It might be rather jarring for you, like jumping in a cold lake, but let’s just jump right into the text—
1 Corinthians 7:25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.
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.
1 Corinthians 7:27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.
1 Corinthians 7:28 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.
Something was going on in Corinth that caused Paul to advise people not to marry. He called it “the present distress.” We really have no idea what this distress was. There are three main guesses (see Simon J. Kistemaker and William Hendriksen, Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians, New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1953–2001), 18:238–239).
1) The distress is a sickness within the Corinthian church itself. We know that some had gotten sick and died because partaking of the Lord’s Supper wrongly (1 Corinthians 11:30). But why would Paul recommend everyone postpone getting married because of a sickness among some of the families?
2) The “present distress” has to do with the end of the world. Evidence supporting this is that in verse 29 he says that “the time is short” and and in verse 31 he says that “the fashion of this world passeth away.” However, if he has the end of the world in mind, why call it a “present distress”?
3) The third view is that the “present distress” refers to a local famine (or perhaps something similar, like a persecution of Christians). To call a temporary halt to marriages during a famine (which could last a few years) makes sense because it would be difficult to support a family and unwise to bring more mouths to feed into the world.
From time to time, we may experience a similar crisis in our lives, perhaps losing our job because of the collapse of economy or a drop in oil prices. What he says in this section would directly relate to us then.
But beyond that, the principles that Paul gives in this section can be drawn out and used to guide our lives both in good and bad times, and especially in these times when it seems that the end is nearer than it’s ever been before.
The first principle that we see is…
THIS WORLD IS PASSING AWAY
1 Corinthians 7:29 But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none;
1 Corinthians 7:30 And they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not; and they that buy, as though they possessed not;
1 Corinthians 7:31 And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.
Whether you are living in good, prosperous times or in times of a “present distress” like a famine or economic collapse, it’s important to remember that “the time is short” and “the fashion of this world passeth away.”
Everything we see, everything we have, everything we build—it’s all temporary. It doesn’t matter if it’s the Pyramids of Egypt or the church building you helped remodel. It’s all going to pass away one day, and we would be well-suited if we kept that truth in mind.
We ourselves are also temporary. The Bible says that we are like vapors.
14 Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away. (James 4:14)
Most people have probably pondered what they would do if they were given three wishes. What would be the wisest sort of wish? Money? Wisdom? More wishes? But in all seriousness—we are given one short life, have you pondered what would be the wisest use of that life?
What Paul is saying here is that we need to live our lives keeping in mind that the world is passing away and our time here is short. Our decisions that we make will be wiser if we keep that in mind. Paul gives us three areas where it would be good to keep in mind that everything here is passing away.
In verse 29, he says, “they that have wives be as though they had none.” What does he mean? Some have misunderstood this to be permission to neglect wife and family to do work for the Lord. That’s not what he’s getting at, a husband must always place a high priority on his wife and family, as Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 7:3-5.
Yet, at the same time, marriage is not an eternal thing. It will not carry over into Heaven, as much as we hate to think of that. Jesus said:
30 For in the resurrection they neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven. (Matthew 22:30)
All of our relationships in Heaven will be ones of great fulfillment and joy, not just the one we focused on in this life.
What this means is that we need to keep our marriages in perspective. While we cannot neglect our spouse, at the same time we need to keep our “affections on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:2).
We cannot place our complete security and dependence in our spouse, because they may not always be there for us. Losing them will hurt us, no doubt, but it cannot be allowed to break our faith.
In verse 30, we read, “they that weep, as though they wept not; and they that rejoice, as though they rejoiced not;” It’s easy for us to let our emotions rule our lives. We do what makes us happy. We allow sadness to dictate what our day is going to be like (“Look out, here comes Mr. Grumpy”).
Granted, there are times for weeping and times for rejoicing, but our emotions must be brought under the control of an eternal perspective. The things we rejoice over—a job promotion or a new car—and the things we weep over—a job demotion or a hail damaged car—are temporary.
We like to think that our emotions cannot be controlled, but as Christians, that is far from true. The Bible tells us in dozens of places to control our emotions by remembering an eternal perspective.
2 My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; 3 Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. (James 1:2–3)
4 Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice. 5 Let your moderation be known unto all men. The Lord is at hand. 6 Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. 7 And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:4–7)
A sign of a mature Christian is that she or he is being able to control their emotions by relying on an eternal perspective.
Paul says, “they that buy, as though they possessed not;” What does this mean? When we buy things, we shouldn’t have the mindset that they are our things, only things that God has allowed us to have as his stewards. Many Christians are far more concerned about stuff than spirituality.
