HOPE CHAPEL Sunday Service Notes
Teaching Series: “Be Different” based on 1 Corinthians
Today’s Topic: “Week 7: Parameters for Relationships” (Chapters 7)
Last week we examined 1 Corinthians 5+6, where Paul had some harsh words for the Corinthian believers. Some in the church had been bragging about their freedom in Christ, but had twisted its meaning to permit all sorts of behaviour that even non-Christians recognized as immoral. You can hear Paul’s exasperation as he makes several demands: remove the ‘believer’ who is openly living a sexually immoral lifestyle from the congregation; stop airing grievances before non-believing judges; stop twisting Christian freedom into an excuse for all sorts of pursuits after personal pleasure. In short, stop claiming the name of Christ without changing behaviour! A relationship with Jesus changes us; we are to be different, changed from the inside out through the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Our transformation is the proof of our salvation, commitment and allegiance.
We ended our examination last week at chapter six, where Paul encourages the believers to treat their bodies as the Temple of God. In chapter seven, he delves further into the place of physical intimacy in the life of the believer. Remember, that despite our chapter and verse divisions, this is a letter Paul is writing with one thought flowing into the next. Today’s study is not a new topic, but rather an expansion of what it means to live both an intimate life with Christ and how it should impact our level of intimacy with other human beings.
You may recall from last week that I mentioned that this is one of my favourite chapters of the Bible...strange chapter to have as a favourite, right? I believe this chapter gives us a true picture of the equality with which Paul viewed men and women in the faith. Many Christians throughout the centuries have misused Paul’s words to block women from enjoying the full freedom in Christ that is theirs to serve as followers of Jesus; others have judged Paul a misogynist, whose teaching in specific situations reveals his attitudes toward the inferiority of women. Today, I stand up in defense of Paul. You simply cannot hold to these views after a study of 1 Corinthians 7. So, with that thought, let’s begin...
“Now regarding the questions you asked in your letter. Yes, it is good to abstain from sexual relations. 2 But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.
3 The husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should fulfill her husband’s needs. 4 The wife gives authority over her body to her husband, and the husband gives authority over his body to his wife.
5 Do not deprive each other of sexual relations, unless you both agree to refrain from sexual intimacy for a limited time so you can give yourselves more completely to prayer. Afterward, you should come together again so that Satan won’t be able to tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command.”
Paul has just finished telling the Corinthians to not only abstain from having sex with prostitutes, but to ‘run from sexual sin.” Now he goes on to address some questions the church had sent to him previously in a letter of their own. Yes, they are to abstain from sexual immorality, but it is good for each man and woman to have their own spouse. The intimacy that God designed humans for is best expressed in a committed relationship between one husband and one wife. You see, while some in the congregation had adopted a promiscuous lifestyle, other factions within the church held to the view that abstinence, even within marriage relationships, was a path to greater spirituality. The Corinthians have fallen into the human tendency to swing from one extreme to the next and Paul attempts to bring them back to a more balanced approach.
Notice how deliberately Paul addresses both women and men throughout this section. In the first century, a woman’s opinion was of little importance; women could not give testimony, could not hold property but were themselves often viewed as the property of men–whether father or husband. Paul makes it clear that his message is for all the members of the church, regardless of gender. He demonstrates extra care to address both the men and the women of the church on each of his points. A man should have his own wife; a woman should have her own husband. A husband should fulfill his wife’s sexual needs; the wife should fulfill her husband’s sexual needs. And then comes the bombshell, “The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”
Paul’s instruction to wives would have caused somewhat of a stir, ‘the woman is to give the authority over her body to her husband.’ Those in Paul’s day assumed that the husband already had full authority over his wife; Paul’s suggestion that this is actually an action requiring a woman’s consent would have perplexed many. But then comes the real shockwave, ‘the man is to give the authority over his body to his wife!’ A husband’s body no longer belongs to him, but to his wife and he is no longer free to give it to any other. It’s interesting to note here that the Greek word ‘exousia’ translated authority means ‘God-given power and right to control.’ And while Christians have ‘exousia’ over demons, weather, illness and the like, this is the only place in Scripture where any person is given ‘exousia’ over another. In fact, Jesus told His disciples that they were not to exercise ‘exousia’ over others like the Gentiles did, but were rather to serve (Matthew 20:25-26). Paul’s comment would definitely have been seen as an elevation of the marriage relationship and the role of the wife within it.
