BETTER TO MARRY THAN TO BURN
Lord, you are the God who creates and re-creates, who judges and delivers, who makes all things new. I bless and praise your name.
Read 1 Corinthians 7:1–11
Concerning Married Life
7 Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” 2 But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. 3 The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 4 The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. 5 Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 6 I say this as a concession, not as a command. 7 I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, another has that.
8 Now to the unmarried[a] and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. 9 But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
10 To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 11 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
- 1 Corinthians 7:8 Or widowers
New International Version (NIV)Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV® Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
‘… to have and to hold … for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part’.1
It is frustrating not to have Paul’s earlier letter to the Corinthians. As we have seen, some believers in Corinth had ignored Paul’s original letter, using the pretext that, as they followed Peter or Apollos, Paul had no authority to tell them how to behave and to turn from the uncontrolled sexual behaviors of their past lives. On the other hand, some believers, respecting Paul’s apostleship, had taken his advice so seriously that they had written to Paul, asking whether living holy lives meant that they should give up sexual activities altogether, even as married couples (v 1).
Paul taught that the only proper place for sex was in a committed marriage where, as prefigured in the creation story, the two ‘become one flesh.’2 Paul, however, clearly prefers his celibate life, free to devote himself to prayer and preaching the gospel. He sees celibacy as a spiritual gift and wishes others could be like him. He goes so far as to say that marriage is a last resort for those who lack self-control: ‘it is better to marry than to burn with passion’ (v 9). Those who are married should stay together but those who are not should seriously consider whether they should marry at all.
This advice seems strange to us. These were Paul’s personal opinions, but what was he thinking? Shouldn’t Christians raise Christian families? Did Paul envisage a childless Christian community which would eventually age and die out? This makes no sense unless we realize that Paul and the early believers expected Jesus to return in their lifetime (e.g. v 31). Making decisions and arrangements to guarantee their earthly future was pointless if Jesus was expected to return soon to inaugurate God’s new order. We will treat this matter more fully later, but it is crucial to understanding Paul’s advice.
‘… let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.’3
Father, I pray for the health of the marriages of my family and friends. May husbands and wives serve one another in love and honor you in all things.
1 Marriage vow, Solemnisation of Matrimony, Book of Common Prayer 2 Gen 2:24 3 Heb 12:1
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