1 Corinthians 7:32-40
June 4, 2006
Marriage requires a division of devotion.
I. A married person must have divided devotion (1 Cor 7:32-35)
II. A potentially married person must make a tough choice (1 Cor. 7:36-40)
MessageA great breakthrough in computer development was the recognition that computers could be made to apparently do more than one thing at a time. This capability was called time sharing or multi-tasking: the computer could seem to do more than one job by setting it up so the different tasks could turns on the processor for a little while. The whole concept was pioneered by GE, MIT and Bell Labs in the 1960's in a project called Multics. Multics was never really used, but a stripped down variant called UNIX was, and almost all operating systems in use today are descendants or imitators of those originals. So your Windows or Apple computer appears to run your word processor, play your music, download e-mail and scan for viruses all at the same time. It assigns a high priority to the main task, but it gets the others done.
People are capable of multitasking and time sharing too, and all of us do it to some extent as we combine work, church, family and physical lives. But we dont find it easy; we dont like to be told we have to do it. Yet even the Apostle Paul, without knowing about the technology, saw that there are some things in life so important that they require even our devotion to God to be shared. In 1 Corinthians 7 Paul has talked about commitment; first in marriage and then to God. As the chapter ends he returns to marriage and shows that marriage requires a division of devotion. Our whole devotion needs to be to God, but marriage is supposed to divide our devotion; it requires us to multi-task.
Its important to put this in the context of last weeks verses, where we saw that God is primary and everything else is secondary. Paul wants married people, and all believers to be able to keep God primary in their lives, because, as he said in verse 29, the time is short. We are to live as if Jesus was coming back now, with God as first place in our purposes and motivations, and all other things having second place - even marriage, even mourning, even happiness, even sadness, and certainly material possessions: dont let the things you own own you or the things you do consume you: this world with all its profits, losses and concerns is passing away.
I. A married person must have divided devotion (1 Cor 7:32-35)
God first, all else second; thats the context for this weeks verses. 1 Cor. 7:32-35 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord's affairs--how he can please the Lord. 33But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world--how he can please his wife-- 34and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world--how she can please her husband. 35I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
Verse 32 repeats the thought of verse 28: Paul would like his readers to be spared from the troubles a married person has to have. He says an unmarried man is concerned about the Lords affairs, how he can please the Lord. We could sharpen this by adding should only be: an unmarried man should only be concerned about the Lords affairs. The word concerned is anxious or worried. Its used at a couple of key points in the New Testament. In Matthew 6 this is the word Jesus uses to describe worldly concerns: So do not worry, saying, 'What shall we eat?' or 'What shall we drink?' or 'What shall we wear?' 32For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Clear, clear teaching of primary / secondary: seek first his kingdom.
This is also the word Jesus used with his friend Martha. Luke 10:41 "Martha, Martha," the Lord answered, "you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed. The main thing in life is keeping the main thing the main thing. Finally, Paul uses this word in Philippians Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God will guard you. There is this whole world of worldly concerns and worries and anxieties were not to worry about. But our verse teaches that there is one thing we should be worried about, anxious about, concerned about: the Lords affairs, literally the things of the Lord, and how to please the Lord. If you look at that word please in the Greek it means to satisfy someones desires. So the single man - and Paul will say this of single women as well - is free to concern himself only with the things of God and with satisfying Gods desires. God is to be primary: this is the inescapable calling of Gods people.
Which is why verse 33 is so significant: But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world--how he can please his wife-- 34and his interests are divided. Paul has already said its no sin to marry. Hes said its better to marry than to burn with passion. Hes said married people should stay married and abstinence within marriage isnt a virtue but a stumbling block. So Paul isnt viewing marriage as an evil. But it does divide our attention: it places someone else in a place where we must be anxious to please them. It requires divided devotion. And though such division takes attention away from directly pleasing God, it is still right and good and definitely Gods will for the married person. To put it another way, God allows multi-tasking, and even requires at times - and the primary place is in marriage and family. He wants us to be concerned how to please our wives.
