Day 1: 1 Cor 7:1-16
Day 2: 1 Cor 7:17-24
Day 3: 1 Cor 7:25-35
Day 4: 1 Cor 7:36-40
Day 5: 1 Cor 8
Dear Abby, Hey Alexa, Ask Paul
Before Alexa, there was Abby.
True, Abby couldn’t turn down the lights in your den for you (if you’re lazy and you know it…) or solve for x, but she gave killer relationship and real-life advice to 100-million people every day (that was the height of her readership in the late 20-the century). Abby was practical, sympathetic and no-nonsense. People wrote in questions and she wrote responses in her daily newspaper column.
But before Abby, there was Paul (the apostle).
Ok, not exactly comparable in terms of their impact on human history. Paul authored nearly half the new testament, in the most widely read and best-selling book of all time. Sorry Abby.
But something we often forget about the writings of Paul is that they were response letters; words written (and read out loud) to congregations all over Asia, responding to issues in their church he had heard about or questions they had written to him (in letters we don’t have copies of). This means in many ways we are reading/hearing half a conversation. We can read what Paul is writing back to this church in Corinth, but we don’t have first-hand knowledge of what they wrote to him in the first place. We can definitely understand some of the issues he was addressing, because he quotes some of their letters (1 cor 7:1 begins with him saying “now for the matters you wrote about”), but it means we need to do the hard work of piecing together context, the particular reasons for writing.
Certainly 1 Corinthians 7 & 8 fall into this category. This was a new community of Jesus-followers, working through the implications of Jesus life, death and resurrection on their every-day lives. They had questions about sex, marriage, and diet (not about keto but about food sacrificed to idols). This is encouraging and challenging to us on a number of levels. First of all, it tells us that Jesus (and his followers who wrote the New Testament) have things to say to us that are highly relevant to our everyday lives as well.
This is good: We all want and need advice, wisdom and perspective for all the decisions we make on a daily basis.
But it’s troubling too: It means that we cannot just do whatever we want. It means that God is not a wisdom-dispensing Spiritual assistant, there if we need him, meant to make life easier and a little more purpose-filled. He has the desire and right to insert himself into all aspects of our life; there is no part of life that he is not interested in.
Let me illustrate
Chapter 7 contains some of Paul’s most profound teaching on sexuality and marriage. And it was a response to a few different issues that seemed to be cropping up in the Corinthian church. Apparently, in response to the fact that Corinth itself was a hyper-sexualized, highly promiscuous culture, some Christians had decided for themselves and were teaching others that Jesus-followers shouldn’t have sex any longer. They had taken the New Testament ethic on sexuality (that sex is reserved for the enjoyment of one man and one woman in a marriage relationship) and rendered it unfit for anyone in that context.
This is the whole “sex is dirty” perspective, which Christians at various times in history have incorrectly and sadly concluded, often in reaction to sexual “liberty” movements in the culture around them. But this restrictive approach was actually leading to inappropriate and immoral sexual behavior in the church. So Paul needs to take the time to affirm the goodness of sex within marriage.
Additionally, it seems that as some people were becoming Jesus-followers, they were struggling with the fact that in some cases their spouse was not. The conclusion some were coming to was that divorce was the only option. Again Paul needs to affirm the goodness of marriage, and that Jesus-followers need to now see their marriage as an opportunity to bless their unbelieving marriage partner, even in the hopes that their spouse (and children) might become followers as well. He applies this thinking to work situations as well.
The point in all of this being, the fact that you are following Jesus shouldn’t put you at odds with the people around you but actually make you more faithful and loving as a spouse and an employee. Legalism (rules will save you) was hurting their relationships. But so was Licentiousness (do whatever feels good).
Love was the only way forward
Paul goes on to apply this same Love-principle to another issue, that of food (in chapter 8). Some people felt the freedom to eat food that had been sacrificed to idols (probably served at work functions and in gatherings with people who didn’t follow Jesus). Others were upset because certain Old Testament laws strictly prohibited this. Again Paul says, because of Christ, you have the freedom not to follow old rules.
But freedom isn’t the most important thing, love is.
As you read this week’s passages in 1 Cor 7 & 8, ask yourself these questions:
- Are there certain areas of my life which I never ask God or other Jesus-followers for advice or input about?
- If I have a big decision to make about a relationship, a job, money or otherwise, how can I slow down and ask for Jesus’ will and wisdom on the matter?
- Is there an important relationship in my life (close friend, family member, work colleague) where I am insisting on rules to the point that it is hurting the relationship (am I being too rigid, resistant to input or refusing to listen)?