First Corinthians is an immensely practical book. In it Paul addresses several specific questions the Corinthian church had about Christian behavior. Not only do many of these questions still arise frequently today, but many of Paul’s answers also run counter to our culture. In chapter 7, Paul addresses the topics of marriage, divorce, celibacy, and remarriage.
The Goodness of Marriage
First, Paul affirms the goodness of marriage. The Corinthians had apparently asked Paul if they were required to pursue celibacy (1 Corinthians 7:1). But Paul tells them that it depends on the gifts God grants to each person. He reminds them that God ordained marriage as both a deterrent to sexual immorality (v. 2) and as a context for unique intimacy between a man and a woman (vv. 3–5).
The Sacredness of Marriage
Second, Paul addresses the question of whether a believer should divorce an unbelieving spouse. While he recognizes that such a marriage is not an ideal situation, he nevertheless instructs that a believer should not seek a divorce in such a scenario—”God has called you to peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15 ESV).
Thus, the sacredness of the marriage bond is not nullified by an unbelieving spouse. That is why Paul says that the unbelieving spouse is “made holy” on account of the believing spouse. Further, he urges a believer in this situation to seek the salvation of the unbelieving spouse (v. 16). Nevertheless, Paul stipulates that if the unbelieving spouse leaves of his or her own accord, the believing spouse is no longer bound to them (v. 15).
These instructions fall under the general principle that “each one should remain in the condition in which he was called” (v. 20). God is sovereign over both the opportunities and the outcomes in our lives and is able to sanctify every circumstance for His glory.
The Gift of Celibacy
Finally, contrary to the culture in many churches today, Paul affirms that celibacy (i.e., singleness) is a gift.
God distributes gifts that are uniquely appropriate to each person in His church. This means that while some will best serve the Lord in marriage, others will do so in singleness. “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Corinthians 7:17).
Unfortunately, many churches today focus so much on the calling of marriage that people in the church begin to feel embarrassed if they are still single. While it is right to affirm the goodness of marriage, Paul actually views celibacy as an advantage in light of Christ’s imminent return. Singleness allows a person to lay aside worldly things and commit themselves to pursuing the Lord in a way a married person cannot (1 Corinthians 7:32–34).
If you are single right now, don’t waste the time. Whether God will call you to marriage in the future or not, He has granted you the present time to spend pursuing His pleasure (v. 32) and holiness in body and in spirit (v. 34).
This teaching is based on Ken’s Handbook to Scripture.