1 Corinthians 7
Bachelor Paul, on marriage and singles
Is it good to skip sex?1Now let me answer some of your questions. “Is it a good idea for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman?” Yes. 2But remember, there’s a powerful pull toward sexual sins. Because of that, every man should have his own wife and every woman her own husband.
3The husband and wife should fulfill their sexual commitment to each other.
4Think of it this way. The wife is not in charge of her own body. Her husband is. The husband is not in charge of his own body. His wife is. 5Don’t refuse to have sex with each other. One exception: you both agree to temporarily abstain, so you can spend time in prayer. Afterward, get back together. If you don’t, Satan might tempt you while your need is high and your self-control is drooping.
Sex and the unmarried6Let me give you an option instead of a command. 7I’m a bachelor, and I wish every man could live that way. But we all have our own gifts from God.
8I do want to say that it’s a good thing for widows and other unmarried people to stay single, like I am. 9But if they aren’t able to harness their sexual energy and control it, they should go ahead and get married. It’s better for people to marry and release their sexual passion than it is to let that passion burn them up from the inside out.
Sex and the married folks10To those of you who are married, I have a command. It’s not an option. This is from the Lord. A wife should not leave her husband and seek separation. 11But if a wife does leave her husband, she needs to reconcile with him or stay unmarried. As for the husband, he should not divorce his wife.
12To everyone else, let me say this. But I want you to know this is my personal opinion, and not a command from the Lord. If a man in the church has a wife who’s not a believer but she agrees to stay with him anyhow, he shouldn’t divorce her. 13And if a woman in the church is married to a man who’s not a believer but he agrees to live with her anyhow, she shouldn’t divorce him. 14A believing wife brings her devotion to God into the marriage. This holiness will save her husband. The same is true for a believing husband with a wife who’s not a believer. Otherwise, your children couldn’t be holy. But they are holy.
15If a husband or a wife who’s not a believer decides to leave the marriage, let them go. The believer left behind should no longer feel obligated to that marriage. God wants us to live in peace. 16Wives, don’t you know you might save your husband? Husbands, don’t you know you might save your wife? 17God has given you this life to live, so live it, whatever the circumstances. I teach this in all the churches.
Come as you are18A man who was circumcised before he became a believer shouldn’t be ashamed of it. On the other hand, a man who isn’t circumcised when he becomes a believer shouldn’t get circumcised afterward. 19It doesn’t matter if a man gets circumcised or not. What matters is that we do what God tells us to do. 20So if you were circumcised when you became a believer, fine. Same goes for those of you who weren’t circumcised. Don’t make any changes. 21If you were a slave when you became a believer, don’t worry about it. But if you’re able to win your freedom, do it.
22I want you to remember something. If you were a slave when you became a believer, you’re a free citizen in God’s kingdom. And if you were free when you became a believer, think of yourself as a slave who belongs to Christ. 23Christ bought you. So don’t let yourself become slaves to the people of this world. 24Dear family, stay the way you were when you first believed. God is with you.
Paul’s recommendation to single adults25Now about that question you asked regarding folks who have never been married, I don’t have a commandment from the Lord. But I can give you my opinion. It’s an opinion you can trust, thanks to the kindness the Lord has shown me. 26I think it’s best if they stay single. I believe that because of the dangerous days in which we’re living now. 27I’m not saying that if you have a wife you should get a divorce. I’m saying if you don’t have a wife, don’t go looking for one. 28If you get married anyhow, relax, you haven’t sinned. That goes for women and men alike. But I want you to know that if you do get married, you’re going to have troubles in this world. I’m trying to spare you that.
The end is near29I want you to hear me, dear family. We’re running out of time. We need to adjust our way of thinking. If you have a wife, imagine yourself without one.  30If you find yourself crying, picture yourself not crying anymore. And if you find yourself celebrating something, imagine the end of the celebration. When you buy something, imagine yourself with nothing. 31Don’t get too attached to this world. Everything about it that feels so familiar will soon come to an end. It has already started.
Single adults offer more to God32I don’t want you focusing on this world. An unmarried man is free to focus on the Lord’s business. 33That’s just not true for a married man. He has to spend much of his time focused on this world—and on how to please his wife. 34So a married man has divided loyalties and concerns. Same is true for women. A single woman can focus on the Lord’s business, and on devoting herself to him with all of her resources, in body and spirit. But a married woman has to focus on concerns in this world—such as how to please her husband. 35I’m saying this to help you—to free you up, not to box you in. I’m trying to nudge you toward a more honorable and complete devotion to our leader.
36If a man’s passions are getting the better of him and he thinks he might act inappropriately with the woman in his life, he should go ahead and get married. It’s not a sin. 37But if he decides not to get married, and he can stay strong and control his passion, that’s wonderful. He’ll do well. 38So, that’s how it is. The one who gets married does well. The one who doesn’t get married does better. 39A woman is obligated to her husband for as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she’s free to marry anyone the Lord would approve.
