Thus far, Paul has dealt with the difference between perceived knowledge (i.e., knowledge that is devoid of God’s love) and actual knowledge (i.e., knowledge that evidences God’s love) in how we live in community. The former is not real or objective, the latter is the basis for all of creation.
Paul continues the theme of community, knowledge and real love here as it pertains to worship:
4 Therefore concerning the eating of things sacrificed to idols, we know that there is no such thing as an idol in the world, and that there is no God but one.
Here, Paul deals with the fundamental issue of worship which is the object of worship. When people turn to worship what is false—idols, it prevents them from drinking in the real who is God alone.
Monotheism, not polytheism is true and believers coming out of worshipping “the gods” i.e., demons, need to be careful in how they view God’s nature and the man Chris Jesus as it pertains to foods. Paul continues:
5 For even if there are so-called gods whether in heaven or on earth, as indeed there are many gods and many lords, 6 yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom are all things and we exist for Him; and one Lord, Jesus Christ, by whom are all things, and we exist through Him.
Paul’s not relativizing the believers’ worship, nor is he conceding that “gods” exist, but he is referring to people’s belief systems (i.e., polytheism—the belief in many gods) based on perceived knowledge which plagued the Corinthians.
When Paul says, “yet for us…” he is not just stating that Christians hold to monotheism (the belief in only one God), but they do so, based on actual knowledge rather than perceived knowledge because of the God who is there.
The divinity of the Father is always assumed and here Paul ties in the wise Son calling him Lord (i.e., one of God’s names referring to His mastery over all creation and Him as the covenant initiator and keeper). Both Father and Son are the ground of everything, “by whom are all things and we exist for Him”.
Both Father and Son are the cause of all things and thus Christians “exist for Him” and “exist through Him” referring specifically to Jesus the savior.
As the ground of all reality, knowledge, worship and love we therefore adore this amazing God who in space time history revealed Himself through Messiah. Thus, to minimize and belittle His existence, power and kindness by worshipping what is false is the highest possible form of treason (i.e., betrayal at the highest level) in the universe. Sadly, we have all done it. Lord have mercy on us and teach us your ways. (SDG)
CHAPTER 8:1-3_ COMMUNITY,
KNOWLEDGE & REAL LOVE ARE BASED ON GOD AS CREATOR AND REDEEMER PART 1
Paul continues his instruction to the church in how they are to
live in community through the knowledge of God constrained by His love. Knowledge is a key theme in this letter and
in chapter eight Paul uses it or a derivative of it eleven times. Up to this point in 1 Corinthians, he uses
the term in three distinct ways.
First, there’s a knowledge that we ought to have: “do you not know that we will judge angels…?” Second, there’s a knowledge that we can’t have: “or how do you know wife whether you will save your husband?” Third, there’s the knowledge that we do have: “we know that all have knowledge.” The object of this knowledge (the third way we know) is first our knowledge of God and secondly our knowledge of the creature which instructs us how we are to live communally as we submit to Christ and his word so that real human flourishing occurs. This is easier said, then done. It seems that in this chapter, the quality of knowledge unfolds in the interplay of the subject/object relationships. Paul begins with:
concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all
have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies. 2 If
anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought
to know; 3 but if anyone
loves God, he is known by Him.”
The Corinthians were real believers whose lifestyle contradicted
the Gospel. This was dangerous and
that’s why the apostle wrote to them.
They were known for not coming behind in any gift but also for their
arrogance and pride which forfeited God’s love and thus tore down the people
for which Christ Jesus died.
Devotion to Christ as Paul reveals
is fleshed out in the community setting where iron sharpens iron through God’s
providential design of diversity expressed through each member of the
church. The purpose for this is vibrant
human flourishing as each one contributes to the good of the other.
Here we have an example of how “not
to” wield our knowledge of God so that the weaker member of the church may be
raised to new heights of holiness and not razed to sin.
Now concerning things sacrificed to idols, we know that we all
have knowledge. Knowledge makes arrogant, but love edifies
The focus is on worship, “things sacrificed to idols…” who Paul
and the Corinthians know are false. The
apostle admits that knowledge is real, but if applied arrogantly rather than
moved by love, it becomes self-serving to exalt the knower at the expense of
the encouragement of another.
