Thursday, May 24, 2018

Godliness and Contentment (1 Corinthians 7:25-31)

“(25) Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. (26) I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is. (27) Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (28) But if you marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (29) But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none; (30) and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; (31) and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away.” (1 Corinthians 7:25–31, NASB95PARA)

Something was going on at the time of Paul’s writing this letter. It may have been a localized or regional distress, or it may have been the first pangs of the coming Roman persecution which was to begin a few years after this is written or it may even have been related to them living in the last days of which none of them knew the exact timing. Whatever the situation, it was significant enough that Paul was encouraging them to hunker down and not seek any drastic changes to their lives. These opinions of Paul were not commandments, but considerations in light of whatever else might have been going on in their bigger picture.

Writing to them as a trustworthy apostle of Christ and one who knew the freedom of being single and free of the care of marriage, Paul encouraged them to remain in whatever state they were at the time. For the single person or “virgins” God had not redesigned His plan for men and women, but as a single person (male or female) there was a freedom that they would not have in marriage.

Similarly, he wrote to the married person that he or she was not to seek to be released from their marriage. And, if for some reason they had been released from their wife (or a husband) they were not to seek to get remarried. Citing the cause of the unspecified “present distress” they were all to seek to remain as they were.
To both the single and the unmarried Paul followed his wise advice by saying should the single or released person marry or remarry that they had not sinned. The exact parameters of this freedom need to be considered in relation to the context of the other verses in Scripture that deal with divorce and remarriage.

For those who did marry or even remarry, Paul continued, that they needed to keep their priorities straight. Marriage is God’s institution for one man and one woman to come together as husband and wife, and then within the context of that union each was to keep the priority of their relationship with God. Their spouse was not to be their god. They may share some very special things, but this bond is intended to be shared as they individually and as a couple worship and follow God and serve the Lord Jesus Christ. This is the meaning of living as if they had none (husband or wife). It is not a life of negligence, but of properly placed love for one another out of their love for God knowing that their interests as Paul would soon write truly were divided.

Marriage is not easy. Some do much better than others. Some marriages thrive, and some are a battle. Some are filled with weeping and others with rejoicing, while most have some of both. Paul knew that the bonds of love would surely be tested as the things of life with two people in the same home with varying desires create the friction that surely would happen.

None of us know the length of our days, and for these believers the distress surrounding them may have signaled an expectation that their days may indeed be shortened. In light of this they were to live as if the things around them were not worth acquiring for the purpose of possessing and the things of the world not worth indulging to the exclusion of living for God. We live in the world, but we do not live for the world. One day it will all pass away. This is true whether we leave it by death or by our Lord coming to take us with Him. I don’t have a clue of its origin, but I’ve heard is said in a variety of ways that you will not see a hearse towing a U-Haul.

“But godliness actually is a means of great gain when accompanied by contentment. For we have brought nothing into the world, so we cannot take anything out of it either. If we have food and covering, with these we shall be content.” (1 Timothy 6:6–8, NASB95)

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Grow Where You Are Planted (1 Corinthians 7:17-24)

“Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And so I direct in all the churches. Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that. For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave. You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.” (1 Corinthians 7:17–24, NASB95PARA)

We don’t know the real amount of dissatisfaction with their lives that these believers in Corinth were experiencing, but it must have been there to some significant degree. As they were becoming Christians it appears that they were looking to change other things as well. Their new position in Christ was leading to them desiring new positions in life. They were seeking change and needed some instruction in what that change was to look like. Having just addressed individuals remaining either in marriage or singleness after being called by God to salvation in Christ, Paul here expands this instruction to other areas of life as well. He dealt with them being rightly Jews or Gentiles and their status of being slaves or free.

As it was in the previous passages, so it is in this that he encourages all believers to remain “with God in the condition” they were in at the time of their calling. Paul begins this statement with the words “as the Lord has assigned to each one.” The word “assigned” means to divide, distribute or apportion. God is sovereign in their life in all areas. They did not determine their race at birth, but it was God who formed them in their mother’s womb. And, short of them doing something to indenture themselves into slavery, this too would have been largely a condition of birth. This was where they were placed in their life, and they were to be content to remain in that place.

