4. A TRUSTWORTHY JUDGMENT RE MARRIAGE AND CELIBACY
(I Cor. 7:25-40)
a. Occasion for its pronouncement.
It is difficult to determine precisely what it is that is the occasion for the judgment the apostle here pronounces. In verse 26 the apostle speaks of “the present distress” or perhaps better translated “the impending distress.” And in verse 28 he speaks of “trouble in the flesh” or better translated “tribulation for the flesh”. And in verse 29 he declares “but this I say, brethren, the time is short” or possibly better translated “the time is being shortened.”
Some of the commentators refer you to the tribulations that precede and accompany the second coming of Christ. They insist that the apostle believed that the parousia was imminent, and had forewarned the Church that intense affliction lay just ahead for those in Christ. And in view of this advises that it would be better to be single than married, since one will have
enough trouble for himself alone without having also the trouble agitated by the special care for a wife and possibly children. (See Matthew 24).
Others think that the “distress” and “tribulation” refer to the persecutions which children of God endure throughout this dispensation, and more particularly towards its end. And in view of this, the apostle points out the preference for single life. (See John 16:33)
Now it seems to us that this can hardly be the occasion for the apostle’s advice, for the simple reason that were it so the apostle would simply warn against marriage absolutely. But this he does not do. Though it may be true that the apostle expected Christ’s return and its attending circumstances imminent and though it is true that Christ had forewarned His Church of persecutions and tribulations in the world and in Matthew 24:22 declared that “for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened,” to which vs. 29 is said to refer, and though we are unable to determine exactly what the “trouble” or “distress” is to which the apostle refers, we believe there must have been some local disturbance in Corinth which prompted the Church to inquire and the apostle to advise regarding the advisability of marriage under these conditions. It appears that there was some impending distress, the nature of which was so exacting that it raised the question in the minds of some: would it be better for the time being to desist from marriage?
In respect to this the apostle will render his own judgment, for he knows of no expressed command of the Lord. The Church may consider the apostle’s judgment as trustworthy, for he has had mercy conferred upon him by the Lord, so that he is trustworthy also in his judgment and advice. He had obtained mercy to be Christ’s apostle, and therefore was apt to teach and instruct the Church as a truthful and faithful witness. As such his word of judgment must be received.
b. Its content.
As to his judgment as such, the apostle answers two-fold. In the first place, it must be clearly understood that it is not sinful to marry, or to remain single or unmarried. If one is already married he is not to break that marriage, (vs. 27) And a wife is bound by the law as long as her husband lives, (vs. 38) By implication this means too that one who does not marry also does not commit sin by remaining in the unmarried state.
In the second place, the apostle throughout this section of the Epistle clearly intimates that it can be profitable to remain single or unmarried. For one thing, the apostle warns that those who marry shall have trouble for the flesh. This cannot mean that the apostle is warning against domestic troubles, in which husband and wife quarrel with each other, or parents and children have difficulty in regulating the home and the differences that arise in the administration of the home. Though these can be and often are troubles for the flesh. Undoubtedly the apostle has in mind the fact that when troubles like persecution, war, sickness, etc., come, the troubles for the flesh are increased when one has another or others to think about besides himself. Surely a single man can go to war much easier than a husband and father. And when the Church is assailed for her faith, it can be endured much more effectively when there are no physical attachments of wife and children. It is much easier for a young man who is unmarried to reject the union than it is for a father of a family of children. And it appears that under the present, impending distress the apostle advises the young not to marry for this reason. He means to say that one can meet the impending circumstances more capably when he is unmarried.
c. Its intent.
That there is purpose in his advice is plain from several considerations. In the first place, the apostle would have them be free from anxiety. They must be “without carefulness”, vs. 32.
