"Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband." -1 Corinthians 7:3
Paul had just addressed, in chapters five and six, some of the sinful practices of the church in Corinth that were the result of their spiritual immaturity. Paul turns next to practical steps that can deal with the sexual confusion in this church. Much of what had formerly defined outside of Christ were issues related to sexuality. This included sex outside of marriage, in general, and specifically adultery and sex between the same gender.
Sexuality is one of the strongest of our human passions. Fornication, a general term for sexual sin, along with adultery, homosexuality, and sodomy had been a part of the lifestyle of these new Christians. To guide these new believers toward transformed lives in Christ, it not only took church discipline and seeing themselves as new creations in Christ (5:1-6; 6:9-11), but also included some practical steps on how to approach sexuality and marriage. Therefore, Paul begins with establishing marriage as God's provision for sexual fulfillment. He adds to that the need for each partner in a marriage to take personal responsibility to meet the sexual needs and affection of their spouse. He goes so far as to say that each partner has "authority" or the right to share pleasure from each other's body (7:1-4). Then he warns that if this area of life is not maintained, Satan will use it to draw a person into sexual sin in seeking to find sexual fulfillment. He goes on to deal with the issues of divorce as well as the value of being single from his own perspective.
What we must take away from this teaching of the Apostle Paul is to not be unrealistic about the practical steps we need to take in realigning our approach to sexuality to be in harmony with God's original plan. We should take whatever steps are necessary to fulfill our God-given sexual desires within marriage. Furthermore, to deny for each marriage partner to meet the need for sexual fulfillment of their marriage partner is not only unkind, but it opens the way for Satan's temptations that could lead to destroying the marriage. Therefore, we must be honest about our weaknesses and personal sexual needs and seek to find godly avenues for their expression and fulfillment. Otherwise, we are only setting ourselves up for a fall.
NJKV Bible Text
1 Corinthians 7:1-40
Principles of Marriage
1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me:
It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, 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 the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Principles of Marriage
v. 1 wrote to me – Paul begins here to answer questions that will continue until chapter 11. These questions were likely brought to Paul by Stephanos, Fortunatus, and/or Achaicus (16:17). Having in 6:19-20 clarified that sex was to be restricted to a heterosexual marriage, Paul now gives guidance as to how a believer should relate to the institution of marriage.
not to touch – This was a common Jewish term for sexual relations. By saying it is good to not require a sexual relationship in one's life does not then mean that sexuality was bad in Paul's mind. It simply points to the pragmatic way Paul looked at the advantages in not being married as he states in v. 28-35.
v. 2 because of sexual immorality – Paul points out that if one's sexual desires would lead them into sin, they should not consider remaining single because it would end up being a detriment in one's service to Christ (v. 28-35). Paul is not saying here that sexual fulfillment is the only purpose of marriage since scripture refers to its many other benefits but his context in this section was limited to the sexual component.
v. 3 affection due her – Paul makes clear that if a person is married it is one of their main responsibilities in the marriage to assure the fulfillment of their sexual desires.
v. 4 not have authority – It is made clear that this call of God to fulfill the romantic and sexual needs of one's spouse is not to be subject to only one of the partners of the marriage. Instead the marriage is to be strengthened by a consistent romantic relationship that is under the mutual authority of both.
v. 5 except with consent – Paul reinforces his teaching in verse 4 by making it clear that sexual intimacy is to be fostered in a marriage except when there is mutual consent to do otherwise. Here the example is for a time of fasting and prayer.
Satan does not – Paul is very clear about the potential open door that is left for Satan to bring about opportunities for sexual immorality if the sexual needs of a person are not met within the marriage.
v. 6 as a concession – Paul stated in verse 1 that he saw a value in remaining single because of the advantages to be free to do the Lord's work (v. 28-35). Here he states that the need to be married, if based primarily on a need for a sexual relationship, is an acceptable allowance from God. However, he wants his readers to understand that there is no commandment from God that a Christian must be married.
v. 7 as I myself – Paul saw many advantages to being single in regard to being free to do the ministry he was called to.
His own gift – Paul acknowledges that his ability to happily live the life of a single man is a gift from God (Matt. 19:12). However, he also acknowledges that others have been gifted for a life of marriage. Aquila and Priscilla are excellent examples of a married couple who worked closely with Paul, and did so as a couple (1 Cor. 16:19).
v. 9 burn with passion – Paul advises the unmarried and widows (v. 8) that if they are effected with a strong and ongoing desire for romantic and sexual intimacy it would be wiser to seek being married than to be made ineffective due to the ongoing distraction by an unmet desire that could only be met within a marriage.
Keep Your Marriage Vows
10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.