Then, in verse 31, he says, “they that use this world, as not abusing it.” The word “abusing” (καταχρώμενοι, VPUP-PNM, καταχράομαι) means to overuse or misuse something. It’s fine to enjoy “this world,” but not to the degree where it distracts us from our focus on God.
We love our shopping sprees, buying our little or big toys, or remodeling our house (or, if we want to appear spiritual, remodeling our church).
But we need to keep that eternal perspective in mind. What’s going to last forever? It’s not that’s wrong to buy things, but if we’re out of balance and focused more on stuff than growing spiritually, then we have a problem. Jesus’ words would be well for us to memorize:
19 Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: 20 But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal: 21 For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Matthew 6:19–21)
A second principle that can be found in this passage is that…
BEING SINGLE CAN BE A GREAT ASSET
The Blessing Of Being Single
One thing that I wish I had known as a young Christian man is that it’s okay to be single—in fact, being single can be a great asset. I worried much about getting a girlfriend.
As a single you might worry about if you are ugly, or if you are too picky, or what you are supposed to do with your life, or if you’ll be able to live five or ten more years as a single. I wish that this passage here would have been clear to me.
1 Corinthians 7:32 But I would have you without carefulness [i.e., anxiety]. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord:
1 Corinthians 7:33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.
1 Corinthians 7:34 There is difference also between a wife and a virgin. The unmarried woman careth for the things of the Lord, that she may be holy both in body and in spirit: but she that is married careth for the things of the world, how she may please her husband.
1 Corinthians 7:35 And this I speak for your own profit; not that I may cast a snare upon you, but for that which is comely, and that ye may attend upon the Lord without distraction.
What this would have said to me as a young single man, if I had read it with any understanding, is: stop worrying about finding a mate, it is a “profit” to be able to focus your time and resources and “attend upon the Lord without distraction.”
This, would, of course, be true for a woman or an widow or widower or any unmarried person. This is not to say that a married person cannot have great devotion to the Lord, and every Christian should strive for that. It only says that single people do not have the additional responsibilities of a spouse and family.
If you are not married right now, you have a great opportunity in your life right now. Don’t be worried about becoming a spinster, or what your mother and well-meaning Aunt tell you about needing to find a “nice girl.” We often, without knowing it, treat single people badly. As one single woman said:
How often do we hear comments like: “How could a good-looking man like you not be married?” or “You’re so pretty; what’s the matter with those men in your church?” Please, don’t say such things to us, and don’t say those things behind our backs. Please try to change your own attitude toward us. If you keep thinking that singleness is not God’s best for us, your attitude will keep showing through. First you have to change the way you think about us, and that will change the things you say to us and the way you treat us. (Mary S. Whelchel, Common Mistakes Singles Make, [Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 1999])
Take some time and mediate on this chapter in Corinthians. Singleness is a gift from God, not a curse. Singleness can be a choice that someone makes to have an enhanced service to Lord.
It’s hard enough for a single person to believe that without everyone else reminding them how sad and lonely they must be! Also, don’t feel it’s necessary to be matchmaker.
Don’t Waste Your Singleness
Singles: don’t waste this time of your life. Being single today is an excuse to buy lots of toys, date lots of people, and basically live a self-centered life. Paul is calling singles in this passage to live a God-centered life.
Many Christian singles waste the unique opportunity that God has given them to have fewer responsibilities that call them away from devotion and service to the Lord. My friends, this ought not to be so.
One thing that I recommend young singles to do during this time in your lives is to find out what a godly man and a godly woman is supposed to look like. I mean that, whether you are male or female, you should study in the Bible about both. A godly man needs to know what kind of character to look for in a godly woman; a godly woman needs to know what kind of character to look for in a godly man.
Don’t make a decision to marry someone based on just feelings of love—base it on first on their character.
When Tami and I decided to get married, I called my Mom, who immediately questioned my judgment. A few weeks later, I brought Tami out to meet my parents. I forget how long we were there, a couple days, I suppose, when we went over to see a lady we called Aunt Harriet. I remember it clearly, it was on the sidewalk as we left Harriet’s house, that mom pulled my arm and whispered in my ear, “You made the right decision.” She had seen Tami’s character.
Of course, your focus should mostly be on your own character, praying and working with God to truly become more like Christ. The best thing a single can do in attracting a godly woman or man is to be the godly man or woman that the other person would be attracted to themselves.