It was from there that God called them to salvation in His Son, and it is in that place that God will work in and through them as His adopted and beloved children in the Lord. Therefore, they were to walk in the manner in which they were called whether it be married or unmarried, Jew or Gentile, slave or free. This was the word that was to be spread among the churches, and it was the instruction that the people were to be given in how to move forward in their new lives of faith.

If one was born a Jew, he did not need to forsake his Jewishness in favor of Gentile ways. God had made a promise to the Jewish people and they had no need to distance themselves from being of His chosen nation. Sure, the sacrifices could go away and some of the ritual because Christ had given Himself as the once and for all time perfect sacrifice for their sins. But there was so much more to being Jewish. And if one were born a non-Jew or a Gentile he or she did not need to become a Jew to be a proper Christian. In making His promise to the nation of Israel, God said that in their seed all of the nations would be blessed. And this is what Jesus did. He brought salvation to all men each according to their race, and He brought them into His family through the blood of His one Son, Jesus Christ.

For those coming to salvation in Christ the big thing regardless of their race or origin is that they follow God in obeying His commandments. As we learn the words of God we are to hide them in their heart and obey them with diligence and in so doing prove that we are truly His disciples. Changing the things that the Corinthian believers were asking about was not the change that God desired. His desire is obedient hearts leading to obedient lives of service to our Lord. It was true then, and it is true today.

Continuing from race to position, Paul wrote that it they were born a slave that they were not to worry about it. Sure, if an opportunity to become free came along they were to take it, but this was their daily reality. In that reality God calls us to Himself and He is able to keep us and making us to grow. Our real freedom comes in not who we answer to here but in being set free from the bondage of sin and being given a new Lord who we are to serve with all our hearts. This is what we read in Ephesians chapter 6, “Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.” (Ephesians 6:5–8, NASB95PARA)

Regardless of who we might serve here on earth our real service is to our Lord. He bought us with the price of His blood and we belong to Him as His bondservants. It is from the framework of these truths that we are to be content to remain as He called us knowing that should that change in some way then that was okay as well. God knows every detail of our lives. He knew this before we were ever conceived, and He knows exactly what He has prepared for us to do. “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, NASB95)

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

On Remaining, Divorce and Remarriage (1 Corinthians 7:10-16)

“But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife. But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:10–16, NASB95PARA)

Paul had just finished saying that if the single person or the widow wanted to marry they were free to do so. In today’s passage he turns his attention to those who are already married and deals with the issue of remaining, divorce and even remarriage. This is a longer passage which represents only a portion of what Scripture has to say on the subject. Knowing that this is an important issue in our culture and recognizing that even within the church Christians are often ill-informed on what God’s Word has to say the leadership of Calvary Crossroads where I worked with them to prepare a document on the subject for the congregation. Rather than rewriting what came out of a great deal of studying, talking, praying and even giving and taking with each other in some difficult areas, what follows is a portion of that resulting document that deals specifically with these verses.

“Divorce is not God’s plan for man and woman. Yet it does happen. Husbands and wives abandon their spouses either to join in another relationship or to be free of the one they were in. They leave because they don’t feel like living together anymore or because they just don’t feel what they once felt. There are numerous reasons given for divorce. But we need to be careful as Christians to never fall into these traps and to carefully guard the treasured oneness relationship that God has granted husbands and wives.

“So important is this for Christians to remember that the Apostle Paul instructs two Christians who are married to one another and who may be having conflict in their marriage that they do not have God’s permission to leave or divorce one another unless one spouse has committed the actual act of adultery. But if one does leave, neither of them have the freedom to marry another. We read in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11, “But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, let her remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not send his wife away.” There may be times when the conflict between couples becomes so great that there is no peace in the home. Because of the hardness of both of their hearts, they are blinded to the principles of forgiveness and the sacredness of marriage. At those times, if they leave, separate, or even formally divorce one another, God says that they both must remain unmarried for the purpose of leaving the door open for reconciliation. God wants each Christian spouse to be willing to work through the tough times, waiting upon His enablement, even if only one spouse is willing to try (1 Peter 3:1-2, which is true for both husbands and wives). It is here again that the love and grace of God are really put to the test. Jesus clearly set our example (1 Peter 2:21-25), and God is immensely faithful to see us through all of our trials (1 Corinthians 10:13).

