Tag Archives: 1 Corinthians 7

Context and Relationships

 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord.
1 Corinthians 7:32 (NIV)

Wendy and I just returned from a trip to Minnesota. I was scheduled to make a client visit early this week, so we left early and enjoyed an evening in the Twin Cities along with a Minnesota Vikings’ game (more about that on a subsequent post). Since Wendy and I work together, we have the privilege of Wendy begin able to travel with me if and when she wants to do so. That being said, she doesn’t always choose do so.

Wendy and I enjoy one another’s company. If we didn’t, our lives would be a mess. Not only do we live together and work together, we home office together. We serve together. We are pretty much around one another 24/7/365. We’re actually pretty darn happy about the arrangement, though we totally understand that not all married couples could do it the way we do it.

I will also admit that when Wendy accompanies me on a business trip, it changes things for me. Instead of being able to manage my own schedule and focus on the client, I also have to think about Wendy. She’s been alone in the hotel all day. She’s probably getting hungry and we need to figure out what we’re going to eat together. What is Wendy likely to want to do with our time together this evening?

These aren’t bad things, it simply adds a layer of things I have to manage. The trip is more simple if Wendy’s not with me. Likewise, Wendy has come to embrace the fact that being alone at home for a couple of days affords her the opportunity to get a lot of tasks on her list accomplished. She’s freed up from worrying about me. The evenings that would be normally spent hanging out together is suddenly open to all sorts of individual possibilities.

In this morning’s chapter, Paul is writing to the believers of Jesus in Corinth with some relationship advice. Along my journey I’ve quite regularly encountered individuals who like to use pieces of this chapter to make all sorts of sweeping legalistic rules about relationships. Personally, I’ve come to believe that it’s important to keep two things in mind; Make that three, no four:

  1. The believers in Corinth were struggling with an acute circumstance in which an incestuous relationship between two believers was wreaking havoc inside their community (5:1). Sexual immorality (especially the socially acceptable practice in Greek and Roman society of having sex with local shrine prostitutes, both heterosexual and homosexual) was quite common.
  2. The tremendous number of adults, from diverse walks of life, becoming believers had created  a situation in which many felt that becoming a follower of Jesus meant that they had to immediately change all manner of things in their personal lives, including their marital status (7:24).
  3. Paul believed that the return of Jesus and the end of all things as they knew it was imminent (v. 29).
  4. The persecution that had broken out against Christians meant that lives, and therefore relationships, could change at a moment’s notice which had far-reaching social implications for individuals and the entire community in that day.

I believe that it’s critical to keep the context in mind when reading Paul’s advice to the believers in Corinth. There are also an entire host of real life circumstances, both personal and cultural, that lie outside the specific situations faced by the Corinthians believers. I don’t believe that Paul’s advice to the Corinthian believers is a “one size fits all” text for every person in every relational circumstance.

Please don’t read what I am not writing. There is tremendous, scriptural wisdom that Paul is providing that is applicable to all. For example, Paul recognizes the very thing that Wendy and I have discovered in our own relationship. When we’re alone and on our own for a few days we’re free from having to worry about the other and can be all sorts of productive. Paul recognizes his singleness was crucial to his ability to accomplish all that God called him to do, and he thinks others would benefit from being single (especially because he knew that the Corinthians believers could be rounded up and killed, and he believed that Jesus could return at any moment). Does this mean that Wendy and I should not be married? Not at all. Wendy and I are ultimately more productive, more balanced, and better together at accomplishing what God has called us to than we would be as individuals. Context is critical to the proper interpretation of what Paul is writing to Jesus’ followers in ancient Corinth.

In the quiet this morning I’m thankful for Wendy, my partner in life, work, leisure, and ministry. She makes me a better man, and her complimentary gifts and personality actually support, equip, and empower me. I’m also thankful for short periods of time that our work affords us to be alone and focus on what we individually need to accomplish. It works well for us, but I also recognize that not every single person or married couple are like us. Nor should they be. We’re each in our own unique circumstances, and God meets each of us in the context of our individual situations.

