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1 Corinthians 7:20-24; Slavery and Contentment

12/01 1 Corinthians 7:20-24 Remain As You Were Called; Slavery and Contentment; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20131201_1cor7_20-24.mp3

1Cor 7 [SBLGNT]

17 Εἰ μὴ ἑκάστῳ ὡς ἐμέρισεν ὁ κύριος, ἕκαστον ὡς κέκληκεν ὁ θεός, οὕτως περιπατείτω· καὶ οὕτως ἐν ταῖς ἐκκλησίαις πάσαις διατάσσομαι. 18 περιτετμημένος τις ἐκλήθη ; μὴ ἐπισπάσθω· ἐν ἀκροβυστίᾳ κέκληταί τις; μὴ περιτεμνέσθω. 19 ἡ περιτομὴ οὐδέν ἐστιν, καὶ ἡ ἀκροβυστία οὐδέν ἐστιν, ἀλλὰ τήρησις ἐντολῶν θεοῦ. 20 ἕκαστος ἐν τῇ κλήσει ᾗ ἐκλήθη ἐν ταύτῃ μενέτω. 21 Δοῦλος ἐκλήθης ; μή σοι μελέτω· ἀλλ’ εἰ καὶ δύνασαι ἐλεύθερος γενέσθαι, μᾶλλον χρῆσαι. 22 ὁ γὰρ ἐν κυρίῳ κληθεὶς δοῦλος ἀπελεύθερος κυρίου ἐστίν· ὁμοίως ὁ ἐλεύθερος κληθεὶς δοῦλός ἐστιν Χριστοῦ. 23 τιμῆς ἠγοράσθητε· μὴ γίνεσθε δοῦλοι ἀνθρώπων. 24 ἕκαστος ἐν ᾧ ἐκλήθη, ἀδελφοί, ἐν τούτῳ μενέτω παρὰ θεῷ.

1Cor 7 [ESV2011]

7:17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God. 20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

We find in this passage strong encouragement from the apostle to enjoy the status God has given to each one of us in Christ Jesus. These verses give the core principle that Paul applies to the different circumstances he addresses in this chapter: married, widowed, divorced, and single. In verse 17 he states the principle:

1 Corinthians 7:17 Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches.

Then in verses 18 – 19 he illustrates this principle with the racial issue of circumcision. Jews prided themselves in being God’s chosen people. Gentiles were excluded from a relationship with God unless they became Jews. But in Graeco-Roman society being a Jew could be detrimental to social advancement. Paul says that it doesn’t matter what your racial background is. God’s call cuts across all ethnic barriers. Jesus sent his disciples not only to Jerusalem and Judea, but into Samaria and to the ends of the earth to make disciples. God will bring people from every tribe and language and people and nation to worship around his throne. Racial background has no effect on one’s relationship with Jesus. In verse 20, Paul restates his guiding principle.

1 Corinthians 7:20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

And in verses 21-23 he applies this principle to the difficult social issue of slavery. Then in verse 24, he repeats the principle again.

1 Corinthians 7:24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Bondservants and Freedmen

In order to better understand this passage, we need to gain a proper understanding about the background of slavery in the Graeco-Roman world that Paul was writing to. Set aside for a moment the American and European ideas of ethnic based slavery. Slavery in the ancient world was an issue of social status. One became a slave by being on the losing side of a battle, by being born to slave parents, or by entering into a contract of slavery, often to pay off a debt. The kidnapping and sale of adults and children as slaves was illegal, but did happen. Slavery was typically not lifelong; slaves were often manumitted (or granted freedom) when they were in their early 30’s or after around seven years of service (NIGTC, p.564-5). A former slave who had been released gained the status of ‘freedman’. The status of a slave or a freedman depended greatly on whom he served as slave. Slaves were sometimes cruelly abused and mistreated, and sometimes released when they had passed their prime as a way for the owner to escape the obligations of providing for them. But it was a matter of public honor to provide well for the needs of the slave, and to reward loyal service with manumission. Some slaves were menial laborers, but a wealthy patron would often delegate great responsibility to a trusted slave to carry out business and manage affairs in his name, and that slave would be given the respect that was due their patron. When a slave was released, they continued to be indebted to their patron, owing them honor, respect, gifts, and often a set number of days’ work per week or month or year (BECNT, p.314-5). Some estimate that about one third of the population of ancient Corinth were slaves, and another third were freedmen. Freedmen took great pride in their patrons. Common tombstone inscriptions have been discovered that read (so-and-so) the freedman of (patron’s name).

