Concerning the Unmarried - Page 2 (series: Lessons on 1 Cor.)
by John Lowe
I say, that it is good for a man so to be.
“For a man so to be” means he should not change his condition. Most Bible scholars agree that the meaning here is that it is good for a man to remain as he is at the time of his conversion. Because of the severe persecutions the Christians were already undergoing, any drastic or hasty social changes could be detrimental rather than helpful to him as a believer.
“It is good for a man” to remain single. In Paul’s judgment, celibacy is to be preferred. Why? His answer is for the present distress. The Apostle Paul had already experienced intense persecution, and no doubt anticipated it would get worse. History records all too well that he was right.
The apostle does not add, "even as I"; as he does in 1 Corinthians 7:8—“I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I”— which seems to confirm the conjecture already made, that he was not a bachelor, but a widower; otherwise he would no doubt have reinforced this advice by his own example, as before. His advice is worded modesty, but delivered with the full force of apostolic authority. It is not the mere opinion of a private man, but the unique wisdom of the Spirit of God in an apostle, which gave it more weight. Those that were prejudiced against the apostle might have rejected this advice if it had it been given with a mere look of authority. Note, Ministers do not lose their authority by speaking humbly and with respect for others. They must become all things to all men, that they may do them good. This is good, says he, for the present distress. The early Christian Church was grievously persecuted. Their enemies were very bitter against them, and treated them very cruelly. They were continually persecuted. Since this was the state of things, he did not think it was advisable for Christians that were single to change conditions. The married state would encumber and expose the family to danger and make persecution more terrible, and render them less able to bear it.
Section 2:The prospect of tribulation. 7:27–28.
27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.
Art thou bound unto a wife?
Are you bound to a woman; either by promise, or by engagement, or by legal marriage; all of which are an obligation, a bond, a union, and especially the latter; marriage is a bond that cannot be dissolved, except by the death of one of the parties, or unless there has been a case of adultery, or one of the parties has deserted the marriage: “Nevertheless, to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband” (1 Cor 7:2; KJV). Marriage is unique in that it is a bond with mutual obligations. The husband is bound by the law of marriage to live virtuously and to love his wife, take care of her, and provide for her. The wife is bound by the same law to live in like manner with her husband, and to submit to him, and obey him.
seek not to be loosed.
Paul is careful to reassure them that he does not condemn marriage in general, but he does put certain restrictions on the married parties: Do not leave her, or seek to be divorced or even desire to be freed from all obligations to her by death. “Seek not to be loosed” means that it is your duty to continue in the married relationship, and fulfill your responsibilities to your partner. And though one may suffer persecution within the marriage, and find life to be difficult; yet, to avoid these difficulties, they must not cast off nor break through the bonds of marriage. Duty must be done, and God trusted with events. But to neglect doing your marital duties is the way to put ourselves out of divine protection.
art thou loosed from a wife?
The situation here is the man that has never been married, or else he was married at one time, but she is dead now or the marriage was dissolved by a legal divorce. And therefore, he says, “If thou art loosed from a wife (in a single state, whether bachelor or widower, virgin or widow) do not seek a wife, do not hastily change conditions.”
seek not a wife.
Be content to live without a wife; do not go around looking for one, and do not enter into marriage; because it is best to remain single provided the person has the gift of continence (self control; able to control sexual desires); otherwise a man should marry, because it is better to marry than to burn: “Don't withhold yourselves from each other unless you agree to do so for a set time to devote yourselves to prayer. Then you should get back together so that Satan doesn't use your lack of self-control to tempt you” (1 Cor 7:5; GW). Although what Paul has said can never justify the dissolution of a marriage, hopefully it will discourage some from getting married. Notice that “bound” refers to marriage and “loosed” to divorce. This verse warns the divorced not to remarry, but also states that it is not a sin to do so.
Now Paul goes on to discuss other things with them, all in the light of the present distress. He mentions five things which are necessary, which are inevitable, and which are the common experience of mankind in this world. He discusses marriage, sorrow, joy, commerce, and then, their relation to the world in general. Marriage is the first one he discusses.
28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.
But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned;
“Sure,” Paul says in effect, “It is all right to go ahead and marry, but remember that you will have trouble.” And they will. If you have an opportunity to council young people who are planning to marry, be sure to tell them that the romantic period will pass. When the first month’s rent comes due and there is not much money in the bank, believe me, romance flies out the window.
Of course it is not sinful to marry. But the sea of matrimony is rough even under the most favorable circumstances. Paul is trying to save them from the trouble that lies ahead. That reminds me of the country boy who was being married. The preacher said to him, “Wilt thou have this woman to be thy lawfully wedded wife?” The young fellow answered, “I wilt.” And I guess he did! In our day we are seeing the shipwreck of a growing number of marriages—even among Christians. The divorces in Southern California, for example, are now about equal in number to the marriages. That reveals that we also have a “present distress.” Also, I recently heard that in America, for the first time in our nation’s history, more people are living together in an unmarried state, than are currently married.
If a man that has never been married, or one that has been and is now legally divorced, wants to marry, he commits no sin, and he breaks no law of God, far from it; marriage is an honorable state. We need to understand that the advice the apostle gave before was not meant to talk anyone out of getting married; marriage is neither sinful nor criminal, but under the present circumstances, where Christians were persecuted, it is more advisable not to marry; and what he says of a man holds equally true for a woman. However, Paul has never said that being married or single is more spiritual than the other state; this was the big error of the Corinthian Christians. But he did say, “For I would that all men were even as I myself. But every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that” (1 Cor 7:7; KJV). Men that have that special gift of God are able to control their sexual urges, and for them the single life is better: for all others—“it is better to marry than burn.”
Marriage is honorable and lawful; and though there may be circumstances where it is advisable not to enter into this relationship, nevertheless there is no law which prohibits it. The same advice would be proper now, if it were a time of persecution; or if a man is poor, and cannot support a family, or if he already has a dependent mother and sisters that he must support; it would be well to follow the advice of Paul. And when a man’s heart’s desire is to go out on some foreign mission field, the cares of family life would take up his time and efforts, and for that reason, the voice of wisdom may be in accordance with that of Paul; that a man who is free from these cares may give himself with more undivided interest, and work more successfully for the salvation of man.
and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned.
There is no law forbidding “virgins” (young women) to marry, any more than there is for young men; so, if they meet the criteria mandated by the law and their religion they are free to marry—they break no law of God, and consequently they do not sin. This verse refers to virgin daughters, but men are mentioned in 1 Corinthians 7:26: “I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.”Again, while it seemed prudent, in light of the impending persecution, not to marry, it was not wrong to do so.