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1 Corinthians 7:8-16 Study Guide: Approaching Difficulties in Marriage

Community Group Study Guide — Approaching Difficulties in Marriage

1 Corinthians 7:8-16

Main idea:
Marriage is a good gift, but it can be met with various difficulties that can lead to dysfunction and divorce. In 1 Corinthians 7:8-16, Paul addresses various challenges and exhorts followers of Jesus strive for reconciliation and restoration even when the situation seems impossible. 

Study Information:
In our culture, marriage can be really difficult and divorce all too common. Our passage addresses divorce. separation, and by implication difficulties in marriage in general. The bible’s strong stance on divorce comes from its high view of marriage and how one’s marriage commitment is a pledge to steadfast love. No one on their wedding day expects to have their marriage end; so how can one navigate the difficulties of marriage and seek reconciliation and peace. Paul warn followers of Jesus of the dangers of divorce and help them to see the need for patience to pursue reconciliation and restoration. Undoubtedly many who will read this study guide will have experienced divorce in some way, either in their own personal life or with their parents’ marriage ending or some close friend. Divorce is always painful and there is hope and healing in the Lord. Our hope is that as you approach this study guide you will think about your current station whether you are married, divorced, separated or unmarried and you think about how this passage calls you to act according to your relationship with Christ. It is easy to get caught up in our past and create an identity around that, rather than focus on your past instead read and pray through these verses, think about how the Spirit is teaching you and how you can respond in faith.

To the Unmarried:
1 Corinthians 7:8-9
Paul will address singleness to a greater degree in chapter 7, but notice he calls both marriage and singleness a gift (1 Corinthians 7:6-7). There are benefits and blessings to both stations in life and indeed both have their own difficulties. This is not a blanket statement without exceptions but Paul tells us that the married will be “anxious about the things of this world” and the unmarried will struggle with sexual temptation (1 Corinthians 7:9, 28). Paul has already taught us about the gift of sex within marriage and that the temptation for sexual immorality can be difficult to exercise self-control with. This does not mean people get a free pass to sin because pursuing holiness in that area is difficult; indeed lifelong singles may have “the gift of singleness” but that gift does not mean that they never experience sexual desire or sexual temptation. With that said, Paul reminds the unmarried that if they cannot exercise self-control that God has designed sex and sex within marriage is a gift. 

Obviously in our modern culture it is not that easy to just say “hey, I want to be married now”; indeed maybe you’ve been waiting for “the one” for a while now and have been frustrated with how long the timeline has been. Paul is not trying to add hardship to your situation, rather, he is addressing a different type of person. If you find yourself facing sexual desire and temptation and are delaying marriage because you want to pursue your life, live your dreams or whatever slogan our culture is selling; we see this in how the average age people get married trends later and later in life with each decade. The wise thing may be to take that energy and effort and instead pursue a godly marriage. To burn with passion implies you’re being controlled by that passion and potentially being led into sin. Marriage is a gift and not something to pursue once you’ve settled into your dream life. We will talk more about the goodness of Christian singleness later on as we continue in 1 Corinthians 7, but for now, know that it is better to marry than be ruled by your sexual passions and you may have to grow in the fruit of the Spirit of self control, but also God may be calling you to whole heartedly pursue marriage and go against the cultural trends that would tell you that you need to have an individualized life or that you “do not need to settle down yet.” 

To the Married:
1 Corinthians 7:10-11
There can be an ugly side to many marriages that creates frustration, difficulties and even abuse. Paul is speaking to Christian marriages here because he will make a distinction in the next section for a Christian married to a non-Christian. So yes, two believers can struggle in their marriage. Many of these difficulties exist in marriages because it is easy to approach marriage as being divided and living a life independent from one’s spouse, indeed our culture sells us a vision of a “me-marriage” where one’s spouse exists to fulfill your needs and your life dreams. The picture of marriage in the scripture is different though as two lives become one and each spouse seeks to serve and bless the other. This is easier said than done, but if a husband and wife each approached the marriage with a desire to serve instead of be served then conflict in marriage would be minimal. God has placed a Christian husband and a Christian wife in a marriage and one of the goals is to help both grow in holiness through that marriage. 

