Singleness, Marriage, Divorce, Remarriage and Jesus
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.
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?
- 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
- 10-16 Being married is for life
- 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
- 7-9 Being unmarried is the bomb
- 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.
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.