What Does Paul Really Teach About Marriage?

What Does the Apostle Paul Teach About Marriage?

© 2024 C. O. Bishop

1st Corinthians 7:7-16

For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.

I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.

Why would Paul suggest that being unmarried is superior to being married? (That is not what he says!) God already established in His Word, that marriage was a gift to the whole human race. We read the Genesis account, where we saw that Marriage was ordained by God before sin entered the World.

What did the Old Testament Teach About Marriage?

The Old Testament writers uniformly emphasized the blessedness of marriage, and specifically, what a wonderful gift from God it was, to have a good wife.

Proverbs 18:22 says “Whoso findeth a wife findeth a good thing, and obtaineth favor of the LORD.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12 points out the value of the teamwork, and the mutual support, saying,

Two are better than one; because they have a good reward for their labour. 10 For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow: but woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. 11 Again, if two lie together, then they have heat: but how can one be warm alone? 12 And if one prevail against him, two shall withstand him; and a threefold cord is not quickly broken.

The writer (Solomon) says teamwork can pay rich dividends. Also, there is safety in having a teammate. You will  help one another, and lift one another up when things are tough. He says fellowship with another keeps both people warm. This is true, whether in the sense of “physical warmth,” as in sleeping and being chilled at night, or in the spiritual sense, where each can encourage the other, rather than loneliness becoming a problem.

The Third Strand

And he finally points out that the Lord is the “third strand” in a Godly team. (He does not spell it out, but I believe that is the intent.) Many people claim the “third strand” in this passage is their progeny. However, that would be more than three strands, usually. And, besides, children are sometimes the reason for the breakup of a struggling marriage. (People fight over a variety of things, but how they plan to raise their children is a frequent issue.)

But, if the Lord is the ever-present “third member” in the marriage, then the marriage will probably survive. It will weather the struggles and hardships of life and be stronger for the experience.

Is There Such a Thing as a “Bad Marriage?”

The Old Testament writers also cautioned (in 1st Samuel 25:3; Proverbs 21:9 etc.) that a bad marriage was really a bad thing. It does not say that they were wrong to marry the person. It says their spouse’s character turned out to be bad. And the resulting marriage is very unhappy.

It is important to carefully consider the person you intend to marry. Watch and see how they handle relationships of every kind. How do they treat their parents? And how do they relate to their siblings and their extended family? How do they treat people in business dealings? And, how do they deal with money issues, in general? How do the values they claim to embrace work out in their real life? And, how do they deal with people who mistreat them? How do they respond to God’s Word?

What are the Responsibilities of Marriage?

The Old Testament writers also make it clear (by example) that a man is responsible for his wife and children. (Witness Jacob’s struggles, while working for his father-in-law, and his fear for them as Esau approached.)

The New Testament confirms this idea. 1st Timothy 5:8 says that a man who will not provide for his family “…has denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel.” What an indictment against those who willingly fail to shoulder the responsibility of a family!

Paul did not take lightly the call of duty to a family. He only points out that if you do not have that responsibility (and if you can function reliably while single), there is additional freedom to serve the Lord, as you are unhindered by other relationships.

The Rights of Apostleship

In 1st Corinthians 9:1-6, Paul points out that the other apostles were married. It seems that their wives may even have traveled with them, at least some of the time. As we see the struggles Paul faced in his journeys, it seems obvious that it would have been much more difficult, had he been also worried about his wife.

(But Paul states that he chose to forgo marriage, and he also chose to forgo other privileges he could have claimed as an apostle. He frequently served unsupported by the churches. The other Apostles may have asked for and received support, as seems to be implied in this passage.) Paul had the right to do as the others did, but he chose not to do so.

Paul felt freer to serve the Lord because he had only himself to risk, and to direct. He only suggests that there is a real advantage to unmarried life IF one is capable of living that way.

Not Everyone is Gifted to Live That Way

But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.

If the desire for sexual intimacy is so great that the single person is constantly distracted by it, then he says they should feel free to marry, (or to remarry, as the case may be.) He is not denigrating marriage, at all: He only suggests that, if one is capable, then it is fine to work alone. He likens the constant stress (because of desire) to “burning” with desire. The solution?  They would be better advised to marry. Not everyone can work effectively unmarried.

A veteran missionary Steve Karum, who worked with his wife in Thailand bluntly warned the single men in our missionary training, saying, “Thailand is not a good place for a single man! The temptations will be strong and constant, from every direction.” That was wise counsel. He was not “questioning the power of God” to keep such a man safe: he was echoing the counsel of God, in this specific passage!

