Liberty & Responsibility with Regard to Marriage & Singleness
1 Corinthians 7
1 Corinthians 7. In ch.6, Paul had addressed the dangers of fornication, and wrong relationships between men and women. But Christian holiness in no way militates against the institution of marriage. In this way Paul follows the same pattern as the Lord in His teaching in Matthew 19 and Mark 10 with regards to marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Far from setting aside the institution of marriage, the Lord affirms it, as Paul does here. Sin had come into the natural sphere of creation, but that in no way sets aside the sanctity of marriage in the sight of God. A married person is “one flesh” with their spouse, and has no power over their own body. However, the Holy Spirit has come down to indwell believers, and we are also “one Spirit” with the Lord. This means that for all believers the Lord is the highest priority, but He is the only priority for those who are unmarried, or abandoned, or widowed. There is a higher path than marriage, but not all have been given that path. In fact, it is the best possible way to serve and live for the Lord, it is a rare gift.
Christian Liberty with Regard to Marriage. Just to quickly summarize the chapter: does a single Christian have liberty to get married? Yes. But it is not the preferred path (singleness for the Lord). At the same time, the preferred path is not for everyone, because it is a special gift not given universally. In other words, devotion to the Lord regulates Christian liberty in the institution of marriage.
- Wisdom with Regard to Marriage (vv.1-5)
- Wisdom with Regard to Singleness (vv.6-9)
- Wisdom with Regard to Separation of Married Couples (vv.10-16)
- The Wisdom of Not Changing Our Station (vv.17-24)
- Wisdom for the Unmarried (vv.25-38)
- Four Reasons the Unmarried are Better Off Remaining Single (vv.26-35)
- When is Marriage the Right Path? (vv.36-38)
- Wisdom for Widows: Same Category as Virgins (vv.39-40)
Wisdom with Regard to Marriage (vv.1-5)
Lawful and Unlawful Relations between Men and Women (vv.1-2)
¶ But concerning the things of which ye have written to me: It is good for a man not to touch a woman; v.1 Paul had received communication from the house of Chloe with regard to division (ch.1 – 4). There were other issues that were commonly reported (ch. 5 – 6). But there were still others that the Corinthian assembly had written to Paul about: marriage and singleness (1 Cor. 7:1), things offered to idols (1 Cor. 8:1), spiritual gifts, especially that of tongues (1 Cor. 12:1), and the collection for the saints (1 Cor. 16:1). In the first six chapters Paul addresses the more urgent matters of their state, before he addresses the questions they had asked. When someone asks a question it is good to be aware that the question might not really be what is troubling them. Often, questions about liberty (“can I, or can’t I do something?”) are the most urgently felt when there is a deeper problem in our souls. Communion with Christ settles the urgency of these questions. This is why Paul deals with the Corinthians’ carnal state first, before getting to the questions about liberty. By saying “it is good” the Spirit of God leaves room for exercise; similar to v.8. The word “touch” here is ‘haptesthai’, which means to ‘kindle’ or ‘light’ a fire. This is not talking about a handshake or a holy kiss… it is a sensual touch. How opposite are the instructions in this verse from the norms of Western culture. The world says “it is good for a man to touch a woman”… God says “it is good not to, unless you are married (v.2)”.
2 but on account of fornications, let each have his own wife, and each woman have her own husband. v.2 The temptations for the flesh abound on every hand, and nowhere greater than in Corinth. Paul was mindful of this, and of man’s natural needs. Far from setting aside marriage, Paul affirms it as God’s original purpose for man’s blessing on the earth. Christianity opens up a higher path than marriage, but not everyone can lead a single life, nor is called to. Therefore, “on account of fornications” Christian marriage is a happy and wholesome path for men and women, that their natural needs might be fulfilled without sin. This nullifies the Catholic notion of priests and nuns not being allowed to marry, which falls under the category of asceticism. But notice, Paul affirms the Biblical definition of marriage as exclusive between one man and one woman. Just as God made one original pair (Adam and Eve) so He intended the marriage relationship to be; “let each have his own wife, and each woman have her own husband”. How these things have been twisted up today!
