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LESSON 6 - CHRISTIAN SEXUALITY (1 CORINTHIANS 7)

Copr. 1998, Bruce N. Cameron, J.D.  All Scripture references are to
the New International Version (NIV), copr. 1973, 1978, 1984
International Bible Society,  unless otherwise noted. Quotations
from the NIV are used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
Suggested answers are found within parentheses. The lesson assumes
the teacher uses a blackboard.

INTRODUCTION: This week our study is 1 Corinthians 7 and Paul's
controversial statements about marriage. Let's dive in!

I. HUMANITY: THE MARRYING TYPE?

     A. Read 1 Corinthians 7:1-2. Paul's letter is a response to
     one or more letters the Corinthian church had written to him.
     Looking at v.1, what do you find is one of the topics about
     which the Corinthians wrote to Paul? (Whether to get married.)

     B. When a client writes me a letter with several questions, it
     is common that I repeat each question (in at least an
     abbreviated form) before I answer it. This helps to make my
     advice less confusing. With this background, in the second
     half of v.1, is Paul stating his opinion or just repeating the
     question of the Corinthians? (Our lesson suggests (Sunday)
     that Paul is just repeating the question. If that were true,
     then v.8 is pretty hard to explain.)

          1. Let's give the lesson the benefit of the doubt and say
          that the second half of v.1 is not Paul's opinion, but a
          mere repetition of the Corinthians' question. Is Paul
          recommending marriage in vv. 1-2? (This would hardly
          qualify as a ringing endorsement! The phrase, "damned by
          faint praise," keeps coming to mind.)

          2. If Paul is in favor of marriage, what is his basis for
          supporting marriage? (Verse 2: to avoid sexual
          immorality. What a grudging and negative support for
          marriage!)

               a. If they were not surrounded by this sinful
               atmosphere, would Paul endorse marriage? (It seems
               not.)

     C. Read vv. 3-6. Is verse 3 a continuation of Paul's thought
     in v. 2? (No doubt. To avoid sinfulness, each spouse should do
     his or her "duty" to the other.)

          1. Just in case you had any doubt, the word translated
          "duty" (ofeileen) is the same word for the obligation to
          pay taxes (Romans 13:7) or overdue debts (Matthew 18:32).

          2. Is a pattern beginning to emerge in Paul's view of the
          marriage relationship?
 

     D. As you consider the general Biblical view of marriage, is
     it consistent with these verses in 1 Corinthians 7?  Is the
     general Biblical view of marriage that:

          1. It is permitted to avoid sin; and

          2. The sexual relationship is a duty, akin to paying your
          taxes or overdue debts?

               a. What is the Biblical view of marriage set forth
               in Genesis 2:18 at creation? ("Not good for man to
               be alone." Obviously, no issue of a sexually
               immoral atmosphere in Eden.)

               b. What is the Biblical view of marriage set forth
               by Moses? (Deuteronomy 24:5. A matter of happiness
               that is more important than defending Israel -- as
               least in the beginning.)

               c. What is the Biblical view of marriage set forth
               by Jesus? (See Matthew 19:4-6. Jesus refers back to
               the Genesis situation.)

          3. Has Paul completely fallen off the wagon? How can his
          advice be so at odds with the rest of the Bible?

               a. Is it possible for Paul's advice to be at odds
               with the rest of the Bible since 2 Timothy 3:16
               tells us "All Scripture is God-breathed and is
               useful for teaching....?" ALL Scripture!

                    (1)(This afternoon, when you get home, consider
                    how 1 Corinthians 1:14-16 fits into the "God-
                    breathed" idea. Can the Holy Spirit be
                    forgetful? Uncertain?  Consider also Paul's
                    statement in 1 Corinthians 7:12 that he is
                    giving personal advice, and not God's advice.
                    Does the Holy Spirit let the human instrument
                    get off on a "toot of his own?" Is this
                    consistent with the concept of "God-breathed"
                    Scripture? It seems the answers must be, "Yes
                    -- at least to some extent.")

               b. Before we conclude that Paul is "off on a toot,"
               we need to read more of what he says so that we can
               properly interpret his writings.

     E. Read 1 Corinthians 7:7-16. Is there a common principle in
     here? A common thread in Paul's statements about marriage?
     (Yes. Skip ahead to vv. 32-34. He seems to be focussing on
     promoting the kingdom of God. If you are single, you can focus
     more completely on promoting the kingdom. If you cannot stand
     to be single because of your passions, you should marry (v.9).
     If you are married to an unbeliever, if you stay with them you
     may convert (sanctify) him (v.14). But you are not required to
     remain married to an unbeliever who wants out. Why? "God has
     called us to live in peace." (v.15))

     F. Is Paul's advice on marriage more practical advice than
     eternal principles?

     G. Does God have "hard and fast" rules about marriage?  Has He
     always had "hard and fast" rules? (Turn with me to Matthew 19.
     Read Matthew 19:3-12.

          1. What does Jesus seem to say is the ideal? (If you
          marry, stay married.)  Since Jesus refers back to Genesis
          2:24, and God said (in Genesis 2:18) that it was good to
          be married, Jesus endorses marriage by this reference.)

          2. Did God ever make exceptions to this rule? (Yes. Verse
          8 says that divorce was permitted "because your hearts
          were hard." (See Deuteronomy 24:1-4.) Note that Jesus
          says "it was not this way from the beginning." This shows
          us that at least some of His listeners thought that
          divorce had always been permitted.)

