1 Corinthians 6:12-7:40 – Sex, marriage and the believer







READ 6v12-20.


“I want the freedom to express myself and to find my own fulfillment. To reach my potential without anyone hindering me in any way. This is my right! I have the right to do what I with my life what I want to do!”


Freedom of expression is the axiom of many. “I can do what I like!” “Everything is permissible for me.” [6:12]. This is a philosophy of life that covers every aspect of life no less the area of sex and marriage.


Like the Corinthians we live in a society that is obsessed with sex. Corinthian was the Red light District of the first century. Prostitution is certainly not new and exists in many, if not all societies.  When society becomes obsessed with sex all kinds of diviant and perverted practices occur.


ILLUST: The News Agents in our society are full of magazines and newspapers not only porteaying these things but also advertising for its readers to get involved. Prostitution [massage or sex dates] Gays and lesbians, Couples with couples and every other kind of perversion.




Paul was writing to the Corinthian Church who lived in such a society and out of which many of the members had come. Some it would seem were still involved in these practices, because their philosphy was “Food for the stomach and the stomach for food!” “Sex for the body and the body for sex”


Part of the reason for such a view was that some thought that “it is the soul that is important and the body is unimportant therefore I don’t need to really care what I do with my body

This kind of dualism has also infected the Church throughout its history even to the present day so that we get this emphasis on “SAVING SOULS” as if people are really disembodied spirits.


People are body and soul and when we are redeemed we are redeemed body and soul. God is not only concerned about us as souls but also about our bodies and what we do with them. “The body is for the Lord and the Lord for the body [v13]


As Christians our bodies do not belong to us but to the Lord and are to be used for his glory. We live in Christ and he lives in us. How then, Paul argues, can you Corithians even contemplate being united to a prostitute “NEVER!!” It was unthinkable! Sexual intercourse united a man and a woman so that they become “One Flesh”  Paul reminds them that this is what God had said to Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.


All sin is sin! BUT sexual sin is different, not worse, in that it unites the body to anothers body. In a sexual relationship there is something of the individual that is given away that cannot be taken back – it is gone!


Far from our bodies being important as some of the corinthian Christians thought, they were important enough for Christ to die for! He died for all of me, not just my souls but all of me body and soul. Therefore Paul concludes that:

You are not you own, you have been bought with a price,

therefore honour God with your body” [v20]


Using one’s body for sexual immorality is certainly NOT honouring to God! Sexual immorality has no place in a Christian’s behaviour! Christian liberty is not equal to sexual freedom!!


Not only does sexual immorality affect the individual but it also affects the whole of society.


Mary Whitehouse “What a man or woman does with his or her sexual energy will decide not only the quality of their own lives, but the kind of world they live in.”   “When sex in deformed, cheapened and exploited then the potentiality of life and the whole social fabric of society deteriorates.”


Here Paul has dealt with sexual immorality, which includes the things mentioned early in Ch.6 viz. homosexuality, adultery, fornication and prostitution.

He has dealt with areas where sexual relationships are not permissible. He goes on to talk about marriage – in the biblical view the only relationship in which sexual activity is permissible.




READ 7v1-7.


“The first sexual thought in the universe was God’s not man’s” Doug Barnett.

Because sex has be abused and cheapened we are in danger of always seeing it as dirty. It is not! It is God’s idea – he is the one who made male and female and said be fruitful and multiple!


We said earlier that the corinthians had this dualistic concept  – dividing body and soul. Some said that it didn’t matter what you did with your body! Licence!

Others said that, because the soul is the impotant part we must not gratify the body and give in to physical desires. These were the ones who considered themselves to be super-spiritual.


Their slogans was “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” I do not believe the NIV is a good translation “not to marry” [v.1] “To touch a woman was a well known Jewish euphemism meaning sexual intercourse.


This is not Paul’s view. I believe that he is quoting from their letter. It would seem that there were those in the Corinthian Church who were saying that all sexual activity is wrong and that married couples must abstain if they want to be really spiritual.


