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Marriage July 25, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
Tags: , , , ,

Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 7.

Summary: The Corinthians have previously asked Paul for advice regarding marriage, and he begins by stating that it is more profitable for them to remain single. In general, though, he advises believers to get married. Now in a marriage relationship, from time to time both parties can agree to be separated for a limited time to devote themselves to the Lord – and then they should reunite. Paul notes that he is not commanding the Corinthians to get married, for he believes that it is more profitable for them to remain single given the fact that they are being persecuted for their faith. As for the widowers and widows among the Corinthians, Paul advises them to remain unmarried – yet he is not commanding them in this regard. Now Paul reminds the Corinthians of the teaching of Christ that the marriage relationship cannot be dissolved by the will of either party; if the wife happens to leave the husband, she must either remain single or be reconciled to him. As for believers who are married to unbelievers, Paul advises them to remain married, as their marriages are permitted by God. These marriages are permitted by God because

  • the unbelieving spouse has been set apart for God’s service due to their union with the believing spouse
  • their children are regarded as being part of the church.

Now in these marriages, the believing spouse is released from the marriage contract if the unbelieving spouse chooses to leave – though Paul stresses that both parties should strive to remain together. Remaining together in these instances makes it possible for the believing spouse to save the unbelieving spouse. Paul then advises each believer to remain in the station in life that they occupied when they accepted the Gospel message; he has applied this principle throughout his travels as a missionary. For example, if a believer was circumcised (or uncircumcised) when he accepted the Gospel message, he should remain circumcised (or uncircumcised). Circumcision – or lack thereof – does not affect a believer’s relationship with God; the only way to improve that relationship is to trust in God, which will spur obedience to the two greatest commandments. Also, being a slave does not affect a believer’s relationship with God – though if a believing slave can gain their freedom, they should do so. Slavery does not affect a believer’s relationship with God, as Christ has redeemed him, and all believers – both slave and free – have Christ as their Master. Moreover, as Christ has purchased believers with His blood, they should not aim to please men. Thus, all believers should aim to remain in communion with God.

Paul then returns to the subject of marriage and notes that the Holy Spirit has led him to advise the Corinthians regarding whether female virgins should get married; God has enabled him to give wise and impartial counsel in this regard. Now because of the difficulties that the Corinthians are experiencing in connection with the spread of the Gospel message, Paul states that it would be beneficial for these virgins to remain unmarried. These difficulties should not spur the dissolution of any marriage between believers, yet they should not spur believers to get married. While marriage is not a sin, external troubles will put marriages to the test. The Corinthians should heed Paul’s advice in this regard, as their time on this earth has been shortened – implying that they should not overly focus on the things of this world; indeed, the present state of the world is changing quickly. Also, Paul notes that an unmarried male believer can be solely devoted to serving Christ, whereas a married male believer must focus on providing for his family in times of trouble. This is also the case for female believers; an unmarried female believer can allow her body and spirit to be consecrated to the Lord, and she can focus on serving Christ. Now in saying all this, Paul does not want to restrict the Corinthians’ freedom in Christ, yet he wants them to act in a way that will allow them to serve Christ wholeheartedly. As for a believing father, if he feels that he is exposing his unmarried daughter to disgrace by keeping her unmarried, and if she is of full age and her happiness is at stake, he should allow her to be married, as this is not a sin. More importantly, though, whatever he decides in this regard is right. This is due to Paul’s main point – marriage is not sinful, yet not marrying is wiser in light of the Corinthians’ ongoing difficulties and troubles. Paul then states that the marriage contract can be dissolved by the death of either party; if the husband dies, the wife is free to marry – as long as her new spouse is a believer. He concludes by noting that in his opinion, it would be better for the wife to remain unmarried in this case, as she would be freed from the troubles associated with marriage in difficult times; he notes that he has been led by the Holy Spirit in presenting his thoughts in this passage – and so the false teachers in Corinth do not have a monopoly on the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Verses 10 and 11 stress the importance of maintaining the marriage relationship, even when either party wants to dissolve it due to relatively minor reasons. Hodge offers some eye-opening thoughts on this issue:

According to this doctrine nothing but adultery or willful desertion is a legitimate ground of divorce – first, because the Scriptures allow no other grounds, and, second, because incompatibility of temper, cruelty, disease, crime, and other similar things, which human laws often make the occasion of divorce, are not in their nature a destruction of the marriage covenant.

This is definitely a thorny issue, and I came up with several scenarios that would put this doctrine to the test. For example, what if a husband is physically abusive to his wife and injures her on a regular basis, precipitating multiple visits to the emergency room? Also, what if a wife is cold and calculating, and she regularly places small doses of poison in her husband’s dinner, bringing him closer to death on a daily basis? Based on the above-mentioned doctrine, divorce is forbidden in these cases, which is difficult to accept.

In verses 12-14, we see that marriage between a believer and an unbeliever should be preserved, as the believing spouse actually causes the unbelieving spouse and their children to be sanctified. Hodge offers some interesting thoughts on this issue:

Either way, however, this passage recognizes as universally conceded the great scriptural principle that the children of believers are holy…So the child of a Christian parent has a right to baptism and to all the privileges of the church, so long as he is represented by his parent – that is, until he arrives as the period of life when he is entitled and bound to act for himself. Then his relationship to the church depends upon his own act.

This got me thinking about the following points. First, what does it mean that the child of a believer “has a right to baptism?” At our church, we don’t practice infant baptism, and it appears that the minimum age for baptism is either 13 or 14 – we do have the occasional infant dedication ceremony, though I don’t think that’s what Hodge is referring to here. Second, is Hodge implying that if the child of a believer were to pass away before the above-mentioned “period of life,” they would be regarded as saved? Third, let’s say that the child of a believer comes to the above-mentioned “period of life” and decides to renounce Christianity; does this act then invalidate their previous state where they were sanctified? What lasting value, if any, can be derived from their previous sanctified state in that event?

Verses 17, 20 and 24 make the point that one’s acceptance of the Gospel should not necessarily trigger an abandonment of their current station in life. In his commentary on verse 17, Hodge weighs in as follows:

Paul endeavored to convince his readers that their relationship with Christ was compatible with any social relationship or position. It did not matter whether they were circumcised or uncircumcised, bond or free, married to a Christian or married to an unbeliever, their fellowship with Christ remained the same. Their conversion to Christianity, therefore, involved no necessity to break their social ties. The Gospel was not a revolutionary, disorganizing element, but one that was designed to eliminate what is evil and to exalt and purify what is in itself of no consequence.

In my small group we’re currently reading through Radical by David Platt. We’ve worked our way through the first two chapters, and already it’s apparent that Dr. Platt essentially views the Gospel as “a revolutionary, disorganizing element.” Thus it would be interesting to read Hodge’s thoughts on the Four Gospels, and how he perceived many of Jesus’ most harsh and challenging commands and teachings. Are only some Christians “specially called” – in addition to their general calling to salvation – to give up their current station in life and live radically for Jesus? What if, as a new believer, you feel a strong calling to serve God overseas, yet your unbelieving spouse does not want to move to a foreign country?



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