The ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the glory of God on display to an unbelieving world. Marriage is important to God, so He calls us to fight for it. Timothy “TA” Ateek turns to 1 Corinthians 7:1-16 to discuss ways to safeguard your marriage and stay in your marriage to glorify God.
Standing Firm In A Fallen World | 1 Corinthians 16
The Purpose of Spiritual Gifts | 1 Corinthians 14
A Church Marked by Love | 1 Corinthians 13
How To Build A Church | 1 Corinthians 12
God's Design for Men and Women | 1 Corinthians 11:1-16
Repentance, Allegiance, and Deference for the Glory of God | 1 Corinthians 10
Giving, Sharing, and Living for the Gospel | 1 Corinthians 9
Christians and Controversial Topics | 1 Corinthians 8
Being Single | 1 Corinthians 7:7-40
Fighting For Your Marriage | 1 Corinthians 7:1-16
Sex and Glorifying God | 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
Conflict: An Inevitable Opportunity | 1 Corinthians 6:1-11
Church Discipline: Sin, Grace, and Shepherding | 1 Corinthians 5
The Resurrection Is the Remedy to Our Hypocrisy | 1 Corinthians 15
The Purpose, Plot Twists, and Power of Christ | 1 Corinthians 4
Being a Healthy Church | 1 Corinthians 3:1-23
The Miracle of Spiritual Maturity | 1 Corinthians 2:1-16
The Miracle of Salvation | 1 Corinthians 1:18-31
Priority, Preference, and Power | 1 Corinthians 1:10-17
Called, Gifted, and Kept by Jesus | 1 Corinthians 1:1-9
Marriage doesn’t exist for our happiness, companionship, or physical fulfillment. The ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the glory of God on display to an unbelieving world (Genesis 2:24). To fulfill the purpose of marriage, we must do two things:
Remember the gospel. When we were unfaithful, God was still faithful (Romans 5:8).
Mickey Friedrich: It's so good to be together and just get to worship together this morning. In a moment, TA is going to come up and teach us from 1 Corinthians 7, and we'll open God's Word together. This morning's message, this passage, speaks primarily to those of us who are married, but at the outset, I just want to let you know there's application and relevance here for us all.
We all, of course, know people who are married, and many of us have been affected by the decision to divorce a spouse. So, no matter what your life stage here this morning, whether you're single, whether you're pursuing marriage or newly married, whether you've been married for a long time, and maybe your marriage is great, maybe it's on the rocks, maybe you're separated… There is something in God's Word for us this morning no matter where we're at.
I will say, too, there's something here at Watermark within our body, a ministry, no matter your life stage as well. If you're pursuing marriage, we have Merge to help you process and pray and think seriously about the decision you're making. If you're married, whether your marriage is on life support, or even if you just want it to go from a 6 to a 9, we have re|engage, where you can spend intentional time together with your spouse in a small group.
If you're living with the effects of divorce right now, we have DivorceCare. We would love to come alongside you and help you regardless of the season you're in. More importantly than having a ministry, we have many men and women who are ready to come alongside you and walk with you wherever you're at.
The truth is in 1 Corinthians 7 there are some tough passages for some of us, depending on our life stage, and we want you to know at the outset we have been praying and will continue praying that what you experience during this message isn't shame. You see, through the grace of God through Jesus Christ, everything in our past is forgiven, if we're a child of God, and through the power of God, through the Holy Spirit, we have the strength to take that next step of faithfulness today.
God is with us. God is with you here this morning. Our prayer is that we're each able to listen to what God is going to say to each of us here today. So, I'm going to read the first 16 verses TA is going to walk us through, and then I'm going to pray, and TA is going to come up and lead us this morning. First Corinthians 7:1:
"Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: 'It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.' But because of the temptation to 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 limited time, that you may devote yourselves to prayer; but then come together again, so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. Now as a concession, not a command, I say this. I wish that all were as I myself am. But each has his own gift from God, one of one kind and one of another. To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single, as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord): the wife should not separate from her husband (but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband), and the husband should not divorce his wife. To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him.
For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy. But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace. For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?"
Lord, we come to you this morning. I'd just like to start with the words you've given us in Psalm 63. O God, you are our God. Earnestly we seek you. Our souls thirst for you. Our flesh faints for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water. We have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, our lips will praise you.
