What About Marriage?
[1st Corinthians 7, verses 1-9]
Today as I continue to dissect the first book of Corinthians, but with words instead of sharp objects, I will begin chapter seven, which is quite probably the finest behavioral commentary about relations between the sexes in existence (with the possible exception of Ephesians chapters five and six, which I will cover later). Since this is a lengthy chapter with a lot of timely commentary and Christian guidance, I will be breaking this up into three parts. I will ask the Lord’s guidance regarding this, and I’m confident that He will lead me in the way I should present this sacred and beautiful literary material. Let’s begin with chapter 7 and verse 1.
“Now for the matters you wrote about: ‘It is good for a man not to marry’. But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I will say this as a concession, not as a command. I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” (I Cor. 7: verses 1-7 NIV)
Paul’s opening statement reflects a fact that I had to learn the hard way; marriage isn’t for everybody. Having remained single since 1990 after the disintegration of my second marriage, I can tell you without hesitation that I much prefer the single life even though I love kids. The fact that it costs about a quarter of a million dollars to raise a child up until their 18th birthday (not counting college or university) in today’s terms pretty much scares me away from raising kids, and I’m now in my late fifties. But there is much more to this than simple advice for the lovesick. St. Paul’s advice to remain single was in large part a prophetic statement intended as advice for those living in the end times as we all are. He was referring to something Jesus told the apostles when they came to him and asked what the signs of the End of the Age would be. This is the way that he answered them in part.
“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door. I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass way until all these things have happened. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.” (Matthew 24: verses 32-35 NIV)
In this passage of scripture, which is only a single paragraph out of the fairly lengthy 24th chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, the fig tree Jesus spoke of represents the nation of Israel. His reference to the twigs getting tender are a metaphor for the third and final birth of Israel as a nation, which occurred about 1,970 years later in May 1948. When Jesus says, “this generation will certainly not pass way until all these things have happened”, it is an apparent reference to that final generation born on the earth before the Second Coming of Christ. It is stating (although there is actually a lot of background scripture that goes into far greater detail that I will later present separately) that the final generation born on the earth will not pass away until His prophecy about the End of the Age is fulfilled. Although I will decline to speculate on the possible date of our Lord and Savior’s triumphant return, the point Paul was making is that since the Second Coming is so close at hand, why bother worrying about finding a wife or a husband? If anyone really feels that lonesome, let me remind you that we are all a part of the Bride of Christ that is foretold in the book of Revelation, so technically we are already married to Christ anyway, not physically but in Spirit and in Truth. Therefore if we are not married, we should not get preoccupied with looking for a spouse. If you desire a mate, and there is nothing at all wrong with that, seek the Lord about it and he will send you someone perfectly made just for you if that is his will.
In the very next sentence Paul says, “But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.” In other words, if you feel lonesome or look at yourself at being incomplete without a mate, then by all means find a suitable partner and marry him or her. It is far better to choose that path then to vow to keep oneself pure only to give in to unanticipated temptation which leads to sin. Sexual temptation can and does happen, even to the most fervent believers. But, Paul then turns around in the following sentence and advises those believers who are already married with these words: “The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife. Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.” This applies just as much today as it did when these words were first written nearly 2,000 years ago.
All you married couples, please don’t use your human sexuality like a weapon against your partner as a way of getting back at each other for perceived wrongs, whether real or imagined, that one partner or the other may have (or not) committed in the course of the relationship. These kind of tactics are childish and immature, and they do great damage to what should be a very repairable relationship. Ceasing this kind of unproductive activity will go a long way towards beginning to repair any marriage or relationship, no matter how difficult it may seem. Let go and let God. In the end, that’s the only thing that works. Paul then continues in verses 8 and 9:
“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (I Corinthians 7: Verses 8-9 NIV)
Speaking as a single middle-aged man, I can truly testify to each of you that I have been following this teaching to the letter since 2002. At this point in my life I believe it is God’s will for me to remain single and celibate, and I have remained as such for over 12 years. By the same token, that does not necessarily rule out my finding a wife at some later point in time. But I don’t press the issue with the Lord because I am acutely aware that it is His timing that is always perfect. If the Lord sees fit to send me someone, or if some unknown person picks me instead of the other way around, I would definitely have to give that some very serious consideration.
Like the apostle Paul in verse 8, not everyone can do this, so I would advise anybody who has trouble keeping their libido under control to go ahead and find a soul mate; only, choose carefully! As Paul wrote in the above Scripture that we just studied, “I wish that all men were as I am. But each man has his own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.” Paul was apparently a single man who was probably in his thirties or forties when he wrote the two Corinthian letters present in the New Testament, and he was apparently satisfied with life as a single man. The Bible doesn’t say whether Paul had been previously married or not, and it’s probably not important anyway. What does matter is that Paul made it part of the example he set to remain pure and set apart as belonging only to the Lord. As he wrote in a later letter elsewhere in the New Testament: “Flee from sexual immorality”. The word flee means to turn and run away from as fast as one can, so there is no mistaking Paul’s meaning here. Playing fast and loose with your sex life can only get you into serious trouble sooner or later, so it’s best to stay clear of that style of living.
Now that there has been a teaching directed at all the single people who are one in Christ, I will return next week to tell you what the apostle Paul had to say to married people. Until then, keep this teaching close to your heart and meditate upon it so you can continue to draw yourself closer to Christ. In so doing, He will draw closer to you.