The Mess of Relationships

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.
1 Corinthians 7:17 (NIV)

My friend Matthew is a marriage and family therapist here in our small Iowa town. This is a great little community founded in 1847 by a Dutch pastor and his devout group of Jesus’ followers. After 170 years our community retains a strong culture of Christian values, and I would daresay that a majority of our town’s citizens would claim to be believers. Nevertheless, I’ve noticed over the years that my friend Matthew never ceases to be booked solid with clients. My quiet observation is that even among those who sincerely seek to follow Jesus, relationships are a never-ending challenge.

Today’s chapter reads like a modified bullet list from Dear Abby as Paul advises those who are married, those who are single wishing to be married, those who are widowed, those who are separated from their spouses, and those who are married to unbelievers. He weaves in and out of stating what he knows from Jewish laws and tradition, and what he believes in his own opinion as the first century believers struggle to determine what it means to live as a follower of Jesus in a rapidly developing faith tradition. Based on what he has already established earlier in his letter, Paul is addressing a fledgling group of Jesus’ followers from diverse cultural traditions living in what is primarily a pagan Greek town in the first century Roman Empire. Most of what the Corinthian believers knew of Jesus’ words and teaching was transmitted orally by the Apostles. It is likely that none of the Gospels had even been written when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians.

I’m an amateur student of history, I’ve come to accept that every generation of believers in every culture have struggled with all of these relational and marital issues. Courtship, sex before marriage, marriage, sex within marriage, infidelity, separation, divorce, widowhood, sex outside of marriage and remarriage have always been challenging issues. They have always spurred intense debate and emotional turmoil for individuals, families, churches, communities, and nations. I believe they always will this side of eternity.

As I read through today’s chapter and couldn’t help thinking of real people I know in very real and very unique life situations. It spurs questions of “Yeah, but what about….” God’s Message through Paul provides a general  guide for believers, but it certainly isn’t  exhaustive and it doesn’t come close to addressing countless specific situations. Being a divorced and remarried follower of Jesus, I have grappled with my very own relational struggles and failures. I have received (both solicited and unsolicited) diverse opinions from other sincere believers ranging from grace and forgiveness to judgment and condemnation. [sigh] Life gets messy on this earthly journey.

This morning I find myself grappling with my own past. I have continuously journeyed through and studied the Bible for almost 40 years. I have sought to increasingly live as a sincere believer of Jesus, though I regularly fall short. The failure of my first marriage and all the personal shortcomings that led to it are right up there at the top of my failure list.  Yet, there are a few things Holy Spirit continually whispers to my soul when my shame rolls in like the tide:

  • First, nowhere in God’s Message does the failure of a marriage exclude a person from God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.
  • Second, God has a long track record of redeeming and using broken people with personal failings for His good purposes.

The good news for my friend Matthew and his colleagues is that they will have job security as long as imperfect human beings date, get married, and seek to successfully live together in this fallen world.

The Double Edged Sword of Marriage and Singleness

“I wish that all of you were [unmarried] as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.”
1 Corinthians 7:7 (NIV)

Paul was unmarried, and in his letters to the followers of Jesus in Corinth he expresses his appreciation for being “undivided” in his loyalties. He means, that as an unmarried person he could devote himself fully to the work of God without having to invest time, energy, and resources into a marriage relationship. I understand the common sense in his reasoning. Marriage certainly takes work and a large investment of time and energy.

Over my earthly journey I have observed that we as humans tend to err on the extremes of many earthly issues. I have come to believe that my culture often does a disservice in fostering a pervasive expectation of marriage for all young people. Marriage is a great thing when it is right, but many young people walk into marriage thinking it will solve problems when it can actually creates more problems (with greater complexity) than it solves.

The traditional marriage vows of the church state that “marriage should not be entered into unadvisedly or lightly, but soberly, deliberately….” but I’ve observed that this is what happens more often than not. If the church wants people to heed that advice, then I think we need to do a much better job of communicating that singleness is a healthy, acceptable, and advisable life choice.

