1 Corinthians 7:10-17
And to the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband:…
1. St. Paul makes a distinction between those things which he speaks by commandment and by permission; between what he says as being taught of God, and that which he speaks only as a servant, "called of the Lord and faithful."
2. It is plain that there are many questions in which right and wrong are fixed; while there are others where these terms depend on circumstances, e.g., there may be circumstances in which it is the duty of a Christian to be married, and others remain unmarried. In the case of a missionary it may be right to be married; in the case of a pauper, unable to maintain a family, it may be proper to remain unmarried. No fixed law can be laid down upon this subject.
3. These, therefore, are questions of casuistry, which depend upon the particular case: from which "casuistry" is derived. On these points the apostle speaks not by commandment, but by permission. This distinction is not between inspired and uninspired, but between a decision in matters of Christian duty, and advice in matters of Christian prudence. God cannot give advice; He can only issue a command. When we come to advice the human element is introduced.
4. There are three main questions on which the apostle here gives his inspired decision.
I. CONCERNING THE SANCTITY OF THE MARRIAGE BOND BETWEEN TWO CHRISTIANS (ver. 10).
1. Of all earthly unions almost this is the only one permitting of no change but that of death. It is that engagement in which man exerts his most awful and solemn power — that of parting with his freedom. And yet it is perhaps that relationship which is spoken of and entered into most carelessly. It is not an union merely between two creature, but between two spirits; and the intention of that bond is to perfect the nature of both, by giving to each sex those excellences in which it is naturally deficient.
2. There is no earthly relationship which has so much power to ennoble (ver. 16). The very power of saving belongs to it, and that of ruin too. For there are two rocks on which the soul must either anchor or be wrecked. The one is the "Rock of Ages," on which if the human soul anchors, it lives the blessed life of faith; against which if the soul be dashed, there ensues atheism — the worst ruin of the soul. The other rock is of another character. Blessed is the man or woman whose life-experience has taught a confiding belief in the excellences of the sex opposite to their own. And the ruin is second only to perdition. And it is the worst of these alternatives which the young risk when they form an inconsiderate union, and which parents risk when they bring up their children with no higher view than that of a rich and honourable marriage.
II. THE SANCTITY OF THE MARRIAGE BOND BETWEEN A CHRISTIAN AND A HEATHEN.
1. The question arose, Is not the marriage null and void? As if it were an union between one dead and one living. And that perpetual contact with a heathen, and therefore an enemy of God, is not that defilement? The apostle decides this with his usual inspired wisdom — the marriage bond is sacred still (vers. 12, 13).
2. Now for us the decision is not of so much importance as the reason in support of it, which amounts to this: If this were no marriage, but an unhallowed alliance, it would follow that the offspring could not be the children of God; but it is the instinctive conviction of every Christian parent, "My child is a child of God," or, in the Jewish form of expression, "My child is clean" (ver. 14). It follows if the children are holy in this sense of dedicated to God, then the marriage relation was not unhallowed, but sacred and indissoluble. The value of this argument in the present day depends on its relation to baptism. This question is whether we are baptized because we are the children of God, or, whether we are the children of God because we are baptized. Here the apostle's argument is unanswerable. He does not say that these children were Christian, or clean, because they were baptized, but because they were the children of one Christian parent.
3. Observe also the important truth which comes out collaterally from this argument — namely, the sacredness of impression, which arises from the close connection between parent and child. Possibly from the very first moments of consciousness we begin to impress ourselves on our children. There is scarcely one here who cannot trace back his religious character to some impression from one or other of his parents — a tone, a look, a word, a habit, or even, it may be, a bitter exclamation of remorse.
III. EXISTING RELATIONS (vers. 17, 20, 24). Christian men were to remain in them, and in them to develop the Christian life. Paul applies this principle in two ways.
1. Ecclesiastically (ver. 18). The Jews, after their conversion, were to continue Jews, if they would. Christianity required no change in these outward things. Paul circumcised Timothy, and used Jewish customs. It was not the duty of a Christian to overthrow the Jewish system, but to throw into it a Christian feeling. Let us apply this to modern duties. The great desire among men now appears to be to alter, and so have perfect institutions, as if they would make perfect men. Mark the difference between this feeling and that of the apostle (ver. 20). No man will get true rest for his soul in these days of controversy, until he has learned the significance of these wise words.
2. Civilly — to that relationship which, of all others, was the most difficult to harmonise with Christianity — slavery (ver. 21). Recollect —
(1) That Christianity had made much way among slaves. No wonder that they embraced with joy a religion which taught the dignity of the human soul, and declared that rich and poor, master and slave, were equal in the sight of God. And yet it was to be feared lest men should be tempted to compel their masters and oppressors to do them right.
(2) That all this occurred in an age in which slavery had reached its worst and most fearful form. And yet fearful as it was, the apostle says, "Care not for it." And hence we understand the way in which Christianity was to work. No doubt it will at length abolish slavery, war, &c., but there is not one case where we find Christianity interfering with institutions, as such: Onesimus Paul sent back to his master, but he told him of a higher feeling that would make him free with the shackle upon his arm. And so it was possible for the Christian then, as it is now, to be possessed of the highest liberty even under tyranny. It many times occurred that Christian men found themselves placed under an unjust government, and compelled to pay unjust taxes. The Son of Man showed His freedom not by refusing, but by paying them. His glorious liberty could do so without any feeling of degradation. Conclusion: It is possible from all this to draw a most inaccurate conclusion. Some men have spoken of Christianity as if it was entirely indifferent about public questions. This indifference is not to be found in the Apostle Paul. While he asserts that inward liberty is the only true liberty, he still goes on to say, "If thou mayest be free use it rather." Christianity gave to the slave the feeling of his dignity as a man, at the same time it gave to the Christian master a new view of his relation to his slave, and taught him to regard him "not now as a servant, but a brother beloved." And so by degrees slavery passed into freed servitude, and freed servitude, under God's blessing, may pass into something else.
(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
Parallel VersesKJV: And unto the married I command, yet not I, but the Lord, Let not the wife depart from her husband: