First Corinthians 7:1-16
Marriage And Divorce
1. The Corinthian church was in a sexually loose society. Worse still, ideas that permitted the church to be sexually lenient had penetrated the church. Paul has been speaking up to now keeping in mind those who were to a certain extent under the influence of this kind of ideology. But then, there must have been persons in the church at Corinth who were also sensing the crisis in the this type of tendency in society and the church. Presuming from the passage we read today, it looks like there was another group holding ascetic and stoic views over against the other group with its promiscuous view. In the Greek dualism of body & spirit, there lied at its roots the underpinnings that lead to stoicism. In contrast to the spirit being good and eternal, since the realm of the flesh, the material elements were evil and considered in decay, one way to rid off this evil was abstinence. This assumes the form of mortification, penance or austerities and it has taken the form of prohibition to marriage. Scholars think that in this chapter, Paul is speaking with such an asceticism in mind.
2. Well, among ourselves, in one sense, we need to have wholesome self-control so as not to fall into loose living. Temperance (or self-restraint) is described in another epistle as a fruit which the Holy Spirit yields forth, (Galatians 5:23). But, in another sense, it is also important in its own right that we not be [such] stoics that [we are skewed and] distorted. Because this would throw off our lives on a day to day level. So, keeping all this in mind, we want to give serious heed to what is being said to us in this chapter.
About Marriage And One's Sex Life
3. For starters, please look from verse one to verse nine. Paul began to write this section saying, "In speaking to the things you wrote in your letter to me, [I say] a man shouldn't touch a woman." "[You] shouldn't touch a woman" doesn't mean physical touching, but sexual intercourse. We might put it like this, since Paul does not speak of the sex act apart from marriage, this whole thing takes on the meaning of "You shouldn't marry." The question that the Corinthians had sent him in a letter was probably one of "Is it better for a christian not to get married? Should a christian not get married?" It is believed that against such a background there was this stoicism I mentioned before.
4. As we see in this reply, Paul's perspective sounds very negative towards marriage. Else where as well, we can get a glimpse of his words on this like in verse seven "As for me, I would like everyone to be single like me," and verse eight "You all should be single as I am." Then in verse nine, he expresses it in the text like this, marriage is just something for "suppressing one's sexual passions."
5. But, in reading this passage, we need to keep two things in memory. First, as we will see later, is the fact that Paul is speaking from the mindset of the imminent end-times. The text in verse six says, "Now we are in a state in which a crisis is upon us." I will touch on this next time. Secondly, Paul is not giving an all encompassing description of marriage as you plainly can tell. As he is only responding to the questions he was asked and nothing more, he was in no way speaking about everything concerning marriage.
6. Based on these points, I would like for us to consider what Paul was saying with "I want you to be like me." By the way, we don't need to think that Paul himself had never been married. Many scholars hypothesize that Paul was once a married man. Because if he had been a rabbi in Judaism and a member of the Jewish congress, it would have been the natural thing for him. It is not sure whether his wife had died or if maybe she left him when he became a christian. No matter what may have been, he was currently single. In pointing to himself like that Paul says, "I want you all to be like me." But, later on he will add, "Since people receive all different sorts of gifts from God, the ways a person may live are different." We see that his being a bachelor was understood to be a gift from God. This is worth noticing. It was worth noticing even for Jewish society back then, because there were many who said that being a bachelor meant that someone had something missing. But, to say we should be single has a positive meaning to it, being a gift of God.
7. So if being single is a gift from God, then the married life is also a gift from God. Sexual relations must be correctly understood within the frame of God's gift of the married life. The other side of that is that we reject sexual activity apart from that. The Bible calls it "immoral behavior," (verse two). We must avoid that. But then again, the sexual life between husband and wife has a positive meaning to it as a gift of God. We must prize it as a blessing from above.
8. Some in the Corinthian church seemed to think that faith and sexual activity were not compatible but ran against each other. For that reason there were probably some who were totally in rejection of the sex life. I would say there are still plenty enough people around today who don't seem to be able to tie in faith and a sex life. Paul spoke candidly against this. "Husbands, fulfill your duty to your wives, and likewise, you woman, too, fulfill your duties to your husbands." He is not simply saying that "It is your responsibility." He means that the important thing, as it says in the text afterwards, is that in married life your body does not belong to you any more, but that it belongs to your partner.