It lies in the very nature of their calling to center all their attention and care on their service of God. Nothing else may have preeminence in their lives. Therefore those that have wives must be as though they had none, those that weep as though they wept not, etc. This is most difficult to do. Of this the apostle is full aware, for He admits that one who is married cares for the things of the world how he may please his or her mate. Yet definite heed must be given to our calling, and our hearts may not be so over-taxed with anxiety that we are unable to fulfil it. In the second place, it is evident that positively the apostle would have the church set her mind on the heavenly scheme. In the last part of verse 31 he shows that the scheme of this world passes away. The world, this cosmos, in which we live, as it is developing under the power of sin and corruption, has a definite pattern which all men by nature follow and to which they conform. This world with its pattern is like a drama on a stage. It passes before you, but surely it passes off the stage. It is always in the process of passing away. But the children of God do not belong to that world, because they are being transformed in the renewing of their minds into the image of Christ. (Rom. 12:2) They belong to another world which God had eternally in mind, that is, a heavenly.
This world which shall presently replace the old one also has its pattern. And to this the Church is required to set her mind. To be married and given in marriage, we must not forget, belongs to the pattern of the world that pattern of the world that passes away. It is not therefore the most important thing in life. If therefore it is possible for us to be devoted to the heavenly scheme without any distraction, this is to be preferred as most desirable.
Questions for Discussion
1. Is it necessarily sinful to be subject to anxiety?
2. Does the apostle mean that because he only gives his advice, having no expressed command of the Lord, that his advice may be ignored?
3. Does verse 39 have anything to say about the matter of divorce?
4. What is the significance of the word “holy” in verse 34?
5. What does the apostle mean when he says in verse 40 that he has the “Spirit of God.”?
C. GIVING NO OFFENSE.
I Corinthians 8.
1. OCCASION FOR THIS SUBJECT.
Evidently the Church had asked the apostle’s advice regarding the eating of flesh offered to idols. No doubt many in the Church had only recently been converted from idolatry, and idolatrous practices. The connection between idolatry and impurity was very close, especially in Corinth, though the problem concerning the eating of meat offered to idols was not new, as is evident from Acts 15:29; 21:25.
The matter concerning which the apostle is required to shed light may be classed as belonging to adiaphora, that is, a matter which in itself is indifferent, ethically speaking. It is one of those things one may do or not do without committing a sin. It all depends on the subjective state of the mind and heart of the one affected. The questions here was relative to the eating of meat which has been offered to idols. This Left-over portion “was either eaten sacrificially, or taken home for private meals, or sold in the markets.” And the question was: “What were Christians to do about eating such portions either buying in the market or eating in the home of another or at the feast of an idol?” There were some who being more enlightened, acted on the basis of their superior
knowledge about the non-existence of the gods represented by the idols. Since their conversion to Christ, they know the emptiness of idol worship. Paul admits that all Christians have this knowledge, but the problem cannot be solved by knowledge. Only love edifies, builds up. To us, i.e., to the Christians, there is only one God, and one Lord Jesus Christ.
The apostle continues by making the distinction between the stronger and the weaker brother. The stronger is he who has this knowledge that it cannot possibly be sinful to eat meat just because it is sacrificed to idols. His conscience is free when he eats. He believes he is in harmony with the will of God, and does not violate any precepts when he eats of this meat.
On the other hand, there is also a weaker brother. He with “a conscience of the idol” eats that same meat as a thing offered to idols. And his “conscience being weak is defiled.”
2. THE SIN OF GIVING OFFENSE.
Now that weaker brother may see the stronger eating say in public: What will be the likely result? He may be ashamed of his own attitude, and just for his own sake also eat of
that meat, while his conscience tells him all the time that he sins by doing so. In such a case he very really sins, for he says to himself “it is as sin against my Lord to eat, but I am ashamed to confess Him here in public; hence, I rather deny the Lord than appear silly in the eyes of others.”