Lord, I just pray for our time here this morning. I pray that you would first quiet and calm our hearts. Help us to see you more clearly, and help us to understand your Word. Thank you for your Spirit in our hearts that helps us understand your Word. I pray that whatever emotions might bubble up today that we don't allow ourselves to be controlled by those emotions, and I pray that you would simply help us to recognize our emotions and hold them up to the truth of your Word and just follow your Spirit where you lead.
Lord, I thank you for TA, and I pray for him now that he will have clarity of mind and just a focus on your Word as your Spirit leads him to deliver your Word to us today. Thank you for the time and the prayers he has poured into this message and just for his faithfulness to proclaim your truth. I pray for each of us who will hear the message today, Lord, that you will continue to prepare our hearts, even as you have through worship, even as you have now.
Prepare our hearts to hear what you have for us today. We trust you. Help us to know the depths of your love and the freedom we have in you, and help us to treasure holiness and following in your footsteps more than anything on this earth. Thank you for this time. Thank you for Jesus, amen.
Timothy Ateek: Good morning. It's great to see you today. I hope all is well. My name is Timothy Ateek. I'm one of the teaching pastors here and excited to get to be with you. I want to start by sharing with the women in the room what happens when guys get together and get outside of town and get around a campfire. I want to fill you in so you know what your husband or your guy friend is doing when they get around a campfire with other guys.
When that happens, every guy becomes one of three types of people. The first person a guy might become is the "sit back and relax" guy. The "sit back and relax" guy is the guy who brings his own chair, sets it up, sits down in it, and doesn't get up from it the rest of the evening. That fire is someone else's responsibility. So, if that fire begins to dwindle down, that guy believes the night is almost over, and when the fire is out, the night is over. He picks up his chair, he puts it up, and he goes to sleep. That's the "sit back and relax" guy.
The second guy is the "lighter fluid" guy. Ladies, you just need to know that God has hardwired every man with a pyro gene that normally goes dormant around eighth grade. After eighth grade it goes dormant, but no matter what age you are, when you get around a campfire and someone introduces a bottle of lighter fluid, the response is the same. The first guy will spray, giggle, and pass. The next guy will take it, spray, giggle, and pass. That's just the way it goes. That's the "lighter fluid" guy.
Then the third guy is the "good fire" guy. This is the guy who expects every fire he's around to be a Texas A&M University bonfire. This is the guy who shows up with a hatchet on his belt. It's like, "Where did that come from?" He's like, "I just thought I might need it." This is the guy who, when he senses any weakness in that fire, just disappears for 30 minutes and reemerges dragging an entire tree. He's like, "I thought we might need this." He chops it up. He hardly sits down the whole night because he's consistently putting more logs on the fire, getting down, blowing into the fire, putting more kindling in. That's the "good fire" guy.
I tell you that because, today, as we talk about marriage, I want you to think about marriage as a fire, and when you get around the fire of your marriage, you're going to become one of three types of spouses. You might become the "sit back and relax" spouse. That's the spouse who really doesn't want to do the work to cultivate the fire of your marriage. If your marriage is going to succeed, something in you believes your spouse is the one who needs to do more work or make more changes in order for your marriage to be healthy. If the fire of your marriage dwindles down, in the end, it's over.
Or you're going to become the "lighter fluid" spouse. The "lighter fluid" spouse is the spouse who is okay with their marriage kind of living from event to event. It's like Valentine's shows up, and you kind of spray the fire of your marriage. It flares up, and then it just kind of dwindles down. Then you have a big anniversary milestone, whether it's 15 years, 25 years, or whatever it is. You spray the fire of your marriage, it flares up, and then it begins to dwindle down. That's just kind of the rhythm. You just live off of periodic sprays of lighter fluid to the fire of your marriage.
Or you're going to be the "good fire" spouse. You're the cultivator. You're the one who wants to do the work that is necessary to have a healthy fire in your marriage. When you begin to sense any weakness in that fire, when you begin to sense that it is dwindling, you instinctively take action, because you want the fire of your marriage to be healthy. Just cards on the table: you want to be the cultivator. If it was at all unclear, let's just be clear. You don't want to be the "sit back and relax" spouse. You don't want to be the "lighter fluid" spouse. You want to be the "good fire" spouse.
The greatest cultivators in marriage operate with the greatest clarity. The greatest cultivators have the greatest clarity on what the ultimate purpose of their marriage truly is. Do you know what the ultimate purpose of your marriage is, if you're married? If you're single, do you know what the ultimate purpose of marriage is, if that's something you are looking forward to or hoping to experience? The ultimate purpose of your marriage and my marriage is to put the glory of God on display to the rest of the world.
