Balanced Loyalties

Studies in First Corinthians

by Bob Burridge ©2017

Lesson #: 19 Corinthians 7:26=40 (ESV)

Balanced Loyalties

I’m sure you have all had one of those days, or weeks, or even months, when you have a lot to deal with. Things break and need to get fixed, people get sick, there are accidents, upheavals at your job, meanwhile you have appointments you have to keep, deadlines that loom one after another, we have our daily responsibilities to our families, church, school or work, and friends. and there are those dangerous weather threats that come along disrupting everything.

Life would be a lot easier if we only had one thing to deal with at a time. But the reality is that we have many things to keep balanced as we budget our time, resources, interests, responsibilities, and concerns. It’s tempting to neglect the demanding and hard things, or to get wrapped up in the things we prefer to do.

We need to be constantly prioritizing how we spend our time and resources. The most important things have to be balanced with lesser responsibilities which also shouldn’t be neglected. We have to be able to shift our attention from one focus to another keeping them all moving in a coordinated way, without being distracted from our large goals and duties.

We struggle to live in a world that’s sometimes very demanding and complex, and it all takes place in the midst of a storm of sin. In these troubled times, we need to avoid things that tempt us to lose this balance.

The questions the Corinthians asked about marriage
brought up several general principles.

One of them is summarized in 1 Corinthians 7:26

26. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is.

In the context Paul was warning against unwisely making big changes in your life.

He had just advised the unmarried to avoid rushing into marriage unless it clearly fits within the boundaries of what God’s word and providence tells us. Marriage is not for everyone so the unmarried should remain as they are as long as they can morally do so (7:25). But then he immediately applies the same principle to married people in verse 27.

As we saw in our last study in this series, we should not rush into major life changes. We shouldn’t despise or struggle against God’s providence — things like being born a slave or free, Jew or Gentile, or being married or unmarried.

We need to avoid the “greener-grass syndrome” where we become jealous of others, or other circumstances. It’s easy to envy the lives of others, their nice lawns, better cars, naturally good looks — whatever. But our duty is to focus on serving Christ where we are, not where we are not. Considering the present difficulties and distresses that faced Corinth then, immediate pressures should not provoke carelessly made drastic changes.

We should always consider the responsibilities
before we enter into a commitment.

27. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.
28. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.

We need to remember that questions about marriage are at the root of this entire chapter. The marriage relationship is one of our most fundamental responsibilities, and it illustrates our struggle to keep so many things in balance.

If you’re married, do not try to find ways to get out of your marriage. If you are not married (divorced or not yet married) do not focus on trying to get married. No one should take this to mean that there’s anything wrong or sinful about marriage. Paul brings it up here as a warning for a particular reason. It’s an added responsibility and before you take it on, you should be prepared for it. Along with all the other things the Christian is obligated to do, marriage adds more responsibility.

We need to realize that there is more to life than what meets the eye.

29. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none,
30. and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing,
and those who buy as though they had no goods,
31. and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

The time remaining until the end of this part of God’s plan is shrinking. Every day we are closer to the final moments of our lives, and the end when sin and suffering will be no more. When we think of the ages of eternity ahead, the time we spend here is very short. After a few billion years in heaven, our few decades of life, or all of human history will seem very brief.

But for now, enduring the challenges we face is sometimes very hard. This is a time of aggressive attacks by evil. By God’s grace, this time is ever shortening as we move toward the end of our lives and the day of judgment. Matthew 24:22, “And if those days had not been cut short, no human being would be saved. But for the sake of the elect those days will be cut short.”

With this eternal perspective in mind, we need to remember the larger goals beyond this life. Marriage, mourning, joy, possessions … the whole world is ours to use and appreciate for God’s glory. But we need to see them for what they are, temporary provisions that will not always be with us.

This section is written in a poetical structure. He states a condition, then says “as though they” stating the condition’s negative (“as though they” = ὡς μὴ = “as not”). If we take this poetical portion out of its context, it becomes confusing. Paul is not telling men to neglect their duties to their wives. Husbands are always commanded to love their wives very dearly.

In Ephesians 5:25 Paul wrote, “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her” And he isn’t telling us to avoid weeping and rejoicing. We are commanded to rejoice and weep together with others. In Romans 12:15 Paul said, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

The point is that none of these things should get in the way of our greater service to God. We are not to become emotionless ascetics, ignoring our wives, not weeping or rejoicing, not making use of the blessings of this world. We should honor all these things well. But they should not interfere with glorifying God as our highest goal every day. Romans 8:18 says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.”

