God, true to His normal way of speaking to me, offers verses about marriage in today’s devotional reading. As I read the following verses, I thought how modern readers sometimes argue over what the New Testament says about marriage as these verses sound as if Paul thinks everyone should stay single. I’m sure there are times in every marriage when many would agree with that idea…
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. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But 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. (1 Corinthians 7:25–28)
Paul concludes this passage with another statement that adds to the idea that marriage is a big hindrance to serving God.
So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better. (1 Corinthians 7:38)
However, I’m cautious about lifting anything out of its context. This passage says more than those verses. What is Paul’s real reason for telling his readers that marriage brings troubles and singleness is better? These are more of his thoughts and motivations for what he has written…
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and 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. (1 Corinthians 7:32–34)
Paul is wanting all Christians to live in freedom from the cares of this world and the cares of trying to please a spouse, as opposed to being holy and pleasing the Lord. I don’t think he is saying the two are mutually exclusive, but that marriage adds an extra challenge to those whose hearts are set on putting Jesus Christ first in their lives and priorities.
Paul also says, “I 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” (1 Corinthians 7:35). He is not wanting to restrict people to singleness but cautions his readers against the reality that marriage can divide their devotions and put them in either/or situations where they must choose between the clear commands of the Lord and the present demands of married life.
Yet is this really the issue? In my own life, I have found marriage and the demands of being married an arena for godliness rather than a distraction from it. My focus is how to be a good Christian in marriage. I have different challenges than I would as a single person, but also different opportunities to develop a Christlike character. If I were a single person, I would not be concerned about all the husband/wife passages in the Bible, nor how to respond to my spouse in a way that demonstrates the relationship between Christ and His bride.
This is not to say that singleness is without challenges, but the relationship between married couples who love the Lord gives them a challenge to demonstrate obedience to God that might not otherwise be theirs. While working on this intimacy and relationship could be a distraction from service to the world “out there” it still has great value in developing that “good order” and “undivided devotion” that Paul talks about. This can make married people better equipped for any ministry.
Marriage also is an arena where Christians can learn how to be free from anxiety. We learn that, not by abandoning interest in pleasing God but learning how to please God with the added responsibility of caring for our spouse. He teaches me to please Him rather than being worldly and concerned with this life only. He also teaches me to do all that I do for my spouse with godly motivations and in the strength and grace supplied by the Holy Spirit.
Whether he was married or not, maybe Paul said singleness was better because he could see that learning to rely on God in marriage is not an easy challenge!
Father, thanks for these thoughts from Your Word. You challenge me to respond to my husband as the church should respond to Christ. You also challenge me in many other ways to live for You and what better place to learn and practice that than in my home!