The Corinthian community had previously written Paul a letter. One of the matters they wrote about was about male/female relationships. This part of Paul’s letter is his response.
When Paul wrote this letter, the culture of Corinth, like our culture today, was not teaching people the truth about sex. Corinth known for the sexual promiscuity of its people. In addition to sex in marriage, homosexual sex and sex with prostitutes were acceptable.
God is the creator of sex. By creating us male and female, men and women are able to come together in marriage and become one flesh. They are able to bond with each other physically and soulfully. This meets their needs for companionship. This helps them cleave to one another. This helps them have stable families in which the next generation can be raised. This is God’s design for sex; this is God’s will for sex.
The Rabbi informs Messiah’s followers in Corinth that sexual immorality is bad; and counter to what most Corinthians thought, sexual abstinence is good. Now for the matters you wrote about: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” Later in this chapter, Paul will elaborate on why it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.
While it is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman, it is permissible – under limited circumstances. But since sexual immorality is occurring, each man should have sexual relations with his own wife, and each woman with her own husband. Sexual activity is to take place only between a man and a woman – not a man and a man, and not a woman and a woman; and sexual activity is only to take place when a man and a woman are married.
God created us male and female. He created us with sexual desire. One of God’s purposes for marriage is for sexual desire to be met in a God-honoring way. If a person’s sexual desires are being met in the marriage, there will be less temptation to have sex outside the marriage. Sexual activity in marriage helps prevent sexual immorality from occurring.
God created us male and female. He created us with sexual desire. When you marry someone, you become one flesh with your partner. One of the things that means is that you have rights to your partner’s body. You have sexual rights. You have conjugal rights. That means that it is God’s will that if your partner wants to engage in sexual activity, you are required to meet your partner’s desire. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. 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. It is God’s design and it is God’s will that sexual desire be fulfilled in marriage. If you are married and refuse to have sex with your partner, you are sinning against God who ordained sexual activity to take place in marriage, and you will frustrate and anger your partner.
It is God’s will that a married couple have sex whenever one of the partners wants to have sex. However, there are circumstances in which it is right for the couple to abstain from sex. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer.
There may be times when a couple want to devote themselves to things of the spirit, and while they are doing that, to abstain from sex. That’s good – but that decision needs to be mutual; and the time of their abstention needs to be limited. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command. Again, when our sexual desires are being met in the marriage relationship, the temptation will be less to go outside the marriage relationship. If a married couple goes too long without engaging in sex, the man or the woman might lose self-control, give into temptation and engage in sexual immorality outside the marriage. We don’t want that to happen, so it’s important to have satisfying sexual relations in our marriages.
God gives people different abilities. Some have more sexual desire, and some have less sexual desire. Some have more self-control, and some have less self-control. Some have more need to be married, and some have less need to be married. 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. Paul lets us know that he was one of those who was able to function well as a single man. He had the gift, the ability, to be single and be content. And he expressed his desire that they could be single and content like he was, because then they could completely devote themselves to the Lord like he was able to.
However, the Rabbi understood that not everyone is gifted to be able to be single and content. To followers of Messiah who are unmarried and followers of Messiah who were married and lost their partners through death, the Lord’s representative says this. Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion. Paul prefers and recommends the single life. It’s good for the followers of Messiah who are singled or who survive the death of their partner to remain single, so they can more fully devote themselves to serve the Lord. However, the Rabbi is aware that sexual desire is like a fire. Fire is hot. Fire is intense. Fire is never satisfied. It never has enough. It can always burn more. Sexual desire is like that. Sexual passion is like a hunger that wants to be fed, a thirst that wants to be quenched. Even though it’s good to stay unmarried, it’s better for Christians and Messianic Jews who are single or who have lost their marriage partner through death, and are burning with sexual desire and are in danger of losing self-control, to meet their sexual desires in marriage.
Next, the Rabbi addresses the issue of divorce. To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife. It’s the Lord’s command that husbands and wives do not divorce – except for special situations like adultery. It’s the Lord’s command, because the Lord had already given the command that a man and a woman are to cleave together and become one flesh. The Lord had already given the command that what God has joined together, no man should separate – including the man and the woman involved in the marriage. If a woman does not have grounds to divorce her husband, but she does divorce him, she is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. This gives the Lord time to change hearts and heal the marriage. The same goes for the man. He is not to divorce his wife – unless she has been unfaithful, which gives him the right to divorce her. If he does divorce her without grounds, he is to remain unmarried or be reconciled to his wife.
