The apostle answers several questions about marriage. (1-9) Married Christians should not seek to part from their unbelieving consorts. (10-16) Persons, in any fixed station, should usually abide in that. (17-24) It was most desirable, on account of the then perilous days, for people to sit loose to this world. (25-35) Great prudence be used in marriage; it should be only in the Lord. (36-40)
Verses 1-9 The apostle tells the Corinthians that it was good, in that juncture of time, for Christians to keep themselves single. Yet he says that marriage, and the comforts of that state, are settled by Divine wisdom. Though none may break the law of God, yet that perfect rule leaves men at liberty to serve him in the way most suited to their powers and circumstances, of which others often are very unfit judges. All must determine for themselves, seeking counsel from God how they ought to act.
Verses 10-16 Man and wife must not separate for any other cause than what Christ allows. Divorce, at that time, was very common among both Jews and Gentiles, on very slight pretexts. Marriage is a Divine institution; and is an engagement for life, by God's appointment. We are bound, as much as in us lies, to live peaceably with all men, ( Romans 12:18 ) , therefore to promote the peace and comfort of our nearest relatives, though unbelievers. It should be the labour and study of those who are married, to make each other as easy and happy as possible. Should a Christian desert a husband or wife, when there is opportunity to give the greatest proof of love? Stay, and labour heartily for the conversion of thy relative. In every state and relation the Lord has called us to peace; and every thing should be done to promote harmony, as far as truth and holiness will permit.
Verses 17-24 The rules of Christianity reach every condition; and in every state a man may live so as to be a credit to it. It is the duty of every Christian to be content with his lot, and to conduct himself in his rank and place as becomes a Christian. Our comfort and happiness depend on what we are to Christ, not what we are in the world. No man should think to make his faith or religion, an argument to break through any natural or civil obligations. He should quietly and contentedly abide in the condition in which he is placed by Divine Providence.
Verses 25-35 Considering the distress of those times, the unmarried state was best. Notwithstanding, the apostle does not condemn marriage. How opposite are those to the apostle Paul who forbid many to marry, and entangle them with vows to remain single, whether they ought to do so or not! He exhorts all Christians to holy indifference toward the world. As to relations; they must not set their hearts on the comforts of the state. As to afflictions; they must not indulge the sorrow of the world: even in sorrow the heart may be joyful. As to worldly enjoyments; here is not their rest. As to worldly employment; those that prosper in trade, and increase in wealth, should hold their possessions as though they held them not. As to all worldly concerns; they must keep the world out of their hearts, that they may not abuse it when they have it in their hands. All worldly things are show; nothing solid. All will be quickly gone. Wise concern about worldly interests is a duty; but to be full of care, to have anxious and perplexing care, is a sin. By this maxim the apostle solves the case whether it were advisable to marry. That condition of life is best for every man, which is best for his soul, and keeps him most clear of the cares and snares of the world. Let us reflect on the advantages and snares of our own condition in life; that we may improve the one, and escape as far as possible all injury from the other. And whatever cares press upon the mind, let time still be kept for the things of the Lord.
Verses 36-40 The apostle is thought to give advice here about the disposal of children in marriage. In this view, the general meaning is plain. Children should seek and follow the directions of their parents as to marriage. And parents should consult their children's wishes; and not reckon they have power to do with them, and dictate just as they please, without reason. The whole is closed with advice to widows. Second marriages are not unlawful, so that it is kept in mind, to marry in the Lord. In our choice of relations, and change of conditions, we should always be guided by the fear of God, and the laws of God, and act in dependence on the providence of God. Change of condition ought only to be made after careful consideration, and on probable grounds, that it will be to advantage in our spiritual concerns.
In this, chapter, various cases concerning marriage being proposed to the apostle, are answered by him; and he discourses of the nature, use, and end of marriage, and of the duties of married persons to one another; and gives advice to such as were unmarried, and points at the advantages of a single state, where it can be continued in without danger. Some of the Corinthians having written to him upon these heads, he returns for answer in general, that abstinence from marriage was most advisable; that is, at that time of persecution, and by those who had the gift of continence, and for reasons after mentioned, 1Co 7:1 though, in order to avoid fornication, it was absolutely necessary for truth who had not that gift to enter into it, and act agreeably thereunto, 1Co 7:2 and therefore advises both parties in such a state to yield due benevolence to each other, 1Co 7:3 giving this as a reason for it, that neither of them had power over their own bodies, but over each other's, 1Co 7:4 wherefore abstinence from the marriage bed ought not to be but with the following limitations; that it be by mutual agreement, and only for a time, and that only for the sake of devotion but that they come together again, lest Satan should take an advantage of their incontinency, and tempt them to evil, 1Co 7:5 though in all this the apostle would be understood to speak, not in an authoritative, but a permissive way, and rather by way of counsel than of command, 1Co 7:6 and expresses his hearty wish, that everyone was, and would continue, in a single state, as he himself; though he corrects himself by observing, that it was not the pleasure of God to bestow the gift of continency on everyone, and therefore suggests, that it was right for everyone to act according to the gift he had received, 1Co 7:7 and then addresses persons in a single state, whether they had ever been married or not, and advises them so to abide, partly by his own example, and partly by the profitableness of it, 1Co 7:8 but if they had not the gift of continency, his counsel is, that they enter into a marriage state, giving this reason for it, that it is better to enter into such a state than to be inflamed with lust, 1Co 7:9 and then he directs