Paul’s Instructions Concerning Sex and Marriage in 1 Corinthians 7

imagesHere are my sermon notes from Sunday nights message dealing with Sex and Marriage in 1 Corinthians 7.  Several people from the church have asked so I thought that I would post them here.

Paul’s Instructions Concerning Sex and Marriage in 1 Corinthians 7

To understand this passage you need to know that Paul is writing in response to some misunderstanding that his earlier letter has caused.  Back in chapter 5:9 Paul mentions that he had written an earlier letter to the Corinthians in which he told them not to “associate” with anyone who claims to be a follower of Christ but at the same time is involved in sexual immorality.  Basically what happened was that the Corinthians church became divided in their response to Paul’s instructions.
The Libertines – Paul dealt with this group in 6:12-19.  We looked at that passage last week and saw that the libertines were basically arguing that anything that they did with their bodies was okay because “All things were lawful for them.”  This may have been the result of their misunderstanding Paul when he said that as believers we are free from the Law.  Whatever the cause, Paul is clear that they were wrong and that underestimated the devastating results of sexual immorality.
The Legalists- In chapter 7 Paul deals with a second group of people whose motto was “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.”  Basically, they were going to the opposite extreme of the libertines and were promoting complete celibacy among believers.  So Paul addresses this problem in the remainder of chapter 7.
What we need to remember anytime that we are studying Corinthians is that Paul is addressing immature believers who were prone to great extremes in their application of the gospel. The Corinthians were products of their culture and Paul is instructing them concerning how they should live out the gospel in the areas of their marriage and sexuality.
  1. Married couples should meet each other’s sexual needs (7:1-9)
    • Some people within the Corinthian church had apparently misinterpreted Paul’s earlier teaching to mean that they should not have sex.
      • They promoted total celibacy
      • They may also have gotten this idea from the Essenes who were also celibate.
      • But they had totally misunderstood what Paul’s point.
    • Paul recognized that there is a benefit to being single and that sometimes it can lead to a greater concentration on the things of God.
      • v.7 “I wish that all were as I myself am.”
      • v.26 “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.”
      • v.32-33 “I want you to be free from anxieties.  The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.  But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife.”
    • But he also recognizes that we are created with sexuality and that part of the purpose of marriage is to meet this basic human need (v.2-5)
      • Husbands and wives are not to deprive each other physically, except for short, special occasions.
      • This may have addressed the fact that many Roman marriages were virtually celibate:
        • Romans marriages were most of the time arranged for social and economic reasons rather than for romantic purposes.
        • Therefore, in many marriages the partners pursued their relationship as a business arrangement and sought sexual fulfillment outside of the marriage.
        • Paul obviously, refutes this practice and shows that married couples should meet each other’s sexual needs.
    • In marriage, sex should not be:
      • A reward for good behavior
      • A tool to manipulate your spouse
  2. Married couples should stay married (7:10-16)
    • Don’t let divorce be an option in your marriage (v.10)
      • Divorce was easy in Roman society
      • All either party needed to do was to publicly announce to their spouse to “take their things and go.”
    • Some in Corinth were divorcing their spouses because they were unbelievers.
      • Paul shows that this is contrary to the gospel.
      • V.14 does not say that they unbelieving spouse is saved by their believing husband or wife, but rather that they are made “holy”
        • The marriage is recognized as valid by God and is therefore Holy.
        • That means that we should treat it with reverence.
        • They might be saved by the testimony of their believing spouse.
        • 1 Peter 3:1 “Wives, likewise, be submissive to your own husbands, that even if some do not obey that word, they without a word, may be won by the conduct of their wives.”
    • Divorce and remarriage is only permissible in two instances:
      • Unbelieving spouse leaves (v.15)
      • Spouse commits adultery – And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Matthew 19:9
    • We could cut the number of divorces in America if we:
      • Gave kids better guidance in matters of dating and courtship
      • Took divorce more seriously in the church:
        • It’s prevention
        • It’s recovery
      • Started to model Biblical marriages
      • Took our vows a little more seriously – TIll death do us part (v.39)
  3. Married couples within the church need to allow that it is a valid option for some people to remain unmarried (7:36-38)
    • There is a tendency among some in the church to assume that the normal and natural thing for everyone to do is to get married.
      • Paul would argue that the majority of people within the church should be married.
      • But he does leave a life of celibate singleness as an option.
      • Throughout this passage, he actually commends the single life— as long as one can remain celibate.
        • v.7 “I wish that all were as I myself am.”
        • He gives two reasons:
          • Eschatological: v.25-28 explains that trouble of this age is the basis for this belief.
          • Practical: v.32 “I want you to be free from anxieties.  The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.  But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife.”
    • As the church we need to be more balanced in what we teach about marriage:
      • We need to uphold the Biblical principles of marriage
      • We also need to uphold the value of being single.


