I say this as a concession, not as a command…
1 Corinthians 7:6
Does God expect Christians to think for themselves on some issues? Apparently so, from this verse and others like it in 1 Corinthians 7:10, 25, and 40. Paul plainly stated that he shared this as advice, not as a command. Advice is advisable to follow, but not morally required.
We know clearly the mind and will of God on many issues – we should not steal, commit adultery, bear false witness, etc., and we should love God and love our neighbor, provide for our own, protect the helpless, share our faith, etc. These are commands, not suggestions. And as commands they, and the other areas where God has spoken clearly, should form an ethical foundation for our lives, in our thoughts, and in what we do and what we do not do.
But there are many times in life where we have freedom to choose. God does not tell us whether to wear brown or blue, to have strawberries or blueberries, to drive an Opel or a Volkswagen. He leaves us to our own recognizance, for us to decide responsibly for ourselves as we live under His Lordship and seek to honor, serve, and follow Him. And in 1 Corinthians 7, Paul applies this to the matter of marriage. We have freedom, under the Lordship of Christ, to marry or to remain single – neither is sinful if they are handled responsibly and morally.
Consider how different this approach and even these words are from a cultist’s. It is common for a false prophet to claim authority he does not have, to insist on obedience to things that God has not commanded, and to micromanage the tiniest details of someone’s life. In a false cult, they may not only insist that someone marry, but they will even tell them whom to marry and when and how many children to have, etc. They will exert control over the private details of someone’s life.
Paul’s honesty with his words assures us of his integrity. He gave the good advice of an honest and sincere servant of God, one in whom the Spirit of God dwelt. Yet he had the humility and wisdom to know the difference from his words and God’s command. Some have questioned if these words should be in the Bible, but the wisdom of the ages have left them there and they serve a powerful purpose. They lay down for us the principle of the Christian’s freedom of choice in the non-essentials of life.
Yet many do not get it; they do not understand this principle. I have seen people caught up in spiritual agony not sure what to do, whether to take this job or that job, whether to live in this city or that city, whether to marry this person or that person. I remember a young college student in tears crying over which summer missionary position to take, as two had landed on her doorstep at the same time. “Which one is the will of God?” she uttered in frustration.
The best we can do in such situations is to surrender our pride and stubbornness to God, to pray for leadership from the Lord, to examine what His word says on the subject, to listen to good advice from spiritual people, to investigate the circumstances to the best of our ability, and then to make the wisest decision we can, trusting in His love and care. If we conceive of the Christian life like a railway line, where once we get off, we can never get back on, we will have misunderstood the day in which we live. In the Garden of Eden the entire human race get off of the railway line, we live in sinful and fallen world, and now the will of God for us is His redemptive will.
This was the principle that Paul used as well, as we read in Acts 16:8-10, that they made the best decisions they could as to where to go and who to evangelize. But they also walked daily in fellowship with the Lord and He was able to stop them at the border of Mysia and Bithynia, and redirect them to Macedonia. There may be times when God stops us and redirects us, and we should remain open to that possibility – I would not be in ministry or in overseas’ service were it not for God’s call in my life – but He expects us to use “sanctified common sense” in our daily decisions.
Some say that they are concerned about the will of God, but it is only for their own sake, not for God’s. There are some who believe that following the will of God in will always result in financial success, personal happiness, and career advancement, so their concern in knowing His will is practically the same as a fortune seeker. “Oh, God,” they cry, “Tell me which stock to invest in, so that I can become wealthy!” It is good to pray before all of our major decisions in life, but our heart’s desire must always be for God’s glory, not for our own. But a selfish and fearful prayer shows that we are not really concerned with the will and righteousness of God, but with our own personal success. That is the matter that needs to be surrendered, for as long as pride and lust dominate our hearts, we will never understand the will and the ways of God. (James 4:1-3)
As long as we are humbly listening to Him, seeking His face first, and then the blessing of His hand, we can trust Him to lead and to guide us, and to fill us with excitement and hope for the future. In all circumstances, it is not just what we decide to do that determines the success of that choice – it is also how responsibly we handle the opportunity after we have made the decision. Someone marrying the “right” person can still ruin the relationship – Christ did not choose Judas by accident.