The community had 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.
In the earlier part of this chapter, the Rabbi had instructed Messiah’s followers in Corinth about marriage, singleness and divorce. Paul continues with the subject of marriage. Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord (the Lord did not address this issue in the Tenach or in the teachings of Messiah, or give specific instructions to Paul about it), but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. The Rabbi knows that he is trustworthy, and his decision is a trustworthy one because the Lord’s mercy had been active in his life. If the Lord had not been merciful to him, he would not be the trustworthy person that he had become. I like this combination of strength and humility – the ability to make trustworthy decisions and the humility to recognize that the ability to make trustworthy decisions comes from the mercy of the Lord.
Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. This is the principle the Rabbi has repeated three times so far. This is the fourth time: remain in the life-situation in which you were when you came to faith. This principle was reinforced by the present crisis, which Paul will elaborate on shortly.
Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Don’t break off the engagement. Marry her. Are you free from such a commitment? Remain that way. Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Marriage is permissible, but it is not preferable, and here’s one reason why. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this.
People talk about the joys of married life; and there are joys. However, there are also troubles, sometimes many troubles. Those who marry will face many troubles. There may be times when the husband and wife will have trouble getting along. There may be times when they won’t agree about an important issue. There may be troubles with the children; troubles with the in-laws; troubles to support the family; trouble if the family is being persecuted. Since those who marry will face many troubles, the Rabbi recommends the single life.
The single life is also preferable because time is short. What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. This is the present crisis that Paul referred to earlier. We are living in amazing times. The most amazing things have happened. The Son of God entered the world, living a perfect life and dying to rescue us from the things we need rescuing from the most – Satan and the demons, sin and the sin nature, death and Hell. Amazing things will happen in the future. The Son of God will return. He will judge the living and the dead. He will reward the righteous and punish those who refuse to believe the right things and do the right things. People need to know these truths and turn to the Three-In-One God before they die or before Messiah returns.
Because time is short, opportunities to serve the Lord by proclaiming the Good News to those who are perishing, and serving the Lord by building His Community, are limited. Because time is short, the followers of Messiah are to have a constant sense of urgency. Marriage takes time. The single life is preferable to the married life because it’s easier for someone who is single to give more time to serving the Lord than someone who is giving time to the marriage.
Because time is short and this world is passing away, the Rabbi wants the Corinthians to limit their involvement with those things which will pass away and give their attention to those things which won’t pass away. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away. The Lord’s representative is encouraging Messiah’s followers to carve out time from other areas of our lives, even important areas like our marriage; or our business, financial, economic and commercial activities; or even spending too much time thinking about how happy or miserable we are, obsessing over our emotional state.
We are to use the time that is carved out from these areas which are passing away to serve the Lord by proclaiming the Good News, doing good deeds for others, and helping to build Messiah’s Community. Serving the Lord in these ways will have lasting effects and rewards that go beyond this world in its present form. Therefore it makes sense to carve out time to serve the Lord in these ways.
Because the single life has fewer worldly concerns and enables undivided devotion to the Lord, the Rabbi recommends the single life. 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. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
Even though being single facilitates undivided devotion to the Lord, it’s still permissible to marry. If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to (he has given indications that he would like to marry her), and if his passions are too strong (his sexual desires are strong and he is concerned he might not be able to control them) and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will (he is able to control his sexual desires), and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin – this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better. For the followers of Messiah, a single life, if it is chosen to serve the Lord more fully, is the better choice.
The Rabbi gives one last instruction about marriage: A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. According to the Torah, if the husband died without children, the widow was to marry her brother-in-law. In earlier times in India, if the husband died, the widow was expected to kill herself, the preferred method being placing herself on his funeral pyre. Not so with followers of Messiah. If you are a woman, and your husband dies, you don’t have to be embarrassed or ashamed and go into seclusion. You don’t have to marry your brother-in-law. You don’t have to end your life. You have the right to marry again – anyone you want to marry, with one restriction – he must be a follower of Messiah.
