In the first major section of his letter, Paul wrote about the problems in the church in Corinth that had been reported to him, including division and sexual immorality (cf. 1:11; 5:1). Starting chapter 7, Paul begins to address various other issues, which the Corinthian believers had written to Paul about. Hence we see the repeated phrase, “now concerning” (7:1, 25, 8:1, 12:1, 16:1), in the remainder of the letter. The first of these, concerning marriage and singlehood, was presumably a question that they needed guidance on. Because of the length of this chapter, it may be necessary to split your study of this passage into two sessions.
Did You Know...?
- “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (7:1): Since Greek does not use quotation marks, it is unclear whether this statement is Paul’s own view or a common saying which the Corinthian believers wished to ask for Paul’s opinion on.
- “Conjugal rights” (7:3) is literally “obligation” in Greek. [ref]
- Betrothed (7:25, 28, 34, 36–38): This Greek word means “virgin.” As evident in various English translations, views differ as to whether the man in question in vv. 36–38 is the father of a virgin or a man who is getting married.
- Conjugal Duty (7:1–5)
- Each Has His Own Gift (7:6–7)
- To the Unmarried and widows (7:8–9)
- To the Married (7:10–11)
- To the Rest (7:12–16)
- Let Each Lead the Life the Lord Has Assigned (7:17–24)
- The Focus of the Married and Unmarried (7:25–35)
- The Choice to Marry One’s Virgin (7:36–38)
- The Choice of the Widow to Remarry (7:39–40)
How is the tone of this chapter markedly different from Paul’s writings elsewhere?Hide Answer
Quite a few times in this chapter, Paul makes the disclaimer that his instructions are not the Lord’s command (vv. 12, 25, cf. v. 40). Where applicable, he is also careful to clarify that his advice is not a command (v. 6) or that it may not be for everyone (vv. 7, 9, 38). In short, some of the teachings in this chapter are not meant to be absolute or universal rules.
The phrase “it is good…” is found 3 times in this chapter. [ref]
What do these verses say about what is good?Hide Answer
While it is not clear whether the statement in verse one is Paul’s own view, in all three verses “good” is associated with remaining unmarried.
Does Paul discourage marriage?Hide Answer
Paul does not speak negatively about marriage in this chapter or in any of his letters. Perhaps one may argue that his words in vv. 28, 33–34, 40 do not seem to be in favor of marriage. Nevertheless, it is important to bear in mind the overall principle laid out in this chapter. While singlehood definitely has its benefits, it is still better for those who do not have the gift to remain single to be married (v. 9). Besides, the Bible never forbids marriage (cf. vv. 36;
1 Tim 4:1–3) but regards it as a sacred institution (Mt 19:4–6).
How does a strong marital relationship help a person stay away from sexual immorality?Hide Answer
A person with a strong marital relationship is less likely to be tempted to seek sexual gratification outside of marriage. He is tightly knit to his spouse and is more likely to be content.
What are some obstacles to a healthy sexual relationship between a married couple?Hide Answer
Couples who are in constant conflict or have lost affection for one another tend to have little or no interest in sexual intimacy with each other. Being apart from each other for extended periods of time or having prolonged hectic schedules can also put a strain on conjugal relationships.
How can a couple overcome these obstacles?Hide Answer
It takes effort to work out differences between a couple. The Bible teaches us to put off the old self and put on the new self. This applies to our daily lives at home. Paul exhorts the believers, “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive” (Col 3:12–13). These qualities of a new creation are important not only in the church community but also in our marriage life.
Husbands and wives also need to make it their common goal to spend time together to communicate with each other, do housework together, serve the Lord together, and enjoy leisurely activities together. Doing so may be challenging when life is hectic. That is why both the husband and the wife should agree to make a conscious effort to set aside time for each other.
Why does Satan have an interest in believers’ married life (v. 5)?Hide Answer
If a person does not have a good marriage, he is more susceptible to seeking extra-marital relationships and falling into the sin of sexual immorality. Furthermore, our relationship with our spouse has a direct impact on our relationship with God (cf.
1 Pet 3:7). It is also difficult to serve in the church effectively if one fails to manage his own family life (cf. 1 Tim 3:5). It is no wonder that Satan our adversary seeks to tempt those whose marriage is not strong.
What “concession” is Paul referring to here? (v. 6)Hide Answer
If the words “I say this” refer to what Paul has to say in the next verse, then the concession means that while Paul does not dispute the common saying “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman,” he would not command all believers to be single. In other words, although singlehood has its benefits, it is not for everyone (cf. Mt 19:10–12).
