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Marriage and I Corinthians 7

The subject of this article as it has been given to me is rather broad. To treat the subject completely, therefore, would be quite impossible within the limits of this short article. If there should be some who find this topic to be of special interest to them, we would refer them to the very fine series of articles that is currently being written for The Standard Bearer by the Rev. George Lubbers.

I presume, however, that in the assigning of this topic it was not intended that treatment should he given to all the various aspects of marriage concerning which the seventh chapter of First Corinthians speaks. Rather, I Corinthians 7 is referred to in the topic because of the perplexing teaching which it often seems to present. There are a number of passages in Scripture, among which this chapter may well be included, which perennially give rise to question because they seem to present ideas that are foreign to the remainder of Scripture. The particular problem of this chapter arises already in the first verse of the chapter where the apostle writes, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” It is further brought to the fore in following verses, such as verses 7 and 8, “For I would that all men were even as I myself… I say therefore to the unmarried and widows, It is good for them if they abide even as I,” verse 27, “Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to he loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife,” and verses 32 and 33, “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” The total impression one is apt to receive from all this is that Paul would advocate the single life as being preferable to marriage. This strikes one as being far different from that which is taught in other portions of Scripture, such as Gen. 2:18, “And the Lord God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him.”

The difficulty in this passage arises from a misinterpretation of Paul’s true meaning. For an example we may well use the statement found in the first verse, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” The difficulty here is with the word “good.” This word seems to imply that it is morally a virtue for a man not to marry a woman. The assumption is quickly taken that celibacy is to be preferred to marriage. But this is not the meaning of the apostle. Perhaps it is the translators’ fault. This sentence could as well he translated, if not preferably so, “It is right for a man not to touch a woman.” The thought is not that the single state is better than the married, but only that it is a state proper and correct within itself.

It seems as if in Corinth at the time that Paul wrote this epistle there was considerable difference of opinion concerning certain aspects of Christian walk and life. Among these were various opinions concerning marriage and its relative value for the Christian. Perplexed by their problems, the Corinthians sent a number of questions to Paul for him to answer. In this chapter Paul gives the answers to the various questions concerning marriage. The basic thought which he wishes to express in regard to the problem which we are considering is not that the single state is at all times to be preferred to the married state, neither that the married state is to be preferred to the single state, but that the evaluation of either state is to be made according to the particular circumstances. For the single person who stands before the choice of marrying or remaining single, the choice must be spiritually determined according to the particular circumstances.

On the one hand, Paul has good reason to believe that it is often desirable for the Christian to marry. It is because of the natural weakness of the flesh. Not all have the gift of continency, that is to say, not all are easily able to hold their thoughts and their will in complete control. The thoughts of evil and corruption often are able to gain control over our minds and over our bodies. Further, the sinful world ever stands ready to lead the weak astray with its temptations of sexuality and sin. For such who have not the strength to resist these temptations, Paul’s advice is to marry, “for it is better to marry than to burn.” In this light one can easily see why in the world of our day it is often considered preferable for the child of God to marry. In the modern age in which we live, wicked men are ever ready to flaunt and display the evils of sexuality and immoral living. One must be strong to withstand these evils, and the Christian should avail himself of every means which is spiritually convenient to withstand this wicked age.

On the other hand, however, marriage is not an automatic answer to all of one’s spiritual problems. There are advantages also to the single state. As Paul writes, “He that is unmarried careth for the things that belong to the Lord, how he may please the Lord: But he that is married careth for the things that are of the world, how he may please his wife.” Marriage has also its temptations for one’s spiritual life. A married person is often tempted to lose himself in the duties and responsibilities of married life. This may lead to the point where marriage becomes a snare to him to detract him from the things of the Lord. From temptation in this manner the single person is relatively free. He much more easily has time and opportunity to seek the things which are of God.

In conclusion we may say that this chapter has an important lesson for our Protestant Reformed young people. Many of you shall soon stand before the decision whether you shall marry or not. The important consideration in each particular case is not, as the world would have you believe, whether you are “in love” or not. The important question is how you may best serve the Lord. Sincerely and prayerfully seek the guidance of the Scriptures and of the spiritual advisors which are available unto you. If you marry, let it be unto the Lord. If you remain single, let that also be unto the Lord. But in every case, keep yourselves from evil.

Originally published in:

Vol. 18 No. 3 April 1958