TO BE OF SINGLE MIND
1 CORINTHIANS 7:25-40
In recent days a lot of books have been written on the subject of marriage; how to liven up your marriage, how to stay married, how to raise your children, how to be a spiritual leader in your family. These are all very good, but they often overlook another major option that believers have -- to remain single.
In New Testament times, it was considered something of an oddity for a man or a woman to remain single. Among the Jews, a man who did not marry and raise children was thought to be in violation of the commandment of God to be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth (Genesis 1:28).
Singleness is no less an issue today. The church sometimes has a tendency to look with suspicion upon a man who is not married, as though something were wrong with him for having such a lifestyle.
In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul deals with this issue that is as relevant to us as it was to those first century Christians.
SINGLENESS IS GOOD
25Now concerning virgins I have no command of the Lord, but I give an opinion as one who by the mercy of the Lord is trustworthy. 26 I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.
27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (1 Corinthians 7:25-28).
If you are single, then you need to realize that being single has its good points. It can be very good to be single. Speaking from the point of view of one who has been married for a very long time, I suppose that I should not be proclaiming this principle with such vigor. Nevertheless, it is true that being single has some definite advantages. Paul will list six in this passage. Being single is good...
Are you single and straining at the bit, wishing more than anything else to be married? Paul has some principles that you need to hear.
He begins by admitting that, as to this subject, he has no command of the Lord (7:25). Paul has already quoted the words of Jesus directed toward those who are married. But for what he has to saw now, he will not quote Jesus. Jesus did not give any commands directed specifically to single people as to whether or not they should marry. He did not tell everyone to marry and He did not tell everyone to remain single. Neither will Paul. But he will give us some principles to make us aware of the advantages of being single.
SINGLENESS IS GOOD BECAUSE OF THE PRESENT DISTRESS
I think then that this is good in view of the present distress, that it is good for a man to remain as he is.27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be released. Are you released from a wife? Do not seek a wife. (1 Corinthians 7:26-27).
What is this "present distress" to which Paul refers? Paul lived in a day when Christians were under persecution. He had been beaten and stoned and arrested for the faith. Others had been put to death and imprisoned for proclaiming the name of Jesus. In a time of distress like this, a marriage can be a marked hindrance. It is one thing to face this kind of persecution as one who is single. It is quite another thing to face such persecution when you are caring for a wife and children.
Because of the hardships of persecution, Paul advised the Corinthian believers not to rush into marriage. He called them to remain within the situation in which they found themselves.
If you are married, then there is a message for you. It is that you stay married. Paul has already shown that marriage is to be permanent. To tear apart what God has joined together is wrong.
If you are single, then there is also a message for you. Be content in staying single. Donít go rushing into a marriage. That does not mean that marriage is sinful or that you should never get married. Paul anticipates the "what if" question that such a message implies.
SINGLENESS IS GOOD BECAUSE OF THE TROUBLE OF THIS LIFE
But if you should marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin should marry, she has not sinned. Yet such will have trouble in this life, and I am trying to spare you. (1 Corinthians 7:28).
Marriage is not wrong, but it can be difficult. It is not bad, but it has its own unique set of hardships. Here is the principle. Being single is not bad. Being married is not bad. Both are used by the Lord for His people. But single people often lose sight of the difficulties of marriage. They lose sight of what Paul calls the trouble in this life.
There is a blessing here for the single believer. The single believer will never experience marital problems or the pain of a divorce or the death of a spouse.
SINGLENESS IS GOOD BECAUSE OF THE TEMPORARY NATURE OF THIS AGE
But this I say, brethren, the time has been shortened, so that from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none;30 and those who weep, as though they did not weep; and those who rejoice, as though they did not rejoice; and those who buy, as though they did not possess; 31 and those who use the world, as though they did not make full use of it; for the form of this world is passing away. (1 Corinthians 7:29-31).
We tend to have a very short view of life. We tend to be more interested in the immediate than in the future.
The story is told of a statesman who was engaged in a conversation with a young college student about his future. "What are your plans for the future?" asked the statesman.
"I plan to continue in college until I graduate with a degree in law."
"Then I shall seek employment with a legal firm and gain some practical experience."
"Then I shall open up my own law officer with several other partners."
"Then I will marry and raise a family."
"Then I will retire and live out the rest of my life in a peaceful country cottage."
"Well, I suppose that I will die."
"The young man paused for a moment and then said, "I donít know. I havenít really thought about it." To which the statesman replied, "Young man, you have not planned very well for your future."
We tend to take only the short term approach to life. As we go through our busy day, we rarely stop and ask ourselves, "What are the long term effects of the way I am spending my day? How will this day affect eternity?" That is the point Paul makes here.
Christians ought to have a longer view of life. We ought to be living with eternity in mind. We have the basis for a higher perspective. When you become aware of eternity, then this present time that you have on earth is shortened in perspective.
Behold, Thou hast made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing in Thy sight,
Surely every man at his best is a mere breath. Selah. (Psalm 39:5).
When you look at life from Godís perspective, it becomes very short. You are here today and you are gone tomorrow. When you come to realize this truth, you will look at the details of life differently. Paul points out five areas where our perspective is changed.
Each of these areas involves a different aspect of living. They are things that are done by both Christians as well as by non-Christians. Yet there is both a Christian as well as a non-Christian view to these things. Each has its own unique perspective.
