First Corinthians 7.8-11


1. As you turn to First Corinthians chapter 7, I want you to try and place yourself in my shoes, this evening, so you can attempt to understand a bit of what it sounds like to be a pastor.

2. Someone calls me on the phone. The person is very concerned about a problem he has. I ask him what the problem is and he says, "Pastor, I'm not married. I'm sure I'm a Christian, but I don't know whether or not God wants me to get married. What should I do?" That's a reasonable request for pastoral advice.

3. I'm sitting in my office one afternoon when the phone rings. The caller asks me if I'm busy and would it be okay for her to come by for a brief counseling session. When she arrives she tells me that she is married to a financial and spiritual zero. She pours out her heart to me and concludes by saying, "Pastor, I want to serve God, but I can no longer serve Him married to my husband. He says he's a Christian and that things will get better, but I've decided to leave him. What does the Bible say about my situation?" That's not really a request for advice, but someone who is seeking an endorsement for a decision she has already made.

4. In still another situation a woman asks me this question: "Pastor, my unsaved husband wants a divorce. What should I do? Should I fight the divorce? And after the divorce should I remain single for the rest of my life, or would it be okay to remarry?" I've had a number of these kinds of interviews during my ministry.

5. Or, a variation of the above: "Pastor, my husband has informed me that he intends to move to Katmandu, and that since I am a Christian woman I am obligated to submit to him and do what he says. He says that means I have to pack up and go with him. What should I do, pastor?"

6. Finally, there is the situation of a young girl who once wrote, "Dear Abby. I am an 18 year old virgin who is in love with a 19 year old boy. We are both Christians and want to marry each other very much, but my father says, 'No.' What would you suggest?"

7. Folks, these kinds of questions are very important to the people who ask them. And they are the concerns of people who probably do not realize just how the principles outlined by Paul in First Corinthians 7.1-7 apply to them. They know God has general plans for the meeting of His people's physical needs, but they somehow feel that their particular situation is not so simple . . . and they're right.

8. You see, many of you know that God has general plans, but you are also prone to feel that God's general plans cannot be specifically applied to your life without additional comment. Well, you know something? You're right.

9. In this complex and critically important area of marriage, that's concerned with the meeting of the legitimate physical needs of God's people, there are certain situations that folks find themselves in which often require additional light.

10. So, one at a time, we're going to see how Paul tackled these specific situations. And as we do this we will see that not only does God have a general plan for us, but He also has a much more specific plan to meet every situation in which you may find yourself.

11. This is seen in Paul's remarks to folks who faced a variety of marital dilemmas. Let's stand as we read God's Word responsively. I will read verse 8 aloud and you read verse 9, then I will read verse 10 and you read verse 11 aloud: "I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. 

12 But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn. And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband: and let not the husband put away his wife."

13. As you can see, today's text speaks to people in two distinct categories of experience related to sex and the institution of marriage.


"I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I. But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn."

Let's consider several things relating to you who are in this group situation:

1B. First, Consider Your Status

1C. You are numbered among those who are unmarried and/or a widow. That means you were at one time married. Or, perhaps at one time in your life you engaged in a romantic relationship and you were probably having your physical needs satisfied, more or less regularly.

2C. For one reason or another you find two prevailing truths in your life: First, you are a Christian. Second, your sexual appetite is not currently being satisfied, as it once was, because since you are not married you are doing right and abstaining from that which God has forbidden outside of the institution of marriage.

3C. Now I can assure you, whether those who are not in your situation recognize it or not, you are dealing with a difficult situation. Thankfully, God's grace is sufficient. But while God's grace is sufficient, please pay careful attention to Paul's comments about your situation.

2B. Now, Consider A Suggestion

1C. Paul's apostolic advice is for you who find yourselves unmarried, even though you are quite used to the idea of having your physical desires and appetites satisfied, to remain unmarried.

2C. Now, to some of you who have read your Bible quite a bit, this advice from Paul might seem to contradict advice he gives in other letters that he has written. This might seem especially true when you've read his letters to Timothy, wherein he urges younger widows to remarry.

