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1 Corinthians 7:1-40 Sermon Notes

By February 21, 2021Sermon Notes

Steve Baughman is an atheist lawyer who was key behind uncovering Ravi Zacharias hidden sins.

He is an interesting man…a part of his legal practice includes representing Christians and Muslims fleeing persecution in China. 

He does not appear to be a man out to destroy the church

He is actually a self-professed seeker…he doesn’t believe in God or in Christianity but says he is open to being wrong.

In fact, last fall he took a class with a Christian Professor on the proofs for the existence of God.

He became interested in Ravi Zacharias because he found Ravi’s arguments so convincing that he once contemplated changing his worldview and becoming a Christian.

As he began to investigate Ravi’s teachings he discovered evidence that Ravi was not who he said he was. 

Of course just because Ravi lived a lie…doesn’t mean he didn’t speak the truth.

At the beginning of his book, Baughman has this quote  

“If the Christian faith is truly supernatural, why it is not more evident in the lives of so many Christians I know?”

To Mr. Baughman’s credit (and he has suffered tremendous abuse from Christians for exposing Ravi)

He has not let the failure of Christians cause him to disregard the Christian worldview…or to doubt the sincerity of  all Christians.

But there can be no doubt…the duplicity and deceit of a famous man claiming Christ has made it much harder for him to believe in Christ.

We all wish that all Christians acted more like Christ…most of all, ourselves.

However, there is much evidence of the truth of Christianity in the transformed lives of many Christians.

The gospel, does, in fact work…when applied with faith and faithfulness.

It does not “work” when it is not applied as per the “instructions”

Like failing to properly use the instructions for a medication…then claiming the medicine’s claim to cure disease is false.

FaithLESSness does not work.

Faithfulness does.

Today we are in chapter 7 of Paul’s letter to the Corinthian church.

Remember we call this letter 1st Corinthians but Paul actually wrote 4 letters to the church, we have two of them. 

And they also wrote to Paul and sent emissaries to him with their questions..we don’t have their questions just some of Paul’s response to them.

When Paul writes “now concerning (about)” this is a clue that he is referencing their letter to him…answering their questions and concerns.

Twice that phrase is used in this chapter (he will use it again in Chapters 8, 12 and 16)

Here in chapter 7 Paul is answering their questions/concerns about marriage and singleness

Let me summarize this chapter…since it is long and it can be complex

  1. Marriage is important…so be faithful
  2. Singleness is important…so be faithful
  3. Honoring God in whatever circumstances he calls you to is important…so be faithful.

It’s very important that we read over the next couple of months what Paul has  written about judgment, and moral purity, and marriage, and gender roles…that we see through the lens he saw through as much as possible.

How do we do that?

We are not 1st century Greek speaking Jewish Christians…there is too much historical, cultural, chronological distortion to see as he did.

Well fortunately Paul has given us a transcultural/transhistorical lens to look through.

We haven’t got there yet in our study, it is in chapter 13.

But it’s important at this point, and we will do this each week for the remainder of time in his letter, that we start becoming skilled at using this lens…a lens of love.

I’ll read the first 7 verses.

13  If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

*This is a picture of my granddaughters…two copies of the same image, but one is distorted.

You can tell there are three young girls…but the distorted picture is not a delight and does accurately depict my three beauties.

The undistorted picture tells a different story…same picture, but it has the distortion affect removed.

As we look at this chapter…and all that follow…this is what Paul is after…individuals and a church who live this kind of love.

So if you are confused about his point of application as we move through the book…apply the chapter 13 lens.

In all of this letter he is trying to cut away everything from their lives and church that doesn’t look like Jesus…that doesn’t flow from love.

Okay…have your 13 lens in place?

Then now we are ready for chapter 7.

We won’t read it verse by verse; it is long and we might get lost in the woods.

I’ll summarize his points, then we will read and focus on a key part of the chapter. 

He begins with the general principle…let’s call it the “faithfulness principle”

The faithfulness principle (7:1-7)

7:1 “Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry”.

Again…we see he is addressing their questions…we have his answer not their question.

Maybe their question went something like this:

“Dear Paul, you are not married…and Jesus was not married…you are very spiritual and Jesus is the Messiah…so maybe I should not be married either…sincerely yours…unhappily married?”

We will find out later Paul was writing during a time of some kind of crisis…and he also had a heightened view of the imminent return of Christ.

So to their question (whatever it actually was)… he answer “Sure, it’s good not to marry…singleness provides great opportunity.”

Not “best or better” it’s just good.

So if you not married…it’s okay, it’s good to not be married.

If you are married…well then, he writes… be faithfully married.

