The Expository Files

What Matters

1 Corinthians 7:19

We are hesitant to boast that we have a "favorite passage." We do not want to leave any impression that that one part of God's Word is more important than something else decreed from the same source. The implication that we go through the Bible and just focus on the texts we like is also a message we do not want to send. So if we say anything about a "favorite passage," we feel the need to qualify that and acknowledge our allegiance to all of God's Word. That being said, I think we do have passages that we spend more time with, perhaps that say something to us plainly that we need to hear; or passages we like to use when talking to others about the Lord and His will.

I've never heard anybody say that First Corinthians Seven is there favorite passage! This is the chapter where Paul responds to questions sent to him from members of the church at Corinth. The chapter begins with this important information: "Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me," and then Paul gives his answers. One difficulty we may have with the passage is, we do not have - in direct, specific revelation - their questions. As we read Paul's answers we can draw some good conclusions about what troubled the Corinthians about male-female relationships and marriage. But we are not given, in a precise way, their questions.

There is another cause for this chapter not ordinarily winning the prize as a "favorite passage." It has been subjected to all kinds of abuse, in the hands of those who plead their case in the interests of multiple divorces and remarriages - in spite of what the Lord plainly taught in Matt. 5:32 and 19:9. When a passage is argued about routinely and made the object of offensive controversy ... well, we may just want to skip chapter seven!

We must not. It is an important part of the epistle, and what it teaches can be useful and helpful today. Let me just say what I always say when I teach from this chapter or refer to it: Nothing in this chapter changes what Jesus said about marriage, divorce and remarriage in Matt. 5:32 and Matt. 19:9! I also like to say this: Remarriage is not contemplated anywhere in this chapter, except in one verse! That verse is 39, which concerns the remarriage of a widow.

I have not found anything in 1 Cor. 7 about a permitted remarriage after a divorce! Paul is not telling us everything there is to say about marriage, divorce and remarriage. He is responding to their questions in a time of "present distress" (see verse 26). I know that verse 15 comes up all the time, and the argument is made that the verse permits the abandoned mate to remarry. I cannot find anything in verse 15 about a "right to remarry." The abandoned mate is "not under bondage;" that is to say, not a slave to the deserter. But this fact is not equal to "may remarry." Verse 11 teaches that when a marriage ends that shouldn't, there are two options: remain unmarried, or be reconciled.

But here's what I started out to write about: WHAT MATTERS. There is one statement, right in the middle of this paragraph that can be so profitable in our study of all these things. I mean, there is a single, simple statement that can be of great benefit to us in our study of the difficult parts of the chapter and in our lives generally. I'm talking about the statement in verse 19: keeping the commandments of God is what matters!

Whatever anybody wants to do with First Corinthians seven, or anything else the Bible says about marriage, divorce and remarriage - if some theory, teaching or argument comes in conflict with this, we can reject it once and for all! Keeping the commandments of God is what matters.

Are you single (never married) and cannot find a partner for life? There may be some difficulty with that, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.

Are you married (a scriptural relationship), but there are pressures and temptations to divorce without scriptural cause? "A wife is not to depart from her husband ... And a husband is not to divorce his wife," (1 Cor. 7:10,11). "That which God hath joined together, let not man put asunder." The marriage may be unpleasant at times and challenging. But what matters is keeping the commandments of God.

Are you divorced, and the Word of God demands that you remain unmarried (see Matt. 19:9)? Let no one tell you that your situation is intolerable. Let no one romance you away from the teachings of your Lord. Let no one lead you away with promises of freedom, personal pleasure and worldly attraction (the devil is the ultimately leader in this direction). What really matters? Keeping the commandments of God.

In the context of verse 19 Paul teaches that conversion to Christ does not require that you change everything, that you leave every relationship you are at the time of your baptism. "Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord's freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ's slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called," (7:18-24). Not everything must be suddenly changed; not every relationship must be given up. If you can keep the commandments of God, you can stay in whatever situation you are in. But that's the test - that's what matters: keeping the commandments of God. Some relationships are in direct violation of the commandments of God!

How much money you make ... how far you get up the ladder of success ... how ideal things are in your life here on earth ... WHAT REALLY MATTERS IF YOU ARE A CHRISTIAN?? Keeping the commandments of God. "Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city," (Rev. 22:14). Amen?

 By Warren E Berkley
From Expository Files 6.9; September 1999