celibacy is being single and enjoying it. It is being single and not being tempted to fall into sexual sin. The gift of being single means not being preoccupied with marriage. It is understandable why Paul says what he does about the privilege of remaining single. There are some things in the ministry that a single man could do more easily than a married man.
1. A commended gift
Paul says, in verse 32, "I would have you without care. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord." It is easier for a single person to totally dedicate his time, energy, and talents to the work of the ministry. Paul gives a contrast in verse 33: "But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife." If you are married, you have certain things to be taken care of, including your wife and children. But if you are single, you have more freedom to serve the Lord.
Rachel Saint served as a single missionary among the Auca Indians of Ecuador for many years. She poured out her life and her love to indians who murdered her brother and four other missionaries, and found great blessing and fulfillment. (Their story is recounted in Elizabeth Elliot's Through Gates of Splendor [Wheaton, Ill.:Tyndale, 1981]).
2. A commissioned gift
Jesus Himself stated that being single is a good thing. He said in Matthew 19:12, "There are some eunuchs, who were so born from their mother's womb; and there are some eunuchs, who were made eunuchs by men; and there are eunuchs, who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it." The last group of single persons Jesus mentioned decided not to marry so they could fully serve the Lord and His kingdom. And in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul further defines the ability to make that decision as a gift of the Holy Spirit.
Thank God if you're single and have no desire for marriage; use it for His glory. If you're married, enjoy it and use it for His glory. Thank God for whatever state you're in because it is His perfect and divine plan for you.
Focusing on the Facts
1. Describe Jesus' teaching on marriage.
2. Discuss the importance of Paul's writings in 1 Corinthians 7. Explain why they are not merely the reflection of his own opinion but the product of divine inspiration.
3. List the topics Paul discusses in 1 Corinthians 7-11.
4. You could get married four different ways in the Roman Empire. Name and discuss each.
5. Describe some of the problems causing divorce in Corinth.
6. How were the Corinthian Christians handling the question of celibacy?
7. How were the Corinthian believers being influenced by the Jewish leaders in regard to marriage?
8. Explain what Paul meant by saying, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman".
9. What was the danger concerning celibacy in the Corinthian church? What problems exist in the church today in this area?
10. Name six reasons for marriage and explain the significance of each.
11. What specific obligation does the spouse owe his mate (1 Cor. 7:3- 4)?
12. God designed marriage to be a ____________ expression of love.
13. True or false: In marriage, both partners have released authority over their own body to fulfill the sexual needs of their mate.
14. What three things must be present if a couple decides to abstain from sexual fulfillment?
15. What are the possible results of withholding sexual fulfillment from your partner?
16. What are the advantages of remaining single?
17. Explain the purpose Jesus gave for remaining single according to Matthew 19:12.
Pondering the Principles
1. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7:1, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." Paul instructs that celibacy is good. He does not say that singleness is the only good condition or that marriage is in any way wrong or inferior to singleness. Are you single? Do you struggle with being single? If you are, Paul is saying to you that being single is good. It is even in many ways more advantageous than being married in your service for Christ. Look at 1 Corinthians 7:1 again and thank God for your singleness. Ask Him to strengthen you for more effective service.
2. Paul also said that celibacy is tempting. To avoid fornication, most men and women need to marry to fulfill their sexual desires. Have you made a decision about remaining single? Do you struggle with sexual temptation? If you are struggling, it may be that you do not have the special gift given by God to remain single. Reread 1 Corinthians 7:1-7 and ask God to reveal His will concerning your singleness. Seek Him in all you do and He will direct your paths.
3. Another principle we studied was that celibacy is wrong for married people. Paul was saying in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5 that when you do get married, you are obligated to meet the physical needs of your partner. Sexual relations between husband and wife are God-ordained and a divine command. As a married person, are you withholding sexual fulfillment from your partner? If so, the Scriptures command you to stop depriving your partner. The first thing you need to do is to repent and confess your sin to God. Go then, to your spouse and ask forgiveness. Always seek to provide for your spouse the sexual fulfillment that he or she needs.