- Today a person’s gender is a topic for debate, and even changeable through surgery and hormonal treatments. God says “No, every person is either male or female”.
- Today homosexual marriage is not only accepted but celebrated. God says “No, marriage is between a man and a woman.”
- Today sexual relations with multiple partners is widely accepted. God says “No, sexual relations are to be between married couples only (monogamy)”.
Note: this verse is not saying marriage will remove all temptations for the flesh. Many believers enter into marriage thinking it is the final solution to the lusts of the flesh; it’s not. Marriage satisfies our natural needs, but the flesh can never be satisfied. This is important to remember.
Responsibilities of the Christian Marriage (vv.3-5)
3 Let the husband render her due to the wife, and in like manner the wife to the husband. v.3 This is the practical working out of the expression “one flesh” (Gen. 2:24; Eph. 5:31). Husbands and wives are to treat each other as God would have them. Notice that the husband’s responsibility is put first. Each spouse has special needs. Every woman is different, but often women like to talk about things, whereas most often, men like to get down to business. If conversation is what the wife needs, her husband must step up. The same is true for the wife. It is extremely common in the world to hear of sex used as a weapon by women. Often men can be totally “whipped” by a controlling and selfish wife. If this happens, it undermines the benefits of marriage outlined in v.2. Often these types of marriages spiral downward until someone leaves. But scripture presents a loving relationship, where husband and wife render happily (not grudgingly) to one another what is due.
4 The wife has not authority over her own body, but the husband: in like manner also the husband has not authority over his own body, but the wife. v.4 The expression “has not authority” means you are no longer an independent person. Nor are you in your marriage to get what you can out of it. You are in your marriage to be a help to your spouse, because your spouse is now an extension of yourself. You don’t get to decide what you do with your body; your spouse does. To “defraud” your spouse is totally illogical considering the meaning of marriage. Husband and wife are one flesh. Does the heart get to decide whether it should pump blood to the lungs? No. They are one flesh. In the same way, if a Christian is in the marriage relationship, the claims of that relationship apply.
5 Defraud not one another, unless, it may be, by consent for a time, that ye may devote yourselves to prayer, and again be together, that Satan tempt you not because of your incontinency. v.5 A married person is not to defraud their spouse. Primarily, this is in a physical way, although it would include emotional deprivation, etc. Any interruption of physical intimacy should be “by consent” (seeking agreement) and “for a time” (not too long). Sadly, this verse has been abused by some who do not apply v.4 to themselves. If we are going to deprive our spouse of physical intimacy it had better not be to indulge ourselves. There had better be a very good reason. The one given here is “that ye may devote yourselves to prayer“; which means that we might do so because we have only the Lord before us. To deprive our spouse can lead to one or both partners being tempted by Satan “because of your incontinency”. Incontinence means you are no longer ‘able to contain yourself’. The natural needs of man and women are real. Sometimes believers can be taken with a false sense of spirituality, and end up falling into immorality.
Wisdom with Regard to Singleness (vv.6-9)
6 But this I say, as consenting to, not as commanding it. v.6 What follows was the desire of the Apostle, which he had “consent” from the Lord to speak, but which he would not lay down as a commandment for all. Paul speaks of three different ways in this chapter:
- By consent (vv.6-9), not by command, a Godly desire that the single should remain single.
- By command (vv.10-13), positive moral instructions for those who are married.
- The Lord’s commands (vv.10-11), fall within the scope of the Lord’s ministry (Matt. 19)
- Paul’s commands (vv.12-16), fall outside the scope of the Lord’s ministry
- By advice (vv.25-40), not by command, Paul speaking from experience that the single should remain single.