himself to married persons; and these he commands, not in his own name, but in the name of the Lord, to live together; and particularly, that the wife should not leave her husband for any trivial matter, or on account of any difference that might arise between them, 1Co 7:10 and that if she so did, she ought to remain unmarried, or seek to be reconciled to her husband, and come to him again; and, on the other hand, the husband ought not to divorce his wife, unless in case of adultery and wilful obstinate desertion, 1Co 7:11. And as to another case of conscience which was moved unto him, whether a believer, having married an unbeliever, should live together; he answers, that if a Christian brother had married an unbelieving wife, and she thought fit to continue with him, he should not put her away, 1Co 7:12. And so a Christian woman that had married an unbelieving husband, if it was his pleasure to dwell with her, she ought not to forsake him, 1Co 7:13 giving this reason for it, because they were legally married to each other, or otherwise their children must be reckoned bastards; whereas by maintaining the validity of their marriage, and abiding by it, they would appear to be legitimate, 1Co 7:14 but if the unbeliever, whether man or woman, thinks fit to desert the believing wife or husband, so be it, the party deserted may make themselves easy, nor are they under obligation to remain unmarried: however, as they are called to peace they ought to seek it, and endeavour to live quietly together, 1Co 7:15 and that for this reason, because they may be the means of the conversion, and so of the salvation of the unbelieving party, 1Co 7:16 hence the apostle takes an occasion to exhort every man in general to walk and abide in the calling wherein he is called, this being an order he had given to all the churches, 1Co 7:17 and which he exemplifies by particular instances, as that those who are called in circumcision, or in uncircumcision, should abide so, 1Co 7:18 because these are nothing, or indifferent things, which may be, or may not be; but keeping the commandments is binding, and not to be dispensed with, 1Co 7:19 wherefore the general rule is repeated, that it might be the more regarded and observed, 1Co 7:20. And another instance given, illustrating it, as that if a man is called while a servant, he should make himself easy, and continue so; though if he can have his freedom it is most eligible, 1Co 7:21. The reason persuading him to be satisfied with his condition is, because he that is called by grace, though a servant in a civil sense, is the Lord's freeman in a spiritual sense; and, on the other hand, he who is free in a civil sense when called, is in a spiritual sense a servant of Christ, 1Co 7:22 as clearly appears by his being bought with the price of his blood; and therefore neither one nor the other should be servants of men in matters of religion, 1Co 7:23. Wherefore, as before, it becomes every man to abide in the station in which he is called, until it please God in his providence to change his situation, 1Co 7:24. After this the apostle returns to his former subject about marriage, and addresses the virgins particularly, concerning whom he declares he had no express commandment from the Lord, but however was willing to give his judgment and advice, with all sincerity and uprightness, as one that had the honour to be counted faithful by the Lord himself, 1Co 7:25 and his judgment was, that considering the present persecution of the churches of Christ, it was better for single persons, men or women, to remain so, 1Co 7:26 though he advises those that were married by no means to desert one another, or seek to dissolve the marriage bond; as, on the other hand, those that were free from it, he would not have them seek out for a wife, 1Co 7:27 though should they, it would not be criminal in them; and whether young men or maidens, it was not unlawful for them to marry, only it was not so convenient for the present; and such therefore must expect trouble in the world, 1Co 7:28. However, it was proper, since time was short, and every worldly enjoyment was fading and perishing, that care be taken that there be no abuse of any, in whatsoever state and condition, or circumstance men were in; neither to be too much depressed with afflictive providences, nor too much elated with prosperous ones; and by no means to indulge to lasciviousness and luxury, 1Co 7:29-31. And whereas the married life is a careful one, and the apostle was desirous the persons he writes to should be without any distressing care, he advised so strongly as he did to a single state; and in order to persuade to it, he puts the difference between an unmarried and a married man, who though they both had their cares, yet about different things; the former about divine and religious things, in order to please the Lord; the latter about worldly things, in order to please his wife, 1Co 7:32,33. And just the like difference he observes there is between a wife and a virgin; the virgin, she is concerned about and taken up in religious matters, that she may increase in holiness, both inward and outward; and the wife is engaged in worldly and domestic affairs, which engross her thoughts and time, in order to please her husband, 1Co 7:34 wherefore the advice he had given to continue single, was manifestly for the profit and advantage of such persons in spiritual things; though he gave it with no design to ensnare any, who had not the gift of continence, but advised to it, when it could be done, in a comely manner, and that they might attend upon the worship of God, without distraction by worldly cares for their families, 1Co 7:35 but in case, when a virgin is ripe for marriage, and there is a necessity for it, it is by no means advisable in parents to behave uncomely to her, and refuse to marry her, and so deprive her of the remedy against incontinence; when such is the case, she ought to marry, that being not sinful, yea, it would be sinful to do otherwise, 1Co 7:36 yet where there is no necessity, where persons have the gift of continency, are steadfastly determined not to marry, but, to keep their virginity, this is commendable as well as profitable, 1Co 7:37 whence this conclusion is drawn, that they that marry do well, rather than burn in lust, or commit sin, but they that do not marry, having the gift of continency, do better, both for themselves, and for the Lord, 1Co 7:38. And whereas whilst an husband is living, the wife is bound by law to continue with him; and when he is dead, she may marry whom she will, So be it she seeks the Lord, and has his glory in view, 1Co 7:39 yet in the judgment of the apostle she would be a much more happy person should she continue a widow; and this was not only his own private judgment, but he had reason to believe it was according to the mind of the Spirit of God, 1Co 7:40.