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Of Marriage (Part 3)

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew
The Truth Network Radio
April 25, 2022 2:00 am

Of Marriage (Part 3)

Growing in Grace / Doug Agnew

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April 25, 2022 2:00 am

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I ask you to remain standing in honor of God's Word as we read it together tonight. And if you would, please turn with me to 1 Corinthians chapter 7 as we finish up this chapter on marriage. We'll be looking at verses 17 through 40 tonight, but I'd like to begin just by reading verses 17 through 24. 1 Corinthians 7 verses 17 through 24. Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him and to which God has called him.

This is my rule in all the churches. Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision.

For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God, each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. Were you a bondservant when called? Do not be concerned about it. But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity. For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise, he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. You were bought with a price.

Do not become bondservants of men. So brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. Let's pray. Lord, would you give us understanding now as we meditate on your word? May our meditation on your perfect truth direct our steps that we might conform our actions and thoughts and even our attitudes to your will. Holy Spirit, we believe in you. We believe in your ability to take these words and to use them to nourish our souls now. We pray this in Jesus' name. Amen.

You can be seated. Well, in the verses that we just read, Paul seems to hit the pause button for just a bit on his discussion of the various marital situations, although he's gonna come back to that topic in verse 25. So he's not finished discussing marriage yet. This means that whatever he says in verses 17 through 24, which we just read, are related in some way to the marriage questions that Paul has been answering for Corinth. What we find then in verses 17 through 24 is an overarching principle or a rule that governs everything Paul has to say regarding marriage. And in fact, as we will discover, this rule, this principle applies to much more than just marriage.

We're gonna apply it broadly to all sorts of life situations. So what is this overarching rule, this grand principle? Well, it's the principle of trusting God's sovereignty in the particulars of life. And that trust, Paul says, is demonstrated by an ability to rest contentedly in one's circumstances without an undue desire to change or alter those circumstances. Now remember, we've said this before, we don't know what questions the Corinthian Christians were asking, but we can read Paul's answers. And so we surmise from Paul's answer here in verses 17 through 24 that the Corinthians in their questions to Paul about marriage were demonstrating some measure of discontentment or insecurity in the circumstances which God had ordained for them. So as it turns out, a marriage problem at its root might really be a contentment problem, or it might be a trusting God problem. And the solution then, as Paul will tell us, has nothing to do with altering our marital status, altering our external circumstance, but rather with learning contentment and learning to trust God in the circumstance. Corinth needed to be told to trust God. In Grace Church, we need to be told to trust God. In our marriages, in our jobs, in our relationships, we need to be reminded along with Corinth that God is sovereign and that His providence, as it concerns His people, is always good.

And we can therefore be contentedly fruitful in whatever situation we find ourselves in. Well, let's look at the specifics of this text tonight. Paul begins by laying down a principle, we might say a rule, to live by. In fact, Paul will state the rule three different times in these few verses.

So what is the rule? We see it first in verse 17. Paul says, let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him and to which God has called him, this is my rule in all the churches. He says it again in verse 20, each one should remain in the condition in which he was called.

Paul says it again in verse 24, so brothers, in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God. Perhaps we could rephrase the rule with the modern idiom, bloom where you're planted. That's what Paul's telling the Corinthians over and over, bloom where you're planted. He's saying, Christians, don't go looking for greener pastures, bloom where God has planted you. Now this rule implies a couple of things. First it implies that there is a planter, there's someone planting us where we are.

And Paul is very clear about who that planter is. He says, let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him and to which God has called him. So this passage is ultimately about trusting the sovereignty of God. This rule is really about resting in the providence of a sovereign God.

Corinthians had all sorts of questions. Paul, what if I get married and my spouse is unfaithful? What if I'm married and my spouse has already been unfaithful? What if I'm married to someone who doesn't even share my faith?

