June 23, 2010 David Balzer

1 Corinthians 7: Living in Light of the End

Do you remember the craziness that happened at the end of 1999? The “so-called” end of the Millenium? It was MILLENIAL MADNESS. People predicting that computers all over the world would crash. Planes would fall out of the sky. Satellites and nuclear missiles would malfunction. Water, sewerage and electricity supplies would all be disrupted. All because of the millenium bug.

And so people stockpiled. Candles, tinned food, petrol. Anything they thought they’d run out of.

Or they moved out of the cities. Set up alternative lifestyle communities up the coast. Where the collapse of technology wouldn’t affect them.

And Christians were just as bad. Perhaps worse. Caron’s parents live in Tasmania, and there seems to be some weird groups of Christians down there. Tasmaniacs.

It seemed like it was a combination of the Millenium Bug, and a certain understanding of what the Bible taught about Christ’s return.

The leaders of their church were preaching about BEING READY. Planting vege gardens, putting in rainwater tanks. Stockpiling food. The church organised a tinned food drive so they could distribute food to people who were too foolish to get ready.

And while Caron’s parents tried to get on with life as normal. Putting their trust in the sovereign God who would look after them. Well-meaning people from church were WARNING them. CORRECTING them. It got to the stage where they were accused of being unbelieving and rebellious because they weren’t obeying the leaders, and were speaking against the hype and fear-mongering.

People showing their MISUNDERSTANDING OF THE FUTURE by THEIR BEHAVIOUR IN THE PRESENT. And in the end. Jan 1st, 2000. They were proved wrong.

It was Caron’s parents who were living with the RIGHT PERSPECTIVE ON THE END. Living life as normal. Trusting in the God who rules everything. Living where God had called them.

1. Living where God calls you

And as much as this is a difficult passage. Full of lots of difficult ideas. This is Paul’s overarching message here.

Keep the right perspective on the end. Whatever your circumstances – single, married, engaged, circumcised, uncircumcised, slave, or free. Live as normal. In the state that God has called you to. And trust the all-wise, all-powerful, all-loving God who’s put you there.

Live where God calls you.

And that’s a message to us today too. None of us knows what the future holds. Scary things are happening. ism, , warfare. Religious hostilities. Even opening a letter isn’t safe anymore.

But chopping and changing. Rushing to alter our situation – if it’s motivated by a lack of trust in God/ is WRONG.

We live well when we have a right understanding of the end. And when that affects our present. We SHOW that right understanding/ by living steadfast, faithful lives. “Yes, tough times may be coming. But God has everything in control”

That’s our situation. But what about the Corinthians? What was the background? To really understand what Paul’s saying, we need to try and work it out. But it’s a bit like listening to only one end of a phone call, and then trying to piece together the whole conversation.

The first thing to note is that Paul was answering their questions. Responding to something they were concerned about. Look at v1.

(1 Cor 7:1 NIV)  Now for the matters you wrote about:

And then Paul goes on to address a whole range of different situations.

But before we look at SPECIFICS, it seems there was an underlying theme. A philosophy. A whole world-view that worked itself out in a whole range of different ways.

As best as I can work out (and lots of people have slightly different ideas), there were a group of people – probably women – who were OBSESSED WITH CHRIST’S RETURN. And IN PARTICULAR, what it meant for the way they lived IN THE PRESENT.

This is the way they might have thought. “When Jesus comes back – when God’s kingdom finally comes – we’ll get spiritual bodies. The flesh will be done away with. And since we’re living as part of God’s kingdom NOW, the best thing we can do is get rid of anything physical, or fleshly, or earthly. All that stuff is evil. Just leads you away from God”.

And for some that meant no with your husband or wife. For some, it even meant DIVORCING them. “After all, there’s no marriages in heaven, so surely the best thing to do NOW is to separate. That’s getting ready for Jesus.”

Big changes because Christ was coming back.

But what’s Paul’s answer? Live where God’s put you. Over and over again. The same message.

(1 Cor 7:17 NIV)  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.

(1 Cor 7:20 NIV)  Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him.