7 Now I wish all men to be even as myself: but every one has his own gift of God: one man thus, and another thus. v.7 Paul was an unmarried man, and he wished for all believers the same liberty that he had to serve the Lord. It is possible that Paul was married at one time, the reason being that he was part of the Sanhedrin (Acts 7:58), and one of the requirements of the Sanhedrin was that a man had to be married. Scripture doesn’t say, but we know that for the duration of his life as a Christian he was a single man. It is not liberty to pursue selfish interests that Paul valued his singleness, but because it allowed him to be 100% devoted to the Lord. Paul had a very special mission to bring the gospel and the mystery to the nations. Peter was married, and he “led about a wife” (1 Cor. 9:1), but then again Peter’s sphere of ministry was not as large as Paul’s. Yet “all men” cannot be like Paul, because each one “has his own gift”; for some it is the path of marriage, for another singleness.
8 But I say to the unmarried and to the widows, It is good for them that they remain even as I. 9 But if they have not control over themselves, let them marry; for it is better to marry than to burn. vv.8-9 Paul addresses two classes; the unmarried and the widows. While they may be at different stages of life, they find themselves in the same category. The best path is the path of single devotion to the Lord, but it isn’t for everybody. The unmarried and the widows have natural needs as well, and it is “better to marry than to burn”. In summary, singleness is better than marriage, but marriage is better than sin.
Wisdom with Regard to Separation of Married Couples (vv.10-16)
Separation in Christian Marriages (vv.10-11)
10 But to the married I enjoin, not “I”, but the Lord, Let not wife be separated from husband; v.10 Paul now moves on to speak to those who are married. He affirms what the Lord taught in Matthew 19:3-9 and other places, and he shows this by saying; “not I, but the Lord” (c.p. v.12). The Lord taught that divorce is not the mind of God from the beginning. We read in Mal. 2:16 that God hates divorce. God’s mind is that the wife is not to leave her husband, and the husband not to leave his wife (v.11). This is broader than divorce, it is separation. It is not God’s mind that husband and wife live separately, although there may be circumstances were it could become necessary, such as abuse, etc.
11 (but if also she shall have been separated, let her remain unmarried, or be reconciled to her husband;) and let not husband leave wife. v.11 If separation has come in, the wife has two options: (1) remain unmarried, or (2) be reconciled. For her to remarry without just cause would be adultery (Matt. 19:9). God does not see the marriage tie as broken unless fornication or death has occurred. This is in perfect agreement with the teaching of Christ on marriage. In the following verses, Paul opens up to cover other cases not in the scope of our Lord’s teaching.
Separation in Mixed Marriages (vv.12-16)
12 But as to the rest, “I” say, not the Lord, If any brother have an unbelieving wife, and “she” consent to dwell with him, let him not leave her. 13 And a woman who has an unbelieving husband, and he consents to dwell with her, let her not leave her husband. vv.12-13 Paul now addresses those who were saved out of heathendom, where their spouse did not receive the gospel. These verses are not talking about a believer who willfully enters into an unequal yoke (2 Cor. 6:14). But in the case of a believer married to an unbeliever, if the unbeliever is willing to stay with the converted spouse, husband and wife should not be separated. You might wonder why this is such a big deal. If you recall Paul’s arguments from ch.6, he showed the complete awfulness of linking Christ to a harlot through a believer’s fornication. The question naturally arises, doesn’t a mixed marriage associate an unbeliever with the Lord? Does that bring the Lord into association with sin? No, and the reason is that there is a special provision made by the Lord for believers that did not exist in the Old Testament (v.14).
14 For the unbelieving husband is sanctified in the wife, and the unbelieving wife is sanctified in the brother; since otherwise indeed your children are unclean, but now they are holy. v.14 Here Paul explains why the believer doesn’t have to separate from their unbelieving spouse. The Lord gives a special provision, whereby the unbelieving spouse and children are sanctified in a provisional way on account of the believing spouse’s faith. This is an example of Provisional Sanctification (see also Rom. 11:16). It doesn’t mean that God no longer holds the spouse and/or children responsible to have their own individual faith, but rather it frees the believer to keep company with them. This is unique to Christianity. The people of God in the Old Testament did not have this type of sanctification available. If you read in Ezra 9 and 10 you will see that those who sinned against the Lord by marrying strange wives could turn back to the Lord, but they had to put away their strange wives, and possibly even disown the children that resulted from those marriages. This is not the case in Christianity, because of provisional sanctification. Instead of the believer becoming defiled by the unbelieving spouse, in Christianity the unbeliever is sanctified by the believing spouse!
