Chapter Seven Celibacy, Marriage, And Divorce

This seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians deals with a subject that has caused a great deal of confusion down through the centuries. The marriage relationship occupies a large place in the Word of God, both in the Old Testament and in the New. The teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and the direct ministry of the Holy Spirit after our Lord’s ascension put this whole matter on a very high plane, so that marriage for a Christian is God’s own wonderful picture of the mystic union—as is often said in wedding ceremonies—that subsists between Christ and the church.

We can understand that in the early church there were a great many irregularities to be corrected in regard to this entire subject. The Jews under the law permitted a certain laxity that our Lord Jesus Christ forbade in the dispensation of grace. Then again in the heathen world of Paul’s day, conditions were such that it was probably difficult to find people whose attitude in regard to marriage was at all like that of the New Testament church. Therefore Paul found it necessary to do some very plain speaking.

The Christian Standard (1 Corinthians 7:1-17)

In the first part of this chapter the apostle was evidently dealing with questions that had been sent to him, so he said, “Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” People have inferred from this statement that the apostle was an advocate of celibacy. The Roman church is very fond of pointing to this verse as though it teaches that the unmarried monk or priest or the unwed nun is a holier person than the Christian husband or wife, father or mother. The apostle did not say that, though later in this chapter he did speak of serving the Lord without distraction, particularly in a time of persecution; he supposed that celibacy was “good for the present distress” (7:26).

Paul wrote in a day when to become a Christian, to be publicly baptized as confessing Christ, was to put one’s life in jeopardy. Under such conditions it might really be best for a man not to be married at all. Yet certain inherited tendencies of human nature might make celibacy a dangerous option, one that could work against purity, against the highest type of morality, instead of working for greater holiness. So Paul said, “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.”

The husband is to “render unto the wife due benevolence,” or as the apostle Peter very beautifully put it, the husband is to give “honour unto the wife, as unto the weaker vessel” (1 Peter 3:7). “And the wife,” Paul said in Ephesians 5:33, is to “see that she reverence her husband.” Both husband and wife are to remember that having entered into this mutual relationship, neither is any longer his or her own master; they have agreed to subject themselves to one another and there can be no happy Christian home unless they do so.

“The wife,” Paul said in 1 Corinthians 7, “hath not power of her own body, but the husband: and likewise also the husband hath not power of his own body, but the wife.” They are to be sure that they pay due regard to one another’s conjugal rights. There may be circumstances in which they draw apart for a while; they might separate for a limited time, but they should be careful not to do so except by mutual agreement. Paul said, “Defraud ye not one the other, except it be with consent for a time, that ye may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again, that Satan tempt you not for your incontinency.”

All down through the centuries of the Christian dispensation there have been strange sects who have advocated the celibate condition even for persons already entered into the marriage relationship, and teachers who have said that to serve the Lord better, husbands and wives should live entirely apart from one other. But the apostle said that to attempt such a life is to place yourself in a position of great temptation, and therefore to do so is not only unwise but also thoroughly opposed to the divine institution of marriage.

It is all right for a husband and wife to say, “We think it would be best for us to live apart from each other for a little while so that we may be more entirely devoted to the Lord and so that we might wait on Him in fasting and prayer in order to be more fully conformed to His image. Then we will come together again.” But if they attempt this, they should be careful that they do not run off into some strange inconsistency.

“I speak this by permission,” Paul added in 7:6, “and not of commandment.” Some people point to this verse and say, “You see, the apostle himself did not always claim to be inspired. In this portion he declared that he was speaking only by permission and not by commandment, and therefore he was not inspired of God.” And I respond, “Oh no, he was just as truly inspired to give this permission as he was a little further on to give a direct command.”

