In 1 Corinthians 7, very practical issues in life are expressed in the area of relationships and marriage. It's shown that God cares about the relationships we form and has some very specific choices that will lead us in the right direction. In particular, marriage is a very special and distinctive relationship that can't be taken in part.
The basis of the chapter also reveals that there is a gap between the way our mainstream society thinks, and how God thinks. Society presents us with a series of dreams and hopes for the future that may impede our relationship with God.
In order to keep God as the influence in our life, and not the dreams of our countrymen, then we need to be vigilant about how we interact with society and how much we let it form our thought process.
The Pearl of Great Value
Matthew 13:45: "Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a man who is a merchant seeking fine pearls, 46. who having found one pearl of great price, he went and sold all that he had, and bought it. WEB
When he found the precious pearl, that became his focus in life, and the value of having it was so much greater than the value of having his current possessions. He was willing to give those thing up for the opportunity to have that pearl as his possession. It was the desirability of that pearl that all those other things were not to be valued anymore.
The analogy is that the kingdom of God is of such great value that people will be needing to give up many aspects of their life in order to have a part in it. Not only that, but it will be something that is done gladly, and not out of regret. It's like giving up the old worn-out car for the sake of getting the shiny new one. There may be the occasional twinge of regret, but overall it is moving toward something more desirable.
Of course, this is not to say that it's a wise thing to invest in great pearls or new cars, but it's just an analogy for the promise that does have that value.
1 Cor 7 is a chapter about leaving behind one set of possessions in life in order to be a part of a much greater possession. It's about the process of putting on the mind of Christ
2. Christian Marriage
The start of 1 Corinthians 7 addresses an issue of people forming marriage relationships. It's given as an answer to an unspecified question,
1 Corinthians 7:1: Now concerning the things about which you wrote to me: it is good for a man not to touch a woman. 2. But, because of sexual immoralities, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband. 3. Let the husband render to his wife the affection owed her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. WEB
It was a question about relationships, and given the context in the chapter, it's based largely around sexual relationships. Hence the first summary response is that “it is good for a man not to touch a woman”. This section of the chapter is couched somewhat in euphemisms, but the underlying meaning is still clear.
It lays out four life alternatives, of which two are acceptable, and in keeping with Gods principles, and two are contrary to them.
- Single, and acting as truly single
- Married, and acting as a married couple
- Married, but without marriage relations
- Single, but acting as married
The first, that of being a genuinely single person, is put up as being the best aim in life for an unmarried person. This is emphasised again a little later in the chapter,
1 Corinthians 7:8: But I say to the unmarried and to widows, it is good for them if they remain even as I am. 9. But if they don't have self-control, let them marry. For it's better to marry than to burn. WEB
He's clear that being single is the best course of action, but also that many people would not have the strength to maintain that life. Instead human weaknesses would lead them into not being able to follow it as an option in life. For these people, Paul states that marriage offers the solution. It's a relationship designed and sactioned by God that would fulfil the human needs.
Corrupting God's Packages
While the first two options are ranked in preference, the other two aren't ranked, but rather both are just considered wrong in the eyes of God. They each involving mixing parts from the two quite separate packages of lifestyle that God offers.
One is for people to be not married, but yet still take on the sexual relations that are part of marriage. The various media shows that this has been an increasingly common thing to do among mainstream society. The world at large says that this is fine, and a good thing to do, but God says that it's wrong, and going down that path damages our relationship with God.
The other case that's explicitly mentioned is that of a married couple not genuinely acting as a married couple, by choosing not to have the physical relationship that is part of that package.
1 Corinthians 7:3: Let the husband render to his wife the affection owed her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. 4 The wife doesn't have authority over her own body, but the husband. Likewise also the husband doesn't have authority over his own body, but the wife. 5. Don't deprive one another, unless it is by consent for a season, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer, and may be together again, that Satan doesn't tempt you because of your lack of self-control. WEB
Relationships and God
The overall point is that our personal relationships do matter with God, and its not something that we can rationalise about and make our own standards. There are two distinct ways we can live:
- As a single person who is “one flesh” before God.