12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. 15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a 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?
Keep Your Marriage Vows
v. 10 not I but the Lord – Paul is here reinforcing his claim as an apostle and one who had been called by God to be a vessel of God's inspired scriptures (2 Tim. 3:16, 2 Peter 3:16).
not to depart – Paul now deals with the issues surrounding divorce. Jesus had taught that divorce had been allowed in the O.T. because of the hardness of men's hearts (Matt. 19:7-8). However, since a believer has been given a new nature and heart, Jesus limited divorce to the violation of the marriage because of adultery (Matt. 5:32, 19:8-9). Paul will add abandonment to this (v. 15).
v. 11 she does depart – Paul also addresses the inevitable possibility of some believers who are separated or divorce for reasons other than adultery. If this has happened between two believers they are to remain unmarried or seek reconciliation.
v. 12 I, not the Lord – The previous instruction in verse 10 was based on Jesus' teaching about divorce (Matt. 5:32, 19:7-9). Paul is not denying inspiration, but simply acknowledges that the further clarification on divorce that follows was not directly taught by Jesus while on earth.
does not believe – Paul makes clear that if a non-believing marriage partner is willing to remain in a marriage with a believer, the believer should not be seek to end the marriage. It is not uncommon for a believer to desire a believing spouse. However, in verse 14 Paul gives good causes to remain in such a marriage.
v. 14 is sanctified – To sanctify is to set apart for holy use. The thought here is that the believing spouse is in a position to bring about a godly influence upon those in the family.
be unclean – This was a term in contrast to being sanctified or holy, i.e., set apart for God. Here the children in the home of a believing parent are seen as richly benefited as they experience being set apart for God's dealings in their life because of the believing parent.
v. 15 not under bondage – The bond of marriage can be broken by adultery (Matt. 19:9) or death (Rom. 7:2). Here we see that a non-believing spouse divorcing a believer is an additional cause to release a person from a marriage. The believer is then given the right to remarry.
to peace – Paul points out that in a marriage where the non-believing partner is in conflict and turmoil over the faith of the believing spouse and wants out of the marriage the believing spouse should not fight it but rather seek peace.
v. 16 save your husband – Paul now addresses the more important issue: the salvation of the non-believing spouse. If this can be fostered by staying in the marriage (v. 12-14), then the believer should stay. If letting the nonbeliever "depart" will foster peace and possibly soften their heart, it is good. Basically the action taken should be directed by a concern for their eternal destiny, not temporal marital preferences.
Live as You Are Called
17 But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. 18 Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20 Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. 21 Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. 22 For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.
Live As You Are Called
v. 17 God has distributed – God is seen as the ultimate source in His sovereign oversight of the believer's life. The believer is to accept the God given disposition toward ones sexual and relational needs in the context of what has been already said . (v. 1-9) Therefore, one is to be at peace if they are single or if they are married trusting God has a call and a purpose in His own plans for each of us.
all the churches – Paul wants them to realize that his guidance on these matters is not uniquely directed to the Corinthians simply because of their confusion on these matters but is in harmony with God's will for all believers.
v. 18 anyone called – Paul now widens the principle in verse 17 to other areas of life were a believer finds himself.
circumcised – This procedure was done on Jewish boys in obedience to the O.T. commandment. It was a physical sign of belonging to the people of God. In this verse Paul makes clear that if a person was converted as a Jew, he should be free to maintain this Jewish identity. However, the Gentile believer should not feel the need to embrace this or other Jewish customs in an effort to be a better Christian.
v. 19 circumcision is nothing – This makes clear that Paul felt there was no value in those ordinances in the O.T. that were uniquely addressed to the Jewish people that identified them as a unique people who were to be God's vehicle of revelation under the Mosaic law.
keeping the commandments – This must refer to those moral directives that were before as well as a part of the Mosaic law that continued into the New Testament through the teachings of Jesus and the apostles. Much of the N.T. teaching is a clarification of how the laws of God transcend the Law of Moses in a believer's life, whether Jew or Gentile (Matt. 5-7).
v. 20 remain – Paul sees great value in seeing the place where you were in society at conversion as a thing God can and will use.
called while a slave – It is estimated that about half of the Roman Empire's population was enslaved. In some ways they treated basically like employees: as accountants, teachers, administrators similar to the life of Daniel and Joseph's experience in the O.T. However, others were treated disrespectfully, as nothing more than property. The offspring of some slaves were even considered property of the slave's owner.
do not be concerned – The single largest group among the early Christians were slaves. Paul's guidance shouldn't be seen as an acceptance of slavery but rather as a wise approach in dealing with the difficulty of the situation. In today's world it would be similar to the tragic situation of many Christians under communist or totalitarian governments. Believers in these situations must maintain their walk and life in Christ regardless of the oppressive societies they have been placed in.
