Studies in First Corinthians
by Bob Burridge ©2017
Lesson 16: 1 Corinthians 7:1-9 (ESV)
Why Is There Marriage?
The family is one of the the strongest human influences in a person’s life. Though there are exceptions and other factors, much of what we are is shaped by those around us. There’s an old saying, “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”
During my 12 years of full-time teaching, I held many parent-teacher conferences. But before the moms and dads came in, I got to know the students pretty well. Having come to know the “apples”, it was always interesting to meet the “trees”. In most cases, it wasn’t hard to see why the child behaved as he did.
If the student had a habit of interrupting others, the parents would usually do the same. If the student was quiet, at least one parent usually had to be prompted to say things. If a student was a gregarious talker, in most cases at least one parent was too. The student who had a chip on his shoulder usually inherited it. And most often those who were very caring and thoughtful, had parents who were regular volunteers who helped out at school. It’s not surprising that the examples the children grew up around, shaped what they became.
The home has a strong influence on shaping the lives of all who live in it.
God designed the family. He planned it from all eternity to be part of how he would execute his providence. The family’s importance isn’t accidental or a product of social evolution. It was planned by our Creator to influence us in exactly the way it does. Of course in our fallen world there are no perfect families. That’s because they are made up of imperfect people.
Each new family unit begins with a marriage. Agreeing to marry someone is a very serious decision. It should not be based on the emotions of a romantic moment, or dreams of a memorable wedding. It’s important to consider how the person you marry will shape your spiritual life, and the lives of your children.
In the home you build together, daily attitudes and life long values and habits are going to be formed. God will either be honored or neglected. It will be the foundation your children build their lives upon. This is why so much of the Bible is taken up with principles for good families.
But fallen human cultures tend to drift away from God’s ways. Today we can see how good family foundations are being challenged. There is confusion about the roles of men and women in society and in the home. When the divisions of duties God established are mixed up so is the home and the lives that live there. Marriage itself is given a different meaning than what God made it to be. Often it’s treated as an optional and temporary romantic arrangement instead of a divinely established bond between one man and one woman for life. And homes are often fragmented. Instead of quality family time together, individual family members get busy separately and don’t have much time for one another.
For these reasons, families based on sound biblical principles are becoming increasingly rare.
He starts out in verse 1 saying,
1. Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: …
In the first 6 chapters he was dealing with reports he received about the problems there. Now he turns to the specific issues the church had written him about. But since it’s the same church, he’s going to deal with the same issues and problems as in the first 6 chapters. Now he approaches them in a different way to help the Corinthians in more detail with these issues.
From Paul’s answers here we can know what they asked about.
The sexual looseness of Corinth surrounded them with temptations. Some just accepted the immoral life-style of their culture and saw nothing wrong with it. Others over-reacted to that looseness by promoting asceticism. They would totally abstained from marriage, or from normal relations within marriage.
Both extremes are dangerous and sinful. The loose view openly promotes immorality. The overly strict view denies what God provides for satisfying our human desires. When people deny the right way of fulfilling their needs they are easily drawn into wrong ways of dealing with them.
Chapter 24 of the Westminster Confession summarizes what the Bible says about the purposes of marriage: The first section is a basic definition. It’s fitting to consider with so much debate on this today:
I. Marriage is to be between one man and one woman: neither is it lawful for any man to have more than one wife, nor for any woman to have more than one husband, at the same time. (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:46-, Romans 7:3, Proverbs 2:17)
The second section is about the purposes God intended in marriage:
II. Marriage was ordained for the mutual help of husband and wife, for the increase of mankind with legitimate issue, and of the church with an holy seed; and for preventing of uncleanness. (Genesis 1:28, 2:18, 9:1, Ephesians 5:28, 1 Peter 3:7, Malachi 2:15, 1 Corinthians 7:2,9)
These three purposes are vital for a healthy world, happy individuals, and a thriving church.
1. God established marriage so that each would have a helper suited for his or her needs.
2. Married couples are to produce godly children to populate his church and influence the world.
3. Marriage satisfies our physical needs to avoid unclean, immoral behaviors. This last purpose was a serious problem in Corinth, as it is in our culture today.
helps us with our moral discipline.
1. … “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”
2. But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.
The two extremes are directly dealt with in these first two verses.
First: the single life should not be dismissed. It can be a good way to live. The expression, “to have sexual relations” is just one word, “haptomai” (ἅπτομαι). The word means, “to touch, take hold, attach self to, engage in some relationship”. The NASB more literally translates it, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” The expression “to touch a woman” was at that time a modest way to refer to intimate sexual contact.
The expression “temptation to sexual immorality” is also just one word in the original Greek text. It is “porneia” (πορνεία) and it appears with the definite article. Again the NASB translates it more literally as, “But because of immoralities.”
Paul is explaining that no one should think it’s bad for a person to remain unmarried. It’s a good thing for those able to live morally as a single person. But he does not say it’s the only good way to live, nor that it’s the best way for everyone to live. The ascetics who abstained from all physical desires had gone to an extreme.
The second point is: for those unable to live morally as singles, God established marriage. Marriage is the more common way for God’s people to live. Not all are able or called to remain single.
