1 Corinthians 7 – Principles Regarding Marriage and Singleness
A. Answer to a question about sexual relations in marriage.
1. (1-2) Paul enlarges on the principle of purity.
Now concerning the things of which you wrote to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband.
a. Concerning the things of which you wrote to me: 1 Corinthians 7 begins a section where Paul deals with specific questions asked him in a letter by the Corinthian Christians.
b. It is good for a man not to touch a woman: Here, “touch” is used in the sense of having sexual relations. This was probably a statement made by the Corinthian Christians, which they asked Paul to agree with. Paul will agree with the statement, but with reservation – the “nevertheless” of verse 2.
i. Why would the Corinthian Christians suggest complete celibacy – which is what they mean by a man not to touch a woman? They probably figured that if sexual immorality was such a danger, then one could be more pure by abstaining from sex altogether, even in marriage.
ii. “The idea that marriage was a less holy state than celibacy, naturally led to the conclusion that married persons ought to separate, and it soon came to be regarded as an evidence of eminent spirituality when such a separation was final.” (Hodge)
c. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality, let each man have his own wife, and let each woman have her own husband: In light of the danger of sexual immorality (ever present in the Corinthian culture and our own), it is appropriate for husband and wife to have each other in a sexual sense.
i. Paul is not commanding the Corinthian Christians to get married (an issue he deals with later in the chapter), but a command to live as a married person, especially in the sexual sense. Paul means that husbands and wives should continue in sexual relations.
ii. “What miserable work has been made in the peace of families by a wife or a husband pretending to be wiser than the apostle, and too holy and spiritual to keep the commandments of God!” (Clarke)
d. Nevertheless, because of sexual immorality: Paul is not saying sex is the only reason for marriage, or the most important reason for marriage. Paul is simply answering their specific questions about marriage, not trying to give a complete theology of marriage.
i. For more on a complete theology of marriage, see Ephesians 5:21-33 and Colossians 3:18-19.
2. (3-6) The principle of mutual sexual responsibility in marriage.
Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does. And likewise the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does. Do not deprive one another except with consent for a time, that you may give yourselves to fasting and prayer; and come together again so that Satan does not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. But I say this as a concession, not as a commandment.
a. Let the husband render to his wife the affection due her: Instead of a man not to touch a woman, within marriage a husband must render to his wife the affection due her. It is wrong for him to withhold affection from his wife.
i. The affection due her is an important phrase. Since Paul meant this to apply to every Christian marriage, it shows that every wife has affection due her. Paul doesn’t think only the young or pretty or submissive wives are due affection; every wife is due affection because she is a wife of a Christian man.
ii. Paul also emphasizes what the woman needs: not merely sexual relations, but the affection due her. If a husband has sexual relations with his wife, but without true affection to her, he is not giving his wife what she is due.
iii. Affection also reminds us that when a couple is unable – for physical or other reasons – to have a complete sexual relationship, they can still have an affectionate relationship, and thus fulfill God’s purpose for these commands.
b. And likewise also the wife to her husband: On the same idea, also the wife to her husband: The wife is not to withhold marital affection from her husband. Paul strongly puts forth the idea that there is a mutual sexual responsibility in marriage. The husband has obligations toward his wife, and the wife has obligations toward her husband.
i. Render to his wife: The emphasis is on giving, on “I owe you” instead of “you owe me.” In God’s heart, sex is put on a much higher level than merely the husband’s privilege and the wife’s duty.
c. The wife does not have authority over her own body: In fact, these obligations are so concrete, it could be said that the wife’s body does not even belong to herself, but to her husband. The same principle is true of the husband’s body in regard to his wife.
i. This does not justify a husband abusing or coercing his wife, sexually or otherwise. Paul’s point is that we have a binding obligation to serve our partner with physical affection.
ii. It is an awesome obligation: out of the billions of people on the earth, God has chosen one, and one alone, to meet our sexual needs. There is to be no one else.
d. Do not deprive one another: Paul rejects their idea that husband and wife could be more holy by sexual abstinence. In fact, harm can come when they deprive one another, as they open the door to the tempter (so that Satan does not tempt you).
i. The word for deprive is the same as defraud in 1 Corinthians 6:8. When we deny physical affection and sexual intimacy to our spouse, we cheat them.
