RPM, Volume 13, Number 32, August 7 to August 13, 2011

1 Corinthians 7:25-31

A Sermon

By Scott Lindsay

We are continuing this morning in our study of Paul's first letter to the Corinthians, picking up at verse 25 of chapter 7 and working through to verse 31. In our previous look at 1 Corinthians we concentrated on 7:17-24 but in doing so we noted that, in reality, those verses were part of a larger unit that ran from verse 17 through to verse 40.

Now, if you look at Chapter 7 in its entirety, what you find is that, generally speaking, the first 16 verses of this chapter are dealing with people who are already married or who were formerly married and then the last half of the chapter deals mostly, although not exclusively, with those who have never been married, with a little recap about the formerly married at the end. Throughout the entire chapter the one main thing that Paul keeps saying over and over, regardless of what category people find themselves in, is, "Wherever possible, remain as you are".

As we saw in our study of verses 17-24, which forms the middle section of the chapter, Paul, in those verses, starts to unpack some of the reasons behind this teaching that the Corinthians should "remain as they are". He begins with a kind of general statement of principle, followed by some broad applications of that principle.

In the section before us this morning, verses 25-31, Paul moves beyond merely stating the principle to giving some further reasons behind this principle that he keeps insisting upon. And then, as before, he provides some further applications of these things in some specific instances.

So, in a very sketchy sort of way, that's what we'll be looking at this morning. Before we go any further with that, let's pray together....

Father in Heaven, please help us to understand what is before us in your Word this morning. Give us a glad willingness to hear all that you are saying and to receive it as the Fatherly conversation that it is - from you to the Corinthians and through them to us - and help us to receive it now as the Divine revelation that it is - showing us something of Yourself and making plain to us things about you that we would not and could not have come to know on our own. Lord help us to not only listen but to truly hear. Cause these truths to get inside of us and grip us so that they become a part of who we are and who you are making us to be. And we ask this in Jesus' name, Amen.
Now, before we look at some of Paul's further reasons for his "remain as you are" principle, and before we get to some particular applications of that, I want to spend a couple minutes on the front end just dealing with a few preliminary matters which will help us make better sense of what Paul is saying here.

First, as verse 25 indicates, Paul's words here are not based upon a specific, previous command or teaching of the Lord Jesus in this area - which is similar to what we saw in verse 12. This is what he means when he says, "I have no command from the Lord." He simply means, "I am now talking about something which Jesus himself never directly spoke about".

That being said, while Jesus himself did not give any specific teaching on this subject, it does not mean that what is said here is any less authoritative. Most of the Bible consists of things that Jesus didn't say but that many other people said and yet these are no less inspired. Why? Because they come to us through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit as part of Scripture. And so, Paul, as he does in other places, gives us the Spirit's wisdom on these matters and thus his words are completely relevant for God's people in every age.

A second preliminary matter has to do with Paul's opening statement, "Now about virgins...." There are a couple things to point out here. For starters, when Paul says, "Now about..." - when he uses this phrase, this is the literary cue which tell us that he is now picking up another one of the questions the Corinthians have addressed to him. We saw this in chapter 7:1, we will see it again at 8:1, and then much later on at 12:1. And so, among the Corinthians' many questions to Paul about relationships was included this one about "virgins".

Now exactly who were these "virgins" about whom Paul is speaking? These are, as the word suggests, those men and women in Corinth who had never had sexual relations with anyone - in short, these were the "singles" in Corinth. Now, because a little later on, at vs36, there is reference to a particular subset of singles at Corinth - i.e., those who are engaged to be married - because of that some translations have rendered Paul's words in verse 25 as "those who are engaged" - trying to create some consistency.

But, at the end of the day, we need not try and be more precise than the Bible itself tries to be. This passage is most likely referring to both engaged and un-engaged singles and so "virgins" in vs25 is quite appropriate. And, at any rate, regardless of what category they fell into, and keeping in mind the exceptions already noted earlier in this chapter (those who struggle with sexual self-control and those who are un-biblically divorced) Paul's preferred word to both the engaged and the un-engaged is consistent - "remain as you are" which, at this point means "remain single".

Which leaves us with the third and final preliminary observation: How the Corinthians - and us through them - are to regard this instruction to "remain as you are" - especially as this applies to those who are single. Is Paul intending to give a command here that must be obeyed - or is he merely providing wise, godly counsel that, in the nature of the case, allows for flexibility in its application? The answer to that question comes from looking carefully at Paul's own words, in context.