What if I long to be married but can't find a suitable spouse who embraces my faith and wants to serve the Lord alongside me? Paul gives specific answers to each situation, but then he gives the ultimate answer to all of life's questions. He tells them, Corinthians, you must learn to trust God in every circumstance and rest in the knowledge that he knows exactly what he's doing. Whatever moral dilemma we're up against in this broken, fallen world, the bedrock from which we operate as Christians, is the truth that God is sovereign and God is good. And that truth is not some obscure biblical principle, folks, it's front and center in the Word of God.

It's repeated over and over in the Bible. Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Look at the birds of the air, they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.

Are you not of more value than they? Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, but seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be added to you. Be still and know that I am God. There's a sovereign God who has planted you right where you are and he intends you to flourish there by his grace and for his glory. But blooming where we're planted not only implies that there's a planter, it also implies that there is blooming potential in a variety of circumstances. This seemed to be something the Corinthians were forgetting if Paul had to tell them multiple times to stay in their lane, to bloom where they were planted, they must have been working on the assumption that if only my external circumstances could change I would be happier and would be able to serve God better. Paul says, no, unmarried Christian your problem is not that you're single, divorcee your problem is not that you've been divorced, wife whose husband isn't a Christian, your effectiveness as a witness to the gospel is not limited by your being in a mixed marriage.

Those external problems are not the problem. In fact God has assigned you to these very circumstances with a purpose. You see our circumstances are rarely the problem, it's our response, our attitude in the circumstance that is the issue and so Paul says, Christian, bloom where you're planted, remain where God has put you because he is sovereign and because he is good. But then notice how Paul expands the application of this rule to a whole host of situations beyond just marriage. He's been talking about marriage and so the first application is to the home but next he brings up the matter of circumcision versus uncircumcision. Verse 18, was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised?

Let him not seek circumcision. Now this is certainly not the issue of our day, circumcision versus uncircumcision, but notice what Paul's doing here. He's taking what was arguably the most divisive issue in the first century church, the division between Jew and Gentile and he's saying that really doesn't matter. These cultural and ethnic distinctions that the world stumbles over are really inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. So Jews, stop trying to act so Gentilish. Gentiles stop trying to act so Jewish. The gospel transcends that ethnic and cultural division.

So stop making it a thing. And next he turns to what we might call socio-economic status. Verse 21, were you a bondservant, a slave when called? Do not be concerned about it.

Now that's sort of astounding. Surely Paul is not encouraging oppression between people groups. Surely he's not telling the church to just look the other way when they see social injustice happening. Well, of course, Paul's not encouraging injustice. Verse 21 is not Paul's comprehensive theology of social justice. In fact, he's not even really addressing the ethics of slavery here. He's addressing the attitudes of Christians in a broken and fallen world. He's encouraging believers to exercise unwavering faith in God's providential hand by intentionally pointing to a particular social reality that often exposed great inequality and discrimination.

Because if a Christian can trust God's providence in the most inequitable of situations, there would not be a situation in which a Christian wouldn't be able to trust the providence of God. Now I think we do need to understand something about the practice of slavery in the Roman Empire of Paul's day because the word itself, slavery, carries so much cultural historical baggage for Americans today. We need to understand that slavery as we understand it from the 1700s and 1800s is generally not at all what slavery was like in first century Rome. Certainly there were those back then who kidnapped other human beings and sold them as property and the Bible soundly condemns that as wicked, but more typically, people in the Roman Empire were either born into slavery or sold themselves into slavery as a means of paying off a debt or as a means of accumulating more wealth than they could as free men or as a means of earning a place in society. Slavery was often a voluntary station that was taken on by a person for personal or economic benefit and rarely was it for an entire lifetime. There was usually a specified expiration date by which time a slave would have earned enough money to purchase his freedom and support himself.

In fact, I read in my studies this last week that expiration date typically happened by age 30. I give all that background to make the point that we really can't rightly understand what Paul is saying if we read a contemporary or recent understanding of slavery back into the New Testament. It's simply not the same thing. When Paul refers to slaves and non-slaves or bond servants and masters, he's describing something far closer to our modern day employee-employer relationship than to the evil slave traders and man-stealers of recent history. That being said, Paul addresses those whose socioeconomic status is such that they find themselves beholden to a master, an employer, and he says to them, don't be overly concerned with your station in society.