Now Paul addresses a situation that the Lord did not address in the Tenach and in the teachings of the Messiah. What happens if one spouse is a believer and one isn’t? Should the follower of Messiah divorce his unbelieving spouse? To the rest I say this (I, not the Lord – because the Lord didn’t address this situation, so Paul is): If any brother has a wife who is not a believer and she is willing to live with him, he must not divorce her. And if a woman has a husband who is not a believer and he is willing to live with her, she must not divorce him. If someone becomes a believer, and their spouse doesn’t have faith, the believer is not to divorce the non-believer.
The Rabbi gives a reason: For the unbelieving husband has been sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife has been sanctified through her believing husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. The spouse and children of believers are sanctified. That means they are set apart. Because they are united to someone who is united to the Lord, the Lord relates to them in a special way. That doesn’t mean that they are saved. It does mean that they are in a special place. They are given special attention by the Lord. And we don’t want to do anything to interfere with them being in that special place and receiving that special attention.
But, what if the non-believing spouse wants to divorce the believing spouse? What happens if family or friends or community turn against the believer because of his faith, and the non-believing spouse and their children suffer for it? The non-believing spouse says: my spouse has changed. I did not marry a follower of a dead Jewish carpenter. This man is not the person I married. His faith is hurting me and my children. This is not what I agreed to. I won’t remain in this marriage if my husband doesn’t give up his faith. He must choose his dead carpenter or he must choose me. Of course, if given that ultimatum, since the Creator/creature relationship is the most important relationship, the believer must choose God.
But if the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances. Not bound means their special union with their marriage partner has been severed. The marriage covenant has been dissolved. The marriage is over.
The marriage is over because God has called us to live in peace. God established marriage for the mutual benefit of a man and a woman. If someone becomes a believer and is married to an unbeliever who is making his life miserable because he won’t give up his faith, and the unbeliever insists on leaving, the marriage is over, and the believer can live in peace.
The believer should not divorce the unbeliever for another very important reason. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife? We love our marriage partners. We want what is best for them. Salvation is what is best for them. We don’t want to divorce them because we want our unbelieving partner to be saved. We want them to remain connected to us because we know the truth and have been saved, and we want them to be in a place where they can influenced by us. We don’t want to divorce them and diminish their opportunities to know the truth and be saved.
The Rabbi gives another reason why, if we are married and we come to faith, we are to stay married. It’s part of a larger principle of living for the followers of Messiah: Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. The Lord is very wise; and He is in control. He created us the way we are and put us in our life-situation for His purposes. When we are saved, we are to remain in the life-situation that the Lord has assigned us. We are married? We stay married. We are Jewish? We stay Jewish. We are from a people other than Israel? We don’t convert and become Jewish.
Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcised means being Jewish. Uncircumcised means not being Jewish. The Lord’s representative makes it clear that, under Messiah’s New Covenant, Jewish people are not to become Gentiles. They are to remain Jews. They are to identify as Jews. They are to maintain their Jewish identity. And Gentiles are not to become Jews. They are not to convert to Judaism or being Jewish. They are to remain part of the people they were part of when God revealed to them that Yeshua is the risen Messiah. If they are Chinese, they are to remain Chinese; Italian, they remain Italian; African-American, they remain African-American, etc.
There is another reason why Jewish followers of Messiah don’t become Gentiles, and non-Jewish followers of Messiah don’t convert to Judaism or become Jewish, and that is, under Messiah’s New Covenant, circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Racial identity issues like being Jewish or being part of another people, are nothing. It’s irrelevant compared to keeping God’s commands, and God’s commands under the New Covenant are not the same as God’s commands under the Sinai Covenant.
The commands of the Sinai Covenant are many, and are directed to the Jewish people. The commands of the New Covenant are few, and are directed to everyone.
Turn from your sins. Turn from your wrong beliefs. Believe that Yeshua is the resurrected Messiah and Lord and become loyal to Him and His Father.