Circumstances and Attitudes

Paul restates his governing principle of living the life the Lord has assigned and to which God has called in verse 20, and he now applies this principle to slavery and freedom.

1 Corinthians 7:20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Literally verse 20 reads ‘remain in the calling in which you were called’. It is not social standing that counts for anything, it is God’s call.

This is intentionally an extreme application of the principle, and it helps to clarify what he does and doesn’t mean by it. It is one thing to apply ‘each one should remain in the calling in which he was called’ to circumcision; don’t reverse the irreversible. But to say ‘if God called you as a slave, remain as a slave’ is more difficult to swallow. But he doesn’t exactly say that. He doesn’t say ‘you must remain a slave’ Instead he says ‘don’t worry about it.’ He turns our focus from the circumstance to our attitude toward the circumstance. If you are a slave, don’t let it concern you. You can be so focused on your circumstance, so controlled by an all-consuming desire to escape your situation, that you become a slave to your desire. You don’t have to become a Jew to follow Jesus, and you don’t have to become free to follow Jesus. A slave can be just as faithful a follower of Jesus as a free man can. This is radical contentment irrespective of circumstances.

This is not just talk. Paul modeled this radical contentment for us in his own life. He wrote in Philippians:

Philippians 4:11 …I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

He wrote these words from a Roman prison, probably chained to Roman guards. He did not pout and whine and complain. He was not consumed with self-pity. Instead he viewed his circumstances as ordained by God and took advantage of his situation for the glory of God and for the advance of the gospel. He writes in the beginning of the letter:

Philippians 1:12 I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel, 13 so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ. 14 And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.

Throughout the Philippian letter Paul is overflowing with joy. Joy is not contingent on circumstances; joy is fruit of the Holy Spirit, who resides in every believer. Paul views his imprisonment not as a hindrance to the gospel, but as brought about by God to advance the gospel throughout the whole Roman guard. His imprisonment has given confidence to many brothers to speak the word more boldly. Paul is content in his God-given circumstances and finds multiple reasons for joy and thanksgiving to his all-wise God. Paul gives us his recipe for contentment in Philippians 4:6.

Philippians 4:6 do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. 7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Or as Peter says it:

1 Peter 5:7 casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.

Remain as you are. Bring your concerns to God. Be content in whatever circumstance God called you.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job

We can easily apply this principle to our situation today. Often when someone becomes a follower of Jesus, they feel a strong inclination to really make their lives count for the Lord. They mistakenly think that the best way to do this is to quit their day job and go into ‘full time Christian ministry’. This is right and wrong. They definitely should seek to make their lives count for God and they should go into full time Christian ministry. But that does not require a change of occupation. Paul’s advice here is ‘remain as you are called’. Don’t quit your day job. You are called to be an ambassador for Jesus where ever you are. Are you presently serving someone? Employed by someone? Be faithful to use those relationships for the advance of the gospel and the glory of God. Are you in a position of authority over someone? A business owner or employer? Recognize that you are a slave of Jesus, you belong to Jesus, and he determines how you conduct yourself and how you relate to other people.

Make Use Of…

We could take Paul’s principle that ‘each one should remain in the condition in which he was called’ as an absolute rule in every circumstance. But Paul is not so simplistic. He adds a ‘but if’ clause; ‘but if you can gain your freedom, rather make use…’ But he leaves the sentence hanging. Make use of what? This has led to a debate among biblical scholars. Does he mean that if you have the opportunity to become free, you should rather make use of your slavery to the glory of God and remain a slave? Does he mean that if you have the opportunity to become free, you should use your new status as a freedman to bring glory to God? More likely he is allowing for the exception and turning our focus from our circumstances to our calling. If you were called by God as a slave, don’t let it concern you, serve your earthly master to the glory of God. If God opens the door to freedom, make use of that freedom for the glory of God.

Upside Down Kingdom

He finds the reason in the gospel, where the calling of God shames the wise and chooses the nothings of this world, where the first will be last and the last first.

1 Corinthians 7:22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ.

The cross of our Lord Jesus turns all social status on its head. If God called you when you were a slave, you become a freedman of the Lord. Still a slave of a human master, the Lord Jesus has become your patron and you enjoy true freedom from the power and consequences of sin, a freedom greater than any earthly liberty. You now owe your primary allegiance to Jesus. You can claim the identity of the King of kings and Lord of lords. If on the other hand God called you when you were free, you have become a slave of Christ. You have come under the control of a Master who has the absolute right to make use of you, your time and talents and resources, as he alone sees fit (Thrall, p.56). So the slave moves up in social status, and the free man moves to the bottom.