40But in my opinion, she would be happier if she stayed single. I think I’m in tune with God’s Spirit on this.
Bible scholars struggle to understand what Paul meant when he said, more literally, “the unbelieving husband is consecrated through his wife.” It sounds as though Paul is treating holiness as an object you can pass around from person to person instead of being a matter of personal devotion to God. A person or an object is considered holy when it’s devoted to God (Leviticus 8:11). One suggestion scholars make is that because the unbelieving husband is devoted enough to his Christian wife to stay with her, he comes into contact with the devotion she has to God—and he’s changed by that holiness. She gives him her holiness by exposing him to it and letting him catch it.
Paul seems to be talking about each person’s situation in life. Christians come in all kinds of packages: circumcised, not circumcised, slaves, free citizens. He seems to be saying that Christianity is a come-as-you-are religion. That doesn’t mean he’s arguing against making spiritual changes in a person’s life. He does expect people to mature in their spiritual development: “Our prayer is that you’ll fill up on spiritual knowledge so you’ll understand what God wants you to do” (Colossians 1:9).
Paul’s implication here seems to be that married people have to deal with problems that single people don’t usually face
Perhaps Paul is implying that our relationship with Christ does not depend on our relationship with even the people we love most.
Paul may be suggesting that in the tough times ahead, Christians need to remember that their faith doesn’t depend on their emotions, whether they are laughing or crying.
This may be a reminder that Christians should hold loosely to the things of this world, and not become obsessed with filling their bellies, pantries, and closets.
Paul may be referring to what he has just mentioned in the previous verses: marriage, mourning, celebrations, along with buying and selling.
Paul may be saying that if a Christian widow remarries, she should remarry a Christian. Some Bible scholars say Paul phrases this more as a common-sense suggestion than as a commandment.
Why do you think Christians in Corinth would ask Paul this bizarre question: “Is it a good idea for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman?” (7:1)?
Throughout this chapter, Paul encourages unmarried people to stay unmarried. He says unmarried people have fewer spiritual distractions and are better able to focus on doing the Lord’s work. Which option below do you think might best explain why he would say something like that?
- It worked for him.
- Perhaps he has seen this illustrated in the lives of his traveling associates.
- It’s simple math, based on how many hours we have in a day to get our stuff done.
- Paul thought Jesus was coming back very soon (7:31).
- God’s Spirit told him to say this.
Paul lived in a patriarchal day, when men were boss and women were not. How do you think his readers reacted to him saying, “The wife is not in charge of her own body. Her husband is. The husband is not in charge of his own body. His wife is” (7:4)?
In possibly the toughest verse in this chapter, Paul says, “The unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy” (7:14 New American Standard Bible). This is quoting perhaps the most literal Bible version. Aside from the Casual English Bible version, test drive the following four versions to see which you think works best. Two are from English translations. Two others are English translations of French Bibles, just to give you a little international insight.
- “The believing wife brings holiness to her marriage, and the believing husband brings holiness to his marriage. Otherwise, your children would not be holy, but now they are holy” (New Living Translation).
- “The husband who doesn’t believe belongs to God because of his wife, and the wife who doesn’t believe belongs to God because of her husband. Otherwise, your children would be contaminated by the world, but now they are spiritually set apart” (Common English Bible).
- “The husband who is not Christian is close to God because he is united to his wife. The wife who is not Christian is close to God, because she is united to her husband. Otherwise, your children would be like children separated from God, but, in reality, they are close to God” (Parole de vie, Alliance Biblique Française, translated from French by Chantal Bilodeau).
- “For because of his union with his wife, the non-believing husband is actually a legitimate husband to the eyes of God, and likewise, because of her union to her Christian husband, the non-believing woman is actually a legitimate wife to the eyes of God. Otherwise, their children would be illegitimate children, whereas in reality they are legitimate” (Bible du Semeur, translated from French by Chantal Bilodeau).
What point do you think Paul is trying to make in verse 22? “I want you to remember something. If you were a slave when you became a believer, you’re a free citizen in God’s kingdom. And if you were free when you became a believer, think of yourself as a slave who belongs to Christ.”
How do you think we should deal with the apparent fact that Paul was so convinced the world would “soon come to an end” (7:31) that he advised single men “if you don’t have a wife, don’t go looking for one” (7:27)?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul says, “I’m a bachelor, and I wish every man could live that way. But we all have our own gifts from God” (7:7). Paul seems to suggest that singleness can be a spiritual gift. Can you think of any examples of single people you’ve known who might illustrate Paul’s point?
LIFE APPLICATION. Paul tells the Christians in Corinth, “Don’t get too attached to this world” (7:31). How attached is too attached?