Or how to please our husbands. Verse 34 An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord's affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world--how she can please her husband. The word devoted means sanctified or holy - set apart for the Lords service, which the unmarried woman can be in an undivided way.
Whether she recognizes it or not, she has more freedom to pursue her devotional life and ministry than she will if she gets married. A single woman can minister to many women and girls, as some do here at Trinity. In the same way a single young man can minister to many young men. But Paul is not condemning marriage when he says a married woman is concerned about how to please her husband - hes just stating facts, the way things ought to be. Though the overall principle may be God first, other things are priorities, and the top of the list is marriage, closely followed by family. There are even theological reasons for this: in marriage we become an illustration of the love relationship between Christ and the church and in family we become a witness to the fatherhood of God and the adoption of believers.
So marriage requires divided devotion: devotion to God but also devotion to your marriage partner. You cant righteously neglect your marriage in order to take up some radical service of God, as too many of the 19th century missionaries did, nor can you so focus on the family that service to God is completely subordinated to the life of the home. If you honestly say my only priority in life is my spouse and my children then you have misunderstood Gods will. God intends for all believers, married or single to say my number one priority in life is serving God. He intends you to see that my spouse, my children are a priority for me, but one that works together with my number one priority of serving God.
Verse 35: I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. Paul is not trying to keep believers from being married - to restrict them - but he is convinced its easier to live that life of undivided devotion to the Lord as a single person. And hes right, for some. For others who dont have Pauls gift of singleness, being single can be a greater distraction than being married, as Paul would readily admit. So when he says that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord I dont believe hes saying this occurs only through singleness, but that you individually need to discern whether singleness or marriedness would more divide you.
Theres absolutely no question that marriage requires divided devotion: God as number one priority; spouse and children as a priority that co-exists with the first. What does this entail? First, an inward focus: the family is a ministry field where we serve God: husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church; wives submit to your husbands as to the Lord. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Family is a ministry field. Ive long held that verses like Col. 3:12 are to be lived out first in the family Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. If your self image is to be I am the Lords servant, then its right to see the family as the place the Lord has set you to serve and your spouse and children as a focus of your ministry.
But not all of your ministry; you should also see your family as a ministry team, working to serve the Lord in the larger ministry fields of the church and the world. Seeing your family as a ministry field is priority on God turned inward. Seeing your family as a ministry team is priority on God turned outward. And let me remind you that nearly all New Testament commands presume this outward focus, out to the church and out to the world. Love one another refers to brothers and sisters in Christ, not just in the family. Do not give up the habit of meeting together refers to the family of God, not just your nuclear family. Encourage one another and build each other up refers to the body of Christ. Make disciples refers to ministry among unbelievers. You shall be my witnesses calls us to go to the uttermost ends of the earth. The commands weve received call for a focus beyond the family.
So the family is a mission team. In practice this means that sometimes one member of the family has a ministry calling and the others support that person; sometimes it means the whole family does ministry together. For the Russia project this year Hannah and Ruth and I were part of the team that went; Gail and the others stayed here as the support team. On the other hand, some of the folks going to Mexico next month are going as whole families, and thats cool too. And Im not just talking about missions: its true of whatever service God calls you to do. It might be church stuff; teaching Sunday School or hosting a small group. It might be outreach stuff: going door to door or collecting food in your neighborhood. It might be personal stuff like hospitality to your neighbors or just being friends with people who have problems. All of it is ministry done by you or your spouse or maybe your children because God has first place in your lives and in your family. Though marriage requires you to be divided in devotion, that doesnt mean that God has to lose first place.
II. A potentially married person must make a tough choice (1 Cor. 7:36-40)
So I think weve shown pretty clearly that a married person must have divided devotion. But an unmarried person who recognizes this has a hard choice to make, and Paul doesnt minimize it. 1 Cor. 7:36-40 If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin--this man also does the right thing. 38So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better. 39A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. 40In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is--and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.
Translating verse 36 is hard: its either talking about an engaged couple making a decision about marriage or a father making a decision about his daughters marriage. The New American Standard, for example, says But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, etc. etc., . . . let her marry.