What may be permitted in one family might throw another family into hopeless confusion. Take for an example a family with a number of little children. The wife gets a high notion of the demands of personal holiness and comes to her husband and says, “My dear, I want to be altogether for God, and so I am going to request that I separate entirely from you for a time. I am going to a spiritual retreat. You get along with the children as best you can.” Going to that retreat would disrupt her entire family. She would glorify the Lord better by looking after the children than by spending the time on her knees in some retreat. Many a Christian today would glorify God far better by caring for her youngsters at home than by going to a church meeting every night.

Let us not forget that God established the home before He created the church and when people are married they have a tremendous responsibility resting on their shoulders. No one feels that more keenly than men like me who are called to preach the gospel. I do not know how often I have felt like crying out with the bride in the Canticles, “They made me the keeper of the vineyards; but mine own vineyard have I not kept” (Song of Solomon 1:6). A servant of Christ who is called to travel through the world with the gospel message finds it difficult to give enough time to training his own children in the fear of God. People who do not have such a calling should give priority to their responsibility in the home.

I think God must have a special place in Heaven for preachers’ wives. They have had so much more to contend with than the average woman. If the children go wrong, folks wag their heads and blame their mother. Probably the trouble was that the father was not able to cooperate with her more. Yet how God honors preachers’ wives! Someone said that preachers’ children are always the worst. I cannot boast of my own, though I do thank God that they are all saved, but you will find that some of the greatest names on the pages of history are preachers’ children. When 2 Chronicles states that a king of Israel or Judah was especially willful or especially good, it also mentions his mother’s name. It is tragic when a child has an evil mother, for we can scarcely expect much good from him.

Turning our thoughts back to 1 Corinthians 7:5, we have to admit that while some households might be thrown into hopeless confusion if husband and wife were to separate for a while, other households might be able to continue functioning if such times of seclusion were arranged. And so the apostle did not mean that he was not inspired when he said, “I speak this by permission, and not of commandment”; he meant that the Spirit of God allowed him to give husbands and wives this permission, but did not allow him to command them to separate for prayer and fasting. It is nowhere commanded that husband and wife should for any time separate from each other.

Paul went on to say, “I would that all men were even as I myself.” For the gospel’s sake he had chosen to remain unmarried, and in circumstances such as many were passing through at the time, the single state was to be preferred, other things being equal.

Having once entered into the marriage relationship, however, husbands and wives should remain married. Paul said, “Unto the married I command”—not merely permit but command—”yet not I, but the Lord.” What did he mean by “not I, but the Lord”? Simply this: he was merely repeating something that the Lord had already said. Paul was reminding them that the Lord had declared: “It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery” (Matthew 5:31-32). Those are the solemn words of the Lord Jesus. In Matthew 19:9 He reiterated the one exception that permits the innocent party in a divorce to marry again according to Scripture.

In Matthew 19:5-6 the Lord said: “For this cause shall a man leave father and mother, and shall cleave to his wife: and they twain shall be one flesh? Wherefore they are no more twain, but one flesh. What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.” I have heard people try to get around that command by subterfuge, saying, “I don’t believe the Lord joined us together; I think the devil did it and therefore I think I am free to get a divorce and marry somebody else.” But it was God who pronounced those words in the garden of Eden: “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Genesis 2:24). It is He who joins people together in the marriage relationship and once joined in that relationship, they should never break it.

The Pharisees asked the Lord, “Why did Moses then command to give a writing of divorcement, and to put her away?” In a hard, rough age when men were often very uncouth and cruel, God commanded that instead of holding a wife who was hated as a kind of slave or chattel, a man should give her legal divorce papers and permit her to go home to her people. But now under the dispensation of grace when men are born again and transformed by the Spirit of God, no such thing is tolerated. “Moses because of the hardness of your hearts,” the Lord said, “suffered you to put away your wives: but from the beginning it was not so. And I say unto you, Whosoever shall put away his wife”—again observe the exception—“except it be for fornication, and shall marry another, committed! adultery: and whoso marrieth her which is put away doth commit adultery” (Matthew 19:7-9).

