GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
1 CORINTHIANS 7:1-2
7 Now concerning the things you wrote about: Yes, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” 2 But because of sexual sins, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband.
In this chapter Paul takes up two questions the Corinthians asked him about marriage. Later on (v. 25) he will address a question about whether virgins should marry at all. Here, they were asking Paul’s opinion about marriage in general. Verse 1 seems to be Paul quoting or using words the Corinthians had used in their letter to him. Perhaps they said something like: “It is good for a man not to touch a woman (get married)?” His reply: “Yes, that is good and acceptable to God, but since there are so many sexual sins, it is also good, and for many people even better, to be married.”
The world wants to say, “The man who marries a wife is a fool,” because they think that marriage has many evils tied to it, that a woman does not like to submit to a husband any more than a sinner wants to submit to God (Psalm 81:11), or that a man does not like to be nitpicked to death by a quarrelsome and ill-tempered wife (Proverbs 21:9,19; 25:24). But God says, “The man who marries a wife is wise,” because this is God’s plan and God’s will for us. Luther says, “Many learned scholars have decided that a wise man should not take a wife even if she were wisdom personified,” and at the same time, “The Spirit says… a wise man should take a wife even though she were foolishness personified.”
Paul will go into greater detail about this choice, to marry or not to marry, but while marriage in the Old Testament was commanded by Moses (Genesis 2:24, etc.), it is not a command in the New Testament.
Of the three main blessings of marriage (companionship, children, chastity ), Paul needs to take up the blessing of chastity with the Corinthians. Chastity is not celibacy. Chastity is sexual faithfulness within one’s marriage, so that the only form of adult life that includes any sexual component is marriage. To be celibate, one has to have a heart for celibacy. Otherwise, a life apart from marriage is not a life of celibacy at all, but a life full of temptations and lustful thoughts and dreams. Who can possibly find fault with what Luther says? “There is attraction and temptation wherever men and women are together, (but) the matter is not helped by separating them. For how does it help me if I do not see, hear, or touch a woman and still my heart is full of women and my thoughts are taken up with them day and night, thinking of the shameless things that one might do? And of what help is it to a girl to shut her up so that she neither sees nor hears a man, when her heart still sighs day and night, without ceasing, for a young man?” (LW 28:10).
So if someone were to decide to live a single life, a life of chastity (sexual sinlessness) through celibacy (abstaining from sex altogether), but that found that he still had thoughts about women and sex and sought ways to fulfill his desire that are sinful and have nothing to do with marriage, then he has proven to himself and his conscience that he does not have a heart for celibacy, and he should look for a wife. There is no outlet for sex apart from marriage under God’s law.
In the days of the Reformation, and still today, there was a profound misunderstanding in the Catholic churches about celibacy among priests, monks, and nuns. For even though all of the priests, prophets and apostles were married (1 Corinthians 9:5; Matthew 8:14; Hosea 1:2-3; Isaiah 8:3; Ezekiel 24:18; Leviticus 21:13, etc.), priests and others in the Catholic church are still commanded by their pope not to marry today, even though nature and the will of God and the Word of God cry out against this abominable practice. Our churches all confess: “Concerning those who contract matrimony, it is lawful for all who are not suited for celibacy to marry, for vows (that is, vows made because of the pope’s commands) cannot nullify the command and institution of God. This is the command of God, ‘Because of fornication, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.’ Nor is it the command only, but God’s creation and institution also compel those to marry who are not excepted by a singular act of God. This is according to the text in Genesis 2:18, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone.’ Therefore those who obey this command and institution of God (that is, all who get married, including priests and nuns) do not sin.” (Augsburg Confession XXVII:18-21).
The Holy Spirit has a great deal more to say through Paul’s pen about this, including the responsibilities of husbands and wives to one another, the questions of widows and those who have divorced, and so on. But here see how Paul has begun with the law of God: God’s plan for mankind is the marriage of a man and a woman, so that they can be faithful to God by being faithful to one another. There are many, many ways to transgress this command. There is not a person on earth who has not broken the Sixth Commandment in his actions, his words, or his thoughts. We have barely touched on sins of the mind here, and not at all on sins of language. But there is also gospel for us in the word of God about this as well as every other sin.
First, God has provided a happy outlet for sexual desires, which is marriage, available to everyone who wants it. And second, regarding our many sins of commission and transgression, we have a high priest in Jesus “who meets our need– one who is holy, blameless, and pure, set apart from sinners” (Hebrews 7:26). His obedience to the Father makes up the gap in our disobedience, and his sacrifice on the cross paid the price for all of our sins, once for all, forever (Hebrews 10:10). So give glory to God with your body, with your marriage, your desire to find a godly spouse, or your rare gift of celibacy if God has blessed you with it. And if you are troubled with temptations in this lifetime, you have a Savior from those sins, who is also offering an eternity without sin, temptation, trouble, or guilt, through Jesus our Lord.
Pastor Timothy Smith
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Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota
God’s Word for You – 1 Corinthians 7:1-2 Each man should have his own wife