man reading book November 27 Chronological Bible Study

Timeline. Map. Go to today’s Bible reading (NIV) or alternate versions (use your browser arrow to return): 1Corinthians 7:1–11:1

Marriage, Divorce, Singleness, Christian Liberty and Responsibility

Should a person get married or stay single—which is better? Is it okay to get divorced and re-married? How free am I to express my Christian liberty? What does the Bible say? In this section of Scripture there are some guiding principles to help us with these issues.

When interpreting the Bible, we must remember that all Scripture occurs within a context and has some purpose for which it was written. Many have taken these Scriptures out of their contexts and used them for their own advantage. This is wrong and leads to deceitful and sometimes harmful conclusions. What is the context of 1 Corinthians?

Corinth was a city close to Athens, Greece. It had a bad reputation for idolatry and immorality. All the believers in the Middle East, including Corinth, were under persecution for their Christian faith. They were facing the constant threat of being killed or at least imprisoned. How should Christians react when they know they may suffer at any time? Should life go on as normal? Should they marry or stay single? Which is better? Who should marry and who should not? The Corinthians had written a letter to the Apostle Paul asking him about these things. In today's Bible reading, Paul answers them.

Given the dire situation in Corinth, Paul says that it would be better if they do not marry so they can give their full attention to the Lord. He wants them to live free from concern. Paul knows if any of them were killed, it would be tragic for their remaining spouse and family (soldiers in military conflicts at any time in history can identify with his sentiments).

Marriage is good but it does bring additional responsibilities. It requires the husband and wife to divide their attention between family and service for God at a time when life is perceived as short. However, because of the immorality of the culture, Paul says if there is a desire to marry, then they should marry instead of being consumed with lust.

Even though Paul says it is better not to marry, given the unfavorable circumstances, he also says there is no sin in marrying. But, if a person does not feel compelled to be married, he will do better to stay single because his life and attention can be totally given to God.

In their current circumstances of persecution, Paul’s overall advice to the Corinthians is to stay within the situation God has called them to, whether married or single, and to live in peace. Divorce and remarriage do not bring peace like some people think; it can cause division, anxiety, loneliness, depression, malicious feelings, fights, divided loyalty in children, loss of relationships with friends and relatives, and even poverty. For more Bible reading on divorce and remarriage, see Malachi 2:14-16, Matthew 19:3-9, Mark 10:2-12, and Luke 16:18.

Biblical marriage counseling can help us identify the root causes and solutions for most marriage problems, and extended premarital counseling is helpful for an engaged couple. Almost all married couples want happiness and peace, but ultimate peace is not found in human relationships; it is found in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ (more...).

When Christians humble themselves and follow God's Word in relation to their spouse, they usually have a happier marriage, and this glorifies the Lord. The counsel from God’s Word teaches us to keep our commitments and to live in love and consideration of one another (see Ephesians 5:21-33; 1Peter 3:1-8). If any of us are already divorced and remarried, we can do these things to increase our happiness and glorify the Lord.

Christians must also live in consideration of one another as they express their Christian liberties, freedom from sin to enjoy what God has given. In Corinth and other Middle-Eastern cities, meat which was once offered to idols was now being eaten by Christians. Those who were newly converted to Christ were troubled. Others knew an idol was nothing, so it didn't matter to them, and they could enjoy their meal. The Apostle Paul told them that if any Christians raised objection to their eating meat offered to idols, they were to stop and not eat it in their presence. They were to live in consideration of each other. Why should they (or we) have to do that? Why could they (or we) not enjoy their liberty ?

Does Jesus give us liberty from our sins so we can be selfish? No. Jesus Christ gives us liberty to serve him (see our Galatians study). Those who are more mature in the Christian faith know that many practices are not evil in and of themselves. They know that going to movie theatres, playing cards, dancing, drinking in moderation, and other forms of entertainment are not sinful, and without any misgivings about it many Christians do these things. As Christians, however, we must have some regard for those who are troubled by these practices. Perhaps a recent convert had previously attended X-rated movies at a theatre and this led to pornography. He may feel uncomfortable going with us into any movie theatre. Maybe someone else got saved who was previously a gambler and lost his family because of it. He may not want anything to do with playing cards or casinos. Another person may have led an immoral lifestyle which began with sensuous dancing. She may not want anything to do with it. Perhaps someone else gave up a life of drunkenness when he got saved or he came from an abusive home, so he is uncomfortable with being around any kind of alcoholic beverage. We must live in consideration of one another. “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1, NIV). “Be careful … that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak” (1Corinthians 8:9, NIV). Out of love for others, let us refrain from practicing our liberties when they are present, and choose mutually agreed upon activities to include them.

The Apostle Paul uses himself as an example of what he does to win the lost.

Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1Corinthians 9:19-23, NIV).

If there is consideration for those who are lost without Christ, there should be consideration for those who are saved.

Paul also uses a negative example from the Israelite wanderings in the desert to emphasize responsibility in Christian liberty. Israelites were God’s chosen people, and he delivered them from Egyptian bondage. They were not, however, thankful, and they took their liberties for granted. They engaged in immoral behavior and idolatry. The lesson we are to learn from them is to not take our liberty for granted and so live with moral compromise and carelessness. God will discipline us for that. Paul says in 1Corinthians 10:22 “Are we trying to arouse the Lord's jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (NIV). God is jealous of anything which becomes an idol for us and leads to evil behavior. In fact, he is jealous of anything which becomes more important than our relationship with him.

Paul’s conclusion about Christian liberty is found in 1Corinthian 10:23-24, and 10:31–11:1

“Everything is permissible”-- but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”-- but not everything is constructive.

Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others…. So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.

Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks [non-Jews] or the church of God—even as I try to please everybody in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ. (NIV)

Lessons to Live By

  • Most of us want happiness and peace, but ultimate peace is not found in a human relationship—it is found in a relationship with God through Jesus Christ (more...).
  • The single life has the benefit of a totally committed life for God and is best in some situations. Marriage is not wrong, but time and attention must be divided between God and family. We need to be careful in our decision to marry or not to marry.
  • Let us live in peace.
  • We should live in consideration of others and not insist on exercising our Christian Liberties. Let us do what is beneficial for them.
  • We are not to take our Christian liberty for granted. God wants us to live in holiness and live responsibly in a way which will please the him who liberated us.

Focus Verses

1Corinthians 10:23-24 (NIV)

“Everything is permissible”-- but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”-- but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others.

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A Look Ahead: Another issue the Corinthians struggled with was Proper Worship. We still struggle with this today. What the Apostle Paul wrote to them is profitable for us in our worship. Join us for our Next Lesson.

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