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Sep 12 / Chuck Smith, Jr.

September 12, 2021



Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.” But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. 1 Corinthians 7

Intro: If you have ever read this chapter and felt frustrated, you’re not alone

A few verses in it make good sense and are immediately helpful
– but the rest is strange, confusing, or upsetting
• this chapter is the reason some people give up on Paul
• but you and I cannot give up on him
◦ his spiritual insight has been too helpful to walk away now
– so we take a deep breath, cool our heals, and pray
• we ask God’s Spirit to walk us through the rough spots
• in time, it will make sense

Several background factors will help clarify what we find here

First, Paul was responding to prickly issues Corinthians had raised (vv. 1 & 25)
– they wanted his apostolic insight, and that’s what he gave them
Second, marriage and singleness, and sex and celibacy were serious concerns
– in some places, celibacy was considered the ultimate devotion to God
• it was assumed that a single person would have a single heart, as single passion and devotion
• the Essenes comprised a Jewish sect that held practiced celibacy
– later, of course, it became the rule for monks and nuns
• even a number of husbands and wives chose to be celibate
• you can see why this could become a concern to Corinthians
◦ some perhaps wondered, could a person be married and a Christian?
Third, some of Paul’s remarks are confusing even for biblical scholars
– they cannot agree on what he’s talking about in a couple of places
• a problem may be that we do not understand the cultural context
Fourth, there was a pending crisis in Corinth – also unknown to us
I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is (v. 26)
This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short (v. 29)
– perhaps there were indications of an outbreak of persecution
• circumstances could turn so that normal behavior would be suspended
• like when signs tell us, “In case of emergency use stairs” or “In case of emergency break glass”
◦ surviving an emergency would be easier for people who were not responsible for a spouse or children

Remember, this is not a Bible study

It’s more like sitting around Paul as we listen to him enlighten us
– his passion is to wake us up to our true selves in Jesus
• remember, he had told the Corinthians, I could not address you as spiritual persons
◦ but that was the very thing he wanted for them – and would want for us
. . . my little children, for [you] I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! (Gal. 4:19)
◦ his role was like that of a midwife – to assist a new birth
• in these talks, our interest lies behind the text
◦ we want to find the basis for what he is teaching us
– typical of Paul’s letters, he first gives indicatives (who we are to be in Christ)
• then the imperatives (what we re supposed to do)
• what we’re looking for is the indicatives
◦ how do we become the kind of people who can live what Paul teaches?

In the practical instructions, Paul address our relationships and attachments
– our connections to “people” and to “things”
• we learn to work out our life in God in these various arenas
• that may be why this chapter is so long
◦ singleness and marriage, celibacy and sex pose major challenges
◦ they also impinge on other attachments
But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife (v. 33)
– so what were the basics according to Paul?

Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another.
To the unmarried and widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am (vv. 6-8)
His personal preference was that everyone would lived single and celibate
– fortunately, he says that it is no sin if we marry (v.36)
• however, he recognized that celibacy was a “gift”
◦ when the disciples learned there should be no easy divorce, they said,
“If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it (Mt. 19:10-12)
◦ celibacy is not difficult for some people
But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed [unmarried], he will do well (v. 37)
• Annmarie Kidder is a Presbyterian pastor
◦ in her youth she had boyfriend for four years and lived with another for three years
◦ after breaking up, she had no further interest in sex, boyfriends, or marriage
◦ so mother sent her to therapist (but she didn’t want to be “cured”)
Kidder, “That was in Germany. A year later I moved to the United States, and things changed radically. . . . I soon started attending church . . . and what I heard stunned me Preachers were telling their flocks, among other things, that sexual immorality, which included living together and having sexual intercourse outside marriage, was wrong in God’s sight and would never get you to heaven. ¶ Such a perspective was news to me, but in my present condition, it was good news and a great relief. . . . over the next five years the notion grew in me that living the single and celibate life provided immense freedom and was worth keeping.”
• this should not be shocking to us, but celebrated

Each one of your should remain in the condition in which he was called. . . . So, brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God (vv. 20 & 24)
Paul wanted them to learn contentment
– that it doesn’t come through changing your situation in life
• but through accepting your situation as God’s gift
◦ then finding his grace in it and placing your trust in him
. . . for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me (Php. 4:11-13)
◦ contentment doesn’t mean you do nothing regarding your situation
Paul was no slouch
◦ what contentment means is that the world doesn’t own you
• Paul referred to a “secret” regarding contentment – one I hope we can discover
◦ if you are here, then live here; if you are there, live there;
if you are rich, be rich for God; if you are poor, be poor for God
◦ in all things, belong to God
My mom once told me, “I believe the temptation in the Garden of Eden was discontent.”
◦ it was certainly present in the three temptations Satan used with Jesus

From no one, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.
I want you to be free from anxieties (vv. 29-32)
This issue is related to contentment: to be free from attachments
– attachment is not about owning things or owning nothing
• it is about our the stuff our hearts and minds hang onto
◦ it is not material or personal things in themselves, but what they mean to us, how important they are to us
◦ what they represent (status, security, our worth as persons, and so on)
• Paul’s idea is, do not be so tied to things that you cannot let them go
◦ or if losing them robs your joy and ruins your life

A major goal of spiritual development is discovering our true self

Let me illustrate what I mean in a text my son sent me and my response:

Will: Dad, I want to thank you deeply for going through with sharing what you did yesterday. So much of my memories of Gramps and Grams makes sense to me now. I have had wave after wave of revelations and I don’t expect them to stop anytime soon. I feel like I finally have the perspective to understand a missing piece of who they were to me. I realize how self-centered that sounds, but I feel like I’ve understood what they meant to others for a while now.

Me: No, no, no Will! Not self-centered at all. God provides us these insights to help us discover who we are. In that discovery, two things happen: First we learn that for better or for worse (and probably both) the influence of our family is with us forever. Secondly, when we see the wrong that was done to us by family, we are then free to let it go, change it, take our own path. We gain the freedom of choice.
Had I not become my own person, I would not have been able to give the message that I did.

Human cultures influence deep structures of our minds
– we are bound to assumptions we think are our own
• assumptions regarding our value as persons
◦ our cars, our homes, our clothes, our level of education, our careers
• but these are not our assumptions – but our culture’s myths
◦ there’s no need for nano-technology – we’ve been brainwashed from birth
◦ and it continues until our death, twenty-four hours a day
• the more imbedded we are in mass culture,
◦ the more difficult it will be to see celibacy as a valuable, viable and empowering life choice
◦ and the more difficult it will be to learn the secret of contentment
– we depend on others to helps us work out our problems
• parents, doctors, experts – people with training and experience
• advertisers and politicians exploit this need – the implicit message is:
“Trust us and depend on us to meet your need and provide what you are lacking”
◦ they play on the unconscious assumptions that they have implanted

We need awareness of the interplay of life on surface and below surface
– our daily embodied life is surface – spirit is below surface
– discovery of who we are, frees us from the prison of assumptions
• we discern what is of our true self and what is of our culture

Conclusion: I hope it doesn’t bother you, I keep repeating myself

The next step of our spiritual development is learning to see
– that’s always the next step – to be awake and aware to present moment

The whole world is like a stained glass window
In some places where the glass is thick and dark
the light is dim and can barely penetrate the glass;
then we must look hard to see
In other places the glass is thin and the colors bright,
and the light floods through
The light shines everywhere

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you,
that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.
1 John 1:5

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