1 Corinthians 7:10-11

1 Corinthians 7:10-11 (NRSV) – “To the married I give this command—not I but the Lord—that the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does separate, let her remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and that the husband should not divorce his wife.

My approach to the subject of divorce and remarriage is very much analogous to my commentary on suing in the previous chapter. It’s about putting the principle of grace into practice.

God does not “divorce” believers who don’t live the way He wants them to. And even if people alienate themselves from God in their own minds by failing to appreciate what He has done for them, His grand plan for the eons is still to bring them back. If He finds someone else who lives the way He wants, He does not use that person’s choice to obey as an excuse to prevent reconciliation with the one who disobeyed. Even though none of us do everything God would want us to do ideally, He works with our minds and attitudes so that we nevertheless move in the direction He has called us to.

As I said in the commentary on lawsuits, God does not deal with people in a punitive way and make them perform works or suffer to compensate for their disobedience. However, there is another principle I mentioned there that also applies here, which is that if someone is persistently interfering with God’s plans that He is working through believers, He still reserves the right to get the person out of the way somehow.

So, with regards to divorce, and remarriage, the most important thing is for people to carry an attitude of grace in their hearts and let this be a guiding principle for their lives and relationships. But at the same time, as with the matter of lawsuits, I respect your decision on what you have to do in order to experience the peace needed to pursue your calling, as opposed to being chained in a state of bondage or frustration.

1 Corinthians 7:1-9

1 Corinthians 7:1-9 (NRSV) – “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: ‘It is well for a man not to touch a woman.’ But because of cases of sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband. The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer, and then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. This I say by way of concession, not of command. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind and another a different kind. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am. But if they are not practicing self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.”

I want to start with end of the passage above and then work backward. Paul writes that “it is better to marry than to be aflame with passion.” This series of posts has discussed passion a lot. In particular, how faith in the transformation of believers through Christ allows us to accept our core passions and trust God to work through them.

In the case of sexual passion, it is important to understand that this kind of passion does not exist in a box. What I mean by this is, the hormones and neurotransmitters involved with it, such as testosterone, acetylcholine, GABA, and dopamine, are intrinsically involved with one’s physical and mental energy, central nervous system function, concentration, mood, and memory. This is a point which, unfortunately, I often perceive is not well appreciated in Christian teaching on abstinence until marriage.

It is not the ultimate goal of such teaching that I object to, but rather, the means of getting there. Particularly, the tendency to portray sexual energy as “rebellious,” “sinful,” “selfish,” or a threat to one’s spiritual purity that has to be fought against. Even though it is taught that people ultimately need to trust in God for power to deal with these passions and resist temptation while single, the appeal to trust in God comes only after painting a very negative, and sometimes harmful, picture of one’s natural state.

The consequence of this teaching is that it twists the natural functions of the brain into unhealthy patterns. If one’s mind is stressing out over the biochemical processes involved in sexual desire (and day-to-day mental function), the activity of these chemicals is suppressed, causing poor psychological health in one’s day-to-day life. And unfortunately, when these people eventually get married, their brains may be twisted out of shape already, and the damage can follow them into marriage.

Once people are married, God wants for them to be understanding and respectful of each other’s needs. Paul writes, “The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband. For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except perhaps by agreement for a set time, to devote yourselves to prayer.”

I suspect this understanding and respect is harder if a couple enters marriage with their brains distorted by harmful teaching during their single years. If years were spent trying to conquer one’s self, I am concerned this could lead to an attitude in marriage that is excessively focused on one’s self.

The challenge, while single, is to confront the faulty ideas, fears, or personal pursuits that keep someone from being able to find fulfillment of desires. For instance, if what you really want in life is to be in a sexual relationship, but you have personal quests, or carry certain fears, or believe certain things about yourself or others that inhibit you from getting married, you can seek God to reorient your thinking so that you can be open to getting married but make a wise decision.

On the other hand, if marriage is really not an option, you can believe for God to lead you to an activity or a non-sexual relationship that expresses your passions. But you need to have a positive view of the chemistry behind your passions in order to see how God can do a creative work through you.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

1 Corinthians 6:12-20 (NRSV) – “‘All things are lawful for me,’ but not all things are beneficial. ‘All things are lawful for me,’ but I will not be dominated by anything. ‘Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,’ and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power. Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never! Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, ‘The two shall be one flesh.’ But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him. Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself. Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.”

This passage is centered on the concept of becoming “one flesh” through sexual intercourse. It is important to analyze what this means in order to understand the Biblical mindset for sexual morality.

When Paul writes “the two shall be one flesh,” he is quoting the part of the Genesis creation account that depicts the creation of Eve from Adam:

The Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said, This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; this one shall be called Woman, for out of Man this one was taken.’ Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh” (Genesis 2:21-24).

Although most translations say that God removed a “rib” from Adam to form Eve, I don’t think that is exactly correct. The word translated “rib” is the Hebrew word “tsela,” which is translated as “angular organ” in the Concordant Version of the Old Testament. The commentator William W. Bentley, Jr. viewed the term in this context as suggestive of female sexual anatomy (see “Scene 3” in exposition), writing, “Whereas Adam had been created a bisexual human, God separated the male and female reproductive function by removing an angular organ from Adam and forming another body around it.”

