Summary: In our lesson today, Paul sets down several guidelines for marriage.
We continue our study in The First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians in a series I am calling Challenges Christians Face.
One of the challenges that Christians face is the issue of marriage. Let’s learn about this in a message I am calling, “Guidelines for Marriage.”
Let’s read 1 Corinthians 7:8-16:
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.
10 To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband 11 (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
12 To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. 13 If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. 15 But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. 16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? (1 Corinthians 7:8-16)
Have you ever stuck out like a sore thumb?
Commentator Richard Pratt tells the story of a pastor and his wife who found themselves sticking out like a sore thumb.
They had just moved from Dallas, Texas, to a small city in the South. When they first arrived, a kind family hosted a reception for the new pastor and his wife. The invitations read, “Come to our house and meet our new pastor.” At the bottom of the invitation the instructions were written: “Dress—Casual.”
“That’s great,” the pastor thought to himself. He had been in a coat and tie all week. Now he had a chance to dress like he did in Dallas. He and his wife wore blue jeans, snakeskin jackets, and big cowboy hats. That was how they dressed casually in Dallas.
But when the hostess of the reception opened the door, they learned something very quickly. She appeared in an evening gown and her husband stepped out in a suit and tie. Dressing casually in this town meant something slightly less than a tuxedo.
That evening the new pastor and his wife felt like they stuck out like a sore thumb. Everyone looked at them and rolled their eyes. As they shook hands, everyone tried hard to look straight in their eyes and not to look at their inappropriate clothing.
“It was a nightmare,” the wife said. “I’m still embarrassed when I see those people.”
As western culture continues to change by moving away from its Christian roots, Christians are going to feel like that new couple in town. In many ways, our lifestyles will seem increasingly odd and old-fashioned. This is especially true in the Christian practice of marriage. As Christians commit themselves to observing what Paul said in this chapter about marriage, we will stand out from the crowd. We will stick out like a sore thumb.
The Corinthian church struggled with issue of marriage. They wrote to Paul wanting to know what they were to do. Chapter 7 of 1 Corinthians is Paul’s answer to the various concerns that were raised about marriage.
In our lesson today, Paul sets down several guidelines for marriage. They are:
1. Guidelines for single Christians (7:8-9)
2. Guidelines for Christians married to Christians (7:10-11)
3. Guidelines for Christians married to non-Christians who want to stay married (7:12-14)
4. Guidelines for Christians married to non-Christians who do not want to stay married (7:15-16)
I. Guidelines for Single Christians (7:8-9)
First, note the guidelines for single Christians.
Paul addressed his letter in verse 8a: “To the unmarried and the widows. . . .”
These are two categories of single people. In verse 25 he also mentioned a third category: “the betrothed” (also called “virgins” in many Bible versions). Knowing the distinction between these three categories is important in understanding this passage.
“The betrothed” (parthenon) in verse 25 clearly refers to single people who have never been married.
“The widows” (cherais) in verse 8a refers to single people whose spouses had died.
But who are “the unmarried” in verse 8a? The word Paul used for “the unmarried” (agamois) is used only four times in the New Testament, and all four are here in this chapter. Clearly the unmarried are not single people who have never been married because Paul addressed them in verse 25. And since Paul addressed “the unmarried and the widows” in this verse, we can conclude that the unmarried are not widows. The best way to understand who Paul is referring to is by looking at the word in verses 10 and 11, where Paul said, “. . . the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried. . .).” The word “unmarried” there refers to a divorced woman. So, “the unmarried” in verse 8a are divorced people who are now single.