Jesus taught his disciples:

Matthew 20:25 … “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 26 It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, 28 even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

The greatest one in God’s kingdom is the one who serves others. Jesus, our example, did not come to be served but to sacrifice himself for others.

John 13:3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, 4 rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. …12 When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

Jesus

Philippians 2:6 …did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

The God who created the universe became part of his creation in order to serve us by dying in our place. Because of the cross, we who were slaves are set free from sin to live lives that bring glory to God. We who were free are now owned by Jesus.

Bought

Paul’s instruction to slaves is not to worry about it. If you can become free, use that for the glory of God. More important than your circumstances is your attitude. Your station in life does not define you. Your relation to Christ is what defines you.

He now instructs those who are free.

1 Corinthians 7:23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men.

In that culture, becoming a slave of an affluent and important patron could be a way to climb the ladder of social status. Paul warns them against the foolish wisdom of this world’s status seeking hunger. He takes them back to the cross. You were bought with a price. Jesus paid the price for your freedom at the infinite cost of his own precious blood. You are owned by the King of kings. It would be incongruent for a possession of Christ to sell himself into slavery to another master. At the end of chapter 6 in a warning against sexual immorality, he said

1 Corinthians 6:19 …You are not your own, 20 for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.

Here, in the context of social relationships, he repeats this theological truth. You were bought with a price. You are owned. You belong to Jesus. You must live consistent with your new identity in Christ.

Content in Any Relationship

1 Corinthians 7:24 So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

Paul is saying all this to illustrate his principle governing marriage, divorce, remarriage, and celibacy. His principle is ‘remain as you were called’. If you are married, you must not seek to change your status. Enjoy your marriage and use it to bring glory to God. If you are single, divorced, or widowed, take advantage of the freedoms of singleness to bring glory to God. But his illustration of slavery introduces possible exceptions to the principle. You are not required to remain in that state. Interestingly, he parallels marriage with slavery and singleness with freedom. But whatever your situation, don’t be concerned about it. More important than your circumstances is your attitude toward those circumstances. Are you bitter, frustrated, depressed, suffering from the greener grass syndrome, wishing to be on the other side of the fence? Or have you learned the secret for contentment in whatever circumstances you find yourself in? In whatever condition each was called, there let him remain, but you are not to remain there alone, in your own strength. You belong to Jesus, you are with God, and in that relationship there is ample strength. The power of the Holy Spirit is at work in you to produce the fruit of joy regardless of outward status or standing, to produce peace and confidence in your identity in Christ as belonging to him. You were bought with a price. You are a bondservant of Christ, a freedman of Christ. You are with God, and that relationship must define you.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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December 1, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

1 Corinthians 7:10-16; Marriage and Divorce

11/17 1 Corinthians 7:10-16 Marriage and Divorce; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20131117_1cor7_10-16.mp3

1Cor 7 [SBLGNT]

10 Τοῖς δὲ γεγαμηκόσινπαραγγέλλω, οὐκ ἐγὼ ἀλλὰ ὁ κύριος, γυναῖκα ἀπὸ ἀνδρὸς μὴ χωρισθῆναι —11 ἐὰν δὲ καὶ χωρισθῇ, μενέτω ἄγαμοςἢ τῷ ἀνδρὶ καταλλαγήτω — καὶ ἄνδρα γυναῖκα μὴ ἀφιέναι.12 Τοῖς δὲ λοιποῖςλέγω ἐγώ, οὐχ ὁ κύριος· εἴ τις ἀδελφὸς γυναῖκα ἔχει ἄπιστον, καὶ αὕτη συνευδοκεῖ οἰκεῖν μετ’ αὐτοῦ, μὴ ἀφιέτω αὐτήν·13 καὶ γυνὴ εἴ τις ἔχει ἄνδρα ἄπιστον, καὶ οὗτος συνευδοκεῖ οἰκεῖν μετ’ αὐτῆς, μὴ ἀφιέτω τὸν ἄνδρα.14 ἡγίασται γὰρ ὁ ἀνὴρ ὁ ἄπιστος ἐν τῇ γυναικί, καὶ ἡγίασται ἡ γυνὴ ἡ ἄπιστος ἐν τῷ ἀδελφῷ· ἐπεὶ ἄρα τὰ τέκνα ὑμῶν ἀκάθαρτά ἐστιν, νῦν δὲ ἅγιά ἐστιν.15 εἰ δὲ ὁ ἄπιστος χωρίζεται, χωριζέσθω· οὐ δεδούλωται ὁ ἀδελφὸς ἢ ἡ ἀδελφὴ ἐν τοῖς τοιούτοις, ἐν δὲ εἰρήνῃ κέκληκεν ἡμᾶς ὁ θεός.16 τί γὰρ οἶδας, γύναι, εἰ τὸν ἄνδρα σώσεις; ἢ τί οἶδας, ἄνερ, εἰ τὴν γυναῖκα σώσεις;

