Bible Study from Calvary Chapel Newberg

with Tom Fuller

Lesson 12: Don\'t Panic Part 1 - Marriage and Divorce

1Corinthians 7:1-16

Beginning in chapter 7, Paul begins to address specific questions the Corinthians had sent him regarding marriage, eating meat sacrificed to idols, worship, the Lord\'s supper and the resurrection. First he addresses a question about marriage. If you look at the chapter as a whole the context might be this: \"in light of the sin in the world around us, shouldn\'t we take drastic steps to be more holy?\" Those steps might include abstinence in marriage, divorce, singleness, or other radical changes in association or position. Overall, Paul\'s answer is: \"stay put, and stay the course.\"

Before we look at this section I need to set a context, otherwise we tend to explode what we read into universal absolutes, and text without context is a pretext! So what is the context here? There are three factors: 1) Incredible societal change 2) immense persecution and 3) cultural influence. Before Christianity, women in Roman society were treated as mere property?a little better than children but not much. But in Christ things were different. Paul himself wrote in Galatians 3:28 that there was no longer a distinction between men and women in the body of Christ. This fundamental shift in thinking brought about a seismic wave of change?and there are places in many of the letters of the New Testament meant to keep that change from overwhelming the focus on the gospel. Women who were married to non-Christian men suddenly felt like they could or ought to divorce their husbands to fully embrace the new freedom or so they could be more holy.

The second major context is what Paul refers to in verse 26 as \"the present distress.\" The NET Bible calls it an \"impending crisis\". We don\'t know exactly what the persecution was but it was big enough for Paul to adjust his advice about marriage and singleness.

The third is the larger context of the Corinthian culture. So, we come to Paul\'s discussion of marriage where he answers three questions: isn\'t it better to abstain, even if we are married? Isn\'t it better to be single than married? And if we\'re married to pagans, should we divorce them?

1 ? 2

Given the overly sexualized Corinthian society, the church may have concluded that if sex is bad then we should stop it, even if we are married. The HCSB adds quotes around the statement to suggest the question to Paul.

The reality check is that God made us for marriage (Genesis 2:18 \"It is not good for the man to be alone.\"). And in marriage, which is a lifelong commitment between a man and a woman, physical intimacy is the norm, and it is good. (Hebrews 13:4 Marriage is honorable among all, and the bed undefiled NKJV).

Given 1) the power of the need for physical intimacy and 2) the power of the society pulling them and us towards sexual immorality, Paul says we should be married and we should express that union in physical intimacy.

The Corinthians somehow thought that being celibate in marriage would help, but in the end it would only lead to one or the other partner finding intimacy outside of marriage?never ever a good thing.

3 ? 4

In the Garden of Eden, God gave Adam Eve as his wife. God said: \"This is why a man leaves his father and mother and bonds with this wife and they become one flesh\" (Genesis 2:24). Somehow in that union something happens which is more than the joining of two bodies, it is the joining of two lives. It is so complete that the husband relinquishes himself also to his wife and vice versa. It\'s an incredibly powerful thing that binds a husband and wife together like nothing else.

But if the Corinthians saw sex used so wrongly around them, then all sex must be bad, they thought. This is like saying all money is bad because there is counterfeit currency floating around.


So notice that Paul is not saying a spouse can demand sex, but he does say we are not to withhold it. If, however, a couple decides there is something really important that they must deal with in prayer, it is okay?but by mutual consent. The Corinthians would take this to the extreme and say \"we\'ll devote our whole lives to prayer so we should never have intimate relations again.\" This is a recipe for adultery. Once someone enjoys that wonderful union in marriage, cutting it off is never healthy and because we are still broken people, that drive will demand to be expressed in ways God didn\'t intend.

6 ? 9

Some say that in verse 6 Paul is saying that marriage is a concession and celibacy is the ideal. But it could just as easily mean that it is merely the conclusion to verse 5?this idea of staying apart by mutual consent for a short period of time.

That having been said, Paul acknowledges that both singleness and being married are gifts. Each of us has our own calling. Being married for Paul would be very difficult?as his life as an Apostle would be hampered if he had a wife and children to worry about. But that shouldn\'t also automatically mean singleness is better. In fact, the way he puts it, if you aren\'t called to be single, you ought to seek God for a Christian spouse!

10 ? 11

This is a difficult section to interpret so just at the onset understand that good meaning people will disagree here. I think it\'s important to set a context. Paul was trying to fight two tendencies in the church?giving in to the flesh because \"what happens in the body stays in the body\" or giving up on the flesh altogether. The other thing to consider is that this was an exciting new time for one particular part of the church culture?the women. For the first time they were accorded equal rights with men. The \"ascetic\" view said that physical relations, and even marriage itself, was somehow wrong and \"fleshly.\" So the tendency, especially for some of the women, was to divorce their husbands.

