This sermon is number 16 in a series of 46
1 Corinthians - Part 16
"Marriage: To Be Or Not To Be?"
by David Legge | Copyright © 2003 | All Rights Reserved | www.preachtheword.com
I Corinthians 7:1-7
First Corinthians chapter 7, and we're taking up the subject tonight of marriage, and we will be spending several weeks - as I've said - on this such important subject in the day and age in which we live. We're looking specifically tonight at: 'Marriage: To Be Or Not To Be, That Is The Question'. Now I want to encourage you, if you know of young married people, or people who are engaged, or people who are contemplating marriage, or people who are single, or even people who are in a situation that they are divorced or separated or going through difficulties, I want you to let them know that these meetings are being held. The beauty of going through scripture verse by verse is that we encounter subjects that aren't too often dealt with, pulled out of the air, when people preach in such a way that they just take up different subjects from week to week - but when we're going through the Scriptures systematically, as we do on a Monday evening, we hit these subjects that are so important, and we're not allowed to just jump over them no matter how difficult they may be, we've got to grapple with them and deal with them, and that's for all of our benefits. Therefore I would like these studies, whether by tape or by inviting people along to these meetings, to go as wide is possible - because it's so important in these days that these particular truths, God's people are hearing them and heeding them.
We're just taking up the first 7 verses of chapter 7: "Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband. Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband. The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife. Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your inconsistency. But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment. For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that".
Sticking out like a sore thumb is the way that many single people feel within the church of Jesus Christ today. I think that's understandable when we consider that much of church life is pro-family, what I mean is that it's architectured and engineered in such a way that it provides for family life - and that's only right in the day in which we live, because the majority of homes and nuclei of the population are still families: husbands and wives and, if God blesses them, with children. But the difficulty is that that is not the norm for some people, that is not their experience - and it's not surprising that people who are single, or people who are separated, even people who are divorced, people who have no children even, feel at times that they don't fit in to church life. Let me say that that has perhaps always been the case, but more and more all of us - whether we're married or not married, separated, divorced, single, whatever your situation might be - all of us as Christians are beginning to feel in our society that we don't fit in. All of us don't fit in any more.
It used to be normal to know of marriage enshrined as an institution of society, but that is no longer the case. Before our eyes day by day we continually see in our media how the foundations of the marriage bond are being wrecked and shattered, and there is a monumental attempt to pull down the marriage bond as never there has been before. All of those, no matter what your particular situation might be, who follow the sexual ethics of the Bible, and not of this world and the philosophies of this society, will stick out like a sore thumb. Now I don't want to single anybody out this evening, but whether you're single or whether you're married, or whether you fall into another category that we will deal with in this chapter, the truth of the matter is that no matter how difficult we believe our particular life situation might be, the truth of the matter is: life today for the Christian is difficult, no matter what your circumstances are. It's difficult to live as a Christian full-stop in today's pagan and sinful environment.
Now in chapter 7 through to chapter 11 of 1 Corinthians Paul begins to answer questions that these Corinthians asked him in a letter that they had previously written to him. I can imagine Paul, as he is writing this particular chapter and the chapters that follow, sitting at his desk - if he had a desk - with that letter that the Corinthians wrote to him open in front of him, as he reads down it and answers one-by-one their specific questions. In chapter 7 alone he answers their questions about marriage, about celibacy, about divorce, and eventually widowhood. We'll find as we go through the rest of these chapters that he answers questions on meats that are sacrificed to idols, whether Christians should eat them or not; and there's a great monumental chapter on spiritual gifts, and what gifts we should seek after, and what we should not, and what don't need to be used. We'll see those in the weeks that lie ahead, but in this chapter - and particularly in these first 7 verses - Paul deals with the subject of marriage, but he deals with it in the answer to their question in verse 1: 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman'.
"Concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good...". Now they obviously asked the question: 'Is it good for a man not to touch a woman?'. Paul is coming back and answering: 'Yes, it is good for a man not to touch a woman'. He answers this practical question. Now, let me give you a bit of the background to this passage because I believe, perhaps more than any passage in the whole of the New Testament, this particular passage has been misunderstood. Under the Roman law there were four different types of marriage bonds or marriage customs. The first were the marriage of slaves, and slaves were seen in Roman society as sub-human. Therefore they weren't given many of the privileges that the hoy-polloy and the hierarchy of the upper class were given. When they wanted to marry one another, a slave to a slave, they were given what they called 'tent companionship' - in other words, they were permitted to shack up as long as their boss, their master permitted it. Their master, if he agreed to it, allowed them to get together and have 'tent companionship', but because he was their master and they were the slaves he could say at any point when they ought to separate. In fact, he could send one of the partners away, he could tell them to marry another partner, and they would have no say in the matter. He could even sell one of the partners against the will and choosing of the marriage bond.
The fact of the matter is that, as we go through the New Testament, we find that many of the early Christians were slaves, they were not the upper crust of society. So they actually either had lived in this type of lifestyle and married situation, or they were presently living in it as these epistles were written to them. The second type of marriage in Roman society was what was called 'usis', and it was a kind of common law marriage. It said that when you co-habit with someone for at least a year your bond was recognised as a type of marriage. Then there was the third which was called 'coempteo inmanum' (sp?) which literally was 'the father of the bride could sell her to whoever had the highest price' - some of you might like that one! He had the prerogative to sell her off to whom he willed. Then there was the fourth, that was the patrician class, the nobility, the upper-class. Their marriage bond took the form of a service, and in fact that particular service is where we derive our modern marriage service from. This might surprise some of you, and I hope it rocks some of you who think you know it all, but the Roman Catholic Church adopted this particular marriage service. Through the Reformation this service largely came unaltered, of course the Catholic Church Christianised it from its pagan Roman past, but as it comes to us through the reformers and right through to our present modern day it is almost unchanged as we know it as the marriage service.
It involved two families who both organised the event. The bride had a matron of honour, the groom had a best man, they exchanged vows, they gave one another rings - and they were placed on the third finger of the left-hand. The bride had a marriage bouquet and there was a wedding cake - identical, almost, to what we do today. I don't know what that makes you feel about the marriage bond or not, but that's the fact of the matter. What added to the complications in Roman society of the four different types of marriages was that, not only were these marriages common, but divorce was extremely common as well. It wasn't unheard of for people to be divorced as many times as 20 and over! It seems astounding, hardly believable. Also within the society there was an active feminist movement that had developed, and wives were beginning to compete with husbands in the businesses; some of them were even wrestling with their husbands physically as a prowess of strength, feats of physical ability - how would you like to be married to one of them? It seems that no longer had wives any interest in being a housewife, or being a mother - in fact, so much so, that the history books tell us that by the end of the first century childless marriages, by choice, were extremely common. Vows, marriage vows and commitments, began to be ignored more and more.
It's a fact of history, incidentally I would draw your intention and indeed our nation's attention to the facts that lax views in marriage, wherever they are found in societies in history, always eventually lead to social corruption and the state eventually crumbles. When the marriage bond crumbles, the foundations of the state crumble, and I believe it will not be long until our society economically perhaps, certainly politically, perhaps even militarily, will be plunged into chaos - because before our eyes we are seeing the foundations of society being removed.
Now the early church, as you can deduce from all that, had those among them who had these type of backgrounds. Some people who had co-habited, lived together as slaves or in common law marriages, some who had been sold off by their father to the highest bidder, some even in patrician marriage who married the person that they loved and wanted. There were others who were divorced, there were some who were divorced and remarried, I don't know, maybe some who were divorced and remarried maybe 20 times over. So it's hardly surprising when we consider the background all these people who Paul says: 'Such were some of you, but ye are washed, ye are cleansed, ye are sanctified', that these people who lived in this kind of Corinthianised environment could come to the great apostle and say: 'Look, is it not better that people just don't get married?'.
Verse 1: 'Is it not good for a man just not to touch a woman?'. Now you remember in chapter 5 we had the awful occasion of incest, and of a man taking his father's wife, which was his stepmother, and co-habiting and eventually marrying that woman in the assembly. There was this sort of flamboyant disregard to the laws of God, and a liberty that was licence really - they said: 'Because our sins are forgiven we can do whatever we like; because this body isn't worth anything, it's going to die in the grave, well my body wants to do this thing so if it feels good I do it, it's not going to make any difference to my eternal destination'. They were called hedonists, lovers of pleasure. Rather than restraining physical appetites, especially sexual, they satisfied them and they fed them as far as they could to quench them.