Luke 12:16-20 tells about that man who was very concerned about making room for his increased production of crops. But he had paid no attention to his duty toward God who had blessed him. In verse 20 God said to him, ” ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ ”

The time comes all too soon when all the temporal things we treasure and fret about now will fade into mere memories.

We have many concerns to keep balanced in this life.

32. I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord.
33. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife,
34. and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband.
35. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

Luke used the same language in the story of Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42. Jesus came to their home. Mary listened to the Lord sitting at his feet, but it says in verse 40, “But Martha was distracted with much serving…” She complained that Mary had left the household chores to listen to their guest’s teachings. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”

The lesson here is in the words “distracted” in verse 40 and “anxious” in verse 41. Martha became distracted, divided in an imbalanced way. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be a good hostess with well prepared meals and a neatly ordered home. But she became overly anxious about these temporal things, so that she neglected the thing of greater importance in her life.

Paul uses one of those same words here in 1 Corinthians 7:34. He warns that a person’s interests should not become divided distracting them from obedience to God.

Marriage is fundamental to this world God made. It’s an extremely important part of his plan. But it’s also a huge set of responsibilities which are not to be neglected. But at the same time, nothing should distract us from the most important thing in life: that we are created and redeemed to bring glory to God through Jesus Christ.

Our loyalties should never be in conflict with one another: If we take on the responsibilities of a spouse and a family, we should be devoted to our wives, husbands, and children if the Lord gives them to us. But we can’t really help our families grow stronger if obeying and honoring God isn’t first in our lives.

Paul’s point here is that we should make sure we can handle extra duties before we take them on. Any earthly duty, even the high responsibility of a family, can become dangerous if it distracts us from full obedience to Christ.

This general principle applies
to all our responsibilities in life:

According to one study distractions were at least partly involved in 98% of all automobile accidents. In one year distracted drivers accounted for over 300,000 serious automobile crashes. The most common things that got driver’s attention off what they were doing were: looking at other drivers or scenery, disciplining children, animated conversations with passengers, working with maps, putting on facial cosmetics, adjusting radio or cd player, and of course texting, and dialing or talking on a phone. The problem was not with the radios, maps, or phones. It was the drivers. Instead of paying attention to the road and other vehicles, they became focussed on something else.

Living here in God’s world, we have to keep our eyes on the most important thing too. While we have many important responsibilities, nothing else will really benefit us if we neglect living obediently to God. It’s hard to take those seriously who say they love the Lord yet they knowingly do things that offend him for their own selfish and misguided reasons. It’s like parents who can’t get the kids clothes organized the night before church, but when it’s time for a family vacation they have everything packed up a whole day in advance. It’s the mother who makes good meals and has all the laundry done, but doesn’t have time for praying with the kids, or helping them learn their Bible lessons. It’s the family that can’t get up for Sunday School because they were up late Saturday night. It’s the guy who gets up at 5:00 in the morning to go fishing, but can’t make it to church on time. It’s the salesman who knows his whole product line by heart, but not more than 2 Bible verses. It’s the husband who wants to give his wife everything to make her happy, except the one thing she needs most .. a dedicated spiritual partner in the home. It’s those who can sit through a 3 hour movie without missing a word, but can’t seem to pay attention through an hour long worship service.

It’s a matter of balance. Many of these other things are good and healthy. But if they become more important than obeying God, we have pervert our blessings into crimes against God’s Kingdom. It’s never wise to offend the one who enables us to enjoy the things we treasure so much.

This challenge of keeping things in their proper place, with our eyes always fixed on God’s honor, is why Paul warns the Corinthians not to rush into marriage with its added duties.

We should also be just as careful when we join a church, take a job, join some organization, or even start home projects, buy new entertainment equipment, or take on new hobbies. Are we able to take this on, without being tempted to let it interfere with obeying God fully?

All parts of our lives need to be coordinated toward the greatest goal of Glorifying God. We need to make a diligent effort to keep our eyes on the right road. Obedience and service to God through Christ should not become second to our temporal duties.

It’s tragically ironic that the best thing is often overlooked, maybe willingly. The best thing we can do for our families and spouses is to put the Lord first — even over them. Those we love the most should know they can count on our dedication to God’s ways. It gives them the security that there are limits beyond which we never want to go. And that when we sin and go beyond them, we admit we’ve done wrong. It lets the ones we love know that we want what’s best for them in God’s eyes, not just what we personally prefer. True love is when we give of ourselves to help others to be all they can be in God’s eyes.

