Domestic Problems in the Church Today
1 Corinthians 7
Among the greatest problems faced by the Church has been maintaining proper domestic relations. It touches every family. We are all somehow involved with home, children, or family relationships—no one is an entity unto himself. Every generation of the Church of Jesus Christ has had to deal with problems concerning these important areas.
Today there are many differing views held with regard to marriage, divorce, and remarriage. We live in a society that has lost its way. Anything goes. Many couples are living together without the benefit of marriage vows, and marriage commitments made are often regarded very lightly. We live in the midst of a hedonistic, secular society. It is a sad commentary, but the effects of this society have swept into our churches like a flood. Men of God are constantly pressured to back away from the biblical standards. There are broken homes, hurting people, and confused children even in our strongest churches. We ask ourselves, What will happen with the next generation of Christians? Has the Church ever faced similar problems? The Corinthian church had serious domestic problems, as we do today. Then, as now, marriage and the home should have been the strength of the church.
The Certainty of Paul’s Terminology
Upon first reading 1 Corinthians 7, the terminology used by the apostle could seem confusing. Some verses give the impression that Paul was not completely sure of himself: “I speak this by permission” (v. 6); “I command, yet not I, but the Lord” (v. 10); “But to the rest speak I, not the Lord” (v. 12); “I have no commandment of the Lord; yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful” (v. 25); and “after my judgment” (v. 40). First Corinthians 7 is the only instance in all of Paul’s epistles where he wrote like this.
Perhaps so, but there is a simple explanation. There were certain principles and areas of life that Jesus Christ specifically addressed verbally while on earth. Concerning those issues, Paul simply stated that he had a commandment of the Lord. On other matters, which were not specifically addressed by Jesus, Paul said he did not have a commandment from the Lord.
Does this mean that Paul was not certain these thoughts were from the Lord? No, not at all. Paul was an inspired writer of Scripture, and everything he wrote is truth. However, if he did not have a directive spoken by Jesus while He was on the earth, he said so. Consequently, everything Paul wrote is inspired, whether Jesus said it first or the Holy Spirit inspired it. So, then, there is no problem. What Paul wrote is the Word of God.
Domestic Life in Corinth
As we have previously seen, Corinth was a wicked, perverted city. Illicit sex was a way of life, an integral part of their pagan religion. When a citizen of Corinth trusted Christ, he came from this unsavory background. The domestic life-style of the ordinary Corinthian was far from a New Testament Church member.
The Context of the Chapter
Paul had established an important principle in chapter 6: “What? Know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom ye have of God, and ye are not your own? For ye are bought with a price; therefore, glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Cor. 6:19–20).
This principle laid the foundation for most of the remainder of 1 Corinthians. It is the foundation of Christian marriage (chapter 7), Christian duty (chapters 8–10), and Church order (chapters 11–14). The body of the child of God belongs to the Lord and not to the individual; therefore, God should be honored in every aspect of life, including marriage.
Paul had received a letter from someone in the Corinthian church (v. 1), and he answered the questions posed in that letter in chapter 7. The Corinthians probably did not expect such a long response to the correspondence, but Paul felt this was a major issue, especially in light of the city from which the communication came.
The Celibacy Question (vv. 1–9)
Paul stated at the outset that he was not opposed to marriage, as some would have us believe. In his epistle to Timothy he spoke out against those who forbid this holy union. Furthermore, 1 Corinthians 7 was not an attempt to teach the entire doctrine of marriage. That is found in Paul’s other epistles. He was, rather, answering questions contained in the letter he had received from the church at Corinth.
In verses 1 and 2 he made it clear that a person should have only his or her own spouse. Paul completely ruled out extramarital relationships (i.e., polygamy, homosexuality, lesbianism, etc.). Regardless of what the world, or even other Christians, may say or practice, a sexual relationship is only to be practiced within the bonds of marriage. To avoid fornication, a man should have his own wife.
Also, another view had apparently developed in the Corinthian church in response to the immorality of that city. Some argued an extreme opposite position, holding that even in marriage the partners should abstain from physical contact with each other. They were advocating the practice of celibacy while married. Paul pointed out that while celibacy is good for some, it is not to be practiced by married couples.