ii. Do not deprive: Sexual deprivation in marriage has not only to do with frequency, but with romance also. This is why Paul tells husbands to render to his wife the affection due her. Deprivation in either sense gives occasion for the deprived to look elsewhere for fulfillment – and to destroy the marriage.
iii. For your lack of self-control: It might be easy to think that self-control is expressed by abstaining from sexual relations in marriage, but Paul says that to deprive one another is to show a lack of self-control, and a lack of self-control that will leave one easily tempted by Satan.
e. I say this as a concession: God will permit (reluctantly, as a concession) a married couple to abstain from sexual relations for a short time, for the sake of fasting and prayer. But if this concession is used, it is only to be for a time, and then husband and wife must come together again in a sexual sense.
i. Not as a commandment: God does not command or even recommend abstaining from sex within marriage, but it can be done for a brief time for a specific spiritual reason.
f. The principle in this passage is important. God makes it clear that there is nothing wrong, and everything right, about sex in marriage. Satan’s great strategy, when it comes to sex, is to do everything he can to encourage sex outside of marriage, and to discourage sex within marriage. It is an equal victory for Satan if he accomplishes either plan.
i. This can be seen in the way some of the Corinthian Christians thought it was just fine to hire the services of a prostitute (as in 1 Corinthians 6:12-20), and other Corinthian Christians thought it was more spiritual for a husband and wife to never have sexual relations.
ii. A Christian husband and wife must not accept a poor sexual relationship. The problems may not be easily overcome or quickly solved, but God wants every Christian marriage to enjoy a sexual relationship that is a genuine blessing, instead of a burden or a curse.
3. (7-9) Paul recognizes the benefits of singleness, but also of marriage; all is according to how God gifts.
For I wish that all men were even as I myself. But each one has his own gift from God, one in this manner and another in that. But I say to the unmarried and to the widows: It is good for them if they remain even as I am; but if they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
a. For I wish that all men were even as I myself: Paul, at the time of this writing, was unmarried (putting himself among the unmarried and the widows). Here he recognizes the benefit of being single, which he will speak more of later in the letter.
i. Though Paul was unmarried when he wrote this letter, he probably had been married at one time. We can say this because we know Paul was an extremely observant Jew and an example among his people (Philippians 3:4-6). In Paul’s day, Jews considered marriage a duty, to the extent that a man reaching 20 years of age without marrying was considered to be in sin. Unmarried men were often considered excluded from heaven and not real men at all.
ii. Also, by Paul’s own words, it is likely that Paul was a member of the Sanhedrin. In Acts 26:10, Paul says I cast my vote against them, speaking of the early Christians, and the logical place he would cast a vote is as a member of that great congress of the Jewish people. An unmarried man could not be a member of the Sanhedrin, so Paul was probably married at one time.
iii. So what happened to Paul’s wife? The Scriptures are silent. Perhaps she left him when he became a Christian, or perhaps she died some time before or after he became a Christian. But we know that it was likely he was married before, and we know he was not married when writing this letter, and the Book of Acts never shows Paul’s wife. Paul was probably well qualified to speak of the relative gifts and responsibilities of both marriage and singleness, because he knew both from his life experience.
b. Each one has his own gift from God: Though Paul knew singleness was good for him, he would not impose it on anyone. The important thing is what gift one has from God, either being gifted to singleness or marriage.
i. Significantly, Paul regards both marriage and singleness as gifts from God. Many find themselves in the “grass is greener” trap, with single people wishing they were married and married people wishing they were single. Each state is a gift from God.
ii. To be single or married is a special gifting from God. When Paul writes his own gift, he uses the same word for spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12. Each state, married or single, needs special gifting from God to work.
iii. Paul’s understanding that the unmarried state can be a gift is especially striking when we consider the Jewish background of Paul himself and the early church. It was regarded as a sin for a Jewish man to be unmarried. “Among the Jews marriage was not held a thing indifferent, or at their own liberty to choose or refuse, but a binding command.” (Trapp) Clarke quotes from an ancient Jewish writing known as the Gemara: “It is forbidden a man to be without a wife; because it is written, It is not good for man to be alone. And whosoever gives not himself to generation and multiplying is all one with a murderer: he is as though he diminished from the image of God.”
