August 16, 2012

Was Paul married? Or does it matter?

There is a story about a child psychologist who had six theories about raising children, but was not married. After he was married, he soon had six children and no theories.
I know the tendency. When I was a child, I used to go to my mother’s curling games. The folks watching from the bench knew how to make the best shots and how to win the game. None of them were out there forming strategies or throwing curling rocks. Many fans are experts that seem to assume performers have no idea what they are doing. 

Some say that the Apostle Paul was never married. They assume when he wrote about the commands of God for an ideal marriage, he could not have been a spouse. Like the psychologist, His ideals are “impossible.” Because nothing is said about his own marriage, he must be one of those “armchair experts” who knows all about it, in theory only. That makes it easier to dismiss some of what he said.

Is that the way to read the Bible? These are the verses I’m reading this morning. They make me think that Paul was likely a married man…
Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. Now I commend you because you remember me in everything and maintain the traditions even as I delivered them to you. But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God. (1 Corinthians 11:1–3)
Granted, in this little verse telling others to imitate him, he could be referring to the passage directly before his admonition. It says…
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved. Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 10:31–33, 11:1)
The translators of most modern Bibles tend to end the chapter at 10:33 but include 11:1 as part of the previous paragraph. However, in the original texts, there are no chapter and paragraph breaks. Decisions were made from the context where to put them (so readers could locate and remember what the Bible says). 

In this case, Paul could be ending the previous section with the admonition to follow his example. However, it would by highly impertinent of him to follow that with a discussion on headship in marriage if he had never experienced marriage. Who is going to imitate someone who tells them such things, but without any personal experience of the implications and difficulties of marriage?

Debating about Paul’s marital status is a rabbit trail anyway. The issues he speaks of are challenges to my life, no matter where verse 1 fits. I’m supposed to live in such a way that whatever I do glorifies God. The way I eat, what I drink, the ordinary things of life are supposed to honor Him and please others. This is no small challenge and if Paul is referring to himself as the example, I need to study how he did it.

Yet if that little verse, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ” refers to everything Paul had taught them, including the principle of headship, it was likely he’d set an example in his own marriage. Unfortunately, nothing is given about ‘how he did it.’ I can only see clues in the context and the rest of his writings. 

Paul said that marriage was intended by God to picture the relationship between Christ and the church. Jesus is the groom and the church is His bride. The church is not the leader in that relationship but a vital part of what the Lord is doing in this world. He uses us to represent Him and reflect His “glory.” We are to be seen by others as Christlike as we exalt Him and point others to Him. Paul did that, and I am supposed to do that too, in my marriage as well as in the rest of life.

To be on the safe side, I have to assume that no matter where the challenge to imitate Paul is referred to, it is still a challenge. It is also impossible without the Lord. Paul relied on the Holy Spirit to work in and through him. I must do the same.

Lord, if my focus is on me and what I want, I cannot obey any of what Paul says. Glorifying You is a matter of relinquishing my desires, the sinful ones as well as common human ambitions. Not only that, Your Word is inspired by You, not the opinions of anyone, not even Paul. He wrote as Your Spirit led Him, not as He supposed things should be but as You revealed truth to Him. Thank You for Your Word and the challenge to imitate Paul as he imitated Christ. May this day be filled with opportunities as well as obedience!

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