Paul concludes his advice on marriage by addressing the engaged. As he explains his thinking, Paul gives us one of the most profound lessons we can learn in this life.
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In 1Corinthians 7:25-40, Paul concludes his answer to the question the Corinthians asked in 7:1 about the place of sexuality. The whole chapter is Paul’s response to the premise raised in 7:1 that you must be celibate to be holy and please God. He now turns to those who are engaged.
1Corinthians 7 contains many interpretative challenges, as evidenced by the differences in English translations. You can find details on that robust debate in most commentaries. Every interpretative option has its advantages and its problems — including the one I’ve landed on. My understanding depends on two main choices:
- I think the word “distress” in 7:26 and “necessity” in 7:37 should be understood in both cases as being under obligation.
- As a general rule, when an author uses the same word in the same context, we should assume he means the same thing unless he gives us clues in the context that he is changing meaning.
- I believe Paul is addressing engaged couples as the English Standard Version translates, not a father giving us daughter in marriage as the New American Standard translates.
7:25 Now concerning the betrothed, I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. -1Corinthians 7:25-28
- 7:25 “I have no command from the Lord” – Paul is signaling he does not have direct teaching from Jesus but his opinion is trustworthy.
- 7:26 “in view of the present distress“: I would translate in view of his obligations.
- His advice is remain as you. Are you bound by an engagement contract? Keep it. Do you still have a choice? Stay single.
- 7:28 clarifies that this is not a moral issue and there is no sin in marriage as the Corinthians have assumed (7:1).
- 7:28 “worldly troubles” – Life in this fallen world is full of tragedy, grief, fear and frustration. Paul would spare them the added burden of needing to worry about a spouse in the midst of the normal hardships of life.
Paul concludes this answer in 7:26/
7:36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. 39A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God. -1Corinthians 7:26-40
- 7:36 “not behaving properly toward his betrothed” – He’s not treating her fairly. She’s not free to marry anyone else, but he is not keeping his promise.
- 7:37 “being under no necessity” – This man can still make a free, honorable choice. He is not under contract.
- A woman who’s finacee died was treated as a widow. Paul is addressing that situation in 7:39-40.
7:29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away. -1Corinthians 7:29-31
- Paul steps back and looks a the bigger picture.
- Paul is not saying: You’ve only got a short time; don’t waste it being married.
- The “last days” is the last era of history; the time between the resurrection and the second coming of Christ.
- The real blessings from God are not found in this earthly life.
- While God gives us good gifts in this life, there is something better coming that is intended to be the completion and fulfillment of what God is doing now.
- This world is passing away in the sense that this is just the prologue. The real story begins in the next age.
- The really important issue in this life is not whether you are married or are single, rich/poor, or sad/happy.
- The really important issue in this life is whether or not your follow Christ.
- Paul is saying step back and look at the big picture. In the scale of things whether or not you marry is not as significant as whether or not you follow Christ.
7:32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord. – 1Corinthians 7:32-35
- Paul is not saying that is it wrong to be concerned with pleasing your spouse.
- No Christian is free to do whatever he/she wants whenever he/she wants to do it (7:23). All Christians are obligated to serve the Lord.
- Married Christians have an additional obligation to consider the needs and calling of their spouse.
- The single Christian asks “what does God want me to do?” The married Christian asks “what does God want us to do?”
- If you’re married, keep your marriage vows. That is part of your obedience and calling.
- If you’re single, use your extra freedom to serve God.
For more detail and explanation, please listen to the podcast.