1 Cor 7
5 Reasons why being Single is Good
If you've ever tried studying out God's will for your love life, 1
Cor 7 probably came up in your search. All 40 verses talk exclusively
about relationships but a whole third is addressed to singles. In fact,
this is the first time in Scripture where extensive counsel is given to singles so
it was like "new light" to the people in Corinth. There are some
confusing verses in between profound counsel, so let's break it down and
make sense out of it all.
Interestingly, while most of us tend to start with the question “Who should I marry” or “When should I get married,” Paul starts by addressing the question “Should I get married”? Although being married is the norm for most people, God also designed some people to remain unmarried. Being single also fits into God’s will and God’s purpose.
1 Cor 7 gives 5 reasons why singleness is a good gift with powerful potential.
Singleness is a good gift
The Corinthian church had written to Paul earlier about their church's problem with fornication (see 1 Cor 5, verse 1). According to the Talmud, there were rigid Jewish rules that all men must marry. But some Christians had come to believe that marriage was a sinful state which ought to be avoided. Because of the lack of moral restraint so prevalent everywhere, in their zeal they wanted to abstain from everything. So, in Paul's initial response to their questions, he validates their desire to remain single by saying "It is good for a man not to touch a woman." In other translations, "It is good for a man not to marry."
Right off the bat in 1 Cor 7 Paul says, it's okay to be single! In fact, it's more than okay. It's good! For any of you who are wondering why God has not "blessed" you with a compatible partner, feeling that somehow God does not deem you "worthy" or "ready" yet to bestow such a privilege, think again. If you’ve bought into the belief that your lack of being romantically attached to anyone makes you less of a human being, consider the counsel of Paul.
In 1 Cor7:7 Paul addresses the unmarried and widows and says, "I wish everyone could get along without marrying, just as I do. But we are not all the same. God gives some the gift of a husband or wife, and others he gives the gift of being able to stay happily unmarried." (The Living Bible)
Paul himself was probably a widow because he was part of the Sanhedrin and it was a rule that you had to be married. And, since he is speaking to the "unmarried" and "widows" and not "virgins" in these verses, he is identifying with them and saying that he wishes they could go on remaining single like him. He has experienced being married and single and realizes what a gift they both are.
Singleness is no better or worse than marriage
Write that statement down and rehearse it to yourself whenever
- You could find someone if you just…
- You’re too picky,
- You need to “get out there,”
- You should “try harder”
- You need to “settle down already!”
- Everything happens for a reason
- You just haven’t met the right person yet (duh!)
- Why aren’t you in a relationship? (The person who is asking is really trying to flatter you with the suggestion that someone as gorgeous and wonderful and funny, etc., etc., as you should be in a relationship.)
- Someone equates relationships with happiness
- You see people change their relationship status on Facebook
- Someone tries to set you up on a blind date
- You attend an event where everyone seems to be paired up
Being married and being single are both gifts of God. And God only gives “good and perfect” gifts (James 1:17)
Notice Paul doesn't say
- "Singleness is awful and therefore here are 10 steps for finding a mate."
- Singleness is unfortunate so here are 7 ways to get yourself a life while waiting for Mr. or Mrs. Right to come along".
Nor does he say
- "Singleness is so awesome and fulfilling that you don't need to be married (why would you want to be anyway?!)"
No, Paul says it's a gift, whether it’s for a season or a lifetime. John MacArthur says in his sermon on 1 Cor 7:25-40 called “The Blessings of Being Single,”
“Some of you have the gift of singleness and these are most suitable to you. Some of you are in the condition of singleness though you are positive you don't have the gift. You are not married and you don't like it. You are divorced and you don't like it. You are widowed and you don't like it. You really need a partner. Nonetheless, in the current state that you are in you must understand the benefits that come to you if only for the short term. I believe that if you are single and you don't have the gift and your life is as it should be before God, that God will fulfill your desire. Until then, and you don't want to rush into anything, until then you can enjoy the benefits of being single. For those of you whom God has blessed with the gift of singleness, these are the very principles which makes your singleness so wonderful.”
(For further reading, there is a book called "They Were Single Too" by David Hoffeditz. In it he shares 8 Biblical examples of people who were single or who had spent a great deal of their lives single. With the spate of books out there pushing marriage over singleness and just about equating singleness with sin, this one restores a true, Biblical balance.)
For those who have what seem to be an uncontrollably strong sex drive Paul recommends marriage since fornication was a problem in the church (as it still is today). 1 Cor 7:2 says, "to avoid fornication, let every man have his own wife, and let every woman have her own husband." In verse 1 Cor 7:9 he says, "If they cannot contain, let them marry: for it is better to marry than to burn." For more about how marriage is not the sole remedy for lust, see "The Marriage Bed: 5 Things Singles Should Anticipate" Marriage does not satisfy unrighteous longings.
