Today’s day 9 in our 30 Days of Paul Reading Challenge and today we’re reading 1 Corinthians 7-8. So, let’s get to it!
At the beginning of chapter 7, Paul continues to talk about sex. But, this time, it’s based in response to statement from the Corinthian community. He says, “Now, about what you wrote: ‘It’s good for a man not to have sex with a woman’ ” (7.1). I’m not really sure how they could say that when they had a man having sex with his stepmom! Perhaps, though, they were trying to get Paul’s input so they could confront the man. I’m not sure. But Paul spends the next paragraph talking about the sexual responsibilities of husbands and wives, saying things like —
“The husband should meet his wife’s sexual needs, and the wife should do the same for her husband. The wife doesn’t have authority over her own body, but the husband does. Likewise, the husband doesn’t have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Don’t refuse to meet each other’s needs unless you both agree for a short period of time to devote yourselves to prayer” (7.3-5).
I remember hearing this type of talk when I was growing up in church. I even hear it now, sometimes, too. It’s often quoted with that knowing wink or smirk in a shaming way. But what’s never talked about is the next verse of the paragraph, “In my opinion that is what should be done, though I don’t know of anything the Lord said about this matter” (7.6; CEV*). In other words, Paul’s saying, “Don’t quote me on this; this is just my opinion. It’s not a command from G‑d.” And yet, too often, it’s taken just like a command because it’s in the Bible.
This brings us to a very touchy subject in how we view the Bible. Just the other day someone made a comment that suggest that G‑d was the “Author” of the Bible. Nope. Men and women were the authors of the Bible. G‑d inspired them to write things down, but not everything in the Bible is sanctioned by G‑d. We just read from Paul that it’s not. So we need to quit treating the Bible like it’s some sort of law book to support our every whim. It’s not. It’s way too important and nuanced for that. It takes time and skill and wisdom to navigate the depths of the Bible.
In the last paragraphs, Paul brings up divorce. Again, he doesn’t have a lot to say that comes from G‑d, other than married people should stay together (7.10-11). But, again, times change. While I believe that married people should stay together, the only stipulation for divorce that Christ gives is infidelity (Matthew 5.31-32). Today, I would most certainly agree that a person should divorce the abusive spouse. But that’s just my opinion.
In the next paragraph (7.12-16), he talks about the impact a believing spouse has on the partner. He says that the life of the believing spouse influences the other spouse and children. I think this speaks volumes to our situations in society today. In other words, our lives are connected, as science has been telling us for years now. All of life is connected. What we do matters and affects everything else around us, no matter how small.
Throughout the rest of the chapter, 7.17ff, Paul’s saying people should stay as they are when they started following The Way of Jesus — Jews should stay Jews, Greeks should stay Greeks, slaves should stay slaves (unless they have the opportunity to be free, then they should pursue that, 7.21), married people should stay married, single people should stay single, etc. There’s a reason for this — the then “present crisis” (7.26). While this points back to the then soon coming war between the Jews and Romans (which happened about 10 years after the letter what written), I think it still holds true today. I’ve heard horror stories about families being ripped apart because someone “became a Christian.” She becomes “holier than thou” and is a bear to live with. But Paul says “G‑d has called [us] to peace” (7.15). What about us? Are we living in peace with those around us or do we push our beliefs other others who don’t believe the same way?
Chapter 8 is all about eating meat that was sacrificed to an idol. And while that might not be an issue for us today, the principle of not doing something that would offend someone with a “weak conscience” certainly does. Paul warns not to take our freedom for granted at the expense of others (8.9; cf. Romans 14). Again, what about us? Do we think more about our freedom in Christ or about our brothers and sisters? If it’s not the latter, Paul says he won’t ever eat meat again if it causes a brother or sister to fall (8.13). Are we willing to make that type of sacrifice for the sake of others? What about people who aren’t our “brothers or sisters” but people from another tradition? Would we be willing to make that same sacrifice? Would we sacrifice our own personal freedoms for the sake of others?
In the Love of the Three in One,
Br. Jack+, LC
* Scripture quotations marked (CEV) are from The Contemporary English Version. Copyright © 1991, 1992, 1995 by American Bible Society, Used by Permission.