3C. But when you become more familiar with both First Corinthians and with First Timothy the seeming contradiction dissolves. Let me explain.

4C. If you will read First Corinthians 7.26 you will understand that the entire first letter to the Corinthian Church is written within the context of imminent persecution; the kind of persecution that would oftentimes result in a man or a woman being tortured into denouncing Christ, or seeing his husband or wife, or even his children, burned to death to force him to recant his faith.

5C. It is within that context that Paul advises those who are used to sexual activity to not seek marriage. That way, there would not be the temptation to denounce Christ in order to save the life of a loved one.

6C. Turn to First Timothy 5.11-15: "But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. For some are already turned aside after Satan."

7C. In the context of Paul's letter to Timothy, who was at that time at the Church in Ephesus, persecution is not seen as an impending threat to the congregation. This is obvious from the kind of frivolous behavior which Paul warns about. Such behavior as is mentioned to Timothy typically doesn't take place in the midst of persecution.

8C. So, in the midst of the kind of environment that we find ourselves living in, instead of being idle and committing the sins associated with idleness, which include sexual sins, get married. I guarantee you that a woman who is married and bearing children will not have near the time to sit around on her duff committing the sins that a single woman with too much time on her hands would have; without letting her parental duties go, that is.

9C. Summarizing, then, Paul's suggestion would be for unmarried people and widows to be content with their unmarried status and the sexual abstinence that accompanied it, with a hitch. His suggestion applies only in the midst of or in the shadow of persecution. Such persecution does not face us at this time. Back to First Corinthians 7.8-9, please.

3B. Third, Consider Your Struggle

1C. As was obviously the case in Ephesus, where Timothy was when Paul wrote the two letters addressed to him, and as will oftentimes be the case with most unmarried or widowed people, the desire to continue sexual activity and to have your sexual needs and desires met can be very strong, once it has begun.

2C. This physical appetite is a far more difficult appetite to control and to curb than the very same appetite held by someone who is a virgin, someone who has no experience or memory of the appetite being satisfied. That's why it is so important for a virgin to remain pure until he marries.

3C. It can actually reach the point where, even though the unmarried and the widows are doing absolutely nothing to incite or stir up their physical desires, they can become increasingly conscious of the fact that it is no longer merely a desire that they are facing, but a legitimate physical need that must be met.

4C. Now, for you to ignore such a symptom is foolish. For you to ignore such a symptom is to deny the physical make-up of a vast percentage of people, as God has created us. And for you to ignore such a symptom can be spiritually very dangerous. 

5C. "But pastor, shouldn't the spiritual side control the physical side of man?" Yes, it should. But it was our Lord, Himself, Who said that the spirit, indeed, is willing, but the flesh is weak. So, let us live in the real world and face the truth boldly. Amen?

4B. Finally, In The Case Of The Unmarried And The Widowed, Consider Your Safety

1C. If you are one of those people who has physical needs which simply must be met, and the denial of those needs cannot continue, then, whether there be persecution or not, you need to get married.

2C. Paul tells us that it is better for you to marry than to burn. What is it to burn? When it happens you'll know what it is to burn. But it speaks of the burning desire to have your sexual needs met. It speaks of the physiological process which powerfully drives most people.

3C. But before anyone here tonight begins to think that this portion of Scripture is your justification for getting married at an early age, let me remind you that this portion of Scripture, I am firmly convinced, speaks to three kinds of Christians: The previously married Christian who is widowed, the previously married Christian who is now single because of divorce (and there will be some exceptions to this group that I will deal with in another message), and the Christian who used to be involved in fornication as a lost person. No other cases are considered here.

4C. This, then, concludes Paul's advice to the unmarried and the widows. And we see, yes, God's plan for meeting legitimate physical needs does apply to this group of individuals.


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

Please pay particular attention as I develop three sub-points, because we are about to wade through some thick underbrush of preconception and misconception before we come to the clearing of understanding.

