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.

This 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 the master.

            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: 

18 Was 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 it up.

            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:

21 Were 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.

To 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:

First, 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.

Fourth, 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 nation.          So, 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”

Paul 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:

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.”

Paul is accentuating several truths here:

First, 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. 

Second, 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”.

Third, 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.

Fourth, because Christ bought believers out of the slave market, we are no longer to be slaves of men.  Contextually, Paul seems to be saying:

Christian, 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.

But 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. 

The 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:

12 But 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.

For 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.

Puzzling 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. 

Second, 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. 

Third, 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).

Fourth, 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”

This 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:

15 Yet 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?

Paul 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”.

Reflections From 1 Corinthians 7:6-11_MARRIAGE, SINGLENESS, & DEVOTION TO CHRIST Part 1



Paul 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, he considers when one is permitted to remarry and by implication when remarriage is prohibited.

Whatever 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:

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.

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 also self-controlled.

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:

But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I.  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 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.

While 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 married:

10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband 11 (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 here 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.

Second, one 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.

Third, many 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 sense.

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.



             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 good, 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, and 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.