Paul is not belittling knowledge,
but he is mocking knowledge that’s not wielded as Jesus modeled. This is a major issue in our relationships. The maxim, “people don’t care how much you
know unless they know how much you care” should give us pause when we are in
anyone supposes that he knows anything, he has not yet known as he ought
Paul seems to be
saying that if God’s love is not the engine driving our dissemination of God’s
knowledge, then that knowledge is immoral, sinful and weak. The reason for this understanding is tied to
3 but if anyone
loves God, he is known by Him.”
When Paul says, “but if anyone loves
God…” he is pointing out the difference between perceived knowledge and actual
knowledge. The former is based on
subjective feeling, the latter is grounded on objective evidence. To be known
by God (synonymous with new birth, redemption, being “born-again”) precedes
our loving God (evidence of new
birth, redemption, being “born again”).
This love and it’s authenticity
expresses itself in humble submission to God’s revealed will (Scripture) which
causes us to gladly lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters, rather
than being self-absorbed with our knowledge.
The test for Christian authenticity is the love Jesus modeled and succinctly
expresses in John 13:
34 A new
commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have
loved you, that you also love one another.35 By this all men will know that you are My
disciples, if you have love for one another.”
Paul is saying
the same thing Jesus said. That if our
knowledge of God is real, then it will be authenticated/evidenced in how we
imitate Jesus’ love when we relate to our Christian brothers and sisters. This knowledge is not a perceived knowledge, but an actual
knowledge seen in communal living. (SDG)
CHAPTER 7:25-31 MARRIAGE,
SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST: CONCERNING
VIRGINS Part 4
in the previous section exhorted believers to find their rest in Christ because
of his call on their lives, because of the rescue from God’s wrath. And now
that we are the people of God, it is that which defines us, not physical and
emotional pain which one day God will eradicate.
now addresses virgins. He starts again
with the theme of whether or not Christ had previously spoken on the topic and
25 Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I
give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.
Paul here addresses virgins.
He begins by saying, “I have no
command of the Lord” meaning that Christ has not previously spoken on the
subject (compare verse 10), but now Paul is giving apostolic insight into the
matter and says:
26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress,
What is he saying here?
What’s the present distress? We
are not certain but we know that he is speaking through the Spirit of God and
says: “that it is good for a
man to remain as he is.
27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released.
Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
Now this is a
difficult passage to accept especially in our culture where a person’s
happiness does not take into consideration the good of another nor their honor
in the pursuit of personal fulfillment.
Paul is saying,
if you are married “bound”, don’t look for a divorce “released”. If you are divorced “released”, don’t look
for another to get married.
28 But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin
marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and
I am trying to spare you.
contextually refers to the earlier stipulations in the chapter for divorce and
remarriage that Paul addresses. The
apostle’s pastoral concern for the Corinthians well-being is captured by “I am trying to spare you” referring to
marriage (which is good but has very challenging aspects to it).
Paul continues his address with the
theme of time and the form of this world (v.29) which is very brief and is
passing away. That is, what we value now
in some measure is not what awaits us in the future like “marriage” or “sex”
(vv.30-31). It seems that Paul is
wanting to encourage undistracted devotion to Christ regardless of our social
status (vv.32-35). Undistracted
devotion, that’s a massive issue today where distractions are not only
ubiquitous but lethal and Americans are drowning in it (me included).
Paul is pointing
believers to joy in Christ in ways that are unimaginable to many of us because
the kingdom of God is a hazy concept. He
ends the chapter again by giving the boundaries of when one can marry: only
after the spouse is dead and only with another believer (vv.36-40).
Personal Conclusion: the thoughts expressed by Paul are difficult
for many believers to bear and are often ignored precisely because we don’t
trust that God knows best and actually is out for completing our joy in Him.
What will we believers do when
difficult sayings like those covered in this chapter challenge our devotion to
Christ? May our disposition be as Mary’s
was, “Behold the bond servant of the Lord.
May it be done to me according to your word” (Lk.1:38). To follow Christ in this life means that his
word has final place in our decisions, attitudes and lifestyles.
Lord, there are many difficult issues Paul addresses in this
chapter, and we trust they are for our good because only you do all things
well. Grant to us a willing heart to
follow you regardless of our lot in life (short as it may be) so that when it’s
all been said and done we can with one voice say, “To God be the glory great
things he has done” (SDG)
CHAPTER 7:17-24 MARRIAGE,
SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST: CONCERNING
THE FREE AND THE SLAVE Part 3
Paul in the previous section
encourages the Corinthians to cling to Christ regardless if they are single,
married or divorced. Now, he turns to
the theme of being “called” which is a massive theological concept in the Bible:
17 Only, as the Lord has
assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk.