Notice, there is a sin that dissolves the marriage relationship and if one partner is guilty of that sin, he or she may be put away and the other party is free; and if that innocent party marries again, the new marriage is not called adultery. There are those who are so legalistic that they refuse to take note of that “except,” but the Son of God has put it there so that the innocent party may not have the onus of immorality attached to him or her. There you have the New Testament standard given by the Lord Himself.

So Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “Unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband.” Then the apostle immediately added, “But and if she depart.” He was implying that there may be circumstances in which no self-respecting woman could continue in a marriage relationship; a man may be so absolutely brutal or so vile and filthy and perverted in his whole character that no decent, good woman could live with him. In such a case, Paul implied, she is free to leave him but not free to be divorced and remarried unless she has definite New Testament grounds. “If she depart,” he said, “let her remain unmarried.” Although it may be necessary for her to leave, she can at least continue to remember her husband before God in prayer, and perhaps through her prayers the day will come when he will be broken down by divine grace and saved. If that day does come and he begs her to return to him, she can go back and, finding him a new man, make a home for him once more. But if she has already entered into another relationship, she is in a pitiable condition.

“Let not the husband put away his wife,” Paul continued, “but to the rest speak I, not the Lord.” Was he not speaking by inspiration? Keep in mind the whole argument. When he said, “I command, yet not I, but the Lord,” he meant that the Lord had already spoken on the subject. Here when he said, “To the rest speak I, not the Lord,” he meant that by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost he was laying down a divine principle in regard to a matter about which the Lord had not already spoken.

So by divine inspiration Paul wrote, “If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.” This legislation was not needed during the Lord’s time on earth, for He came to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, but now Paul was reaching out to the Gentiles, and it was a common thing for one member of a Gentile family to be converted and the others not. Think of a case of a man in Corinth who has been saved, but his wife is a devotee of the heathen cults; she is indignant that he no longer burns incense to idols, yet she is willing to live with him. “Let him not put her away,” Paul said. The husband is not to be self-righteous and say, “I am a Christian and cannot acknowledge you as my wife any longer.”

In Israel if a Jew were married to a pagan, he had to put her away, for she was unclean in the sight of God. But under grace, if a pagan wife is pleased to dwell with her Christian husband, he is to show her kindness and consideration and seek to be a blessing to her. If it is the woman who has been converted, the rule is similar: “The woman which hath an husband that believeth not…if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.”

The book of Ezra tells us that in Israel many Jews had entered into alliances with heathen women, and Nehemiah 13:24 says that “their children spake half in the speech of Ashdod, and could not speak in the Jews’ language.” Likewise when a husband is a Christian and his wife is not (or vice versa), their children will generally speak half in the language of Heaven and half in the language of earth. It is a difficult thing to bring them up for God in a mixed home like that. Ezra told Israel in effect, “You will have to put all these wives and children away as unclean.”

But notice the difference under grace: “The unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.” The unbelieving husband may be hard, he may be wicked, and he may hate the very name of Jesus, but he has been brought outwardly into a new relationship with God through the conversion of his wife. There is now someone in that home to pray, someone who loves the Word of God, someone to live the Christian life and let the others see what it means to be regenerated. Perhaps some of you readers are wives who are breaking your hearts over unsaved husbands. Will you not take comfort from this verse? Perhaps some of you readers are husbands who are grieved because the wives whom you love are still outside of Christ. You too may be comforted. Keep on praying; keep on bearing them up before God; keep on believing that He has saved you out of an unconverted family because He wants the whole household for Himself.

When the pagan jailer cried, “What must I do to be saved?” the answer rang clear, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:30-31). God was saying, “Jailer, I not only want you; I not only want to cleanse your heart; I also want to make your household a Christian one, a testimony to My grace right here in Philippi.” And so it came to pass.

Wives with unsaved husbands, and husbands with unsaved wives, keep on praying. Your children are sanctified because they have a father or a mother, as the case may be, to take them to God in prayer and to teach them the Word of God. You can count on Him to bless that ministry to them by bringing them eventually to Christ.

