Category Archives: Suffering

Study 11 – 1 Corinthians 7

Singleness, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage and Jesus

Discussion Question

Take a piece of paper each and draw a quick family tree starting with your own grandparents. Discuss without going into emotional detail the types of relationships you have drawn – marriages, unmarried relatives, widows, divorces, long-term partnerships. The point of this is to help us read 1 Corinthians 7 with more than just our own life in mind.

Background

Over the last couple of weeks our groups have been on holiday break but our church sermons have continued in 1 Corinthians. In those sermons we have reflected on the topic of being married and unmarried starting from 1 Corinthians. There is one more sermon to focus on the topic of divorce.

It would be ideal in this study to reflect on the two previous sermons as we re-read 1 Corinthians 7. Below will not be an extensive look at the chapter but a breakdown of what is there and some directions on how to lead a discussion.

Chapter 7 caps off the second section of the book of 1 Corinthians to do with sexual immorality. Everything in the book is a directive to rethink what we hold dear in the light of the central message of ‘Christ crucified.’ In other words, if you believe that the cross of Christ is the cornerstone of our faith, how does that affect the way we live and think? How should we think about marriage?

Read 1 Corinthians 7

Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.

8 Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.

10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.

12 To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. 13 And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. 14 For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy.

15 But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. 16 How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?

17 Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. 24 Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.

25 Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.

29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.

32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.

36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better.

39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. 40 In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

What did you see?

Structure

  • 1-6 If you cannot keep your body to yourself then give your body to your spouse? Keep sex inside marriage!
    • 7-9 Being unmarried is the bomb
      • 10-16 Being married is for life
        • 17-24 Don’t move from the status you were found when saved
    • 25-28 It’s not that marriage is wrong – it’s just hard work
        • 29-31 Do not get anchored to this life!
    • 32-35 The married life is full of distractions
  • 36-38 The better option is to be self-controlled and undistracted
        • 39-40 Remain married til death and then remain unmarried.

 

NB: The above structure is indented to convey an argument running throughout the chapter. So, Verses 1-6 and 36-38 contain a similar theme of self-control and sober-minded with regard to marriage; 7-9, 25-28 and 32-35 contain a repeated teaching on how to view marriage; and 17-24, 29-31 and 39-40 contain the great conclusions of each section and probably the gold of the chapter which is that making marriage your goal is a mistake.

Option 1: Divide the chapter up into the above 9 sections and ask your group to come up with a paraphrase of what is being taught in that section. The above structure provides examples of summarising each section in a nutshell.

Option 2: Hand out the structure above, divide your group up and ask them to defend or reject the provided summary of their section, giving reasons why.

Question: How does Paul’s message in Verses 29-31 shed light on the areas of being unmarried, married or divorced?

What did we learn?

Depending on your group, you may have landed on the overarching message that life does not consist of our marital status now but on our ‘marriage’ or commitment to our future hope through Jesus Christ. If our aim is to work out how to please the Lord, then we must be aware of what things can become distractions to that endeavour. There are no winners or second placers in this world when we all focus our eyes on the goal of knowing Christ and being united in Him.

Now what?

Spend time in prayer over the things in this life that cause us grief (Verse 30) and things that we tend to put our hope for happiness in (Verse 30-31). Ask God to direct our eyes to the truth of the gospel, to the temporary nature of this life and to the joy that comes from knowing God likes you.

Study 8 – 1 Peter 4:12-19

Those who suffer according to God’s will

Context

Peter, a ‘sent one’ of Jesus Christ, has written to God’s chosen people scattered across the world. His readers are not defined by a specific town or geographic area but by their calling by God to be holy and saved by the blood of Christ. It is their faith that defines their identity, not as part of this world but as part of the hope of grace in Jesus Christ.

His subject matter has turned to suffering in this world and chapter 4 began with the lesson of denying the body and being passionate about serving God. Those who suffer in the body are done with sin. Peter continues the theme of suffering now but in the domain of others inflicting injury or hardship on Christians because of their faith.