          3. What is the disciples' reaction to hearing this rule
          on divorce? (They are shocked! If you cannot get out of
          a marriage, they thought it better not to marry in the
          first place! (v.10))

          4. What does verse 11 mean?

               a. Is Jesus accepting the disciples' remark "it is
               better not to marry" and saying that not everyone
               can refrain from marriage to avoid the "marriage
               standard?"

               b. Or, is Jesus saying that  we still have an
               exception to the rule of "no divorce and
               remarriage?"

          5. Does v. 12 tend to support "a" or "b" above?

(The short answer is, "I don't know."  My initial reaction is that
Jesus still allows an exception. Consider the dialogue in vv. 9-12.
Jesus first gives (in the view of the disciples) a shockingly
difficult standard for marriage. In response, the disciples say,
"If this is true, forget marriage!" What "word" (v.11 "not everyone
can accept this word...") then, would Jesus logically be referring
to? The "no divorce" "word" He gave in v.9 or the "word" of the
disciples to "forget marriage?"  It seems more reasonable that
Jesus is referring to His original statement of the standard, and
not the disciples' reaction. On the other hand, verse 12 seems to
be an acknowledgement that the disciples have suggested the only
"safe course" (celibacy) to avoid the "no divorce" rule. But He
seems to say this is not for everyone. Some are able to renounce
marriage to advance the kingdom of heaven.
     Having given you my reaction, three commentaries that I read
(Matthew Henry; Adam Clarke; Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown all
disagree with me and say that the "word" Jesus refers to in v. 11
is the disciples' statement about abstaining from marriage. Elwell
agrees with me that the "word" of v.11 refers to Jesus' no divorce
standard, but concludes that the balance of v.11 means that if you
cannot meet the standard, you best not get married. I defer to
these commentators and am grateful this is not an issue for me
because I have been married only once, to the "wife of my youth.")

     H. Do you see a parallel in Matthew 19:12 and Paul's statement
     in 1 Corinthians 7:32-33? (Jesus does not endorse or condemn
     the idea that a person can renounce marriage "because of the
     kingdom of heaven."  Since He does not condemn that idea, we
     cannot say Paul was "off on a toot" when he elaborates on the
     idea that a single person can be more fully devoted to
     promoting the kingdom. A critical principle of the gospel is
     giving up yourself to promote the kingdom. This fits into that
     principle.)

II. "SAMENESS"

     A. Many years ago, my wife's father died. Right after his
     death, the children were suggesting changes to the home, etc.
     that his widow might like to make.  She was adamant,
     vociferous even, that she believed in "sameness."  No changes!
     Then a few months later, she remarried and left hardly
     anything unchanged!  Let's read what Paul says about
     "sameness:" 1 Corinthians 7:17-24.

          1. Is Paul referring only to our marriage situation
          remaining static? (No.)

          2. If Paul is going beyond marriage, how would you apply
          this message to your situation today?

          3. I have seen individuals, after they became converted,
          change their career to go to the seminary or become a
          literature evangelist. What does Paul advise on this?
          (The key is found in vv. 20 and 24: do what God called
          you to do.  If God has called you to witness in your
          current job, do not believe you must quit your job,
          uproot your family and go to the seminary to please Him.
          Even a lawyer can promote the gospel!)

III. THE PRESENT CRISIS

     A. Read 1 Corinthians 7:25-31. Does Paul give us an
     explanation for his advice promoting being single and
     remaining as we are? (Yes, the "present crisis." (v.26. See
     also vv. 29,31)

          1. What do you think Paul meant by the "present crisis?"
          (It could be trouble of any sort.  However, his reference
          in v.31 to "this world in its present form is passing
          away" must be a reference to the second coming of Christ.
          The fact that Paul believed the second coming was
          imminent is clear from 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.  If he
          had not thought that Jesus was coming within his
          lifetime, he would have simply said, "Hey, its not a
          problem (your friends dying, that is). We are all going
          to be dead before Jesus comes again!")

     B. Read Ephesians 5:23-33. How is this positive view of
     marriage (and even a reference back to the Genesis view!)
     consistent with the "dark" view of marriage that Paul gives us
     in 1 Corinthians 7? (Barclay suggests (Letters to the
     Corinthians, pp. 69-70) that when Paul wrote Ephesians he
     realized that Jesus was not coming back immediately.  "Had
     Paul thought that he and his converts were living in a
     permanent situation, he would never have written as he did [in
     1 Corinthians 7]." The notes to the NIV Study Bible place the
     writings of 1 Corinthians and 1 Thessalonians before
     Ephesians. (However, the time spread is not very much.)
     Although Barclay's suggestion is certainly subject to debate,
     I think he has it right; especially when you consider that
     Paul's comments on remaining single in the first half of 1
     Corinthians 7 all focus on promoting the gospel.)

     C. What lesson, if any,  about marriage from 1 Corinthians
     7 can we profit from today? (God approves of being married or
     being single. Although the general tenor of the Bible is to
     uphold the institution of marriage, a person may very well
     elect to remain single to more effectively promote the kingdom
     of heaven.)

IV. NEXT WEEK: FOOD FOR THOUGHT ABOUT IDOLS. 1 Corinthians 8&11.
Study! r
     being single. Although the general tenor of the Bible is to
     uphold the institution of marriage, a person may very well
     elect to remain single to more effectively promote the kingdom
     of heaven.)

IV. NEXT WEEK: FOOD FOR THOUGHT ABOUT IDOLS. 1 Corinthians 8&11.
Study!