1 Corinthians 7:6-9 ~ 20131110 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org
11/10 1 Corinthians 7:6-9 The Un-Married; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20131110_1cor7_6-9.mp3
1 Περὶ δὲ ὧν ἐγράψατε, καλὸν ἀνθρώπῳ γυναικὸς μὴ ἅπτεσθαι· 2 διὰ δὲ τὰς πορνείας ἕκαστος τὴν ἑαυτοῦ γυναῖκα ἐχέτω, καὶ ἑκάστη τὸν ἴδιον ἄνδρα ἐχέτω. 3 τῇ γυναικὶ ὁ ἀνὴρ τὴν ὀφειλὴν ἀποδιδότω, ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ἡ γυνὴ τῷ ἀνδρί. 4 ἡ γυνὴ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει ἀλλὰ ὁ ἀνήρ· ὁμοίως δὲ καὶ ὁ ἀνὴρ τοῦ ἰδίου σώματος οὐκ ἐξουσιάζει ἀλλὰ ἡ γυνή. 5 μὴ ἀποστερεῖτε ἀλλήλους, εἰ μήτι ἂν ἐκ συμφώνου πρὸς καιρὸν ἵνα σχολάσητε τῇ προσευχῇ καὶ πάλιν ἐπὶ τὸ αὐτὸ ἦτε, ἵνα μὴ πειράζῃ ὑμᾶς ὁ Σατανᾶς διὰ τὴν ἀκρασίαν ὑμῶν. 6 τοῦτο δὲ λέγω κατὰ συγγνώμην, οὐ κατ’ ἐπιταγήν. 7 θέλω δὲ πάντας ἀνθρώπους εἶναι ὡς καὶ ἐμαυτόν· ἀλλὰ ἕκαστος ἴδιον ἔχει χάρισμα ἐκ θεοῦ, ὁ μὲν οὕτως, ὁ δὲ οὕτως. 8 Λέγω δὲ τοῖς ἀγάμοις καὶ ταῖς χήραις, καλὸν αὐτοῖς ἐὰν μείνωσιν ὡς κἀγώ· 9 εἰ δὲ οὐκ ἐγκρατεύονται, γαμησάτωσαν, κρεῖττον γάρ ἐστιν γαμῆσαι ἢ πυροῦσθαι.
1Cor 7 [ESV2011]
7:1 Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. 3 The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. 5 Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. 7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. 8 To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. 9 But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
Paul is addressing issues that the church in Corinth had written him about. Chapter 7 deals with sexual relationships between men and women. He had already addressed incest, adultery, homosexuality, prostitution, and other forms of sexual immorality in chapters 5 and 6. His conclusion was that those who continue to practice such things, along with idolaters, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers and swindlers will not inherit the kingdom of God. Not that there is no hope for someone who has sinned in any of these ways. He makes it clear that some of the believers in Corinth had fallen into all of these categories. “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God” (6:11). There is forgiveness and hope for every sinner who turns to Jesus for forgiveness and cleansing.
At the beginning of chapter 7, he addresses the teaching that was circulating in Corinth “it is good for a man not to touch a woman”. This is simply not true in all circumstances. He clarifies that for the married, they have obligated themselves to their spouse. He forbids them to deprive one another and encourages enjoyment of sexual activity within marriage as a defense against Satanic attack.
He will go on to address questions about the unmarried, widows and widowers, the married, those married to an unbeliever, issues of divorce and remarriage, and single people. He gives much practical teaching and pastoral counsel to people who find themselves in various circumstances. This is a difficult passage, not only because the subject matter is very personal, but some of Paul's vocabulary is open to differing interpretations. With God's help, we will do our best to work our way through this passage together.
A Concession Not A Command
Verse 6 is a difficult verse. We have to try to understand what 'this' refers to. What is it that Paul is saying that is not a command but only a concession? Different interpretations have been suggested. Some see 'this' as referring to what immediately precedes, the requirement for a married couple to come back together again after a time of abstinence. But he is clearly commanding that they come back together again, and as a defense against Satanic attack. Some have suggested that all of verse 5, where he allows temporary abstinence by mutual agreement for a limited time and for the purpose of prayer is a concession and not a command. In other words, I am not mandating that married couples abstain for prayer, but is conceding to this practice within the stated conditions. This is a possibility, but he has already made it clear that abstaining is not a command by his wording 'except perhaps'. Some take 'this' to refer back to the whole of verses 2-5, that his command that each man should have his own wife and each woman should have her own husband is not a command but a concession. He is not mandating marriage for all; in the next verse he holds up his wish that all would remain single as he himself is. He discusses the value and advantages of singleness in verses 32-35. This is a good possibility. Others take 'this' to refer forward to what he is about to say. His following wish that all were single like himself is a concession not a command. He will go on to say that although he wishes that all could be fully devoted to pleasing the Lord as he himself is, he is aware that not all have the same gifting he has and for them this would not be good. Both of these last two interpretations fit well with what Paul says in this passage, and both are true. Not every person is commanded to be married, and not every person is commanded to live a life of celibacy.