God can use you for his purposes regardless of your social position. Don't be consumed with the world's way of measuring value and significance because in God's economy the metrics are different. Our world today measures people's value by certain external characteristics, don't they? Blue collar versus white collar, degreed versus non-degreed, perhaps urban versus rural or southerner versus northerner or male versus female. We have all sorts of categorizations and distinctions.

The world measures value by external temporal categories. Paul is telling us not to be overly concerned about those categorizations because they really don't matter in the big picture. God is able to effectively use all sorts of people from all walks of life and so our focus ought to be on resting in his providence rather than on altering our situation.

Bloom where you're planted even if you're planted in a garden that the world doesn't particularly esteem. So Paul's rule to lead the life that the Lord has assigned you has a very broad application. It applies to marital status, to cultural status, to ethnic status, to social status and our efforts and attention don't need to be on changing those external circumstances. Rather our lives ought to be tempered first and foremost by a quiet resignation to divine providence. But this I suspect brings up a question in our minds. It makes us ask, is it ever right to pursue a change in our external circumstances, our situations of life? Are we supposed to just throw up our hands and say, okay, sera, sera, whatever will be will be. Is all of life just a matter of passively taking what comes?

No it's not. And Paul acknowledges that, he acknowledges that there are occasions to bloom somewhere other than where you were planted. So what might those occasions be? Well, I see at least two occasions in our text that would justify proactively seeking change in one's external circumstances. The first occasion is when divine imperatives are being violated.

The second occasion is when divine opportunities present themselves. First look with me at verse 19, Paul says, for neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, and here's the qualifier, but keeping the commandments of God. So Paul's saying don't waste your time trying to become something or someone you're not unless what you are is a violation of God's revealed will. Circumcision and uncircumcision don't amount to a hill of beans, but obedience to God does amount to a hill of beans. This means that if there is some external circumstance in your life that is a direct violation of something God has made clear in his word, then by all means change your situation. We could apply this exception to the rule then to the three areas that have already been mentioned in this paragraph, marriage, religious practice, and socioeconomic status. So for example, your marital status doesn't make you more spiritual or less spiritual, but if something about your marital status is a violation of biblical principles and commands, then you should very definitely change your situation so as to comply with God's revealed will.

Circumcision versus uncircumcision no longer matters, but the new covenant sign of baptism certainly does matter. So if you've not obeyed Scripture's teaching regarding the sacrament of baptism, don't hide behind some feigned surrender to the providence of God, no, obey the commandments of God. Socioeconomic clout isn't the chief end of man, so we don't need to be consumed with what the world thinks of our social class or our economic situation, but this doesn't mean that gainful employment is bad or that we ought not to work hard and turn a profit. Scripture commands us to labor with our hands, and so we dare not mask our laziness behind some super spiritual sounding claim that God just accepts me as I am, unemployed and all.

So bloom where you're planted unless you're planted in disobedience, in which case uproot yourself and go bloom where you ought to be blooming. But there's a second occasion here that warrants changing our external circumstances, and that is when divine opportunities arise that would improve our temporal effectiveness for the kingdom of God. I think that's what Paul is acknowledging in verse 21 when he says to the slave, but if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.

There is a time and a place to better your situation, and God's providence will make that clear, but the overarching rule, the principle is still in place. Our value is not in those things that improve our external circumstances. Our value is in our union with Christ. That's why Paul says in verse 22 that whether we're free or enslaved in temporal terms, we are free in Christ from sin and we are enslaved to Christ for his service.

So all of that to say self-improvement is not inherently bad. It's bad when we see it as essential or as of more importance than the intrinsic value of Christ in us. Your value before God doesn't lie in those arenas that the world says are important, so don't get caught up in the rat race of self-improvement, of achievement recognition, of status seeking. One pastor said, Paul's point here is to suppress the tendency of certain Christians to hurry hither and thither so that they are harassed by a continual restlessness.

