As you probably noticed yesterday, the reading wasn’t a second run through 1 Cor. 1-3, but was supposed to be 4-6. Forgot to change that part in my word processor. Nevertheless, hope you found the article helpful.
Today’s posting will deal be longer than usual, four chapters rather than 3, because chapters 8-10 are a cohesive argument on the topic of Christian liberty. But more than dealing with Christian liberty, we’ll also be looking at another question that was huge in the ancient church, marriage or singleness. Obviously, once again, I’ll not be able to be nearly as comprehensive as I’d like; there’s just too much here that could provide fodder for questions and discussion. But as always, if you have a question about some part of this, especially if I didn’t address it, you’re always welcome to write something in the comments. So, let’s dive in.
The obligation of marital sexuality — 1 Cor. 7:2-9
I separate this topic out from the larger context, because as a Christian counselor I find I am running more and more into marriages in which this is a problem. There was a time in less “liberated” eras in which sex in marriage was considered a definite obligation. Today with women working full time jobs, with women’s liberationist proponents trying to frame marriage as a type of slavery, and marital sex as some form of prostitution an increasing number of women have turned away their husbands. I wouldn’t blame the higher divorce rate of modern times completely on this, but I think it has contributed significantly to the problem. Nor would I completely blame the higher incidence in adultery on it, but again, it can be easily understood as a major factor. “Oh, like I could go to Hell, for not having sex with my husband?” If unrepented of, yes. Although it is usually only obliquely referred to in traditional marriage vows, sexual obligation has always been a part of the marriage understanding — for both women and men. Don’t “bait and switch” on your husband or wife after the “I do” has been said. It is dishonest in the extreme and not only is damaging to your marriage but to someone’s heart. It is not sexual slavery, it is not prostitution, it is holy and to be kept inviolate like other parts of the marriage covenant: financial support, for better or worse, emotional support, etc. Stop the excuses, correct your attitude, love your husband or wife, and fulfill the covenant you made before God and your spouse.
What about marriage? — 1 Cor. 7
Should a Christian get married or remain single had become a pressing question in early Christianity. Paul was unmarried and Jesus was unmarried. There will be no marriage in Heaven (Matthew 22:30). Was there something especially holy about this state? Paul’s answer in a nutshell goes this way…
- Sexuality in marriage is important and even required
- Singleness is a gift that not everyone has
- Singleness is preferable given the troubled circumstances of the day (persecution)
- Despite the fact that religiously mixed marriages are hard, the Christian should not pursue divorce against an unbelieving spouse
- If the unbelieving spouse initiates divorce, the Christian is not under obligation to stay with them
- If the believing spouse does pursue a divorce (on other than grounds of adultery), he or she should understand that they must remain unmarried
“There is no God but one.” — 1 Cor. 8:4
Paul starts with the truth that there are no other gods, and that the eating of things sacrificed to the gods has no power or effect (since those “gods” don’t exist). But since not everyone knew this, this knowledge could be a cause of stumbling to others — and it was. The prideful knowledge of some of the rich had given them “enough knowledge to be dangerous.” Their knowledge had liberated rich Christians to eat, but this liberty was causing confusion among the poor and less knowledgeable and drawing them back into pagan rituals and feasts. This is the problem in many a church division — folks who are bent on exercising the liberties that they feel certain (sometimes erroneously) that they have without considering the conscience of others. To such people Paul pleads…
“But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.” — 1 Cor. 8:9
“… all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.” — 1 Cor. 9:22
How much is a soul worth? Paul seems to think that it was worth giving up his own way. That it was worth giving up comfort and personal desires. That it was worth giving up meat altogether. That it was worth living like a Gentile, even though he was a Jew. Worth living like someone weak and without knowledge. Worth living like an observant Jew, even though he was no longer bound by such restrictions. Are souls worth that much to you? We could complain that it gives us no freedom, that it’s makes us slaves, etc. Paul was quite certain that his brothers and sisters were worth it — and that the lost were. It’s a different way to think about things. Isn’t that Jesus’ way? It’s transformation! And the practice of it would transform the sharing of the Gospel and the strength of the church.
Warnings about freedom and its dangers from the Old Testament — 1 Cor. 10:1ff
It is said that the most dangerous time of Israel’s Exodus story was when they finally crossed the Red Sea. That’s when they first had freedom. It’s the most dangerous time for teens, when transition to college students or adult living and can make their own decisions. Freedom is what we all like, but its exercise is dangerous indeed. Paul warns the liberty-exercising brethren in Corinth to consider the mistakes of Israel, lest they liberate themselves right into condemnation like so many in Israel did. The moral shouldn’t be lost on us, though often it is. Every generation, it seems, is of the belief that the older generation are a bunch tradition bound, moss-backed, Neanderthals that need a little loosening up. That real happiness or even real religion lies just beyond where the older boundaries are. These principles found in the story of the Exodus and the wilderness wanderings are in the Old Testament for our learning.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.