Now in chapter 7 we see the opposite extreme, the opposite approach to the difficulties in Corinth which was not to quench and satisfy the appetites in hedonism, but rather to deny the appetites absolutely through asceticism. Rather than saying: 'Well, I'll just satisfy every fleshly lust and appetite that I have', they said: 'We'll deny it, don't even touch a woman, don't go into any physical relationship whatsoever. If the body is evil then they must be evil, and you must abstain from them'. Now Paul comes right away to these young Christians who are saying: 'Well, what's right now?' - they've been converted out of this background - 'I'm not married, should I marry? Sex in my past, sex in Corinth was only filthy, it could come under the definition of fornication within the word of God, therefore surely it's still evil now after I'm converted?'. Then there were people who were converted whose husbands weren't saved and wives weren't saved, and they were asking the question: 'Well, am I to have unification physically with a person that's not a Christian? That's what I did before I was saved, surely then we should get divorced, or at least we should lived together as a married couple and not enter into the sexual bond?'.
You see the confusion that was going on in this church, that maybe we don't face today - but I'll tell you we're going to face it more and more and we need to grapple with these things. So Paul begins by saying first of all in verse 1: 'Being single, staying not married, not touching a woman, remaining celibate, is honourable'. It is honourable! Now look at that word 'touch' in verse 1, because it's a word that can be misunderstood. It actually is a Jewish euphemism for the sexual act, you can find in the Old Testament and that's exactly what it means. So really we're talking about the sexual bond here, and Paul is saying: 'It's good for a man not to enter into that bond'. The word for 'good' means 'morally excellent, wholesome' - it's a good thing, morally, not to go into this situation. Kenneth Wuest translates it well like this: 'It is perfectly proper, honourable, morally befitting for a man to live in strict celibacy'.
In verse 6 Paul makes this very clear: 'I speak this by permission, not of commandment'. In other words, Paul is not laying down a law here to say that you must be celibate because marriage is bad; neither is he saying you mustn't be celibate because to be celibate is bad. He's saying this: 'I'm saying this not as a commandment given by God, but I'm laying down spiritual principles. I'm not saying marriage is bad, I'm not saying celibacy is always good, but I am saying in answer to your question that to be single and to abstain from sex can be good'. It can be good, it can be honourable.
Now I don't want you to misunderstand anything that I am saying, I certainly don't want you to misunderstand this portion of Scripture - but let me say this: I may be a bit more explicit tonight than some of you would like, but you've got to waken up to the real world in which we live. Our young people are being taught their sexual ethics through the soap operas and through the cinemas and through their schools, and if we don't tell them what the word of God says they will imbibe it and they will have an excuse too, because no one told them any different! Maybe some of us would need to go back to the book and realise that Paul is extremely explicit in some of the things that he says here in this passage. We need to learn them tonight.
Now, right away people pose a question, and we have to answer some of these questions. When Paul says: 'Yes, I agree with you, it's good sometimes for a man not to touch a woman', right away the critics and liberals say: 'Well, Paul is obviously against marriage. Here it is, proof right away'. In verse 7 he says: 'I wish that all men were like myself' - he was single too - and later on he explains why it's good to be single, he would say he feels for him it's better to be single. They all conclude: 'Well, there it is in black-and-white, how can you argue? Paul is against marriage clearly!'. Let me say that Paul categorically is not against marriage, we'll see that very clearly. If you want it proved to you, we turn to 1 Timothy chapter 4, 1 Timothy chapter 4, and he speaks of the falling away and the signs of the last days which will be the apostasy in the church, but also the falling away in society. Chapter 4 of 1 Timothy verse 1: 'Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats'. So to forbid to marry is a mark of the last days apostasy, and Paul would be aligning himself with that if he was saying categorically marriage is wrong and you have to remain single.