9. This has a definite connection to the words that appeared previously in verse nineteen of "You no longer belong to yourselves." To live as the Lord's is not some abstract thing to do. It takes a concrete form. It is related to how we actually use our bodies. While the sexual act can become an "immoral act" that goes against the will of God, in the married life of man and woman it guards each one of them from temptation and becomes an expression of the highest degree of love in which they give themselves to one other. At any rate, whether single or living out the married life, it is imperative that we grasp this matter as a concrete manifestation of the faith life where the body is concerned.
10. Next, please look from verses ten to sixteen. The subject of discussion moves on from this to matters concerning divorce. It seems that there were people who thought that not just the sex life, but even married life was incompatible with the christian faith. In that regard Paul says, "Wives, you should not separate from your husbands. ... Husbands, you should not divorce your wives." Then Paul adds in emphasis that "The one commanding this is not me, but the Lord," (verse ten). When the Pharisees asked Jesus, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?," he gave this answer to the them, "Since the beginning of the creation of heaven and earth, God made humans man and woman. Therefore, a person leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife and the two become one body. Therefore, the two are no longer separate but are one body. Thus, what God has joined together, man must not separate," (Mark 10:6-9). So, as a marriage willed of God makes them one, it is for all life. This is a major point related to marriage.
11. They say that during last year the number of divorces in this country [of Japan] was 264,255 couples. The divorce rate per one thousand people has made a record over the old high by 2.1%. Even though this statistic is out, nobody today is surprised or grieves over it. That's the times we in. But, God grieves over it. It is because we are in such times as this that the church should emphasize deliberately that marriage is a life long matter that supposes no divorce. But still then there are times when we end up coming to a decision for divorce due to unavoidable circumstances. But, especially in the case of the marriage of believers, as both know God's clear will as written in the Bible, we must remember the command in verse eleven "if she has already left him, either do not marry again or return to her husband." Divorce is ever and always a sin that goes against God's will. God does not want divorce.
12. In addition, Paul speaks in the case of either of them being an unbeliever. It might be so in Japan today, but I would say there was an overwhelmingly large number of such cases in the church of Corinth. And in most cases, the marriages were held in pagan ceremonies. To continue in married life with such an unbeliever must have seemed to some people as incompatible to the Christian faith.
13. But, Paul says, "In regard to the others, not the Lord, but I say, in cases where a believer has an unbelieving wife, and his wife wants to keep living together, he must not divorce her. Or if a woman has an unbelieving husband, and her husband wants to keep living together, she must not divorce him," (verses twelve and thirteen). Then he says, that one's marriage is not dishonored or stained by living with an unbeliever, but the marriage is made holy through you. He probably means that rather than thinking my partner is an unbeliever a christian should think very solemnly of the significance in that he or she is married and is in a family. Because one believer exists [in the family], the spouse and the children come to be placed in a connection with God.
14. But, sad as it is, there are cases where an unbelieving partner not wanting to keep living together will split out. In that case, Paul says "let them leave." In those times it doesn't mean we should twist verses from the faith and try to make the other one stay. If one's partner departs, we shouldn't think that we cannot save him or her. Paul says, "O wife, how do you know whether you can save your husband? O husband, how do you know whether you can save your wife?" Broadening the narrow scope, we can say the same for people before marriage. There are times when you are following God and penetrating into the faith deep, but your partner leaves. At that time we shouldn't press our partner in twisting verses from the faith. "Let them leave." Any way, in return for the price of losing our peace with God, even if we build up our peace with another person, it would not be a true peace. God has called us to live a truly peaceful life.
15. But, we must be careful in a situation where we hear the phrase "Let them leave." The situation of which Paul is speaking is one in which a person's motives are purely related to the faith. Partners leave for other reasons besides that. It happens because of a lack in a christian's prudence or forethought or even for very low down reasons. As I said at the beginning, perhaps it might be due to a distortion in the life the comes from a mistaken understanding of the faith. In that case, we would have to correct the distortion itself.