1 Corinthians 7:6-16
To Singles or Unmarrieds:
- v. 6-9 - Paul does not just legitimize singleness as a way of life, he actually elevates it. Because Paul is addressing people in the church, that's where my mind goes. Our American Church has nurtured a high value for marriage and lower value for singleness... God has a really high value for both. Paul is urging unmarried folks to be content and satisfied in their singleness. Marriage does not make a person whole or validate them or lead to happiness. Whole people can make for healthy and life giving marriages, but broken and insecure people find marriage to be really difficult and painful. Paul is not saying "don't get married." But he is saying "you don't need marriage." You can be content, satisfied and whole without marriage and you are of great value in the kingdom of God.
To Married Women:
- v. 10 - Ladies, marriage is sacred. Christian marriage is a lifetime covenant and we are not to look for an out. Husbands will hurt you and sin against you, and make life difficult at times, but you are to remain faithful. Paul says "don't separate". But he also seems to acknowledge that husbands may be so sinful to the point that they create an unlivable situation for wives and kids. In the case of abuse and adultery extreme circumstances, separation may be a valid step. However, he's saying that the separation is to be for the preservation of the marriage not that dissolution of the marriage. When women find themselves in grievous situations with their husbands that are dangerous or inordinately damaging, their heart and motives must be guarded and discerned carefully and closely.
To Married Men:
- v. 11 - In this text, Paul is short and sweet. Men, DO NOT DIVORCE YOUR WIFE. Men we are not to look for or take an out. We are to stick it out. Take responsibility to make the marriage better. Remain faithful. Lay your life down for her as Christ has laid his down for you. Just as men can make life inordinately difficult, there are women who do as well. Some men have a more painful road to walk than others. That's real. God sees. God knows. And God says stay. Keep after it. I would add this word for our culture, which was certainly true in the first century as well, and that is that life after divorce, statistically, is far more difficult on women than men, emotionally, relationally and economically. Men, they are more vulnerable than we are more often than not, and so our repsonsitility here is greater. Be steadfast.
To Christian spouses with a Not-yet-Christian Spouse:
- v. 12 - If you are a follower of Jesus with a spouse that does not follow Jesus, (or even if you have a spouse that is out step with the gospel even though they claim to believe) Paul says that you are uniquely positioned by God to win your spouse's soul and heart. If they are willing to stay married to you, than know that God has placed you there to represent Christ and his love, grace and patience, and that he may well want to use you for redemptive purposes in your spouse's life. In these circusmtances, your marriage is not about you... it's about Christ's pursuit of your spouse. On the other hand, if you have a spouse who wants nothing to do with you, especially because of your identification with Jesus, than release them from your marriage, and be at peace.
I will say this... all of these situations have unique challenges and the people in them experience pain and struggle. And the church should be a safe place where they are surrounded by family who love them, walk graciously with them, encourage them and support them as we all endeavor to walk faithfully where God has placed us.
v. 23 - The fear of the Lord leads to life, and whoever has it rests satisfied; he will not be visited by harm.
Remember, Proverbs aren't promises, they are truisms. Even still, Solomon attaches some very hopeful stuff to the fear of the Lord. I have some thoughts on this myself, but I'd rather ask the question for you to consider... how has a mindfulness and regard for the Lord kept you from harm and led to your satisfaction? That's worth reflecting on today.
1 Corinthians 7:17-24
What strikes me in these verses is that Paul seems to be emphasizing our new identity in Christ, as replacing an old identity that would have derived from something external, such as our ethnic heritage (circumcision v. uncircumcision) or our status in life (slave v. free). He doesn’t want us being defined by works of the flesh or our occupation or earthly position, but by our redemption in Jesus. I love in v. 21-22 how Paul is essentially telling us that whoever we thought we were apart from Christ has been redefined in light of Christ. The slave needs to know that in Jesus, they are free. And the free man needs to know that in Jesus, he is a slave. All of us have aspects to our lives which Christ has purchased our freedom from. He has made us totally know. He has redefined everything. Whatever debt we owed, he has paid. And whatever we think we’re owed, we now owe to Jesus. We all have practices and patterns of life which must be put away, and we all have ways of seeing ourselves and others which need to be reoriented completely.
