More than Conquerors
Passage: I Corinthians 7:1-40
Apostle Paul authored this passage in which he uses a detailed and descriptive narrative to share his thoughts. Paul narrates to the Christians of Corinth how they ought to behave in a marriage as well as before they enter into a marriage as an institution.
In this passage verses 1-2, Paul highlights sexuality as an aspect:
Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. (NIV)
Apparently, Paul is writing in response to a letter that was written by the Corinthian Christians. As such, the response is a letter. Uncompromisingly, Paul says that marriage is not good for a man. Nevertheless, there are no reasons that he gives for his strong statement. The apostle further says that for sexuality’s sake, a man ought to have his own wife and every woman ought to have her husband (Ellis).
Paul uses a literary style and this says a lot concerning his personality. It depicts him as a principled and God fearing person especially when it comes to handling contentious issues that affect the society. He also employs a conversational style because he uses “you” while addressing the audience. This indicates communication flow between the audience and the author.
Paul talks about the wives and husbands’ responsibilities in a marriage in verses 3-6.
The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command.
In these verses, Paul gives instructions regarding the behavior of wives and husbands vehemently. He strongly states that a person’s body does not belong to them alone. It also belongs to his/her partner in marriage. By this statement, Paul implies that couples are mutually responsible in terms of sex and that they should not deny each other conjugal rights.
Carefully, Paul condemns promiscuity/immorality by selecting the words to use in the passage. He uses the following words: ‘then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control’. In verse 6, he ends by telling the audience that this is not a command but an admonishment for them (Daniel and Collins).
From the way Paul uses a literary style, it is clear that sex is not considered wrong in marriage for Christians. However, Paul notes that Satan uses a strategy through which he encourages couples to engage themselves in extra marital affairs. One can also deduce that the apostle addresses sex in marriage because it was a controversial issue and perhaps, causing divorces during that time.
In the passage that follows (Verses 7-9); Paul shares the benefits of being single while indicating marriage benefits which he all refers to as a gift from God.
I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Here, Paul uses a controversial style by saying that, “For I wish that all men were as I am…” This is the time when Paul’s life was dedicated to God’s service. Hence, he belonged to the unmarried category. Paul indicates that the unmarried people are better off.
Nevertheless, he is not imposing the idea of being single on the audience. Instead, he notes that every man has a gift from God. In terms of gifts from God, in James 1:17, the scripture says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” As such, Paul indicates that Christians are guaranteed good gifts by the unchanging nature of God and in reference to this case, there are people who have the gift of a marriage while others are gifted to remain single.
It is worth observing that Paul employs a persuasive style in writing because he urges the unmarried and windows to remain as single as he is. Nevertheless, since Paul understands the nature of humans, he tells them that they should marry if taking control of sexual passions is a problem to them. This is a point at which Paul indicates that marriage is beneficial in satisfying the sexual desires of the married people. Just like in the other verses of this context, the apostle upholds the values of Christians by encouraging them to engage in sex only when married.
In verses 10-11, Paul answers the separation and divorce question among Christian couples.
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
Paul uses a literary style in a conversational tone but there are instances when he employs sternness in his statements. He is also authoritative than in the previous statements. Paul changes the discussion topic from making a decision to remain single or to marry and now he discusses the issue of separation and divorce. These verses indicate transition that portrays the organization of Paul in terms of literary works.
Paul indicates marriage gravity because he commands the Corinth couples to strictly avoid separation or divorce. However, Paul adds that if it is a must for couples to separate, they should be reconciled or remain unmarried. This indicates the hatred that God has for divorce and that He is a marriage advocate. The divorce and marriage issue has a connection with the past scriptures in which God allows couples to divorce only on sexual immorality basis (Matthew 19: 3-9).
This command was given by Jesus while referring to marriage when He said, “I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9). In response, Jesus’ disciples said, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”
As such, according to Lord Jesus’ stand on divorce, one can deduce that Paul is an indication of an apostle who was loyal to Jesus and a follower of the scriptures. He also upheld the commands of God strictly. Paul had an uncompromising and principled nature which was evident in the way he does not give reasons for having double standards to his audience.
In verses 12-16, the apostle addresses different couples. It is apparent that Paul addresses Christian couples in the previous verses but in these verses, he now addresses his brother who is married to wife who does not belief as well as a woman who is married to a husband who does not believe.
To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbeliever leaves, let him do so. A believing man or woman is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?
There is a new twist that is introduced in Paul’s literary work when he states that, “I, not the Lord.” Paul employs this style to indicate he is giving the audience his opinion regarding this matter. In simple terms, Jesus did not teach about this topic during his time on earth. However, he inspired Paul and that is why he is writing about it.
The apostle urges the Christians of Corinth who are in marriages with unbelievers to avoid divorcing them. One may assume that divorcing unbelieving partners is a spiritual act since a believer ought not to remain yoked with an unbeliever. Nevertheless, the stand of Paul is that in such a scenario divorce should not be considered as an option (Zodhiates).
According to Paul, the unbelieving spouse can be drawn to Christ by the believer and this will glorify God. This is the main reason why Paul does not encourage divorce in this case. Nevertheless, he does not encourage courtship between believers and unbelievers. He only encourages Christians with unbelievers as their spouses. Additionally, Paul has proven a point that believers sanctify their partners and their children.
As an alternative, Paul comes out clearly in terms of separation for such couples. The believer ought not to start a break-up/separation. Instead, they should maintain their marriage. If an unbelieving spouse chose to separate, the believer ought to let them go since this breaks them from the bondage of that kind of a marriage.
