It is obvious when you read the letters of Paul to the church in Corinth that morality was a huge issue. When he commanded them to withdraw from the man who was sexually involved with his stepmother he made the point that something was going on that they should have been ashamed of, yet they had been proud of it. He challenged them to not try to judge the whole world on morality or anything else for that matter, but to remember they were to make judgments about those in the church and not allow all kinds of sin to go on inside the body. In chapter six of I Corinthians Paul discussed the point that our bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us and that we must not take that body that has been bought with the blood of Christ and join it to a prostitute. He noted that one who has sex with a prostitute becomes one body with here. He said we should flee from sexual immorality. It is against that background that I Corinthians 7 opens with the statement, “Now for the matters that you wrote about.” When the people came to visit Paul from the church in Corinth they hand delivered a letter from the church asking a series of questions that related to marriage which Paul answers in this chapter. As noted in an earlier blog, we don’t know exactly what the questions were. But we have Paul’s answers and can usually determine what the question must have been that he is answering.
He first deals with the subject of sexual relationships inside the marriage. Obviously some had bought into the gnostic notion that sexual relations even in the marriage were not what God wanted and that one could be more spiritual if they stayed away from sexual involvement altogether. Paul answers that notion by saying that one of the reasons a man or woman should be married was to avoid sexual immorality. For the marriage to serve that purpose each man needs to remember that his body no longer belongs just to him but to his wife and each woman should remember that her body doesn’t just belong to her any longer but also to her husband. They need to give themselves sexually to each other fully and freely so that Satan won’t tempt the person for their lack of self control. If they are going to go without sex for a period of time it should be a short time, by mutual consent and they should come back together again quickly or the results may be devastating. In verse seven he notes that he wished all of the Christians were like him, able to remain single and not long for the companionship of a wife. But he said, “Each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” It is important to notice that Paul by inspiration declared that the ability to remain single and not long for the sexual relationship with a wife or husband was a gift from God and not everyone had that gift.
In verses 8-9 he continued with this point by saying, “Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” Think about this point for a moment. Suppose one is unmarried because they have been divorced. They want to live for God and be true to him, but they don’t have that gift of staying single and not longing for the sexual bonds of marriage. So they burn in their passions for someone of the opposite sex. Notice, Paul said that in such a situation they need to marry rather than long for the relationship when they can’t fulfill the desire and remain pure. Are we to suppose that every person divorced for an unscriptural reason has the gift from God to stay single? What about the person who has been guilty of sexual immorality and has been divorced by his Christian wife for the sin but has now come to themselves and repented of the sin, turning from the immoral relationship? What are they to do if they don’t have the gift of staying single and not burning with passion for someone to share their bed? Are they just supposed to hang on and hope things get better? Are they to keep on burning, praying that God will give them the gift later? Or should they look for a person who might become their wife and fulfill the sexual desires and needs inside the marriage bond? It seems to me that God’s answer is the last of those options.
In Verses 10-11 Paul moves to what was likely the second question. It must have related to two Christians married to each other who are having trouble getting along in the marriage. Notice his answer, “To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.” Notice in this case both were wanting to be pleasing to God and there is obviously no sexual immorality involved. But they aren’t getting along well in the marriage. He said his answer was not his, but from the Lord. He wasn’t saying that in this case he was speaking by inspiration and in the following situation where he would say, “Not the Lord, but I” that he was giving his personal opinion. Instead he is saying that in this first instance he is quoting from what Jesus had said when he was on earth. It seems that he here is referring back to things Jesus said on the whole topic of divorce and remarriage in places like Matthew 5:31-32 and 19:1-11. In those text Paul said, Jesus was dealing with situations where both the people involved were in a covenant relationship with God, trying to do what God would be pleased with. So he offers an inspired commentary one the teaching of Jesus on the whole topic of divorce and remarriage.
He first points to the fact he doesn’t even want us to separate much less divorce. As Jesus said, “What God has joined together let no man separate.” (Matthew 19:6). But Paul doesn’t stop with that declaration. He continues, “But if she does.” God wants all marriages to continue and not be disrupted by divorce or separation. But what happens even in a marriage where both are devoted to God if they can’t get along and stay together. He offers two options to them. Remain unmarried or be reconciled to your husband. Notice, this is after a separation. While they are separated and not having sexual relations with each other they are living as “Unmarried” people. He is telling us that in such times there shouldn’t be any other relationships going on. There is no hope for the marriage if one or both the people involved get involved with someone else while they are apart. See what it is like to be single and alone. If you don’t want that to be the case then work to rebuild the relationship with your husband or wife. His challenge to the husband in such times is not to divorce his wife. When two Christians are married to each other they should do everything possible to make the marriage work. Work toward reconciliation. Rebuild the friendship and restore the relationship.
It should be obvious even at this point that God never wanted divorce to be the answer that people sought. He longs for us to strive to make the marriage work. In the next blog we will look at the times when only one of the partners is a Christian and how that person is to act with regard to the marriage.