iv. While Paul recognizes that some are gifted for marriage, and some are gifted for the unmarried state, no one is “gifted” for sexual immorality! The married must live faithfully to their spouse, and the unmarried must live celibate.
c. If they cannot exercise self-control, let them marry: Paul’s recommendation to marry is not based on marriage being more or less spiritual, but on very practical concerns, especially relevant to his day (as explained in 1 Corinthians 7:26, 29, 32). A godly sexual relationship within the covenant of marriage is God’s plan for meeting our sexual needs.
i. Though Paul preferred the unmarried state for himself, he doesn’t want anyone to think that being married was less spiritual, or more spiritual. It is all according to an individual’s gifting. Remember that Paul told Timothy that forbidding to marry was a doctrine of demons (1 Timothy 4:1-3).
ii. Paul “was aware how powerfully a counterfeit show of purity deceives the godly.” (Calvin)
d. It is better to marry than to burn with passion: Paul recognizes marriage as a legitimate refuge from pressures of sexual immorality. One should not feel they are immature or unspiritual because they desire to get married so they will no longer burn with passion.
i. Paul is not speaking about what we might consider “normal” sexual temptation. “It is one thing to burn, another to feel heat… what Paul calls burning here, is not merely a slight sensation, but being so aflame with passion that you cannot stand up against it.” (Calvin)
ii. At the same time, if someone has a problem with lust or sexual sin, they should not think that getting married itself solves their problems. Many a Christian man has been grieved to find that his lust for other women did not magically “go away” when he got married.
B. Answers to questions about divorce.
1. (10-11) Divorce and separation for Christian couples.
Now to the married I command, yet not I but the Lord: A wife is not to depart from her husband. But even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband. And a husband is not to divorce his wife.
a. Now to the married: Remember that in this chapter Paul answers questions written to him from the Corinthian Christians. He has already dealt with the questions about the relative merits of being married or single, and if it is more spiritual to abstain from sex in a marriage relationship. Now to the… indicates he is moving to another question, and these questions and answers have to do with marriage and divorce.
b. To the married: Here, Paul addresses marriages where both partners are Christians. He will deal with other situations in following verses.
c. A wife is not to depart from her husband: The Corinthian Christians wondered if it might be more spiritual to be single, and if they should break up existing marriages for the cause of greater holiness. Paul answers their question straight from the heart of the Lord: absolutely not!
d. Even if she does depart, let her remain unmarried or be reconciled to her husband: Paul, in addressing a marriage where both partners are Christians, says that they should not – indeed, can not – break up the marriage in a misguided search for higher spirituality. In fact, if one were to depart from their spouse, they must either remain unmarried or be reconciled.
i. This connects with the two specific grounds under which God will recognize a divorce: when there is sexual immorality (Matthew 19:3-9) and when a believing partner is deserted by an unbelieving spouse (1 Corinthians 7:15). On any other grounds, God will not recognize divorce, even if the state does. If God does not recognize the divorce, then the individual is not free to remarry – they can only be reconciled to their former spouse.
ii. Jesus said the one who divorces for invalid reasons, and marries another, commits adultery; and whoever marries her who is divorced commits adultery (Matthew 19:9). When Jesus’ disciples understood how binding the marriage covenant was, and how it could not be broken (in the sight of God) for just any reason, they responded If such is the case of the man with his wife, it is better not to marry (Matthew 19:10). They understood Jesus perfectly, and so should more people today, before they enter into the covenant of marriage.
iii. Therefore, if a person says “God just doesn’t want me to be married to this person anymore” or “God brought someone better to me,” they are wrong and not speaking from God at all. God never recognizes a divorce for such reasons.
e. If she does depart: A Christian couple may in fact separate for reasons that do not justify a Biblical divorce. It may be because of a misguided sense of spirituality, it may be because of general unhappiness, or conflict, or abuse, or misery, addiction, or poverty. Paul recognizes (without at all encouraging) that one might depart in such circumstance, but they cannot consider themselves divorced, with the right to remarry, because their marriage had not split up for reasons that justify a Biblical divorce.
i. These problems may – perhaps – justify a separation (depart), but the partners are expected to honor their marriage vows even in their separation, because as far as God is concerned, they are still married – their marriage covenant has not been broken for what God considers to be Biblical reasons. They may live as separate, but not single.
f. And a husband is not to divorce his wife: Paul applies the same principle to husbands as to wives, and makes the important distinction between one who might depart (separation while still honoring the marriage covenant) and one who might divorce. Except for sexual immorality (as Jesus described in Matthew 19:3-9), two Christians never have a valid reason for divorce.
i. Just as importantly, Jesus never commands divorce in the case of sexual immorality. He carefully says it is permitted, and that the permission was given because of the hardness of your hearts (Matthew 19:8).
