I Corinthians 7:36-38 and thus these articles proceed on the understanding that the Christian father is a godly and wise man who loves his daughter and seeks her good in all things, including courtship and marriage. He must not be a tyrant, forcing her to date someone unsuitable, nor must he be selfish, as one thinking merely of himself and his own welfare. Nor may he make unreasonable demands of his daughter: "Fathers, provoke not your children to anger, lest they be discouraged" (Col. 3:21). Thus there may well be problems in parental oversight of a daughter’s courtship, if the father is living a sinful life and is a foolish or rash man. If he has not demonstrated his love for her or won her respect as she has been growing up, he will probably find that his headstrong daughter will now sinfully disregard good supervision over her courtship and marriage. Thus he is reaping what he sowed in his disordered home and she will (ordinarily) reap what she has sown in a troubled courtship and a bad marriage.
Though we have been considering the role of the father (as does I Corinthians 7:36-38), the mother has a role here too. He is the head (Eph. 5:23), but she is a helper fit or meet for him (Gen. 2:18). Thus the husband should discuss these matters with his wife (as part of sharing their lives and leading their home). He should listen to good advice from her, for he does not know everything, else God would never have given him a helper. Moreover, his wife, as a woman, will in many ways understand their daughter better than he does.
I Corinthians 7:36-38 also proceeds on the understanding that the daughter is godly and submissive to her father. She obeys the fourth commandment: "Honour thy father and thy mother …" (Ex. 20:12). She understands her need for help in the area of courtship. "Foolishness is bound in the heart of a child" (Prov. 22:15) and some of it is still left, especially in daughters who think that they are fully "grown up" and have no need of parental advice. Psalm 25:7 refers to the "sins of ... youth," and many have had a long time to rue the sin of courting and marrying foolishly when they were younger.
When things are right in a Christian home, the daughter trusts her father, recognising him as a righteous and faithful man who cares for her and wants what is best for her. As one who has lived with him for a couple of decades or so, the daughter knows that her father is not perfect but she understands that he is not supervising her romantic life to ruin her fun or to cross her, but for her welfare. Thus she welcomes and appreciates his advice and guidance and does not feel it as an unwarranted or unwanted intrusion. Such a daughter knows that if father were to let her do everything she wants, it would show that he does not love her. In fact, father’s thoughtful supervision ought to be seen as security and a relief: "I don’t have to make such big decisions on my own!" What a way of sorting out unwanted or inappropriate suitors! Simply tell them, "Ask my father!"
Verse 36 speaks of a father who comes to see that he has been unnecessarily restraining his mature daughter from marriage. His behaviour has been "uncomely" or improper. His daughter does not have the gift of sexual continence (9) and therefore ought to marry (cf. "need so require;" 36). She wants to marry and there is someone suitable, so the father should "let them marry" (36).
Verse 37 refers to a case where the daughter has the gift of sexual continence (9), and so there is "no necessity" that she marry (37). Thus here the father exercises his authority by steadfastly decreeing in his "heart" and "will" that she remain single (37).
In both scenarios the father does "well" (38), centrally because he acts properly regarding the fundamental principle: whether or not his daughter has the gift of sexual continence (9). But in the second case, the father does "better" (38), because a godly, single woman with the gift of sexual continence avoids the distress and troubles of marriage (26-28) and has more freedom to serve the Lord (32-35). Besides, marriage—great picture of Christ and the church that it is!—is only for this world and passes away (29-31).
But what about widows? The father has authority over his virgin daughter’s romantic life, but it is not so with a widow: "The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she [i.e., the widow] is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord" (39).
Note that I Corinthians 7 tells us who has authority over courtship and marriage for a virgin (36-38) and a widow (39-40); it says nothing in this connection regarding a divorcee. Why? Because the Lord Jesus commands, "Let not the wife depart from her husband: But and if she depart, let her  remain unmarried, or  be reconciled to her husband" (10-11). Only two options are given and a divorcee’s remarriage while her spouse is living is not one of them (cf. 39).
- Volume: 10
- Issue: 23
Rev. Angust Stewart (Wife: Mary)
Ordained - 2001
Pastorates: Covenant Protestant Reformed Church of Ballymena, Northern Ireland - 2001Website: www.cprf.co.uk/
Address7 Lislunnan Road
State or ProvinceCo.Antrim
Zip CodeBT42 3NR
Telephone(01144) 28 25 891851