4. The Problem of Marriage (I Corinthians 7:1-40)




Messy Church Series
  • The local church has had problems from her inception. The local church is about people from all different background trying to discover unity in Christ and enjoy an amazing fellowship with one another through the Spirit's power. But, it is not automatic nor is it easy. In many ways it is very messy. Yet, God promises that His church will overcome and even the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. In the local church is the personification of the Lord Savior Jesus Christ. He will insure that the local church will flourish into eternity.
Sermon Preparation Guide
  • Importance - What are the central ideas of this text?
    • God has called a people to be His. – I Peter 2:9 & 10
    • God's called people are set apart (holy) to Him. – Romans 12:1; II Timothy 1:9
    • God’s holy people are to live for Him all the time. – Ephesians 4:20-24; 5:1, 8-10
  • Implications - What questions should the listener be asking?
    • What does it mean to be part of a called out people who belong to God?
    • What does it mean to live a holy life?
    • What does it mean for you to live for Him all the time?
Talk it Over Discussion Guide 
  • Interpretation - What is the text telling/showing us?
    • Why did Paul say that it is “good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman?” (I Corinthians 7:1) (Hint: verse 2 provides insight into the answer)
    • Describe how these verses view marriage and how the respective spouses should live with one another?
    • Why did Paul tell the Corinthians to remain as they were?
    • Is singleness a gift from God?  Why?
    • This passage speaks of divorce.  In what case(s) did Paul say that divorce was acceptable?  
    • Why is being married a possible hindrance to serving God?”
    • How does one make a decision in matters of marriage and singleness?
  • Implementation - What should the listeners response be?
    • What issues regarding marriage might be raised in our western culture today?   How does the text speak to your answers?
    • What does it mean to you that the “present form of this world is passing away,” (I Corinthians 7:31)? 
    • What should our view be toward singleness?  
    • How can one balance being married and serving the Lord?
    • How might being married divide one's devotion to the Lord and one's concern over affairs of the world?
    • What dos verse 29 mean when it says “the appointed time has grown very short?”  How does your answer affect your own life?  The life of the church?
    • How does one exercise self control and avoid sexual sin?
Sermon Teaching Notes (as compiled by Pastor Dick Murphy)
  • Investigation - What's generally going on in this area of scripture?
It was previously noted that Paul had written another letter to the Corinthians before writing what we call I Corinthians (see I Corinthians 5:9). Apparently the Corinthians had responded to Paul's letter, and in their correspondence had asked various questions. In the present letter, then, in addition to dealing with the information he had received from Chloe's people (I Corinthians 1:11), Paul is responding to the questions posed by the Corinthians in their letter (cf. I Corinthians 7:1; 8:1). One such question had to do with marriage. The Corinthian church was made up principally of people who were of a Greco-Roman culture, along with a minority of people who were of Jewish upbringing (some of whom had undoubtedly adopted some Hellenistic ways). As a Roman colony, Corinth was ruled by Roman governmental forms by Roman officials, and many in the population being veteran Roman soldiers. As such, marriage ideas and practices were largely Greco-Roman, and were significantly informed by the philosophical views of the day concerning marriage (e.g., including those of the Cynics and the Stoics).

Most marriages were arranged and involved little personal choice on the part of the participants. Marriage often was a means of enhancing one's property and status (the Corinthians as a society were particular focused on status). The husband wielded the authority in the marriage, and was often considerably older than the wife. Marriage was largely seen as a matter of procreation as opposed to being based on emotional grounds (i.e., love). The family home was not so much a haven but a mixture of public and private life, with shops at homes, education taking place at homes, and social relations happening at homes. Most married folk also had slaves, and the slaves were part of the home. Many women from the lower social strata worked outside the home. Under Roman law, either spouse could dissolve the marriage, though the husbands exercised this right more frequently than did wives.

Finally, whether it was because most marriages were arranged, or that sexual relations were for procreation as opposed to pleasure, or a combination of both, spouses frequently looked outside of the “home” (i.e., to individuals other than their spouse) for fulfillment of pleasure, thus fostering the “sexual immorality” to which Paul referred in the prior chapters. All in all, the Corinthians brought all the foregoing with them when they became believers, and their questions to Paul were immensely practical, and in effect were wrapped up in how is was they were now to live, and whose views (The ascetics? The Stoics? The Jewish laws? Other views?) were they to follow in regard to marriage. In chapter 7, Paul makes several larger points as to Christian marriage: marriage is good; being single is better than marriage if one has a choice; both marriage and singleness are gifts from God; one should stay in one's present state and live as a believer in that state; there is mutual responsibility, accountability, and duty within a marriage; divorce is not to be sought; self-control or lack thereof are factors in whether or not one marries; and one's relationship with God is paramount.

