We are going back to 1 Corinthians 7 this week so we can continue our study of “love, sex, singleness, and marriage.” This is our third week on the subject and I have to tell you that at the beginning of this week, when I first began studying our Scripture for this morning, I told Connie, “Now I know why I have not taught through the book of 1 Corinthians for the past 30 years. It’s not because I don’t believe what I’m studying, but it’s because it is so foreign to our people. What Paul was teaching in Corinth and what he is teaching us, is like a foreign language to so many people today.” Why is that the case? I’ve been thinking about it and I believe it is because we have allowed our thinking about “love, sex, singleness, and marriage” to be molded and shaped by our culture and not by the Word of God. When I say “we,” I mean those of us who are followers of Jesus. I would expect those who are not followers of Jesus to respond to Paul’s teaching just like the people of Corinth responded when they first heard Paul teach on this subject. It was as foreign to the people of Corinth who were living in a sexually saturated and morally twisted society just like it is to so many of us today. But in the Church, among our brothers and sisters in Christ, those who attend Bible study, have a Quiet Time in the morning before their day gets started, and who love and treasure God’s Word? It is tragic that we have allowed the same cultural norms concerning “love, sex, singleness, and marriage” to shape us just like it has those who have never been a follower of Jesus and could care less about what God’s Word teaches.
The most important character quality of people, according to our culture today, is to give approval, enthusiastic, passionate approval to any and every sexual arrangement or preference that is presented to us–and there seems to be no limits. Once again, the world can do whatever the world wants to do, but for the followers of Jesus, we have been given God’s Word which gives us guidance about the proper place and expression of sexual intimacy as well as those expressions of sexual intimacy that we should avoid at all costs. Let me be clear, what we are studying is for the followers of Jesus and not for those who profess no faith in Jesus.
In our Scripture for today, Paul writes to the folks in Corinth about marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Let’s take a look at our Scripture for this morning found in 1 Corinthians 7:8-16.
8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. 10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. 12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:8-16 NIVO)
If you will remember our study from last week then you will remember that Paul responded to a question put to him from some of the people in the church at Corinth. They believed that “it is good for a man not to marry” (7:1). Paul let the people know that he wished everyone could be as he was: single, celibate, and solely focused on serving the Lord. But, in verse 2, he said,
2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:2 NIVO)
Paul went on, in the next 5 verses, to describe how husbands and wives should relate to one another in the area of sexual intimacy. If you were not with us last week you can go to our website and read the entire study.
In our lesson for today, beginning in verse 8, Paul addresses three groups of people in the church at Corinth. First, in verses 8-9, he writes to the “unmarried and the widows.” Second, in verses 10-11, he writes to Christian couples who are married. Last of all, in verses 12-16, he gives guidance to Christians who are married to unbelievers. Let’s take a look at the first group of people, the “unmarried and the widows.” The Greek word Paul uses for “unmarried” (agamos) is an all-encompassing word for those who are not married. Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner explain,
The word he used may be employed to refer to any person who is not presently married, including those who are single (never married), separated, divorced, or widowed. (Roy Ciampa and Brian Rosner, The First Letter to the Corinthians. pg. 286).
The same word is used in 1 Corinthians 7:11 to describe a woman who is divorced. Paul’s counsel to all of them is to stay single and celibate. Now, we’ve got to remember, as sexually charged as Corinthian society was during Paul’s day there was still another group of people among the Christians, Jews, and pagan religions that believed that if you separated yourself from all sensual pleasures then you could attain a higher spiritual plane. Paul’s reason for encouraging those who were single to remain single and celibate had nothing to do with that line of thinking. Paul’s counsel was more practical. By being unencumbered with a spouse and children you would be free to serve the Lord with all of your time and energy. That would be the ideal situation for those who are followers of Jesus and are single and celibate, but Paul knows that not everyone has the gift of celibacy and therefore he writes, in verse 9,
9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. (1 Corinthians 7:9 NIV)
Paul knows that there are some who are single, if not many who are single, who have sexual desires and he urges them to marry. Remember, Paul called both marriage and celibacy a gift from God in 1 Corinthians 7:7. The phrase, “cannot control themselves,” is interesting. Many other Bible translations translate the Greek word, “self-control.” The same Greek word is used in 1 Corinthians 9:25 where Paul is describing an athlete. He writes,
25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. (1 Corinthians 9:25 NIV)
An athlete who goes into training for the upcoming games displays self-discipline so he or she can focus on what must be done to be fully prepared when the competition arrives. Those who do not have this kind of self-control in the area of sexual desire, those who are distracted by their desires, they need to get married. Paul says, “it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Unlike some ascetics who felt that suffering was a noble cause, Paul knew that sex was a good gift from God and that those who could not control their desires should get married instead of trying to be what they were not.
In verses 10-11 Paul turns his attention to the followers of Jesus who find themselves married to other followers of Jesus, in Christian marriage. Take a look at verses 10-11 with me.
