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Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth (2 Timothy 2:15)
Established November 2008 Published weekly on Friday
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. 1Timothy 2:3-4
Whenever I teach a class I begin by telling the students to picture themselves in the time period they are studying. To do this you’ll need to read up on the historical setting of that era. The next thing you need to do is determine who wrote the book or letter your about to study, who was it written to, and why was it written.
Here we have our Apostle Paul writing to the Corinthian Believers, who are not that far removed from their idolatrous and immoral background, i.e. paganism, and they are “hung up,” so to speak, on the subject of marriage and divorce. To be candid, pagans didn’t respect marriage. Women had few rights in Paul’s day and men were not expected to remain faithful to their spouse. They were pagans in every sense of the word, until Paul and God’s Word came along.
Please open your Bible at 1 Corinthians 7:10
1 Corinthians 7
10: But to the married I give instructions (Paraggello in the Greek language; pronounced: par-ang-gel’-lo, a verb, meaning – to command, order, charge), not I, but (who) the Lord, that the wife should not leave her husband
Right off the bat in verse 10, Paul wants the Corinthians to know the following instructions do not come from him, but the Lord. Paul is reminding these Believers of Jesus Christ’s teaching on the subject of divorce and remarriage (Matthew 19:3-12).
Paul uses the same Greek word that he had previously used in the Thessalonian letters for a direct command Paraggello (see 1 Thessalonians 4 & 2 Thessalonians 3). So, what Paul says here is not his personal preference, but a matter of following the direct command of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Any covenant, including the marriage covenant, is a binding, substantial obligation for both the husband and the wife. In Proverbs 20:25 it says: It is a trap for a person to say impulsively, “This is a holy offering!” and later to have second thoughts about those vows. So, in verse 10 Paul addresses Believers who are married and he discusses the topic of divorce and remarriage and he does not mince words saying: the wife should not leave her husband. You don’t need to be a Harvard graduate to decipher his meaning. If the question in the lost letter was, “Can I divorce my husband?” God’s answer is, “No!”
The word leave in the Greek language is Chorizo (pronounced: kho-rid’-zo), a Verb, and it means – to separate from, to put away, to depart. This is the same word used by Jesus Christ when He said, “…Therefore, don’t let anyone separate what God has joined together.” (Matthew 19:6b)
For those who are married already, the wife should not leave the husband or divorce him, and the husband should not abandon or divorce his wife. The marriage should remain intact, and divorce is not an option. In fact, from the beginning, divorce or separation has never been God’s plan (Matthew 19:4-6).
God permitted it in His dealings with the nation of Israel under the Prophetic Program but this ruling doesn’t carry over into the Dispensation of Grace. The writing of divorce He instructed Moses to give to the hard-hearted Israelites to cover the one exception of adultery, i.e. fornication, was based on the fact that Jehovah’s wife, Israel, had to be divorced because of multiple idolatries. One day future true Israel will be restored and re-united again to her true Husband (Jeremiah 3:20; Isaiah 54:5-8).
If divorce should occur between two Believers, the marriage is still intact before God because of the covenant entered into by both parties (Romans 7:1-3, Malachi 2:14-16, 1 Corinthians 7:39). This means it is not right to divorce and then remarry. This is because of the fact that marriage is a permanent covenant until the death of a spouse. Thus, to remarry after a divorce is still adultery (Matthew 5:32). If a divorce occurs, then both parties should remain single. The desirable outcome is for them to reconcile and recommit themselves to one another. Thus both husband and wife should be wary of the danger of committing adultery.
Let’s go to verses 11-16.
1 Corinthians 7
11: (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.
It’s difficult to miss Paul’s parenthetical comment here in verse 11. Although God’s command forbids separation and divorce between Believers, Paul recognized that some of these marriages are going to eventually break apart:
a) The Corinthians are not that far removed from paganism
b) They’re operating in Satan’s realm, so they will suffer hardship and stress.
If Believers do leave their marriage partners, Paul offered two options:
1) Remain unmarried, or
2) Be reconciled to the original partner.
Take notice that it is the Believer who separates that must make the effort to reconcile with the other spouse (v11). But reconciliation could not take place, if the departing spouse decided to remarry, so Paul stresses the importance of remaining unmarried while making every effort to reconcile all their differences. Note: learn to communicate. It is also the duty of the one who remains behind not to remarry.
Let’s go to verses 12-14.
1 Corinthians 7
12: 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.
13: And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to live with her, she must not send her husband away.
14: For the unbelieving husband is sanctified (set apart) through his wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified through her believing husband; for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy.
