In our passage today, Paul addresses three groups: those unmarried (vv8-9), those married (vv10-11) and everyone (vv12-16).
For those who are single, Paul says singleness is a good gift (v8). But this is not for everyone, because singleness means abstaining from sex (v9). Sometimes being single doesn’t feel good. It takes faith to trust God that His gifts are good. Being involved in a Christian community helps. If you’re single and that gift doesn’t feel good, what steps can you take so that the Holy Spirit reassures you that it is a good gift? For those who aren’t single: how are you contributing to single people feeling loved and included in our church?
In addressing those who are married, Paul seems, at first glance, to give really blunt commands: don’t get divorced. Clearly divorce is a serious matter. But vv10-11 can’t be read in isolation; Paul is referring back to Jesus’ teaching on divorce (‘not I, but the Lord’), and Jesus taught that divorce was permissible in some circumstances (see Matt. 19, for example).
Paul then turns in vv12-16 to deliver some teaching ‘to the rest’ (v12). Note that even though this teaching seems to apply to Christians married to non-Christians, Paul states that it is for everyone. The point that Paul is making is that believers married to unbelievers should be welcome and included in the Christian community, as should their children. Mixed marriages are not unclean, nor their marriages worth less than marriages between believers. This is what Paul means in v14; it’s not that non-Christians somehow are saved simply because their spouse is a believer.
(Paul is not recommending that believers get married to unbelievers, see v39. He’s speaking to a situation where one in the marriage has come to faith.)
Believers who are married to unbelievers shouldn’t get divorced (vv12-13), unless the unbeliever insists on it (v15). By staying in the marriage, and being a winsome witness for Jesus, the unbelieving spouse may, in time, come to follow Jesus.
And just as Paul directs vv12-16 to all of the Corinthian Christians, this leaves all of us with a question. Whether we are married, single, divorced, widow or widower, how are we, in our human relationships, pointing people to Jesus? Is the way we relate to others a winsome witness for Christ?