Paul then addresses a question from their letter, yes, it can be good to abstain from sexual relations between a married couple but only for prayer and for a limited period of time. Paul would not have wanted his words to be twisted to allow for the punishing of one spouse by another through the withholding of sexual intimacy, so makes it clear that the decision must be consensual and for spending more time with God.
“But I wish everyone were single, just as I am. Yet each person has a special gift from God, of one kind or another.
8 So I say to those who aren’t married and to widows—it’s better to stay unmarried, just as I am. 9 But if they can’t control themselves, they should go ahead and marry. It’s better to marry than to burn with lust.”
Did you catch it? Paul wishes that everyone was single! It cuts against what we as a society consider to be normal practice; in fact, whereas Protestant churches uphold communion and baptism as sacraments–“a religious ceremony or ritual regarded as imparting divine grace”–the Catholic church includes marriage in its list of seven sacraments–singleness is not even considered an option unless one is a priest or nun and has taken vows of clerical celibacy. But Paul is quick to acknowledge that singleness is not for everyone–some have the ability to remain celibate whereas others do not.
But who exactly is he speaking to at this point in his letter? There’s quite a bit of speculation concerning whether Paul had ever been married or not. He says that he wishes that all would remain ‘single’ yet in this instance he is also speaking to a particular group, ‘the unmarried and widows.’ He later addresses those never married and virgins, so many commentators believe that the term ‘unmarried’ here would be better translated ‘widower.’ If this is the case, Paul is saying to those who have lost a spouse and now find themselves single–whether a man or a woman–that he thinks it is better for them to stay ‘unmarried’ just as he is. However, the individual who does not possess the ability to remain celibate should by all means marry again rather than fall into the sin of lust.
“But for those who are married, I have a command that comes not from me, but from the Lord. A wife must not leave her husband. 11 But if she does leave him, let her remain single or else be reconciled to him. And the husband must not leave his wife.
12 Now, I will speak to the rest of you, though I do not have a direct command from the Lord. If a fellow believer has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to continue living with him, he must not leave her. 13 And if a believing woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to continue living with her, she must not leave him. 14 For the believing wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the believing husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy. 15 (But if the husband or wife who isn’t a believer insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the believing husband or wife is no longer bound to the other, for God has called you to live in peace.) 16 Don’t you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don’t you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?”
Paul continues to address both men and women, and now specifically turns his instruction to those who find themselves in relationships with non-believers. As the Christian in the relationship, it is their responsibility to work towards peace with their spouse. Whether their spouse chooses to stay or to pursue divorce, the believing spouse is to adopt the stance of peace maker.
Paul first begins by telling the Christians that their new relationship with Christ should not be used as justification for leaving their current spouses. They are not to initiate the ending of the relationship by leaving; however, he does make an exception for wives. Verse thirteen sheds some light on why Paul gives a slightly different instruction for Christian wives here...the level of willingness of an unbelieving husband. If the husband becomes a Christian, Paul assumes that he is to be willing to remain with his wife. However, Paul acknowledges that if the wife becomes a Christian, her husband may be unwilling to permit her to stay. She may be forced to leave or renounce her faith, in which case she should leave. Paul then advises that should a wife find herself in this position, she is to remain single or be reconciled to her husband. Neither believing husband or wife is free to leave their non-Christian spouse to marry another.
If the unbelieving spouse remains, the Christian spouse is to view this as an opportunity to have a positive influence in their lives. Though their religious beliefs now differ–Christian versus pagan–the Christian need not fear pagan beliefs and may even have an active role in bringing not only their spouse, but also their children, to belief in Christ. On the other hand, if the unbelieving spouse chooses not to remain, the Christian man or woman is no longer bound to that relationship as the other has chosen to abandon the marriage. Whether the Christian’s husband or wife chooses to remain in the relationship or to leave, it is the Christian spouse’s responsibility to extend peace and not friction.
“Each of you should continue to live in whatever situation the Lord has placed you, and remain as you were when God first called you. This is my rule for all the churches. 18 For instance, a man who was circumcised before he became a believer should not try to reverse it. And the man who was uncircumcised when he became a believer should not be circumcised now. 19 For it makes no difference whether or not a man has been circumcised. The important thing is to keep God’s commandments.
20 Yes, each of you should remain as you were when God called you. 21 Are you a slave? Don’t let that worry you—but if you get a chance to be free, take it. 22 And remember, if you were a slave when the Lord called you, you are now free in the Lord. And if you were free when the Lord called you, you are now a slave of Christ. 23 God paid a high price for you, so don’t be enslaved by the world. 24 Each of you, dear brothers and sisters, should remain as you were when God first called you.”