There are many commentators and Bible students who believe the whole concept of an engagement would have been foreign to the culture of the Roman world, and so Paul cant be talking to engaged couples. Thus, though the words father and daughter are not mentioned, some translators insert them in the text. On balance, though, I think its better to take the verse as the New International Version does If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to . . . The English Standard Version, which I often like, takes the same approach If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed . . . The ESV continues if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry--it is no sin. If his passions are strong is the other difficult phrase to translate. It literally means past the peak and some translations take it as referring to a woman past the age of marriage. But the ESV sees it as referring to the man, and I think that makes sense.
No matter which translation you use, the issue is whether its okay for a couple to marry, given the advantages of undivided devotion to God. Paul says if you are convinced you ought to marry, you should do so. But he insists the decision be thoughtful and informed. Verse 37: But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin--this man also does the right thing. Paul lists several things that make a good decision. First, the man has settled the matter in his mind - literally stands steadfast in his heart. You cant make the decision to marry or not impulsively; its a settled conviction, firm over time. Second, under no compulsion. This isnt the passion Paul discussed earlier: this is outside pressure, either from others or from necessity, having behaved inappropriately toward each other. Third, the man has to have self control, authority over his will. This is the passion issue - its better to marry than burn with passion that can lead to sin. Finally, perhaps for emphasis, Paul says again that the man has to have has made up his own mind.
He summarizes in verse 38: So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better. Paul has made it clear that marriage means having a divided devotion. Hes also made it clear that it is nothing sinful or wrong: its simply more complicated than being single. More than anything else in the Christian life, marriage and family require time sharing: those who are already committed to these things must develop the ability to multi-task in a way that allows God to still be primary. Those who are not yet committed should take seriously the division that results from marriage and carefully weigh the matter. As one pastor used to say to people committing to marriage If you arent scared, you dont understand the situation. Marriage is a commitment of your whole self for your whole life, and must co-exist with a commitment to the Lord, heart, soul, mind and strength. If the combination of commitments doesnt daunt you, you really dont understand what youre getting yourself into.
Paul closes with one more marriage situation, that of a widow. Verses 39 and 40: A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. 40In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is--and I think that I too have the Spirit of God. Paul stresses first the permanence of marriage - a wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. This doesnt negate some of the other situations hes mentioned, but it does remind us of a key principle he used to analyze those situations - the principle of commitment. As long as marriage or the possibility of re-marriage continues the wife is to consider herself bound to the husband. The only perfectly clear case, in which she is freed, is when the husband has died - fallen asleep, in Pauls words. Paul says she is free to re-marry anyone she wishes but in the Lord. While Paul recognizes that there will be times when a believer is married to someone who has not yet believed, he is clear that you should marry someone in the Lord, someone who is a believer. If anything this is more clear than Pauls later comment about not being unequally yoked with unbelievers.
Right to the end, verse 40, Paul refrains from saying anything to indicate that there is something morally higher about celibacy. He thinks the widow is happier if she refrains from remarriage, for all the reasons he has already given, but he does not think she sins if she does marry; nor does anyone sin who marries, unless they are violating a previous marriage covenant. Paul stresses his authority to say all this by adding I think I too have the Spirit of God. It may be that some of the Corinthians claimed the Spirits authority in whatever it was they taught - well see some of that later. But without telling them again that he is the Lords apostle, he rather ironically reminds them that he does speak with Gods authority, even when he is telling them that they can do either of two things without sinning.
So what have we seen? God is to have first priority in our lives. But those who are married are required to have divided devotion - to multi-task, to be devoted to God and their family. Some people need to know this because they are single and either are or will be considering marriage. You need to know that without being sinful, marriage does divide your devotion: you need to take that into account when you are seeking Gods will. But many here are already married, and for you the question is how will you deal with this multi-tasking situation? Ive suggested that you need to see your family as a ministry field, but that at the same time you need to see your family as a ministry team, so that together you live out wholehearted devotion to the Lord.