15 But if the unbeliever go away, let them go away; a brother or a sister is not bound in such cases, but God has called us in peace. v.15 Paul does give one exception for the believer in a mixed marriage. If the unbelieving spouse abandons their partner (v.15), then “a brother or a sister is not under bondage in such cases”. There is some disagreement over what this “bondage” means. The clear reading of this verse would indicate that it refers to the bondage of marriage to an unbeliever. Some have argued that the freedom means they are free to serve the Lord, but not remarry. I tend to think that it is general; the bondage of the marriage. If the unbeliever wants nothing to do with you, don’t aggravate them. Let them go. If the unbelieving spouse wants to stay, don’t drive them away. This does not give the believer liberty to leave the unbeliever. The believer is not to seek the separation, because “God has called us unto peace”.
16 For what knowest thou, O wife, if thou shalt save thy husband? or what knowest thou, O husband, if thou shalt save thy wife? v.16 By being content to remain in a difficult marriage the believer in a mixed marriage can reflect that character of Christ to their unbelieving spouse. “What knowest thou?”… it may later work out to the salvation of the unbeliever, so don’t be so quick to bail on the marriage! In fact, we can glean a general principle from Acts 16:31 that when one member of a family gets saved, it is God’s desire that salvation extend to the whole family. In this way, by remaining in the marriage, the believer can witness to the work of God in lost souls.
The Wisdom of Not Changing Our Station (vv.17-24)
17 However, as the Lord has divided to each, as God has called each, so let him walk; and thus I ordain in all the assemblies. v.17 The Corinthians had written to Paul about the issue of the married ones who had gotten saved, but their spouse remained in unbelief. His advice was to remain in that marriage! He now expands that principle to other areas of life. The principle is this: don’t be occupied with changing your station. Focus on serving the Lord where you are in life. However, if an opportunity comes up that increases your freedom to serve the Lord, take it. Three areas are covered in this chapter:
- Our Relationship Status: The Single and the Married (vv.6-16, vv.26-27)… don’t change it, but singleness is preferred.
- Our Nationality: The Circumcised and the Uncircumcised (vv.18-20)… don’t change it, and neither is preferred!
- Our Occupation: The Bond and the Free (vv.21-24)… don’t change it (unless you cannot “abide in it with God”), but freedom is preferred.
We need to take our circumstances from the Lord, who “has divided to each”. He not only allowed us to be in this circumstance, but chose it for us! We should be very cautious about seeking to change them. Furthermore, “God has called each” of us in those circumstances, and He has a work for us to do in them. Perhaps a servant can be used to convert their boss, or an wife convert her unbelieving husband. This is a general principle that Paul taught “in all the assemblies”: your circumstances are from the Lord, be content to walk in them. Paul was careful to guard against ecclesiastical independency, where each assembly decides for themselves in these cases. The Word of God is our standard, and every local assembly ought to be in full agreement on these issues.