We need to be good examples of keeping things in the right balance. We value our families so much that we will not do things that interfere with their worship. We value our jobs so much that no financial temptation could make us compromise what is moral and honest. We value God’s provisions so much that we are happy to use them to help promote God’s Kingdom work. We value good morals so much that we are not enticed by immoral entertainment.

It’s our created purpose to worship, serve, and obey our Creator. We are told to put forth prayerful effort to make sure that the Lord’s service isn’t being neglected. All the things we take on in life are to be ordered in such a way that God is first — always. We should be sure that honoring our Lord isn’t pushed aside to prioritize extra things that interest us. We may need to simplify some things in our lives to keep that vital balance, while we maintain our other responsibilities in ways that honor our Savior. The rewards of obedience are far greater than the delusions of selfish gain.

At the end of the chapter there are
special instructions about singles and married couples.

There are major differences in how this section should be translated and interpreted.
One interpretation is reflected in the ESV translation.

ESV translates verses 36-38 this way:
36. If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be,
let him do as he wishes: let them marry–it is no sin.
37. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well.
38. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

The translation is base upon a specific interpretation of the passage. It says that if a fiance can’t behave properly (morally) toward his betrothed woman they should get married. But if they are able to control their desires and remain celebate, they do not have to get married right away.

Another interpretation is reflected in the NASB translation. It interprets it as fathers oversight of their virgin daughters.

NASB translates it this way:
36. But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she should be of full age, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry.
37. But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well.
38. So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better.

This interpretation says that if a father disgraces his virgin daughter by forbidding her to get married, but she has lusts, therefore he should let her get married. But if the father sees that she can remain moral, he may or may not give his daughter in marriage.

The Greek text mentions neither fathers, daughters, nor fiances. The issue is interpretive.

There are three main points that are answered differently depending on the interpretation.

1. The word translated as either “virgin” or “betrothed” is “parthenos” (παρθένος). It’s defined in the Lexicons as, “virgin” or sometimes as a “maiden, an unmarried woman”. It’s the word used to describe Mary as a “virgin” who had not been with a man intimately (Matthew 1:23). When it says Mary was “betrothed” to Joseph in Matthew 1:18 and Luke 2:5 it uses “mnaesteuo” (μνηστεύω). So on the “lexicography” side it favors the “virgin” tranaslation of the NASB, KJV, NKJV, ASV, Genevan Bible. The “betrothed” interpretation is used in the ESV, and the paraphrased Good News Bible, Easy-To-Read Bible.

2. In the context, what is the dishonorable (unbecoming) behavior? The ESV says, “not behaving properly”. The NASB has,”acting unbecomingly”. The original word there is “aschaemonein”(ἀσχημονεῖν), some dishonorable behavior. Is it that the fiance was tempted to have sex with his betrothed, dishonoring her? – or – Is it that the father was dishonoring his eligable daughter by forbidding her to get married? Either interpretation fits the text.

3. At end of verse 36 there is a plural “let them marry” Is it refering to the betrothed couple? or to all such daughters in general? Either interpretation fits this text grammatically.

Most commentaries side with the NASB which refers to the woman as a “virgin”. The father has authority over his daughter. Among those commentators are: Gill, Lenski, Barnes, Clark, Henry, Roberston.

Setting aside what translators add or suppose, there are some basic clear principles here. Virgins (daughters or betrothed ones) should be kept pure. When they can’t remain pure they should marry. Men (fathers or fiances) should responsibly try to keep virgins under their care or oversight pure. If she (daughter or betrothed one) can remain unmarried without immoral passions, that is OK. If she (daughter or betrothed one) can’t control immoral passions, she should be permitted to get married.

The last two verses summarize
the importance of the marriage bond.

39. A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.
40. Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

The only moral reason to end a marriage is the death of the spouse. That ends the marriage in God’s eyes because the promises of that bond are completed. When a marriage ends because of a divorce or adultery, only the innocent partner may marry again.

Remaining single is fine for widows or widowers in such a case, but only if the surviving partner can resist temptations to immorality. In any marriage, it must be “only in the Lord”, that is it must comply with the rules God has given us in his word.

(The Bible quotations are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.)

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