Oh boy. Last week, lawsuits. This week, marriage. And singleness. It’s like Paul was deliberately planning to make it hard to blog through 1 Corinthians. Or, perhaps, that the problems in the Corinthian Church were right down the line of where we have troubles today. Marriage and sex are not the only things addressed here. We also see Paul address dealing with being a slave, being circumcised, and being betrothed.
And, of course, this chapter leaves the reader with a challenge regarding how to take Paul’s instructions. After all, verse 25 says that he has “no command” from the Lord. Does that make this an option? Or do we say that Paul can command from the Lord without him realizing it? That is, as he writes Scripture that we recognize is inspired, does it matter if he thought it was a command from God?
Settling that issue takes a lot of ink in commentaries on 1 Corinthians. For our purposes, let us zoom out and consider the whole chapter. Paul’s recommendation on life status, be it marriage or religion or slavery (with the appropriate notice that Roman slavery was quite different than modern slavery,) is that we prioritize our relationship with Christ over all else. Our focus is to be obedient to Jesus and let the rest work itself out in due time.
Turning to 1 Corinthians 7:17 as a focal point for this chapter, let us move forward with this idea. Paul says that each person should walk in the way they were when they were called, or saved. This summary is then applied to religious heritage, taking note of circumcision and Jewish heritage. Paul reminds the Corinthians that, honestly, they could not choose whether or not they were circumcised, so why stress about it now?
The same principle is applied to slavery. Now, here again, we need to take note that most of the Roman world’s slavery was quite different than modern-day slavery (or the “Enlightenment Era” slavery we see in history books, either). It was common and slaves did, generally, have some rights and protections. Even so, Paul notes that slaves should take the opportunity for freedom if it was there. But if not, then to focus on serving the Lord. Again, many who were slaves did not have the choice.
By extension, we can connect this to the marriage discussion. The ancient world did not, usually, pick spouses for love and fun. Parents made choices for their children, and that was that. So, for those who were caught in the obligations of their families and society, Paul presents this: go ahead and marry, because you have bigger issues in glorifying God in all of life. But, if you want a different direction and can handle the strain, then set aside those obligations and walk with Christ.
Well, practically, a few basic ideas come through.
First, you cannot do anything about what you once were. Your birth, your heritage, your nationality, all of these were beyond your choices. There were also choices that you made up until now. You cannot change those. So deal with them and build from them. If God’s grace is enough (and it is….), then pick up and move forward.
Second, do not try to be what you are not—serve God as you are, not as that “other” person. Let me sound racist for a moment: I cannot identify with the experience of being an African-American in America. I’m a white guy. A Southern white guy. While the greatest factor in my identity is who Jesus is making me, I cannot escape being a white guy who grew up watching the Dukes of Hazard and still loves that TV show. (Don’t ask about the movie aberration.) While I can be open and welcoming, I do no one any good by faking myself as anything but what I actually am. The kingdom of God is served well by the unity of diverse peoples, not by homogeny and blandness.
Third, recognize marriage for what it is: a valuable relationship intended to help one another grow in Christ. I need my wife—not just for the “rights” mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:3 (though that is a vital part of marriage)—but for the mutual help and support inherent in our partnership. Marriage should be entered with our walk with Christ in view, but it is not absolutely necessary for it. Your marriage can be the way God works in the life of an unsaved spouse and children—but you should be very hesitant to enter a marriage for that purpose.
I’ll give you the traditional Baptist view of 1 Corinthians 7:12-16, which I leaned toward above. It is not that the presence of Christian family member saves, but that the believer may just influence the lost to salvation.
Further, there are some other arguments to be had from here: does 1 Corinthians 7:7 mean Paul was unmarried? For a religious leader of Israel, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee, he would have been in the minority to be unmarried. But maybe so….
Should we marry? I think we should—but it is always with the Kingdom of God in mind.