1B. This First Sub-Point Under Paul's Remarks To Christian Couples Involves A Proof That Paul's Remarks Are Directed To Specifically Christian Couples Only.

1C. Look at verse 8. We see, with the first phrase, that the apostle Paul is addressing those in the Corinthian Church who are unmarried and those who are widowed.

2C. Now look down to verse 12. From the first portion of this verse we see that Paul is addressing those leftover couples not directly addressed in verse 10 and 11. Specifically, those who are married, but they are married to someone who is not a Christian.

3C. Now look at verse 25, where Paul directs his comments to virgins. This means that, since the first group is unmarried and widowed people, and the third group consists of couples where one of the partners is unsaved, and the final group is composed of virgins, what must the composition of the second group be?

4C. Well, theoretically, there can be only two possibilities. Either Paul is talking to couples, both of whom are unsaved (which would be a wasted effort since such couples aren't expected to read the Bible), or the apostle Paul is writing to couples, both of whom are saved.

5C. Some of you might say, "So what?" Well, Paul tells us that this group, the one in which both the husband and the wife are saved, is the group to which the Lord's teachings on divorce apply. Folks, this is an extremely important point that most Bible teachers do not take note of, so pay careful attention.

2B. We Now Move To The Second Sub-Point. Here We Deal With The Position That The Lord Jesus Christ And The Apostle Paul Take On This Issue Of A Christian Couple And Divorce.

1C. Turn to Matthew 5.31-32: "It hath been said, Whosoever shall put away his wife, let him give her a writing of divorcement: But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever shall marry her that is divorced committeth adultery." 

2C. I don't have time to offer proof of everything I'm going to say regarding this passage of Scripture, but if you are interested in a complete exposition on the subject of divorce you can see me after Church. For now, I shall simply state what the proper interpretation of this statement is made by the Lord Jesus Christ.

1D. First, let me remind you that this is within the context of God hating a husband "putting away" his spouse, for whatever reason, Malachi 2.14-16: "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. 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. For the LORD, the God of Israel, saith that he hateth putting away."

2D. Sometimes this "putting away" is when a husband or a wife divorces the other. Sometimes it's when one kicks the other out. And this is effectively the case when one leaves the other. So, this passage refers to the creating of a schism and dividing two people who are one flesh in marriage. 

3D. Whenever such a thing occurs, whether it leads directly to divorce or separation or whatever, there is personal sin somewhere. So, what Jesus says in Matthew is to be understood against the backdrop of Malachi chapter 2.

4D. Second, I would again remind you that, according to the apostle Paul, this statement by our Lord Jesus Christ must be understood to apply directly to married Christian couples. This does not apply to couples who both merely profess to be Christians, but to those who actually are both converted.

5D. Matthew 5.31 recognizes that the putting away of wives exists, and that the Law of Moses mandated that a man who puts away his wife do so along recognized and established lines of procedure, complete with a legal divorce. A legal document stating that the woman is no longer married must be given to her at the time the putting away of the wife is formalized by a divorce. That legal document is called a bill of divorcement.

6D. Verse 32. Sexual sin is the only Biblical grounds for divorce. If a man divorces his wife for any other reason he causes her to commit adultery (assuming she remarries, of course). And anyone who marries a divorced Christian woman who was not guilty of adultery commits adultery by marrying her.

7D. This means that dire and severe consequences fall upon any Christian who divorces for any reason other than in response to the sexual sin of his or her mate. And it doesn't matter whether it is wife beating, drug abuse, drunkenness, stealing, profanity, or depriving you of your self-esteem. You have no Biblical grounds for Scriptural divorce except when sexual sin has been committed.

2C. Now turn back to First Corinthians 7.10-11, please.

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

1D. Remembering that the Lord's statement and Paul's statement must harmonize (that is, they do not in any way disagree), verse 10 admonishes the Christian woman not to leave her husband. How can a Christian woman leave her husband for reasons other than adultery? How can she tempt her husband in such a way by refusing to meet his sexual needs?