Paul says, “For how do you know…” as a statement that concludes the section by giving hope to the Christians with unbelieving spouses.
Paul depicts a leadership skill of an outstanding nature in the following verse as indicated below by the way he authoritatively urge Christians to remain where they have been placed by the Lord (verse 17).
Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.
Paul in this scenario tells Corinthians that regardless of their position or state (whether separated, married, remarried, etc), it is highly important that they keep walking as Christians in their lives. To a great extent, Paul helps the audience get over their past and also work to please God in their current states.
In verses 18-20, Paul emphasizes on the essence of staying in the state or position that a person has been placed by God.
Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.
The bravery nature of Paul is greatly depicted in this section because he is not apologetic while handling controversial issues that affect Christians’ lives. While writing to the Christians of Corinth, Paul had noted the discrimination that the uncircumcised were facing. Paul refers to uncircumcision and circumcision as ‘nothing’. This is similar to what was written by Solomon in Ecclesiastes where most things are referred to as ‘vanity’. Paul is highly esteemed by this bravely and it can also captivate the audience (Braxton and Brad).
Between verses 21 and 24 as indicated below, Paul emphasizes on the importance of letting go of past situations as well as living the present in which a person has been placed by God.
Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.
The audience is motivated by Paul to avoid being troubled by the past lives even for those who were slaves. In these verses, Paul uses a conversational style in expressing his point. He tells the audience that old has gone and that God intends to use his Christians in their current situations because He has placed them in such situations. The apostle makes literary style personal by using the word ‘brothers’ in reference to the audience. He uses a less stern statement and instead he uplifts the discouraged spirits by encouraging statements.
In the verses that follow (25-35), Paul talks about different issues that include marriage, singleness and virginity. Instead of using hidden sayings, Paul speaks in an open manner while motivating all people.
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 you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried?
Do not look for 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. What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs— how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
The apostle says that the best option to consider was an unmarried state because times are distressing. However, Paul is not condemning marriage. He gives straight tips on different aspects that relate to single life and married life. Paul expounds on all areas. He also tells the audience that getting married is not committing a sin. It is clear that Paul takes adequate time to purposely change the audience’s typical perspective. Additionally, the apostle employs a conversational style which makes his instructions easy to comprehend and lively (Gordon and Dorcas).
In the concluding statements, Paul proceeds to correct possible perspectives that could be held by the Corinthians. In the verses that follow (36-40), the concluding or final statements of Apostle Paul to the Corinthians are shown as indicated in I Corinthians chapter 7.
If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
Clearly, one can deduce that some Christians of Corinth were struggling with unnecessary ideologies that were related to their relationships. By writing to them, Paul significantly changes their perspectives towards relationships. As such, the literary works that he uses include phrases like “feels he ought to marry…made up his mind…”
Paul highlights another vital aspect clearly that relates to the role of a man. It ought to be noted that Paul explains that the decision not to marry a virgin or to marry her should be made by a man himself. Additionally, the apostle writes that a man’s life determines the marriage life of a woman-a woman can only remarry after the death of a husband.
Paul concludes this section by stating his opinion. He indicates this by saying “In my judgment…” As such, Paul implies that there could be different opinions held by the other people regarding the issue of remarriage of a woman after the death of a husband. The finalizing statement of Paul is astounding-“I think I too have the Spirit of God.” The opinions of Paul on marriage and relationships issue could be justified by this statement. This statement employs a comparison style.
Modern Relevance of the Passage
Several issues of the contemporary society are addressed by this passage. This passage touches on everything that relates to sexual purity, divorce and marriage. The words of Paul are reflected in many generations. Actually, most controversies that emerge in the modern church are solved using these scriptures. Social values that include sexual purity, virginity, faithfulness and holiness are promoted by this passage.
Through his writing, Apostle Paul answered many controversial questions regarding marriage (1-9). When married to unbelieving companions, Christians ought not to seek separation from them. According to verses 10-16, when in fixed positions, people should remain in them. In verses 17-24, sitting loose to the world was desirable because of the risky days of that time. Verses 25-35 says that married people should exercise great caution; it ought to be a type that the Lord orchestrates (36-40).
Marriage and relationships’ holiness as an aspect is the lesson that can be picked from this passage by the modern Christians. This lesson should be picked by the youthful Christians in relationships as well as the married couples since sexual purity is emphasized in majority of the verses of the passage. The apostle has tackled pre-marital marriage as well as sex within marriage issues. This comes in handy for Christians at different stages in life.
Braxton, Brad Ronnell. The tyranny of resolution: I Corinthians 7:17-24. Atlanta, Ga.: Society of Biblical Literature, 2000. Print.
Collins, Raymond F., and Daniel J. Harrington. First Corinthians. Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 1999. Print.
Deming, Will. Paul on marriage and celibacy: the Hellenistic background of 1 Corinthians 7. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995. Print.
Ellis, J. Edward. Paul and ancient views of sexual desire Paul’s sexual ethics in 1 Thessalonians 4, 1 Corinthians 7 and Romans 1. London: T & T Clark, 2007. Print.
Gordon, J. Dorcas. Sister or wife? 1 Corinthians 7 and cultural anthropology. Sheffield, England: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997. Print.
Zodhiates, Spiros. May I divorce and remarry?: an exegetical exposition of I Corinthians 7 from the Greek text. Chattanooga, TN: AMG Pub., 1984. Print.