Lesson 25: "It is Better to Marry Than to Burn" (I Corinthians 7:9)
I Corinthians 7:1-11
Paul's Missionary Journey Epistles. This is lesson #25. Turn to chapter seven! We want to read the first half of the first verse. Have you got it? "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me..." Paul points out in this verse that the things written up to this point in this epistle concerned what he had learned through the house of Chloe and through the common reports of others. However, at this point; it would appear that Paul began to answer a set of questions that were delivered to him from the Corinthian congregation, probably delivered by the three men mentioned in I Cor. 16:17; Obviously the first question on that list (or at least the order Paul began to answer) had to do with marriage and marriage problems at Corinth. To have a set of questions without answers can be very baffling; but, to have the answers without the questions as we do here in chapter seven leaves something to be desired also. It leaves us guessing exactly what the questions were. Not all the questions had to do with marriage, as we shall see in future chapters. Marriage is a controversial subject in itself; even if we had all of the questions and all of the answers; frankly, I admit to you that this chapter (ch. 7) leaves me a little like Paul described himself when he was with the Corinthians. He said back in 2:3, "I was with you in weakness, and in fear, and in much trembling." Well, I certainly feel my inadequacies with reference to this chapter. Someone has said (jokingly), that if a preacher wants to avoid controversy: just simply never try to teach I Cor. Ch. 7 or Rev. ch. 20. You can see, my time has come. My friends, I'll simply do my best to keep it as simple as I can. The problem is not really that it is such a complicated subject. The problem is complicated largely by so many theories, opinions and interpretations floating around on this subject. A few places, some arguments hinge upon Greek words and, of course, I have told you before: I don't know Greek; we're going to simply take the common sense approach. The Bible was written for the common man. The Bible was not written for a few exclusive Greek students; but, the different versions they have created all have their impact here. So, because of the things that have already been said; in addition to the fact that this is a long chapter; let's get it going.
Let's try to work with small blocks; so, we'll read the first seven verses. V.I-7, I Cor. Ch. 7, are you ready? Let's read. Beginning in v.l, "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that."
Alright, let's do a rehash. You will remember the KJV does not use quotation marks; but, a quotation simply begins with a capital letter. Thus, you can see that the last part of v. 1, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman" is set apart in this way. Thus, I would infer the statement we just read, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman" is Paul's quickie answer to a question submitted by the Corinthians. Then, in v.2, apparently Paul began to comment and went over the subject in much more detail, Some have tried to anticipate the question. Naturally, any Such anticipation must be assigned to assumption question to be this: "Is marriage to be desired or avoided by Christians?" In other words, McGarvey and Pendleton think the Corinthians want to know if marriage was proper and advisable or should one abstain from marriage. I'm not sure about the question; but, I'm sure about the answer. We just read it in v. 1, "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." Then Paul admits as he begins to discuss in more detail that this is his view and is not a commandment from God (that's down in v.6); so, although Paul felt this was the best answer to their question; Paul DOES NOT try to bind his best answer exclusively upon anyone. Because, in this case, what Paul believes to be the best answer; he readily admits, is not the only answer. Now, why did Paul answer like that? Well, you're going to have to answer that question to your own satisfaction. Some think that Paul's answer applied to that time; that perhaps Paul would have answered somewhat differently in a different age; because of the persecutions the Corinthians were then facing and because of their future. You will remember Aquila and Priscilla, Paul's tent making friends that were with Paul at Ephesus undoubtedly as Paul wrote this letter, were forced out of Rome for a time because they were Jews. Certainly, the next generations after Paul wrote this were very difficult for Christians as well as Jews. The war of A. D. 70, between the Jews and the Romans was less than 15 years down the road from the time Paul wrote this. The next century or two (after that war) was a terrible time for Christians and Jews. Some think this explains Paul's view; and there are a number of statements in this chapter that would support this proposition. I'll try to call your attention to one or two of these arguments as we pass by.
Then, going to v.2, Paul said, "Nevertheless...", i.e. in spite of what has been said, "to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." It would seem Paul's number one recommendation was that they stay single, it would eliminate a lot of problems and headaches for many individuals in that generation. However, God had said at the beginning, "It is not good that the man should be alone..." Gen. 2:18, so, Paul did not forbid marriage; he did not even discourage marriage; because, it was a rightful gift of God. However, if they should marry; of course, they were to follow the rules, one man and one woman for ever. Marriage is for a lifetime and each partner must have their own spouse; no trading around. If they should marry (v. 3-4-5), they must treat their spouse properly; recognizing the reciprocal needs and rights of each other and provide for the same in a benevolent way. There should be no defrauding of each other in a sexual way (v.5); and recognizing of course that sometimes hardships arise that separate husbands and wives for long periods. Possibly health problems, economic problems, war and disaster could force them apart for a time. Even in such extreme and trying circumstances, a husband and wife must be faithful to each other and to then- marriage. Verse 6, we've talked about. V. 7, seems to me to be somewhat of a summary of the foregoing and what we have thus tried to say. In that verse, Paul restated his recommendation; but, grants that marriage is a proper gift of God.