Well in such a case the stronger brother must refrain from eating meat, in order not to put a stumbling-block in the way of his weaker brother. If he nevertheless eats, knowing that he will cause the weaker brother to stumble, he thereby leads that weaker brother in the way of perdition. As far as he is concerned, he will let the brother, for whom Christ died, perish. The apostle does not say that the weaker brother shall perish, for whom Christ died. That is forever impossible. But he asks the stronger brother the question which in effect amounts to this: Shall, as far as it is in your power, as far as your attitude is the cause of it, through your greater knowledge, that weaker brother perish? Do you dare to assume the attitude that you care not whether the weaker brother stumbles and perishes, while Christ died for him? Will you not give up meat that your brother sin not? While Christ gave up His life that he should not perish?
3. THE CONCLUSION.
The answer to that last question is of course negative. “Wherefore, if meat make my brother to offend, I will eat no flesh while the world standeth, lest I make my brother to offend.”
This is Paul’s principle of love (vs. 2) applied to the matter of eating meats offered to idols. Paul had rather be a vegetarian than to lead his weak brother to do what he considered sin.
Questions for Discussion
1. What is conscience? Weak conscience? vs. 7.
2. What is your judgment of those churches which use grape-juice instead of fermented wine in the Lord’s Supper, on the principle that it may mislead a weaker brother?
3. What are some of the practical implications of this chapter?
4. In what way does one sin against Christ when he sins against the brother? vs. 12.
D. PAUL’S SELF-SACRIFICING LOVE FOR THE GOSPEL AN EXAMPLE.
I Corinthians 9.
1. THE CONNECTION OF THOUGHT HERE.
This chapter may be considered as a sort of interlude between chapter 8 and chapter 10. The line of thought expressed in chapter 8 is taken up again in chapter 10:27ff. He had given advice on the question of eating meat sacrificed to idols, and in chapter 10:27ff he concludes his advice on this matter.
In chapter 9, the apostle broadens out on the idea of foregoing one’s privilege for the sake of the brother. He closed chapter 8 with the declaration that he would eat no meat forever if he by doing so would make his brother to offend. He now shows how in his, entire ministry he lived by this principle of forsaking his privilege for the Gospel’s sake, and for the sake of the Church.
2. THE ASSERTION OF PAUL’S LIBERTY—(vss. 1-11)
a. His right as an apostle.
In the vss, 1-6, the apostle maintains the idea that he was an apostle not only, but also as an apostle was not below the rest of the apostles in their rights. He had the power (authority, right) to eat and drink like the others. He had the power (the right) to be married and care for a wife as well as Peter and the Lord’s brethren. He and Barnabas had the right to desist from doing manual labor as well as the rest of the apostles. By the latter he is evidently referring to the fact that he and Barnabas had received no help from the Church at Antioch when they went out on their first missionary journey, but were left to work their way at their own charges. This Paul preferred to do always, also particularly at Corinth. There was only one exception to this, and that was the gifts, he received from the Church at Philippi. But certainly he had a right to expect the same treatment as the rest of the ministers of God’s Word. It was also his privilege to be materially supported by the Church.
b. Proved by experience.
The apostle appeals to the congregation with an argument they all clearly understand to show that his position was in no respect below that of other apostles. He uses a three-fold illustration from everyday life to show this. A soldier who is called to military service does not go at his own expense. The man who owns and plants a vineyard cannot be denied the eating of the fruit which he himself has planted. The keeper of sheep will surely not be questioned when he drinks of the milk of his flock. Surely on this same basis no one could deny the apostle also the right to live of the Gospel. But if this argument will not suffice, Paul has yet another.
c. Proved by Scripture.
He will prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he has rights. Surely all will understand the Scripture which said: Thou shalt not muzzle the mouth of the ox, etc. And this Scripture, this commandment, was not given merely because God would have a special care for the beast which labored for its master, but this was written specifically, says Paul, for our sakes, for the apostles, for the ministers of God. When these ministers minister spiritual things it is expected that they shall reap the carnal things, the material necessities of life which the Church possesses and should use for the care of her ministers.