The Key to Longevity in the Ministry is Balance

Corcovado jesus
Corcovado jesus (Photo credit: @Doug88888)

My heroes in the ministry are those men who have stayed at the task of ministry for decades.  Several years ago, I met a man who had Pastored the same church over 40 years. His name was Erastus but everyone simply referred to him as Brother Rastus.  One day, I asked him how he had managed to stay at one church for such a long time and he replied, “I just stayed longer than my opponents.”  But then he shared with me that over the years there were many times when he wanted to quit and just walk away.  But something always kept him from doing it.

Like most Pastors in their mid-40’s I can make a list of several guys whom I started out but are now no longer in the ministry.  According to  a recent report by  there are over 1700 ministers leaving the ministry every month in the United States.  While some are leaving the ministry due to moral failure, the vast majority are simply giving up and throwing in the towel.  The loneliness, frustration, and discouragement that are a natural part of the ministry have simply become too much so they decide to walk away.  Anyone who has been in the ministry for any length of time knows the hardship and challenges facing Pastors today.  So I have been thinking about what it takes to stay in the ministry and have come up with a list of a few key items that contribute to longevity:

1.) Remember Who You Serve

Pastor, ultimately you do not serve the church. You are called to love the church and minister to the church but you are a servant of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Never forget that!  It is to Him that you owe your ultimate allegiance and to Him whom you will ultimately answer.  If you forget this you will end up being at the beckoned call of every special interest group within your congregation or worse yet a slave to your own selfish desires. Make sure that you have got this straight right from the start of your ministry – YOU SERVE JESUS.

2.) Remember What Your Are Called to Do

In Ephesians 4:11 the Bible says, “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” This is job description that Jesus gives to every Pastor (Shepherd/Teacher) in the church.  Your job is to equip the saints for the work of the ministry, not to do all of the ministry by yourself.  If you happen to Pastor a church that sees things differently, go back and read point number one and then start carrying out Ephesians 4:11.

3.) Remember That You Are Not Alone

In my opinion isolation and loneliness are the two worst problem we face in the ministry.  The people in your church will not understand this, nor will your wife and children, but nearly every Pastor I know will tell you that they are lonely.  It is one of the greatest hazards of our calling.  But it does not have to be this way because Jesus is our ever present help in times of struggle and He has given us other brothers in the ministry who can help us.  The problem is, however, that we often reject the very people that God raises up to help us and continue to dig the holes of isolation deeper.  Pastor, you must make the decision not to continue down that road and stretch out an arm to a fellow Pastor and say. “Hey, I’m hurting and need to talk to someone.”  I guarantee that they will be more willing to talk than you imagined, and in the course you will probably find that they too are discouraged, isolated and alone.  We need to help each other out of this slough of despond.

4.) Remember The Ultimate Goal

In Colossians 1:28-29 Paul says, “Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.”  Our ultimate goal is to present the people whom Jesus has entrusted to Shepherd back to Him, fully mature.  This is our goal but we need to know that the process is not finished yet.  Let me give you an example of what I mean here by referring to 1 Corinthians chapter 1.  As you all know, the Corinthians were Paul’s most challenging and difficult church.  As he writes this first letter he is going to have to scold them for their lack of maturity in a number of areas.  But in chapter 1:4-9 Paul says:

“I give thanks to my God always for you because of the grace of God that was given to you in Christ Jesus, that in every way you were enriched in him in all speech and all knowledge— even as the testimony about Christ was confirmed among you— so that you are not lacking in any gift, as you wait for the revealing of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will sustain you to the end, guiltless in the day of our Lord Jesus Christ.  God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Notice here that Paul is praising the Corinthians not because of what they are right now but because of what they are going to be someday.  He knows full well that they are a mess right now, but God isn’t through with them yet.  We need to keep this in mind whenever we start to get discouraged.  God is not through yet.  He is still working in the lives of the people whom we minister to and one day they will be made perfect.  Until then, we need to keep our eyes on the ultimate goal and keep ministering the Gospel to the lives of the people whom God has called us to serve.