Paul warns against this – it is not a good idea! I puts too much pressure on the relationship and it is not what God wants. God created sexuality to be enjoyed.  In fact Paul says that husbands and wives have a conjugal duty to each other and for one to deprive the other is not acceptable.


Don’t deprive each other…


ILLUST: When sex is used as a weapon in a marriage to manipulate or punish each other then the marriage is on dangerous ground – generally we think of women using it as a weapon because that is often how it is portrayed – but men are equally guilty.


Once I am married I no longer have exclusive right to my body. The husband belongs to the wife and vice-versa. In fact witholding these conjugal rights Paul says that the partners who is doing that is depriving [defrauding – he uses legal language].

If this witholding of conjugal rights goes on to long it can give Satan a foothold. He makes a concession for prayer BUT no for long because Satan will use every opportiunity to break up the marriage relationship.


Today Satan is very active – if he can destroy marriages within the Church then he will. When the family is weakened the church is weakened – when the family breaks up society as a whole is weakened.

STATISTICS: In England and Wales [since 1980] the number of marriages has declined by 10.5% while the nymber of divorces has risen by 3.5%.


So Paul is not against marriage or sexual relationships but they must occur within the boundries that God has set. Paul warns the Corinthians not to be so “super-spiritual” as to neglect the physical side of their marriages because it is not spiritual at all. Abstinence is a concession not a command.


Then comes this controversial verse which some have used to say that Paul was against marriage.

I wish that all men were as I am [v7]

ie. single {he may have been married but no longer} -You must complete the verse

But each man has his own gift from God

one has this gift, another has that.


Paul recognises that celibacy is a gift which he has been given by God. It is not a requirement for every believer nor is it a requirement for a certain group of clergy.

His reason for wishing all men to be single like himself is not because he is opposed to marriage BUT because he is so pasioned for the gospel to be preached to the whole world and in his opinion [as we will see later in the chapter] it is easier to do that when you are single. BUT that does not mean that he is against marriage.


Paul is a realist and recognises that sexual drives are very strong and natural and that not all have the gift of celibacy, therefore he qualifies his statement:


READ v8-9


Celibacy is for the celebate and a sexual life in marriage is another kind of gift. Too many still treat sex as though it is the privelge of the husband and the duty of the wife. NOT SO!! It is the privelege and duty of both together. Each belongs mutually to each other.




There were those in the Church at Corinth who were advocating that in order to be really spiritual you had to be single – possibly even using Paul as an example. Paul is quick to refute this position. Neither a believing husband or wife must leave their believing spouse. He is speaking to Christians here.


Divorce is a very sad fact of life in our society and sadly it has also affected the Church.  The effects of divorce are devastating.


STATS: England and Wales – 1971 -74 000 divorces

                                             1991 – 159 000 divorces

Each week 3076 children caught up in divorce. At present levels 1/4 children will experience divorce before 16.

Re-divorce is common – in past 10 years it has risen by 103%

Economics – {27 million a week spent on divorce/separation – 1988

                     UK companies {200 million per year due to marital breakdown


Before we are quick to pass judgement – divorce is not the unforgiveable sin. The Church has often been guilty of treating divorcees in that way.

While divorce is not the ideal – there are circumstances were it is necessary [e.g. – for the safety of spouse and children].

If you have been divorced  your life is not over. Our God is a loving, forgiven God who is in the business of rebuilding lives. With God there are always new beginnings.


Remeber Paul here is speaking about divorce for ascetic reasons and between Christians. How can Christians who cannot be reconciled as a couple preach a message of reconciliation. Therefore he says if they do/have separated then they should be reconciled.




READ v12-16


Paul is continuing with the theme of divorce – obviously some Corinthian Christians thought that if their spouse was not a believer then they most seek a divorce. Maybe it was even being taught.