While there can be no doubt that, for reasons we shall soon see, Paul has a preference for the single Corinthians to remain single, if they can - he also says in the same breath - at verse 28 - that if these single Corinthians end up marrying anyway, then they have not sinned in doing so. So, Paul's counsel for remaining single has a built in option to do otherwise. In short, the single Corinthians are free to many. What's more, the counseling-as-opposed-to-commanding nature of these comments is further confirmed later on in the passage, at verse 35 when, in summary fashion, Paul says that he has said what he has said to benefit them but not to restrict them.

So Paul is not issuing a hard and fast command here. You need to remember that. However, having said all that, let me also say that this is not the end of the matter. After all, the freedom to do a thing does not imply an obligation to do it. The question before the Corinthians in this matter is not "Which is right and which is wrong?" but rather, "Which is better and which is best?" And that means asking, NOT, "What is the best situation for me?" but instead, "What is the best situation for the Kingdom of God?" That is a much HARDER question. And I'm convinced that not nearly enough people, and not nearly enough SINGLE people are asking it.

With those preliminary comments in mind, let's turn now to consider this first main reason that Paul gives for his continued application of this "remain as you are" principle to the good people of Corinth. In verse 26 Paul says, "...because of the present crisis I think it is good for you to remain as you are" which has in view at this point in the passage mainly those who are single - although Paul does echo briefly in vs27 his previous teaching about the married maintaining their status too. But returning to vs26 for the moment, the obvious question is, "What "crisis" is Paul talking about here? What could he possibly mean by this?" And, in response to that, the commentators have offered several possibilities:

One view is that Paul is referring to some historical circumstance like a famine that was going on, the reference to which the Corinthians would have immediately understood since they were living in the middle of it but which would, because of our removal from their day and time, not be as obvious to us. This is perhaps a possibility. Historical records other than the Bible do indicate that there was such a problem in Corinth around the time that we believe Paul to have written this letter. And, while there is no direct statement in support of this in the letter itself, other than possibly this one, there are some statements made which, if indeed there was a famine going on, would fit with this suggestion.

For example, in Chapter 11 Paul rebukes some of the Corinthians for basically making pigs out of themselves at their fellowship supper while other people went hungry. In a time of famine such behavior would be especially heinous. Indeed, that may have been one extra motivation for their getting together in the first place - to share what little food they had amongst themselves. If this was what Paul was referring to - if he was in fact talking about a famine situation, then one could see how remaining single - would be something to consider. After all, in the midst of a famine - to secure three meals a day for yourself is challenge enough. To then have the responsibility for securing it for yourself and a wife, and then for whatever children might come along - that is even a greater challenge. So this is a possibility. However, in light of what he says in verse 29 - which he offers as a kind of clarification - and which we'll look at in a moment - in light of that, it does not seem like this is the best explanation.

A second option, and one that has more direct support from earlier portions of Corinthians, is that the present "crisis" is talking about the hardship and even persecution that Paul and other believers are starting to undergo on account of their faith. You see evidence of this in 1 Cor 4:11-13 where Paul talked about being a spectacle to the world, about being hungry and thirsty, about being homeless and persecuted, etc. That certainly qualifies as a "crisis" situation and you could certainly understand why one would think twice about bringing a spouse and children into the midst of circumstances such as that, or, conversely, abandoning a spouse and children in the midst of something like that.

However, as with the previous option, while this situation no doubt was a reality - and thus a kind of crisis in it's own right - it still does not fully make sense of Paul's comments later on as he tries to clarify what he means by all of this.

So, in light of these things, it seems to me that the best understanding of what Paul means by "this present crisis" - and this is not absolutely certain - is that Paul is referring to the particular way in which he understood the momentous changes that had come about because of the life, death, and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ. His coming created or initiated a "crisis" situation.

Now, the word "crisis" here may throw you a little bit. And that's because the word here in the original language is not used in quite the same manner as the english word used to translate it. We, in our own day, use the word crisis to talk about a "panic stations" sort of situation - one where you run for the phone and dial 911. But that is not quite the same sense in which this word was typically used in Paul's day. The idea here is more one of "necessity" or of a situation that has arisen which is serious and which, by its nature, forces one to a point of decision.

So, seen in this way, the phrase "this present crisis" functions as a kind of umbrella description of a situation which he then clarifies later on in this paragraph by saying, in vs29, "What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short", and then later "for the present form of this world is passing away", in vs31. And so, if we're going to understand what Paul means by crisis we need to think about these other two phrases as well. What does Paul mean by these phrases?