“There is another instance in Scripture where divorce is clearly permitted, and that is in the case of an unbelieving spouse leaving or “abandoning” a believing spouse (abandonment refers to an actual geographical leaving and not, for example: failing or even refusing to financially support, sleeping in separate rooms, or a lack of physical or emotional intimacy). In 1 Corinthians 7:12-15 we read that the believing spouse is not to send or even drive his or her unbelieving spouse away, but rather is to live with that spouse in an agreeable fashion. However, should the unbelieving spouse leave of his or her own volition then the believing spouse is to consent to the leaving and then even be free to remarry at a later date.

[Not included in the document text is a consideration of verse 16, where we read, “For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?” (1 Corinthians 7:16, NASB95PARA) This passage points back to the unbelieving spouse and it deals specifically with the individual who refuses to let the unbeliever go believing that he or she was God’s instrument to save their unbelieving spouse. Paul wrote that the salvation of another is not within our power. Salvation is a gift of God and it is His Spirit who does the work. The believing spouse is freed to let the unbelieving spouse go knowing that ultimately his or her salvation is really in God’s hands and not their own.]

“Scripture does say in certain circumstances that a believer is no longer under bondage to his/her previous spouse and is free to remarry, but this does not apply to all divorce situations.

“In both the case of a divorce as a result of sexual immorality and that of an unbelieving spouse leaving, the remaining person is no longer bound by the marriage covenant and is subsequently free to remarry. This is also true of the widow or widower. It is important to note that being free to remarry is not in itself an instruction to remarry, but merely the granting of permission to do so without sinning.

“While we recognize that there are passages in the Bible which grant the freedom to remarry, we also need to be clear that Scripture does not extend this freedom to everyone, as we just saw in 1 Corinthians 7:11. Here the focus is clear; Christians are to remain pure to their marriage covenant before God and wait on Him to see what He might do to restore the relationship.

“In situations where restoration is no longer possible due to the death of one of these divorced believers or by one entering into another relationship either by marriage or some other means, then a remarriage might be permitted for the other. But then much time should be spent considering what work God has done in the life of the one who brought about the divorce, considering how his or her relationship with God has changed, and what other consequential steps might need to be taken if and before remarriage might be in conformity with Scripture as understood by the leadership of Calvary Crossroads Church [preparers of this document.

“It is important to remember that Christ did not die for those who were perfect, but He died for sinners. If you find that you have violated a teaching of Scripture related to this topic your response should be no different than it is to any other sin you have committed. Start by admitting to God the wrong that you have done before Him, thanking Him for His forgiveness, and committing to walking right with Him from this point forward. 1 John 1:9 tells us that, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” This is true of our individual sins and of those sins we commit with others. His forgiveness extends to all who seek Him and put their trust in the work of Jesus Christ on the cross. From there prayerfully consider what steps to restoration and/or restitution God might have you take with others who might have been involved or affected by your sin.

“So, even if your marriage is off to a bad start or you did something harmful to your marriage, remember that God is the one who is faithful to complete His good work that He started in each of us. Submit yourself to Him and follow Him with your whole heart, and you will find as the writer of Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.” Even a marriage that started wrongly is a marriage, and we must always remember that divorce is not in God’s plan for His people. He knows how to straighten out that which we have made crooked, and He is more than able to help us deal with the consequences.” [section except from Marriage, Divorce & Remarriage, A Consideration of Biblical Truth prepared by the Elders of Calvary Crossroads Church, Grants Pass, Oregon]

The purpose of including the text excerpt was both to express a significant understanding of the passages as well as express the grace and forgiveness of our God. If you are going through a difficult season and are desiring to speak with someone in greater detail I would encourage you to contact the pastor of your church. But never let the words of men ever replace your individual responsibility to look into God’s Word, hide it in your heart, and prayerfully study and think on it throughout the day. Between your own study, your listening to God through His Word, and seeking wise counsel I pray that you will be strengthened in your situation.