Long and short, don’t get caught up in trying to change your externals in life–whether to your physical body or social status. God accepted you as you were and it is your continued obedience that is of greatest concern to Him. Our obedience to God takes precedence over any physical act based on the old covenant and our relationship with Him surpasses any that we might find ourselves in. We are now free from worldly ideas and hierarchies because we belong to Christ.
“Now regarding your question about the young women who are not yet married. I do not have a command from the Lord for them. But the Lord in his mercy has given me wisdom that can be trusted, and I will share it with you. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think it is best to remain as you are. 27 If you have a wife, do not seek to end the marriage. If you do not have a wife, do not seek to get married. 28 But if you do get married, it is not a sin. And if a young woman gets married, it is not a sin. However, those who get married at this time will have troubles, and I am trying to spare you those problems.
29 But let me say this, dear brothers and sisters: The time that remains is very short. So from now on, those with wives should not focus only on their marriage. 30 Those who weep or who rejoice or who buy things should not be absorbed by their weeping or their joy or their possessions. 31 Those who use the things of the world should not become attached to them. For this world as we know it will soon pass away.
32 I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. An unmarried man can spend his time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him. 33 But a married man has to think about his earthly responsibilities and how to please his wife. 34 His interests are divided. In the same way, a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit. But a married woman has to think about her earthly responsibilities and how to please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your benefit, not to place restrictions on you. I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.
36 But if a man thinks that he’s treating his fiancée improperly and will inevitably give in to his passion, let him marry her as he wishes. It is not a sin. 37 But if he has decided firmly not to marry and there is no urgency and he can control his passion, he does well not to marry. 38 So the person who marries his fiancée does well, and the person who doesn’t marry does even better.
39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. If her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but only if he loves the Lord. 40 But in my opinion it would be better for her to stay single, and I think I am giving you counsel from God’s Spirit when I say this.”
Paul continues his contention from the earlier verses that is better to stay as you are. If you’re single, stay single; however, if you get married you have not sinned. In the Apostle’s words, “the person who marries his fiancée does well, and the person who doesn’t marry does even better.” Is Paul anti-marriage? No he is pro-undivided loyalties! He does not want a relationship with another person to distract him from the relationship he now enjoys with Jesus. A married man or woman is not free “from the concerns of this life. An unmarried [person] can spend [their] time doing the Lord’s work and thinking how to please him”...which in Paul’s estimation is a far superior condition–unfettered ability to serve God with your whole soul, mind, heart and strength. In Paul’s opinion, the time until Christ’s return is short, the conditions hostile and we’ve got no time to waste.
Application - What are we to apply to our twentieth century church experience?
For starters, can I suggest that we quit putting the pressure on young people (and older people) to get a boy/girl friend, get married and make babies? Though marriage is the common experience for the majority of people, God does not have the exact same calling for each of us...His plan for some is to remain single–whether never married, separated from an unbelieving/unfaithful spouse or as a widow/er. We’ve got to quit viewing the ‘single’ condition as somehow inferior to marriage. According to Paul, singleness is in fact the superior condition for its freedom to serve God wherever and however He has called us to.
Marriage between a man and a woman is an approved means through which to express our natural sexual desires. In fact, those who do not possess God’s gifting to remain celibate should get married so as to prevent themselves from falling into any one of Satan’s many traps of sexual immorality. Once married, you become one with that other person, to the extent that your body no longer belongs to you, but to your spouse. You are no longer at liberty to give it to any other.
Paul leaves no room for sexual expression outside of the marriage relationship between a man and woman. For that reason many outside the church declare the Bible archaic and me intolerant for teaching it. Paul is being very clear that his directions are for one man and one woman in a married heterosexual relationship. Anything outside of those parameters falls short of God’s best and does not receive our Lord’s approval.
Marriage is best shared between a Christian man and woman; however, for the individual who comes to faith in Christ after marriage, a termination of the relationship should not be sought on those grounds. A believer’s faith in God may be the very thing that will attract their spouse to the faith as well. Our faith cannot save another–whether spouse or children–but our faithful witness, daily lived out in dependence on God and His Holy Spirit, may play a role in their acceptance of Christ.
Next week: “Be Different” - Week 6 - “Idolatry” (chapters 8+10)
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!