We come to the seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians where Paul discusses some specific issues within marriage. The spirit of our times has made these matters – sexual immorality and the difficulties of marriage – particularly problematic. Paul found that the church in Corinth had adopted the mindset and values of the world, and we find the same mindset in the church today.
Our problem is the secular worldview that begins with seeing the world as a material universe which excludes God and, therefore, all ultimate responsibility. By excluding God, man becomes self-sufficient. Buttressed by the philosophy of Darwinian evolution, he becomes perfectible. This thinking leads to the belief that no restraints on behavior should be allowed. As a matter of fact, any limit must be bad. And so, man in this self-sufficiency seeks to be autonomous with no ultimate responsibility to anyone but himself.
Christianity is the antithesis of this. We live in a universe that is made by God and is, therefore, responsible to God. Consequently, man is not self-sufficient. Is man important? Yes. Is he made in the image of God? By all means, yes. But he is not self-sufficient. As far as autonomy goes, we are simply not autonomous. If there were no God, we could have a claim to be autonomous, though even then we might not necessarily be so. But if there is a God, then we most certainly are not autonomous and we are responsible to him.
It is within that framework that Paul introduces these matters before us. One of them has to do with sexual immorality. This kind of thinking says, “If it feels good, do it.” In the last chapter, Paul pointed out that breaking the law of God in this area is not beneficial. It is enslaving and it is dishonoring to God. Here, in 1 Corinthians 7, he deals with marriage, and for the first time in this letter, he seems to be dealing with a question that the Corinthians had asked him. This is something that apparently they had written to him about.
This is the way he begins the chapter: “Now, for the matters you wrote about…” They had asked several questions beginning with, “What about a situation in which…” and then they would describe the situation they wanted Paul to consider. “Should a person be married in that particular situation? Should a person get a divorce in this kind of a difficulty?” This is what Paul is dealing with in this section.
I want to talk about four issues that Paul discusses here. First, Paul talks about marriage. What Paul says about marriage is that marriage is good. That is the point at which you have to start. We read this, and because we do not know the specific questions that the people at Corinth had given Paul, we tend to find it difficult to see that he is really saying that marriage is good. In light of the fact that they were living under persecution, on the very front lines of the battle of evangelism, they wanted to know whether or not it was good for a person to be married, or whether it would be better, for the sake of the Gospel, that a person remain unmarried.
Paul responds by saying that, in his judgment, in that kind of a situation, it’s good to remain unmarried. He answered from his own situation. Be like me, he said, because I’m an evangelist, and I certainly am free from family cares, able to carry on a very effective ministry, going from city to city in a way that would not be possible if I were married. We read that, and we think it sounds like he is saying that the unmarried state is the state to be desired above all else. It is as if we hear Paul saying, “By all means, stay unmarried. But if you’ve got to get married, if you just can’t resist it, if you’re just burning with passion, well, it’s better to get married than to risk sexual immorality.” But what he is really saying goes beyond that.