What's the glory of God? The glory of God is everything praiseworthy about God. It is his love, grace, kindness, goodness, and forgiveness. That is the glory of God. Marriage exists to put the glory of God on display to the rest of the world. That's not my opinion; that's just how the Bible leads us. If you look at where marriage is created, where is it created? On page 2. Genesis, chapter 2. Listen to what it says in verse 24. "Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh."
Here's what I love: this shows us just how amped up God is about marriage. He's talking to the first two human beings, and he's like, "Hey, guys, here's the deal. Technically, you don't even have all of the ingredients yet to make this work, because a man is going to leave his father and his mother, but there are only two of you. There are no mothers and fathers right now. You don't even know what that is. You're about to become the first. I haven't even unlocked all of the ingredients to do this, but it's like I can't hold it in. I'm just going to tell you now about one of my greatest gifts to creation, which is marriage."
What happens in marriage is a husband and wife come together, and it says they become one flesh. That's sex: two becoming one physically. But the intention is not just physical oneness. God has intended marriage to be this union between a man and a woman where they become emotionally, spiritually, and physically one. So, when you stand on the altar and say, "I do," you need to understand that, in God's eyes, you are no longer two separate people from different families; you are actually one. You are two equal people who become one.
That points us to the triune nature of God. Marriage is actually the greatest example or analogy we have to understand a triune God, that God is three co-equal, co-eternal persons who exist in one essence. We try to come up with illustrations, like the apple or water, but all of those illustrations break down and have major theologically incorrect problems with them, yet marriage is two equal people becoming one in essence.
It shows us that God created marriage to show himself to the world. That's what marriage does. It displays God. The apostle Paul, in Ephesians, chapter 5, gives us possibly the most thorough teaching in one passage on marriage in the Bible, and he actually talks about Genesis, chapter 2. What does he tell us in Ephesians, chapter 5? He says, "Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her…"
This shows us that marriage doesn't just exist to show us the relational aspect of God, that he's three in one; marriage exists to show Christ's love for his bride, which is the church, us, the people of God. So, that's what marriage exists to do. It exists to display the glory of God to an unbelieving world. All eyes on me. Just so we're all on the same page, the ultimate purpose of your marriage is not your happiness. That's not the ultimate purpose of your marriage.
The ultimate purpose of marriage is not companionship. It's not so you have someone to do life with so you're not lonely. That's not the ultimate purpose of marriage. The ultimate purpose of marriage is not for young Christian men and women to be able to have sex without guilt. The ultimate purpose of marriage is to put the glory of God on display to the rest of the world. The greatest cultivators operate with the greatest clarity on their ultimate purpose.
What Paul is going to do in 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, is he is going to encourage us to do two things so we can fulfill the purpose of our marriages. Jackie Hill Perry puts it this way: marriage is a creation of God for the glory of God so the world can get a picture of the gospel of God. If you're going to fulfill the purpose of your marriage, then 1 Corinthians 7 is going to encourage us to do two things: safeguard your marriage and stay in your marriage.
God cares deeply about your marriage. Watermark has a very high view of marriage because marriage exists to put the glory of God on display. So here we go. Paul is first going to start off by encouraging us to safeguard our marriages. Just to be clear, 1 Corinthians, chapter 7, is not exhaustive on instructing us on how to safeguard our marriages. Paul is actually only talking about the importance of having sex in your marriage to safeguard your marriage.
So here we go. First Corinthians, chapter 7, verse 1. Here's what Paul says: "Now concerning the matters about which you wrote: 'It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman.'" In verse 1, you see quotation marks. The reason there are quotation marks is because Paul is simply restating what the people in Corinth wrote to him in a letter. This is a response to a letter the people in Corinth wrote expressing their views on sex and marriage.
Their understanding was that it was good for a husband and wife not to have sex with one another. We talked about it last week. This incorrect theology had emerged in the church in Corinth where people began to believe sex in marriage was only to be used for the purpose of procreation; sex in marriage was not intended for sexual pleasure. So, people were swinging one of two directions.
Some people swung toward hedonism. They would have sex in marriage for the purpose of procreation, and then they would step outside of marriage and have sex with prostitutes for the purpose of pleasure. Other people swung toward asceticism, and it was the thought that sex is never intended for pleasure, only for procreation. So, you had these people who were having sex just to get pregnant, and then they were withholding from one another the rest of the time, and they thought that was a spiritually good thing to do.