- As a man an a woman who have come together to become “one flesh” before God.
If we adjust our lives to fit into exactly one of those categories, then we make one step forward in the challenge to secure the “pearl of great price” that is a place in the kingdom of God. If we don't, then it is holding on to those old possessions.
3. Living Out the Dream
A remarkable feature of 1 Corinthians 7 is that Paul is giving advice that is contrary to the popular dream of our society. He is stating that an appropriate single life is a better thing than to get married. It's as if he is shattering an age-old dream that young people have,
1 Corinthians 7:32: But I desire to have you to be free from cares. He who is unmarried is concerned for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33. but he who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife. 34. There is also a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world—how she may please her husband. 35. This I say for your own profit; not that I may ensnare you, but for that which is appropriate, and that you may attend to the Lord without distraction. WEB
We can ask ourselves whether this is evidence of a gap between the way that we understand the world, and the way that God has put before us. In order to secure this “pearl of great price”, we need to look for all the other things in our life that can be sold to make way. If there is a difference here, then this could represent a separation we have from God's purpose.
For countless generations, there has been a dream among the young to find romance and get married. Where does this come from? To some extent, it fulfils an internal designed need we have. But another source is the story-media. There are the movies, and before that the books, and before that the fairy-tales. They showcase the tension and excitement, and eventually the happy ending as the couple “live happily ever after”.
This concept is so entrenched in society that it would be hard for us to escape its influence. So are our dreams in life more driven by the fairy-tales than they are by the promise of God? If so, that would be a cause for concern.
It's possible that we are so blinded by the conventional thought of the society that we live in, that we can't see the bigger picture. When we see these sorts of differences, we really need to ask whether we are seeing the full picture.
2 Corinthians 4:3: Even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled in those who perish; 4. in whom the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God, should not dawn on them. WEB
It's like the supporters of a sporting team watching a game, and only seeing half of it. The umpire is only wrong when its a decision against your own team. We have an amazing capacity to only see the things that we are conditioned to want to see. As a result, we may be seeing things from the perspective of the team of humanity, rather than the team of God.
Brain as a Sponge
The things that we value in life are directly a result of our past experiences. When we immerse ourselves in a particular culture, it becomes part of us, and starts to dictate the things we value in life. In living in the 21st century developed world, it shapes who we are and the opinions we form.
Our environment affects the direct vision we have in front of us at any one point in time.
What we are thinking in day to day life determines who we become.
Prov 29:18: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he. KJV
We can consider our brain as a sponge, soaking up the water that we expose it to. It could be the water of the sea of the nations, or it could be the living water offered through Jesus.
Developing our Thought Process
Sometimes we can't choose the type of thoughts we will have, as they are dictated by the situation. However, there are also many times that we do have that luxury. If we sit down to watch a movie or television or read a book, we are feeding ourselves spiritual food. Similarly if we listen to music, watch sport or go to a party, we are shaping ourselves and our future thoughts. Long after this event, it will continue to shape our thought process, because it has become part of us.
We can evaluate whether that's something we want to be part of us: whether it is a spirit from God, or the spirit of man. Our thought process learns to focus on the things we feed it with. In Philippians, the people were urged to direct their thought process, and make a choice about what types of things to fill their minds with.
Philippians 4:8: Finally, brothers, whatever things are true, whatever things are honorable, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report; if there is any virtue, and if there is any praise, think about these things. WEB
Similarly, in writing to Timothy, Paul urged him to consciously direct his thought processes by choosing his actions.
1 Timothy 4:14: Do not neglect the gift that is in you, which was given to you by prophecy with the laying on of the hands of the eldership. 15. Meditate on these things; give yourself entirely to them, that your progress may be evident to all. NKJV
It as about feeding his mind with the things that would make it grow in the right direction.
Singles more Devoted to God
The single-mindedness toward God is one of the reasons that Paul gives for people to stay unmarried.
