“SEEK Ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:33) One of Paul’s recommendations in 1 Corinthians 7 is that we not SEEK a change in our marital status. “If you are bound to a wife, do not seek to be released, if you are released do not seek a wife.” (vs 27) It is not a hard and fast rule. “If your marry you have not sinned” (vs 28) It is a statement of relative priority, a reminder that the deepest needs of the human heart, the largest questions of service and success are not met by adjusting external circumstances (marital, financial, physical) The true secret of life is the same whether I am single or married. I can learn it now or learn it later. Serve Christ! Find the Lord! Walk with the Spirit! These are the things that we should seek. When we change what we are seeking, everything else begins to fall into place.
In her book When He Doesn’t Believe, Nancy Kennedy describes the challenge of serving Christ without the support of her spouse. It is book of both honesty and hope. Christians are not naive about the difficulties ahead for those who “become one” with someone who does not share our love for Christ. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers” (2 Corinthians 6:14) It is not, however, a circumstance that warrants surrender or self-pity. Christ is sufficient! In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul describes the contagious influence of a holy life–on a spouse and on a family. “The unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife.” (vs 14) Not another plan of salvation, but certainly an argument for faithfulness to Christ and the influence of such an example. With or without the encouragement of a partner, may the song on our lips be “though none go with me, I still will follow.” Let us never forget to pray for those in our fellowship who serve Christ faithfully in this way.
“What therefore God has joined together, let no man separate.” (Mark 10:9) Some people believe that divorce is never an option for Christians. I am not one of them. While divorce is always a contradiction of God’s will; while it always a tragedy, I believe that Scripture allows divorce in cases of adultery (Matthew 5:32) and abandonment (1 Corinthians 7:15) On the other hand, divorce is NOT allowed for Christians for reasons of incompatability (sexual, religious, emotional) 1 Corinthians 7:13 says that if the unbelieving spouse is willing to stay, the believer should also be willing. Some disagree, but after years of observation and study, I am convinced that even a difficult marriage, sustained by the Spirit and prayer, is better than any divorce–for the sake of the kingdom, the children, society and, yes, even the spouses. In daily fellowship with Christ, I have seen people work through deep and difficult differences to emerge victorious! May the Lord give us all this assurance.
Like us, the ancient Corinthians had questions about marriage. They were particularly interested in knowing how faith changes the relationship between a husband and wife. Paul’s first answer is that faith in Christ makes marriage equal. Ancients were very familiar with the idea that a husband had authority over his wife’s body. That the wife would also have authority over her husband’s body (1 Corinthians 7:4) was revolutionary! The Bible teaches that marriage is a mutual relationship between people of equal dignity and value. Occassionally I hear people say that Paul is anti-women. I’m convinced that people who make this claim have never read his words for themselves. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female, for you are all ONE in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) These are words that changed the world and they came from God through the pen of Paul.
Years ago, before I met Holly, I was very concerned to be married. I didn’t like being single. I thought that marriage was necessary–something I needed to “get on with my life”. It was a consuming concern. Paul’s letter to Corinth was a turning point for me. The Lord used it to convince me that marriage was good, but so was singleness. True success and happiness has nothing to do with marital status. It is a function of knowing Christ. In 1977, James Dobson founded “Focus on the Family”. I have great respect for his radio program and ministry. I wonder, however, whether the scripture ever lets us FOCUS on the family as the real answer for life’s questions. While the Bible speaks to marriage, singleness, divorce and sex, the central issue for us all (whatever our circumstance) is the Lord. The time is short, says Paul in 1 Corinthians 7:29. Not marriage, not sorrow, not joy, not possessions is the center and secret to life. Christ is.
“But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I ” (1 Corinthians 7:8) “and this I say for your benefit. . .to promote what is seemly and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 7:35) The Scripture gives a high place of honor to Single Adults. 1 Corinthians 7 is one indication. The lives of Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, Jeremiah, and Mary Magdalene (just to name a few) are another. One thing that Singles bring to Kingdom service is undistracted devotion. Paul uses a word (aperispao) which literally means “to draw a sword and wave it around in a circle”. It paints a picture of folks who have so many battles that they don’t know which one to fight first! Being single (for the follower of Christ) can make life simpler. As a Pastor, I have seen firsthand the contribution of godly Single Adults. Paul had seen it too.
A new insight for me this week in 1 Corinthians 5 is Paul’s perspective on the Christian life. He sees it as a celebration! Taking a page from his Jewish upbringing (vs 8), Paul describes, with obvious fondness, the search for leaven that Jewish families did in preparation for the Passover. What a beautiful and joyful tradition! What a powerful children’s sermon! Following the search, the Passover lamb was slain and the family entered into 7 days of feasting (using only unleavened bread). The Christian life is a fulfillment of this symbol and shadow. Followers of Christ (the true and eternal Lamb of God) are not negative, morose, uptight people. By being serious about sin we do not squeeze the joy out of life, we find it! The fruit of the Spirit is love and joy and peace. . .In a few hours, we will meet for worship. “Let us pursue holiness without which no one may see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14) Joy to you, dear friends!
One of the values of the scripture is it’s relevance. Since human nature never changes (nor God’s), at some level every story is about us and our relationship to the Lord. Where are you in 1 Corinthians 5? Are you the Christian who knows that something should be confronted but is reluctant to do so for friendship’s sake or distaste for conflict? Are you the person who loves Christ but has surrendered to private sin only to find that it isn’t private anymore and your church is experiencing the weakening effect of your life? Are you the leader with a clear conscience, willing to act but aware of the danger involved with any act of church discipline? Long before the church acts in corporate strength, God intends a series of individual encounters which warn and plead for repentance. (cf Matthew 18) We are called to this courageous love by Christ Himself. Where are you in this picture? I will see you tomorrow morning in worship. My love to you, dear friend.
Don’t expect a Max Lucado book on this subject, but material would not be hard to find. One chapter could be the Jerusalem Conference (Acts 15) where the church discerned the invitation of grace to the Gentiles. 1 Corinthians 5 could be chapter 2–the day the church at Corinth gathered to remove a man from fellowship for public and unrepentant sin. It was a tense and difficult meeting that worked eventually for good. (cf 2 Corinthians 7:8-12) One of the things that I like best about being Baptist is our emphasis on congregational government. “In the name of our Lord Jesus, when you are assembled”(1 Corinthians 5:4) has the sound of strength–of important/difficult decisions being made by the people of God. Have you been to a business meeting lately? Sept 25 will be a GREAT opportunity. Part of the agenda will be a “State of the Church” address. I have so many things to tell you. I am counting on the Lord’s help and your support, just like 1 Corinthians 5.
“I have decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh, so that his spirit may be saved.” (1 Corinthians 5:5) Let us admit that sincere Christians disagree on the meaning of these words. Some believe that Paul (and the other Apostles) had special powers to inflict disease or death on people who opposed the gospel. (see Acts 5, 13–Ananias and Sapphira and Elymas). Others believe that Paul was expressing the idea of Romans 1. God “gives them over” as an expression of His wrath. He “steps aside” and allows sinners to have what we say we want. The consequences of sin are often lesson enough. Like the prodigal son, the only way that some of us can come home for good is to see what “not home” really is. A painful lesson, but a lesson all the same. Is it God’s love when He lets go of us? Stops pretending? Stops speaking? Refuses to be an enabler?