Chapter seven introduces a new section of this letter in which Paul answered some specific questions from the church – marriage, divorce, and remarriage (ch. 7); Christian freedom (ch. 8-10); spiritual gifts (ch. 12-14); and the resurrection of the dead (ch. 15).
Regarding marriage and sexuality, Paul made four specific clarifications. First, sexual relations are to be maintained as a normal part of a Christian marriage, and this is the limit of sexual activity for a Christian (1 Corinthians 7:1-7). Within marriage, sex is not to be used as a way to manipulate one’s spouse, but each spouse is to consider his or her body the other’s. If a couple is to go without sex for a long period of time, it should be by mutual consent with a plan to resume as soon as possible. 1 He did note that this was a personal concession of his. It seems he was not married and thought celibacy to be a perfectly good option (and possibly even a spiritual gift).
Second, for Christians who are not married, Paul recommended that they remain unmarried like he was (1 Corinthians 7:8-9). However, if they simply could not contain their sexual desires, then they should get married, so they would not fall into sexual sin.
Third, for Christians who are married, Paul had nothing more to say than what Jesus had already taught, namely, they should remain married and not get divorced (1 Corinthians 7:10-11). The occasion of adultery was Jesus’ sole exception (Matthew 19:9). If a Christian couple were to divorce (except because of unfaithfulness), they must remain unmarried or be reconciled to each other.
Fourth, in the case of a mixed marriage between a believer and an unbeliever, Paul was more lenient in matters of divorce and remarriage (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). His one rule was that the believer should not file for divorce. However, if the unbeliever files, the believer is to let the unbeliever go, and then the believer is free to remarry. 2 The reason that the believer should not leave is because of the testimony he or she can have with the unbelieving spouse and children (see also 1 Peter 3:1-6).
The problem is that marriage is a lifetime commitment, often entered into too young and immature. Over time, people think the grass is greener somewhere else, so they look for reasons to escape. Paul said that should not be. With the few exceptions just mentioned, believers should remain in whatever state they find themselves (1 Corinthians 7:17-24).
Because of the expected persecution that was coming, Paul thought it wise to avoid marriage altogether (1 Corinthians 7:25-40). This is not because he disliked marriage (as he is often charged) but because marriage takes commitment and time, both of which could be used to further the Church if people did not marry. However, for those who choose to marry, they should do so knowing that would become their top priority. At the end he also mentioned that widows are free to remarry as well, as long as they do so “in the Lord.”
- Paul’s mention of prayer shows that this is can be considered a type of fasting. However, medical issues and other reasons may also require periods without sexual activity. ↩
- While this sounds as if it should be simple, divorce cases almost never are. I have written at length about this in my book, Marriage, Divorce, and Remarriage: Fresh Help and Hope from the Bible (Xulon Press, 2007). ↩