Paul then gave some practical rules for conduct within the marriage bond. A husband and wife have mutual obligations to one another: “Let the husband render unto the wife her due; and likewise also, the wife unto the husband” (v. 3). There must be agreement, reciprocity, and equality in the marriage relationship.
However, the inspired penman did allow for the possibility of abstention, by mutual consent and for an agreed period of time, to be alone with the Lord. In no way, however, did the Lord desire this period of abstention to cause fornication due to a lack of self-control.
Paul wished that all could be celibate as he was, but he knew that this was unrealistic. Rather than men and women burning in their passion toward each other, it was better to be married. He addressed this to the unmarried as well as to widows.
To summarize this first major section, Paul established that a sexual relationship is a natural part of marriage. There should be normal relations between a husband and wife, and Paul admonished that nothing should be done to cause a partner to fall back into the old ways of the culture of Corinth.
Continuation or Not? (vv. 10–24)
Paul moved on to another area. While pagans condoned fornication, they did allow divorce freely. The Jewish practice of divorce had also become quite liberal, favoring the husband. He could divorce his wife, and she had little to say in the matter. Also, many marriages in that time and culture were contracted by parents, and there was little or no affection between the spouses. Additionally, many had trusted Christ and consequently found themselves married to pagan partners. The resulting problems regarding divorce and remarriage were probably more complex than today.
First Paul dealt with Christians married to Christians: “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” (vv. 10–11). Paul gave no cause for divorce, in accordance with Matthew 5:32. When marital problems developed between two believers, reconciliation was to be sought, not divorce. Marriage was a permanent thing.
Next Paul dealt with the problem of a believer married to an unbeliever. If they were able to continue in the marriage, that was desirable. Divorce was not the answer. But now children enter the picture; and unfortunately the lives of many, many children have been ruined by broken marriages. The unbelieving partner is sanctified, or set apart, by the believer, as are their children (v. 14). Paul argued that perhaps through the testimony of the believer the spouse and/or their children would be saved. If at all possible, the marriage should remain intact for the sake of the unbelieving spouse and their children. If the unbeliever did depart, however, the believer should let him go. His suit for divorce should not be denied.
Conclusions About the Single State
Next Paul dealt with a person’s marital status as it relates to his ministry for the Lord, addressing single men and single women. He first spoke of a soon coming time of persecution or distress; then he dealt with service for the Lord in light of Christ’s imminent return; and he finally developed the concept that people who are unencumbered by marital ties are more free to do the Lord’s work than those who are married and have responsibilities to their spouses and families.
Regarding the “present distress” (v. 26) of which Paul spoke, this could have been a difficulty peculiar to the Corinthian church or to the persecution the church was soon to face (this is also addressed in the Book of Hebrews). Paul assured the believers that these problems would come and that they could better face them if they were single. However, if they were already married, they were not to break their existing marriage vows (v. 27). Even if a single person did marry, it was not to be construed as sin, but it would mean added responsibilities and difficulties when the time of distress comes.
The second point Paul addressed was that “time is short” (v. 29). This phrase speaks of the imminent return of Jesus Christ. Paul encouraged single people to refrain from marrying because of the nearness of His return, which would necessitate people giving themselves wholly to the Lord’s work and serving Him with singleness of heart. To fully serve the Lord requires a person’s undivided attention.
Third, Paul stated that a single person has fewer encumbrances and distractions in his service for the Lord. In our churches today, we seem to have almost lost that type of devotion. Instead of living the simple life, our life-styles have become so complex that very few people are able to give themselves wholly to the Lord—and now we are much closer to His return than when Paul penned 1 Corinthians.
To recapitulate, Paul held marriage in the highest esteem. He stated that marriage is to last as long as both partners live (v. 39). When two people are joined in marriage, they should give freely of themselves to each other, except for brief periods of time to pray, and that only with mutual consent. For a believer, marriage should only be to another believer (v. 39b). Regardless of whether a person is married or single, there is a great obligation to serve the Lord.
We would do well today to heed the challenge of the Apostle Paul to the church at Corinth. Are we glorifying God in our lives, our homes, and our family life?