1 Corinthians 7:1–40: God’s Call to the Single and to the Married
After saying so much about the dangers of sexual immorality in 1 Corinthians 5 and 6, the Corinthians may be wondering whether there is any place for sexual intimacy in the life of a true believer. Indeed, many of the Corinthians seem to have held a complex and semi-contradictory view of human sexuality that was common in the ancient world. While, on the one hand, there was a sense that sexual immorality had no real capacity to damage us (1 Cor. 6:12–20), there was also, on the other hand, a belief that a life in the bond of marriage (including marital sexual intimacy) was low, crass, and unspiritual. Perhaps, given Paul’s extensive arguments against sexual immorality and his own life of singleness, the Corinthians may have believed that Paul would take their side in rejecting marriage altogether or, at least, to encourage a life of celibacy for those who were already married.
This interpretation, however, would be very mistaken. While Paul does encourage a life of singleness for some, it is not for the reasons that the Corinthians expect. Moreover, Paul offers here some of the strongest statements in all of the Bible on the holiness, and the enduring obligations and duties, of marriage—including sexual intimacy. So, while Paul offers strong reasons to remain single, if possible, he urges everyone, whether married or single, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free, to live only in light of the eternity that looms over all of us. That is, regardless of whether we marry in the Lord, God calls us to holy devotion to the Lord.
1) In how many ways does Paul strongly urge married couples to practice sexual intimacy (1 Cor. 7:1–5)? What do these reasons tell us about Paul’s view of sexual intimacy in marriage? What does Paul mean by “self-control” and “burning” (1 Cor. 7:5, 9)? What is the “gift of continency”? In your life, how should you deal with your desires?
2) What are the only biblical grounds for divorce (Matt. 19:1–9; 1 Cor. 7:8–16; WCF 24.6)? In what ways does the new covenant offer stronger promises to the children and unbelieving spouses of believers (1 Cor. 7:14)? What would you say to someone considering divorce for any reason other than sexual immorality or willful abandonment?
3) What is the difference between God’s effectual “calling” and the various “assignments” we have (1 Cor. 7:17–24)? What kind of providentially available “opportunities” may present themselves to change our assignments (1 Cor. 7:21)? What might lead us to reject such opportunities? What might lead us to embrace such opportunities without sin?
4) What factors might lead us to refrain from marriage, or to pursue marriage (1 Cor. 7:25–40)? In what sense has the “appointed time…grown very short” (1 Cor. 7:29)? How is the “present form of this world…passing away” (1 Cor. 7:31)? What might be required of you to live devoted to the Lord without distraction (1 Cor. 7:35)?