Next Paul dealt with a case in which the unsaved partner will not remain in the marriage. He said, “If the unbelieving depart, let him depart.” The believer cannot do anything about it and thus “is not under bondage in such cases,” but then she is to live her own life as a single person to the glory of the Lord Jesus. Rather than looking around for another mate, she should devote herself to Christ and keep on praying for the wandering one, for “God hath called us to peace. For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband?” Even though the husband is gone, even though he has left the home, the wife should keep on praying for him, for God may intervene and bring him back penitent and broken-hearted to try to make up for the willfulness of the past by living a peaceful life with her.

To the husband whose wife has left because he loves Jesus and she does not, Paul said, “How knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” The man should not be too hard in his thoughts. He should pray and ask himself, “Was there something in me that turned her away? If I had had a little more grace and Christlikeness, might she have remained?” He should bear her up before God and if some day she should be ready to return, he should receive her as God receives His erring ones when they come back to Him.

Closing this section of the chapter, Paul wrote, “As God hath distributed to every man, as the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. And so ordain I in all churches.” In other words, the issues that Paul had been dealing with are not matters with which we may play fast and loose. He had been stating principles that are divine requirements concerning the marriage relationship and they apply to all Christians and all the churches of God.

Why is God so insistent about these principles? The reason is that from the beginning it was His intention that the marriage relationship would portray the eternal union between Christ and His redeemed. When people marry they take each other for life. Many of you men remember when you stood before the minister and he said, “Do you take this woman to be your lawful wedded wife? Will you love, honor, and cherish her so long as you both shall live?” and you said, “I will.” Have you lived up to your vow? And many of you women remember when the minister said, “Do you take this man to be your lawful wedded husband? Will you love, honor, and obey him so long as you both shall live?” and you answered, “I will.” Does your conscience tell you that you have been true to that vow? When you made that vow, you entered into a relationship that pictures the relationship between the soul and the Savior.

Way back in the Old Testament Abraham wanted to find a partner for his son, so he sent out his messenger with an offer of marriage. When the servant found Rebecca and she became the affianced wife of Isaac, her family thought she should not leave home immediately but decided to find out what her wishes were. Referring to Abraham’s servant, they asked, “Wilt thou go with this man?” and without a moment’s hesitation she answered, “I will go,” and she went out across the desert to be united to Isaac (Genesis 24:58). In a similar manner the Lord sends His message of love and kindness to the unsaved and invites them to enter a union with Himself by accepting the offer of the man Christ Jesus.

The Time Is Short (1 Corinthians 7:18-40)

In the previous section the apostle, inspired by the Holy Spirit, laid down for us the Christian standard of marriage. With a single exception, which the Lord Himself indicated, marriage is indissoluble. The marriage relationship once entered into cannot be broken with impunity, and if anyone attempts to break it and marries another, he is guilty of the sin of adultery.

That at once raises a question, for there are many people who have had rather unhappy marital experiences before their conversions. After having been separated, divorced, and remarried, the grace of God has found them and they have been saved. What about them? The apostle made the answer to that question clear when he added, “Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called.”

Paul illustrated his point by referring to circumcision. In effect he said, “If God saved you as Jew, do not try to Gentilize yourself; just remain a Jew. Although you are now a member of the body of Christ, you cannot undo what you are by nature, and you cannot undo what has taken place before you were converted. On the other hand, if you were a Gentile before you were converted and now find yourself in a community of Jewish believers, do not attempt to make a Hebrew of yourself, for that is impossible. You were saved as a Gentile; God opened the door of faith to you as a Gentile. He took you in as you were; therefore “therein abide with God.” To be either Jew or Gentile means nothing now. The great thing for the future is obedience to the Word of God.”

