The Apostle Paul Gives Free Advice On Marriage
[1st Corinthians 7, verses 25-40]
This week, regarding my chronological study of the writings of the apostle Paul, we’ll be finishing up 1st Corinthians chapter seven. I will be concluding this rather lengthy portion of Scripture, beginning at verse 25. Although some of St. Paul’s writing in this section may seem a little outdated or even antiquated on the surface, upon further examination we will find that, when translated into modern English like I am about to do, this passage of Scripture is actually very applicable to modern life. I quote:
“Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. Because of the present crisis, I think it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they had none; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” (1Cor. 7: verses 25-31 NIV)
When Paul wrote, “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy”, he is saying two things in the same sentence. First, let me clarify what Paul meant by the word “virgin”. Translated from the original Hebrew (and Greek soon after), this simply means a young woman who has never been married before. It has been argued by some Christian denominations that this is literally true, and therefore it is wrong to have sex before marriage. Although I will be quick to agree that sexual immorality is something to be carefully avoided, back in Paul’s day when this Corinthian letter was first written, people by and large assumed that all unmarried young men and women were virgins, mostly because sex was considered to be a taboo subject that almost nobody talked about, let alone openly acted out on. In modern times, there are two main reasons that sex is no longer a taboo subject. The first is education (which was sorely lacking in Paul’s day) and the second is the spreading of sexually transmitted diseases, which were likely almost unheard of 2,000 years ago when these words were first written. In short, although sin can literally kill you, ignorance can do the same, and the results are equally lethal.
Paul writes in this same sentence that he has no command from Christ about this topic, but “I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy”. In other words, he is sharing an educated opinion regarding this matter. Prior to his conversion on the road to Damascus, Paul had been a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling class of the day in what is now modern Israel. So Paul was an educated and intelligent man. Paul continues his train of thought, “Because of the present crisis, I think it is good for you to remain as you are. Are you married? Do not seek a divorce. Are you unmarried? Do not look for a wife”. The “present crisis” he is referring to is almost surely the occupation of the Holy Land by the Roman Empire during those times. He is writing that since times are already tough, why make things any harder by looking for a wife or a husband? I can tell you from personal experience that seeking marriage just because you’re lonesome, or because one is burning with passion, is the wrong reason to get married. I have survived two absolutely miserable marriages earlier in my life, but God has taught me over the years that I am better off remaining single as I have been for many years. But even more important is that, since we are most definitely living in the End Times as prophesied in the Bible in both the Old and New Testaments, we should be focused on getting ready for the second coming of Christ Jesus, since this very thing could happen literally at any time. Paul summarized this timely bit of advice in the next sentence when he wrote, “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers, is that the time is short”. He then continues beginning at verse 32:
“I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs – her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned with the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord. If anyone thinks he is acting improperly toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if she is getting along in years and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. They should get married. But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin – this man also does the right thing. So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does even better. A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is – and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” (1Cor. 7: verses 32-40 NIV)
Paul makes it abundantly clear as he closes this chapter that the cares and worries of life can compromise one’s belief in, and devotion to, Christ. Seeking a mate, no matter how well intentioned, diverts us from what is most important in life. Our salvation in Christ through His crucifixion and resurrection should be the first and foremost thing in our lives, and it should remain above and beyond all other things. Without the saving power of Jesus, all the accomplishments one can achieve in life wind up being meaningless and hollow in the end.
As Jesus said, “What good is it for a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?” So in the end this becomes all about priorities and about realizing what is most important. Whether one is married or single is actually a side issue, and it is very applicable to early 21st century living. It’s difficult and time consuming to be cruising for a mate and trying to be devoted to the Lord all at the same time. Besides, we are anticipating the second coming of Christ in our lifetimes, and at the rate things are deteriorating due to raging wars abroad and economic depression at home, His return could happen at any time. How then should we be living? As for me, I no longer worry about getting remarried. It would be a good thing for me to find another wife, I am certain of that. But that does not really matter to me because I am already a member of Christ’s church which the Bible calls “the bride of Christ” in the book of Revelation. So since I am technically married to Jesus, I no longer have a need for a mate. My membership within the bride of Christ makes me so. If Jesus can do this for me, He can do it for you too. So I would advise those who are reading this to stop surfing the dating websites and cruising the chat-rooms because they are by and large a waste of your time. Devote yourself to Jesus first and foremost, and all these other things will fall into place on their own according to God’s will for your life. Just keep remembering that His will is always in your best interest. If you find a mate within the greater church, regardless of denomination, that is a good thing. But to remain as you are and devote yourself to Him is even better.