1 Corinthians, Lesson 10: Remaining with God Wherever You Are

Looking contented (610x351)We still find ourselves within a flow of thought that takes place within a chiasm:

A 7:1-16 Sex relating to those who are or have been married

.     B 7:17-24 Being content in your callings

A’ 7:25-40 Sex relating to those not now married

The main point Paul is making is to be content where the Lord has placed you. He happens to apply that within the context of celibacy (those who have that gift), marriage (those who have the gift of sexuality), or some state that is in between.


Mixed Marriages

Read 1 Corinthians 7:12-13

In this section, Paul is again sharing his opinion, which he clearly states in verse 12. 

  • What situation is Paul addressing that Jesus did not address with His fellow Jews?


Jesus and Marriage; Paul and Marriage: In Matthew 19:3 and Mark 10:2, Pharisees had “tested” Jesus about divorce, pushing Him to take a side in the Shammai-Hillel debate. Shammai and Hillel were 1st BC Jewish scholars who had founded opposing schools of Jewish thought. The School of Shammai held that a man could only divorce his wife for a serious transgression. The School of Hillel allowed divorce for even trivial reasons, such as burning a meal. Bypassing both schools, Jesus said: “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery” (Matthew 19:9, see also Mark 10:11-12).

Jesus answered Pharisees who were asking about marriages for those in the Old Covenant, not mixed marriages. Gentile-Jewish marriages were not permitted in the Old-Covenant (Deuteronomy 7:3), unless the other person converted (Deuteronomy 21:10-14). Further, Jesus was answering Jewish men, for whom divorcing a woman had become a matter of legal loophole (the size of the loophole differed depending on whether you were of the School of Shammai or Hillel).

Jesus removes the loopholes. After all, since they had asked a Law question, Jesus gave them a Law answer: If you want to be righteous in God’s eyes through the Law, divorcing a woman for any reason but adultery (because that breaks the one-flesh bond) condemns you.

In 1 Corinthians, Paul is dealing with a topic that Jesus didn’t address (Paul said, “I, not the Lord”). He is venturing into new territory: Christians are now married to those outside the Covenant, in this case, the New Covenant, because they were married while both still unbelievers. Note: Paul isn’t taking about Christians wanting to marry unbelievers, since a marriage entered into by a Christian is only to be “in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39).

Although his opinion, Paul uses the imperative voice: “If some brother has an unbelieving wife and she agrees to live with him, he must not let her go; and if a wife has an unbelieving husband and he agrees to live with her, she must not let him go.”

  • With Paul’s thinking, who will not initiate a divorce?


Read 1 Corinthians 7:14-16

Made holy by the believer: “For seven days at the altar make atonement with the Lord to consecrate the altar. Then the altar will be most holy and whatever touches it will be holy [meaning those being made priests in the Old covenant]” (Exodus 29:37). Paul took a ritual that God had instituted in the Old Covenant to set apart a Levite to serve as priest and applied it in the New. In the similar way that God used His priests of old to bring His forgiveness and salvation to His people, God will now use His New Covenant priests (everyone in the New Covenant is brought into the Royal Priesthood, 1 Peter 2:9) as a vehicle to bring salvation to those outside the Church.

  • If the unbelieving spouse wants to stay with the believing spouse, why does Paul say the believing spouse must not initiate a divorce?


  • What if the unbelieving spouse leaves (desertion or divorce)?


  • What rationale does Paul use for the Christian not remaining bound to an unbelieving spouse? (1 Corinthians 15b)


  • Discuss “God has called you to peace” by remaining married or by divorcing.


God has called you to peace: Justin Martyr wrote about a Christian wife who remained married to an abusive, unbelieving husband. She hoped that he would, in time, be converted. The abuse eventually became bad enough that she divorced him (See Justin Martyr, Second Apology, 2).

Paul’s words, “if the unbeliever leaves,” can mean something broader than desertion or divorce. It could (not must) apply to the unbeliever making the marriage intolerable for the believer, for Paul supports his reasoning by using the Greek verb douloo. That wasn’t the usual word for something being legally binding, but a word indicating the bondage of slavery. The Christian does not have to remain married to an unbeliever if the marriage becomes enslaving (we’ll see more of Paul’s thinking in 7:23-4).

Leaving can also be the separation of the heart from the love and commitments of marriage. In such a case, the other has already left, although the physical part of that leaving has not yet taken place. Although true, such an approach can be fraught with danger, for it allows the sinful nature an easy “loophole” for a divorce if someone wants one.

A Christian never wants a divorce; it is a response not to be “enslaved” and to be at peace. The person who thinks, “Good, the person is divorcing me; now I’m rid of him,” is just as guilty that the one who openly says, “I want a divorce.”

Law Application: If the believer wants to divorce out of convenience, he or she must not leave the unbeliever. Who knows, the unbeliever may be converted.

Gospel application: The believer is to be at peace, not enslaved. He or she is free to escape a marriage where one enslaves the other. (We’ll see what this can entail in 1 Corinthians 7:24.)

Paul speaks both ways. The value that a pastor, or Christian, in the Church can bring to another is the value of objectivity when applying God’s Word to a particular situation. When a Christian is undergoing stress within a marriage, he is often too close to his situation, with emotions clouding his thinking, to know which Word should apply: do not leave; do not be enslaved. A Christian pastor (or friend) can apply the proper Word for the Christian in his or her situation, giving godly counsel in a time of need.


