In this week’s lesson we have seen that our freedom in Christ must take into consideration our weaker brother. This requires balance. All the way down through history the church has come up with tests to measure a person’s level of spirituality, and whenever that mindset becomes dominant, you get a false kind of spirituality. We do not want that. But at the same time, you often have people in the Church of Jesus Christ who swing to the other pole. That which on one occasion was legalism now becomes license. People say, "We're free in the Lord to do anything at all." And so they do it and they do not care about their brothers or sisters at all.
In yesterday's lesson we saw that Paul urged the Corinthians to consider their brothers and sisters in Christ in how they used their freedom. Does this mean that nobody can ever eat meat that has been offered to an idol? No, Paul has just said he does not mean that. I am also certain he does not mean that these weaker brethren can use their weakness as a club over those who regard this as a matter of freedom in the Lord. If that were the case it would be a way of using a rear door back to legalism. You may say, "Well, I’m free." Yes, you are. But, what if a brother thinks I ought not to be free? Since he is my brother in the Lord, do I have to give up my freedom? Do I have to begin to live under a whole lot of rules that say, "You mustn't do this or that?" Paul is not saying that.
Yesterday we studied Paul’s clarification concerning the nature of true Christian knowledge. Once Paul has made this important admonition, he plunges into the question itself. It is at this point that he begins to lay down some principles. The first is that an idol is nothing. The book of Isaiah uses the same words. In Isaiah God is challenging the idols of the heathen. Isaiah quotes God and says, "Look, here is a man who cuts down a tree. He uses half of it to build a fire and cook his food. The other half he dries out, carves an idol, then falls down and worships it" (Isa. 44:14-17, abridged). Have you ever heard anything as ridiculous as that? The man is worshiping a stick of wood. It is nothing. Challenge it to reveal the future and tell you of things to come. It cannot, and so God ridicules those who put their faith in idols. That is the point at which Paul begins.
In the first chapters of 1 Corinthians, we see that Paul was facing serious problems with the church at Corinth. In light of those problems, Paul could have said, "Shame on you for writing to me about something as silly as meat, considering what is going on in the church. You ought to be worried about the immorality." Paul does not do that. He operates on the basis of the need, addressing the problems that people face. He deals forthrightly with the principles first, the most important things. Knowing God’s will in doubtful situations involves a number of key ideas.
If asked about what sort of questions have been presented to me over the years, I would have to say it would be questions having to do with the will of God. Within that there is a special category of questions about knowing the will of God in doubtful situations... We wonder what we should do in those areas. Should we take a stand? If we do, some people will understand us, but others will misunderstand us. What should we do?
In the last portion of 1 Corinthians 7, Paul talks about contentment. In dealing with these matters he says what we really need for contentment is to abide in whatever calling God has called us to. If God has called you to marriage, be content with the marriage. Use it for his glory and make the marriage everything that God can possibly make the marriage be. If, on the other hand, at this point in your life, God has called you to a single state, do not try to be married, because God’s grace is sufficient for the single life. God will bless it, too.
In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul talks about a third issue, divorce. He says, "The husband must not divorce his wife. A wife must not divorce her husband." But somebody will say, "Well, what about a condition where a Christian is married to a non-Christian?" Marriage is to be a union in the Lord, and this spiritual union is possible only if both parties are Christians.
A good friend of mine, Howard Hendricks, who is a professor at Dallas Theological Seminary, spends a lot of time counseling Christian people. He says one of the difficulties he discovers in marriages, Christian marriages, especially among some of the young couples associated with the seminary, is that one of the spouses, usually the wife, thinks that somehow sex is not the kind of thing a godly person would do. So when the husband has a desire for a sexual relationship, the wife holds back and thinks, "Well, you know, he's young and immature yet. I suppose it's the sort of thing you have to do, but maybe as he grows in the Lord, this will become less necessary." That is a terrible thing.
The Paul who wrote about marriage to the Corinthians also wrote Ephesians 5, where he gives a really beautiful description of marriage. There he states that God ordained marriage in order to illustrate the most sublime of all spiritual truths, namely, the way the Lord Jesus Christ is the bridegroom and faithful husband of the Church, and how we, the Church, are his bride. Paul is not saying something utterly different here in 1 Corinthians. He says that marriage is good. But notice, he is not saying marriage is the only good.
We come to the seventh chapter of 1 Corinthians where Paul discusses some specific issues within marriage. The spirit of our times has made these matters - sexual immorality and the difficulties of marriage - particularly problematic. Paul found that the church in Corinth had adopted the mindset and values of the world, and we find the same mindset in the church today.
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