Making sense of 1 Corinthians 7

I chose not to pick a verse today or maybe it was that a verse chose not to pick me.  This section of scripture has always been a baffling one for me as it seems Paul carries on and on about the topic of marriage and sex.  He says it one way, then another, then another, then another…. and so on.  When I read this I wonder why felt he needed to break it down for these people.  I wonder why such an in depth teaching was so necessary.  And it doesn’t even have much that is helpful.  He ends the whole thing by saying either way is fine, really.  You can get married or not – it is not a sin issue.  He just happens to think being single is the way to go.  How is this at all helpful?

In order to answer this question we need to look to the context of this chapter.  First, we need to remember that the words Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 7 were not written to be scripture bound in a book – at least not by Paul.  Rather, 1 Corinthians is a letter to the church at Corinth and it seems that this letter is a response to a letter that they sent him:

1 Corinthians 7:1-2 1 Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry. 2 But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.

I just wonder what that letter to Paul said.  “Paul, lot’s of people in the church are having sex with each other.  What do we do?”  Or maybe, “people in the church are trying to stay unmarried like we know you want, but it is getting them into some trouble.  Now what?”   We will probably never know what the question was, but we do know it led Paul to give a VERY lengthy response to this whole sex and marriage topic.  We need to keep that in mind when reading a chapter like this.  I find it hard to believe that Paul really felt people should get married just because they couldn’t – how do I say this – contain themselves.  Is that really why someone should get married?  Well, in the case of Corinth, it seems that marriage was a necessary escape for all the mess they had got themselves into.

Marriage is the avenue in which God intended our sexual nature to be expressed and fulfilled.  And for those who have the need to have that area fulfilled, Paul writes, they should get married.  Not only that, if you are married, it is the only avenue in which you should be fulfilled.  You shouldn’t be looking elsewhere for it, because God created man and women to fulfill each other.  Paul writes that you should be freely giving yourselves to each other as husbands and wives.  Doing so will keep sinful desires in check.

So if you wonder why Paul didn’t give other reasons for getting married like, “companionship” or “it’s God’s design for a family,” keep in mind that he was answering a question.  He needed to help straighten out a mess.  Hopefully through this lens, 1 Corinthians 7 will make a little more sense.

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