1Cor 7 [ESV2011]

7:6 Now as a concession, not a command, I say this.7 I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.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 husband11 (but if she does, she should remainunmarried 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?

Today we find ourselves in a challenging passage of 1 Corinthians. Paul is answering questions he had received from his church plant in Corinth. The verses we are studying address issues of marriage, divorce, and re-marriage. There was a teaching that had become popular in Corinth that Paul refers to in verse 1; “it is good for a man not to touch a woman”. Paul, as a good shepherd, responds ‘it depends’.

In verses 2-5 he addresses married people, and he says that if you are married, it is good for you to enjoy sexual intimacy. Coming to Christ does not mean that you abandon your existing relationships in a pursuit for greater spirituality. In fact, depriving one another within marriage is sin.

In verses 6-7 he holds up his desire that, in light of the present distress, all would be content in singleness with its advantages for gospel ministry that he will outline later in this chapter. But he acknowledges that not all have received the same gifting, and God’s gifting is decisive rather than his preference.

In verses 8-9 he addresses the unmarried and widows. He may have in mind specifically widows and widowers, or he may be addressing more broadly those who are presently not married, whether single, widowed or divorced. His advice to them is that it is good to remain as they are, but if they are not gifted for celibacy then they must marry.

In verses 10-11 he addresses the married, specifically marriages where both husband and wife are believers.

In verses 12-16 he addresses another category of married people, those marriages where the husband or wife has come to Christ, but the spouse has not.

In verse 25 and following he will take up issues concerning virgins, those who have never married.

The Teaching of the Lord and of Paul

Let’s look at what Paul has to say to believers who are married to believers.

1 Corinthians 7:10 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.

We know that he is addressing marriages where both husband and wife are believers in these verses, because in the next verse, he addresses a different group (the rest), specifically those who are married to an unbeliever.

He differentiates his instructions to the two groups by saying to the first that the charge comes not from him but from the Lord; where to the rest he says ‘I, not the Lord’. It is very important that we do not misunderstand what he is saying. Down in verse 25 he will say:

1 Corinthians 7:25 Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.

Some have wrongly interpreted these statements to mean that Paul is differentiating between divine revelation and his own personal opinion, between inspired and uninspired Scripture. There is no such thing as uninspired Scripture! All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable. As God’s word, all Scripture is authoritative. Paul, as an apostle of our Lord Jesus, was commissioned by our Lord Jesus to instruct his church, and what Paul, controlled by the Holy Spirit, taught was no less authoritative than what Jesus himself taught. Peter (2 Peter 3:15-16) categorizes Paul’s letters as Scripture. In verse 17, Paul will say of his instructions:

1 Corinthians 7:17 …This is my rule in all the churches.

Jesus’ teaching is authoritative in all the churches. Paul’s teaching is also authoritative in all the churches. What he is doing is simply distinguishing between things that Jesus himself spoke to directly, and things that Jesus did not speak to, but by the Holy Spirit equipped his Apostles to address. At the time of the writing of 1 Corinthians, the gospels had not yet been compiled, but there was a body of memorized sayings of Jesus that the churches held dear, to which Paul would be referring here.