So Paul is going to address that. Here's what he says in verse 2: "But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband." What you need to understand is Paul's wording is talking about sex. Paul is saying, "If you want to safeguard your marriage, because there will be temptation in your marriage to step outside of your marriage to experience sexual pleasure… To guard your marriage, it is good and right for you to have sex with one another."
When you look at marriage, the creation of marriage, it says the man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. That's sex. A God-glorifying marriage is a marriage that has sex regularly. A bunch of husbands finally just tuned in. They're like, "Man, I really like this church. Maybe we should become members here. This church teaches the Bible, and that's a really important thing." Welcome to the conversation.
This is Paul just saying it is important for a husband and a wife… It is good and right and healthy, and it safeguards the marriage for a husband and wife to have sex regularly. Now, I want you to notice the wording. I didn't say daily. I didn't even say weekly. I just said regularly. The reason I said regularly is because it will look different for each marriage. Regularly is simply the opposite of occasionally or periodically. It means sex is important enough in your marriage that it happens with some consistency.
So, if you want to safeguard your marriage, I want to encourage you to move from occasionally to regularly. The reason I say that is because a sexual desire in marriage is God-given, but because there will be sexual desire… We do have an Enemy that will seek to distract us and pull us away from our marriage to fulfill those desires in other ways. So, it is good and right for a husband and wife to have sex regularly in order to safeguard the marriage.
I tell you this just to say if you find yourself in a place where you and your spouse are having sex less and less, if the period of time between moments of physical intimacy is getting longer, then I would consider that at least a yellow flag, if not a red flag. It's good for you to ask the question, "Are we unnecessarily cracking the door open to sexual temptation making its way into our marriage?" So, if you want to safeguard the marriage, move from occasionally to regularly.
Also, I want to encourage you to realize your responsibility in your marriage. The reason I say that is simply because of what the Bible says. Look at verse 3. Look at what Paul says. "The husband should give to his wife her conjugal rights, and likewise the wife to her husband." Here's what I love about this text: it is not a man-centric text.
The text doesn't make the guy the sexual being in marriage and the wife just exists to fulfill her husband's sexual desires. No. Paul is basically saying, "Hey, the wife has sexual needs, and the husband has a responsibility to meet those needs. The husband has sexual needs, and the wife has a responsibility to meet those needs."
When he talks about giving to one another their conjugal rights… Listen to how another translation puts it. It says, "A husband should fulfill his marital responsibility to his wife, and likewise a wife to her husband." It's talking about responsibility. Having sex with your spouse is actually a God-given responsibility. So, if you are withholding sex from your spouse, you are not fulfilling one of your God-given responsibilities in marriage.
Look at what Paul goes on to say in verse 4. "For the wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does." Oh, great. Here we go. But then look. "Likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does." You see the complete equality here. In this day and time, if you were to hear the man has authority over the woman's body, everyone in this culture that Paul is preaching to would be like, "Of course he does, because he has authority not just over his wife's body; he has authority over every body in his household."
But Paul said something so countercultural. He was like, "Nope." It's not just that the guy has authority over his wife's body. The wife (who in his culture would often be much younger than the husband) has authority over the man's body as well. Listen to what Paul is saying. He is saying that you, with your body, have a responsibility to fulfill your spouse's sexual needs. To not have sex with your spouse is to not fulfill one of your God-given responsibilities in marriage.
We don't like this language. Something in his language bothers us, because the culture we live in is a culture that promotes sexual freedom. We want to believe that we should be completely free, and nobody should have any say over what we do or don't do sexually. That's just not true, because we found out last week in 1 Corinthians 6:19… Paul says, "Your body is not your own. It was bought with a price. Therefore glorify God with your body."
First and foremost, who has authority over your body? Not you. Jesus Christ. So we live fully surrendered to him. When you made a choice to get married, you were an individual, and then you became one with another individual. When you made that choice to get married, your spouse just became your number-one opportunity to practice Philippians 2:3-5, which says, "Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…"
So, husbands, you have a duty to your wife, and, wives, you have a duty to your husband. I do just want to acknowledge before we move on… It's important to realize that Paul is calling the married people in the room to give of themselves to their spouse, but Paul at no point is giving anyone the right to demand from their spouse. So, do not use this message as a weapon in your marriage. That is not what it's for.
If you want to safeguard your marriage, I do want to encourage you: realize your responsibility. I also want to encourage you to communicate with one another with your words. Have you ever said that to your kids? "Use your words." I'm not trying to be demeaning, but, hey, people, use your words. Use your words in your marriage. We have to communicate clearly with one another about sex.