Be born again.
Be filled with the Holy Spirit.
Be like Yeshua.
Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Love your neighbor as you love yourself.
Be gracious; be forgiving.
Proclaim the Good News.
Be an active member of Messiah’s Community and do something to help it grow.
Keeping God’s commands is what counts. When Messiah says: If you love me, you will keep My commandments – this is what He means. When John, in his first letter, writes: By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments – this is what he means.
The New Covenant is not merely the Sinai Covenant that has been renewed. No, the New Covenant is radically different from the Sinai Covenant and the commands of the New Covenant are radically different from the commands of the Sinai Covenant.
You want to nurture your Jewish identity? You are from another people and you want to nurture your identity? That’s fine. Just keep in mind: Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts.
Paul reiterates the principle that it is God’s will for each person to remain in their life-situation: Each person should remain in the situation they were in when God called them.
The Rabbi instructed the Corinthians to remain in their Jewish or people-from-other-nations identities. Now he applies the principle to their slave/free-man identities. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Messiah’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. I read an estimate that 10 to 15% of the people in the Roman empire were slaves. In Italy, the percentage was higher. While there were some masters who treated their slaves well, there were many others who treated their slaves badly. Slaves could be bought and sold. Their living conditions could be horrible. They could be given the most difficult work. They could be subjected to corporal punishment, sexual exploitation, torture and execution.
It was much better to be free than to be a slave; and it was possible for a slave to become a freed person; however, not all slaves were freed by their masters. Many were not freed and died as slaves. If they were not free, Paul wants these Christian slaves to know that, in spite of the challenges of their lives and their low social status, they were not less valuable than someone who was free. The Lord, whose judgment is superior to that of men, considered His followers who were slaves to be just as valuable as someone who was free. In fact, the Lord had given them a greater freedom. Knowing that the Lord had freed them from their old master, sin; had freed them from their sin nature; had freed them from death; had freed them from the power of the god of this world – knowing how the Lord had freed them, they could be at peace.
In human societies, there is a hierarchy of power and status. There are those with more power and status and those with less power and status. However, the Lord is the great equalizer. All of us were created in the image of God; the Son of God died to make all who have faith into the sons and daughters of God. All of us are brothers and sisters because we share a great equality – Jews and Gentiles, men and women, slaves and free people. For the one who was a slave when called to faith in the Lord is the Lord’s freed person; similarly, the one who was free when called is Messiah’s slave.
It was better to be free than to be a slave. If a follower of Messiah who was a slave could become free, he should do so. If he couldn’t, he should be comforted knowing the Lord had given him a superior freedom. He was the Lord’s freed person. And the Messianic Jew or Gentile Christian should not become a slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. The Lord bought us at a price – a very high price. We belong to Him. He wants us to be fully devoted to Him, to serve Him and His interests. Becoming a slave to a human being could interfere with that.
Paul repeats this remain-in-your-life-situation principle for the third time. That lets us know that this principle is very important. Brothers and sisters, each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them. If you are married, stay married. A free man, stay free. A person from a people other than Israel, stay a Gentile. In spite of this clear teaching from the Lord’s representative, there is a group of Messianic Rabbis who claim the authority to “convert” Gentiles into Jews. What part of “each person, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation they were in when God called them” do these people not understand? These men are rebelling against the Word of God and need to be repudiated. Their so-called converts should not be considered to be Jewish.
The Rabbi writes more about marriage and remaining single, and Lord willing, we will consider those issues next week.
Lord, Corinth was saturated with sexual immorality, like our society is today. Help us to be different. Help us follow Your commands for sex to only take place in marriage, not outside of marriage.
Lord, divorce is so prevalent in our society. Help us keep our marriages together. Help us keep our families together.
Lord, Your servant Paul made it clear that we are to be fully devoted to You, and that the single life can better enable us to do that. Help us not look down at singles, but esteem them.
Lord, You tell us that circumcision and uncircumcision mean nothing. What counts is keeping Your commands. Help us keep your commands.
Lord, there are many inequalities among human beings, but You are the great equalizer, that we are brothers and sisters who share a great equality. Help us treat each other in a way that respects that equality.