In keeping with our Lord’s teaching, the apostle points out the advantages of the unmarried state in connection with spiritual service. There are eunuchs who “have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”, Matt. 19. 11-12. This is regarded as a definite gift from God, 1 Cor. 7. 7, and much encouragement is given to those who are able to remain single. The paramount idea in abstaining from marriage is not however to plunge into a life of self-indulgence, but to be more totally consecrated to the Lord’s service. “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord”, vv. 32, 34. Widows are included in this category, v. 40. Do many believers who are free from the marriage union consecrate their leisure time to the things pleasing God? It seems a pity that because a certain religious organisation has imposed celibacy on multitudes of its militants the very idea has so little favour among true believers.
The case of an unmarried brother who eventually feels he should marry is treated in verses 36-39. Whether the reference in these is to the man’s own state of celibacy or to the person of his fiancee, the apostle stresses once again the superiority of the unmarried state, where such a condition is possible. The time is short and there is much to be done in the service of the Master. The passage is more easily understood if one accepts the reference to be to the celibacy of the man, though the words, “let them marry”, of verse 36 would be more easily accounted for if the man and his betrothed were in view.
But, urges Paul, if this special gift of remaining single yet leading a life free of constant desire is not evident, then the pathway of marriage is clearly indicated, v. 9. Monogamy is insisted upon. The definite obligations of the married couple towards each other are underlined, and all traces of selfishness must be banished from the thoughts of husband and wife. In this connection Peter’s counsel is most helpful: “Likewise, ye husbands, dwell with them according to knowledge, giving honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel, and as being heirs together of the grace of life”, 1 Pet. 3. 7. Special abstinence is envisaged, however, during periods of spiritual exercise and prayer.
It is difficult for us to realise just how salutary the teaching of this chapter must have been in a cesspool of iniquity like Corinth. There are special dangers in our own times however. The majority set aside the healthy morality of the Word of God and undue provocation of physical desires has led to a low conception of marriage, loose living and broken homes. In such surroundings our only resource is in our God and the Word of His grace; moreover, much of the balanced home life we enjoy is derived directly from this chapter. One thing to note in passing is Paul’s reference to definite teaching given by the Lord, v. 10, as distinct from that given by the apostle, v. 12. Here, there is no doubt being cast on the inspiration of the Epistle. The Lord Jesus gave definite teaching while on earth concerning marriage, Matt. 19. 4-6, but not specifically in regard to the Corinthians’ question answered in verses 12-17.
Often, as unsaved couples hear the Gospel message, either the husband or the wife accepts Christ. The question raised was as to the advisability of the one leaving the other because of the new found faith. There is no question of divorce, but separation between the two may arise, the initiative being taken only by the unsaved partner, v. 15. How contrary to this apostolic teaching are recent human edicts in certain circles?
The sanctifying influence of the Christian in the home where one of the partners is unsaved, both on the unconverted husband or wife and on the children, is no doubt exercised through the constant intercession and faithful witness to Christ as Lord and Saviour, both by life and, when possible, by word of mouth. Set apart in this way from pagan customs in a measure, there was a great possibility of their trusting Christ as Saviour. Young believers envisaging marriage with an unbeliever should not try to justify such an action by verse 16. The plain command to them is in 2 Corinthians 6. 14, “Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers”. There is a complete difference between the position of the Christian who is unequally yoked because of post-marital conversion, and the believer who entered into such a contract with a clear knowledge of the gravity of such a course.
The summing-up of all that is dealt with in this chapter occurs in verses 29 to 31, and these verses should be read over and over again. Dominated or dominating? The words of 6. 12 re-echo: “All things are lawful unto me, but all things are not expedient … I will not be brought under the power of any”. Time is short, and the only thing that really matters in life is the doing of the will of God, 1 John 2.17. Witnessing for Christ in the world and working for the edification of the assembly in the full meaning of the term are priorities in Christian service. Some young couples, enthusiastically engaged in serving the Lord before marriage, have become totally ineffective because of their enslaved condition to the world of materialism and to the flesh after marriage. While the ideal condition of celibacy that allows full freedom and consecration to the Lord’s service is underlined, the counsel given to the married is: it remaineth, that they that have wives be as though they had none, 1 Cor. 7. 29. Where the claims of Christ are manifest, all others are subsidiary. Perhaps even more topical and more difficult to obey is, “they that buy, as though they possessed not”! Materialism, like a malignant cancer, is eating at the vitals of local and world-wide witness of the people of God. Dominated or dominating – how is it with us? Are we using the legitimate things of this world to the glory of God or prostituting them to the cause of self-aggrandizement and mere carnal satisfaction?
In worldly religion, observances may be in a watertight compartment, divorced entirely from the apparent ordinary things of everyday life. This Epistle teaches the contrary. Allegiance to Christ implicates every phase of the disciple’s life. Any other form of Christianity is bound to prove an enormous disappointment. “You are bought with a price: therefore glorify God”, 6. 20; “You are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men”, 7. 23.
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