Let's think about the phrase in vs29 for a moment - "the time is short". Now that phrase, which admittedly is quite brief, is nevertheless full of significance. It's a small phrase that packs a big punch. At the outset let me make it clear what this phrase doesn't mean. Paul's use of this phrase doesn't mean that he was operating under this belief that the end was, literally, only a few years away. If that WAS what he meant then we would have to conclude that he was clearly and sadly mistaken about that.

But this isn't what Paul was talking about. We know that because this is the same Paul who knew his Lord's teachings well - that, as Jesus said, no one knew the day and the hour when the end would come. Paul is aware of that teaching. And this is the same Paul who wrote 1st and 2nd Thessalonians where, in one place he talked about a number of things that had to happen before the end would come and who, in another place said to the Thessalonians, in essence, "Don't give up your DAY job sitting around being idle and thinking that any day now the end will be here."

Paul's view that "the time was short", then, was not a function of his assumption or prediction that the end was near, or that he could see that end. Rather, it was a function of his understanding that Christ's life, death and resurrection were the turning point of history and that this event introduced or inaugurated the final age. Christ's coming didn't fully and completely usher in the final age - that was the mistake that many of the Corinthians had made and is the reason their "clocks" were all wrong, as we've seen previously. Rather, Christ's coming was the dawning of the last great age. It was the inauguration which would only be fully consummated when Christ returns.

How can we best understand this? It's something like this: It's like going to a 2 Act play and about half way through, and typically, more than half way through, you have intermission. Now once intermission has come and gone and you take your seats again and the lights go down, you know that you are in the final portion of the play. You know this not so much because you know what is front of you. Right? You've never seen this play before. You don't know what's coming. You don't know how long it will actually be. But this much you DO KNOW: You know what is behind you - this wonderful thing called "intermission". This thing that you look back upon, and is your great and shining hope (at least if it's a bad play) and which says to you, "Hang on" the end IS coming. So, you know there was an "intermission" and you know that you are on the other side of that.

So, even though you can't say when the end will come, you know you are in the final act of the play. Paul's understanding of our being in the final age is something like that. The Cross was the pivotal event in human history - the grand turning point - the Divine Intermission and Intervention, if you will, and which has changed everything - and therefore has changed the way we are to view everything. Because we are in that final age, because we live on the other side of the cross, the time is indeed "short" and we are to live in a state of readiness - like the servants in Luke 12 who keep their lamps trimmed and ready, waiting for their master to return.

And this reality is further amplified by Paul's statement in vs31 that - "the present form of this world is passing away" - This age, and all that is associated with it, is fading away, even as the final age is dawning and God's Kingdom - like the mustard seed - is growing and expanding. Paul's words here again bring to mind Jesus' words in Luke 20, which we have already seen where, after being confronted on the issue of marriage in heaven, Jesus said, "The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that age and to the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage."

What's he saying? He's saying what Paul is echoing here, that the present form of this world IS passing away. And so this, I believe, is the "crisis" Paul is talking about - the situation that has brought and continues to bring God's people - His Church - to the point of decision. This is the reality ushered in by Jesus' first coming which certainly has led to things like persecution and hardship but, on a bigger scale has the practical effect of influencing our thoughts and actions in every sphere of life - including how we relate to one another and whether we are good stewards of our marriages and good stewards of our singleness. The priority of the Kingdom and the urgency of the Kingdom ought to affect that way we are in the world.

It's sort of like what often happens in a football game when the score is close and you get down to the end of the game and the two minute warning sounds and, all of the sudden, there is a shift in strategy. You change from your normal offense to your TWO MINUTE OFFENSE or your TWO MINUTE DEFENSE. Things that were important before are now not as important in the final two minutes of the game.

In a similar fashion, Paul is saying that the Corinthians ought not view life as if they have a lot of time left on the clock but rather, for the Kingdom's sake, they are to remember the cross and so, because of that, consider that their time is short. They are to remember that the present form of this world is passing away - and live accordingly. They are to err on the side of urgency rather than on the side of complacency. They are to live lives that are Gospel and Kingdom centered and not centered upon something else.

This is the significance of Paul's words in verses 29-31. As you go through these verses what you see is a kind of catalogue covering some of the main things that, if we allow them, will become "centers" in our lives and will try and replace what is the only legitimate center for our life - God and His purposes. These other rivals include things like marriage (vs29), things like our personal pain/or the avoidance of it (vs30), things like the pursuit of pleasure (vs30), or the pursuit of material things (vs30), or just "using" the world - i.e., taking opportunistic advantage OF the world to further one's position IN the world (vs31).