And so I direct in all the churches.
text is intriguing and multilayered. Paul here points out that the status in
life one occupies is ultimately God’s doing, not theirs. For the believer, the all-wise, all-knowing,
all-powerful, all-good Creator uses hardships to make us more like Christ Jesus
How often have we been embittered because
we are either: single, married, separated, divorced or widowed? These relationships can be sources of
ecstatic joy or valleys of unbearable pain.
In this crucible believers are to remember their lot in life (Ps.16) is
God’s doing and that He is accomplishing His good pleasure. Thus, Paul starts enumerating the diverse
situations in which the Corinthian’s were saved by grace:
any man called when he was
already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone
been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised.19 Circumcision
is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.20 Each
man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
The term “called” points to the rich
history of God’s activity in human affairs.
It is principally “word” saturated where God’s pleasure is revealed
through saving rebellious souls from His wrath (e.g., the call of Abraham and
his descendants) and bringing them into a covenant relationship. Here, God, not the creature, initiates and
provides the necessary means for said relationship to be realized.
We really are not alone for behind
the activities of man and their progeny neither, fate, chance nor luck obtain,
but rather the self-existent God, the author of life is writing our particular
stories in ways beyond our understanding.
This process does not eliminate the significance of our choices, but
adds to the tension of grasping how a Sovereign God operates His divine hidden
will through the activities of sinful human beings without doing anything
evil. This is a puzzle and Paul brings
The apostle asks if one was a Jew or
a Gentile when they were regenerated, converted, saved. Regardless, one is not to try to make a cultural
or situational switch (whether Jew or Gentile) but one is to be consumed with
God’s eternal holy word. The word of God
is to govern how we believers live in this present evil age because it comes
from He who upholds all things through the power of His word.
It’s that word or “commandment”
that’s to govern our lives in this present evil age because it’s our life—it’s
God breathed, it’s the source of all power and the means through which all
things were created (Heb.1:1-3). We
creatures ultimately come to trust either God’s words or man’s words.
When God said, “Let there be light”
it obeyed-He spoke into existence what previously did not obtain (Gen.1). When God said to our dead souls, “come forth”
as Jesus did to Lazarus from the tomb, we like him rose from the dead (i.e., we
were saved, we were regenerated, we were justified). It’s by God’s eternal word that His enemies
are rescued from wrath (Eph.2:1-10), become sons and daughters and are sanctified
to become more like Jesus (Rom.8:28-29).
So now that we belong to Christ
Jesus because of our calling, we are to live a certain way. There’s a caveat on the term “called” I want
to point out: it’s used in contexts where
heathens are rescued from God’s wrath (e.g., Abraham’s calling), where prophets
are called to give God’s law (e.g., Moses calling) or kings are called to lead
God’s people (e.g., King David). In
Corinthians, people are “called” to
salvation, to service (i.e., through
their gifts 1 Cor. 12-14) and also in
their social status. Paul says:
you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also
to become free, rather do that.22 For
he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman;
likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.23 You
were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.24 Brethren, each
one is to remain with God in that condition in
which he was called.”
reiterate the term “called” in this context seems clearest to be a person
that’s born-again, regenerated, one who is God’s friend, no longer His
enemy. Those called have had their
greatest need abundantly met—in Christ Jesus (the last Adam) the second person
of the Triune Godhead the “called” are part of God’s family no longer under
wrath, but under grace.
So, Paul continues and addresses
those who have been saved and starts with the “slave”. While much can, has, and will continue to be
said about slavery and its nuanced contexts of injustice, cruelty, and final
eradication in Christ, the following should be noted:
men actually don’t own anything; God owns it all by virtue of being Creator and
sustainer of all that exists. Second,
mankind is actually the steward of God’s good creation and accountable to Him
on how they use it. Third, when man
enslaves another image bearer it reveals a thirst and hunger for power and
dominion that alone belongs to God and is not ultimately sanctioned by Yahweh.
in the ancient world, depending on the circumstances, a slave could either be
in charge of a nation’s wealth (e.g., Joseph over Egypt), be enslaved by
another nation (e.g., Israel enslaved by Egypt), be enslaved to a creditor
where children and wives were sold off at auction never again to be reunited. Slavery came into the world as a result of
Adam’s disobedience in the Garden of Eden and has been a heinous reality ever
since where the strong over power the weaker person, clan, tribe or
whether one is in a favorable or horrific situation as a slave, Paul is
reminding the Corinthian’s that if God “rescued you” (i.e., called you) from
His wrath into His favor, then don’t worry about your temporary position as a
slave. Imagine the anxiety many of these
slaves daily endured and Paul says don’t worry?
Is he being heartless? No, Paul continues:
“but if you are able to become free, rather do that”
knows it’s better to be a freed man than to be “owned” by another. In fact, he uses the word “but” to emphasize the “better-ness” of
being freed. He now provides the reason:
he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman;
likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.23 You
were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men24 Brethren, each
one is to remain with God in that condition in
which he was called.”
is accentuating several truths here:
bondage which results from our rebellion against God, Christ has come to
liberate the captives. The slave to men,
is now the freedman in Christ, the freedman, is now the slave of Christ.
the same master that frees us enslaves us.
Christ frees us from darkness and evil and enslaves us to his goodness,
beauty and truth. Believers are in fact
“bound to Christ”.
both free and slave (a temporary condition) are now ransomed by the
substitutionary sacrifice of Calvary’s cross (an eternal abode) where the
greatest injustice in human history (crucifying the sinless Son of God) was the
means to free those enslaved to death.
because Christ bought believers out of the slave market, we are no longer to be
slaves of men. Contextually, Paul seems
to be saying:
you need to be viewing reality through the lens of Christ’s calling via
Calvary’s tree. Because Christ has freed
you from God’s wrath, your fortunes have been reversed, your greatest need has
been met, thus peace not anxiety is your lot in life. Being free is better than being a slave,
therefore don’t become slaves of men.
how do we become slaves of men? I think
it’s when we view and live life contra God’s design. This is a grave matter. A reality with which married, single,
divorced, widowed, freed and enslaved have to come to terms. Our condition on this side of eternity is
temporal however difficult it may be.
Paul wants believers to see Christ as the treasure and joy in life that has
no rival, because in reality, that is true.
grass really is never greener on the other side, but we think it is. Paul is exhorting believers to rest in Christ
when they are suffering physical and emotional pain.
Paul now addresses the spouse married to an unbeliever. The married are to remain married but if there’s desertion or divorce they are to remain as they are and not cling to another. To the unmarried, they are to remain single, but if they lack self-control, they are to marry. To the married who are with an unbelieving spouse Paul says:
to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an
unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her.13 And
a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she
must not send her husband away.
Paul, when one spouse converts to Christ it’s their duty to stay together and
not divorce because of conversion so long as the spouse consents to live
together. This issue was difficult then
and remains unto today. Emotions run
high, words are spoken, insults are unleashed, and at times physical abuse
occurs. This can be a difficulty and
tricky situation to navigate but there’s a reason for the command:
14 For the unbelieving husband is
sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified
through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean,
but now they are holy.
as it may be, here’s my best shot at getting the point. Biblically one is not redeemed because of
another’s trust in the living God. For
personal repentance is required of each one to be rescued from God’s wrath.
the allusion to “unclean” and “holy” are OT themes where being set apart is a
sign that one is part of the covenant community and thus males were to be
circumcised, the people were to eat kosher foods, etc.
taking part of said activities were signs one was part of the covenant
community but did not guarantee one was part of the remnant (i.e., real
regenerated believers in heart evidenced by their obedience to Yahweh). That is, not all Israel was saved evidenced
by their recalcitrant lives and while their lineage is Jewish not all were sons
of Abraham (i.e., not all had the faith of Abraham).
as it was then, so it is today where people partake of the covenant community’s
activities but remain unbelievers. So, what
does Paul mean by “unclean and holy”?
Perhaps being around the believing community does offer an opportunity
for genuine faith to arise in both spouse and children. Again, even if they don’ have genuine saving
faith, the Christian theist’s worldview has an impact on them that aids
mirroring the image of God and somehow they are “clean and holy”
text is tough to decipher, nevertheless when a text in Scripture is puzzling,
the wise way to proceed is to use what is clearest in Scripture to deal with
and try to understand the more difficult passages. Paul continues:
if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not
under bondage in such cases,
but God has called us to peace.16 For
how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you
know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
notes several things here. First, the
previous verses on “clean and holy” can’t mean someone is in the covenant
family because he addresses the issue of “saving” one’s spouse. Personal repentance and faith is a necessary
condition for salvation, thus one can’t be “saved” on another’s faith in Christ
(e.g., your parents faith).
