1 Corinthians 7 and Singleness in the Church

Volume 9
Issue 3 First Corinthians
Article 4
1 Corinthians 7 and Singleness in the Church
Beth Phillips
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1 Cor 7 and Singleness in the Church
nissue 9/1 of Leaven, “Family,” Eleanor Daniel challenged readers with the important task of
“Confronting the Myths of Singles in the Church.” In so doing, she asked if we had forgotten Paul’s
admonitions in I Cor 7, urging us to “spend some time wrestling with” our theology concerning
marriage and singleness. I was thrilled at this suggestion because I had already decided that the 2001
Pepperdine Lectureships on I Corinthians was the perfect opportunity to grapple with this extremely important theological and ethical issue. I hope to use Eleanor’s challenge as a springboard from which to develop
a constructive theology of singleness.
During the era in which the Corinthian church was developing and Paul was carrying on this correspondence with them, there were movements within Greco-Roman religion, Judaism, and Christianity alike that
viewed “sexual abstinence … as a means to personal wholeness and religious power,”! These groups had in
common a philosophical dualism that separated the physical from the spiritual, rejecting the former and
valuing the latter. As Gordon Fee has noted, this dualism could result either in the belief that how one conducts oneself in the physical realm is irrelevant (which may have been the belief of the sexually immoral
members at Corinth whom Paul reproves in chapters 5 and 6) or in the belief that one must distance oneself
from all things physical and sensual in order to be spiritually pure (which may have been the belief of the
members Paul is addressing in chapter 7).2 This dualism may have also influenced the pneumatology and
eschatology of some Corinthian Christians. Perhaps they considered themselves to be “spiritual” or “of the
Spirit” in this dualistic sense, and thus that they had already fully become everything they were meant to
be’ Additionally, Jesus had taught that “those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the
resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage” (Luke 20:35).4 Some Corinthians had
apparently found themselves worthy and considered themselves spiritually resurrected, perhaps leading them
to question the validity of sex and marriage.
We cannot be sure that the scenario described above was exactly the situation
at Corinth.> but it seems to make the most sense of the subjects that Paul
addresses and the ways in which he addresses them. Whatever the situation, we
can be sure that in chapter 7 Paul was giving his response to something about
which the Corinthians had written concerning sex and marriage, since this portion of the letter is marked by the transitional phrase: “Now concerning the matters about which you wrote” (7:la). They may have asked Paul questions about
sex and marriage to which he responded, or they may have simply told him
what they believed on the subject (which is the interpretive decision made by
Phillips: 1 Corinthians 7 and Singleness in the Church
Published by Pepperdine Digital Commons, 2001
124 LEAVEN Third Quarter 2001
the NRSV in placing the sentence in 7: 1b, “It is well for a man not to touch a woman,” in quotation marks,
signaling that Paul was quoting from their letter instead of stating his own opinion on the matter).
There are three main messages that echo throughout Paul’s admonitions to the Corinthians in this chapter: (1) It is good to be single, but that does not mean it is bad to be married. (2) The goodness of singleness
is located in the unique ways in which single Christians are suited for spiritual focus and readiness for ministry. (3) The point really is not whether one is single or married. God gives both stations in life as gifts; neither should be devalued or avoided. The point is that whatever our marital status, we must not let anxieties
of this world cloud our undivided devotion to Christ.
If our reconstruction of the Corinthians’ physical/spiritual dualism is correct, and if we assume that Paul
is addressing the consequences of that dualism, then we find that it may have had several serious implications in the life of the Corinthian Christians. Apparently, some married people decided they should no longer
have sex (verses 3-5), others decided they should dissolve their marriages (verses 10-13), some who had
been widowed decided never to remarry (verses 8-9), and some who were engaged decided they should not
marry after all (verses 36-38).6 Paul’s instructions to enjoy healthy sexual relationships within marriage and
to avoid divorce at all costs surely come as no surprise to us. But perhaps more of us are surprised that he
basically agreed that those who were engaged or widowed should not get married (verses 8, 25-26, 38). Paul
did not want this to be a legalistic requirement (verse 35), continually reiterating that marriage was an open,
viable, and blessed option (verses 9, 10, 16,24,28,36,39). Yet he also continually came back to his own
conviction that singleness was inherently good (verses 7, 26, 32, 34, 38).
Paul was placed in the awkward position of agreeing with the Corinthians’ esteem for the single life (“I
wish that all were as I myself am … it is well for them to remain unmarried as I am,” 7:7-8), while also
