1 Corinthians 7b
1 Corinthians 7:17-19… Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And thus I direct in all the churches. 18 Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.
In the previous context Paul commanded Christians who were married to non-Christians to remain in their marriages without seeking a divorce. He had also instructed all married folks to remain married, and he had even advised widows and divorcees to remain as they were. It was his opinion that perpetual singleness was superior to marriage. His whole point was that each person should remain in the position they find themselves when God “calls” them. Notice in verse 17 that it is “the Lord” (Jesus Christ) who “assigns” and God who “calls.” God the Father calls His elect children to salvation; God the Son assigns them their task in that calling. For some it’s being married to an unbeliever. For others it’s about remaining in “slavery” (v. 20). This is the directive “in all the churches.” In other words, this is universal advice for all Christians.
In verse 17, though the grammar is rough, the meaning is clear. The NLT says, “You must accept whatever condition the Lord has put you in and continue on as you were when God first called you.” When the NT epistles uses the word “call” it usually refers to God’s bringing someone to salvation. Salvation is always God’s doing, for man has nothing to do with it. So when a person comes to belief in Christ – as a result of God’s “call” – he/she is to remain in the situation he/she was in when they became Christians. If married when converted, that person should remain married. Paul uses the example of Jews in verse 18 to instruct them to remain as they are. If one was a circumcised Jew when they became a Christian, they were not to undo their circumcision. Circumcision was a surgical procedure done on every male Jew eight days after he was born. The cutting off of the male foreskin identified that Jewish male with the covenant made to Abraham in Genesis 12-13, 15; 17. The reason it was performed on the male was because the male carried the “seed” (semen) of the promised Messiah and his children. Any Jewish male who was circumcised showed that they were a part of God’s covenant, and they just might watch their seed become the Christ – the Messiah. After Jesus was born circumcision meant nothing because the promised Seed was already born. This is why Paul calls circumcision “nothing” in verse 19. Though prescribed in the Mosaic Law Jesus Christ fulfilled that Law.
What does continue to matter, according to Paul, “is keeping the commandments of God.” Though some would mistakenly say that keeping God’s commandments is a work (and salvation comes by faith not by works), Paul never considered obedience to the commands of God as works leading to salvation. Obedience to God is what’s important in the Christian life, and a proper response to God’s grace comes through obedient works that conform to Christian ethics – they conform to God’s perfect standard, and that’s the quest of every true Christian.
Food for Thought
What situation in life were you when God saved you? The passage above does not necessarily speak of our vocations as such, but it does address our life situations. If when you were married both you and your spouse were unbelievers, then you came to faith in Christ, then God has put you in a strategic situation for your spouse’s sake. If you’re in a job, however, that causes you to compromise your Christian walk, then leave. But if not, then remain in that position and use it to be the faithful missionary God has called you to be in that vocation.
1 Corinthians 7:20-24… Let each man remain in that condition in which he was called. 21 Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22 For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord's freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ's slave. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brethren, let each man remain with God in that condition in which he was called.
Verse 20 literally reads in the Greek text, “Each man in the calling in which he has been called; in this he must remain.” It is somewhat of a summary statement reflecting back to Paul’s teaching on marriage. No matter what state a person was in upon coming to Christ, they were to remain in that position. If single, then their conversion to Christ did not warrant their getting married. If they were married, then their conversion did not warrant a divorce. When the text says, “in this he must remain,” it is an imperative. However, this command is actually a God-inspired opinion. Those who become married do not sin, but the apostle’s opinion is expressed.
Leaving behind the example of marriage, now Paul uses slavery in the latter part of verse 20 to illustrate his point. One might be tempted to think that after converting to Jesus Christ slaves should seek their freedom. Paul says “no.” He asks, “Were you called while a slave?” In other words, “When God saved you were you at that time a slave?” If the answer was “yes,” then the godly advice was to remain that way. Paul says, “Don’t worry about it!” But he does give permission for slaves to buy their freedom if they are able to in contrast to just leaving their owners and using their conversion to justify the practice. This is a reference to the common practice of slaves who saved their money and eventually paid for their freedom by paying off their owners. In the Roman Empire slavery encompassed about half the population, so there were a great many slaves – many of whom were coming to faith in Christ; hence, the answer Paul gives to the common question (much like the Jews who sought to be uncircumcised due to their embarrassment in the Greco-Roman world where athletes exercised and competed in the nude).