Second, Paul wants believers to
understand that in this present evil age, believers married to non-believers
will at times experience desertion or divorce.
Third, sometimes spouses believe that
if they persevere in the marriage they will be able to save their spouse via
example, but Paul reminds them that this is never a guarantee. It may happen, but it may not.
Fourth, the bondage that such a
believer may experience is not what God has designed for them but instead His
peace. What could this mean? Minimally, once we were God’s enemies but now
are his friends because of Christ, wrath is no longer ours to bear. This peace is to be mirrored in our
relationships. He’s saying, “If they
want to leave, let them go and cling to Christ”.
continues to develop his thought on marriage and singleness and considers: whether
one is married to an unbelieving spouse or not, whether one came to Christ from
Jewish or Gentile roots, whether they are redeemed being a slave or a freedman,
whether they are a virgin or not.
Furthermore, he considers when one is permitted to remarry and by
implication when remarriage is prohibited.
state in life the believer finds themselves in, they are to primarily concern
themselves with pleasing the Lord. Paul
aims to encourage Christians to let the eternal kingdom of God be the governing
factor in their lives instead of the temporal situations in which they find
themselves. He starts off by saying:
“6 But this I say by way of
concession, not of command.”
What’s the difference between these two terms? A concession
is permission to do something, or being allowed to act a certain way
(L&N §13.141), whereas a command here
does not infer the giving of detailed instruction but of having the right and
authority to command subjects to obedience (L&N § 37.42). Paul is making it clear that if what he
refers to (the forthcoming concession), the Corinthian believers do not obey,
they are not violating God’s decree which the apostles have been distinctly
charged to dispense as Christ’s authoritative ambassadors.
“7 Yet I wish that all men were even as I
myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this
manner, and another in that.”
The term “wish” is a way of describing desire which is a
state of affairs that does not necessarily exist, one which may even be
impossible, but nevertheless it is felt.
When Paul says, “I
wish that all men were even as I myself am”, I don’t think he is referring
to his apostleship, nor to his character traits, but to him being unmarried
where his devotion to Christ is less distracted.
Paul reveals that he is not married (we are
not sure if he was married, a widower, abandoned by his spouse because of his conversion
to Christ, etc.) and desires that the Corinthian church not only be single but
It is not unreasonable to think that Paul
was previously married and abandoned because of his conversion to Christ Jesus. Being a Hebrew of Hebrews, zealous for the
Jewish traditions unlike any of his contemporaries, he would have been an
amazing “catch” in that culture, the pride of family, wife and nation. Yet this monotheistic zealot was converted on
that appointed day and his world was turned “up-side down”.
If that was the case and more, then may the
weightiness of his words not escape us where elsewhere he declares, “I have
counted all things as rubbish for the surpassing worth of knowing Christ…”, “to
live is Christ and to die is gain…” etc.
Paul’s supreme treasure above all else was truly Christ; above status,
possessions and human relationships.
This is who is speaking and we do well to
carefully consider what he is saying and what he means. Thus, while Paul discloses his personal desire,
he understands that not everyone is like him because God (the infinite
self-existent one and source of all life) gifts us all with varying talents and
abilities. He now addresses the
unmarried and widows:
8 But I say to the unmarried and to widows that
it is good for them if they remain even as I.9 But if they do not have
self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion
Note that in verse 1 Paul affirms that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” (i.e., not commit sexual immorality), and uses the same
phrase “it is good” for the unmarried to remain single. Paul is not disparaging marriage but rather
accentuating something that seems to be counter-intuitive—in an age of sexual
immorality, if you are a single believer, then stay single.
While it’s good to abstain from fornication and adultery God
has nevertheless given the human race sexual desire that longs to express
itself. Is Paul encouraging abstinence
at all costs? No.
it is good to remain single, if there’s a lack of self-control, Paul says get
married. It’s better than burning in
passions and falling into sexual expression that is outside the confines of
marriage. Now Paul addresses those
10 But to the married I give instructions, not
I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband11 (but if she does leave, she must remain
unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should
not divorce his wife.
Several items stand out here.
