Lecture 18: 1 Corinthians 7-16; 2 Corinthians
Lecture: 1 Corinthians 7-16; 2 Corinthians
We didn’t finish 1 Corinthians 5 and 6 last time, but I have to stay on track for the schedule, so we’re going to pick up today at 1 Corinthians 7. We’ll be looking at 1 Corinthians 7 to the end of the Book and then we’re going to look at a couple of things in the Book of 2 Corinthians.
1 Corinthians 7-16
We’re going to start at 1 Corinthians 7 and I’m going to go through 7 a little more slowly than normal just because this is the primary passage on marriage and there are normally many questions. I want to cover the basics of it and then we’ll get on to the rest. Starting at 1 Corinthians 7 on marriage, notice how Paul starts in 1 Corinthians 7, “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote (1).” Remember how the Corinthian letter is split in half, with the first half being what he’s heard from Chloe’s family, and the second half referring to a letter they sent to him. So he’s answering specific questions from this letter from chapter 7 all the way through chapter 15.
Marriage (1 Cor. 7)
He’s going to start answering their questions and first and foremost they have questions on marriage. This breaks down into several categories in terms of people’s positions in life and what was being taught in Corinth.
Asceticism (1 Cor. 7:1-7)
The first seven verses have to do with the whole issue of asceticism. Evidently there were people in the Corinthian church that were teaching in the most general way that the material world is irrelevant, saying that we’re spiritual beings. That shows itself two different ways. It can show in that you can do anything you want in the material world and since the material world is irrelevant you can do all sorts of debauchery, as shown in the previous chapters of 1 Corinthians. With that same basic philosophy that the material world doesn’t matter, you can have asceticism where people are taught that you are pulled out of the material world and you should not indulge in things of the flesh, marriage being one of them. So what we have in this chapter is that evidently some of them were teaching that you really should not be involved in marriage or anything to do with marriage. That’s the first issue that he’s going to address early on.
Watch the quotation marks in 1 Corinthians, the ESV, the NIV, and the others may do it as well, but the quotation marks are very important. “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman (1).’” When those inner quotation marks appear, what that tells you is that the translator think that Paul is quoting what the false teachers are saying. It’s really important because if you don’t see the quotation marks, you will miss that Paul is arguing the exact opposite of what’s boing quoted, and it can be really confusing. He often starts with a quotation of what is being taught in Corinth, and then he refutes it. The quote marks, especially in 1 Corinthians in your translations, are incredibly important.
There were some people in Corinth saying it’s good that you don’t have sexual relations with a woman. This is the old King James verse: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman,” which made for many good high school youth group talks and I heard many of them and gleaned greatly from them. The problem is that the Greek for “touch” is a euphemism for sexual relations, so there’s really no question what the quotation is saying. We’re not talking about just dating relationships and touching, but we’re actually talking about sexual relations. This is why the NIV translates it, "It is good for a man not to marry." They are removing the euphemism because they felt it was too confusing, and they are just saying, you say it’s good not to be married (specifically not to have sexual relations), but I say to you (and you almost use the Sermon on the Mount—you’ve heard it said of old, but I say to you)….
Paul says, “No that is not the right thing. Sex is not a bad thing you need to stay away from when you’re married.” In fact, he says, “Don’t neglect the sexual needs of your marriage partner, your husband or wife; don’t become an ascetic sexually except for a short period of time, because the temptation to sin is simply too great. He says first of all that the false teachers are wrong, and that they should not be teaching this asceticism. You have a qualification down in verses 6-7, “Now as a concession, not a command, I say this (6).” In other words, what he’s going to say is, “I’m not going to insist on this, but this is what I would prefer.” "I wish that all were as I myself am," single (7), in other words. "But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another." Of course he is referring to the most unwanted gift of all the gifts, and that is the gift of celibacy, which shows you how different we are from Paul at times because he saw that as a good thing. The gift of celibacy is simply not having sexual needs or more than that, of not needing a partner. The gift of celibacy simply is that neither the sex nor the partnering is an issue for you. He introduces that topic. I was married when I was 30. I was like every other guy that when I was about 28, I started wondering if I’d been given a gift I didn’t want. It turns out I was just a jerk and no one wanted to marry me. He starts off by saying the asceticism, the denial of sexual relationship within marriage is wrong, unless you do it for a short period of time by mutual consent so you can commit yourselves to prayer. But don’t be apart too long.
The second category of people are in verses 8-9 and these are instructions to people who aren’t married. “To the unmarried and the widows (8).” What he says is that it’s preferable to stay single unless you don’t have the gift of celibacy. We can assume some things about the false teachers in Corinth. We don’t really know what they said, but it would appear that what they were saying was, “Don’t get married. If you are married, get divorced, because after all the spiritual world is what’s important and the material world is just a detriment to who you really are. Marriage is a bad thing because it’s of the material world.” What Paul is going to say all the way through chapter 7 is, “Don’t be in a rush to change your status, whether you’re single getting married, or if you’re married getting divorced. Don’t be in a rush to change. That lies behind almost everything in chapter 7.
To the unmarried he says, it’s best if you just stay single, and he gives several reasons. He talks about the present distress in verse 26; he talks about the shortness of time in verse 29. I’m trying to simplify this; Paul believed that the Lord could come back at any time, and as a result what that means is that you live not looking long term, but you live looking short term. He is so consumed with his ministry and he’s so consumed with the advancement of the Kingdom of God, that he says you know in light of the fact that we are in the last days, my recommendation is don’t get married because of the present distress and the end of time. What you really need to do is be freed up for ministry. He has a way of looking at reality that we all should have, but many of us don’t, I think. The Lord can come back again so let’s get to the work of the Kingdom of God, let’s spread the Gospel, let’s do our teaching, let’s do our evangelism. That’s how he approached life.