The reason I say that is because of what Paul says in verse 5. He says, "Do not deprive one another…" That word deprive in the Greek means to rob or to steal. When we think about cheating our spouse, we think about cheating on them, going outside the marriage and having an affair, but Paul is saying there's actually another way to cheat your spouse. It is to withhold sex from them. That's a form of cheating your spouse.
Now, why might we deprive one another of sex? The reason you might deprive your spouse of sex is because there's some frustration or hurt or insecurity with your spouse. If that's the case, one of the best things you can do is simply communicate about that with your spouse, but often, we communicate nonverbally. We communicate by withholding sex instead of simply having the conversation and addressing the issue. We want to communicate with our words.
That's why Paul says in verse 5, "Do not deprive one another, except perhaps by agreement for a limited time…" That word agreement in the Greek literally means with a common voice. So, how do you agree on not having sex? You talk about it. Paul is saying the only reason to not have sex on a regular basis is because the two of you are so synced up and so on the same page that you've talked about it, and y'all have decided, "Hey, we're going to take a break from having sex for a period of time."
The only reason you would do that… I know a lot of people in this room, specifically the guys, are like, "I don't get it. Why would that ever be a thing? I don't understand. Why would we make that decision? Please don't make that decision." He tells us why. He says, "…that you may devote yourselves to prayer…"
Now we're going to find out who's really spiritual in this room. Paul is like, "The only reason you don't have sex regularly is because the two of you are so focused spiritually that you decide together to fast from sex for a period of time, because to stop and have sex would distract you both from pursuing Jesus for something significant going on in your life."
Then look at how he finishes that verse. "…but then come together again…" He's saying, "Don't fast from sex for too long." He says, "Come together again." Why? "…so that Satan may not tempt you because of your lack of self-control." He's saying, "Safeguard your marriage." Communicate with one another. Communication brings clarity. Clarity drives out insecurity.
Here's what I want to do. I want to give you six questions, and I want to ask the husband to either take a screenshot of these questions or write them down. Husbands, I want to encourage you to initiate a conversation with your wife. She knows it's coming because this is one of the pastors at the church encouraging you to do this this week, but just start a conversation about sex this week. Here are the questions. Let's walk through them.
You need to figure out what is realistic but also ask the question "What's helpful?" Here's what I mean. It's good for you to articulate to your spouse "When we go this amount of time, that is when something in me begins to get frustrated." Where is that? Communicate that. This is where y'all might be in different places.
One of you might say, "You know what? After three weeks," and the other is like, "After three days." It's like, "Okay. That's different." That's where you compromise. One person shouldn't win. You should never decide, "But I like three weeks, so it's going to be three weeks." No, because you have a responsibility. That doesn't mean you acquiesce to three days. It just means the two of you come to the table and compromise with one another.
"When we do have sex, what is most enjoyable and satisfying to you?" That's a good thing to know.
"Are there any hurts or frustrations in our marriage that would hinder you from wanting to have sex?" I remember talking to a friend, and he said there was a season where his wife lost all desire for him sexually, and it was because he had made an idol out of his work. He gave all of his time, attention, and affection to his job, and she felt neglected, and it took away all her desire for him. God has restored that desire.
"Do you have any insecurities regarding sex that would be helpful for me to know?"
"Is there anything I need to start doing to help us cultivate a healthier sex life?" This might be learning to speak your spouse's love language. It might mean, guys, initiating more dates with your wife. This might mean more non-sexual touch. That might mean holding hands more, putting your arm around each other, hugging more when you walk in the door, sitting next to each other on the couch instead of on opposite sides of the couch. It might mean starting to do that.
This one I want to be really careful with, but I still want to say it. One thing you might need to start doing is just taking better care of your body. Let me just speak to the guys really quickly. I remember when I was in college some of my guy friends began to get engaged and married. The guys who were getting married would talk about the "LGN" diet. It stood for the "look good naked" diet. That's what they would get on when they got engaged.
The reason I even bring that up is that it showed intentionality. It was like, "You know what? I want to steward my body for the benefit of my spouse." That was kind of the honeymoon bod, but then, after years pass by, you have the dad bod. I just wonder if there's somewhere in between. What I'm talking about is just an intentionality. It's an intentionality to say, "You know what? I want to cultivate my body to glorify God and for the enjoyment of my spouse."
