DON’T CHANGE A THING

1. 1 Corinthians 1:1-17

8. 1 Corinthians 7:18-40

The Mouse tags along while Paul continues his fatherly advice to the Corinthians: whether you’re circumcised or not, don’t reverse it; whether you’re a slave or free man, don’t feel you have to change your situation; whether you’re a virgin or not, don’t change your condition; whether you’re married or not, it’s better to stay as you are. Marriage will distract you from God, but it’s not a sin. Retaining your single status and your chastity is really the best choice. >ᴥ<

1 Corinthians 7

18 When a circumcised man is called he shouldn’t get uncircumcised. When an uncircumcised man is called he shouldn’t get circumcised.

Paul wants to make the point about not getting circumcised as he doesn’t want anyone getting dragged into trying to keep the law once they’ve avoided it by coming to faith, so he sets the stage with the, obviously impossible, reverse position of the circumcised Jew who comes to faith and, understanding about how faith supersedes the law, wonders if he should have his foreskin returned. If one situation is ridiculous, so is the other.

19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, what counts is following the precepts of God.

Despite Paul’s horror of legalism, he is mature enough in the Lord to see that uncircumcision, or the rejection of religious forms, is equally worthless in directing our lives, so he consigns both to the scrapheap of fleshly methods. The important thing we need to aim for is a happy and loving agreement in our spirits with the revealed will of God. For this to build our holy character we need to be a new creation, directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. Worrying about practicing religious rites or rejecting them is simply a distraction, fooling us into believing we are closer to God than we are.

20 Everyone should remain in the situation he was in when he was called.

Paul’s examples in this section are: married or not, circumcised or not, in servitude or not, virgin or not. He doesn’t actually bring up any other life condition because these are the primary ones, where even here continuance or cessation are unimportant.

21 If you were a slave when called, don’t let it bother you, but if you are able to become free then do so.

Being in slavery to anyone or anything other than Christ is going to undermine your single-minded obedience to the Lord.

22 For the one who was a slave when called is the emancipated of the Lord; just the same, the one who is free when called is the slave of Christ.

Paul stresses that the differences between these alternatives are irrelevant because the important thing is to live one’s life before God in purity; whether you do so as a slave or not, or as a virgin or not are truly of no consequence. We are generally driven to change our circumstances in order to get on, to improve our situation by the flesh, but here we are led to trust God with our circumstances when they need to change—in other words we are to live by faith since He owns us, not as the unbelievers live.

23 You were redeemed with inestimable value, so don’t become slaves of men.

Our redemption was effected with the divine life of Christ—a life of “inestimable value” so we were supremely honoured by that act. As a result, selling ourselves into slavery to a man is the equivalent of trashing Christ’s purchase.

24 Brethren, everyone should remain as he was called, drawing close to God.

25 Now, about virgins I have no command from the Lord, but I will give my opinion, as one who by the Lord’s mercy may be relied on.

It would seem Paul had received some kind of enquiry regarding the options open to the celibate and/or the young women. He is still clarifying that living a life free of sin is the target, so marital states are unimportant in themselves.

26 I think it best, because of the present need, to retain your current condition.

Exactly what this “present need” was is not clear, but it’s not going to derail Paul’s determination that all should remain in the situation their calling found them. Whatever our condition, we cannot improve it by changing our circumstances since even utter destitution with intimate fellowship with Christ is riches indeed. If we attempt to change our condition, what we are yearning for are actually the illusions of the world—the illusion that we can be in control of our own lives and circumstances without looking to God.

27 If you’re pledged to a wife don’t seek to be released; if you’re not don’t seek a wife.

28 Though if you should marry you’ve not sinned, and if the betrothed marries she has not sinned, but may well have troubles in this life which I would spare you.

29 But this I say brethren: the time is short so from now on those who have wives should live as though they don’t;

This is not Paul releasing married men to philander, he’s saying “don’t be absorbed in these worldly concerns at the expense of God’s program.”

30 those who weep as though they didn’t; those who rejoice as though they didn’t; those who purchase something as though it were not theirs to use;

31 and they who deal with the world, without using it, for the essence of the world is to deceive.