No say Paul – the believer most not initiate divorce for the reason that their spouse is not a believer. There may be other grounds for divorce [adultery and/ or safety of children or self]

WHY? Marriage is institued by God. It is his idea! Whether a couple are Chrictian or not marriage is still sacred. Marriage is ordained by God. THEREFORE in the marriage service “What God has joined let no man separated”


Paul’s point is that the marriage should be kept together. BUT what does he mean by “NOT BOUND” in v15. READ. Does it mean that the Christian partner is now free to remarry? I don’t believe you can answer that question from this passage! Paul is not addressing remarriage he is talking about divorce! THEREFORE if the unbelieving partner leaves the believers can do little about it -“Let him go” You can’t be bound by the ruling to keep the marriage together if your partner has walked out. One is simply not underbondage to maintain the marriage which the otyher wishes to dissolve!


This does not mean that Paul disallows remarriage in such circumstances but he is not addressing that issue here!


In our society in most of these situations it is the wife who is the Christian but not always. And Paul addresses both here equally.


Stay with your spouse and be the best husband/wife you can possibly be in the hope that God in his grace will save them too.

Peter gives similar advice to wives in his letter:

Wives in the same way be submissive to your husbands,

so that if any of them do not believe the word, they

may be won over without words by the behaviour of their

wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives.

[1 Peter 3v1-2]


ILLUST: My mother became a Christian after she was married – about the time I was born – she prayed for and stayed with my father for another 25 years before he was converted. It wasn’t easy. But God was gracious and saved ny Dad two years before he died.


Being married to a person who is an unbeliever is no ground for divorce!




Paul’s concern is that we are to serve Christ were we are in the circumstances we are in.

Live holy lives by not getting involved in sexual immoralty. Also live holy lives by being the best husbands/wives you can possibly be so that your spouse if not a believer may become one in God’s grace.









So far in this section of I Corinthians from 6v12 Paul has been answering the Corinthians questions about sex and marriage and the responsiblities of husbands and wives.


Remember it was the Corinthians who had said in 7v1:

It is good for a man not to touch a woman [to marry NIV]

i.e. to have a sexual relationship with a woman.


Paul is quoting from their letter. This was the view of some of the Corinthians because they had a wrong view of the body and soul. They concentrated on the soul to the exclusion of the body. Their thinking was that to have a sexual relationship with your wife/husband was unspiritual. Paul  condemned sexual immorality in ch.6. BUT he also comdemns the Corinthinas view that sexual intercourse within marriage is wrong!


This view says Paul is quite ridiculous because it was God who made male and female and sex was originally God’s idea and not man’s.


Those who are married must not seek a divorce/separation even if their spouse is an unbeliever. BUT if the unbeliving spouse wants to leave then the believer is not bound to the ruling to stay in the relationship. Let the unbeliever go if that is what they want.


Paul now moves on to get theological reason as to why they should not seek to change their marital status.




READ v17-24.


We don’t want to get bogged down in the details of this passage. Paul is now giving a theological reason for his view that you must not seek to change you marital status when you become a Christian.


Paul is giving the general principle for what he has just said about not changing marriage status and is applying it to life in general as well as matters of marriage.


Paul is saying that God is not so much concerned about your social status as he is about your spiritual calling.

God who has called you into fellowship

with his son, is faithful [1v9]



The calling the Paul is talking about is conversion and NOT our career or social position. When God saved you he knew all about your position in this life. He knew if you were married or not. He knew if you were a slave or a freeman, a Jew or  a Gentile. He knows if you have a difficult home life or unreasonable boss at work.


Paul is not saying that change should never happen. But what he is saying to the Corinthians is that they must NOT think that changing their social position will make them more spiritual. Such change has no real religious significance.


The Gospel transcends and eliminates all merely social distinction. [cf.12v13]:

We were all baptised in one Spirit into

one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free.



Paul uses two illustrations to drive home his point.