Once a person becomes a Christian, he has a new standard by which to live, for God has given His Word to him. When he was converted, all the past was wiped out by the precious blood of Christ. God called him and He saved him in the condition in which He found him. That applies even where people have had rather mixed experiences along the line of marriage and divorce. God did not ask, for instance, that the husband and wife who had been married contrary to Christian principles separate in order to be saved. He took them as they were and made them members of Christ. Now He recognizes them as His own who have been sanctified by the Holy Spirit and cleansed by the blood of Christ. They should remain in the marriage relationship that they were in when His grace found them and by living faithfully as husband and wife adorn the doctrine of Christ.

The apostle continued, “Art thou called being a servant?” The word translated “servant” means “bondman” or “slave.” When this Epistle was written, slavery extended over the entire world and many of the early Christians were slaves, but Paul said to them, “Care not for it.” In other words, “Do not get restless because of that, but if you are set free, use your liberty for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Paul explained, “For he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord’s freeman.” He is no longer a slave in God’s eyes; he is free to serve Christ. As the Christian slave serves his earthly master, he is also serving the Lord Christ. What a wonderful thing for him to realize! He can glorify the Lord even in the circumstances in which he was saved.

He that is free is not to say, “Well, I have no master; I am free; I am not a slave; I can do as I please.” Paul said, “He that is called, being free, is Christ’s servant,” and here again he used the word meaning “bondsman.” The freeman has been bought, so instead of seeking to have his own way, he is now to take the way of the Lord who purchased him.

Paul reminded the Corinthians, “Ye are bought with a price; be not ye the servants of men,” and then he reiterated, “Brethren, let every man, wherein he is called, therein abide with God” (italics added). That suggests a restriction, for one might, after all, be saved in circumstances in which he could not “abide with God.”

Reverting to the subject of the first section of chapter 7, Paul wrote, “Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.” Some say, “Well, the apostle recognized that he was not inspired when he wrote this,” but they are again mistaken. Paul was simply telling us that the Lord had given him no commandment to say that a virgin must marry or must not marry, but that he by inspiration was passing on his judgment in the matter. As a wise pastor who recognized the conditions prevailing at that time, he said, “I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress.” The days in which this letter was written were days of great persecution, of fearful suffering, when one might have to flee at a moment’s notice and leave home and loved ones for Christ’s sake. And so Paul was saying, “I will tell you what is the best thing under these circumstances.”

“Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed.” Those who were already married should not of course seek to break the tie. “Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.” However, if a man said, “Yes, but I have found one who appeals very much to my heart and I would like to make her my wife,” Paul would tell him to go ahead if she is willing to share the risk and danger. “If thou marry, thou hast not sinned,” the apostle said, “and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.” Paul was not suggesting that the Corinthians take vows either to marry or not to marry; he was simply telling them to be guided by the Lord under existing circumstances.

Emphasizing that “the time is short,” the apostle said in effect, “Whatever you do, keep in mind that you are here for only a little while. You are here to glorify God and that is far more important than seeking your own happiness. You are living in difficult times, in perplexing days, but your hope is the Lord’s near return.” This is always the blessed hope for the Christian, and Paul was urging the Corinthians to live with that in view. We are not to allow any temporal relationship or any human occupation to hinder our fellowship with God or our obedience to His will. When the apostle said, “It remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none,” he did not mean that married men were to disown their wives, or be cold and indifferent toward them. Nothing like that was intended, for he had already emphasized the very opposite principle. He meant that the one thing Christians should live for is not their own happiness as husband and wife. If they are united in the Lord, their goal should be to live for Him.

A dear friend of mine spent a great deal of his time traveling around the world to preach the gospel while his precious wife remained at home perhaps two-thirds of the year to care for their little family. I once remarked to her, “It must get awfully lonely for you. You hardly have any married life living like this.”

Her eyes filled with tears and she said, “The day my husband and I were married, we promised each other that we would never let our personal comfort interfere with our devotion to the work of the Lord. I believe He called my husband for this great evangelistic ministry and therefore I am glad to keep the house while he goes out to his work.”