The Command of the Lord to the Married

1 Corinthians 7:10 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.

Paul is saying, in the context of the question of the Corinthians about it being good for a man not to touch a woman, that his command, based on Jesus’ own command was that the wife should not separate from her husband and the husband should not divorce his wife. It is not spiritual for a husband and wife to abstain from sexual intimacy in marriage, and it is not spiritual for them to terminate the marriage by separation or divorce. To do so would be to disobey the clear command of Jesus. Jesus’ clearly brought us back to the original intent of marriage as one man and one woman made one flesh by God for life. Jesus taught:

Matthew 19:6 So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (cf. Mark 10:8-9)

Jesus taught that divorce was allowed and regulated because of the hardness of our hearts (Mt.19:8; Mk.10:5). Sadly, that hardness of heart still exists. Paul is aware that wrongful divorce among believers does happen. His instruction to believers divorced from believers is clear. Remain unmarried or be reconciled. The background for Jesus’ teaching is Deuteronomy 24. This is the passage the Pharisees appealed to as their scriptural basis for divorce. It will be helpful to look back at that passage to help us understand the context of Jesus’ and Paul’s teaching.

Deuteronomy 24:1 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, 2 and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, 3 and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, 4 then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the LORD. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the LORD your God is giving you for an inheritance.

Much of the debate in Jesus’ day revolved around the meaning of the phrase ‘some indecency’. The rabbi Shammai taught that ‘some indecency’ was limited to fornication or immorality. That is the only legitimate ground for divorce. The rabbi Hillel, on the other hand, taught that ‘some indecency’ meant that a man could divorce his wife for anything that displeased him, like if she burned his meal or if he found another woman more attractive than his wife (Adams, p.64). Rabbi Hillel with his broad understanding of ‘some indecency’ was closer to the actual meaning of the phrase. In the chapter immediately preceding, instructions are given to the Israelites to go outside the camp and bury their excrement, so that the Lord would “not see anything indecent among you and turn away from you” (Deut.23:14). This is the same phrase used in chapter 24 of the grounds used for divorce. So the immediate context demonstrates that ‘some indecency’ is much wider than sexual immorality. But both of these rabbis and their schools of thought missed the point. Deuteronomy 24 is not about what constitutes legitimate grounds for divorce, but rather regulates a current practice that was out of control for the protection of the woman. If a man divorced his wife for ‘some indecency’ and she remarried, he could never have her back again, even if her second husband died. Protection and restraints are put in place because of the hardness of human hearts. The passage says that she is defiled by the second marriage, which implies that the reason for the divorce was not legitimate. This fits Jesus comments on this passage in the gospels.

Jesus’ teaching was that divorce on illegitimate grounds did not free a person for remarriage. He clearly states in the gospels that the husband who divorces and remarries commits adultery (Mt.19:9; Mk.10:11; Lk.16:18); the divorcing husband causes the wife to commit adultery (Mt.5:32); that whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery (Mt.5:32; Lk.16:18); that the woman who divorces and remarries commits adultery (Mk.10:12). However, in Matthew’s account, Jesus states that the only legitimate exception was sexual immorality, in which case the divorce would be legitimate (5:32; 19:9).

Paul’s reiteration of Jesus’ teaching is crystal clear.

1 Corinthians 7:10 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.

Believers must not divorce. If, due to hardness of heart, they do separate, they have only two options open to them: remain unmarried, or be reconciled to their original spouse. Even in the exceptional case of adultery, (which Paul doesn’t address here) believers are permitted, but never required, to divorce; rather the goal is repentance and forgiveness and reconciliation. Believers have God’s word to guide them, God’s Holy Spirit living inside them, and God’s church to counsel and correct them. They have everything they need to find healing and hope and help for difficult circumstances and broken relationships. Because our broken relationship with God was reconciled through the blood of Jesus, we now have access to the power of the gospel to reconcile our relationships with one another.

Remain with the Unbelieving Spouse

Paul goes on to address a situation created by the spread of the gospel to the Gentiles. As the good news penetrates the darkness of this world, it reaches into homes. Sometimes a husband and wife will hear the gospel and they will both reject it. Sometimes they will both embrace the gospel and together become followers of Jesus. But sometimes one will reject the gospel and one will become a follower of Jesus. What is to be done in these situations? It seems the counsel in Corinth was ‘it is good for a man not to touch a woman’. If the higher spirituality was celibacy, and even married believers were being encouraged to abstain or divorce, then for a believer to have intimacy with an unbeliever would certainly defile them. In chapter 6, Paul warned against a believer joining with a prostitute.

1 Corinthians 6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Shall I then take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! 16 Or do you not know that he who is joined to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For, as it is written, “The two will become one flesh.”