2D. And, may I say, that the wife who refuses to meet her husband's physical needs, and the husband who has met his wife's physical needs, has effectively, and for all intents and purposes, departed.

3D. Verse 11. Recognizing, however, that sometimes Christians will commit sin without regard to divine instructions, will commit sin without regard for the consequences of such sin in the lives of their mates or their children, Paul goes on to say that if you do leave the man, DO NOT REMARRY! The same thing is true for a husband.

4D. Christian man or woman who is presently divorced from a Christian mate who has not remarried, you have only two options open to you: You may be reconciled to your still unmarried ex, which is both desirable and spiritual, or you may remain unmarried for the rest of your life.

5D. And why not ever remarry? I think, because God's Holy Spirit will work on you the rest of your life to reconcile you to that one who you should be married to, and so long as you remain unmarried reconciliation is possible.

6D. Remember that Paul is not speaking directly to those who are married to adulterous mates. He is speaking to those who might be considering divorce on such grounds as abuse, drugs, incompatibility, nonsupport, gambling, drinking, lying, stupidity or laziness.

7D. You are not to divorce. But if you do divorce, you must not ever remarry, except to be remarried to your ex. That is the position of both the apostle Paul and the Lord Jesus Christ.

8D. Of course, people will do what they want to do. But do you really think the Lord will let His children get away with disobedience? Oh no. Judgment will fall, either on the person or on his family, until there is repentance, reconciliation, restitution.

3B. The Final Sub-Point Deals With The Predicament Christian Couples Place Themselves In When They Contemplate Or Actually Complete A Divorce.

1C. According to the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ and the apostle Paul, a Christian husband and wife carry upon their shoulders a grave responsibility. Irresponsible action on the part of one may result in extremely serious consequences for the other. But this is as it should be since they are one flesh.

2C. Too often, however, we take action without considering the consequences. Too often a husband or wife will divorce, only to realize later that they cannot live without their physical needs being met, or that the one they divorced cannot.

3C. Christian married to Christian, God would have you realize what kind of predicament you place yourself and your spouse into when you divorce for reasons other than adultery. You tempt both yourself and your mate severely. You have no right to do that. Be careful. You'll not get away with it short of being severely chastised by your heavenly Father, Hebrews 12.6.

4C. And I am convinced, with a little investigation, that those who are genuinely converted who you may think got away with divorcing their spouse will be seen to have gained no advantage whatsoever. And those who suffered no chastisement for such sin have only provided themselves to be, after all, lost.


1. We have yet to deal with the cases of Christians married to unsaved spouses and Christians who are virgins. God willing, we'll deal with those two situations next week.

2. But consider these things if you've never considered them before. #1, God does have a plan to meet your physical needs. He has devised the plan for you, not to restrict or to imprison you, but to give you the liberty to effectively serve Him.

3. #2, there are consequences for your actions. No man or woman is an island. When people commit sin it does affect other people. It affects children. It affects loved ones. And as we have seen this evening, your actions certainly affect your spouse.

4. Do you really want to tempt your mate to commit adultery? Even if you hate your spouse you have no right to do that. Or, do you wish to put yourself into a situation where you can only meet your physical need by committing adultery? Of course not. Then you'd better consider and ponder your marriage.

5. Is it weak? Strengthen it. Is it strong? Be careful, "Ye that stand take heed lest ye fall." Above all, work to have the kind of marriage in which you seek to meet your partner's needs. 

6. Partner, express your needs to your mate, so that he or she can fulfill their responsibility before God. Communicate!

7. Your marriage, no matter how lousy you may think it is, is worth that kind of effort, that kind of sacrifice. It's worth all your effort because your marriage is supposed to symbolize the relationship that exists between you and your Savior.

8. A relationship of loving sacrifice. A relationship where the Lord meets needs that no other can meet. A relationship of communion and sharing of something that ought not to be shared with any other human being.

9. If your marriage isn't like that, it ought to be. And it can be. If you want your marriage to be that way, give me a call and we'll open God's Word and seek a specific solution to your specific question or problem.

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