I read an interview with a couple named Mark and Sarah. They were single until they were in their thirties, and in the interview, they talked about how they handled being single.
[Interviewer:] As you think back over these years, did anyone say something that just didn’t help?
Mark: Yes: “You’re going make somebody such a great husband someday.” Blah!
Sarah: Another thing I heard was, “Just wait, it will happen; you’ll forget this time period ever existed.” And I thought, “But that could be a big chunk of my life!”
[Interviewer:] How about any advice that really worked?
Sarah: In high school, both my mom and dad said, “Just be friends with lots of boys and lots of people. Get to know better what you’re looking for.”
Mark: Someone encouraged me to concentrate on improving myself. Focus on the Lord and growing spiritually. Find a way to serve…ask, “What’s the next step — beside marriage — that God has in mind for you that you can focus on?” We need to broaden our thinking to see how we can be more useful to him for his kingdom’s sake. You can find wonderfully fulfilling things to do if you have that mindset.
Sarah: And that’s often how you end up meeting people too.
[Interviewer:] As we wrap things up, what suggestions can you give other single Christians who want to be married for dealing with the challenges of singleness?
Sarah: Do things to grow your relationship with God. No matter what you’re doing, you should do that. Marriage is not the end-all. (http://www.boundless.org/adulthood/2009/talking-singleness)
Marriage is not the end-all, but Paul keeps in mind that…
Marriage Is Not Wrong
1 Corinthians 7:36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.
1 Corinthians 7:37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.
1 Corinthians 7:38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.
It’s not entirely clear if the “man” in verse 36 is a father and the “virgin” is his daughter or if the man is what we would call the boyfriend or fiancé of the “virgin.” Either way, the meaning of the passage is fairly clear—there’s nothing wrong with getting married if that’s what you want to do.
First, and foremost, you should marry another believer.
1 Corinthians 7:39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 7:40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.
Paul really stressed this truth to the Corinthians, marry, “only in the Lord.” Later, in the second letter to the Corinthians, he said:
14 Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? (2 Corinthians 6:14)
Your future spouse should not just someone who says, “Yeah, sure, I believe in God. I don’t normally go to church, but hey, with you, it might be kind of fun.” Walk away from such a relationship as that. That person might be a believer, but you want someone who is at least on equal ground as you in their faith.
Other than that one qualification (and that your spouse should be of the opposite gender), the Bible doesn’t say that God has a special person picked out just for you if you pray hard enough and wish upon a star.
God expects you to use good judgment. A love for the Lord and eternal matters must be foremost in your life, as it should also be in the life of whomever you choose to marry.
What is the overarching message of this chapter? It’s this: whatever your situation in life, whether you are single or married; whether you are married to a believer or married to an unbeliever—the reality is that the Christian belongs to the Lord, and to another world.
The culture is going to think that you are strange being a Christian, especially if you truly want to live for the Lord. You will be tempted to blend in, because no one likes sticking out like a sore thumb.
It became more difficult to be a Christian last week—the Supreme Court legalized same-sex marriage. It’s really not the Supreme Court’s fault—they only rubber-stamped what most Americans already believe. Culture is not friendly to Christians—not any more.
A single person will be under pressure to sleep and live together before marriage, to marry the wrong person, to focus entirely on themselves.
Married people will be tempted to believe that divorce is the way to resolve problems in their marriage, and to ignore the great glorious symbolism of Christ being the faithful bridegroom to the church.
All of us will be tempted to believe that reality is only what we see, and so we’ll be lured into thinking our marriages, emotions, or our possessions are the ultimate thing we need to focus on.
Elisabeth Elliot died a few days ago on June 15. Somewhere she once wrote, “The fact that I am a woman does not make me a different kind of Christian, but the fact that I am a Christian makes me a different kind of woman.” That’s what Christians need to be in this culture. Different kinds of men and women; people who stick out.
If you have never read the story of her long courtship with Jim Elliot, told in her book, The Shadow Of The Almighty, you really should. The short version of it is that both her and Jim did not want to marry until they were sure that their marriage would help them minister for the Lord, and not hinder their ministry for the Lord. They weren’t focused on their feelings for one another; they were focused on their service to the Lord—that’s different from most couples.
Think different. Be different. Don’t blend in; stick out. Can a person tell the difference between you and your unsaved neighbor? You both mow your lawns, pay your taxes, buy your groceries—is there anything obviously different?
That’s what we need to do, whether we are single, married, widowed, old or young. Live all out for the Lord, because truly, “the time is short.”