10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10-11 NIV)
Paul gives no reason why a Christian husband or wife should divorce their spouse. Immediately we think about situations that either we have found ourselves in or someone we dearly love that were just unbearable. Like abuse for example. Well, before you shut down and tune me out, please listen to our entire study before you draw your conclusions about how irrelevant God’s Word is for our life.
Paul said, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord):” This Scripture is such a powerful illustration of how we need to know the whole counsel of God instead of simply taking one verse alone. Paul says this is a command from Jesus. Well, let’s take a look at what Jesus said, but first, let me give you a little history background to the conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees that we will read about in just a moment. Dr. David Instone-Brewer earned his PhD from Cambridge University in Biblical studies. He has written a book, Divorce and Remarriage in the Church, which gives us some incredible history about what and why Jesus taught the people in Matthew 19.
The Pharisees asked Jesus, “Is it lawful to divorce a wife for any cause,” in Matthew 19:3. Dr. Instone-Brewer points out that in Jesus’ day the two most prominent rabbinical schools of thought were those who followed Rabbi Hillel and those who followed Rabbi Shammai. The House of Hillel had invented a new form of divorce called “any cause” divorce based on one word from Deuteronomy 24:1. The “any cause” divorce was much like our “no fault” divorce in Oklahoma. Jewish men could literally divorce their wife for burning their meal.
By the time of Jesus, the “any cause” divorce had become so popular that almost no one relied on the Old Testament grounds for divorce. The House of Shammai disagreed with Rabbi Hillel and said Deuteronomy 24:1 gave no reason for divorce except immorality. All of the Jews of Jesus’ day knew the debate that was ongoing among the two most popular schools of thought. The Pharisees, in Matthew 19, wanted to know where Jesus stood? Did He side with the House of Hillel or did He side with the House of Shammai. Turn with me to Matthew 19:3-10 and let’s read together.
3 Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?” 4 “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? 6 So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.” 7 “Why then,” they asked, “did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” 8 Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9 I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” 10 The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.” (Matthew 19:3-10 NIVO)
Isn’t it interesting that Jesus first refers the Pharisees to Genesis 2:24 when God instituted marriage for Adam and Eve. Remember, this was before the Fall and the entry of sin into our world in Genesis 3. What is God’s ideal for those who are married? It is one man and one woman for life. That is how God created marriage, but once you move post-Fall, after Genesis 2, all of creation is impacted and the impact is brokenness and separation. That brokenness is so clearly seen in the marriage relationship throughout God’s Word.
So, Jesus takes the Pharisees back to the original plan of God for the husband and wife and then says, “What God has joined together, let man not separate.” The Pharisees ask, “Why did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?” Jesus’ answered, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard.” Then Jesus said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” The word for “marital unfaithfulness” that Jesus used is the same word Paul has been using in 1 Corinthians 7. It is the Greek word, “porneia,” which is sexual immorality. Did Jesus limit “porneia” to extramarital affairs? With the proliferation of sexual immorality in our day how would Jesus regard husbands and wives going outside of their marriage and getting involved in other forms of “porneia” than simply illicit affairs? Jesus never said that sexual immorality must be followed by divorce, but He did say that it was grounds for divorce if a husband or wife chose that route.
I’ve spent time with couples whose marriage covenant had been broken by either the husband or the wife and they chose the hard road of working to reconcile and looking to God to heal what they had so badly damaged. It is a blessing for me to work with these couples and they will tell you that is hard work, but it is worth it.
We’re not finished talking about Christian marriages, but first let’s take a look at the third group of people Paul addressed: Christians who were married to unbelievers. Take a look at verses 12-13 with me.
12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. (1 Corinthians 7:12-13 NIV)
Now Paul says this counsel comes from me and not the Lord. Why didn’t he use Jesus as his source for counseling mixed marriages? That’s a great question and the answer is, “Jesus never addressed the topic of mixed marriages where a Christian is married to a non-Christian.” It must have been that this too was one of the questions the Corinthians had sent to Paul in their letter. He was now having to give counsel about something for which Jesus had never addressed. And what is Paul’s counsel? “Don’t abandon the marriage! Keep loving your husband or wife.” As long as the unbeliever is willing to live with the Christian then remain in the marriage. This is a stunning response from Paul given what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:14. Read it with me.
14 Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14 NIVO)
Yes, it is certainly best for a follower of Jesus to marry another follower of Jesus. I’ve known many couples where one spouse was passionate about the Lord and the other spouse was an unbeliever. There is so much that they can’t share together because they are not “equally yoked.” I have to also add, I’ve known husbands and wives who loved the Lord with all of their heart and their spouse was a nominal Christian at best. These couples also lacked the deep spiritual connection in Christ as well.
