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Salvation is a costly proposition. You and your body belong to God, so use your body for the work of God, not for selfish pursuits.

Now to the topics you raised in your last letter. Some have said, “It is better for a man to abstain from having sex with his wife.” Well, I disagree. Because of our tendency to embrace immoralities, each man should feel free to join together in sexual intimacy with his own wife, and each woman should join with her own husband. Husbands and wives have reciprocal duties. Each husband has the responsibility to meet his wife’s sexual desires, and each wife should do the same for her husband. In marriage neither the husband nor the wife should act as if his or her body is private property—your bodies now belong to one another, and together they are whole. So do not withhold sex from one another, unless both of you have agreed to devote a certain period of time to prayer. When the agreed time is over, come together again so that Satan will not tempt you when you are short on self-control. I am trying to encourage you and give you some wise counsel, so don’t take this advice as a command. I wish that all of you could live as I do, unmarried. But the truth is all people are different, each gifted by God in various and dissimilar ways.

Paul’s teaching to the Corinthians about marriage stands in contrast to the message in Genesis 2, where God declares that it is not good to be alone. There He sculpts woman from the rib of the man: she was molded so that man and woman fit perfectly together. And God blesses marriage as a good and beautiful thing.

So is Paul contradicting the declaration of the Creator God when he suggests that it might be better for some people to choose an unmarried life? Absolutely not! Marriage is a sacred union, but it is possible that many will be able to serve God more fully if they do not have the limitations that come with marriage and family. Paul shares his advice humbly based on his own experience. The tension between the beauty of marriage and the freedom from marital obligations is one we should all explore. As we come to our own conclusions, we must also carry them humbly, remembering that one is not better than the other.

To those who are unmarried or widowed, here’s my advice: it is a good thing to stay single as I do. If they do not have self-control, they should go ahead and get married. It is much better to marry than to be obsessed by sexual urges.

10 To those who are married, here’s my command (to be clear, this isn’t merely my opinion; it comes from the teaching of the Lord Jesus): it is not right for a wife to leave her husband. 11 If she does, she must either remain single or reconcile with her husband, but she should not marry someone else. Likewise, the husband should not divorce his wife.

12-13 To everyone else, here’s my counsel (this is not a direct command from the Lord; it is my opinion): if a brother has a wife who does not believe Jesus’ teachings and the truth of His resurrection, he is to stay with her as long as she is willing to live with him. The same is true for any sister; you should not leave your husband even if he has no allegiance to Jesus. 14 Here’s the reason: An unbelieving husband is consecrated by that union—touched by the grace of God through his believing wife—and the same is true when the husband is a man of faith and he’s wed to an unbelieving wife. His wife is consecrated through their union. If this weren’t so, your children wouldn’t be pure; but as it is when faith enters in, God sets apart these children to be used uniquely for His purposes. 15 If the unbelieving spouse decides the marriage is over, then let him or her go; the believing partner is freed from the marital vows because God has called you to peace. 16 Remember that anything is possible, so the life you lead and the love you show under this strain may be what finally liberates your partner.

17 So here is my instruction to all the churches: each must live with the gifts the Lord Jesus grants you and with the call God offers you. 18 When you heard the voice of Jesus, what were your circumstances? Were you living as a circumcised Jew? If so, then don’t try to undo your circumcision. Were you living as if you were an uncircumcised outsider? If so, you don’t need to become a Jew. 19 You see, whether you are circumcised or not—these outward signs aren’t the issue—the way you live out the commands of God is what really matters. 20 It is important for all people to live out faith in the circumstances they know.

The call to faith is not a call to abandon your life, family, neighborhood, and culture. We must play with the hand God deals us, not look for a new deck. He works through faith to redeem broken lives and wasted years, not to provide a change of scenery. Even in the worst circumstances, faith can change the believer from the inside.

21 Did you hear God’s voice while you were a slave? Don’t be concerned. (But if the opportunity comes to gain your freedom, then take it.) 22 For the slave who hears the Lord’s call is set free to belong to the Lord. In the same way, the so-called free person is called to become a slave of the Anointed One. 23 A high price has been paid for your freedom, so don’t devalue God’s investment by becoming a slave to people. 24 My brothers and sisters, each of you should remain in whatever external circumstances you were in when God called you.

25 Now when it comes to unmarried young women, I do not have a command from our Lord. The best I can do is to give you my advice as a trustworthy brother who knows the Lord’s mercy well. 26 Because of the challenging times we live in, I think the best plan is to stay as you are. 27 If you are married, don’t divorce. If you are single, there is no need to get married. 28 But if you decide to get married, this is not a sin; there is nothing wrong with a young woman taking a husband, but know that marriage is not easy and those who marry will face hard times. I am only trying to protect you. 29 But hear what I say, brothers and sisters: the time is short and growing shorter. So for the time remaining, even if you have wives, live with the undivided focus of those who do not have them. 30 Those who cry should live as those who have no tears. Those who rejoice should live as those who have no pleasure. Those who buy things should live as those who do not possess anything. 31 If you make use of this rebellious and broken world, live as if you have no use for it—because the form of this world is fading away.

32 My primary desire is for you to be free from the worries that plague humanity. A single man can focus on the things of the Lord and how to please the Lord, 33 but a married man has to worry about the details of the here and now and how to please his wife. 34 A married man will always have divided loyalties. The same idea is true for a young unmarried woman. She concerns herself only with the work of the Lord and how to dedicate herself entirely, body and spirit, to her Lord. On the other hand, a married woman has vast responsibilities for her family and a desire to please her husband. 35 I am not trying to give you more rules and regulations. I only want to give you advice that is fitting and helpful. I want to help you live lives of faithful devotion to the Lord without any distraction.

36 But I have this advice for every single man: If anyone thinks he is behaving badly toward his fiancée, if his desires prove to be too much for him, and if he feels they ought to marry, then he should do what he wants; it is not wrong to marry her. It is better that we let men and women in this situation do as they wish and get married. 37 If a man has no compulsion and chooses not to marry his fiancée, but commits himself to live a celibate life for the sake of following God and has the strength to live out his conviction, then he is doing a good thing. 38 So those who marry do a good thing, and they will share in a holy blessing; those who do not marry do an even better thing because they are part of an even greater blessing in the service of God.

39 A wife should stay by her husband’s side all of his life. But if he dies, she is free to marry any man she wishes as long as it is in the Lord. 40 You can likely guess that in my opinion this woman would be better off to remain single, and I think that I have this insight from God’s Spirit.

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