Observation

Structure

  • 12-13 Do not be surprised at insult because of the name of Christ
  • 14-16 Be sure your suffering is for the name of Christ and not something else
  • 17-19 The conclusion: Commit yourself to the Sovereign God

12-13 Do not be surprised at insult because of the name of Christ

“Dear friends…” Peter’s warmth is noted at this point. Although he is Peter “The Rock”, he is a fellow believer in Christ and a friend to God’s chosen people. There is no hierarchy in the Christian church (there may be one in the denominational church). All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Peter too had “spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do” (4:3).

“…do not be surprised…as though something strange were happening to you.” Peter will now talk to believers about persecution and his starting point is to not think it unusual. It’s like going bushwalking and coming across a snake – you ought not be surprised to find them in the bush. You might not encounter it everywhere or on every trip, but don’t be surprised when one turns up.

“…by the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you…” The ‘fiery ordeal’ brings the imagery of a hot process similar to the refining of metals. Peter is picking up imagery that he introduced back in 1 Peter 1:6-7. Metal is refined by fire and a Christian’s faith will be strengthened through ‘fiery ordeals. It’s not necessary to know the specific events of persecution that were met by the original readers of this letter but we can note that Christianity did not fit neatly into the Greco-Roman culture like it does in our day and age. We live in the Western world that has been greatly influenced by Judo-Christian beliefs and so being a Christians has not been extremely jarring to us. Those days become more and more like history as our culture rejects more and more of the fundamental truths of Christianity and Christian living. There is no doubt that Christianity in the 1st and 2nd century was met with extreme persecution. We ought to remember that there are places in our world today which deal out severe persecution to people of Christian faith.

“But rejoice…” The bible has a knack for giving extraordinary advice even to areas that we think we might know how to respond or think. Anyone who experiences suffering or persecution in this world (ie, everyone) will come up with a worldview to explain it and a method to handle it. Death, for example, is experienced by everybody and so all humans fashion a story to help understand death and therefore know how to respond. Peter has given us the topic of fiery ordeals – or hard situations – and told us not to be surprised. We may agree with him that this is normal and not strange and so what shall we do with this? We should buckle down and find the quickest path to extinguish the flame! No! We should REJOICE! And here is why…

“…inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ…” This is the qualifier. Peter expands on this in the next verses to compare sufferings that fit a different category but here we are to rejoice in our sufferings when it is because of our faith in Christ. He suffered and if we are suffering due to our identity and walk with Him, then let’s rejoice because that’s authentic.

“…so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.” His glory is revealed when Jesus Christ is seen clearly for who he is. His glory was revealed during his earthly ministry through signs and wonders that revealed his identity (John 2:11) and the New Testament writers look forward to a time when his glory is revealed again (Rom 8:18; 1 Peter 1:7; 1 Peter 5:1; Revelation 15:4). Peter is asking Christians to see joy in their sufferings now because they follow the suffering Christ and when he returns in glory, we will be overjoyed to share in the glory with him (Rom 8:18). It might be like sticking with a football team during the underdog days because you know that they will have their day and it will be glorious. We Christians know a secret. We know that Christ has won and when he returns he will collect his chosen people who have put their hopes in him and we will be received in glory to share in an inheritance that will never fade. “Blessed are you when people insult you…because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven” (Matthew 5:11-12; compare Luke 6:22-23).

 

14-16 Be sure your suffering is for the name of Christ and not something else

“If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed…” The reason behind the insults is important as Peter will go on to expand upon.

“…for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you.” The nature of the blessing is that the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. This is the Spirit of God who is the Spirit of glory. “The blessing is not in the suffering itself but because the presence of the Spirit of glory and of God is present.” (Jobes). The suffering is not advantages because it has some hidden character building benefits (though Paul indicates this in ) but that God’s presence is evident in the believer. This is a sanctifying work of the Spirit (1:2) not the process of persecution but that the believer is in the position to be persecuted. Christ himself is our role model for suffering and the Spirit of God is our companion through it. We have the same Spirit in us as did rest on the Lord through his ministry (Isaiah  11:2).