Turn to another text, Hebrews chapter 13 this time and verse 4, this is even more explicit, Paul says: 'Marriage is honourable in all, and the bed' - marriage bed - 'undefiled'. It is a holy thing, the physical, sexual marriage bond relationship - and it's Paul, I believe, in Hebrews, because I believe he wrote Hebrews, who says this. But perhaps the greatest commendation Paul gives of marriage is found in Ephesians chapter 5, turn with me to that, Ephesians 5, because there he actually uses the marriage bond as an illustration of the relationship between the Lord Jesus Christ as the bridegroom, and the church of Jesus Christ as His bride which He bought with His own blood. Verse 22: 'Wives, submit yourselves unto your own husbands, as unto the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife, even as Christ is the head of the church: and he is the saviour of the body'. So you can see clearly that Paul cannot be, if he's not contradicting himself of course, and he's not, he cannot be against marriage.
So then what does he mean when he says: 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman' in chapter 7 verse 1? Well, first of all you've got to realise that this chapter in Corinthians is not a manual on marriage, it's not an A-to-Z on marriage. It tells us a great deal about marriage, let me say that, but it's not an A-to-Z. It's specifically answering the questions that the Corinthians had about marriage, that must be understood. Also, if you want a panoramic view of what the Bible has to say about marriage you have to take all the verses together, and when you do that as we have done in a measure this evening looking at those three portions, you will realise that marriage is commended by God and all the men of God throughout the canon.
Now, hopefully that's cleared up. But then another question arises, because people ask the question: 'Well, what about Paul? Was he ever married?'. Some people believe he wasn't married; some believe he was a widower, his wife died at some period; some people believe that he was deserted by his wife when he converted to Christianity. The reason why they believe that he was married is because it was Jewish tradition to be married, and it was expected of every pious Jew that he married at the age of 18. Paul boasts on occasions for various reasons, not out of pride, of how he fulfilled all the law and how he fulfilled the orthodox requirements of a strict upstanding Jew in society - and because of that people say that he had to be married to fulfil Jewish tradition. Well, I don't believe that that is proof at all that Paul had to be married, because John the Baptist who was the greatest preacher and prophet ever apart from the Lord Jesus was not married himself, and of course the Lord Jesus was a Jewish bachelor. So I don't think you can use that as grounds, but perhaps one of the more heavier and weightier evidences that Paul was married, they say, is that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body. Now we don't have time to look at this verse, but in chapter 26 of the Acts of the Apostles in verse 10, Paul tells how when he was persecuting Christians before his conversion, he actually put his voice - and the insinuation is he put his vote - towards their death and their persecution. The only way he could put his vote towards it, is if he was in a voting body and he was a member of the Sanhedrin. People who believe that Paul was married say therefore it's proof, because to be a member of the Sanhedrin: one, you had to be married; and two, you also had to have children. Again I don't believe that proves Paul was married, simply because those rules to be married and to have children to join the Sanhedrin were only introduced as rules in the late first century, perhaps even the early second century, and it was long after Paul died when those rules were brought in.
What do I believe? I don't know, I don't know whether he was married or not. One thing I do think is: if he had been married, he probably would have brought some of his own experiences into the passages where he speaks on the subject of marriage, but he doesn't do that - and again that's not proof, and as far as I'm concerned the jury is still out. But it doesn't really matter, because in chapter 7 what we do know is this, that when he writes these words he isn't married. Now to understand what he means when he says: 'Being single is honourable', we've got to really grasp the problem that there was in Corinth. I can almost see Paul's mind ticking as he writes these words, going back to Genesis 2 verse 18 where God said over perfect creation: 'It is not good that man should be alone', so God created out of man a helpmeet. In the same way as when a man and a woman marries today they become one flesh, the original man and wife were literally one flesh because Eve came out of Adam. So God had pronounced, and Jewish tradition had said throughout all the years, that to be married was good - but it didn't just do that, it went on a little bit further, and he says because God commends it and because God said in Genesis 'Be fruitful and multiply, and replenish the earth', they went on a step further in extremism and said: 'It is a sin not to be married'.
