1 Corinthians 7:17-40

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These small group studies of 1 Corinthians contain outlines, cross-references, Bible study discussion questions, and applications.  Visit our library of inductive Bible studies for more in depth inductive studies on this and other books of the Bible you can use in your small group.

1 Corinthians 7:17-40 Inductive Bible Study and Discussion Questions

Outline:

  1. Be content in your current situation (17-24)

    1. Be content to live as God has called each of you (17)

    2. Specific example of circumcision (18-20)

    3. Specific example of slavery (21-24)

  2. Advice to remain single (25-35)

    1. It is a “suggestion” not a “command” (25)

    2. One should remain single because of the “present distress” (26)

    3. Best to remain in your current condition (27)

    4. Marriage is not sin (28)

    5. The attitude we should have, married or not (29-31)

    6. The advantages of singleness (32-34)

    7. This suggestion is for our good. (35)

    8. A father has authority over his daughter’s marriage and is suggested, if she is willing, to not give her in marriage (36-38)

    9. If not bound , a person is free, but advised to remain single (40)

Discussion Questions:

What are the main points from this section of Scripture?

Is it a command? A suggestion?

How should you treat what you read here? (Understand it is not a command, but take it fully into account as “inspired advice” and something that is very beneficial for you and your ministry for God if you can accept it and have the gift.)

What is the point from verse 18 to 24?

Does this mean if you believe in Jesus you cannot become circumcised after that? You cannot change your job or anything else?

If not, what does it mean?

Is 21 through 23 endorsing slavery?

II.

Is verse 25 and on inspired?

What is the “present distress” in verse 26?

Does that apply to us now?

What does he mean the married will “have trouble in this life”?

Does verse 29 support divorce for believers?

What does it mean a married person should be as if they were not?

Explain verse 30.

Explain verse 31.

What is the primary reason to remain single? (32-34)

Who is the “man” in verse 36 and following?

Who has the authority over the daughter marrying or not?

Is this just an archaic principle?

What is the purpose of this principle?

What applications does this have for us?

Explain “under no constraint” in verse 37.

Cross-references

Philippians 4:10-13 – Principle of Contentment

Acts 15:1-11 – Debate on circumcision

Colossians 3:11-12,15 – In the body of Christ there is neither circumcised, Jew, Greek, slave, or free.

1 Timothy 6:1-3 – On slavery and how to respond.

Colossians 3:22-25 – On slavery and how to respond.

1 Peter 2:18-24 – On slavery and how to respond.

1 Peter 1:18-19 – You were bought by Christ.

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1 Corinthians 7:10 (contrast with 25) – To the virgin it is not a command to stay single, but to the married it is a command not to separate.

Matthew 24:19, Luke 21:23 – How dreadful it will be for pregnant and nursing mothers.

Luke 6:21-22 (30) – Blessed are you who hunger and weep.

Luke 8:14, 10:40-42 – About being distracted from serving/following God.

Teaching Points:

I. 17-24

We are to be content in the situation God has called us. Some of the Corinthians wanted to divorce after they got saved. Last week we discussed how this wrong. Other times people decided they needed to get circumcised. Apparently there was even some kind of operation to attempt to reverse circumcision and some wanted to do that as well. Some Gentiles thought they needed to become culturally like the Jews. And some Jews thought they needed to culturally be removed from Judaism. Neither is correct.

Slaves also wondered if it was unbiblical to be slaves. Paul here doesn’t discuss the rightness or wrongness of slavery, but addresses if a believer is a slave, what should he do? The answer is to try to become legally free and if that is not possible to stay in the situation and work heartily for God (see cross-references). Some people are very unsatisfied with their position in life, maybe culturally, maybe socially, maybe economically. These verses don’t mean we can never change culturally or socially or economically, but that we need to be content to follow God’s leading wherever it goes, including if being rich isn’t in His plan for us. If a believer desperately wants to go to the US, he needs to be content to stay in China if God doesn’t allow him to go to the US. If we become a believer and find that some of our past behavior is sinful, we should change it. But if the behavior is not sinful, it is not necessary to change.

The end of verse 19 is the key verse in the first section. What matters is keeping the commandments of God. It doesn’t matter so much where you live, what culture habits you follow, what social or economic position you have. What matters is if you obey God. Do you serve God where you are at? Do you use what you have now for Him? Some people live life in a perpetual state of discontent. They also often say that IF ONLY they could move or change jobs or become rich or whatever that then they would serve God. This is ridiculous. If you don’t obey God in one place how will you obey Him in another? If you can’t serve God as an employee, how can you serve God as an employer?

