In 1 Corinthians 7:25 Paul addresses another question that these Corinthian Christians have asked him. As we have noted throughout this study, we have to infer by the answer Paul gives as to what the issue was that the Corinthians had. Verse 25 begins, “Now concerning the virgins,” according to most translations (NASB, NRSV, NKJV, NIV, HCSB). So we might think that Paul is speaking to those who are not married. However, we remember that the apostle Paul has addressed the unmarried back in verses 8-9. There is another problem with understanding this text to simply refer to those who have never been married. In verse 27 we read, “Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free.” If this is a person who has never been married, then how would this Christian be bound to a wife? It is for this reason that we cannot understand this text to be simply referring to people who have never been married.
To solve our issue, we need to ask this question: who are people that are never married (literally “virgins”) but would be bound to a man or a woman? The answer would be those who are engaged to be married. In our world, being engaged usually means the couple is going to be married. But there are some instances where an engagement is broken off. However, in the ancient world, an engagement (betrothal) meant that you were in covenant to be married and to separate from that engagement required divorce. A betrothal was legally binding. We see this illustrated in the lives of Joseph and Mary. Remember that Mary is pregnant miraculously with Jesus. But Joseph believes that Mary has been unfaithful. Even though they were betrothed, the scripture says that Joseph was going to divorce Mary. (Matthew 1:19).
As we return to 1 Corinthians 7, the situation that makes sense is that this is a question concerning a man and a woman who are betrothed. They are legally bound to marriage, though not married yet. This is why the ESV even translates verse 25, “Now concerning the betrothed.” They are legally bound to be married but are not married yet. To no longer be betrothed would require a legal divorce.
There are two other aspects that must be considered carefully before we begin an in-depth study of Paul’s instructions. First, in verse 25 Paul says that he is not giving a command from the Lord, but is giving his judgment about the scenario they have asked about. We see Paul reiterate this at the end of this paragraph, where we read in verse 40, “Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” As we read this paragraph we will see that Paul is not binding the commands of God, but advising these Corinthians regarding these betrothal situations.
The other aspect we must notice is found in verse 26. The counsel Paul gives is due to the “present distress” (ESV, NASB, NKJV) or “impending crisis” (NRSV, NET). The Greek word can be understood as either “present” or to be “close up; at hand; impending” (Mounce’s Greek Dictionary). The way Paul speaks in the paragraph, there is a crisis and distress that is just about to come upon. Because of this coming distress, Paul’s directions must be understood in light of that circumstances. Therefore, the title of today’s lesson is Marriage During Times of Suffering, for this is the occasion for Paul to write this paragraph.
Remain As You Are (7:26-28)
The general rule Paul gives for this circumstance of this impending crisis is that everyone is to remain as they are. If you are bound, that is, betrothed to be married, then do not seek to be free from that engagement. If you are not betrothed for marriage, then do not become engaged to be married. However, Paul notes in verse 28 that it is not a sin if people do get betrothed and the betrothed do get married. But Paul wants to explain why it is not a good time for these Christians to get married.
Remaining Devoted To The Lord During Crisis (7:28-35)
The reason why Paul is concerned about them getting married with the coming crisis is because he desires to spare them of worldly troubles (7:28). Now this could be confusing for them to hear Paul say that marrying would cause worldly problems. Therefore Paul explains what he means in verse 29. The time of distress is coming and they need to be ready for upheaval. Verses 29-31 picture that life as you know if will be completely turned upside down. Everything is going to change. Whatever situation you presently have, be ready for it to change. Your attention and focus will need to be placed completely on the Lord because the present form of this world is passing away. One can safely assume that a serious persecution is going to arise against these Christians. Paul is preparing them to know that what they are able to enjoy now is not going to be the case soon when this crisis arrives. Be ready to lose it all, even spouse and wealth! Be ready for life to change dramatically.
This leads into what Paul’s concern is for them getting married. The unmarried man, during this time of crisis, will only need to worry about one thing: pleasing the Lord. When this persecution and distress hit the Christians, the only thing they need to worry about is doing as the Lord commanded them to do. However, when it comes to the married, there are many more things that would be distressing during a persecution and crisis. The married are going to be concerned about their spouses. In a time of persecution, it is much more difficult when you have to be the welfare of the one you love. For example, before I was married, I really did not care about what I ate. I just needed enough money to steam some 59 cent noodles from the store. Hot water and styrofoam noodles for dinner and I am set. But when I got married, that thinking changed. Now I need to protect her. That is my role and that is my God given duty. Now I need to care for her. Now I need to provide for her better than I provided for myself. It is different. The apostle Paul is simply observing this truth. This impending crisis would be much more difficult to endure physically and spiritually if one was married rather than single. Paul’s concern is stated in verse 35. Paul wants to secure their undivided devotion to the Lord. The impending crisis will tempt them to no longer have that undivided devotion to the Lord. Notice that Paul says in verse 35 that he is not trying to restrain them. He just is point out the fact of this temptation to have your loyalties divided under such circumstances.
