The Mystery of Devotion – A Short Study in 1 Corinthians 7

Some will ask, “How can a study of this chapter be titled, The Mystery of Devotion, when neither mystery nor devotion is mentioned in I Corinthians 7?” I trust that by the end of this article that question will have been satisfactorily answered.

What most often comes to mind when we hear the word mystery?

Mystery in our day implies a “thriller.” Robert Anderson, T.E. Wilson, and others, have explained that in the false religion of the Greeks, mysteries consisted of a set of rites and ceremonies esteemed as sacred, and observed only in the strictest secrecy. Those who passed through such rituals were considered “perfected.”

But how is the term used in the Word of God? The word mystery is found 22 times in our Bibles, all in the New Testament. There the word takes on an entirely different meaning from the modern popular conception, as well as the meaning employed by the ancient Greeks. When used in the Bible it implies not knowledge withheld in secret, but truth revealed by God. While it is true that the entire Scripture reveals the mind and thoughts of God, it is in the New Testament alone that we have the revelation of certain truths “which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God” (Eph 3.9) and “which were kept secret since the world began”(Rom 16.25). It is only in the light of the revelation of the mysteries of the NT that we learn: Gentiles and Jews being fellow heirs of the same body (Eph 3.6), the mystery of Christ in you, which is the hope of glory (Col 1.7), the mystery of godliness… “He who was manifested in the flesh, justified in the spirit, seen of angels, preached among the nations, believed on in the world, received up into glory”(1 Tim 3.16), and other truths which are far beyond the scope of this writing.

What I would like to think about together with you in this article is a subject that is not technically referred to in the New Testament at all as a mystery. Illustrations of devotion can be found throughout the Old Testament. One need only think of Ruth’s love and devotion to Naomi, Jonathon’s devotion to David, as well as other examples. However there are teachings that we find in the New Testament that so enrich our vocabulary and concepts concerning devotion to the person of Christ that we have taken the license of calling this a “New Testament” mystery. Let us have a look together at one portion of the NT that deals with this theme of devotion: 1 Corinthians 7.

In the opening verse of the 7th chapter, the statement is made, “It is good for a man not to touch (i.e. marry) a woman.” Why would Paul, writing under the guidance of the Spirit of God, make such a statement? Wasn’t marriage given by God? Isn’t marriage an intimate partnership in which two become one flesh and together face the challenges and joys of life? Under what conditions would it be wise to forego that which is normal and natural? Knowing something about the character and goodness of the Lord, we would have to guess that if it is good not to marry, then there exists another outstanding purpose in His mind for the unmarried state. As we make our way through the chapter, this is exactly what we find.

Verse 8 tells us, “I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, it is good for them if they abide even as I.” “Good” in this verse is kalos, which means laudable, or that which is worthy of praise. We, naturally speaking, associate singleness with loneliness. “Not so!” says the apostle. To be single is to have the opportunity and privilege to know Christ and serve Him in a manner unhindered by many of the distractions and responsibilities that attend the marriage state. Notice how time and again throughout the chapter the point is made, “But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord” (v 32). While in contrast in vs. 33, “… but he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.”

As opposed to living a life of emptiness, the apostle describes some of the attributes of the unmarried sister. “There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit”(vs 34).

Mr. Vine explains that the word “holy” has the same thought as righteousness, and denotes the aspect of holiness seen in those in whom there is a balance of grace and truth. Of this, the Lord Jesus was the perfect and living expression. “The law, was given by Moses, but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ”(John 1.17). Are not these the complementary qualities that cause us to stumble and come short? And yet here it plainly states of the unmarried sister, “that she may be holy.”

There are further words of guidance on this subject near the end of the chapter. “And this I speak for your own profit… that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.”

The word chosen by inspiration of the Spirit of God in verse 35, “comely,” refers to that which is worthy of the high calling of the believer. One is reminded of the poignant story concerning the affection felt between Mr. Darby and the Lady Powerscourt. Both decided, however, independently before the Lord, that it would be preferable for reasons of service to remain single.

Would we have ever guessed the spiritual privileges that attend to the single state had they not been revealed so eloquently to us by God, through His precious Word? There is the opportunity for a praiseworthy life lived on the highest of spiritual levels, devotion without distraction, and a blending of grace and truth. Not that there is anything wrong with those who choose marriage. In verse 38, Paul writes, “So then he that giveth in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth not in marriage doeth better.” It is just that in light of the conditions of their day, Paul urges the believers at Corinth to think about the effect marriage will have on their sphere of service and testimony, so that they might be fully informed prior to taking this step, or in the words that began this article: that they might know more of the mystery of devotion.

But whether married or single, could we all not use a bit more of that spirit written about so beautifully by the hymn writer?

It passeth knowledge, that dear love of Thine,
Lord Jesus, Savior; yet this soul of mine
Would of Thy love, in all its breadth and length,
Its height and depth, its everlasting strength
Know more and more.

Then fill me, O my Savior, with Thy love!
Lead, lead me to the living fount above:
Thither may I in simple faith draw night,
And never to another fountain fly, But unto Thee.