1 Corinthians 7:8-11

In 1 Corinthians 7:8-11 Paul continues answering the questions from the church. Paul, at the time of this writing, was unmarried (putting himself among the unmarried and the widows). Here he recognizes the benefit of being single, which he will speak more of later in the letter. “To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.” Paul’s understanding that the unmarried state can be a gift is especially striking when we consider the Jewish background of Paul himself and the early church. It was regarded as a sin for a Jewish man to be unmarried. There is little question that Paul was married at one time because he would not have been able to serve on the Sanhedrin if that was not the case.

While Paul recognizes that some are gifted for marriage, and some are gifted for the unmarried state, no one is “gifted” for sexual immorality! The married must live faithfully to their spouse, and the unmarried must live celibate. “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” Paul’s recommendation to marry is not based on marriage being more or less spiritual, but on very practical concerns. A godly sexual relationship within the covenant of marriage is God’s plan for meeting our sexual needs. Paul recognizes marriage as a legitimate refuge from pressures of sexual immorality. One should not feel they are immature or unspiritual because they desire to get married so they will no longer burn with passion.

Paul is continuing to give answers to the questions the Corinthian church had asked him. He has already dealt with the questions about the relative merits of being married or single, and if it is more spiritual to abstain from sex in a marriage relationship. Now he is moving to another question, and these questions and answers have to do with marriage and divorce. He begins with the married folks. “To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.”

Paul makes it clear that his answers are not his opinion, but from the Lord. The Corinthian Christians wondered if it might be more spiritual to be single, and if they should break up existing marriages for the cause of greater holiness. Paul answers their question straight from the heart of the Lord: absolutely not! In addressing a marriage where both partners are Christians, Paul says that they should not – indeed, cannot – break up the marriage in a misguided search for higher spirituality. And if they do there are only two proper responses:

  1. Remain unmarried
  2. Reconcile

Divorce is a messy topic. Scripture gives two specific instances when God recognizes a divorce:

  • when there is sexual immorality (Matthew 19:3-9)
  • when a believing partner is deserted by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15)

In those instances where God recognizes His reasons for divorce, remarriage is allowed in His eyes. That should only happen after attempts to reconcile have been made.

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