All the other translations tell us that the fashion, or way of the world, is passing away. Presumably they are hoping that this is the effect of having the gospel out there, but the Greek word means “mislead” or “lead away,” and a realistic assessment of history shows that if anything, the essence of the world, as antagonistic to the things of God, is getting stronger, not passing away. What it does do, however, is lead us away from the truth of God, deceiving us to our destruction.

Dealing with the world is as dangerous as using our flesh, so God has directed us to have as little to do with it as possible, and always remain terribly aware that it will burn us if we get too close. It’s all about humbly placing every aspect of our lives utterly into God’s hands in prayer to provide and direct, not using worldly methods to try to control anything for ourselves, but trusting Him to have our best interests at heart always.

32 I would like you untroubled by concerns—he that is unmarried is committed to the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord,

33 but he that is married is concerned about his worldly responsibilities—how he may please his wife.

34 This difference also separates a married woman from a virgin—the unmarried woman is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is distracted by the things of the world—how she can please her husband.

Other translations are divided on whether this verse stresses that the married man is divided between his wife and the Lord, or that the difference between the married and unmarried woman matches the difference between the married and unmarried man. I have gone for the latter since the Greek merízō (divided) is clearly attached to the two states of the woman, not to the concerns facing the man in the previous verse.

I think the concerns facing the married woman are very similar to the perfectly legitimate concerns that found Martha distracted by her domestic duties. This is what Paul is urging the single people in Corinth to avoid if they can, by not marrying.

35 Again, I’m saying this for your benefit, not to compel your obedience but so that you may honourably and diligently serve the Lord without distraction.

All the other translations include here some reference to “laying a trap,” “casting a noose,” or “ensnaring,” but Thayer’s Greek Lexicon explains that bróchos (noose) also means “to constrain to obey some command,” so the difficulty of seeing his recommendation as a possible trap, when it clearly couldn’t be, is not a problem—he’s simply saying, “Don’t worry, this is not another rule for you to slavishly follow, just helpful advice for those who want to take their discipleship seriously.”

36 But if anyone is being unfair to his betrothed, who feels she is getting too old and so it ought to happen, if he is willing, let him do as she wants, he is not sinning, let them marry!

The other translations get very scrambled on this passage. Most conclude that it is advice to fathers on giving their daughters away in marriage, leading to some very peculiar authoritarian attitudes towards their girls—especially those who are getting past it! The translations which tackle the subject as pertaining to a man’s feelings towards his fiancée, universally take it to mean he is inappropriately lusting for her—so getting married is obviously the only answer!

But what Paul is actually addressing here is the situation between a man and his fiancée—she is keen to start a family but feels her youth slipping away; if he is willing, then he should stop unfairly delaying her and get married, and it won’t be a sin. Paul is still stressing that he is not trying to lay another rule on them.

37 Yet he who stands settled in his heart, feeling no pressure but having control over his own will, and has decided in his heart to retain his chastity, does best.

Most translations here hang on to their assumption that Paul is talking about the couple in verse thirty-six or the father with his aging daughter—none have realised that he is talking about the choice of celibacy. This is addressing the man who (like Paul himself) is single, master of his own life choices, and has chosen the celibate lifestyle.

38 So then, he that marries is doing well, but the one who doesn’t is doing better.

Those translations which were advising fathers with regard to giving away their daughters in marriage, insist that (cruelly) not allowing the girl to marry is the better option! Those talking about a man and his fiancée suggest that it’s better to leave her longing for a marriage she will never see! But we know that cruelty is never an option for a disciple of Christ and so is no option for an assembly either.

39 A woman is bound by the law as long as her husband lives, but if her husband dies, she is free to marry another—if he belongs to the Lord,

Another example of someone who is single. The binding by the law is stopping a married woman divorcing or marrying a second husband while the first still lives.

40 but she is more blessed if she remain as she is, in my opinion, and in that I’m sure I have the Spirit of God.

Paul wants to let her know that while remarrying is entirely legal, and therefore not sinful, once she is widowed she will find her discipleship easier and more fruitful, and so she will be more blessed, if she accepts her new situation as from God and gets on with her life as a single widow.

When he says, “I’m sure I have the Spirit of God,” he means that his spirit has a settled peace from God in regard to the points he’s just been making.

Bless you folks, Geoff  >ᴥ<

1. 1 Corinthians 1:1-17 – 9. 1 Corinthians 8:1-13

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