Verse 22 is explanatory. Paul says that slaves, following their conversion, are actually freedmen in Christ. In the same way, those who were not slaves who came to faith in Jesus Christ become Christ’s slaves. Either way, whether slave or freedman, both are free, and both are slaves of Christ. Verse 23 explains that Christian freedom comes as a result of being “bought with a price.” Of course this is a beautiful explanation of what Christ’s death on the cross accomplished. He paid for our sins with his blood – not with money. The ultimate price to pay is with one’s blood, and after Jesus Christ did that those who place their faith in him become his slaves. So, it matters not whether one is a literal slave or a figurative one. We’re all slaves, and as such we must never “become slaves of men.” Now this might seem to contradict Paul’s advice to remain a slave if one was a slave to a man, but the teaching is simple. Our master is Jesus Christ because he’s the one who paid for us. We should seek to be tied to no one else, as verse 24 says, we are to remain in the condition were we in when we came to faith in Christ.
Food for Thought
God puts us in strategic positions. There is scarcely a company, a neighborhood, or an organization that doesn’t have a Christian influence in it to affect it. God has put His people all over the world, and as such, His Word is set to go out to the whole world. All Christians need to do is take advantage. If you’re in one of those spots today, then take advantage of your position. Remain in it as God has commanded. The lost souls around you desperately need your witness.
1 Corinthians 7:25-28… Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26 I think then that this is good in view 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 released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you.
Paul addressed divorcees and widows in 1 Cor. 7:8, and now he singles out the virgins – those who have never been married. Jesus did not address this group in his teachings, so Paul reflects this truth by confessing, “I have no command of the Lord…” Now because the Corinthians apparently had a question about virgins in their letter to him, he addresses them with his “opinion.” Some have taken this to mean that Paul’s opinion can be taken or left, but note that his opinion comes from one “who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy.” In other words, Paul’s words, though they contain no strict commandment to be followed, are words written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and as coming from one who is “trustworthy.” His words in verse 26 simply state that in his opinion “virgins” should remain single. The reason he gives is “in view of the present distress” this is the best option. The “present distress” had to do with the many persecutions Christians were undergoing at that time. They were being arrested, beaten, tortured, and even murdered because of their faith in Jesus Christ. Approximately ten years after Paul’s writing the Emperor Nero came onto the scene with his sadistic brutality. Some Christians were sewn up alive in animal skins and fed to the wolves while others were encased in hot wax to be burned as human candles in Nero’s garden. This was the “present distress” and the future. In other words, Paul’s opinion that virgins remain single had nothing to do with a supposed bias against marriage but everything to do with his view that the end-times wrath of God was at hand.
Verse 27 is written for greater clarification. In view of the “present distress” some were bound to believe that they could divorce their wives and live as single people. Paul says, “Do not seek to be released.” The same was true for those who were divorced: “Don’t seek a wife.” However, verse 28 takes the imperatives of verse 27 and shows that they are merely Paul’s advice. He says that those who sought to be married could do so without sinning. Dr. G. Fee says, “This kind of argument is advice only, and it reflects pastoral concern for them, not principles that would make singleness a better option… Marriage or singleness per se lies totally outside the category of ‘commandments’ to be obeyed or ‘sin’ if one indulges. Paul’s preference here is not predicated on ‘spiritual’ grounds but on pastoral concern.” Paul’s concern is clear in the last phrase when he says that married folks will have trouble, and he wanted them spared.
Food for Thought
It is perfectly alright to get married. And though it’s perfectly fine to remain single, the clear biblical advice for singles is “Do not seek to be married.” That pretty much bankrupts internet Christian singles sites and matchmakers. The question is “why?” Paul was sold out to serving Christ, and he gave his life for such. He wanted all Christians to be sold out as he was, and he knew that having a spouse (and children) would slow them down. If you’re single today make use of your present state by serving the Lord faithfully and remaining as you are. You aren’t tied down to anyone, and if the Lord should choose to send you to Afghanistan you can go, and you can die serving the Lord without fear of leaving behind a family who needs their father or mother. This is what Paul was talking about when advising singles to remain single.