Now in verses 6-9, Paul speaks to those who are single. We're not going to address those verses today, because next week is a message straight to the heart of the single people in the room. Come back next week for that. Then in verse 10, Paul pivots and begins to talk about divorce. Now, this feels like a major swerve to go from sex in marriage to divorce. It feels like two totally different topics, but it's not. It's not at all. What's the first thing to go when marriage is struggling? It's the physical aspect.
So, if you're here and you're married… The first point is safeguarding your marriage. When we talk about sex inside of marriage, if everything we just said feels either irrelevant or impossible to you, then that gives urgency to the second point, which is this: if you want to fulfill the purpose for which your marriage exists, which is to display the glory of God… If you want to be a cultivator in marriage, then make a commitment to stay in your marriage. So, we want to safeguard our marriages, and we want to stay in our marriages.
Look at what Paul says in verse 10. "To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord)…" That's interesting. What does Paul mean when he says, "It's not I, but the Lord"? He's not saying, "Okay. At this moment, this is from God, but if I'm just talking, it's just from me." That's not what he's talking about. What Paul is doing is he's talking about the historical Jesus.
Jesus, during his earthly ministry, gave commands about divorce. In Mark 10:11, Jesus says, "Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her…" So, when Paul says, "To the married I give this charge (not I, but the Lord)," he's talking about how the Lord, when he was on earth, gave a command. Paul is simply picking up that command and teaching it to his friends in Corinth.
What's the command? "…the wife should not separate from her husband…" That word separate is synonymous with divorce. The wife should not divorce her husband. Verse 11: "…(but if she does, she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband)…" We'll come back to that in a minute. "….and the husband should not divorce his wife."
So, what's the command from God through Paul to us? "Hey, don't get divorced. Wives, don't divorce your husbands. Husbands, don't divorce your wives." For the majority of the marriages in the room, that's all you need to hear. That's it. That's the command. The decision you have to make is whether you're going to read God's Word and live it out or not.
Here's the reality. You can go find someone in this world who will tell you what you want to hear. You can find a blogger or an author. You can find a spiritual leader in this world who will tell you what you want to hear, which is that it's okay for you to divorce your husband or your wife for any reason. Paul is saying, "No. Here's the command: don't divorce your spouse." You just have to decide if you're going to read the Word of God, take it at its word, and live it out, or not.
Here's what I want to encourage you to do. If you want to stay in your marriage, then my encouragement to you is to begin to believe that divorce isn't an option for your marriage. That's just a mental shift, where you just begin to believe, "Hey, I'm stuck. This is it. This is the marriage I will be in. Divorce is off the table."
Ben Rector wrote a song called "Note to Self." I love the wording. He says, "Note to self: keep choosing her…" Talking about his wife. Keep choosing your wife. "Keep choosing her; she's yours and wonderful, and forever is a long time to be sad." I love it, because he's saying you have a choice: effort or sadness. If it's a decision between effort and sadness, he's saying, "I choose effort."
There's just something about cultivating your marriage. There's something about glorifying God by making a decision, "Divorce is not an option for us." When you make that decision, it increases the value of having community in your life, because you will have other people who can encourage you and sharpen you and call you out when you make the wrong decision in your marriage. You can have community encourage you.
It raises the value of doing premarital counseling before you get into marriage, because you want to do it right. It raises the value of marriage counseling, because if you're struggling and you go to your Community Group and that still doesn't work, and at some point you have to go to marriage counseling, you do it. You make the choice, because you've decided divorce isn't an option.
I want you to look back really quickly at what Paul said in verse 11. "…but if she [the wife] does…" Meaning, if she divorces her husband. "…she should remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband…" What is Paul saying there? Our tendency is to read that and believe Paul is saying that if you're unhappy in your marriage, you have two options. You can either divorce your spouse and just remain single or you can get divorced but then get reconciled to your husband.
Our tendency is to read that and say that being divorced and just remaining single is just as viable of an option as being divorced and then choosing to get reconciled. That's not what Paul is saying. Here is what Paul is saying. What he's saying is, "Hey, if you choose to get divorced, you need to understand that you have bypassed Jesus' command." Jesus has commanded us to not get divorced. If you choose to get divorced, if you have disregarded Jesus' command, that's sin.
If you choose to disregard his command and you get divorced, then don't believe there's ever a time where you are freed up to remarry someone else. That's why he says, "Remain single." You're not freed up to remarry. That's what Paul is saying. If you choose to disregard Jesus' command, then you're not freed up. Remain single. Or else, he says, be reconciled. If you want to be married, there's your option. You get reconciled to your spouse.