2. (12-16) Divorce and remarriage when a Christian is married to an unbelieving spouse.
But to the rest I, not the Lord, say: If any brother has a wife who does not believe, and she is willing to live with him, let him not divorce her. And a woman who has a husband who does not believe, if he is willing to live with her, let her not divorce him. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified by the husband; otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart; a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases. But God has called us to peace. For how do you know, O wife, whether you will save your husband? Or how do you know, O husband, whether you will save your wife?
a. But to the rest indicates Paul is shifting the focus from the group previously addressed – couples where both partners were Christians. Now he speaks to any brother who has a wife who does not believe, and the woman who has a husband who does not believe.
b. I, not the Lord, say: We should not think Paul is any less inspired by the Holy Spirit on this point. When he says not the Lord, he simply means that Jesus did not teach on this specific point, as He had in the previous situation in Matthew 19:3-9. So, if Jesus did not speak on this specific point, Jesus’ inspired apostle will!
i. This is a clue that Paul may not have been conscious of the degree of inspiration he worked under as he wrote 1 Corinthians and perhaps other letters. He simply knows that though he based his remarks in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11 on what Jesus taught in Matthew 19:3-9 (yet not I, but the Lord), he has no specific recorded command from Jesus in the case of a Christian married to an unbelieving spouse. He knew he wrote with God’s authority to the Corinthians, but he may not have known he spoke with authority to all the church in all ages, and was used to pen God’s eternal Word. But if Paul was not aware of how inspired his words were, they are no less inspired because of that.
c. Let him not divorce her: If there were some Christian couples in the Corinthian church who thought they would be more spiritual if they divorced (addressed in 1 Corinthians 7:10-11), what about Corinthian Christians married to unbelievers? “Certainly,” thought the Corinthians, “God can’t be glorified if I’m married to an unbeliever; for the sake of spirituality, I should divorce them.” To these, Paul says let him not divorce her.
i. This spiritual concern is a valid – and urgent – reason for not marrying an unbeliever (2 Corinthians 6:14), but it is not a reason for ending an existing marriage with an unbeliever.
d. For the unbelieving husband is sanctified by the wife: Why should a Christian try to keep their marriage to a non-Christian together? Because God can be glorified in such a marriage, and He may do a work through the believing spouse to draw the unbelieving spouse to Jesus Christ.
i. Sanctified, in this context, does not mean that the unbelieving spouse is saved just by being married to a Christian. It simply means that they are set apart for a special working in their lives by the Holy Spirit, by virtue of being so close to someone who is a Christian.
e. Otherwise your children would be unclean, but now they are holy: Not only does the presence of a believing spouse do good for the unbelieving spouse, it also does good for the children – and great good, because it can be said now they are holy.
i. “Until he is old enough to take responsibility upon himself, the child of a believing parent is to be regarded as Christian. The parents ‘holiness’ extends to the child.” (Morris)
ii. This is a beautiful assurance that the children of a Christian parent are saved, at least until they come to an age of personal accountability (which may differ for each child). However, we have no similar assurance for the children of parents who are not Christians. In fact, the sense of the text argues against it. How could Paul claim it as a benefit for a Christian parent to be in the home, if the same benefit automatically applies to the children of non-Christians also? As well, Paul says otherwise your children would be unclean – clearly giving the sense that apart from the presence of a Christian parent, the child is not regarded as holy, rather as unclean.
iii. If the children of non-Christian parents are saved, and do go to heaven – even some of them – it is important to understand that it is not because they are innocent. As sons and daughters of guilty Adam, we are each born guilty. If such children do go to heaven, it is not because they are deserving innocents, but because the rich mercy of God has been extended to them as well.