Explain the “gift” in verse 7.Hide Answer
Looking at the larger context of this passage, we understand that not everyone is able to remain single and exercise self-control (v. 9). Therefore, we may interpret the “gift” in verse 7 as a certain ability from God that not everyone may have. One such gift is being able to remain unmarried without burning with passion.
Why does Paul suggest remaining single as a better option for those who are able?Hide Answer
According to Paul, those who marry will have “worldly troubles” (7:28). Marriage comes with responsibilities. Looking out for the interest of our spouse and taking care of him or her is a marital duty that requires time and effort. But for those who have the gift of remaining single, they can devote their time and mind to the service of God and others (7:32–35).
What does Paul teach about divorce in these two segments?Hide Answer
Husbands and wives must never divorce or be separated, even if one’s spouse is an unbeliever (vv. 10–14). But if an unbelieving spouse insists on divorce or separation when the believing spouse did not initiate the divorce or separation, then the believing spouse is not guilty of breaking God’s commandments.
What specific category of people is Paul addressing in vv. 12–16?Hide Answer
Believers with unbelieving spouses.
In what sense is an unbelieving spouse made holy?Hide Answer
The Greek word for “holy,” sometimes translated “sanctified,” often alludes to the status of believers in Christ (cf. Acts 26:18; Rom 15:16;
1 Cor 1:2, 6:11; Eph 5:26). Therefore, we may interpret Paul’s words that the unbelieving husband is made holy as the conversion of the previously unbelieving husband.
How does this segment relate to the larger context of this chapter?Hide Answer
The words “only let each person…” continue the thought of the preceding verses. After addressing the different groups of people in verses 8 to 16, Paul provides a more general principle. Each believer is to live according to his given situation. For example, if a person accepts Christ but their spouse does not wish to do so, they are to remain in the marriage and not seek to separate from their spouse.
What are the two types of identities Paul speaks about here?Hide Answer
The first type of identity is ethnic or social identity. Paul cites circumcision and being a bondservant as examples of this. The second type of identity Paul has in mind is the believer’s spiritual identity. One who has been “called in the Lord” (v. 22) carries a new identity before God. Paul teaches that these two types of identities are not in conflict. Our spiritual identity in Christ does not erase our social and ethnic identity.
What practical application does the teaching here have for believers today?Hide Answer
As Christians, we still have to carry out our responsibilities in the society. We are to be good spouses, parents, or children at home; good employees at work; and good students at school. If we have employers who are brethren in Christ, we are still to serve them faithfully and not expect special treatment (
1 Tim 6:2). If we have an unbelieving spouse, we are still to love them and respect them with the hope that they may accept the faith when they see our good conduct ( 1 Pet 3:1–2).
Explain the perspectives Paul is teaching in verses 29–31.Hide Answer
At the end of verse 31, Paul gives the reason for the perspectives he is teaching the believers to have: “For the present form of this world is passing away.” Paul’s message is that, in view of the transience of this present life, believers ought to live with a greater purpose than seeking only emotional and material gratifications. We still need to live in the world, but as believers we are not of this world (Jn 17:16). As we continue to carry out our daily occupations, we should always remember to please the Lord in all things and do all things for His sake.
In what ways is the focus of a married person different from that of someone who is single?Hide Answer
For someone who is married, pleasing one’s spouse is a top priority. Doing so takes time and energy. If the married couple has children, it would require even more to support the family and raise the children. On the other hand, a person who is single can devote more undivided attention to serving the Lord, offering his time to the church community and reaching out to people around him.
According to this segment, what factors should a person consider when choosing whether to marry or remain single?Hide Answer
Those who are considering to remain single need to be able to control their desire and to remain firm in their decision. Although being single does have its benefits, one should not feel compelled to choose singlehood if he or she does not have the gift to remain single.
What does Paul mean by “I think that I too have the Spirit of God”?Hide Answer
In this chapter, Paul intimates a few times that some of the guidelines he puts forth are not the Lord’s direct command (v. 12, 25). In verse 40, he also states that what he says about the widow remaining unmarried is according to his own judgment. In light of the context, therefore, we may interpret the saying “I think that I too have the Spirit of God” as meaning that he is writing under the inspiration of God’s Spirit even though he has not received any explicit command from the Lord about this matter.