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1 Corinthians 7

Healthy Marriages: Commitment to Each Other
1 Corinthians 7:1-16

Teaching Moments

1. Paul's opinion was that singleness--for those who had the gift (7:7)--was preferable to marriage for the sake of the kingdom of God. He says this in 7:32-35. Married people must devote attention to their spouses, but single people can devote themselves to the kingdom of God and its work. For this reason, Paul may have written "It is good for a man not to marry" (or literally, "touch a woman"), though some think he is quoting his opponents in Corinth (see NIV footnote). I think it is best to take this as Paul's own principle. He would prefer people not marry for the sake of the kingdom, but he recognizes that not everyone has that gift (7:7).

2. Paul is not against marriage. Because of the prevalence of immorality, each person should have his own spouse. Sexuality is not evil, but marriage is the proper arena for sexual expression.

3. Paul believes that sexuality between husband and wife is important. It is an expression of mutual submission--the husband has authority over the wife's body and the wife has authority over the husband's body. Here is the only place where the word "authority" is used in relationship to the gender roles in marriage and it is a mutual authority. Husbands and wives are to have mutual respect in the sexual relationship and to fully give themselves to each other.

4. The only exception to this sexual relationship--which means Paul expects and encourages sexuality between marriage partners--is by mutual consent for a spiritual purpose (prayer). But the couple must return to a sexual relationship otherwise Satan will tempt them.

5. Paul prefers the unmarried and widows to remain unmarried, but if they need to marry because of the "burning" lusts, then it is better to marry than to burn.

6. Paul hates divorce, just as God does (Mal. 2:14-16). A Christian who divorces his spouse must remain unmarried or be reconciled. They should not marry another. Paul is thinking about divorce here and not a mere "separation" because he tells the Christian to remain "unmarried." Paul does not offer the option of remarriage to another in this situation.

7. Paul hates divorce so much that he demands that a Christian remain married to a non-Christian if the non-Christian wants to remain married. This situation may have arisen in the context of conversions, but it is no sin to be married to a non-Christian. The marriage covenant must be kept even if it is made with a non-Christian. Christians must be faithful to their vows because God is faithful to his. The hope is that the believing spouse will save the unbelieving one (7:16). Further, the children of this marriage are not defiled. Rather, the marriage is a real (sanctified) marriage, so the children are legitimate (holy) children. The marriage is not an unholy alliance, but an opportunity for the redemption of the unbelieving spouse and raising children up for the glory of God.

8. Although Paul hates divorce, he permits divorce for those whose non-Christian spouses initiate and carry out a divorce. The "leaving" of 1 Cor. 7:15 is a divorce. If the unbeliever wants a divorce, let him have it. God has called us to peace, so do not resist the unbeliever's divorce if he is determined to leave. The believer in this case is "not under bondage" or is "not bound" (7:15). This is a debated phrase (you may find disagreement here--and even disagree with me), but I think it should be paralleled with 7:11 where the believer is bound to remain unmarried or be reconciled. In 7:15 the believer is not bound, that is, there is no duty for reconciliation and there is a freedom to remarry.

9. Paul articulates a principle of peace in v. 16 and, I think, explains this in verses 17, 20, 24. In applying this principle, Paul believes that people should remain in the state in which they were called. If married, stay married. If single, stay single. But the single may marry if they desire and they would not sin in so doing. The only exception to this is apparently two Christians who are married and divorce each other. They should remain unmarried or be reconciled. However, remember that Jesus gave an exception even to that in Matthew 19:9. Where adultery is involved, a Christian may divorce their spouse and remarry without sin.

10. All of you realize that many factions have appeared in the church due to divorce and remarriage issues. It is best to stick with the text here without trying to solve every situation. Try to apply Paul's principles here, but be sure to use the principle Paul is applying by understanding the specific context in which he is writing. We do not want to solve or resolve all questions in this class today. Rather, we want to underscore the importance of mutual submission in marriage, the goodness of sexuality and marriage, the commitment and faithfulness to which we are called in marriage and that God hates divorce even though he has some exceptions where divorce is permitted even for Christians.

Discussion Questions

1. Why does Paul believe it is better not to marry? What is his motive for singlehood? Does he intend this for everyone? Why not?

2. What is the principle that underlies Paul's discussion of sexuality within marriage (e.g., mutual submission, authority)? What does this say about the "goodness" of sexuality?

3. What is the role of "mutual submission" in a marriage? How might this principle be applied to other things in a marriage? Does this entail an egalitarian notion of marriage? How does this square with Paul's other texts where the wife should submit to the husband as the church submits to Christ (Ephesians 5:22ff)? How can 1 Cor. 7:4 and Eph. 5:23ff both be true?

4. Why is Paul so opposed to divorce? What does divorce symbolize?

5. What is the principle Paul offers two divorced Christians? What are their responsibilities? Are there any exceptions to this principle (cf. Matthew 19:9).

6. What is the principle Paul offers a Christian who is married to a non-Christian? Why should the Christian stay in the marriage? Why is not this marriage a defiled one? Why are not the children of that marriage defiled?

7. If the unbeliever divorces the believer, what is the believer's responsibility? What do you think "not under bondage" means in 1 Corinthians 7:15?

8. What does the principle "God has called us to live in peace" mean? How does it apply to this divorce situation? How might it apply more generally? How does this fit Paul's other "rules" in this chapter (verses 17, 20, 24)? Are these versions of the same thing?


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