v. 21 can be made free – Paul encourages the believers to pursue freedom if possible within the conditions of the Roman Empire. This is a balance not easy to strive for as a believer in a world of sinful social and political environments. On one hand, we are to not let society's injustices rob us of personally experiencing God's blessing. On the other hand, we should not think that a pursuit of justice in an evil society is a violation. In general, we should learn to live in contentment no matter our situation (v. 20).
v. 22 Lord's freedman – Paul shows here that the definition of a person in the eyes of a fallen society has nothing to do with who we are in light of God's Kingdom. The slave is free in God's eyes because he is free from the bondage of sin.
Christ's slave – Just as society doesn't define the slave, so it doesn't define the person seen as elevated in a fallen society. No Christian is to see themselves as elevated or superior in God's eyes over other believers. Jesus is Lord over us all and we are all called to be His servants on behalf of His purposes in the world. Even the human slave is not to see himself as a slave of man but living "as to the Lord and not to men" (Col. 3:22-24).
v. 23 not become slaves of men – As stated in Colossians 3:22-24 and Ephesians 6:5-8, the believer's life—whether free or slave—is not to be determined by man but by God. As Jesus taught, we are to be in the world but not of the world. We are to respond to God's will, not the pressure of a misguided, sinful, rebellious world (Rom. 12:1-2).
v. 24 each one remain – This principle is what has caused the gospel to penetrate a vast array of cultures and various levels of society. As new converts maintain some contact with their peers, the gospel makes sense to people who may have felt it had no relevance for people like them.
To the Unmarried and Widows
25 Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. 26 I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man to remain as he is: 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.
29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, 30 those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, 31 and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.
To The Unmarried and Widows
v. 25 concerning virgins – Having addressed the believers approach to marriage, Paul now gives guidance for singles.
have no commandment – Paul makes clear that his council is based upon his trusted relationship with Jesus.
v. 26 present distress – During this time there was mounting persecution against believers. These attacks included Nero throwing Christians to the lions, sewing them up in leather sacks to be torn at and eaten by dogs, and used as human torches to light his gardens. Paul saw some advantages in remaining single during these difficult times.
v. 27 do not seek – Paul makes sure married believers don't misapply this reasoning to seek to get out of their marriage responsibilities.
v. 28 trouble in the flesh – This "trouble" is the added responsibilities of the married. Flesh here refers not to the sinful nature but life in the realm of the natural world.
v. 29 had none – Paul anticipated the return of Christ in his lifetime and therefore saw it as a very reasonable conclusion that even married couples should live with as little attachment to this present world as possible. This of course is in reference to the many material needs of a family, i.e. housing, etc. Thus Paul saw that as much as possible even married couples should live as simply as possible as they anticipated their eternal dwelling as the place to invest their time and resources.
v. 30 who weeps – The weeping and rejoicing that results from the receipt of material things should be evaluated in light of eternity.
v. 31 who use this world – Paul warns that moral use of the world's resources before God is critical because after this world passes away we will be answerable to God for what we did with what God entrusted us with in this present world.
32 But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. 33 But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife. 34 There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.
36 But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry. 37 Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well. 38 So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.
39 A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment—and I think I also have the Spirit of God.
v. 32 be without care – Another advantage to remaining single: there are far less required areas of responsibility.
v. 33 please his wife – Here in verses 33-34 Paul points out the necessary demands to provide a pleasing life for one's spouse. Paul sees this as energy and time that could be used for God's work if a person remained single.
v. 35 toward his virgin – His virgin refers to a father's daughter. In traditional cultures the father was the one who would determine when and to whom his daughter would marry.
v. 36 he does not sin –; If a father, after vowing to keep his daughter unmarried, realizes she wishes to marry and changes his mind, he may do so without sinning.
v. 37 having no necessity – If the daughter does not present a desire to be married, the father should not feel compelled to change the decision to have her remain single. She is free to serve the Lord from marital distractions.
v. 38 does better – This is in light of the value Paul has placed upon the single person who can give themselves to the things of God without distraction.
v. 39 she is at liberty – Paul had already stated that a person is free to remarry if the non-believing spouse wants out of the marriage (v. 15). Now Paul adds that the death of one's spouse also frees a person to be remarried.
in the Lord – If remarrying, the stipulation given is to marry a believer.
v. 40 she is happier – Paul reaffirms the advantages to being single one more time.
have the Spirit – Paul seeks here to legitimize his conclusion as being influenced by the Holy Spirit.