You see, there's always going to be a danger of giving more weight to external circumstances than is warranted. A relationship to God, however, is always of greater consequence than our temporal situation. Now I recognize that there's a whole lot of unresolved tension when we try to live by this rule of Paul's. The fact is we live in a very unique time in redemptive history, a sort of time between times, an already not yet situation. On the one hand, Christ has ushered in the kingdom and we're living in the last days, but on the other hand, that kingdom has not been fully established and consummated. There are blessings yet to be realized and this tension puts us in the awkward situation of having to be in the world but not of the world, of being justified and at least partially sanctified but not yet glorified. Many things in this created order still need to be changed and fixed because they don't conform to God's perfect intent. Diversity and culture need to change on several fronts and yet, isn't it interesting, Paul does not call for revolution, he calls for stability. He doesn't say there's so much wrong with the world so Christians get out there and fix it.

No, he says there's so much wrong with the world so Christians be faithful wherever God has put you. If you're in a place of obscurity, be a light to the obscure. If you're in a place of prominence, use that prominence to draw attention to Christ. If you're in a difficult marriage, be a picture of Christ's love to his difficult bride. If you're unmarried or divorced or widowed, use that temporal freedom to serve Christ all the more. If your vocation has you serving under a hard taskmaster, render service to him as if you're doing it unto the Lord. All of life is God's so wherever God has placed you, live there honorably before God until he moves you.

Bloom where you're planted. All that's left then is for us to walk through Paul's last word of counsel regarding marriage here in verses 25 through 40 and I think what we read here is Paul taking the principle he just set forth and applying it to the questions concerning the betrothed and the betrothed here is simply referring, I think, to single people who have never been married but are of marriageable age. Perhaps they've even already been engaged to be married. Let's see how Paul deals with these questions and I'll just comment on these verses very briefly as we wrap up our journey through chapter 7. Paul says in verse 25, now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord. In other words, previous revelation has not addressed this particular situation. Paul says, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord's mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress and we don't know what that distress was.

Some speculate it was a famine, others some form of intense persecution. In view of the present distress, it is good for a person to remain as he is. It's good for a single Christian to remain single rather than pursue marriage. So here is Paul's rule in action, bloom where you're planted single person. In verse 27, he gets specific and broadens the application to include married people. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife.

So the wisest course of action given the current trouble is to not go making any major life changes at the moment. However verse 28, but if you do marry you've not sinned and if a betrothed woman marries she has not sinned, yet those who marry will have worldly troubles. In other words, with the added responsibilities of marriage will come added stress and Paul says and I would spare you that.

This isn't a moral absolute, this is a matter of wisdom, of good judgment. Verse 29, this is what I mean brothers, the appointed time has grown very short. Now there might be a temptation for us to read more into that statement than is intended. My mind goes directly to the second coming of Christ when I read the appointed time has grown very short, but upon further reflection I don't think that's what Paul is referring to here. For one, the time wasn't short, the generation Paul was speaking to has long since died off and the second coming has not yet occurred. For two, never does scripture require something of the last generation before judgment day that isn't required of any generation.

Every generation is to live as if Christ will come any moment. It seems Paul is just referring here in verse 29 to the present distress of verse 26. A distress which evidently would soon be coming to an end. Now I was thinking this past week about Christians in Ukraine right now and how this war has totally disrupted their lives for the moment. No doubt there were young Christian couples who had wedding plans that have had to be postponed or canceled for the foreseeable future.

No doubt there are husbands and wives who are separated for the time being as men are off defending their homeland. Times of distress disrupt the normal course of life and during such times it's often necessary as Paul says here for those who have wives to live as though they had none and those who mourn as those who were not mourning and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing those who buy as those who had no goods and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it for the present form of this world. The norm that we're accustomed to is passing away and here is Paul's purpose in pointing out this reality. Chapter 32, I want you to be free from anxieties. Extraordinary times disrupt the normal course of events and that's okay because remember God is sovereign and God is good even over the distressing circumstances of life that turn our world upside down.

