- The Explore the Bible lesson for March 18 focuses on 1 Corinthians 7:1-13.
Moving from the previous verses on sexual immorality to the topic of marriage may seem more connected than intended. The covenant of marriage always must be seen as more than physical sexuality. At the same time, 1 Corinthians 6:20 reminds us that honoring God with our bodies is the underlying motive for purity.
In this passage, Paul provides specific responses a topic raised in a letter he received from the Corinthians. The matter of marriage and the commitment it represents sparks many remarks from the apostle, about whose marital status we are not even certain. Should it bother us that we are studying marriage tips from a potentially unmarried man?
Begin your discussion with this quote from a popular book about marriage by Tim Keller: “In sharp contrast with our culture, the Bible teaches that the essence of marriage is a sacrificial commitment to the good of the other” (Keller, The Meaning of Marriage). How do we see—and not see—commitment in marriages today?
Marriage and Intimacy (1 Corinthians 7:1-7)
We need to be clear about something from the beginning: Paul commends both celibacy and God-designed marriage. Those who do not marry still can walk in God’s plan, and those who do marry also can walk in God’s plan. The point is that we all follow the same God, honoring him with our bodies while fleeing immorality.
Immorality is an equal-opportunity vendor, and those who marry must be sure that sexual relations do not pave the way for immorality within the marriage. This is why verses 3-5 point to the husband and wife as “co-owners of each other’s bodies” (Preben Vang, 1 Corinthians, 90).
Ask your group: How does sex complicate and enhance marriage? One should focus on the fact that those committed to each other in marriage should not “deprive,” but be “devoted” to God and one another.
Another question to ponder is this: Can a single person experience intimacy? To Paul, remaining unmarried can be a “gift” and not a burden. The next question is more telling: Can a married couple experience intimacy in other ways? Paul also sees gifted opportunities here. These gifts come from the same God, who gives value to both.
Marriage and Singleness (1 Corinthians 7:8-9)
Intimacy is significant to each of us as human beings created in God’s own image. For the married ones, intimacy can be and should be fostered through marital sex. But what about the single ones? Paul gives freeing statements in these two verses.
We cannot miss the fact that this statement in verse 8 is Paul’s opinionate: “I say.” Clearly, he understands the giftedness of singleness, and so he encourages others by saying it also can be a blessing to them. Truth be told, those who were “unmarried” and “widowed” needed value outside of marriage then as they do now.
In line with the opening statements against immorality, Paul also points out the potentiality for physical desire to lead to something negative. In these cases, he recommends marriage as a gift from unquenched passion. “Paul probably is referring not to an insatiable sex-craze but to an inability to concentrate on the service to Christ” (Preben Vang, 1 Corinthians, 98).
Marriage and Divorce (1 Corinthians 7:10-13)
Compared to his opinion in verse 8, Paul clarifies twice that the recommendations to commit to marriage in verses 10-13 are from God himself. Perhaps we have heard of the “unequally yoked” marriage in reference to what he is describing.
This would be a good time to ask for better understanding from those who have experienced this. Ask for testimonies from any in your study group who have experienced, or are experiencing, this type of marital relationship. Also ask how they have seen God work through their circumstances.
With divorce being even more of a “transaction” in today’s time, we should see the commitment and covenant idea behind marriage. Even for unbelievers, God sees marriage as a sacred covenant. Thus, we all honor God by remaining committed.
Paul shared much more throughout the chapter on this topic of marriage, purity and commitment. However, we should reinforce that these verses are more than a “crash course” on marriage. Rather, Paul is pointing us to God’s desire for fleeing immorality in the most holy union of marriage.
Keep in mind that matrimony tells us a good deal about Jesus’s relationship with his church. Consider closing by reading Ephesians 5:21-33 to reinforce this beautiful picture that God intended all along.
There is holiness about the long-term commitment of marriage. Consider Keller’s words: “If you understand what holiness is, you come to see that real happiness is on the far side of holiness, not the near side” (Keller, The Meaning of Marriage). Commitment requires faithfulness over the long term, and it can unfold into the most beautiful gift designed by God himself, leaving us in a more joyous place.
Heath A. Kirkwood is lead pastor of First Baptist Church in Lorena.