I said, “I have a choice tidbit for you. Have you noticed what David said concerning those that abide by the stuff while the others go out to war? He said, ‘As his part is that goeth down to the battle, so shall his part be that tarrieth by the stuff (1 Samuel 30:24). And so if you carry out your part, when the judgment seat of Christ is set up and you and your husband stand there before God, if he is to be rewarded in that day for winning thousands of precious souls, you will get half of the reward even though you could not go out and do the preaching.”

The principle is that everyone is to act in view of the fact that time indeed is fleeting. The Lord’s return is nearing and no consideration of personal comfort is to be allowed to hinder devotion to the will of God.

So “they that have wives be as though they had none” and, Paul added, “they that weep, as though they wept not.” The apostle did not mean that you must not weep; he meant that if you do weep now, you can be joyful even in the midst of your sorrow if you are looking on to the glad day of the Lord’s return. The causes of weeping will soon be over and God will wipe away all tears from your eyes.

And since “the time is short… they that buy [should be] as though they possessed not.” You cannot get through this world without buying; it is impossible to live on this earth without spending something for physical comfort as you go along. But do not set your heart upon such possessions; do not let your affections be entwined about earthly things. It is perfectly right and proper to enjoy many privileges here—God “giveth us richly all things to enjoy” (1 Timothy 6:17)—but do not let the spirit of the world get hold of you. While enjoying the good things that God in His grace lavishes on you, do not set your heart on them, for they are all fleeting; they will be gone some day. If your treasure is all here, when everything here has disappeared, what will you have left? If you have Christ, you have that which satisfies the soul even when everything else is gone. Remember that the “fashion of this world passeth away.”

The apostle was careful to explain that he did not intend to put people under legal restriction when he said that under certain circumstances the single life was preferable and possibly the wiser choice. Evidently the explanation was necessary because within a century and a half after these words were written, monasticism had come into the church. Some people lived in deserts and caves as hermits and took vows never to marry, and communities of monks and nuns were supposed to be holier than other people because they were dedicated to a virgin life. So Paul said in effect, “I am not urging anything like that on you when I speak, but I want to point out that in these troubled times those who remain single may have less anxiety than those who marry.” He told the Corinthians, “I would have you without carefulness.”

What a crushing burden must have rested on the heart of a husband and father who had to go away on a mission at a time when his family was exposed to persecution and perhaps a cruel and awful death! He would not have been able to get his loved ones out of his mind and thus he would have found it difficult to serve the Lord without distraction. So Paul said, “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord.” An unmarried man may have said, “I have only one life anyway, and if I am called to lay it down for the Lord, very well.” It would have been a great deal harder for him to say that if he had had to think of a wife and children in grave danger because of affliction and persecution.

“He that is married,” Paul said, “careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” This was not meant as a slur, as though it were wrong to be occupied with temporal things. A married man has to think of the provision for and the safety of his loved ones. It is very right and proper that he should.

There is the same difference “between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman [if dedicated to the work of the Lord] careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit.” Some of the most wonderful Christians who have ever lived have been women who for Christ’s sake chose never to marry so that they could devote their lives to the service of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I never quite understand why married people who have the comforts of home often speak in a disparaging and unkind way of unmarried people. I should think, if marriage is so delightful, that married people would talk in a very tender and sympathetic way of people who have not married, but instead of that they speak sometimes in a contemptuous way. I never like to hear people say, “Oh, she is just an old maid,” or “He is just an old bachelor.” To them I say, “Wait a moment! That bachelor may be glorifying the Lord in a way he could not have if he were the head of a household. That maiden lady may be rendering wonderful service to God and humanity.” I repeat, some of the most devoted Christians I have ever known have been unmarried men and women who gave themselves wholly to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ. All honor to them!

