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
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
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
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.