When he sees someone who is not married, he says, you know what, just stay single, there’s a lot of stuff that’s going to happen, and this will free you up for ministry. That’s his mindset. Now the qualifier in all of this is that this is for those who have the gift of celibacy; if you don’t have the gift of celibacy then it’s another situation. Those are the two sides.
He’s going to say it’s okay to marry. Look at verse 9, “But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” You feel the need to say, Paul is not down on marriage. But it sure sounds like it, doesn’t it? When the only reason to get married is if you simply can’t control your sexual urges, that’s how this chapter can be read. You have to assume from other places where Paul talks about this that he is not down on marriage. It’s just that he is so up on ministry and he is so focused on the preaching and the teaching, he so focused on the spread of the Gospel, that anything that would get in his way of doing that work is just pushed off to the side. That’s what is going on in this chapter. Paul has been read historically by many people, incorrectly, that he is very down on marriage because of statements like this in verse 9. But he counsels the young widows to go ahead and get remarried. That’s why if you look just at this passage you draw conclusions like the single priesthood in Roman Catholicism as opposed to Eastern Orthodox, which insisted that their priests are all married. This is a hard passage because Paul is being very energetic. He’s so focused on ministry and the needs of the Gospel in chapter 7, that he is not balancing his comments as perhaps you and I would like him to balance them. But we have to balance it with 1 Timothy 5 and the other discussions of marriage. To the unmarried, “You don’t have to do it, but I think it’s best to stay unmarried so you can really be involved in fulltime Christian work.”
Married (1 Cor. 7:10-11)
The third category is people who are married, verses 10-11. Notice how he starts, "To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord)." He says this several times in several different ways in this paragraph. Sometimes, he says, "not I, but the Lord," and he’s saying that we know of specific instructions that Jesus gave and that’s what I am relaying to you. Paul is not putting his advice at the level of opinion or suggestion. Sometimes you can do that, but when he distinguishes between this is what I say and this is what Jesus says, it’s not an authority issue. It’s about whether we have direct teaching from Jesus on this point whether you are going to have direct teaching from the Apostle Paul instead. There is not an authority difference. He says, “To the married I give this charge,” and let me remind you this is what Jesus said: “(not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband,” and he goes on. Again what the false teachers were teaching the married people to do was to divorce because marriage was of the material world and therefore bad. Paul says, “No, just stay as you are. If you’re married stayed married, if you’re divorced then stay unmarried, or reconcile to your spouse.” We’re going to come back and talk about some of that later, but that’s all that it says right there.
Mixed Marriages (1 Cor. 7:12-16)
The fourth category is mixed marriages in verses 12-16. We have a situation in our church where a lady became a Christian about a month and a half ago. Her husband is not a Christian, and you can imagine the conflict. We’re not talking about a Christian and a non-Christian getting married in this passage, because there are very firm instructions on that. This is a situation where two people are married and then one becomes a Christian. Here he starts in verse 12, “To the rest I say (I, not the Lord),” Paul’s not giving his opinion that you can take or not take, he’s saying we have no direct revelation from Jesus on this point, but I’m telling you this is the way it is—it’s authoritative. What he says is that if you’re in a mixed marriage, if the non-Christian desires to stay married then you should have stayed married. The reason is that your non-Christian spouse and your children will be and this is a really hard word to translate, the ESV has “made holy.” Does this teach that if one of the two spouses is a Christian, the other one gets into Heaven automatically? No. This is a horrible word to try to translate. The NIV translates it “sanctified”; the TNIV is going to say when it comes out, “brings holiness to her marriage.” See they are all struggling because this is the word for sanctified, this is the word for made holy, but it can’t mean saved in the way that we use it. Look at verse 16, “Wife how do you know whether you will save your husband, husband how do you know whether you will save your wife?” Well, if they are automatically saved because you are a Christian, then that verse doesn’t make any sense. What it means is something like if you stay in your mixed marriage, your spouse and your children have a much greater chance of hearing the Gospel and responding to the Gospel and of being saved. He encourages them the same way Peter does in 1 Peter 3, for wives to live out their lives in such a way that it entices their husbands to become a Christian. That is what is going on here, but it can’t mean saved at all.
The other side then is what happens if the non-Christian doesn’t want to stay married? This is in verse 15, “But if the unbelieving partner separates,” divorces, abandons, “let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister,” in other words, the Christian spouse, “is not enslaved.” Again that is a very difficult word to know exactly what’s going on. The New Living Translation translates it this way: “But if the husband or wife who isn’t a Christian insists on leaving, let them go. In such cases the Christian husband or wife is not required to stay with them, for God wants his children to live in peace.” Enslaved is just literally a verb form of the word slave. The idea is that over a long term the marriage of having a Christian and a non-Christian married is anything but peaceful. That’s why he finishes, “God has called you to peace.” In other words, if a Christian and non-Christian are married and the non-Christian wants a divorce or to leave, the Christian is not enslaved, is not bound to the marriage. This is one of the most important passages in Scripture when it comes to the issue of remarriage. It’s not actually what he’s talking about, he’s talking about divorce, but we’re going to come back to that. But I wanted to point out this is a very important word for one of the two positions. For mixed marriages, Paul says this is my apostolic decision, if you’re married to a non-Christian and they want to stay let them stay, there’s a much great chance that your spouse and you children will hear the Gospel and become Christians. If you’re married to a non-Christian and the non-Christian wants to leave, then you are not bound to that marriage, you’re not enslaved to that marriage.
