LIVE IN UNDIVIDED DEVOTION TO THE LORD
1 Corinthians 7:1–40
Key Verse: 7:17
“Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.”
In this chapter Paul gives detailed instructions regarding marriage. Sometimes he shares Jesus’ teaching and words, and at other times he gives his own teaching out of his shepherd’s wisdom as inspired by the Holy Spirit. And some of his teachings maybe hard to understand. To deeply understand his teachings on the subject of marriage, it is necessary for us to know the heart and mind of God, and have a thorough understanding of what the Bible teaches on marriage. For example, we need to know that as much as God created marriage to bless his children, we must also know that he created marriage to serve his own purpose in the world. If we can understand these basics about marriage, we can begin to understand Paul’s teachings on how marriage can serve God. Paul spent large portions of the letter in dealing with the unresolved issue of immorality within the church at Corinth. He taught on how to resolve these issues. One of the resolutions was marriage— marriage in God’s way, for God’s purpose. In the same chapter, he also offered other resolutions, such as “accepting God’s sovereignty in one’s life” as well as “devoting oneself fully to the Lord.” This is the biblical teaching on how to overcome the rampant immorality in the society and which also has a way of infiltrating the church.
As we looked at in verses 1-7, Paul’s first advice on defeating immorality is marriage, unless a man or woman are “called” or “gifted” with the gift of celibacy as Paul himself was. Paul says, “It is good for a man not to marry.” However, original Greek documents tell us that Paul’s words had rather been, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” This is not so hard to understand. Under the influence of Greek philosophy, some Corinthian Christians believed a Christian cannot truly live a holy life unless he or she completely renounce sex and marriage altogether. Others, under the same influence of Greek philosophy and heretic Christian teachings didn’t make a big deal about sex, nor did they consider marriage of such importance. The prevalent problem of our times is latter, a Christianity that allows for compromise when it comes to sexual relations between men and women. To correct this sinful or unhealthy view of sex and marriage, Paul lays down a general rule.
In verse 2 he says. “But since there is so much immorality each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” This is the general rule. Marry one partner, of the opposite gender, and live with them till death. In verses 3-5, Paul explains that the husband and wife should fulfill their marital duty; they should not deprive each other. Sometimes, in anger, one partner uses this as a means of punishing the other partner. This selfish and mean behavior should not exist in a Christian family, so that the devil may not find any grounds to bring in immoral behavior. To those who are unmarried, Paul says in verses 7-9. “It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am”. He encourages a celibate lifestyle. But he deeply acknowledged that this is a gift from God, and not a choice a man or woman must make on their own. If a man or woman are gifted in that way, they should then serve God in single devotion all their lifetimes. But not if it will cause them to drift into sins of immorality. He says in verse 9. “But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” To the married Paul says: “A wife must not separate from her husband. A husband must not divorce his wife.” In a Christian marriage, even thoughts of divorce are sinful— even if it is only in one’s dreams.
In verses 12-24, Paul gives direction to those who have unbelieving spouses. We assume that those mentioned here had married before becoming Christians, because the Bible strongly warns that believers must not marry unbelievers (2Co 6:14). Still, the believer must not divorce (12). There are difficulties involved in a mixed marriage, but they must do their best to work it out. God regards their union as sanctified through the faith of the believer. Their children will share in God’s blessing. There are many in God’s history who are serving God wholeheartedly, even though their spouses do not share their faith. “But if the unbeliever leaves,” Paul says in verse 15, “Let him do so.” Sometimes, an unbelieving spouse can become the devil’s tool to destroy the faith of the believer. Their constant harassment is a fierce spiritual battle and hard as it may be, the believer is not to ask for a divorce. However, if the unbeliever decides to leave, the believer should let them go. No one has control over the lives of unbelievers. Spiritual rebirth belongs only to God.