The widow has the right to marry, but Paul expresses his judgment that a widow will be happier if she does not marry. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is. The single life is the preferable life. And, he lets those he is writing to know that this judgment is not mere human judgment. It’s more than that. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is – and I think that I too have the Spirit of God. And Paul did have the Spirit of God living. Paul’s judgment was formulated by someone whose thoughts were profoundly influenced by the Spirit of God. His judgment was right. His judgment was the Lord’s judgment.
After the tower of Babel, almost all of humanity turned away from the one true and living God. Human beings invented gods and made idols, images of those gods, and temples, to worship the gods they invented. This was a terrible thing to do. It offended the true God and kept people in a state of spiritual rebellion and alienation from God.
Idolatry was a huge problem in the ancient world. How should the followers of Messiah, who had been freed from the evil of idolatry, relate to a world that was still idolatrous? The issue of eating food sacrificed to idols was of particular concern.
The truth will set you free, and Messiah’s followers in Corinth had been set free from idolatry because they had responded to the truth. They knew there was only one God, the Three-In-One God of Israel. They knew that the gods of the nations were false, made up gods, fake gods. Because they knew this, they knew that it was OK to eat meat sacrificed to idols.
And why were they eating meat sacrificed to idols? Because maybe most, if not all of the meat that was sold in the markets of Corinth had first been offered to one of the gods. If you had a cow or goat that you wanted butchered and sold, why not kill two birds with one stone? First sacrifice your cow or goat to one of the gods, and get a spiritual reward, and then sell the meat in the market and a get a financial reward?
Most of Messiah’s followers knew that the gods the Corinthians worshiped were not the true God who made all things. They knew that the one true and living God had created all things and given people the right to eat the meat of the animals He had created. Knowing this, they knew they had the right to eat the meat of animals that had been sacrificed to idols. They weren’t affected by idolatry. But some of Messiah’s followers weren’t as mature in their faith and in their knowledge. They saw their brothers and sisters, who were mature in their faith, eating meat sacrificed to idols, and concluded that they could too; but when they did that, they felt they were participating in idolatry, which they knew was wrong. And so they were violating their conscience. Eating food sacrificed to idols had the potential to destroy the spiritual life of those weaker in faith.
The Rabbi addresses this situation: Now about food sacrificed to idols: We know that “We all possess knowledge.” But knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Knowledge is important, even essential to salvation, but love is even better. Knowledge can result in pride (“I’m smarter than most people. That means I’m better and more important than most people”). And because we believe we are better and more important than others, we don’t care for others the way we should. We neglect them. We harm them. Love doesn’t have that weakness. It’s the nature of love to care for others, to help others. Knowledge puffs up while love builds up. Love is superior to knowledge.
And, love is superior to knowledge because, while our knowledge is limited, our love for God results in an even greater kind of knowledge. Those who think they know something do not yet know as they ought to know. We don’t know as much as we could or should know or will know. Our knowledge is limited. Therefore knowledge is of limited value. But whoever loves God is known by God. If we love God, God knows us. He knows us in the sense of accepting us and welcoming us. Our knowledge is limited. But our love enables God to know us, and His knowledge is infinite. His infinite knowledge is greater than our limited knowledge, and it is our love that enables us to experience this infinite knowledge. Our love produces something greater than our own knowledge. Therefore love is superior to knowledge.
The Corinthians needed to apply that truth to the way they conducted themselves with food sacrificed to idols. So then, about eating food sacrificed to idols: We know that “An idol is nothing at all in the world” and that “There is no God but one.” As he does so often, Paul reinforces his teaching by quoting the Word of God. In this case, the Rabbi quotes the Shema, which declares there is only one God. If there is only one God, the so-called gods of the nations can not be God. Compared to the true god, an idol is nothing.
And yet, in another sense, the gods of the nations are not nothing. There may be something behind them. Powerful people and angels have been called gods and have been worshiped as gods. Even if there is something to these gods, and even if they are real and possess some power, we know there is only one God who has the ultimate power. For even if there are so-called gods, whether in heaven or on earth (as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords”), yet for us there is but one God, the Father, from whom all things came and for whom we live; and there is but one Lord, Messiah Yeshua, through whom all things came and through whom we live.