General Principle (1 Cor. 7:17-24)
In verses 17-24 Paul states his basic principle, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches (17).” The basic rule is there in 17. It is, lead the life that God wants you to lead. Don’t feel like you need to change when you become a Christian. Again, you have to assume that the situation that Paul is addressing are the false teachers in Corinth saying when you become a Christian you must be divorced. Paul is saying, “No, just leave things the way they are.” In fact, eight times in this chapter Paul says, “Leave things they way they are.” That doesn’t mean the way things are are necessarily good, but it is addressing this teaching that says you must get divorced the minute you become a Christian whether your spouse is a Christian or not. Paul’s saying, “No, you don’t have to, just leave things the way they are.” That’s the general principle that’s going on.
One of the things that makes this chapter so hard to interpret is the fact that this is not an absolute rule. You know that because he gives you two illustrations. He says if you are circumcised don’t try to get the marks of your circumcision removed. They actually had an uncircumcision procedure and I’ll let you figure out what that is. If you aren’t circumcised don’t try to be circumcised. If you’re a slave don’t necessarily look for your freedom, but then he adds a caveat in verse 21, “But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.” Wait a minute Paul, you just said don’t. What Paul is saying here when you look at the examples of circumcision and the examples of slavery, it gets pretty clear that he’s stating a general principle, it’s not an absolute hard and fast rule, because Titus wasn’t circumcised, but Timothy was. Wait a minute Paul you just said that if you’re not circumcised, don’t get circumcised, then he circumcised Timothy—what’s going on? What’s going on, and why you always read the Bible in context, is that this is a general principle, it’s not an absolute principle, and those are two different things. You know that just by how he’s saying it, that it is a general principle. When there is a general principle and we think that it become absolute and there are no exceptions, that’s when problems really start to arise.
Engaged (1 Cor. 7:25-35)
There are two more groups of people in verses 25-35. Paul address the issue of people who are engaged to each other. Look how he starts 25, “Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord.” Does anyone use the word betrothed any more? We argued about this in translation committee a lot. Some of us thought it was such an ancient word that it had no meaning, others in the committee said, “everybody knows what that word means. Then he says, “But I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy.” What did Paul just say? This is my best guess, but you can disagree with me if you want. If Paul wants to give his opinion and wants us to know that we don’t have to do it if we don’t want to, he can say that. He says this is my preference, but no big deal. As you would guess, his preference is to stay single. He says again verse 26, “I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.” We’re living in the last days and we don’t know when the Lord is going to come again; we need to spread the Gospel. Go do your missionary work. Then he adds a second reason in verse 28, “But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles,” and then he goes on to explain in verse 32 that just means that when you’re married, you’re concerned about your spouse as you should be, and it takes time away from ministry. He says, here’s my preference for those of you engaged, I think it’s best that you stay single, we’re in the last days being married is going to take a lot of your time, but if you want to marry, if your passions are too strong, go ahead and get married, it’s okay.
Death and Remarriage (1 Cor. 7:39-40)
Finally, number 7, in verses 39-40, he makes the point that if one of the spouses has died, then the other spouse is free to be remarried, but then he adds very strictly in verse 39, “only in the Lord.” This is picked up in 2 Corinthians 6:16 and 18 where it talks about being unequally yoked, and that it is always wrong for a Christian to marry a non-Christian. One of the most common questions I got when I was teaching in college was “is it God’s will that I marry my non-Christian girlfriend or boyfriend.” It was always the easiest question to answer because God’s will is clear on that.
That’s the chapter on marriage, and it’s broken down again by the situation in life. The background is the teaching that you have to get divorced as soon as you become a Christian. The overall advice from Paul is just stay as you are. He wants people to focus on the spirit of Gospel, that’s what’s most important to him. Of course he has the gift of celibacy; he doesn’t need anyone. For those of us that were made to need another, it’s perfectly okay that we get married.
Legitimate Reasons for Divorce
Let’s talk about divorce and remarriage. Again I know this is a phenomenally sensitive topic and we’re not going to be able to go into a whole lot of detail. When I was teaching college, there was one point in the New Testament Survey class where I used divorce as an illustration and in every single class, in every single semester, in every single year, someone got up from the class and left crying because their parents were in the process of being divorced. I decided that I was going to stop using divorce as an example just because it was simply so painful to someone that it just didn’t work. I need to mention here, because this is the primary passage on the issue along with Matthew 19 and Matthew 5, what little we’re actually told about remarriage. You have to keep divorce and remarriage separate in your minds when you’re looking at these verses, because the vast majority of them are dealing with divorce, not with remarriage. You have this section at the end of verse 7, that is specifically on remarriage, but it’s easy to mix these two topics up, and you have to keep them separate. Speaking generally here, there are two principles in Scripture related to this issue. One, a Christian is never required to divorce. There were rules in Judaism and elsewhere that required divorce under certain circumstances. Christianity never requires, it only allows, divorce. Second of all, the divorce is not God’s plan, you’re running contrary to what God’s intention was with the one flesh. Generally, these are principles that we can all agree on.
