A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:39, NKJV)
The divinely mandated permanency of marriage is reiterated here. The word “bound” signifies to be obligated to – it describes a tie with obligations. While “friends with benefits” popularizes fornication and diminishes marriage, “marriage with obligations” is God’s directive (Romans 7:2; 1 Corinthians 7:27). Marriage is not “until we fall out of love” – it is “until death we do part.” This is why marrying another person while one’s original spouse is alive is adultery (Romans 7:2-3). Marriage cannot be ended on a whim, or on differences we deem to be “irreconcilable.” Only fornication gives the other party in marriage the freedom to put away the offender and marry another (Matthew 19:9). According to Jesus, all other remarriages constitute adultery (Matthew 5:32; 19:9; Mark 10:11-12; Luke 16:18). Death of the spouse to whom God joined you ends marriage’s obligation, freeing one to marry again in harmony with God’s will. We must return to honoring the serious, lifelong obligation one accepts when entering marriage. Otherwise, people will continue dishonoring marriage by putting asunder what God has joined together (Matthew 19:6). Be assured, this sin does not escape the attention of the One to whom we will give account (2 Corinthians 5:10; Hebrews 13:4).
25 Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. 26 I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress—that it is good for a man to remain as he is: 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you. (1 Corinthians 7:25–28, NKJV)
The final section of 1 Corinthians 7 (verses 25-40) addresses those who are free to marry in the context and consideration of the “present distress” that was pressing upon the saints at Corinth. Paul reiterates what he spoke to earlier in the chapter, that marriage is good in God’s sight, but it is not commanded (1 Cor. 7:1-2, 6-7). In light of the turbulent trials of faith they faced, Paul’s prevailing, inspired judgment was that they to remain free of marriage (v. 25, 40). Their very lives would be threatened, and every part of their faith would be put to the test (1 Cor. 7:29-30; Luke 14:26). At a time when they could ill afford distractions, declining marriage would prevent additional troubles (1 Cor. 7:28-34). His counsel would spare them trouble so they “may serve the Lord without distraction” (1 Cor. 7:28, 35). Are you willing to forego your rights and liberties in order to protect your faith (and the faith of others) against distractions (1 Cor. 8:9; Heb. 12:1)?
21 Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. 22 For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:21–24, NKJV)
One’s salvation in Christ does not depend on whether the person is a slave or free at the time of conversion. If the converted slave can become free, then do so. If not, then be a faithful Christian as a slave. The slave who is a Christian is free from sin in the Lord (John 8:34-36). When the person who is not a slave becomes a bondservant of God upon his conversion to Christ (1 Peter 2:16). Whether slave or free, we are all one in Christ (Galatians 3:28). What we must not do is enslave our faith to another person. Christ has redeemed us with His blood, therefore, we belong to Him. We serve Him before anyone else. This is the principle undergirding the instruction in 1 Corinthians 7:15 to let the unbeliever “depart” if that person is unwilling to be married to a believer who serves Christ first. We must “remain with God” and not compromise our faith for the sake of others (verse 23). This means we must abide in the word of Christ instead of following the dictates of others – including an unbelieving spouse (John 8:31-32).
17 But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. 18 Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20 Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. (1 Corinthians 7:17–20, NKJV)
What Paul taught about marriage in verses 10-14 applies a foundational and universal principle he now explains in verses 17-22 (24). (That the believer is not being under bondage to the unbeliever in verse 15 applies another foundational principle, verse 23.) Non-sinful relations and conditions of life do not affect one’s salvation in Christ. Therefore, it is right and good to “remain in the same calling” in which you were called (v. 18-20). Circumcision illustrates this, which is inconsequential concerning salvation. What matters is keeping God’s commands, and circumcision is not commanded for salvation. Similarly, marriage is not commanded for salvation, but it is allowed. We conclude with certainty that Paul is not giving permission to remain in a sinful relationship when one becomes a Christian, including sinful marriages (Rom. 6:1-2; Matt. 19:9). Every sinful action and sinful relationship must be repented of and abandoned when one becomes a Christian (Acts 2:37-38; 1 Cor. 6:9-11; 1 Thess. 4:1-5).
15 But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. 16 For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:15–16, NKJV)
What if the unbelieving spouse of verses 12-13 is unwilling to be married to a Christian? What if the unbeliever is not willing to accept the trials brought upon the home by the Christian’s faith (1 Cor. 7:26)? Should the Christian yield to the will of the unbelieving spouse and sacrifice faith for the sake of a peaceful marriage? No. We must obey God rather than any person, including a spouse (Acts 5:29). Verse 15 does not give another cause for divorce and remarriage (even though many use it to justify desertion as a cause for divorce and remarriage). Remarriage is not even in this passage. (The married have already been warned against divorce in verses 10-11.) Here, Paul affirms the Christian is not now and never has been in bondage to (a slave to) the unbeliever. God has called us to peace, but not by compromising one’s faith. The unbeliever who demands the believer abandon faith for peace in the marriage demands a price for peace that cannot be paid. If that demand occurs, then “let him (the unbeliever) depart.” You cannot yield your faith and become a slave of men (1 Cor. 7:23). Do you think the unbeliever will be saved by yielding your faith? Resolute faith influences an unbelieving spouse toward salvation (1 Peter 3:1-2).
12 But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. 13 And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. (1 Corinthians 7:12–14, NKJV)
Should a Christian end his or her marriage to an unbeliever? The apostle gives an inspired answer to that question as he addresses this subset of “the married” (verse 10). The “rest” to whom Paul now directs his attention are identified as Christians who are married to unbelievers (vss. 12, 13). Paul addresses a marriage situation that Jesus did not personally address, namely, whether a Christian should end a marriage to an unbeliever. The answer he gives is “no” – when the unbeliever is “willing” to live with the Christian. The believer’s faithfulness to Christ blesses the family with the influence of truth and righteousness. His or her godly presence in the home helps convert the unbelieving spouse and teaches the children to be holy (1 Peter 3:1-2; 2 Timothy 1:5; Acts 16:1-2). God joins man and woman in marriage, whether or not they are believers (Genesis 2:21-24; Matthew 19:4-5). Christians have no right to end their marriage merely because they are married to an unbeliever. To do so directly violates the Lord’s command (1 Corinthians 7:10-11; Matthew 19:6).
10 Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. 11 But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife. (1 Corinthians 7:10–11, NKJV)
Paul now addresses “the married” with a command that is mandated by and agrees with what Jesus commanded in Matthew 19:6, “Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate (“put asunder,” KJV).” Marriage is for life and must be entered with solemn commitment and earnest resolution (Matthew 19:4-6). God does not merely excuse ending a marriage He has joined together. Therefore, 1 Corinthians 7:12 does not give permission to do the very thing prohibited in verse 11 (i.e., to depart from the one to whom God joined you). In verse 11 Paul applies the principle of verse 10 to a marriage that ends without God’s approval (see Matthew 19:9 for God’s permission to put away a spouse “for the cause of fornication” and marry another without sin). To avoid adding sin upon sin when a marriage is sundered one must “remain unmarried” (because remarriage would be adultery, Luke 16:18) or else “be reconciled” to one’s rightful spouse (the one to whom God obligated you for life, Romans 7:2). The command and its consequences apply equally to husband and wife (v. 11). We sin against God when we end our marriage for any and every reason (Matthew 19:3). Let us uphold the honor of marriage by not separating what God has joined together.