1 Cor 7:32: But I desire to have you to be free from cares. He who is unmarried is concerned for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; 33. but he who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife. WEB
It's highlighting one of the problems of marriage in that the marriage takes up time and attention. It shows that being a single person gives more time to devote to doing and thinking God's purpose.
For single people, this raises the challenge of whether that additional time is genuinely spent on this purpose. Or instead is it spent in making effort to become married, or progressing career, or simply having fun and enjoying the present world?
An ongoing theme through 1 Corinthians 7 is that of maintaining present life conditions, and not actively seeking change in our physical circumstances.
1 Cor 7:21: Were you called being a bondservant? Don't let that bother you, but if you get an opportunity to become free, use it. ... 24. Brothers, let each man, in whatever condition he was called, stay in that condition with God. WEB
It's all about what we have in our minds as the focus of our lives. We are called not to be using our time to meditate about our marital status, our career status, or the status of our possessions. There's something more valuable that we can put our attention into.
As Jesus stated,
It all about putting attention into that one pearl of great price, because it is so much better than the other cheap trinkets we have.
Matthew 6:33: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you. KJV
4. Come Out and be Separate
The message is continually that we are living in a society that is dangerous to our continued faith in following God. It's a society that pushes our attention back onto the pretty beads we already have. In doing this, it diminishes the resolve to obtain that one pearl.
In Proverbs 5, we see by way of analogy this society as the adulterous woman. There it states,
Proverbs 5:8: Remove your way far from her. Don't come near the door of her house, 9. Lest you give your honor to others, And your years to the cruel one; WEB
The idea is to remove the temptation, no matter how enticing it may seem. The warning is that playing with fire is a dangerous thing,
Proverbs 6:27: Can a man take fire to his bosom, And his clothes not be burned? NKJV
In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul wrote again about this issue. He was encouraging the people to be careful about how involved they became with the ideas and dreams of their society,
2 Cor 6:14: Don't be unequally yoked with unbelievers, for what fellowship have righteousness and iniquity? Or what communion has light with darkness? 15. What agreement has Christ with Belial? Or what portion has a believer with an unbeliever? 16. What agreement has a temple of God with idols? For you are a temple of the living God. Even as God said, "I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they will be my people." 17 Therefore, "`Come out from among them, And be separate,' says the Lord, `Touch no unclean thing. I will receive you. 18. I will be to you a Father. You will be to me sons and daughters,' says the Lord Almighty." WEB
So many times in our life, we can choose what influences will surround us. Often we may feel the fire we take to us won't burn our clothes, but fire is still fire.
What we are implored to do is to examine our choices and things make part of us:
- The movies that paint our dreams.
- The books that shape our ideas.
- The excitement from a game of sport.
- The mood from music
- The values from a choice in job.
Focusing on God for Direction
Right through the Psalms, we can see the virtue in focusing thought onto the things of God.
Psalms 1:1: Blessed is the man who doesn't walk in the counsel of the wicked, Nor stand in the way of sinners, Nor sit in the seat of scoffers; 2. But his delight is in Yahweh's law; On his law he meditates day and night. 3. He will be like a tree planted by the streams of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also does not wither. Whatever he does shall prosper. WEB
The drive in life should be to choose the living water to absorb into our lives and to determine who we are.
Importance of the Cause/Motivation
In some of the examples, it's not that the action itself is specifically wrong, but a life in Christ is impeded if having the wrong foundations. The things that will most easily take away our allegiance and basis of faith are those things that are similar, but just that bit different.
The world paints a dream of getting married and living happily ever after. Corinthians says that while not the best option before God, marriage can be a good thing for those that are weak. These overlap somewhat, so the temptation is to just go back and accept the dream of the society.
From this comes a theme of the importance of the cause or the importance of the motivation behind an action.
1 Cor 13:3: If I dole out all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but don't have love, it profits me nothing. WEB
We can give up all, and do the greatest of acts, but yet if it isn't out of the right motivation it doesn't have the value.
- No value in marriage, if it's from following the dream of our society.
- No value in being single, unless its for the time to spend for God.
- No value to life, unless we are living it with God in our mind.