Our Nationality: The Circumcised and the Uncircumcised (vv.18-20)
18 Has any one been called circumcised? let him not become uncircumcised: has any one been called in uncircumcision? let him not be circumcised. v.18 Christians come from all different backgrounds. There is no point in disguising where we came from. In fact, it can actually be a help to us in reaching those from our background. Circumcision is mentioned in three ways in scripture; medical circumcision (Rom. 2:28; Gen. 17:1), national circumcision (Rom. 2:26-27; Gal. 2:8-9), and spiritual circumcision (Rom. 2:29; Phil. 3:3). This couldn’t be referring to medical circumcision, because that is an irreversible procedure. It couldn’t be spiritual circumcision, because it is viewed here (v.19) as having no spiritual value. Therefore, it refers to the national or ethnic identity of the Jews. When Gentiles get saved, they are not to Judaize. In fact, Peter got into trouble in Galatians 2 when, by his actions he “compelled the nations to Judaize” (Gal. 2:14). This can have serious negative consequences. Of course, there are certain cultural norms that the Gentile must forsake because they are sinful, as outlined in ch.6. But neither is the Jew to radically alter his cultural tastes upon receiving Christ. Of course, just as with the Gentile, there are certain things the Jew must forsake in entering Christianity; i.e. the law for salvation, the law for a holy life (Galatians, Hebrews, etc.). The Jewish convert has clear instructions to “go unto Jesus without the camp” (Heb. 13:13).
19 Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but keeping God’s commandments. 20 Let each abide in that calling in which he has been called. vv.19-20 In Christianity those cultural differences are “nothing”. The Christian is to be focused on “keeping God’s commandments”; i.e. living right in the sight of God, not in the sight of our countrymen. “Commandments” refer, not to the ten commandments, but to the principles of the Word of God. Therefore, as these national differences have no impact on practical godliness, don’t bother hiding your ethnic background, and don’t be distracted by trying to be someone you’re not! Rather, we are to “abide in the calling” in which we were called. Note: this doesn’t mean we are to have a fleshly pride in our nationality. Paul had counted his cultural heritage as “dung” that he might win Christ (Phil. 3:8). He knew that national distinctions mean nothing in the new creation (Gal. 3:28). Then, Paul was free to be flexible and adaptable to situations. He could say “unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews… to the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1 Cor. 9:20-23).
Our Occupation: The Bond and the Free (vv.21-24)
21 Hast thou been called being a bondman, let it not concern thee; but and if thou canst become free, use it rather. v.21 Another aspect of our station in life is our occupation, which in most cultures is tied to socio-economic class. Here, Paul speaks of the most difficult, oppressive station; that of a “bondman” or a slave. Don’t let it concern you! The Lord put you where you are, and He will help you to serve Him in it. Christianity did not immediately demand the freedom of all slaves. Certainly, it condemns the barbarity of many slaveholders, and it demanded fair treatment of servants by Christian masters. But Christianity did something greater than free all slaves; it allowed the Christian to rise above any circumstance. However, if the opportunity arises where you can be free, use it! There has been some debate down through Church history on the meaning of “it”. Some of the Church fathers, etc. taught that even if you could be free, you should willingly stay in bondage and use “it” for the Lord. This does not fit. This chapter is on the subject of Christian liberty… making us as free as we can be to serve the Lord. Slavery is not more favorable to the Christian walk than freedom. The freed slave is to use the new freedom to serve the Lord. But it doesn’t say to abuse it. We are not to seek freedom to please ourselves. In a modern application, to seek retirement so we can enjoy the pleasures of life is not a scriptural thought. To lay down our work and spend our life fishing or playing video games is a misuse of our freedom.
22 For the bondman that is called in the Lord is the Lord’s freedman; in like manner also the freeman being called is Christ’s bondman. 23 Ye have been bought with a price; do not be the bondmen of men. vv.22-23 Physical freedom has no ability to really free you. No matter what our station, when we get saved the claims of Christ immediately dominate our life. If we are called in slavery, we are instantly made a free servant (not a freeman, but a freedman) of Christ. Many servants have turned their masters to the Lord. Even those in Caesar’s household had gotten saved (Phil. 4:22) no doubt through the efforts of servants that had become Christ’s freedmen! Slaves were not to be occupied with trying to get out of that situation, but to serve the Lord in it. On the other hand, if we are called in freedom, we are instantly made a bondman of Christ. We are not to live for self. Whether we are a slave doing all as unto his human master, or a free man living for self, both are being “the bondmen of men”… a waste of our life. Instead we have been “bought with a price”… the precious blood of Christ! Don’t waste your life; have a single eye for Christ.