Let me raise four different issues here. The first comes out of Mark 10:2-9, this is the passage where Jesus is saying, “Pharisees came up and in order to test him asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife (2)?’ And he answered them, ‘What did Moses command you (3)?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of divorce and to send her away (4).’ Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote you this commandment (5).’” In other words, this was not God’s intention, but this is God’s permission because you are a sinner “‘But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female (6).” “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife (7), and the two shall become one flesh (8).” They are no longer two, but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate (9).’” If you were to read just that passage, is there ever a situation in which it is legitimate to divorce? It’s absolute; there’s no exception clause in this passage, none at all. It says you get married, you stay married, that’s just the way it is.
The second one is Matthew 5:32, still Jesus talking, but this time he says, “But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery.” This is the same thing as in Matthew 19:9. Now does Jesus contradict himself? No. Why? According to Mark 10:2-9 there are no grounds for divorce, not even sexual immorality. The question is, do these two passages contradict each other? The answer is, no, they do not. The question is what on earth is going on. This is a serious problem because we want to believe the Bible, right? If you read Mark 10 it says don’t get a divorce period. Matthew 2 and Matthew 19 put an exception clause in there, and what the commentaries say is that Matthew makes explicit what Jesus understood to be the implicitly the one and exception, and that is sexual immorality. This is the rule from Deuteronomy 24:1, “if you find some indecency in your spouse,” then that is grounds for divorce. The harmonization is that when Jesus says what we read in Mark 10:2-9, he’s speaking to a Jewish audience who would have known the exception clause from Deuteronomy and Jesus assumes that they know that so he doesn’t have to say it. What’s going on in Matthew 5 and Matthew 19 is that implicit exception clause is made explicit, that you are not supposed to get divorced except on the grounds of sexual immorality. That’s normally how these passages are put together.
Now that’s not actually the difficult thing. The difficult thing is, what is sexual immorality? The Greek word is pornea, and pornea is a very broad general term. That’s why we translated it sexual immorality, we didn’t translate it adultery. If Jesus had wanted to say adultery, there’s a specific word for that, but he chose a much broader term, pornea, to be the justifiable reason for divorce. That brings up, and I’m just going to mention it, but it’s something worth thinking about, whether pornography is sexual immorality? I think so, and I don’t come to that conclusion easily. Student: It leads a person’s mind to lust, and lust is by Jesus’s definition the very act of adultery. Response: Now here’s the problem with that argument, is lust a legitimate reason for divorce? Every married male says, I hope not. I know where you’re going, but you have to be careful with that.
I like a nice black and white world where I live in a house and all the doors and windows are shut and there are very clean lines, I don’t like gray areas, it’s just my personality. I like the nice clear definitions: if you sleep with another woman, that’s pornea, grounds for divorce, then you have or haven’t. But the word is a broad, general term for any sexual immorality. You can disagree with me if you want, but I think that’s the case. I finally came to this conclusion about a half year ago, I think I had come to it earlier, but I wasn’t willing to admit it, because it sounds liberal, but I believe that an addiction to hard pornography breaks the bounds of marriage, because it’s sexual immorality. It’s the consistent addiction; I think that’s important. Images flash through people’s minds, you walk by magazines, and if you’re not being careful you walk by Victoria’s Secret.
Is there any biblically legitimate reason for divorce? Abuse is a hard one because abuse is not necessarily sexual. Mark 10 says don’t get divorced at all. Now Paul says if you’re abandoned by your non-Christian spouse, then it’s okay to get a divorce. That’s a perfectly legitimate reason for divorce, and again it feels gray to me, but it’s Scripture so I have to believe it. A good friend, Craig Keener, has written a book, Marries Another, he got married and a year after he was grad school, he found out that his wife had had a year-long affair with his best friend. She left, she insisted on a divorce, he wouldn’t do it. After 3 years she moved to a no-fault state, and divorced him. Craig never signed the papers, and it was out of that mess in his life that he wrote this book, Marries Another. It’s a very good book and if this is an issue you want to read on, this is a good book to read. I asked Craig, “What actually constitutes marriage?” I took wedding pictures when I was in college and I was shooting pictures at a wedding, and it was almost over and the preacher came down and said, there’s a couple upstairs that want to get married, will you take a picture of them? I thought that was an odd question. I went upstairs and her dad was looking for them with a gun to shoot her boyfriend because he got her pregnant and they wanted to get married, thinking he wouldn’t shoot his son-in-law. Here are these two young kids who come in and 5 minutes later they are married. Now you take that and you compare it to a wedding ceremony in Africa where the whole village gets together and parties for a week and at the end they are married. Now, I can see how those two parties can look at each other and say, “You’re not married. Where was the vow? Where was the ceremony? Five minutes is a marriage—where did that come from?” I was trying to work through that and so I asked Craig, “What is a marriage, because it differs so radically from culture to culture?” Craig said, “It’s the vow.” What you have in this case is someone abandoning the covenant, and that’s what is breaking the marriage.
Abandonment by an unbelieving spouse is a third legitimate reason for divorce. My question is, what if your spouse is a Christian and abandons you? How is that any different?
Student: Does the reason make a difference?
Response: I don’t know; that’s why there is a question mark on my notes. What if you’re emotionally abandoned, emotionally abused, but the guy doesn’t want to leave the house because you’re a good cook? You’re getting penalized because he won’t leave. I don’t know the answers to those questions, I hope I never have to try to figure it out, but I have no doubt I will some day. My nice little box has been opened up a little and I have to deal with that.