There is a basic rule in verse 17. “Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.” Another way to defeat sexual immorality. Paul urges that Christians not exhaust themselves trying to change their marital status. Christ is Lord over us and our place in life is given by him. We must accept God’s sovereignty and do our best to serve God as we are. Some single Christians think they will be happy and serve God far better if they marry. They waste so much time in daydreaming about marriage rather than in expending time and effort in serving the Lord. On the other hand, a married person may think that if they were single, they could serve God better. With that excuse they end up doing nothing for God. Therefore, Paul teaches us to accept our God-given place in life and serve God now, as we are. It is God’s wisdom. As God determines life and circumstances, so also God determines marriage and celibacy. We know from God’s truth that Adam was not searching for a wife, when God himself decided for him to have a wife and to bring her to him. We can accept this eternal truth deeply and trust that God will do the same for us single people, or we can decide to trust our own intuition and feelings and go searching for what we may never find. Those who do not trust God with their marriage, end up getting married but in times of difficulty, many thoughts of immorality prevail. Single people, “You should absolutely trust God with your future marriage”.
In verse 20 Paul says, “Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.” In verse 24 he says, “Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.” The rule, to trust God in our situation applied not only to marriage, but also to all situations of life. Those who are suffering in slavery must not despair simply because they personally know Christ and are therefore free from the most terrible slavery— that of sin and of death. Then there are those who are in other difficult and painful situation of life. If they are ever seeking ways to free themselves from their painful situation, it does not please God. God gives us difficult circumstances of life not to make our lives miserable, nor as an accident, but God gives those as opportunities to grow spiritually. Joseph in the Bible is the best example of this. Some are always looking for a better job or better spouse or better children or better circumstances while God wants them to meet the challenge he’s giving them. As for the injustices done to those who are in difficult and painful situations, God himself is their vindicator— he himself will destroy all injustice perhaps not in this life, but certainly in the end. Christians who were rounded up and tortured and persecuted in the early centuries did not seek a better situation for themselves. Rather when we read about them, we see their spirit of martyrdom, as they sought to please God even in their terrible situation. They did not see their human sufferings as a punishment of God, nor as a mistake of God, but they saw it as God’s sovereign will in which they were to remain. In verse 19 Paul tells all of us who are in unfavorable circumstances: “Keeping God’s commands is what [really] counts.”
Look at verses 29-31. The world in its present form is passing away. The things that concern us so much in this world will vanish. Marriage as we know it is limited to this world. We should not try to hold temporal things as if they last forever. Rather, we must put all our hope in the Lord and in the coming of his kingdom. Meanwhile, we must do our best to prepare for his kingdom while living in this world.
Paul continues to teach the Corinthians about how to defeat immorality. In verses 32-34, Paul warns of the danger of a divided heart among married believers. Marriage demands husbands and wives to be concerned about each other. However, there is a danger that their concern can become worldly. Some people dream of an endless romance ignoring God’s mission to use the family for his divine purpose. Others dream of family reunions every weekend, ignoring God’s purpose. When the family becomes an end in itself, serving itself as a priority, it slowly loses its divine purpose, it slowly loses its connection with Christ. Slowly it puts aside the important things of God, and gives itself to itself, using many excuses. Slowly relationships fray and become cold when there is no reason for them not to remain in love and fellowship. Marriage and the family is for God. They must not take our hearts away from God. Rather when the family is rooted in Christ and serves his purpose, there can be no closer and healthy and loving family than that.
Look at verse 35. “I am saying this for your good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” Paul is teaching us the good life, the happy life, the most rewarding life. It is to serve the Lord in undivided devotion. When a husband and wife as well as single people, love God and are devoted to him, they are abundantly blessed. Satan cannot find a foothold through which he can tempt them towards immorality and immoral behavior. The best way to spread the blessing of God in our corrupted culture may be to fill the world with godly house churches and families. Whatever our situation, we are most happy when we serve the Lord in undivided devotion. Decide to do that today.