You see the danger of extremism and taking the Bible a little bit further than it really goes and reading between lines. Nowhere in the Old Testament does the Bible actually require marriage, but the Jews had followed that line. I believe that in Corinth there were Jews who were pushing single people in Corinth to get married again: 'You have to be married! It's a sin not to be married!'. Yet on the other side of the coin there were these dear Greek people who had a background in the paganism of Corinth and all the type of marriage bonds and divorces and ritual prostitution and all the rest that we've looked into in past weeks, and they were looking at their background and saying: 'You can't get married, just don't get married at all, don't get involved with any physical sexual relationships'.
As we've gone through this little book we've found that it's got so much to say to modern, contemporary, urban society that we live in today. You find even within the church that there are the same wings of extremism. They mightn't preach it from the pulpit, but there are people who look down on single people, on unmarried people, as second-class citizens - and some of them will testify that they feel that way. There are some in wider Christendom who believe that not to be married is spiritual, and the Roman Catholic Church in all of its falsehood and blasphemy takes this particular verse and uses it as proof, they say, that men of God like priests ought to be celibate and take a vow of chastity.
There was a monk called Mehilo Tolotos (sp?) and he died at the age of 82 in the year 1938, so we're not going into the dark ages, and it's testified - I find it hard to believe - that he never once saw a woman, never even saw one! His mother died in childbirth, and as soon as that happened he was taken and carried up to a monastery on the peak of a mountain in Greece. There he would live the rest of his life until he died, and he never saw a man, he never saw a woman, he never saw a beast. That monastery operated in that way for 900 years with people who never even looked upon women, because they saw it as very spiritual, as near perhaps as you get to a heavenly life here on the earth! Yet in the false Roman Catholic system you can see both extremes, because for their priests they don't allow them to marry; yet for ordinary people they count it as sacrament to be married! They encourage to be married rather than to be single. There are even states in the United States of America years ago that enforced marriage on their citizens, so the two extremes are not thousands of years back in Corinth as we speak, but they're with us today. There is a danger that we can have in our own preconceived minds: marriage is good, celibacy is bad; celibacy is more spiritual, and marriage is less holy.
Now I want you to see tonight Paul's genius, as he is inspired by the Holy Spirit to clear up this mess and confusion. I wonder how you would handle it? Do you ever wonder at Paul's lack of prejudice? Paul could have sided with the Jews: 'That's right, I know my Torah! I know that the word of God testifies that marriage is good, so I'll side with the Jews and they're right, and you single people ought to all get married'. Because of his upbringing, that's the way he could have got on. Or he could have went with the Greeks because of his own experience - he was single, he could have said: 'I've chosen this for myself because it's best, and I want all of you to do the same. In fact, you have to do the same' - but he didn't. You can see clearly, and I say this to the overseers and to those who counsel people at times, that it is essential in situations like this that you keep your own prejudical, personal circumstances out of it. No matter what has happened to you, no matter what you have experienced, or your family experiences, you have to plough this middle furrow.
So what does Paul say? He says it is honourable to be single, it may even be desirable to be married, but one is not more spiritual than the other. I hope you can see that that's what he means: 'It is good for a man not to touch a woman', but it is also good, the inference is, to be married. Neither is sub-spiritual or super-spiritual, and the problem in Corinth was not just marriage but it was pride - that was the root of all the problems! They were grasping out at all times, in all of their questions, and in all of their disputes to see ways where they could be more spiritual in the eyes of their brethren over other people, that they could get one over their brother! Do you see that? The lengths that they would go to to look more spiritual!
So the first thing I want you to see is: Paul is saying that singleness, celibacy, is honourable, but so is marriage, and one is not more spiritual than the other. The second thing that we must see is that being single is testing or tempting. It's good, Paul says, but there's temptation involved. 'Nevertheless', verse 2, 'to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband'. This is the danger of being single, especially in Corinth, that you could fall into fornication - and that's what the Roman Catholic Church have fallen into! They haven't seen this, they haven't read on into verse 2, they haven't realised that the sexual desire, when it is unfulfilled, is dynamite - it's so strong that at times it cannot be controlled in that capacity! It's not natural.