Questions for Discussion
1. Is it not peculiar that Antioch sent them away without assistance? How do you account for this? (Acts 13)
2. Would it be wrong today for a minister to do manual labor on the side for a living?
3. What is the content of “the freedom” in vs. 1?
4. How was the Church the seal of his apostleship? vs. 2.
3. THE SELF-DENIAL OF PAUL’S LIBERTY—I Cor. 9:12-27
a. More Proof of his Liberty
In the vss. 13,14, referring to the care the Lord provided for the priests in the O. T. by way of commandment, Paul lays one more proof before his readers of what also is to be expected with respect to ministers of the gospel. By law God provided for the Levitical priest’s material welfare in the old dispensation. They were to have of the fat of the sacrifices which the people brought. (See Leviticus 5, 6 and Numbers 18:8-20). Of this the church at Corinth was fully aware if she understood the O. T. Scriptures. But even if she didn’t, she should know that the Lord Jesus also had something to say about this. When He sent out the seventy, He gave them commandment, “and in the same house remain, eating and drinking such things as they give: for the laborer is worthy of his hire.” (Luke 10:7) Definitely therefore the Lord has seen to it that His Church shall provide for His ministers. They
may therefore expect their wages. Christ commands it.
b. The Self-Denial as such.
From the foregoing, it should be abundantly evident that the apostle could have taken advantage of the “power” (right) like others and, instead of doing manual labor, “lived of
the Gospel.” But this power he did not use. In vss. 12 and 15, he avers that he made no use of this right. He deliberately declined to use his right to pay in Corinth. He was willing to “suffer all things” vs. 12. The word “suffer” comes from a word the root meaning of which is “roof”, hence to cover up, to conceal, to endure. He was willing to be and to bear all things for the Gospels’ and for the Churches’ sake. Though he was free, he enslaved himself to all. (vs. 19). Unto the Jews he became a Jew; to those under law, as being under law; to those without law, as being without law; to the weak, he became as
weak. He was made all things for the Gospels’ sake.
c. The Purpose of this Self-Denial.
As I see it the purpose of the self-denial was three-fold. In the first place, the apostle’s intent was not to abuse his power (right) in the Gospel so that the cause of the Gospel of Christ be hindered, (vss. 12,18). I suppose this means that he would, never have it said of him that he preached the Gospel only for money. He would not have the Gospel, and its rich content depreciated by the fact that its preaching had added to Paul’s personal gain.
In the second place, he denied himself with the expressed purpose that by all means he might save some. (vs. 22). That Paul could become a Jew to win the Jew, come under the law to win those under the law, etc., does not mean that he could set aside principles, simply to gain converts. We know Paul better than to do that. But tactfully he applied himself to the work of winning souls. A preacher must be a soul winner, not, of course, in that silly sense in which it is spoken of in our day. As though Christ cannot save His own souls. That was not Paul’s intention. Rather he would not allow his own person, and character to stand in the way of getting the Gospel across. Too, for example, assume an aggressive attitude, a proud and haughty spirit in the presence of the weak, would spoil all contact with them. This is one of the hard tact with them. This is one of the hardest things for a preacher to learn. Paul was a master in this.
In the third place, it seems to me that there is something subjective in this self-denial of Paul. He was also concerned about his own salvation. He would also
be partaker of the things of the Gospel he preached to others, (vs. 23). He could not bear the thought that while he preached to others, he himself should be a castaway. He therefore personally brought himself into subjection like the runner in a race; the boxer in the arena. Surely should the apostle preach sincerely to others while he himself lived carelessly, he would not only be a hindrance to the Gospel, but he would also lose the certainty of his own salvation. And how necessary also this is for the preacher of the Gospel. He must always preach to himself as well as to others.
But there is more significance in this. Also the Church must learn from Paul’s example to walk in fear, or to put it in the words of Paul in another passage: “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God Who worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure”.
Questions for Discussion:
1. Should a church pay her minister what he is worth, or what he needs?
2. What do you think of churches who vie with one another in the matter of salaries to get a certain minister?
3. Does the minister not have to reckon with his salary when he is considering a call?
4. Is there any significance in the fact that Paul does not say in vs. 22 that “to the strong I became as strong?”