1 Corinthians 7 Commentary


Responsibilities of marriage (7:1-9)

Paul now deals with those matters concerning which the Corinthians had written. One problem concerned marriage. Some thought it more honourable and a sign of moral purity not to marry. Paul replies that marriage is honourable. It is the normal course God has set out for humankind, though there


are exceptions. In some cases it may be better not to marry (he will explain this in a moment), but because Corinth is an immoral city and full of temptation, it is better to marry (7:1-2).

In marriage both husband and wife have their rights, but they also have obligations to each other (3- 4). In some circumstances husband and wife may feel such a need for increased prayer that they agree not to have sexual relations for a time. But this is exceptional. They should resume normal marital relations as soon as possible, so that Satan does not rouse their natural passions wrongly (5).

There are no rules that Paul can lay down to demand that people marry or not marry, though his personal preference is that they be like him and remain single. In this way they can serve God without the added responsibilities of marriage. He realizes, however, that everything depends on how God has prepared each person (6-7).

Concerning the unmarried and widows, Paul recommends that they remain single. But if in their single state they are only going to burn with sexual desire, they would do better to marry (8-9).

Problems of separation and divorce (7:10-16)

Paul claims the authority of Christ in reminding the Corinthians that a Christian husband and wife should not separate (cf. Matt 19:6). If they do, every effort should be made to bring them together again. If this fails, they must remain single (10-11).

In the examples that follow, Paul knows of no command of Christ to quote, though he believes his advice carries the authority of the Spirit of God (see v. 40). He considers situations other than those of normal Christian marriage, such as when one partner of a pagan marriage subsequently becomes a Christian. (He does not consider the possibility of believers marrying unbelievers. They will marry only ‘in the Lord’; see v. 39.) If the unbelieving partner is willing to continue the marriage, the believer should also be willing (12-13).

Such a union between a believer and an unbeliever is not considered unclean, neither is any child born of that union. God considers it a holy and lawful union on account of the believing partner (14). If, however, the unbeliever is unwilling to continue the marriage and departs, the believer must let it be so and consider the marriage at an end. There is no point in forcing the unbeliever to continue the marriage in the hope of making the person a Christian if such action is only going to cause quarrels. Marriage, after all, is intended to bring peace and contentment. Nevertheless, there will be cases where the unbelieving partner comes to believe in Christ (15-16).

The life of God’s choosing (7:17-24)

God wants Christians to be patient and to accept that their current state of affairs is God’s will for them for the present (17). Believers may have differences in marital, national or social status, but this should make no difference to their spiritual well-being. The important issue is obedience to God’s commandments. Even those who are slaves should feel no inferiority, but if they can be free, so much the better (18-21).

More important than status in the world is status before God. Believers who are slaves in the world have the liberty of God’s children, while believers who are free citizens in the world are God’s slaves. God has freed all believers from the bondage of sin. They should not allow themselves to be enslaved again through following the ways of an ungodly society (22-24).

The unmarried and widows (7:25-40)

Corinth was at that time troubled by some unusually distressing circumstances. In view of this, Paul felt it best for people, whether married or single, to stay as they were for the time being. The responsibilities that go with marriage and a family would only add to the current difficulties (25-28). This was not the time for people to create further problems for themselves by making changes or becoming more involved in worldly affairs. It was a time to remain steady and remember the importance of eternal things (29-31). The married, being anxious for their families, must spend time looking after them. The unmarried, being free from such worry, can give themselves fully to the service of God (32-35).

In spite of his advice against marriage during the current crisis, Paul realized that Corinth’s low moral standards provided many temptations for single men and women. If such people were anxious to marry, they should not be prevented, in case the temptations proved too much for them (36). But for those


without such strong passions, it would be better in the present circumstances not to marry (37). Both courses of action are right, but the latter is preferable (38).

Finally, Paul has some advice for widows. Christian marriage is a lifelong union, broken only by death. When the husband dies, the widow is free to remarry, provided she marries another believer. Here again Paul’s advice is that, because of the current crisis, she would be wiser to remain single (39-40). (See 1 Timothy 5:14 for Paul’s advice to widows in different circumstances.)

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