Before we leave this paragraph, we should let the impact of what Paul said hit our hearts. Paul wants to ensure the Christian’s undivided devotion to the Lord, whether you are single or whether you are married. I have mentioned before my concern about a teaching that has been widely accepted by Christians and upheld as faithfulness to the Lord: focus on the family. Now, we understand that we are not to neglect our family. We are commanded by God to be husbands, wives, parents, and children properly before our God. We are given responsibilities in these various roles God has given us. But please notice that the apostle Paul’s concern is that these Christians, when the time of crisis comes, will make the mistake of focusing on the family! He is attempting to secure their undivided devotion to the Lord. Even more, consider that what could potentially divide their devotion is the marriage.
Too often we use family as the spiritual trump card for not doing something God has called us to do. We will use our family as an excuse to not maintain our full faith and undivided devotion to the Lord. We will openly say that we had family obligations that kept us from worship, helping others, teaching Bible classes, using our homes for Bible studies, or some other way that we can help and serve in the kingdom of God. As if we think that this is a good, valid excuse. Yet Jesus repeatedly taught the need to forsake family to be his disciple. The sad thing is that Paul is concerned that they will lose their undivided loyalty during the time of crisis and distress. We lose our undivided loyalty without that kind of pressure. We willingly forfeit our devotion to the Lord and think we have done well in doing so. We fail to understand that our Lord has called us to love him above all else, not along side other things and other people also. Nothing can ever come before our Lord. It is the very first commandment God gave to Israel at Mount Sinai. This is where following our Lord begins: forsaking all others.
Do Not Succumb To Sexual Immorality (7:36-38)
But Paul now offers a word of caution. While it would be better that they choose not to get married at this time because of the impending crisis, he does not want them to succumb to sexual immorality because they are waiting. Paul addressed this in the first seven verses of this chapter. Paul desires that they exercise self-control and keep each other only as betrothed, not getting married yet (7:37). But, it is not a sin if they do get married. It is certainly a sin if they are engaging in sexual relations before marriage. Consider that this couple is legally bound to each other to be married. Yet they were still not to have sexual relations until they were married. So it is not even acceptable to God to have sexual activity when you are engaged. It is easy to justify such behavior once you are engaged. But God still commands sexual purity until the couple is officially married.
Bound In Marriage For Life (7:39-40)
Paul’s final words concerning marriage are a great summary of God’s marriage law. “A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives.” Marriage is for life. Do not get divorced. When you marry, you are staying together for life. You are entering into a covenant. In the marriage covenant you are saying what you will do for your spouse, not what you will get out of the relationship. You are not committing to stay as long as you get what you want. You are in a covenant to your spouse and to God to stay until death. Death is to be the only thing that will severe the bond of marriage. The bond of marriage is to be permanent and death is to be the only thing that will end the marriage. This reminds us that there are far too many divorces going on in our land and even among those who claim to be followers of Christ. One man and one woman married for life is God’s marriage law.
When your spouse dies, you are free to marry whoever you wish, only in the Lord. We see Paul authorizing remarriage after a spouse dies because the bond of marriage dissolves in death. Paul made the same point in Romans 7:2-3. Now as we consider what Paul is instructing, we must remember our context. First, these directions in this paragraph are given in light of the impending crisis that is coming. Second, these directions are not from the Lord, but are his judgment that would be best for them during this crisis. Verse 40 reminds us that this is exactly what Paul is doing, as he says that what he is advising is the wisdom of God.
But is Paul instructing for all Christian widows to only marry Christian men? I do not believe we can make that leap with this text for a number of reasons. First, if you turn back to verse 8 in this chapter you will see the directions given to “the unmarried and widows” were that they could marry. There was no prohibition given that they could only marry another Christian. Second, when Paul gave detailed directions in 1 Timothy 5, instructing widows who were under 60 to remarry, he did not instruct them to only marry a Christian.
Therefore, “only in the Lord” means to marry another Christian but because of the impending crisis. Just like the rest of the paragraph, these directions were Paul’s wisdom of God to be applied only to that present distress situation. However, notice in verse 40 that she would be better off not marrying again because of the impending crisis. Remember that the crisis must color this text because in 1 Timothy 5 the apostle Paul commanded that widows who are under 60 years old to remarry. So this suggestion to not marry must be held in the context of the present distress coming upon them.
With this being the conclusion of Paul’s instructions for marriage, our conclusion will be to summarize the message of the scriptures regarding God’s marriage laws.
(1) You can live a single life and be pleasing to the Lord. But understand this means you will exercise self-control and remain sexually pure.
(2) Sexual relations is a right and blessing of marriage that is to not be withheld.
(3) Marriage is for life. A person is not to divorce your spouse. Divorce is a sin. Marriage is a covenant that is not to be broken.
(4) If you do divorce, you must remain unmarried or be reconciled to your former spouse. The exception to this, according to Jesus in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19, is if your spouse has committed sexual immorality. Only then can you remarry.
(5) If you remarry and the cause of the divorce was not sexual immorality, you are now committing adultery. For the adultery to stop, one must severe the sinful marriage and apply Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7: remain unmarried or be reconciled to your first spouse.
(6) If you are married to an unbeliever you are to remain in the marriage.
(7) If an unbeliever divorces the Christian for being a Christian, you must remain unmarried or be reconciled. There is no authorization for remarriage.
(8) If your spouse dies, you have the right to remarry but you are still required to follow all of God’s marriage laws.