The ideal is not always what we find ourselves living and when it is the case that a believer is married to an unbeliever, the follower of Jesus is to stay in the marriage as long as their spouse is willing to stay. What is Paul’s reasoning behind this? Well, there are really two reasons. First of all, in verse 14, we read,
14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:14 NIV)
Paul says the unbelieving husband or wife “has been sanctified” through their believing spouse. What a statement! It is such a radical statement because there were many people who believed that unbelievers “defiled” believers. Paul says the exact opposite: The believing husband or wife “sanctifies” the unbelieving wife or husband. Gordon Fee writes,
To calm concerns about purity, Paul asserts that the status of unbelieving spouses is significantly altered by their intimate association with their believing spouse, so that mixed marriages have the same status in God’s eyes as fully Christian marriages. (Fee, Gordon. The Epistle to the Corinthians. pg. 298)
Please don’t take this to mean that an unbelieving spouse is saved or made right with God by their Christian spouse. That’s not what Paul is teaching. Paul is saying that the unbeliever is blessed by the Lord by their Christian spouse. Not only is the unbelieving spouse blessed, but also the children of a mixed marriage are blessed by having one parent who loves the Lord.
Paul also includes a second reason for the Christian spouse to stay in the marriage and be a blessing to their mate and that is found in verse 16. Read it with me.
16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:16 NIV)
Paul makes no promise, but he plants the idea that it could be that the Lord will use you to turn the heart of your husband or wife. I’ve known many men and women, but mostly women who were in mixed marriages. Their greatest desire was to see their spouse come to know the Lord. Some have seen this take place and some are still praying for the day. If I’m speaking to you, then please know that you don’t have the power to “save” anyone. That’s God’s work, but God can most certainly use you to impact your spouse and children for the Lord. Keep praying and living out your relationship with the Lord before their eyes.
Paul does say to the Christian in this type of marriage, “if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or sister is not bound in such circumstances;” in verse 15. If the unbelieving spouse chooses to leave the marriage then the marriage covenant is broken and the believing spouse is free to marry again. Many Bible teachers see “abandonment” as a second reason for biblical grounds for divorce alongside sexual immorality.
Johnson Lim says there are currently four main Christian views on the issue of divorce and remarriage: (1) divorce and remarriage are not permitted; (2) divorce is sometimes permitted, but not remarriage; (3) divorce and remarriage are permitted on grounds of adultery or abandonment; and (4) divorce and remarriage are also permitted under other circumstances.
As I have been studying these Scriptures this past week I’ve been thinking about some friends I’ve known through the years who were in abusive relationships. Some have stayed in marriages where they were literally beaten because they were taught that Jesus only gave “sexual immorality” as a legitimate reason for divorce. I’ve known people who feared for their children’s lives because of the abuse of the father in the home.
If we go back to that conversation Jesus had with the Pharisees for just a moment. Do you remember the disagreement between the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai, the two leading rabbis of the day? One said you can divorce for any cause and the other said sexual immorality was the only reason you can divorce. Jesus didn’t give an exhaustive list of things that break the marriage covenant, He was answering the question posed by the Pharisees. Paul knew this or he would not have added “abandonment” as a second reason a person would be freed from the marriage and be able to marry again. Remember, Jesus never spoke about mixed marriages so Paul had to give his counsel. His counsel was based on Genesis 2, marriage is ordained by God, it is to be for life, but then again, we are living on this side of the Fall and people do abandon their spouses so what should you do in that case. I wonder if the Corinthians had asked Paul about someone who was being abused. What counsel would he have offered?
There are those today who put “abuse” under the heading of “abandonment.” They say that “abuse” of a spouse falls under “not willing to live with him/her” in verses 12-13. I’m not sure how that fits, but I believe with all of my heart that if a spouse is being abused and we took that person to Jesus, He would condemn the abuser and do everything possible to protect the person being abused.
Last week, when we were talking about sexual intimacy within marriage according to God’s Word, I mentioned that the counsel we receive from God’s Word is so much better than the free-for-all-anything-goes sexuality of our society. The same is true when it comes to divorce and remarriage.
Marriages are throw away in our day and they were in Corinth as well. Jesus and Paul hold the marriage covenant in high regards, it is a holy sacrament. Marriage, your marriage, is a priceless gift from God, treat it as such. Treat your husband or wife as a priceless gift from God. When trouble comes and it will, do everything in your power to reconcile and ask God to bring healing to your marriage. If the trouble is too big for you and your spouse to work out then seek help.
God has given you a wonderful gift in making part of the Body of Christ in a local church. Whenever I do premarital counseling with couples I also tell them that one of the reasons we go through premarital counseling is because they will hit a rough spot in the future and I want them to know they can call me. And many have. In 1 Peter 5:2, Peter told the elders to be “shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them–not because you must, but because you are willing…” We are a family and our elders and pastors are here to help you with your marriage when you and your spouse have problems.
I want to ask you this morning, “Do you recognize your spouse as a gift from God? Do you treat him or her as the gift they are to you?” I sure hope so. For those who have been divorced please hear me say that there is forgiveness and healing in Christ. I know many people who have been divorced and they feel guilty. I want you to know that there is forgiveness, there is healing, and there is restoration in Jesus.
Britton Christian Church
May 2, 2021
1 Corinthians 7:8-16