Now added to that, the internal problems of passion, is the external problems of attraction and the lust that is all around them. You couldn't walk up High Street in Corinth without right away raising temptation, being face-to-face with some kind of fleshly lust, because licence was the norm of the day - and it's the same today, isn't it? You can't look anywhere, on the television, on a billboard, to a newspaper, without this type of temptation! If you're single, how much harder it is! Paul is warning that to be single is to be tested and to be tempted, and he says that if you're like this and you're burning in passion you should avoid fornication by having your own wife. That sexual frustration, the only way to release it is not in the brothels of Corinth, it's not in looking at pictures, it's not in going with another person, it can only be released in the marriage bond that God has blessed. Now let me say that Paul is not saying that this is the low level that marriage is, he's not suggesting that the only reason to get married with another Christian and look for a spouse is to prevent immorality. He has a very high view of sex as you've seen from these other scriptures, but what Paul is doing is he's being concretely real with the threat that sexual temptation is in the life of a single believer! He's being a realist!
I'll tell you, we need more realists today - not these people that walk with their nose in the air, and you'd think that butter wouldn't melt in their mouth. We need people that will acknowledge their weaknesses, and run from them and help others to do the same - and therefore Paul says: 'If that's you, let every man have his own wife, and every wife her own husband'. Now you will notice, if you're a Mormon, that it's not two wives or five husbands, it's one - one!
You will know, I hope that there are several purposes in marriage and we don't have time to go into them all. The first that we encounter in Genesis is procreation: 'Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth' - to reproduce and have children. The second is pleasure, and in the book of Proverbs especially and Song of Solomon, the chief among them all, you find that sexual relations are there as a beautiful thing of pleasure, and Solomon tells his son: 'Rejoice in the wife of your youth', and the Hebrew word is 'be exhilarated' in the wife of your youth. The third reason is partnership, a helpmeet, or it could be translated 'a helper suitable for him' - the friendship bond in marriage is a key ingredient to success. But the fourth reason is what Paul is talking about here, not procreation, not pleasure, not partnership, but purity - to remain pure, to be able to protect your body from sexual immorality, and to meet the appetites and physical needs that are natural and God-given in the way that God has ordained. That's the only way!
So Paul is saying, you see the balance here, I wish people wouldn't lift Paul's words and verses out of context and take them to extremes as they so often do. He's saying that although singleness is good, and it's good for a man not to touch a woman, it is not superior to marriage, and there are dangers and perils and temptations in singleness that marriage doesn't have. The third thing you need to notice is that being single is not for married people, it's not for marriage - verses 3 to 5. You might say: 'Well, well done David, that's an obvious one - celibacy is not for marriage'. Well it's not that obvious, you see what you have to remember is there were people here who believed that it was spiritual not to have this physical sexual bond, it was spiritual to remain celibate - but for some of them it was too late, they had already been married maybe before conversion, or after conversion before they had realised this 'high spiritual light and teaching' - it was too late for them to remain single and celibate, they couldn't divorce, therefore they began to behave as celibate in the marriage bond. Their over-zealousness, their fanaticism and extremism led them to neglect and to deny the needs of their spouse. I think it was probably more common of those people who were converted and their spouse wasn't converted, and they decided: 'Well, I can't sleep with a person that's not a Christian, so I'll remain celibate'. Can you see this?
So they were being single in the marriage bond. Paul said to them, and we'll see it in a later week, verses 10 to 17: 'It doesn't matter whether you're a believer and your wife's a believer, or whether they're a believer and you're not or vice versa, you are not to deprive your husband or your wife of your duty'. God sees marriage as sacred, He sees the sexual union as sacred, He sees it as pure, proper; but He also sees it, Paul is saying, as obligatory - it's a privilege, it's a pleasure, but it is also a responsibility in the marriage bond! People going into marriage have to realise this, that Paul says both have a duty to satisfy each other in this regard, and one wife or husband has no more rights over their spouse. 'Let the husband', verse 3, 'render unto the wife due benevolence' - the word there 'due' is 'duty', in fact it could be literally translated 'debt'. You have a debt to your spouse to satisfy them physically, and vice versa - but notice the emphasis: it is not your right, it's not a right, it's something that you have to seek for them and they ought to seek for you, not in selfish lust but in the giving of Christian love, and it's your debt, it's your duty.