The believer gets married just like the unbeliever gets married. But they each view marriage differently, even if they both believe that marriage is "till death do us part." Death is the culmination point for the unbeliever. It is for him the time when everything will stop. But for the Christian, death is the starting point. He sees death as the first step to eternity.
This means the details of life are relatively unimportant. Whether you get married or do not get married doesnít really matter in the long run. The time you spend in sorrow or in rejoicing is insignificant when compared to eternity. What you bought or sold or the things you accomplished in this life will not be nearly so important as where you spend eternity.
This world is temporal. It is passing, never to return. It is a tiny island in the vast sea of Godís eternity. The details of the world with which we are so preoccupied are relatively unimportant.
SINGLENESS IS GOOD BECAUSE OF UNDIVIDED DEVOTION
But I want you to be free from concern. One who is unmarried is concerned about the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord;33 but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how he may please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the woman who is unmarried, and the virgin, is concerned about the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and spirit; but one who is married is concerned about the things of the world, how she may please her husband. 35 And this I say for your own benefit; not to put a restraint upon you, but to promote what is seemly, and to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord. (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).
The one who is married is no longer free from responsibility. He now has a family about which to think. In everything he does, he must think ahead to how it will affect his family.
The person who is single really has only one person to think about when it comes to making decisions.
ē In which college will I enroll?
ē What kind of job will I seek?
ē What church will I attend?
ē Where will I live?
These and many other decisions are vastly compounded when you bring an entire family into the equation.
The reason Paul encourages believers to remain single is not so that they can enjoy themselves in the Corinthian single scene or so that they can date around with a lot of different people. Neither is it so that they can avoid the responsibility of marriage.
The reason Paul gives for remaining single is to secure undistracted devotion to the Lord. This is what Christianity is all about. God wants us to be in the devotion business. He wants complete devotion from His people. This isnít just once a week on Sunday. You likely give more devotion than that to your favorite television show.
God wants devotion. This should temper any decision I make. It should determine how I spend my time. It should affect my personal relationships with others. It should affect my entire life.
Being single does not guarantee complete devotion to the Lord. And being married does not automatically mean that you cannot be devoted to God. But the single believer should recognize that marriage can be a hindrance to that all-out devotion.
SINGLENESS IS GOOD BECAUSE IT DOES NOT HAVE TO BE PERMANENT
36But if any man thinks that he is acting unbecomingly toward his virgin daughter, if she should be of full age, and if it must be so, let him do what he wishes, he does not sin; let her marry.
37But he who stands firm in his heart, being under no constraint, but has authority over his own will, and has decided this in his own heart, to keep his own virgin daughter, he will do well.
38So then both he who gives his own virgin daughter in marriage does well, and he who does not give her in marriage will do better. (1 Corinthians 7:36-38).
In the ancient world, parents had a much more active role in deciding who their children would marry, especially in the case of their daughters. For this reason, Paul addresses some of his remarks to the fathers of single women.
There were those fathers who, for reasons previously stated, had dedicated their daughters to a single life and who had determined that a marriage would not be arranged for them but that they would be permitted to remain single.
Imagine the situation. You are the father of a Christian family. Your young daughter, in dedicating her life to the service of the Lord, indicates her desire to remain single so that she can give herself fully to the Lordís work. Because of this desire, you determine not to arrange a marriage on her behalf, but to allow her to remain single.
Several years come and go and then one day a young Christian man comes to your home. He has seen your daughter in church and he wishes to marry her. At the same time, you learn that she has had a change of heart and that she also wishes to marry him.
What are you to do? Should you force her to remain single? Should you allow her to marry? Paul states that either option is open to you.
Do you see the implications of this? It is that being single does not have to be permanent. You can decide to remain single and then you can decide to marry. Just because you first decided to remain single does not mean that you have closed the doors on your options. But that is not the case with marriage. Marriage is permanent. This brings us to our last point.
SINGLENESS IS GOOD BECAUSE MARRIAGE IS PERMANENT
A wife is bound as long as her husband lives; but if her husband is dead, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.40 But in my opinion she is happier if she remains as she is; and I think that I also have the Spirit of God. (1 Corinthians 7:39-40).
The last reason that Paul gives for remaining single is the permanence of marriage. Marriage is permanent. It closes the door on your options. As long as you are single, you have the choice to either remain single or to get married. But as soon as you marry, you no longer have the option to be single. It is like the sign on the old dirt road that read, "Choose your rut carefully; youíll be in it for the next 20 miles."
The disciples recognized this principle when they first heard the teaching of Jesus on the permanent character of marriage. Jesus had been speaking to the Pharisees about marriage and its permanent nature when He said:
"And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery."
The disciples saw immediately the principle that Paul states here to the Corinthians. It is that if marriage is really permanent, then entering into marriage is a very serious decision.
For this reason, I usually give a word of warning to those who are considering marriage. It is that you pause and take a cold, hard look at your decision. Write down all the reasons why you want to marry that person and then write down the reasons you should never marry him or her. If you do go ahead and marry, save the list. One of these days you might need it to remind yourself of some of the things you have forgotten.
To marry or not to marry? If it is a question that is troubling you, then I have a message for you. Wait. Enjoy being single. Work on your devotion to the Lord. At the proper time, He will guide you in the decisions you need to make.
About the Author
Return to the John Stevenson Bible Study Page
Have a Comment?