On remarriage, I have two comments and two questions. It seems to me very clear that the one legitimate situation where you know absolutely for sure that you can be remarried, is when your spouse has died; see 1 Corinthians 7 and Romans 7, where the covenants are only binding as long as both parties are alive. There are people who argue that even after the death of a husband the wife can’t remarry. I don’t know how they can argue that because it is so clear. I’ve never heard the reverse argued that if the wife dies, the husband can’t remarry. There’s some real chauvinism at work in the evangelical church in America if you’ve been part of this discussion. If you believe the Bible, it’s right there.
The second thing is, is remarriage permissible after divorce? There are some pretty strong verses that sound like the answer is no. Mark 10:11-12, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her”; Matthew 5:32, “Whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.” There are some pretty strong verses, but the problem is, it’s really hard to take all the verses on divorce and remarriage and marriage and try to make them consistent. The only way that I could make them consistent, and this is not a final conclusion, but when you look at verses like this and others, I began to wonder if in the case that you have a marriage where there is marital unfaithfulness, where there is sexual immorality, one way to keep all the verses consistent is to say that the “innocent party” and I don’t like that phrase, but the one who did not commit the sexual immorality, is free to remarry. The one who did commit the sexual immorality is not free to remarry. Now that’s one position that is taken. You can make all the verses make sense if you make that distinction. Do with it as you want. Jay Adams wrote a book, Marriage, Divorce and Remarriage in the Bible. I’m not sure I agree with him, but it’s one of the books that people recommend highly. I’d recommend Craig Keener’s book.
A third thought on this simply is, where does forgiveness come in? There are people in this church and elsewhere that will argue that even if the law courts give you a divorce, if it’s not on biblical grounds, then “in God’s eyes,” you’re still married. If you go out and get remarried, you are an adulteress or an adulterer. When I was teaching in Seminary, I had a woman call me and that’s exactly what had happened. There had been sexual unfaithfulness, there had been a divorce, she became a Christian, she went to a church and she got married, and then the elders in that church were insisting that she was living in sin, as an adulteress, because in God’s eyes she was still married to this first person. Their counsel was to divorce this second husband, who really wasn’t a second husband because it was adulterous, and go back to wait to see if she could be reconciled. Meanwhile her two new children are illegitimate, (I told them, there are no illegitimate children, only illegitimate parents). I can’t stand it when children are called illegitimate, it raises my hackles. How do you counsel that? Then she said “they read me this verse: ‘Don’t you know that those that are sexually immoral will never inherit the Kingdom of God,’ (1 Corinthians 6:9-10).” They had put her in this position that was impossible. There was no way for this poor lady to win. I said, “Ma'am, you have not committed the unforgiveable sin. Here is one of the questions you all have to make your minds up on: In the legal system, if you are divorced, does God see that as a divorce? Some people will say no, I believe yes. For right or for wrong reasons, I believe that a divorce severs the bounds, otherwise the problems become so innumerable that you can’t live. She did not commit the unforgiveable sin. Now in the church, that’s sometimes the unforgiveable sin, right? People talk about the church having raised the sins of adultery and divorce and remarriage, what we’ve really done is dropped all the other ones, and hung on to this one. We have not done a good job handling this issue, I don’t think, in the church. I’m just giving you my opinions, okay? These are things that are incredibly complicated and incredibly painful. That is not the unforgiveable sin, and you cannot divorce a second husband and disavow your children and go back and wait for the first one to die. It’s not healthy. This whole thing in God’s eyes, I know why the argument comes and it solves some of the problems, but it introduces others that are much greater.
Student: What if a person divorces before they become a Christian?
Response: That’s point four—what about divorce before conversion? If two people get married in a church or before a judge and they are not Christians, are they really married? I think the answer is yes. The question then becomes as we look at rules of how we relate to the whole issue of divorce and remarriage, what happens if they get married and later they become Christians? In one sense, divorce is divorce and marriage is a marriage, whether you acknowledge that Jesus is Lord and Savior or not, but it’s hard to hold someone to a standard that they didn’t agree to at the time, isn’t it? I can’t think of any reason why two non-Christians getting married aren’t married. Is a divorce a divorce if the two people are non-Christians? If they are non-Christians or in a mixed marriage, a divorce is still a divorce. I’ve had to come to the conclusion that even if Robin and I were not Christians when we got married, I’m still bound by God’s laws because God’s laws supersede my faith system, whether I recognize him or not, but it does mean that when we talk about divorce and remarriage and children and all these things, we have to be very careful.
Let me share this story. I had a guy I taught with in seminary, a neat guy, and I had not thought a lot about divorce and remarriage. I’d done enough to teach it at a college level, just the basics, but I hadn’t really struggled with it deeply. This guy’s daughter was married to a gambler, verbally and physically abusive, but not sexually abusive. He beat her; it was a horrible situation and that was a situation that made me think I need to hold to what I believe, but I need to know what I believe. While I like nice square boxes without windows and doors open, I still have to be aware that the world is gray to some degree and I need to handle it with grace and firmness. My tendency would be to jump on the Mark 10 passages and say, “It doesn’t look like you can do it.” But the Scripture doesn’t let me do that, and having a daughter doesn’t let me do that either. If my daughter got married and was being physically abused would I do something about it, and then I would ask for forgiveness after I killed him. If Sally meets Susie and they get married in Massachusetts, are they married? No. God made Adam and Eve and a marriage is a man and a woman getting together. Is that pornea? Is homosexual behavior and lifestyle pornea—sexual immorality? Yes.