Circumcision/Uncircumcision – If you are a Jew then stay that way [I can’t imagine how someone could become uncircumcised] If you are a Gentile don’t go and get circumcised.  Both situations in themselves count for nothing.  For the Jew circumcision was a sign of the covenant that God made with Abraham.


Paul was proud to be a Jew and he loved his own people. But he was opposed to what the Corinthians were teaching Because it weakened the message of the Gospel. You can be saved but you must also do something else. [i.e. Faith plus…..]


The most important issue is that we obey God in all things.


Each one should remain in the situation

in which he was when God called him [v20]

Paul’s argument is that when God called us we were in a particular situation and we are to remain there so that we can be an influence to the sake of the gospel. [i.e. a believing spouse with and unbelieving husband/wife]


In case we begin to think that Paul is against all change we need to look at the next illustration that he gives.

Slaves/freemen – By telling slaves to “stay as you are” Paul is not condoning slavery. If they are able to obtain their freedom then they must do so BUT a slave is free in Christ and his physical slavery is totally eclipsed by his spiritual freedom.  Also, those who are free physically are in fact slaves of Christ anyway.


What was happening in Corinth was that some young Christians were being influenced to change their situation by so called “mature believers” but by so doing they were in fact becoming slaves of men – following sets of rules.

ILLUST: There are of course situations that must change if you become a Christian. Obviously organised crime, gambling and prostitution are not compatiable with the Christian life.


We must not be quick to change after conversion because God wants to use us where we are. If and when the time is right to change God will move us. Paul is not saying change must never happen but rather that we must avoid it simply for the sake of change.


God is in control – the situation in which you find yourself is also under God’s control.  Paul is not saying that things must never change BUT rather that whether they were slaves or free, rich or poor, married or single, black or white, is ultimeately irrelavant. What counts says Paul is not our social standing nor our sociological conditions BUT what is important is keeping God’s commands.


We live in a very mobile culture where upward social advancement is almost a duty.

It is easy in our society to think that if we have material wealth and an education then we are well off and if we don’t then we are deprived. But what does that matter to God. Will that add to our salvation?? NO!! Our worldly status and possessions carry no weight with God.


We belong to God “you have been bought with a price, do not become slaves to men” [v23] by following man made legalistic rules.  Christians are slaves to the one who has set them free.




READ v25-28


Those who are engaged and those who haven’t yet found a fiance!


Virgins – probably refers here to men and women -or at least including the men engaged to the virgins .

V27  NIV not good – “Engaged” rather than “married”.


Paul clearly perfers singleness BUT this he insists is his opinion NOT the Lord’s command.

His reasons – we are no longer living for this world but for the Kingdom of God. This world is passing away and the time to spread the gospel is short. So his one reason is that in view of that fact that this world in passing away we should be careful not to get too bogged down in its affairs.

He also favours singleness because of the “Present Distress” – We do not know what exactly this was but it seems clear that things were not easy for Christians. Nero’s persecution was beginning – the Jews had had a difficult time and possibly Paul’s concern was that to be married when life was so difficult made it even more so difficult.


ILLUST: Who in the midst of the Bosnian civil war or Rwandan civil war would be thinking of marriage.


Now the situation in Corinth was not Civil War but things were not peaceful for the Christians of the Roman Empire. So Paul reasons for singleness are NOT theological but practical and pastoral. That is why he says in v.25 This is not a command from the lord


The Corinthians who were advocating singleness had other reasons. i.e. they were teaching that it was sinful to marry  “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” and were possibly using Paul as an example.


Paul is at pains to distance himself from their reasons while he does prefer singleness in the present circumstances.

Some of the Corinthians were saying that to marry is sin. Paul bluntly denies that:

..if you do marry you have not sinned

 and if a virgin marries she has not sinned [v.28]


Paul’s concern is that because of the difficult days in which they live those who are married will have the additional concern of a spouse.


If we took vv29-31 out of context they would make strange reading!