f. But if the unbeliever departs, let him depart: Paul has counseled that the Christian partner should do what they can to keep the marriage together. But if the unbelieving spouse refuses to be married, then the marriage can be broken; but this isn’t to be initiated or sought by the believer.
i. If the unbelieving spouse should depart, the Christian is not under bondage to the marriage covenant. This means they are, in fact, free to remarry because God has recognized their divorce as a valid divorce.
g. For how do you know: Paul ends this section with a great deal of hope, because many Christians who are married to unbelievers are discouraged. They should know that with faith and patience, they can look for God to work in their present circumstances, difficult as they might be.
i. Christians married to unbelievers should also know what Peter says in 1 Peter 3:1-6: that your unbelieving spouse will probably not be led to Jesus by your words, but by your godly and loving conduct.
ii. Tragically, much of the early church did not heed God’s word to keep marriages together, as much as possible, when married to unbelievers. One of the great heathen complaints against the early Christians was that Christianity broke up families. One of the first charges brought against Christians was “tampering with domestic relationships.” (Barclay)
C. An overarching principle: live as you are called.
1. (17) The principle: you can live for God where you are right now.
But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches.
a. As the Lord has called each one, so let him walk: No matter what your station – married, single, divorced, widowed, remarried, whatever – God can work in your life. Instead of thinking that you can or will walk for the Lord when your station changes, walk for the Lord in the place you are right now.
i. This also is a warning about trying to undo the past in regard to relationships. God tells us to repent of whatever sin is there and then to move on. If you are married to your second wife, after wrongfully divorcing your first wife, and become a Christian, don’t think you must now leave your second wife and go back to your first wife, trying to undo the past. As the Lord has called you, walk in that place right now.
b. So let him walk is also a warning to beware the danger of thinking other people have it better than you do because of their different station in life. It doesn’t matter nearly as much whether you are married, single, divorced, or remarried; what matters more is an on-fire walk with Jesus right now.
2. (18-20) An example of this principle from the practice of circumcision.
Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called.
a. Was anyone called while circumcised? Paul is saying that if you were circumcised when you became a Christian, fine. If you were not circumcised when you became a Christian, fine also. Those things do not matter. What matters is serving the Lord where we are at right now.
i. How could one become uncircumcised? “Some Jews, for fear of Antiochus, made themselves uncircumcised, 1 Maccab. 1:16. Others for shame after they were gained to the knowledge of Christ, as here. This was done by drawing up the fore-skin with a surgeon’s instrument.” (Trapp) “By frequent stretching, the circumcised skin could be again so drawn over, as to prevent the ancient sign of circumcision from appearing.” (Clarke)
b. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing: Paul’s point isn’t really about circumcision; that is just an example. Even as being circumcised or uncircumcised is irrelevant when it comes to serving God, so is your current marital state. He could just as easily say, and is saying by analogy, Married is nothing and unmarried is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters.
3. (21-24) An example of this principle from the practice of slavery.
Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.
a. Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it: A slave can please God as a slave. He should not live his life thinking, “I can’t do anything for God now, but I sure could if I was a free man.” He can, and should, serve God as he is able to now.
b. But if you can be made free, rather use it: In saying that a slave can please God, Paul does not want any slave to think God does not want him to be free. If he has the opportunity, he should take advantage of it.
c. Do not become slaves of men: This is true not only in regard to literal slavery, but spiritually also. We are never to put ourselves under the inappropriate control or influence of others.
i. “Do not follow even good men slavishly. Do not say, ‘I am of Paul; I am of Apollos; I am of Calvin; I am of Wesley.’ Did Calvin redeem you? Did Wesley die for you? Who is Calvin and who is Wesley but ministers by whom ye believed as the Lord gave unto you? Do not so surrender yourself to any leadership that you rather follow the man than his Master. I will follow anybody if he goes Christ’s way, but I will follow nobody, by the grace of God, if he does not go in that direction.” (Spurgeon)
d. Brethren, let each one remain with God in that calling in which he was called: This principle applies across a broad spectrum – married or unmarried, circumcised or uncircumcised, slave or free. We can seek God’s best and be used by Him right where we are.
i. “Marriage may be a distraction. Sorrow may become a distraction. Joy may become a distraction, or commerce, or the world. Then we are to turn our back upon all these things.” (Morgan)
e. Let each one remain with God in that calling in which he was called: Of course, this doesn’t mean that we are to continue in a sinful course or occupation once we are saved.
i. “That is, supposing that he was in an honest course of life; for we read in the Acts that the conjurers burnt their books, and unlawful courses of life must not be adhered to after men have once given up their names to Christ.” (Trapp)
D. Answering questions about marriage among Christians.
1. (25-28) Paul’s advice: marriage isn’t bad in the sight of God, and singleness has its advantages.