Paul enforces this by saying in verse 4: 'The wife hath not power of her own body', everybody would have said 'Amen' in Corinth, where women were trodden on the ground - but wait a minute, Paul says: ' Neither has the husband authority over his body'. There is equality in marriage you know, there's different roles, but there is equality in Christ of male and female. It's the same in the church, there is neither male nor female, there's different roles. But in this bond you are not your own, and we saw in chapter 6 that strictly speaking the body is for God and we're to present it as a living sacrifice, but in the marriage bond the body is for your spouse, and it's not an optional extra. It's not, let me say, as some believers seem to see it, and I've read some books like this, where it's seen as a necessary evil which spiritual Christians only engage in to produce children - and it's a chore almost!
The same way as marriage is intended to be permanent, so is the bond which is the deepest expression of love on a human level in its beauty and in its power to unite. Paul says in verse 5: 'Don't defraud one another', another translation: 'Stop depriving one another', and it's a command of Scripture as legitimate as any other command that's in the word of God. If you don't like that don't get married, it's as simple as that. Paul says the only exception, here it is, the only exception is if, by consent: 'for a time', verse 5, 'that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer', that you separate in this physical capacity. Now we hear a lot about 'consent', don't we, in the age of consent? But we don't hear too much about this type of consent! Where there is a consent between a husband and a wife to separate physically for a period of time is too fast and to pray to God! It's amazing this, it has to be for a specific time, for a specific purpose, and together agreed - and the word, literally, 'agreement' is the word 'symphony'. That is what the marriage bond should be, a physical symphony but also a spiritual symphony - and here's a question for all of us: is there ever a time when you're in your marriage bond that you decide that you're going to have a time of prayer and fasting? When there's a burden that God puts upon you so great for some particular thing, that you've each got the liberty to go away and drop everything and seek God - and I'll tell you, some of the reason why husbands and wives don't go onward and upward with God is because of their husband or their wife holding them back!
Thank God if you've got a good wife - I better say I've got a good one! - but thank God for a good husband that doesn't pull you down to their standards, but pull you up to Christ's standards. This is what Paul is saying: the general rule is that the only time you break away from this physical relationship is to make time to pray, special undivided attention for spiritual things by mutual consent for an important reason for a brief period - but after that, and see this in verse 5, here's the danger, after that: 'come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your inconsistency'. In other words, you know if you've been on a mountaintop experience that that's the time that the devil longs and loves and often does pull you down, and be careful when you enter out of the spiritual time, when your defences are down and your pride is up, that Satan doesn't enter and you fall into sin - perhaps even sexual sin. The only reason to abstain from this relationship is not to be more spiritual, can I say it's not to use sex as a manipulative tool or a bargaining chip, do you know why? Because you can't bribe someone with something that you owe them. If you're using sex like that in the marriage bond, you're using it as a tool of Satan, you need to know that.
The fourth and final thing is that being single is a gift. Now verse 6 troubles a lot of people and gives them the colly-wobbles, because Paul says that 'I speak this by permission, and not of commandment'. We say: 'Well, there you are, he doesn't even believe himself that he's being inspired, this isn't a commandment!' If you go to chapter 14, don't go to it now, verse 37, he says that all that he's written is inspired of God - so that clears that up right away. What Paul is referring to is not what's commonly thought, what comes in verse 7, he's referring to what he has already said in verses 1 through to 5, that he has spoken by permission and not of commandment. Now what does he mean? He's saying: 'I'm not saying you have to be married, I'm not saying you have to remain single, I'm saying that there are right things for different situations'. Then he goes on in verse 7 to say: 'I wish everybody was like me, because I'm single'. What he's saying is: 'I wish people had the independence I have to serve the Lord, I wish they had the freedom', and in fact we'll see in later studies that in verse 26 he says he wishes that they were single for the present distress that there was. I believe that a lot of complications in this passage, where people think Paul is contradicting himself, can be answered in the fact that Christians were being persecuted - and Paul is saying: 'If you want to help yourself and not get hurt by seeing your wife burnt at the stake, or your children fed to the lions, you'd be better not getting married until all this distress is over'. That clears up a lot of complications when you look at it that way.
