It is not LOVE that is our first commitment. It is TRUTH.
I didn’t want to teach today’s lesson.
It’s not that the scripture to study today is difficult to understand. Quite the opposite, in fact. It’s too easy to understand. It’s just impossible for many to follow. Including me. Teaching a lesson about the meaning and purpose of marriage to singles, marrieds, and divorcees that stays encouraging and doesn’t hurt anybody just seemed to be a task that was beyond my ability.
I even tried to find something else to teach. I reached out to a pastor and told him that I found it impossible to teach today’s lesson without upsetting many. The word will sound harsh. The lesson talks about husbands and wives and the promises we make to one another. And I know several in here have been divorced. Some are in the process of getting a divorce. I myself have been divorced. Twice. I bet you never knew that. I’m pretty sure you don’t know that because I don’t like to talk about it. Those are my failures. They are both my personal failures, and when I read today’s scripture, I understand they are my failures toward God.
I told my wife I had argued with God and I told God thanks for the suggestion, but I’ve decided to teach from a different chapter.
My wife sided with God.
In the end, I stumbled across this phrase while studying, “It is not LOVE that is our first commitment. It is TRUTH.” Too many want to teach only the feel-good aspects of the bible, the prosperity gospel, the social gospel, the loving gospel, and here I was, getting ready to do the exact same thing. I wanted to teach the love, even when the lesson is about the truth.
And isn’t that part of the Armor of God that we should put on every morning? The Belt of Truth?
The bible is not about just love, or even truth. It is about God’s glory. When we short-circuit God’s plan and express love without truth, we diminish His glory. So after losing the argument with God (again), I sat down to do as He asked. So we are going to study the purpose of marriage. And in the end, I pray that we will see that there is truth, there is love, and above all, there is God’s glory.
II. 1 Corinthians 7:1-5: Purpose of Marriage (Human Perspective)
Let’s start with the first 5 verses of 1 Corinthians 7 –
Now concerning the things about which you wrote, it is good for a man not to touch a woman. But because of immoralities, each man is to have his own wife, and each woman is to have her own husband. The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.
Scripture is clear that our priority should always be to the Lord. Not only is He number one, but He is also Alpha. And Omega. He is our All in All. And everything I’ve ever read in scripture, from the Old Testament to the end of the New Testament, is that there is only one thing that provokes God, and that is to put something else in front of Him.
And that includes other people. Now, don’t get me wrong; of course, we are to love others. It’s just that God deserves and is jealous for the #1 position. We don’t love others despite God; what an awful arrangement. No, we love others because of God, not instead of God.
So Paul starts with “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” He’s not saying this is best, only that it is not necessary to have a fulfilling life with Christ if one is not married. My opinion? I’ve met so many single people over the years that are laser-focused on finding a spouse. They join a church to find a spouse, they join a sport to find a spouse, they go to bars and single events to find a spouse. To me, that is a sure sign the priorities are misplaced. Singles often go looking for somebody to “complete them.” That’s the phrase that makes me cringe. “I just want somebody to complete me.”
That tells me they are an incomplete and needy person. There is a God-shaped hole in their heart they are trying to fill with a person. We long for someone wo will always be there for us, who will be 100% faithful, who will never falter, who forgives us when we falter, and who will stay with us until the very end. And no matter who they find, that person will never fill that hole because that hole was never meant to be filled by a human. And then the disappointment starts. And then the blame for that disappointment. And then anger and bitterness. And all because they tried to find a human being to complete them in a way that only Jesus can.
Far better to be complete already. To be overflowing with the grace and mercy and kindness that comes from a perfect relationship with Jesus. When we realize the perfect love from Jesus, then we no longer have the need to be loved by a person the way a person that has just stuffed themselves at Thanksgiving doesn’t need to eat. We are satisfied, we are complete. Then, with the overabundance of love can we contribute to somebody else. Instead of each person contributing 50% and arguing over whether somebody is doing less than their share, both doing 150% and overflowing with love and there is abundance.
But we walk in a broken world and ruled by Satan. And stumbling blocks to that perfect relationship with Christ are everywhere, both to believers and nonbelievers. And the news media loves to find pastors that stumble and hold them up to the world and say, “behold, yet another fallen Christian who preaches one thing and does another. The church is full of hypocrites.”