Another commentator, Martin Zender, describes another instance of the term “tsela” that occurs in Ezekiel 41:7, describing the structure of a temple’s “side chambers,” which resemble the shape of a uterus (see 14:00-16:00 in the linked video). Zender also states that the normal Hebrew word for rib would be “ala,” not “tsela” (12:10-12:30).

The “rib” translation is convenient for a kids’ Sunday school class, but the real meaning of the term unlocks a powerful truth about how God works with humanity.

The original Adam, created intersex, had a sense of balance not found in humanity since then. If God simply wanted Adam to have a partner, He could have created another human like Adam. But God was up to more than just that!

I doubt that Adam woke up from this operation feeling good. He probably felt internal irritation and weakness. But, together with Eve, he found something resembling the balance that was lost. Male-female attraction is actually a symbol of humanity seeking God, because ultimately all humanity is lacking something that God has, leading to irritation in life.

During times in life when there seems to be continual frustration from something needed for peace and balance getting taken away, my belief is that God ultimately causes/allows (whichever you prefer) these things to happen, and if it makes you feel any better about it, He’s been doing this since the very beginning of humanity, starting with the disruption He caused inside of Adam. But ultimately, this sets the stage for the Biblical process of redemption, in which God transforms humanity into a new creation, restoring what was lost and creating something even more glorious. And we can believe for this transformation to play out in circumstances of our present lives.

Now, getting to the concept of becoming “one flesh” through sexual intercourse, the significance of sexual intercourse in the Bible is that, by uniting male and female genitalia, humanity is brought into a new state of being that resembles the completeness that it had before the disruption. Since this affects the core essence of one’s existence, the Bible is concerned with the circumstances under which it occurs, and who it occurs with. This is why Paul writes that “every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself” (1 Cor. 6:18).

Sexual immorality is not fundamentally about utilization of sexual organs. Rather, it is about creating a new state of humanity with another person which takes us farther from, rather than closer to, the state of being God has called us toward.

Paul writes that “The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body. And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power” (1 Cor 6:13-14)

God is working on our entire being through this power to bring us into our destiny. The exhortation toward sexual morality is meant to encourage us to live in harmony with this transformative power.

Paul also writes, “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own? For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

This is an encouragement to trust in what the Holy Spirit is doing inside of us. On one hand, there is still a lack of balance in humanity stemming from the disruption to Adam, but the Holy Spirit is working with believers on this, so this should be an encouragement to stay optimistic and trust in the process rather than resorting to immoral sexual intercourse out of hopelessness.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

1 Corinthians 6:9-11 (NRSV) – Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived! Fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, male prostitutes, sodomites, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, robbers—none of these will inherit the kingdom of God. And this is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God.

The message of this passage is that the behaviors cited do not jive with the new life that God has given believers and the destiny that He is bringing them into. Those whose objective for life involves pursuing these behaviors indicate that they do not have the vision for life that comes from faith in the Gospel, and thus are actually unbelievers who will not be part of God’s kingdom in the coming eons.

Two behaviors on Paul’s list that have become rather controversial are those which the translation above (NRSV) renders “male prostitutes” and “sodomites.” While these terms may seem to evoke the broad concept of homosexuality, in both the Old and New Testaments, the specific act referenced is sexual intercourse between two men (ex. Leviticus 20:13).

In the passage from Corinthians quoted above, where the NRSV says “male prostitutes,” some Bible translations (including the King James Version) have the word “effeminate,” which needlessly broadens the concept to allude to personality or expressions. To the contrary, Strong’s Concordance makes it pretty clear that this is referring to a role in sexual intercourse.

The other term Paul uses, “sodomites,” has been rendered with the generic term “homosexuals” in some translations (such as the NASB). However, Strong’s Concordance indicates that the term refers to sexual intercourse, with “male” in the word origin.

So where am I going with all this? I know that there are believers with same-sex attraction trying to figure out where they fit in with Biblical morality. Some Christian teaching on the subject has led these people to think that there is a systemic sinfulness associated with their attractions. I went into the translation of words to show why I do not believe in this notion. To the contrary, I believe it is important for these people to feel confident in their core nature and personality, and to have faith that God is working through their nature to bring forth positive developments in their lives.

But what about the specific act of male-to-male intercourse? Except for a small percentage of the population that does not feel sexual attraction to anyone, many people seem to think that if same-sex attraction in a general sense is viewed positively, then desire for intercourse naturally follows and would be seen as an expression of love.

But really, this is not different from some other behaviors on Paul’s list. Such as “revilers.” Sometimes, legitimately righteous indignation gets out of hand and leads to verbal abuse directed at those perceived as immoral or heretical, in the name of “tough love.” On one hand, these believers with righteous anger should respect their core concern about truth and morality. In fact, Paul writes in Ephesians 4:25-27 (NRSV), “Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil.” 

The key is for believers to have a positive view of their core passions but to have a vision for life that involves expression of these passions without problematic behaviors that Paul cites. It is ultimately God who makes this happen. He knows us a lot better than we know ourselves, and He leads us through life in a way such that our unique nature becomes an inspiration to others, and the more that this is realized, the more we receive insights and epiphanies on how to live in peace without the problematic behaviors.