Food to Idols (1 Cor. 8)
In chapter 8, Paul address the whole issue of food offered to idols. In a picture from the meat market in Corinth, you can see the gutter where they ran the cool water down, it would evaporate and they hung the meat over the ditch and it kept the meat a bit longer; they did a lot of work so it must have done some good. The background for the discussion in chapter 8 was that in the pagan religion, eating the meat that had been offered to idols was an act of worship—you were actually consuming the God. When they became Christians, they realized there weren’t other gods and that eating the meat wasn’t an act of worship. Some of the Christians (described as “the strong” in Romans 14) were buying the meat and eating it. Some of the other Christians (described as “the weak” in Romans 14), who had not yet fully come to grasp these central truths, still saw the eating of the meat as an act of worship. That’s the conflict—should I eat meat that is offered to idols? The strong says there are no other gods, it’s not an act of worship, I got a good deal on a pound of ham and I’m going to eat it; But it was bothering some of the others.
This issue is picked up again in chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians and Romans 14 and 15 as well. There are a couple of principles that Paul is going to enumerate in chapter 8. One is that there is freedom, since there are no other gods. He starts by saying, understand there are no other gods, so if I eat meat that at one time used to be an act of worship to other gods, it’s not any longer. You are free to eat the meat. The other side of it though is that I’m not going to do anything that causes my brother to stumble, verse 13, “Therefore, if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble.” Those are the two principles. Understand that Paul is not lowering Christian behavior to the lowest common denominator. ‘Who has the most number of scruples gets to control the majority’ is not what’s going on. If you look at 10:29, “For why should my liberty be determined by someone else’s conscience?” Have you ever done anything like go to a movie and someone says, “You shouldn’t do that, you’re making me stumble.” What they’re doing is using it as a bat to try to control you, “I don’t think you should do it, so therefore you shouldn’t do it.” That’s when 10:29 becomes an important verse where he addresses that issue.
The other side of it is that “to cause a brother to stumble” does not mean “to bug them.” That’s how many people use this verse, “That bugs me; I don’t like that.” But what Paul is talking about is doing something that fundamentally affects another person’s walk with the Lord. It fundamentally makes you question your faith. Paul says that if by exercising my Christian liberty I am going to fundamentally affect how someone relates to God, I’m not going to exercise my liberty. That doesn’t mean that whatever bugs these people controls those people.
What we’re talking here about is a voluntary limitation of our freedom in Christ for the sake of the church and the Glory of God. That’s what we’re talking about. What are some modern day “eating meat” things? Perhaps alcohol, movies, dancing, all these things that are not necessarily evil in and of themselves. This is a funny story. When two churches first merged to form this present church, I came from the other church, which is an independent church. There was a pool table upstairs in this church. One of the elderly ladies that came from my church, she didn’t know I was behind her, she was muttering to a friend, “This violates everything I believe.” A pool table in a Baptist Church violates everything you believe? But she was raised in the same culture that my grandmother was raised in, where card playing was wicked and only wicked people played cards. When we travel to California from Minnesota, we would go through Salt Lake, and grandma Mac would always give us a deck of cards. Before we were even out of the city limits they were gone, because of my Mom’s dad, cards are evil. Anyway, we got rid of the pool table because we needed the Sunday School space; that one was easy. There is a place for the voluntary limitations of our freedom for the sake of others. That’s what chapter 8 is all about.
Worship (1 Cor. 11:2-14:40)
Apostleship is discussed in chapter 9. Idolatry is discussed in chapter 10. Chapters 11-14 deal with issues of worship, and it’s such an uncontroversial subject today, I probably don’t need to say much, but I’ll say a few things.
Men and Women’s Relationships (1 Cor. 11:2-16)
Paul starts in 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 by talking about men and women’s relationships within the church. Now there’s a piece of background that you need to know. When Paul talks about head coverings, “with her head covered or uncovered,” all of these words can be translated either to refer to hats or shawls or some sort of physical covering, or it can refer to how you wear your hair. I know you’ll say, “how can you have those two different meanings?” Welcome to Greek, it just does. Are we talking about shawls and head coverings or are we talking about how you wear your hair? Women’s hair, especially if you were married, was tight against your head, pulled up in the back. If you were an adulteress or if you were a prostitute, your hair would be loosened or cut off.
What was evidently happening in the Corinthian Church was that because they were free in Christ, the women were going way beyond freedom in Christ and were dressing in a way that made them look like prostitutes. Though they weren’t necessarily unfaithful, they were showing that they weren’t under anyone’s authority—not their husbands, not their fathers, not their gods. It would sure be nice to know how to translate these words; I’m pretty comfortable with the idea that we’re not talking about head coverings. As far as we can tell, head coverings didn’t come up until about the third century in Islam. The head coverings we see in these old movies about the Bible—there is no archeological evidence that Jewish women or even Greek women for that matter wore shawls and coverings. I’m pretty sure it was how they did their hair. There is a book called, Man and Woman in Biblical Perspective by James Hurley, it’s an excellent book. If you want all the information behind this passage you can read it from there.
Whether it’s a covering on the head or whether it’s how you wear your hair, how does Paul address this excessive individualism and excessive freedom? What he wants the church to do is to maintain an authority/submission relationship. You can see this in verse 3, where he says, “But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.” In other words, there is an authority/submission relationship: God to Christ, Christ to husbands, husbands to wives. That is extrapolated as you go through it. Because there is an authority/submission relationship all the way across the board, what Paul wants is for the Corinthians to conduct themselves in such a way that they demonstrate this authority/submission relationship. Look at verse 10,” That is why a wife ought to have a symbol of authority on her head, because of the angels,” and I have no idea what that means, and neither does anyone else. The idea is that the Corinthian women were behaving in such a way that it made it appear like they did not live in any authority/submission relationship. Paul wants them and the men to live in such a way that people can see that they accept their different roles and their different positions. That’s the essence of what is going on.