So if you are single or married…be faithful.

And if you are single and struggling with immorality well that is not being faithful.

And if you are not living in close itimacy with your spouse if you are married…that is also not being faithful either.

Husbands…fulfill your marital duty to your wife 

Wives…do the same to your husband 

What does that mean exactly

He elaborates, clearly he is talking about sex in marriage

Wives, your bodies belong to your husband

-Before you roar in outrage women, he also writes…

Husbands, your bodies belong to your wives

This was revolutionary for the time…a time when men had rights that women did not have.

Paul says that marriage is an equal partnership…each one’s own body belongs to the other.

This was never a license for abuse…anyone who thinks that has not read this entire letter or Ephesians

It is about partnership…the freedom of living putting each other’s need first.

Couples who read this through the 13 lens…say…”Ah, makes sense”

This is also a statement about the oneness of marriage that Paul quoted in the preceding chapter during his warning about the dangers of uniting your body with a prostitute.

God’s plan for sex in marriage was that “The two will become one flesh.” 6:16

His point here, in brief, is that God has given marriage as a good thing and that sex is a gift within marriage…this works great when take in the overall context of a life of putting each first.

So you are single and can live faithfully that way…cool…you can get a of ministry done…avoid a lot of pressures and problems.

If you can’t live faithfully single…that’s cool too…get married if you can.

But if you are married…don’t to try live like you are single…that would not be faithful.

“What about when someone is sick, or old, or there is abuse, or lack of love…are you saying sex should be forced, or sex is the key to marriage?”

Look it’s not reasonable to judge Paul for not answering a question he was not asked while answering one that he was.

*He is not addressing every possible situation, he is addressing a very specific setting here.

Can you imagine how long and tedious this letter would be if every single chapter tried to address every eventuality?

In principle we have this:

“Being single is good…especially if you have the gift (celibacy is a spiritual gift that Paul had)…but if it comes down to struggling with physical passions or getting married…then get married if you can.”

“If you are married…then what God wants is for you to live faithfully as a married person…that means you don’t get to be selfish, including with your own body.”

Again…the questions might fly…

“Okay Paul, I’m single, I sometimes burn with passion and I want to get married or I’m lonely and don’t want to be alone…but I can’t find anyone….how does all this apply to me?”

And again…he is answering the questions he is answering, not every question that could be asked.

I would imagine to this question he would say…

 “Take your struggles and your passions and your loneliness to the cross and trust them to God…he will give you what you need when you need it…your task it to be faithful with what God has given you.”

Part of what Paul was addressing here was a philosophy that was not biblical and therefore not practical or doable.

In Paul’s time (like in our time)some people believed that ascetic practices made you a better, or a more spiritual person.

Ascetic means to practice severe self-discipline or to abstain from any physical pleasure…to improve yourself…or to prove yourself better than others.

“I don’t sleep much, I eat little, I don’t watch TV or movies, I don’t drink, I do this many pushups, I sleep on a concrete slab, I take cold showers, I pray for 6 hours”

Okay…great, why? 

It makes me better?


Is this what faithfulness looks like?…or is this you trying to be spiritual or disciplined for the sake of discipline…or just for pride?

In Corinthians some thought not being married was better, or being married and not having sex was better?

Why?  “Because it means I’m disciplined.”

Okay…does it mean you are faithful though?

Paul wrote to another church about these tendencies to use discipline not to help us live free and follow Christ…but as ways of “making ourselves more spiritual…or to look good to others”

(so you say) “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”?  but this thinking is based on merely human commands and teachings.  Your rules/disciplines have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence. (Col. 2:20-23)

Merely trying to change habits, having self-discipline, not doing things… out of pride apart from faithfulness…doesn’t change the heart.

There is nothing especially good about discipline for disciplines sake…avoiding pleasure just to try and look better.

We are to exercise discipline but only in order to accomplish a purpose…to know Christ, to love others, to live free.

“I’m not going to eat chocolate”.

Great, why not?

“It means I am a better person than the chocolate eaters”…uh, no.

“Because I want to lose weight, because I want to be healthier.”


“Because I don’t want to be in bondage to my own appetites.”


The foolish Corinthians believed themselves to be wise.

“Singleness is more spiritual than marriage”…no.

“No sex in marriage means, I’m spiritual…no.”

You can spend time apart from intimacy for a time of prayer Paul said (spiritual discipline with a purpose)…but after that…come back together and live in your marriage as intimate partners.

Faithfulness is what God wants…so be faithful if you are single.

Be faithful in marriage…you don’t belong to yourself you are in a partnership now…live that way.