Spiritual Gifting in Marriage and Singleness
Paul will talk quite a bit in 1 Corinthians about spiritual gifts. In chapters 12-14 he will talk about things like speaking in tongues, utterances of wisdom and knowledge, gifts of faith and healing, prophecy, distinguishing spirits, and working miracles. In chapter 1, he thanked God that the Corinthians were “not lacking in any spiritual gift” (1:7). Here in chapter 7, dealing with marriage and singleness, he refers to another kind of grace-gift from God. Each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. The Corinthians were eager to outdo one another with their spirituality. If it was considered more spiritual to live a celibate life, the married people were willing to put away their spouses to win the title of spirituality. Paul says 'stop it!you're playing with fire!' What is more spiritual is to see how God has uniquely gifted you as an individual and use your gifts for the glory of God. Paul here is claiming that the celibate life, which he practices, is a grace-gift from God. And equally so, marriage is a grace-gift from God, each to be used to bring glory to God. Paul was given the gift of contentment in celibacy. Many are given the gift of contentment in marriage. Each has his own gift from God, one of one kind, one of another. Paul will list advantages he sees in singleness, especially considering the circumstances in which they were then living, but he holds both singleness and marriage up as valuable gifts from our good God. If you are gifted by God with singleness, it is better for you to remain single. If you are gifted by God for marriage, it is better that you marry. Going back to the statement of the Corinthians 'it is good for a man not to touch a woman' Paul would say 'yes!, if you are gifted by God for singleness.' But if you are gifted by God for marriage, then each one should enjoy his or her own spouse as a good gift of God.
To the Unmarried and the Widows
Here is another challenge in interpretation. To whom is Paul referring when he says 'unmarried'? The word itself can refer to anyone who is currently without a spouse for whatever reason. It can refer to singles who have never been married, or it can refer to widows or widowers or the divorced or separated. If Paul is using the word in this broad general sense, then 'the widows' is one subcategory of 'the unmarried', and we could translate 'to the unmarried, especially to the widows.' Paul uses this word in verse 11 to refer to the wife who is separated from her husband. In verse 34 he uses this word to distinguish the unmarried woman from the virgin. Frequently in this chapter Paul gives equal treatment to the male and female counterpart in each situation, and he will deal specifically with the 'never been marrieds' in verses 25 and following, so we could translate verse 8 as 'to the formerly marrieds', or 'to the widowers and the widows'.
Whether he is addressing the broad category of unmarrieds or the specific categories of the formerly marrieds, his advice is 'it is good for them to remain as I am'. We will see as we work our way through this passage that this is Paul's repeated advice in a number of different situations given their present circumstances. It is good to remain as you are. If you are married, stay married. If you are single, stay single. Don't seek to change your status. Not that it is wrong to change your status, but it is good to remain as you are.
Was Paul Married?
This raises an interesting biographical question about the Apostle Paul. It is clear from this and other passages that Paul lived a celibate life. But had he ever been married? That question is more difficult to answer. It is possible that Paul was never married, in which case he tells the widows to remain content in celibacy as he is. It is possible that Paul was married and his wife either died and he never remarried, or that his wife left him, possibly because of his conversion to Christianity. This is speculation, based largely on Jewish tradition. The reasoning goes like this; Paul claimed to be a “Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee” (Phil.3:5). He says “And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal.1:14). Later Jewish traditions tell us that men by the age of twenty were expected to be married, so for Paul to have advanced in Judaism as he claims would imply that he must have been married. Some take his statement in Acts 26:10 about his former persecution of Christians, “when they were put to death I cast my vote against them” to mean that he was a voting member of the Sanhedrin, and later laws about Sanhedrin membership require a man to be married. The bottom line is that none of this is conclusive. The bible does not tell us, and we cannot say with certainty whether Paul was ever married or not. All that we are told is that he was not married at the time he wrote his New Testament letters. He says in chapter 9:
He claims to have the right to be married, but he did not take advantage of that right.
