Redeeming Singleness: In the Christian life, is it better to stay single or to become married? There is not a simple, black-and-white answer for everyone. While marriage can provide loving companionship in our short time on earth, it is not without the difficulties and distractions of family life. Remaining single can allow you to focus more easily on a life of undivided devotion to the Lord. Regardless of marital status, we must evaluate our priorities in light of eternity, avoiding distractions and focusing wholeheartedly on serving the Lord. Recorded on Nov 13, 2022, on 1 Corinthians 7:25-40, by Pastor David Parks.
This message is part of our sermon series, “Redeeming Regular Life,” from the Epistles of the New Testament in the Bible. The Epistles are letters from the Apostles to the early Christian churches around the Roman Empire, helping them understand and apply the gospel to life. The way of Jesus changes everything, including marriage, sexuality, singleness, parenting, work, politics, and friends. In some ways, it’s easier to accept Jesus our Savior than it is to accept him as the Lord of our lives who wants to make some changes in our lives. In Christ, regular life is a gift. The way of Jesus is not easy, but it’s the way of redemption which leads to true and lasting freedom, joy, and peace.
This year, our annual theme is, Learning the way of Jesus. And we’re working through a sermon series called Redeeming Regular Life. And we’ve said that our series is from the household codes found in the epistles/letters in the New Testament in the Bible. In the first century AD, household codes addressed the way our basic relationships ought to work, whether it be in marriage, parenting, in our work, and so on. This sort of instruction was common at that time, but the Apostles wrote from a uniquely Christian perspective. And it’s vital, as Christians, to think these things through, because the way of Jesus changes everything. And there’s so much redemption and growth and freedom and joy that can come from learning the way of Jesus in regular life. For the last few weeks, we’ve started our series with redeeming marriage (Eph 5) and sexuality (1Co 7). Today, we’ll come back to 1Co 7 in order to consider what the gospel and the way of Jesus has to do with being single. I’m not sure why, but growing up in the church, I can remember hearing teaching on being married, but I’m not sure if I ever remember hearing teaching on being single. And this is kind of weird to me. After all, it is true that despite the fact that people tend to get married later in life than a generation ago, still, according to the US Census Bureau, about 90% of adults will be married at least once in their lifetimes. So, even in an age of mass confusion and anxiety about marriage, most people get married; however, not everyone. And not everyone who gets married stays married, whether because of divorce or death. This means that 100% of us, every one of us, needs to learn how to follow the way of Jesus as a single person. Thankfully, the Bible directly addresses this question for us. So if you have a Bible/app, please open to 1Co 7:25. Since this is a longer passage, we’re going to split it up into three parts. 1. Our priorities in light of eternity 2. The calling to undivided devotion. 3. The gift of freedom in Christ. So first, our priorities in light of eternity. v. 25.
1 Corinthians 7:25-31 (NIV), “Now about virgins: I have no command from the Lord, but I give a judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is. 27 Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this. 29 What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; 30 those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; 31 those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” Ok, let’s pause here. So, the book of 1 Corinthians is an epistle/letter from the Apostle Paul to the Christians in and around the city of Corinth in the modern country of Greece. And last week, we saw that there were some specific issues that Paul was writing to correct, including in the area of sexuality. Some Corinthians were being too permissive with sexuality, while others were being too restrictive. Paul reminded them of the Christian sexual ethic of faithfulness in marriage and celibacy outside of marriage. Naturally, these views would impact their thinking on whether or not to get married and how to live if they were unmarried. He says, about virgins, he has no command from Jesus, but he offers some pastoral advice as someone who, by the Lord’s mercy, is trustworthy. This means Paul is applying various principles of God’s word to a situation that isn’t directly addressed in the Bible. What’s the situation? Should a Christian, if they are not married, get married or not? Paul writes, 1Co 7:26, “Because of the present crisis, I think that it is good for a man to remain as he is.” Now, we’re not exactly sure what the crisis is here that Paul is referring to. Some think there’s evidence that Corinth was in the middle of a famine at the time, which would naturally lead people to question whether it was a good time to get married and start a family. But we don’t have hard evidence that that was the situation. It might also refer to the sexual immorality in the church or perhaps in Corinth that Paul mentions in the previous few chapters of his letter. At any rate, he says that because of their situation, his judgment is they should remain as they are, saying in 1Co 7:27-28a, “Are you pledged to a woman? Do not seek to be released. Are you free from such a commitment? Do not look for a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned.” So here, Paul affirms the goodness of marriage. Marriage is a gift of God and can be a beautiful picture of the gospel and the relationship between Christ and the church. It’s not a sin to get married or to want to be married. But, and here is where Paul points us to evaluate our priorities in light of eternity; he goes on saying, 1Co 7:28b-31, “But those who marry will face many troubles in this life [amen?], and I want to spare