To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife.
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. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him. 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. 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. 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 (ESV)
Life is messy but God is good. Blessed is the man who puts his trust in Him. Sometimes Christians imagine that the ideal Christian life would be one without all the distractions and pains of this world. Yet, the LORD has chosen to place us right in the midst of the world’s struggles so we can show what it is like to live as His people in the midst of these struggles. Today’s passage deals with three very practical situations where life can get messy.
- First, Paul addresses widowers and widows. That might not be immediately clear from the term “unmarried” in verse 8 which can be used both of widowers and those who have never been married. Yet, there are two good reasons to take this expression to mean widowers: (1) Paul will go on to specifically address those who have never been married in verse 24 and following; and (2) The pattern of parallelisms throughout this chapter suggests that “unmarried” is the male counterpart to widows and hence refers to “widowers”. It is important to see both the realistic way in which Paul addresses the sexual desires of some widows/widowers and the high esteem in which Paul holds the single life. Much of the evangelical church in North America treats adult singles as though they were some sort of second class citizens of the Kingdom of God. This is not the biblical view at all.
- Second, Paul addresses Christians who are married to one another. Again, this might not be immediately obvious but it becomes clear when we see that verse 12 and following address the Christian who is married to a non-Christian as “and to the rest”. Paul’s basic principle is that Christians should not ordinarily separate from or divorce one-another. Having been entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:17-19) Christians ought to begin by being reconciled to one another. This work of reconciliation can be hard and painful work. What else would we expect when we consider the pattern that we have in Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
- Third, Paul addresses the challenging situation of Christians being married to unbelievers. Apparently, at least some in Corinth were suggesting that Christians should separate from unbelievers on the grounds that this relationship was defiling to the believer. Paul says they have it all backwards. Rather than the unbeliever making the believer unclean, the unbelieving spouse along with the couple’s children are set aside as being holy in God’s sight because of the presence of the believer in the marriage. This doesn’t mean that such a relationship would be without significant struggles and pain. Yet Paul does not flinch from calling those in this circumstance to the imitation of Christ. Perhaps God will use the believing spouse to bring about the salvation of the other. Isn’t suffering for the salvation of others precisely what Christ chose to do?
MEMORY WORK – Shorter Catechism Q/A 106
Q. 106. What do we pray for in the sixth petition?
A. In the sixth petition, which is, And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil, we pray that God would either keep us from being tempted to sin, or support and deliver us when we are tempted.