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.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; 9 but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:8–9, NKJV)
After affirming the value of both marriage and celibacy in 1 Corinthians 7:1-7, Paul gives divine counsel to those who are not married and those who are (as well as to subgroups of each) in 1 Corinthians 7:8-16. To the “unmarried and to the widows” Paul rehearsed the benefit of remaining single while exercising self-control against fleshly temptations. (Recall the context of “present distress” that further explains his divine advice, 1 Corinthians 7:25-40). It seems plausible that they had asked Paul whether a person should marry at all (7:1). He answered that remaining without a spouse was a virtuous choice, while being careful not to deny the God-given right to marry, particularly in light of its benefit against the temptations of sexual immorality (7:2). Without a doubt, if the unmarried and widows were to marry it must be a God-approved marriage. You see, not every marriage has God’s approval (Mark 6:17-18; Romans 7:3; Matthew 5:32; 19:9). We cannot legitimize any marriage that God calls “unlawful” and “adultery” without incurring His displeasure and wrath (Ephesians 5:5-7). Whether or not we are married, we must make choices that enhance and protect our moral purity.
6 But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment. 7 For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. (1 Corinthians 7:6–7, NKJV)
Paul had commanded sexual purity in 1 Corinthians 6:18 when he wrote, “Flee sexual immorality” (fornication, KJV). While acknowledging the virtue of celibacy, Paul explained that marriage is a God-given means of avoiding fornication (1 Corinthians 7:1-2). But, with marriage also comes responsibilities for which one is accountable to God (1 Corinthians 7:3-5). Now, the apostle hastens to explain that he is not commanding people to marry. We have permission to marry, but marriage is not mandatory. Paul’s stated preference (that all could exercise self-control against the sins of the flesh and remain unmarried as he was) is readily understood in the context of the “present distress” (which he would develop later in this chapter, 1 Corinthians 7:25-26, 28-29, 32, 35). Some are favored with the ability to live free of sexual immorality without marriage. Others, who do not have this ability, choose to marry and live free of sexual immorality. Whether married or not, one must refrain from sexual sin. Whether married or not, we must glorify God in our body, which belongs to God (1 Corinthians 6:19-20).
Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (1 Corinthians 7:5, NKJV)
God-approved marriage gives moral protection against sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:2). In marriage, each one’s body belongs to the other, emphasizing the unselfish nature of the sexual union of the husband and the wife. Verse 5 affirms the selfless feature of the marriage bed as the apostle warns married couples not to deprive (“defraud,” KJV) one another of this marital right and privilege, except under three conditions: (1) It is by mutual consent, (2) It is temporary, and (3) It is for a period of concentrated spiritual activity (fasting and prayer). The danger of depriving one’s spouse of the marriage bed is the opening it gives Satan to tempt one (or both) to abandon self-control and commit sexual immorality. You are a preserver and protector of your mate’s moral purity and self-control when you render the affection he or she is due (1 Corinthians 7:3). You become a tool of Satan when you deprive your spouse of the marriage bed of honor (Hebrews 13:4).
3 Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. (1 Corinthians 7:3–4, NKJV)
One of the biggest sources of marital problems is selfishness. Marriage establishes a moral obligation to deliver (render) to one’s mate the good will of sexual fulfillment which he or she is due. To use the marriage bed as an incentive for good behavior or a punishment for bad behavior is not the will of God. Such selfish treatment of the marriage bed chips away at the emotional and spiritual stability and security it is designed to provide. To be even more emphatic, the apostle explains that in marriage your body belongs to your spouse, not to yourself (verse 4). Each one has authority (right, privilege, jurisdiction) over the other’s body. Such authority is not tyrannical, oppressive or abusive, but respectful and affectionate. When a husband or wife says their body is nobody’s business but their own, they reveal a fundamental misunderstanding of marriage as a hedge against sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:2). In marriage, your body belongs to your spouse. The marriage bed binds two souls together in unselfish fulfillment, and thereby gives protection from the moral defilement of sexual immorality.
1 Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2 Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. (1 Corinthians 7:1–2, NKJV)
The Corinthians sent a letter to the apostle Paul with questions about several matters, to which he replied as one who was inspired of God (1 Corinthians 7:40). Their first questions concerned marriage. Paul began by addressing the virtue of not touching a woman (a euphemism for sexual relations). He was not issuing a divine directive that celibacy is superior to marriage. (Nor does verse 2 demand everyone must marry.) Instead, Paul recognizes God’s clarion call to sexual purity. Given the present trials and pressures upon their faith, he will advise the Corinthians of the advantages of being single (1 Corinthians 7:26, 28, 32, 35). Marriage is designed as a guard against sexual immorality. The marriage bed is honorable, but the bed of fornication is defiled (Hebrews 13:4). The apostle explained that how designed marriage so that “each man” has “his own wife” and “each woman” has “her own husband” (verse 2). Marriage is between man and woman. More specifically, it is between one man and one woman (Genesis 2:23-24; Matthew 19:4-6). Polygamy, same-sex marriages, and every other marriage distortion is of human origin and is a sin against God and His will concerning marriage.
But fornication and all uncleanness or covetousness, let it not even be named among you, as is fitting for saints (Ephesians 5:3, NKJV)
The rise in cohabitation without marriage in America over the past 30 years is obvious. Reflective of a society that has cast off moral restraints, it is but one indicator of self-defined morality. The annual Gallup Values and Beliefs Survey (May 1-10, 2018) reports that 69% of those surveyed believe sexual activity before marriage is morally acceptable, while 42% said it is morally acceptable for teenagers to practice it. The morality of having a baby outside of marriage was approved by 65% of those polled, while 67% said gay and lesbian relationships are morally acceptable. In stark contrast, the Holy Spirit inspired apostle drew a red line in the sand that all sexual activity, before and in addition to marriage, is not to be professed among Christians. It is against who we are. We are saints (“holy ones”), called to be sanctified or set apart from such sins. We are not to participate in them or endorse them. “For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you should abstain from sexual immorality” (1 Thessalonians 4:3). Christians must rise above the world’s definition of what is moral and refuse the allurements of the flesh (1 John 2:15-17).