rejecting their reasoning and its consequences. Apparently, viewing sexuality through their dualistic, “spiritualized eschatology,”? the Corinthian Christians in question decided singleness was good because those
who were “worthy” and “spiritual” would not be defiled by sexual relations. In contrast, Paul’s reason for
affirming singleness was that unmarried men and womenf were “anxious about the affairs of the Lord, how
to please the Lord,” while a married man or woman was “anxious about the affairs of the world, how to
please his wife” or “her husband” (7:32-34). Paul was concerned with the “present necessity” (a much better
translation than “impending crisis”)? of life in the kingdom of God, a life for which he considered those who
were single to be better suited since their time and energy could be more exclusively devoted to Jesus and
his work, instead of divided between Lord, spouse,
children, and attendant responsibilities. It is clear that
Paul’s focus is not on avoiding sexual intercourse, but
rather on “freedom for mission.”10
We should not take Paul’s reference to “the
appointed time” as evidence that Paul based his ethics
on the belief that Jesus would return within a few
years-an interpretation which has led many to the
conclusion that Paul’s admonition to remain single had
only to do with his views of the impending apocalypse
and parousia (thus the translation “impending crisis”). As Fee has shown, living life in between the first and
second comings of Christ gave Paul and other early Christians a sense of a “foreshortened future.” Through
the resurrection we, like them, see how it all ends and become participants in that victory. Though the victory has not been fully consummated, we participate in every earthly foretaste of that consummation through
The point really is not
whether one is single or
married. God gives both
stations in life as gifts;
neither should be devalued
or avoided.
Leaven, Vol. 9 [2001], Iss. 3, Art. 4
Jesus and the Spirit. This “foreshortens” the in-between time. “Paul’s concern is not with the amount of time
they have left, but with the radical new perspective the ‘foreshortened future’ gives one with regard to the
present age.”!’ Paul is concerned chiefly with Christians’ ability to focus-“single-mindedly,” if you willon Christ and his kingdom. And therein lies the goodness of the single life: its unique opportunities for dedication to the Lord.
Paul agreed with the Corinthians that singleness was good, but he disagreed about the reasons why. He
also disagreed that the inherent goodness of singleness made marriage a morally inferior station in life. “I
wish that all were as I myself am,” he said. “But each has a particular gift from God, one having one kind
and another a different kind” (7:7). To Paul, his singleness was a gift from God. But he also affirmed the gift
of marriage that had been given to others. Therefore he encouraged marriage partners to enjoy sexual intimacy (verses 2-5), to seek reconciliation with one another instead of separation or divorce (verses 10-11),
and to seize the opportunity marriage offered some of them to be witnesses to their unbelieving spouses
(verses 12-16). Again and again Paul told the Corinthians, both married and single, not to despise or seek to
change their marital status. “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called” (7:20). And
not only remain, but embrace it as the life “to which God called you” (7: 17). He directed everyone, married
and single, mourning and rejoicing, poor and rich, to live “as though they were not … for the present form
of this world is passing away” (7:25-31). This is not an admonition to ignore all things physical, but ratheran admonition to “be free from anxieties” (7:32) and present “unhindered devotion to the Lord” (7:35).
For most of us, Paul is addressing a completely foreign error. Few non-Catholic Christians today value
singleness over marriage. Paul wouldn’t need to talk long to convince us that marriage is not a morally inferior state. Since the Reformation, we have been in such reaction to Catholic dogma concerning celibacy that
we have ignored 1 Cor 7 and other biblical affirmations of the blessedness of being single-not the least
of which is the example of the life of Jesus himself.
Perhaps we need an epistle written to us correcting
our view that singleness is a morally inferior state.
Although we may never explicitly say that singleness
is morally inferior to marriage, doesn’t that accurately
summarize our assumptions?
We married people tend to assume a lot about
those who are single. We assume that marriage is
God’s intention for every individual. We assume that a
single adult must be (or at least should be) looking for
a mate. We assume that young singles. live in an inbetween time when adolescence has ended but full
adulthood has not yet begun. We assume that they are
immature, but that it’s nothing a good mate wouldn’t
fix. We assume that older singles have given up what must have been a life-long hope of finding a mate, and
we pity them. Or if they once had a mate, we assume that their newly single lives must be empty and meaningless, and we pity them too. We assume singles will be awkward at our dinner parties. We assume they
want us to find them dates. We assume they aren’t right for most jobs in ministry. We assume they would