But Paul didn't expect people to be just like him, but the point that he is making is: there is not one that is more spiritual than the other. If you're single it is honourable to say single in purity. If you're married it's honourable to stay married in purity. To marry or to not marry is, in Paul's case, a matter of conscience, a matter of circumstances - but here's the main point: it's a matter of gift. I've got people sometimes who come to me, especially young people, and there are a lot more than you would imagine. They're afraid they're going to be left on the shelf, and they feel - particularly young men - that in this area, difficult area, of sexual appetite that they could not remain single for the rest of their days - it's impossible, absolutely impossible. Now I think that if that is the case you do not have a gift that is spoken about here, it is a gift to remain celibate! It's a gift to be married, and the word is 'charisma' which means 'gift of grace' - it's the grace of God that you have a wife or a husband, and it may be the grace of God that has given you a gift to be celibate. But people look at the fact that they're single, and perhaps God has called them to be single - and I'm not saying God has called you to be single - but people look at it as a problem, and Paul says: 'It is not a problem, because if God has given it to you for life or for a particular season, it is a gift!'. It's a gift of grace! It's in God goodness, it's not a consolation prize, it's a high calling and God wants you to embrace it now, and perhaps for the rest of your life if necessary, if He calls you to do so! We'll see in later weeks how you can use this great gift of singleness that God has given to you.
Sure you would know that if you try to use a gift that you don't have that's wrong. If you're trying to be celibate and haven't got the gift, you will end up in frustration and perhaps immorality. Jesus even said that there are some eunuchs that are eunuchs for the kingdom of God, but not everybody can take that command. You can't take it my friend if you can't admit it, but neither is singleness required of God - it's whatever gift you're given. We're going to find out later in Corinthians, when we come to spiritual gifts, that Paul's message is this, and the whole message of the word of God is: discover your gift, be faithful to God in it, and don't envy other people and discredit their gifts. The married were saying: 'You should be married', the unmarried were saying: 'You shouldn't be married'. I don't know where you are this evening.
Amy Carmichael went from Northern Ireland to work in India with girls who were rescued from slavery and prostitution. She raised them in her Dohnavur Fellowship, and you would know if you've heard of her, that her life touched thousands of people, her books have blessed millions and are still touching lives today - but as a young girl she was extremely attractive. She wanted to get married, but she knew that her great work for God couldn't be done if she was married, it would be impossible. She had a real struggle with this - I'm not saying you're called to be single, don't get me wrong - but she was, and she struggled and wrestled with it, and it was deeply personal, so much so that she couldn't share it for more than 40 years until she was helping another girl in the same situation. She wrote this in her diaries, listen: 'On this day many years ago I went away alone to a cave in a mountain called Erimah (sp?). I had feelings of fear about the future. This is why I went there, to be alone with God, and the devil kept on whispering: 'It's alright now, but what about afterwards? You're going to be very lonely' - and he painted pictures of loneliness, I can see them still. I turned to my God in desperation and said: 'Lord, what can I do? How can I go on to the end?'. He said to me in the words of Psalm 34:22: 'None of them that trust me shall be desolate'. 'None of them that trust me shall be desolate' - that word has been with me ever since'.
Whatever your gift and calling is, my friend, one thing there is for all of us to do: 1 Thessalonians 4:3-4: 'This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour'. Do come back next week, we'll be looking at the few verses following from these that speak of the divine principles for marriage. We'll be looking at people who are married to non-Christians, and the situation of peoples whose husband or wife leaves them. We'll be looking at a little bit on divorce and other things, and the principles for a good marriage under God. Then we'll be dealing with singleness again, and how to use your singleness, in a couple of weeks time. So don't forget about these studies, and do come back under the sound of God's word.
Our Father, life is difficult today whether we're married or not. None of us, no matter what we are going through, have a monopoly of pain. Father, with all the effulgence of filth that is around us, many of us have fallen, and many of us will find it difficult to stand as things wax worse and worse. But Lord, we thank Thee that with the promises and the precepts come the power, and we pray that all of us will sanctify the Lord our God in our hearts, and that we will present our bodies in our marriages, in our celibacy, in our singleness - no matter what shape or form it may take - that all our days we will spend and be spent for the Master. Amen.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the sixteenth tape in his 1 Corinthians series, titled "Marriage: To Be Or Not To Be?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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