Before sin entered the human race at Creation, God instituted marriage as a good thing. Genesis 2:18, “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.’ ”
In Matthew 19 Jesus defined marriage as one man and one woman covenanted to be together as one flesh for life. Matthew 19:5-6, “and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.’ ”
This is the way God provides for us to help and encourage one another as spouses, for children to be conceived, and for our normal physical desires to be satisfied in a moral way.
In 1 Timothy 4:3 Paul includes in his list of dangers, those “who forbid marriage”. Then in the next two verses (4-5) Paul warns saying, “For everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, for it is made holy by the word of God and prayer.”
His point is very simple: Being single is good as long as the person isn’t sexually tempted. But Marriage is good too, and its the more common way God calls people to live. Therefore Hebrews 13:4 says, “Let marriage be held in honor among all, and let the marriage bed be undefiled, for God will judge the sexually immoral and adulterous.”
There is a danger when marriage is diminished from what God instituted it to be. When it’s called “sin” by the ascetics, physical urges burn within and lead to immoralities. When human urges are openly satisfied outside of marriage God’s order is horribly disrupted.
The word for immoralities here is “porneia” (πορνεία), that general term for sexual immorality. For this reason, when there is temptation, each person should have his own spouse.
for the moral health of the other partner.
3. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband.
4. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
5. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
NASB 3. “Let the husband fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband.”
The words “conjugal rights” or “fulfill his duty” are interpretive. Literally the words mean, the “due” or “deserved”, “kindness” or “benevolence”. It seems to be an euphemistic idiom for sexual needs. The context here makes it clear that this is what Paul is addressing.
This section deals with the often confused roles of husbands and wives. We are used to thinking that each person is only responsible for his own thoughts and conduct. But here we see again that this is not a biblical principle. The husband is required to satisfy his wife’s physical needs in marriage, and the wife is responsible for satisfying her husband’s needs. However, this does not contradict the headship of the husband in the home.
The details are better covered in a study of Ephesians 5. There wives are told to be in subjection to their husbands as the church is to Jesus Christ. And the husbands are told to be the head over the wife as Christ is to his church. Therefore this headship and subjection are not absolutes that cover everything.
The husband is head of the wife in the same way our Lord loves and leads his church. It says, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,” This headship is motivated by love and for sacrificially meeting her needs. It’s not for taking advantage of her for his own comfort as if she was the husband’s servant.
The perversion of this idea has often confused the whole issue. The subjection of the wife to the husband doesn’t mean she is less important or valuable. It’s compared in Scripture with the way Jesus carries out the will of God the Father. Though in subjection to the Father’s will, God the Son is not lesser than the Father.
It’s a headship that takes responsibility for the other’s well being and spiritual growth. It’s a subjection the recognizes that God-given duties of the husband, and supports him lovingly.
The Bible also clearly spells out different duties for the two in the home: The wife is responsible for seeing that the domestic needs of the family are met. The husband is held responsible as the provider, protector, and spiritual leader. But here in 1 Corinthians we see that each is also responsible to satisfy the other’s physical desires.
Both asceticism and libertinism contradict the nature of God’s institution of marriage. They both eliminate the way God designed for our physical desires to be satisfied. These paves the way for sexual perversions and for temptations to commit fornication.
There is one exception only. The married couple might decide to abstain for a time, but for only one reason. If they agree on a temporary short time of abstaining it should be for focusing their hearts on the Lord in prayer. But to avoid temptation, they should come together again before very long.
6. Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.
7. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
Paul again uses himself as an example. He wishes that all men were as he is. This is sometimes confused as if Paul demeans marriage and recommends celibacy to all. The context here, and in everything else Paul wrote, suggests a very different interpretation.
He wishes that all people were as able to obey God’s moral principles as he is by God’s grace. Paul was able to control his sexual desires without sin. Though he was able to do this while remaining single, those married must do the same: control their desires within the bond of marriage. God has gifted us all differently so we should honor whatever calling is ours. We will see more on this later in this chapter.
to those who are single.
8. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am.
9. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
For those who aren’t married, either singles or widows, he tells them it’s OK if they stay as they are. That’s how God in his providence had made them for the moment.
But if they are unable to resist temptation, they should get married. The last part of verse 9 means that getting married is better than to burn with desire. If the single person lacks the self-control needed to stay within God’s moral principles, then marriage is a better solution than to struggle morally.
If we are to be light to the world and salt to the earth, we need to promote godly homes.
That part begins with our own families and marriages. God’s principles must be followed and appreciated. They are his loving word to his children.
But we need to do more than just that. We are commanded to promote these truths to others. We should elect leaders committed to God’s moral truths, and pray regularly for those elected and appointed. We should never be tempted to give our vote in exchange for political promises of an easier life, or for others to be made to pay our way.
We should promote God’s ways where we live and work. We should preserve the institution of marriage and resist temptations to impurity. If you’re married, be faithful to and care for your spouse as a great treasure. If you’re single, don’t engage in things that will tempt you into immorality. Decisions about marriage and family should not be made based on what seems most comfortable or appealing to us, but by what God has instructed us in his word. Marriage is a sacred union, designed to teach us about our relationship with Jesus Christ. If we damage that order we obscure the message of the gospel that brings life.
(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)