(1 Cor 7:24 NIV)  Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

THAT’S how you show your trust. Your confidence that God knows what he’s doing. Verse 18. Were you circumcised? Don’t become uncircumcised! Uncircumcised? Don’t become circumcised!

Verse 21. Were you a slave? Don’t let it trouble you! Notice he doesn’t say, “Don’t look to be freed!”. He says “Don’t let it trouble you – although if the opportunity presents itself, take it!”

His point in all of this/ is that we’re not meant to be zombies, or istic. And never change anything. Never move house, never change jobs, never have children, never marry. But that we’re not to look longingly over the fence. Imagining that the grass is greener somewhere else. And at the same time doubting that God’s got us right where he wants us. What it boils down to is a lack of faith.

Paul wants our perspective to be the same as his. Philippians 4:11

(Phil 4:11-13 NIV)  … I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. {12} I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. {13} I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

So that’s the background. That’s where the Corinthians were coming from. And that’s the big picture that Paul wants to present. With that perspective in mind, let’s look at some of the specifics. Life-examples where this principle works itself out.

Marriage, singleness, and divorce. Living together. Living single. And living apart.

Living Together (1-7)

Paul gets straight into the matters they wrote about. Verse 1. “It is good for a man not to marry” It’s literally “It’s good for a man not to touch a woman”. That’s the way the New American Standard, the RSV, and the King James all translate it.

He’s probably QUOTING BACK to the Corinthians what THEIR POSITION was. “Now for the matters you wrote about – that is you reckon that it’s good for a man not to touch a woman”.

I think that’s better because it means Paul’s not just addressing the question of whether to marry, but the whole question of marriage. What a Christian marriage is FOR, and what it looks like.

The problem is their WARPED VIEW OF SPIRITUALITY. When Jesus comes back, there’ll be no more marriage/ so I’ll just get a head start now. The spiritual is good and the physical is evil. So I’ll just get rid of all the physical. No more .

Paul gives his reply. Verse 2. But here’s why you’re wrong. Because there’s so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. Marriage isn’t about abstaining from because you think it will make you LESS EVIL and MORE SPIRITUAL. It’s God’s method for us to AVOID ual immorality. the way God intended it is actually part of his protection AGAINST evil behaviour. Not PART of the evil.

And look at the alternative picture Paul paints. What God’s plan looks like. First, each man should have his own wife, and each wife her own husband.

That’s EXCLUSIVITY. One to one. Anything else is immorality. Anything else is LESS than God intended it. Right back to Adam and Eve it’s always been one woman for one man, and vice versa.

When I know that Caron is totally committed to me, and to noone else, that builds my trust. I trust here more. I’m encouraged to open up to her even more. To be more and more vulnerable. And as I do that, and as Caron continued to be totally committed to me DESPITE knowing what I’m really like, I feel more and more accepted. And we become more intimate.

To be committed to exclusivity encourages vulnerability, acceptance, and intimacy.

Paul continues to paint the picture. Secondly, the Christian marriage is about RESPONSIBILITY. Verse 3.

(1 Cor 7:3 NIV)  The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband.

Remember that Paul’s correcting a misunderstanding. People who said that they DIDN’T have to have with their spouse. And Paul’s saying each person has a responsibility to pay up his or her debts. To GIVE HIS DUE.

There’s a duty that goes with the territory.

Now don’t get me wrong. Plenty of people – mainly men – have grabbed hold of this verse – and thrust it under their partner’s nose. “See what you should be doing!”

But that’s demanding your rights. And Paul’s not talking about RIGHTS. He’s talking about RESPONSIBILITIES.

He’s not addressing the person who’s receiving. He’s talking to the one who’s GIVING. Each should fulfill their duty.

Now the context is “sex”, but the principle applies to all sorts of areas. For husbands AND wives.

Fulfill your duty. A husband who is emotionally distant, who doesn’t talk except to grunt a reply, who doesn’t take initiative in parenting or maintenance or their Christian life together. In other words, who’s not fulfilling his duties as a husband. Can’t expect that when the end of the day comes around that his wife will be too receptive to his advances. EVEN IF HE DOES quote this verse to her!