If you want to stay in your marriage, you don't just make the decision that divorce isn't an option, but you pursue what is most glorifying, not what is most relieving. You pursue what is most glorifying to God, not what is most relieving to you. Look at what Paul says in verse 12. "To the rest I say (I, not the Lord)…" This is another occasion where Paul is not saying, "Hey, this isn't God talking; this is just Paul's opinion time."
What he's saying is the historical Jesus, when he was on earth, did not speak specifically to the situation of a believer and an unbeliever being married and possibly divorcing. Paul is saying, "Because Jesus, when he was on earth, didn't address it specifically, I'm going to with the authority of God, as one of his apostles." So, this is still God through Paul.
He says, "To the rest I say (I, not the Lord) that if any brother has a wife who is an unbeliever, and she consents to live with him, he should not divorce her. If any woman has a husband who is an unbeliever, and he consents to live with her, she should not divorce him." What Paul is addressing is this idea in the church in Corinth where believers thought they needed to divorce their spouses if they were unbelievers because they thought to have sex with an unbeliever would defile them.
Paul is saying, "No, no, no. Actually, it is glorifying to God for you to stay in the marriage." That doesn't mean it is glorifying to God for an unbeliever and a believer to choose to get married, but Paul is saying if you find yourself in marriage, that marriage needs to stay intact. It is God's desire for you to stay in that marriage. The fact that someone is an unbeliever is not, in God's eyes, a legitimate reason to pursue a divorce.
Paul tells us why in verse 14. "For the unbelieving husband is made holy because of his wife, and the unbelieving wife is made holy because of her husband. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but as it is, they are holy." Paul is not saying that if a believer marries an unbeliever, then that unbeliever automatically gets saved. What he is saying is that, somehow, that marriage, because of the believer who is in it, becomes sacred space.
That marriage still somehow has an ability to glorify God, and the kids within that marriage should be treated as kids who come out of a marriage of two believers, because God can do something in that marriage. That unbelieving spouse has an opportunity other unbelievers don't: to get to see the gospel lived out on a daily basis. They get put in situations to hear the gospel more frequently than other unbelievers in the world.
I remember a friend when I lived in Austin. I remember this friend from church who married an unbeliever. It was so sweet to watch the way she interacted with her husband who wasn't a believer. He didn't really want to have anything to do with Christianity, yet they were close, and their friendship was so strong. They loved one another so much, yet she experienced the sadness of praying for her husband instead of praying with her husband, yet she was faithful and committed to the marriage. Why? Because that is what was most glorifying to God.
Verse 15: "But if the unbelieving partner separates, let it be so. In such cases the brother or sister is not enslaved. God has called you to peace." This is a really important one. If you're tuned out, please tune in. This is extremely important. What Paul is talking about is a situation where a believer is married to an unbeliever, married to someone who is saying, "I do not know Jesus Christ. I do not look to Jesus Christ for salvation, and I want out of this marriage."
Paul is addressing a situation where there's a believer who is faithfully loving that unbeliever with the love of Jesus Christ, is committed to the marriage, wants to be in the marriage, wants that spouse to know Jesus, and is loving that spouse with the love of Christ, yet that unbelieving spouse is saying, "I insist on a divorce." Paul is saying in that situation, it's not sin for you, as the believer, to give that spouse what he or she is insisting on, which is divorce. You don't need to carry around shame that you are not able to rescue the marriage when your unbelieving spouse is bent on divorce.
Now, the reason we need to be clear on this is because if a spouse leaves another spouse, there are times where the spouse who gets left wants to automatically point the finger and say, "Well, he or she was never a believer in the first place," even though that spouse has been in the church for years, has faithfully walked in community, has shared the gospel with other people, has said that he or she believes the gospel. We need to be careful not to automatically jump to the conclusion that they are an unbeliever. This is why it's so important to walk with community in the toughest situations so that others can help you see clearly.
Then Paul finishes this section in verse 16: "For how do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?" It's easy to hear that and think there is a negative leaning to it, but when you read commentators, it should be interpreted positively.
Listen to how the NLT puts it. It says, "Don't you wives realize that your husbands might be saved because of you? And don't you husbands realize that your wives might be saved because of you?" So, Paul is ultimately saying the sacrifice of staying with someone who is not a believer is worth it because there's the possibility they might come to know Jesus. That is what is most glorifying to the Lord.
Okay. What do we do with all this? Before we move on to application, I just want to acknowledge that there are a couple of situations Paul does not address in 1 Corinthians, chapter 7. It's abuse and infidelity. So let me speak to those two things really quickly. If you are being abused, let me encourage you to speak up immediately. Please let the church know, because we have pastoral teams that can jump in immediately to protect the victim and hold the abuser accountable. The first step is not divorce; the first step is your safety.