The faithfulness principle unpacked: Scenarios

Scenario 1: Unmarried and widows (8,9)

Having laid down the general principle he deals with specific cases.

First, those with no marriage ties…the unmarried and widows.

Why not just say “unmarried”…wouldn’t that cover widows?

Because in Paul’s setting, widows in the church were in a special class and had specific privileges and corresponding responsibilities.

It’s “good” Paul tells these unmarried folks, to remain unmarried.

Again, don’t read “good” as best or ideal…that is not what he is saying.

This is situational advice…because of their setting it was a good time to remain unmarried.

But if someone was really struggling and they could be married…then get married.

*Some might read this and say “Paul has a low view of marriage.”

“Aah, being single is better…but if you’re burning with lust and just must have some sex…I guess you could get married…better than going to the prostitutes at Aphrodite’s place.”

Once again…he is answering the questions specific to their situation here…he is not giving his theology of marriage.

Want to hear a little bit of that?  Okay…jump to another of his letters

Eph. 5:25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her26 to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, 27 and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. 28 In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 After all, no one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church— 30 for we are members of his body. 31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” 32 This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church. 33 However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband.

So, Paul doesn’t think marriage is just about sex…his view of marriage is quite high…can’t get much higher.

But his view of singleness is pretty high as well…he was single, Jesus was single, he said it is a good thing.

On to the next scenario

  1. Scenario 2: The Married (10-11)

His advice to the married: Stay married.

You gotta love Paul when he breaks things down into simple steps.

Last week: When tempted…run

This week: When married…stay married

He specifies here that this is a direct teaching of Jesus.

But he doesn’t elaborate on Jesus’ lone exception:

Which is “Unfaithfulness in marriage” allows for divorce…Matt. 19:9

A partner’s unfaithfulness allows divorce but it does not require it…I have had several friends whose marriages have recovered and gone on to thrive after unfaithfulness.

But Paul is not getting into the weeds here…he is keeping it straightforward.

If you are married…bottom line…stay married.

Scenario 3: A Christian married to a non-christian (12-16)

It is likely that many who came to Christ in Corinth were married to partners who had not yet become Christians.

Paul specifies that he has no direct teaching from Jesus on this…but he does imply that his words have the authority of Scripture(of course his words are Scripture).

He says at the end of this chapter “I too have the Spirit of God”

He tells them that if you are married to a non-Christian and your spouse wants to stay married…you should by all means stay married.

He even says the unbelieving spouse has been sanctified by the believing spouse.

This doesn’t mean they are Christian by association.

It means, what we see clearly in Scripture and in life at large…that the blessings of fellowship with God flow not to only to the Christ follower but to those around them as well.

When a person truly is born again…and begins to live faithfully…it changes how they live with the people around them…and that can change those people as well…God’s blessings flow to them.

He uses the example of children to illustrate.

If a believer’s sanctification stopped with himself…then his children would be “unclean” (a word that means “unable to be brought into God’s presence”)

But until a child can and does decide for herself the parent’s “holiness” extends in a real way to the child.

There is a lot that can be unpacked here…but on to Paul’s practical point.

Stay married if you can…this is what faithfulness looks like.

*It can be difficult to try and follow Christ if your spouse is hostile to the faith…but God will give you the grace to thrive inside those circumstances…if you will let him.

“But what if my unbelieving spouse wants out of the marriage?”

In that case the believing spouse has no choice but to let them go…what else can you do?

And, this is the second exception to divorce given in Scripture, this spouse is free to remarry.

*Some don’t agree with this interpretation…but to me it is quite clear.

Next, Paul does a deep dive into the principle of faithfulness, this is the part of the chapter that I want you to pay especial attention to so I will read it.

17 Nevertheless, each one should retain the place in life that the Lord assigned to him and to which God has called him. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. 18 Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. 19 Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. 20 Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him. 21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you—although if you can gain your freedom, do so. 22 For he who was a slave when he was called by the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; similarly, he who was a free man when he was called is Christ’s slave. 23 You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24 Brothers, each man, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation God called him to.

These new believers were coming from a wide variety of backgrounds and situations into the church.

-Some were Jewish and were circumcised (the key marker of Jewishness)

-Some were Gentile and had not circumcised

At the time some Jewish people were having operations/medical procedures to try and reverse or hide their circumcism..

They were embarrassed by it as they lived among people in the Roman/Greek world who thought it was a backwards and a stupid thing to do.

How would people know. 

For instance…there were Greek sporting events…like the Olympics or the nearby Isthmus Games and these were performed in the nude.

…and the baths were also places were people were nude in public.

