The People's Bible by Joseph Parker
Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote unto me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman.Peculiar Questions
1 Corinthians 7-9
"I speak this by permission, and not of commandment." "I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful." "I think also that I have the Spirit of God." Let us see what kind of quality we have to deal with, apart altogether from the mystery of inspiration, when we are dealing with such a man as the Apostle Paul. What was he out of the chair? Of what quality are God's princes? Unrobed and unmitred and unchaired, how does this man walk abroad? Will he be weak as other men? Will his want of mental capacity be painfully obvious? Or is he a great instrument, a man of immense and dominating faculty, even when left to his own judgment, and the movement of his own mind? The answers will be found in these chapters. The Church at Corinth had been turned into a debating club. Questions of more or less interest had arisen as between the members of that community. They referred the matter to the Apostle Paul, and in these chapters he addresses himself to "the things whereof ye wrote unto me."
The first question was one of marriage. The Apostle is not speaking about the general question of marriage, otherwise he would be contradicting in this portion of his epistolary theology what he so distinctly affirms in other portions. The questions are peculiar as to themselves, and specially peculiar as to the season at which they were discussed. The Apostle is not talking about a Christian man marrying a non-Christian woman, or a Christian woman marrying a non-professor of Christianity, although these verses are often quoted in that sense and with that limitation. Such quotation is a positive perversion of the apostolic meaning. The case is this:—Here are two people, husband and wife; one of them has been converted to Christ, what is to be done? Can they live together? Must they separate? The Apostle will not allow for a moment that the Christian has any difficulty about this. He looks upon a Christian as an ever-enlarging soul, taking in more and more points of life, and acquiring more and more intellectual and spiritual territory, and holding it in the name of his Lord. He does not therefore imagine a little pedantic Christian saying, Now that I have become a Christian, what am I to do with this heathen woman? Blessed be God, the Apostle never thought of asking any such question. Christians must not be pedants. The moment a Christian sets up his little morality and says, But what must I do? he has lost Christ. But the Apostle clearly saw that the heathen woman might object; she might say, My husband is no longer the same to me he used to be, he is a fanatic, he is a fool, he has given himself up to a superstition, he has gone away with people who are evidently mad: I cannot tolerate such a life as this, therefore I must leave him. Paul says that question may very naturally come up: now what is to be done with it? It arose at home, and it must be settled at home. With wondrous fatherly insight he says, Now first of all, before you put one another away, think of the children. Then the heathen woman says, Certainly, that is a point that ought to be considered: the heathen man says, Yes, we cannot afford to treat that question lightly. Why, says Paul, do not forget this, that if one of you is a Christian, the children are sanctified by that very fact; they are no longer common children, they come into rights and relations and prospects which are peculiar and incommunicable: the children do not suffer for the heathenism, but they profit by the Christianity. What does the Apostle mean by being "sanctified"? He does not mean being made "holy," but he means marked, specialised, separated: consider, therefore, the children before you pedantically or superstitiously give up one another. But if the unbelieving husband will depart from the believing wife, let him go; God hath called us to peace, but if the pagan will make off with himself, we cannot retain him. On the other hand, "What knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shalt save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?" Thy pagan partner is a home mission field: here is a set of circumstances that may be handled profitably for Christ and for yourselves. Let us therefore have no pedantry in the Church; small, moral little Christians, leaving their wives and families because they are too good to live with them. Paul said, Out upon such hypocrisy and cant! Even the veriest bed of corruption cannot taint the sun. The Christian can afford to live under circumstances which are of a discouraging and, in some instances, of a humiliating nature. The Apostle Paul therefore says, Christian husband, stand to your guns; Christian wife, keep at home: if the pagan woman wants to leave, of course she must leave; if the pagan husband wants to go, of course he must go. That Roman law was not so stern as some other law. The Roman law gave rights—hear it, O heavens, and be astonished, O society!—to the wife. When the Apostle says that he was speaking on this subject by "permission," and not by "commandment," he meant, I speak permissively, not commandingly; I accord liberty, I do not define right. That is the meaning of the Apostle's words—words which have been very often perverted and misunderstood.
Now he turns and generalises the whole situation. His principle is thus laid down (1Corinthians 7:20):—"Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called." How often are these words perverted! The word "calling" is made to signify profession, situation, condition in life; and the Apostle is quoted as saying to all men, how poor and miserable soever, Men, be quiet; be content with that station in life in which it hath pleased God to place you. Nothing of the kind. I say to every man, Be as discontent as you can with your present attainments, whatever they are, if in advancing farther you can carry up a broader, nobler, more generous, and more beneficent manhood. The word calling in this verse and throughout the context has a Divine relation and not a human limitation. Thus:—God calls men, and in obeying the Divine call we are to pay no attention to our circumstances; it is the call we obey, it is not the social situation which we feel, either as a burden or a crown. The social situation has nothing to do with it; there is a great call of love resounding through the ages, saying, Return, O wanderer, to thy home! The rich man says, I will go: the slave says, I will go: the uncircumcised says, I will go: the circumcised says, I will go: and the Apostle says, "Let every man abide in the same calling wherein he was called," and not make any difficulty about his situation or his circumstances. Thus:—I was uncircumcised, what must I do? Come! But must I not first remove the stigma, the brand, or the sign of my circumcision? No. Another man says, I am only a slave, I have on the manacles and the fetters; what am I to do? Put off all these old clothes, and come in the splendid attire of a meek and a quiet spirit. Is the Apostle upholding slavery? On the contrary, he is destroying it. The Apostle was too great a man to fight any question in mere detail. He said to the slave, You lead such a lite as will make slavery impossible; be so noble, so grand, so majestic, that you will make it felt that you are not a slave in reality, whatever you may be in name. This is the subtle spirit, this is the fundamental action of Christianity, that it does not vex itself with merely passing details, but lays down sovereign principles, which, being carried out, end in liberty, growth, progress.