Some of the people in Corinth had come to faith in Jesus Christ while they were married and their marriage partner did not make the same decision for the Lord, so this created a mixed marriage – meaning a Believer was married to an unbeliever. Evidently, some of these folks thought it wrong to stay married to an unbeliever, and that their marriage covenant became void (they wanted a “do-over”) after they put their faith in Christ.
When you have a Believer married to an unbeliever, obviously there is going to be friction or conflict because the two are unequally yoked (2 Corinthians 6:14). But Paul said a husband and wife who were married as unbelievers cannot claim that their new faith nullifies their marriage. Again, Paul gave this instruction and not the Lord: I say, not the Lord. So, Paul is saying, since Jesus gave no specific instructions on the subject of mix-marriages, he would provide it under the direct inspiration of the Holy Spirit. His advice matching what the Lord said.
If the unbelieving spouse is willing to live with the believing spouse, then the Believer must not divorce the unbeliever – the marriage is valid. The marriage should not experience separation, particularly since the unbeliever could still come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior.
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.
After reading this verse it’s not too difficult to surmise that some of the Believers in Corinth wanted to separate from their unbelieving partners thinking that they would be “defiled” by the unbelievers, and their children would be corrupted by the unholy union. Paul responds to this question by saying the opposite of this is true.
Believers need not fret that they themselves, their marriage, or their children would be defiled by their unbelieving spouse. On the contrary, both the unbelieving spouse and the children would be sanctified through the believing spouse. Paul’s point is this: it only takes one believing spouse to sanctify a home. Again, sanctify means to “set apart.” In God’s eyes, a home is “set apart” for Himself when the husband, wife, or any family member for that matter becomes a Believer. Even if the Believer in this home is criticized, ridiculed, and scorned by the unbelievers in the home, the family is blessed by God because of the one Believer. Don’t overlook the fact that the Holy Spirit dwells within that one Believer. God has taken up residence there and this makes all the difference.
…for otherwise your children are unclean, but now they are holy – if both the husband and wife were unbelievers, then yes the children would be considered unclean (enemies of God) according to this book. But the Lord guarantees that the presence of just one Believer in the home will protect the children. It does not assure their salvation. But they are protected from spiritual harm and they will receive spiritual blessing because they share in the spiritual benefits of their one believing parent; they are holy. Many times the testimony of the believing parent in this situation is effective because the children see a clear contrast between the unbelieving parent’s lifestyle and the believing parent’s walk with the Lord and this leads them to the Jesus Christ.
Let’s go to verse 15.
1 Corinthians 7
15: Yet if the unbelieving one leaves, let him leave; the brother or sister is not under bondage in such cases, but God has called us to peace.
Paul had dealt with the instance of the mixed marriage where an unbeliever was willing to stay, but now here in verse 15 he deals with the other alternative. If the unbeliever leaves (deserts) the Believer, he or she should allow them to go. If the unbeliever agrees to stay in the marital relationship the Believer is bound to remain also, but if the unbeliever leaves then the Believer is not under bondage.
If the unbeliever goes his or her own way, then the Believer is not bound to maintain the marriage or provide for the one who left. Paul’s words free the Believer from any blame or shame resulting from the separation he or she could do nothing about. But the unbeliever had to decide on their own to leave; the Believer must have no part in it.
God has called us to peace – so if the unbeliever goes their own way, he or she is allowed to do so peaceably rather than adding contention and strife to this very emotional event. Paul said it is possible for a Believer to maintain peace because it is not primarily derived from a husband or a wife, but from the Lord Jesus Christ. No matter what is occurring in our lives, Believers can have peace because they are in Christ Jesus (Philippians 4:6-9).
Let’s move on to verse 16
1 Corinthians 7
16: 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 you’ve been with HBS for any length of time, then you know you and I cannot save any one; only God, through the work of the Holy Spirit accomplishes this (Acts 16:14; 1 Corinthians 3:6).
This being the case, what’s Paul talking about? Scripture holds the answer, as usual. Please turn with me to 1 Peter 3:1 Wives, in a similar way, place yourselves under your husbands’ authority. Some husbands may not obey God’s word. Their wives could win these men [for Christ] (not by dragging them kicking and screaming to church, or by hitting them over the head with the Bible, but) by the way they live without saying anything. Their husbands would see how pure and reverent their lives are.
Peter said: don’t harass you’re husband; that tactic seldom if ever works, but keep on doing what you’re doing – living the Christ-like life; talking the talk, and walking the walk, and praying, and the Holy Spirit may just soften the unbelieving heart of your mate. So, Paul is saying if a wife or husband finds themselves in a marital relationship with an unbeliever, hang in there. Don’t give up. Do what you know you’re supposed to do and then one day the Gospel of Jesus Christ just might mean everything to your spouse (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
Let’s go to verses 17-24.
