The Christian and Marriage
Tim Temple


Open your Bibles to I Corinthians, chapter 7, beginning with verse 1:

I Corinthians 7

1Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
2Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
3Let the husband render unto the wife due benevolence: and likewise also the wife unto the husband.
4The wife hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.
5Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.
6But I speak this by permission, and not of commandment.
7For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

We will stop our reading there. There are certain things that are underlying factors in every aspect of our lives, so much so that we hardly even think about them except in moments of crisis or moments of reflection or some other kind of intensity; for example, everything that we do is undergirded by the freedoms under which we live in this country. Everything that we enjoy as a freedom is undergirded by the protection of the constitution of the United States. Usually until we travel in another country, or occasionally when we go through a time of national elections, we don't really stop to think about those constitutional freedoms and God's tremendous provision for us in allowing us to be born in this nation and in keeping this nation true to the constitution on which it is based. Those are things which are just accepted; they are just givens in our lives, and we don't give them as much thought as we ought to.

Marriage Instituted By God

Another of those institutions is the institution of marriage. Marriage is something that God Himself instituted and gave to us as His gift. Marriage surrounds us in every aspect of our lives whether we are married or not. Most people who are not married spend a lot of their time thinking about what it would be like to be married. Unfortunately, many of those who are married spend a lot of their time thinking about how nice it would be not to be married. Most of us, from time to time when we think about marriage, realize that it is one of the basic principles of our lives. It is something that undergirds us and surrounds us whether we are married or not. One Bible teacher that I have heard several times said that many men don't discover that they have the gift of celibacy until after they are married. So it is something that is not always exactly as it seems. The grass is very often greener on the other side of the fence, it might seem.

As we come to chapter 7 of I Corinthians, we find some of God's instructions on the matter of marriage. The fact that these things are included in the Word of God remind us of how practical and well-rounded the Scripture is. Subjects that we human beings think of as being private and taboo, things that we just don't talk about in mixed company, the Word of God very boldly declares. So the fact that the Scripture touches on something as basic and important as marriage and the marriage relationship indicates how practical the Scripture is and how usable it is and how relevant it is. The fact that even something as delicate and private as the intimacies of marriage can be a part of the subject of the lordship of Christ is a very revealing thing. You see, God wants to be involved in every aspect of our lives, even in those things that we consider to be personal and private. Did you know that your honoring of the Lord Jesus Christ, that your allowing Jesus Christ to be Lord of your life even extends into the area of the marriage relationship? As we are going to see as we work our way through this passage, that is true whether you are married or unmarried. The lordship of Christ extends even to your view of your singleness and your willingness to accomplish God's will whether married or single.

Unfortunately, I Corinthians, chapter 7, is not the best one with which to just jump into the subject of marriage because the passage as a whole, and verse 1 in particular, has been used by liberals to try to say that the Apostle Paul had a low view of marriage. Therefore, they discount some of the more difficult things that the Scriptures say about marriage, so before we get into the passage, we need to think carefully about some of the background out of which this particular passage comes. As we do that, we are going to see some very important things for both the married and the unmarried to keep in mind about the subject of marriage.

The first thing we want to think about is some qualifications that are placed on marriage in verses 1-7. Look at verse 1 again:

I Corinthians 7

1Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.

Why would the Scripture make a statement like that? As I have already said, many people have the idea that Paul was just an old bachelor who had a narrow-minded view of marriage. In the first place, although Paul was unmarried at the time he wrote these things, if you will skip down to verse 7 and notice in its context:

I Corinthians 7

7For I would that all men were even as I myself…

When we study to the point that we have that verse in its context, it is obvious that he is saying that he is single. He was single at the time that he wrote these things, but he must have been married at one time in his life because he had been a member of the Sanhedrin. In Acts, chapter 22, verse 20, Paul says that he voted for the death of Stephen. Capital punishment in the first century in which Paul and Jesus lived in Israel had to be approved by the Sanhedrin, the ruling council of seventy in Israel. The Roman government had allowed home rule in Israel, and the Jewish ruling body was the Sanhedrin. Paul said in other places that he was the Pharisee of the Pharisees. Taking these various statements that he makes about himself, particularly Acts, chapter 22, verse 20, where he says that he voted for the death of Stephen, we can gather from that that he was a member of the Sanhedrin, and it was an established fact that the members of the Sanhedrin had to be married men. In fact, the secular writings of the Jews tell us that that stipulation came because they felt that a married man could be more just in his decisions.