you this. What I mean, brothers and sisters, is that the time is short. From now on those who have wives should live as if they do not; those who mourn, as if they did not; those who are happy, as if they were not; those who buy something, as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world, as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away.” The time is short. This world, in its present form, is passing away. This life and this age we live in will both one day come to an end. Jesus will return, and the dead will be raised, and all will stand before the Lord and give an account of our lives. Those in Christ will live forever in his kingdom, in a newly created heaven and earth. Those apart from Christ will be separated from all the life/light/love of God, going on forever. This is what hell is. So in light of that reality, in light of the fact that time is short and this world is passing away, what does that have to do with our priorities?
Friends, we should hold loosely the things of this world, whether our desires for them or our enjoyment of them. Why? Because the things of this world, including marriage, sexuality, all the ups and downs of life, our material possessions, whatever the current crisis is on the news, and more, these things are all part of a system that will one day come to an end. Even though the present world around us often seems more real than anything we believe/imagine for our future, if the gospel is true, and if one day Jesus will return, then we are only in a season. Therefore, we must have a different perspective on our present. We must have a future-informed view of our present circumstances, goals, desires, and values. Do you know what you won’t care about 1 million years from now? 99.9% of what keeps you up at night today. However, if you don’t know the gospel or believe that Jesus will return, then it makes all the sense in the world to hold tightly to the pleasures, rewards, and stuff of the present. As Paul writes later, “If the dead are not raised, “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1Co 15:32b). If all we have is the here and now, then the only thing people should pursue or worry about is what they think will make them happy. And, of course, many people in our culture today have this attitude. But for the Christian, we must evaluate our priorities in light of eternity. So should we get married or not? This question, without the proper perspective of eternity, often makes marriage way too big of a deal. Many people view finding the perfect spouse or having the perfect wedding as their only hope for finding love or fulfillment, or happiness in life. But time is short, and we should hold loosely to the things of this world. So with an eternal perspective, Paul is helping us see that marriage is still good, marriage is still important, but it’s not everything. In fact, it’s only part of this season/age of today. Is this how we think about our marital status? Are we only focusing on the here and now, or do we have an eye on our future in Christ? So should we get married or remain single? 1. Paul helps us check our priorities in light of eternity. 2. Let’s consider the calling to undivided devotion. (v.32)
1 Corinthians 7:32-35 (NIV), “32 I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. 33 But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—34 and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. 35 I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” Let’s pause here. So the word translated concern could also be translated as anxiety. And Paul reminds us of just how much care/concern/anxiety is spent on the affairs of this world in marriage. From the husband’s concern for his wife’s needs and happiness to the wife’s concern for her husband, and if they have children to their concern for their kids, and so on. Speaking personally, so much of our time at home is consumed by the basics of working to provide enough income, getting relatively healthy food on the table, running errands, keeping the house clean, going to kids’ games and concerts, and other basic tasks for all the people of our household. Now, again, Paul is not saying that marriage is wrong. But he is pointing to the truth that in all the chaos of marriage and family life, it’s very easy to become divided/distracted in our devotion to the Lord. Paul’s experience of remaining single and celibate is that he has had less to worry about and therefore had an easier time remaining undivided and highly productive in his devotion to the Lord. Jesus anticipated this challenge for the distractions of the affairs of this world in the parable of the sower in Mark chapter 4. In the parable, the sower scatters the seeds of God’s word, but the seeds fall on different types of soil. Some seeds, because of the soil, flourish and grow a great spiritual harvest, while others do not. In Mark 4:18–19, Jesus says that some people are “…like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.” One of the main killers of the Christian faith isn’t the arguments of a hardcore atheist, but simply the busyness and common distractions of life. Good things, and maybe especially good things like marriage and family, can become idols to us, capturing our hearts, ruling our lives, and replacing the one true God as the focus of our devotion. There was no less of a danger for making an idol out of family relationships in Paul’s day. In fact, it might’ve been even more tempting than it is for us today. Traditional cultures tend to look to marriage and family as the primary markers of value and identity. Who your father was or how many children or grandchildren you had meant everything to them. So it would’ve been very strange, in fact shockingly counter-cultural, for the Corinthians to hear Paul emphasize the goodness/gift of remaining single. But he presses in, saying in 1Co 7:35, “I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.” So first, our priorities in light of eternity. Second, the calling to undivided devotion. Third, and finally, the gift of freedom in Christ. Look at v. 36.