1 Corinthians 7:29-31… But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; 30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.
When the Apostle says that the “time has been shortened” he gives the reason why virgins should remain unmarried. The “time” he speaks of refers to the end-times event of salvation. Salvation was set in motion through Christ’s death on the cross, his subsequent resurrection, and God’s giving of the Holy Spirit. Up to that time salvation was not fully revealed, and now Paul is not saying that the final consummation of time is at its end as much as he’s teaching that the future is cut short now that it is in plain view. It’s no longer a mystery, for Christ’s work on earth revealed God’s salvation. Now the way people live must be governed by the fact that God is true and is coming back again to bring salvation in its fullest measure. Put clearly, “time is coming to a quick close; focus your attention on Christ, not marriage.”
The second phrase in verse 29 (29b) begins a commission to all people in light of the fact that “the time has been shortened.” To begin with, “Those who have wives should live as if they had none.” It’s not that Paul was recommending divorce for married couples, for he has already made it clear that married folks should remain married (and singles remain single). The point here in the context is that in light of the fact that Christ is coming back to bring salvation in its fullest form (i.e., glorification) those who are married must cease from worrying about their marriages. They should turn their attention to God – to Jesus Christ – and put the “worries of the world” (i.e., having a happy marriage) in the past. One’s focus on Christ is all that matters, and to turn that focus to one’s worldly marriage is to lose focus of what’s truly important in life.
Verse 30 addresses four more groups of people in addition to married couples. First, “those who weep” are to act as though they do not. Second, “those who rejoice” as though they did not. We’re not told to be emotionless but to control them. We are not to be given over to life’s terrible depressions (i.e., the loss of a loved one), but neither are we to be excessively celebratory over things that pass away (i.e., inheritances, promotions, etc.). We must get over our joys and sorrows by gaining the proper perspective. Christ is coming back. Stop weeping over temporary problems, and stop acting as if personal successes outweigh spiritual victories.
Third, “those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep.” This addresses the materialism trap that so many fall into. Most people (Christians included) spend more time looking over their 401(k) and evaluating their retirement plans than they do eagerly awaiting Christ’s second coming. Bank accounts will burn and so will the people who enjoy them. Finally, in verse 31, “those who use the world” (i.e., those who love to make use of life’s pleasures and luxuries through vacations, cars, and leisure times) should put all that aside and gain some perspective. The world is passing away, and we must not overvalue that which perishes.
Food for Thought
Are you preoccupied with your marriage? Your children? Your job? Your retirement? Get over it! Live as if these things don’t matter and turn your eyes upon Jesus. As the great hymn of the faith says, “And the things on earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” A funny thing will happen when you do focus your attention on Christ… your marriage will be enriched, and though you might not win the lottery, you’ll have all you ever truly needed.
1 Corinthians 7:32-35… But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own benefit; not to restrain you, but to promote what is seemly, and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.
Paul’s general reason for writing as he did is summed up in verse 32: “I want you to be free from concern.” In his elaboration he speaks of why singleness has benefits over being married. Those who are single (whether divorced, widowed, or never having been married) and who know the Lord personally do not have a spouse to draw their attention away from what is truly important. They are “concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” Now of course there are many singles in the church today that do not fit this bill, and there are many married families who do. But the point here, and in vv. 33-34, is that those who are unmarried have no one in which to please except God alone, and this fact keeps them honed in on that which is ultimately important, namely God. In contrast, those who are married must be concerned with worldly things – how he/she must please his/her spouse. As such, their interests are “divided” – in the sense of being distributed. In other words, whereas the single person does not worry with pleasing his/her spouse and goes about his way without the struggles of marriage, the married person distributes his attention in at least two different directions (family, children, job, AND God). And unfortunately at the end of the day the family normally takes precedence over serving God (although serving one’s family is also serving God). The virgin woman who remains in her state of sexual purity who desires the serve the Lord with all her might is “holy in both body and spirit.” In other words, her body is pure from sexual contact, and her spirit remains devoted to one entity, namely God. The two words that sum up God’s greatest creation are “body and spirit.” Virgins who remain that way to serve God alone are “holy” in that they are literally “separated” from all others to serve the Lord more fully.