The overarching principle in the foregoing is that in Christ (meaning in His life, death and resurrection), the old has passed away and the Kingdom of God has been instituted, and one's life as a follower of Jesus has likewise been made anew such that one's life must now be re-ordered accordingly. Implicit in this principle is that the patterns of the world, including marriage and other institutions and forms and customs of the world, are now subject to Kingdom principles. As a follower of Jesus, then, one must live in the world exhibiting to the world a life that reflects the new order of the King as a witness to Him and an invitation to join in the new order of the King. (cf. Romans 12:2; II Corinthians 5:16-20; Ephesians 4:17-24; 5:1 & 2; Philippians 2:12 & 13; I Thessalonians 4:1-7; I Peter 1:13-15; II Peter 1:3-8)

The specifics of chapter 7 deal with the general principles and apply them to varying situations. The principle of staying in one's present state is seen in verses 8, 10, 12, 17-24 (note how Paul applies this principle to various settings including slaves), 26 and 40. If one is married, each spouse has an obligation toward the other spouse, in the context of one man-one woman and one woman-one man (i.e., monogamy. I Corinthians 7:2); there is thus an egalitarian approach – each spouse belongs to the other; each must satisfy the other's sexual desires and needs (with the exception of no relations for a short period by mutual consent for the purpose of prayer) (I Corinthians 7:3-5). Both marriage and singleness are gifts from God unique to the individual, and thus neither is a sin (I Corinthians 7:7). If staying single means one is taken over by sexual passions and tempted to lose control, then marriage is to be preferred (I Corinthians 7:9).

Married believers should not divorce (I Corinthians 7:10 & 11). A believer who is married to an unbeliever should not divorce his or her unbelieving spouse if they are willing to live together (I Corinthians 7:12 & 13) because the believing spouse has a purifying effect on the other (I Corinthians 7:14). However, if the unbelieving spouse chooses to leave, the believing spouse is not to stand in the way (I Corinthians 7:15). Young unmarried women should not seek to be married (I Corinthians 7:25 & 26), yet if they do marry, that is not a sin (I Corinthians 7:25. Apparently some in the Corinthian church had suggested otherwise.). Singleness is better than marriage only in the sense that one is thus free to pursue service to the Lord Jesus, to whom one now owes primary allegiance as a believer, without the added responsibilities and distractions of a spouse and family which would detract from such service (I Corinthians 7:28b, 32-34).

The man engaged to a young woman can marry or not as he sees fit (I Corinthians 7:36-38). A widowed believer is free to marry, but should only marry another believer (I Corinthians 7:39). While not seeking to upset or overturn the mores of the world in which he lived, Paul in his answers to the Corinthians has nevertheless set forth quite a counter-cultural approach to living which is based on being a follower of Jesus Christ and under His Lordship. To such individuals, the “present form of this world is passing away,” (I Corinthians 7:31) which means that the believer is now a citizen of heaven (cf. Philippians 3:20) and as such is an ambassador for the King to the culture around him or her, not to mention a model as to how to live as a Kingdom citizen. Marriage is but one institution that now comes under the reign of Jesus (We know, of course, that marriage was originally instituted by God in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 2:23 & 24.

Thus, in a sense, Paul's instruction places marriage back onto its original footing.). Paul has set forth an “egalitarian” approach by which there is mutuality and submission one spouse to the other, and in which the sexual union of two people is part of the gift of each to the other which also serves to keep each one from sexual sin. Such an approach to marriage was surely contrary to the culture of the day in that it placed men and women on an equal level, restricted male privilege otherwise the norm in the society, and provided greater security for women. All in all, the word to the Corinthians was live for the Lord Jesus, and serve Him in every way with the gospel message that in Christ is life change, first in being brought into a relationship with God the Father, second in being indwelt by the living presence of God the Spirit, and third in being made over into His image to live out life on the earth for Him and to shed His light into the darkness of the world. The Corinthian believers were all slaves to Christ, responsible to live under their Master who bought them for a price (I Corinthians 7:22 & 23).