Unlike some church's who believe celibacy is equated with greater holiness or some cultures who mandate arranged marriages, Paul clarifies in 1 Cor 7:6 that the decision to marry or remain celibate is a matter for the individual to decide. "I speak this by permission and not of commandment" (KJV) or in other words, "I'm not saying you must marry, but you certainly may if you wish." It is not for the church, your family or friends to decide for you. There are so many out there trying to play matchmaker, wondering "what's wrong with you" if you haven't "found someone" yet. But it's not their business. It's between you and the Lord.
In 1 Cor 7:10-24 Paul addresses the sticky questions that come up when married life isn't all it was hoped or expected to be. Then in 1 Cor 7:25 he picks up again with his counsel to singles, giving 5 reasons why you can be thankful for being single. *
5 Reasons1 Cor 7 lists for why singleness is good
- The pressure of the system (Difficulty of life)
"I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be."(1 Cor 7:25)
The "present distress" refers to the persecution that was getting worse towards Christians. Being a martyr was hard enough for a single person, but if you were married, the pain of seeing your spouse tortured and killed was multiplied. Barnes Commentary says this epistle was most likely written in 59 A.D. during the time of Nero, one of the most barbaric emperors of Rome. Foxes Book of Martyrs, chapter 2 describes how he had Christians sewed up in skins of wild beasts and then harassed and torn apart by dogs until they died. Others he dressed in shirts made stiff with wax, then tied them to trees and set them on fire in his gardens in order to illuminate them. The persecution of Christians lasted for over 200 years. So Paul is saying that under the circumstances, if you're already single, it's better if you remain single. And for those who were prone to go to extremes and say, “I want to give God my all, so I’ll divorce my wife so I’m not encumbered” Paul says, “if you're married, don't seek a divorce.”
Paul spoke from experience when he recommended staying single because of potential persecution. He had been beaten, whipped, robbed, stoned and left for dead. Every day he woke up to the reality that it could be his last. In light of all this, being single was a more responsible path to take. If he had a wife and children, both he and they would live in constant fear and dread, experience more suffering, sorrow and loss.
But you’re not in the same boat as him, so this doesn’t apply to you, right? It may not apply to you currently if you live in the United States, but there are still many countries where this advice is still very practical and relevant. Christians are still being executed for the gospel daily. And even if you feel like your world is safe, hostilities are escalating. In the book of Revelation and in Matthew 24 and 25 we are told that persecution, famine, wars, disease, and earthquakes will get more frequent and intense. Our society is becoming more immoral and ungodly just as 1 Timothy says it would. The world is rough and if you are single you can consider it a blessing to be preserved from some of the distress, pain and anxiety that married people and those with families must endure. As the world gets worse, 1 Cor 7 promises it will be least complex for those who are single.
- Problems of the flesh (Being married to a sinner causes tension)
“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.” 1 Cor 7:28
Even though Paul is in favor of being single, he doesn’t urge it upon people as a badge of holiness. He never commands people to be single. He just says there’s a lot of wisdom for those gifted with the ability to bear it. Getting married is not a sin whether it’s for the first time, or if you are getting remarried after being divorced or widowed (as long as it is “in the Lord”, 1 Cor 7:39). However, Paul throws in a warning that you will have trouble so don’t be surprised when it comes.
What kind of trouble is Paul talking about? John Mac Arthur puts it concisely, “the trouble that comes when you have to live intimately with a sinner.” There is no such thing as “happy ever after” because no marriage is without its unhappy moments. When two sinners are under one roof, you must expect some degree of tension. The actual Greek word for “trouble” means “pressing together” or “pressure.” When you press a rose, you get a sweet smell. When you press a sinner, you get…sin. Sins like anger, impatience, selfishness, dishonesty, deception, pride, thoughtlessness, and unfaithfulness.
When you consider the frightening prevalence of domestic violence, the heartbreak of being cheated on and the 50% chance of divorce that will put strain on you emotionally and financially, you can agree that “the potential for misery in marriage is greater than the potential for misery being single because when you’re single there’s only one person who can make you miserable.” (MacArthur) Yes, you may have a roommate, a neighbor, a boss, or family member who knows just how to push your buttons, but marital conflict is worse because the relationship is so much more intimate. All of their character flaws will affect you whether that be financially, emotionally, socially, spiritually, or physically. It has been said, “The only thing worse than wishing you were married is wishing you weren’t.”
When you add sinning kids under the same roof and press tightly together, guess what will squeeze out? More trouble. That doesn’t mean family life is all chaos, but it’s certainly not all roses. 1 Cor 7 promises that marriage is not the solution to your trouble. It will only multiply it because it intensifies human weakness and puts you under intimate scrutiny.
