The Corinthian church had sent to Paul a letter asking about certain issues that were being brought up in the church. But before answering those issues, Paul addressed things that he had heard things that he felt were more important. The fact that thee church was permeated with divisions, immorality, and lawsuits.
But now, he is going to answer their questions.
He starts out by quoting their letter we presume that it said something like "Is it good for a man not to touch a woman?" Realize that they had been correctly taught by Paul that the flesh was wicked. The spirit and the flesh are constantly at war with one another. As Paul wrote in Romans,
Rom. 7:18 For I know that nothing good dwells in me, that is, in my flesh
The flesh is inherently sinful. So, the Corinthians had taken that to two extremes. Two groups, two philosophies. The first said, "Since the flesh is wicked, and will never be pure, let's just live it up with sex, drugs, gluttony, and parties. The second group said that because the flesh is evil, everything that it desires should be forbidden." Married people even began to forsake their sexual relations with one another, for fear that since the flesh craved it, it must be evil and therefore forsaken.
So Paul says, "Yes, it is good for a man not to touch a woman." But with an explanation. Abstinence is great if you're not married. But to those that are, stop denying one another. That special relationship between a man and a woman is not sinful. The book of Hebrews says,
Hebr. 13:4 Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled
If you feel the need for a purifying, a cleansing, then both husband and wife should agree together to put that relationship on hold for a short time, to be devoted to prayer. This would be a type of fasting a time to deny the flesh and feed the spirit. But then, lest you be tempted by another, let that relationship between the husband and wife continue.
Although it is most likely that Paul was married earlier in life, he was not at this time. Was he a widower? Did his wife leave him when he became a Christian? No one knows, so speculation is meaningless. But, being now a single Christian, Paul acknowledges that he has been given a special spiritual gift. The gift of celibacy.
In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus had just given a very strict sermon regarding marriage.
Matt. 19:10-12 The disciples said to Him, "If the relationship of the man with his wife is like this, it is better not to marry." But He said to them, "Not all men can accept this statement, but only those to whom it has been given. For there are eunuchs who were born that way from their mother's womb; and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men; and there are also eunuchs who made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. He who is able to accept this, let him accept it."
So when the disciples said,
"It sounds like people are better off if they don't get married at all," Jesus said, "Yes, but only those who have been given that gift of celibacy." Paul had that gift. He encouraged those who were not married, and those who had been widowed to examine themselves "Can I be content living with the Lord and no one else? Or, am I so inflamed with passion that I can't imagine remaining single?" In that case, it's best that the person go ahead and get married.
In Corinth, this denial of the flesh to pursue the Lord was actually causing people to fall into sin. Some had actually left their marriage partners in pursuit of a celibate, devoted life. Paul now, reminding them of Jesus' teaching about divorce, tells them, "That's not okay. That's not a reason for divorce."
Back in Deuteronomy, in the Law of God, it states,
Deut. 24:1-4 When a man takes a wife and marries her, and it happens that she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out from his house, and she leaves his house and goes and becomes another man's wife, and if the latter husband turns against her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter husband dies who took her to be his wife, then her former husband who sent her away is not allowed to take her again to be his wife, since she has been defiled; for that is an abomination before the LORD, and you shall not bring sin on the land which the LORD your God gives you as an inheritance.
Jesus was asked how He interpreted this Scripture.
Matt. 19:3-9 And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?" And He answered and said, "Have you not read, that He who created them from the beginning MADE THEM MALE AND FEMALE, and said, 'FOR THIS CAUSE A MAN SHALL LEAVE HIS FATHER AND MOTHER, AND SHALL CLEAVE TO HIS WIFE; AND THE TWO SHALL BECOME ONE FLESH'? Consequently they are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate." They said to Him, "Why then did Moses command to GIVE HER A CERTIFICATE OF DIVORCE AND SEND her AWAY?" He said to them, "Because of your hardness of heart, Moses permitted you to divorce your wives; but from the beginning it has not been this way. And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."
The Pharisees said that Moses COMMANDED. Jesus said Moses PERMITTED. And in reality, if you go back and read Deuteronomy 24, you'll see that there is no commandment. Moses simply said "WHEN the man finds indecency in his wife, AND he writes her a certificate of divorce, etc." Certainly not a command, but an allowance because of the hardness of men's hearts. Then Jesus said, "If you divorce your wife for any reason besides the fact that she has committed adultery, and then you go marry someone else, you are an adulterer yourself."
That's why Paul says,
1Cor. 7:10 But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband...
regarding what the Lord had instructed. But in verse 12 Paul says,
1Cor. 7:12 But to the rest I say, not the Lord...
That's because he didn't want them to think he was still saying "Well, Jesus said this." Still divine inspiration, but not a quotation of the words of Jesus.