Paul says that one of the purposes of marriage is to help guard against this sort of sin. Each man should have a wife, and each wife should have a husband. But look at how Paul orders these verses; a man doesn’t take a wife in order to prevent his own sin. That’s self-centered. When our goal is to be like Christ, of course we take care of ourselves, but we live for others like Christ lived for us. Paul says the reason for a man to take a wife is to fulfill his duty to his wife. And it is the wife’s duty to fulfill her physical duties – that’s a euphemism for sex, please don’t make me explain that – the wife fulfils her physical duties to her husband to help him resist sin.
Again, it’s not what marriage can do for us. It is what we can do for the marriage. And one of the purposes of a God-centered marriage is to do what we can, in a positive and encouraging way, is to provide physical intimacy to our spouse as a gift to make it easier for them to resist sin.
III. 1 Corinthians 7:10-16: Let Your Yes be Yes
Let’s continue with verses 10 through 13,
But to the married I give instructions, not I, but the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband (but if she does leave, she must remain unmarried, or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.
But to the rest I say, not the Lord, that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he must not divorce her. And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.
I said earlier that it’s not difficult to understand the scripture. It says what it says, and any mental hoops we jump through to justify some other meaning doesn’t change what this scripture says. Believers should not divorce their unbelieving spouses. As Jesus says in Matthew 5:37,
“Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No.’”
I looked into divorce statistics this week in preparation for this lesson. You’ve probably heard that 50% of marriages end in divorce, and I’m happy to say that’s a bad application of statistics. The highest rate of divorce in a 2001 survey was 41% for men and 39% for women. Still pretty high. And since 1980, the divorce rate has been slowly dropping, but not always for the best reasons. In many cases, people are just deciding to live together without getting married. If you never marry, you never divorce, right?
And you’ve probably also heard that Christians are just as likely as everybody else to get divorced, though that’s probably bad statistics, too. Conservative Christians who go to church regularly are 35% less likely to get divorced. One common thread in successful Christian marriages is that both partners put Jesus first, and their spouse second. They value their relationship more than they value winning any argument.
On the other hand, people who call themselves Christian but do not go to church regularly are 20% more likely to get divorced. And those without religious affiliation or with different religions are 35% more likely to get divorced.
Why? Too many reasons to list. Every marriage is different, every failed marriage is different. In some cases, the two people may be “unequally yoked,” a phrase from 2 Corinthians 6:14 that says,
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
When two oxen are yoked together, the two oxen can pull better than one. When one stumbles or grows weak, the other can take up the slack, and each supports the other. But unequally yoked, the oxen aren’t even pulling in the same direction. The work is just as hard, and on top of that, they are struggling with the other.
Those that understand this scripture live this scripture and make sure they do not become yoked with an unbeliever. Help an unbeliever, sure. But enter a relationship with an unbeliever? Marriage has so many challenges even when you are heading the same direction, and it’s impossible if you’re pulling in opposite directions.
But when we find ourselves unequally yoked, Paul says we should honor our marriage vows. If the unbeliever wants to leave, let them leave, but don’t initiate a divorce. And if one is married to an unbeliever, Paul tells us the God will use us for His purpose in 1 Corinthians 7:14-16,
For the unbelieving husband is sanctified through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy. Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or the sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
If we are unequally yoked, Paul tells us to stay married because we have a mission field of one: We are to be a witness to the unbelieving spouse. It’s a one to one witness like no other.
So that is what a perfect Christian spouse married to an unbeliever should do. And as Jesus says in Matthew 5:48,
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Be perfect. Never make a mistake, never come up short. Be perfect every single time.
Trouble is, I don’t know any perfect Christian spouses. Including me. My wife comes pretty close, especially when she’s admonishing me to teach the lesson I was given and not the lesson I wished I had. But she’s not perfect. In fact, I don’t know any perfect people. Every person I know is a failure at something. Romans 3:23 says,
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
Every single person, except Jesus, has failed. Including me. Including you. Including your spouse or ex-spouse or future boyfriend or ex-girlfriend or your oldest son or youngest daughter or best friend or worst enemy. Every single person has failed and fallen short of the perfect plan that God has planned for them.
In many ways, we are like God’s chosen people. At first there was only one rule – don’t eat the fruit of that tree over there. Then it was Ten Commandments and then all those rules in Leviticus and then 613 mitzvots.
So many rules. So many ways to fail. So many ways to fall short of the glory of God. Israel worshipped idols and married pagans and did evil in the sight of the Lord for centuries. The rules became so difficult that there was no way anybody could follow them all.
Until the Son of God came. Jesus was perfect. Hebrews 4:15,
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.