“If you suffer…” It should be no surprise to us when suffering comes but note that there is a question of IF we suffer. The conditional phrase could also have the weight of ‘when’ with the condition being on the type of suffering. Is it legitimate Christian suffering? Or is it just plain old human stupidity…

“…it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal…” God himself places governments and authorities in place to cause suffering on such antisocial and illegal behaviour which all of society agree is unacceptable (1 Peter 2:13-14). These crimes listed are punishable under most organised laws. Even the pagans agree on these.

“…or even as a meddler.” This last item is not necessarily a criminal offense but it is also offensive in most cultures. Nobody likes a meddler. Someone who puts his nose in other people’s business. If you suffer for this, don’t claim that as Christian persecution. Some might say that this would be reason why Christians ought not get involved in public debates over morality, law and ethics since this is pushing a Christian opinion into a public space. Except that a democratic society asks for every part of the population to express their opinion. Meddling, though, is not appreciated by anyone. (1 Peter 3:13)

“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” The whole passage needs to be absorbed doesn’t it. This clause on it’s own can be quoted as a badge of honour any time a Christian suffers. But the category is for being unfairly and unreasonably dealt with and in a “fiery”, “suffering” way simply because you stand for Christ. It follows that a Christian who is obnoxiously so can receive persecution on the basis of their character rather than the basis of their faith.

“…do not be ashamed…” This is an important phrase. The Greko-Roman culture of the day was a shame culture. What I mean is that it was important to “save face” in the community and not stand out as different. This is what made being a Christian particularly difficult and attracted persecution. Outcasts were treated harshly as outcasts. When Jesus was put out to die on a cross, this was the most shameful form of execution and punishment. Without knowing anything about Jesus, you would know that he was an absolute outcast from society. So, Peter tells Christians that when they are treated shamefully, not to be ashamed. Their true citizenship and identity is the kingdom of God. Insults from this world should translate as of no significance to a man or woman of the kingdom of God.

“…but praise God that you bear that name.” Further from the last point, rather than being ashamed of who you are, praise God that you carry his name with honour and pride. Nobody loves to be hated. But in a world that could hate Christians, we can be happy to be hated when it is our God and Saviour that we love more than this world.

“…bear that name.” The name, Christian. It is not often in the bible that we find this title. It was a kind of nickname given by outsiders to those who were followers of ‘The Way” (Acts 9:2; 24:14; 11:26; 26:28). It is a name planted on us by outsiders and we can nod our heads with satisfaction that their nickname is accurate. We are Christ-ians first and Australians secondarily. We are also Christians – followers of Jesus Christ – before we are Anglicans, Baptists, puritans, Calvinists etc. It is our love and service of the Lord above all else.

17-19 The conclusion: Commit yourself to the Sovereign God

“For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household…” The ‘household of God’ phrase picks up the imagery of Christians being living stones of a spiritual house (2:4-5). Paul tells us that brothers and sisters in Christ will all stand before God’s judgment seat in Romans 14:10-12. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that everybody faces death and then after that will face judgment. The Old Testament declares judgment to come over the whole earth and the people of God will not be excluded from this (Jer 25:29; Malachi 3:1-5). The difference that Christ makes is that He will stand in our place as our righteousness (Romans 10:4). All people will be judged according to what they have done (Matthew 16:27; Romans 2:6; Revelation 20:12-13; 22:12). But Christians will be judged righteous and saved from judgment if they call on the name of the Lord Jesus (Romans 10:9, 13; Acts 2:21). But Peter says that the household of God will first pass through judgment and anybody who does not call on the name of the Lord will not be saved. So bearing the name ‘Christian’ is something to praise God for! And rejoice through suffering if it is because you hold dearly to your faith in Christ! But Peter perhaps gives us another way of thinking about persecution in this world as a type of judgment – or testing – on the household of God…see comment on verse 18.