- In what ways are you still thinking as someone who has authority over their own life? What parts of life are you still presuming to “own” rather than bringing under submission to Jesus?
v. 20 - There is an interesting warning about how we see, speak about and treat our parents. I think the older I get, and in an age of hyper awareness of psychological and emotional development, we're more cognizant than ever of our parent's deficiencies. Or at least we think we are. We're probably right about some things and maybe wrong about some as well. I guess I'll throw out this insight on how we can honor our parents as adults. And I'll frame it in 2 questions...
What would it look like for you to be aware of your parent's deficiencies, but not blame your personal problems and sturggles on them?
And what would it look like to appreciate and honor their positive contributions without pretending they were perfect?
Let's not be too hard on our parents shortcomings, and let's maintain a consciousness regarding they good things they poured into our lives. And let's do what God designed families to do... learn and grow and make things a little better for the next generation.
1 Corinthians 7:25-31
There are a number of things that overlap in today’s passage and tomorrow’s. I want to focus on one aspect that affects church cultures in the west. And it’s important to recognize Paul’s admission that what he’s about to unpack is his perspective and not divinely authored by the Spirit. So, as someone submitted to the Spirit, this is a wise and mature perspective worthy of consideration but not binding on us. And he’s speaking to the “betrothed”, or people engaged to be married.
Paul’s big point is in v. 28 when he says that those who marry will have added “trouble in this life.” Paul is not unromantic. He’s just being real. And anybody married for any amount of time, even for those with healthy marriages, we know that being married is hard. If you’re unmarried, don’t fall into the trap of thinking singleness is really what ails you and marriage is what will heal you. Paul is honoring singleness as a high calling, worthy of consideration and altogether legitimate for healthy, godly, mature, kingdom minded people. Singleness is not reserved for people with issues and baggage. Marriage is to be held in high regard and to be honored, but we must not idolize it. And this is a real danger in our culture. So, today, just consider this:
If you are single, how do you see your singleness? How do you feel your family, close friends, and church family see your singleness? And how much do you long to be married?
If you are married, how do you see marriage in general? How do you see yourself in light of your marriage? How do you see singleness and the unmarried people around you?
Just give some consideration to these things today. We’ll go deeper into the passage tomorrow.
v. 13 - "Whoever closes his ear to the cry of the poor will himself call out and not be answered."
I wonder if we fear the Lord enough to fear ignoring the plight of the vulnerable. We can fix everyone's problems or meet everyone's need, but we can do for the one what we wish we could do for the many and can't. We can be responsive and moved by the needs of people around us, even we aren't positioned to meet the needs. We should have a fear of growing calloused and hardened to real poverty, real need, real pain, and real people. For me, this means actively repenting for my natural drift toward cynicism and detachment, and asking God for the grace to see people with His eyes.
- Ask God for the opportunity today to minister to someone on the margins, and to restore dignity to the vulnerable.
1 Corinthians 7:32-40
Okay, here is Paul's pastoral heart. His desire is to relieve us of real but earthly anxieties that rob us of joy, peace and kingdom mindedness. This also illuminates the particular kind of "trouble" that marriage brings in this world... Anxiety. Marriage presents both men and women alike with real desires to make each other happy. The challenge comes from an equally real deficiency accomplish that aim.
If you feel frustrated by your inability please your spouse or hurt by your spouse's inability to please you, then God's word should have just gained more credibility with you. That's what Paul is saying it would be like. Paul does not want to rob anyone of the joys marriage makes possible (and they are real as well), but neither does he want us living with the disappointment, discouragement and disillusionment of unreasonable and unmet expectations.