Then when it comes to infidelity, there's a question mark, because Jesus says in one of the Gospels that people think it's possible to divorce because of sexual immorality in the marriage. Let me just say this. The question is…What is God's best? What would glorify God most? If marriage exists to put the glory of God on display, then think about our story. What is our story?
Our story is that when we were unfaithful to God, he was faithful to us. Each of us has turned to his own way in sin. Each one of us has taken God's gifts and turned them into gods. We have worshiped other people. We have worshiped other things instead of worshiping God, and yet… Romans 5:8: "God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." That's the gospel. We were faithless, yet God was faithful. That's the gospel.
So, if there's infidelity in the marriage and you stay in that marriage… We have people at this church, we have people on staff, and that is their story. Even in the midst of infidelity, they have stayed in the marriage, and it has put the glory of God on display, because Jesus Christ has come and he has reconciled us to the Father even in the midst of our infidelity to him, even in the midst of how difficult that would be. That would be God's best. So, I just encourage you to consider that.
So, what do we do with all this? I just want to speak to different individuals in the room. First, may we all remember the gospel, that when we were faithless, God was faithful. God demonstrates his love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Maybe for some of you this morning, that is making sense for the first time. For the first time, you're realizing that God has chased you. He has pursued you even in your rebellion against him. Even in your unfaithfulness to him, he has chased you down, and today he is calling you into a relationship with him. Remember the gospel.
If you're married, if your marriage is on the doorstep of divorce, if you're here and are thinking about filing papers… If you feel like the next step for you is divorce, here's what I want to ask you to decide in your heart right now. Just as I'm talking, I want to ask you to consider pushing pause in your heart. Even in this moment, here's what I want to invite you to pray.
I'm going to put a prayer on the screen, and here's what I want to invite you to pray, even as I'm speaking: "God, I want a divorce, but I want to want what you want." Did you see that? "I want to want. God, I don't want what you want, but I want to want what you want. Just because I can't see a path forward doesn't mean you can't, and I will trust you."
If you're in here and have gotten a divorce and have not gotten remarried, I want to encourage you to pray that God would give you the courage to take a step…not 10 steps, but one step. That step is that you are praying and asking God to give you the courage to talk to your Community Group, to ask your Community Group to begin praying that God would move and work in your heart and give you the courage you need to take another step to possibly then reach out to your former spouse and let him or her know what you are beginning to pray about, which is reconciliation.
Then if you have been divorced and have gotten remarried, let me be clear the answer is not for you to divorce your current spouse to then be reconciled to your former spouse, but here's what I do want to encourage you to do. Three things, and I hope you hear all of them. It might be tough to hear. The first thing I want to encourage you to do is for you and your spouse to sit together and acknowledge together that the decision you made to get married was potentially not God's best.
You might sit together and ask God's forgiveness and experience his grace for taking a step you were not free to take. Second is for the two of you to decide that divorce will never be an option for your marriage. Then, thirdly, walk in confidence. Walk in confidence that God is for your marriage and God wants to use your remarriage to put his glory on display to an unbelieving world.
Then, finally, if you're planning to get married, let me encourage you: don't rush marriage. When you stand on the altar, know that your vows, when you say, "Until death…" That isn't just a ritual we do in America. That is a commitment you are making with one another before God, so take it seriously. Who are you going to be in your marriage? Are you going to be the "sit back and relax" spouse, the "lighter fluid" spouse, or the "good fire" spouse? My encouragement to you: be a cultivator. Let's pray together.
Lord Jesus, this is a heavy morning, yet your Word is good. You make known to us the path of life. I just thank you, God, that your grace is sufficient in this moment and your Spirit gives us everything we need to move forward in the most God-honoring way. Lord, I pray the marriages of Watermark Community Church would put your glory on display for the rest of the world. Lord, I pray there would be people in this room who are currently divorced, but a day is coming where they're going to be reconciled to their spouse.
Lord, I pray for the marriages in the room right now that are literally one step away from divorce. I pray that divorce would be put on hold and that option would be taken off the table and great healing would come. Lord, we love you, but we need you, and we just thank you that you are sufficient for us. In Jesus' name, amen.
Challenges believers to examine every area of life through the lens of the Gospel. Paul addresses divisions among believers, food, sexual integrity, worship gatherings, and the resurrection.