II. 25-31

As discussed last passage (see verse 40), this is all inspired. It is not only Paul’s personal opinion or advice. However, in this case, it is not a command. In many instances in these verses it is made clear that what is shared is a suggestion. I call it an “inspired suggestion”. We will do very well if we follow the suggestion here, but it is not a requirement. Having said that, I think many people simply waive off this Scripture and pretty much ignore it saying that it is OK to get married. Yes, of course it is OK to get married, and it is God’s plan for many people. However, it is also God’s will for some people to stay single. And even the married need to strongly consider what Paul shares here so that they can understand the commitment they are making and the sacrifices they are making and consider if it is what God wants them to do. So remember, that the primary teaching here (to stay single), is not a requirement or a command, but is a divine suggestion/advice.

“Present distress” in verse 26 is likely referring to some specific persecution that they were facing or would soon face. Perhaps it was the persecution by the Romans or Jews. Perhaps it was some particular economic or military trouble in the area at time. I don’t know. But there was some trouble in the world going on at that time that made it preferable to be single. This point makes sense. Do you want to get married in the middle of a war? Do you want to get married in middle of economic chaos? Do you want to get married in the middle of severe persecution? In any of these cases, your life is unstable. You might have to flee/move here or there. You might lose your job. You might lose your life. The point is that marriage is a big responsibility. It is the husband’s job to take care of the wife. Tribulations and distress in the world make it difficult to that, not impossible, but difficult. See cross-references on pregnant and nursing women. Trials cause enough pain and trouble for a single person. A married couple with kids will face more. In case of famine, a single guy can go around and perhaps find work here or there and scrounge by. It is much harder if he is married.

Verse 27-28 repeat that a person who is married should not divorce. Once again there is the suggestion to be single, but Paul says it is not sin to be married. It is lawful, but is it profitable?

29 – Life is brief. We don’t know when it will end and when Christ will come back. We only have a short time on this earth to serve the Lord. We must make the most of our time. This verse is not saying, “get divorced and serve the Lord”. Rather it is a reminder that even if you are married you need to realize the paramount importance of serving the Lord. Marriage should never be used as an excuse to avoid serving God. At the same time a person who is married should not consider the marriage to be unimportant and neglect his wife and kids for the sake of God. He should serve God first and not hide behind His family. But neither should he hide behind serving God to neglect his family.

What do verses 30-31 mean? First, we can remember the context. Verse 29 is saying you shouldn’t get so caught up in marriage that you don’t serve God. We know from Matthew and Luke that weeping as in repenting when we sin is right. A reason to weep might be death of a loved one, a sickness, loss in the stock market, loss of job, etc. It’s saying don’t get so caught up in these things that you don’t serve God. Don’t use your difficult circumstances as a reason not to serve God. Don’t use your troubled finances as a reason not to serve God. Move on and serve the Lord. Joy? A similar thing. A reason to be joyful might be getting married, birth of a kid, promotion, cured of sickness, eating a fish, or a successful pig experiment, etc. Don’t get so caught up in the joy of eating fish that you don’t serve God. Don’t get so caught up in the joy of having a kid that you don’t serve God. Verse 31 seems to be talking about business. Don’t get so caught up in business, money, materials, that you don’t serve the Lord. Do not love the world or the things of the world or the love of the Father is not in you. Love God first. Serve Him first. Ephesians 5:16. Luke 14:16-23 (excuses for not going to wedding feast).

32-35

These are the key points of why singleness is preferable to marriage. It is very clear a single person can serve God more single-heartedly than a married person. A married person needs to be concerned about providing for his family, educating his kids, taking care of his wife, going on dates, having quality conversations, staying nearby home (both not going on lengthy trips that would separate him from his wife, and not staying away from home to often when he is nearby). Think about Paul. If he was married, would it have been appropriate for him to spend much of his life going on mission trips, traveling from city to city? No, he would have been apart from his wife far too much. This is not saying if you are married don’t be concerned with pleasing your wife. Rather, it is saying if you are not married you don’t have to be concerned with it.

36-38 –

What does it mean acting unbecomingly and who is “he”? He is referring to the father of a single/virgin daughter. Acting unbecomingly is referring to keeping her from getting married if she wants to get married. The principles in these verses are this:

  1. A father has authority over his daughter to let her marry or not, and what specific guy. This a God-given right not to abuse the daughter, but to look after her and her interests. He should also make decisions together with the mother. Sometimes “love” may blind someone. The daughter may do something foolish. The parents are there to protect her interests and make sure the guy is good.

  2. The father should pay attention to the girl’s desire. It talks about “acting unbecomingly”, “if it must be so”, and “not under constraint”. It seems like these things are references to the girl’s desire. If the girl desires to get married, the father should let her (providing the husband meets the proper conditions of course).

  3. It is good to give the daughter in marriage, but better if she remains single as she can more wholeheartedly and single-mindedly serve the Lord.

By implication, if a guy wants to marry a girl, he should go to her father for permission. This is a matter of respect and going through the proper channels. If she is the right one, God will open the door.

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