Paul very bluntly says \"don\'t do it because Jesus said not to.\" A life-long commitment to a relationship is God\'s norm. One person said recently that living together is like Velcro but marriage is like glue. Glue is hard to pull apart and actually creates a chemical bond between two surfaces. If you pull them apart it damages both. Divorce was given as a concession, not as a valid and equal alternative to God\'s best. Do whatever you can and whatever it takes to stay married.

Even as Paul said this, though, he knew not everyone would listen. So he tells the women ? and later the men too ? that if they divorce they have two options: remain unmarried or be reconciled. By the way, does this mean the church is forbidden from marrying a formerly divorced person? I don\'t think so. If they tried their best and failed, or if there was abuse of any kind?and there is a realization of what happened, then I think it is okay. The thing that is bad is treating marriage like Velcro?easily ripped apart and easily joined to another piece.

Apparently one of the specific situations Paul dealt with was that women and men had come to faith in Christ while their spouse had not or refused. In order to really serve the Lord, should they jettison this marriage? Perhaps they already felt \"single\" though technically married. Paul says: \"Not necessarily.\"

12 ? 16

As an apostle, Paul wrote with the authority of Scripture so this is not an apology or admission that these verses are not inspired. He is merely stating that the words of Jesus, or even the Scriptures as they knew them, do not cover this particular situation. The Bible is God\'s story of creation, fall, redemption and renovation. It isn\'t a user manual that covers every situation. What we need to do is let the Holy Spirit change us so that we think, speak, and act like Jesus would in every situation, whether or not covered specifically by the Bible.

Paul applies this idea to those who are living with unbelieving spouses. The idea of this section really comes at the end. Staying with an unbelieving spouse makes it a whole lot more likely that they and the kids will come to faith in Christ than if you leave. To \"sanctify\" and make \"holy\" don\'t mean salvation, but influence. \"Holy\" means \"dedicated to God.\" As parents we \"dedicate\" our kids to the Lord and are charged with bringing them up on the \"training and admonition of the Lord.\" (Ephesians 6:4). To \"sanctify\" means to set apart for godly purposes. The value here is that like Jesus, we must have in view the more important goal (salvation) that allows us to bear with the less important (being married to a believer).


You may have experienced a failed marriage and are thinking that Paul here is throwing you under the bus. You already feel bad enough but now he is commanding in the name of our Lord that you shouldn\'t get divorced! It is not my intent for you to feel defeated. Yes, God\'s ideal is that you stay married. But even Paul acknowledges that in this fallen world, the ideal is not always possible. Don\'t feel defeated, but let the Lord use the situation to draw you closer to Him, after all, He is all about new beginnings and taking the broken things and making them whole again.

You may have a struggling marriage and hear these words and think \"Great, I can just run to get out of the pain and everything will be fine.\" Listen to God\'s heart here. Do anything you can to save the marriage. Marriage is about gluing two people together. Breaking it apart has serious long term consequences, not just for you but for the children in your marriage as well and others who are watching you. Don\'t give up?but do anything you can to save the marriage. Notice I didn\'t say \"just stay married.\" I don\'t think Paul is talking about just bearing with it. Here he is encouraging a mutual respect, self-sacrifice, and love to the unlovely for the purposes of healing and even salvation.

In a way, this is still about being transformed into God\'s character then using that character to reflect positively on the Lord in the world. You can do that same thing in your marriage!

? Be single if God calls you to it, but don\'t think you are holy just because you aren\'t married.

? If you\'re married then you don\'t belong to yourself only and you are a picture of Christ\'s love to the world so throw yourself into that relationship fully!

? A Christian husband and wife ought to find a way to stay together.

? If you are married to an unbeliever, don\'t use it as excuse to jettison the marriage, even if you are rejected by them.

Are these hard and fast rules? Clearly not, so how do we know when to apply them?

Let\'s go back to chapter 6 verse 12: Is it beneficial? Are you making the choice or being forced into it by the flesh? Will your actions and attitudes reflect positively on the Lord and help you grow to become a more healthy and vibrant Christian?

Lastly, let\'s look at verse 15. God has called us to peace. Sometimes staying married causes more unrest and pain and trauma than splitting. Sometimes there is serious abuse in a relationship that is anything but peaceful. On the other hand, sometimes it is us who are refusing to relinquish our own pride to the Lord, let go of ourselves and live for our spouse?loving and respecting them as more significant than ourselves.

Final words: Don\'t use Jesus\' command not to divorce as a billyclub to force people to do what you want for your own needs. And likewise, don\'t use Paul\'s concession as a way to escape a hard look at yourself and the hard work of maintaining a marriage.

There are hard choices on either side, but if we look to the way that is selfless, loving, peaceful, and glorifying God, then we are going the right way in my book! Ask yourself, what is the most redemptive course in this situation?