Summary: Which is better - to be single or married?
1 Corinthians 7:32-40 Single vs. Married
11/2/03 D. Marion Clark
I’ve almost made it! I’ve waded through the swampy water of chapter 7 and the dry bank is before me. Just one more slippery step to take, one more dangerous issue. Which is better: to be single or to be married? As all married men know, I must choose my words carefully!
If we had to choose a theme for chapter seven it would be to serve the Lord in whatever condition one may be. As a follower of Christ, faithfully carry out the responsibilities that belong to your circumstance. Thus, (1-5) married couples should perform their conjugal duties. Singles (6-9) should not become fixated with getting married. The married (10-11) should not separate, even (12-16) when married to unbelievers. Indeed, instead of thinking what we could do if conditions were changed (17-24), we should be focused on living for the Lord in our present condition. In light of living in the age in which Christ may return at anytime (25-31), we need to make each day count for the Lord.
Our text continues the topic begun in verse 25. What should engaged couples do? Paul has given his counsel. He thinks, considering the present times, it is best to stay single (v. 26), if that is one’s condition. Verses 27-31 then give his reasoning based on his perspective of living in the end time. Our text continues the discussion, this time presenting practical matters to consider.
I want you to be free from anxieties. Paul, the pastor, is speaking. He cares for his people. He wants what is best for them. In this case, he is concerned about the anxieties or concerns that people face in life. He wants them to be free from anxieties. Don’t we all! With that intent he gives his counsel to singles engaged to be married.
The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 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. 35 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.
Paul gets straight to the point. Single people are free to devote their attention to pleasing the Lord. Unlike married persons, they do not have to add the needs and wishes of their spouses to the equation.
Having said this, he does permit marriage for the same reason mentioned in verse 9 – sexual temptation. 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.
Paul recognizes the reality of sexual passion and understands that one reason for marriage is to put such passions in their proper context. However, he believes that having the ability to restrain such passions and remain single is better for living for the Lord.
37 But 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. 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.
Note the important caveats for the betrothed to staying single. (We need to make the point that Paul is speaking to singles engaged to be married. They have a choice. They are not singles who are unattached. If we forget this point, this counsel is very frustrating for singles who desire marriage but have not “found” the right person.)
First, this commitment to the single life should be firmly established in his heart and has determined this in his heart. He or she should not make a rash decision because of being made to feel guilty, that he would be a lesser servant by getting marriage. He or she needs to have thought this through carefully. No one should make such a decision because others have compelled him or her to do so. The decision needs to be a free one and one that the person makes with confidence and desire.
Second, he must have his desire under control. Like Paul, he must be satisfied in his single condition and not constantly struggling to control his sexual passion or his desire for married companionship.
Again, Paul does not want anyone refraining from marriage because they feel pressured to do so. He wants no one thinking that they are making a great sacrifice. They should make their choice freely, with a clear conscience that they are serving and pleasing the Lord.