An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 13)

M.A. Rudge

"But as God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches..." (7:17—21). The principles which have been already developed in relation to marriage (vv. 10-16), are now given a wider application. Speaking generally and as far as possible, we are to remain content with the circumstances in which God called us at conversion and should not be marked by the restless desire for change. The principle is not absolute in its application to our earthly vocation or employment situation. There are circumstances where it would be necessary for a person to change their employment after conversion. Such changes are in line with others which take place after conversion (6:9-11), and are necessary to meet the requirements of "keeping the commandments of God" (v. 19). If we are exercised about living our lives in fellowship with God, to "abide with God" (vv. 20, 24), we will not be unduly concerned for change. Any changes are a matter to keep before God in prayer and if necessary, they will come about under His ordering and guidance and submission to His will. The important thing is not the circumstances or status in which we were saved, but the call of God to salvation and service.

Paul takes an extreme case to serve as an example. Few situations could be more difficult or more incompatible with the freedom and dignity associated with the Christian calling than the position of a slave. But he gives a whole new perspective to the situation. A servant was not to be anxious for change. Paul advises that if the opportunity to be "free" arises, "make use of the possibility." It should be used to advantage and as an opportunity to serve the Lord. It is sensible advice. Either way, a servant is "the Lord’s freeman" and a person who is "free" is "Christ’s bondservant." The distinction is marginal. The important matter is "keeping the commandments of God" (v. 19). None should allow themselves to live as the servants of men. We have been "bought with a price" (Cp. 5:20). This principle is far wider in its application than to the life of a slave. Do we allow others to direct and control our lives and service, rather than the Lord? Verse 24 repeats the principle already stated in verses 17 and 20. This is a threefold emphasis.

The advice given to servants highlights an important point. The apostles were not social reformers. They left the influence of the gospel to work out its own principles in the lives of those who were saved. The epistles to Philemon, Colossians and Ephesians confirm this teaching which will preserve the saints from becoming involved in politics or social action to bring about changes in society.

"Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful..." (vv.25-31). The apostle has dealt with questions mainly related to married persons (vv. 1-24), making a distinction where a marriage took place before the conversion of one of the partners (vv. 12-16) and now responds to a question "concerning virgins" (v. 25). He does not have direct, personal revelation or a "commandment" from the Lord on this subject. It was not a matter concerning which the Lord had given a commandment elsewhere as in verses 10-11, but he gives his "judgment." His guidance is now part of the inspired Scriptures. Paul speaks as "one who is trustworthy by reason of the mercy shown to him by the Lord." It is imperative that those who instruct others must have practiced and shown that they themselves are trustworthy in those matters which they are teaching to others. Where that is the case, they will appreciate that it is entirely a matter of the Lord’s mercy and this will be reflected in the way that instruction is given.

"...I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be..." (v. 26). Verses 25-26 are introductory to what Paul has to say "concerning virgins" throughout the passage even where he makes it into a general application, e.g. "they that have wives" (v. 29). The word "virgins," parthenos (v. 25), is normally applicable in its literal sense to females who have never been married. The words "this is good" refer to the celibate state and the Greek word for "man" ("it is good for a man so to be" v. 26), is anthropos, mankind in general. The idea is this: If in general, celibacy is a state good for man (anthropos, man or woman), now is the time for applying this principle, especially in regard to virgins, on account of the difficulties of the present time.

"Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife..." (vv. 27-28). The distinction in verse 27, is between those who are married and those who are unmarried, i.e. those who are "bound" by the obligations and responsibilities of married life and those who are "loosed from," i.e. not bound by them. Reference has already been made to these obligations and responsibilities (vv. 3-5; 15). See also vv. 28c, 29, 32-34. The married man should not seek "to be loosed" and the unmarried man, a bachelor or widower who is loosed from a wife should not actively seek a wife.

The word "loosed," luo, is used in some instances where a person has been previously bound (Luke 13:16) and this would mean that its second occurrence in verse 17 could include widowers. It has been taught that because Paul used the word "loosed" in its second occurrence in verse 17 and not the word "free," that this includes a reference to divorced persons who have been loosed from the marriage bond. This is to read into the word something which is not in the verse or in the context. As it has been pointed out already, the context is dealing with the difference between those who are married and those who are unmarried, especially virgins. If Paul had used the word "free," elcutheros, it would have not made the sense any more specific or any different in its application. This word is also used where a person has been previously bound. In verse 39, the widow is now "at liberty" (free) to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord. In verses 39 - 40 the widow is dealt with as a special class of unmarried persons.

"But this I say, brethren, the time [is] short..." (vv. 29-31). In these verses, Paul identifies the main principle which is to govern every situation, whether married or unmarried. The time is shortened and this world is a temporary, passing scene. This is to govern our whole attitude towards every aspect of life. The teaching calls for a balanced approach to every day life where nothing predominates to the extent that it becomes more important than living in view of the Lord’s return. Five situations are envisaged where everything is viewed in the light of this reality.

The first situation where those that have wives should be as though they did not, does not teach neglect of the responsibilities of the married life but does call for them not to be given undue attention. Uriah is a good example of this principle (2 Sam. 11:11). Secondly, "they that weep as though they wept not" reminds us that it is possible to become engulfed by sorrow in a way that leads to self-occupation and detracts from the vital issue of the Lord’s service. The same principle is true of excessive elation during occasions of rejoicing. Necessary purchases are not to be made in a possessive, materialistic spirit. It is not to become so important to us that it is a preoccupation.

We need to "use" the world in the sense that we live in an ordered society where its services are available to us in the ordinary course of affairs. This is not to lead to abuse, "as not abusing it," (lit. "use to the full," Cp. 9:18). We are not to exploit opportunities which are open to us in a way that calls for excessive effort to gain maximum advantage and in order to conform with the changing fashions of the world, its aims, aspirations and life-style.

The overriding emphasis continues to be the right use of Christian liberty. To remain content with the situation in which God called us with a specific application to the unmarried and virgins in view of the "present distress" (necessity; necessity imposed by the whole character of Christian conflict and experience with all the demands which it places upon believers; v. 26). The matter which is of greatest importance is kept before us in the words which open and close the next passage. "But I would have you without carefulness ... that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction" (vv. 32, 35). Cp. Luke 10:38-42.