make better leaders, teachers, counselors, and better friends if they were married. 12
We married people tend to
assume a lot about those
who are single. We assume
that marriage is God’s
intention for every
individual. …We assume
they would make better
leaders, teachers,
counselors, and better
friends if they were
Phillips: 1 Corinthians 7 and Singleness in the Church
Published by Pepperdine Digital Commons, 2001
126 LEAVEN Third Quarter 2001
Paul valued singleness because he believed it was not accompanied by the same anxieties as marriage.
Our assumptions concerning singleness often create a church culture in which singles are faced with extreme
social anxiet, and, when we attribute our assumptions to God and associate our assumptions with the will of
God, we create spiritual anxiety for singles as well. Paul was careful not to “put any restraint” on the
Corinthians by making them feel that they had to stay single (verse 35). Unfortunately, we have not been so
careful. We put the opposite restraint on our brothers and sisters by making them feel that they have to get
married if they are going to be fully human, fully Christian, and fully integrated into the life of our churches.
In his book, Families at the Crossroads.t? Rodney Clapp offered an important critique of the American
concept of the “traditional family.” He asked Christians to reconsider the ways in which we’ve idealized and
idolized the nuclear family unit and assumed that one particular interpretation of family was God’s plan.
Clapp examined several ways in which the “traditional
family” model ignores or opposes biblical principles,
one of which is the value of singleness. Albert Hsu
has taken up and expanded upon that aspect of
Clapp’s critique in Singles at the Crossroads: A Fresh
Perspective on Christian Singleness. 14 Hsu’s book is
an excellent and accessible introduction to the experiences of Christian singles, what the Bible says about
singleness, and how our common views of singleness
need correction. One chapter includes a “brief history,” and is a valuable summary of biblical and historical views of singleness.
However, Hsu follows most Western church historians in focusing only on the Christian West. When we
ignore the Eastern developments of Christianity, we miss an opportunity to glean an important lesson concerning the value of singleness within the Christian cornmunity.l> Very early in the history of Christianity
(no later than the third century, perhaps as early as the second), Syriac-speaking Christians began practicing
the first form of Christian consecrated celibacy. 16
Unlike forms of Christian asceticism and monasticism that were soon to develop in the West (and later
spread into the East as well), celibacy among these Christians was neither based on philosophical dualism
which devalued sex and marriage, nor lived by individuals who isolated themselves from the rest of society.l? It was based on the desire to imitate and follow
Jesus in every aspect possible.lf These celibate
Christians were called the ihidaye, which meant “solitary” in three senses: (1) singleness, (2) single-mindedness, and (3) devotion to Christ, the Ihidaya (or
“only begotten one,” “unique one”). 19 The ihidaye
valued marriage as well as singleness.t? Their lifestyle
was not viewed in opposition to marriage, but rather
as a blessing and testimony to the entire community.
They were dedicated to prayer, fasting, and ministry.U
These vocations were not seen as separate from or
peripheral to the society at large, but as central to the communallife.22
What if we viewed singleness in our churches more like the early Syriac Christians? What if single
members were encouraged to embrace their singleness as a vocation (whether temporary or permanent) cenWhat if single members
were encouraged to
embrace their singleness as
a vocation (whether
temporary or permanent)
central to the life and
ministry of the church?
What if married members
were encouraged to look to
the single, not as immature
inferiors but as unique
imitators of Christ and
witnesses to Christ’s truth
in our midst?
Leaven, Vol. 9 [2001], Iss. 3, Art. 4
tral to the life and ministry of the church? What if married members were encouraged to look to the single,
not as immature inferiors but as unique imitators of Christ and witnesses to Christ’s truth in our midst? The
life of singleness has the potential of witnessing to us concerning simple living, devotion to prayer, availability for ministry, the ability to live whole and happy lives without sex, and whole-hearted dedication to
Christ. Instead of singleness being a transition that
should be shortened, or a late-in-life intrusion that
should be dreaded, singleness could become a cherished opportunity. “Singles ministry”-instead of feeling like the youth group after youth–could be a
meaningful component of the life of the congregation.
The valuable lives and witnesses of our single brothers and sisters could be moved out of the periphery
and honored as central to our togetherness.
I believe that the New Testament rings loudly
with the refrain, “There are no second-class citizens in the kingdom of God!” As the people of God, we must
continually recognize our need to repent of relegating brothers and sisters to second-class status based on
their ethnicity, gender, social status, or marital status.
… singleness is no longer a