Divorce Is Not An Option, as a Rule

Next, he confirms that married believers are not to divorce.

10 And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: 11 But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife.

God Hates Divorce!

Any of the Jewish believers would undoubtedly have remembered Malachi 2:13-16. God says, “13And this have ye done again, covering the altar of the Lord with tears, with weeping, and with crying out, insomuch that he regardeth not the offering any more, or receiveth it with good will at your hand.

14 Yet ye say, Wherefore? Because the Lord hath been witness between thee and the wife of thy youth, against whom thou hast dealt treacherously: yet is she thy companion, and the wife of thy covenant.

15 And did not he make one? Yet had he the residue of the spirit. And wherefore one? That he might seek a godly seed. Therefore take heed to your spirit, and let none deal treacherously against the wife of his youth.

16 For the Lord, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away: for one covereth violence with his garment, saith the Lord of hosts: therefore take heed to your spirit, that ye deal not treacherously.

The Jews Understood the Warning

They knew what that prophecy meant: it said that God was rejecting them (and their sacrifices,) because they were rejecting their wives, whom they had married young, but who now, perhaps, seemed less attractive. They knew that! But Jesus had to rebuke the Jews of His day, anyway, saying that they were not to break a union established by God.

In Luke 16:18 He says, 18 Whosoever putteth away his wife, and marrieth another, committeth adultery: and whosoever marrieth her that is put away from her husband committeth adultery.

Jesus made it clear that divorce is not acceptable for believers. It destroys something that He Himself established as an enduring “picture” of Himself and His Bride, the Church.

Paul reiterated this teaching: he also reminded them in verse 10 that it did not originate with himself, but that the Lord had taught extensively on the matter, during His Earthly ministry.

A New Concept

12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord:

Jesus did not address this in His earthly ministry.Paul is the first to teach this specific concept. But it is still God’s Word. Paul does not suggest that this portion of the epistle is “non-inspired.” Rather, he only recognizes that the Lord did not speak about this issue during His lifetime.

If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away. 13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.

In a later letter, (2nd Corinthians 6:14-16) God warns believers to “be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers.” This would certainly include a warning not to marry unbelievers, but such unions certainly have happened. And, occasionally, it is because, in a marriage that began between two unbelievers, one partner becomes a believer, while the other resists God’s Grace. Either way, if you find yourself married to an unbeliever, you are called to love that unbeliever, treating them as your precious friend, and faithfully loving and blessing them. You are not to break your covenant by leaving them. Covenant-breaking is wrong behavior, in every case.

Why? What is the Hope?

14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband: else were your children unclean; but now are they holy.

The word “sanctified” does not mean “saved”…it means “set apart for a purpose.” Could it mean that God will exert extra effort to persuade that rebellious partner? Possibly: It is not a guarantee, of course, but consider this: as long as you two are bound in the bond of marriage, and as long as you continue to pour out the Love of God upon them, they have a better chance than virtually anyone else! They are seeing and experiencing the reality of the Living Christ, as He works through you.

But, if they just can’t stand the transformation they see in you, so they reject you along with the Savior, then you cannot force them to stay. If they insist upon leaving you, and initiate a divorce, over your protests, then be at peace. Let them go. You are no longer bound.

15 But if the unbelieving depart, let him depart. A brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases: but God hath called us to peace.

However, so long as they are willing to stay, the believer is commanded to endure the spiritual mismatch, and to pray for their salvation…and, sometimes it happens!

HERE is the Hope!

16 For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?

Consider the joy a husband or wife experiences when their unsaved spouse also chooses to trust in the Savior they serve. Now they are a true team, blessed by God! Now they can serve together in harmony! They can bless one another and be blessed in return! The blessing of their lives can overflow to bless others, and together they can shine as a witness of God’s Grace.

I have known several couples where this exact situation occurred. The transformation in their lives and the lives of their families was profound and permanent.

But for those who are happily married, he has given instructions in the earlier passage and parallel passages elsewhere, as to how to inherit God’s blessing within that relationship. We pray that all of us will learn to walk with the Lord in such a way as to have His approval and blessing.

Lord Jesus, please implant Your Word upon our hearts in such a way as to make us continually responsive to Your leading. Allow us to have a stable walk with You, and live for Your honor.

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