“There are times when we all need help, and God has placed us in a body of believers in order that we might find some of that help in times of need. Proverbs 1:5 tells us, “A wise man will hear and increase in learning, and a man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.””

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Singular Service (1 Corinthians 7:6-9)

“But this I say by way of concession, not of command. Yet I wish that all men were even as I myself am. However, each man has his own gift from God, one in this manner, and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as I. But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:6–9, NASB95)

These next instructions flow out of Paul’s response to this first question of whether it was good or not for a “man not to touch a woman.” Paul’s overriding first statement in response was to say that he wished, willed, or desired that all men were single even as he was and experience the freedom of ministry that came with his celibacy.

This is in contrast to the married person whose interests are divided as Paul wrote later in this chapter. The married individual has other considerations when making decisions and responsibilities that go beyond caring for his or her own personal needs. While I have been married for thirty-eight years I think I freshly understand what Paul was wiring about. My wife and I are in the middle of a transition to a new ministry in a new location. As a part of this transition I am spending considerable time away from my them. I am loving the new role, but there are several times during the day up there that I miss the presence of my family. And, when I am down with my family I miss the opportunities for ministry in the new location. It is this kind of divided interest that Paul referred to as not being a struggle for the one who is single in his or her service to the Lord. He was not advocating celibacy as much as he was recognizing the benefit for service that he had in being single. This was a gift from God to him which was not the same for all. Everyone is different in this regard as Paul indicated in his wording “one in this manner, and another in that.” Unlike Paul, I know that I enjoy ministry much more with my wife and family by my side. This is God’s gift as well.

But, he added, “to the married and to widows that it is good for them if they remain even as [he].” Studying the New Testament, we clearly see how God used this single man to accomplish so much. Paul traveled far and wide, but he also spent considerable time in prison while being constantly called upon to trust God for his welfare and even at times where his next meal would come from. He did all of this without having the divided interest that he referred to here and later in this same chapter. For those who were like him Paul saw a similar advantage in how God would use if for their good and His glory. But he also knew that this single life was not for everyone. In fact, it was not for most. Paul knew that in general “it was not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). It was for that reason that we read in the same verse that God said, “… I will make him a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18, NASB95) And, in verses 21-25 we see God meet this need in creating woman and bringing them together as one.

Some people are quite comfortable being single. Others struggle with it greatly. It is to this second group that Paul added, “But if they do not have self-control, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.” (1 Corinthians 7:9, NASB95) The single person and even the widow are not required to remain as they are. There is freedom in choosing to marry, and this is especially so when they meet that right person and their passions are ignited. Having said this, we don’t have to look far to know that there are many in our culture that would dearly love to be married but who are not. Additionally, there are those who are walking through this season of life without their spouse due to his or her death. While Paul’s answer here does not answer those struggles, we know that our God is intimately familiar, He knows our deepest desires, and He is good who makes us to stand strong in Christ.

Paul presented this in the form of a lack of self-control, and for some this is a huge issue. You may not have to look further than your own life and the strong sexual desire that you had for you spouse prior to your marriage or for those that are widowed and long for the closeness you once shared. You might even look at how you may have succumbed to those desires with either your spouse or someone else prior to your marriage. And, you can definitely look outside to culture and the types of things you see and hear in the media or watch on the streets. These desires can be strong, and for some they can seem to be consuming. Whether reigned in appropriately or left to wreak havoc, this desire is real and for that person Paul says it is much better to marry that to burn with its passion.

It is no sin to have passion and to want to be united with another. God created us to come together in the one man and one woman relationship of marriage. Attraction and desire are strong magnets in this process. But this magnet can be abused and the restraints that God put in place ignored. This was the problem of the Corinthian church and one which led to the “not touching” question. Paul’s response was it’s a good thing to be single and to be able to serve freely. It is also a good thing to be married. But, whether you are single or married do it God’s way recognizing that both are a gift from Him.