1 Corinthians 7
17: Only as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him (or her) walk. And so I direct in all the churches.
18: Was any man called when he was already circumcised? He is not to become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? He is not to be circumcised.
19: Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God.
20: Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called.
One of the main causes of strife in the Corinthian church was race and religion (7:18-20).
Earlier in the lesson, I noted that this church had its beginnings in a Jewish synagogue.
Thus some of the Corinthians evidently felt that the Jews were more religious than the Gentiles. Some of them wanted to be circumcised, and join, as it were, the Hebrew race.
On the other hand, many of the Jews felt that their position was a hindrance to them. They had heard Paul’s preaching on God’s Grace and how this applied to all the nations and come to rejoice in the glorious liberty of Believers in Christ Jesus, entirely apart from circumcision or the Law. Since the Gentiles at Corinth still naturally looked upon these folks as Jews, some of them were tempted to become uncircumcised, evidently by a surgical operation, so as to sever themselves completely from Judaism and the Law.
This is why Paul wrote: Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Each man must remain in that condition in which he was called (7:19-20).
Circumcision was, of course, the basic religious rite of Judaism (Genesis 17). It was the ceremony that separated the people of Israel from the rest of the pagan world. But now there is no difference. Our Apostle Paul writes: You are all God’s children by believing in Christ Jesus. Clearly, all of you who were baptized in Christ’s name have clothed yourselves with Christ. There are neither Jews nor Greeks, slaves nor free people, males nor females. You are all the same in Christ Jesus.
Let’s go to verses 21:24.
1 Corinthians 7
21: Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.
22: For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.
23: You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men.
24: Brethren, each one is to remain with God in that condition in which he was called.
Why the question of slavery (7:21-24) was posed by the Corinthian church is as obscured as these other questions. The Greek word Doulos (pronounced: doo’-los), a Noun, used four times in these verses, does not denote voluntary or hired service as does the Greek word Diakonos, but forced service, i.e. slavery. So, evidently forced slavery posed a significant problem for the Corinthian Believers. But why was this question on Paul’s list? Let’s consider the conditions involved in slavery in those days to see if it helps our understanding.
First, the culture of ancient Corinth was Roman and not Greek. In Paul’s day men were held as slaves for various reasons. Some were purchased at slave markets. Others were acquired in war and were felt to be the legitimate property or spoils of conquest. Still others (including some of those bought at the slave markets) served as slaves to pay off their debts – the result of bankruptcy cases.
Hebrew and Roman laws were not as lenient as our modern American laws where bankruptcy is concerned. A man could not waste his funds in reckless business ventures and then leave his debts unpaid simply by going into bankruptcy and filing chapter 7, 11, 12, or 13. If an Israelite found himself unable to continue in business because of unpaid debts, he either declared himself bankrupt or was declared bankrupt by his creditors. He was then “sold” (or he sold himself) to someone who was financially able to meet his obligations for him, and he generally worked without earning any wages for this master until his account was settled. This was the way it was handled under Roman law as well, and this is where the Scriptural law of “Kinsman Redeemer” originated, for a wealthy Jewish kinsman could redeem the slave from bondage by paying off his debt (Leviticus 25:47-48).
So, there were legitimate reasons for slavery in Paul’s day – the condition did exist. Now what should be done about it? Let’s begin with this: Whether bondservant or master, both hold the same position before the righteous and holy God. Thus, Paul suggests that should a slave be presented with an opportunity to be free he should take advantage of it. Were you called while a slave? Do not worry about it; but if you are able also to become free, rather do that.
But if in bondage, he said: For he who was called in the Lord while a slave, is the Lord’s freedman; likewise he who was called while free, is Christ’s slave.
According to my research, people either skip over this verse because they don’t understand Paul’s meaning or in attempting to interpret it they “miss the target” altogether. I don’t think Paul’s message could be any clearer. It is the Lord Jesus Christ who asks the believing bond-slave, and I’m paraphrasing, “Be content in your position; do this for Me. I’m the One who loves you and bought you with My own life’s blood.”
Read verse 23, with the above thought in mind: You were bought with a price; do not become slaves of men. Paul is saying, the bond-slave is not in bondage to any man, but to Christ, who bought both servant and master with His precious blood, that they might be His loving, willing bond-slaves. This is the attitude both master and bond-slave should adopt.
Does the master mistreat his bond-slave? Probably, but the bond-slave is asked to bear this burden for a time and is reminded that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as your reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Whoever does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism (Colossians 3:24-25).
(To be continued)
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