Scripture has a way of stepping on our toes, of meddling in our business, doesn’t it? That’s because God isn’t some impersonal deity; He didn’t set the world in motion and then step away to see how things would turn out. God is intimately, sovereignly, and personally involved in our world. All things exist and continue under His divine wisdom. To that end, He has given us His Word to guide us, from the most important decisions we make to the mundane day-to-day. He has a vested interest in how we live, and as our Creator, He knows how life is supposed to work.
God’s commands and instructions are for our benefit; He knows us – mentally, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. We are fearfully and wonderfully made because God knit us together in our mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13-14). Jesus came to give us eternal life for the unending, infinite future, and abundant life right now, and God’s ways and wisdom are the keys to experiencing that abundant life, in this world, in this life, in the circumstances and experiences of our brief human existence.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul offers us some wisdom from the godly perspective of a man who had met Jesus personally, spent three years in the desert receiving wisdom from the Holy Spirit, and was charged by God to bring the gospel to the Gentile world. He freely confesses that some of the things he will tell us are not commands from God, but simply wisdom from his perspective. The topic is marriage, and no matter if you are single, married, divorced, or widowed, this chapter has something to say to you.
Paul starts with a big issue in marriages – the physical relationship between a husband and a wife. Our culture tells us that we ought to pursue sex for our own pleasure and fulfillment, in any way we want, ignoring all boundaries. Paul reminds us that sex is for marriage alone, and that its purpose is less about our needs, and more about meeting the needs of our spouse. Our bodies belong to one another, and we are not to deprive one another so as to prevent and protect one another from the temptation to satisfy physical desires outside of the marriage.
After discussing marriage, Paul tackles another touchy subject – divorce. The Pharisees were constantly asking Jesus if God allowed divorce. They would remind Him that Moses gave permission and allowed the issuing of certificates of divorce. Jesus answered pretty clearly, and this is where scripture starts to get in our business. He said the only grounds for divorce is unfaithfulness on the part of your spouse, and marrying a divorced woman or man constitutes adultery (Matthew 5:31-32; Mark 10:2-12; Luke 16:18).
Paul affirms the teaching of Jesus with specific examples. If an unbelieving husband or wife refuses to live with their spouse and abandons them, the spouse is free (not under bondage). From my understanding of this passage, abandonment equates to unfaithfulness. However, Paul encourages those in unequally yoked marriages to remain together, if possible, because the presence of the Holy Spirit in the believing spouse “sanctifies” the family. This does not mean they are saved, as he goes on to say their presence may result in the salvation of the unbelieving spouse (7:16). I believe the picture is a covering of grace, of God’s favor on the family because of the faith of the believing spouse.
Paul finishes up by giving his opinion on whether or not a person should seek to be married at all. In his view, if you’re unmarried, you have more freedom to live in “undistracted devotion to the Lord” (7:35) but in no way does this mean you shouldn’t get married. Paul lived in expectation of the return of Jesus, just as we do. For him, time was short and there was a lot to accomplish for the kingdom, and he wanted to focus fully on it. Marriage requires dedication and attention to one another, and so, in his opinion, if you weren’t already married, it wasn’t something to necessarily pursue. Obviously, God does intend for some people to marry, otherwise, we wouldn’t procreate and keep the world going. But He does give some of His children the ability and gifting to remain single.
Marriage is hard. I’m fully aware that for as many divorces that exist, even among Christians, there are as many different circumstances as we could imagine. As fallen human beings, we tend to hurt one another. We make mistakes. We have regrets. We make wrong choices. We say and do things we never thought we would. We tie our lives up in knots that are difficult to unravel and find ourselves in places where we can’t undo what’s done.
That’s why God’s grace is so amazing. It covers all our sins, all our mistakes, and all the things we wish we could do differently. If unmarried sex, unfaithfulness, or divorce is a part of your story (and statistically that’s highly likely), it’s not the end of your story or your relationship with God. If there’s sin involved, confess it. If you’ve broken the commands of Jesus and remarried, resulting in adultery, ask His forgiveness with sincere repentance and move forward. If you need to make amends or reconcile or make a dramatic change in your thinking about relationships, ask God for the grace and strength to do what He asks you to do.
Paul gives all of us, no matter what relationship we’re in, some good advice. Let’s pursue an undistracted devotion to the Lord. If we do that, our marriages and relationships will be honoring to God and a picture of the grace and mercy and love that Jesus has for you.