We’ve been looking at Paul’s answers to questions that the church in Corinth sent to him on the subject of marriage. He told them of the blessings of marriage, the reason to stay single if you have the gift of not burning in passion for someone sexually and the need to marry if you aren’t so gifted. He told them of how to handle situations when two Christians are married and having problems and what to do if a Christian is married to a non-Christian and the non-Christian is willing to stay in the marriage and what to do if one is abandoned by the non-Christian mate. In I Corinthians 7:17-24 Paul introduces the next topic about which they had asked. Evidently the question must have been something to this affect, “What should we do if we have been married and divorced and then become a Christian or what if we have never been married and become a Christian where do we stand in our relationship with God and with marriage?
Before entering into the direct answer Paul laid a foundation on which to answer the questions on this whole topic. His basic thrust was that a person should remain in the situation in which they were called to become Christ followers to begin with. His illustrations were about circumcision and slavery. If one became a Christian and they had been circumcised by religious parents, likely Jewish parents who were following the Old Testament law but they they are devoted to Christ, they shouldn’t try to undo their circumcision as Christians. It doesn’t affect one’s relationship with God for the better or worse. If you became a Christian and you had never been circumcised you don’t need to go out and find someone to perform circumcision on you. Whether you are circumcised or not makes no difference in your spiritual life for God, so don’t try to undo a circumcision if you have one and don’t go get one if you don’t. It just doesn’t make any difference in your spiritual life. Secondly, he turned to the topic of slavery. Many of the people in Rome in that day became slaves for a variety of reasons, probably most commonly because of debt they couldn’t repay. If you became a Christian and you were a slave at the time, don’t worry about it. You are free in the eyes of the Lord whether or not you are some man’s slave. If you aren’t a slave, by all means don’t become one. If you are a slave and can become free then do so. If you are a slave and can’t get your freedom, don’t be concerned about it but do your best to serve the Lord as a slave. Slavery has nothing to do with your relationship with God or your spiritual life for him. Obviously these were both hot topics for the time and so Paul dealt with each. But the point wasn’t really about either of them but about laying a foundation. His real point was that what one was with regard to some religious symbol done to you by your parents long ago doesn’t change your spiritual life now. And what your work situation or relationship may be with others doesn’t change your value or right relationship with God. You can be a slave to some man and still be faithful in your devotion to God and you can have freedom from all bondage and still be right with God.
It is the application he makes of the principle laid down that really matters. Beginning in verse 25 of I Corinthians 7 Paul begins to apply the principle. “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. Are you joined to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.” Notice as Paul applies the point he points out that he is not quoting anything the Lord said on this subject since he didn’t talk specifically about this matter when he was on earth. Paul then says that he is one who has been blessed by God to be given inspiration from God and can thus offer spiritual advise as one who is speaking from the Lord. His advise related to a present crisis that was under way. We don’t know for certain what that crisis was. But Paul noted that some of his advise was because of that crisis and might be different in different circumstances.
First, if you are single, stay that way. Because of the crisis situation it was best to be single if you have the gift of being single without burning with passion. Second if you are married, and thus committed to a marriage partner, stay married and fulfill your covenant to your mate. Third if you are divorced from a wife or husband, stay single because in this crisis time it will be easier to stay right as a single person than as one married. But for both the single person, never married and the one who was single though previously married he declared that if they did decide to go ahead and marry there would be no sin involved. His recommendations were given as advise and not as matters of right and wrong. If you feel the longing, the passion for your partner and can’t hold those passions under control then get married.
If there is another place in the Bible where God had an inspired man to tell them under the present crisis here’s what you should do, but if you do differently there isn’t any sin involved, I’m not aware of it. Commonly when God has his man to say what to do any response other than obedience is sinful. But here we have some inspired advise. But if the advise doesn’t fit our situation as we feel it should then doing otherwise is all right also. Whatever this crisis was it seemed to come to a conclusion soon according to verses 29-31. In light of this crisis he advised in other situations such as a father pledging to give a virgin daughter in marriage or holding back for her to stay single or even when our mate has died that staying single was the best thing. But again he notes that such is because of the crisis under way. In more normal times Paul would say, “I will that younger widows remarry and have children.” (I Timothy 5:14) With the widows he added that those they married ought to be Christians. In light of the whole discussion it seems unlikely that he was making law that one who is a widow can only marry a Christian without sin. It seems more likely that this also is a matter of good advise in light of the present crisis.
One thing stands out in the whole discussion. Some things are good advise that aren’t to be turned into a law that makes the failure to follow it a matter of sin. It seems most likely that Paul’s statement that one marrying again who was released from a marriage wasn’t sin would apply to the Christian married to a Christian who was told to “remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband.”