So be free from anxiety. During such times it is particularly stressful on married couples who carry the weight not only of the immediate trouble but also the weight of concern for their spouse and so verse 32 Paul says the unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord, but the married man particularly in the context of this present distress is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife and his interests are divided and the same is true of the woman. Once again verse 35 Paul explains that he's pointing these things out to alleviate an undue burden on the consciences of Christians as their world is flipped upside down during times of great distress. Verse 35, I say this for your own benefit not to lay my restraint upon you but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. He's saying don't panic and set out to fix this external mess that you're in. Just keep your eyes fixed on the Lord.

Keep resting in him. He continues in verse 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. So here Paul alludes back to the principle that he started chapter 7 with, if you don't have the gift of singleness and it is evidenced by your inability to behave in a sexually pure way with your fiancee, then get married. Even in the midst of this present distress, get married. It's better to marry than to burn with passion. He closes this section in verses 37 and 38 by saying that if a young man and a young woman who are engaged can hold off until the present distress is over, it will be easier, it will be better for them to navigate the waters of being newlyweds once this immediate trouble has ended.

Get married if you can't help it, but if you can help it, hold off until the dust has settled and life has returned to normal. It's not a moral absolute that Paul is demanding, it's simply wise counsel to young couples during times of upheaval. Paul closes the chapter then on marriage with one more word to the widowed, verse 39.

The 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. And once again, Paul expresses his preference for the freedom of singleness. Verse 40, yet in my judgment, she's happier if she remains as she is, and I think that I too have the Spirit of God. Church, I think it's safe to say that we often have the same tendency that Corinth had. We think that if I could but change my circumstances, life would be better, sweeter, richer, fuller, more God-honoring, and we forget to stop and consider the fact that God is directing every detail of our lives with purpose and with our good in mind. So what is that one thing you think that if that could change, my life would be good? What is that one thing Paul's rule says that if that thing is not a direct violation of God's Word, and if providence is not giving you a way out, then God is inviting you to rest in the midst of whatever that difficult circumstance is, and He's inviting you to trust that His grace is sufficient, that His plan is always best, and that what He has given you in Christ is far greater than any trouble you might have to endure in this life.

It's a call to contentment and joy and peace in this life because you know that the joys of the life to come will far outweigh any distress you could possibly face here. I want to close with two illustrations of men who wanted to fix their external circumstances but in so doing risked missing out on great blessing. The first man was Abraham. God had promised Abraham a son, but God wasn't acting fast enough for Abraham's taste. So what did he do? He tried to help God out. He went into Hagar and he sired Ishmael. Rather than waiting on the Lord, trusting God with the external circumstances, he bloomed where he wasn't planted and wreaked havoc on a situation which God had entirely under control. Joseph is the other guy. Joseph was betrothed to Mary and he had his world flipped upside down when he discovered that Mary was pregnant.

He was ready to put her away. He wanted to fix the external circumstances in his way, in his timing, and he would have been within his legal rights to do so, but he would have missed out on the incredible blessing of being the earthly father to the Son of God. Joseph, unlike Abraham, bloomed where he was planted. He accepted the circumstance and all that came with it. The gossip, the whisperings, the shunning perhaps, but also the blessing of the Lord for his obedience. Church, far ahead of taking initiative and being proactive and making sacrifices, God desires simple obedience and trust. As we commit ourselves to that rule, God will produce a quiet joy in our hearts that will spill over into contentment in every circumstance. Godliness with contentment is great gain. Let's pray. Lord, may we truly learn to be still and know that you are God and that as God you are more than capable of giving us what we need and preserving for us what you've given and using us effectively in our various life stations to advance your kingdom and bring glory to your name. Holy Spirit, bring these truths to bear on our hearts and minds in the days ahead and grant us the grace to live by this liberating rule of resting in divine providence. I pray these things in Jesus' name, amen.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-04-27 21:04:53 / 2023-04-27 21:16:39 / 12

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