The problem of course today is, ladies, if you wear your hair tight against your head is that a sign of submission? No. If you wear a hat is that a sign of submission? No. If men let their hair grow long is that a sign of rebellion against headship and a failure? See these are all things that were true in that day and age and the text is saying that you need to live in such a way that people can see that you accept the relationships that God has established in marriage and in church and in all of reality. The problem is that these are symbols don’t translate into our culture. The point is, for the wife, there needs to be a symbol of authority, and for the man, he can’t try to change gender roles by having long hair. There was a unisex thing going on I think in Corinth.
What’s the best sign of authority that we have? The wedding rings. It drives me nuts when my brothers won’t wear their rings. Because when I see a man without a ring, I suspect immorality. I’m not saying that’s in the Bible, that’s just me. My brother-in-law is a dentist, his hands are in people’s mouths all the time; my younger brother is a mechanical engineer and he’s in gear cutting stuff all the time, so those are their excuses. If I were to walk into an establishment and do this, what does that tell you? I’m looking for trouble. To some degree, this does represent my commitment to Robin and her commitment to me, but I think it’s important and I think we would all agree that it’s important that what we appear to be is an accurate representation of who we are. See that’s what Paul is getting at. Now if Robin were to show up in a mini skirt what would that tell you? Bill and Robin are having some problems. If she wore a low cut dress, when a woman starts dressing like that, men have other ways to show their infidelity or their interest in being unfaithful, but if that’s what a woman did, guys you would pick up on it instantly wouldn’t you. Ladies you would too.
What is going on is that you need to appear to be who you are. Part of who you and I are, is that we live in a relationship of God to Christ—Christ as the bridegroom to his body, his bride; Christ to men; husbands to their wives. We sneed to conduct ourselves physically in a way that shows we accept those relationships.
The Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. 11:17-34)
He then goes into a discussion on the Lord’s Supper. I’ve preached so much on that passage, that if you want detailed information, you can get it off the church website. Tt’s pretty straight forward, but we’ve already talked about it.
Spiritual Gifts (1 Cor. 12-14)
In chapters 12-14 he gets to the issue of spiritual gifts. All I can do is to summarize some of the stuff he is going to say. Spiritual gifts are simply that when you and I became a Christian, we were given at least one supernatural gift. It may go along with our personality and natural giftedness, or it may be totally different than our natural giftedness. But we all have at least one supernatural empowerment. What do we do with that? That’s the topic of 12-14. The theme of chapter 12 is in verse 7, “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit” (that’s the gift) “for the common good.” It doesn’t matter whether, like down in verse 29, you had the gift of apostleship or prophecy or teaching or miracle working or healing or speaking in tongues or of interpreting.
The Spirit gives the gifts to the people in the body for the common good, that’s the gist of chapter 12. As I exercise my gifts and as you exercise your gifts, there is personal edification—there is a sense of “I’ve done what God’s called me to do” and it’s a good feeling. But that’s a bi-product of the gift. I don’t preach so I’ll feel good about preaching. I preach because it’s for the common good; it’s for all of us. The result of the exercise of spiritual gifts is supposed to be unity. There are a variety of needs in the body, so the Spirit gives us a variety of gifts so that all the needs of the body can be met and we can be unified in love together. That’s the whole point of spiritual giftedness. The problem of course is that historically, spiritual gifts have often been used to divide a church rather than to unite it. We have this pecking order of gifts whether it’s tongues and prophecy or whether it’s being a preacher, many churches have established this pecking order and the gifts really separate us. The whole point is that it is to unite us. He says they are given for the common good for the edification of the body of Christ.
Chapter 13 then is the most quoted passage in any wedding. It’s often called the parenthesis chapter on love, and it’s this beautiful poetry. There are only a couple of problems with that. It’s not poetry. We make it into poetry, but that’s not what’s going on. Paul is addressing a church that was fervent in exercising spiritual gifts, but there was no love. So he says to them, “Love is patient and kind; it does not boast, it is not arrogant(4) or rude (5).” It’s not poetry, but it’s hard hitting to the core. Paul is saying, “You think that you are these super Christians because of your spiritual gifts, but you don’t even have love.” I guess you could read it as a nice chapter on love at a wedding, I forget what was read at my wedding, maybe this chapter, I can’t remember. This is a hard hitting chapter. When you put 13 back into its context, you can feel it’s force and think of any church that is being torn apart by divisions and rifts and rivalries and then you start reading these verses: “Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” even you. It endures everything. Chapter 13 is really a very hard hitting chapter.
Having done that, then he goes on to chapter 14 to give some more guidelines. Here’s how you make sense of chapter 14. Prophecy equals tongues plus interpretation. If you understand that equation, then this chapter makes sense. Prophecy is a word from the Lord; it’s the Lord telling me to tell you something. Tongues is speaking in an unlearned human language. Interpretation is telling someone in Greek or in English what the tongue said. If you have someone with the gift of tongues hooked up with someone with the gift of interpretation, that’s in essence, the same thing as the gift of prophecy. If you understand that equation, then everything makes sense.
