17 For Herod himself had sent and laid hold of John, and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife; for he had married her. 18 Because John had said to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife” (Mark 6:17–18, NKJV).
Marriage is a stabilizing force of society. Any society cannot long endure when it devalues and distorts the marriage relationship between man and woman. God inaugurated marriage as a blessing for humanity in Eden (Gen. 2:18-25). It is not the product of the cultural development of societies through the ages. Jesus acknowledged the abiding truth that marriage is from God and for life (Mark 10:6-8). The divine arrangement of marriage is one man and one woman for life (Matt. 19:4-5; Rom. 7:2-3). History records marriage’s disfigurement and destruction by such sins as polygamy, concubinage, divorce for every cause, and cohabiting without marriage (Gen. 4:19; Mal. 2:13-16; Matt. 19:3, 6-8; Rom. 1:24-29). Today’s passage reminds us that not every marriage is lawful and good in God’s sight. Herod’s marriage to Herodias (his brother Philip’s wife) was unlawful. Herod and Herodias had divorced their spouses to enter this unholy union (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.5.1; 18.5.4). John would be beheaded because he rebuked their sin (Mark 6:19-29). Marriage is a commitment for life (Rom. 7:2-3). God gives one cause for ending a marriage with approval to remarry (Matt. 19:9). Let us uphold God-approved marriages but never approve relationships God’s word defines as sin (Matt. 5:32; Heb. 13:4).
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)?
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).
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).
4 And He answered and said to them, “Have you not read that He who made them at the beginning ‘made them male and female,’ 5 and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? 6 So then, they are no longer two but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let not man separate.” (Matthew 19:4-6)
While marriage is being redefined to suit the desires and pleasures of men and women, the One who arranged marriage for humanity continues to expect His parameters to be respected and followed. Jesus agreed that marriage is between “male and female”; there is a husband (male) and a wife (female). Same-sex marriage is the consequence of sinful, unnatural desires of the mind and flesh and will never have divine sanction no matter how many courts of men declare otherwise. Jesus also observed that the husband and the wife are “joined together” by God. He concluded that we must not separate what God has joined together. Marriage is for life, not until the married couple decides to “uncouple” or divorce. Let us honor God by honoring marriage as He gave it.