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1 Corinthians chapter 7

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What does 1 Corinthians chapter 7 mean?

How should Christians think about marriage? Is it better to be married or not? Should married Christians have sex? Paul provides clear and sometimes surprising answers to these questions in 1 Corinthians chapter 7.

In prior chapters, Paul dealt with issues among the Corinthians which had been reported to him. Among these were dangerous attitudes towards sexuality, sin, disputes, and divisions. Paul now turns his attention to answer specific questions they had asked him in an earlier letter. The first comes in the form of a statement, likely quoted from the Corinthians themselves: "It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman" (1 Corinthians 7:1).

Since we don't have the letter from the Corinthians to Paul, scholars are left to speculate from this statement and the context of the chapter. Apparently, some in Corinth believed that even married Christians should abstain from sex. In addition, some seem to have believed Christians should not be married, at all. This might have been due to the influence of Gnostic heresies. Perhaps this was a response to the overwhelming amount of sexual immorality in the Greek and Roman culture. Perhaps they were following some of the secular philosophy of the day that said not having sex led to a higher spirituality.

Wherever this idea came from, Paul rejected it firmly. Married people should have regular sex, he insists, because of the temptation to engage in sexual immorality. This is one purpose of marriage, Paul insists, by God's design. Marriage is such an intimate bond that both husbands and wives have authority over each other's bodies. They must not deprive each other except under specific conditions and for specific times in order to avoid becoming targets for Satan's temptation to sexual sin (1 Corinthians 7:2–5).

Paul, though, is single, and happily so. He openly wishes all Christians could be as he is. By this he means that he has what is sometimes called the gift of celibacy: he is not distracted by overwhelming sexual desire. Those without this gift are not in the wrong, as they have other gifts from God. In all cases, it is better to marry—and have recurring sex—than to burn with passion and risk falling into sexual immorality (1 Corinthians 7:6–8).

In addition, nobody should get divorced attempting to achieve greater closeness to God. God intends for marriage to be a lifelong contract, unbroken except in very specific cases. Christians should not separate even from unbelieving spouses, though they should not resist if an unsaved spouse leaves them. In fact, by staying in the marriage, a believer may have the chance to lead his or her spouse to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:9–16).

Paul's rule of thumb is that nobody should seek to change their situation in life after coming to faith in Christ. The context here is that of people forcing unnecessary changes for the wrong reasons. If God called you where you are, He is with you where you are. While it's possible that God might call a person to radically re-order their entire life, that is not the case for all believers. Paul encourages born-again Christians to stay "as they are," in the sense of their state of life. This means whether they are married or not, circumcised or not, slave or free, although slaves should welcome freedom if available. In Christ, slaves are, in fact, free, and free Christians are slaves to Christ (1 Corinthians 7:17–24).

Paul's personal preference for a single life is not something binding on other Christians. This life is short (James 4:14), and the return of Christ is near (Revelation 3:11). All people are an instant away from being face-to-face with God, whether by natural death, unnatural death, or the return of Christ to earth. So, our temporary position in this world matters far less than our eternal position. Believers are servants of Christ who will share in His glory. Christians should hold on to everything in this life loosely, including marriage, mourning, rejoicing, doing business. The present form of this world is passing way (1 Corinthians 7:25–31).

Unmarried people do not sin if they get married. They should consider, though, the opportunity to serve Christ undivided by responsibility to a spouse. As with other decisions, they should be sure they marry, or not, for the right reasons (1 Corinthians 7:32–40).
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