- Passing of the world (Marriage has no relationship to eternity)
But this I say, brethren, the time is short: it remaineth, that both they that have wives be as though they had none; 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; 31 And they that use this world, as not abusing it: for the fashion of this world passeth away.( 1 Cor 7:29-31 KJV)
Marriage, weeping, earthly rejoicing, buying, and worldly pleasure, are all a part of the passing scene. Paul is not teaching spouses to ignore each other and pretend they are not married. There should always be affection and kindness in marriage. He’s saying that we should not set our hearts too much on what happens on this earth. In Noah’s day people were “marrying and giving in marriage” (Matthew 24:38-39) and the excessiveness with which they carried their amusements and relationships distracted them from the attention they should have given to their spiritual life. We should be lightly attached to earthly things. This does not mean you become so heavenly minded that you are of no earthly good. It means to keep all your relationships in perspective. Don’t let your human emotions, your materialism, your worldly pleasures or your marriage distract you from your spiritual life. Pursue the kingdom of God and his righteousness and everything else will fall into place.
1 Cor 7 shows you that being single will minimize the necessity of preoccupation with the temporal.
- Preoccupation of the married (Singles can serve the Lord without distraction)
But I would have you without carefulness. He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: 33 But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife. 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. 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. (1 Cor 7:32-35 KJV)
To be "without carefulness" means to be free from care or anxiety. Here's where being single has its advantages. If you are single, you don't have as many responsibilities as if you were married. Your life is simpler and you can spend more time with the Lord, serving Him without distraction. You can have undivided service to Christ.
John Lightfoot, a theologian and Hebrew scholar from the 1600’s once said, "A man who is a hero by himself becomes a coward when he thinks of his widowed wife and his orphan children." I’ve known several men who would have loved to be a missionary or do full time ministry but felt pressured to choose careers that paid better or did not require traveling. I’ve known people who would love to volunteer at church outreach programs but they had to get their kids to bed and couldn't be out late. They had responsibilities single people don’t have and it anchored them down. There is a blessing in being independent and unsettled. You can serve the Lord without distraction. Your single status may only be for a season, but until the Lord answers your prayers and brings you a partner, enjoy the freedom you have to spend your attention and energies focusing on the Lord.
This doesn’t mean married people are second class status. It is not in purity and spirituality that the unmarried woman is said to have the advantage over the wife, but in freedom from the distracting responsibilities of married life.
“So if I want to do full time ministry,” you ask, “should I remain
single? How come most people in ministry are married?” Good question. If
you were to be a pastor, for example, preaching is only one part of
your ministry. Being an example is another part. And since being married
is the norm rather than the exception, God needs people in leadership
who are married and can model what a godly marriage and family is like.
But, there are other ministry opportunities that require heavy
traveling, rough conditions or long hours and would be better if you
were single. It must be made a matter of prayer for each individual to wrestle with.
There are some people who need to be married because they don’t have the gift of singleness. To them, God tells them to get married. “So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander.” 1 Tim 5:14 (NIV) But for those who are gifted, it does not mean they are more holy, it means their focus on the things of the Lord causes them to be holy in body and spirit. If you are single, don’t waste such a precious opportunity. Notice that it’s an opportunity, not an automatic result of being single. You have the potential to serve the Lord in a capacity and intensity that married people can’t. 1 Cor 7 challenges every single person to invest that season or gift of independence to focused service to God.
- Permanence of the union
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. 40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God. (1 Cor 7:39-40 KJV)
Your marriage vows are binding. When you say you will love and cherish someone till death do you part, you ought to keep your vows. Marriage is permanent until death. Only unrepentant adultery and an unbeliever departing are biblical grounds for divorce.
When Jesus explained to the disciples that only marital unfaithfulness constituted grounds for divorce, the disciples responded “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry." (Matt 19:10 NIV) If you are going to pledge a life-long allegiance to someone, you better take it pretty seriously.
“If you have the gift of singleness, or if there is a measure of contentment in being single, there's no reason to engage in a lifelong tie that can only be severed by death. You will have all the pressures, all the trouble, all the divided interest all your life long. You need to be certain that it is God's design.” (MacArthur)
1 Cor 7 reminds you to take the step towards marriage seriously because it's pretty permanent.
So, let’s go back to the original question brought out in 1 Cor 7.
Should I get married or should I stay single?
Maybe you have been married and are now either divorced or widowed. Or maybe you’ve never been married. How do you know if you have “the gift” of singleness?
• If marriage is not a pressing necessity,
• If marriage is not a driving “need”
• If you do not burn with that physical desire
You have the “gift” and should consider remaining single because of the pressures of the world, the problems of the flesh, the passing of the world, the preoccupation of the married and the permanence of the union.
If you feel being single is
• Very tempting
Consider the great benefits of your current singleness and be the man or woman that God wants you to be and wait on Him to provide the answer to your prayers. But don't look down on singleness as if somehow it's a second-class life, it is not. 1 Cor 7 teaches us that one is not better than another. They are both good gifts.
The only thing that makes us less than what God would have us to be is not our marital status but our spiritual commitment. Whether married, single, divorced or widowed we should live for the glory of God.
*The 5 main points are from John MacArthur's sermon on 1 Cor 7:25-40, but the content is mine unless I directly quote him.
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