And the funny thing is/ when we start looking to fulfill our responsibilities, OFTEN, we start to enjoy more of the PRIVILEGES that go with it.

But don’t get me wrong. If you start doing these jobs with the hope that a reward might come your way that’s wrong-headed too. Underneath the right ACTIONS, it’s STILL just selfish motivations.

Don’t give foot rubs because it might lead to something else. Give foot rubs because you’re doing your duty. Don’t take your wife out to dinner, spend lots of money on her, and then expect something in return. Do it because you’re doing your duty.

And your wife will appreciate it.

What about wives? How can you fulfill YOUR duty? Here’s one situation. Submit. Give your husband the opportunity to SHOW the leadership – to show the responsibility. Don’t have EXPECTATIONS OF PERFECTION that he can never meet. Be careful with criticism. Don’t make the home and the children, or whatever, your kingdom. So that when he tries to come in, no task is ever done well enough, or the way you do it.

And your husband will appreciate the space.

To be committed to RESPONSIBILITY, rather than RIGHTS, discourages resentment, and encourages service and gratitude.

The third part of Paul’s picture is MUTUALITY. Verse 4.

(1 Cor 7:4 NIV)  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.

This is really an extension of the last point. For one person to say “I choose not to have with my spouse” misunderstands the nature of the marriage relationship. Each partner no longer owns their body exclusively. There is MUTUAL OWNERSHIP.

This means decisions are to be made JOINTLY. You no longer can make decisions which just affect you. What YOU do affects your spouse.

Paul gives an example. The RIGHT way to make decisions is TOGETHER. Verse 5.

(1 Cor 7:5 NIV)  Do not deprive each other EXCEPT BY MUTUAL CONSENT and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.

To have , or to abstain from , isn’t the decision of one person. It’s a MUTUAL decision.

The Christian marriage is about exclusivity, responsibility and mutuality.

3. Living Single

Paul finishes this section with a personal note. He’s not COMMANDING them to marry. If anything, says Paul, “I wish everyone was single like me”. Verse 6.

(1 Cor 7:6-7 NIV)  I say this as a concession, not as a command. {7} 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.

Some people have taken this verse to say that marriage is an inferior lifestyle. That REALLY spiritual Christians are single. Yet that’s not what Paul is saying. Notice he says that each man has his own gift. One has one gift, and another has that.

Both singleness and marriage are gifts from God. He’s just explained how MARRIAGE is a gift. Why it’s so good. And in v32-35 he’ll explain why SINGLENESS is a gift too.

Both are gifts from God. One isn’t less that the other.

Paul expands on living single. He’s spoken to the marrieds. Now he speaks to the singles. Verses 8-9.

(1 Cor 7:8-9 NIV)  Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. {9} But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

Once again, Paul’s message is to REMAIN AS YOU ARE. That’s literally what it says – “It is better to remain”.

It’s the ATTITUDE that’s important. Be content with where God has put you. At the moment it’s singleness. And one day, it might be marriage. But in the meantime, serve God with trust and with all the energy you’ve got.

There’s a big difference between THAT, and the sort of single-minded husband or wife-hunting I’ve seen in some Christians.

Relentlessly swapping churches, looking for prospects. Working through the guys or s in the Youth Group. Attending all the conferences, camps, bible colleges they can find.

For Paul, both singleness AND marriage are gifts from God.

And a bit further on, he explains how that works for singleness. Look at v32.

(1 Cor 7:32-34 NIV)  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. {33} But a MARRIED man is concerned about the affairs of this world–how he can please his wife– {34} 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.

If you’re single, then make the most of this time in your life. Perhaps there’s a whole area of ministry you can be involved in NOW, that you mightn’t be able to LATER. Like missionary service, or youth work. Or some sort of TRAVELLING ministry.

Grab hold of it with both hands. Be content where God has placed you.

Living Apart (10-16).

Next Paul moves onto a third situation. A third type of relationship where people were tempted not to trust God. And to change their situation.

The wrong-headed spirituality that said “There’ll be no marriage in heaven. So let’s get a headstart and dump the marriage NOW. Truly spiritual people get rid of these physical relationships.”