burden or a stigma but a
gift-both to those who are
single and to those of us
who are privileged to be in
community with them.
At the time of Christ, the religious leaders of the day presumed that those most acceptable to
God were Jewish, male, free citizens and married. Gentiles and Samaritans were despised,
women and slaves had little value, and single people had no place in society. Jesus entered
that culture and turned those ideas on their head. He inaugurated a new society where one’s
status before God was not dependent on earthly distinctions. Jew or Greek, slave or free,
male or female-and married or single-all could now equally find their identity and fulfillment in Christ Jesus.
This is the society and the unity to which Paul called the Corinthians, and to which Jesus calls us all.
And in this society, singleness is no longer a burden or a stigma, but a gift-both to those who are single
and to those of us who are privileged to be in community with them.
Ms. Phillips is a member of the Malibu Church of Christ, Malibu, California, and is a graduate student at Fuller
Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.
1 Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1997), 114.
2 Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987), 12.
3 Ibid., 10-15.
4 NRSV used throughout.
5 I have described the situation in Corinth in such tentative terms throughout because, although this reconstruction reflects a
certain level of scholarly consensus, it is largely based on mirror reading and could be challenged by other readings or historical evidence. However, the implications I draw out of the text for our current situation are not dependent upon this
reading of the Corinthian situation.
6 Although the meaning of the word translated “virgin” is widely disputed, those who were engaged to be married are likely
also in view in verses 25-26. See Hays, 126; Fee, 323. See also James D. G. Dunn, I Corinthians (Sheffield, England:
Sheffield Academic Press, 1995), 55. The term translated “unmarried” in verse 8 may actually have the connotation of formerly married. It is used again in verse 11 to describe a divorced woman. Fee takes it in verse 8 as the masculine counterpart to the feminine “widows,” and thus renders “widowers” (Fee, 287-288).
7 As Fee has called it (Fee, 12).
8 Note how Paul consistently addresses both males and females in this section. In a time when a woman was nothing if not
a daughter or a wife to a man, Paul’s affirmation that women as well as men could have meaningful lives as singles is revolutionary.
9 1 Cor 7:26. See Hays, 129; Fee, 329.
Phillips: 1 Corinthians 7 and Singleness in the Church
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128 LEAVEN Third Quarter 2001
10 Hays, 129, 133.
II Fee, 339.
12 Perhaps this raises the question for some, “Is having single people in roles of leadership and ministry biblical?” This, of
course, is a question that cannot be given an adequate answer within the scope of the current discussion, but it raises some
further and extremely important questions. When I Tim 3 was written, was it intended to be a rulebook for all churches
everywhere for all time? When it says “the husband of one wife” (or “married only once”), does it mean that leaders must
be married males? It is perhaps more likely that the directive was aimed at the principle of marital fidelity instead of setting a hard and fast rule concerning gender and marital status. The way this rule has often been applied would disqualify
Paul himself and the women whom he so highly praised as leaders of the church (Rom 16) from these roles-not to mention Jesus’ own ministry! This is only one example of the ways in which we have narrowly interpreted passages in the
epistles as rules, while ignoring the clear ways in which those rules would negate several biblical examples. What, then, is
the “higher” view of the authority of scripture? Clinging to those rules regardless of their contradictions, or reinterpreting
those passages in ways that make sense within the greater witness of scripture?
13 Rodney Clapp, Families at the Crossroads (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1993).
14 Albert Y. Hsu, Singles at the Crossroads (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1997).
15 I am indebted and thankful to Dr. Jeff Childers for drawing my attention to this tradition while I was a student at Abilene
Christian University. The fact that I note the absence of this material in Hsu should not overshadow my recommendation.
I think his book is an excellent place for single people, married people, church leaders and church members alike to begin
in dealing with our profound need in this area.
16 Robert Murray, “The Features of the Earliest Christian Asceticism,” in Christian Spirituality. Essays in Honor of Gordon
Rupp (London: SCM, 1975),65.
17 Peter Brown, The Body and Society: Men, Women, and Sexual Renunciation in Early Christianity (New York: Columbia
University Press, 1988),329-331.
18 Murray, 66.
19 Ibid., 72-73.
20 For examples, see Brown, 329; Murray, 72.
21 For example, see Aphrahat, “Demonstration VI: Of Monks,” in A Select Library of Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the
Christian Church, vol. 13 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1956), 368.
22 Brown, 329.
23 Hsu,173.
Leaven, Vol. 9 [2001], Iss. 3, Art. 4