God Provides a Complement to Man

To fully answer the question of why this kind of a statement would be in the Scripture, we need to look at some comparative Scriptures concerning marriage. In doing that, we will see that the Scriptural view of marriage is a very positive one, a very high one. We will just summarize what these passages say in order to save time. First, in Genesis, chapter 2, verses 18-24, we have the account of creation, specifically God's provision of woman for man. I know that that statement sounds male chauvinistic–that woman was provided for man. Yet as we look at Genesis, chapter 2, the first place that we find God saying that something about His creation was not good is in the situation where the man was without a wife. Over and over again, in Genesis, chapter 1 and the early part of chapter 2, God saw what He had done up to a certain point, and He said, “It is good.” But then in Genesis, chapter 2, God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone. I will make a suitable helper for him.” With all undue apologies to the National Organization for Women, God said, “I will make a woman as a complement to the man.”

If we were to analyze that statement carefully, we would see that it is not any kind of a putdown for women. God is saying, “I am going to make a complement for the man. I am going to provide for the man a counterpart without whom he will not be able to fulfill all of his potential.” So there was the provision of woman for man. God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone.” Out of God's graciousness, out of God's love for man, He provided a complementary counterpart, a suitable helper.

A Picture of God's Relationship to Man

In Ephesians, chapter 5, verses 22-32, the subject of marriage is dealt with again from several standpoints, but the overall focus is that it is a picture of God's relationship to man. Why is our marriage so important? Because God says, in Ephesians, chapter 5, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” He says, “Wives, submit to your husbands as unto the Lord.” In other words, he says, “Wives, submit to your husbands not because he is your lord, but submit to your husbands as you do in the same way that you do to the Lord.” So, God's view of marriage is a view that is so high that He even uses it to picture His relationship to us. In fact, he wants our marriage to picture to others His relationship to us.

In I Timothy, chapter 4, verses 1-3, Paul wrote to Timothy about various kinds of things that would happen in the last days just before the Lord's return. He said that false teachers would come who had been seduced by doctrines of demons, and one of the characteristics of those false teachers would be that they would forbid to marry. Again I say that marriage is a wonderful gift from God. God has a high view of marriage to the point that He uses it to illustrate His own relationship to us and to the point that those who are forbidding to marry are characterized as false teachers. That is God's view of marriage as it is propounded in the various Scriptures which deal with that subject.

Complications In Marriage

In spite of that high view of marriage, there were some complications in Corinth for marriage. It is because of those complications in Corinth–many of those same complications exist today–that God chose to include this letter in the Scriptures. There are many things that Paul wrote and that other writers of the Scriptures wrote that are not included in the Scripture. When we talk about the inspiration of Scriptures, we do not mean that everything that Paul wrote was inspired. When we say that Moses wrote under the inspiration of God, we don't mean that everything that he wrote was inspired; but God inspired some of the things that they wrote, and then God superintended the inclusion of those particular things in the compilation of the books that comprise our Bible. So we have, as we come to I Corinthians, chapter 7, God's view of marriage, dealing particularly with complications that were true at Corinth, but that God knew would continue to be true of churches and of societies and civilizations down through the years.

We need to notice that the phrase in verse 1 of chapter 7, in I Corinthians, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman,” is a symbol for marriage. Otherwise, if we are to take that phrase literally, some of you are sitting far too close to each other. It doesn't mean that we are physically not to touch a woman. Rather, it is a reference to the sexual relationship that is an integral part of the marriage relationship. This is a literary device called “synecdoche”, which is the use of a part to refer to the whole. A common use of synecdoche in our everyday language would be, “Let's go have lunch together.” If I ask you to lunch, you know that I don't mean we will go down to the cafeteria and sit side by side and shovel food in our mouth. That would be included, but there is a great deal more involved in a social lunch together than just the eating. We are going to have some conversation, some interchange. We are going to catch up on the news with each other. All kinds of things are involved in “having lunch”. The word “touch” is synecdoche for sexual contact.

The Scripture establishes very clearly that sexual relationships within the context of marriage are perfectly legitimate. In fact, they are very honorable in God's sight. One of the failures that we have as Christians is to sometimes think of sex, even within marriage, as sort of a smutty subject. It is a private subject. It is not something that we need to talk about in detail in public, but it is in no way a smutty subject. It is a perfectly honorable subject, and that is what he is going to talk about in the verses that follow.