Now concerning virgins: I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment as one whom the Lord in His mercy has made trustworthy. I suppose therefore that this is good because of the present distress; that it is good for a man to remain as he is: Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But even if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. Nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you.
a. Concerning virgins: Paul now will deal with the unmarried, whom he refers to as virgins, even though they all might not have been technically virgins – though in Christian homes, they certainly should be.
b. I have no commandment from the Lord; yet I give judgment: Again, we are not to think Paul is any less inspired here, but because he deals with life-situations that differ from person to person, he cannot, and will not, give a commandment. Yet, he will give inspired advice and principles.
c. It is good for a man to remain as he is: Paul, in speaking to the never-married man, recommends that he remain as he is – that is, either remaining single or remaining married.
i. Why? Because of the present distress. Apparently, there was some kind of local persecution or problem in the city of Corinth, and because of this distress, Paul says there are definite advantages to remaining single. Also, because of this distress, a married man should also remain as he is.
ii. What is the advantage of remaining single? We can easily imagine how in a time of persecution or great crisis, how much more of a burden a wife or a family can be for someone committed to standing strong for the Lord. We may say, “Torture me, and I will never renounce Jesus.” But what if we were threatened with the rape of our wife or the torture of our children? These may seem far away to us, but they were not far away to Christians in the first century.
iii. What is the advantage in remaining married? At a time of great distress, your family needs you more than ever. Don’t abandon your wife and children now!
iv. “These persecutions and distresses are at the door, and life itself will soon be run out. Even then Nero was plotting those grievous persecutions with which he not only afflicted, but devastated the Church of Christ.” (Clarke)
d. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be loosed. Are you loosed from a wife? Do not seek a wife: Paul echoes the same principle laid down in 1 Corinthians 7:17-24. God can use us right where we are, and we should not be so quick to change our station in life.
i. With the terms bound and loosed, Paul uses the vocabulary of the Jewish scribes. When a Jew in those days did not know if and how God’s law applied to their situation, they would ask a scribe, and the scribe would declare them bound or loosed in regard to particular commands.
e. If you do marry, you have not sinned: Paul certainly will not forbid marriage; yet he tells those who will get married, nevertheless such will have trouble in the flesh, but I would spare you. Paul felt (especially for himself) that the greater advantages were found in being single, yet he knows that each one has his own gift from God (1 Corinthians 7:7).
i. Most significantly, Paul never implies that being married or single is more spiritual than the other state. This was the big error of the Corinthian Christians.
2. (29-31) Paul warns against putting roots down too deep in a world that is passing away.
But this I say, brethren, the time is short, so that from now on even those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use this world as not misusing it. For the form of this world is passing away.
a. The time is short: Some criticize Paul, or even declare him a false prophet, because he says the time is short. But Paul is true to the heart and teaching of Jesus, who told all Christians in all ages to be ready and anticipate His return.
i. Jesus told us all in Matthew 24:44, Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect. We are to be ready, and to regard the time as short, not only because Jesus can return at any time, but also because it cultivates a more obedient, on-fire walk with Jesus Christ.
ii. Even without considering the return of Jesus, it is worthwhile and accurate for Christians to live as if the time is short. The Psalmist expressed this attitude in Psalm 39:5: Indeed, You have made my days as handbreadths, and my age is as nothing before You; certainly every man at his best state is but vapor.
iii. The ancient Greek word for short is “sustello,” meaning “contracted and rolled up, as sails used to be by the mariners, when the ship draws nigh to the harbour.” (Trapp) “The time (saith he) is short; furled up, like sails when the mariner comes near his port.” (Poole) The harbor is near, and the sails are shortened! Get the ship ready for harbor!
b. Even those who have wives should be as though they had none: Paul is not encouraging the neglect of proper family duties, but encouraging living as if the time is short. It means that we will not live as if our earthly family was all that mattered, but also live with an eye to eternity.
c. For the form of this world is passing away: A time is short attitude will also not indulge the feelings and things of this world. Weeping, rejoicing, and having possessions must not get in the way of following hard after Jesus.
i. The form of this world is passing away: “There is nothing solid and lasting in this world system; it is its nature to pass away. It is folly for believers to act as though its values were permanent.” (Morris)
3. (32-35) The unmarried have the opportunity to serve and please God with less distraction.