1 Corinthians 7:36-40 (NIV), “36 If anyone is worried that he might not be acting honorably toward the virgin he is engaged to, and if his passions are too strong and he feels he ought to marry, he should do as he wants. He is not sinning. They should get married. 37 But the man who has settled the matter in his own mind, who is under no compulsion but has control over his own will, and who has made up his mind not to marry the virgin—this man also does the right thing. 38 So then, he who marries the virgin does right, but he who does not marry her does better. 39 A woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to marry anyone she wishes, but he must belong to the Lord. 40 In my judgment, she is happier if she stays as she is—and I think that I too have the Spirit of God.” So time is short, and this should impact our priorities. And marriage and family life are complicated and distracting, but we are all, no matter what our marital status is, called to undivided devotion to the Lord. So, in light of this teaching, can we answer our question yet? Should I get married, or should I remain single? The answer that Paul gives us here is that there really isn’t a simple black-and-white answer for everyone. Therefore, this is an area where we have the gift of freedom in Christ. Even in the face of their present crisis, and even though Paul thinks it better (or perhaps easier) to remain unmarried, he still affirms that if a Christian desires to get married to another Christian, they should. However, the marriage covenant is only in effect as long as you both shall live. For those who were married but whose spouse passed away, again, you are free to marry or remain single as you choose. All of this means that we have freedom in Christ, whether we are married, or we are or become single. But it’s not freedom to do whatever we want. Christian freedom means we have been freed by faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for a purpose. In Christ, we are freed from the power of sin and death in order to live in such a way that brings honor to God, enjoys lasting contentment and peace, and is deeply fulfilling as we grow to know Jesus, experience the power of his Spirit, and the fellowship of the church. During Paul’s day, and I believe even in our culture today, the idea of remaining single is seen as a state of disability or disgrace, as a way of life that is sadly lacking. But nothing could be further from the truth for Paul. Paul remained single but could say that he learned to be content in any and every circumstance, was thankful and lived a life of joy regardless of his circumstances. Paul never had kids, but he considered the many people he discipled to be his spiritual children and his legacy. Paul understood the affairs of the world but didn’t allow himself to be distracted or divided in his devotion to Christ. As a result, he became one of the most influential and spiritually productive people of all time. Not too bad, I’d say. Now, one of the details of Paul’s life was the important role of Christian friendship. Even though Paul remained unmarried, he was surrounded by people who knew him, loved him, served with him, and were his friends. There is much more to say about the role of healthy friendship, so in four weeks, we will have a whole sermon on that. But today, as we close, where are your priorities at? Do you live with eternity in mind or only focus on the here and now? And what are the things that are distracting you from undivided devotion to the Lord? Maybe a prayer for you this week could come from Psalm 86:11, “Teach me your way, Lord, that I may rely on your faithfulness; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.” Ask the Lord to reveal to you if anything/anyone is dividing your heart, and listen to him. But at the end of the day, do you now see that both marriage and remaining single can be a gift? For some of us, perhaps different gifts for different times in our lives. But either way, regardless of our marital status, as we learn the way of Jesus, our lives can be rich, fulfilling, and productive as we grow in our knowledge of, our dependence upon, and our unbelievable joy in Christ!