First, Paul makes a distinction between the Lords instruction and
his. This could be understood to mean
that the former is to be obeyed, and the latter can be dismissed. The problem with that interpretation is that
Paul is clearly God’s called apostle, his authoritative spokesman in a way the
rest of us are not. So, to think that
Paul’s views are a “take it or leave it” proposition does not logically fit.
could see verse 6 linked to this where Paul distinguished between a command and
a concession, between what must be
obeyed and what may be obeyed. The problem though is that the Lord’s
instructions, as Paul’s instructions, come with authoritative force which a
concession does not possess.
understand this distinction between the Lord and Paul to mean that Jesus
himself previously addresses the issue and thus taught on it (e.g., Mt.5:32;
19:3-9; Lk.16:18, etc.) and thus Paul gives the Master’s instructions on said
topic. Yet, when the Lord Jesus does not
give instruction on a particular topic Paul says, “I not the Lord”.
That is, the distinction is not one of authority but one of subject. This third option seems to make the best
Moving on Paul discourages the immoral act of abandoning
one’s husband, and the husband is also commanded not to divorce his own
wife. Both husband and wife are in a
position to act immorally by severing the union and both are in a position to
honor Christ in their marital union.
Marriage is an amazing gift that like others requires
maintenance, care, nurture and sometimes restoration. When the required care
and understanding (here time must be invested) are not practiced, like a car
needing an oil change before the engine blows, so too the marriage union when
it’s neglected the immorality of desertion and divorce seem to follow.
So, whether we find ourselves, single, widowed, married, or in a troubled union, God calls us Christians to honor Christ Jesus, our faithful savior and redeemer. Lord, in our weakness show the sufficiency of your strength as you continue the work began in us by the Holy Spirit. (SDG)
CHAPTER 7:1-5 HOW CAN WE HONOR ONE ANOTHER IN THE MARRIAGE UNION?
In chapter 7 Paul continues the theme of believers walking uprightly in our relationships. Because of Christ’s atonement (i.e., his sacrificial substitutionary death on the cross and his resurrection for those who trust in him), God is glorified in our bodies but how is that accomplished. Here it focuses on the marriage union between a man and a woman. Pail writes:
“Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband.3 The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise, also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.5 Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Cor.7:1-5)
Let’s make several observations. First, it’s good to be single. Apparently, someone had previously written to Paul from Corinth concerning the state of the church and wrote: “…it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Here, he can’t mean that there is to be no physical contact because he would be contradicting his command elsewhere to greet one another with a holy kiss.
Contextually, this has to do with sexual intercourse as the following verses unfold. What’s “good” about a man not touching a woman? It seems he’s referring to the virtue of being unmarried for the purpose of glorifying God and being about the business of the kingdom as the rest of the chapter depicts. That is, singleness in the church is not to be frowned upon, but rather appreciated and lauded.
As the self-existent One, who is the source of all life, the virtue of goodness is necessarily based on God’s ontological status (i.e., the divine nature in all its perfections shared by each member of the trinity: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit) and thus the Creator rather than the creature determines what is good. Here, to be single is good, but immorality is not and thus a real problem. Thus, Paul offers a “game changer”, as we say.
Second, it’s good to be married. While singleness is a good thing, it’s not if immorality is a struggle, thus, marriage is the good option Paul commands: 2 But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The clause, “But because of immoralities” calls attention to sexual sin contextually (6:12-20) and offers the solution “each man is to have his own wife and likewise also the wife to her husband”. There are several observations that can be noted.
First, each man is to be devoted to the one woman he has entered into covenant with and not another wife. Second, that being the case, the singular term “wife” not wives, supports monogamy, not polygamy. Third, this is a safeguard for those longing to sexually express themselves within the context of a one flesh union between a man and a woman. Fourth, this contradicts the in-vogue notion of “same-sex marriage” that many in Western civilization have embraced. Fifth, the same holds true for women. Sixth, both male and female have a bent to immorality, both are culpable before Gods’ court of justice, and both are graciously given a solution—marriage. Now in this covenant relationship there are duties given for flourishing to obtain.
Third, duties obtain for both man and woman. Paul continues his thought and describes the duties both husband and wife are to fulfill toward each another. When Paul says; v-3 “The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband” he makes abundantly clear that they equally share the responsibility to make the marriage union flourish.
