From its very inception, the institution of Marriage was supposed to unite two individuals to serve God as one body. Over the years, mankind, especially the forefathers and other leaders have had a hand in corrupting this sacred union. Marriage became a means to bear offspring and not a way for its members to unite with the goal of connecting with God. Paul addresses the earlier queries that the congregation had with regard to sexual immorality. While Paul’s instructions to the Corinthians on the subject of marriage may seem like a concession but given how quickly the Institutions (both Church and Marriage) were falling at the hands of sexual promiscuousness, in that context, it was the need of the hour. Since sexual immorality was rampant in the church at Corinth, Paul emphasised the importance of keeping sexual relations within the confines of a marriage.
The man said,Genesis 2:23-24
“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man. ”
That is why a man leaves his father and mother and is united to his wife, and they become one flesh.
While God intended for Man and Woman to be united as one soul and seek their creator and over time have offsprings to not only populate the earth but nurture them in the ways of God, we find that neither of the two are being followed. God wants us to put Him above anyone else in our lives. When He saw that man needed a companion, He provided a suitable partner. Whenever the Israelites conquered other nations, He commanded them to populate the land, lest they be overthrown by the enemy. So the institution of Marriage and Family was created for man and not the other way round.
Sex As a Weapon
Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.1 Corinthians 7:5
We are not at war with our partners even though the world around us wants us to be. Brides are trained to use sex to lure their partners into getting their way with their spouses. People resort to extramarital affairs to quench their sexual desires and forget that they have not only corrupted themselves but at least two other people with them. This world is full of distractions that prevent us from communicating with God. Jesus even said that our own body parts can become a hindrance to serving God. The same can be extended to spouses who are part of the same body, and therefore should not become a hindrance in any way for their other half.
Is Marriage A Concession?
Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do.1 Corinthians 7:8
From Paul’s point of view, remaining single helped him serve God better but Peter who was married writes about marriage in a different light (1 Peter 3). In the corrupt days of Corinth when people had lost their moral compass, staying away from all unions would make sense. But marriage is not about tolerating another person but uniting with someone who can help you with the purpose of your life as God intended. Like Adam was united with Eve, not as a concession for his sexual desires but to help him achieve the purpose of his existence. Let us ask ourselves two important questions. First, what is our purpose? and the second, whether we are able to achieve that with our spouses? The institution of marriage was created by God to help us unite as one and connect with him. That is our purpose.
Rules of Engagement
For those already married, he (Paul, not the Lord) specifically commanded not to separate from each other and reconcile rather than take the path of divorce. Even if the partner does not know God, divorce is not an option unless initiated by the unbeliever. Paul is not propagating the idea of marrying an unbeliever but is addressing those people that have been transformed with the word but without the word impacting their other half. Even though God should be placed first in our lives, it does not give us the right to abandon the relationships we have formed before we came to know Him.
For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband.1 Corinthians 7:14
Can a Believer Sanctify an Unbeliever?
Sanctification is the first step towards building a connection with God. It is not a guarantee of salvation but a prerequisite. An unbeliever cannot be sanctified by someone else’s faith but only by the blood of Jesus. However, when it comes to the union of marriage where both partners constitute one body, Christ’s blood was shed to sanctify one’s entire body and not just one half.
To some, this verse has however given the wrong belief that if one spouse is true to God then the other is also sanctified through their devotion. That concession has given the unbelieving spouses an easy way out to be with the world and still thinking that they are in the right with God. The idea of the institution of marriage is to sanctify each other by being a constant support for one another and not simply acting as a proxy for someone else’s absence
if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace.1 Corinthians 7:15
The above verse has also been used controversially to separate couples of different faith. We must remember our commitment and not find loopholes when we are overwhelmed with our situation. What Paul says over here is again a concession in situations where the unbeliever is not able to tolerate the connection that their spouse has with God. It should not be used as a sanctification process to destroy marriages, as then we are going against the blood of Jesus that has the power to sanctify anyone.
Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.1 Corinthians 7:20
Only when our partners act as a barrier between our relationship with God are we to take the harsh step of cutting them off from our lives. Same for our relations with other people as well. When our family and friends who are believers have a falling out with us, we must make every effort to reconcile with them for the sake of our own relationship with God. But if they are leading us away from the path of God, we must learn to release them and pray for God’s protection over them. Otherwise, they will take us down the rabbit hole along with them. We must realise that they are still under His care but the distance makes it possible for us to get back to our purpose of existence, not to have constant bickering with the people around us but to have constant communion with God.
Together we are Free
You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings.1 Corinthians 7:23
Even though we do not need to change our situation after accepting Christ, we must also not become slaves to it. We cannot keep blaming the situation around us for keeping us away from our Creator. Our situation cannot separate us from God if we don’t allow it to do so ourselves. We should use our judgement based on our knowledge of God’s will for our lives and deal with our situations. We are not alone when dealing with our situation but God helps us overcome all obstacles that keep us from enjoying unity with our partners for His glory.
A Double-Edged Sword
But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.1 Corinthians 7:28
Paul, a lonely sojourner dedicated his life to the proclamation of the gospel to the unreached. For him, any form of human commitment would have only created a detour on his journey with Christ. We also saw that the reason for his dispute with Barnabas was John Mark’s commitment to his family and his wish to take an actual detour on their second missionary journey. Perhaps this is the reason why he writes,
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs —how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife— and his interests are divided.1 Corinthians 7:32-34
The present-day state of our nuptials is in disarray because we have forgotten the intention with which God had instituted this union. If we go back to the garden, God did not intend to create a distraction for Adam but a support. Our unions should help serve God’s purpose in our combined lives. If we see the example of Priscilla and Aquila, both supported each other and served God together. Marriage is a double-edged sword and its power lies with its beholder.
In all of the above scenarios where some partners found Christ during their marriages and some found Christ before finding their halves, the one thing that is constant is God’s will in our lives. Let us not push Him out of our lives to satisfy our own desires.