EXPLORING THE WORD
To Be (Married) or Not To Be, That is the Question!
It happened when we heard Jerry Maguire utter the words, "You...complete me." We feel it when Great Aunt Helen asks us at Thanksgiving if there is anyone special in our lives. Or maybe it occurs when we notice the slightly raised eyebrow when requesting a seat at a restaurant for (gasp, shudder, oh the humanity!) ...one. Pressure. Pressure to be coupled, to be married, to be part of a nuclear family. Somehow the world, families and friends, and concerned maître d's all seem to believe singles are destined to a lonely, unfulfilling future of uncoupledness (yes, I just made up that word — I think I am keeping it). It is easy to grasp onto the fear (or pity) seen in their eyes when they look at singles. The cluck of their tongue when singles answer "No, I am not dating anyone right now" often shoots straight to the single's heart.
The Christian single often fares no better. One might feel the need to sprint through the lobby before encountering the women's ministry leader whose nephew is in town for the weekend, and wouldn't you like to meet him, he is such a nice boy, and he has a good job, such a catch, won't last long... You get the idea. There are dating sites specifically for Christians who desire to find a believing mate. The Bible certainly promotes family, marriage, and children (have a quiver-full of them!)...that is until you get to Paul. When the single stumbles onto 1 Corinthians 7, there seems to be a contradiction, or at least a paradoxical thought when it comes to marriage:
I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 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. 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. 1 Corinthians 7:32-35Reading anything written by the Apostle Paul can sometimes be perplexing because he is often so direct — er, blunt. In all Bible reading and study it is helpful to know who the original audience was in order to apply those words directed to our own lives — and this passage is no exception. It raises many questions about the virtues of marriage versus singleness. Is Paul condemning marriage? Is singleness better than marriage? Should we all be single and devote our lives to pleasing only the Lord? We must look at the audience to whom Paul was speaking and understand the question he was answering to better understand this passage.
Paul spoke to the Christians of Corinth who were in turmoil due to the surrounding culture that had infiltrated the church. Originally a prosperous Greek city, Corinth had been destroyed by the Romans. The city lay in desolation for an extended period before the Romans colonized it, and as it began to grow again, many former slaves settled there further diversifying the city's identity. Corinth's location on an isthmus made it a hotspot for trade and the city became prosperous again. Corinthian culture was a hybrid of identities. Greek culture, language, art, and religion were heavily influenced by Roman influences. The Isthmus Games (second in popularity only to the Olympic games) were held in Corinth every two years. In short, Corinth in the first century was a diverse amalgamation of people, ideas, worldviews, and religion.
Paul tells us that the culture was starkly immoral and rife with sexual promiscuity, prostitution, and pagan worship. Regarding sexual immorality, Paul states it had infiltrated the Christian church in ways that wouldn't even have occurred to pagans (1 Corinthians 5:1). Christians in Corinth were surrounded by sexual temptation. The city had a reputation even among the pagans for sexual immorality and religious prostitution. It was to this kind of society that Paul delivered the instructions of chapter seven on sex and marriage. The Corinthians needed special instructions because of their culture's immoral standards. The Corinthians had been steeped in sexual immorality for so long, they had lost their moral compass. Many came to fear that all sex was sin and thought they should stop having it — even with their spouses! Others wanted to divorce their pagan spouses rather than provide a Christian witness to them. Some wondered if they should all refrain from marriage altogether, while others lamented their single state. In other words, the Corinthians were all turned around when it came to sex and marriage. Sounds a little familiar...
Paul's teachings regarding sex and marriage instructed married couples to not withhold sex from their spouses and lose the special "one flesh" (Genesis 2:24) connection that is a gift from God. He also instructed Christians married to non-Christians to remain in their marriages for as long as the non-Christian was willing (1 Corinthians 7:12-16). A Christian spouse can be a powerful witness to their non-believing spouses. Regarding singleness versus marriage, Paul instructs Christians to be content and growing in the Lord in whatever state they are (1 Corinthians 7:17). A married person may wish he wasn't married so he could pursue good works for God, but it would not be God's will for this to happen. Instead the married person should pursue good works within the framework of his or her marriage. Likewise, single Christians can desire marriage to a point of discontentedness. Paul instructs single Christians to do mighty work for God in their single state and be content with wherever God leads them (1 Corinthians 7:24).
Paul continues in this vein throughout 1 Corinthians 7:32-35. Here Paul demonstrates the different mindsets of single men and women versus married men and women. It is not his intention to restrict men and women from marriage (1 Corinthians 7:35), but to demonstrate that singleness is not an affliction. We see, even in today's society, that many singles believe they will not be complete until they are coupled and married. Not true, says Paul. In marriage men and women have competing interests — God and family. Singleness is a special time in which a man or a woman can unselfishly devote all of his or her devotion to God. It can be a time of rich relationship with the Lord. Paul is very thankful for his singleness, because it allows him to do the work the Lord has set out for him to do. In his way of thinking, if everyone was solely focused on God, we could get a lot accomplished (1 Corinthians 7:7)! Paul is not condemning marriage, however, for without marriage and procreation — there never would have been a Paul to accomplish so much for God! This passage is very encouraging for those who are single. Though they may still wish to someday marry, and maybe they will, they are able to do some things in singleness that would be very difficult once married. This time of singleness should not be lamented, but celebrated and taken full advantage of for the Lord.
Walking with God is wonderful in all seasons, and contentment is the key to unlocking the joy. As a mother whose youngest child just graduated from high school, I frequently find myself looking at all of the stages I have mothered my children — from helpless infant, to tiring toddles, school age, teenagers, and young adults — Every stage has been different, but I have counted them all as precious. I can see that my own life and all of its stages have been the very same — whether single, married, divorced, or remarried — my life and walk with God has been precious. I am thankful for every season and how I have grown through them. My prayer is that you will find deep contentedness in the state you are now — and in the ones to follow.
Shakespeare, All's Well that Ends Well
Image Credit: StockSnap; untitled; Creative Commons
Image Credit: markusspiske; untitled; Creative Commons
Tags: Biblical-Truth | Christian-Life | Family-Life | Personal-Relationships
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