Reasons for Remaining Single

What I Corinthians, chapter 6, verse 1, says is that it is better not to have sexual relationships. That may seem very harsh, but let's think about the similarity of some other Scriptural statements. Turn with me to Matthew, chapter 19, where there are some verses that deal with marriage from a little different angle. Let me give you the context before we look at verse 12. Jesus has said, in answer to questions from the Pharisees, that anyone who divorces his wife for any reason other than sexual immorality and marries someone else commits adultery. Let me remind you that Jesus said that, not me. That is the Word of God. It is very clearly spelled out there in Matthew, chapter 19. The disciples responded to that in verse 10, “It would be better, then, not to get married at all.” Jesus answers in verse 11:

Matthew 19

11But he said unto them, All men cannot receive this saying, save they to whom it is given.
12For there are some eunuchs, which were so born from their mother's womb: and there are some eunuchs, which were made eunuchs of men: and there be eunuchs, which have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven's sake. He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

The term “eunuch” is a term that, in the broadest sense and in the way that Jesus was using it here, is a person who is not able to have children. In ancient kingdoms, men were sometimes castrated and were used as keepers of the king's harem. Jesus says, “There are people who are made eunuchs by men,” been made unable to have children by a physical act that someone else has done to them. There are eunuchs who choose not to bear children for the kingdom of Heaven's sake. There are some who have been born from their mother's womb unable to procreate. What Jesus is saying here is that there are some situations in which people may have to be single. Remember, He is not just talking about the act of bearing children. The context of those verses that I summarized just above this was the subject of marriage and divorce. So, what he is saying here is if a person is in a situation where he has to be single, God can give him the grace to live in that situation.

Grace for Living Alone

Notice what he says in the last part of verse 12:

Matthew 19

12…He that is able to receive it, let him receive it.

God gives the ability to some people to be able to remain single regardless of why they have to remain single. He is talking about marriage in general, but by extension let me say that this would apply to those who are married but not able to have children. If God places you in a marriage and you or your spouse are not able to bear children, then God can give you the grace to not have children. There are other provisions that God makes–the provision of adoption, particularly.

I Corinthians, chapter 7, is in keeping with Matthew, chapter 19, and the basic point that these verses establish is that marriage is not necessarily the norm. You don't have to be married. Just because you are not married does not mean that you have missed the mark in life. Paul will touch on situations where it is better not to be married.

The Complication of Conditions

There was another complication in Corinth and that was the seriousness of Corinthian conditions. If you will notice in verse 2 there is a reminder of rampant sexual immorality in Corinth. Notice:

I Corinthians 7

2Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.

The primary application of verse 2 is in favor of marriage, but I think the reason Paul words that question this way is that he was answering question probably from the fathers of unmarried daughters, but maybe from single people. Paul is writing the answers to questions of which we don't have a record, but probably–reading between the lines–one of the things they were asking was, “With all of the sexual immorality which is around, should we allow our daughters to get married?”, or “Should I try to get married because of the attendant problems of sexual immorality?” No doubt venereal diseases were accompanying that in that day just as they are in this day. The real crux of the issue is down in verse 26:

I Corinthians 7

26I suppose therefore that this is good [notice] for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.

In the day in which Paul was writing, in many cases in that culture and in that time, it was actually physically dangerous to be a Christian. This was the time that they were throwing Christians to the lions literally. It was about this juncture in history that Nero lost his mind and began to physically, horribly persecute Christians. Those stories about throwing Christians to the lions are not just mythology; they are a matter of historical record. A man or woman could become a widower overnight. The soldiers could come to the door and haul the husband or the wife down to the prison, and the next day he would be the opening event on the sports calendar, immediately leaving a widow and children; or children could be orphaned when sometimes both parents were executed.

Stress of Marriage Responsibilities

There is one final complication of marriage that Paul mentions in this chapter, and that is the stresses of marriage responsibilities. Look at verse 32:

I Corinthians 7

32But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:
33But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
34There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.

I know some husbands who have memorized that as their life verse and quote it often to their wives, but let's think carefully about what these verses actually mean because they could be easily misunderstood because of our prejudices as husbands and wives. What they are actually saying, if we back off and look at the overall view of these verses, is that the married man's first responsibility is to his wife. Look at verse 33:

I Corinthians 7

33But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.

That is as it should be. The Scriptures tell us very clearly in Ephesians, chapter 5, “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the Church.” I think there is some real significance in that. How does Christ love the Church? He loves us whether there is any response from us or not. How many times do we husbands say, “Well, I try to love her, but there is just not the kind of response that I want to get.” Love your wives as Christ loved the Church. So verse 33 is stating a fact of Scripture. A married man has a responsibility to love his wife first and foremost; and that may mean not taking as much time to serve the Lord as the unmarried man would have available. There are some responsibilities–this is heresy in some quarters–that if a husband is doing what God has told him to do, will keep him from serving the Lord, and that is perfectly legitimate.

Men, sometimes we need to say “no” when someone asks us to go do something even for the Lord if it is going to interfere with out responsibilities to our wives and children. That is what Paul is saying in verse 33. The same thing is true of wives. In verse 34, there is a difference between a wife and an unmarried woman. The unmarried woman care about the things of the Lord, or at least she should. She has the time and the energy to pay more attention to the things of the Lord than the married woman does because the married woman has responsibilities to her husband. Of course, that is perfectly Scriptural. Ephesians, chapter 5, and I Peter, chapter 3, tell us, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands, and don't be afraid to submit to your husband even as Sara submitted to Abraham, calling him ”Lord“. Don't think that that means you have to call your husband 'Lord'.” What is your responsibility to your husband? To honor him to the point that you consider him the lord of your life under Jesus Christ, of course.

So you see, another complication of marriage is the stresses of marriage responsibility. Men and women who are married have responsibilities that God has given them that hinder them from serving the Lord as fully as an unmarried person would be able to do. Singleness, therefore, is sometimes a perfectly legitimate alternative to God's provision of marriage. Marriage is a wonderful gift from God. It is something that is highly honored; it is a thing that God has provided for most people. On the other hand, there is nothing wrong if you are not married, and in fact there are those times when God does not allow particular people to be married. When He does, He gives them the ability to remain single as long as they need to to accomplish His purposes. People who are single have a much more full opportunity to serve the Lord than people who are married if they will take those opportunities that married people don't have to serve the Lord.

Honorable Service In the Present State

As we conclude our thinking, it seems as if the standard of the great “American dream” is to be married and have a family. That is normal. Probably most people really have that as a desire if not a goal. This passage demonstrates a very important principle for us to keep in mind. The key to the issue of marriage is: How can we best serve the Lord? Let me ask you something. Are you honoring the Lord in your marriage? In a verse just below these we have read he says, “Are you married to a wife? Seek not to be loosed.” We have just heard these verses that say how a single person could serve the Lord better, and maybe there is someone who is beginning to think, “Well, maybe I just ought to get rid of my wife or husband, and I could serve the Lord better.” No, “…don't seek to be loosed.” He also says if you are single, don't seek to be married.

God's focus is how can we best bring honor to the Lord. If we are married, obviously from this point forward, we can best bring honor to the Lord by being married. Are you honoring the Lord in your marriage? Are you obedient to the instructions of Scripture about your marriage? Are you loving your wife as Christ loved the Church? Are you submitting to your husband as unto the Lord? Maybe more specifically to those of you who are single, because of the great Amerian dream and because of the norm of marriage, let me focus on those of you who are single. No one should ever get married just because it is the thing to do. All of you who are unmarried, whether you are still in high school or college or whatever, marriage is a provision from God; but nowhere does it say that it ought to be the aim to be married just to be married. You have heard of senior panic? That is what that is. You would be amazed at the number of people who get married on that kind of reasoning. That is unbiblical! Marriage should always be based on the concept, “Can I bring more glory to God married than I can single?” I am sure it is hard for a single person to be objective about that, but that is the focus of these verses.

It may be that your singleness is a temporary situation. Maybe it is God's will for you to be single because He has an educational goal for you to achieve, and God, in His wisdom, knows that you will be able to best achieve the educational goals He has in His will for you if you will remain single. Sometimes God's will of singleness is a short-term thing, but remember what Jesus said in Matthew, chapter 19. God gives the gift of singleness. You can accept that gift or you can reject it. There are occasions when that singleness is permanent, when it becomes evident that it is God's will for a person not to ever be married or to ever be remarried if your spouse has died. Perhaps you are the victim of an unfair divorce, one that was not your fault. It is in God's hands whether you should marry again, not yours. God, in His grace, provides for whatever state we are in. God provides grace for those who are married to be able to live in that marriage. God provides grace for those who are single to remain in that single state as long as it continues to be His will, even if it continues throughout life. So you see our marital status is very important to God. It is a very real part of the lordship of Christ in our lives and therefore in our local church.

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