Take a missionary for example. Missionaries go to foreign countries to spread the good news of Jesus Christ. Those who go as singles have far more leeway in what they can do, and they can risk their lives to preach Christ without worrying about leaving a family behind. Singles are also not bound to spouses who refuse to enter into ministry – those wives or husbands who say “no” to going abroad to serve the Lord. They are not hindered when apart from one another, and they aren’t hindered when a family member is sick and/or dying. Paul wanted single folks to be free of concern in light of the fact that the final consummation of time is imminent. Those who choose to marry are clearly hindered from serving the Lord and being devoted to Him more fully in contrast to those who choose to remain single and serve Him without constraint.
Food for Thought
Verse 35 says, “I say for your own benefit; not to restrain you, but to promote what is seemly, and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” The Bible, at its core, reflects God’s character and saving power through Jesus Christ. The entire Bible is written for “our benefit,” and it’s not given to “restrain” us as some believe. It is written for our benefit for at least two reasons: First, to promote what is “seemly” (decent and honorable); second, to bring us into a relationship with God that is pure and undivided. Read your Bible today. It’s for your benefit.
1 Corinthians 7:36-40… But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she should be of full age, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry. 37 But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well. 38 So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better. 39 A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God.
There are at least two main interpretations for the above passage. The first view takes the man in verse 36 to be the father of a virgin daughter. This view (as reflected in the New American Standard Bible) reflects the custom of that day where marriages were arranged. The father would find a suitable husband for his virgin daughter, and the two would get married. If the father chose to keep his virgin daughter single for life, he could do that. Verse 36 addresses the issue where the daughter who is being kept from marriage due to her father’s vow now wants to get married. Paul says that the father who made the vow can change his mind without sinning and allow his daughter to marry. Verse 37, however, teaches that if the father chooses to stubbornly keep his vow by preventing his daughter from marrying he is also not sinning, and he “does well.” Verse 38 sums up the situation by saying that the father can’t lose either way.
The second way that Bible translations render these verses is to see the man in the passage as the male fiancée. If while being engaged (betrothed) to his virgin fiancée he becomes overwhelmed with a sexual desire that might violate her purity, and if she is of full age (old enough to marry), then he should marry her right then. This would not be a sin, but verse 37 would also mean that he does better to just keep her a virgin altogether. Verse 38 means that either way, as long as the virgin isn’t violated prior to marriage, the groom does well. This second view is preferred, and as such the New English Translation (NET Bible) translates it well: “If anyone thinks he is acting inappropriately toward his fiancée, if his passions are too strong and it seems necessary, he should do what he wishes; he does not sin. Let them marry. But the man who is firm in his commitment, and is under no necessity but has control over his will, and has decided in his own mind to keep her as his fiancée, does well. So then, the one who marries his fiancée does well, but the one who does not marry her does better.”
Verse 39 reinforces the ideal marriage. The wife is bound to her husband for as long as they both shall live. Only in the case where the husband dies is the wife allowed to remarry, but if she does choose to do so it must be another Christian (“only in the Lord”). Now Paul has already made the concession in 1 Cor. 7:8-9 that those who were divorced (the “unmarried”) as a result of their spouse’s sexual unfaithfulness can also remarry, but, as here in verse 40, it was Paul’s firm opinion that they were all much better off not getting married at all. Then he adds that he has the Spirit of God, as if to say, “My opinion on this one reflects God’s thoughts.”
Food for Thought
The next time you’re tempted to play “matchmaker” remember the biblical advice. If God wants a single person to be married He’ll make a way. They are not to seek it. For those who are struggling through a prolonged engagement and are crossing the line sexually with your beloved, get married! But whatever position you’re in remain there, and turn your focus upward to Christ.