24 Let each, wherein he is called, brethren, therein abide with God. v.24 Whatever station we are in when called by God, we should remain in it. This verse ends with three helpful words; “abide with God”. Not every occupation is fitting for a Christian. If we can’t go on with God in our occupation, we must abandon it. This doesn’t mean a slave should run away because he had a hard master. But if we cannot go on doing our job in good conscience, we should leave it. For example, if a defense attorney gets saved, they may want to seek new employment, because it would be difficult to abide in that “with God”. The Christian is never called to abide in evil.
Wisdom for the Unmarried (vv.25-38)
¶ 25 But concerning virgins, I have no commandment of the Lord; but I give my opinion, as having received mercy of the Lord to be faithful. v.25 Having already addressed those in the marriage relationship, Paul addresses those who had never been in a relationship with a woman. He refers to this class as “virgins” or “celibate ones”, and the term covers men as well as women. This is seen clearly from v.27, where unmarried men are identified. Not understanding this has led to some strange conclusions about vv.36-37, that they refer to a father allowing or refusing his daughter to marry. The same word ‘parthenon’ is used both as a class of celibate ones, and as a condition of celibacy. It is not limited to one gender or the other. Paul had “no commandment from the Lord” for what he was about to say, because it is not something that can be enjoined on every unmarried believer. This is different to vv.10-16, where the commandments do apply to all who are married. Instead of a commandment, Paul gives his opinion. He speaks from experience as one who had remained celibate; “as having received mercy of the Lord to be faithful”. Paul is now speaking from his own personal experience as a model Christian, and his opinion is every bit as inspired as vv.10-16.
Four Reasons the Unmarried are Better Off Remaining Single (vv.26-35)
- Reason #1: God would not have us settle down here (v.26)
- Reason #2: Avoiding marriage will spare you much trouble (vv.27-28)
- Reason #3: Natural things have a passing character (vv.29-31)
- Reason #4: There is a benefit to having no distractions (vv.32-35)
Reason #1: God would not have us Settle Down Here (v.26)
¶ 26 I think then that this is good, on account of the present necessity, that it is good for a man to remain so as he is. v.26 The wisdom of God (Paul’s advice) is for the unmarried not to change their relationship status. Why? “On account of the present necessity”. The present necessity is an ongoing state of things which began at the cross and continues on to the rapture. The cross has made this world a wilderness to us. We live in a scene of wickedness and danger on every hand. The Christian is not to settle down here and be occupied with acclimatizing our circumstances for optimum comfort. “Is it a time to receive money, and to receive garments, and oliveyards, and vineyards, and sheep, and oxen, and menservants, and maidservants?” (2 Kings 5:26). Some have wondered if Paul was referring more specifically to the Roman persecution that was beginning. Certainly, marriage posed a much higher risk of danger to wife and children, etc. in an environment like that. This may be included in the thought of “the present necessity”.
Reason #2: Avoiding Marriage will Spare you Much Trouble (vv.27-28)
27 Art thou bound to a wife? seek not to be loosed; art thou free from a wife? do not seek a wife. v.27 Paul guards against insisting on a single life. If you are married, don’t seek to be loosed. But at the same time, if you are single, don’t seek to get married. Later Paul will discuss the occasions where a person should seek to get married (vv.36-38), but the default position is not to seek a change in either direction.