But I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord; how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world; how he may please his wife. There is a difference between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman cares about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit. But she who is married cares about the things of the world; how she may please her husband. And this I say for your own profit, not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper, and that you may serve the Lord without distraction.
a. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord: Here, Paul simply recognizes that when a person doesn’t have family responsibilities, they are more “free” to serve God. This was the main reason Paul considered the unmarried state preferable for himself.
b. He who is married cares about the things of the world; how he may please his wife: Paul does not say this to condemn the married person; in fact, Paul is saying this is how it should be for the married person. There is something wrong if a married man does not care for how he may please his wife, and something is wrong if a married woman does not care about how she may please her husband.
c. Not that I may put a leash on you, but for what is proper: Again, Paul’s reason for explaining these things is not to forbid marriage, but to put it into an eternal perspective. He isn’t putting a leash on anyone; he merely shares from his own heart and experience.
i. Significantly, for Paul, the most important thing in life was not romantic love, but pleasing God. For him, he could please God better as single, but another may please God better as married, all according to our calling.
ii. Though Paul insists he does not want his teaching here to be regarded as a noose around anyone’s neck, this has happened in the church. Roman Catholics insist on celibacy for all of their clergy, even if they are not gifted to be so. Many Protestant groups will not ordain or trust the single.
d. That you may serve the Lord without distraction: For Paul, being unmarried meant fewer distractions in serving God. Tragically, to many modern single Christians, singleness is a terrible distraction! Instead, they should regard their present unmarried state (whether it is temporary or permanent) as a special opportunity to please God.
4. (36-38) Paul deals with another question from the Corinthians: should I arrange a marriage for my daughter?
But if any man thinks he is behaving improperly toward his virgin, if she is past the flower of youth, and thus it must be, let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry. Nevertheless he who stands steadfast in his heart, having no necessity, but has power over his own will, and has so determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well. So then he who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better.
a. If any man thinks he is behaving improperly towards his virgin: The man Paul refers to is the father of a young woman or man of marrying age (his virgin). The behaving improperly has nothing to do with any kind of improper moral behavior, but with denying his daughter or son the right to marry, based on the way Paul values singleness.
i. Remember that in this ancient culture, a young person’s parents had the primary responsibility for arranging their marriage. So based on what Paul has already taught, should a Christian father recommend celibacy to his child?
ii. The term virgin includes the young of both sexes.
b. Let him do what he wishes. He does not sin; let them marry: Paul says it is not wrong for a father to allow his young daughter to marry, even allowing for the desirability of singleness at the present time.
c. Determined in his heart that he will keep his virgin, does well: Because singleness does have its benefits, Paul will recommend it, not only to individuals, but also to fathers in regard to the marrying off of their daughters.
d. He who gives her in marriage does well, but he who does not give her in marriage does better: For Paul, the choice between married and single was not the choice between good and bad, but between better and best. And for Paul, in light of the present circumstances, he regarded singleness as best.
5. (39-40) A final reminder regarding the remarriage of widows.
A wife is bound by law as long as her husband lives; but if her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment; and I think I also have the Spirit of God.
a. If her husband dies, she is at liberty to be married: Of course, a widow has the right to remarry. But a Christian widow, like any Christian, is really only free to remarry another Christian (only in the Lord).
b. But she is happier if she remains as she is, according to my judgment: At the same time, Paul believes such a widow is happier if she remains as she is – that is, if she remains single. Essentially, Paul wants the widow not to remarry without carefully considering that God might be calling her to celibacy.
i. Again, Paul will affirm celibacy, but not because sex itself is evil (as some of the Corinthian Christians thought). Instead, the unmarried state can be superior because it offers a person (if they are so gifted) more opportunity to serve God.
©2018 David Guzik – No distribution beyond personal use without permission