1 Corinthians 7 Commentary

The six questions treated in this chapter are:

(1) Should married couples continue normal sexual relations after becoming Christians? Answer: Yes, it is their duty to do this (1 Corinthians 7:1-7).

(2) Should single persons get married? Answer: Yes, in all normal situations; but for the gifted, such as Paul, celibacy was advantageous, especially in unsettled times (1 Corinthians 7:8-9).

.. (6) May a Christian widow remarry? Answer: Yes, provided that she marry “only in the Lord” (1 Corinthians 7:39-40).


Now concerning the things whereof ye wrote: It is good for a man not to touch a woman. (1 Corinthians 7:1)

The development of this paragraph a little later indicates that the question regards the conduct of Christian couples toward each other, a question no doubt related to the broader question of celibacy as a way of life,

.. “He is teaching that because of the persecution of Christians, it is better not to get married and bring children into the world to be killed and suffer persecution.[4] It should be carefully observed, however, that Paul in no sense advocated celibacy, except in certain situations and circumstances, and that even in those cases it was merely “allowable,” and not commanded. There is no disparagement of marriage here, Paul’s writings in Ephesians 5:22,23, etc., making it abundantly clear that he held the institution of marriage in the very highest esteem

.. As Marsh said, “He is not writing a treatise on marriage, but answering their questions within the context of current attitudes and circumstances.”[5] Marsh translated this place, “It is WELL for a man not to touch a woman … meaning COMMENDABLE, but not morally or intrinsically better.”[6] It is true now, even as it was in the beginning, that “It is not good for man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). As Lipscomb noted, “Paul’s teaching here regards the persecution then raging against the Christians; and, on account of these, if a man could restrain his lusts, it was better not to marry.”[7]

.. Many of the Greek philosophers, such as Menander, held marriage to be “an evil, but a necessary evil”;[8] but the Jews, on the other hand, “absolutely required that every man should marry, and reputed those as murderers who did not.”[9]

.. But I would have you to be free from cares. He that is unmarried is careful for the things of the Lord, how he may please the Lord.

This was the basis of Paul’s recommendation of the single status for those whose self-restraint made it possible, the unencumbered being able more wholeheartedly to serve the interests of true religion than those pressed down with cares and obligations.

Verse 33
But he that is married is careful for the things of the world, how he may please his wife, and is divided.

Paul did not condemn man’s efforts in the secular sphere, but was pointing out the preemption of time and efforts required in the support of a wife and family, such a division of the Christian’s energies being inherent in such a thing as marriage. All of this was said as persuasion to induce any who could to avoid marriage during that “present distress.”

.. Paul’s personal preference for celibacy on the part of persons who were capable of it, and in certain circumstances, for more complete dedication, has always appealed to some in every age; and it is not right to depreciate such behavior. Shore pointed out that England’s Queen Elizabeth I was one who made exactly the choice Paul recommended in these verses, although for a different purpose, and yet a high purpose.

