Summary: We are in a very unique portion of Scripture in this seventh chapter of I Cor. We are not dealing here with absolute issues of right and wrong. We are dealing with issues that are very complex, and where the question is not, what is right or wrong, but what is the best under the circumstances.

Bruce Larson in Dare To Live Now, tells of his experience as a new recruit during World War

II. He sat down to his first breakfast in the mess hall, at Fort Benning, Georgia. He saw something

in a large bowl that looked like cream of wheat. He scooped out a lot of it into his bowl, and poured

milk and sugar on it. A tall mountain boy sitting across the table from him was bug-eyed, and he

asked, "Is that the way you eat grits?" Larson says, as a Chicago boy he heard of grits, but never had

seen any. He did not want to admit his ignorance, so he said, "Yes, this is how we eat them in

Chicago." It was awful tasting, but he manage to down the whole bowl. He learned that they were

meant to be eaten with butter, salt, and pepper. Some days later the same soldier sat at his table, and

he ate another bowl of grits with milk and sugar, rather than admit he had made a mistake.

Had he admitted his mistake, he would not have needed to sin, by telling a lie. Human nature

hates to admit to mistakes. We all freely admit that nobody is perfect, but we hesitate to exhibit

ourselves as proof of the rule. But the fact is, mistakes are distinct from sin. This means, not

everything that we do that may be unwise, is a sin. It is not necessarily a violation of God's

commands or will.

Paul makes it clear in verse 28 that if the Corinthians do not give heed to his

advice, they do not sin. If you don't sin by ignoring Paul, what is it? It all depends on how it turns

out. If you find you are in all the trouble he tried to spare you, then you have made a mistake. He

warned you, but you did not listen. Now you must suffer the consequences, but the fact remains, you

have not sinned. If you find you overcome all of the problems, and are very happy, and your

marriage does not hinder, but even helps, your service to God, then you have not sinned, nor even

made a mistake, but have, as we say today, lucked out. You took a risk, and you won.

We are in a very unique portion of Scripture in this seventh chapter of I Cor. We are not dealing

here with absolute issues of right and wrong. We are dealing with issues that are very complex, and

where the question is not, what is right or wrong, but what is the best under the circumstances. The

result is, the choice will not be for sin or righteousness, but for what is wise, or for what is a potential

mistake. Let's not minimize mistakes, for though they are less than sins, they do violate wisdom.

They are not necessarily less costly than sins, however. If I steal a thirty cent candy bar, I have

sinned, and I need to confess it and be forgiven, and make restitution by repaying the thirty cents.

This is not a costly sin, even though Christ had to die for that one too. But if I make a mistake, and

get married to the wrong person at the wrong time, I have not sinned at all, but that mistake may be

extremely costly.

It was no sin that someone left off a mere hyphen in the instructions fed into the guidance system

of Mariner I, but that mistake caused it to go off course into oblivion, and cost the nation two

millions dollars. Mistakes can be costly, but they can also be trivial. Like the pastor who preached

on gossip, and then closed the service with the hymn, I Love To Tell The Story. Many mistakes are

harmless, and even humorous, but they can also be horrendous. Paul takes mistakes seriously, and

that is why he offers his opinion on the matters the Corinthians struggle with. Paul is not laying

down a set of laws to guide the church for all time. He is not even telling the Corinthians they are

laws for their time. He is simply giving them his advice as to how they should conduct themselves in

the circumstances they find themselves in.

One of the biggest mistakes Christians make is that of ignoring Paul's attitude, as he gives this

advice. Most are not as wise and humble as Paul. Most tend to become legalistic, and they demand

that their advice is absolute. Paul refuses to take this attitude. He says if you ignore my advice, which

I feel is the best Spirit led decision I can come to, you do not sin. Ignoring even the best advice is not

a sin, even though it may be a great mistake. How many counselors can openly admit that their

advice is not equivalent to the Word of God? It is Paul's honesty and humility that keeps this passage

from being meaningless. If it was given as a command for all Christians, for all time, it would be

disastrous advice, preventing 2000 years of the history of Christian marriage and families, which

have been for the glory of God.

The value of this passage is in its emphasis on circumstances. Paul is saying, circumstances do

make a difference. What is wise for a Christian to do will vary with the circumstances. Changing

times demand changing approaches to life. If the times are calm and peaceful, Paul is all for

marriage and families, and living peaceably with all men. But if the times are full of danger and

tribulation, he is for detachment from the things of this life. Paul is saying, when the things of earth

are insecure, and all in a flux, and radical change rob you of all the values of this life, this is no time

to try and sink roots into the earthly. It is time to be radically non-involved with earthly values, and

totally devoted to those values which last forever.