And maybe they were embarrassed with their own spouses…maybe Jewish men now married to non-Jewish women.

All this sounds very awkward and strange…but this was the world they lived in.

So there were some who were now Christians and wished they were not circumcised…wanting to fit in.

Likewise there were some who wanted to become circumcised…but they were not Jewish background believers…maybe they were jealous of the Jewish Christians and wanted to fit in with them.

Paul wrote…the symbol is not the point… faithfulness is the point.

Each one should remain in the situation he was in when God called them.

Even the slave…shouldn’t be troubled by their situation…it does not keep them from the opportunity to be faithful.

Now, if you can gain your freedom, he says… well then do it.

But you are already free in Christ…no situation you are in can keep you from being found faithful.

Now he is NOT saying you must stay in whatever job, house, town…you were in when you became a Christian.

Paul didn’t do that, neither did Apollos, or Peter

He is addressing a situation where people who had become followers of Christ somehow thought they had to immediately change their life situation if they were going to be able to be faithful now as Christians.

Of course, God wants us to leave sinful practices behind…but don’t automatically think you must change life circumstances.

“I can’t be married if I am going to be a faithful and productive Christian.

“I can’t be married to this person and be a faithful Christian”

“I can’t be faithful as a Christian and be a slave”

Paul’s point in this chapter is this:

There is no life situation you are in whereby you cannot be faithful to your calling in Christ.

Single.  Married.  Married to unbeliever. Circumcised.  Uncircumcised.  Slave.  Free.

None of this matters most…none of this can hamper your ability to be found faithful.

Quit looking for external solutions to what is really an internal issue…is my heart free and fully Christ’s?


Then the externals…just don’t matter that much in terms of how my life impact will turn out

I decide if I will be faithful…not my circumstances.

Now, he finishes with a couple more scenarios…the next one is an answer to a direct question they had written him about.

Scenario 4: “Now to your question about virgins” (25-38)

There are several views about what Paul is answering here…I’m not going to get into the weeds

Regardless of the specifics, the overall principle is clear.

I’ll give two verses from this section to illustrate that principle.

26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for you to remain as you are.

Paul’s counsel here was situational…it’s advice in the midst of a crisis.

We don’t know for sure what crisis he was referring to…but whatever it was it…Paul said that it was good, if possible,  to hold off on getting married.

Again, this was not anti-marriage this was about situational wisdom.

In principle: Don’t let your life choices negatively impact your ability to follow Christ.

He goes on to say that if someone believes they should get married…then go ahead, it’s not a problem.

But in all of the various difficult life choices that we make in the wide variety of difficult situations we find ourselves in…

Here is a principle to keep front and center.

What matters most at the end matters most now…living faithfully means living with an eternal perspective.

Look at verse 29

29 What I mean, brothers (HERE’S MY REAL POINT), is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away

Clearly Paul is not saying they married should act, literally,  as if they are single…he just said otherwise.

Or that we should pretend in regards to our emotional state.

He is making a clear and important point…

Whatever your situation:

Married, happy, sad, buying stuff (all the normal things of life)…live with the end in mind.

Live “big picture”…be faithful.



Faithfulness in our individual stewardships is a foundational belief for the Christian.

To truly believe that it is factual true…that what God requires of me is to be found faithful…nothing more, nothing less.

This is a core belief that offers enormous freedom…and makes for a resilient mental attitude throughout your life.


If I believe faithfulness is what God wants…my worth is not in what I can “produce” but in whether my Lord finds me faithful at my post.

If my heart is wrapped around what I can do and prove and win and accomplish…I might shy away from the boring or challenging or unspectacular acts of faithfulness.

If my heart is wrapped around faithfulness…then I am also, by default…learning day to day to become more content.

I think a key evidence of a heart of faithfulness…is a growing contentment in a variety of life circumstances.

Single and wish you were not?

Married and wish you were not?

In a job or a body or a whatever that you wish you were not.

Faithfulness embraced as a biblical truth shows up in contentment as a growing heart orientation.


How do you “do” faithfulness.

Some of you might remember a couple years back we were talking about the post-exile prophets.

How the people who had returned from captivity and were rebuilding the city and the temple were “underwhelmed” with how non-spectacular things were.

They remembered the stories of the former glory and thought that their lives, their temple was a let down.

Zechariah(4:10) challenged them to not “despise the day of small things.”

So we “do” faithfulness not by being passive and “taking on the chin” whatever life brings us.

We “do what faithfulness does” by proactively being content with what God has put in front of us.

Much of that will seem like “days of small things”…but our calling is to be found faithful.

Live your life calling in your life setting.

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