When he talks about tongues, he’s generally talking about tongues without an interpretation, and that’s the problem. Why are speaking in tongues? There are a lot of things more important than tongues without interpretation. That’s the equation that runs through it. He centers on tongues which seems to be what the real problem was. On the one hand he says don’t forbid the speaking in tongues. Of course if you think that the gift of tongues has ceased, then you’ll have another argument, but he says, in the speaking of tongues there are rules for it. It has to be done orderly, no more than 2 or 3 at one time. You have to know that there’s an interpreter present. I was in a situation once where someone spoke in tongues and the question was asked afterward, is there someone here with the gift of interpretation. You have to know that before the tongues happen, otherwise you’re supposed to be quiet and talk to God. There has to be an interpreter and you have to know it beforehand and it has to be done for edification.
He goes through this whole discussion on spiritual gifts, and at the end of chapter 14, he centers in on this whole issue of tongue-speaking. I think the situation is if you were in a small house church and you knew everyone in the church that you would know if someone has the gift of interpretation or not. If you are in a situation where you don’t know people, I guess you have to ask, because Paul is very explicit that you cannot speak in tongues unless the interpreter is present. Student: How do you know if you have the gift of interpretation if you’ve never done it before? I don’t know, my assumption is that it will have happened, and as everyone else was hearing gibberish you heard it and understood it. I would assume it is an experiential thing. I am not cessationist; I believe the gift of apostleship has stopped just because of the definition that you have to have physically seen the risen Lord and been part of his ministry. I’m what Jack Deere calls a practical cessationist; theologically, I have to allow for the options, but I’m suspect when the supernatural giftings happens, and that’s because the bulk of what I’ve been exposed to is bogus. Theologically, I can’t say that it doesn’t happen at all. Student: Is it okay for the same person to speak in tongues and interpret? You know I’ve heard that, but in this chapter, Paul certainly doesn’t suggest that that is the normal way it happens, because the person with the gift of interpretation is other than the person with the gift of tongues. That’s all I can say.
The Resurrection (1 Cor. 15)
Let me finish 1 Corinthians. On chapter 15, let me just mention this: Chapter 15 is a marvelous chapter if you haven’t read it. This is the central passage on the resurrection—not on Christ’s resurrection, but on the fact that there will be a physical resurrection. Some of the Corinthians had denied that there was a resurrection, and Paul’s argument is that if there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised from the dead, and we’re all going to Hell, so we might as well eat, drink and be merry. You have to believe in the resurrection of the dead. There is a lot of discussion in this chapter about the nature of the resurrection body. What is it going to be like after we get raised back up? Paul’s point is, it’s going to be different. We have an idea of what it’s going to be like because Jesus was the first fruits of the resurrection. He could eat fish. He said he had flesh and bones, and said that to the eleven disciples, “Spirits don’t have flesh and bones; here I’ll eat a piece of fish so you can see eat.” Yet he seemed to have other rather unhuman characteristics like appearing and disappearing.
2 Corinthians 5 and the Intermediate State
The other passage, I’ll just mention this in closing on what’s going to happen to us at the resurrection, is 2 Corinthians 5. This is all I’m going to say about 2 Corinthians. It’s called the intermediate state—the time between your death and when Jesus comes back again. Some people believe in what is called soul sleep, where you go to sleep and you wake up at the resurrection, and that when you die the next thing you’re aware of is the final judgment. Very few people believe that, but that’s the only other position. Most people believe that if you and I die before Jesus returns, our body separates from our spirit. The body rots in the grave, but the spirit immediately goes to Heaven. Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today I will be with you in Paradise.” 2 Corinthians 5:8 says, “We would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.”
These are the only two options, and there are some other verses. The idea is that what happens at a death is that our body and our spirit are separated, and our spirit goes. In 2 Corinthians 5, Paul talks about this being unclothed. What he wants is the tent not made with human hands. In other words, he wants to go directly from living in this world and being in his full glorified body, but he knows the only way that’s going to happen is if Jesus comes back before he dies. The body and the soul are separated; our spirits go to be with the Lord. I think about that sometimes. I wonder if I’m going to be able to hold Robin’s hand, I don’t know. I hope I can. I don’t want to go thousands of years and not be able to hold her hand. I have no idea what it’s going to be like. Paul was being a little nervous about it, but we’ll be in Heaven and that’ll be a good thing.
Then what happens, and this is where the chronology gets crazy because you have to pull in 1 Thessalonians, we’re going to come with Jesus at the end of time because we come with him, but then we’re raised from the ground. Evidently what’s going to happen is that our spirits are going to go back in and inhabit our bodies, which will be glorified, and we will rise back up. Then all of those who are still alive when Christ comes back again will rise up after us, but with us, and then we’ll be with him forever. That’s the standard understanding of how that whole process goes. When a person dies who is not a believer, their spirit goes to Hell. The judgment seat is when, at the end of time, all stand before the judgment seat, and we’re all going to know what the verdict is, because either we will have been in Hell or we will have been with the Lord, but it’s the final pronouncement where death is destroyed. I always thought that was when we got our glorified bodies, but I was reading something today, that is when we see him, and “Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound (52),” (that’s Christ’s return) “and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed.” I guess that receiving our new glorified bodies, the body that Jesus had after his resurrection, happens at that point, and not at the point of judgment. My assumption is that every knee will bow before the judgment seat; we will bow willingly, but others will bow because they are forced to.
A. 2 Corinthians 5:8 : [Phil. 1:23]
A. 1 Corinthians 10:29 : 1 Corinthians 8:9-12
B. 1 Corinthians 10:29 : 1 Corinthians 9:19; Rom 14:16