Circumstances make a difference in the advice you give. If a young girl comes to you saying she

just met a young man two months ago, and he asked her to marry him, and she comes asking if she

should say yes, and you inquire, and learn that he is returning to Iraq to fight as a mercenary soldier

to make a quick buck, what would your answer be? I hope you would consider the circumstances,

and not treat that couple just the same as two from the same community who are going to settle down

there, where they have roots. Circumstances make a world of difference in what is wise. But if that

girl goes ahead and marries the vagabond adventurer, who goes off to make his fortune, she does not

sin, if he is a Christian. If he leaves her and gets killed, and she goes through great grief, she will

have made a painful mistake, but she will not have sinned.

Her pastor may have warned her of her risk, and the sorrow she would face, but her rejection of

that advice is not the same as rebelling against God. It may be, but it is not necessarily so, and Paul

recognizes that. Paul makes it clear beyond a shadow of a doubt, that no human advice is on the

same level as God's commands. The pope, councils, church leaders, professors, and pastors, make

many pronouncements, and give much advice on how we ought to live. Most of it is good and wise

advice, just like Paul's advice to the Corinthians, and it is aimed at preventing problems. However,

the Christian has a right to evaluate this advice; look at the risk of ignoring it, and then choose to take

that risk. If it turns out bad, and he suffers, he is not a sinner to be condemned, but a saint who has

made a costly mistake.

The point is not that it is okay to make mistakes, in contrast to sin. We have already shown that

mistakes may be worse than a sin in terms of consequences and cost. The point is, in the realm of

Christian advice, and the risk of mistakes, the Christian has to give careful consideration to the

circumstances. Is it best to be married or single? Paul does not give an absolute answer, for this

would be absurd. The answer is, it all depends on the circumstances. Is it best to remain a slave, or

gain ones freedom? It all depends on the circumstances. Later, in chapter 8, Paul deals with eating

meat offered to idols. Should a Christian do it or not? It is not an absolute matter of right or wrong.

It all depends on the circumstances.

We do not necessarily like this approach. We like things wrapped up with no loose ends. We

want all the rules of life, like the Ten Commandments, clear and absolute. But when you try and

apply all of man's wisdom and experience, like you do the Word of God, you end up with the spirit of

the Pharisees, rather than the spirit of Christ. Edna was a Christian writer who prayed for two weeks

before she sent her first manuscript to a publisher. She got her book published, and she was

convinced she had the formula for success. She began to tell other Christian writers why they failed.

Her pride was a pain to endure, but she soon got her chance to be humble. Her next book, in spite of

her formula, was rejected by six publishers, and it took two years to get it published. She was so

depressed, she almost gave up writing. She had to learn the hard way that her convictions, and even

her experiences, were not the guide for all writers. She was saying by her pride, follow my advice, or

you sin.

This is what the Pharisees were saying to Jesus. You follow our authority, and conform to our image of the Messiah, or you sin, and are worthy of death. Paul was a Pharisee, and he put many

Christians to death, because they did not obey the laws of the Pharisees. Paul knew what it was to put

human opinion on the same level with the commands of God. But here, we see the redeemed Paul

with a totally different attitude. Only God's commands are absolute. Man's wisdom and advice is to

be evaluated relative to the circumstances of life. Disobeying God is always sin, but disobeying man

may be only a mistake. You never have a right to sin, but you do have the right to risk a mistake.

Paul says do not seek marriage in the circumstances you face, but if you do marry, you do not sin. I

want to spare you the troubles you will endure, but if you chose to suffer, you are not out of the will

of God.

Paul recognizes that some Christians will prefer to take their chances, and risk the sorrows of

marriage in tough times. But he goes on to warn them not to put all of their eggs in one basket.

Don't devote your life to the good, and miss the best. Romeo and Juliet so gave themselves to

romantic love, that it became a form of idolatry. When one died, all meaning to life was gone for the

other. Paul says, the wise Christian will not put anyone on that level. In verse 29 he says something

that is easily abused and misunderstood. He says, let those who have wives live as though they had

none. There are many wives who can testify that this is one part of the Bible their husbands obey.

Paul did not mean what some practice in ignoring their wives. He is simply saying to the married

Christian, you cannot devote your life to the values of marriage and family, for all of these will soon

pass away. In the urgency of the times, you must give yourself to the values that will not pass away.

The emergency of circumstances demand that all secondary priorities be kept secondary, and the

focus of life be on the first priority, the kingdom of God. To the best of our knowledge we do not live

in the same circumstances as the Corinthians did. Nevertheless, our focus too must be on the things

of God, and not on the things of earth, even when they are precious values that we want to preserve.

If we are so devoted to life's values and joys that their loss robs us of meaning, we are not prepared

for the end of history, and the coming of Christ. We are building on an inadequate foundation. Only

the cross and Christ crucified give us values that nothing in history can take from us. Nothing can

separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. So much is relative, but here is your absolute, and

loyalty to Him is to be your primary concern as you struggle with many issues of life. You come to

Christ to receive forgiveness, and to get your priorities straight. The ideal is to avoid both sins and

mistakes, but they are not the same, and we ought not to accuse ourselves or others for sin when

mistakes are made by making wrong choices that are unwise in the circumstances.