An Outline of Paul's First Epistle to the Corinthians (Part 15)

M.A. Rudge

Christian Liberty (6:12-11:1)

M.A. Rudge

"But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord. . And this I speak for your own profit. . . that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction." (vv 32-35). This passage begins and ends on the same note, which emphasises the importance of living without distracting influences, in order to please the Lord as a matter of priority. Paul is now thinking specifically of the distracting cares of married life and the advantages of celibacy in being able to "attend upon the Lord without distraction." Of course, there can be other things which exercise a distracting influence, other than married life. (Cp. Luke 10:40-42).

In verse 32, the apostle is speaking of a general principle. The unmarried person does not have to give consideration to a partner, when making decisions which involve what is pleasing to the Lord. He, (or she), is not obliged to give attention to mundane worldly matters, to the same extent that this is necessary in marriage and in family life. This is true in a general sense. Paul has spoken of the unmarried (v32), the married man (v. 33), and the married woman (v. 34), in general terms. He is now making a specific application of the general principle to virgins, which is continued in verses 36-38. There is a difference between the wife and the virgin (v. 34). The virgin is able to set herself apart for what is pleasing to the Lord in a more absolute sense, "both in body and in spirit" but the wife must give consideration to her husband, especially in the matter of her body (v. 4). The wife has divided interests and cares but the virgin is able to give undivided attention to caring for what is pleasing to the Lord. Paul has their highest interests in view, "your own profit", bearing in mind what is filling in the circumstances, "that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction."

The whole proceeding passage (vv. 29-35), is a serious challenge to our hearts today! To what extent do our lives give evidence that we believe "the time is short", that we are not concerned with getting on in the world but getting through it as pilgrims and strangers and that our main priority in life is to give our undistracted and undivided attention to living for Christ. Only one life, ‘twill soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.

Verses 36-38, give specific guidance to a father who is faced with making a decision as to whether he should give permission for his virgin daughter to marry or that she should remain unmarried. (Under the patriarchal and Mosaic dispensations, as well as in the Roman and Greek world, it was customary for a daughter’s marriage to be the father’s decision. Cp. Gen. 24:50,51; 29:18,19; 34:6-8. It is still the custom in some parts of the world today.)

Two different types of situation are envisaged. In the first instance (v. 36), a man considers that it would be unbecoming ("behaveth himself uncomely"), "unseemly," to withhold permission for his daughter to take the opportunity to marry. She is past "the flower of her age," "the prime or bloom of life." The words "and need so require", are not a reference to the virgin feeling the need to marry. The Greek original reads "and it ought to be" (Gk. Inter), "it ought to happen" (AT Robertson).

Paul advises, "let him do what he will." If this is the decision arrived at by the father, there is no need to reproach himself in any way, in giving her in marriage.

In the second case (v. 37), the situation is somewhat different. The father is not under any pressure to arrive at a decision, "having no necessity." There is no pressing need as in the previous case, which would influence his decision one way or the other, or which might lead him to change his mind, if he has decided, possibly in agreement with his daughter, that it is not the will of God for her to marry. The more extended language of verse 37 indicates, he has given the matter a great deal of consideration and has finally come to a firm decision that "he will keep his virgin." It is a simple case of one father doing "well" and the other father doing "better." Paul’s guidance is in keeping with the main subject of Christian liberty. The words, "giveth in marriage" (v. 38), makes it extremely difficult, if not impossible, to accept that the subject under consideration is that of a man who keeps ‘his own virginity. So that he that marries himself does well...’ JND.

"The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead (‘be fallen asleep’ marg.), she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord. But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment; and I think also that I have the Spirit of God." (vv. 39,40). It may be questioned why the apostle refers again to widows after including them in verses 8 and 9. It seems that widows represent a special case of unmarried persons, even distinct from that of widowers, and this makes for their being given special treatment. One significant difference between "widows" and "virgins" is that they are free to act without the consent of fathers. In contrast to the advice given here, Paul advises "younger widows" to marry in 1 Tim. 5:11,14, in the context of widows being "taken into the number" of those who received financial support from the assembly (1 Tim. 5:3-16). Each case must be looked at in its context.

"The wife is ("‘hath been") bound (by the law) as long as her husband liveth (v. 39). The words "by the law" are omitted in Gk Inter; (JND). In any case, it would not be a reference to marriage under the Mosaic law, where the breaking of the marriage bond and divorce was permissible under exceptional conditions (Deut. 24:1-4). ‘The wife hath been bound to her husband as long as be is living’, is yet another emphatic confirmation of the binding character of the marriage union enshrined in the Creator’s law "from the beginning" (Matt. 19:4-6; Mark 10:6-9), which, can only be terminated by death. This legislation has never been abrogated and can be traced from the original wording of Gen. 2:23, 24, in the Lord’s teaching on the subject and in Paul’s writings here, and in Romans 7:1-4.

In Romans 7:1-4, Paul uses the same language as in 1 Cor. 7:39. He writes, "Know ye not, brethren, (for I speak to them that know [the] law), how that the law hath dominion over a man as long as he liveth: for the woman which hath an husband is bound by (the) law to her husband so long as he live th, but if her husband be dead, she is loosed from the law of her husband. So then if, while her husband live th, she be married to another man she shall be ("Divinely") called an adulteress, but if her husband be dead, she is free from that law, so that she is no adulteress, though she be married to another man,.. ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married. In speaking of "the law," "the law of her husband" and "that law" (vv. 2-3), the apostle is again referring to the original marriage legislation in Genesis. He makes a specific application of the original law governing marriage, with its lifelong, binding union, in order to deal with the relationship of the believer (especially the Jewish believer) to the law of Moses. How can a man who has been (as under the old dispensation) under the law, be freed from the dominion of the law and be united to Christ, "married to another.. .that we should bring forth fruit unto God"? The answer is, only by His death and resurrection. "Wherefore, my brethren, ye also are become dead to the law by the body of Christ, that ye should be married to another, even to Him who is raised from the dead..."

In the same way that only death can terminate the marriage bond and set a person free from it, the death of Christ is the only means of freeing a person from the dominion of the law, in order for them to be united to Christ. To introduce any other means is to deny the sole sufficiency of the death of Christ.

"If divorce on any grounds and remarriage is tolerated, then the apostle’s whole argument falls to pieces. If marriage can be terminated by a legal process, then the death of Christ is no longer the only means of meeting the sinners need. To teach that it is permissible for a woman to be divorced from her husband and marry another during his lifetime (or vice versa), is to assault the unique character of the death of Christ as the only means whereby God can meet the sinners need. Nor, apparently, does the possibility of one or the other, or both of them getting saved, alter the situation. God is speaking of man and woman and of marriage in general as a Divine institution for His creatures. Neither a "legal" divorce nor the experience of salvation can alter the fact that if a woman marries another man during the lifetime of her husband, "she shall be called an adulteress"’ (Present Truth: Vol. 7, No 81, 1993).

Although the widow does not need a father’s permission to marry, she is only free to marry "in the Lord", i.e. if it is the Lord’s will for her. Christian marriage is more than the marriage of two persons who are Christians. They must be brought together in the will of God (Gen. 2:22c; 24:14c). Every Christian marriage should be "in the Lord."

If we tend to think that Paul’s advice is calculated to make those who decide against marriage unhappy, we should ponder the fact that he makes the widow’s personal happiness (v 40), the final point, in support of the advantages of celibacy.