First, Paul grounds his command of duty/fulfillment on the idea and reality that “authority” over the other’s body is a non-negotiable. What does authority here mean? On the surface, biblically when one has authority over another they possess the power to command persons (and affect them) to live a certain way, to do certain things. This attribute of authority again is grounded in God’s being—one way image bearers express the Creators presence, objective reality and His existence.
Second, Paul is sounding the alarm when he states in v-4: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.”
The alarm here is that both husband and wife belong to each other, they are distinct persons, but have a one flesh union which forever changes how they are to live. It seems clear that they are not “free” to make autonomous sexual decisions, but instead are to always submit to the desires of each other within God’s design for sexuality (which clearly exclude bestiality, homosexuality, heterosexual adultery, etc.), but not as clearly when it deals with oral copulation.
When we consider a text that does not give us specifics (e.g., Paul here does not specify what I brought up), a wise approach to get at the meaning of a biblical text, is to consider the entirety of what Scripture teaches (on a given topic) deal first with the clearest texts and then proceed to the more obscure texts. By this approach, the obscurity, while not completely removed, does have more light shed on it by the clearer passages in scripture. After Paul describes both duties and authority, he commands both husband and wife to obey.
Fourth, husbands and wives are commanded to stop sinning against each other. Paul gives a prohibition because then like today, husbands and wives were sinning against each other by depriving each other of sexual intimacy v-5; “Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.”
To deprive means to withhold something good possessed by one for the benefit of another—the covenant spouse here. That is, if one spouse desires sexual relations the other is to concede. Only by mutual agreement is the married couple to withhold sexual relations.
This opens up a “can of worms” that’s filled with pain, manipulation, and abuse which reveals our brokenness as people. Nevertheless, we must understand that what fuels this command is love for God and Christ Jesus (though imperfectly expressed) in the marriage union between a man and a woman.
Men often don’t walk in a loving manner toward their wives and wives accordingly to their husbands. The reason for such turmoil is the real distinctions between men and women. The lack of appreciation and understanding of these distinctions has from Adam and Eve unto today been a real problem. That is, according to God’s design, a man’s greatest need is to be respected, while a woman’s supreme need is to be loved. And while the needs are distinct, both spouses are commanded to honor one another.
The prohibition to “stop depriving one another” means that if that’s presently the case, it is to cease in the present. Yet, if mutual consent to withhold obtains, it’s for a very practical purpose; “so that you may devote yourselves to prayer”. Could it be that Paul is commanding the spouses to entreat God with the same passion with which they sexually pleasure each other? I don’t see why not, but this activity of intimacy between spouse and God has a “time” or “duration” of activity not specified.
There’s a time for everything under heaven Solomon wrote and here Paul is saying to married couples, “there’s a time for sex and a time to refrain in order to pray”. Whatever the duration here, the key is that there’s agreement. So, there’s a time for sex and a time for prayer, but he does not end it there.
Paul finishes the command and provides the reason for it: “and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control”. Both spouses are addressed because when marriages fail and adultery occurs there’s usually culpability from both parties. Paul is alluding to the practical need for sexual relations to continue when he says, “come together again” for the purpose of denuding satanic temptation to commit adultery.
The reason for the command is because there’s a lack of self-control, thus the loving act for the spouses to do is to sexually fulfill each other (however imperfectly it may be done). Obedience here is the path of holiness to the LORD which is our highest good and joy.
These verses unfold the gravity of marriage and their reflection of God’s love and care for His people. Elsewhere Paul explains that marriage is the mystery unveiled of Christ and His union with the Church (Eph.5).
We live in a time where “sexual liberation” is lauded in a way that actually dishonors God and thus dishonors human beings. Sexuality expressed according to God’s design is magnificent, when it goes awry, while for a time may be exhilarating, will in the end be another means for human destruction. God have mercy on our souls and bodies.
Paul continues his instruction to the called saints who are in the world but not of it. In chapter 5 the apostle tackles the issue of immorality caused by the Corinthians’ pride and warns of God’s looming judgment as the impetus for repentance.
In chapter 6 Paul continues to address the believers’ immorality and resultant ineptness to wisely judge among themselves when being defrauded by another professing Christian. He then points to Christ’s atonement as the basis for believers to humble themselves before God and each other. It’s humility that safeguards God’s people from sexual immorality which is for their, not harm.