Paul will warn in 2 Corinthians:

2 Corinthians 6:14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.

This clearly forbids a believer from entering into a marriage relationship with an unbeliever, or even dating an unbeliever. But if we apply this to existing marriages where one spouse becomes a follower of Jesus and the other does not, we might wrongly conclude that the best thing for the believer to do is to terminate the marriage. This is not Paul’s counsel. Instead he says, if possible, remain as you are.

1 Corinthians 7:12 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.

The gospel transforms us. A believer is a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come. New ways of thinking and feeling and acting. A new heart, new desires. New convictions. This total transformation can cause tension in a marriage. The believer is never to sin, compromise conduct or violate conscience to keep a marriage together. However, the believer is never to use the gospel as an excuse to get out of a marriage. If the unbeliever is willing to put up with the gospel transformation in their spouse, and consents to continue the marriage, the marriage must continue. Paul’s reason goes like this:

Because They are Made Holy

1 Corinthians 7:14 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.

This seems confusing at first read. We know that salvation is not transmitted from one person to another. Christianity is not genetic. A child is not a Christian because he is born to Christian parents. A child becomes a Christian when he puts his faith in Jesus and becomes a follower of Jesus. A husband does not become a Christian because his wife converts to Christianity. He must himself trust Jesus and be born again. If we read ahead it becomes clear that Paul is not talking about salvation here. In verse 16 he asks:

1 Corinthians 7:16 For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

So the salvation of the spouse is desired, but in no way assured. The holiness he is talking about is not the holiness that comes through faith in Jesus Christ. This holiness is holiness in the sense of ceremonial cleanness or uncleanness. In the Levitical laws, if an Israelite, who is part of God’s people, came in contact with a dead body, they would become unclean (or contaminated), and they would have to go through the appropriate process to become clean or holy again (Lev.21:1). The thinking would go like this: If I, a believer who has been cleansed by the blood of Christ, come into intimate contact with my unbelieving spouse, whom the Bible says is dead in their trespasses and sins, wouldn’t I become contaminated or defiled? No, Paul says, it is more like the altar in the tabernacle; whatever touched the altar became holy or set apart to God (Ex.29:37). He uses children as an example. If your children have not yet become followers of Jesus, do you cut off relationship with your unbelieving children because they may contaminate you? Or do you invest in them with the longing to see them become followers of Jesus? How much more should you invest in your unbelieving spouse! Because of their relationship with you, they are set apart, and God is at work! Peter gives instruction to wives with unbelieving husbands.

1 Peter 3:1 Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, 2 when they see your respectful and pure conduct. 3 Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear— 4 but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious.

If the Unbelieving Spouse Separates

Paul’s instruction to those with an unbelieving spouse is ‘if at all possible, remain as you are’. But that is not always possible.

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?

So here Paul deals with real life situations. The believing spouse is to do everything in his or her power to make the marriage work, short of sinning. But in this case both parties do not have everything they need to resolve difficulties. The unbeliever may not be willing to listen to the word of God or the counsel of the church, and the unbeliever does not have the transforming power of the Holy Spirit at work within. The unbeliever may choose to end the marriage. In this case, Paul commands the believer to cooperate with the divorce. In this situation, the believer is not enslaved. This would imply that the divorce is legitimate and the believer now has the freedom to marry a believer. This does not mean that they should remarry, but only that they may. Paul’s counsel in this entire chapter is that, if possible, it is best to remain as you are. His instruction to the separated believers in verse 11, that they must remain unmarried or be reconciled, is not repeated here. Instead he says that the believer divorced from the unbeliever is not enslaved. Paul has told us that this new situation is outside the scope of Jesus’ teaching on divorce in the gospels. His instructions are an application of the principle of peace found in Romans.

Romans 12:18 If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

If you are married to an unbeliever and they are willing to live at peace with you, then stay. If they are hostile toward you and toward the gospel, let them leave.

His last statement brings hope as well as freedom. How do you know if you will save your spouse? If the unbeliever is willing to stay, they may very well, as Peter indicates, be influenced by the gospel transformation they see in you, and ‘be won without a word’. There is hope. But ultimately there is freedom. How do you know if you will save your spouse? Salvation is from the Lord. None of us can save anyone. We may be used by God as instruments in the salvation of another, but God alone is the one who saves. We as followers of Jesus are under obligation to live lives consistent with the gospel. We are called to communicate the gospel. But we are not held accountable for anyone’s response to the gospel. And I should not be so arrogant to think that I am the only instrument God has at his disposal to reach any particular lost person. God is in control and I can trust him. 

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

November 17, 2013 Posted by | 1 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment