Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God. — 1 Corinthians 7:24
More than a dozen years ago, my father-in-law planted some tulips in our backyard. My gardening book says that tulips like sun, but the corner of our yard where the tulips found a home is in deep shade about 97 percent of the time. The same book says tulips need good, fertile soil. I am not sure that my father-in-law knew it, but the mound where he planted the tulips was formerly a pile of old tires that we had covered up with a layer of dirt! Still, the tulips do not seem to know that according to my gardening book, their surroundings are less than ideal. Every year, their scarlet and yellow blooms provide a showy sprinkling of color in the corner of our yard.
In today’s language, our focus verse might be paraphrased, “Bloom where you’re planted.” This instruction was part of Paul’s answer to questions posed by the believers at Corinth. It seems they were reacting to the sinful sexual practices so prevalent in their environment and wondering whether they should make wholesale changes. Paul explained, through the use of examples concerning marriage, circumcision, and slavery, that they could be Christians where they were. They could bloom where they were planted!
Look around you and notice the people who have proven that the Christian life can be lived joyously and victoriously, regardless of what might be considered less-than-optimum circumstances. I think about one believer named Ruth, a childless woman who longed for children, and I remember the thousands of “children in the Lord” that God gave her in Africa. There is Marie, a young mother who suffers from a debilitating disease, whose testimony always radiates contentment and victory. I remember the heartfelt “amen” and upbeat attitude of Reuel, a minister who suffered a stroke that left him virtually without speech for more than twenty-five years. I ponder the grace given to May and Gert, who prayed for unbelieving spouses for decades before God answered their prayers and saved their husbands.
It is easy to think that an adjustment in circumstances would be the solution to our problems, or provide an arena where we could serve God better. However, that may not be God’s solution. He wants us to brighten the corner where we are, to prove to an unbelieving world that no matter what our circumstances, we can be content when we belong to God.
In the first six chapters of 1 Corinthians, Paul dealt with problems that had been reported to him concerning the Corinthian church. Beginning with this chapter, Paul’s agenda changed, and he began addressing specific questions from these new believers. By reading his answers, one can almost reproduce the questions that must have been asked. Paul seemed to have a list in front of him, and appeared to quote from that list from time to time.
Chapter 7 focuses on questions regarding marriage and singleness. Because these were answers to concerns of a particular church in a setting where prostitution and immorality were pervasive, this chapter must be understood in conjunction with what the rest of the Bible has to say on the topic. From the beginning, God ordained that marriage is to take place between a single man and a single woman, and those two, once united in marriage, are united for life.
Some of the questions posed to Paul were:
Verse 2: Is sex sinful? (Paul’s answer: No, as long as it is within marriage.)
Verses 7-9: May single Christians marry? (Paul’s answer: Yes, if that is God’s will for them.)
Verses 10-11: What should be done if a spouse leaves the marriage? (Paul’s answer: Do not divorce. However, if a divorce takes place, both should remain unmarried or reconcile their marriage if possible.) This admonition assumes the marriage was Biblically correct (neither the husband nor wife have another living spouse). Paul would not have encouraged a believer to stay in a marriage that was not lawful in God’s sight.
Verses 12-16: Should a believer withdraw from a marriage with an unbelieving spouse? (Paul’s answer: Believers should stay in a Biblical marriage, even if the marriage is with an unbeliever.) Many of the Corinthians had come to Christ from paganism. They seemingly felt that after being converted, they should break all ties with the unbelieving world, including the marriage bond. In his response, Paul laid out several guidelines. First, he instructed that a Biblical marriage, even with an unbeliever, should be preserved. He explained that the children of such a marriage would be blessed by the fact that one parent, at least, was a believer. Christian spouses were reminded of their responsibility to model the Christian life before their unbelieving mates, because such an example could lead to a spouse’s conversion. If the unbelieving spouse left the marriage, the believing spouse would not be condemned for the dissolution of the marriage; however, no permission was given for remarriage.
Paul went on to give several examples illustrating that believers were to be content in all circumstances wherein they were called by God. Had God called them to be single? They were to be so. Had God called them to be married? They were to be so. They could acceptably serve God whether married or unmarried, whether circumcised or uncircumcised, whether slaves or free men, by trusting God’s sovereignty to reign in their lives.
Paul continued to address further questions.
Verses 25-35: Should an unmarried daughter (virgin) marry? (Paul’s answer: Jesus never spoke on this matter, so Paul offered only his opinion. In view of the impending persecution, he said it might be wise to remain single, though he did not forbid marriage.)
Verses 36-38: What should a father do about his engaged daughter? Should he allow her to marry? (Paul’s answer: A wise consideration of all the circumstances is required. Whatever he decides is good.)
Verses 39-40: How long do marriage vows remain intact? Should widows remarry? (Paul’s answer: The vows last until one party in the marriage dies, after that the surviving spouse could remarry in the Lord.)
In summary, Paul’s advice in this chapter concerned the prioritizing of marriage (which involved commitment to one’s spouse) and ministry (which involved a higher commitment to God). Those who were not married were encouraged to see that there were good reasons for remaining as they were. The overriding emphasis, however, was that all areas of life were to come under the influence of one’s relationship with Christ.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
III. Answers to inquiries
A. Concerning marriage (7:1-40)
1. The purpose of marriage (7:1-7)
2. The application of the doctrine of marriage (7:8-40)
a. To the unmarried or widows (7:8-9)
b. To the marriage of believers (7:10-11)
c. To mixed marriages (7:12-24)
(1) When both desire the union (7:12-14)
(2) When the unbeliever desires a separation (7:15-16)
(3) When a believer desires to separate: abide in your calling (7:17-24)
(a) Example of circumcision (7:17-19)
(b) Example of slavery (7:20-24)
d. To the unmarried young (7:25-35)
e. To parents with unmarried young (7:36-38)
f. To widows (7:39-40)
Remaining contentedly where God has called you to be requires ongoing commitment and courage. As we look to God for needed grace, He will provide it!