For Those Without Self-Control
For the unmarried and widows, it is good to remain unmarried. But that is not the only thing permitted, and that may not be the best thing for them. He says that it is good to remain unmarried, but if they are not self-controlled, they must marry. Unfortunately, this verse is difficult to translate without implying that the lack of self-control is negative. May read this and conclude that Paul has a low view of marriage, which is only a vent for the weak who can't control their sexual urges. But that is to misunderstand the text. The lack of self-control in this verse is not negative or derogatory. We might be better to paraphrase it 'if they are not predisposed to continence' or 'if they don't have the gift of celibacy'. There is no negativity toward those who have a different gifting. In fact, the strength of sexual drive may be one clear indicator of gifting by God for marriage or celibacy. Each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. Those without the gift of celibacy should not attempt to live as if they had the gift. Paul's instruction to them is clear. Let them marry. This is a command, in the imperative.
Paul gives extended instructions about the status of widows in the church to the young pastor Timothy.
It was the obligation first of the family to care for widows. If they had no family, the church would care for their needs. But Timothy was cautioned against placing younger widows in the care of the church. Instead they were encouraged to marry a believing husband and maintain their independence. He has a whole list of the dangers of enrolling younger widows into church charity programs. One major reason is that they may not have the God-given gift of celibacy. Paul says 'if they are not exercising self-control, let them marry'.
Better To Marry Than To Burn
He said it is good to remain as they are if they are gifted in that way, but it is better to marry if they are not gifted with celibacy. It is better to marry than to burn. What does Paul mean when he says it is better to marry than to burn? Probably he means that it is better to marry than to be inflamed with passion, so many modern translations add the interpretive phrase 'with passion'. This would fit well with the first section of this chapter, where marriage is rightfully used as a weapon against Satanic temptation to sexual immorality. Pursue the God-given path to sexual fulfillment in marriage rather than sentencing yourself to a life of temptation and frustration.
Some have understood this burning in a different sense. Two rabbis were walking along a road. (This sounds like the beginning of a good joke, but it is not. It is actually from the Jewish Talmud [TB Qiddusin 81a; cited by Bruce, p.68]) Two rabbis were walking along a road and they see a woman walking ahead of them. Rab says to R. Judah 'Hurry up and get in front of Gehenna'. Gehenna was a place of idolatry and child sacrifice in the fires outside of Jerusalem. It became a picture of the fires of eternal punishment, often translated 'hell' in the Gospels. I think the idea was to put the temptation to lust behind you, a temptation which would send you to hell. Let's bring this up to date. We often hear an attractive member of the opposite sex referred to as 'hot'. From now on when you hear 'hot' think 'hot' as in Gehenna. Paul said that the 'pornea', the sexually immoral would not inherit the kingdom of God. It is better to find fulfillment in marriage than to burn with lust that will end up sentencing you to burn in hell. As Jesus said
Paul is intensely practical in this passage. He doesn't say everything there is to say about marriage or singleness here. But what he does say is practical. Let's end with some practical advice.
What if you are single today and thinking 'I don't think I have the gift of celibacy'? First, get your priorities straight. Recognize that your body is not meant for sexual immorality, it is meant for the Lord. So glorify God with your body. Take advantage of the freedoms of your present singleness to bring maximum glory to God.
Next, as Paul said at the end of chapter 6 'flee sexual immorality'. Smash your I-phone. Tear out your internet connection. Do whatever it takes to flee sexual immorality. Paul promises in chapter 10
Then, if you recognize that you are not gifted for singleness, prepare yourself for marriage. Guys, this might mean you need to grow up. Get a job. Start bathing. Stop playing video games all the time. Stop texting and learn to have a real conversation. Be responsible. Learn to put someone else's needs and desires ahead of your own. Stop making excuses and start following Jesus with all your energy.
What if you realize today that you have blown it big time? Maybe you are seeing for the first time what God has to say about the seriousness of sin. Maybe you're realizing that based on what you have done you deserve to be cast straight into the fires of Gehenna. Is it too late for you? Jesus said to the woman caught in the act of adultery 'Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more' (Jn.8:11). If you run to Jesus, you can be washed, set apart, declared not guilty because Jesus took the punishment you deserve on himself at the cross. He would love to forgive your sins and make you new and transform your desires. Come to him.