Paul wrote, “I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you.” Continuing the theme, he said in effect, “You are perfectly free to choose in the Lord which life you want to lead. I am simply exhorting you concerning that which seems appropriate so that you can serve the Lord without any conflicting interests. If you have lived up to the present time unmarried, but after thinking it all over you still think it might be better for you to marry, do what you want; you do not sin in being married. On the other hand, if you can stand steadfast against temptation, if you do not feel any particular yearning for the marriage relationship and have resolved in your heart to live singly, do that. Whether you keep your virginity or you do not keep it, you are doing well as long as you live unto the Lord. Under the present circumstances, however, he who does not marry does better.”

Laying down a more definite principle, Paul said, “The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth.” Mark this; do not let anyone miss this. Paul did not say, “As long as the man liveth”; he said, “As long as her husband liveth.” Our Lord Jesus showed that there is one sin that dissolves the marriage relationship, so if he who was her husband became an adulterer, he ended the marriage, although he may be forgiven.

“If her husband be dead,” Paul continued, “she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.” What does “only in the Lord” mean? It means that a Christian must do a great deal more than just follow his or her own fancy. We are distinctly told in 2 Corinthians 6:14 that we are not to be “unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” If you are a Christian and unmarried and you have never thought this through, take this principle to heart. If you ever contemplate marriage, put it out of your mind at once that you might possibly marry somebody who is unsaved. That would be positive disobedience to the Word of God. Of course if you are saved while married to an unsaved person, remember the instruction in 1 Corinthians 7 not to leave him or her; pray that he or she may be brought to Christ. But if you are not married, settle it in your mind that you will never permit your affections to be entwined around an unsaved person.

An old Puritan said, “If you are a child of God and you marry a child of the devil, you will be sure to have trouble with your father-in-law.” Do not forget it. For a child of God to take the devil for his father-in-law is a fearful mistake; nothing but problems will follow, for God has said so in His Word.

You may say, “Well, I am thinking of being married, so I must marry a Christian person.” That is good but something even more than that is meant by the phrase “in the Lord.” One is to be led by the Lord in this important matter as truly as in anything else, so marriage “in the Lord” is marriage in subjection to Him whom we own as Lord and Christ.

“Oh,” you may then say, “if I marry in the Lord, I will always be happy and never have any troubles!” That is not necessarily true, but when the troubles come you can affirm, “The Lord gave me this husband, or wife, and the Lord will give me grace to get along with him, or her.” When your marriage is of the Lord, the Lord will enable you to get through any problems to His honor and glory.

Finally, speaking of the widow who “is at liberty to be married,” the apostle said, “She is happier if she so abide, after my judgment.” Again he was giving inspired judgment, but not a command. It is good sound judgment, for a second marriage is often a mistake, though of course sometimes it is a blessing.

I think there might be a little irony in the last part of 7:40. There were some people questioning Paul’s apostleship and judgment, so he added, “I think also that I have the Spirit of God.” In other words, “Some say I haven’t, but I think I have.” He wrote these words as truly by inspiration as when he penned that matchless eighth chapter of Romans.

Let me bring you back to 1 Corinthians 7:29: “This I say, brethren, the time is short.” We have only a little while to testify for God. As Christians we should seek to use every moment for His glory. Whatever our circumstances are, we should earnestly seek to be used in blessing for a lost world. We should put out of our lives anything that hinders fellowship with God and usefulness in testimony.

If you are unsaved, take Paul’s warning especially to heart. The time when mercy is being offered is quickly slipping by.

Life at best is very brief,
Like the falling of a leaf,
Like the binding of a sheaf:
Be in time!

Fairest flowers soon decay,
Youth and beauty pass away,
Oh, you have not long to stay:
Be in time!

Our Lord’s return draws near; death too is ever following on your track, and if you are unsaved, you are still outside of Christ. In grace He “came from Godhead’s fullest glory down to Calvary’s depth of woe” for your redemption. Does He not deserve to have you trust Him and confess Him openly as your Savior? “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9).