28 But if thou shouldest also marry, thou hast not sinned; and if the virgin marry, they have not sinned: but such shall have tribulation in the flesh; but I spare you. v.28 Paul takes up two different classes; first “if thou shouldest marry”, and second “if the virgin marry”. The “thou” refers to the latter part of v.27; one who has been loosed from a wife through death, divorce, or abandonment by an unbeliever. The “virgin” refers to one who was never married. Both classes, the loosed and the never-bound are free to marry without sinning. However, if the single do get married, they will have “tribulation in the flesh”. This trouble refers to the inevitable difficulty that results from two imperfect people living and walking together. It is hard enough to walk for the Lord with one will at work, let alone two. It’s not that wives aren’t a help to their husbands, or vice versa. Certainly, Eve was a “help meet” for Adam (Gen. 2:20). Certainly, “Two are better than one… for if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow” (Ecc. 4:9-10). Marriage even fits a brother for a place of assembly oversight (1 Tim. 3:2). But generally, for those who are serious about serving the Lord at full-throttle, marriage and its difficulties will slow you down. Consider even the natural tastes and aptitudes that we each have. Husband and wife are bound to disagree over some things. But if the single heed Paul’s advice, they will be “spared” those difficulties. As an older brother once said, “It is better to be single than to wish you were”. As a side note, even those who are married can be spared much trouble if they follow Paul’s instructions elsewhere on the subject of headship and God’s order in marriage (1 Cor. 11, Eph. 5, Col. 3). Trouble in marriage is inevitable… but trouble in marriage is unimaginable if we don’t understand the roles of husband and wife.
Reason #3: Natural Things have a Passing Character (vv.29-31)
29 But this I say, brethren, the time is straitened. For the rest, that they who have wives, be as not having any: 30 and they that weep, as not weeping; and they that rejoice, as not rejoicing; and they that buy, as not possessing; 31 and they that use the world, as not disposing of it as their own; for the fashion of this world passes. vv.29-31 Paul now brings out a third reason to remain single. When a person gets saved, the remainder of their lifetime takes on a different flavor. This is what he means by “the time is straitened”. The believer’s life after conversion is marked by a loosening of our grip on natural things, and a tightening of our grip on heavenly things. The believer is to be sensitive to the shortness of time. When a hard deadline is looming, we tend to ignore natural things and focus on the one thing that matters. In the same way, considering that the Lord’s coming is near, the believer is to walk with as light a step as possible. He covers five areas:
- Marriage. “They who have wives, be as not having any.” Of course, this is not suggesting that a husband abandon his wife at home to go off into the mission field. But the point is, don’t hold onto marriage so tightly that you miss out on opportunities to serve the Lord.
- Sorrow. “They that weep, as not weeping.” Life is peppered with sadness on a natural level, but the believer is not to be consumed with these things. As the hymn writer said, “We cannot linger o’er the tomb”. A far brighter day is coming, so dry your eyes, there is much work to be done! (Certainly, there is such thing as a grieving process).
- Natural Joy. “They that rejoice, as not rejoicing.” We can be so taken up with the natural joys of this life that our thoughts remain at an earthly level. Jonathan gives us a good example of one who took a little honey (natural sweetness) at the end of his rod (1 Sam. 14:27). Samson on the other hand is seen stuffing his face with both hands (Judges 14:9).
- Possessions. “They that buy, as not possessing.” We can hold onto our possessions as if our life depended on them, and in the end never “lay hold of what is really life” (1Tim. 6:19). We must remember that “a man’s life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth” (Luke 12:15). See 2 Kings 5:26.
- Investments. “They that use the world, as not disposing of it as their own.” The believer is free to use the world (i.e. get an education, a job, a house, financial assets), but not abuse it. We must hold our earthly investments loosely as pertaining to our own interests. There are many ways to use this world without abusing it, and we are to be good stewards of whatever the Lord has entrusted to us (Matt. 25:14-30).
Paul concludes by saying that “the fashion of this world passes” away. If we are consumed by holding onto natural things, we are only going to be disappointed. It is all passing away, and “only what’s done for Christ will last”.