Jesus was perfect, and willingly sacrificed Himself on the cross as a punishment for our failures so that we may have eternal life. The punishment for our sins is death and the wrath of God, but it is paid in full by the Son of Man. And that verse that said we have all fallen short? There’s good news; here’s the rest of that verse –
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Jesus knows I am a sinner, I’ve fallen short. And yet He willingly died so that I may live. It’s a miracle that just keeps on giving because I’m apparently not done sinning, despite my best efforts to be perfect.
So did I wander away from our topic today? That married couples are supposed to have sex to help their partner avoid sin and that believer should not divorce their unbelieving spouses?
I don’t think so. Of all the things we do in this life, trying to maintain our relationships with one another in love is the most challenging thing we will ever do, whether it’s our spouse or friend or child or stranger. And if we fail in the little things like stealing a pencil from the office or telling a little white lie, then it’s no wonder so many of us will fail, have failed, in the big things like marriage and divorce. But our God is bigger than any of our sins.
Thomas Moore, a poet from the early 1800’s, wrote a poem that captures our gratitude for this sacrifice, that God is bigger than our sins. The first stanza goes like this,
Come, ye disconsolate, where’er ye languish,
come to the mercy seat, fervently kneel.
Here bring your wounded hearts, here tell your anguish;
earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal.
Whatever our failures are, God already knows. God has already paid for them. And God loves us despite our many failures.
IV. Revelation 19:7-9: Marriage Supper of the Lamb
So 1 Corinthians 7 has scripture that is easy to understand yet difficult to live. If we’re single, recognize that marriage isn’t a chance to make ourselves complete, but to help another to be complete. If we’re married, recognize God’s will is that we hold nothing back from our spouse, and if our spouse is not a believer, then we have a mission field of one to show how Christ lives in us. And then recognize that this is the biggest challenge of living, the relationships we have with others, and that we are going to fail.
And despite scripture that tells us to be perfect like Christ, we are human and we’re going to fail. But Christ never fails. His love is perfect.
And Christ demonstrates this love in his own marriage.
What? You didn’t realize Jesus Christ was married? That there is a Mrs. Christ? Here’s a description of the wedding in Revelation 19:7-9,
Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints.
Then he *said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he *said to me, “These are true words of God.”
In case you haven’t figured it out, Mrs. Christ is the church of all believers. To fully understand the vision in Revelation, though, we need a quick study of the wedding customs in the time of Mr. Christ.
There were three major customs of the wedding. The first custom was the marriage contract, signed by the parents of the bride and the groom, and the parents of the groom would pay a dowry to the bride. This is the betrothal period or the engagement.
The second custom occurred a year later. The groom, accompanied by his male friends, would go to the house of the bride at midnight, making a parade with torches through the streets. The bride would know ahead of time that he was coming and she would be waiting expectantly with her maidens, and then all the grooms and groomsmen and the bride and the maidens would all parade to the bridegroom’s father’s house and make their new home together. This custom is illustrated in one of Jesus’ parables of the ten virgins in Matthew 25.
The third custom was the wedding and the feast which could go on for several days, as in the wedding that Jesus attended when He turned the water into wine.
In John’s vision in Revelation of the wedding feast, he’s describing this third custom, the wedding feast, the marriage supper of the lamb, but all three customs have been observed. The first custom, the dowry, has already been completed. Each person, when making their decision to place their trust in Jesus, requires a dowry from the groom’s father. God the Father provided this dowry by shedding the blood of our savior on the cross, paying all debts in full.
The church of believers is betrothed to Christ, we are engaged, and the night of the wedding approaches. Like the wise virgins in the parable, we should all be watching and waiting for the Bridegroom to appear. This is the rapture when Christ appears to claim His bride, the church, and take the bride to His father’s house.
Then we get to the third custom in Revelation 19, the marriage supper of the Lamb. The bride has made herself ready and blessed are those who are invited, there is a glorious celebration of all who have wed themselves to Christ.
And unlike fallible humans like you and me, Christ will never fail and never go back on His word, His promise endures forever. Jesus will succeed where we could not, and our marriage to Christ will last then thousand years and then forevermore.
I heard this hymn last week and I thought it was perfect to wrap up today’s study of 1 Corinthians 7. Written in 1860 by Samuel John Stone, we are reminded that the promise of Jesus to bring His church unto Him was bought with a great dowry and comes with a promise that will never be broken.
The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By spirit and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.
To God be the glory. Amen.