Paul's driving force is gospel advancement. Period. And the gospel best advances through vessels wholely surrendered to Christ's authority and devoted to Christ's mission. Paul has a category for marriage that advances the mission and embodies the beauty of Christ... we know this from other letters he writes. But here, he seems to be concerned that, perhaps more often than not, marriage is distracting from and undermining gospel advancement rather than facilitating it.
v. 38 is a great summary of Paul's view... if you go ahead and get married... Great. If you don't get married... even better. What matters in either case is the gospel. In other words, marriage is to display the beauty of Christ and the gospel... if that's your shared vision and purpose as a husband and wife, go after it. If it's not. Stay single. Not so you can indulge your sin, but so you can use your availability and freedom from earthly anxieties to serve Jesus. In either case, it's all about Jesus.
Here's my take away:
If you're married, you are married for one reason... to display the gospel, imperfectly but visibly in your devotion to Christ in marriage. We're all called to build marriages that are in some sense oriented that way and moving increasingly in that direction. What progress needs to be celebrated, and what patterns need to be recalibrated?
If you're single, you're single for one reason... to display the gospel, imperfectly but visibly in your devotion to Christ singleness. You have a unique opportunity to build meaningful friendships, to serve people, to apply your heart to learning, and to leverage your freedom to show that Jesus is better than anything this world offers. What opportunities and outlets need to be leveraged for Jesus, and what attitudes and practices need to be reoriented for Jesus?
v. 7, 16 and 26 all touch on how we relate to the rich and the poor and to money itself. What this brings up in me is the reality that we live in the most affluent society in human history and we are all immersed in a culture that idolizes worldly comfort. If you think you're immune to that or above that than you're in a dangerous place. I love comfort. You love comfort. It is an idol we worship. Everything in us naturally gravitates to an unhealthy relationship with money and an ungodly view of people based on their economic scale. You're either aware of it and fighting it and putting it death, or you're drifting toward it and all the dysfunction it leads to.
- What can you do today to renounce the claim of greed and worldly comfort on your life? Where might you be using people to gain wealth and serve your desire for comfort, rather than using your wealth and relative comfort to serve people?
1 Corinthians 8
There is so much here that I feel compelled to be uncharacteristically brief. A couple big ideas:
We have not been freed from the law to flaunt practices that were formerly forbidden. Jesus gets no glory out of our indulgence in everything we're "free" to do. You have freedoms, Christian brother and Christian sister, so that you can lay them down to show that Jesus is better than your freedom.
Our Christianity has a social dimension that must be thoughtfully considered and applied. And the controlling question in every social setting is not, "what am I free to do?" but rather "what does love require of me?"
So, what freedom might God want you to lay down in order to display the surpassing worth of Christ, or your controlling desire to love
And, are there any convictions you have personally, by which you're trying to bind the conscience's of others more broadly? Or, in other words, what obedience does God require of you which he may not require of everyone, and you need to let some folks of the hook?
v. 17 - "Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all day."
It's so easy to resent God for what I don't have that others have, or for what I don't have because I follow him and have adopted a different set of values from the world. We can fall into the trap of desiring earthly rewards over eternal rewards. We can the success of worldly people on the surface, or some indulgence we keep ourselves from, and feel like we're missing out. Solomon is saying we have to guard against that fleshly impulse, and the fear of the Lord is fundamental to that. If we don't fear God, we'll fear missing out on that which God is actually sparing us from.
Two pairs of verses in this chapter jump out to me as significant in the fear category:
v. 17-18 - I need to guard my heart against taking pleasure in the demise of people I dislike. My graceless delight in others pain and failures may make me a undesirable target for the Lord's discipline.
v. 21-22 - Fearing the Lord isn't an individualistic thing... it will draw God-fearers to me and make God-fearers attracted to me. A good barometer of whether I fear the Lord is whether my closest friends fear the Lord. Either way, that may tell me the particular path my life is on, either toward ruin or peace.
v. 20 - "Whoever sings songs to a heavy heart is like one who takes off a garment on a cold day, and like vinegar on soda."
I'm struck by this because I want to make people laugh when they're down, and yet I hate when people do that to me. Solomon seems to be indicating that good friends don't have to pull you out of the pit, they're willing to sit with you in the pit. Solomon is affirming the value of empathy in building friendship and connection, something most of us crave and few of us are good at it.