In chapter 7 Paul addresses the aspects of marriage, singleness, divorce, separation and remarriage. These were massive issues then as they are today. These issues are emotionally charged, often difficult to grapple with, because what can be a joyous relationship too often becomes a miserable existence for image bearers. Our brokenness has not served us well.
The sexual tension that both married and single experience has not changed and the views in said realities either reflect Gods’ design or rejects it. Since this letter is for believers and how they are to conduct their lives before the consummation, it’s critical to heed Paul’s teaching (Christ’s authoritative spokesman), and if non-believers mock and contradict what Scripture teaches, God will deal with them.
In the church the sexual confusion over male/female distinctions has adversely impacted our marriages resulting in the divorce of many couples. Much of this is because God’s people make a habit of ignoring their inheritance—the Word of life, the Scriptures, which bring light to our darkened minds and restoration to our broken dispositions. Too often (in the name of love) believers unwittingly imbibe a Godless worldview in order to be “relevant” to the culture. Ironically, the Christian is most relevant when the word of life is spoken and practiced before the watching world not ignored.
In what follows, Paul is going to challenge 21st century believers with what it means to be loving, what it means to be salt and light, what it means to be presently relevant by lauding God’s truth not lies (because we love Christ) in the context of our most cherished relationships.
The writer to the Hebrews wrote: “Remember those who led you, who spoke the word of God to you; and considering the result of their conduct, imitate their faith” Hebrews 13:7. Too often Christians find themselves imitating the faith of those who actually do not speak the word of God to them in truth. Instead, they listen to teachers who proclaim what their itching ears want to hear to their utter destruction. One way to guard against that is to consider how believers through the centuries understood the Gospel, and treasured Christ as they lived out its implications.
There are two cautions, two extremes, I think are critical to consider if we are to love God with our minds and hearts. First, we must guard against thinking that because something is old (pick a number) it’s irrelevant in the present and for our future. Second, we must guard against thinking that because something is new it’s relevant for the present and future. Both extremes are foolish, irrational, clothed in hubris and blind us from discovering objective truth in order to live it out presently and in the future.
The following summaries are provided to encourage, challenge, comfort and invigorate the follower of Christ to consider how in the last two millennia followers of Christ understood and lived out the implications of their faith. It’s to consider how these believers spent their energies for the glory of God and the cause of the kingdom, and to see where their example is worthy to be emulated.
Some things will seem odd, some things odious, some things onerous, and some things endearing. I trust in no way you will be bored. These summaries are but a taste of their substance that I’ve attempted to capture so that you, the reader will take up and read at the source. Click the link Theological Book Summaries to download the entire summaries.
In his Christian Perfection, Wesley distinguishes between how Christians are and are not perfect.
How Are Christians Not Perfect?
Both from experience and the Scriptures it is clear Christians are not perfect in knowledge e.g., our ignorance in God’s workings in different dispensations. Christians are not perfect in their mistakes (e.g., “we know in part” 1 Cor. 13:12) at handling the Scriptures. Christians are not free from infirmities (e.g., physical ailments or moral failures). Moreover, Christians are not free from temptation, such freedom lies ahead in the next life. Christian perfection is another term for holiness. Hence, to be perfect one must be holy and the converse obtains.
How Are Christians Perfect?
First, developmentally babes and mature Christians are in different stages, yet perfection applies to both. Scripture clearly says that those who are justified (be it babe or mature) “do not continue in sin” (Rom. 6:1, 5-7, 14, 18) i.e., all real Christians are free from external sin (1 Pet. 4:1-2; 1 Jn. 3:8-9; 5:18). Wesley then argues for misinterpreted counter examples from the lives of David, Abraham, even the Proverbs. Wesley concludes with those opposing the “plain” reading of NT texts, that they need to buttress their arguments and give proofs form the NT clear teaching, rather than an OT vague passage.
Wesley understands that to use arguments that a Christian must sin is unacceptable, for no necessity of sinning obtains for the Christian. The same grace that was sufficient for Paul is also at our disposal. Hence, although temptation comes, one is not required to yield to it (1 Cor. 10:13). Moreover, Wesley addresses the misuse of passages (2 Cor. 12:7-10) that are often used to buttress the above contention that we must sin and challenges such notions with James understanding of faith and works (Jam. 3:2).
 John Wesley, Sermon Forty, Christian Perfection, Edited by Dave Sparks, (1999 by the Wesley Center for Applied Theology, web site: firstname.lastname@example.org for permission or to report errors)