READ V29-31


These verses are pure rhetoric!  Paul is not saying that we must ignore our spouses, be unhappy and never buy anything!! That would not fit the context – nor the teaching of Paul elsewhere.


This world in its present form is passing away [v32]


Those who have come to Christ are KINGDOM people – their goal is therefore not this world but the one to come.We are to live in this world just like everyone else – marrying, sorrowing, rejoicing, buying and making use of what we buy – BUT none of these things are to determine our lives.  The Christian is marked by eternity. We must not allow the things of this life and this world to dominate our existence!


We are to adopt a whole new worldview. Paul concern is beyond staying single or getting married – these belong to the realm of that which is passing away.


Because we know what the end will be we need to order our lives accordingly and get our priorities straight.


ILLUST: The analogy of telling a joke! The punchline shapes the telling of the story. Because of the resurrection of Christ Christians know the Divine punchline {which is not a joke but a reality} Because we have a clear view of the outcome of the story we should be shaping our lives accordingly.


Paul returns to the extra pressures placed on married people in vv 32 – 35.


READ V32-35.


Paul is not making a moral judgement in this passage he is simply stating the fact. A person who is single and has no children will have more time available.


ILLUST: I know many single people who have a wonderful minstry. [John Stott, Dick Lucas, numerous single lady missionaries]


But being Single does not automatically lead to being more spiritual! Ultimately it is a matter of Gift! And we have to serve God with the gifts that He has given us! If one has the gift of  marriage then serving the best we can as a married person. If the gift of singleness then serving the best we can as a single person.


It is not a matter of one being superior to the other BUT of unhindered devotion to the Lord.


 “Live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord”.


The situation in Corinth is in many ways opposite to the situation in the western Church today. In Corinth they were teaching that to be married was really to have settled for second best. The singles were considered to be the spiritual ones.


In our churches very often it is the singles who are often left out or sidelined. Paul shows that both these views are wrong!

If you marry you are not sinning! If you remain single you are not sinning!

You see the Corinthian were striving to be holy by avoiding sexual relations! How ridiculous!! How can sex be sinful if it was God’s idea in the first place!


It is not a matter of being married or unmarried BUT a matter of devotion to Christ no matter what our marital status.



v36-38 Paul gives advice to those engaged to be married but who are in turmoil because of this false idea of holiness in Corinth.


READ v36-38.


Basically he is saying to these engaged people, “If you don’t have the gift of celibacy then get married, it would be foolish not to.”  But equally, “Don’t feel under pressure that you must marry if you think that is not right for you.”



If you marry you are doing RIGHT If you don’t marry you are also doing RIGHT [BETTER]

What does he mean when he says “better” ? Paul’s preference is singleness but he has been at pains to point out that singleness is NOT suprior to marriage.

Paul affirms marriage very strongly!



He affirms that those who have lost their spouse through death are free to remarry if the so choose

READ v39-40.


Paul in these verses lays down a vital principle for Christians who are to marry. It must be in the Lord. If you become a believer after marriage then stay with your unbelieving spouse. BUT if embarking on marriage a believer must “Not be unequally yoke together with an unbeliever”


ILLUST: Many who have marry in this way have suffered for many years. Somtimes God is gracious but usually it is the believer who ends up compromising their faith.


Paul main point in all this is that whether married or single we are to be devoted to Christ!
Marriage is to be held in High honour and the marriage bed is sacred. Any sexual involvement outside of marriage is abhorrent to God. BUT sexual relations within marriage are good and wholesome and given by God to be enjoyed!


We should therefore work hard at building good marriages and homes in which children can grow up in love and security. Christian homes that are open to a world that is hurting because of family breakdown. Where those who are hurting can come and feel loved and accepted. Churches that reachout to a hurting world. BUT our church will only be as open and welcoming as we are as people and that includes our homes!


In terms of sex and marriage, our society for the most part has lost it way because they have turned away from God! Christians need to model and alternative lifestyle! Life that reflects the ethics of the Kingdom of  God!


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