AN EXPOSITION OF 1 CORINTHIANS 7:1-2
There is almost no modern-day local church problem that is not covered in 1 Corinthians. The church was filled with theological and personal problems, one of which concerned marriage. Someone had written the apostle Paul seeking his counsel about marriage. This is the first of six questions he would address.
What about Marriage? 1 Corinthians 7
What about Christian Liberty? 1 Corinthians 8
What about Church Conduct? 1 Corinthians 11
What about Spiritual Gifts? 1 Corinthians 12-14
What about the Resurrection? 1 Corinthians 15
What about the Collection? 1 Corinthians 16
1 Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.
The word for touch means to touch in an intimate sensual way.
A major concern in the church of Corinth was the propriety of marriage; that is, whether it was lawful and expedient. It is amazing that such a question would arise, because the Bible teaches that marriage is an honorable institution, ordained by God in the Garden of Eden. The Song of Solomon exalts the virtue of marriage, as do the Proverbs. “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favour of the LORD.” (Prov. 18:22) So marriage is lawful. It is a Divine idea. However, sometimes marriage is not convenient, meaning it is not suited to the present circumstances.
For example, a young man going off to war might be hesitant to take a wife, unless of course, he was a soldier in the Hebrew army in the Old Testament era. Then, he was allowed a year’s furlough. “When a man hath taken a new wife, he shall not go out to war, neither shall he be charged with any business: but he shall be free at home one year, and shall cheer up his wife which he hath taken.” (Deut. 24:5)
A person who is terminally ill might find it inconvenient to marry, as tragic as that is.
A man who does not have a job might find it inconvenient to marry when he cannot support a wife. “Prepare thy work without, and make it fit for thyself in the field; and afterwards build thine house.” (Prov. 24:27)
Because Paul recognized there are occasions where marriage might be inconvenient, the idea has arisen that the apostle was celebrating celibacy, especially in the work of the ministry. Nothing could be further from the truth, for Paul later teaches that enforced celibacy is a doctrine of demons. “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils; 2 Speaking lies in hypocrisy; having their conscience seared with a hot iron; 3 Forbidding to marry, and commanding to abstain from meats, which God hath created to be received with thanksgiving of them which believe and know the truth.” (1 Tim. 4:1-3)
Great harm is done within Christendom when Christians are forbidden to marry. Such a prohibition violates the strongest impulse in human nature, which is to marry, procreate, and enjoy the sensual pleasures God intended individuals to know. Why then has celibacy been encouraged in the Church?
One reason is practical. A person who remains unmarried is free from many worries and responsibilities, and is able to engage in ministry without ordinary distractions. The burdens of evangelism, or missionary work, are not always conducive to having a stable family life. When Ruth Graham met Ma Sunday, the wife of the fame evangelist Billy Sunday, she asked for counsel. Ma Sunday told Ruth, “Stay at home with the children.” It was good counsel. Another reason celibacy has been encouraged in the Church, is because Jesus lived a chaste life and never married. Some of His disciples were also chaste and celibate. Peter had a wife, but others might have remained unmarried. Paul, seems to recommend celibacy when he wrote to the Corinthians, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 9 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.” (1 Cor. 7:8-9)
The practice of priestly celibacy began to be embraced in earnest in the Western Church in AD 304. The first written mandate requiring priests to be chaste was issued in Canon 33 of the Council of Elvira, which council was held in southern Spain. It stated that “all bishops, presbyters, and deacons and all other clerics” were to “abstain completely from their wives and not to have children.” Whatever good intentions were held by the issuing of that Canon law, it was a work of the devil. A short time later, in AD 325, the Council of Nicea, convened in Turkey by Constantine, rejected a ban on priests marrying requested by Spanish clerics. Nevertheless, the issue remained. The practice of priestly celibacy began to spread in the Western Church in the early Middle Ages when Pope Benedict VIII (c. 980-1024) issued a ruling, prohibiting the children of priests from inheriting property. He was trying to arrest the decline in the morality of priests who were abusing the power of their office. Priests were fathering children without getting married.
A stronger stance was taken in favor of celibacy when Pope Gregory VII (c. 1015 – 1085) issued a decree against clerical marriages. Finally, in 1139, at the Second Lateran Council, in Rome, a rule was approved forbidding priests to marry. In 1563, the Council of Trent, in northern Italy, reaffirmed the tradition of celibacy.
Again, the question arises as to why there was such an emphasis on celibacy by popes and church councils.
The primary answer is not difficult to discern. It was, and is a matter of power. If the church can control a person’s sex life, it can control other facets of their life.
The ban on marriage might have been mixed with nobler ideas, such as improving the moral life of the priests, or lifting the status of priests when their authority was being challenged by nobles and others, but the primary reason was control.
Most Protestants have taken exception to celibacy, arguing that it promotes deviant behavior, homosexuality, and fornication of every form, including pedophilia. According to the National Catholic Review, the U.S. Catholic church has incurred nearly $4 billion in costs related to inappropriate sexual activity of the clergy during the past 65 years. When the natural God given impulses of the body are violated, there is danger which which is why Paul writes, that, in order to avoid inappropriate relationships, let every man have a wife, and every woman a husband.
2 Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband.
If there is a lesson to be derived from Paul’s council, and church history, it is that human behavior never changes.
The struggles of the saints to exercise self-control, to be holy, and to avoid fornication, are constant. There is danger everywhere. There is need for commitment and consecration to Christ on a daily basis.
Something to Make You Smile
Wife: Do you want dinner?
Husband: Sure, what are my choices?
Wife: Yes and no.
Bill’s second Anniversary was coming up and if there was one thing that got his wife Suzy upset, it was not getting a thoughtful gift on a special occasion. Bill quizzed all his friends, coworkers, clients and anyone he happened to bump into, as to what would be a good anniversary present. He finally settled on a huge bouquet of flowers. Not willing to trust himself to pick out the right flowers, Bill called up a local flower shop with strict instructions to deliver the biggest most beautiful bouquet of flowers first thing in the morning with the following note “Happy Anniversary, Year Number Two!”
The morning of the Anniversary Bill made sure Suzy would be the one to answer the door as he waited anxiously in the other room. “WHAT IS THIS ALL ABOUT!” Hollered Suzie angrily holding up his well thought out note, “Happy Anniversary You’re Number Two!”
Mary and Dave got along pretty well. But there was one thing that drove Mary absolutely crazy, and that was no matter how many times she told Dave how important it was to her that he come on time for dinner, he never did.
It was after one such spat that he got down on his knees and said “Mary, I promise I am turning over a new leaf. From now on I will be on time for dinner!”
Well, the next day, promptly at 5 o’clock, Dave locked up his shop and headed out the door to his car. When suddenly out of nowhere a car pulled up next to his parked car and hit Dave. Dave was rushed to the hospital. Luckily they let him out after 3 hours and he walked in the door to his house at 8 o’clock.
Mary was livid! “Wait I can explain” pleaded Dave, “I got run over by a car!”
“REALLY!?,” screamed Mary, “IT TAKE 3 HOURS TO GET RUN OVER BY A CAR!?”