Reason #4: There is a Benefit to Having No Distractions (vv.32-35)
32 But I wish you to be without care. The unmarried cares for the things of the Lord, how he shall please the Lord; 33 but he that has married cares for the things of the world, how he shall please his wife. 34 There is a difference between the wife and the virgin. The unmarried cares for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but she that has married cares for the things of the world, how she shall please her husband. vv.32-34 The leading thought in these verses is that of undivided responsibility. It doesn’t say that the married person doesn’t care for the Lord, but that he also cares for his wife. Those who are married have a double responsibility. Does this mean that the married cannot serve the Lord? No. God would have married couples serve Him jointly. Does it mean a married person cannot rise up to their full potential? No… unless it was never God’s intention for you to marry at all. These verses are a great encouragement for those who feel that it is the Lord’s will for them to marry (vv.36-38) but it isn’t the Lord’s time for it yet. They can be occupied in the meantime by serving Christ undistractedly! The Christian can rejoice in all seasons of life.
35 But I say this for your own profit; not that I may set a snare before you, but for what is seemly, and waiting on the Lord without distraction. v.35 Paul is careful, having laid out these four reasons, not to hold singleness up as a goal for everybody, so as to become a snare for those who haven’t been given the gift of singleness. If it is “seemly” (if you have been given the gift) the best possible path is to “wait on the Lord without distraction”.
When is Marriage the Right Path? (vv.36-38)
36 But if any one think that he behaves unseemly to his virginity, if he be beyond the flower of his age, and so it must be, let him do what he will, he does not sin: let them marry. 37 But he who stands firm in his heart, having no need, but has authority over his own will, and has judged this in his heart to keep his own virginity, he does well. vv.36-37 Who then, should get married? Simply put, anyone who cannot live a holy life for the Lord as a single person. There is some confusion about the word ‘parthenon’ in this verse. It is the same word that is earlier used for a class of celibate ones, or “virgins”, but the Apostle also uses it now for the condition of celibacy, or “viriginity”. Not understanding this has led to some strange conclusions about vv.36-37, that they refer to a father allowing or refusing his daughter to marry. That doesn’t fit with the expressions “one’s own will” and “one’s own heart”. In fact, it refers to a person’s state of virginity, not to his or her daughter that is a virgin. Paul does caution that the decision to marry not be made hastily. Only once a person is (1) “beyond the flower of his age” or old enough to know the limitations of their self-control, and (2) know that “so it must be” that they cannot remain single, then they should “do what they will” and it is “not sin”. But on the other hand, if a person is able to “stand firm in his heart, having no need”, then he “does well” to remain unmarried. This is a special gift from the Lord, to live above the claims of nature… not a gift that should be despised or wasted.
38 So that he that marries himself does well; and he that does not marry does better. v.38 The conclusion of the whole matter pertaining to the unmarried is: marriage is good, but singleness is better. It isn’t a matter of right and wrong, but of good and better!
Wisdom for Widows: Same Category as Virgins (vv.39-40)
39 A wife is bound for whatever time her husband lives; but if the husband be fallen asleep, she is free to be married to whom she will, only in the Lord. 40 But she is happier if she so remain, according to my judgment; but I think that “I” also have God’s Spirit. vv.39-40 In the closing verses of the chapter, Paul takes up the class of widows, and certainly widowers are included as well. Simply put, widows are in the same category as virgins. A married woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives (except for the case of fornication, and abandonment by an unbeliever). But death breaks the marriage bond, and she is free to remarry (see Rom. 7:2-3). The only condition is that she marry “in the Lord”. This phrase goes farther than to insist merely that the marriage be to a believer. The title “Lord” is invoked, which indicates that both husband and wife are to be submitted to the Lordship of Christ. To remarry a believer who is pulling a different direction is a great mistake. The widow or widower is not forced to remain single. Sadly, there have been times in Church history where the Church refused to allow widows the freedom to remarry. This is a blatant contradiction of these verses. But, similar to the virgin, the happiest path for a widow is to remain single that they might fully devote themselves to the service of Christ. If they make this sacrifice, they qualify as “a widow indeed”, a class of widows that is characterized by trusting in God, and continuing in supplications and prayers night and day, although they be desolate (1 Tim. 5:5). In the final part of v.40, Paul shows that his opinion on these matters was inspired by the Spirit of God, although they were not direct commandments.