November 11, 2017
For the sermonette today, I would like you to think about the news over the past couple of weeks. The news sources in North America, the United Kingdom, and probably other countries too, have been inundated recently with some disturbing accounts of the gross mistreatment of women. Perhaps most especially well-known women – young actresses.
And I am sure that you all know, if you have been watching the news, that all of this exploded following the multiple allegations, which are still under investigation, against an American movie producer by the name of Harvey Weinstein.
The news of these allegations blew the lid off many others, apart from his, in show business, the sports world, business, and politics.
This is just a recent round of this kind of stuff. Some of this blew up in the UK a couple of years ago, specifically with regards to the BBC. You might be familiar with the infamous cases of Jimmy Savile and Rolf Harris, who were implicated in this kind of thing. I don’t know all of the details of all these cases; but I do know that there was some pretty bad stuff going on.
With this background, let me ask five questions:
1. Are women, both young and otherwise, both physically attractive and otherwise. somehow inferior to men?
2. Are women unworthy of a proper kind of respect.
3. What does God’s Word say about this, if anything?
4. As has sometimes been believed by some people in God’s church, does the holy written Word of God, the Bible, justify male chauvinism?
5. Is God a male chauvinist?
Believe it or not, such a mindset as this has existed among some
people in God’s church in years gone by. And maybe still does in some circles.
Maybe some Church of God men – and perhaps even some Church of God women! – still harbour this mindset.
All we need do to disprove this falsehood, and to disapprove of this falsehood, is to read through what we call the “respect of persons” scriptures. Perhaps this one especially:
26: For you are all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus.
27: For as many of you as have been baptized into Christ have put on Christ.
28: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
29: And if you be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
That is quite clear.
The five questions that I read a few minutes ago, are huge questions. The complete topic is way too big to cover in one short split sermon; but let’s just touch on one small part of it today.
I will illustrate the point by means of a brief question that I received in an email a couple of years
ago; one that stuck in my memory. All that this man wrote in his email was
this: "Could you please explain the fullness of meaning in I Corinthians 7:36-38?"
First of all we will read these three verses, then we will go through the context of them, and then we will go through each verse in some detail:
I Corinthians 7:
36: But if any man think that he behaves himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sins not: let them marry.
37: Nevertheless he that stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well.
38: So then he that gives her in marriage does well; but he that gives her not in marriage does better.
I'm sure you'll agree that this is not quite as clear as the first scripture that we read a couple of minutes ago.
We read this, and we might think, "Is God a male chauvinist? And what about the apostle Paul, who wrote these words? Was he a male chauvinist?" Even within the greater Church of God, Paul has sometimes been accused of chauvinism.
Was God – or was Paul – or were both of them – here giving Christian men the go ahead to make improper demands on young women – even on women to whom they are not married?
One of the first rules of effective Bible study is to examine the context. The context of these three verses here – and through most of I Corinthians 7 – is the context of Christian marriage. In this particular part of the chapter, the context is especially whether or not Christians should marry during periods of trouble, religious persecution or other difficult circumstances. And if we read through more of the context, that troubled condition was the case in Corinth during the time that Paul was writing this letter. Just prior to verses 36 to 38, Paul had written that they were under difficult and dangerous circumstances in that day and that, therefore, it was advisable to avoid marriage at that time:
I Corinthians 7:
7: For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man has his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that.
8: I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I...
In other words, to remain unmarried at that time.
Verse 25: Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that has obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.
26: I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be...
The New King James version renders the phrase "so to be" as "to remain as he is" – in other words, unmarried.
Things may have become so bad in Corinth at that time that Paul and his Corinthian brethren might have even thought that the end-times had arrived:
Verse 29: But this I say, brethren, the time is short…
Verse 31: And those that use this world, as not misusing it: for the form of this world is passing away.
We know that is true in our day, now; but back then, maybe things were so bad that they really did believe that they were living in the last days. We see this mindset in other scriptures too.
Paul clarified his statements here by adding that, if a couple's love and proper, natural desire for one another was so very great, then they certainly should marry in order to avoid any possibility of fornication:
Verse 9: But if they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn.
But Paul also pointed out some benefits of remaining single, both in troubled times and in non-troubled times. One example that he gives here is that an unmarried person is often able to dedicate more of his or her time in worship of God and in service to God’s people.
Please keep these factors in mind now as we go through and examine verses 36-38, one-by-one:
Verse 36: But if any man think that he behaves himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sins not: let them marry.
Please note that phrase “need so require.” We'll come back to it shortly.
The first word of this verse is ‘But,’ which shows that this verse is not introducing a new topic of discussion. Rather, it is linked to the previously stated idea we have already read, discussing the pros and the cons of marriage during times of trouble.
In this verse, Paul mentions ‘his virgin.’ This term begs the question, "Whose virgin?"
