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In 1Corinthians 7, Paul corrects the idea that married people should be celibate in order to be holy. In this section, he addresses believers married to unbelievers, and tells them it is best to honor their marriage vows.
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In 1Corinthians 7, Paul begins addressing issues which the Corinthians raised in a letter they wrote to him which we don’t have. The phrase “now concerning” signals that Paul is answering a new question. We see it in 7:1, 7:25, 8:1, 12:1,16:1 and 16:12.
See: How many letters did Paul write to the Corinthians?
1Corinthians 7:12-24 is still part of Paul’s response to a question the Corinthians asked in 7:1 about the place of sexuality within marriage. The whole chapter is Paul’s response to the premise raised in 7:1 that you must be celibate to be holy and please God.
7:12But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. 14For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. 15Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. 16For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife? – 1Corinthians 7:12-16 NASB
- 7:12 “to the rest” – Paul is addressing the last group of married believers. He discussed married folks where one wants to abstain, widows & widowers and those considering divorce. Now he addresses believers married to nonbelievers.
- Paul’s culture presumed single folks were not engaged in sexual relationships. He’s addressing the rest, that is the last type of married person.
- 7:12 “I say not the Lord” – Paul is clarifying that he is no longer referring to a direct teaching from Jesus. But his voice still carries the authority of an apostle.
- The Corinthians think a physical relationship with their unbelieving spouse defiles them.Paul corrects that thinking. Their marriage vows “sanctify” the relationship, in the sense that they are enjoying their sexuality the way God intended it to be enjoyed.
- The issue is not being ritually pure or clean. The issue is keeping your marriage vows.
- Paul is NOT giving advice to singles considering marrying a non-believer. He is talking to a group that is already married.
- Paul’s advice is a believer should keep his/her marriage vows, but if the non-believer wants to leave, let him/her.
7:17Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. 18Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. 20Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called. 21Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. 22For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. 23You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called. -1Corinthians 7:17-24
- The underlying issue behind this discussion is: “How does becoming a believer change my life?” The Corinthians believed celibacy was part of the answer.
- Paul clarifies his answer: Coming to faith changes your values, your worldview, your character, your goals, your desires and your morality but it does not necessarily require a change in circumstances.
- By “un/circumcision” Paul means whether or not you are Jewish.
- Paul’s advice is stay the way you are. If you’re Jewish, continue being a Jew. If you’re a Gentile, you do not need to become Jewish.
- If you’re a slave, you don’t have to break free to serve God, but if you have the chance to become free, take it.
- If you have an earthly master, there is a sense in which you are free in Christ. If you are free on earth, there is a sense in which you are a slave to Christ.
- Your new calling is to serve God in whatever circumstances you find yourself in. Your job is not necessarily to change your circumstances. Your job is to live faithfully in the midst of them.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.
Next: 20 1Corinthians 7:25-40 To the betrothed
Previous: 18 1Corinthians 7:7-11 To the widowed
Series: 1 Corinthians: Pride & Prejudice in the church
Study: 1Corinthians Resources
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