Excursus: Salvation and Marriage

In 1 Corinthians 7:16, Paul simply mentions one of the purposes of marriage: salvation. Now, he does this within the context of a mixed marriage, where a believer being married to an unbeliever may result in the unbeliever’s salvation. This does not mean, however, that a marriage between two believers is not also for the salvation of the other!

When we understand that salvation is a past, present, and future event (for example: see Ephesians 2:8-9, 1 Corinthians 1:18, and Romans 5:9), then it only makes sense that a Christian marriage will also be an arena of salvation where God is at work. Now, why would this be so?

In Ephesians 5:22-33, we see a Christian marriage as—not just a reflection of the relationship between Christ and His Bride, the Church—but even a living embodiment of that. In a Christian marriage, the kingdom of God is to become a living experience for both husband and wife.

“Christ loved the Church and gave Himself for her to make her holy, cleansing her with the washing of water by the word, to present her to himself without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless” (Ephesians 5:25-27). The husband is to be a “Christ” to His wife, so the reality of a sinner made holy in the Church becomes more real in her life every day. When this happens, she begins to understand in a deeper way her salvation, and her faith is deepened and strengthened.

When a “wife submits (that is, sees her place where God has called her to serve) to her husband” (Ephesians 5:22) the husband, who is still a sinner living in a fallen world, begins to see, more and more, that his wife is “without spot or wrinkle or anything like that, but holy and blameless.” The husband then begins to see his wife through Christ’s eyes, not just his own.

As love and trust deepens, they both see Christ and the Church in a clearer light. The marriage has become a vehicle for strengthening faith, a vehicle of salvation, not one that takes the place of Word and Sacrament, but becomes a living embodiment of what it means to be in Christ.

A Christian marriage, properly lived out, helps satisfy the needs of both body and soul. The marriage becomes a vehicle to show what it means to be truly human. To be truly human consists of being originally created in body and soul, but without sin. The married life, by enjoying the pleasures of the flesh, point to the resurrection of the body, that Jesus came to came to save our entire beings, including our bodies. The enjoyment of things physical points to the future reality of a body-and-blood salvation on the Last Day.


  • Paul sees marriage as something beneficial for salvation. What does this imply about what someone is doing if he is celibate?


Celibacy and Salvation: If one of the purposes of marriage is for the salvation of one’s spouse, celibacy can also serve such a Gospel function. Our Apology [Defense] to the Augsburg Confession operates from such a worldview:

Neither Paul nor Christ praises virginity because it justifies but because it gives more time for praying, teaching, and serving and is not so distracted by domestic activities. For this reason, Paul says, “An unmarried man is concerned about the things of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:32). Virginity, therefore, is praised because of meditation and study. So Christ does not simply praise those “who have made themselves eunuchs,” but adds, “for the sake of the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 19:12), that is, to have time for hearing or teaching the Gospel. [Ap XXIII, 40]

If a Christian has the gift of celibacy, it makes sense to use the extra time that he has for the kingdom of heaven.


Being Content in Your Callings

Based on the chiastic structure of chapter 7, this section is the main point that Paul makes in chapter 7.

Read a Corinthians 7:17-20

Marks of circumcision: In this section, Paul references 1 Maccabees. During that time, some Israelites had chosen to become Gentile in culture and religion. Such an abandonment of the faith was called “removing the marks of circumcision” (1 Maccabees 1:15). A New-Covenant equivalent would be leaving one’s baptism (Colossians 2:11-14). The point: Don’t allow yourself to forsake the faith.


Lesson 10, Remaining in your Callings


  • What is the primary point that Paul makes in how Christian should view his current stations in life?


  • Discuss: Why did Paul say that what matters is keeping the commandments of God instead of having faith?


Read 1 Corinthians 7:21-24

Paul is still here expressing his opinion. Yet, he uses the imperative voice: “Each must remain in the calling to which he was called.”

  • In verse 23, Paul said, “Do not become slaves of people.” Yet, he also said to remain a slave, unless an opportunity came for freedom, for those who were slaves? How is Paul not contradicting himself?


Differences between 1 Corinthians 7:20 and 24:

1 Corinthians 7:20: “Each must remain in the calling to which he was called.” 1 Corinthians 7:24: “Each in the calling, brother, in this he must remain with God.

Most translations obscure the difference between verse 20 and 24. Verse 20 uses forms of “calling” to refer to where is Christian is to remain. In verse 24, Paul switches from remaining in one’s “calling” to “remaining with God.” Paul recognized that not every life situation is beneficial for one remaining with God and, thus, is not a calling from God (for example, I was a prostitute before becoming a Christian).

If someone is in a life situation that is detrimental to the faith he has been given, he is to choose God over remaining in that situation if he can effect a change. The point is to remain with God—and in whatever setting you find yourself—serving there, bringing Christ to that place. However, if it works the other way around, where you are being made “unholy,” then you avail yourself to an opportunity to leave, so you may “remain with God.”

  • Discuss examples of this.


This is not based on personal convenience but on “remaining with God.” That drives everything.


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