But Paul says NO. And he repeats what JESUS HIMSELF taught. Verse 10.

(1 Cor 7:10-11 NIV)  To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. {11} But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

It seems like Paul is setting up a TWO STEP situation.

Step 1: a wife mustn’t be separated. And a husband mustn’t divorce.

But if that happens – it’s obviously not for the best – Step 2: The person mustn’t remarry.

Paul seems to be saying that the situation is COMPOUNDED – worsened – if the person remarries. Perhaps even that the sin is GREATER. The BREAKDOWN of a relationship is one thing. But BEGINNING another is worse in God’s eyes.

Let’s look at what Jesus has to say. Because Paul’s obviously using it as a reference. Mt 19. In v3 the Pharisees ask him whether a man can divorce his wife for any reason at all. This was part of an ongoing debate. Some groups thought that ery was the only grounds, while the other extreme thought that a burned dinner was good enough reason.

And what it resulted in/ was men using the law to legalise their ery. They’d see someone else. They’d after them. Then come up with an excuse to put their wife away. Two women in the picture at one time. Legalised ery.

And Jesus sees straight through it. Because he doesn’t enter into the argument. He goes straight to the heart of the problem. Verse 4. The way God created man and woman to begin with.

(Mat 19:4-6 NIV)  “Haven’t you read,” he replied, “that at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ {5} and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’? {6} So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

They come back at him. “How come Moses told us to?”

“Moses didn’t TELL you to. He PERMITTED you to because you had hard hearts, and because the abandoned women needed to be protected. But it WASN’T ALWAYS LIKE THIS!”

We were made to be with one partner. Two become one. And what these men were doing was against the way God has created them. Trying to make THREE become one. And Jesus says it doesn’t work.

And he finishes. Verse 9

(Mat 19:9 NIV)  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits ery.”

Anyone with two women on the scene at one time commits ery. Because it’s not the way man and woman were designed.

Now does that mean that divorced Christians are NEVER allowed to re-marry? Let me suggest a tentative “No!” They ARE allowed to re-marry.

Let me suggest that both Jesus’ and Paul’s commands are addressed to people stringing along two people at once. Committing ery – either in thought or deed – while still married. Listen to it this way.

(Mat 19:9 NIV)  I tell you that anyone who divorces-his-wife-marries-another-woman … commits ery (unless for marital unfaithfulness).”

It’s the same attitude Paul’s been addressing in the whole section. Don’t go looking over other fences. That’s basically what ery is. “Gee, check out that nice green grass over there! It looks much tastier than what I’ve got!”

Paul’s message to those of us who are married/ is “Be content where you are. God’s put you in this relationship. Work at it.”

So that’s the greener grass people. Looking for something better.

But I believe it’s a DIFFERENT situation if a divorced person, AT SOME LATER TIME, after all avenues for reconciliation have been exhausted, finds someone else and marries them. Because there hasn’t been two people on the scene. One man for one woman. The way God intended.

That’s only my opinion. I’m not alone. But there are plenty of different opinions as well.

So they’re the situations Paul addresses. Whether you’re married or single, the message is the same. Be content where you are. Don’t change for the sake of it. Don’t stop having ual relations if you’re married. Don’t rush into marriage if you’re single. Don’t separate if you’re married.

Living in the light of the future means trusting the God of the future. We show that trust by remaining where God’s put us, and being content in it.

(Phil 4:11-13 NIV)  I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. {12} I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. {13} I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Comment (1)

  1. George

    Paul also told Christians to obey the civil authorities and for slaves to obey their masters, even unjust and harsh ones. Slavery was not evil. Jesus also said to pay your taxes – render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, etc.

    Christians have thoroughly rejected these teachings. The colonies rebelled against the British – no taxation without representation. Slavery was common in the south and was supported by major Christian denominations. It took the Civil War to end this evil practice. Christians today believe we have the God given inalienable rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. These rights are not in the new testament. The new testament is all about obedience and being content.

    The Christian churches today still cling to the biblical view of women – which is similar to a type of slavery (keep quiet; obey your husbands). The Christian churches also create alot of psychological stress in their treatment of singles.

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