But the argument of the Apostle related not only to the peculiarity of the case but to the seasons which he distinguishes by the words "the present distress" The Apostle was evidently looking forward to the close of the dispensation. Many critics try to show us that the Apostle was really not looking forward to the immediate closing of the dispensation, but in my judgment they fail. I have studied their arguments, and balanced all their reasonings, and I have said, All this amounts to a theological post hoc; these people want to prove something which they have assumed, and they want to make certain words fit in with certain foregone conclusions, and it will not do. I cannot read the Pauline epistles or other epistles without feeling that the Apostles were looking forward to the almost immediate coming of their Lord: whether that event took place in the destruction of Jerusalem, is a question which theologians may argue, more or less profitably; but it is impossible from my point of view to avoid the conclusion that these men always wrote in haste, as if they were not sure they would be able to sign their own letter before the heavens rent, and the Son of Man returned to the vision and the touch of the world. This being so, the letter is explained. The Apostle would seem to say, Brethren, you are talking about marrying, and giving one another in marriage, and what is to be done in the household under such-and-such circumstances,—why, all these things are hardly worth arguing at all, already the axe is laid unto the root of the tree, already I hear a sound as of advancing footsteps, and whilst we are arguing these little local domestic matters we may be summoned to the consummation of things. Thus:—This house has but one year to run in its lease: is it worth our while spending a thousand pounds in connection with it? The voice of prudence says, Certainly not; you have but a year to remain, why then should you go to this expenditure? We have but a certain time to remain in the country, shall we adjust certain questions that are now exciting the anger or the prejudice of the multitude? No, it is not worth while.
Thus we are always reasoning outside theological lines, and the Apostle says upon all these questions about eating and drinking, and marrying and giving in marriage, and all these questions about circumcision, and slavery, and male and female, Why, the whole controversy will be settled presently; there will be one gleam of light through the air, and in the twinkling of an eye the whole firmament will be filled with midday, and the Lord will come, the new relationship will be established, the new sovereignty will advene, and then where will be our little questions about marrying and giving in marriage? "Brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; and they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not; and they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away." A singular word is this "abusing," in 1Corinthians 7:31 (ch. 7). What should we say to be the meaning of the word "abusing"? Probably we should say he abuses the world who misuses it. That is not the Apostle's meaning. The Apostle's meaning would be better expressed thus:—"And they that use this world, as not over-using it,"—not being too fussy, and making too much of nothing; playing with clay, trying to find eternity in time. Men over-use the world and get their hands too deeply into it; they play the fool with it.
The next point that is touched upon in the inquiry made by the Corinthians was about meat offered to idols, and about eating that meat. The question is a very simple one. The heathen priests took meat into the temples, and offered it to the idols, and having done this they went and sold it to the dealers who offered it in the shambles; and there was a conscience that said, Now about this meat: it has been handled by pagan priests, it has been offered on pagan altars, and it has been bought out of the heathen temples, and is now in the general shambles offered for sale: what is to be done with this meat? Some say, We cannot touch it, because it has been offered to idols. Others said, An idol! why, an idol is nothing at all; the meat is not tinged or tainted by its having been offered to nothing at all; the meat is as good as any other meat: produce it, enjoy it. The Corinthian casuist said to the Apostle under these circumstances, What shall we do? And the Apostle delivers the judgment which is recorded in the eighth chapter: and having given his own judgment upon the subject he says, After all, we must consider the weak conscience. Weakness governs the world; it is always the minority that rules, although if you were to say so in a public meeting you would be hooted from the platform. But it is always the minority that rules. It is weakness that stops the house, it is the baby that keeps the family at home; it is the lame limb that detains all the sound faculties and says, Stop! What! am I to stop because I have one lame limb? I am sound in all my other limbs, and sound in all my mental faculties, and am I to be humbled in this way? Yes, you are, and you cannot get out of it. So the Apostle says, Here is a lame man in the Church, and the Church must wait for him; and the Church says, This is the singular pass we have come to, all waiting for one lame man. The Apostle says, That is the very idea of the Church. The whole universe may be waiting for one little lame world called the earth: nobody can tell how fast the universe might get on but for this cripple called the earth. Nobody knows how great the family might have been and how wonderful in fame and influence but for the sick-chamber. The Apostle says, Here is one poor man; call him weak, do not let him be under the impression that he is strong; let him know exactly what he is, and tell him that it is to his weakness we make this obeisance. What is the use of your standing over a little baby, and pouring upon its unconscious head a whole Niagara of rhetorical expostulation? The thing is impossible. So the Apostle said, We must wait for this man: he is a man, he is not much of a man, he is about as little of a man as it is possible to be and yet be a man; but Christ died for him, therefore we must wait. Now, says the Apostle, I will tell you what I will do; I dare not say anything to anybody else, but this is my position. I can eat this meat; it is nothing to me that the meat has been offered by some heathen priest to a heathen idol; I do not care for that for one moment: but there is a man just there, who says he would be hurt in his soul if I took it. I say, Very well, I will not take it. That is the ground on which all total abstainers from innocent things must rest, if the action is to be widely influential. Many a man says, I could take this wine, I should know exactly when to give over, it would do me no harm, I could take it with a good conscience; but if I did take it, there is a poor soul that could not even inhale the odour of the wine, without the appetite fired as from hell. I say, Very well, I throw it on the ground, I will not touch it, for your sake. That argument can never be overturned; and if there be a man who never does anything for any other man's sake, let him not name the name of Christ.