Paul doesn't miss much here. That's a pretty comprehensive listing. And, to be sure, all of these things, in the right perspective, are good things, but out of perspective are potential idols or "rivals" for the center of our lives. They are alternative points of reference for us that can become the focal point - the core of our meaning - rather than the pursuit of God and His Kingdom. But it is the pursuit of that relationship - that concern - is to be for us the CENTER. It is to be the truth that relativizes all other truths, the truth by which we evaluate and consider every other reality in our life.

All of this explains the strong and even exaggerated language that Paul uses here about those with wives living as if they had none, and those who mourn, living as if they did not, etc. Now clearly, given his already strong statements about marriage and its goodness and preservation, etc. Paul is obviously not now taking all of that back. Rather, he is saying that relative to the priority of the Kingdom, these other things take on a diminished significance.

It's a lot like something Jesus said when he told his disciples that, if they wanted to follow him they must hate their father and mother. Now Jesus, who clearly upheld the 10 commandments in his own life, did not mean that they should "literally" generate vicious feelings toward their parents. His comments were not so much a reflection on their concern for their parents but rather they were a reflection of how much greater was their concern to honor the Lord - a comparison that caused everything else to pale into insignificance.

The same sort of thing is going on in these verses. Relative to the priority of the Kingdom, everything else takes a back seat, including good things like marriage. Let me say it again. It is not that the things listed here are inherently "bad" or "evil". They are not. Marriage and family are good things, wonderful things, things that have been ordained and blessed by God. However, if pursuing those things results, practically, in your ignoring your Christian family or if it results in a kind of minimalist involvement with advancing the Gospel and Kingdom through your local church - then guess what? You have a problem.

The same thing could be said with regard to the matter of pain and hardship - It is one thing to deal honestly and realistically with the trouble and difficulty that is a necessary part of this life. But when either dealing with it - or perhaps running from it - becomes the defining characteristic of your life - when it becomes the all-important issue to which all other things must defer - including your partnership with the work of the Gospel - then you've got a problem.

When the pursuit of material goods and financial security and status and power become the center around which everything turns, when the consistent pattern of your life is that whenever ministry opportunities or service opportunities or kingdom challenges conflict with the idol - the idol almost always wins - if THAT is the consistent pattern of your life - then you have a problem.

If you don't know what your particular idol is, then just follow the blood trail and it will lead you right to it. Just identify the thing that you would give up everything else for, the thing on whose altar you sacrifice your time and money and relationships and commitment to your brothers and sisters in Christ - just follow the blood trail, and you'll find your idol.

Just in case I haven't been clear, let me say it again. Paul is not saying that marriage is bad - it's not, it's great, it's important, it's a priority - but it's not THE priority, it's not everything, it's not the ultimate thing, and it can become an idol - so don't let it.

Further, he's not saying with regard to suffering - "just grin and bear it" or "just suck it up and get going" - he's not trivializing the very real difficulty and hardship that we can and do and must face in this life. Rather, he's saying don't let those things define who you are or how you live, don't let them become the center - because your pain/or the avoidance of it - can distract you from keeping the kingdom a priority - so don't let it.

Likewise with all the other things mentioned here. As one commentator puts it, " we are to live "as if not" - i.e., we are to live fully in the world but not controlled by its systems or values. Why? Because of the present crisis or necessity, because the clock is running, because we live in a world whose forms and values and structures are fading away and are being replaced by the forms and values and structures of the Kingdom of God.

So, here then is one reason for "remaining as they are" an essentially theological reason: Because the coming of Christ has changed the whole picture, the clocks are all different, although not in the way that the Corinthians have wrongly viewed it. Half-time is over, intermission is finished, we are in the final age before the return of Christ. And that reality changes everything - it creates a crisis, a necessity, it has forced the people of God to a point of decision - a personal decision as regards how we live with one another relationally, a decision regarding how we live out the implications of the Gospel before a world that does not love God, nor does it want to be reminded of its rebellion against him.

These verses lead us to a point of decision that will not allow us to just coast through life, following the patterns of those around us, taking our cues, for the most part, from what everybody else is doing. These verses create a point of decision that requires us to live more than just reactively but instead, pro-actively, thoughtfully, reflectively, putting forth the necessary effort to determine the difference between that which is good, and that which is better, what is lasting and what is only for this life. A point of decision that demands that we think outside of the box.

Now there's more to be said about this, and more in particular to be said to those who are single and, hopefully, we will wrap that up next week as we see Paul's second reason for his "remain as you are" principle and then try and summarize some of the main points from this chapter. Let's pray together....

This article is provided as a ministry of Third Millennium Ministries (Thirdmill). If you have a question about this article, please email our Theological Editor.

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