“…what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” This is a rhetorical question. There is only one way to salvation and it is through Jesus Christ. If Christians will also face judgment, there is no back door to God’s kingdom. All will be saved through Christ and all will be judged to hell who are not with him. To disobey the gospel is to reject it. If you disobey a law or rule it is because you reject it (perhaps only momentarily). The gospel is something to be obeyed because it is based on our obedience to God who declares Jesus to be the King. While it is difficult to call yourself a Christian and give a reason for the hope that you have in this world – it will be infinitely worse for anyone who rejects the gospel. Peter wants us to put persecution into that context. Is it better to live an easy life now or hold out for the hope of eternal life?

“If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?” (Compare Proverbs 11:31). It may be a better reading to view the sufferings Christians attract in this life as part of the judgment of God. The Church is refined by fire and those who stick with Jesus are proved to be his chosen people. Peter isn’t saying it’s hard to be saved because we are sinners but because we are up against pressure to throw Christianity away. He described the ‘fiery ordeals’ of persecution as testing (1 Peter 4:12). Those who crumble at earthly persecution are not his flock. When judgment day comes, the chosen people of God, already tested by fire in this world, will be welcomed in by the Lamb of God. Those who were disobedient to the gospel and rejected Christ in this world will be rejected by Christ and suffer way worse on that day. Jesus talks about the days of tribulation which are cut short for the sake of the elect (Matthew 24:22) and Revelation talks about a time of tribulation. While some theologians see this as a future day of extreme tribulation, I would maintain that the age of tribulation began at the resurrection (or at the cross) and will continue until Christ’s glory is revealed (I would go further and say that all of history has been a test for those who would call on the name of the LORD to be saved (Genesis 4:26)). We who bear the name of Christ are to praise God and bear with the sufferings and fiery ordeals of this age because if it is hard for us to be Christian today, imagine how bad it will be on judgment day for those who deny Christ. God’s judgment, or test on this world begins in the house of God and he will be a better judge and tormentor than this world could ever be.

“…those who suffer according to God’s will…” Again, it is God’s divine decision to have his church suffer. We need to put suffering in the category of God’s will for his saved people rather than a disaster that we must avoid at all costs. This is why the NT writers instruct us to rejoice through trials (James 1). Some Christians will experience worse persecution than others and this may be why Peter says ‘those who’. After perceiving suffering as an act of God’s will, Peter gives helpful instruction on what to do in response.

“…commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good.” The Christian response is to fight against the natural instinct to defend, or retaliate but to submit to their Creator’s will and continue on the path of doing good to others – even those who are dealing out the persecution (1 Peter 1:14; 2:12, 20, 23; 3:9, 11).

Meaning

It is God’s will that this world dish out persecution and suffering in all forms and that the church of God – the scattered people of God – will receive suffering for their faith. This should not surprise us. Judgment day is coming for all and the church are the first to experience refinement through fiery ordeals. Although it is hard to remain faithful to Christ, it is way easier than what is coming to all who reject the gospel. Remain committed to our Creator and Redeemer.

Application

  • Topic A – Suffering for Christ. Discuss ways you have felt ‘under fire’ because of your faith. How did you react at the time? Would you react differently because of the message from 1 Peter 4?

 

  • Topic B – Proud to bear the name of Christ. It is tempting to withdraw and keep our faith personal and quiet in order to fly under the radar of this world. What are the ramifications of responding to persecution in that way? Consider what Jesus teaches in the parable of Matthew 25:14-30. Or consider what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:13-16. Does God call us to be sheepish sheep?
  • Topic C – The time of tribulation. Peter describes this life as the time of testing for the house of God (1 Peter 4:12) and that judgment comes first to Christians. Read Revelation 7:9-17 to hear what becomes of those who have ‘come out of the great tribulation’. How does it change your attitude to this life to believe that we are now living in the time of tribulation?

 

Prayer of the Week

Mighty God and redeemer, salvation belongs to you who sits on the throne and to the Lamb. Praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to you, our God, for ever and ever. Amen.