We will find out the answer to this question as we continue.
The word "virgin," though, is mentioned five times in this epistle of I Corinthians. All five mentions are in Chapter 7 and the sub-topic on the specific subject of virgins begins back in verse 28:
28: But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
The Greek word for "virgin" is "parthenos," which refers generally to a young woman, a marriageable maiden, or a person’s marriageable daughter. But more specifically and more technically, just like in the English, it refers to:
So, now we know what a virgin is.
Various Bible commentators differ on the correct application of phrase ‘his virgin’ in the context of these verses. There seems to be two main opinions on it.
The less probable view – but still worth mentioning – is advice and warning to young men who were engaged or espoused to be married; but who were behaving improperly towards those young women. Behaving improperly, either by deferring marriage for unsound or selfish reasons, or by taking their girlfriends or fiancées for granted, or by expecting certain benefits from their girlfriends or fiancées which should properly be reserved until their marriage. That, I believe, was the less probably view; but still worth keeping in mind.
What I believe to be the most probable view – as we will see once we come to verse 38 – is God’s advice to the fathers of their unmarried daughters.
A father's potentially improper behaviour could be if he forbade his daughter to marry – more specifically a daughter who was approaching the age when the young women of that time and culture would normally be expected to be married. Hence the phrase in verse 36: ‘if she pass the flower of her age.’
But what these verses emphatically do not mean is that God, through Paul, is giving any man justification to behave improperly towards his daughter, his fiancée, his girlfriend, or any woman, by selfishly doing "what he will" (verse 36) – either against her, to her, with her, or with her future. There is absolutely no authority in these verses for anything like that!
In my time in God’s church, I have known men who seem to harbour a false belief that all women are a kind of inferior sub-species of humankind, or that all men are superior to all women. I have also known men who have treated their girlfriends or fiancées disrespectfully, bossing them around in a manner that is even improper for a husband to behave towards his wife! Also in my time in God's church, I have known men who believe that such a viewpoint comes from the Holy Bible. But, brethren, it does not! Such a mindset is unbiblical, it is wrong, and it is sin!
The apostle Paul, his loving Masters, Jesus and God the Father, and their holy written Word in the Bible all teach a proper kind of respect for all fellow human beings – no matter what gender. Continuing now in I Corinthians 7:
Verse 37: Nevertheless he that stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well.
The phrase ‘having no necessity’ seems to be the converse of the phrase ‘need so require’ that we read in verse 36.
What is Paul talking about here? What need is he talking about? And what necessity is he talking about?
If the father of an unmarried daughter is a loving and concerned parent; but is adamant that he will not permit her to marry – again perhaps because of the troubled times and circumstances; or perhaps, because the potential husband might be of poor character! – if such is the case and he forbids her to marry for good, sound reasons, then the father is making the right decision and is not acting selfishly.
On the other hand, one example of a selfish decision would be that the father forbids his daughter to marry because does not wish to lose his daughter's "services" in and around the family home.
But with Paul's words here in verse 37: ‘has power over his own will,’ he is not giving unreasonable power to a girl’s father – for selfish reasons – to mistreat her, to improperly force marriage on her, or to prevent her from marrying if she so desires.
God is on His throne and He knows a person's heart and mind.
Verse 38: So then he that gives her in marriage does well; but he that gives her not in marriage does better.
From these phrases here, ‘gives her in marriage’ and ‘gives her not in marriage,’ we see again that the second of the two possible scenarios that we mentioned previously – the father of the young woman scenario – is the most feasible of the two possibilities.
Paul is saying here that, even though he previously (back in verse 36) had acknowledged a father’s freedom to decide either way – again, maybe because of dangerous conditions of the day and the place or perhaps because of the poor character of the potential spouse – the wiser choice of a truly loving father would be to prevent his daughter from marrying.
Before we conclude, let’s ask the question: Is the application of these verses totally out-dated in our day and age?
Even today, a young man still sometimes goes to his girlfriend’s father and asks for his daughter’s hand in marriage. I have had that pleasure three times! Perhaps it has been done as a nice custom – asking for the father’s approval and blessing on their marriage.
However, in our modern day, if the girl is of legal age, she can legally ignore her father’s wishes. But even less than a hundred years ago, in many countries, the fathers did have a real legal power to say Yes or No to the marriage. Perhaps in many cases it was a good rule. But in many others, it was not. Perhaps it will be one that might be reinstated in the World Tomorrow in order to protect young women from inferior husbands or unhappy marriages for other reasons.
I believe that the main reasons for these verses – not for the World Tomorrow, but for God’s Church today – is that it is a sin to disrespect women just because they are women.
It is a sin to take women or their wishes for granted. And more specifically, it is a sin to disrespect those who are young or vulnerable.
Finally, brethren, all women are worthy of the proper kind of respect.