On the other end of the spectrum, it’s clear that some find celibacy and singleness to be a better spiritual choice. While I appreciate much about the Roman Catholic traditions, I have always thought the blanket prescription of celibate priests a silly idea. Just as it is wrong to think that everyone would be better off getting married, it is equally wrong to think that everyone is better off spiritually by staying single. I understand that the Roman church wants their priests to follow Paul’s example and be fully dedicated to their work, but I’m not convinced that celibacy is universally better for serving God.

This past Sunday I delivered the morning message in two services among my local gathering of Jesus followers. While I could have done it without Wendy, I am much better off with her by my side. She takes care of my needs in the morning (all the time, really) so that I can be prepared. She is a sounding board for my thoughts and ideas and helps me refine my message. She is quick and adept at helping me get wired for sound. She is constantly by my side providing relational and emotional support. She runs and gets me water or coffee if I need it. She gives me flawless and on-target critiques between services to help me improve. She is my greatest cheerleader and my strongest prayer supporter. After the service she helps me debrief. Paul may have been better off serving God without a wife, but I am certain I would not serve God as well were it not for Wendy.

This morning I am thinking of my unmarried friends and family, some of whom struggle constantly with the cultural (or personal) perception that there is something wrong because they are not married. I’m thankful for them, and happy for the good things in this life that they enjoy with their freedom. I am also thinking about Wendy this morning. Like all marriages, ours has its constant challenges. Nevertheless, I am constantly aware of the many ways she makes me a better human being, and a better servant of God.

Earthly Entanglements and Eternal Purposes

2012 06 02 Becky & Courtneys Wedding173I want you to be free from the concerns of this life. 1 Corinthians 7:32a (NLT)

Wendy and I live in an unusual situation compared to most married couples I know. We work for the same company and we both work from home. In our spare time we both serve on the Board of Directors for our local community theatre, operate the virtual box office together out of our home, and are regularly involved in shows and productions together on stage. On Sundays, Wendy and I serve together in the visual tech ministry of our church either directing video production or serving behind a video camera. The bottom line is that with the exception of some business travel, Wendy and I are virtually around one another 24/7/365.

Today’s chapter is a virtual web of situational and circumstantial advice, suggestions, and commands surrounding marriage, singleness, and relationships. It’s a little confusing to try and sort out all that Paul is saying and still get the context in which he’s saying it. Whenever I wade into a chapter like this, I try to look for the crux of what the author is getting at. I think the sentence I pulled out from verse 32 is it. Paul’s personal preference is for people to be single like he was, and to be free from earthly concerns so they can focus on eternal matters. He personally saw it as a good thing for people to be free to follow God’s calling without the complications of earthly responsibility.

Being married, and being around your spouse all the time, it’s easy for me to relate to the point that Paul was trying to get through to the believers in Corinth. Marriage creates earthly entanglements. Perhaps this is even more clear to me because my beloved and I are around one another so much. Because of me and the girls, Wendy’s mental focus is constantly shifting from what she needs to do herself to managing the house and the needs of others in the family. She never complains (okay, she rarely complains), but there is no doubt that I am a complication to her existence. The same is true on my side of the ledger. Besides the day to day priorities of making sure I’m looking out for Wendy’s needs, being married carries added responsibility of thinking about provision, planning, and legacy. I’m not just responsible for myself but for my family and the probability that I will leave this world before them.

Marriage creates earthly entanglements. This is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact, it is an honorable thing and Paul acknowledges that those who are in marriage are called to serve their spouse well. Nevertheless, one must understand that marriage carries weighty and far reaching consequences. You can’t always do the things you personally desire or perhaps to even to do things to which you feel called because your higher priority is looking out for and meeting the needs of your spouse. As a single person, Paul observed the freedom he had to serve Jesus wholeheartedly without the entanglements of marriage, and he obviously thought it a good thing to do if a person could pull it off.

This morning, I’m thinking about Wendy and me and one observation that Paul didn’t make. Sometimes two are better than one because there is a better return on their labor. I am convinced that Wendy and I together accomplish more and do a better job than either of us would alone. We compliment one another’s strengths, sharpen one another’s dull edges, and protect one another from our weaknesses and shortcomings. The marriage brings earthly entanglements, but it also brings tangible, eternal strengths to our earthly purposes.