The topic of marriage is an interesting one in today’s culture. Current statistics indicate that 42-50% of all marriages will end in divorce. Gay marriage is legal in all fifty states. And more than 7.5 million unmarried couples are living together in America (15 million people). According to one website, that’s a 138% increase since 1990. Premarital sex is accepted as normal, and marriage is often seen as irrelevant, old-fashioned and unnecessary.
In contrast, the biblical view of marriage is quite different. Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 7 is an in-depth look at relationships, and he covers every type: married, single, divorced, widowed.
What does he tell us about marriage? Here are a few observations:
If you’re married, enjoy it. You belong to one another, and God has given you to each other to protect each other’s purity (among other reasons). If you’re single (never been married, or widowed), it would be good for you to remain that way, but if you can’t control your passions, then get married! If you’re married to an unbeliever, and they are willing to live with you, stay married. If your unbelieving spouse divorces you, or your spouse dies, you are free to remarry. But in Paul’s opinion, you will be happier if you remain as you are.
In other scriptures, we are taught that premarital sex, adultery, and homosexual relationships are sinful and offensive to God (Romans 1:24-32; Ephesians 5:3; Colossians 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 4:3; 1 Corinthians 6:13-18).
Why does God prohibit immorality, and sanctify marriage? Paul gives us a hint as he explains his reasoning that it’s not a bad thing to be single like himself:
But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and his interests are divided. The woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. This I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is appropriate and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35)
The truth is, our earthly relationships are only temporary, so they cannot be the sole purpose of our lives. As believers, we are betrothed to another: our bridegroom, Jesus. He has called us into His kingdom and given us the task of being His ambassadors to a lost culture. As a result, whether we are married or single, we are called to live out our lives in undistracted devotion to the Lord.
Marriage is a blessing. Two people who love Jesus and who are united in purpose, spirit, and calling are a powerful picture of God’s grace and mercy. But whether or not we are married, earthly relationships take second place to our devotion to God.
Is it possible to have a marriage that thrives in undistracted devotion to the Lord? How can we make a practical application of this spiritual truth? Here are three lessons I see in 1 Corinthians 7.
Live with an attitude of “I’m here for you,” not “You’re here for me.”
The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does (verse 4). Yes, this is given in context of a couple’s physical relationship, but the principle applies in every area. When we are separately, personally, devoted to following the Lord, then we are less likely to focus on our own needs. Instead, Christ’s love in us causes us to be sensitive to our spouse’s needs, and we are more concerned about them than we are in getting what we think we need.
Be patient with each other’s faults and failures, giving God time to work.
But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy (verses 12-14). No, this doesn’t mean that your children or your husband are saved simply because you are a believer. But it does indicate that if at all possible, we should give God the opportunity to draw them to Himself by seeing how His love and grace and mercy is operating in our own life. Along the same lines, we should give our husband or wife time and room to grow spiritually, just as we would want them to do for us. Undistracted devotion to the Lord means that we always have the gospel in mind, no matter what the circumstance.
Focus less on the world, and more on serving God together.
This goes back to the scripture quoted above: One who is married is concerned about the things of the world (verses 33-34). It’s easy to get caught up in the “American dream” of career, house, car, two kids, the white picket fence and a vacation home at the beach. And if God blesses you with all those things, then enjoy them and share them with your friends! But don’t make those things the primary focus of your marriage. Instead, decide to use your time, resources, and energy for things that further the kingdom of God. Work together to share the gospel. Sacrifice your wants so that you can give generously to missions. Worry less about the world’s standards and expectations of how you should raise your children and more about passing on a legacy of Biblical knowledge and a life devoted to God.
I can share with you from personal experience that when two people are pulling in the same direction – toward the Lord – then marriage ceases to be a distraction to our spiritual growth and instead becomes a catalyst for undistracted devotion to the Lord.
If you’re married, what changes do you need to make?
If you’re single, where is your focus?