Paul instructed both married and single Church members in Corinth about marriage and missionary work. Responding to a question about eating meat offered to idols, Paul taught the Saints to consider the effect of their personal practices on others and be willing to forgo some actions if those actions might cause another to stumble spiritually.
Copy the following diagram on the board:
To help students understand the context of 1 Corinthians 7, remind them that, like us, Church members in Corinth lived in a society with confusing and conflicting ideas about marriage and physical or sexual intimacy.
Based on what you recall from your study of 1 Corinthians 5–6, what were some false beliefs about sexual relations that were prevalent in Corinth?
After students respond, write the following on the left side of the diagram under “False Belief:” It is acceptable to participate in physical intimacy with anyone.
Explain that Church members in Corinth had written to the Apostle Paul asking for guidance concerning the Lord’s standard of sexual purity.
Invite a student to read 1 Corinthians 7:1 aloud, and ask the class to look for a question the Corinthian Saints asked Paul.
What did the Corinthian Saints ask Paul?
Explain that the phrase “it is good for a man not to touch a woman” in verse 1 indicates that the Corinthian Saints had questions about when and if physical intimacy was appropriate. Some may have questioned whether even married people should participate in physical intimacy. Write the following on the right side of the diagram under “False Belief:” It is never acceptable to participate in physical intimacy, not even in marriage.
Point out that both of the false beliefs written on the diagram represent extreme views that vary from God’s standard for physical intimacy.
Ask a student to read 1 Corinthians 7:2–3 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for what Paul taught the Corinthians about physical intimacy. (You may need to help students understand that fornication refers to sexual relations outside of marriage and due benevolence refers to the love and intimacy expressed between husband and wife.)
Invite a student to read the following statement found in For the Strength of Youth:
“Physical intimacy between husband and wife is beautiful and sacred. It is ordained of God for the creation of children and for the expression of love between husband and wife. God has commanded that sexual intimacy be reserved for marriage” (For the Strength of Youth [booklet, 2011], 35).
From what we have just read, what can we learn about physical intimacy? (After students respond, write the following truth on the diagram under “Truth:” Physical intimacy between husband and wife is ordained of God.)
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by President Boyd K. Packer of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. Ask the class to listen for why intimacy in marriage is ordained of God.
“The power of procreation is not an incidental part of the plan; it is the plan of happiness; it is the key to happiness.
“The desire to mate in humankind is constant and very strong. Our happiness in mortal life, our joy and exaltation are dependent upon how we respond to these persistent, compelling physical desires” (“The Plan of Happiness,” Ensign or Liahona, May 2015, 26).
What are the purposes of physical intimacy between husband and wife?
Why is procreation—the ability to create mortal life—so important in Heavenly Father’s plan?
Summarize 1 Corinthians 7:4–24 by explaining that Paul taught that spouses should not generally withhold marital affection from each other, that widowed and divorced members of the Church were permitted to remarry if they chose, and that Church members should “abide with God” whatever their circumstances. Paul also discouraged divorce.
To help students identify another truth from Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians 7, divide students into groups of two or three, and provide each group with a copy of the following handout:
After sufficient time, ask students to report the truth they identified in 1 Corinthians 7:12–17. Students’ answers may vary, but they should express a truth similar to the following: Faithful followers of Jesus Christ have a sanctifying effect on their families.
You may want to invite a few students to share examples of Church members who have had a positive effect on family members who were not members of the Church or who were not active in the Church.
Summarize 1 Corinthians 7:25–40 by explaining that Paul gave his opinion concerning single members who were “called unto the ministry” (Joseph Smith Translation, 1 Corinthians 7:29 [in the Bible appendix]) and explained that their circumstances allowed them to serve the Lord “without distraction” (verse 35), or without temporal concerns related to providing for a family. However, he did not forbid them to marry.
Invite a student to read aloud the following statement by Elder L. Tom Perry of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“I spent my career in the department store business. Because I was part of a management team, it was important for me to interact socially with local business organizations. The meetings with most of these organizations always started with a cocktail hour [during which alcoholic drinks are traditionally served]. It was a time to mix and get acquainted with the men who belonged to the organization. I have always felt uncomfortable in these social hours. At first I started asking for a lemon-lime soda. I soon discovered that lemon-lime soda looks like many of the other drinks. I could not build the impression I was a nondrinker with a clear soda in my hands” (“The Tradition of a Balanced, Righteous Life,” Ensign, Aug. 2011, 48–49).
What could have happened if Elder Perry had continued to drink clear soda during the cocktail hours?
What are other situations in which our example could negatively influence others even though we may not be doing anything wrong?
Explain that Church members in Corinth wondered if it was acceptable for them to eat food that had been offered to idols, or pagan gods.
Point out that Paul acknowledged that Church members might think this was acceptable because they knew that pagan gods didn’t really exist (see 1 Corinthians 8:4–6).
Invite a student to read 1 Corinthians 8:1, and ask the class to look for what Paul taught the Corinthian Saints.
Although the people knew that idols were not real, what did Paul say was more important than what they knew? (Charity, or unselfish love for others.)
According to this verse, what could result from knowledge? (Becoming puffed up, or arrogant.) What could result from charity? (Edification, or strengthening oneself or others.)
Invite a student to read 1 Corinthians 8:7–10 aloud. Ask the class to follow along, looking for when the Corinthian Saints should not eat meat that might have been offered to idols. (You may need to help students understand that weak in these verses may refer to weakness in understanding and that liberty [verse 9] refers to Church members’ freedom to partake of meat that may have been offered to idols.)
According to verse 9, under what condition did Paul say they should not eat meat offered to idols? (If it would be a stumbling block for someone with a weak testimony or without the knowledge of the gospel.)
What example did Paul give in verse 10 about one way eating meat offered to idols might be a stumbling block? (If a Church member who was weaker in faith saw another member eat at a dining hall connected to a local pagan temple, the member of weaker faith may also believe that nothing was wrong with idol worship.)
Ask a student to read 1 Corinthians 8:11–13 aloud. Invite the class to follow along, looking for Paul’s answer to the question of eating food offered to idols.
According to verse 13, what did Paul say his own course of action would be in this situation? Why? (Help students understand that offend in this verse means to stumble spiritually, sin, or lose faith.)
What principle can we learn from these verses about how we can avoid leading others to stumble spiritually? (After students respond, write the following principle on the board: We can show charity for others by avoiding actions that could lead them to stumble spiritually.)
Invite a student to read aloud the remainder of Elder Perry’s account. Ask the class to listen for how Elder Perry applied this principle:
“I decided I had to have a drink that would clearly mark me as a nondrinker. I went to the bartender and requested a glass of milk. The bartender had never had such a request. He went into the kitchen and found a glass of milk for me. Now I had a drink that looked very different from the alcoholic beverages the others were drinking. …
“Milk became my drink of choice at the cocktail hours. It soon became common knowledge I was a Mormon. The respect I received really surprised me, as did an interesting event that started to occur. Others soon joined me in a pure milk cocktail!” (“The Tradition of a Balanced, Righteous Life,” 49).
What are other examples of how we might show charity for others by avoiding actions that could cause them to stumble spiritually?
Testify of the truths students discovered today, and encourage students to seek the guidance of the Holy Ghost as they strive to live according to these truths.