Elizabeth I declared that England was her husband and all Englishmen her children, and that she desired no higher character or fairer remembrance of her to be transmitted to posterity than this inscription engraved upon her tombstone: “Here lies Elizabeth, who lived and died a maiden queen.[53]

1 Corinthians 7 Commentary

The Corinthians in their letter had probably asked questions which tended to disparage marriage, and had implied that it was better to break it off when contracted with an unbeliever.
good–that is, “expedient,” because of “the present distress”; that is, the unsettled state of the world, and the likelihood of persecutions tearing rudely asunder those bound by marriage ties. Hebrews 13:4 , in opposition to ascetic and Romish notions of superior sanctity in celibacy, declares, “Marriage is HONORABLE IN ALL.” Another reason why in some cases celibacy may be a matter of Christian expediency is stated in 1 Corinthians 7:34 1 Corinthians 7:35 , “that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.” But these are exceptional cases, and in exceptional times, such as those of Paul.

let every man have–a positive command to all who have not the gift of continency, in fact to the great majority of the world ( 1 Corinthians 7:5 ). The dignity of marriage is set forth by Paul ( Ephesians 5:25-32 ), in the fact that it signifies the mystical union between Christ and the Church.

.. 10. not I, but the Lord–(Compare 1 Corinthians 7:12 1 Corinthians 7:25 1 Corinthians 7:40 ). In ordinary cases he writes on inspired apostolic authority ( 1 Corinthians 14:37 ); but here on the direct authority of the Lord Himself ( mark 10:11 mark 10:12 ). In both cases alike the things written are inspired by the Spirit of God “but not all for all time, nor all on the primary truths of the faith” [ALFORD]

.. 25. no commandment of the Lord: yet . . . my judgment–I have no express revelation from the Lord commanding it, but I give my judgment (opinion); namely, under the ordinary inspiration which accompanied the apostles in all their canonical writings (compare 1 Corinthians 7:40 , 1 Corinthians 14:37 , 1 Thessalonians 4:15 ). The Lord inspires me in this case to give you only a recommendation, which you are free to adopt or reject–not a positive command. In the second case ( 1 Corinthians 7:101 Corinthians 7:11 ) it was a positive command; for the Lord had already made known His will ( Malachi 2:14 Malachi 2:15 , Matthew 5:31 Matthew 5:32 ).

.. the present distress–the distresses to which believers were then beginning to be subjected, making the married state less desirable than the single; and which would prevail throughout the world before the destruction of Jerusalem, according to Christ’s prophecy ( Matthew 24:8-21 ; compare Acts 11:28 ).

27. Illustrating the meaning of “so to be,” 1 Corinthians 7:26 . Neither the married (those “bound to a wife”) nor the unmarried (those “loosed from a wife”) are to “seek” a change of state (compare 1 Corinthians 7:20 1 Corinthians 7:24 ).

Blue Letter Bible Commentary: 1 Corinthians 7

In Paul’s day, Jews considered that marriage was a duty, to the extent that a man reaching 20 years of age without having been married was considered to have sinned. Unmarried men were often considered excluded from heaven, and not real men at all.

.. An unmarried man could not be a member of the Sanhedrin.

.. 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 there is no appearance of a wife for Paul in Acts). Paul probably was a good one to speak of the relative gifts and responsibilities of both marriage and singleness.

.. 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.

.. 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.”

.. 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”.

.. “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”.

.. 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).

.. 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 as to not 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 will automatically solve 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.

.. c. A wife is not to depart from her husband: The Corinthian Christians were wondering 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.

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 in the case when a believing partner is deserted by an unbelieving spouse

.. ii. Jesus said the one who divorces for invalid reasons, and marries another, commits adultery;

.. e. If she does depart: A Christian couple may in fact split up 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.

.. 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 at right now.

.. 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 is dealing with life-situations that differ from person to person, he cannot, and will not, give a command. 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 men, recommends they 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 to the 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!

.. 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 is echoing 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. Most significantly, Paul is never implying that being married or single is more spiritual than the other state; this was the big error of the Corinthian Christians.

.. 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

.. 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.

.. 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.

.. 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. Again, Paul’s reason for explaining these things is not to forbidmarriage, but to put it into an eternal perspective. He isn’t putting a leash on anyone; he is merely sharing 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 its 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 his service of God. Tragically, many modern single Christians singleness a terrible distraction!

.. c. But, 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, and the present circumstances, he regarded singleness as best.

.. b. 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 were thinking). Instead, the unmarried state can be superior because it offers a person (if they are so gifted) more opportunity to serve God.