Let's read v. 8-9. Two more verses. Are you ready? Beginning in v.8, "I say therefore to the unmarried and the widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." O.K., we must always keep in mind: to whom Paul is speaking. The first seven verses were general, I.e. to everyone. But, v 8-9 is addressed to two particular classes of people: (1) the unmarried (or single we would say) and (2) to widows, i.e. those who had been married but their spouse has since died. What was Paul's message to the single and the widows? Paul recommended they stay single like Paul himself. Whether that was because of the time and age or not; I'll let you decide; but, then Paul admits in v.10, that if incontinency proved to be a problem, I.e. that big word at the end of v.5 which means a lack of self-control or self-restraint, (of course here it is applied in a sexual way); in that case, they may need to get married. It would be better to marry than to burn, i.e. have sexual desires that continually tempt you toward fornication.
Alright, v.10-11, let's read! Here we go, v.10. "And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, let not the wife depart from her husband: but and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife." Alright, it goes without saying, Paul wrote this message to Christians; and, Paul wrote to those who were already married, i.e. husbands and wives at Corinth. Then notice, he emphasized this is the Lord's command. Marriage was and is for a lifetime. The wife must NOT depart and the husband must NOT put away his wife. In reciprocal, that means exactly the same thing. If they should be forced apart for whatever time; they must remain faithful to their marriage. Or, if they separate for whatever reason, they must remain unmarried. Now, that reason is not discussed here; so, I can't give you acceptable reasons for becoming unmarried. Whether by common consent, or because they simply can't stand each other, or for family economic reasons or for health problems or for whatever; this passage simply does not cover the reason. But, that's the rules. According to v.11, they can be reconciled at any time. Now, for all practical purpose the rules for non-Christians, are the same. God created and gave to mankind the institution of marriage. Thus, God has a right to regulate that institution he created. Many non-Christians recognize that the institution of marriage must be regulated and many (not all); but many, try to follow God's rules for marriage even though they do not become Christians and even though some refuse to become Christians; they still have foresight enough to try to follow God's marriage laws. As paradoxical as that might sound, it's true.
You would agree, I'm sure, these marriage rules for Christians are simple enough and are not hard to understand. However, I would venture to say that nine out of ten persons listening to this, who have a marriage problem, will say this does not fit their case or they still will not be satisfied after reading this. If you are a Christian married to a non-Christian than these rules were NOT intended to fit your case. Those rules begin in v.12 and we'll get back to those rules shortly. However, for Christian's that do not find the answer to your marriage question here; I would venture to say that your question does not have as much to do with marriage, as it does with re-marriage (i.e. second marriages, etc.). Now, I'm sorry; but, I must report to you that I Cor. Ch. 7 does not discuss re-marriage. Please recognize that! There's one exception in v.39. Obviously, you cannot find answers to questions that are not discussed.
In the minutes that we have left in this lesson; may I touch a few bases that might help someone. Just two or three things and that's all I'll have time for. First of all, I have discovered there is much confusion in the mind of many people as to the definition of marriage itself, as simple as that might sound. That confusion comes
primarily in trying to sort out the difference between the requirements of the state and the requirements of God. There is no marriage ceremony given in the Bible. The Bible does not require a marriage ceremony, just that simple. All God requires, in consummating a marriage, is That a man and a woman decide that they want to live together and to be man and wife and to make that commitment to each other and to God and they are married. Once they are married, naturally, they must follow God's rules given here. However, marriage ceremonies ARE a state requirement. All states and all countries are not consistent on this. Laws vary from place to place and, of course, are changed from time to time. Now, add to that knowledge this fact, the Bible DOES require Christians to abide by civil laws. (Rom. Ch. 13) Thus, Christians are obligated by God to satisfy and live by state laws that do not contradict God's law. In this case of course there is no contradiction. However, most states recognize God's law in what is usually called common law marriages, I.e. if a man and wife have lived together for a certain period of time, for example seven years, then they are considered married by that state; even if they did not previously satisfy that state's requirements; but, obviously that does not satisfy God's requirement to obey civil laws.
What about divorce? The word "divorce" has to do with a state decree; I.e. the civil law. Just remember this much! To please God you must satisfy state laws and state requirements (Rom. Ch. 13); but, to satisfy state requirements (where you live) is not the same as obeying God's marriage laws. Remember, God's laws are higher laws than state laws.
Next, what about divorce in the Christian age? An important question. Remember this first, my view or your view or somebody else's view does not count. What does the Bible say? We covered the difference between the Mosaic age and the Christian age back in the 4-Gospel course. Jesus gave his law and his law supplanted the Mosaic law sometimes called the ten commandments. If you are clear on that point; you need to read Matt. 5:31, where Jesus discussed the subject of divorce in his law. That's about all I can say.
Another passage I believe many people overlook here (in v.10) with reference to reconciliation of husband and wife is Deut. 24: 1-4. This also applies to v.12 here and further down. Because our time is short, I'll summarize. That scripture very simply forbids any person, that is married a second time, from ever, under any circumstance, going back to a former marriage partner. V.4 there says, such is an abomination before the Lord. I find some today recommending that a person must give up one marriage partner and go back to a former husband or wife. A marriage (i.e. a second marriage) may be unscriptural; I'm not arguing that point; but, it is just as unscriptural to return to a former marriage partner after you have been re-married. Read it for yourself. Someone will say, yes but Bro. Horsley, that was done away with the Mosaic law. I believe if you study the case close, that is not true; because, Jesus was making reference to that very passage in Matt. 19: 3-9. Check it out!
Finally, if one can repent and be forgiven for murder; surely they can repent and be forgiven for sins and mistakes made in marriage. The Bible teaches repentance and restoration, I John ch. 1 Our time is up, we'll get back to v. 12 in our next lesson. Have a good day.