Paul’s warning is against separation and divorce because both are not God’s intention for marriage and many leave a marriage instead of pursuing reconciliation. Separation and divorce do not happen overnight, usually it comes from months and years of frustration, unspoken expectations, silent blaming, and minor abuses that lead to major abuses. These words here are not designed to prevent someone in an abusive relationship from being safe or getting help. If you are in an abusive relationship that is characterized by manipulation, physical abuse or sexual abuse the right and holy thing to do is to get help. You can contact one of the pastors even right now as you read this or go to the police and bring light to the situation you’re suffering through and find freedom and justice. However if you find yourself in a marriage that is not abusive but filled with frustration, unmet expectation and maybe you even think you’ve “fallen out of love”, the answer is not “leave your marriage.” The problems in your marriage are not insurmountable and often they will just follow you to the next relationship. God calls us to fight for holiness and to put sin to death so we can walk in new life. Paul’s words here are careful too, notice how he talks about divorce and separation; he only applies divorce to the man because in the ancient world divorce was usually initiated by the man and women had no legal grounds to pursue it so the most they could do was separate from their spouse and leave their marriage in practice. 1 Corinthians 7:11 tells us that a wife who is separated from her husband should remain unmarried or should be reconciled to her husband; this is not to call out women in a punishing way, but rather Paul’s way of saying that reconciliation should be pursued and is always on the table. Paul is encouraging married couples to remember the commitment they first made to love and serve their spouse until death do you part. God wants you to understand that reconciliation, restoration and experiencing new life in your marriage is possible. It will take some grace driven effort and may mean that you exercise self-control, put to death sinful patterns and pursue your spouse with renewed purpose, but God loves to make dead things come to life and if your marriage feels dead God does not see it as a hopeless situation. 

To the Rest:
1 Corinthians 7:12-16
Finally, Paul addresses a group of people who find themselves married to non believers. In an ideal situation you would get married to another follower of Jesus and both of you would have the same foundation and the Holy Spirit helping you pursue your covenant marriage; but this is not always the case. In the ancient world this would be more pronounced because many people were coming to faith in Jesus after already having been married for some time. People in this situation should remain in their marriages for the purpose of making their spouse “holy”. This does not mean your spouse and kids are automatically saved, but that God can use your example and your faith to communicate his mercy and grace to your family. By no means is this an easy situation because you’ll be approaching your marriage and family life from different perspectives, but it is an opportunity for God to use your day to day life as a model of the gospel.

Paul mentions that in some cases the unbelieving partner separates from the marriage, which brings up questions about divorce and remarriage (1 Corinthians 7:15). This has often been referred to as abandonment and indeed many find their marriages end with one spouse leaving the marriage and reconciliation has becomes difficult. Many wonder if the scripture allows for divorce. We do not have time to address this in our study guide, but we can point you in the right direction for further study if you’re interested. To give you a quick synopsis… First, we need to recognize that a marriage ending is always accompanied with pain and suffering because that is a product of sin in the world since we see in Genesis 2:23-25 that marriage was never designed to end. Second, the gut reaction for a follower of Jesus should be to pursue restoration and to work through the difficulties of marriage whether they’re big things or little things. As far as divorce and remarriage goes, Christians have historically taken two positions. One position sees divorce as regrettable but permissible in the case of sexual immorality and abandonment and if they remarry it should be to a believing spouse (Matthew 19:9, 1 Corinthians 7:15). The other view sees divorce as not permissible for any believer regardless of the circumstance and therefore remarriage is also off the table. There are a variety fo complicated and difficult situations, so let’s remember the thrust of Paul’s message here is to help us to see that marriage is a good gift and even though it can be met with difficulties, the gut instinct of a follower of Jesus should be to pursue reconciliation and restoration even if the situation seems hopeless and that you can model Christ’s faithfulness and the gospel even if your spouse does not share your faith in Jesus.  

At your community group:

Take 15-20 minutes to share about how God has been at work in your life, prayer concerns and pray for one another.

How did God speak to you through the scripture and the sermon this week? 

Discussion Questions:

Read 1 Corinthians 7:8-16

What are some of the difficulties with singleness and marriage that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 7:8-16?

What makes the situation of abandonment different than what Paul describes in verses 10-11?

How would you help a Christian friend who is struggling with some of these difficulties in their marriage and is considering separation or divorce?

In what ways does a spouse pursuing restoration and reconciliation model the gospel?