The gods of the nations might have some reality, even some power, but we know there is only one God, the Father. God the Father is the one from whom all things came. God the Father is the creator of all things. And He created each one of us for a reason – and the reason is for Him. He created us for Himself, to please Himself, and to accomplish His purposes. Since we have been created by Him and for Him, every human being is to be devoted only to Him.
There is one God, the Father, who is a distinct person; and along with the Father there is another distinct person, who is equal to the Father in divine nature and in authority, and that is the Lord, Yeshua the Messiah. God the Father and the Lord Yeshua the Messiah are distinct persons, yet share the same divine nature. Together, the Father and the Son, along with the Spirit, form the one God. Three distinct persons, one God.
God the Father is the one from whom all things came, and the Lord Yeshua is the one through whom all things came. God the Father planned the creation of all things and willed the creation of all things, and then delegated to His Son the work of the creation of all things. Since the Son of God is the actual person who created us, we are to be devoted to Him, just as we are devoted to God the Father. Not only did the Lord Yeshua create all things, He is the one who is sustaining all things. We live through Him. He is the one who keeping all things in existence.
Therefore we acknowledge as God, and honor and worship and serve God the Father, and we equally acknowledge as God, and honor and worship and serve the Lord Yeshua the Messiah. We do not acknowledge as God, or honor or worship or serve any of the so-called gods. Those who are mature in their faith know this and are able to eat food sacrificed to the non-gods, who did not make that food. But not everyone possesses this knowledge. Some people are still so accustomed to idols that when they eat sacrificial food they think of it as having been sacrificed to a god, and since their conscience is weak, it is defiled. These are Christians who are immature in their faith and are lacking in knowledge. They came out of idolatry. If they eat meat that has been sacrificed to idols, their thoughts are not filled with the truth that there is only one God who made all things, including this meat, and the gods of the nations are not God and did not create anything and have no authority over this meat – so it is OK to eat the meat even though it has been sacrificed to one of the gods.
No, they are thinking they are eating meat that has been offered to a god, and that is wrong and they shouldn’t be doing that. And by doing something they believe is wrong, they are violating their inner sense of right and wrong. And it’s a bad and dangerous thing to violate the conscience. It distances us from God and from ourselves and from what is right.
The Rabbi adds another truth about eating: But food does not bring us near to God; we are no worse if we do not eat, and no better if we do. A person can keep kosher his entire life and go to Hell. A person can never keep kosher and go to Heaven. True spirituality isn’t the result of eating or not eating. Closeness to God comes from being loyal to the Father and the Son and being filled with the Spirit of the Father and the Son.
Eating food or not eating food does not bring us closer to God, but eating food which causes someone else to violate his conscience will send that person farther from God. So, we don’t want to eat food if it will cause someone else to go father from God. Therefore, we need to consider how others will be affected by what we do, even if we know we have the right to do it. Be careful, however, that the exercise of your rights does not become a stumbling block to the weak. For if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols? So this weak brother or sister, for whom Messiah died, is destroyed by your knowledge.
And it’s not just our brother or sister who is hurt. When you sin against them in this way and wound their weak conscience, you sin against Messiah. The weak brother or sister belongs to Messiah and is loved by Messiah. To hurt them is to hurt Messiah. To sin against them is to sin against Messiah. And we don’t want to hurt or sin against Messiah.
The Rabbi’s conclusion: Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother or sister to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause them to fall. It’s good to know the truth and be able to exercise our rights. But if exercising our rights is hurting others, we should not insist on our rights. Love is superior to knowledge. Love is superior to our rights.
Father, You have taught us that love is superior to knowledge. Love is superior to our rights. Help us chose love and not our rights if others will be hurt by exercising our rights.
Father, You want us to be fully devoted to You. Help us not be caught up by this present world which is passing away. Time is short. Help us get our priorities in order. Help us limit our involvements in things that won’t last in order to give our time to the things which will last. Help us be fully devoted to You.
Father, Paul teaches us that the single life is preferable because we have more time to serve You. Help us encourage our singles and not make them feel inferior for being single.
Father, You, along with Your Son, and Your Spirit, are the true God. Help us be fully devoted to You and motivate us to bring the Good News to those we love, and help them understand the truth so they are in a right relationship with You.