Because there are so many combinations of marital circumstances in the world, Paul is expounding on the situation of divorce. In the case of one Christian and one unbeliever in a marriage, that is an issue of special circumstance. And that all comes down to whether or not the unbelieving spouse is willing to stick around. If they are, praise the Lord, hopefully you can win them to Christ. If they aren't, let them go, let them divorce you. Paul says that the Christian is not under bondage, not bound by this law of adultery in this case. They are free to marry again.
There is, in this section of verses, a strange statement:
1Cor. 7:14 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.
The question frequently arises, "What happens if a child dies? Do they go to heaven?" There is a doctrine that is called "the age of accountability." That is,we recognize that until a certain point in their development, a child is not able to comprehend the gospel and be personally accountable for it. We infer this from two Scriptures. The first is in 2Samuel. When David's child died, his servants were perplexed. Before the child died, David had been fasting and weeping, and asking God to save him. The servants asked him about this.
2Sam. 12:22-23 And he said, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, 'Who knows, the LORD may be gracious to me, that the child may live.' But now he has died; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he will not return to me."
The other Scripture is Paul writing in Romans saying,
Rom. 7:9-11 And I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive, and I died; and this commandment, which was to result in life, proved to result in death for me; for sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, deceived me, and through it killed me.
It would seem that before Paul was old enough to be accountable to God, he was alive apart from the Law.
Now, there are two schools of thought regarding the age of accountability. One states that all children are exempt from the wages of sin until old enough to obey the gospel.
The other is that a child's salvation is completely dependent on their parent's relationship with the Lord until they are old enough. It seems to me that, while this is the less popular thought, it is more scripturally likely, especially in light of the verse in front of us. So Paul is saying that even if a child has only one believing parent, they are holy.
Whichever line of thinking you adhere to, if you are a Christian with younger children, you can rest assured that they will go to heaven if they die before they reach the age of accountability.
Paul puts a parenthesis on that last one, saying "But if you can buy your freedom, or be lawfully released, go for it." So other than the case of slavery, the general rule is to stay in the situation in that you were called. I think of the demon-possessed man in the Gadarenes.
Mark 5:3-5 ...He had his dwelling among the tombs. And no one was able to bind him anymore, even with a chain; because he had often been bound with shackles and chains, and the chains had been torn apart by him, and the shackles broken in pieces, and no one was strong enough to subdue him. And constantly night and day, among the tombs and in the mountains, he was crying out and gashing himself with stones.
Jesus cast the demons out of the man, and went to get back in the boat to leave.
Mark 5:18-20 And as He was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed was entreating Him that he might accompany Him. And He did not let him, but He said to him, "Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you, and how He had mercy on you." And he went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him; and everyone marveled.
Jesus had this man remain in the situation he had previously been. No longer possessed, no longer in sin, or living among the tombs. But with a renewed heart and spirit, was able to be used of God right in his own hometown.
Paul starts this out by saying,
1Cor. 7:25 ...I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy
Paul wasn't afraid to give his opinion, but he made sure that we knew that it was just opinion. How sad it is when a Bible teacher leaves the authority of Scripture and enters his own personal viewpoint with no discernable difference in the delivery. Is the opinion of man as high as the Word of God? Never. We can't avoid opinions, we can't avoid interpretations. But we can, and must, avoid confusing them with the Word of God.
Now although it might be difficult to believe after reading this, Paul had nothing against marriage. He knew that God had said,
Gen. 2:18 "It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him."
Paul knew that marriage was a beautiful picture of Jesus Christ and the church. Paul knew what a blessed union marriage is. And he devoted several chapters to expounding on the incredible institution of marriage. But the church at Corinth, as well as other churches in the Roman Empire, was beginning to undergo a terrible time of persecution. Being arrested, tortured, martyred for their faith in Christ. And so even though Paul knew of the beauty and the blessing of marriage, he said,
1Cor. 7:26 ...This is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.
He says, "Hey, if you get married, it's not a sin. If you stay single, it's not a sin. I'm just trying to keep you from being divided in heart." He wanted them to be free from concern. Able to be mobile, able to forsake all to follow Christ. There's nothing wrong with being married, it is a great blessing. And yet the single person is so much better equipped for service in the kingdom of God.
When I was single, I was able to be in church almost every day of the week. I was young and unattached. I was able to devote my life completely to the Lord. But I can't do that now. I have a wife and children to be concerned with. They need my attention, they need my devotion. My time must be divided between my Lord and my family. And that's good, that's the way it should be. But Paul is pointing out, "If you can stand to stay single, do it. You won't be divided, you'll be devoted 100%.
1Cor. 7:35 And this I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is seemly, and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.
And finally, he points out the same thing for fathers with daughters at home. In that culture, it was a father's duty to marry off his daughter. In light of Paul's teaching, should a father not allow his daughter to marry? No, Paul said, do what your conviction is.
1Cor. 7:38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.
So, practical instruction regarding marriage and divorce. In chapter eight, we will see Paul address the next issue brought up in the Corinthians letter what about meat sacrificed to idols? Paul will use that ancient cultural dilemma to address some very current issues in our culture.