Today’s reading comes from 1 Corinthians 7.
This chapter from 1 Corinthians contains several instructions around the subject of marriage. Verse 1 began the chapter with the phrase, “Now for the matters you wrote about.” The Corinthian believers had many questions about what was right and wrong for Christians to do, so they wrote a letter to Paul spelling out their questions. The first question was about sexual ethics: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” This is not a statement from Paul; rather, Paul is quoting back to them their first question or point of confusion: “Is celibacy Christian?”
Paul explored this question from a number of angles. First, there is nothing morally wrong with marriage and a person should marry (v. 2) and have regular sexual relations with his or her spouse (vv. 3-5). One reason for this is to protect against a church full of single people giving into their sexual desires (v. 2a), committing adultery (v. 5b) or burning with lust (v. 9).
Second, Paul commended the single life if a person can be single without giving into temptation (vv. 8-9, 25-40).
Third, he commanded believers not to divorce (vv. 10-14) but also not to contest a divorce if an unbeliever divorces his or her unbelieving spouse (vv. 15-16). This is the passage which gives an additional exception for divorce to the exception Jesus gave in Matthew 18.
The main principle in this passage is “remain as you are” (vv. 17-24). If you are a married person, give your spouse what you promised (vv. 3-5) and don’t divorce him or her–even if he or she is an unbeliever (vv. 12-14). In fact, faith in Christ has a sanctifying effect on the unbelieving spouse which is a reason to stay in the marriage (v. 14). But if your non-Christian spouse leaves you, you do not have to contest the divorce and are free to remarry (vv. 15-16).
Although marriage is the dominant topic in this chapter, Paul suddenly references circumcision (vv. 18-19) and slavery (vv. 21-24). These have nothing to do with decisions about marriage, but they are other applications of the principle, “remain as you are” (v. 17, 20) In other words, your faith in Christ applies to your life whether you are single or married, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free (vv. 21-24). There are no second class Christians; whatever situation you are in is an opportunity for you to live for God today. Christians who are married to other Christians have advantages that others do not have, but God isn’t evaluating you based on your circumstances. He’s called you and empowered you to live a godly life in whatever circumstances you are in today.
What circumstance are you in today that you wish were different? Do you find yourself thinking that you could be a more godly Christian if you had a different spouse–or no spouse at all? Do you think it would be easier to be holy if you had a different job or that God would be more pleased with you if left your secular job to work in the ministry full-time? This passage should cause you to reconsider. There is nothing wrong with changing your circumstances if you can do it without sinning (vv. 21b-23), but a change of circumstances is not what you need to live a godly life. You already have what you need to live a godly life–God’s divine power–no matter what circumstances you are in. So believe that by faith and live within your situation differently for the glory of God.