A preliminary read-through of 1 Corinthians 7 left me wondering “what is paul talking about?” In this section of the letter to the Corinthians, the apostle discussed marriage life. He encouraged the union of husband and wife in verse eight, “…it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (NIV) . He also raised the matter of the “gift not to marry”, a gift he considered he had. What is this gift, I wondered? and does it imply that people are less blessed for pursuing marriage? Too bad, since I’m a newlywed myself.
God ordained marriage, and it seems somewhat contradictory that Paul would say something like, “it is good for a man not to marry” (v.1, NIV). How relevant are these exhortations to a 21st century reader? Before my mind leapt down this bunny trail of questions to conclude this apostle was either off his rocker, way outdated from current practice, or estranged from anyone who was hitched, further study and a friend brought up these points:
- Paul was not encouraging asceticism here. He was speaking to believers in the city of Corinth and answering inquiries posed at that time within a specific context.
- This particular epistle took place earlier in Paul’s ministry than others. Like anybody’s work would, his ministry matured with time. In 1 Timothy 5:14 (written later than 1 Corinthians) Paul desired younger widows to marry, bear children, and manage their households.
- While trying to extract meaning about who should do what in marriage, it may have been easy to miss the point the first time around.
Paul’s view on marriage is not what I’m focusing on here. The new appreciation I have is that Paul had a high spirituality when he considered the subject at hand. This chapter is a strong indication of that. For example, 1 Corinthians 7:40 talks about a woman being free to remarry once her husband died. It is the last verse in the chapter and says, “In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is— and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” Paul voices this opinion on marriage and inserts a disclaimer, as if he were saying, “this is just my opinion, but I think I have God’s backing on this.” It seemed somewhat contradictory to me at first, like he was trying to include God in his considerations and also trying to make it clear he wasn’t trying to assume more authority than he should on the subject. What I consider significant is how the apostle considered what he was saying both before God and before man. While he couldn’t guarantee his speaking was God’s speaking, he also couldn’t guarantee his speaking was not God’s speaking.
Paul realized that his mind was not independent of God because the Holy Spirit was becoming one with his mind and thus being incorporated, or making home in, his heart. In Romans 8:27, Paul said, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” 1 Corinthians emphasizes that Paul considered the Spirit as not only becoming one with the believers’ spirit, but also becoming one with the believers’ mind.
(Post written by Joanna Hall, @joannachall)